THE EMPTY HOUSE
AND OTHER GHOST STORIES
AUTHOR OF "JOHN SILENCE" "THE LOST VALLEY" ETC.
EVELEIGH NASH COMPANY
|First Printed ||1906|
|Uniform Edition ||1915|
|THE EMPTY HOUSE
A HAUNTED ISLAND
A CASE OF EAVESDROPPING
KEEPING HIS PROMISE
WITH INTENT TO STEAL
THE WOOD OF THE DEAD
SMITH: AN EPISODE IN A LODGING-HOUSE
A SUSPICIOUS GIFT
THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE SECRETARY IN NEW YORK
SKELETON LAKE: AN EPISODE IN CAMP
Certain houses, like certain persons, manage
somehow to proclaim at once their character for
evil. In the case of the latter, no particular
feature need betray them; they may boast an
open countenance and an ingenuous smile; and
yet a little of their company leaves the unalterable
conviction that there is something radically amiss
with their being: that they are evil. Willy nilly,
they seem to communicate an atmosphere of secret
and wicked thoughts which makes those in their
immediate neighbourhood shrink from them as
from a thing diseased.
And, perhaps, with houses the same principle
is operative, and it is the aroma of evil deeds
committed under a particular roof, long after the
actual doers have passed away, that makes the
gooseflesh come and the hair rise. Something of
the original passion of the evil-doer, and of the
horror felt by his victim, enters the heart of
the innocent watcher, and he becomes suddenly
conscious of tingling nerves, creeping skin, and a
chilling of the blood. He is terror-stricken without
There was manifestly nothing in the external
appearance of this particular house to bear out
the tales of the horror that was said to reign
within. It was neither lonely nor unkempt. It
stood, crowded into a corner of the square, and
looked exactly like the houses on either side of
it. It had the same number of windows as its
neighbours; the same balcony overlooking the
gardens; the same white steps leading up to the
heavy black front door; and, in the rear, there
was the same narrow strip of green, with neat
box borders, running up to the wall that divided
it from the backs of the adjoining houses.
Apparently, too, the number of chimney pots on
the roof was the same; the breadth and angle of
the eaves; and even the height of the dirty area
And yet this house in the square, that seemed
precisely similar to its fifty ugly neighbours, was
as a matter of fact entirely different—horribly
Wherein lay this marked, invisible difference
is impossible to say. It cannot be ascribed wholly
to the imagination, because persons who had spent
some time in the house, knowing nothing of the
facts, had declared positively that certain rooms
were so disagreeable they would rather die than
enter them again, and that the atmosphere of
the whole house produced in them symptoms of
a genuine terror; while the series of innocent
tenants who had tried to live in it and been
forced to decamp at the shortest possible notice,
was indeed little less than a scandal in the
When Shorthouse arrived to pay a "week-end"
visit to his Aunt Julia in her little house on
the sea-front at the other end of the town, he
found her charged to the brim with mystery and
excitement. He had only received her telegram
that morning, and he had come anticipating boredom;
but the moment he touched her hand and
kissed her apple-skin wrinkled cheek, he caught
the first wave of her electrical condition. The
impression deepened when he learned that
there were to be no other visitors, and that he
had been telegraphed for with a very special
Something was in the wind, and the "something"
would doubtless bear fruit; for this elderly spinster
aunt, with a mania for psychical research, had brains
as well as will power, and by hook or by crook
she usually managed to accomplish her ends. The
revelation was made soon after tea, when she
sidled close up to him as they paced slowly along
the sea-front in the dusk.
"I've got the keys," she announced in a delighted,
yet half awesome voice. "Got them till
"The keys of the bathing-machine, or—?"
he asked innocently, looking from the sea to the
town. Nothing brought her so quickly to the
point as feigning stupidity.
"Neither," she whispered. "I've got the keys
of the haunted house in the square—and I'm
going there to-night."
Shorthouse was conscious of the slightest
possible tremor down his back. He dropped his
teasing tone. Something in her voice and manner
thrilled him. She was in earnest.
"But you can't go alone—" he began.
"That's why I wired for you," she said with
He turned to look at her. The ugly, lined,
enigmatical face was alive with excitement. There
was the glow of genuine enthusiasm round it
like a halo. The eyes shone. He caught another
wave of her excitement, and a second tremor, more
marked than the first, accompanied it.
"Thanks, Aunt Julia," he said politely; "thanks
"I should not dare to go quite alone," she went
on, raising her voice; "but with you I should enjoy
it immensely. You're afraid of nothing, I know."
"Thanks so much," he said again. "Er—is
anything likely to happen?"
"A great deal has happened," she whispered,
"though it's been most cleverly hushed up. Three
tenants have come and gone in the last few
months, and the house is said to be empty for
In spite of himself Shorthouse became interested.
His aunt was so very much in earnest.
"The house is very old indeed," she went on,
"and the story—an unpleasant one—dates a long
way back. It has to do with a murder committed
by a jealous stableman who had some affair with
a servant in the house. One night he managed
to secrete himself in the cellar, and when everyone
was asleep, he crept upstairs to the servants'
quarters, chased the girl down to the next landing,
and before anyone could come to the rescue
threw her bodily over the banisters into the
"And the stableman—?"
"Was caught, I believe, and hanged for murder;
but it all happened a century ago, and I've not
been able to get more details of the story."
Shorthouse now felt his interest thoroughly
aroused; but, though he was not particularly
nervous for himself, he hesitated a little on his
"On one condition," he said at length.
"Nothing will prevent my going," she said
firmly; "but I may as well hear your condition."
"That you guarantee your power of self-control
if anything really horrible happens. I mean—that
you are sure you won't get too frightened."
"Jim," she said scornfully, "I'm not young, I
know, nor are my nerves; but with you I should
be afraid of nothing in the world!"
This, of course, settled it, for Shorthouse had no
pretensions to being other than a very ordinary
young man, and an appeal to his vanity was
irresistible. He agreed to go.
Instinctively, by a sort of sub-conscious preparation,
he kept himself and his forces well in
hand the whole evening, compelling an accumulative
reserve of control by that nameless inward
process of gradually putting all the emotions away
and turning the key upon them—a process
difficult to describe, but wonderfully effective, as
all men who have lived through severe trials of the
inner man well understand. Later, it stood him
in good stead.
But it was not until half-past ten, when they
stood in the hall, well in the glare of friendly
lamps and still surrounded by comforting human
influences, that he had to make the first call upon
this store of collected strength. For, once the
door was closed, and he saw the deserted silent
street stretching away white in the moonlight
before them, it came to him clearly that the real
test that night would be in dealing with two fears
instead of one. He would have to carry his aunt's
fear as well as his own. And, as he glanced down
at her sphinx-like countenance and realised that it
might assume no pleasant aspect in a rush of real
terror, he felt satisfied with only one thing in the
whole adventure—that he had confidence in his
own will and power to stand against any shock
that might come.
Slowly they walked along the empty streets of
the town; a bright autumn moon silvered the roofs,
casting deep shadows; there was no breath of
wind; and the trees in the formal gardens by the
sea-front watched them silently as they passed
along. To his aunt's occasional remarks Shorthouse
made no reply, realising that she was simply surrounding
herself with mental buffers—saying
ordinary things to prevent herself thinking of
extra-ordinary things. Few windows showed
lights, and from scarcely a single chimney came
smoke or sparks. Shorthouse had already begun
to notice everything, even the smallest details.
Presently they stopped at the street corner and
looked up at the name on the side of the house
full in the moonlight, and with one accord, but
without remark, turned into the square and crossed
over to the side of it that lay in shadow.
"The number of the house is thirteen," whispered
a voice at his side; and neither of them made the
obvious reference, but passed across the broad sheet
of moonlight and began to march up the pavement
It was about half-way up the square that
Shorthouse felt an arm slipped quietly but significantly
into his own, and knew then that their
adventure had begun in earnest, and that his
companion was already yielding imperceptibly
to the influences against them. She needed
A few minutes later they stopped before a tall,
narrow house that rose before them into the night,
ugly in shape and painted a dingy white. Shutterless
windows, without blinds, stared down upon
them, shining here and there in the moonlight.
There were weather streaks in the wall and cracks
in the paint, and the balcony bulged out from the
first floor a little unnaturally. But, beyond this
generally forlorn appearance of an unoccupied house,
there was nothing at first sight to single out this
particular mansion for the evil character it had
most certainly acquired.
Taking a look over their shoulders to make sure
they had not been followed, they went boldly up
the steps and stood against the huge black door
that fronted them forbiddingly. But the first
wave of nervousness was now upon them, and
Shorthouse fumbled a long time with the key
before he could fit it into the lock at all. For a
moment, if truth were told, they both hoped it
would not open, for they were a prey to various
unpleasant emotions as they stood there on the
threshold of their ghostly adventure. Shorthouse,
shuffling with the key and hampered by the
steady weight on his arm, certainly felt the
solemnity of the moment. It was as if the whole
world—for all experience seemed at that instant
concentrated in his own consciousness—were
listening to the grating noise of that key. A stray
puff of wind wandering down the empty street
woke a momentary rustling in the trees behind
them, but otherwise this rattling of the key
was the only sound audible; and at last it
turned in the lock and the heavy door swung
open and revealed a yawning gulf of darkness
With a last glance at the moonlit square, they
passed quickly in, and the door slammed behind
them with a roar that echoed prodigiously through
empty halls and passages. But, instantly, with
the echoes, another sound made itself heard, and
Aunt Julia leaned suddenly so heavily upon him
that he had to take a step backwards to save
himself from falling.
A man had coughed close beside them—so close
that it seemed they must have been actually by
his side in the darkness.
With the possibility of practical jokes in his
mind, Shorthouse at once swung his heavy stick in
the direction of the sound; but it met nothing
more solid than air. He heard his aunt give a
little gasp beside him.
"There's someone here," she whispered; "I heard
"Be quiet!" he said sternly. "It was nothing
but the noise of the front door."
"Oh! get a light—quick!" she added, as her
nephew, fumbling with a box of matches, opened
it upside down and let them all fall with a rattle
on to the stone floor.
The sound, however, was not repeated; and there
was no evidence of retreating footsteps. In another
minute they had a candle burning, using an empty
end of a cigar case as a holder; and when the first
flare had died down he held the impromptu lamp
aloft and surveyed the scene. And it was dreary
enough in all conscience, for there is nothing more
desolate in all the abodes of men than an unfurnished
house dimly lit, silent, and forsaken, and
yet tenanted by rumour with the memories of evil
and violent histories.
They were standing in a wide hall-way; on their
left was the open door of a spacious dining-room,
and in front the hall ran, ever narrowing, into a
long, dark passage that led apparently to the top of
the kitchen stairs. The broad uncarpeted staircase
rose in a sweep before them, everywhere draped in
shadows, except for a single spot about half-way up
where the moonlight came in through the window
and fell on a bright patch on the boards. This
shaft of light shed a faint radiance above and below
it, lending to the objects within its reach a misty
outline that was infinitely more suggestive and
ghostly than complete darkness. Filtered moonlight
always seems to paint faces on the surrounding
gloom, and as Shorthouse peered up into the well of
darkness and thought of the countless empty rooms
and passages in the upper part of the old house, he
caught himself longing again for the safety of the
moonlit square, or the cosy, bright drawing-room
they had left an hour before. Then realising that
these thoughts were dangerous, he thrust them
away again and summoned all his energy for
concentration on the present.
"Aunt Julia," he said aloud, severely, "we must
now go through the house from top to bottom and
make a thorough search."
The echoes of his voice died away slowly all
over the building, and in the intense silence that
followed he turned to look at her. In the candle-light
he saw that her face was already ghastly
pale; but she dropped his arm for a moment and
said in a whisper, stepping close in front of
"I agree. We must be sure there's no one hiding.
That's the first thing."
She spoke with evident effort, and he looked at
her with admiration.
"You feel quite sure of yourself? It's not too
"I think so," she whispered, her eyes shifting
nervously toward the shadows behind. "Quite
sure, only one thing—"
"You must never leave me alone for an instant."
"As long as you understand that any sound or
appearance must be investigated at once, for to
hesitate means to admit fear. That is fatal."
"Agreed," she said, a little shakily, after a
moment's hesitation. "I'll try—"
Arm in arm, Shorthouse holding the dripping
candle and the stick, while his aunt carried the
cloak over her shoulders, figures of utter comedy to
all but themselves, they began a systematic search.
Stealthily, walking on tip-toe and shading the
candle lest it should betray their presence through
the shutterless windows, they went first into the big
dining-room. There was not a stick of furniture to
be seen. Bare walls, ugly mantel-pieces and empty
grates stared at them. Everything, they felt,
resented their intrusion, watching them, as it were,
with veiled eyes; whispers followed them; shadows
flitted noiselessly to right and left; something
seemed ever at their back, watching, waiting an
opportunity to do them injury. There was the
inevitable sense that operations which went on
when the room was empty had been temporarily
suspended till they were well out of the way again.
The whole dark interior of the old building seemed
to become a malignant Presence that rose up,
warning them to desist and mind their own
business; every moment the strain on the nerves
Out of the gloomy dining-room they passed
through large folding doors into a sort of library or
smoking-room, wrapt equally in silence, darkness,
and dust; and from this they regained the hall
near the top of the back stairs.
Here a pitch black tunnel opened before them
into the lower regions, and—it must be confessed—they
hesitated. But only for a minute. With the
worst of the night still to come it was essential to
turn from nothing. Aunt Julia stumbled at the
top step of the dark descent, ill lit by the flickering
candle, and even Shorthouse felt at least half the
decision go out of his legs.
"Come on!" he said peremptorily, and his voice
ran on and lost itself in the dark, empty spaces
"I'm coming," she faltered, catching his arm with
They went a little unsteadily down the stone
steps, a cold, damp air meeting them in the face,
close and mal-odorous. The kitchen, into which
the stairs led along a narrow passage, was large,
with a lofty ceiling. Several doors opened out of
it—some into cupboards with empty jars still standing
on the shelves, and others into horrible little
ghostly back offices, each colder and less inviting
than the last. Black beetles scurried over the floor,
and once, when they knocked against a deal table
standing in a corner, something about the size of a
cat jumped down with a rush and fled, scampering
across the stone floor into the darkness. Everywhere
there was a sense of recent occupation, an
impression of sadness and gloom.
Leaving the main kitchen, they next went
towards the scullery. The door was standing ajar,
and as they pushed it open to its full extent Aunt
Julia uttered a piercing scream, which she instantly
tried to stifle by placing her hand over her mouth.
For a second Shorthouse stood stock-still, catching
his breath. He felt as if his spine had suddenly
become hollow and someone had filled it with
particles of ice.
Facing them, directly in their way between the
doorposts, stood the figure of a woman. She had
dishevelled hair and wildly staring eyes, and her
face was terrified and white as death.
She stood there motionless for the space of a
single second. Then the candle flickered and she
was gone—gone utterly—and the door framed
nothing but empty darkness.
"Only the beastly jumping candle-light," he
said quickly, in a voice that sounded like someone
else's and was only half under control. "Come on,
aunt. There's nothing there."
He dragged her forward. With a clattering of feet
and a great appearance of boldness they went on, but
over his body the skin moved as if crawling ants
covered it, and he knew by the weight on his arm
that he was supplying the force of locomotion for
two. The scullery was cold, bare, and empty; more
like a large prison cell than anything else. They
went round it, tried the door into the yard, and
the windows, but found them all fastened securely.
His aunt moved beside him like a person in a
dream. Her eyes were tightly shut, and she
seemed merely to follow the pressure of his arm.
Her courage filled him with amazement. At the
same time he noticed that a certain odd change
had come over her face, a change which somehow
evaded his power of analysis.
"There's nothing here, aunty," he repeated
aloud quickly. "Let's go upstairs and see the rest
of the house. Then we'll choose a room to wait
She followed him obediently, keeping close to his
side, and they locked the kitchen door behind them.
It was a relief to get up again. In the hall there was
more light than before, for the moon had travelled
a little further down the stairs. Cautiously they
began to go up into the dark vault of the upper
house, the boards creaking under their weight.
On the first floor they found the large double
drawing-rooms, a search of which revealed nothing.
Here also was no sign of furniture or recent
occupancy; nothing but dust and neglect and
shadows. They opened the big folding doors
between front and back drawing-rooms and then
came out again to the landing and went on upstairs.
They had not gone up more than a dozen steps
when they both simultaneously stopped to listen,
looking into each other's eyes with a new apprehension
across the flickering candle flame. From the
room they had left hardly ten seconds before came
the sound of doors quietly closing. It was beyond
all question; they heard the booming noise that
accompanies the shutting of heavy doors, followed
by the sharp catching of the latch.
"We must go back and see," said Shorthouse
briefly, in a low tone, and turning to go downstairs
Somehow she managed to drag after him, her
feet catching in her dress, her face livid.
When they entered the front drawing-room it
was plain that the folding doors had been closed—half
a minute before. Without hesitation Shorthouse
opened them. He almost expected to see
someone facing him in the back room; but only
darkness and cold air met him. They went
through both rooms, finding nothing unusual.
They tried in every way to make the doors close
of themselves, but there was not wind enough even
to set the candle flame flickering. The doors
would not move without strong pressure. All was
silent as the grave. Undeniably the rooms were
utterly empty, and the house utterly still.
"It's beginning," whispered a voice at his elbow
which he hardly recognised as his aunt's.
He nodded acquiescence, taking out his watch
to note the time. It was fifteen minutes before
midnight; he made the entry of exactly what had
occurred in his notebook, setting the candle in its
case upon the floor in order to do so. It took a
moment or two to balance it safely against the
Aunt Julia always declared that at this moment
she was not actually watching him, but had turned
her head towards the inner room, where she fancied
she heard something moving; but, at any rate, both
positively agreed that there came a sound of
rushing feet, heavy and very swift—and the next
instant the candle was out!
But to Shorthouse himself had come more than
this, and he has always thanked his fortunate stars
that it came to him alone and not to his aunt too.
For, as he rose from the stooping position of balancing
the candle, and before it was actually extinguished,
a face thrust itself forward so close to his
own that he could almost have touched it with his
lips. It was a face working with passion; a man's
face, dark, with thick features, and angry, savage
eyes. It belonged to a common man, and it was evil
in its ordinary normal expression, no doubt, but as
he saw it, alive with intense, aggressive emotion,
it was a malignant and terrible human countenance.
There was no movement of the air; nothing but
the sound of rushing feet—stockinged or muffled
feet; the apparition of the face; and the almost
simultaneous extinguishing of the candle.
In spite of himself, Shorthouse uttered a little
cry, nearly losing his balance as his aunt clung to
him with her whole weight in one moment of real,
uncontrollable terror. She made no sound, but
simply seized him bodily. Fortunately, however,
she had seen nothing, but had only heard the rushing
feet, for her control returned almost at once, and
he was able to disentangle himself and strike a
The shadows ran away on all sides before the
glare, and his aunt stooped down and groped for
the cigar case with the precious candle. Then
they discovered that the candle had not been
blown out at all; it had been crushed out. The
wick was pressed down into the wax, which
was flattened as if by some smooth, heavy instrument.
How his companion so quickly overcame her
terror, Shorthouse never properly understood;
but his admiration for her self-control increased
tenfold, and at the same time served to feed his
own dying flame—for which he was undeniably
grateful. Equally inexplicable to him was the
evidence of physical force they had just witnessed.
He at once suppressed the memory of stories he
had heard of "physical mediums" and their dangerous
phenomena; for if these were true, and either
his aunt or himself was unwittingly a physical
medium, it meant that they were simply aiding
to focus the forces of a haunted house already
charged to the brim. It was like walking with unprotected
lamps among uncovered stores of gun-powder.
So, with as little reflection as possible, he simply
relit the candle and went up to the next floor.
The arm in his trembled, it is true, and his own
tread was often uncertain, but they went on with
thoroughness, and after a search revealing nothing
they climbed the last flight of stairs to the top floor
Here they found a perfect nest of small servants'
rooms, with broken pieces of furniture, dirty cane-bottomed
chairs, chests of drawers, cracked mirrors,
and decrepit bedsteads. The rooms had low sloping
ceilings already hung here and there with cobwebs,
small windows, and badly plastered walls—a
depressing and dismal region which they were glad
to leave behind.
It was on the stroke of midnight when they
entered a small room on the third floor, close to the
top of the stairs, and arranged to make themselves
comfortable for the remainder of their adventure.
It was absolutely bare, and was said to be the
room—then used as a clothes closet—into which
the infuriated groom had chased his victim and
finally caught her. Outside, across the narrow
landing, began the stairs leading up to the floor
above, and the servants' quarters where they had
In spite of the chilliness of the night there was
something in the air of this room that cried for an
open window. But there was more than this.
Shorthouse could only describe it by saying that
he felt less master of himself here than in any
other part of the house. There was something
that acted directly on the nerves, tiring the resolution,
enfeebling the will. He was conscious of this
result before he had been in the room five minutes,
and it was in the short time they stayed there that
he suffered the wholesale depletion of his vital
forces, which was, for himself, the chief horror of
the whole experience.
They put the candle on the floor of the cupboard,
leaving the door a few inches ajar, so that there
was no glare to confuse the eyes, and no shadow
to shift about on walls and ceiling. Then they
spread the cloak on the floor and sat down to wait,
with their backs against the wall.
Shorthouse was within two feet of the door on
to the landing; his position commanded a good
view of the main staircase leading down into the
darkness, and also of the beginning of the servants'
stairs going to the floor above; the heavy stick lay
beside him within easy reach.
The moon was now high above the house.
Through the open window they could see the
comforting stars like friendly eyes watching in the
sky. One by one the clocks of the town struck
midnight, and when the sounds died away the deep
silence of a windless night fell again over everything.
Only the boom of the sea, far away and
lugubrious, filled the air with hollow murmurs.
Inside the house the silence became awful;
awful, he thought, because any minute now it
might be broken by sounds portending terror.
The strain of waiting told more and more severely
on the nerves; they talked in whispers when
they talked at all, for their voices aloud sounded
queer and unnatural. A chilliness, not altogether
due to the night air, invaded the room, and made
them cold. The influences against them, whatever
these might be, were slowly robbing them of self-confidence,
and the power of decisive action; their
forces were on the wane, and the possibility of real
fear took on a new and terrible meaning. He
began to tremble for the elderly woman by his side,
whose pluck could hardly save her beyond a certain
He heard the blood singing in his veins. It
sometimes seemed so loud that he fancied it prevented
his hearing properly certain other sounds
that were beginning very faintly to make themselves
audible in the depths of the house. Every
time he fastened his attention on these sounds,
they instantly ceased. They certainly came no
nearer. Yet he could not rid himself of the idea
that movement was going on somewhere in the
lower regions of the house. The drawing-room
floor, where the doors had been so strangely closed,
seemed too near; the sounds were further off than
that. He thought of the great kitchen, with the
scurrying black-beetles, and of the dismal little
scullery; but, somehow or other, they did not seem
to come from there either. Surely they were not
outside the house!
Then, suddenly, the truth flashed into his mind,
and for the space of a minute he felt as if his
blood had stopped flowing and turned to ice.
The sounds were not downstairs at all; they
were upstairs—upstairs, somewhere among those
horrid gloomy little servants' rooms with their bits
of broken furniture, low ceilings, and cramped
windows—upstairs where the victim had first been
disturbed and stalked to her death.
And the moment he discovered where the sounds
were, he began to hear them more clearly. It was
the sound of feet, moving stealthily along the
passage overhead, in and out among the rooms, and
past the furniture.
He turned quickly to steal a glance at the motionless
figure seated beside him, to note whether she
had shared his discovery. The faint candle-light
coming through the crack in the cupboard door,
threw her strongly-marked face into vivid relief
against the white of the wall. But it was something
else that made him catch his breath and
stare again. An extraordinary something had
come into her face and seemed to spread over her
features like a mask; it smoothed out the deep
lines and drew the skin everywhere a little tighter
so that the wrinkles disappeared; it brought into
the face—with the sole exception of the old eyes—an
appearance of youth and almost of childhood.
He stared in speechless amazement—amazement
that was dangerously near to horror. It was his
aunt's face indeed, but it was her face of forty
years ago, the vacant innocent face of a girl. He
had heard stories of that strange effect of terror
which could wipe a human countenance clean of
other emotions, obliterating all previous expressions;
but he had never realised that it could be
literally true, or could mean anything so simply
horrible as what he now saw. For the dreadful
signature of overmastering fear was written plainly
in that utter vacancy of the girlish face beside
him; and when, feeling his intense gaze, she turned
to look at him, he instinctively closed his eyes
tightly to shut out the sight.
Yet, when he turned a minute later, his feelings
well in hand, he saw to his intense relief another
expression; his aunt was smiling, and though the
face was deathly white, the awful veil had lifted
and the normal look was returning.
"Anything wrong?" was all he could think of
to say at the moment. And the answer was
eloquent, coming from such a woman.
"I feel cold—and a little frightened," she
He offered to close the window, but she seized
hold of him and begged him not to leave her side
even for an instant.
"It's upstairs, I know," she whispered, with an
odd half laugh; "but I can't possibly go up."
But Shorthouse thought otherwise, knowing
that in action lay their best hope of self-control.
He took the brandy flask and poured out a glass
of neat spirit, stiff enough to help anybody over
anything. She swallowed it with a little shiver.
His only idea now was to get out of the house
before her collapse became inevitable; but this
could not safely be done by turning tail and
running from the enemy. Inaction was no longer
possible; every minute he was growing less master
of himself, and desperate, aggressive measures were
imperative without further delay. Moreover, the
action must be taken towards the enemy, not away
from it; the climax, if necessary and unavoidable,
would have to be faced boldly. He could do it
now; but in ten minutes he might not have the
force left to act for himself, much less for both!
Upstairs, the sounds were meanwhile becoming
louder and closer, accompanied by occasional
creaking of the boards. Someone was moving
stealthily about, stumbling now and then
awkwardly against the furniture.
Waiting a few moments to allow the tremendous
dose of spirits to produce its effect, and knowing
this would last but a short time under the circumstances,
Shorthouse then quietly got on his feet,
saying in a determined voice—
"Now, Aunt Julia, we'll go upstairs and find out
what all this noise is about. You must come too.
It's what we agreed."
He picked up his stick and went to the cupboard
for the candle. A limp form rose shakily beside him
breathing hard, and he heard a voice say very
faintly something about being "ready to come." The
woman's courage amazed him; it was so much greater
than his own; and, as they advanced, holding aloft
the dripping candle, some subtle force exhaled from
this trembling, white-faced old woman at his side
that was the true source of his inspiration. It held
something really great that shamed him and gave
him the support without which he would have
proved far less equal to the occasion.
They crossed the dark landing, avoiding with
their eyes the deep black space over the banisters.
Then they began to mount the narrow staircase to
meet the sounds which, minute by minute, grew
louder and nearer. About half-way up the stairs
Aunt Julia stumbled and Shorthouse turned to
catch her by the arm, and just at that moment
there came a terrific crash in the servants' corridor
overhead. It was instantly followed by a shrill,
agonised scream that was a cry of terror and a cry
for help melted into one.
Before they could move aside, or go down a single
step, someone came rushing along the passage
overhead, blundering horribly, racing madly, at full
speed, three steps at a time, down the very staircase
where they stood. The steps were light and
uncertain; but close behind them sounded the
heavier tread of another person, and the staircase
seemed to shake.
Shorthouse and his companion just had time to
flatten themselves against the wall when the
jumble of flying steps was upon them, and two
persons, with the slightest possible interval between
them, dashed past at full speed. It was a perfect
whirlwind of sound breaking in upon the midnight
silence of the empty building.
The two runners, pursuer and pursued, had
passed clean through them where they stood, and
already with a thud the boards below had received
first one, then the other. Yet they had seen
absolutely nothing—not a hand, or arm, or face, or
even a shred of flying clothing.
There came a second's pause. Then the first
one, the lighter of the two, obviously the pursued
one, ran with uncertain footsteps into the little
room which Shorthouse and his aunt had just
left. The heavier one followed. There was a
sound of scuffling, gasping, and smothered
screaming; and then out on to the landing came
the step—of a single person treading weightily.
A dead silence followed for the space of half a
minute, and then was heard a rushing sound
through the air. It was followed by a dull, crashing
thud in the depths of the house below—on the
stone floor of the hall.
Utter silence reigned after. Nothing moved.
The flame of the candle was steady. It had been
steady the whole time, and the air had been
undisturbed by any movement whatsoever. Palsied
with terror, Aunt Julia, without waiting for her
companion, began fumbling her way downstairs;
she was crying gently to herself, and when Shorthouse
put his arm round her and half carried her
he felt that she was trembling like a leaf. He
went into the little room and picked up the cloak
from the floor, and, arm in arm, walking very
slowly, without speaking a word or looking once
behind them, they marched down the three flights
into the hall.
In the hall they saw nothing, but the whole way
down the stairs they were conscious that someone
followed them; step by step; when they went
faster IT was left behind, and when they went
more slowly IT caught them up. But never once
did they look behind to see; and at each turning
of the staircase they lowered their eyes for fear of
the following horror they might see upon the
With trembling hands Shorthouse opened the
front door, and they walked out into the moonlight
and drew a deep breath of the cool night air blowing
in from the sea.
The following events occurred on a small island
of isolated position in a large Canadian lake, to
whose cool waters the inhabitants of Montreal
and Toronto flee for rest and recreation in the
hot months. It is only to be regretted that
events of such peculiar interest to the genuine
student of the psychical should be entirely uncorroborated.
Such unfortunately, however, is the
Our own party of nearly twenty had returned
to Montreal that very day, and I was left in
solitary possession for a week or two longer, in
order to accomplish some important "reading"
for the law which I had foolishly neglected during
It was late in September, and the big trout and
maskinonge were stirring themselves in the depths
of the lake, and beginning slowly to move up to
the surface waters as the north winds and early
frosts lowered their temperature. Already the
maples were crimson and gold, and the wild
laughter of the loons echoed in sheltered bays that
never knew their strange cry in the summer.
With a whole island to oneself, a two-storey
cottage, a canoe, and only the chipmunks, and the
farmer's weekly visit with eggs and bread, to
disturb one, the opportunities for hard reading
might be very great. It all depends!
The rest of the party had gone off with many
warnings to beware of Indians, and not to stay
late enough to be the victim of a frost that thinks
nothing of forty below zero. After they had gone,
the loneliness of the situation made itself unpleasantly
felt. There were no other islands within
six or seven miles, and though the mainland forests
lay a couple of miles behind me, they stretched
for a very great distance unbroken by any signs
of human habitation. But, though the island was
completely deserted and silent, the rocks and trees
that had echoed human laughter and voices almost
every hour of the day for two months could not
fail to retain some memories of it all; and I was
not surprised to fancy I heard a shout or a cry as
I passed from rock to rock, and more than once to
imagine that I heard my own name called aloud.
In the cottage there were six tiny little bedrooms
divided from one another by plain unvarnished
partitions of pine. A wooden bedstead,
a mattress, and a chair, stood in each room, but I
only found two mirrors, and one of these was
The boards creaked a good deal as I moved
about, and the signs of occupation were so recent
that I could hardly believe I was alone. I half
expected to find someone left behind, still trying
to crowd into a box more than it would hold.
The door of one room was stiff, and refused for
a moment to open, and it required very little
persuasion to imagine someone was holding the
handle on the inside, and that when it opened I
should meet a pair of human eyes.
A thorough search of the floor led me to select
as my own sleeping quarters a little room with a
diminutive balcony over the verandah roof. The
room was very small, but the bed was large, and
had the best mattress of them all. It was situated
directly over the sitting-room where I should live
and do my "reading," and the miniature window
looked out to the rising sun. With the exception
of a narrow path which led from the front door
and verandah through the trees to the boat-landing,
the island was densely covered with
maples, hemlocks, and cedars. The trees gathered
in round the cottage so closely that the slightest
wind made the branches scrape the roof and tap
the wooden walls. A few moments after sunset
the darkness became impenetrable, and ten yards
beyond the glare of the lamps that shone through
the sitting-room windows—of which there were
four—you could not see an inch before your nose,
nor move a step without running up against a
The rest of that day I spent moving my belongings
from my tent to the sitting-room, taking
stock of the contents of the larder, and chopping
enough wood for the stove to last me for a week.
After that, just before sunset, I went round the
island a couple of times in my canoe for precaution's
sake. I had never dreamed of doing this
before, but when a man is alone he does things that
never occur to him when he is one of a large
How lonely the island seemed when I landed
again! The sun was down, and twilight is unknown
in these northern regions. The darkness comes up
at once. The canoe safely pulled up and turned
over on her face, I groped my way up the little
narrow pathway to the verandah. The six lamps
were soon burning merrily in the front room; but
in the kitchen, where I "dined," the shadows were
so gloomy, and the lamplight was so inadequate,
that the stars could be seen peeping through the
cracks between the rafters.
I turned in early that night. Though it was
calm and there was no wind, the creaking of my
bedstead and the musical gurgle of the water over
the rocks below were not the only sounds that
reached my ears. As I lay awake, the appalling
emptiness of the house grew upon me. The
corridors and vacant rooms seemed to echo
innumerable footsteps, shufflings, the rustle of
skirts, and a constant undertone of whispering.
When sleep at length overtook me, the breathings
and noises, however, passed gently to mingle with
the voices of my dreams.
A week passed by, and the "reading" progressed
favourably. On the tenth day of my solitude, a
strange thing happened. I awoke after a good
night's sleep to find myself possessed with a
marked repugnance for my room. The air seemed
to stifle me. The more I tried to define the cause
of this dislike, the more unreasonable it appeared.
There was something about the room that made me
afraid. Absurd as it seems, this feeling clung to
me obstinately while dressing, and more than once
I caught myself shivering, and conscious of an
inclination to get out of the room as quickly as
possible. The more I tried to laugh it away, the
more real it became; and when at last I was
dressed, and went out into the passage, and downstairs
into the kitchen, it was with feelings of
relief, such as I might imagine would accompany
one's escape from the presence of a dangerous
While cooking my breakfast, I carefully recalled
every night spent in the room, in the hope that I
might in some way connect the dislike I now felt
with some disagreeable incident that had occurred
in it. But the only thing I could recall was one
stormy night when I suddenly awoke and heard
the boards creaking so loudly in the corridor that
I was convinced there were people in the house.
So certain was I of this, that I had descended the
stairs, gun in hand, only to find the doors and
windows securely fastened, and the mice and black-beetles
in sole possession of the floor. This was
certainly not sufficient to account for the strength
of my feelings.
The morning hours I spent in steady reading;
and when I broke off in the middle of the day for
a swim and luncheon, I was very much surprised,
if not a little alarmed, to find that my dislike for
the room had, if anything, grown stronger. Going
upstairs to get a book, I experienced the most
marked aversion to entering the room, and while
within I was conscious all the time of an uncomfortable
feeling that was half uneasiness and
half apprehension. The result of it was that,
instead of reading, I spent the afternoon on the
water paddling and fishing, and when I got home
about sundown, brought with me half a dozen
delicious black bass for the supper-table and the
As sleep was an important matter to me at this
time, I had decided that if my aversion to the room
was so strongly marked on my return as it had
been before, I would move my bed down into the
sitting-room, and sleep there. This was, I argued, in
no sense a concession to an absurd and fanciful fear,
but simply a precaution to ensure a good night's
sleep. A bad night involved the loss of the next
day's reading,—a loss I was not prepared to
I accordingly moved my bed downstairs into a
corner of the sitting-room facing the door, and was
moreover uncommonly glad when the operation
was completed, and the door of the bedroom closed
finally upon the shadows, the silence, and the
strange fear that shared the room with them.
The croaking stroke of the kitchen clock sounded
the hour of eight as I finished washing up my
few dishes, and closing the kitchen door behind
me, passed into the front room. All the lamps
were lit, and their reflectors, which I had polished
up during the day, threw a blaze of light into the
Outside the night was still and warm. Not a
breath of air was stirring; the waves were silent,
the trees motionless, and heavy clouds hung like
an oppressive curtain over the heavens. The
darkness seemed to have rolled up with unusual
swiftness, and not the faintest glow of colour
remained to show where the sun had set. There
was present in the atmosphere that ominous and
overwhelming silence which so often precedes the
most violent storms.
I sat down to my books with my brain unusually
clear, and in my heart the pleasant satisfaction of
knowing that five black bass were lying in the
ice-house, and that to-morrow morning the old
farmer would arrive with fresh bread and eggs. I
was soon absorbed in my books.
As the night wore on the silence deepened.
Even the chipmunks were still; and the boards of
the floors and walls ceased creaking. I read on
steadily till, from the gloomy shadows of the
kitchen, came the hoarse sound of the clock striking
nine. How loud the strokes sounded! They were
like blows of a big hammer. I closed one book
and opened another, feeling that I was just
warming up to my work.
This, however, did not last long. I presently
found that I was reading the same paragraphs over
twice, simple paragraphs that did not require such
effort. Then I noticed that my mind began to
wander to other things, and the effort to recall my
thoughts became harder with each digression.
