´╗┐

Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership



Title: The Stone Chamber
Author: Henry Brereton Marriott Watson
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0602431.txt
Edition: 1
Language: English
Character set encoding: Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2006

This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html


To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au


The Stone Chamber
Henry Brereton Marriott Watson



It was not until early summer that Warrington took possession of
Marvyn Abbey. He had bought the property in the preceding autumn, but
the place had so fallen into decay through the disorders of time that
more than six months elapsed ere it was inhabitable. The delay,
however, fell out conveniently for Warrington; for the Bosanquets
spent the winter abroad, and nothing must suit but he must spend it
with them. There was never a man who pursued his passion with such
ardour. He was ever at Miss Bosanquet's skirts, and bade fair to make
her as steadfast a husband as he was attached a lover. Thus it was not
until after his return from that prolonged exile that he had the
opportunity of inspecting the repairs discharged by his architect. He
was nothing out of the common in character, but was full of kindly
impulses and a fellow of impetuous blood. When he called upon me in my
chambers he spoke with some excitement of his Abbey, as also of his
approaching marriage; and finally, breaking into an exhibition of
genuine affection, declared that we had been so long and so
continuously intimate that I, and none other, must help him warm his
house and marry his bride. It had indeed been always understood
between us that I should serve him at the ceremony, but now it
appeared that I must start my duties even earlier. The prospect of a
summer holiday in Utterbourne pleased me. It was a charming village,
set upon the slope of a wooded hill and within call of the sea. I had
a slight knowledge of the district from a riding excursion taken
through that part of Devonshire; and years before, and ere Warrington
had come into his money, had viewed the Abbey ruins from a distance
with the polite curiosity of a passing tourist.

I examined them now with new eyes as we drove up the avenue. The face
which the ancient building presented to the valley was of magnificent
design, but now much worn and battered.

Part of it, the right wing, I judged to be long past the uses of a
dwelling, for the walls had crumbled away, huge gaps opened in the
foundations, and the roof was quite dismantled.

Warrington had very wisely left this portion to its own sinister
decay; it was the left wing which had been restored, and which we were
to inhabit. The entrance, I will confess, was a little mean, for the
large doorway had been bricked up and an ordinary modern door gave
upon the spacious terrace and the winding gardens. But apart from
this, the work of restoration had been undertaken with skill and
piety, and the interior had retained its native dignity, while
resuming an air of proper comfort. The old oak had been repaired
congruous with the original designs, and the great rooms had been as
little altered as was requisite to adapt them for daily use.

Warrington passed quickly from chamber to chamber in evident delight,
directing my attention upon this and upon that, and eagerly requiring
my congratulations and approval. My comments must have satisfied him,
for the place attracted me vastly. The only criticism I ventured was
to remark upon the size of the rooms and to question if they might
dwarf the insignificant human figures they were to entertain.

He laughed. "Not a bit," said he. "Roaring fires in winter in those
fine old fireplaces; and as for summer, the more space the better. We
shall be jolly."

I followed him along the noble hall, and we stopped before a small
door of very black oak.

"The bedrooms," he explained, as he turned the key, "are all upstairs,
but mine is not ready yet.

"And besides, I am reserving it; I won't sleep in it till--you
understand," he concluded, with a smiling suggestion of embarrassment.

I understood very well. He threw the door open.

"I am going to use this in the meantime," he continued. "Queer little
room, isn't it? It used to be a sort of library. How do you think it
looks?"

We had entered as he spoke, and stood, distributing our glances in
that vague and general way in which a room is surveyed. It was a
chamber of much smaller proportions than the rest, and was dimly
lighted by two long narrow windows sunk in the great walls. The bed
and the modern fittings looked strangely out of keeping with its
ancient privacy. The walls were rudely distempered with barbaric
frescos, dating, I conjectured, from the fourteenth century; and the
floor was of stone, worn into grooves and hollows with the feet of
many generations. As I was taking in these facts, there came over me a
sudden curiosity as to those dead Marvyns who had held the Abbey for
so long. This silent chamber seemed to suggest questions of their
history; it spoke eloquently of past ages and past deeds, fallen now
into oblivion. Here, within these thick walls, no echo from the outer
world might carry, no sound would ring within its solitary seclusion.
Even the silence seemed to confer with one upon the ancient
transactions of that extinct House.

Warrington stirred, and turned suddenly to me. "I hope it's not damp,"
said he, with a slight shiver. "It looks rather solemn. I thought
furniture would brighten it up."

"I should think it would be very comfortable," said I. "You will never
be disturbed by any sounds at any rate."

"No," he answered, hesitatingly; and then, quickly, on one of his
impulses: "Hang it, Heywood, there's too much silence here for me."
Then he laughed. "Oh, I shall do very well for a month or two." And
with that appeared to return to his former placid cheerfulness.

The train of thought started in that sombre chamber served to
entertain me several times that day. I questioned Warrington at
dinner, which we took in one of the smaller rooms, commanding a lovely
prospect of dale and sea. He shook his head. ArchŠological lore, as
indeed anything else out of the borders of actual life, held very
little interest for him.

"The Marvyns died out in 1714, I believe," he said, indifferently;
"someone told me that--the man I bought it from, I think. They might
just as well have kept the place up since; but I think it has been
only occupied twice between then and now, and the last time was forty
years ago. It would have rotted to pieces if I hadn't taken it.
Perhaps Mrs Batty could tell you. She's lived in these parts almost
all her life."

To humour me, and affected, I doubt not, by a certain pride in his new
possession, he put the query to his housekeeper upon her appearance
subsequently; but it seemed that her knowledge was little fuller than
his own, though she had gathered some vague traditions of the
countryside.

The Marvyns had not left a reputable name, if rumour spoke truly;
theirs was a family to which black deeds had been credited. They were
ill-starred also in their fortunes, and had become extinct suddenly;
but for the rest, the events had fallen too many generations ago to be
current now between the memories of the village.

Warrington, who was more eager to discuss the future than to recall
the past, was vastly excited by his anticipations. St Pharamond, Sir
William Bosanquet's house, lay across the valley, barely five miles
away; and as the family had now returned, it was easy to forgive
Warrington's elation.

"What do you think?" he said, late that evening; and clapping me upon
the shoulder, "You have seen Marion; here is the house. Am I not
lucky? Damn it, Heywood, I'm not pious, but I am disposed to thank
God! I'm not a bad fellow, but I'm no saint; it's fortunate that it's
not only the virtuous that are rewarded. In fact, it's usually
contrariwise. I owe this to--Lord, I don't know what I owe it to. Is
it my money? Of course, Marion doesn't care a rap for that; but then,
you see, I mightn't have known her without it. Of course, there's the
house, too. I'm thankful I have money. At any rate, here's my new
life. Just look about and take it in, old fellow. If you knew how a
man may be ashamed of himself! But there, I've done. You know I'm
decent at heart---you must count my life from today." And with this
outbreak he lifted the glass between fingers that trembled with the
warmth of his emotions, and tossed off his wine.

