The Strange Adventures of A Private Secretary in New York
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.