Concentration was growing momentarily more
difficult. Presently I discovered that I had turned
over two pages instead of one, and had not noticed
my mistake until I was well down the page. This
was becoming serious. What was the disturbing
influence? It could not be physical fatigue. On
the contrary, my mind was unusually alert, and
in a more receptive condition than usual. I made
a new and determined effort to read, and for a
short time succeeded in giving my whole attention
to my subject. But in a very few moments again
I found myself leaning back in my chair, staring
vacantly into space.
Something was evidently at work in my sub-consciousness.
There was something I had
neglected to do. Perhaps the kitchen door and
windows were not fastened. I accordingly went
to see, and found that they were! The fire perhaps
needed attention. I went in to see, and found that
it was all right! I looked at the lamps, went
upstairs into every bedroom in turn, and then went
round the house, and even into the ice-house.
Nothing was wrong; everything was in its place.
Yet something was wrong! The conviction grew
stronger and stronger within me.
When I at length settled down to my books
again and tried to read, I became aware, for the
first time, that the room seemed growing cold.
Yet the day had been oppressively warm, and
evening had brought no relief. The six big lamps,
moreover, gave out heat enough to warm the room
pleasantly. But a chilliness, that perhaps crept
up from the lake, made itself felt in the room, and
caused me to get up to close the glass door opening
on to the verandah.
For a brief moment I stood looking out at the
shaft of light that fell from the windows and shone
some little distance down the pathway, and out for
a few feet into the lake.
As I looked, I saw a canoe glide into the pathway
of light, and immediately crossing it, pass out of
sight again into the darkness. It was perhaps
a hundred feet from the shore, and it moved
I was surprised that a canoe should pass the
island at that time of night, for all the summer
visitors from the other side of the lake had gone
home weeks before, and the island was a long way
out of any line of water traffic.
My reading from this moment did not make
very good progress, for somehow the picture of
that canoe, gliding so dimly and swiftly across the
narrow track of light on the black waters,
silhouetted itself against the background of my
mind with singular vividness. It kept coming
between my eyes and the printed page. The more
I thought about it the more surprised I became.
It was of larger build than any I had seen during
the past summer months, and was more like the
old Indian war canoes with the high curving bows
and stern and wide beam. The more I tried to
read, the less success attended my efforts; and
finally I closed my books and went out on the
verandah to walk up and down a bit, and shake
the chilliness out of my bones.
The night was perfectly still, and as dark as
imaginable. I stumbled down the path to the little
landing wharf, where the water made the very
faintest of gurgling under the timbers. The sound
of a big tree falling in the mainland forest, far
across the lake, stirred echoes in the heavy air, like
the first guns of a distant night attack. No other
sound disturbed the stillness that reigned supreme.
As I stood upon the wharf in the broad splash
of light that followed me from the sitting-room
windows, I saw another canoe cross the pathway
of uncertain light upon the water, and disappear
at once into the impenetrable gloom that lay
beyond. This time I saw more distinctly than
before. It was like the former canoe, a big birch-bark,
with high-crested bows and stern and broad
beam. It was paddled by two Indians, of whom
the one in the stern—the steerer—appeared to be
a very large man. I could see this very plainly;
and though the second canoe was much nearer the
island than the first, I judged that they were both
on their way home to the Government Reservation,
which was situated some fifteen miles away upon
I was wondering in my mind what could possibly
bring any Indians down to this part of the lake at
such an hour of the night, when a third canoe, of
precisely similar build, and also occupied by two
Indians, passed silently round the end of the wharf.
This time the canoe was very much nearer shore,
and it suddenly flashed into my mind that the
three canoes were in reality one and the same, and
that only one canoe was circling the island!
This was by no means a pleasant reflection,
because, if it were the correct solution of the
unusual appearance of the three canoes in this
lonely part of the lake at so late an hour, the
purpose of the two men could only reasonably be
considered to be in some way connected with
myself. I had never known of the Indians
attempting any violence upon the settlers who
shared the wild, inhospitable country with them;
at the same time, it was not beyond the region of
possibility to suppose. . . . But then I did not care
even to think of such hideous possibilities, and my
imagination immediately sought relief in all manner
of other solutions to the problem, which indeed
came readily enough to my mind, but did not
succeed in recommending themselves to my
Meanwhile, by a sort of instinct, I stepped
back out of the bright light in which I had
hitherto been standing, and waited in the deep
shadow of a rock to see if the canoe would
again make its appearance. Here I could see,
without being seen, and the precaution seemed a
After less than five minutes the canoe, as I had
anticipated, made its fourth appearance. This time
it was not twenty yards from the wharf, and I saw
that the Indians meant to land. I recognised the
two men as those who had passed before, and the
steerer was certainly an immense fellow. It was
unquestionably the same canoe. There could be no
longer any doubt that for some purpose of their
own the men had been going round and round the
island for some time, waiting for an opportunity to
land. I strained my eyes to follow them in the
darkness, but the night had completely swallowed
them up, and not even the faintest swish of the
paddles reached my ears as the Indians plied their
long and powerful strokes. The canoe would be
round again in a few moments, and this time it
was possible that the men might land. It was
well to be prepared. I knew nothing of their
intentions, and two to one (when the two are big
Indians!) late at night on a lonely island was not
exactly my idea of pleasant intercourse.
In a corner of the sitting-room, leaning up
against the back wall, stood my Marlin rifle, with
ten cartridges in the magazine and one lying
snugly in the greased breech. There was just
time to get up to the house and take up a position
of defence in that corner. Without an instant's
hesitation I ran up to the verandah, carefully
picking my way among the trees, so as to avoid
being seen in the light. Entering the room, I shut
the door leading to the verandah, and as quickly
as possible turned out every one of the six lamps.
To be in a room so brilliantly lighted, where my
every movement could be observed from outside,
while I could see nothing but impenetrable darkness
at every window, was by all laws of warfare
an unnecessary concession to the enemy. And this
enemy, if enemy it was to be, was far too wily and
dangerous to be granted any such advantages.
I stood in the corner of the room with my back
against the wall, and my hand on the cold rifle-barrel.
The table, covered with my books, lay
between me and the door, but for the first few
minutes after the lights were out the darkness
was so intense that nothing could be discerned
at all. Then, very gradually, the outline of the
room became visible, and the framework of the
windows began to shape itself dimly before my
After a few minutes the door (its upper half
of glass), and the two windows that looked
out upon the front verandah, became specially
distinct; and I was glad that this was so, because
if the Indians came up to the house I should be
able to see their approach, and gather something
of their plans. Nor was I mistaken, for there
presently came to my ears the peculiar hollow
sound of a canoe landing and being carefully
dragged up over the rocks. The paddles I distinctly
heard being placed underneath, and the
silence that ensued thereupon I rightly interpreted
to mean that the Indians were stealthily approaching
the house. . . .
While it would be absurd to claim that I was
not alarmed—even frightened—at the gravity of
the situation and its possible outcome, I speak the
whole truth when I say that I was not overwhelmingly
afraid for myself. I was conscious that even
at this stage of the night I was passing into a
psychical condition in which my sensations seemed
no longer normal. Physical fear at no time entered
into the nature of my feelings; and though I
kept my hand upon my rifle the greater part of
the night, I was all the time conscious that its
assistance could be of little avail against the terrors
that I had to face. More than once I seemed to
feel most curiously that I was in no real sense a
part of the proceedings, nor actually involved in
them, but that I was playing the part of a spectator—a
spectator, moreover, on a psychic rather
than on a material plane. Many of my sensations
that night were too vague for definite description
and analysis, but the main feeling that will stay
with me to the end of my days is the awful horror
of it all, and the miserable sensation that if the
strain had lasted a little longer than was actually
the case my mind must inevitably have given way.
Meanwhile I stood still in my corner, and waited
patiently for what was to come. The house was
as still as the grave, but the inarticulate voices of
the night sang in my ears, and I seemed to hear
the blood running in my veins and dancing in my
If the Indians came to the back of the house,
they would find the kitchen door and window
securely fastened. They could not get in there
without making considerable noise, which I was
bound to hear. The only mode of getting in was
by means of the door that faced me, and I kept my
eyes glued on that door without taking them off
for the smallest fraction of a second.
My sight adapted itself every minute better to
the darkness. I saw the table that nearly filled
the room, and left only a narrow passage on each
side. I could also make out the straight backs of
the wooden chairs pressed up against it, and could
even distinguish my papers and inkstand lying on
the white oilcloth covering. I thought of the gay
faces that had gathered round that table during
the summer, and I longed for the sunlight as I had
never longed for it before.
Less than three feet to my left the passage-way
led to the kitchen, and the stairs leading to the
bedrooms above commenced in this passage-way,
but almost in the sitting-room itself. Through
the windows I could see the dim motionless
outlines of the trees: not a leaf stirred, not a
A few moments of this awful silence, and then
I was aware of a soft tread on the boards of
the verandah, so stealthy that it seemed an impression
directly on my brain rather than upon
the nerves of hearing. Immediately afterwards a
black figure darkened the glass door, and I perceived
that a face was pressed against the upper
panes. A shiver ran down my back, and my hair
was conscious of a tendency to rise and stand at
right angles to my head.
It was the figure of an Indian, broad-shouldered
and immense; indeed, the largest figure of a man
I have ever seen outside of a circus hall. By some
power of light that seemed to generate itself in the
brain, I saw the strong dark face with the aquiline
nose and high cheek-bones flattened against the
glass. The direction of the gaze I could not determine;
but faint gleams of light as the big eyes
rolled round and showed their whites, told me
plainly that no corner of the room escaped their
For what seemed fully five minutes the dark
figure stood there, with the huge shoulders bent
forward so as to bring the head down to the level
of the glass; while behind him, though not nearly
so large, the shadowy form of the other Indian
swayed to and fro like a bent tree. While I waited
in an agony of suspense and agitation for their
next movement little currents of icy sensation ran
up and down my spine and my heart seemed alternately
to stop beating and then start off again
with terrifying rapidity. They must have heard
its thumping and the singing of the blood in my
head! Moreover, I was conscious, as I felt a cold
stream of perspiration trickle down my face, of a
desire to scream, to shout, to bang the walls like a
child, to make a noise, or do anything that would
relieve the suspense and bring things to a speedy
It was probably this inclination that led me to
another discovery, for when I tried to bring my
rifle from behind my back to raise it and have it
pointed at the door ready to fire, I found that
I was powerless to move. The muscles, paralysed
by this strange fear, refused to obey the will.
Here indeed was a terrifying complication!
There was a faint sound of rattling at the brass
knob, and the door was pushed open a couple of
inches. A pause of a few seconds, and it was
pushed open still further. Without a sound of
footsteps that was appreciable to my ears, the two
figures glided into the room, and the man behind
gently closed the door after him.
They were alone with me between the four
walls. Could they see me standing there, so still
and straight in my corner? Had they, perhaps,
already seen me? My blood surged and sang like
the roll of drums in an orchestra; and though I
did my best to suppress my breathing, it sounded
like the rushing of wind through a pneumatic
My suspense as to the next move was soon at an
end—only, however, to give place to a new and
keener alarm. The men had hitherto exchanged
no words and no signs, but there were general
indications of a movement across the room, and
whichever way they went they would have to pass
round the table. If they came my way they
would have to pass within six inches of my person.
While I was considering this very disagreeable
possibility, I perceived that the smaller Indian
(smaller by comparison) suddenly raised his arm
and pointed to the ceiling. The other fellow raised
his head and followed the direction of his companion's
arm. I began to understand at last.
They were going upstairs, and the room directly
overhead to which they pointed had been until
this night my bedroom. It was the room in which
I had experienced that very morning so strange a
sensation of fear, and but for which I should then
have been lying asleep in the narrow bed against
The Indians then began to move silently around
the room; they were going upstairs, and they were
coming round my side of the table. So stealthy
were their movements that, but for the abnormally
sensitive state of the nerves, I should never have
heard them. As it was, their cat-like tread was
distinctly audible. Like two monstrous black cats
they came round the table toward me, and for the
first time I perceived that the smaller of the two
dragged something along the floor behind him.
As it trailed along over the floor with a soft,
sweeping sound, I somehow got the impression
that it was a large dead thing with outstretched
wings, or a large, spreading cedar branch. Whatever
it was, I was unable to see it even in outline,
and I was too terrified, even had I possessed the
power over my muscles, to move my neck forward
in the effort to determine its nature.
Nearer and nearer they came. The leader
rested a giant hand upon the table as he moved.
My lips were glued together, and the air seemed
to burn in my nostrils. I tried to close my eyes,
so that I might not see as they passed me; but
my eyelids had stiffened, and refused to obey.
Would they never get by me? Sensation seemed
also to have left my legs, and it was as if I were
standing on mere supports of wood or stone.
Worse still, I was conscious that I was losing the
power of balance, the power to stand upright, or
even to lean backwards against the wall. Some
force was drawing me forward, and a dizzy terror
seized me that I should lose my balance, and topple
forward against the Indians just as they were in
the act of passing me.
Even moments drawn out into hours must come
to an end some time, and almost before I knew it
the figures had passed me and had their feet upon
the lower step of the stairs leading to the upper
bedrooms. There could not have been six inches
between us, and yet I was conscious only of a
current of cold air that followed them. They had
not touched me, and I was convinced that they
had not seen me. Even the trailing thing on the
floor behind them had not touched my feet, as I
had dreaded it would, and on such an occasion as
this I was grateful even for the smallest mercies.
The absence of the Indians from my immediate
neighbourhood brought little sense of relief. I
stood shivering and shuddering in my corner, and,
beyond being able to breathe more freely, I felt no
whit less uncomfortable. Also, I was aware that
a certain light, which, without apparent source or
rays, had enabled me to follow their every gesture
and movement, had gone out of the room with
their departure. An unnatural darkness now filled
the room, and pervaded its every corner so that I
could barely make out the positions of the windows
and the glass doors.
As I said before, my condition was evidently an
abnormal one. The capacity for feeling surprise
seemed, as in dreams, to be wholly absent. My
senses recorded with unusual accuracy every
smallest occurrence, but I was able to draw only
the simplest deductions.
The Indians soon reached the top of the stairs,
and there they halted for a moment. I had not
the faintest clue as to their next movement. They
appeared to hesitate. They were listening attentively.
Then I heard one of them, who by the
weight of his soft tread must have been the
giant, cross the narrow corridor and enter the
room directly overhead—my own little bedroom.
But for the insistence of that unaccountable dread
I had experienced there in the morning, I should
at that very moment have been lying in the bed
with the big Indian in the room standing beside
For the space of a hundred seconds there was
silence, such as might have existed before the
birth of sound. It was followed by a long quivering
shriek of terror, which rang out into the night,
and ended in a short gulp before it had run its
full course. At the same moment the other Indian
left his place at the head of the stairs, and joined
his companion in the bedroom. I heard the
"thing" trailing behind him along the floor. A
thud followed, as of something heavy falling, and
then all became as still and silent as before.
It was at this point that the atmosphere, surcharged
all day with the electricity of a fierce
storm, found relief in a dancing flash of brilliant
lightning simultaneously with a crash of loudest
thunder. For five seconds every article in the
room was visible to me with amazing distinctness,
and through the windows I saw the tree trunks
standing in solemn rows. The thunder pealed and
echoed across the lake and among the distant
islands, and the flood-gates of heaven then opened
and let out their rain in streaming torrents.
The drops fell with a swift rushing sound upon
the still waters of the lake, which leaped up to
meet them, and pattered with the rattle of shot
on the leaves of the maples and the roof of the
cottage. A moment later, and another flash, even
more brilliant and of longer duration than the first,
lit up the sky from zenith to horizon, and bathed
the room momentarily in dazzling whiteness. I
could see the rain glistening on the leaves and
branches outside. The wind rose suddenly,
and in less than a minute the storm that had
been gathering all day burst forth in its full
Above all the noisy voices of the elements, the
slightest sounds in the room overhead made themselves
heard, and in the few seconds of deep silence
that followed the shriek of terror and pain I was
aware that the movements had commenced again.
The men were leaving the room and approaching
the top of the stairs. A short pause, and they
began to descend. Behind them, tumbling from
step to step, I could hear that trailing "thing"
being dragged along. It had become ponderous!
I awaited their approach with a degree of calmness,
almost of apathy, which was only explicable
on the ground that after a certain point Nature
applies her own anæsthetic, and a merciful condition
of numbness supervenes. On they came, step
by step, nearer and nearer, with the shuffling sound
of the burden behind growing louder as they
They were already half-way down the stairs
when I was galvanised afresh into a condition of
terror by the consideration of a new and horrible
possibility. It was the reflection that if another
vivid flash of lightning were to come when the
shadowy procession was in the room, perhaps when
it was actually passing in front of me, I should see
everything in detail, and worse, be seen myself!
I could only hold my breath and wait—wait while
the minutes lengthened into hours, and the
procession made its slow progress round the
The Indians had reached the foot of the staircase.
The form of the huge leader loomed in the doorway
of the passage, and the burden with an ominous
thud had dropped from the last step to the floor.
There was a moment's pause while I saw the
Indian turn and stoop to assist his companion.
Then the procession moved forward again, entered
the room close on my left, and began to move slowly
round my side of the table. The leader was already
beyond me, and his companion, dragging on the
floor behind him the burden, whose confused outline
I could dimly make out, was exactly in front
of me, when the cavalcade came to a dead halt.
At the same moment, with the strange suddenness
of thunderstorms, the splash of the rain ceased
altogether, and the wind died away into utter
For the space of five seconds my heart seemed
to stop beating, and then the worst came. A
double flash of lightning lit up the room and its
contents with merciless vividness.
The huge Indian leader stood a few feet past
me on my right. One leg was stretched forward
in the act of taking a step. His immense shoulders
were turned toward his companion, and in all their
magnificent fierceness I saw the outline of his
features. His gaze was directed upon the burden
his companion was dragging along the floor; but
his profile, with the big aquiline nose, high cheek-bone,
straight black hair and bold chin, burnt
itself in that brief instant into my brain, never
again to fade.
Dwarfish, compared with this gigantic figure,
appeared the proportions of the other Indian,
who, within twelve inches of my face, was stooping
over the thing he was dragging in a position that
lent to his person the additional horror of deformity.
And the burden, lying upon a sweeping cedar
branch which he held and dragged by a long stem,
was the body of a white man. The scalp had been
neatly lifted, and blood lay in a broad smear upon
the cheeks and forehead.
Then, for the first time that night, the terror that
had paralysed my muscles and my will lifted its
unholy spell from my soul. With a loud cry I
stretched out my arms to seize the big Indian by
the throat, and, grasping only air, tumbled forward
unconscious upon the ground.
I had recognised the body, and the face was my
own!. . . .
It was bright daylight when a man's voice
recalled me to consciousness. I was lying where
I had fallen, and the farmer was standing in the
room with the loaves of bread in his hands. The
horror of the night was still in my heart, and as
the bluff settler helped me to my feet and picked
up the rifle which had fallen with me, with many
questions and expressions of condolence, I imagine
my brief replies were neither self-explanatory nor
That day, after a thorough and fruitless search
of the house, I left the island, and went over to
spend my last ten days with the farmer; and when
the time came for me to leave, the necessary reading
had been accomplished, and my nerves had
completely recovered their balance.
On the day of my departure the farmer started
early in his big boat with my belongings to row
to the point, twelve miles distant, where a little
steamer ran twice a week for the accommodation
of hunters. Late in the afternoon I went off in
another direction in my canoe, wishing to see the
island once again, where I had been the victim of
so strange an experience.
In due course I arrived there, and made a
tour of the island. I also made a search of
the little house, and it was not without a curious
sensation in my heart that I entered the little
upstairs bedroom. There seemed nothing unusual.
Just after I re-embarked, I saw a canoe gliding
ahead of me around the curve of the island. A
canoe was an unusual sight at this time of the
year, and this one seemed to have sprung from
nowhere. Altering my course a little, I watched
it disappear around the next projecting point of
rock. It had high curving bows, and there were
two Indians in it. I lingered with some excitement,
to see if it would appear again round the
other side of the island; and in less than five
minutes it came into view. There were less than
two hundred yards between us, and the Indians,
sitting on their haunches, were paddling swiftly
in my direction.
I never paddled faster in my life than I did in
those next few minutes. When I turned to look
again, the Indians had altered their course, and
were again circling the island.
The sun was sinking behind the forests on the
mainland, and the crimson-coloured clouds of sunset
were reflected in the waters of the lake, when
I looked round for the last time, and saw the big
bark canoe and its two dusky occupants still going
round the island. Then the shadows deepened
rapidly; the lake grew black, and the night wind
blew its first breath in my face as I turned a corner,
and a projecting bluff of rock hid from my view
both island and canoe.
Jim Shorthouse was the sort of fellow who
always made a mess of things. Everything with
which his hands or mind came into contact issued
from such contact in an unqualified and irremediable
state of mess. His college days were a mess: he
was twice rusticated. His schooldays were a mess:
he went to half a dozen, each passing him on to
the next with a worse character and in a more
developed state of mess. His early boyhood was
the sort of mess that copy-books and dictionaries
spell with a big "M," and his babyhood—ugh! was
the embodiment of howling, yowling, screaming
At the age of forty, however, there came a
change in his troubled life, when he met a girl
with half a million in her own right, who consented
to marry him, and who very soon succeeded in
reducing his most messy existence into a state of
comparative order and system.
Certain incidents, important and otherwise, of
Jim's life would never have come to be told here
but for the fact that in getting into his "messes"
and out of them again he succeeded in drawing
himself into the atmosphere of peculiar circumstances
and strange happenings. He attracted to
his path the curious adventures of life as unfailingly
as meat attracts flies, and jam wasps. It is to the
meat and jam of his life, so to speak, that he owes
his experiences; his after-life was all pudding,
which attracts nothing but greedy children. With
marriage the interest of his life ceased for all but
one person, and his path became regular as the
sun's instead of erratic as a comet's.
The first experience in order of time that he
related to me shows that somewhere latent behind
his disarranged nervous system there lay psychic
perceptions of an uncommon order. About the
age of twenty-two—I think after his second
rustication—his father's purse and patience had
equally given out, and Jim found himself stranded
high and dry in a large American city. High and
dry! And the only clothes that had no holes in
them safely in the keeping of his uncle's wardrobe.
Careful reflection on a bench in one of the city
parks led him to the conclusion that the only
thing to do was to persuade the city editor of one
of the daily journals that he possessed an observant
mind and a ready pen, and that he could "do good
work for your paper, sir, as a reporter." This,
then, he did, standing at a most unnatural angle
between the editor and the window to conceal the
whereabouts of the holes.
"Guess we'll have to give you a week's trial,"
said the editor, who, ever on the lookout for good
chance material, took on shoals of men in that way
and retained on the average one man per shoal.
Anyhow it gave Jim Shorthouse the wherewithal
to sew up the holes and relieve his uncle's wardrobe
of its burden.
Then he went to find living quarters; and in
this proceeding his unique characteristics already
referred to—what theosophists would call his
Karma—began unmistakably to assert themselves,
for it was in the house he eventually selected that
this sad tale took place.
There are no "diggings" in American cities.
The alternatives for small incomes are grim enough—rooms
in a boarding-house where meals are
served, or in a room-house where no meals are
served—not even breakfast. Rich people live in
palaces, of course, but Jim had nothing to do
with "sich-like." His horizon was bounded by
boarding-houses and room-houses; and, owing to
the necessary irregularity of his meals and hours,
he took the latter.
It was a large, gaunt-looking place in a side street,
with dirty windows and a creaking iron gate, but
the rooms were large, and the one he selected and
paid for in advance was on the top floor. The landlady
looked gaunt and dusty as the house, and quite
as old. Her eyes were green and faded, and her
"Waal," she twanged, with her electrifying
Western drawl, "that's the room, if you like it, and
that's the price I said. Now, if you want it, why,
just say so; and if you don't, why, it don't hurt
Jim wanted to shake her, but he feared the
clouds of long-accumulated dust in her clothes, and
as the price and size of the room suited him, he
decided to take it.
"Anyone else on this floor?" he asked.
She looked at him queerly out of her faded eyes
before she answered.
"None of my guests ever put such questions to
me before," she said; "but I guess you're different.
Why, there's no one at all but an old gent that's
stayed here every bit of five years. He's over
thar," pointing to the end of the passage.
"Ah! I see," said Shorthouse feebly. "So I'm
alone up here?"
"Reckon you are, pretty near," she twanged out,
ending the conversation abruptly by turning her
back on her new "guest," and going slowly and
The newspaper work kept Shorthouse out most
of the night. Three times a week he got home at
1 a.m., and three times at 3 a.m. The room proved
comfortable enough, and he paid for a second week.
His unusual hours had so far prevented his meeting
any inmates of the house, and not a sound had
been heard from the "old gent" who shared the
floor with him. It seemed a very quiet house.
One night, about the middle of the second week,
he came home tired after a long day's work. The
lamp that usually stood all night in the hall had
burned itself out, and he had to stumble upstairs
in the dark. He made considerable noise in doing
so, but nobody seemed to be disturbed. The whole
house was utterly quiet, and probably everybody
was asleep. There were no lights under any of the
doors. All was in darkness. It was after two
After reading some English letters that had
come during the day, and dipping for a few
minutes into a book, he became drowsy and got
ready for bed. Just as he was about to get in
between the sheets, he stopped for a moment and
listened. There rose in the night, as he did so, the
sound of steps somewhere in the house below.
Listening attentively, he heard that it was somebody
coming upstairs—a heavy tread, and the
owner taking no pains to step quietly. On it came
up the stairs, tramp, tramp, tramp—evidently the
tread of a big man, and one in something of a hurry.
At once thoughts connected somehow with fire
and police flashed through Jim's brain, but there
were no sounds of voices with the steps, and he
reflected in the same moment that it could only be
the old gentleman keeping late hours and tumbling
upstairs in the darkness. He was in the act of
turning out the gas and stepping into bed, when
the house resumed its former stillness by the footsteps
suddenly coming to a dead stop immediately
outside his own room.
With his hand on the gas, Shorthouse paused a
moment before turning it out to see if the steps
would go on again, when he was startled by a loud
knocking on his door. Instantly, in obedience to a
curious and unexplained instinct, he turned out the
light, leaving himself and the room in total
He had scarcely taken a step across the room to
open the door, when a voice from the other side of
the wall, so close it almost sounded in his ear,
exclaimed in German, "Is that you, father? Come
The speaker was a man in the next room, and
the knocking, after all, had not been on his own
door, but on that of the adjoining chamber, which
he had supposed to be vacant.
Almost before the man in the passage had
time to answer in German, "Let me in at once,"
Jim heard someone cross the floor and unlock
the door. Then it was slammed to with a bang,
and there was audible the sound of footsteps about
the room, and of chairs being drawn up to a table
and knocking against furniture on the way. The
men seemed wholly regardless of their neighbour's
comfort, for they made noise enough to waken the
"Serves me right for taking a room in such a
cheap hole," reflected Jim in the darkness. "I
wonder whom she's let the room to!"
The two rooms, the landlady had told him, were
originally one. She had put up a thin partition—just
a row of boards—to increase her income. The
doors were adjacent, and only separated by the
massive upright beam between them. When one
was opened or shut the other rattled.
With utter indifference to the comfort of the
other sleepers in the house, the two Germans had
meanwhile commenced to talk both at once and at
the top of their voices. They talked emphatically,
even angrily. The words "Father" and "Otto"
were freely used. Shorthouse understood German,
but as he stood listening for the first minute or
two, an eavesdropper in spite of himself, it was
difficult to make head or tail of the talk, for neither
would give way to the other, and the jumble of
guttural sounds and unfinished sentences was
wholly unintelligible. Then, very suddenly, both
voices dropped together; and, after a moment's
pause, the deep tones of one of them, who seemed
to be the "father," said, with the utmost
"You mean, Otto, that you refuse to get it?"
There was a sound of someone shuffling in the
chair before the answer came. "I mean that I don't
know how to get it. It is so much, father. It is
too much. A part of it—"
"A part of it!" cried the other, with an angry
oath, "a part of it, when ruin and disgrace are
already in the house, is worse than useless. If you
can get half you can get all, you wretched fool.
Half-measures only damn all concerned."
"You told me last time—" began the other
firmly, but was not allowed to finish. A succession
of horrible oaths drowned his sentence, and the
father went on, in a voice vibrating with anger—
"You know she will give you anything. You
have only been married a few months. If you ask
and give a plausible reason you can get all we want
and more. You can ask it temporarily. All will
be paid back. It will re-establish the firm, and she
will never know what was done with it. With that
amount, Otto, you know I can recoup all these
terrible losses, and in less than a year all will be
repaid. But without it. . . . You must get it, Otto.
Hear me, you must. Am I to be arrested for the
misuse of trust moneys? Is our honoured name to
be cursed and spat on?" The old man choked and
stammered in his anger and desperation.
Shorthouse stood shivering in the darkness and
listening in spite of himself. The conversation had
carried him along with it, and he had been for some
reason afraid to let his neighbourhood be known.
But at this point he realised that he had listened
too long and that he must inform the two men that
they could be overheard to every single syllable. So
he coughed loudly, and at the same time rattled
the handle of his door. It seemed to have no effect,
for the voices continued just as loudly as before,
the son protesting and the father growing more and
more angry. He coughed again persistently, and
also contrived purposely in the darkness to tumble
against the partition, feeling the thin boards yield
easily under his weight, and making a considerable
noise in so doing. But the voices went on unconcernedly,
and louder than ever. Could it be
possible they had not heard?
By this time Jim was more concerned about his
own sleep than the morality of overhearing the
private scandals of his neighbours, and he went
out into the passage and knocked smartly at their
door. Instantly, as if by magic, the sounds ceased.
Everything dropped into utter silence. There was
no light under the door and not a whisper could
be heard within. He knocked again, but received
"Gentlemen," he began at length, with his lips
close to the keyhole and in German, "please do not
talk so loud. I can overhear all you say in the
next room. Besides, it is very late, and I wish to
He paused and listened, but no answer was
forthcoming. He turned the handle and found
the door was locked. Not a sound broke the
stillness of the night except the faint swish of the
wind over the skylight and the creaking of a
board here and there in the house below. The cold
air of a very early morning crept down the passage,
and made him shiver. The silence of the house
began to impress him disagreeably. He looked
behind him and about him, hoping, and yet fearing,
that something would break the stillness. The
voices still seemed to ring on in his ears; but that
sudden silence, when he knocked at the door,
affected him far more unpleasantly than the voices,
and put strange thoughts in his brain—thoughts
he did not like or approve.
Moving stealthily from the door, he peered over
the banisters into the space below. It was like a
deep vault that might conceal in its shadows
anything that was not good. It was not difficult
to fancy he saw an indistinct moving to-and-fro
below him. Was that a figure sitting on the stairs
peering up obliquely at him out of hideous eyes?
Was that a sound of whispering and shuffling
down there in the dark halls and forsaken
landings? Was it something more than the
inarticulate murmur of the night?
The wind made an effort overhead, singing
over the skylight, and the door behind him rattled
and made him start. He turned to go back to his
room, and the draught closed the door slowly in
his face as if there were someone pressing against
it from the other side. When he pushed it open
and went in, a hundred shadowy forms seemed to
dart swiftly and silently back to their corners and
hiding-places. But in the adjoining room the
sounds had entirely ceased, and Shorthouse soon
crept into bed, and left the house with its inmates,
waking or sleeping, to take care of themselves,
while he entered the region of dreams and silence.
Next day, strong in the common sense that the
sunlight brings, he determined to lodge a complaint
against the noisy occupants of the next room and
make the landlady request them to modify their
voices at such late hours of the night and morning.
But it so happened that she was not to be seen that
day, and when he returned from the office at midnight
it was, of course, too late.
Looking under the door as he came up to bed he
noticed that there was no light, and concluded that
the Germans were not in. So much the better.
He went to sleep about one o'clock, fully decided
that if they came up later and woke him with
their horrible noises he would not rest till he had
roused the landlady and made her reprove them
with that authoritative twang, in which every
word was like the lash of a metallic whip.
However, there proved to be no need for such
drastic measures, for Shorthouse slumbered peacefully
all night, and his dreams—chiefly of the
fields of grain and flocks of sheep on the far-away
farms of his father's estate—were permitted to run
their fanciful course unbroken.
Two nights later, however, when he came home
tired out, after a difficult day, and wet and blown
about by one of the wickedest storms he had ever
seen, his dreams—always of the fields and sheep—were
not destined to be so undisturbed.
He had already dozed off in that delicious glow
that follows the removal of wet clothes and the
immediate snuggling under warm blankets, when
his consciousness, hovering on the borderland
between sleep and waking, was vaguely troubled
by a sound that rose indistinctly from the depths
of the house, and, between the gusts of wind and
rain, reached his ears with an accompanying sense
of uneasiness and discomfort. It rose on the
night air with some pretence of regularity, dying
away again in the roar of the wind to reassert
itself distantly in the deep, brief hushes of the
For a few minutes Jim's dreams were coloured
only—tinged, as it were, by this impression of fear
approaching from somewhere insensibly upon him.
His consciousness, at first, refused to be drawn
back from that enchanted region where it had
wandered, and he did not immediately awaken.
But the nature of his dreams changed unpleasantly.
He saw the sheep suddenly run huddled together,
as though frightened by the neighbourhood of an
enemy, while the fields of waving corn became
agitated as though some monster were moving uncouthly
among the crowded stalks. The sky grew
dark, and in his dream an awful sound came somewhere
from the clouds. It was in reality the sound
downstairs growing more distinct.
Shorthouse shifted uneasily across the bed with
something like a groan of distress. The next
minute he awoke, and found himself sitting straight
up in bed—listening. Was it a nightmare? Had
he been dreaming evil dreams, that his flesh
crawled and the hair stirred on his head?
The room was dark and silent, but outside the
wind howled dismally and drove the rain with
repeated assaults against the rattling windows.
How nice it would be—the thought flashed
through his mind—if all winds, like the west
wind, went down with the sun! They made such
fiendish noises at night, like the crying of angry
voices. In the daytime they had such a different
sound. If only——
Hark! It was no dream after all, for the sound
was momentarily growing louder, and its cause
was coming up the stairs. He found himself
speculating feebly what this cause might be, but
the sound was still too indistinct to enable him to
arrive at any definite conclusion.
The voice of a church clock striking two made
itself heard above the wind. It was just about the
hour when the Germans had commenced their
performance three nights before. Shorthouse made
up his mind that if they began it again he would
not put up with it for very long. Yet he was
already horribly conscious of the difficulty he
would have of getting out of bed. The clothes
were so warm and comforting against his back.
The sound, still steadily coming nearer, had by this
time become differentiated from the confused
clamour of the elements, and had resolved itself
into the footsteps of one or more persons.
"The Germans, hang 'em!" thought Jim. "But
what on earth is the matter with me? I never felt
so queer in all my life."
He was trembling all over, and felt as cold as
though he were in a freezing atmosphere. His
nerves were steady enough, and he felt no diminution
of physical courage, but he was conscious of a
curious sense of malaise and trepidation, such as
even the most vigorous men have been known to
experience when in the first grip of some horrible
and deadly disease. As the footsteps approached
this feeling of weakness increased. He felt a
strange lassitude creeping over him, a sort of
exhaustion, accompanied by a growing numbness
in the extremities, and a sensation of dreaminess in
the head, as if perhaps the consciousness were
leaving its accustomed seat in the brain and
preparing to act on another plane. Yet, strange
to say, as the vitality was slowly withdrawn from
his body, his senses seemed to grow more acute.
Meanwhile the steps were already on the landing
at the top of the stairs, and Shorthouse, still
sitting upright in bed, heard a heavy body brush
past his door and along the wall outside, almost
immediately afterwards the loud knocking of
someone's knuckles on the door of the adjoining
Instantly, though so far not a sound had proceeded
from within, he heard, through the thin
partition, a chair pushed back and a man quickly
cross the floor and open the door.
"Ah! it's you," he heard in the son's voice.
Had the fellow, then, been sitting silently in there
all this time, waiting for his father's arrival? To
Shorthouse it came not as a pleasant reflection by
There was no answer to this dubious greeting,
but the door was closed quickly, and then there
was a sound as if a bag or parcel had been thrown
on a wooden table and had slid some distance
across it before stopping.
"What's that?" asked the son, with anxiety in
"You may know before I go," returned the other
gruffly. Indeed his voice was more than gruff: it
betrayed ill-suppressed passion.
Shorthouse was conscious of a strong desire to
stop the conversation before it proceeded any
further, but somehow or other his will was not
equal to the task, and he could not get out of
bed. The conversation went on, every tone and
inflexion distinctly audible above the noise of the
In a low voice the father continued. Jim
missed some of the words at the beginning of the
sentence. It ended with: " . . . but now they've
all left, and I've managed to get up to you. You
know what I've come for." There was distinct
menace in his tone.
"Yes," returned the other; "I have been
"And the money?" asked the father impatiently.
"You've had three days to get it in, and I've
contrived to stave off the worst so far—but
to-morrow is the end."
"Speak, Otto! What have you got for me?
Speak, my son; for God's sake, tell me."