He did himself but justice when he claimed to be a good fellow; and,
in truth, I was myself somewhat moved by his obvious feeling. I
remember that we shook hands very affectionately, and my sympathy was
the prelude to a long and confidential talk, which lasted until quite
a late hour.

At the foot of the staircase, where we parted, he detained me.

"This is the last of my wayward days," he said, with a smile. "Late
hours--liquor--all go. You shall see. Goodnight. You know your room. I
shall be up long before you." And with that he vanished briskly into
the darkness that hung about the lower parts of the passage.

I watched him go, and it struck me quite vaguely what a slight
impression his candle made upon that channel of opaque gloom. It
seemed merely as a thread of light that illumined nothing.

Warrington himself was rapt into the prevalent blackness; but long
afterwards, and even when his footsteps had died away upon the heavy
carpet, the tiny beam was visible, advancing and flickering in the
distance.

My window, which was modern, opened upon a little balcony, where, as
the night was warm and I was indisposed for sleep, I spent half an
hour enjoying the air. I was in a sentimental mood, and my thoughts
turned upon the suggestions which Warrington's conversation had
induced. It was not until I was in bed, and had blown out the light,
that they settled upon the square, dark chamber in which my host was
to pass the night. As I have said, I was wakeful, owing, no doubt, to
the high pitch of the emotions which we had encouraged; but presently
my fancies became inarticulate and incoherent, and then I was
overtaken by profound sleep.

Warrington was up before me, as he had predicted, and met me in the
breakfast-room.

"What a beggar you are to sleep!" he said, with a smile. "I've
hammered at your door for half an hour."

I apologized for myself, alleging the rich country air in my defence,
and mentioned that I had had some difficulty in getting to sleep.

"So had I," he remarked, as we sat down to the table. "We got very
excited, I suppose. Just see what you have there, Heywood. Eggs? Oh,
damn it, one can have too much of eggs!" He frowned, and lifted a
third cover. "Why in the name of common sense can't Mrs Batty give us
more variety?" he asked, impatiently.

I deprecated his displeasure, suggesting that we should do very well;
indeed, his discontent seemed to me quite unnecessary. But I supposed
Warrington had been rather spoiled by many years of club life.

He settled himself without replying, and began to pick over his plate
in a gingerly manner.

"There's one thing I will have here, Heywood," he observed. "I will
have things well appointed."

"I'm not going to let life in the country mean an uncomfortable life.
A man can't change the habits of a lifetime."

In contrast with his exhilarated professions of the previous evening,
this struck me with a sense of amusement at the moment; and the
incongruity may have occurred to him, for he went on:

"Marion's not over strong, you know, and must have things comme il
faut. She shan't decline upon a lower level. The worst of these rustics
is that they have no imagination." He held up a piece of bacon on his
fork, and surveyed it with disgust. "Now, look at that! Why the devil
don't they take tips from civilized people like the French?"

It was so unlike him to exhibit this petulance that I put it down to a
bad night, and without discovering the connection of my thoughts,
asked him how he liked his bedroom.

"Oh, pretty well, pretty well," he said, indifferently. "It's not so
cold as I thought. But I slept badly. I always do in a strange bed;"
and pushing aside his plate, he lit a cigarette. "When you've finished
that garbage, Heywood, we'll have a stroll round the Abbey," he said.

His good temper returned during our walk, and he indicated to me
various improvements which he contemplated, with something of his old
ardour. The left wing of the house, as I have said, was entire, but a
little apart were the ruins of a chapel. Surrounded by a low moss-
grown wall, it was full of picturesque charm; the roofless chancel was
spread with ivy, but the aisles were intact. Grass grew between the
stones and the floor, and many creepers had strayed through chinks in
the wall into those sacred precincts. The solemn quietude of the ruin,
maintained under the spell of death, awed me a little, but upon
Warrington apparently it made no impression. He was only zealous that
I should properly appreciate the distinction of such a property. I
stooped and drew the weeds away from one of the slabs in the aisle,
and was able to trace upon it the relics of lettering, well-nigh
obliterated under the corrosion of time.

"There are tombs," said I.

"Oh, yes," he answered, with a certain relish. "I understand the
Marvyns used it as a mausoleum. They are all buried here. Some good
brasses, I am told."

The associations of the place engaged me; the aspect of the Abbey
faced the past; it seemed to refuse communion with the present; and
somehow the thought of those two decent humdrum lives which should be
spent within its shelter savoured of the incongruous. The white-capped
maids and the emblazoned butlers that should tread these halls offered
a ridiculous appearance beside my fancies of the ancient building. For
all that, I envied Warrington his home, and so I told him, with a
humorous hint that I was fitter to appreciate its glories than
himself.

He laughed. "Oh, I don't know," said he. "I like the old-world look as
much as you do. I have always had a notion of something venerable. It
seems to serve you for ancestors." And he was undoubtedly delighted
with my enthusiasm.

But at lunch again he chopped round to his previous irritation, only
now quite another matter provoked his anger. He had received a letter
by the second post from Miss Bosanquet, which, if I may judge from his
perplexity, must have been unusually confused. He read and re-read it,
his brow lowering.

"What the deuce does she mean?" he asked, testily. "She first makes an
arrangement for us to ride over today, and now I can't make out
whether we are to go to St Pharamond, or they are coming to us. Just
look at it, will you, Heywood?"

I glanced through the note, but could offer no final solution,
whereupon he broke out again:

"That's just like women--they never can say anything
straightforwardly. Why, in the name of goodness, couldn't she leave
things as they were? You see," he observed, rather in answer, as I
fancied, to my silence, "we don't know what to do now; if we stay here
they mayn't come, and if we go probably we shall cross them." And he
snapped his fingers in annoyance.

I was cheerful enough, perhaps because the responsibility was not
mine, and ventured to suggest that we might ride over, and return if
we missed them. But he dismissed the subject sharply by saying:

"No, I'll stay. I'm not going on a fool's errand," and drew my
attention to some point in the decoration of the room.

The Bosanquets did not arrive during the afternoon, and Warrington's
ill-humour increased.

His love-sick state pleaded in excuse of him, but he was certainly not
a pleasant companion. He was sour and snappish, and one could
introduce no statement to which he would not find a contradiction. So
unamiable did he grow that at last I discovered a pretext to leave
him, and rambled to the back of the Abbey into the precincts of the
old chapel. The day was falling, and the summer sun flared through the
western windows upon the bare aisle. The creepers rustled upon the
gaping walls, and the tall grasses waved in shadows over the bodies of
the forgotten dead. As I stood contemplating the effect, and
meditating greatly upon the anterior fortunes of the Abbey, my
attention fell upon a huge slab of marble, upon which the yellow light
struck sharply. The faded lettering rose into greater definition
before my eyes and I read slowly:

"Here lIyeth the body of Sir Rupert Marvyn."

Beyond a date, very difficult to decipher, there was nothing more; of
eulogy, of style, of record, of pious considerations such as were
usual to the period, not a word. I read the numerals variously as 1723
and 1745; but however they ran it was probable that the stone covered
the resting-place of the last Marvyn. The history of this futile house
interested me not a little, partly for Warrington's sake, and in part
from a natural bent towards ancient records; and I made a mental note
of the name and date.

When I returned Warrington's surliness had entirely vanished, and had
given place to an effusion of boisterous spirits. He apologized
jovially for his bad temper.

"It was the disappointment of not seeing Marion," he said. "You will
understand that some day, old fellow. But, anyhow, we'll go over
tomorrow," and forthwith proceeded to enliven the dinner with an
ostentation of good-fellowship I had seldom witnessed in him. I began
to suspect that he had heard again from St Pharamond, though he chose
to conceal the fact from me. The wine was admirable; though Warrington
himself was no great judge, he had entrusted the selection to a good
palate. We had a merry meal, drank a little more than was prudent, and
smoked our cigars upon the terrace in the fresh air. Warrington was
restless. He pushed his glass from him. "I'll tell you what, old
chap," he broke out, "I'll give you a game of billiards. I've got a
decent table."

I demurred. The air was too delicious, and I was in no humour for a
sharp use of my wits. He laughed, though he seemed rather
disappointed.

"It's almost sacrilege to play billiards in an Abbey," I said,
whimsically. "What would the ghosts of the old Marvyns think?"

"Oh, hang the Marvyns!" he rejoined, crossly. "You're always talking
of them."

He rose and entered the house, returning presently with a flagon of
whisky and some glasses.

"Try this," he said. "We've had no liqueurs," and pouring out some
spirit he swallowed it raw.

I stared, for Warrington rarely took spirits, being more of a wine
drinker; moreover, he must have taken nearly the quarter of a tumbler.
But he did not notice my surprise, and, seating himself, lit another
cigar.

"I don't mean to have things quiet here," he observed, reflectively.
"I don't believe in your stagnant rustic life. What I intend to do is
to keep the place warm--plenty of house parties, things going on all
the year. I shall expect you down for the shooting, Ned. The coverts
promise well this year."

I assented willingly enough, and he rambled on again.

"I don't know that I shall use the Abbey so much. I think I'll live in
town a good deal. It's brighter there. I don't know though. I like the
place. Hang it, it's a rattling good shop, there's no mistake about
it. Look here," he broke off, abruptly, "bring your glass in, and I'll
show you something."

I was little inclined to move, but he was so peremptory that I
followed him with a sigh. We entered one of the smaller rooms which
overlooked the terrace, and had been diverted into a comfortable
library. He flung back the windows.

"There's air for you," he cried. "Now, sit down," and walking to a
cupboard produced a second flagon of whisky. "Irish!" he ejaculated,
clumping it on the table. "Take your choice," and turning again to the
cupboard, presently sat down with his hands under the table. "Now,
then, Ned," he said, with a short laugh. "Fill up, and we'll have some
fun," with which he suddenly threw a pack of cards upon the board.

I opened my eyes, for I do not suppose Warrington had touched cards
since his college days; but, interpreting my look in his own way, he
cried:

"Oh, I'm not married yet. Warrington's his own man still. Poker? Eh?"

"Anything you like," said I, with resignation.

A peculiar expression of delight gleamed in his eyes, and he shuffled
the cards feverishly.

"Cut," said he, and helped himself to more whisky.

It was shameful to be playing there with that beautiful night without,
but there seemed no help for it. Warrington had a run of luck, though
he played with little skill; and his excitement grew as he won.

"Let us make it ten shillings," he suggested.

I shook my head. "You forget I'm not a millionaire," I replied. "Bah!"
he cried. "I like a game worth the victory. Well, fire away." His eyes
gloated upon the cards, and he fingered them with unctuous affection.
The behaviour of the man amazed me. I began to win.

Warrington's face slowly assumed a dull, lowering expression; he
played eagerly, avariciously; he disputed my points, and was
querulous.

"Oh, we've had enough!" I cried in distaste.

"By Jove, you don't!" he exclaimed, jumping to his feet. "You're the
winner, Heywood, and I'll see you damned before I let you off my
revenge!"

The words startled me no less than the fury which rang in his accents.
I gazed at him in stupefaction. The whites of his eyes showed wildly,
and a sullen, angry look determined his face.

Suddenly I was arrested by the suspicion of something upon his neck.

"What's that?" I asked. "You've cut yourself."

He put his hand to his face. "Nonsense," he replied, in a surly
fashion.

I looked closer, and then I saw my mistake. It was a round, faint red
mark, the size of a florin, upon the column of his throat, and I set it
down to the accidental pressure of some button.

"Come on!" he insisted, impatiently.

"Bah! Warrington," I said, for I imagined that he had been overexcited
by the whisky he had taken. "It's only a matter of a few pounds. Why
make a fuss? Tomorrow will serve."

After a moment his eyes fell, and he gave an awkward laugh. "Oh, well,
that'll do," said he.

"But I got so infernally excited."

"Whisky," said I, sententiously.

He glanced at the bottle. "How many glasses have I had?" and he
whistled. "By Jove, Ned, this won't do! I must turn over a new leaf.
Come on; let's look at the night."

I was only too glad to get away from the table, and we were soon upon
the terrace again.

Warrington was silent, and his gaze went constantly across the valley,
where the moon was rising, and in the direction in which, as he had
indicated to me, St Pharamond lay. When he said goodnight he was still
pre-occupied.

"I hope you will sleep better," he said.

"And you, too," I added.

He smiled. "I don't suppose I shall wake the whole night through," he
said; and then, as I was turning to go, he caught me quickly by the
arm.

"Ned," he said, impulsively and very earnestly, "don't let me make a
fool of myself again. I know it's the excitement of everything. But I
want to be as good as I can for her."

I pressed his hand. "All right, old fellow," I said; and we parted.