There was a moment's silence, during which
the old man's vibrating accents seemed to echo
through the rooms. Then came in a low voice the
"I have nothing."
"Otto!" cried the other with passion, "nothing!"
"I can get nothing," came almost in a whisper.
"You lie!" cried the other, in a half-stifled
voice. "I swear you lie. Give me the money."
A chair was heard scraping along the floor.
Evidently the men had been sitting over the table,
and one of them had risen. Shorthouse heard the
bag or parcel drawn across the table, and then
a step as if one of the men was crossing to the
"Father, what's in that? I must know," said
Otto, with the first signs of determination in his
voice. There must have been an effort on the son's
part to gain possession of the parcel in question,
and on the father's to retain it, for between them
it fell to the ground. A curious rattle followed
its contact with the floor. Instantly there were
sounds of a scuffle. The men were struggling for
the possession of the box. The elder man with
oaths, and blasphemous imprecations, the other
with short gasps that betokened the strength of
his efforts. It was of short duration, and the
younger man had evidently won, for a minute
later was heard his angry exclamation.
"I knew it. Her jewels! You scoundrel, you
shall never have them. It is a crime."
The elder man uttered a short, guttural laugh,
which froze Jim's blood and made his skin creep.
No word was spoken, and for the space of ten
seconds there was a living silence. Then the air
trembled with the sound of a thud, followed
immediately by a groan and the crash of a heavy
body falling over on to the table. A second later
there was a lurching from the table on to the
floor and against the partition that separated the
rooms. The bed quivered an instant at the shock,
but the unholy spell was lifted from his soul and
Jim Shorthouse sprang out of bed and across the
floor in a single bound. He knew that ghastly
murder had been done—the murder by a father
of his son.
With shaking fingers but a determined heart he
lit the gas, and the first thing in which his eyes
corroborated the evidence of his ears was the
horrifying detail that the lower portion of the
partition bulged unnaturally into his own room.
The glaring paper with which it was covered had
cracked under the tension and the boards beneath
it bent inwards towards him. What hideous load
was behind them, he shuddered to think.
All this he saw in less than a second. Since the
final lurch against the wall not a sound had proceeded
from the room, not even a groan or a foot-step.
All was still but the howl of the wind,
which to his ears had in it a note of triumphant
Shorthouse was in the act of leaving the room
to rouse the house and send for the police—in fact
his hand was already on the door-knob—when
something in the room arrested his attention. Out
of the corner of his eyes he thought he caught
sight of something moving. He was sure of it,
and turning his eyes in the direction, he found
he was not mistaken.
Something was creeping slowly towards him
along the floor. It was something dark and
serpentine in shape, and it came from the place
where the partition bulged. He stooped down to
examine it with feelings of intense horror and
repugnance, and he discovered that it was moving
toward him from the other side of the wall. His
eyes were fascinated, and for the moment he was
unable to move. Silently, slowly, from side to side
like a thick worm, it crawled forward into the
room beneath his frightened eyes, until at length
he could stand it no longer and stretched out his
arm to touch it. But at the instant of contact he
withdrew his hand with a suppressed scream. It
was sluggish—and it was warm! and he saw that
his fingers were stained with living crimson.
A second more, and Shorthouse was out in the
passage with his hand on the door of the next room.
It was locked. He plunged forward with all his
weight against it, and, the lock giving way, he fell
headlong into a room that was pitch dark and very
cold. In a moment he was on his feet again and
trying to penetrate the blackness. Not a sound,
not a movement. Not even the sense of a presence.
It was empty, miserably empty!
Across the room he could trace the outline of a
window with rain streaming down the outside, and
the blurred lights of the city beyond. But the
room was empty, appallingly empty; and so still.
He stood there, cold as ice, staring, shivering
listening. Suddenly there was a step behind him
and a light flashed into the room, and when he
turned quickly with his arm up as if to ward off a
terrific blow he found himself face to face with the
landlady. Instantly the reaction began to set in.
It was nearly three o'clock in the morning, and
he was standing there with bare feet and striped
pyjamas in a small room, which in the merciful
light he perceived to be absolutely empty, carpetless,
and without a stick of furniture, or even a
window-blind. There he stood staring at the disagreeable
landlady. And there she stood too,
staring and silent, in a black wrapper, her head
almost bald, her face white as chalk, shading a
sputtering candle with one bony hand and peering
over it at him with her blinking green eyes. She
looked positively hideous.
"Waal?" she drawled at length, "I heard yer
right enough. Guess you couldn't sleep! Or just
prowlin' round a bit—is that it?"
The empty room, the absence of all traces of
the recent tragedy, the silence, the hour, his
striped pyjamas and bare feet—everything together
combined to deprive him momentarily of
speech. He stared at her blankly without a word.
"Waal?" clanked the awful voice.
"My dear woman," he burst out finally, "there's
been something awful—" So far his desperation
took him, but no farther. He positively stuck at
"Oh! there hasn't been nothin'," she said slowly
still peering at him. "I reckon you've only seen
and heard what the others did. I never can keep
folks on this floor long. Most of 'em catch on
sooner or later—that is, the ones that's kind of
quick and sensitive. Only you being an Englishman
I thought you wouldn't mind. Nothin' really
happens; it's only thinkin' like."
Shorthouse was beside himself. He felt ready
to pick her up and drop her over the banisters,
candle and all.
"Look there," he said, pointing at her within an
inch of her blinking eyes with the fingers that
had touched the oozing blood; "look there, my
good woman. Is that only thinking?"
She stared a minute, as if not knowing what
"I guess so," she said at length.
He followed her eyes, and to his amazement saw
that his fingers were as white as usual, and quite
free from the awful stain that had been there ten
minutes before. There was no sign of blood. No
amount of staring could bring it back. Had he
gone out of his mind? Had his eyes and ears
played such tricks with him? Had his senses
become false and perverted? He dashed past the
landlady, out into the passage, and gained his own
room in a couple of strides. Whew! . . . the
partition no longer bulged. The paper was not
torn. There was no creeping, crawling thing on
the faded old carpet.
"It's all over now," drawled the metallic voice
behind him. "I'm going to bed again."
He turned and saw the landlady slowly going
downstairs again, still shading the candle with
her hand and peering up at him from time to time
as she moved. A black, ugly, unwholesome object,
he thought, as she disappeared into the darkness
below, and the last flicker of her candle threw a
queer-shaped shadow along the wall and over the
Without hesitating a moment, Shorthouse threw
himself into his clothes and went out of the house.
He preferred the storm to the horrors of that top
floor, and he walked the streets till daylight. In
the evening he told the landlady he would leave
next day, in spite of her assurances that nothing
more would happen.
"It never comes back," she said—"that is, not
after he's killed."
"You gave me a lot for my money," he growled.
"Waal, it aren't my show," she drawled. "I'm
no spirit medium. You take chances. Some'll
sleep right along and never hear nothin'. Others,
like yourself, are different and get the whole
"Who's the old gentleman?—does he hear it?"
"There's no old gentleman at all," she answered
coolly. "I just told you that to make you feel
easy like in case you did hear anythin'. You
were all alone on the floor."
"Say now," she went on, after a pause in which
Shorthouse could think of nothing to say but unpublishable
things, "say now, do tell, did you
feel sort of cold when the show was on, sort of
tired and weak, I mean, as if you might be going
"How can I say?" he answered savagely;
"what I felt God only knows."
"Waal, but He won't tell," she drawled out.
"Only I was wonderin' how you really did feel,
because the man who had that room last was
found one morning in bed—"
"He was dead. He was the one before you.
Oh! You don't need to get rattled so. You're
all right. And it all really happened, they do
say. This house used to be a private residence
some twenty-five years ago, and a German family
of the name of Steinhardt lived here. They had
a big business in Wall Street, and stood 'way up
"Ah!" said her listener.
"Oh yes, they did, right at the top, till one fine
day it all bust and the old man skipped with the
"Skipped with the boodle?"
"That's so," she said; "got clear away with all
the money, and the son was found dead in his
house, committed soocide it was thought. Though
there was some as said he couldn't have stabbed
himself and fallen in that position. They said he
was murdered. The father died in prison. They
tried to fasten the murder on him, but there was
no motive, or no evidence, or no somethin'. I
"Very pretty," said Shorthouse.
"I'll show you somethin' mighty queer any-ways,"
she drawled, "if you'll come upstairs a
minute. I've heard the steps and voices lots of
times; they don't pheaze me any. I'd just as lief
hear so many dogs barkin'. You'll find the whole
story in the newspapers if you look it up—not
what goes on here, but the story of the Germans.
My house would be ruined if they told all, and
I'd sue for damages."
They reached the bedroom, and the woman
went in and pulled up the edge of the carpet
where Shorthouse had seen the blood soaking in
the previous night.
"Look thar, if you feel like it," said the old
hag. Stooping down, he saw a dark, dull stain in
the boards that corresponded exactly to the shape
and position of the blood as he had seen it.
That night he slept in a hotel, and the following
day sought new quarters. In the newspapers on
file in his office after a long search he found
twenty years back the detailed story, substantially
as the woman had said, of Steinhardt & Co.'s
failure, the absconding and subsequent arrest of
the senior partner, and the suicide, or murder, of
his son Otto. The landlady's room-house had
formerly been their private residence.
It was eleven o'clock at night, and young Marriott
was locked into his room, cramming as hard as he
could cram. He was a "Fourth Year Man" at
Edinburgh University and he had been ploughed
for this particular examination so often that his
parents had positively declared they could no
longer supply the funds to keep him there.
His rooms were cheap and dingy, but it was the
lecture fees that took the money. So Marriott
pulled himself together at last and definitely made
up his mind that he would pass or die in the
attempt, and for some weeks now he had been
reading as hard as mortal man can read. He was
trying to make up for lost time and money in a
way that showed conclusively he did not understand
the value of either. For no ordinary man—and
Marriott was in every sense an ordinary man—can
afford to drive the mind as he had lately been
driving his, without sooner or later paying the
Among the students he had few friends or
acquaintances, and these few had promised not to
disturb him at night, knowing he was at last
reading in earnest. It was, therefore, with feelings
a good deal stronger than mere surprise that he
heard his door-bell ring on this particular night
and realised that he was to have a visitor. Some
men would simply have muffled the bell and gone
on quietly with their work. But Marriott was not
this sort. He was nervous. It would have
bothered and pecked at his mind all night long
not to know who the visitor was and what he
wanted. The only thing to do, therefore, was to
let him in—and out again—as quickly as possible.
The landlady went to bed at ten o'clock punctually,
after which hour nothing would induce her
to pretend she heard the bell, so Marriott jumped
up from his books with an exclamation that
augured ill for the reception of his caller, and
prepared to let him in with his own hand.
The streets of Edinburgh town were very still at
this late hour—it was late for Edinburgh—and in
the quiet neighbourhood of F—— Street, where
Marriott lived on the third floor, scarcely a sound
broke the silence. As he crossed the floor, the
bell rang a second time, with unnecessary clamour,
and he unlocked the door and passed into the little
hallway with considerable wrath and annoyance
in his heart at the insolence of the double
"The fellows all know I'm reading for this
exam. Why in the world do they come to bother
me at such an unearthly hour?"
The inhabitants of the building, with himself,
were medical students, general students, poor
Writers to the Signet, and some others whose
vocations were perhaps not so obvious. The stone
staircase, dimly lighted at each floor by a gas-jet
that would not turn above a certain height, wound
down to the level of the street with no pretence at
carpet or railing. At some levels it was cleaner
than at others. It depended on the landlady of the
The acoustic properties of a spiral staircase seem
to be peculiar. Marriott, standing by the open
door, book in hand, thought every moment the
owner of the footsteps would come into view.
The sound of the boots was so close and so loud
that they seemed to travel disproportionately in
advance of their cause. Wondering who it could
be, he stood ready with all manner of sharp
greetings for the man who dared thus to disturb
his work. But the man did not appear. The steps
sounded almost under his nose, yet no one was
A sudden queer sensation of fear passed over
him—a faintness and a shiver down the back. It
went, however, almost as soon as it came, and he
was just debating whether he would call aloud to
his invisible visitor, or slam the door and return
to his books, when the cause of the disturbance
turned the corner very slowly and came into
It was a stranger. He saw a youngish man
short of figure and very broad. His face was the
colour of a piece of chalk and the eyes, which were
very bright, had heavy lines underneath them.
Though the cheeks and chin were unshaven and
the general appearance unkempt, the man was
evidently a gentleman, for he was well dressed
and bore himself with a certain air. But, strangest
of all, he wore no hat, and carried none in his
hand; and although rain had been falling steadily
all the evening, he appeared to have neither
overcoat nor umbrella.
A hundred questions sprang up in Marriott's
mind and rushed to his lips, chief among which
was something like "Who in the world are you?"
and "What in the name of heaven do you come
to me for?" But none of these questions found
time to express themselves in words, for almost at
once the caller turned his head a little so that the
gas light in the hall fell upon his features from a
new angle. Then in a flash Marriott recognised
"Field! Man alive! Is it you?" he gasped.
The Fourth Year Man was not lacking in
intuition, and he perceived at once that here was a
case for delicate treatment. He divined, without
any actual process of thought, that the catastrophe
often predicted had come at last, and that this
man's father had turned him out of the house.
They had been at a private school together years
before, and though they had hardly met once since,
the news had not failed to reach him from time to
time with considerable detail, for the family lived
near his own and between certain of the sisters
there was great intimacy. Young Field had gone
wild later, he remembered hearing about it all—drink,
a woman, opium, or something of the sort—he
could not exactly call to mind.
"Come in," he said at once, his anger vanishing.
"There's been something wrong, I can see.
Come in, and tell me all about it and perhaps I can
help—" He hardly knew what to say, and
stammered a lot more besides. The dark side of
life, and the horror of it, belonged to a world that
lay remote from his own select little atmosphere
of books and dreamings. But he had a man's
heart for all that.
He led the way across the hall, shutting the
front door carefully behind him, and noticed as
he did so that the other, though certainly sober,
was unsteady on his legs, and evidently much
exhausted. Marriott might not be able to pass his
examinations, but he at least knew the symptoms
of starvation—acute starvation, unless he was
much mistaken—when they stared him in the
"Come along," he said cheerfully, and with
genuine sympathy in his voice. "I'm glad to see
you. I was going to have a bite of something to
eat, and you're just in time to join me."
The other made no audible reply, and shuffled so
feebly with his feet that Marriott took his arm by
way of support. He noticed for the first time that
the clothes hung on him with pitiful looseness.
The broad frame was literally hardly more than a
frame. He was as thin as a skeleton. But, as he
touched him, the sensation of faintness and dread
returned. It only lasted a moment, and then
passed off, and he ascribed it not unnaturally to
the distress and shock of seeing a former friend
in such a pitiful plight.
"Better let me guide you. It's shamefully dark—this
hall. I'm always complaining," he said
lightly, recognising by the weight upon his arm
that the guidance was sorely needed, "but the old
cat never does anything except promise." He led
him to the sofa, wondering all the time where he
had come from and how he had found out the
address. It must be at least seven years since
those days at the private school when they used to
be such close friends.
"Now, if you'll forgive me for a minute," he
said, "I'll get supper ready—such as it is. And
don't bother to talk. Just take it easy on the
sofa. I see you're dead tired. You can tell me
about it afterwards, and we'll make plans."
The other sat down on the edge of the sofa and
stared in silence, while Marriott got out the brown
loaf, scones, and huge pot of marmalade that
Edinburgh students always keep in their cupboards.
His eyes shone with a brightness that suggested
drugs, Marriott thought, stealing a glance at him
from behind the cupboard door. He did not like
yet to take a full square look. The fellow was in
a bad way, and it would have been so like an
examination to stare and wait for explanations.
Besides, he was evidently almost too exhausted to
speak. So, for reasons of delicacy—and for another
reason as well which he could not exactly formulate
to himself—he let his visitor rest apparently unnoticed,
while he busied himself with the supper.
He lit the spirit lamp to make cocoa, and when
the water was boiling he drew up the table
with the good things to the sofa, so that Field
need not have even the trouble of moving to a
"Now, let's tuck in," he said, "and afterwards
we'll have a pipe and a chat. I'm reading for an
exam, you know, and I always have something
about this time. It's jolly to have a companion."
He looked up and caught his guest's eyes directed
straight upon his own. An involuntary shudder
ran through him from head to foot. The face
opposite him was deadly white and wore a dreadful
expression of pain and mental suffering.
"By Gad!" he said, jumping up, "I quite forgot.
I've got some whisky somewhere. What an ass I
am. I never touch it myself when I'm working
He went to the cupboard and poured out a stiff
glass which the other swallowed at a single gulp
and without any water. Marriott watched him
while he drank it, and at the same time noticed
something else as well—Field's coat was all over
dust, and on one shoulder was a bit of cobweb.
It was perfectly dry; Field arrived on a soaking
wet night without hat, umbrella, or overcoat, and
yet perfectly dry, even dusty. Therefore he had
been under cover. What did it all mean? Had
he been hiding in the building? . . .
It was very strange. Yet he volunteered
nothing; and Marriott had pretty well made up
his mind by this time that he would not ask any
questions until he had eaten and slept. Food and
sleep were obviously what the poor devil needed
most and first—he was pleased with his powers of
ready diagnosis—and it would not be fair to press
him till he had recovered a bit.
They ate their supper together while the host
carried on a running one-sided conversation,
chiefly about himself and his exams and his "old
cat" of a landlady, so that the guest need not
utter a single word unless he really wished to—which
he evidently did not! But, while he toyed
with his food, feeling no desire to eat, the other ate
voraciously. To see a hungry man devour cold
scones, stale oatcake, and brown bread laden with
marmalade was a revelation to this inexperienced
student who had never known what it was to be
without at least three meals a day. He watched
in spite of himself, wondering why the fellow did
not choke in the process.
But Field seemed to be as sleepy as he was
hungry. More than once his head dropped and he
ceased to masticate the food in his mouth. Marriott
had positively to shake him before he would go on
with his meal. A stronger emotion will overcome
a weaker, but this struggle between the sting of
real hunger and the magical opiate of overpowering
sleep was a curious sight to the student, who
watched it with mingled astonishment and alarm.
He had heard of the pleasure it was to feed hungry
men, and watch them eat, but he had never actually
witnessed it, and he had no idea it was like
this. Field ate like an animal—gobbled, stuffed,
gorged. Marriott forgot his reading, and began
to feel something very much like a lump in his
"Afraid there's been awfully little to offer you,
old man," he managed to blurt out when at length
the last scone had disappeared, and the rapid,
one-sided meal was at an end. Field still made no
reply, for he was almost asleep in his seat. He
merely looked up wearily and gratefully.
"Now you must have some sleep, you know," he
continued, "or you'll go to pieces. I shall be up
all night reading for this blessed exam. You're
more than welcome to my bed. To-morrow we'll
have a late breakfast and—and see what can be
done—and make plans—I'm awfully good at
making plans, you know," he added with an
attempt at lightness.
Field maintained his "dead sleepy" silence,
but appeared to acquiesce, and the other led the
way into the bedroom, apologising as he did so to
this half-starved son of a baronet—whose own
home was almost a palace—for the size of the
room. The weary guest, however, made no
pretence of thanks or politeness. He merely
steadied himself on his friend's arm as he staggered
across the room, and then, with all his clothes on,
dropped his exhausted body on the bed. In less
than a minute he was to all appearances sound
For several minutes Marriott stood in the open
door and watched him; praying devoutly that he
might never find himself in a like predicament, and
then fell to wondering what he would do with his
unbidden guest on the morrow. But he did not
stop long to think, for the call of his books was
imperative, and happen what might, he must see
to it that he passed that examination.
Having again locked the door into the hall, he
sat down to his books and resumed his notes on
materia medica where he had left off when the
bell rang. But it was difficult for some time to concentrate
his mind on the subject. His thoughts
kept wandering to the picture of that white-faced,
strange-eyed fellow, starved and dirty, lying in his
clothes and boots on the bed. He recalled their
schooldays together before they had drifted apart,
and how they had vowed eternal friendship—and
all the rest of it. And now! What horrible
straits to be in. How could any man let the love
of dissipation take such hold upon him?
But one of their vows together Marriott, it
seemed, had completely forgotten. Just now, at
any rate, it lay too far in the background of his
memory to be recalled.
Through the half-open door—the bedroom led
out of the sitting-room and had no other door—came
the sound of deep, long-drawn breathing, the
regular, steady breathing of a tired man, so tired
that, even to listen to it made Marriott almost
want to go to sleep himself.
"He needed it," reflected the student, "and
perhaps it came only just in time!"
Perhaps so; for outside the bitter wind from
across the Forth howled cruelly and drove the rain
in cold streams against the window-panes, and
down the deserted streets. Long before Marriott
settled down again properly to his reading, he
heard distantly, as it were, through the sentences
of the book, the heavy, deep breathing of the
sleeper in the next room.
A couple of hours later, when he yawned and
changed his books, he still heard the breathing, and
went cautiously up to the door to look round.
At first the darkness of the room must have
deceived him, or else his eyes were confused and
dazzled by the recent glare of the reading lamp.
For a minute or two he could make out nothing
at all but dark lumps of furniture, the mass of
the chest of drawers by the wall, and the white
patch where his bath stood in the centre of the
Then the bed came slowly into view. And on
it he saw the outline of the sleeping body gradually
take shape before his eyes, growing up strangely
into the darkness, till it stood out in marked
relief—the long black form against the white
He could hardly help smiling. Field had not
moved an inch. He watched him a moment or
two and then returned to his books. The night
was full of the singing voices of the wind and rain.
There was no sound of traffic; no hansoms clattered
over the cobbles, and it was still too early for
the milk carts. He worked on steadily and
conscientiously, only stopping now and again to
change a book, or to sip some of the poisonous
stuff that kept him awake and made his
brain so active, and on these occasions Field's
breathing was always distinctly audible in the
room. Outside, the storm continued to howl, but
inside the house all was stillness. The shade of
the reading lamp threw all the light upon the
littered table, leaving the other end of the room
in comparative darkness. The bedroom door was
exactly opposite him where he sat. There was
nothing to disturb the worker, nothing but an
occasional rush of wind against the windows, and
a slight pain in his arm.
This pain, however, which he was unable to
account for, grew once or twice very acute. It
bothered him; and he tried to remember how, and
when, he could have bruised himself so severely,
but without success.
At length the page before him turned from
yellow to grey, and there were sounds of wheels
in the street below. It was four o'clock. Marriott
leaned back and yawned prodigiously. Then he
drew back the curtains. The storm had subsided
and the Castle Rock was shrouded in mist. With
another yawn he turned away from the dreary
outlook and prepared to sleep the remaining four
hours till breakfast on the sofa. Field was still
breathing heavily in the next room, and he first
tip-toed across the floor to take another look
Peering cautiously round the half-opened door
his first glance fell upon the bed now plainly
discernible in the grey light of morning. He
stared hard. Then he rubbed his eyes. Then he
rubbed his eyes again and thrust his head farther
round the edge of the door. With fixed eyes he
stared harder still, and harder.
But it made no difference at all. He was staring
into an empty room.
The sensation of fear he had felt when Field
first appeared upon the scene returned suddenly,
but with much greater force. He became conscious,
too, that his left arm was throbbing violently and
causing him great pain. He stood wondering, and
staring, and trying to collect his thoughts. He
was trembling from head to foot.
By a great effort of the will he left the support
of the door and walked forward boldly into the
There, upon the bed, was the impress of a body,
where Field had lain and slept. There was the
mark of the head on the pillow, and the slight
indentation at the foot of the bed where the boots
had rested on the counterpane. And there, plainer
than ever—for he was closer to it—was the
Marriott tried to pull himself together. With
a great effort he found his voice and called his
friend aloud by name!
"Field! Is that you? Where are you?"
There was no reply; but the breathing continued
without interruption, coming directly from the
bed. His voice had such an unfamiliar sound that
Marriott did not care to repeat his questions, but
he went down on his knees and examined the bed
above and below, pulling the mattress off finally,
and taking the coverings away separately one
by one. But though the sounds continued there
was no visible sign of Field, nor was there any
space in which a human being, however small,
could have concealed itself. He pulled the bed
out from the wall, but the sound stayed where it
was. It did not move with the bed.
Marriott, finding self-control a little difficult in
his weary condition, at once set about a thorough
search of the room. He went through the cupboard,
the chest of drawers, the little alcove where
the clothes hung—everything. But there was no
sign of anyone. The small window near the
ceiling was closed; and, anyhow, was not large
enough to let a cat pass. The sitting-room door
was locked on the inside; he could not have got
out that way. Curious thoughts began to trouble
Marriott's mind, bringing in their train unwelcome
sensations. He grew more and more excited; he
searched the bed again till it resembled the scene
of a pillow fight; he searched both rooms, knowing
all the time it was useless,—and then he searched
again. A cold perspiration broke out all over his
body; and the sound of heavy breathing, all this
time, never ceased to come from the corner where
Field had lain down to sleep.
Then he tried something else. He pushed the
bed back exactly into its original position—and
himself lay down upon it just where his guest had
lain. But the same instant he sprang up again
in a single bound. The breathing was close beside
him, almost on his cheek, and between him and
the wall! Not even a child could have squeezed
into the space.
He went back into his sitting-room, opened the
windows, welcoming all the light and air possible,
and tried to think the whole matter over quietly
and clearly. Men who read too hard, and slept
too little, he knew were sometimes troubled with
very vivid hallucinations. Again he calmly reviewed
every incident of the night; his accurate
sensations; the vivid details; the emotions stirred
in him; the dreadful feast—no single hallucination
could ever combine all these and cover so long a
period of time. But with less satisfaction he
thought of the recurring faintness, and curious
sense of horror that had once or twice come over
him, and then of the violent pains in his arm.
These were quite unaccountable.
Moreover, now that he began to analyse and
examine, there was one other thing that fell upon
him like a sudden revelation: During the whole
time Field had not actually uttered a single
word! Yet, as though in mockery upon his
reflections, there came ever from that inner room
the sound of the breathing, long-drawn, deep, and
regular. The thing was incredible. It was absurd.
Haunted by visions of brain fever and insanity,
Marriott put on his cap and macintosh and left
the house. The morning air on Arthur's Seat
would blow the cobwebs from his brain; the scent
of the heather, and above all, the sight of the sea.
He roamed over the wet slopes above Holyrood for a
couple of hours, and did not return until the exercise
had shaken some of the horror out of his bones, and
given him a ravening appetite into the bargain.
As he entered he saw that there was another
man in the room, standing against the window
with his back to the light. He recognised his
fellow-student Greene, who was reading for the
"Read hard all night, Marriott," he said, "and
thought I'd drop in here to compare notes and
have some breakfast. You're out early?" he added,
by way of a question. Marriott said he had a
headache and a walk had helped it, and Greene
nodded and said "Ah!" But when the girl had
set the steaming porridge on the table and gone
out again, he went on with rather a forced tone,
"Didn't know you had any friends who drank,
This was obviously tentative, and Marriott
replied drily that he did not know it either.
"Sounds just as if some chap were 'sleeping it
off' in there, doesn't it, though?" persisted the
other, with a nod in the direction of the bedroom,
and looking curiously at his friend. The two
men stared steadily at each other for several
seconds, and then Marriott said earnestly—
"Then you hear it too, thank God!"
"Of course I hear it. The door's open. Sorry
if I wasn't meant to."
"Oh, I don't mean that," said Marriott, lowering
his voice. "But I'm awfully relieved. Let me
explain. Of course, if you hear it too, then it's
all right; but really it frightened me more than
I can tell you. I thought I was going to have
brain fever, or something, and you know what a
lot depends on this exam. It always begins
with sounds, or visions, or some sort of beastly
hallucination, and I—"
"Rot!" ejaculated the other impatiently. "What
are you talking about?"
"Now, listen to me, Greene," said Marriott, as
calmly as he could, for the breathing was still
plainly audible, "and I'll tell you what I mean,
only don't interrupt." And thereupon he related
exactly what had happened during the night,
telling everything, even down to the pain in his
arm. When it was over he got up from the table
and crossed the room.
"You hear the breathing now plainly, don't
you?" he said. Greene said he did. "Well, come
with me, and we'll search the room together."
The other, however, did not move from his
"I've been in already," he said sheepishly; "I
heard the sounds and thought it was you. The
door was ajar—so I went in."
Marriott made no comment, but pushed the
door open as wide as it would go. As it opened,
the sound of breathing grew more and more
"Someone must be in there," said Greene under
"Someone is in there, but where?" said
Marriott. Again he urged his friend to go in
with him. But Greene refused point-blank;
said he had been in once and had searched the
room and there was nothing there. He would
not go in again for a good deal.
They shut the door and retired into the other
room to talk it all over with many pipes. Greene
questioned his friend very closely, but without
illuminating result, since questions cannot alter
"The only thing that ought to have a proper,
a logical, explanation is the pain in my arm," said
Marriott, rubbing that member with an attempt
at a smile. "It hurts so infernally and aches all
the way up. I can't remember bruising it, though."
"Let me examine it for you," said Greene. "I'm
awfully good at bones in spite of the examiners'
opinion to the contrary." It was a relief to play
the fool a bit, and Marriott took his coat off and
rolled up his sleeve.
"By George, though, I'm bleeding!" he exclaimed.
"Look here! What on earth's this?"
On the forearm, quite close to the wrist, was a
thin red line. There was a tiny drop of apparently
fresh blood on it. Greene came over and looked
closely at it for some minutes. Then he sat back
in his chair, looking curiously at his friend's face.
"You've scratched yourself without knowing
it," he said presently.
"There's no sign of a bruise. It must be something
else that made the arm ache."
Marriott sat very still, staring silently at his
arm as though the solution of the whole mystery
lay there actually written upon the skin.
"What's the matter? I see nothing very
strange about a scratch," said Greene, in an unconvincing
sort of voice. "It was your cuff links
probably. Last night in your excitement—"
But Marriott, white to the very lips, was trying
to speak. The sweat stood in great beads on his
forehead. At last he leaned forward close to his
"Look," he said, in a low voice that shook a
little. "Do you see that red mark? I mean
underneath what you call the scratch?"
Greene admitted he saw something or other,
and Marriott wiped the place clean with his
handkerchief and told him to look again more
"Yes, I see," returned the other, lifting his head
after a moment's careful inspection. "It looks
like an old scar."
"It is an old scar," whispered Marriott, his lips
trembling. "Now it all comes back to me."
"All what?" Greene fidgeted on his chair. He
tried to laugh, but without success. His friend
seemed bordering on collapse.
"Hush! Be quiet, and—I'll tell you," he
said. "Field made that scar."
For a whole minute the two men looked each
other full in the face without speaking.
"Field made that scar!" repeated Marriott at
length in a louder voice.
"Field! You mean—last night?"
"No, not last night. Years ago—at school,
with his knife. And I made a scar in his
arm with mine." Marriott was talking rapidly
"We exchanged drops of blood in each other's
cuts. He put a drop into my arm and I put
one into his—"
"In the name of heaven, what for?"
"It was a boys' compact. We made a sacred
pledge, a bargain. I remember it all perfectly
now. We had been reading some dreadful book
and we swore to appear to one another—I
mean, whoever died first swore to show himself to
the other. And we sealed the compact with each
other's blood. I remember it all so well—the
hot summer afternoon in the playground, seven
years ago—and one of the masters caught us and
confiscated the knives—and I have never thought
of it again to this day—"
"And you mean—" stammered Greene.
But Marriott made no answer. He got up and
crossed the room and lay down wearily upon the
sofa, hiding his face in his hands.
Greene himself was a bit non-plussed. He left
his friend alone for a little while, thinking it all
over again. Suddenly an idea seemed to strike
him. He went over to where Marriott still lay
motionless on the sofa and roused him. In any
case it was better to face the matter, whether there
was an explanation or not. Giving in was always
the silly exit.
"I say, Marriott," he began, as the other turned
his white face up to him. "There's no good being
so upset about it. I mean—if it's all an hallucination
we know what to do. And if it isn't—well,
we know what to think, don't we?"
"I suppose so. But it frightens me horribly
for some reason," returned his friend in a hushed
voice. "And that poor devil—"
"But, after all, if the worst is true and—and
that chap has kept his promise—well, he has, that's
all, isn't it?"
"There's only one thing that occurs to me,"
Greene went on, "and that is, are you quite sure
that—that he really ate like that—I mean that he
actually ate anything at all?" he finished, blurting
out all his thought.
Marriott stared at him for a moment and then
said he could easily make certain. He spoke
quietly. After the main shock no lesser surprise
could affect him.
"I put the things away myself," he said, "after
we had finished. They are on the third shelf in
that cupboard. No one's touched 'em since."
He pointed without getting up, and Greene took
the hint and went over to look.
"Exactly," he said, after a brief examination;
"just as I thought. It was partly hallucination,
at any rate. The things haven't been touched.
Come and see for yourself."
Together they examined the shelf. There was
the brown loaf, the plate of stale scones, the oatcake,
all untouched. Even the glass of whisky
Marriott had poured out stood there with the
whisky still in it.
"You were feeding—no one," said Greene
"Field ate and drank nothing. He was not there
"But the breathing?" urged the other in a low
voice, staring with a dazed expression on his face.
Greene did not answer. He walked over to the
bedroom, while Marriott followed him with his
eyes. He opened the door, and listened. There
was no need for words. The sound of deep,
regular breathing came floating through the air.
There was no hallucination about that, at any
rate. Marriott could hear it where he stood on
the other side of the room.
Greene closed the door and came back. "There's
only one thing to do," he declared with decision.
"Write home and find out about him, and meanwhile
come and finish your reading in my rooms.
I've got an extra bed."
"Agreed," returned the Fourth Year Man; "there's
no hallucination about that exam; I must pass that
And this was what they did.
It was about a week later when Marriott got the
answer from his sister. Part of it he read out to
"It is curious," she wrote, "that in your letter
you should have enquired after Field. It seems
a terrible thing, but you know only a short while
ago Sir John's patience became exhausted, and he
turned him out of the house, they say without a
penny. Well, what do you think? He has killed
himself. At least, it looks like suicide. Instead
of leaving the house, he went down into the cellar
and simply starved himself to death. . . . They're
trying to suppress it, of course, but I heard it all
from my maid, who got it from their footman. . . .
They found the body on the 14th and the doctor
said he had died about twelve hours before. . . .
He was dreadfully thin. . . ."
"Then he died on the 13th," said Greene.
"That's the very night he came to see you."
Marriott nodded again.
To sleep in a lonely barn when the best bedrooms
in the house were at our disposal, seemed, to say
the least, unnecessary, and I felt that some explanation
was due to our host.
But Shorthouse, I soon discovered, had seen to
all that; our enterprise would be tolerated, not
welcomed, for the master kept this sort of thing
down with a firm hand. And then, how little I
could get this man, Shorthouse, to tell me. There
was much I wanted to ask and hear, but he surrounded
himself with impossible barriers. It was
ludicrous; he was surely asking a good deal of me,
and yet he would give so little in return, and his
reason—that it was for my good—may have been
perfectly true, but did not bring me any comfort in
its train. He gave me sops now and then, however,
to keep up my curiosity, till I soon was
aware that there were growing up side by side
within me a genuine interest and an equally
genuine fear; and something of both these is
probably necessary to all real excitement.
The barn in question was some distance from
the house, on the side of the stables, and I had
passed it on several of my journeyings to and fro
wondering at its forlorn and untarred appearance
under a régime where everything was so spick and
span; but it had never once occurred to me as
possible that I should come to spend a night
under its roof with a comparative stranger, and
undergo there an experience belonging to an order
of things I had always rather ridiculed and
At the moment I can only partially recall the
process by which Shorthouse persuaded me to lend
him my company. Like myself, he was a guest in
this autumn house-party, and where there were so
many to chatter and to chaff, I think his taciturnity
of manner had appealed to me by contrast, and
that I wished to repay something of what I owed.
There was, no doubt, flattery in it as well, for he
was more than twice my age, a man of amazingly
wide experience, an explorer of all the world's
corners where danger lurked, and—most subtle
flattery of all—by far the best shot in the whole
party, our host included.
At first, however, I held out a bit.
"But surely this story you tell," I said, "has
the parentage common to all such tales—a superstitious
heart and an imaginative brain—and has
grown now by frequent repetition into an authentic
ghost story? Besides, this head gardener of half
a century ago," I added, seeing that he still went
on cleaning his gun in silence, "who was he, and
what positive information have you about him
beyond the fact that he was found hanging from
the rafters, dead?"
"He was no mere head gardener, this man who
passed as such," he replied without looking up,
"but a fellow of splendid education who used this
curious disguise for his own purposes. Part of
this very barn, of which he always kept the key,
was found to have been fitted up as a complete
laboratory, with athanor, alembic, cucurbite, and
other appliances, some of which the master destroyed
at once—perhaps for the best—and which
I have only been able to guess at—"
"Black Arts," I laughed.