I think I have never enjoyed sounder slumber than that night. The
first thing I was aware of was the singing of thrushes outside my
window. I rose and looked forth, and the sun was hanging high in the
eastern sky, the grass and the young green of the trees were shining
with dew. With an uncomfortable feeling that I was very late I hastily
dressed and went downstairs. Warrington was waiting for me in the
breakfast-room, as upon the previous morning, and when he turned from
the window at my approach, the sight of his face startled me. It was
drawn and haggard, and his eyes were shot with blood; it was a face
broken and savage with dissipation. He made no answer to my
questioning, but seated himself with a morose air.

"Now you have come," he said, sullenly, "we may as well begin. But
it's not my fault if the coffee's cold."

I examined him critically, and passed some comment upon his
appearance.

"You don't look up to much," I said. "Another bad night?"

"No; I slept well enough," he responded, ungraciously; and then, after
a pause: "I'll tell you what, Heywood. You shall give me my revenge
after breakfast."

"Nonsense," I said, after a momentary silence. "You're going over to
St Pharamond."

"Hang it!" was his retort, "one can't be always bothering about women.
You seem mightily indisposed to meet me again."

"I certainly won't this morning," I answered, rather sharply, for the
man's manner grated upon me. "This evening, if you like; and then the
silly business shall end."

He said something in an undertone of grumble, and the rest of the meal
passed in silence. But I entertained an uneasy suspicion of him, and
after all he was my friend, with whom I was under obligations not to
quarrel; and so when we rose, I approached him.

"Look here, Warrington," I said. "What's the matter with you? Have you
been drinking?

"Remember what you asked me last night."

"Hold your damned row!" was all the answer he vouchsafed, as he
whirled away from me, but with an embarrassed display of shame.

But I was not to be put off in that way, and I spoke somewhat more
sharply.

"We're going to have this out, Warrington," I said. "If you are ill,
let us understand that; but I'm not going to stay here with you in
this cantankerous spirit."

"I'm not ill," he replied testily.

"Look at yourself," I cried, and turned him about to the mirror over
the mantelpiece.

He started a little, and a frown of perplexity gathered on his
forehead.

"Good Lord! I'm not like that, Ned," he said, in a different voice. "I
must have been drunk last night." And with a sort of groan, he
directed a piteous look at me.

"Come," I was constrained to answer, "pull yourself together. The ride
will do you good. And no more whisky."

"No, by Heaven, no!" he cried vehemently, and seemed to shiver; but
then, suddenly taking my arm, he walked out of the room.

The morning lay still and golden. Warrington's eyes went forth across
the valley.

"Come round to the stables, Ned," he said, impulsively. "You shall
choose you own nag."

I shook my head. "I'll choose yours," said I, "but I am not going with
you." He looked surprised.

"No, ride by yourself. You don't want a companion on such an errand.
I'll stay here, and pursue my investigations into the Marvyns."

A scowl crossed his face, but only for an instant, and then he
answered: "All right, old chap; do as you like. Anyway, I'm off at
once." And presently, when his horse was brought, he was laughing
merrily.

"You'll have a dull day, Ned; but it's your own fault, you duffer.
You'll have to lunch by yourself, as I shan't be back till late." And,
gaily flourishing his whip, he trotted down the drive.

It was some relief to me to be rid of him, for, in truth, his moods
had worn my nerves, and I had not looked for a holiday of this
disquieting nature. When he returned, I had no doubt it would be with
quite another face, and meanwhile I was excellent company for myself.
After lunch I amused myself for half an hour with idle tricks upon the
billiard-table, and, tiring of my pastime, fell upon the housekeeper
as I returned along the corridor. She was a woman nearer to sixty than
fifty, with a comfortable, portly figure, and an amiable expression.
Her eyes invited me ever so respectfully to conversation, and
stopping, I entered into talk. She inquired if I liked my room and how
I slept.

"'Tis a nice look-out you have, Sir," said she. "That was where old
Lady Martin slept."

It appeared that she had served as kitchen-maid to the previous
tenants of the Abbey, nearly fifty years before.

"Oh, I know the old house in and out," she asserted; "and I arranged
the rooms with Mr Warrington."

We were standing opposite the low doorway which gave entrance to
Warrington's bedroom, and my eyes unconsciously shot in that
direction. Mrs Batty followed my glance.

"I didn't want him to have that," she said; "but he was set upon it.
It's smallish for a bedroom, and in my opinion isn't fit for more than
a lumber-room. That's what Sir William used it for."

I pushed open the door and stepped over the threshold, and the
housekeeper followed me.

"No," she said, glancing round; "and it's in my mind that it's damp,
Sir."

Again I had a curious feeling that the silence was speaking in my ear;
the atmosphere was thick and heavy, and a musty smell, as of faded
draperies, penetrated my nostrils. The whole room looked indescribably
dingy, despite the new hangings. I went over to the narrow window and
peered through the diamond panes. Outside, but seen dimly through that
ancient and discoloured glass, the ruins of the chapel confronted me,
bare and stark, in the yellow sunlight. I turned.

"There are no ghosts in the Abbey, I suppose, Mrs Batty?" I asked,
whimsically.

But she took my inquiry very gravely. "I have never heard tell of one,
Sir," she protested; "and if there was such a thing I should have
known it."

As I was rejoining her a strange low whirring was audible, and looking
up I saw in a corner of the high-arched roof a horrible face watching
me out of black narrow eyes. I confess that I was very much startled
at the apparition, but the next moment realized what it was. The
creature hung with its ugly fleshy wings extended over a grotesque
stone head that leered down upon me, its evil-looking snout projecting
into the room; it lay perfectly still, returning me glance for glance,
until moved by the repulsion of its presence I clapped my hands, and
cried loudly; then, slowly flitting in a circle round the roof, it
vanished with a flapping of wings into some darker corner of the
rafters. Mrs Batty was astounded, and expressed surprise that it had
managed to conceal itself for so long.

"Oh, bats live in holes," I answered. "Probably there is some small
access through the masonry." But the incident had sent an
uncomfortable shiver through me all the same.

Later that day I began to recognize that, short of an abrupt return to
town, my time was not likely to be spent very pleasantly. But it was
the personal problem so far as it concerned Warrington himself that
distressed me even more. He came back from St Pharamond in a morose
and ugly temper, quite alien to his kindly nature. It seems that he
had quarrelled bitterly with Miss Bosanquet, but upon what I could not
determine, nor did I press him for an explanation. But the fumes of
his anger were still rising when we met, and our dinner was a most
depressing meal.

He was in a degree of irritation which rendered it impossible to
address him, and I soon withdrew into my thoughts. I saw, however,
that he was drinking far too much, as, indeed, was plain subsequently
when he invited me into the library. Once more he produced the hateful
cards, and I was compelled to play, as he reminded me somewhat
churlishly that I had promised him his revenge.