"Who knows?" he rejoined quietly. "The man
undoubtedly possessed knowledge—dark knowledge—that
was most unusual and dangerous, and
I can discover no means by which he came to
it—no ordinary means, that is. But I have found
many facts in the case which point to the
exercise of a most desperate and unscrupulous
will; and the strange disappearances in the neighbourhood,
as well as the bones found buried in the
kitchen garden, though never actually traced to
him, seem to me full of dreadful suggestion."
I laughed again, a little uncomfortably perhaps,
and said it reminded one of the story of Giles de
Rays, maréchal of France, who was said to have
killed and tortured to death in a few years no less
than one hundred and sixty women and children
for the purposes of necromancy, and who was
executed for his crimes at Nantes. But Shorthouse
would not "rise," and only returned to his subject.
"His suicide seems to have been only just in
time to escape arrest," he said.
"A magician of no high order then," I observed
sceptically, "if suicide was his only way of evading
the country police."
"The police of London and St. Petersburg
rather," returned Shorthouse; "for the headquarters
of this pretty company was somewhere in Russia,
and his apparatus all bore the marks of the most
skilful foreign make. A Russian woman then
employed in the household—governess, or something—vanished,
too, about the same time and was
never caught. She was no doubt the cleverest of
the lot. And, remember, the object of this appalling
group was not mere vulgar gain, but a kind of
knowledge that called for the highest qualities of
courage and intellect in the seekers."
I admit I was impressed by the man's conviction
of voice and manner, for there is something very
compelling in the force of an earnest man's belief,
though I still affected to sneer politely.
"But, like most Black Magicians, the fellow only
succeeded in compassing his own destruction—that
of his tools, rather, and of escaping himself."
"So that he might better accomplish his objects
elsewhere and otherwise," said Shorthouse, giving,
as he spoke, the most minute attention to the
cleaning of the lock.
"Elsewhere and otherwise," I gasped.
"As if the shell he left hanging from the rafter
in the barn in no way impeded the man's spirit
from continuing his dreadful work under new
conditions," he added quietly, without noticing my
interruption. "The idea being that he sometimes
revisits the garden and the barn, chiefly the
"The barn!" I exclaimed; "for what purpose?"
"Chiefly the barn," he finished, as if he had
not heard me, "that is, when there is anybody
I stared at him without speaking, for there was
a wonder in me how he would add to this.
"When he wants fresh material, that is—he
comes to steal from the living."
"Fresh material!" I repeated aghast. "To steal
from the living!" Even then, in broad daylight,
I was foolishly conscious of a creeping sensation
at the roots of my hair, as if a cold breeze were
passing over my skull.
"The strong vitality of the living is what this
sort of creature is supposed to need most," he went
on imperturbably, "and where he has worked and
thought and struggled before is the easiest place
for him to get it in. The former conditions are
in some way more easily reconstructed—" He
stopped suddenly, and devoted all his attention
to the gun. "It's difficult to explain, you know,
rather," he added presently, "and, besides, it's much
better that you should not know till afterwards."
I made a noise that was the beginning of a score
of questions and of as many sentences, but it got
no further than a mere noise, and Shorthouse, of
course, stepped in again.
"Your scepticism," he added, "is one of the
qualities that induce me to ask you to spend the
night there with me."
"In those days," he went on, in response to my
urging for more information, "the family were
much abroad, and often travelled for years at a
time. This man was invaluable in their absence.
His wonderful knowledge of horticulture kept
the gardens—French, Italian, English—in perfect
order. He had carte blanche in the matter of
expense, and of course selected all his own underlings.
It was the sudden, unexpected return of
the master that surprised the amazing stories of
the countryside before the fellow, with all his
cleverness, had time to prepare or conceal."
"But is there no evidence, no more recent
evidence, to show that something is likely to
happen if we sit up there?" I asked, pressing
him yet further, and I think to his liking, for it
showed at least that I was interested. "Has anything
happened there lately, for instance?"
Shorthouse glanced up from the gun he was
cleaning so assiduously, and the smoke from his
pipe curled up into an odd twist between me and
the black beard and oriental, sun-tanned face. The
magnetism of his look and expression brought
more sense of conviction to me than I had felt
hitherto, and I realised that there had been a
sudden little change in my attitude and that I
was now much more inclined to go in for the
adventure with him. At least, I thought, with
such a man, one would be safe in any emergency;
for he is determined, resourceful, and to be depended
"There's the point," he answered slowly; "for
there has apparently been a fresh outburst—an
attack almost, it seems,—quite recently. There is
evidence, of course, plenty of it, or I should not
feel the interest I do feel, but—" he hesitated a
moment, as though considering how much he ought
to let me know, "but the fact is that three
men this summer, on separate occasions, who have
gone into that barn after nightfall, have been
"Accosted?" I repeated, betrayed into the interruption
by his choice of so singular a word.
"And one of the stablemen—a recent arrival
and quite ignorant of the story—who had to go
in there late one night, saw a dark substance
hanging down from one of the rafters, and when
he climbed up, shaking all over, to cut it down—for
he said he felt sure it was a corpse—the knife
passed through nothing but air, and he heard a
sound up under the eaves as if someone were laughing.
Yet, while he slashed away, and afterwards
too, the thing went on swinging there before his
eyes and turning slowly with its own weight, like
a huge joint on a spit. The man declares, too,
that it had a large bearded face, and that the
mouth was open and drawn down like the mouth
of a hanged man."
"Can we question this fellow?"
"He's gone—gave notice at once, but not before
I had questioned him myself very closely."
"Then this was quite recent?" I said, for I knew
Shorthouse had not been in the house more than a
"Four days ago," he replied. "But, more than
that, only three days ago a couple of men were in
there together in full daylight when one of them
suddenly turned deadly faint. He said that he
felt an overmastering impulse to hang himself;
and he looked about for a rope and was furious
when his companion tried to prevent him—"
"But he did prevent him?"
"Just in time, but not before he had clambered
on to a beam. He was very violent."
I had so much to say and ask that I could get
nothing out in time, and Shorthouse went on
"I've had a sort of watching brief for this case,"
he said with a smile, whose real significance, however,
completely escaped me at the time, "and one
of the most disagreeable features about it is the
deliberate way the servants have invented excuses
to go out to the place, and always after dark;
some of them who have no right to go there, and
no real occasion at all—have never been there in
their lives before probably—and now all of a
sudden have shown the keenest desire and determination
to go out there about dusk, or soon after,
and with the most paltry and foolish excuses in
the world. Of course," he added, "they have been
prevented, but the desire, stronger than their
superstitious dread, and which they cannot explain,
is very curious."
"Very," I admitted, feeling that my hair was
beginning to stand up again.
"You see," he went on presently, "it all points
to volition—in fact to deliberate arrangement. It
is no mere family ghost that goes with every ivied
house in England of a certain age; it is something
real, and something very malignant."
He raised his face from the gun barrel, and for
the first time his eye caught mine in the full. Yes,
he was very much in earnest. Also, he knew a
great deal more than he meant to tell.
"It's worth tempting—and fighting, I think,"
he said; "but I want a companion with me. Are
you game?" His enthusiasm undoubtedly caught
me, but I still wanted to hedge a bit.
"I'm very sceptical," I pleaded.
"All the better," he said, almost as if to himself.
"You have the pluck; I have the knowledge—"
He looked round cautiously as if to make sure
that there was no one within earshot.
"I've been in the place myself," he said in a
lowered voice, "quite lately—in fact only three
nights ago—the day the man turned queer."
"But—I was obliged to come out—"
Still I stared.
"Quickly," he added significantly.
"You've gone into the thing pretty thoroughly,"
was all I could find to say, for I had almost made
up my mind to go with him, and was not sure that
I wanted to hear too much beforehand.
He nodded. "It's a bore, of course, but I must
do everything thoroughly—or not at all."
"That's why you clean your own gun, I suppose?"
"That's why, when there's any danger, I take as
few chances as possible," he said, with the same
enigmatical smile I had noticed before; and then he
added with emphasis, "And that is also why I ask
you to keep me company now."
Of course, the shaft went straight home, and I
gave my promise without further ado.
Our preparations for the night—a couple of rugs
and a flask of black coffee—were not elaborate,
and we found no difficulty, about ten o'clock, in
absenting ourselves from the billiard-room without
attracting curiosity. Shorthouse met me by
arrangement under the cedar on the back lawn, and
I at once realised with vividness what a difference
there is between making plans in the daytime and
carrying them out in the dark. One's common-sense—at
least in matters of this sort—is reduced
to a minimum, and imagination with all her
attendant sprites usurps the place of judgment.
Two and two no longer make four—they make a
mystery, and the mystery loses no time in growing
into a menace. In this particular case, however, my
imagination did not find wings very readily, for
I knew that my companion was the most unmovable
of men—an unemotional, solid block of a man who
would never lose his head, and in any conceivable
state of affairs would always take the right as well
as the strong course. So my faith in the man gave
me a false courage that was nevertheless very
consoling, and I looked forward to the night's
adventure with a genuine appetite.
Side by side, and in silence, we followed the path
that skirted the East Woods, as they were called,
and then led across two hay fields, and through
another wood, to the barn, which thus lay about
half a mile from the Lower Farm. To the Lower
Farm, indeed, it properly belonged; and this made
us realise more clearly how very ingenious must
have been the excuses of the Hall servants who felt
the desire to visit it.
It had been raining during the late afternoon,
and the trees were still dripping heavily on all
sides, but the moment we left the second wood and
came out into the open, we saw a clearing with the
stars overhead, against which the barn outlined
itself in a black, lugubrious shadow. Shorthouse
led the way—still without a word—and we crawled
in through a low door and seated ourselves in a soft
heap of hay in the extreme corner.
"Now," he said, speaking for the first time, "I'll
show you the inside of the barn, so that you may
know where you are, and what to do, in case
A match flared in the darkness, and with the
help of two more that followed I saw the interior of
a lofty and somewhat rickety-looking barn, erected
upon a wall of grey stones that ran all round and
extended to a height of perhaps four feet. Above
this masonry rose the wooden sides, running up
into the usual vaulted roof, and supported by a
double tier of massive oak rafters, which stretched
across from wall to wall and were intersected by
occasional uprights. I felt as if we were inside the
skeleton of some antediluvian monster whose huge
black ribs completely enfolded us. Most of this, of
course, only sketched itself to my eye in the
uncertain light of the flickering matches, and when
I said I had seen enough, and the matches went out,
we were at once enveloped in an atmosphere as
densely black as anything that I have ever known.
And the silence equalled the darkness.
We made ourselves comfortable and talked in low
voices. The rugs, which were very large, covered
our legs; and our shoulders sank into a really
luxurious bed of softness. Yet neither of us
apparently felt sleepy. I certainly didn't, and
Shorthouse, dropping his customary brevity that
fell little short of gruffness, plunged into an easy
run of talking that took the form after a time of
personal reminiscences. This rapidly became a
vivid narration of adventure and travel in far
countries, and at any other time I should have
allowed myself to become completely absorbed in
what he told. But, unfortunately, I was never able
for a single instant to forget the real purpose of our
enterprise, and consequently I felt all my senses
more keenly on the alert than usual, and my
attention accordingly more or less distracted. It
was, indeed, a revelation to hear Shorthouse
unbosom himself in this fashion, and to a young
man it was of course doubly fascinating; but the
little sounds that always punctuate even the deepest
silence out of doors claimed some portion of my
attention, and as the night grew on I soon became
aware that his tales seemed somewhat disconnected
and abrupt—and that, in fact, I heard really only
part of them.
It was not so much that I actually heard other
sounds, but that I expected to hear them; this was
what stole the other half of my listening. There
was neither wind nor rain to break the stillness,
and certainly there were no physical presences in
our neighbourhood, for we were half a mile even
from the Lower Farm; and from the Hall and
stables, at least a mile. Yet the stillness was being
continually broken—perhaps disturbed is a better
word—and it was to these very remote and tiny
disturbances that I felt compelled to devote at least
half my listening faculties.
From time to time, however, I made a remark
or asked a question, to show that I was listening
and interested; but, in a sense, my questions
always seemed to bear in one direction and to
make for one issue, namely, my companion's previous
experience in the barn when he had been obliged
to come out "quickly."
Apparently I could not help myself in the matter,
for this was really the one consuming curiosity I
had; and the fact that it was better for me not to
know it made me the keener to know it all, even
Shorthouse realised this even better than I did.
I could tell it by the way he dodged, or wholly
ignored, my questions, and this subtle sympathy
between us showed plainly enough, had I been able
at the time to reflect upon its meaning, that the
nerves of both of us were in a very sensitive and
highly-strung condition. Probably, the complete
confidence I felt in his ability to face whatever
might happen, and the extent to which also I
relied upon him for my own courage, prevented
the exercise of my ordinary powers of reflection,
while it left my senses free to a more than usual
degree of activity.
Things must have gone on in this way for a
good hour or more, when I made the sudden discovery
that there was something unusual in the
conditions of our environment. This sounds a
roundabout mode of expression, but I really know
not how else to put it. The discovery almost
rushed upon me. By rights, we were two men
waiting in an alleged haunted barn for something
to happen; and, as two men who trusted one
another implicitly (though for very different
reasons), there should have been two minds keenly
alert, with the ordinary senses in active co-operation.
Some slight degree of nervousness, too,
there might also have been, but beyond this,
nothing. It was therefore with something of
dismay that I made the sudden discovery that
there was something more, and something that I
ought to have noticed very much sooner than I
actually did notice it.
The fact was—Shorthouse's stream of talk was
wholly unnatural. He was talking with a purpose.
He did not wish to be cornered by my questions,
true, but he had another and a deeper purpose still,
and it grew upon me, as an unpleasant deduction
from my discovery, that this strong, cynical,
unemotional man by my side was talking—and
had been talking all this time—to gain a particular
end. And this end, I soon felt clearly, was to
convince himself. But, of what?
For myself, as the hours wore on towards midnight,
I was not anxious to find the answer; but
in the end it became impossible to avoid it, and I
knew as I listened, that he was pouring forth this
steady stream of vivid reminiscences of travel—South
Seas, big game, Russian exploration, women,
adventures of all sorts—because he wished the past
to reassert itself to the complete exclusion of the
present. He was taking his precautions. He was
I felt a hundred things, once this was clear
to me, but none of them more than the wish to get
up at once and leave the barn. If Shorthouse
was afraid already, what in the world was to
happen to me in the long hours that lay ahead? . . .
I only know that, in my fierce efforts to deny
to myself the evidence of his partial collapse, the
strength came that enabled me to play my part
properly, and I even found myself helping him by
means of animated remarks upon his stories, and by
more or less judicious questions. I also helped him
by dismissing from my mind any desire to enquire
into the truth of his former experience; and it
was good I did so, for had he turned it loose on
me, with those great powers of convincing description
that he had at his command, I verily believe
that I should never have crawled from that barn
alive. So, at least, I felt at the moment. It was
the instinct of self-preservation, and it brought
Here, then, at least, with different motives,
reached, too, by opposite ways, we were both agreed
upon one thing, namely, that temporarily we would
forget. Fools we were, for a dominant emotion is
not so easily banished, and we were for ever recurring
to it in a hundred ways direct and indirect. A real
fear cannot be so easily trifled with, and while we
toyed on the surface with thousands and thousands
of words—mere words—our sub-conscious activities
were steadily gaining force, and would before very
long have to be properly acknowledged. We could
not get away from it. At last, when he had
finished the recital of an adventure which brought
him near enough to a horrible death, I admitted
that in my uneventful life I had never yet been
face to face with a real fear. It slipped out
inadvertently, and, of course, without intention, but
the tendency in him at the time was too strong to
be resisted. He saw the loophole, and made for it
"It is the same with all the emotions," he said.
"The experiences of others never give a complete
account. Until a man has deliberately turned and
faced for himself the fiends that chase him down
the years, he has no knowledge of what they really
are, or of what they can do. Imaginative authors
may write, moralists may preach, and scholars
may criticise, but they are dealing all the time in
a coinage of which they know not the actual value.
Their listener gets a sensation—but not the true
one. Until you have faced these emotions," he
went on, with the same race of words that had
come from him the whole evening, "and made them
your own, your slaves, you have no idea of the
power that is in them—hunger, that shows lights
beckoning beyond the grave; thirst, that fills with
mingled ice and fire; passion, love, loneliness,
revenge, and—" He paused for a minute, and
though I knew we were on the brink I was powerless
to hold him. " . . . and fear," he went on—"fear
. . . I think that death from fear, or madness
from fear, must sum up in a second of time the
total of all the most awful sensations it is possible
for a man to know."
"Then you have yourself felt something of this
fear," I interrupted; "for you said just now—"
"I do not mean physical fear," he replied; "for
that is more or less a question of nerves and will,
and it is imagination that makes men cowards. I
mean an absolute fear, a physical fear one might
call it, that reaches the soul and withers every
power one possesses."
He said a lot more, for he, too, was wholly unable
to stem the torrent once it broke loose; but I have
forgotten it; or, rather, mercifully I did not hear it,
for I stopped my ears and only heard the occasional
words when I took my fingers out to find if he had
come to an end. In due course he did come to an
end, and there we left it, for I then knew positively
what he already knew: that somewhere here in
the night, and within the walls of this very barn
where we were sitting, there was waiting Something
of dreadful malignancy and of great power.
Something that we might both have to face ere
morning, and Something that he had already tried
to face once and failed in the attempt.
The night wore slowly on; and it gradually
became more and more clear to me that I could not
dare to rely as at first upon my companion, and that
our positions were undergoing a slow process of
reversal. I thank Heaven this was not borne in
upon me too suddenly; and that I had at least the
time to readjust myself somewhat to the new
conditions. Preparation was possible, even if it
was not much, and I sought by every means in my
power to gather up all the shreds of my courage,
so that they might together make a decent
rope that would stand the strain when it came.
The strain would come, that was certain, and I was
thoroughly well aware—though for my life I cannot
put into words the reasons for my knowledge—that
the massing of the material against us was
proceeding somewhere in the darkness with determination
and a horrible skill besides.
Shorthouse meanwhile talked without ceasing.
The great quantity of hay opposite—or straw, I
believe it actually was—seemed to deaden the sound
of his voice, but the silence, too, had become so
oppressive that I welcomed his torrent and even
dreaded the moment when it would stop. I heard,
too, the gentle ticking of my watch. Each second
uttered its voice and dropped away into a gulf, as
if starting on a journey whence there was no return.
Once a dog barked somewhere in the distance,
probably on the Lower Farm; and once an owl
hooted close outside and I could hear the swishing
of its wings as it passed overhead. Above me, in
the darkness, I could just make out the outline of
the barn, sinister and black, the rows of rafters
stretching across from wall to wall like wicked arms
that pressed upon the hay. Shorthouse, deep in
some involved yarn of the South Seas that was
meant to be full of cheer and sunshine, and yet
only succeeded in making a ghastly mixture of
unnatural colouring, seemed to care little whether
I listened or not. He made no appeal to me, and I
made one or two quite irrelevant remarks which
passed him by and proved that he was merely
uttering sounds. He, too, was afraid of the
I fell to wondering how long a man could talk
without stopping. . . . Then it seemed to me that
these words of his went falling into the same gulf
where the seconds dropped, only they were heavier
and fell faster. I began to chase them. Presently
one of them fell much faster than the rest, and I
pursued it and found myself almost immediately in
a land of clouds and shadows. They rose up and
enveloped me, pressing on the eyelids. . . . It must
have been just here that I actually fell asleep, somewhere
between twelve and one o'clock, because, as I
chased this word at tremendous speed through space,
I knew that I had left the other words far, very far
behind me, till, at last, I could no longer hear them
at all. The voice of the story-teller was beyond
the reach of hearing; and I was falling with ever
increasing rapidity through an immense void.
A sound of whispering roused me. Two persons
were talking under their breath close beside me.
The words in the main escaped me, but I caught
every now and then bitten-off phrases and half
sentences, to which, however, I could attach no
intelligible meaning. The words were quite close—at
my very side in fact—and one of the voices
sounded so familiar, that curiosity overcame dread,
and I turned to look. I was not mistaken; it was
Shorthouse whispering. But the other person, who
must have been just a little beyond him, was lost
in the darkness and invisible to me. It seemed
then that Shorthouse at once turned up his face
and looked at me and, by some means or other that
caused me no surprise at the time, I easily made
out the features in the darkness. They wore an
expression I had never seen there before; he
seemed distressed, exhausted, worn out, and as
though he were about to give in after a long mental
struggle. He looked at me, almost beseechingly,
and the whispering of the other person died away.
"They're at me," he said.
I found it quite impossible to answer; the words
stuck in my throat. His voice was thin, plaintive,
almost like a child's.
"I shall have to go. I'm not as strong as I
thought. They'll call it suicide, but, of course, it's
really murder." There was real anguish in his
voice, and it terrified me.
A deep silence followed these extraordinary
words, and I somehow understood that the Other
Person was just going to carry on the conversation—I
even fancied I saw lips shaping themselves just
over my friend's shoulder—when I felt a sharp
blow in the ribs and a voice, this time a deep voice,
sounded in my ear. I opened my eyes, and the
wretched dream vanished. Yet it left behind
it an impression of a strong and quite unusual
"Do try not to go to sleep again," he said sternly.
"You seem exhausted. Do you feel so?" There
was a note in his voice I did not welcome,—less
than alarm, but certainly more than mere solicitude.
"I do feel terribly sleepy all of a sudden," I
"So you may," he added very earnestly; "but I
rely on you to keep awake, if only to watch. You
have been asleep for half an hour at least—and
you were so still—I thought I'd wake you—"
"Why?" I asked, for my curiosity and nervousness
were altogether too strong to be resisted.
"Do you think we are in danger?"
"I think they are about here now. I feel my
vitality going rapidly—that's always the first sign.
You'll last longer than I, remember. Watch
The conversation dropped. I was afraid to say all
I wanted to say. It would have been too unmistakably
a confession; and intuitively I realised the
danger of admitting the existence of certain
emotions until positively forced to. But presently
Shorthouse began again. His voice sounded odd,
and as if it had lost power. It was more like a
woman's or a boy's voice than a man's, and recalled
the voice in my dream.
"I suppose you've got a knife?" he asked.
"Yes—a big clasp knife; but why?" He made
no answer. "You don't think a practical joke
likely? No one suspects we're here," I went on.
Nothing was more significant of our real feelings
this night than the way we toyed with words, and
never dared more than to skirt the things in our
"It's just as well to be prepared," he answered
evasively. "Better be quite sure. See which
pocket it's in—so as to be ready."
I obeyed mechanically, and told him. But even
this scrap of talk proved to me that he was getting
further from me all the time in his mind. He was
following a line that was strange to me, and, as he
distanced me, I felt that the sympathy between us
grew more and more strained. He knew more; it
was not that I minded so much—but that he was
willing to communicate less. And in proportion
as I lost his support, I dreaded his increasing
silence. Not of words—for he talked more volubly
than ever, and with a fiercer purpose—but his
silence in giving no hint of what he must have
known to be really going on the whole time.
The night was perfectly still. Shorthouse continued
steadily talking, and I jogged him now and
again with remarks or questions in order to keep
awake. He paid no attention, however, to either.
About two in the morning a short shower fell,
and the drops rattled sharply on the roof like shot.
I was glad when it stopped, for it completely
drowned all other sounds and made it impossible
to hear anything else that might be going on.
Something was going on, too, all the time, though
for the life of me I could not say what. The outer
world had grown quite dim—the house-party, the
shooters, the billiard-room, and the ordinary daily
incidents of my visit. All my energies were concentrated
on the present, and the constant strain of
watching, waiting, listening, was excessively telling.
Shorthouse still talked of his adventures, in some
Eastern country now, and less connectedly. These
adventures, real or imaginary, had quite a savour
of the Arabian Nights, and did not by any means
make it easier for me to keep my hold on reality.
The lightest weight will affect the balance under
such circumstances, and in this case the weight of
his talk was on the wrong scale. His words were
very rapid, and I found it overwhelmingly difficult
not to follow them into that great gulf of darkness
where they all rushed and vanished. But that, I
knew, meant sleep again. Yet, it was strange I
should feel sleepy when at the same time all my
nerves were fairly tingling. Every time I heard
what seemed like a step outside, or a movement in
the hay opposite, the blood stood still for a moment
in my veins. Doubtless, the unremitting strain
told upon me more than I realised, and this was
doubly great now that I knew Shorthouse was a
source of weakness instead of strength, as I had
counted. Certainly, a curious sense of languor
grew upon me more and more, and I was sure that
the man beside me was engaged in the same
struggle. The feverishness of his talk proved this,
if nothing else. It was dreadfully hard to keep
But this time, instead of dropping into the gulf,
I saw something come up out of it! It reached
our world by a door in the side of the barn furthest
from me, and it came in cautiously and silently and
moved into the mass of hay opposite. There, for a
moment, I lost it, but presently I caught it again
higher up. It was clinging, like a great bat, to the
side of the barn. Something trailed behind it, I
could not make out what. . . . It crawled up the
wooden wall and began to move out along one of
the rafters. A numb terror settled down all over
me as I watched it. The thing trailing behind it
was apparently a rope.
The whispering began again just then, but the
only words I could catch seemed without meaning;
it was almost like another language. The voices
were above me, under the roof. Suddenly I saw
signs of active movement going on just beyond the
place where the thing lay upon the rafter. There
was something else up there with it! Then
followed panting, like the quick breathing that
accompanies effort, and the next minute a black
mass dropped through the air and dangled at the
end of the rope.
Instantly, it all flashed upon me. I sprang to
my feet and rushed headlong across the floor of
the barn. How I moved so quickly in the darkness
I do not know; but, even as I ran, it flashed
into my mind that I should never get at my knife
in time to cut the thing down, or else that I should
find it had been taken from me. Somehow or
other—the Goddess of Dreams knows how—I
climbed up by the hay bales and swung out along
the rafter. I was hanging, of course, by my arms,
and the knife was already between my teeth,
though I had no recollection of how it got there.
It was open. The mass, hanging like a side of
bacon, was only a few feet in front of me, and I
could plainly see the dark line of rope that fastened
it to the beam. I then noticed for the first time
that it was swinging and turning in the air, and
that as I approached it seemed to move along the
beam, so that the same distance was always maintained
between us. The only thing I could do—for
there was no time to hesitate—was to jump at
it through the air and slash at the rope as I
I seized the knife with my right hand, gave a
great swing of my body with my legs and leaped
forward at it through the air. Horrors! It was
closer to me than I knew, and I plunged full into
it, and the arm with the knife missed the rope
and cut deeply into some substance that was soft
and yielding. But, as I dropped past it, the thing
had time to turn half its width so that it swung
round and faced me—and I could have sworn
as I rushed past it through the air, that it had
the features of Shorthouse.
The shock of this brought the vile nightmare to
an abrupt end, and I woke up a second time on the
soft hay-bed to find that the grey dawn was
stealing in, and that I was exceedingly cold. After
all I had failed to keep awake, and my sleep, since
it was growing light, must have lasted at least an
hour. A whole hour off my guard!
There was no sound from Shorthouse, to whom,
of course, my first thoughts turned; probably his
flow of words had ceased long ago, and he too had
yielded to the persuasions of the seductive god.
I turned to wake him and get the comfort of companionship
for the horror of my dream, when to
my utter dismay I saw that the place where he
had been was vacant. He was no longer beside
It had been no little shock before to discover
that the ally in whom lay all my faith and dependence
was really frightened, but it is quite impossible
to describe the sensations I experienced when
I realised he had gone altogether and that I was
alone in the barn. For a minute or two my head
swam and I felt a prey to a helpless terror. The
dream, too, still seemed half real, so vivid had it
been! I was thoroughly frightened—hot and
cold by turns—and I clutched the hay at my side
in handfuls, and for some moments had no idea in
the world what I should do.
This time, at least, I was unmistakably awake,
and I made a great effort to collect myself and
face the meaning of the disappearance of my companion.
In this I succeeded so far that I decided
upon a thorough search of the barn, inside and
outside. It was a dreadful undertaking, and I did
not feel at all sure of being able to bring it to a
conclusion, but I knew pretty well that unless
something was done at once, I should simply
But, when I tried to move, I found that the cold,
and fear, and I know not what else unholy besides,
combined to make it almost impossible. I suddenly
realised that a tour of inspection, during the whole
of which my back would be open to attack, was not
to be thought of. My will was not equal to it.
Anything might spring upon me any moment from
the dark corners, and the growing light was just
enough to reveal every movement I made to any
who might be watching. For, even then, and
while I was still half dazed and stupid, I knew
perfectly well that someone was watching me all
the time with the utmost intentness. I had not
merely awakened; I had been awakened.
I decided to try another plan; I called to him.
My voice had a thin weak sound, far away and
quite unreal, and there was no answer to it. Hark,
though! There was something that might have
been a very faint voice near me!
I called again, this time with greater distinctness,
"Shorthouse, where are you? can you hear
There certainly was a sound, but it was not a
voice. Something was moving. It was someone
shuffling along, and it seemed to be outside the
barn. I was afraid to call again, and the sound
continued. It was an ordinary sound enough, no
doubt, but it came to me just then as something
unusual and unpleasant. Ordinary sounds remain
ordinary only so long as one is not listening to
them; under the influence of intense listening they
become unusual, portentous, and therefore extraordinary.
So, this common sound came to me as
something uncommon, disagreeable. It conveyed,
too, an impression of stealth. And with it there
was another, a slighter sound.
Just at this minute the wind bore faintly over
the field the sound of the stable clock, a mile away.
It was three o'clock; the hour when life's pulses
beat lowest; when poor souls lying between life
and death find it hardest to resist. Vividly I
remember this thought crashing through my
brain with a sound of thunder, and I realised
that the strain on my nerves was nearing the
limit, and that something would have to be
done at once if I was to reclaim my self-control
When thinking over afterwards the events of
this dreadful night, it has always seemed strange
to me that my second nightmare, so vivid in its
terror and its nearness, should have furnished me
with no inkling of what was really going on all
this while; and that I should not have been able
to put two and two together, or have discovered
sooner than I did what this sound was and where
it came from. I can well believe that the vile
scheming which lay behind the whole experience
found it an easy trifle to direct my hearing amiss;
though, of course, it may equally well have been
due to the confused condition of my mind at the
time and to the general nervous tension under
which I was undoubtedly suffering.
But, whatever the cause for my stupidity at
first in failing to trace the sound to its proper
source, I can only say here that it was with a
shock of unexampled horror that my eye suddenly
glanced upwards and caught sight of the figure
moving in the shadows above my head among the
rafters. Up to this moment I had thought that it
was somebody outside the barn, crawling round
the walls till it came to a door; and the rush of
horror that froze my heart when I looked up and
saw that it was Shorthouse creeping stealthily
along a beam, is something altogether beyond
the power of words to describe.
He was staring intently down upon me, and I
knew at once that it was he who had been watching
This point was, I think, for me the climax of
feeling in the whole experience; I was incapable
of any further sensation—that is any further
sensation in the same direction. But here the
abominable character of the affair showed itself
most plainly, for it suddenly presented an entirely
new aspect to me. The light fell on the picture
from a new angle, and galvanised me into a fresh
ability to feel when I thought a merciful numbness
had supervened. It may not sound a great deal in
the printed letter, but it came to me almost as if
it had been an extension of consciousness, for the
Hand that held the pencil suddenly touched in
with ghastly effect of contrast the element of the
ludicrous. Nothing could have been worse just
then. Shorthouse, the masterful spirit, so intrepid
in the affairs of ordinary life, whose power increased
rather than lessened in the face of danger—this
man, creeping on hands and knees along
a rafter in a barn at three o'clock in the morning,
watching me all the time as a cat watches a mouse!
Yes, it was distinctly ludicrous, and while
it gave me a measure with which to gauge the
dread emotion that caused his aberration, it stirred
somewhere deep in my interior the strings of an
One of those moments then came to me that are
said to come sometimes under the stress of great
emotion, when in an instant the mind grows
dazzlingly clear. An abnormal lucidity took the
place of my confusion of thought, and I suddenly
understood that the two dreams which I had taken
for nightmares must really have been sent me,
and that I had been allowed for one moment to
look over the edge of what was to come; the Good
was helping, even when the Evil was most
determined to destroy.
I saw it all clearly now. Shorthouse had overrated
his strength. The terror inspired by his
first visit to the barn (when he had failed) had
roused the man's whole nature to win, and he had
brought me to divert the deadly stream of evil.
That he had again underrated the power against
him was apparent as soon as he entered the barn,
and his wild talk, and refusal to admit what he
felt, were due to this desire not to acknowledge
the insidious fear that was growing in his heart.
But, at length, it had become too strong. He
had left my side in my sleep—had been overcome
himself, perhaps, first in his sleep, by the
dreadful impulse. He knew that I should interfere,
and with every movement he made, he watched me
steadily, for the mania was upon him and he was
determined to hang himself. He pretended not to
hear me calling, and I knew that anything coming
between him and his purpose would meet the full
force of his fury—the fury of a maniac, of one, for
the time being, truly possessed.
For a minute or two I sat there and stared. I
saw then for the first time that there was a bit of
rope trailing after him, and that this was what
made the rustling sound I had noticed. Shorthouse,
too, had come to a stop. His body lay
along the rafter like a crouching animal. He
was looking hard at me. That whitish patch was
I can lay claim to no courage in the matter, for
I must confess that in one sense I was frightened
almost beyond control. But at the same time the
necessity for decided action, if I was to save his
life, came to me with an intense relief. No matter
what animated him for the moment, Shorthouse
was only a man; it was flesh and blood I had to
contend with and not the intangible powers. Only
a few hours before I had seen him cleaning his
gun, smoking his pipe, knocking the billiard balls
about with very human clumsiness, and the
picture flashed across my mind with the most
Then I dashed across the floor of the barn and
leaped upon the hay bales as a preliminary to
climbing up the sides to the first rafter. It was
far more difficult than in my dream. Twice I
slipped back into the hay, and as I scrambled up
for the third time I saw that Shorthouse, who thus
far had made no sound or movement, was now
busily doing something with his hands upon the
beam. He was at its further end, and there must
have been fully fifteen feet between us. Yet I
saw plainly what he was doing; he was fastening
the rope to the rafter. The other end, I saw, was
already round his neck!
This gave me at once the necessary strength,
and in a second I had swung myself on to a beam,
crying aloud with all the authority I could put
into my voice—
"You fool, man! What in the world are you
trying to do? Come down at once!"
My energetic actions and words combined had an
immediate effect upon him for which I blessed
Heaven; for he looked up from his horrid task,
stared hard at me for a second or two, and then
came wriggling along like a great cat to intercept
me. He came by a series of leaps and bounds and
at an astonishing pace, and the way he moved
somehow inspired me with a fresh horror, for it
did not seem the natural movement of a human
being at all, but more, as I have said, like that of
some lithe wild animal.
He was close upon me. I had no clear idea of
what exactly I meant to do. I could see his face
plainly now; he was grinning cruelly; the eyes
were positively luminous, and the menacing expression
of the mouth was most distressing to
look upon. Otherwise it was the face of a chalk
man, white and dead, with all the semblance of
the living human drawn out of it. Between his
teeth he held my clasp knife, which he must have
taken from me in my sleep, and with a flash I
recalled his anxiety to know exactly which pocket
it was in.
"Drop that knife!" I shouted at him, "and drop
after it yourself—"
"Don't you dare to stop me!" he hissed, the
breath coming between his lips across the knife
that he held in his teeth. "Nothing in the world
can stop me now—I have promised—and I must
do it. I can't hold out any longer."
"Then drop the knife and I'll help you," I
shouted back in his face. "I promise—"
"No use," he cried, laughing a little, "I must
do it and you can't stop me."
I heard a sound of laughter, too, somewhere in
the air behind me. The next second Shorthouse
came at me with a single bound.
To this day I cannot quite tell how it happened.
It is still a wild confusion and a fever of horror in
my mind, but from somewhere I drew more than
my usual allowance of strength, and before he could
well have realised what I meant to do, I had his
throat between my fingers. He opened his teeth
and the knife dropped at once, for I gave him a
squeeze he need never forget. Before, my muscles
had felt like so much soaked paper; now they
recovered their natural strength, and more besides.
I managed to work ourselves along the rafter until
the hay was beneath us, and then, completely
exhausted, I let go my hold and we swung round
together and dropped on to the hay, he clawing
at me in the air even as we fell.
The struggle that began by my fighting for his
life ended in a wild effort to save my own, for
Shorthouse was quite beside himself, and had no
idea what he was doing. Indeed, he has always
averred that he remembers nothing of the entire
night's experiences after the time when he first
woke me from sleep. A sort of deadly mist settled
over him, he declares, and he lost all sense of his
own identity. The rest was a blank until he came
to his senses under a mass of hay with me on the
top of him.
It was the hay that saved us, first by breaking
the fall and then by impeding his movements so
that I was able to prevent his choking me to
One summer, in my wanderings with a knapsack,
I was at luncheon in the room of a wayside inn
in the western country, when the door opened and
there entered an old rustic, who crossed close to
my end of the table and sat himself down very
quietly in the seat by the bow window. We
exchanged glances, or, properly speaking, nods, for
at the moment I did not actually raise my eyes to
his face, so concerned was I with the important
business of satisfying an appetite gained by tramping
twelve miles over a difficult country.
The fine warm rain of seven o'clock, which had
since risen in a kind of luminous mist about the
tree tops, now floated far overhead in a deep blue
sky, and the day was settling down into a blaze
of golden light. It was one of those days peculiar
to Somerset and North Devon, when the orchards
shine and the meadows seem to add a radiance of
their own, so brilliantly soft are the colourings of
grass and foliage.
The inn-keeper's daughter, a little maiden with a
simple country loveliness, presently entered with
a foaming pewter mug, enquired after my welfare,
and went out again. Apparently she had not
noticed the old man sitting in the settle by the
bow window, nor had he, for his part, so much as
once turned his head in our direction.
Under ordinary circumstances I should probably
have given no thought to this other occupant of the
room; but the fact that it was supposed to be
reserved for my private use, and the singular
thing that he sat looking aimlessly out of the
window, with no attempt to engage me in conversation,
drew my eyes more than once somewhat
curiously upon him, and I soon caught myself
wondering why he sat there so silently, and always
with averted head.
He was, I saw, a rather bent old man in rustic
dress, and the skin of his face was wrinkled like
that of an apple; corduroy trousers were caught
up with a string below the knee, and he wore a
sort of brown fustian jacket that was very much
faded. His thin hand rested upon a stoutish stick.
He wore no hat and carried none, and I noticed
that his head, covered with silvery hair, was finely
shaped and gave the impression of something noble.
Though rather piqued by his studied disregard
of my presence, I came to the conclusion that he
probably had something to do with the little
hostel and had a perfect right to use this room
with freedom, and I finished my luncheon without
breaking the silence and then took the settle
opposite to smoke a pipe before going on my way.
Through the open window came the scents of
the blossoming fruit trees; the orchard was
drenched in sunshine and the branches danced
lazily in the breeze; the grass below fairly shone
with white and yellow daisies, and the red roses
climbing in profusion over the casement mingled
their perfume with the sweetly penetrating odour
of the sea.
It was a place to dawdle in, to lie and dream
away a whole afternoon, watching the sleepy butterflies
and listening to the chorus of birds which
seemed to fill every corner of the sky. Indeed, I
was already debating in my mind whether to linger
and enjoy it all instead of taking the strenuous
pathway over the hills, when the old rustic in the
settle opposite suddenly turned his face towards
me for the first time and began to speak.
His voice had a quiet dreamy note in it that
was quite in harmony with the day and the scene,
but it sounded far away, I thought, almost as
though it came to me from outside where the
shadows were weaving their eternal tissue of
dreams upon the garden floor. Moreover, there
was no trace in it of the rough quality one might
naturally have expected, and, now that I saw the
full face of the speaker for the first time, I noted
with something like a start that the deep, gentle
eyes seemed far more in keeping with the timbre
of the voice than with the rough and very countrified
appearance of the clothes and manner. His
voice set pleasant waves of sound in motion towards
me, and the actual words, if I remember rightly,
"You are a stranger in these parts?" or "Is
not this part of the country strange to you?"
There was no "sir," nor any outward and visible
sign of the deference usually paid by real country
folk to the town-bred visitor, but in its place a
gentleness, almost a sweetness, of polite sympathy
that was far more of a compliment than either.
I answered that I was wandering on foot through
a part of the country that was wholly new to me,
and that I was surprised not to find a place of such
idyllic loveliness marked upon my map.
"I have lived here all my life," he said, with a
sigh, "and am never tired of coming back to it
"Then you no longer live in the immediate
"I have moved," he answered briefly, adding
after a pause in which his eyes seemed to wander
wistfully to the wealth of blossoms beyond the
window; "but I am almost sorry, for nowhere else
have I found the sunshine lie so warmly, the
flowers smell so sweetly, or the winds and streams
make such tender music. . . ."
His voice died away into a thin stream of sound
that lost itself in the rustle of the rose-leaves
climbing in at the window, for he turned his head
away from me as he spoke and looked out into
the garden. But it was impossible to conceal my
surprise, and I raised my eyes in frank astonishment
on hearing so poetic an utterance from such
a figure of a man, though at the same time realising
that it was not in the least inappropriate, and that,
in fact, no other sort of expression could have
properly been expected from him.
"I am sure you are right," I answered at length,
when it was clear he had ceased speaking; "or
there is something of enchantment here—of real
fairy-like enchantment—that makes me think of
the visions of childhood days, before one knew
I had been oddly drawn into his vein of speech,
some inner force compelling me. But here the
spell passed and I could not catch the thoughts
that had a moment before opened a long vista
before my inner vision.
"To tell you the truth," I concluded lamely, "the
place fascinates me and I am in two minds about
Even at this stage I remember thinking it odd
that I should be talking like this with a stranger
whom I met in a country inn, for it has always
been one of my failings that to strangers my
manner is brief to surliness. It was as though
we were figures meeting in a dream, speaking
without sound, obeying laws not operative in the
everyday working world, and about to play with
a new scale of space and time perhaps. But
my astonishment passed quickly into an entirely
different feeling when I became aware that the
old man opposite had turned his head from the
window again, and was regarding me with eyes
so bright they seemed almost to shine with an
inner flame. His gaze was fixed upon my face
with an intense ardour, and his whole manner had
suddenly become alert and concentrated. There
was something about him I now felt for the first
time that made little thrills of excitement run up
and down my back. I met his look squarely, but
with an inward tremor.
"Stay, then, a little while longer," he said in a
much lower and deeper voice than before; "stay,
and I will teach you something of the purpose of
He stopped abruptly. I was conscious of a
"You have a special purpose then—in coming
back?" I asked, hardly knowing what I was saying.
"To call away someone," he went on in the same
thrilling voice, "someone who is not quite ready
to come, but who is needed elsewhere for a worthier
purpose." There was a sadness in his manner that
mystified me more than ever.
"You mean—?" I began, with an unaccountable
access of trembling.
"I have come for someone who must soon move,
even as I have moved."
He looked me through and through with a dreadfully
piercing gaze, but I met his eyes with a full
straight stare, trembling though I was, and I was
aware that something stirred within me that had
never stirred before, though for the life of me I
could not have put a name to it, or have analysed
its nature. Something lifted and rolled away. For
one single second I understood clearly that the
past and the future exist actually side by side in
one immense Present; that it was I who moved
to and fro among shifting, protean appearances.
The old man dropped his eyes from my face,
and the momentary glimpse of a mightier universe
passed utterly away. Reason regained its sway
over a dull, limited kingdom.
"Come to-night," I heard the old man say,
"come to me to-night into the Wood of the Dead.
Come at midnight—"
Involuntarily I clutched the arm of the settle
for support, for I then felt that I was speaking
with someone who knew more of the real things
that are and will be, than I could ever know while
in the body, working through the ordinary channels
of sense—and this curious half-promise of a partial
lifting of the veil had its undeniable effect upon
The breeze from the sea had died away outside,
and the blossoms were still. A yellow butterfly
floated lazily past the window. The song of the
birds hushed—I smelt the sea—I smelt the perfume
of heated summer air rising from fields and flowers,
the ineffable scents of June and of the long days
of the year—and with it, from countless green
meadows beyond, came the hum of myriad summer
life, children's voices, sweet pipings, and the sound
of water falling.
I knew myself to be on the threshold of a new
order of experience—of an ecstasy. Something
drew me forth with a sense of inexpressible yearning
towards the being of this strange old man in
the window seat, and for a moment I knew what
it was to taste a mighty and wonderful sensation,
and to touch the highest pinnacle of joy I have
ever known. It lasted for less than a second, and
was gone; but in that brief instant of time the
same terrible lucidity came to me that had already
shown me how the past and future exist in the
present, and I realised and understood that pleasure
and pain are one and the same force, for the joy
I had just experienced included also all the pain
I ever had felt, or ever could feel. . . .
The sunshine grew to dazzling radiance, faded,
passed away. The shadows paused in their dance
upon the grass, deepened a moment, and then
melted into air. The flowers of the fruit trees
laughed with their little silvery laughter as the
wind sighed over their radiant eyes the old, old
tale of its personal love. Once or twice a
voice called my name. A wonderful sensation
of lightness and power began to steal over
Suddenly the door opened and the inn-keeper's
daughter came in. By all ordinary standards,
her's was a charming country loveliness, born of
the stars and wild-flowers, of moonlight shining
through autumn mists upon the river and the
fields; yet, by contrast with the higher order of
beauty I had just momentarily been in touch
with, she seemed almost ugly. How dull her eyes,
how thin her voice, how vapid her smile, and
insipid her whole presentment.
For a moment she stood between me and the
occupant of the window seat while I counted out
the small change for my meal and for her services;
but when, an instant later, she moved aside, I saw
that the settle was empty and that there was no
longer anyone in the room but our two selves.
This discovery was no shock to me; indeed, I
had almost expected it, and the man had gone just
as a figure goes out of a dream, causing no surprise
and leaving me as part and parcel of the same
dream without breaking of continuity. But, as
soon as I had paid my bill and thus resumed in
very practical fashion the thread of my normal
consciousness, I turned to the girl and asked her if
she knew the old man who had been sitting in the
window seat, and what he had meant by the
Wood of the Dead.
The maiden started visibly, glancing quickly
round the empty room, but answering simply that
she had seen no one. I described him in great
detail, and then, as the description grew clearer, she
turned a little pale under her pretty sunborn and
said very gravely that it must have been the ghost.
"Ghost! What ghost?"
"Oh, the village ghost," she said quietly, coming
closer to my chair with a little nervous movement
of genuine alarm, and adding in a lower voice,
"He comes before a death, they say!"
It was not difficult to induce the girl to talk,
and the story she told me, shorn of the superstition
that had obviously gathered with the years
round the memory of a strangely picturesque
figure, was an interesting and peculiar one.
The inn, she said, was originally a farmhouse,
occupied by a yeoman farmer, evidently of a
superior, if rather eccentric, character, who had
been very poor until he reached old age, when a
son died suddenly in the Colonies and left him
an unexpected amount of money, almost a fortune.
The old man thereupon altered no whit his
simple manner of living, but devoted his income
entirely to the improvement of the village and to
the assistance of its inhabitants; he did this quite
regardless of his personal likes and dislikes, as if
one and all were absolutely alike to him, objects of
a genuine and impersonal benevolence. People
had always been a little afraid of the man, not
understanding his eccentricities, but the simple
force of this love for humanity changed all that in
a very short space of time; and before he died he
came to be known as the Father of the Village
and was held in great love and veneration by all.
A short time before his end, however, he began
to act queerly. He spent his money just as usefully
and wisely, but the shock of sudden wealth after a
life of poverty, people said, had unsettled his mind.
He claimed to see things that others did not see, to
hear voices, and to have visions. Evidently, he
was not of the harmless, foolish, visionary order,
but a man of character and of great personal force,
for the people became divided in their opinions,
and the vicar, good man, regarded and treated him
as a "special case." For many, his name and
atmosphere became charged almost with a spiritual
influence that was not of the best. People quoted
texts about him; kept when possible out of his
way, and avoided his house after dark. None
understood him, but though the majority loved
him, an element of dread and mystery became
associated with his name, chiefly owing to the
ignorant gossip of the few.
A grove of pine trees behind the farm—the girl
pointed them out to me on the slope of the hill—he
said was the Wood of the Dead, because just
before anyone died in the village he saw them walk
into that wood, singing. None who went in ever
came out again. He often mentioned the names
to his wife, who usually published them to all the
inhabitants within an hour of her husband's confidence;
and it was found that the people he had
seen enter the wood—died. On warm summer
nights he would sometimes take an old stick and
wander out, hatless, under the pines, for he loved
this wood, and used to say he met all his old
friends there, and would one day walk in there
never to return. His wife tried to break him gently
off this habit, but he always had his own way;
and once, when she followed and found him standing
under a great pine in the thickest portion of the
grove, talking earnestly to someone she could not
see, he turned and rebuked her very gently, but
in such a way that she never repeated the experiment,
"You should never interrupt me, Mary, when I
am talking with the others; for they teach me,
remember, wonderful things, and I must learn all I
can before I go to join them."
This story went like wild-fire through the
village, increasing with every repetition, until at
length everyone was able to give an accurate
description of the great veiled figures the woman
declared she had seen moving among the trees
where her husband stood. The innocent pine-grove
now became positively haunted, and the title
of "Wood of the Dead" clung naturally as if it
had been applied to it in the ordinary course of
events by the compilers of the Ordnance Survey.
On the evening of his ninetieth birthday the old
man went up to his wife and kissed her. His
manner was loving, and very gentle, and there was
something about him besides, she declared afterwards,
that made her slightly in awe of him and
feel that he was almost more of a spirit than a
He kissed her tenderly on both cheeks, but his
eyes seemed to look right through her as he
"Dearest wife," he said, "I am saying good-bye
to you, for I am now going into the Wood of the
Dead, and I shall not return. Do not follow me, or
send to search, but be ready soon to come upon the
same journey yourself."
The good woman burst into tears and tried to
hold him, but he easily slipped from her hands, and
she was afraid to follow him. Slowly she saw him
cross the field in the sunshine, and then enter the
cool shadows of the grove, where he disappeared
from her sight.
That same night, much later, she woke to find
him lying peacefully by her side in bed, with one
arm stretched out towards her, dead. Her story
was half believed, half doubted at the time, but
in a very few years afterwards it evidently came
to be accepted by all the countryside. A funeral
service was held to which the people flocked in great
numbers, and everyone approved of the sentiment
which led the widow to add the words, "The
Father of the Village," after the usual texts which
appeared upon the stone over his grave.
This, then, was the story I pieced together of the
village ghost as the little inn-keeper's daughter
told it to me that afternoon in the parlour of the
"But you're not the first to say you've seen him,"
the girl concluded; "and your description is just
what we've always heard, and that window, they
say, was just where he used to sit and think, and
think, when he was alive, and sometimes, they say,
to cry for hours together."
"And would you feel afraid if you had seen him?"
I asked, for the girl seemed strangely moved and
interested in the whole story.
"I think so," she answered timidly. "Surely, if
he spoke to me. He did speak to you, didn't he,
sir?" she asked after a slight pause.
"He said he had come for someone."
"Come for someone," she repeated. "Did he
say—" she went on falteringly.
"No, he did not say for whom," I said quickly,
noticing the sudden shadow on her face and the
"Are you really sure, sir?"
"Oh, quite sure," I answered cheerfully. "I did
not even ask him." The girl looked at me steadily
for nearly a whole minute as though there were
many things she wished to tell me or to ask. But
she said nothing, and presently picked up her tray
from the table and walked slowly out of the
Instead of keeping to my original purpose and
pushing on to the next village over the hills, I
ordered a room to be prepared for me at the inn,
and that afternoon I spent wandering about the
fields and lying under the fruit trees, watching the
white clouds sailing out over the sea. The Wood of
the Dead I surveyed from a distance, but in the
village I visited the stone erected to the memory
of the "Father of the Village"—who was thus,
evidently, no mythical personage—and saw also
the monuments of his fine unselfish spirit: the
schoolhouse he built, the library, the home for the
aged poor, and the tiny hospital.
That night, as the clock in the church tower was
striking half-past eleven, I stealthily left the inn
and crept through the dark orchard and over the
hayfield in the direction of the hill whose southern
slope was clothed with the Wood of the Dead. A
genuine interest impelled me to the adventure, but
I also was obliged to confess to a certain sinking in
my heart as I stumbled along over the field in the
darkness, for I was approaching what might prove
to be the birth-place of a real country myth, and a
spot already lifted by the imaginative thoughts of
a considerable number of people into the region
of the haunted and ill-omened.
The inn lay below me, and all round it the
village clustered in a soft black shadow unrelieved
by a single light. The night was moonless, yet
distinctly luminous, for the stars crowded the sky.
The silence of deep slumber was everywhere; so
still, indeed, that every time my foot kicked against
a stone I thought the sound must be heard below
in the village and waken the sleepers.
I climbed the hill slowly, thinking chiefly of the
strange story of the noble old man who had seized
the opportunity to do good to his fellows the
moment it came his way, and wondering why the
causes that operate ceaselessly behind human life
did not always select such admirable instruments.
Once or twice a night-bird circled swiftly over my
head, but the bats had long since gone to rest, and
there was no other sign of life stirring.
Then, suddenly, with a singular thrill of emotion,
I saw the first trees of the Wood of the Dead rise
in front of me in a high black wall. Their crests
stood up like giant spears against the starry
sky; and though there was no perceptible
movement of the air on my cheek I heard
a faint, rushing sound among their branches
as the night breeze passed to and fro over their
countless little needles. A remote, hushed murmur
rose overhead and died away again almost immediately;
for in these trees the wind seems to be
never absolutely at rest, and on the calmest day
there is always a sort of whispering music among
For a moment I hesitated on the edge of this
dark wood, and listened intently. Delicate perfumes
of earth and bark stole out to meet me.
Impenetrable darkness faced me. Only the
consciousness that I was obeying an order, strangely
given, and including a mighty privilege, enabled
me to find the courage to go forward and step in
boldly under the trees.
Instantly the shadows closed in upon me and
"something" came forward to meet me from the
centre of the darkness. It would be easy enough to
meet my imagination half-way with fact, and say that
a cold hand grasped my own and led me by invisible
paths into the unknown depths of the grove; but
at any rate, without stumbling, and always with
the positive knowledge that I was going straight
towards the desired object, I pressed on confidently
and securely into the wood. So dark was it that,
at first, not a single star-beam pierced the roof of
branches overhead; and, as we moved forward side
by side, the trees shifted silently past us in long
lines, row upon row, squadron upon squadron, like
the units of a vast, soundless army.
And, at length, we came to a comparatively open
space where the trees halted upon us for a while,
and, looking up, I saw the white river of the sky
beginning to yield to the influence of a new light
that now seemed spreading swiftly across the
"It is the dawn coming," said the voice at my side
that I certainly recognised, but which seemed
almost like a whispering from the trees, "and we are
now in the heart of the Wood of the Dead."
We seated ourselves on a moss-covered boulder
and waited the coming of the sun. With marvellous
swiftness, it seemed to me, the light in the
east passed into the radiance of early morning, and
when the wind awoke and began to whisper in the
tree tops, the first rays of the risen sun fell between
the trunks and rested in a circle of gold at our
"Now, come with me," whispered my companion
in the same deep voice, "for time has no existence
here, and that which I would show you is already
We trod gently and silently over the soft pine
needles. Already the sun was high over our heads,
and the shadows of the trees coiled closely about
their feet. The wood became denser again, but
occasionally we passed through little open bits
where we could smell the hot sunshine and the dry,
baked pine needles. Then, presently, we came to
the edge of the grove, and I saw a hayfield lying
in the blaze of day, and two horses basking lazily
with switching tails in the shafts of a laden hay-waggon.
So complete and vivid was the sense of reality,
that I remember the grateful realisation of the cool
shade where we sat and looked out upon the hot
The last pitchfork had tossed up its fragrant
burden, and the great horses were already straining
in the shafts after the driver, as he walked
slowly in front with one hand upon their bridles.
He was a stalwart fellow, with sunburned neck
and hands. Then, for the first time, I noticed,
perched aloft upon the trembling throne of hay,
the figure of a slim young girl. I could not see
her face, but her brown hair escaped in disorder
from a white sun-bonnet, and her still browner
hands held a well-worn hay rake. She was
laughing and talking with the driver, and he,
from time to time, cast up at her ardent glances
of admiration—glances that won instant smiles
and soft blushes in response.
The cart presently turned into the roadway that
skirted the edge of the wood where we were
sitting. I watched the scene with intense interest
and became so much absorbed in it that I quite
forgot the manifold, strange steps by which I was
permitted to become a spectator.
"Come down and walk with me," cried the
young fellow, stopping a moment in front of the
horses and opening wide his arms. "Jump! and
I'll catch you!"
"Oh, oh," she laughed, and her voice sounded
to me as the happiest, merriest laughter I had
ever heard from a girl's throat. "Oh, oh! that's
all very well. But remember I'm Queen of the
Hay, and I must ride!"
"Then I must come and ride beside you," he
cried, and began at once to climb up by way
of the driver's seat. But, with a peal of silvery
laughter, she slipped down easily over the back
of the hay to escape him, and ran a little way
along the road. I could see her quite clearly, and
noticed the charming, natural grace of her movements,
and the loving expression in her eyes as
she looked over her shoulder to make sure he was
following. Evidently, she did not wish to escape
for long, certainly not for ever.
In two strides the big, brown swain was after
her, leaving the horses to do as they pleased.
Another second and his arms would have caught
the slender waist and pressed the little body to
his heart. But, just at that instant, the old man
beside me uttered a peculiar cry. It was low
and thrilling, and it went through me like a sharp
HE had called her by her own name—and
she had heard.
For a second she halted, glancing back with
frightened eyes. Then, with a brief cry of
despair, the girl swerved aside and dived in
swiftly among the shadows of the trees.
But the young man saw the sudden movement
and cried out to her passionately—
"Not that way, my love! Not that way! It's
the Wood of the Dead!"
She threw a laughing glance over her shoulder
at him, and the wind caught her hair and drew
it out in a brown cloud under the sun. But the
next minute she was close beside me, lying on
the breast of my companion, and I was certain I
heard the words repeatedly uttered with many
sighs: "Father, you called, and I have come. And
I come willingly, for I am very, very tired."
At any rate, so the words sounded to me, and
mingled with them I seemed to catch the answer
in that deep, thrilling whisper I already knew:
"And you shall sleep, my child, sleep for a long,
long time, until it is time for you to begin the
In that brief second of time I had recognised
the face and voice of the inn-keeper's daughter,
but the next minute a dreadful wail broke from
the lips of the young man, and the sky grew
suddenly as dark as night, the wind rose and
began to toss the branches about us, and the
whole scene was swallowed up in a wave of utter
Again the chill fingers seemed to seize my
hand, and I was guided by the way I had come
to the edge of the wood, and crossing the hayfield
still slumbering in the starlight, I crept back to
the inn and went to bed.
A year later I happened to be in the same part
of the country, and the memory of the strange
summer vision returned to me with the added
softness of distance. I went to the old village
and had tea under the same orchard trees at the
But the little maid of the inn did not show her
face, and I took occasion to enquire of her father
as to her welfare and her whereabouts.
"Married, no doubt," I laughed, but with a
strange feeling that clutched at my heart.
"No, sir," replied the inn-keeper sadly, "not
married—though she was just going to be—but
dead. She got a sunstroke in the hayfields,
just a few days after you were here, if I remember
rightly, and she was gone from us in less than
"When I was a medical student," began the
doctor, half turning towards his circle of listeners
in the firelight, "I came across one or two very
curious human beings; but there was one fellow
I remember particularly, for he caused me the
most vivid, and I think the most uncomfortable,
emotions I have ever known.
"For many months I knew Smith only by name
as the occupant of the floor above me. Obviously
his name meant nothing to me. Moreover I was
busy with lectures, reading, cliniques and the
like, and had little leisure to devise plans for
scraping acquaintance with any of the other
lodgers in the house. Then chance brought us
curiously together, and this fellow Smith left a
deep impression upon me as the result of our first
meeting. At the time the strength of this first
impression seemed quite inexplicable to me, but
looking back at the episode now from a stand-point
of greater knowledge I judge the fact to
have been that he stirred my curiosity to an
unusual degree, and at the same time awakened my
sense of horror—whatever that may be in a
medical student—about as deeply and permanently
as these two emotions were capable of being stirred
at all in the particular system and set of nerves
"How he knew that I was interested in the
study of languages was something I could never
explain, but one day, quite unannounced, he came
quietly into my room in the evening and asked
me point-blank if I knew enough Hebrew to help
him in the pronunciation of certain words.
"He caught me along the line of least resistance,
and I was greatly flattered to be able to give him
the desired information; but it was only when he
had thanked me and was gone that I realised I
had been in the presence of an unusual individuality.
For the life of me I could not quite seize
and label the peculiarities of what I felt to be a
very striking personality, but it was borne in
upon me that he was a man apart from his fellows,
a mind that followed a line leading away from
ordinary human intercourse and human interests,
and into regions that left in his atmosphere something
remote, rarefied, chilling.
"The moment he was gone I became conscious
of two things—an intense curiosity to know more
about this man and what his real interests were,
and secondly, the fact that my skin was crawling
and that my hair had a tendency to rise."
The doctor paused a moment here to puff hard
at his pipe, which, however, had gone out beyond
recall without the assistance of a match; and in the
deep silence, which testified to the genuine interest
of his listeners, someone poked the fire up into a
little blaze, and one or two others glanced over
their shoulders into the dark distances of the big
"On looking back," he went on, watching the
momentary flames in the grate, "I see a short,
thick-set man of perhaps forty-five, with immense
shoulders and small, slender hands. The contrast
was noticeable, for I remember thinking that such a
giant frame and such slim finger bones hardly belonged
together. His head, too, was large and very
long, the head of an idealist beyond all question, yet
with an unusually strong development of the jaw
and chin. Here again was a singular contradiction,
though I am better able now to appreciate its full
meaning, with a greater experience in judging the
values of physiognomy. For this meant, of course,
an enthusiastic idealism balanced and kept in check
by will and judgment—elements usually deficient
in dreamers and visionaries.
"At any rate, here was a being with probably a
very wide range of possibilities, a machine with a
pendulum that most likely had an unusual length
"The man's hair was exceedingly fine, and the
lines about his nose and mouth were cut as with
a delicate steel instrument in wax. His eyes I
have left to the last. They were large and quite
changeable, not in colour only, but in character,
size, and shape. Occasionally they seemed the eyes
of someone else, if you can understand what I
mean, and at the same time, in their shifting
shades of blue, green, and a nameless sort of dark
grey, there was a sinister light in them that lent
to the whole face an aspect almost alarming.
Moreover, they were the most luminous optics I
think I have ever seen in any human being.
"There, then, at the risk of a wearisome description,
is Smith as I saw him for the first time that
winter's evening in my shabby student's rooms in
Edinburgh. And yet the real part of him, of
course, I have left untouched, for it is both indescribable
and un-get-atable. I have spoken already
of an atmosphere of warning and aloofness he
carried about with him. It is impossible further
to analyse the series of little shocks his presence
always communicated to my being; but there was
that about him which made me instantly on the
qui vive in his presence, every nerve alert, every
sense strained and on the watch. I do not mean
that he deliberately suggested danger, but rather
that he brought forces in his wake which automatically
warned the nervous centres of my system
to be on their guard and alert.
"Since the days of my first acquaintance with
this man I have lived through other experiences
and have seen much I cannot pretend to explain or
understand; but, so far in my life, I have only
once come across a human being who suggested a
disagreeable familiarity with unholy things, and
who made me feel uncanny and 'creepy' in his
presence; and that unenviable individual was Mr.
"What his occupation was during the day I
never knew. I think he slept until the sun set.
No one ever saw him on the stairs, or heard him
move in his room during the day. He was a
creature of the shadows, who apparently preferred
darkness to light. Our landlady either knew
nothing, or would say nothing. At any rate she
found no fault, and I have since wondered often
by what magic this fellow was able to convert a
common landlady of a common lodging-house into
a discreet and uncommunicative person. This
alone was a sign of genius of some sort.
"'He's been here with me for years—long before
you come, an' I don't interfere or ask no questions
of what doesn't concern me, as long as people pays
their rent,' was the only remark on the subject
that I ever succeeded in winning from that quarter,
and it certainly told me nothing nor gave me any
encouragement to ask for further information.
"Examinations, however, and the general excitement
of a medical student's life for a time put Mr.
Smith completely out of my head. For a long
period he did not call upon me again, and for my
part, I felt no courage to return his unsolicited
"Just then, however, there came a change in the
fortunes of those who controlled my very limited
income, and I was obliged to give up my ground-floor
and move aloft to more modest chambers
on the top of the house. Here I was directly
over Smith, and had to pass his door to reach
"It so happened that about this time I was
frequently called out at all hours of the night for
the maternity cases which a fourth-year student
takes at a certain period of his studies, and on
returning from one of these visits at about two
o'clock in the morning I was surprised to hear the
sound of voices as I passed his door. A peculiar
sweet odour, too, not unlike the smell of incense,
penetrated into the passage.
"I went upstairs very quietly, wondering what
was going on there at this hour of the morning.
To my knowledge Smith never had visitors. For
a moment I hesitated outside the door with one
foot on the stairs. All my interest in this strange
man revived, and my curiosity rose to a point not
far from action. At last I might learn something
of the habits of this lover of the night and the
"The sound of voices was plainly audible, Smith's
predominating so much that I never could catch
more than points of sound from the other, penetrating
now and then the steady stream of his voice.
Not a single word reached me, at least, not a word
that I could understand, though the voice was
loud and distinct, and it was only afterwards that
I realised he must have been speaking in a foreign
"The sound of footsteps, too, was equally distinct.
Two persons were moving about the room, passing
and repassing the door, one of them a light, agile
person, and the other ponderous and somewhat
awkward. Smith's voice went on incessantly with
its odd, monotonous droning, now loud, now soft,
as he crossed and re-crossed the floor. The other
person was also on the move, but in a different and
less regular fashion, for I heard rapid steps that
seemed to end sometimes in stumbling, and quick
sudden movements that brought up with a violent
lurching against the wall or furniture.
"As I listened to Smith's voice, moreover, I
began to feel afraid. There was something in the
sound that made me feel intuitively he was in a
tight place, and an impulse stirred faintly in me—very
faintly, I admit—to knock at the door and
inquire if he needed help.
"But long before the impulse could translate
itself into an act, or even before it had been
properly weighed and considered by the mind,
I heard a voice close beside me in the air, a sort
of hushed whisper which I am certain was Smith
speaking, though the sound did not seem to have
come to me through the door. It was close in
my very ear, as though he stood beside me, and
it gave me such a start, that I clutched the
banisters to save myself from stepping backwards
and making a clatter on the stairs.
"'There is nothing you can do to help me,' it
said distinctly, 'and you will be much safer in your
"I am ashamed to this day of the pace at which
I covered the flight of stairs in the darkness to
the top floor, and of the shaking hand with which
I lit my candles and bolted the door. But, there
it is, just as it happened.
"This midnight episode, so odd and yet so
trivial in itself, fired me with more curiosity than
ever about my fellow-lodger. It also made me
connect him in my mind with a sense of fear and
distrust. I never saw him, yet I was often, and
uncomfortably, aware of his presence in the upper
regions of that gloomy lodging-house. Smith and
his secret mode of life and mysterious pursuits,
somehow contrived to awaken in my being a
line of reflection that disturbed my comfortable
condition of ignorance. I never saw him, as I
have said, and exchanged no sort of communication
with him, yet it seemed to me that his mind was
in contact with mine, and some of the strange
forces of his atmosphere filtered through into my
being and disturbed my equilibrium. Those upper
floors became haunted for me after dark, and,
though outwardly our lives never came into
contact, I became unwillingly involved in certain
pursuits on which his mind was centred. I felt
that he was somehow making use of me against
my will, and by methods which passed my
"I was at that time, moreover, in the heavy,
unquestioning state of materialism which is
common to medical students when they begin to
understand something of the human anatomy
and nervous system, and jump at once to the
conclusion that they control the universe and
hold in their forceps the last word of life
and death. I 'knew it all,' and regarded a belief
in anything beyond matter as the wanderings
of weak, or at best, untrained minds. And
this condition of mind, of course, added to the
strength of this upsetting fear which emanated
from the floor below and began slowly to take
possession of me.
"Though I kept no notes of the subsequent
events in this matter, they made too deep an
impression for me ever to forget the sequence in
which they occurred. Without difficulty I can
recall the next step in the adventure with Smith,
for adventure it rapidly grew to be."
The doctor stopped a moment and laid his pipe
on the table behind him before continuing. The
fire had burned low, and no one stirred to poke it.
The silence in the great hall was so deep that
when the speaker's pipe touched the table the
sound woke audible echoes at the far end among
"One evening, while I was reading, the door
of my room opened and Smith came in. He made
no attempt at ceremony. It was after ten o'clock
and I was tired, but the presence of the man
immediately galvanised me into activity. My
attempts at ordinary politeness he thrust on one
side at once, and began asking me to vocalise, and
then pronounce for him, certain Hebrew words;
and when this was done he abruptly inquired if
I was not the fortunate possessor of a very rare
Rabbinical Treatise, which he named.
"How he knew that I possessed this book
puzzled me exceedingly; but I was still more
surprised to see him cross the room and take it
out of my book-shelf almost before I had had
time to answer in the affirmative. Evidently he
knew exactly where it was kept. This excited
my curiosity beyond all bounds, and I immediately
began asking him questions; and though, out of
sheer respect for the man, I put them very
delicately to him, and almost by way of mere
conversation, he had only one reply for the lot.
He would look up at me from the pages of the
book with an expression of complete comprehension
on his extraordinary features, would bow his head
a little and say very gravely—
"'That, of course, is a perfectly proper question,'—which
was absolutely all I could ever get out
"On this particular occasion he stayed with
me perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. Then he went
quickly downstairs to his room with my Hebrew
Treatise in his hand, and I heard him close and
bolt his door.
"But a few moments later, before I had time
to settle down to my book again, or to recover
from the surprise his visit had caused me, I heard
the door open, and there stood Smith once again
beside my chair. He made no excuse for his
second interruption, but bent his head down to
the level of my reading lamp and peered across
the flame straight into my eyes.
"'I hope,' he whispered, 'I hope you are never
disturbed at night?'
"'Eh?' I stammered, 'disturbed at night? Oh
no, thanks, at least, not that I know of—'
"'I'm glad,' he replied gravely, appearing not to
notice my confusion and surprise at his question.
'But, remember, should it ever be the case, please
let me know at once.'
"And he was gone down the stairs and into
his room again.
"For some minutes I sat reflecting upon his
strange behaviour. He was not mad, I argued,
but was the victim of some harmless delusion that
had gradually grown upon him as a result of his
solitary mode of life; and from the books he used,
I judged that it had something to do with mediæval
magic, or some system of ancient Hebrew mysticism.
The words he asked me to pronounce for him were
probably 'Words of Power,' which, when uttered
with the vehemence of a strong will behind them,
were supposed to produce physical results, or set
up vibrations in one's own inner being that had
the effect of a partial lifting of the veil.
"I sat thinking about the man, and his way
of living, and the probable effects in the long-run
of his dangerous experiments, and I can recall
perfectly well the sensation of disappointment
that crept over me when I realised that I had
labelled his particular form of aberration, and
that my curiosity would therefore no longer be
"For some time I had been sitting alone with
these reflections—it may have been ten minutes
or it may have been half an hour—when I was
aroused from my reverie by the knowledge that
someone was again in the room standing close
beside my chair. My first thought was that Smith
had come back again in his swift, unaccountable
manner, but almost at the same moment I realised
that this could not be the case at all. For the
door faced my position, and it certainly had not
been opened again.
"Yet, someone was in the room, moving
cautiously to and fro, watching me, almost
touching me. I was as sure of it as I was of
myself, and though at the moment I do not think
I was actually afraid, I am bound to admit that
a certain weakness came over me and that I felt
that strange disinclination for action which is
probably the beginning of the horrible paralysis
of real terror. I should have been glad to hide
myself, if that had been possible, to cower into
a corner, or behind a door, or anywhere so that I
could not be watched and observed.
"But, overcoming my nervousness with an
effort of the will, I got up quickly out of my
chair and held the reading lamp aloft so that it
shone into all the corners like a searchlight.
"The room was utterly empty! It was utterly
empty, at least, to the eye, but to the nerves, and
especially to that combination of sense perception
which is made up by all the senses acting together,
and by no one in particular, there was a person
standing there at my very elbow.
"I say 'person,' for I can think of no appropriate
word. For, if it was a human being, I can only
affirm that I had the overwhelming conviction that
it was not, but that it was some form of life wholly
unknown to me both as to its essence and its nature.
A sensation of gigantic force and power came with
it, and I remember vividly to this day my terror on
realising that I was close to an invisible being who
could crush me as easily as I could crush a fly, and
who could see my every movement while itself
"To this terror was added the certain knowledge
that the 'being' kept in my proximity for a definite
purpose. And that this purpose had some direct
bearing upon my well-being, indeed upon my life,
I was equally convinced; for I became aware of
a sensation of growing lassitude as though the
vitality were being steadily drained out of my
body. My heart began to beat irregularly at first,
then faintly. I was conscious, even within a few
minutes, of a general drooping of the powers of life
in the whole system, an ebbing away of self-control,
and a distinct approach of drowsiness and
"The power to move, or to think out any mode
of resistance, was fast leaving me, when there rose,
in the distance as it were, a tremendous commotion.
A door opened with a clatter, and I heard the
peremptory and commanding tones of a human
voice calling aloud in a language I could not
comprehend. It was Smith, my fellow-lodger,
calling up the stairs; and his voice had not sounded
for more than a few seconds, when I felt something
withdrawn from my presence, from my person,
indeed from my very skin. It seemed as if there
was a rushing of air and some large creature swept
by me at about the level of my shoulders.