"Understand, Warrington," I said, firmly, "I play tonight, but never
again, whatever the result In fact, I am in half the mind to return to
town tomorrow."

He gave me a look as he sat down, but said nothing, and the game
began. He lost heavily from the first, and as nothing would content
him but we must constantly raise the stakes, in a shore time I had won
several hundred pounds. He bore the reverses very ill, breaking out
from time to time into some angry exclamation, now petulantly
questioning my playing, and muttering oaths under his breath. But I
was resolved that he should have no cause of complaint against me for
this one night, and disregarding his insane fits of temper, I played
steadily and silently. As the tally of my gains mounted he changed
colour slowly, his face assuming a ghastly expression, and his eyes
suspiciously denoting my actions. At length he rose, and throwing
himself quickly across the table, seized my hand ferociously as I
dealt a couple of cards.

"Damn you! I see your tricks," he cried, in frenzied passion. "Drop
that hand, do you hear?"

"Drop that hand, or by--"

But he got no further, for, rising myself, I wrenched my hand from his
grasp, and turned upon him, in almost as great a passion as himself.
But suddenly, and even as I opened my mouth to speak, I stopped short
with a cry of horror. His face was livid to the lips, his eyes were
cast with blood, and upon the dirty white of his flesh, right in the
centre of his throat, the round red scar, flaming and ugly as a wound,
stared upon me.

"Warrington" I cried, "what is this? What have you?--" And I pointed
in alarm to the spot.

"Mind your own business," he said, with a sneer. "It is well to try
and draw off attention from your knavery. But that trick won't answer
with me."

Without another word I flung the IOU's upon the table, and turning on
my heel, left the room. I was furious with him, and fully resolved to
leave the Abbey in the morning. I made my way upstairs to my room, and
then, seating myself upon the balcony, endeavoured to recover my self-
possession.

The more I considered, the more unaccountable was Warrington's
behaviour. He had always been a perfectly courteous man, with a great
lump of kindness in his nature; whereas these last few days he had
been nothing other than a savage. It seemed certain that he must be
ill or going mad; and as I reflected upon this the conjecture struck
me with a sense of pity. If it was that he was losing his senses, how
horrible was the tragedy in face of the new and lovely prospects
opening in his life. Stimulated by this growing conviction, I resolved
to go down and see him, more particularly as I now recalled his
pleading voice that I should help him, on the previous evening. Was it
not possible that this pathetic appeal derived from the instinct of
the insane to protect themselves?

I found him still in the library; his head had fallen upon the table,
and the state of the whisky bottle by his arm showed only too clearly
his condition. I shook him vigorously, and he opened his eyes.

"Warrington, you must go to bed," I said.

He smiled, and greeted me quite affectionately. Obviously he was not
so drunk as I had supposed.

"What is the time, Ned?" he asked.

I told him it was one o'clock, at which he rose briskly.

"Lord, I've been asleep," he said. "Help me, Ned. I don't think I'm
sober. Where have you been?"

I assisted him to his room, and he undressed slowly, and with an
effort. Somehow, as I stood watching him, I yielded to an unknown
impulse and said, suddenly:

"Warrington, don't sleep here. Come and share my room."

"My dear fellow," he replied, with a foolish laugh, "yours is not the
only room in the house. I can use half-a-dozen if I like."

"Well, use one of them," I answered.

He shook his head. "I'm going to sleep here," he returned,
obstinately.

I made no further effort to influence him, for, after all, now that
the words were out, I had absolutely no reason to give him or myself
for my proposition. And so I left him. When I had closed the door, and
was turning to go along the passage, I heard very clearly, as it
seemed to me, a plaintive cry, muffled and faint, but very disturbing,
which sounded from the room.

Instantly I opened the door again. Warrington was in bed, and the
heavy sound of his breathing told me that he was asleep. It was
impossible that he could have uttered the cry. A night-light was
burning by his bedside, shedding a strong illumination over the
immediate vicinity, and throwing antic shadows on the walls. As I
turned to go, there was a whirring of wings, a brief flap behind me,
and the room was plunged in darkness. The obscene creature that lived
in the recesses of the roof must have knocked out the tiny light with
its wings. Then Warrington's breathing ceased, and there was no sound
at all. And then once more the silence seemed to gather round me
slowly and heavily, and whisper to me. I had a vague sense of being
prevailed upon, of being enticed and lured by something in the
surrounding air; a sort of horror circumscribed me, and I broke from
the invisible ring and rushed from the room. The door clanged behind
me, and as I hastened along the hail, once more there seemed to ring
in my ears the faint and melancholy cry.

I awoke, in the sombre twilight that precedes the dawn, from a sleep
troubled and encumbered with evil dreams. The birds had not yet begun
their day, and a vast silence brooded over the Abbey gardens. Looking
out of my window, I caught sight of a dark figure stealing cautiously
round the corner of the ruined chapel. The furtive gait, as well as
the appearance of a man at that early hour, struck me with surprise;
and hastily throwing on some clothes, I ran downstairs, and, opening
the hall-door, went out. When I reached the porch which gave entrance
to the aisle I stopped suddenly, for there before me, with his head to
the ground, and peering among the tall grasses, was the object of my
pursuit. Then I stepped quickly forward and laid a hand upon his
shoulder. It was Warrington.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

He turned and looked at me in bewilderment. His eyes wore a dazed
expression, and he blinked in perplexity before he replied.

"It's you, is it?" he said weakly. "I thought--" and then paused.
"What is it?" he asked.

"I followed you here," I explained. "I only saw your figure, and
thought it might be some intruder."

He avoided my eyes. "I thought I heard a cry out here," he answered.

"Warrington," I said, with some earnestness, "come back to bed."

He made no answer, and slipping my arm in his, I led him away. On the
doorstep he stopped, and lifted his face to me.

"Do you think it's possible--" he began, as if to inquire of me, and
then again paused. With a slight shiver he proceeded to his room,
while I followed him. He sat down upon his bed, and his eyes strayed
to the barred window absently. The black shadow of the chapel was
visible through the panes.

"Don't say anything about this," he said, suddenly. "Don't let Marion
know."

I laughed, but it was an awkward laugh.

"Why, that you were alarmed by a cry for help, and went in search like
a gentleman?" I asked, jestingly.

"You heard it, then?" he said, eagerly.

I shook my head, for I was not going to encourage his fancies. "You
had better go to sleep," I replied, "and get rid of these nightmares."

He sighed and lay back upon his pillow, dressed as he was. Ere I left
him he had fallen into a profound slumber.