Instantly the pressure on my heart was relieved,
and the atmosphere seemed to resume its normal
"Smith's door closed quietly downstairs, as I put
the lamp down with trembling hands. What had
happened I do not know; only, I was alone again
and my strength was returning as rapidly as it
had left me.
"I went across the room and examined myself
in the glass. The skin was very pale, and the eyes
dull. My temperature, I found, was a little below
normal and my pulse faint and irregular. But
these smaller signs of disturbance were as nothing
compared with the feeling I had—though no outward
signs bore testimony to the fact—that I had
narrowly escaped a real and ghastly catastrophe.
I felt shaken, somehow, shaken to the very roots of
The doctor rose from his chair and crossed over
to the dying fire, so that no one could see the
expression on his face as he stood with his back to
the grate, and continued his weird tale.
"It would be wearisome," he went on in a lower
voice, looking over our heads as though he still
saw the dingy top floor of that haunted Edinburgh
lodging-house; "it would be tedious for me at
this length of time to analyse my feelings, or
attempt to reproduce for you the thorough examination
to which I endeavoured then to subject my
whole being, intellectual, emotional, and physical.
I need only mention the dominant emotion with
which this curious episode left me—the indignant
anger against myself that I could ever have lost
my self-control enough to come under the sway of
so gross and absurd a delusion. This protest,
however, I remember making with all the
emphasis possible. And I also remember noting
that it brought me very little satisfaction, for
it was the protest of my reason only, when all
the rest of my being was up in arms against its
"My dealings with the 'delusion,' however, were
not yet over for the night; for very early next
morning, somewhere about three o'clock, I was
awakened by a curiously stealthy noise in the
room, and the next minute there followed a crash
as if all my books had been swept bodily from
their shelf on to the floor.
"But this time I was not frightened. Cursing
the disturbance with all the resounding and harmless
words I could accumulate, I jumped out of bed
and lit the candle in a second, and in the first
dazzle of the flaring match—but before the wick
had time to catch—I was certain I saw a dark
grey shadow, of ungainly shape, and with something
more or less like a human head, drive rapidly
past the side of the wall farthest from me and
disappear into the gloom by the angle of the
"I waited one single second to be sure the candle
was alight, and then dashed after it, but before I
had gone two steps, my foot stumbled against
something hard piled up on the carpet and I only
just saved myself from falling headlong. I picked
myself up and found that all the books from what
I called my 'language shelf' were strewn across
the floor. The room, meanwhile, as a minute's
search revealed, was quite empty. I looked in
every corner and behind every stick of furniture,
and a student's bedroom on a top floor, costing
twelve shillings a week, did not hold many available
hiding-places, as you may imagine.
"The crash, however, was explained. Some very
practical and physical force had thrown the books
from their resting-place. That, at least, was
beyond all doubt. And as I replaced them on the
shelf and noted that not one was missing, I busied
myself mentally with the sore problem of how the
agent of this little practical joke had gained access
to my room, and then escaped again. For my
door was locked and bolted.
"Smith's odd question as to whether I was
disturbed in the night, and his warning injunction
to let him know at once if such were the case, now
of course returned to affect me as I stood there in
the early morning, cold and shivering on the
carpet; but I realised at the same moment how
impossible it would be for me to admit that a more
than usually vivid nightmare could have any
connection with himself. I would rather stand a
hundred of these mysterious visitations than consult
such a man as to their possible cause.
"A knock at the door interrupted my reflections,
and I gave a start that sent the candle grease
"'Let me in,' came in Smith's voice.
"I unlocked the door. He came in fully dressed.
His face wore a curious pallor. It seemed to me
to be under the skin and to shine through and
almost make it luminous. His eyes were exceedingly
"I was wondering what in the world to say to
him, or how he would explain his visit at such an
hour, when he closed the door behind him and
came close up to me—uncomfortably close.
"'You should have called me at once,' he said in
his whispering voice, fixing his great eyes on my
"I stammered something about an awful dream,
but he ignored my remark utterly, and I caught
his eye wandering next—if any movement of those
optics can be described as 'wandering'—to the
book-shelf. I watched him, unable to move my
gaze from his person. The man fascinated me
horribly for some reason. Why, in the devil's
name, was he up and dressed at three in the
morning? How did he know anything had
happened unusual in my room? Then his whisper
"'It's your amazing vitality that causes you
this annoyance,' he said, shifting his eyes back to
"I gasped. Something in his voice or manner
turned my blood into ice.
"'That's the real attraction,' he went on. 'But
if this continues one of us will have to leave, you
"I positively could not find a word to say in
reply. The channels of speech dried up within me.
I simply stared and wondered what he would say
next. I watched him in a sort of dream, and as
far as I can remember, he asked me to promise to
call him sooner another time, and then began to
walk round the room, uttering strange sounds, and
making signs with his arms and hands until he
reached the door. Then he was gone in a second,
and I had closed and locked the door behind him.
"After this, the Smith adventure drew rapidly
to a climax. It was a week or two later, and I
was coming home between two and three in the
morning from a maternity case, certain features of
which for the time being had very much taken
possession of my mind, so much so, indeed, that I
passed Smith's door without giving him a single
"The gas jet on the landing was still burning,
but so low that it made little impression on the
waves of deep shadow that lay across the stairs.
Overhead, the faintest possible gleam of grey
showed that the morning was not far away. A
few stars shone down through the sky-light. The
house was still as the grave, and the only sound to
break the silence was the rushing of the wind
round the walls and over the roof. But this was a
fitful sound, suddenly rising and as suddenly falling
away again, and it only served to intensify the
"I had already reached my own landing when I
gave a violent start. It was automatic, almost a
reflex action in fact, for it was only when I caught
myself fumbling at the door handle and thinking
where I could conceal myself quickest that I realised
a voice had sounded close beside me in the air.
It was the same voice I had heard before, and it
seemed to me to be calling for help. And yet the
very same minute I pushed on into the room,
determined to disregard it, and seeking to persuade
myself it was the creaking of the boards under my
weight or the rushing noise of the wind that had
"But hardly had I reached the table where
the candles stood when the sound was unmistakably
repeated: 'Help! help!' And this time
it was accompanied by what I can only describe
as a vivid tactile hallucination. I was
touched: the skin of my arm was clutched by
"Some compelling force sent me headlong downstairs
as if the haunting forces of the whole world
were at my heels. At Smith's door I paused. The
force of his previous warning injunction to seek his
aid without delay acted suddenly and I leant my
whole weight against the panels, little dreaming
that I should be called upon to give help rather
than to receive it.
"The door yielded at once, and I burst into a
room that was so full of a choking vapour, moving
in slow clouds, that at first I could distinguish
nothing at all but a set of what seemed to be huge
shadows passing in and out of the mist. Then,
gradually, I perceived that a red lamp on the
mantelpiece gave all the light there was, and that
the room which I now entered for the first time
was almost empty of furniture.
"The carpet was rolled back and piled in a heap
in the corner, and upon the white boards of the
floor I noticed a large circle drawn in black of
some material that emitted a faint glowing light
and was apparently smoking. Inside this circle,
as well as at regular intervals outside it, were
curious-looking designs, also traced in the same
black, smoking substance. These, too, seemed to
emit a feeble light of their own.
"My first impression on entering the room had
been that it was full of—people, I was going to
say; but that hardly expresses my meaning.
Beings, they certainly were, but it was borne in
upon me beyond the possibility of doubt, that they
were not human beings. That I had caught a
momentary glimpse of living, intelligent entities I
can never doubt, but I am equally convinced,
though I cannot prove it, that these entities were
from some other scheme of evolution altogether,
and had nothing to do with the ordinary human
life, either incarnate or discarnate.
"But, whatever they were, the visible appearance
of them was exceedingly fleeting. I no longer saw
anything, though I still felt convinced of their
immediate presence. They were, moreover, of the
same order of life as the visitant in my bedroom of
a few nights before, and their proximity to my
atmosphere in numbers, instead of singly as before,
conveyed to my mind something that was quite
terrible and overwhelming. I fell into a violent
trembling, and the perspiration poured from my
face in streams.
"They were in constant motion about me. They
stood close to my side; moved behind me; brushed
past my shoulder; stirred the hair on my forehead;
and circled round me without ever actually touching
me, yet always pressing closer and closer. Especially
in the air just over my head there seemed
ceaseless movement, and it was accompanied by a
confused noise of whispering and sighing that
threatened every moment to become articulate in
words. To my intense relief, however, I heard no
distinct words, and the noise continued more like
the rising and falling of the wind than anything
else I can imagine.
"But the characteristic of these 'Beings' that
impressed me most strongly at the time, and of
which I have carried away the most permanent
recollection, was that each one of them possessed
what seemed to be a vibrating centre which impelled
it with tremendous force and caused a rapid whirling
motion of the atmosphere as it passed me.
The air was full of these little vortices of whirring,
rotating force, and whenever one of them pressed
me too closely I felt as if the nerves in that
particular portion of my body had been literally
drawn out, absolutely depleted of vitality, and then
immediately replaced—but replaced dead, flabby,
"Then, suddenly, for the first time my eyes fell
upon Smith. He was crouching against the wall
on my right, in an attitude that was obviously
defensive, and it was plain he was in extremities.
The terror on his face was pitiable, but at the same
time there was another expression about the tightly
clenched teeth and mouth which showed that he
had not lost all control of himself. He wore the
most resolute expression I have ever seen on a
human countenance, and, though for the moment at
a fearful disadvantage, he looked like a man who
had confidence in himself, and, in spite of the
working of fear, was waiting his opportunity.
"For my part, I was face to face with a situation
so utterly beyond my knowledge and comprehension,
that I felt as helpless as a child, and as
"'Help me back—quick—into that circle,' I
heard him half cry, half whisper to me across the
"My only value appears to have been that I
was not afraid to act. Knowing nothing of the
forces I was dealing with I had no idea of the
deadly perils risked, and I sprang forward and
caught him by the arms. He threw all his weight
in my direction, and by our combined efforts his
body left the wall and lurched across the floor
towards the circle.
"Instantly there descended upon us, out of the
empty air of that smoke-laden room, a force which
I can only compare to the pushing, driving power
of a great wind pent up within a narrow space.
It was almost explosive in its effect, and it seemed
to operate upon all parts of my body equally. It
fell upon us with a rushing noise that filled my
ears and made me think for a moment the very
walls and roof of the building had been torn asunder.
Under its first blow we staggered back against the
wall, and I understood plainly that its purpose was
to prevent us getting back into the circle in the
middle of the floor.
"Pouring with perspiration, and breathless,
with every muscle strained to the very utmost,
we at length managed to get to the edge of the
circle, and at this moment, so great was the
opposing force, that I felt myself actually torn
from Smith's arms, lifted from my feet, and
twirled round in the direction of the windows as if
the wheel of some great machine had caught my
clothes and was tearing me to destruction in its
"But, even as I fell, bruised and breathless,
against the wall, I saw Smith firmly upon his feet
in the circle and slowly rising again to an upright
position. My eyes never left his figure once in the
next few minutes.
"He drew himself up to his full height. His
great shoulders squared themselves. His head was
thrown back a little, and as I looked I saw the
expression on his face change swiftly from fear to
one of absolute command. He looked steadily
round the room and then his voice began to vibrate.
At first in a low tone, it gradually rose till it
assumed the same volume and intensity I had
heard that night when he called up the stairs into
"It was a curiously increasing sound, more like
the swelling of an instrument than a human voice;
and as it grew in power and filled the room, I
became aware that a great change was being
effected slowly and surely. The confusion of noise
and rushings of air fell into the roll of long,
steady vibrations not unlike those caused by the
deeper pedals of an organ. The movements in the
air became less violent, then grew decidedly
weaker, and finally ceased altogether. The whisperings
and sighings became fainter and fainter,
till at last I could not hear them at all; and,
strangest of all, the light emitted by the circle, as
well as by the designs round it, increased to a
steady glow, casting their radiance upwards with
the weirdest possible effect upon his features.
Slowly, by the power of his voice, behind which lay
undoubtedly a genuine knowledge of the occult
manipulation of sound, this man dominated the
forces that had escaped from their proper sphere,
until at length the room was reduced to silence
and perfect order again.
"Judging by the immense relief which also
communicated itself to my nerves I then felt that
the crisis was over and Smith was wholly master
of the situation.
"But hardly had I begun to congratulate myself
upon this result, and to gather my scattered senses
about me, when, uttering a loud cry, I saw him leap
out of the circle and fling himself into the air—as
it seemed to me, into the empty air. Then, even
while holding my breath for dread of the crash he
was bound to come upon the floor, I saw him strike
with a dull thud against a solid body in mid-air,
and the next instant he was wrestling with some
ponderous thing that was absolutely invisible to
me, and the room shook with the struggle.
"To and fro they swayed, sometimes lurching
in one direction, sometimes in another, and
always in horrible proximity to myself, as I
leaned trembling against the wall and watched
"It lasted at most but a short minute or two,
ending as suddenly as it had begun. Smith, with
an unexpected movement, threw up his arms with
a cry of relief. At the same instant there was a
wild, tearing shriek in the air beside me and
something rushed past us with a noise like the
passage of a flock of big birds. Both windows
rattled as if they would break away from their
sashes. Then a sense of emptiness and peace
suddenly came over the room, and I knew that
all was over.
"Smith, his face exceedingly white, but otherwise
strangely composed, turned to me at once.
"'God!—if you hadn't come—You deflected
the stream; broke it up—' he whispered. 'You
The doctor made a long pause. Presently he
felt for his pipe in the darkness, groping over the
table behind us with both hands. No one spoke
for a bit, but all dreaded the sudden glare that
would come when he struck the match. The fire
was nearly out and the great hall was pitch dark.
But the story-teller did not strike that match.
He was merely gaining time for some hidden
reason of his own. And presently he went on
with his tale in a more subdued voice.
"I quite forget," he said, "how I got back to my
own room. I only know that I lay with two
lighted candles for the rest of the night, and the
first thing I did in the morning was to let the
landlady know I was leaving her house at the end
of the week.
"Smith still has my Rabbinical Treatise. At
least he did not return it to me at the time, and
I have never seen him since to ask for it."
Blake had been in very low water for months—almost
under water part of the time—due to
circumstances he was fond of saying were no fault
of his own; and as he sat writing in his room
on "third floor back" of a New York boarding-house,
part of his mind was busily occupied in
wondering when his luck was going to turn
It was his room only in the sense that he paid
the rent. Two friends, one a little Frenchman and
the other a big Dane, shared it with him, both
hoping eventually to contribute something towards
expenses, but so far not having accomplished this
result. They had two beds only, the third being
a mattress they slept upon in turns, a week at a
time. A good deal of their irregular "feeding"
consisted of oatmeal, potatoes, and sometimes eggs,
all of which they cooked on a strange utensil they
had contrived to fix into the gas jet. Occasionally,
when dinner failed them altogether, they swallowed
a little raw rice and drank hot water from the
bathroom on the top of it, and then made a wild
race for bed so as to get to sleep while the sensation
of false repletion was still there. For sleep
and hunger are slight acquaintances as they well
knew. Fortunately all New York houses are
supplied with hot air, and they only had to open
a grating in the wall to get a plentiful, if not a
wholesome amount of heat.
Though loneliness in a big city is a real punishment,
as they had severally learnt to their cost,
their experiences, three in a small room for
several months, had revealed to them horrors of
quite another kind, and their nerves had suffered
according to the temperament of each. But, on
this particular evening, as Blake sat scribbling by
the only window that was not cracked, the Dane
and the Frenchman, his companions in adversity,
were in wonderful luck. They had both been
asked out to a restaurant to dine with a friend
who also held out to one of them a chance of work
and remuneration. They would not be back till
late, and when they did come they were pretty sure
to bring in supplies of one kind or another. For
the Frenchman never could resist the offer of a
glass of absinthe, and this meant that he would be
able to help himself plentifully from the free-lunch
counters, with which all New York bars
are furnished, and to which any purchaser of a
drink is entitled to help himself and devour on the
spot or carry away casually in his hand for consumption
elsewhere. Thousands of unfortunate
men get their sole subsistence in this way in New
York, and experience soon teaches where, for the
price of a single drink, a man can take away
almost a meal of chip potatoes, sausage, bits of
bread, and even eggs. The Frenchman and the
Dane knew their way about, and Blake looked
forward to a supper more or less substantial before
pulling his mattress out of the cupboard and
turning in upon the floor for the night.
Meanwhile he could enjoy a quiet and lonely
evening with the room all to himself.
In the daytime he was a reporter on an evening
newspaper of sensational and lying habits. His
work was chiefly in the police courts; and in his
spare hours at night, when not too tired or too
empty, he wrote sketches and stories for the
magazines that very rarely saw the light of day on
their printed and paid-for sentences. On this
particular occasion he was deep in a most involved
tale of a psychological character, and had just
worked his way into a sentence, or set of sentences,
that completely baffled and muddled him.
He was fairly out of his depth, and his brain
was too poorly supplied with blood to invent a
way out again. The story would have been
interesting had he written it simply, keeping to
facts and feelings, and not diving into difficult
analysis of motive and character which was quite
beyond him. For it was largely autobiographical,
and was meant to describe the adventures of a
young Englishman who had come to grief in the
usual manner on a Canadian farm, had then subsequently
become bar-keeper, sub-editor on a Methodist
magazine, a teacher of French and German to
clerks at twenty-five cents per hour, a model for
artists, a super on the stage, and, finally, a
wanderer to the goldfields.
Blake scratched his head, and dipped the pen in
the inkpot, stared out through the blindless
windows, and sighed deeply. His thoughts kept
wandering to food, beefsteak and steaming vegetables.
The smell of cooking that came from a
lower floor through the broken windows was a
constant torment to him. He pulled himself
together and again attacked the problem.
" . . . for with some people," he wrote, "the
imagination is so vivid as to be almost an extension
of consciousness. . . ." But here he stuck
absolutely. He was not quite sure what he meant
by the words, and how to finish the sentence
puzzled him into blank inaction. It was a difficult
point to decide, for it seemed to come in appropriately
at this point in his story, and he did not
know whether to leave it as it stood, change it
round a bit, or take it out altogether. It might
just spoil its chances of being accepted: editors
were such clever men. But, to rewrite the
sentence was a grind, and he was so tired and
sleepy. After all, what did it matter? People
who were clever would force a meaning into it;
people who were not clever would pretend—he
knew of no other classes of readers. He would let
it stay, and go on with the action of the story.
He put his head in his hands and began to think
His mind soon passed from thought to reverie.
He fell to wondering when his friends would find
work and relieve him of the burden—he acknowledged
it as such—of keeping them, and of letting
another man wear his best clothes on alternate
Sundays. He wondered when his "luck" would
turn. There were one or two influential people in
New York whom he could go and see if he had a
dress suit and the other conventional uniforms.
His thoughts ran on far ahead, and at the same
time, by a sort of double process, far behind as well.
His home in the "old country" rose up before him;
he saw the lawn and the cedars in sunshine; he
looked through the familiar windows and saw the
clean, swept rooms. His story began to suffer;
the psychological masterpiece would not make
much progress unless he pulled up and dragged
his thoughts back to the treadmill. But he no
longer cared; once he had got as far as that cedar
with the sunshine on it, he never could get back
again. For all he cared, the troublesome sentence
might run away and get into someone else's pages,
or be snuffed out altogether.
There came a gentle knock at the door, and
Blake started. The knock was repeated louder.
Who in the world could it be at this late hour of
the night? On the floor above, he remembered,
there lived another Englishman, a foolish, second-rate
creature, who sometimes came in and made
himself objectionable with endless and silly chatter.
But he was an Englishman for all that, and Blake
always tried to treat him with politeness, realising
that he was lonely in a strange land. But to-night,
of all people in the world, he did not want to be
bored with Perry's cackle, as he called it, and the
"Come in" he gave in answer to the second knock
had no very cordial sound of welcome in it.
However, the door opened in response, and the
man came in. Blake did not turn round at once,
and the other advanced to the centre of the room,
but without speaking. Then Blake knew it was
not his enemy, Perry, and turned round.
He saw a man of about forty standing in the
middle of the carpet, but standing sideways so
that he did not present a full face. He wore an
overcoat buttoned up to the neck, and on the felt
hat which he held in front of him fresh rain-drops
glistened. In his other hand he carried a small
black bag. Blake gave him a good look, and came
to the conclusion that he might be a secretary, or
a chief clerk, or a confidential man of sorts. He
was a shabby-respectable-looking person. This
was the sum-total of the first impression, gained
the moment his eyes took in that it was not Perry;
the second impression was less pleasant, and
reported at once that something was wrong.
Though otherwise young and inexperienced,
Blake—thanks, or curses, to the police court
training—knew more about common criminal
blackguardism than most men of fifty, and he
recognised that there was somewhere a suggestion
of this undesirable world about the man. But
there was more than this. There was something
singular about him, something far out of the
common, though for the life of him Blake could
not say wherein it lay. The fellow was out of the
ordinary, and in some very undesirable manner.
All this, that takes so long to describe, Blake
saw with the first and second glance. The man at
once began to speak in a quiet and respectful
"Are you Mr. Blake?" he asked.
"Mr. Arthur Blake?"
"Mr. Arthur Herbert Blake?" persisted the
other, with emphasis on the middle name.
"That is my full name," Blake answered simply,
adding, as he remembered his manners; "but won't
you sit down, first, please?"
The man advanced with a curious sideways
motion like a crab and took a seat on the edge of
the sofa. He put his hat on the floor at his feet,
but still kept the bag in his hand.
"I come to you from a well-wisher," he went on
in oily tones, without lifting his eyes. Blake, in
his mind, ran quickly over all the people he knew
in New York who might possibly have sent such a
man, while waiting for him to supply the name.
But the man had come to a full stop and was
"A well-wisher of mine?" repeated Blake, not
knowing quite what else to say.
"Just so," replied the other, still with his eyes
on the floor. "A well-wisher of yours."
"A man or—" he felt himself blushing, "or
"That," said the man shortly, "I cannot tell
"You can't tell me!" exclaimed the other,
wondering what was coming next, and who in the
world this mysterious well-wisher could be who
sent so discreet and mysterious a messenger.
"I cannot tell you the name," replied the man
firmly. "Those are my instructions. But I bring
you something from this person, and I am to give
it to you, to take a receipt for it, and then to go
away without answering any questions."
Blake stared very hard. The man, however,
never raised his eyes above the level of the second
china knob on the chest of drawers opposite. The
giving of a receipt sounded like money. Could it
be that some of his influential friends had heard of
his plight? There were possibilities that made his
heart beat. At length, however, he found his
tongue, for this strange creature was determined
apparently to say nothing more until he had heard
"Then, what have you got for me, please?" he
By way of answer the man proceeded to open
the bag. He took out a parcel wrapped loosely in
brown paper, and about the size of a large book.
It was tied with string, and the man seemed
unnecessarily long untying the knot. When at
last the string was off and the paper unfolded,
there appeared a series of smaller packages inside.
The man took them out very carefully, almost as if
they had been alive, Blake thought, and set them
in a row upon his knees. They were dollar
bills. Blake, all in a flutter, craned his neck
forward a little to try and make out their
denomination. He read plainly the figures 100.
"There are ten thousand dollars here," said the
The other could not suppress a little cry.
"And they are for you."
Blake simply gasped. "Ten thousand dollars!"
he repeated, a queer feeling growing up in his
throat. "Ten thousand. Are you sure? I mean—you
mean they are for me?" he stammered.
He felt quite silly with excitement, and grew
more so with every minute, as the man maintained
a perfect silence. Was it not a dream?
Wouldn't the man put them back in the bag
presently and say it was a mistake, and they
were meant for somebody else? He could not
believe his eyes or his ears. Yet, in a sense,
it was possible. He had read of such things in
books, and even come across them in his experience
of the courts—the erratic and generous philanthropist
who is determined to do his good deed and
to get no thanks or acknowledgment for it. Still,
it seemed almost incredible. His troubles began to
melt away like bubbles in the sun; he thought of
the other fellows when they came in, and what he
would have to tell them; he thought of the German
landlady and the arrears of rent, of regular food
and clean linen, and books and music, of the chance
of getting into some respectable business, of—well,
of as many things as it is possible to think of
when excitement and surprise fling wide open the
gates of the imagination.
The man, meanwhile, began quietly to count
over the packages aloud from one to ten, and
then to count the bills in each separate packet,
also from one to ten. Yes, there were ten little
heaps, each containing ten bills of a hundred-dollar
denomination. That made ten thousand dollars.
Blake had never seen so much money in a single
lump in his life before; and for many months of
privation and discomfort he had not known the
"feel" of a twenty-dollar note, much less of a
hundred-dollar one. He heard them crackle under
the man's fingers, and it was like crisp laughter in
his ears. The bills were evidently new and unused.
But, side by side with the excitement caused by
the shock of such an event, Blake's caution, acquired
by a year of vivid New York experience, was
meanwhile beginning to assert itself. It all seemed
just a little too much out of the likely order of
things to be quite right. The police courts had
taught him the amazing ingenuity of the criminal
mind, as well as something of the plots and devices
by which the unwary are beguiled into the dark
places where blackmail may be levied with impunity.
New York, as a matter of fact, just at
that time was literally undermined with the secret
ways of the blackmailers, the green-goods men,
and other police-protected abominations; and the
only weak point in the supposition that this was
part of some such proceeding was the selection
of himself—a poor newspaper reporter—as a
victim. It did seem absurd, but then the whole
thing was so out of the ordinary, and the thought
once having entered his mind, was not so easily
got rid of. Blake resolved to be very cautious.
The man meanwhile, though he never appeared
to raise his eyes from the carpet, had been watching
him closely all the time.
"If you will give me a receipt I'll leave the
money at once," he said, with just a vestige of
impatience in his tone, as if he were anxious to
bring the matter to a conclusion as soon as
"But you say it is quite impossible for you to
tell me the name of my well-wisher, or why she
sends me such a large sum of money in this extraordinary
"The money is sent to you because you are in
need of it," returned the other; "and it is a present
without conditions of any sort attached. You have
to give me a receipt only to satisfy the sender that
it has reached your hands. The money will never
be asked of you again."
Blake noticed two things from this answer:
first, that the man was not to be caught into
betraying the sex of the well-wisher; and secondly,
that he was in some hurry to complete the transaction.
For he was now giving reasons, attractive
reasons, why he should accept the money and
make out the receipt.
Suddenly it flashed across his mind that if he
took the money and gave the receipt before a
witness, nothing very disastrous could come of
the affair. It would protect him against blackmail,
if this was, after all, a plot of some sort with
blackmail in it; whereas, if the man were a madman,
or a criminal who was getting rid of a portion
of his ill-gotten gains to divert suspicion, or if
any other improbable explanation turned out to
be the true one, there was no great harm done,
and he could hold the money till it was claimed,
or advertised for in the newspapers. His mind
rapidly ran over these possibilities, though, of
course, under the stress of excitement, he was
unable to weigh any of them properly; then he
turned to his strange visitor again and said
"I will take the money, although I must say it
seems to me a very unusual transaction, and I will
give you for it such a receipt as I think proper
under the circumstances."
"A proper receipt is all I want," was the answer.
"I mean by that a receipt before a proper
"Perfectly satisfactory," interrupted the man,
his eyes still on the carpet. "Only, it must be
dated, and headed with your address here in the
Blake could see no possible objection to this,
and he at once proceeded to obtain his witness.
The person he had in his mind was a Mr. Barclay,
who occupied the room above his own; an old
gentleman who had retired from business and
who, the landlady always said, was a miser, and
kept large sums secreted in his room. He was,
at any rate, a perfectly respectable man and would
make an admirable witness to a transaction of
this sort. Blake made an apology and rose to
fetch him, crossing the room in front of the sofa
where the man sat, in order to reach the door.
As he did so, he saw for the first time the
other side of his visitor's face, the side that
had been always so carefully turned away from
There was a broad smear of blood down the
skin from the ear to the neck. It glistened in
Blake never knew how he managed to smother
the cry that sprang to his lips, but smother it he
did. In a second he was at the door, his knees
trembling, his mind in a sudden and dreadful
His main object, so far as he could recollect
afterwards, was to escape from the room as if he
had noticed nothing, so as not to arouse the other's
suspicions. The man's eyes were always on the
carpet, and probably, Blake hoped, he had not
noticed the consternation that must have been
written plainly on his face. At any rate he had
uttered no cry.
In another second he would have been in the
passage, when suddenly he met a pair of wicked,
staring eyes fixed intently and with a cunning
smile upon his own. It was the other's face in
the mirror calmly watching his every movement.
Instantly, all his powers of reflection flew to the
winds, and he thought only upon the desirability
of getting help at once. He tore upstairs, his
heart in his mouth. Barclay must come to his
aid. This matter was serious—perhaps horribly
serious. Taking the money, or giving a receipt,
or having anything at all to do with it became an
impossibility. Here was crime. He felt certain
In three bounds he reached the next landing and
began to hammer at the old miser's door as if his
very life depended on it. For a long time he could
get no answer. His fists seemed to make no noise.
He might have been knocking on cotton wool, and
the thought dashed through his brain that it was
all just like the terror of a nightmare.
Barclay, evidently, was still out, or else sound
asleep. But the other simply could not wait a
minute longer in suspense. He turned the handle
and walked into the room. At first he saw nothing
for the darkness, and made sure the owner of the
room was out; but the moment the light from the
passage began a little to disperse the gloom, he
saw the old man, to his immense relief, lying
asleep on the bed.
Blake opened the door to its widest to get more
light and then walked quickly up to the bed. He
now saw the figure more plainly, and noted that it
was dressed and lay only upon the outside of the
bed. It struck him, too, that he was sleeping in a
very odd, almost an unnatural, position.
Something clutched at his heart as he looked
closer. He stumbled over a chair and found the
matches. Calling upon Barclay the whole time to
wake up and come downstairs with him, he
blundered across the floor, a dreadful thought in
his mind, and lit the gas over the table. It seemed
strange that there was no movement or reply to
his shouting. But it no longer seemed strange
when at length he turned, in the full glare of the
gas, and saw the old man lying huddled up into a
ghastly heap on the bed, his throat cut across from
ear to ear.
And all over the carpet lay new dollar bills,
crisp and clean like those he had left downstairs,
and strewn about in little heaps.
For a moment Blake stood stock-still, bereft of
all power of movement. The next, his courage
returned, and he fled from the room and dashed
downstairs, taking five steps at a time. He reached
the bottom and tore along the passage to his room,
determined at any rate to seize the man and prevent
his escape till help came.
But when he got to the end of the little landing
he found that his door had been closed. He seized
the handle, fumbling with it in his violence. It
felt slippery and kept turning under his fingers
without opening the door, and fully half a minute
passed before it yielded and let him in headlong.
At the first glance he saw the room was empty,
and the man gone!
Scattered upon the carpet lay a number of the
bills, and beside them, half hidden under the sofa
where the man had sat, he saw a pair of gloves—thick,
leathern gloves—and a butcher's knife.
Even from the distance where he stood the blood-stains
on both were easily visible.
Dazed and confused by the terrible discoveries
of the last few minutes, Blake stood in the middle
of the room, overwhelmed and unable to think or
move. Unconsciously he must have passed his
hand over his forehead in the natural gesture of
perplexity, for he noticed that the skin felt wet
and sticky. His hand was covered with blood!
And when he rushed in terror to the looking-glass,
he saw that there was a broad red smear across his
face and forehead. Then he remembered the
slippery handle of the door and knew that it had
been carefully moistened!
In an instant the whole plot became clear as
daylight, and he was so spellbound with horror
that a sort of numbness came over him and he
came very near to fainting. He was in a condition
of utter helplessness, and had anyone come into the
room at that minute and called him by name he
would simply have dropped to the floor in a
"If the police were to come in now!" The
thought crashed through his brain like thunder,
and at the same moment, almost before he had
time to appreciate a quarter of its significance,
there came a loud knocking at the front door
below. The bell rang with a dreadful clamour;
men's voices were heard talking excitedly, and
presently heavy steps began to come up the stairs
in the direction of his room.
It was the police!
And all Blake could do was to laugh foolishly to
himself—and wait till they were upon him. He
could not move nor speak. He stood face to face
with the evidence of his horrid crime, his hands
and face smeared with the blood of his victim, and
there he was standing when the police burst open
the door and came noisily into the room.
"Here it is!" cried a voice he knew. "Third
floor back! And the fellow caught red-handed!"
It was the man with the bag leading in the two
Hardly knowing what he was doing in the
fearful stress of conflicting emotions, he made a
step forward. But before he had time to make a
second one, he felt the heavy hand of the law
descend upon both shoulders at once as the two
policemen moved up to seize him. At the same
moment a voice of thunder cried in his ear—
"Wake up, man! Wake up! Here's the supper,
and good news too!"
Blake turned with a start in his chair and saw
the Dane, very red in the face, standing beside
him, a hand on each shoulder, and a little further
back he saw the Frenchman leering happily at him
over the end of the bed, a bottle of beer in one
hand and a paper package in the other.
He rubbed his eyes, glancing from one to the
other, and then got up sleepily to fix the wire
arrangement on the gas jet to boil water for
cooking the eggs which the Frenchman was in
momentary danger of letting drop upon the
It was never quite clear to me how Jim Shorthouse
managed to get his private secretaryship; but,
once he got it, he kept it, and for some years he
led a steady life and put money in the savings
One morning his employer sent for him into the
study, and it was evident to the secretary's trained
senses that there was something unusual in the
"Mr. Shorthouse," he began, somewhat nervously,
"I have never yet had the opportunity of observing
whether or not you are possessed of personal
Shorthouse gasped, but he said nothing. He
was growing accustomed to the eccentricities
of his chief. Shorthouse was a Kentish man;
Sidebotham was "raised" in Chicago; New York
was the present place of residence.
"But," the other continued, with a puff at his
very black cigar, "I must consider myself a poor
judge of human nature in future, if it is not one of
your strongest qualities."
The private secretary made a foolish little bow
in modest appreciation of so uncertain a compliment.
Mr. Jonas B. Sidebotham watched him
narrowly, as the novelists say, before he continued
"I have no doubt that you are a plucky fellow
and—" He hesitated, and puffed at his cigar
as if his life depended upon it keeping alight.
"I don't think I'm afraid of anything in
particular, sir—except women," interposed the
young man, feeling that it was time for him
to make an observation of some sort, but still
quite in the dark as to his chief's purpose.
"Humph!" he grunted. "Well, there are no
women in this case so far as I know. But there
may be other things that—that hurt more."
"Wants a special service of some kind, evidently,"
was the secretary's reflection. "Personal
violence?" he asked aloud.
"Possibly (puff), in fact (puff, puff) probably."
Shorthouse smelt an increase of salary in the air.
It had a stimulating effect.
"I've had some experience of that article, sir,"
he said shortly; "but I'm ready to undertake anything
"I can't say how much reason or unreason there
may prove to be in this particular case. It all
Mr. Sidebotham got up and locked the door of
his study and drew down the blinds of both
windows. Then he took a bunch of keys from his
pocket and opened a black tin box. He ferreted
about among blue and white papers for a few
seconds, enveloping himself as he did so in a cloud
of blue tobacco smoke.
"I feel like a detective already," Shorthouse
"Speak low, please," returned the other, glancing
round the room. "We must observe the utmost
secrecy. Perhaps you would be kind enough to
close the registers," he went on in a still lower
voice. "Open registers have betrayed conversations
Shorthouse began to enter into the spirit of the
thing. He tiptoed across the floor and shut the
two iron gratings in the wall that in American
houses supply hot air and are termed "registers."
Mr. Sidebotham had meanwhile found the paper he
was looking for. He held it in front of him and
tapped it once or twice with the back of his right
hand as if it were a stage letter and himself the
villain of the melodrama.
"This is a letter from Joel Garvey, my old
partner," he said at length. "You have heard me
speak of him."
The other bowed. He knew that many years
before Garvey & Sidebotham had been well
known in the Chicago financial world. He knew
that the amazing rapidity with which they accumulated
a fortune had only been surpassed
by the amazing rapidity with which they had
immediately afterwards disappeared into space.
He was further aware—his position afforded
facilities—that each partner was still to some extent
in the other's power, and that each wished most
devoutly that the other would die.
The sins of his employer's early years did not
concern him, however. The man was kind and
just, if eccentric; and Shorthouse, being in New
York, did not probe to discover more particularly
the sources whence his salary was so regularly paid.
Moreover, the two men had grown to like each
other and there was a genuine feeling of trust
and respect between them.
"I hope it's a pleasant communication, sir," he
said in a low voice.
"Quite the reverse," returned the other, fingering
the paper nervously as he stood in front of the fire.
"Blackmail, I suppose."
"Precisely." Mr. Sidebotham's cigar was not
burning well; he struck a match and applied it
to the uneven edge, and presently his voice spoke
through clouds of wreathing smoke.
"There are valuable papers in my possession
bearing his signature. I cannot inform you of
their nature; but they are extremely valuable to
me. They belong, as a matter of fact, to Garvey as
much as to me. Only I've got them—"
"Garvey writes that he wants to have his
signature removed—wants to cut it out with his
own hand. He gives reasons which incline me to
consider his request—"
"And you would like me to take him the papers
and see that he does it?"