If I had expected a surly mood in him at breakfast I was much
mistaken. There was not a trace of his nocturnal dissipations; he did
not seem even to remember them, and he made no allusion whatever to
our adventure in the dawn. He perused a letter carefully, and threw it
over to me with a grin.

"Lor, what queer sheep women are!" he exclaimed, with rather a coarse
laugh.

I glanced at the letter without thinking, but ere I had read half of
it I put it aside. It was certainly not meant for my eyes, and I
marvelled at Warrington's indelicacy in making public, as it were,
that very private matter. The note was from Miss Bosanquet, and was
clearly designed for his own heart, couched as it was in the terms of
warm and fond affection. No man should see such letters save he for
whom they are written.

"You see, they're coming over to dine," he remarked, carelessly.
"Trust a girl to make it up if you let her alone long enough."

I made no answer; but though Warrington's grossness irritated me, I
reflected with satisfaction upon his return to good humour, which I
attributed to the reconciliation.

When I moved out upon the terrace the maid had entered to remove the
breakfast things. I was conscious of a slight exclamation behind me,
and Warrington joined me presently, with a loud guffaw.

"That's a damned pretty girl!" he said, with unction. "I'm glad Mrs
Batty got her. I like to have good-looking servants."

I suddenly interpreted the incident, and shrugged my shoulders.

"You're a perfect boor this morning, Warrington," I exclaimed,
irritably.

He only laughed. "You're a dull dog of a saint, Heywood," he retorted.
"Come along," and dragged me out in no amiable spirit.

I had forgotten how perfect a host Warrington could be, but that
evening he was displayed at his best. The Bosanquets arrived early.
Sir William was an easy-going man, fond of books and of wine, and I
now guessed at the taste which had decided Warrington's cellar. Miss
Bosanquet was as charming as I remembered her to be; and if any
objection might be taken to Warrington himself by my anxious eyes it
was merely that he seemed a trifle excited, a fault which, in the
circumstances, I was able to condone. Sir William hung about the
table, sipping his wine.

Warrington, who had been very abstemious, grew restless, and, finally
apologizing in his graceful way, left me to keep the baronet company.
I was the less disinclined to do so as I was anxious not to intrude
upon the lovers, and Sir William was discussing the history of the
Abbey.

He had an old volume somewhere in his library which related to it,
and, seeing that I was interested, invited me to look it up.

We sat long, and it was not until later that the horrible affair which
I must narrate occurred.

The evening was close and oppressive, owing to the thunder, which
already rumbled far away in the south. When we rose we found that
Warrington and Miss Bosanquet were in the garden, and thither we
followed. As at first we did not find them, Sir William, who had noted
the approaching storm with some uneasiness, left me to make
arrangements for his return; and I strolled along the paths by myself,
enjoying a cigarette. I had reached the shrubbery upon the further
side of the chapel, when I heard the sound of voices--a man's rough
and rasping, a woman's pleading and informed with fear. A sharp cry
ensued, and without hesitation I plunged through the thicket in the
direction of the speakers. The sight that met me appalled me for the
moment. Darkness was falling, lit with ominous flashes; and the two
figures stood out distinctly in the bushes, in an attitude of
struggle. I could not mistake the voices now. I heard Warrington's,
brusque with anger, and almost savage in its tones, crying, "You
shall!" and there followed a murmur from the girl, a little sob, and
then a piercing cry. I sprang forward and seized Warrington by the
arm; when, to my horror, I perceived that he had taken her wrist in
both hands and was roughly twisting it, after the cruel habit of
schoolboys. The malevolent cruelty of the action so astounded me that
for an instant I remained motionless; I almost heard the bones in the
frail wrist cracking; and then, in a second, I had seized Warrington's
hands in a grip of iron, and flung him violently to the ground. The
girl fell with him, and as I picked her up he rose too, and, clenching
his fists, made as though to come at me, but instead turned and went
sullenly, and with a ferocious look of hate upon his face, out of the
thicket.

Miss Bosanquet came to very shortly, and though the agony of the pain
must have been considerable to a delicate girl, I believe it was
rather the incredible horror of the act under which she swooned. For
my part I had nothing to say: not one word relative to the incident
dared pass my lips. I inquired if she was better, and then, putting
her arm in mine, led her gently towards the house. Her heart beat hard
against me, and she breathed heavily, leaning on me for support. At
the chapel I stopped, feeling suddenly that I dare not let her be seen
in this condition, and bewildered greatly by the whole atrocious
business.

"Come and rest in here," I suggested, and we entered the chapel.

I set her on a slab of marble, and stood waiting by her side. I talked
fluently about anything; for lack of a subject, upon the state of the
chapel and the curious tomb I had discovered. Recovering a little, she
joined presently in my remarks. It was plain that she was putting a
severe restraint upon herself. I moved aside the grasses, and read
aloud the inscription on Sir Rupert's grave-piece, and turning to the
next, which was rankly overgrown, feigned to search further. As I was
bending there, suddenly, and by what thread of thought I know not, I
identified the spot with that upon which I had found Warrington
stooping that morning. With a sweep of my hand I brushed back the
weeds, uprooting some with my fingers, and kneeling in the twilight,
pored over the monument. Suddenly a wild flare of light streamed down
the sky, and a great crash of thunder followed. Miss Bosanquet started
to her feet and I to mine. The heaven was lit up, as it were, with
sunlight, and, as I turned, my eyes fell upon the now uncovered stone.
Plainly the lettering flashed in my eyes:

"Priscilla, Lady Marvyn."

Then the clouds opened, and the rain fell in spouts, shouting and
dancing upon the ancient roof overhead.

We were under a very precarious shelter, and I was uneasy that Miss
Bosanquet should run the risk of that flimsy, ravaged edifice; and so
in a momentary lull I managed to get her to the house.

I found Sir William in a restless state of nerves. He was a timorous
man, and the thunder had upset him, more particularly as he and his
daughter were now storm-bound for some time. There was no possibility
of venturing into those rude elements for an hour or more. Warrington
was not inside, and no one had seen him. In the light Miss Bosanquet's
face frightened me; her eyes were large and scared, and her colour
very dead white. Clearly she was very near a breakdown. I found Mrs
Batty, and told her that the young lady had been severely shaken by
the storm, suggesting that she had better lie down for a little.
Returning with me, the housekeeper led off the unfortunate girl, and
Sir William and I were left together. He paced the room impatiently,
and constantly inquired if there were any signs of improvement in the
weather. He also asked for Warrington, irritably. The burden of the
whole dreadful night seemed fallen upon me. Passing through the hall I
met Mrs Batty again. Her usually placid features were disturbed and
aghast.

"What is the matter?" I asked. "Is Miss Bosanquet--"

"No, Sir; I think she's sleeping," she replied. "She's in--she is in
Mr Warrington's room."

I started. "Are there no other rooms?" I asked, abruptly.

"There are none ready, Sir, except yours," she answered, "and I
thought--"

"You should have taken her there," I said, sharply. The woman looked
at me and opened her mouth. "Good heavens!" I said, irritably, "what
is the matter? Everyone is mad tonight."

"Alice is gone, Sir," she blurted forth.

Alice, I remembered, was the name of one of her maids.

"What do you mean?" I asked, for her air of panic betokened something
graver than her words.

The thunder broke over the house and drowned her voice.

"She can't be out in this storm--she must have taken refuge
somewhere," I said.

At that the strings of her tongue loosened, and she burst forth with
her tale. It was an abominable narrative.

"Where is Mr Warrington?" I asked; but she shook her head.

There was a moment's silence between us, and we eyed each other
aghast. "She will be all right," I said at last, as if dismissing the
subject.

The housekeeper wrung her hands. "I never would have thought it!" she
repeated, dismally. "I never would have thought it!"

"There is some mistake," I said; but, somehow, I knew better. Indeed,
I felt now that I had almost been prepared for it.

"She ran towards the village," whispered Mrs Batty. "God knows where
she was going! The river lies that way."

"Pooh!" I exclaimed. "Don't talk nonsense. It is all a mistake. Come,
have you any brandy?" Brought back to the material round of her duties
she bustled away with a sort of briskness, and returned with a flagon
and glasses. I took a strong nip, and went back to Sir William. He was
feverish, and declaimed against the weather unceasingly. I had to
listen to the string of misfortunes which he recounted in the season's
crops. It seemed all so futile, with his daughter involved in her
horrid tragedy in a neighbouring room. He was better after some
brandy, and grew more cheerful, but assiduously wondered about
Warrington.

"Oh, he's been caught in the storm and taken refuge somewhere," I
explained, vainly. I wondered if the next day would ever dawn.

By degrees that thunder rolled slowly into the northern parts of the
sky, and only fitful flashes seamed the heavens. It had lasted now
more than two hours. Sir William declared his intention of starting,
and asked for his daughter. I rang for Mrs Batty, and sent her to
rouse Miss Bosanquet.

Almost immediately there was a knock upon the door, and the
housekeeper was in the doorway, with an agitated expression, demanding
to see me. Sir William was looking out of the window, and fortunately
did not see her.

"Please come to Miss Bosanquet, Sir," she cried, very scared. "Please
come at once."

In alarm I hastily ran down the corridor and entered Warrington's
room. The girl was lying upon the bed, her hair flowing upon the
pillow; her eyes, wide open and filled with terror, stared at the
ceiling, and her hands clutched and twined in the coverlet as if in an
agony of pain. A gasping sound issued from her, as though she were
struggling for breath under suffocation. Her whole appearance was as
of one in the murderous grasp of an assailant.

I bent over. "Throw the light, quick," I called to Mrs Batty; and as I
put my hand on her shoulder to lift her, the creature that lived in
the chamber rose suddenly from the shadow upon the further side of the
bed, and sailed with a flapping noise up to the cornice. With an
exclamation of horror I pulled the girl's head forward, and the
candle-light glowed on her pallid face. Upon the soft flesh of the
slender throat was a round red mark, the size of a florin.

At the sight I almost let her fall upon the pillow again; but,
commanding my nerves, I put my arms round her, and, lifting her bodily
from the bed, carried her from the room. Mrs Batty followed.

"What shall we do?" she asked, in a low voice.

"Take her away from this damned chamber!" I cried. "Anywhere--the
hall, the kitchen rather."

I laid my burden upon a sofa in the dining-room, and despatching Mrs
Batty for the brandy, gave Miss Bosanquet a draught. Slowly the horror
faded from her eyes; they closed, and then she looked at me.

"What have you?--where am I?" she asked.

"You have been unwell," I said. "Pray don't disturb yourself yet."

She shuddered, and closed her eyes again.

Very little more was said. Sir William pressed for his horses, and as
the sky was clearing I made no attempt to detain him, more
particularly as the sooner Miss Bosanquet left the Abbey the better
for herself. In half an hour she recovered sufficiently to go, and I
helped her into the carriage. She never referred to her seizure, but
thanked me for my kindness. That was all. No one asked after
Warrington--not even Sir William. He had forgotten everything, save
his anxiety to get back. As the carriage turned from the steps I saw
the mark upon the girl's throat, now grown fainter.

I waited up till late into the morning, but there was no sign of
Warrington when I went to bed.

Nor had he made his appearance when I descended to breakfast. A letter
in his handwriting, however, and with the London postmark, awaited me.
It was a pitiful scrawl, in the very penmanship of which one might
trace the desperate emotions by which he was torn. He implored my
forgiveness. "Am I a devil?" he asked. "Am I mad? It was not I! It was
not I!" he repeated, underlining the sentence with impetuous dashes.
"You know," he wrote; "and you know, therefore, that everything is at
an end for me. I am going abroad today. I shall never see the Abbey
again."

It was well that he had gone, as I hardly think that I could have
faced him; and yet I was loth myself to leave the matter in this
horrible tangle. I felt that it was enjoined upon me to meet the
problems, and I endeavoured to do so as best I might. Mrs Batty gave
me news of the girl Alice.

It was bad enough, though not so bad as both of us had feared. I was
able to make arrangements on the instant, which I hoped might bury
that lamentable affair for the time. There remained Miss Bosanquet;
but that difficulty seemed beyond me. I could see no avenue out of the
tragedy. I heard nothing save that she was ill--an illness attributed
upon all hands to the shock of exposure to the thunderstorm. Only I
knew better, and a vague disinclination to fly from the
responsibilities of the position kept me hanging on at Utterbourne.

It was in those days before my visit to St Pharamond that I turned my
attention more particularly to the thing which had forced itself
relentlessly upon me. I was never a superstitious man; the gossip of
old wives interested me merely as a curious and unsympathetic
observer. And yet I was vaguely discomfited by the transaction in the
Abbey, and it was with some reluctance that I decided to make a
further test of Warrington's bedroom. Mrs Batty received my
determination to change my room easily enough, but with a protest as
to the dampness of the Stone Chamber. It was plain that her suspicions
had not marched with mine. On the second night after Warrington's
departure I occupied the room for the first time.