"And bring them back again with you," he
whispered, screwing up his eyes into a shrewd
"And bring them back again with me," repeated
the secretary. "I understand perfectly."
Shorthouse knew from unfortunate experience
more than a little of the horrors of blackmail.
The pressure Garvey was bringing to bear upon
his old enemy must be exceedingly strong. That
was quite clear. At the same time, the commission
that was being entrusted to him seemed somewhat
quixotic in its nature. He had already "enjoyed"
more than one experience of his employer's
eccentricity, and he now caught himself wondering
whether this same eccentricity did not sometimes
go—further than eccentricity.
"I cannot read the letter to you," Mr. Sidebotham
was explaining, "but I shall give it into your
hands. It will prove that you are my—er—my
accredited representative. I shall also ask you not
to read the package of papers. The signature in
question you will find, of course, on the last page,
at the bottom."
There was a pause of several minutes during
which the end of the cigar glowed eloquently.
"Circumstances compel me," he went on at length
almost in a whisper, "or I should never do this.
But you understand, of course, the thing is a ruse.
Cutting out the signature is a mere pretence. It is
nothing. What Garvey wants are the papers
The confidence reposed in the private secretary
was not misplaced. Shorthouse was as faithful to
Mr. Sidebotham as a man ought to be to the wife
that loves him.
The commission itself seemed very simple.
Garvey lived in solitude in the remote part of Long
Island. Shorthouse was to take the papers to him,
witness the cutting out of the signature, and to be
specially on his guard against any attempt, forcible
or otherwise, to gain possession of them. It seemed
to him a somewhat ludicrous adventure, but he
did not know all the facts and perhaps was not the
The two men talked in low voices for another hour,
at the end of which Mr. Sidebotham drew up the
blinds, opened the registers and unlocked the door.
Shorthouse rose to go. His pockets were stuffed
with papers and his head with instructions; but
when he reached the door he hesitated and turned.
"Well?" said his chief.
Shorthouse looked him straight in the eye and
"The personal violence, I suppose?" said the
other. Shorthouse bowed.
"I have not seen Garvey for twenty years," he
said; "all I can tell you is that I believe him
to be occasionally of unsound mind. I have heard
strange rumours. He lives alone, and in his lucid
intervals studies chemistry. It was always a
hobby of his. But the chances are twenty to one
against his attempting violence. I only wished
to warn you—in case—I mean, so that you may
be on the watch."
He handed his secretary a Smith and Wesson
revolver as he spoke. Shorthouse slipped it into
his hip pocket and went out of the room.
A drizzling cold rain was falling on fields covered
with half-melted snow when Shorthouse stood, late
in the afternoon, on the platform of the lonely little
Long Island station and watched the train he had
just left vanish into the distance.
It was a bleak country that Joel Garvey, Esq.,
formerly of Chicago, had chosen for his residence
and on this particular afternoon it presented a
more than usually dismal appearance. An expanse
of flat fields covered with dirty snow stretched away
on all sides till the sky dropped down to meet
them. Only occasional farm buildings broke the
monotony, and the road wound along muddy lanes
and beneath dripping trees swathed in the cold raw
fog that swept in like a pall of the dead from the sea.
It was six miles from the station to Garvey's
house, and the driver of the rickety buggy
Shorthouse had found at the station was not
communicative. Between the dreary landscape
and the drearier driver he fell back upon his own
thoughts, which, but for the spice of adventure
that was promised, would themselves have been
even drearier than either. He made up his mind
that he would waste no time over the transaction.
The moment the signature was cut out he would
pack up and be off. The last train back to Brooklyn
was 7.15; and he would have to walk the six miles
of mud and snow, for the driver of the buggy had
refused point-blank to wait for him.
For purposes of safety, Shorthouse had done
what he flattered himself was rather a clever thing.
He had made up a second packet of papers identical
in outside appearance with the first. The inscription,
the blue envelope, the red elastic band, and
even a blot in the lower left-hand corner had been
exactly reproduced. Inside, of course, were only
sheets of blank paper. It was his intention to
change the packets and to let Garvey see him put
the sham one into the bag. In case of violence
the bag would be the point of attack, and he
intended to lock it and throw away the key.
Before it could be forced open and the deception
discovered there would be time to increase his
chances of escape with the real packet.
It was five o'clock when the silent Jehu pulled
up in front of a half-broken gate and pointed with
his whip to a house that stood in its own grounds
among trees and was just visible in the gathering
gloom. Shorthouse told him to drive up to the
front door but the man refused.
"I ain't runnin' no risks," he said; "I've got a
This cryptic remark was not encouraging, but
Shorthouse did not pause to decipher it. He paid
the man, and then pushed open the rickety old
gate swinging on a single hinge, and proceeded
to walk up the drive that lay dark between close-standing
trees. The house soon came into full
view. It was tall and square and had once
evidently been white, but now the walls were
covered with dirty patches and there were wide
yellow streaks where the plaster had fallen away.
The windows stared black and uncompromising
into the night. The garden was overgrown with
weeds and long grass, standing up in ugly patches
beneath their burden of wet snow. Complete
silence reigned over all. There was not a sign of
life. Not even a dog barked. Only, in the
distance, the wheels of the retreating carriage
could be heard growing fainter and fainter.
As he stood in the porch, between pillars of
rotting wood, listening to the rain dripping from
the roof into the puddles of slushy snow, he was
conscious of a sensation of utter desertion and
loneliness such as he had never before experienced.
The forbidding aspect of the house had the
immediate effect of lowering his spirits. It might
well have been the abode of monsters or demons
in a child's wonder tale, creatures that only dared
to come out under cover of darkness. He groped
for the bell-handle, or knocker, and finding neither,
he raised his stick and beat a loud tattoo on
the door. The sound echoed away in an empty
space on the other side and the wind moaned past
him between the pillars as if startled at his audacity.
But there was no sound of approaching footsteps
and no one came to open the door. Again he beat
a tattoo, louder and longer than the first one; and,
having done so, waited with his back to the house
and stared across the unkempt garden into the
fast gathering shadows.
Then he turned suddenly, and saw that the door
was standing ajar. It had been quietly opened
and a pair of eyes were peering at him round the
edge. There was no light in the hall beyond and
he could only just make out the shape of a dim
"Does Mr. Garvey live here?" he asked in a firm
"Who are you?" came in a man's tones.
"I'm Mr. Sidebotham's private secretary. I
wish to see Mr. Garvey on important business."
"Are you expected?"
"I suppose so," he said impatiently, thrusting
a card through the opening. "Please take my
name to him at once, and say I come from Mr.
Sidebotham on the matter Mr. Garvey wrote
The man took the card, and the face vanished
into the darkness, leaving Shorthouse standing in
the cold porch with mingled feelings of impatience
and dismay. The door, he now noticed for the first
time, was on a chain and could not open more than
a few inches. But it was the manner of his reception
that caused uneasy reflections to stir within
him—reflections that continued for some minutes
before they were interrupted by the sound of
approaching footsteps and the flicker of a light in
The next instant the chain fell with a rattle, and
gripping his bag tightly, he walked into a large
ill-smelling hall of which he could only just see the
ceiling. There was no light but the nickering
taper held by the man, and by its uncertain
glimmer Shorthouse turned to examine him. He
saw an undersized man of middle age with brilliant,
shifting eyes, a curling black beard, and a nose that
at once proclaimed him a Jew. His shoulders were
bent, and, as he watched him replacing the chain,
he saw that he wore a peculiar black gown like
a priest's cassock reaching to the feet. It was
altogether a lugubrious figure of a man, sinister
and funereal, yet it seemed in perfect harmony
with the general character of its surroundings.
The hall was devoid of furniture of any kind, and
against the dingy walls stood rows of old picture
frames, empty and disordered, and odd-looking bits
of wood-work that appeared doubly fantastic as
their shadows danced queerly over the floor in the
"If you'll come this way, Mr. Garvey will see
you presently," said the Jew gruffly, crossing the
floor and shielding the taper with a bony hand.
He never once raised his eyes above the level of
the visitor's waistcoat, and, to Shorthouse, he somehow
suggested a figure from the dead rather than
a man of flesh and blood. The hall smelt decidedly
All the more surprising, then, was the scene that
met his eyes when the Jew opened the door at the
further end and he entered a room brilliantly
lit with swinging lamps and furnished with a
degree of taste and comfort that amounted to
luxury. The walls were lined with handsomely
bound books, and armchairs were arranged round
a large mahogany desk in the middle of the room.
A bright fire burned in the grate and neatly framed
photographs of men and women stood on the
mantelpiece on either side of an elaborately carved
clock. French windows that opened like doors
were partially concealed by warm red curtains, and
on a sideboard against the wall stood decanters and
glasses, with several boxes of cigars piled on top
of one another. There was a pleasant odour
of tobacco about the room. Indeed, it was in
such glowing contrast to the chilly poverty of
the hall that Shorthouse already was conscious
of a distinct rise in the thermometer of his
Then he turned and saw the Jew standing in the
doorway with his eyes fixed upon him, somewhere
about the middle button of his waistcoat. He
presented a strangely repulsive appearance that
somehow could not be attributed to any particular
detail, and the secretary associated him in his mind
with a monstrous black bird of prey more than
"My time is short," he said abruptly; "I hope
Mr. Garvey will not keep me waiting."
A strange flicker of a smile appeared on the
Jew's ugly face and vanished as quickly as it came.
He made a sort of deprecating bow by way of
reply. Then he blew out the taper and went out,
closing the door noiselessly behind him.
Shorthouse was alone. He felt relieved. There
was an air of obsequious insolence about the old
Jew that was very offensive. He began to take
note of his surroundings. He was evidently in the
library of the house, for the walls were covered
with books almost up to the ceiling. There was
no room for pictures. Nothing but the shining
backs of well-bound volumes looked down upon
him. Four brilliant lights hung from the ceiling
and a reading lamp with a polished reflector stood
among the disordered masses of papers on the desk.
The lamp was not lit, but when Shorthouse put his
hand upon it he found it was warm. The room
had evidently only just been vacated.
Apart from the testimony of the lamp, however,
he had already felt, without being able to give a
reason for it, that the room had been occupied a
few moments before he entered. The atmosphere
over the desk seemed to retain the disturbing
influence of a human being; an influence, moreover,
so recent that he felt as if the cause of it were
still in his immediate neighbourhood. It was
difficult to realise that he was quite alone in the
room and that somebody was not in hiding. The
finer counterparts of his senses warned him to act
as if he were being observed; he was dimly
conscious of a desire to fidget and look round, to
keep his eyes in every part of the room at once,
and to conduct himself generally as if he were the
object of careful human observation.
How far he recognised the cause of these sensations
it is impossible to say; but they were sufficiently
marked to prevent his carrying out a strong
inclination to get up and make a search of the
room. He sat quite still, staring alternately at
the backs of the books, and at the red curtains;
wondering all the time if he was really being
watched, or if it was only the imagination playing
tricks with him.
A full quarter of an hour passed, and then
twenty rows of volumes suddenly shifted out
towards him, and he saw that a door had opened
in the wall opposite. The books were only sham
backs after all, and when they moved back again
with the sliding door, Shorthouse saw the figure
of Joel Garvey standing before him.
Surprise almost took his breath away. He had
expected to see an unpleasant, even a vicious
apparition with the mark of the beast unmistakably
upon its face; but he was wholly unprepared
for the elderly, tall, fine-looking man who stood
in front of him—well-groomed, refined, vigorous,
with a lofty forehead, clear grey eyes, and a
hooked nose dominating a clean shaven mouth and
chin of considerable character—a distinguished
looking man altogether.
"I'm afraid I've kept you waiting, Mr. Shorthouse,"
he said in a pleasant voice, but with no
trace of a smile in the mouth or eyes. "But the
fact is, you know, I've a mania for chemistry, and
just when you were announced I was at the most
critical moment of a problem and was really compelled
to bring it to a conclusion."
Shorthouse had risen to meet him, but the
other motioned him to resume his seat. It was
borne in upon him irresistibly that Mr. Joel
Garvey, for reasons best known to himself, was
deliberately lying, and he could not help wondering
at the necessity for such an elaborate misrepresentation.
He took off his overcoat and sat
"I've no doubt, too, that the door startled you,"
Garvey went on, evidently reading something of
his guest's feelings in his face. "You probably
had not suspected it. It leads into my little
laboratory. Chemistry is an absorbing study to
me, and I spend most of my time there." Mr.
Garvey moved up to the armchair on the opposite
side of the fireplace and sat down.
Shorthouse made appropriate answers to these
remarks, but his mind was really engaged in
taking stock of Mr. Sidebotham's old-time partner.
So far there was no sign of mental irregularity
and there was certainly nothing about him to
suggest violent wrong-doing or coarseness of
living. On the whole, Mr. Sidebotham's secretary
was most pleasantly surprised, and, wishing to
conclude his business as speedily as possible, he
made a motion towards the bag for the purpose
of opening it, when his companion interrupted
"You are Mr. Sidebotham's private secretary,
are you not?" he asked.
Shorthouse replied that he was. "Mr. Sidebotham,"
he went on to explain, "has entrusted
me with the papers in the case and I have the
honour to return to you your letter of a week
ago." He handed the letter to Garvey, who took
it without a word and deliberately placed it in
the fire. He was not aware that the secretary
was ignorant of its contents, yet his face betrayed
no signs of feeling. Shorthouse noticed, however,
that his eyes never left the fire until the last
morsel had been consumed. Then he looked up
and said, "You are familiar then with the facts
of this most peculiar case?"
Shorthouse saw no reason to confess his
"I have all the papers, Mr. Garvey," he replied,
taking them out of the bag, "and I should be
very glad if we could transact our business as
speedily as possible. If you will cut out your
"One moment, please," interrupted the other.
"I must, before we proceed further, consult some
papers in my laboratory. If you will allow me
to leave you alone a few minutes for this purpose
we can conclude the whole matter in a very short
Shorthouse did not approve of this further
delay, but he had no option than to acquiesce, and
when Garvey had left the room by the private
door he sat and waited with the papers in his
hand. The minutes went by and the other did
not return. To pass the time he thought of
taking the false packet from his coat to see that
the papers were in order, and the move was
indeed almost completed, when something—he
never knew what—warned him to desist. The
feeling again came over him that he was being
watched, and he leaned back in his chair with the
bag on his knees and waited with considerable
impatience for the other's return. For more than
twenty minutes he waited, and when at length
the door opened and Garvey appeared, with profuse
apologies for the delay, he saw by the clock
that only a few minutes still remained of the time
he had allowed himself to catch the last train.
"Now I am completely at your service," he said
pleasantly; "you must, of course, know, Mr.
Shorthouse, that one cannot be too careful in
matters of this kind—especially," he went on,
speaking very slowly and impressively, "in dealing
with a man like my former partner, whose
mind, as you doubtless may have discovered, is at
times very sadly affected."
Shorthouse made no reply to this. He felt that
the other was watching him as a cat watches a
"It is almost a wonder to me," Garvey added,
"that he is still at large. Unless he has greatly
improved it can hardly be safe for those who are
closely associated with him."
The other began to feel uncomfortable. Either
this was the other side of the story, or it was the
first signs of mental irresponsibility.
"All business matters of importance require the
utmost care in my opinion, Mr. Garvey," he said
at length, cautiously.
"Ah! then, as I thought, you have had a great
deal to put up with from him," Garvey said, with
his eyes fixed on his companion's face. "And, no
doubt, he is still as bitter against me as he was
years ago when the disease first showed itself?"
Although this last remark was a deliberate
question and the questioner was waiting with
fixed eyes for an answer, Shorthouse elected to
take no notice of it. Without a word he pulled
the elastic band from the blue envelope with a
snap and plainly showed his desire to conclude the
business as soon as possible. The tendency on the
other's part to delay did not suit him at all.
"But never personal violence, I trust, Mr.
Shorthouse," he added.
"I'm glad to hear it," Garvey said in a sympathetic
voice, "very glad to hear it. And now,"
he went on, "if you are ready we can transact this
little matter of business before dinner. It will
only take a moment."
He drew a chair up to the desk and sat down,
taking a pair of scissors from a drawer. His
companion approached with the papers in his hand,
unfolding them as he came. Garvey at once took
them from him, and after turning over a few pages
he stopped and cut out a piece of writing at the
bottom of the last sheet but one.
Holding it up to him Shorthouse read the words
"Joel Garvey" in faded ink.
"There! That's my signature," he said, "and
I've cut it out. It must be nearly twenty years
since I wrote it, and now I'm going to burn it."
He went to the fire and stooped over to burn the
little slip of paper, and while he watched it being
consumed Shorthouse put the real papers in his
pocket and slipped the imitation ones into the bag.
Garvey turned just in time to see this latter movement.
"I'm putting the papers back," Shorthouse said
quietly; "you've done with them, I think."
"Certainly," he replied as, completely deceived,
he saw the blue envelope disappear into the black
bag and watched Shorthouse turn the key. "They
no longer have the slightest interest for me."
As he spoke he moved over to the sideboard, and
pouring himself out a small glass of whisky asked
his visitor if he might do the same for him. But
the visitor declined and was already putting on his
overcoat when Garvey turned with genuine surprise
on his face.
"You surely are not going back to New York
to-night, Mr. Shorthouse?" he said, in a voice of
"I've just time to catch the 7.15 if I'm quick."
"But I never heard of such a thing," Garvey
said. "Of course I took it for granted that you
would stay the night."
"It's kind of you," said Shorthouse, "but really
I must return to-night. I never expected to stay."
The two men stood facing each other. Garvey
pulled out his watch.
"I'm exceedingly sorry," he said; "but, upon my
word, I took it for granted you would stay. I
ought to have said so long ago. I'm such a lonely
fellow and so little accustomed to visitors that I
fear I forgot my manners altogether. But in any
case, Mr. Shorthouse, you cannot catch the 7.15,
for it's already after six o'clock, and that's
the last train to-night." Garvey spoke very
quickly, almost eagerly, but his voice sounded
"There's time if I walk quickly," said the
young man with decision, moving towards the
door. He glanced at his watch as he went.
Hitherto he had gone by the clock on the mantelpiece.
To his dismay he saw that it was, as his
host had said, long after six. The clock was half
an hour slow, and he realised at once that it was no
longer possible to catch the train.
Had the hands of the clock been moved back
intentionally? Had he been purposely detained?
Unpleasant thoughts flashed into his brain and
made him hesitate before taking the next step.
His employer's warning rang in his ears. The
alternative was six miles along a lonely road in
the dark, or a night under Garvey's roof. The
former seemed a direct invitation to catastrophe, if
catastrophe there was planned to be. The latter—well,
the choice was certainly small. One thing,
however, he realised, was plain—he must show
neither fear nor hesitancy.
"My watch must have gained," he observed
quietly, turning the hands back without looking
up. "It seems I have certainly missed that train
and shall be obliged to throw myself upon your
hospitality. But, believe me, I had no intention of
putting you out to any such extent."
"I'm delighted," the other said. "Defer to the
judgment of an older man and make yourself
comfortable for the night. There's a bitter storm
outside, and you don't put me out at all. On the
contrary it's a great pleasure. I have so little
contact with the outside world that it's really a
god-send to have you."
The man's face changed as he spoke. His
manner was cordial and sincere. Shorthouse
began to feel ashamed of his doubts and to read
between the lines of his employer's warning. He
took off his coat and the two men moved to the
armchairs beside the fire.
"You see," Garvey went on in a lowered voice,
"I understand your hesitancy perfectly. I didn't
know Sidebotham all those years without knowing
a good deal about him—perhaps more than you do.
I've no doubt, now, he filled your mind with all
sorts of nonsense about me—probably told you
that I was the greatest villain unhung, eh? and all
that sort of thing? Poor fellow! He was a fine
sort before his mind became unhinged. One of his
fancies used to be that everybody else was insane,
or just about to become insane. Is he still as bad
"Few men," replied Shorthouse, with the manner
of making a great confidence, but entirely refusing
to be drawn, "go through his experiences and reach
his age without entertaining delusions of one kind
"Perfectly true," said Garvey. "Your observation
is evidently keen."
"Very keen indeed," Shorthouse replied, taking
his cue neatly; "but, of course, there are some
things"—and here he looked cautiously over his
shoulder—"there are some things one cannot talk
about too circumspectly."
"I understand perfectly and respect your
There was a little more conversation and then
Garvey got up and excused himself on the plea of
superintending the preparation of the bedroom.
"It's quite an event to have a visitor in the
house, and I want to make you as comfortable as
possible," he said. "Marx will do better for a little
supervision. And," he added with a laugh as he
stood in the doorway, "I want you to carry back a
good account to Sidebotham."
The tall form disappeared and the door was shut.
The conversation of the past few minutes had
come somewhat as a revelation to the secretary.
Garvey seemed in full possession of normal instincts.
There was no doubt as to the sincerity of his
manner and intentions. The suspicions of the first
hour began to vanish like mist before the sun.
Sidebotham's portentous warnings and the mystery
with which he surrounded the whole episode had
been allowed to unduly influence his mind. The
loneliness of the situation and the bleak nature of
the surroundings had helped to complete the
illusion. He began to be ashamed of his suspicions
and a change commenced gradually to be wrought
in his thoughts. Anyhow a dinner and a bed were
preferable to six miles in the dark, no dinner, and
a cold train into the bargain.
Garvey returned presently. "We'll do the best
we can for you," he said, dropping into the deep
armchair on the other side of the fire. "Marx is a
good servant if you watch him all the time. You
must always stand over a Jew, though, if you want
things done properly. They're tricky and uncertain
unless they're working for their own interest. But
Marx might be worse, I'll admit. He's been with
me for nearly twenty years—cook, valet, housemaid,
and butler all in one. In the old days, you know,
he was a clerk in our office in Chicago."
Garvey rattled on and Shorthouse listened with
occasional remarks thrown in. The former seemed
pleased to have somebody to talk to and the sound
of his own voice was evidently sweet music in his
ears. After a few minutes, he crossed over to the
sideboard and again took up the decanter of
whisky, holding it to the light. "You will join me
this time," he said pleasantly, pouring out two
glasses, "it will give us an appetite for dinner," and
this time Shorthouse did not refuse. The liquor
was mellow and soft and the men took two glasses
"Excellent," remarked the secretary.
"Glad you appreciate it," said the host, smacking
his lips. "It's very old whisky, and I rarely touch
it when I'm alone. But this," he added, "is a
special occasion, isn't it?"
Shorthouse was in the act of putting his glass
down when something drew his eyes suddenly to
the other's face. A strange note in the man's
voice caught his attention and communicated
alarm to his nerves. A new light shone in
Garvey's eyes and there flitted momentarily across
his strong features the shadow of something that
set the secretary's nerves tingling. A mist spread
before his eyes and the unaccountable belief rose
strong in him that he was staring into the visage
of an untamed animal. Close to his heart there
was something that was wild, fierce, savage. An
involuntary shiver ran over him and seemed to
dispel the strange fancy as suddenly as it had
come. He met the other's eye with a smile, the
counterpart of which in his heart was vivid
"It is a special occasion," he said, as naturally as
possible, "and, allow me to add, very special
Garvey appeared delighted. He was in the
middle of a devious tale describing how the whisky
came originally into his possession when the door
opened behind them and a grating voice announced
that dinner was ready. They followed the
cassocked form of Marx across the dirty hall, lit
only by the shaft of light that followed them from
the library door, and entered a small room where
a single lamp stood upon a table laid for dinner.
The walls were destitute of pictures, and the
windows had Venetian blinds without curtains.
There was no fire in the grate, and when the men
sat down facing each other Shorthouse noticed
that, while his own cover was laid with its due
proportion of glasses and cutlery, his companion
had nothing before him but a soup plate, without
fork, knife, or spoon beside it.
"I don't know what there is to offer you," he
said; "but I'm sure Marx has done the best he can
at such short notice. I only eat one course for
dinner, but pray take your time and enjoy your
Marx presently set a plate of soup before the
guest, yet so loathsome was the immediate presence
of this old Hebrew servitor, that the spoonfuls
disappeared somewhat slowly. Garvey sat and
Shorthouse said the soup was delicious and
bravely swallowed another mouthful. In reality
his thoughts were centred upon his companion,
whose manners were giving evidence of a gradual
and curious change. There was a decided difference
in his demeanour, a difference that the secretary
felt at first, rather than saw. Garvey's quiet self-possession
was giving place to a degree of suppressed
excitement that seemed so far inexplicable.
His movements became quick and nervous, his eye
shifting and strangely brilliant, and his voice, when
he spoke, betrayed an occasional deep tremor.
Something unwonted was stirring within him and
evidently demanding every moment more vigorous
manifestation as the meal proceeded.
Intuitively Shorthouse was afraid of this growing
excitement, and while negotiating some uncommonly
tough pork chops he tried to lead the
conversation on to the subject of chemistry, of
which in his Oxford days he had been an
enthusiastic student. His companion, however,
would none of it. It seemed to have lost
interest for him, and he would barely condescend to
respond. When Marx presently returned with a
plate of steaming eggs and bacon the subject
dropped of its own accord.
"An inadequate dinner dish," Garvey said, as
soon as the man was gone; "but better than nothing,
Shorthouse remarked that he was exceedingly
fond of bacon and eggs, and, looking up with the
last word, saw that Garvey's face was twitching
convulsively and that he was almost wriggling in
his chair. He quieted down, however, under the
secretary's gaze and observed, though evidently
with an effort—
"Very good of you to say so. Wish I could join
you, only I never eat such stuff. I only take one
course for dinner."
Shorthouse began to feel some curiosity as to
what the nature of this one course might be, but he
made no further remark and contented himself with
noting mentally that his companion's excitement
seemed to be rapidly growing beyond his control.
There was something uncanny about it, and he
began to wish he had chosen the alternative of the
walk to the station.
"I'm glad to see you never speak when Marx is
in the room," said Garvey presently. "I'm sure it's
better not. Don't you think so?"
He appeared to wait eagerly for the answer.
"Undoubtedly," said the puzzled secretary.
"Yes," the other went on quickly. "He's an
excellent man, but he has one drawback—a really
horrid one. You may—but, no, you could hardly
have noticed it yet."
"Not drink, I trust," said Shorthouse, who would
rather have discussed any other subject than the
"Worse than that a great deal," Garvey replied,
evidently expecting the other to draw him out.
But Shorthouse was in no mood to hear anything
horrible, and he declined to step into the trap.
"The best of servants have their faults," he said
"I'll tell you what it is if you like," Garvey went
on, still speaking very low and leaning forward
over the table so that his face came close to the
flame of the lamp, "only we must speak quietly in
case he's listening. I'll tell you what it is—if you
think you won't be frightened."
"Nothing frightens me," he laughed. (Garvey
must understand that at all events.) "Nothing
can frighten me," he repeated.
"I'm glad of that; for it frightens me a good
Shorthouse feigned indifference. Yet he was
aware that his heart was beating a little quicker
and that there was a sensation of chilliness in his
back. He waited in silence for what was to
"He has a horrible predilection for vacuums,"
Garvey went on presently in a still lower voice
and thrusting his face farther forward under the
"Vacuums!" exclaimed the secretary in spite of
himself. "What in the world do you mean?"
"What I say of course. He's always tumbling
into them, so that I can't find him or get at him.
He hides there for hours at a time, and for the life
of me I can't make out what he does there."
Shorthouse stared his companion straight in the
eyes. What in the name of Heaven was he talking
"Do you suppose he goes there for a change of
air, or—or to escape?" he went on in a louder voice.
Shorthouse could have laughed outright but for
the expression of the other's face.
"I should not think there was much air of any
sort in a vacuum," he said quietly.
"That's exactly what I feel," continued Garvey
with ever growing excitement. "That's the
horrid part of it. How the devil does he live
there? You see—"
"Have you ever followed him there?" interrupted
the secretary. The other leaned back in his
chair and drew a deep sigh.
"Never! It's impossible. You see I can't follow
him. There's not room for two. A vacuum only
holds one comfortably. Marx knows that. He's
out of my reach altogether once he's fairly inside.
He knows the best side of a bargain. He's a
"That is a drawback to a servant, of course—"
Shorthouse spoke slowly, with his eyes on his plate.
"A drawback," interrupted the other with an
ugly chuckle, "I call it a draw-in, that's what
I call it."
"A draw-in does seem a more accurate term,"
assented Shorthouse. "But," he went on, "I
thought that nature abhorred a vacuum. She
used to, when I was at school—though perhaps—it's
so long ago—"
He hesitated and looked up. Something in
Garvey's face—something he had felt before he
looked up—stopped his tongue and froze the words
in his throat. His lips refused to move and became
suddenly dry. Again the mist rose before his
eyes and the appalling shadow dropped its veil
over the face before him. Garvey's features began
to burn and glow. Then they seemed to coarsen
and somehow slip confusedly together. He stared
for a second—it seemed only for a second—into the
visage of a ferocious and abominable animal; and
then, as suddenly as it had come, the filthy shadow
of the beast passed off, the mist melted out, and
with a mighty effort over his nerves he forced
himself to finish his sentence.
"You see it's so long since I've given
attention to such things," he stammered. His
heart was beating rapidly, and a feeling of
oppression was gathering over it.
"It's my peculiar and special study on the other
hand," Garvey resumed. "I've not spent all these
years in my laboratory to no purpose, I can assure
you. Nature, I know for a fact," he added with
unnatural warmth, "does not abhor a vacuum.
On the contrary, she's uncommonly fond of 'em,
much too fond, it seems, for the comfort of my
little household. If there were fewer vacuums
and more abhorrence we should get on better—a
damned sight better in my opinion."
"Your special knowledge, no doubt, enables you
to speak with authority," Shorthouse said, curiosity
and alarm warring with other mixed feelings in
his mind; "but how can a man tumble into a
"You may well ask. That's just it. How can
he? It's preposterous and I can't make it out
at all. Marx knows, but he won't tell me. Jews
know more than we do. For my part I have
reason to believe—" He stopped and listened.
"Hush! here he comes," he added, rubbing his
hands together as if in glee and fidgeting in his
Steps were heard coming down the passage,
and as they approached the door Garvey seemed
to give himself completely over to an excitement
he could not control. His eyes were fixed on the
door and he began clutching the tablecloth with
both hands. Again his face was screened by the
loathsome shadow. It grew wild, wolfish. As
through a mask, that concealed, and yet was thin
enough to let through a suggestion of, the beast
crouching behind, there leaped into his countenance
the strange look of the animal in the human—the
expression of the were-wolf, the monster. The
change in all its loathsomeness came rapidly over
his features, which began to lose their outline.
The nose flattened, dropping with broad nostrils
over thick lips. The face rounded, filled, and
became squat. The eyes, which, luckily for
Shorthouse, no longer sought his own, glowed
with the light of untamed appetite and bestial
greed. The hands left the cloth and grasped the
edges of the plate, and then clutched the cloth
"This is my course coming now," said Garvey,
in a deep guttural voice. He was shivering. His
upper lip was partly lifted and showed the teeth,
white and gleaming.
A moment later the door opened and Marx
hurried into the room and set a dish in front
of his master. Garvey half rose to meet him,
stretching out his hands and grinning horribly.
With his mouth he made a sound like the snarl
of an animal. The dish before him was steaming,
but the slight vapour rising from it betrayed by
its odour that it was not born of a fire of coals.
It was the natural heat of flesh warmed by the
fires of life only just expelled. The moment the
dish rested on the table Garvey pushed away his
own plate and drew the other up close under his
mouth. Then he seized the food in both hands
and commenced to tear it with his teeth, grunting
as he did so. Shorthouse closed his eyes, with a
feeling of nausea. When he looked up again
the lips and jaw of the man opposite were stained
with crimson. The whole man was transformed.
A feasting tiger, starved and ravenous, but without
a tiger's grace—this was what he watched for
several minutes, transfixed with horror and
Marx had already taken his departure, knowing
evidently what was not good for the eyes to look
upon, and Shorthouse knew at last that he was
sitting face to face with a madman.
The ghastly meal was finished in an incredibly
short time and nothing was left but a tiny pool
of red liquid rapidly hardening. Garvey leaned
back heavily in his chair and sighed. His smeared
face, withdrawn now from the glare of the lamp,
began to resume its normal appearance. Presently
he looked up at his guest and said in his natural
"I hope you've had enough to eat. You
wouldn't care for this, you know," with a downward
Shorthouse met his eyes with an inward loathing,
and it was impossible not to show some of the
repugnance he felt. In the other's face, however,
he thought he saw a subdued, cowed expression.
But he found nothing to say.
"Marx will be in presently," Garvey went on.
"He's either listening, or in a vacuum."
"Does he choose any particular time for his
visits?" the secretary managed to ask.
"He generally goes after dinner; just about this
time, in fact. But he's not gone yet," he added,
shrugging his shoulders, "for I think I hear him
Shorthouse wondered whether vacuum was
possibly synonymous with wine cellar, but gave no
expression to his thoughts. With chills of horror
still running up and down his back, he saw Marx
come in with a basin and towel, while Garvey
thrust up his face just as an animal puts up its
muzzle to be rubbed.
"Now we'll have coffee in the library, if you're
ready," he said, in the tone of a gentleman addressing
his guests after a dinner party.
Shorthouse picked up the bag, which had lain
all this time between his feet, and walked through
the door his host held open for him. Side by side
they crossed the dark hall together, and, to his
disgust, Garvey linked an arm in his, and with his
face so close to the secretary's ear that he felt the
warm breath, said in a thick voice—
"You're uncommonly careful with that bag, Mr.
Shorthouse. It surely must contain something
more than the bundle of papers."
"Nothing but the papers," he answered, feeling
the hand burning upon his arm and wishing he
were miles away from the house and its abominable
"Quite sure?" asked the other with an odious
and suggestive chuckle. "Is there any meat in it,
fresh meat—raw meat?"
The secretary felt, somehow, that at the least
sign of fear the beast on his arm would leap upon
him and tear him with his teeth.
"Nothing of the sort," he answered vigorously.
"It wouldn't hold enough to feed a cat."
"True," said Garvey with a vile sigh, while the
other felt the hand upon his arm twitch up and
down as if feeling the flesh. "True, it's too small
to be of any real use. As you say, it wouldn't
hold enough to feed a cat."
Shorthouse was unable to suppress a cry. The
muscles of his fingers, too, relaxed in spite of himself
and he let the black bag drop with a bang to
the floor. Garvey instantly withdrew his arm and
turned with a quick movement. But the secretary
had regained his control as suddenly as he had lost
it, and he met the maniac's eyes with a steady and
"There, you see, it's quite light. It makes no
appreciable noise when I drop it." He picked it
up and let it fall again, as if he had dropped it for
the first time purposely. The ruse was successful.
"Yes. You're right," Garvey said, still standing
in the doorway and staring at him. "At any rate
it wouldn't hold enough for two," he laughed.
And as he closed the door the horrid laughter
echoed in the empty hall.
They sat down by a blazing fire and Shorthouse
was glad to feel its warmth. Marx presently
brought in coffee. A glass of the old whisky and
a good cigar helped to restore equilibrium. For
some minutes the men sat in silence staring into
the fire. Then, without looking up, Garvey said
in a quiet voice—
"I suppose it was a shock to you to see me eat
raw meat like that. I must apologise if it was
unpleasant to you. But it's all I can eat and it's
the only meal I take in the twenty-four hours."
"Best nourishment in the world, no doubt;
though I should think it might be a trifle strong
for some stomachs."
He tried to lead the conversation away from
so unpleasant a subject, and went on to talk
rapidly of the values of different foods, of vegetarianism
and vegetarians, and of men who had gone
for long periods without any food at all. Garvey
listened apparently without interest and had
nothing to say. At the first pause he jumped in
"When the hunger is really great on me," he
said, still gazing into the fire, "I simply cannot
control myself. I must have raw meat—the first
I can get—" Here he raised his shining eyes
and Shorthouse felt his hair beginning to rise.
"It comes upon me so suddenly too. I never can
tell when to expect it. A year ago the passion
rose in me like a whirlwind and Marx was out
and I couldn't get meat. I had to get something
or I should have bitten myself. Just when it was
getting unbearable my dog ran out from beneath
the sofa. It was a spaniel."
Shorthouse responded with an effort. He
hardly knew what he was saying and his skin
crawled as if a million ants were moving over it.
There was a pause of several minutes.
"I've bitten Marx all over," Garvey went on
presently in his strange quiet voice, and as if he
were speaking of apples; "but he's bitter. I doubt
if the hunger could ever make me do it again.
Probably that's what first drove him to take
shelter in a vacuum." He chuckled hideously as
he thought of this solution of his attendant's
Shorthouse seized the poker and poked the fire
as if his life depended on it. But when the
banging and clattering was over Garvey continued
his remarks with the same calmness. The
next sentence, however, was never finished. The
secretary had got upon his feet suddenly.
"I shall ask your permission to retire," he
said in a determined voice; "I'm tired to-night;
will you be good enough to show me to my room?"
Garvey looked up at him with a curious cringing
expression behind which there shone the gleam
of cunning passion.
"Certainly," he said, rising from his chair.
"You've had a tiring journey. I ought to have
thought of that before."
He took the candle from the table and lit it, and
the fingers that held the match trembled.
"We needn't trouble Marx," he explained. "That
beast's in his vacuum by this time."
They crossed the hall and began to ascend the
carpetless wooden stairs. They were in the well
of the house and the air cut like ice. Garvey, the
flickering candle in his hand throwing his face
into strong outline, led the way across the first
landing and opened a door near the mouth of
a dark passage. A pleasant room greeted the
visitor's eyes, and he rapidly took in its points
while his host walked over and lit two candles
that stood on a table at the foot of the bed. A fire
burned brightly in the grate. There were two
windows, opening like doors, in the wall opposite,
and a high canopied bed occupied most of the
space on the right. Panelling ran all round the
room reaching nearly to the ceiling and gave a
warm and cosy appearance to the whole; while
the portraits that stood in alternate panels
suggested somehow the atmosphere of an old
country house in England. Shorthouse was agreeably
"I hope you'll find everything you need,"
Garvey was saying in the doorway. "If not, you
have only to ring that bell by the fireplace. Marx
won't hear it of course, but it rings in my
laboratory, where I spend most of the night."
Then, with a brief good-night, he went out and
shut the door after him. The instant he was gone
Mr. Sidebotham's private secretary did a peculiar
thing. He planted himself in the middle of the
room with his back to the door, and drawing the
pistol swiftly from his hip pocket levelled it across
his left arm at the window. Standing motionless
in this position for thirty seconds he then suddenly
swerved right round and faced in the other direction,
pointing his pistol straight at the keyhole of
the door. There followed immediately a sound of
shuffling outside and of steps retreating across the
"On his knees at the keyhole," was the
secretary's reflection. "Just as I thought. But
he didn't expect to look down the barrel of a
pistol and it made him jump a little."
As soon as the steps had gone downstairs and
died away across the hall, Shorthouse went over
and locked the door, stuffing a piece of crumpled
paper into the second keyhole which he saw
immediately above the first. After that, he made
a thorough search of the room. It hardly repaid
the trouble, for he found nothing unusual. Yet he
was glad he had made it. It relieved him to find
no one was in hiding under the bed or in the deep
oak cupboard; and he hoped sincerely it was not
the cupboard in which the unfortunate spaniel had
come to its vile death. The French windows, he
discovered, opened on to a little balcony. It
looked on to the front, and there was a drop of
less than twenty feet to the ground below. The
bed was high and wide, soft as feathers and
covered with snowy sheets—very inviting to a
tired man; and beside the blazing fire were a
couple of deep armchairs.
Altogether it was very pleasant and comfortable;
but, tired though he was, Shorthouse had no
intention of going to bed. It was impossible to
disregard the warning of his nerves. They had
never failed him before, and when that sense of
distressing horror lodged in his bones he knew
there was something in the wind and that a red
flag was flying over the immediate future. Some
delicate instrument in his being, more subtle than
the senses, more accurate than mere presentiment,
had seen the red flag and interpreted its meaning.
Again it seemed to him, as he sat in an armchair
over the fire, that his movements were being carefully
watched from somewhere; and, not knowing
what weapons might be used against him, he felt
that his real safety lay in a rigid control of his
mind and feelings and a stout refusal to admit that
he was in the least alarmed.
The house was very still. As the night wore on
the wind dropped. Only occasional bursts of sleet
against the windows reminded him that the
elements were awake and uneasy. Once or twice
the windows rattled and the rain hissed in the
fire, but the roar of the wind in the chimney grew
less and less and the lonely building was at last
lapped in a great stillness. The coals clicked,
settling themselves deeper in the grate, and the
noise of the cinders dropping with a tiny report
into the soft heap of accumulated ashes was the
only sound that punctuated the silence.
In proportion as the power of sleep grew upon
him the dread of the situation lessened; but so
imperceptibly, so gradually, and so insinuatingly
that he scarcely realised the change. He thought
he was as wide awake to his danger as ever. The
successful exclusion of horrible mental pictures of
what he had seen he attributed to his rigorous
control, instead of to their true cause, the creeping
over him of the soft influences of sleep. The
faces in the coals were so soothing; the armchair
was so comfortable; so sweet the breath that
gently pressed upon his eyelids; so subtle the
growth of the sensation of safety. He settled
down deeper into the chair and in another moment
would have been asleep when the red flag began to
shake violently to and fro and he sat bolt upright
as if he had been stabbed in the back.
Someone was coming up the stairs. The boards
creaked beneath a stealthy weight.
Shorthouse sprang from the chair and crossed
the room swiftly, taking up his position beside
the door, but out of range of the keyhole. The
two candles flared unevenly on the table at the
foot of the bed. The steps were slow and cautious—it
seemed thirty seconds between each one—but
the person who was taking them was very
close to the door. Already he had topped the
stairs and was shuffling almost silently across the
bit of landing.
The secretary slipped his hand into his pistol
pocket and drew back further against the wall,
and hardly had he completed the movement when
the sounds abruptly ceased and he knew that
somebody was standing just outside the door and
preparing for a careful observation through the
He was in no sense a coward. In action he
was never afraid. It was the waiting and wondering
and the uncertainty that might have loosened
his nerves a little. But, somehow, a wave of
intense horror swept over him for a second as he
thought of the bestial maniac and his attendant
Jew; and he would rather have faced a pack of
wolves than have to do with either of these men.
Something brushing gently against the door set
his nerves tingling afresh and made him tighten his
grasp on the pistol. The steel was cold and
slippery in his moist fingers. What an awful
noise it would make when he pulled the trigger!
If the door were to open how close he would
be to the figure that came in! Yet he knew
it was locked on the inside and could not possibly
open. Again something brushed against the
panel beside him and a second later the piece of
crumpled paper fell from the keyhole to the floor,
while the piece of thin wire that had accomplished
this result showed its point for a moment in the
room and was then swiftly withdrawn.
Somebody was evidently peering now through
the keyhole, and realising this fact the spirit of
attack entered into the heart of the beleaguered
man. Raising aloft his right hand he brought it
suddenly down with a resounding crash upon the
panel of the door next the keyhole—a crash that,
to the crouching eavesdropper, must have seemed
like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky. There
was a gasp and a slight lurching against the door
and the midnight listener rose startled and alarmed,
for Shorthouse plainly heard the tread of feet
across the landing and down the stairs till they
were lost in the silences of the hall. Only, this time,
it seemed to him there were four feet instead of two.
Quickly stuffing the paper back into the keyhole,
he was in the act of walking back to the fireplace
when, over his shoulder, he caught sight of a white
face pressed in outline against the outside of the
window. It was blurred in the streams of sleet,
but the white of the moving eyes was unmistakable.
He turned instantly to meet it, but the
face was withdrawn like a flash, and darkness
rushed in to fill the gap where it had appeared.
"Watched on both sides," he reflected.
But he was not to be surprised into any sudden
action, and quietly walking over to the fireplace
as if he had seen nothing unusual he stirred the
coals a moment and then strolled leisurely over to
the window. Steeling his nerves, which quivered
a moment in spite of his will, he opened the
window and stepped out on to the balcony. The
wind, which he thought had dropped, rushed past
him into the room and extinguished one of the
candles, while a volley of fine cold rain burst all
over his face. At first he could see nothing, and
the darkness came close up to his eyes like a wall.
He went a little farther on to the balcony and
drew the window after him till it clashed. Then
he stood and waited.
But nothing touched him. No one seemed to be
there. His eyes got accustomed to the blackness
and he was able to make out the iron railing, the
dark shapes of the trees beyond, and the faint
light coming from the other window. Through
this he peered into the room, walking the length
of the balcony to do so. Of course he was standing
in a shaft of light and whoever was crouching
in the darkness below could plainly see him.
Below?—That there should be anyone above did
not occur to him until, just as he was preparing to
go in again, he became aware that something was
moving in the darkness over his head. He looked
up, instinctively raising a protecting arm, and
saw a long black line swinging against the dim
wall of the house. The shutters of the window
on the next floor, whence it depended, were thrown
open and moving backwards and forwards in the
wind. The line was evidently a thickish cord, for
as he looked it was pulled in and the end disappeared
in the darkness.
Shorthouse, trying to whistle to himself, peered
over the edge of the balcony as if calculating the
distance he might have to drop, and then calmly
walked into the room again and closed the window
behind him, leaving the latch so that the lightest
touch would cause it to fly open. He relit the
candle and drew a straight-backed chair up to
the table. Then he put coal on the fire and
stirred it up into a royal blaze. He would willingly
have folded the shutters over those staring windows
at his back. But that was out of the question.
It would have been to cut off his way of escape.
Sleep, for the time, was at a disadvantage. His
brain was full of blood and every nerve was
tingling. He felt as if countless eyes were upon
him and scores of stained hands were stretching
out from the corners and crannies of the house to
seize him. Crouching figures, figures of hideous
Jews, stood everywhere about him where shelter
was, creeping forward out of the shadows when
he was not looking and retreating swiftly and
silently when he turned his head. Wherever he
looked, other eyes met his own, and though they
melted away under his steady, confident gaze, he
knew they would wax and draw in upon him the
instant his glances weakened and his will wavered.
Though there were no sounds, he knew that in
the well of the house there was movement going on,
and preparation. And this knowledge, inasmuch
as it came to him irresistibly and through other
and more subtle channels than those of the senses
kept the sense of horror fresh in his blood and
made him alert and awake.
But, no matter how great the dread in the heart,
the power of sleep will eventually overcome it.
Exhausted nature is irresistible, and as the minutes
wore on and midnight passed, he realised that
nature was vigorously asserting herself and sleep
was creeping upon him from the extremities.
To lessen the danger he took out his pencil and
began to draw the articles of furniture in the room.
He worked into elaborate detail the cupboard, the
mantelpiece, and the bed, and from these he passed
on to the portraits. Being possessed of genuine skill,
he found the occupation sufficiently absorbing. It
kept the blood in his brain, and that kept him
awake. The pictures, moreover, now that he considered
them for the first time, were exceedingly
well painted. Owing to the dim light, he centred
his attention upon the portraits beside the fireplace.
On the right was a woman, with a sweet, gentle
face and a figure of great refinement; on the left
was a full-size figure of a big handsome man with
a full beard and wearing a hunting costume of
From time to time he turned to the windows
behind him, but the vision of the face was not
repeated. More than once, too, he went to the
door and listened, but the silence was so profound
in the house that he gradually came to believe the
plan of attack had been abandoned. Once he went
out on to the balcony, but the sleet stung his face
and he only had time to see that the shutters
above were closed, when he was obliged to seek
the shelter of the room again.
In this way the hours passed. The fire died
down and the room grew chilly. Shorthouse had
made several sketches of the two heads and was
beginning to feel overpoweringly weary. His feet
and his hands were cold and his yawns were prodigious.
It seemed ages and ages since the steps
had come to listen at his door and the face had
watched him from the window. A feeling of
safety had somehow come to him. In reality he
was exhausted. His one desire was to drop upon
the soft white bed and yield himself up to sleep
without any further struggle.
He rose from his chair with a series of yawns
that refused to be stifled and looked at his watch.
It was close upon three in the morning. He made
up his mind that he would lie down with his
clothes on and get some sleep. It was safe enough,
the door was locked on the inside and the window
was fastened. Putting the bag on the table near
his pillow he blew out the candles and dropped
with a sense of careless and delicious exhaustion
upon the soft mattress. In five minutes he was
There had scarcely been time for the dreams to
come when he found himself lying side-ways across
the bed with wide open eyes staring into the darkness.
Someone had touched him, and he had
writhed away in his sleep as from something
unholy. The movement had awakened him.
The room was simply black. No light came
from the windows and the fire had gone out as
completely as if water had been poured upon it.
He gazed into a sheet of impenetrable darkness
that came close up to his face like a wall.
His first thought was for the papers in his coat
and his hand flew to the pocket. They were safe;
and the relief caused by this discovery left his
mind instantly free for other reflections.
And the realisation that at once came to him
with a touch of dismay was, that during his sleep
some definite change had been effected in the room.
He felt this with that intuitive certainty which
amounts to positive knowledge. The room was
utterly still, but the corroboration that was speedily
brought to him seemed at once to fill the darkness
with a whispering, secret life that chilled
his blood and made the sheet feel like ice against
Hark! This was it; there reached his ears, in
which the blood was already buzzing with warning
clamour, a dull murmur of something that rose
indistinctly from the well of the house and became
audible to him without passing through walls or
doors. There seemed no solid surface between
him, lying on the bed, and the landing; between
the landing and the stairs, and between the stairs
and the hall beyond.
He knew that the door of the room was standing
open! Therefore it had been opened from the
inside. Yet the window was fastened, also on the
Hardly was this realised when the conspiring
silence of the hour was broken by another and a
more definite sound. A step was coming along
the passage. A certain bruise on the hip told
Shorthouse that the pistol in his pocket was ready
for use and he drew it out quickly and cocked it.
Then he just had time to slip over the edge of the
bed and crouch down on the floor when the step
halted on the threshold of the room. The bed was
thus between him and the open door. The window
was at his back.
He waited in the darkness. What struck him
as peculiar about the steps was that there seemed
no particular desire to move stealthily. There was
no extreme caution. They moved along in rather
a slipshod way and sounded like soft slippers or
feet in stockings. There was something clumsy,
irresponsible, almost reckless about the movement.
For a second the steps paused upon the threshold,
but only for a second. Almost immediately they
came on into the room, and as they passed from
the wood to the carpet Shorthouse noticed that
they became wholly noiseless. He waited in suspense,
not knowing whether the unseen walker
was on the other side of the room or was close
upon him. Presently he stood up and stretched
out his left arm in front of him, groping, searching,
feeling in a circle; and behind it he held the pistol,
cocked and pointed, in his right hand. As he rose
a bone cracked in his knee, his clothes rustled as
if they were newspapers, and his breath seemed
loud enough to be heard all over the room. But
not a sound came to betray the position of the
Then, just when the tension was becoming
unbearable, a noise relieved the gripping silence.
It was wood knocking against wood, and it came
from the farther end of the room. The steps had
moved over to the fireplace. A sliding sound
almost immediately followed it and then silence
closed again over everything like a pall.
For another five minutes Shorthouse waited, and
then the suspense became too much. He could not
stand that open door! The candles were close
beside him and he struck a match and lit them,
expecting in the sudden glare to receive at least
a terrific blow. But nothing happened, and he
saw at once that the room was entirely empty.
Walking over with the pistol cocked he peered
out into the darkness of the landing and then
closed the door and turned the key. Then he
searched the room—bed, cupboard, table, curtains,
everything that could have concealed a man; but
found no trace of the intruder. The owner of the
footsteps had disappeared like a ghost into the
shadows of the night. But for one fact he might
have imagined that he had been dreaming: the bag
There was no more sleep for Shorthouse that
night. His watch pointed to 4 a.m. and there were
still three hours before daylight. He sat down at
the table and continued his sketches. With fixed
determination he went on with his drawing and
began a new outline of the man's head. There
was something in the expression that continually
evaded him. He had no success with it, and this
time it seemed to him that it was the eyes that
brought about his discomfiture. He held up his
pencil before his face to measure the distance between
the nose and the eyes, and to his amazement
he saw that a change had come over the features.
The eyes were no longer open. The lids had closed!
For a second he stood in a sort of stupefied
astonishment. A push would have toppled him
over. Then he sprang to his feet and held a candle
close up to the picture. The eye-lids quivered,
the eye-lashes trembled. Then, right before his
gaze, the eyes opened and looked straight into his
own. Two holes were cut in the panel and this
pair of eyes, human eyes, just fitted them.
As by a curious effect of magic, the strong fear
that had governed him ever since his entry into
the house disappeared in a second. Anger rushed
into his heart and his chilled blood rose suddenly
to boiling point. Putting the candle down, he
took two steps back into the room and then flung
himself forward with all his strength against the
painted panel. Instantly, and before the crash
came, the eyes were withdrawn, and two black
spaces showed where they had been. The old
huntsman was eyeless. But the panel cracked
and split inwards like a sheet of thin cardboard;
and Shorthouse, pistol in hand, thrust an arm
through the jagged aperture and, seizing a human
leg, dragged out into the room—the Jew!
Words rushed in such a torrent to his lips that
they choked him. The old Hebrew, white as chalk,
stood shaking before him, the bright pistol barrel
opposite his eyes, when a volume of cold air rushed
into the room, and with it a sound of hurried steps.
Shorthouse felt his arm knocked up before he had
time to turn, and the same second Garvey, who
had somehow managed to burst open the window
came between him and the trembling Marx. His
lips were parted and his eyes rolled strangely in
his distorted face.
"Don't shoot him! Shoot in the air!" he shrieked.
He seized the Jew by the shoulders.
"You damned hound," he roared, hissing in his
face. "So I've got you at last. That's where your
vacuum is, is it? I know your vile hiding-place at
last." He shook him like a dog. "I've been after
him all night," he cried, turning to Shorthouse, "all
night, I tell you, and I've got him at last."
Garvey lifted his upper lip as he spoke and
showed his teeth. They shone like the fangs of
a wolf. The Jew evidently saw them too, for he
gave a horrid yell and struggled furiously.
Before the eyes of the secretary a mist seemed
to rise. The hideous shadow again leaped into
Garvey's face. He foresaw a dreadful battle, and
covering the two men with his pistol he retreated
slowly to the door. Whether they were both mad,
or both criminal, he did not pause to inquire. The
only thought present in his mind was that the
sooner he made his escape the better.
Garvey was still shaking the Jew when he
reached the door and turned the key, but as he
passed out on to the landing both men stopped
their struggling and turned to face him. Garvey's
face, bestial, loathsome, livid with anger; the Jew's
white and grey with fear and horror;—both turned
towards him and joined in a wild, horrible yell that
woke the echoes of the night. The next second
they were after him at full speed.
Shorthouse slammed the door in their faces and
was at the foot of the stairs, crouching in the
shadow, before they were out upon the landing.
They tore shrieking down the stairs and past him,
into the hall; and, wholly unnoticed, Shorthouse
whipped up the stairs again, crossed the bedroom
and dropped from the balcony into the soft snow.
As he ran down the drive he heard behind him in
the house the yells of the maniacs; and when
he reached home several hours later Mr. Sidebotham
not only raised his salary but also told him to buy
a new hat and overcoat, and send in the bill to him.
The utter loneliness of our moose-camp on Skeleton
Lake had impressed us from the beginning—in the
Quebec backwoods, five days by trail and canoe
from civilisation—and perhaps the singular name
contributed a little to the sensation of eeriness that
made itself felt in the camp circle when once the
sun was down and the late October mists began
rising from the lake and winding their way in
among the tree trunks.
For, in these regions, all names of lakes and hills
and islands have their origin in some actual event,
taking either the name of a chief participant, such
as Smith's Ridge, or claiming a place in the map
by perpetuating some special feature of the journey
or the scenery, such as Long Island, Deep Rapids,
or Rainy Lake.
All names thus have their meaning and are
usually pretty recently acquired, while the majority
are self-explanatory and suggest human and pioneer
relations. Skeleton Lake, therefore, was a name
full of suggestion, and though none of us knew the
origin or the story of its birth, we all were conscious
of a certain lugubrious atmosphere that haunted its
shores and islands, and but for the evidences of
recent moose tracks in its neighbourhood we
should probably have pitched our tents elsewhere.
For several hundred miles in any direction we
knew of only one other party of whites. They
had journeyed up on the train with us, getting in
at North Bay, and hailing from Boston way. A
common goal and object had served by way of
introduction. But the acquaintance had made
little progress. This noisy, aggressive Yankee did
not suit our fancy much as a possible neighbour,
and it was only a slight intimacy between his chief
guide, Jake the Swede, and one of our men that
kept the thing going at all. They went into camp
on Beaver Creek, fifty miles and more to the west
But that was six weeks ago, and seemed as many
months, for days and nights pass slowly in these
solitudes and the scale of time changes wonderfully.
Our men always seemed to know by instinct pretty
well "whar them other fellows was movin'," but in
the interval no one had come across their trails, or
once so much as heard their rifle shots.
Our little camp consisted of the professor, his
wife, a splendid shot and keen woods-woman, and
myself. We had a guide apiece, and hunted daily
in pairs from before sunrise till dark.
It was our last evening in the woods, and the
professor was lying in my little wedge tent, discussing
the dangers of hunting alone in couples in
this way. The flap of the tent hung back and let
in fragrant odours of cooking over an open wood
fire; everywhere there were bustle and preparation,
and one canoe already lay packed with moose horns,
her nose pointing southwards.
"If an accident happened to one of them," he
was saying, "the survivor's story when he returned
to camp would be entirely unsupported evidence,
wouldn't it? Because, you see—"
And he went on laying down the law after the
manner of professors, until I became so bored that
my attention began to wander to pictures and
memories of the scenes we were just about to leave:
Garden Lake, with its hundred islands; the rapids
out of Round Pond; the countless vistas of forest,
crimson and gold in the autumn sunshine; and the
starlit nights we had spent watching in cold, cramped
positions for the wary moose on lonely lakes among
the hills. The hum of the professor's voice in
time grew more soothing. A nod or a grunt was
all the reply he looked for. Fortunately, he loathed
interruptions. I think I could almost have gone
to sleep under his very nose; perhaps I did sleep
for a brief interval.
Then it all came about so quickly, and the tragedy
of it was so unexpected and painful, throwing our
peaceful camp into momentary confusion, that now
it all seems to have happened with the uncanny
swiftness of a dream.
First, there was the abrupt ceasing of the droning
voice, and then the running of quick little steps
over the pine needles, and the confusion of men's
voices; and the next instant the professor's wife
was at the tent door, hatless, her face white, her
hunting bloomers bagging at the wrong places, a
rifle in her hand, and her words running into one
"Quick, Harry! It's Rushton. I was asleep
and it woke me. Something's happened. You
must deal with it!"
In a second we were outside the tent with our
"My God!" I heard the professor exclaim, as if
he had first made the discovery. "It is Rushton!"
I saw the guides helping—dragging—a man out
of a canoe. A brief space of deep silence followed
in which I heard only the waves from the canoe
washing up on the sand; and then, immediately
after, came the voice of a man talking with amazing
rapidity and with odd gaps between his words. It
was Rushton telling his story, and the tones of his
voice, now whispering, now almost shouting, mixed
with sobs and solemn oaths and frequent appeals to
the Deity, somehow or other struck the false note
at the very start, and before any of us guessed or
knew anything at all. Something moved secretly
between his words, a shadow veiling the stars,
destroying the peace of our little camp, and touching
us all personally with an undefinable sense of
horror and distrust.
I can see that group to this day, with all the
detail of a good photograph: standing half-way
between the firelight and the darkness, a slight
mist rising from the lake, the frosty stars, and our
men, in silence that was all sympathy, dragging
Rushton across the rocks towards the camp fire.
Their moccasins crunched on the sand and slipped
several times on the stones beneath the weight of
the limp, exhausted body, and I can still see every
inch of the pared cedar branch he had used for a
paddle on that lonely and dreadful journey.
But what struck me most, as it struck us all,
was the limp exhaustion of his body compared to
the strength of his utterance and the tearing rush
of his words. A vigorous driving-power was there
at work, forcing out the tale, red-hot and throbbing,
full of discrepancies and the strangest contradictions;
and the nature of this driving-power I first
began to appreciate when they had lifted him into
the circle of firelight and I saw his face, grey
under the tan, terror in the eyes, tears too, hair
and beard awry, and listened to the wild stream
of words pouring forth without ceasing.
I think we all understood then, but it was only
after many years that anyone dared to confess
what he thought.
There was Matt Morris, my guide; Silver Fizz,
whose real name was unknown, and who bore the
title of his favourite drink; and huge Hank
Milligan—all ears and kind intention; and there
was Rushton, pouring out his ready-made tale,
with ever-shifting eyes, turning from face to face,
seeking confirmation of details none had witnessed
but himself—and one other.
Silver Fizz was the first to recover from the
shock of the thing, and to realise, with the natural
sense of chivalry common to most genuine back-woodsmen,
that the man was at a terrible disadvantage.
At any rate, he was the first to start
putting the matter to rights.
"Never mind telling it just now," he said in a
gruff voice, but with real gentleness; "get a bite
t'eat first and then let her go afterwards. Better
have a horn of whisky too. It ain't all packed
yet, I guess."
"Couldn't eat or drink a thing," cried the other.
"Good Lord, don't you see, man, I want to talk to
someone first? I want to get it out of me to
someone who can answer—answer. I've had
nothing but trees to talk with for three days, and
I can't carry it alone any longer. Those cursed,
silent trees—I've told it 'em a thousand times.
Now, just see here, it was this way. When we
started out from camp—"
He looked fearfully about him, and we realised
it was useless to stop him. The story was bound
to come, and come it did.
Now, the story itself was nothing out of the
way; such tales are told by the dozen round any
camp fire where men who have knocked about in the
woods are in the circle. It was the way he told it
that made our flesh creep. He was near the truth
all along, but he was skimming it, and the skimming
took off the cream that might have saved his soul.
Of course, he smothered it in words—odd words,
too—melodramatic, poetic, out-of-the-way words
that lie just on the edge of frenzy. Of course, too,
he kept asking us each in turn, scanning our faces
with those restless, frightened eyes of his, "What
would you have done?" "What else could I do?"
and "Was that my fault?" But that was nothing,
for he was no milk-and-water fellow who dealt in
hints and suggestions; he told his story boldly,
forcing his conclusions upon us as if we had been
so many wax cylinders of a phonograph that would
repeat accurately what had been told us, and these
questions I have mentioned he used to emphasise
any special point that he seemed to think required
The fact was, however, the picture of what had
actually happened was so vivid still in his own
mind that it reached ours by a process of telepathy
which he could not control or prevent. All through
his true-false words this picture stood forth in
fearful detail against the shadows behind him. He
could not veil, much less obliterate, it. We knew;
and, I always thought, he knew that we knew.
The story itself, as I have said, was sufficiently
ordinary. Jake and himself, in a nine-foot canoe,
had upset in the middle of a lake, and had held
hands across the upturned craft for several hours,
eventually cutting holes in her ribs to stick their
arms through and grasp hands lest the numbness of
the cold water should overcome them. They were
miles from shore, and the wind was drifting them
down upon a little island. But when they got within
a few hundred yards of the island, they realised
to their horror that they would after all drift past it.
It was then the quarrel began. Jake was for
leaving the canoe and swimming. Rushton
believed in waiting till they actually had passed
the island and were sheltered from the wind. Then
they could make the island easily by swimming,
canoe and all. But Jake refused to give in, and
after a short struggle—Rushton admitted there
was a struggle—got free from the canoe—and
disappeared without a single cry.
Rushton held on and proved the correctness of
his theory, and finally made the island, canoe and
all, after being in the water over five hours. He
described to us how he crawled up on to the shore,
and fainted at once, with his feet lying half in the
water; how lost and terrified he felt upon regaining
consciousness in the dark; how the canoe had
drifted away and his extraordinary luck in finding
it caught again at the end of the island by a
projecting cedar branch. He told us that the little
axe—another bit of real luck—had caught in the
thwart when the canoe turned over, and how the
little bottle in his pocket holding the emergency
matches was whole and dry. He made a blazing
fire and searched the island from end to end, calling
upon Jake in the darkness, but getting no answer;
till, finally, so many half-drowned men seemed to
come crawling out of the water on to the rocks, and
vanish among the shadows when he came up with
them, that he lost his nerve completely and returned
to lie down by the fire till the daylight came.
He then cut a bough to replace the lost paddles,
and after one more useless search for his lost
companion, he got into the canoe, fearing every
moment he would upset again, and crossed over to
the mainland. He knew roughly the position of
our camping place, and after paddling day and
night, and making many weary portages, without
food or covering, he reached us two days later.
This, more or less, was the story, and we,
knowing whereof he spoke, knew that every word
was literally true, and at the same time went to
the building up of a hideous and prodigious lie.
Once the recital was over, he collapsed, and
Silver Fizz, after a general expression of sympathy
from the rest of us, came again to the rescue.
"But now, Mister, you jest got to eat and drink
whether you've a mind to, or no."
And Matt Morris, cook that night, soon had the
fried trout and bacon, and the wheat cakes and
hot coffee passing round a rather silent and
oppressed circle. So we ate round the fire,
ravenously, as we had eaten every night for the
past six weeks, but with this difference: that there
was one among us who was more than ravenous—and
In spite of all our devices he somehow kept
himself the centre of observation. When his tin
mug was empty, Morris instantly passed the tea-pail;
when he began to mop up the bacon grease
with the dough on his fork, Hank reached out for
the frying pan; and the can of steaming boiled
potatoes was always by his side. And there was
another difference as well: he was sick, terribly
sick before the meal was over, and this sudden
nausea after food was more eloquent than words of
what the man had passed through on his dreadful,
foodless, ghost-haunted journey of forty miles to
our camp. In the darkness he thought he would
go crazy, he said. There were voices in the trees,
and figures were always lifting themselves out of
the water, or from behind boulders, to look at him
and make awful signs. Jake constantly peered at
him through the underbrush, and everywhere the
shadows were moving, with eyes, footsteps, and
We tried hard to talk of other things, but it was
no use, for he was bursting with the rehearsal of
his story and refused to allow himself the chances
we were so willing and anxious to grant him.
After a good night's rest he might have had more
self-control and better judgment, and would
probably have acted differently. But, as it was,
we found it impossible to help him.
Once the pipes were lit, and the dishes cleared
away, it was useless to pretend any longer. The
sparks from the burning logs zigzagged upwards
into a sky brilliant with stars. It was all wonderfully
still and peaceful, and the forest odours
floated to us on the sharp autumn air. The cedar
fire smelt sweet and we could just hear the gentle
wash of tiny waves along the shore. All was calm,
beautiful, and remote from the world of men and
passion. It was, indeed, a night to touch the soul,
and yet, I think, none of us heeded these things.
A bull-moose might almost have thrust his great
head over our shoulders and have escaped unnoticed.
The death of Jake the Swede, with its sinister
setting, was the real presence that held the centre
of the stage and compelled attention.
"You won't p'raps care to come along, Mister," said
Morris, by way of a beginning; "but I guess I'll go
with one of the boys here and have a hunt for it."
"Sure," said Hank. "Jake an' I done some
biggish trips together in the old days, and I'll
do that much for'm."
"It's deep water, they tell me, round them
islands," added Silver Fizz; "but we'll find it, sure
pop,—if it's thar."
They all spoke of the body as "it."
There was a minute or two of heavy silence, and
then Rushton again burst out with his story in
almost the identical words he had used before. It
was almost as if he had learned it by heart. He
wholly failed to appreciate the efforts of the others
to let him off.
Silver Fizz rushed in, hoping to stop him, Morris
and Hank closely following his lead.
"I once knew another travellin' partner of his,"
he began quickly; "used to live down Moosejaw
"Is that so?" said Hank.
"Kind o' useful sort er feller," chimed in Morris.
All the idea the men had was to stop the tongue
wagging before the discrepancies became so glaring
that we should be forced to take notice of them,
and ask questions. But, just as well try to stop
an angry bull-moose on the run, or prevent Beaver
Creek freezing in mid-winter by throwing in pebbles
near the shore. Out it came! And, though the
discrepancy this time was insignificant, it somehow
brought us all in a second face to face with the
inevitable and dreaded climax.
"And so I tramped all over that little bit of an
island, hoping he might somehow have gotten in
without my knowing it, and always thinking I
heard that awful last cry of his in the darkness—and
then the night dropped down impenetrably,
like a damn thick blanket out of the sky, and—"
All eyes fell away from his face. Hank poked
up the logs with his boot, and Morris seized an
ember in his bare fingers to light his pipe, although
it was already emitting clouds of smoke. But the
professor caught the ball flying.
"I thought you said he sank without a cry,"
he remarked quietly, looking straight up into
the frightened face opposite, and then riddling
mercilessly the confused explanation that followed.
The cumulative effect of all these forces, hitherto
so rigorously repressed, now made itself felt, and
the circle spontaneously broke up, everybody
moving at once by a common instinct. The
professor's wife left the party abruptly, with
excuses about an early start next morning. She
first shook hands with Rushton, mumbling something
about his comfort in the night.
The question of his comfort, however, devolved
by force of circumstances upon myself, and he
shared my tent. Just before wrapping up in my
double blankets—for the night was bitterly cold—he
turned and began to explain that he had a habit
of talking in his sleep and hoped I would wake
him if he disturbed me by doing so.
Well, he did talk in his sleep—and it disturbed
me very much indeed. The anger and violence of
his words remain with me to this day, and it was
clear in a minute that he was living over again
some portion of the scene upon the lake. I listened,
horror-struck, for a moment or two, and then understood
that I was face to face with one of two alternatives:
I must continue an unwilling eavesdropper, or
I must waken him. The former was impossible for
me, yet I shrank from the latter with the greatest
repugnance; and in my dilemma I saw the only
way out of the difficulty and at once accepted it.
Cold though it was, I crawled stealthily out of
my warm sleeping-bag and left the tent, intending
to keep the old fire alight under the stars and spend
the remaining hours till daylight in the open.
As soon as I was out I noticed at once another
figure moving silently along the shore. It was
Hank Milligan, and it was plain enough what he
was doing: he was examining the holes that had
been cut in the upper ribs of the canoe. He looked
half ashamed when I came up with him, and
mumbled something about not being able to sleep
for the cold. But, there, standing together beside
the over-turned canoe, we both saw that the holes
were far too small for a man's hand and arm and
could not possibly have been cut by two men
hanging on for their lives in deep water. Those
holes had been made afterwards.
Hank said nothing to me and I said nothing to
Hank, and presently he moved off to collect logs
for the fire, which needed replenishing, for it was a
piercingly cold night and there were many degrees
Three days later Hank and Silver Fizz followed
with stumbling footsteps the old Indian trail that
leads from Beaver Creek to the southwards. A
hammock was slung between them, and it weighed
heavily. Yet neither of the men complained; and,
indeed, speech between them was almost nothing.
Their thoughts, however, were exceedingly busy,
and the terrible secret of the woods which formed
their burden weighed far more heavily than the
uncouth, shifting mass that lay in the swinging
hammock and tugged so severely at their shoulders.
They had found "it" in four feet of water not
more than a couple of yards from the lee shore of
the island. And in the back of the head was a
long, terrible wound which no man could possibly
have inflicted upon himself.
Printed by MORRISON & GIBB LIMITED, Edinburgh.
by Algernon Blackwood
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the literature of our time."—Morning Post.
"These are the most haunting and original ghost stories
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"As original, as powerful, and as artistically written as
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A volume which has an extraordinary power of fascination."—Birmingham
"The story is absolutely arresting in its imaginative
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The Lost Valley
by Algernon Blackwood
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"The stories are unforgettable. Through them all, too, runs
the charm of an accomplished style. . . . Mr. Blackwood has
indeed done well."—Pall Mall Gazette.
"Whether concerned with beauty or terror, fact or fancy,
there is an individuality in Mr. Blackwood's work which cannot
be ignored, and there is also power which proceeds, we think,
not so much from the fertility of a comprehensive imagination,
but from the amazing conviction of the author's power of
expression, and a literary quality rarely met with in contemporary
stories of mystery and imagination."—Globe.
"In his method of touching the well-springs of fear, of pity,
and of horror, Mr. Blackwood often exhibits powers which can
only properly be called masterly. In its way his work bids fair
to become classical . . . an art superior to that of Bulwer-Lytton,
at least as fine as Le Fanu's, and hardly, if at all, inferior to that
exhibited by the supreme living masters of the short story, Mr.
Kipling and Mr. James."—Birmingham Daily Post.
3s. 6d. net
EVELEIGH NASH COMPANY LIMITED
36 King Street, Covent Garden, London, W.C.
by Algernon Blackwood
"These stories are literature . . . good stories, well
imagined, carefully modelled, properly proportioned. . . .
'The Insanity of Jones' is perhaps the most remarkable
tour de force in this remarkable book. . . . If Mr. Blackwood
keeps at his present level one or two very celebrated authors
will have to look to their laurels."—Daily Chronicle.
"Even Edgar Allan Poe never suggested more skilfully an
atmosphere of horror than does Mr. Blackwood in his titular
story, or again in his description of 'The Willows.'"—F.G.
BETTANY in the Sunday Times.
"Saying that Mr. Blackwood's latest stories reveal strong
dramatic instinct is a dull way of expressing the series of
thrills which their perusal causes. Without doubt Mr.
Blackwood is designed to fill a high place as an author who
is able to arouse the attention of his reader on the first page,
and to hold it until the last has been turned. . . . A
distinctive genius."—Pall Mall Gazette.
"Full of imagination, and well told."—Daily News.
"Mr. Blackwood is clearly a master of the art of the
genuine sensation story."—Liverpool Courier.
3s. 6d. net
EVELEIGH NASH COMPANY LIMITED
36 King Street, Covent Garden, London, W.C.