I lay awake for a couple of hours, with a reading lamp by my bed, and
a volume of travels in my hand, and then, feeling very tired, put out
the light and went to sleep. Nothing distracted me that night; indeed,
I slept more soundly and peaceably than before in that house. I rose,
too, experiencing quite an exhilaration, and it was not until I was
dressing before the glass that I remembered the circumstances of my
mission; but then I was at once pulled up, startled swiftly out of my
cheerful temper. Faintly visible upon my throat was the same round
mark which I had already seen stamped upon Warrington and Miss
Bosanquet. With that, all my former doubts returned in force,
augmented and militant. My mind recurred to the bat, and tales of
bloodsucking by those evil creatures revived in my memory. But when I
had remembered that these were of foreign beasts, and that I was in
England, I dismissed them lightly enough. Still, the impress of that
mark remained, and alarmed me. It could not come by accident; to
suppose so manifold a coincidence was absurd. The puzzle dwelt with
me, unsolved, and the fingers of dread slowly crept over me.

Yet I slept again in the room. Having but myself for company, and
being somewhat bored and dull, I fear I took more spirit than was my
custom, and the result was that I again slept profoundly. I awoke
about three in the morning, and was surprised to find the lamp still
burning.

I had forgotten it in my stupid state of somnolence. As I turned to
put it out, the bat swept by me and circled for an instant above my
head. So overpowered with torpor was I that I scarcely noticed it, and
my head was no sooner at rest than I was once more unconscious. The
red mark was stronger next morning, though, as on the previous day, it
wore off with the fall of evening.

But I merely observed the fact without any concern; indeed, now the
matter of my investigation seemed to have drawn very remote. I was
growing indifferent, I supposed, through familiarity.

But the solitude was palling upon me, and I spent a very restless day.
A sharp ride I took in the afternoon was the one agreeable experience
of the day. I reflected that if this burden were to continue I must
hasten up to town. I had no desire to tie myself to Warrington's
apron, in his interest. So dreary was the evening, that after I had
strolled round the grounds and into the chapel by moonlight, I
returned to the library and endeavoured to pass the time with
Warrington's cards.

But it was poor fun with no antagonist to pit myself against; and I
was throwing down the pack in disgust when one of the manservants
entered with the whisky.

It was not until long afterwards that I fully realized the course of
my action; but even at the time I was aware of a curious sub-feeling
of shamefacedness. I am sure that the thing fell naturally, and that
there was no awkwardness in my approaching him. Nor, after the first
surprise, did he offer any objection. Later he was hardly expected to
do so, seeing that he was winning very quickly. The reason of that I
guessed afterwards, but during the play I was amazed to note at
intervals how strangely my irritation was aroused. Finally, I swept
the cards to the floor, and rose, the man, with a smile in which
triumph blended with uneasiness, rose also.

"Damn you, get away!" I said, angrily.

True to his traditions to the close, he answered me with respect, and
obeyed; and I sat staring at the table. With a sudden flush, the
grotesque folly of the night's business came to me, and my eyes fell
on the whisky bottle. It was nearly empty. Then I went to bed.

Voices cried all night in that chamber--soft, pleading voices. There
was nothing to alarm in them; they seemed in a manner to coo me to
sleep. But presently a sharper cry roused me from my semi-slumber; and
getting up, I flung open the window. The wind rushed round the Abbey,
sweeping with noises against the corners and gables. The black chapel
lay still in the moonlight, and drew my eyes. But, resisting a
strange, unaccountable impulse to go further, I went back to bed.

The events of the following day are better related without comment.

At breakfast I found a letter from Sir William Bosanquet, inviting me
to come over to St Pharamond. I was at once conscious of an eager
desire to do so: it seemed somehow as though I had been waiting for
this. The visit assumed preposterous proportions, and I was impatient
for the afternoon.

Sir William was polite, but not, as I thought, cordial. He never
alluded to Warrington, from which I guessed that he had been informed
of the breach, and I conjectured also that the invitation extended to
me was rather an act of courtesy to a solitary stranger than due to a
desire for my company. Nevertheless, when he presently suggested that
I should stay to dinner, I accepted promptly. For, to say the truth, I
had not yet seen Miss Bosanquet, and I experienced a strange curiosity
to do so. When at last she made her appearance, I was struck, almost
for the first time, by her beauty. She was certainly a handsome girl,
though she had a delicate air of ill-health.

After dinner Sir William remembered by accident the book on the Abbey
which he had promised to show me, and after a brief hunt in the
library we found it. Shortly afterwards he was called away, and with
an apology left me. With a curious eagerness I turned the pages of the
volume and settled down to read.

It was published early in the century, and purported to relate the
history of the Abbey and its owners. But it was one chapter which
specially drew my interest--that which recounted the fate of the last
Marvyn. The family had become extinct through a bloody tragedy; that
fact held me.

The bare narrative, long since passed from the memory of tradition,
was here set forth in the baldest statements. The names of Sir Rupert
Marvyn and Priscilla, Lady Marvyn, shook me strangely, but
particularly the latter. Some links of connection with those
gravestones lying in the Abbey chapel constrained me intimately. The
history of that evil race was stained and discoloured with blood, and
the end was in fitting harmony--a lurid holocaust of crime. There had
been two brothers, but it was hard to choose between the foulness of
their lives. If either, the younger, William, was the worse; so at
least the narrative would have it. The details of his excesses had not
survived, but it was abundantly plain that they were both notorious
gamblers.

The story of their deaths was wrapt in doubt, the theme of conjecture
only, and probability; for none was by to observe save the three
veritable actors--who were at once involved together in a bloody
dissolution. Priscilla, the wife of Sir Rupert, was suspected of an
intrigue with her brother-in-law. She would seem to have been tainted
with the corruption of the family into which she had married. But
according to a second rumour, chronicled by the author, there was some
doubt if the woman were not the worst of the three. Nothing was known
of her parentage; she had returned with the passionate Sir Rupert to
the Abbey after one of his prolonged absences, and was accepted as his
legal wife. This was the woman whose infamous beauty had brought a
terrible sin between the brothers.

Upon the night which witnessed the extinction of this miserable
family, the two brothers had been gambling together. It was known from
the high voices that they had quarrelled, and it is supposed that,
heated with wine and with the lust of play, the younger had thrown
some taunt at Sir Rupert in respect to his wife. Whereupon--but this
is all conjecture--the elder stabbed him to death. At least, it was
understood that at this point the sounds of a struggle were heard, and
a bitter cry. The report of the servants ran that upon this noise Lady
Marvyn rushed into the room and locked the door behind her. Fright was
busy with those servants, long used to the savage manners of the
house. According to witnesses, no further sound was heard subsequently
to Lady Marvyn's entrance; yet when the doors were at last broken open
by the authorities, the three bodies were discovered upon the floor.

How Sir Rupert and his wife met their deaths there was no record.
"This tragedy," proceeded the scribe, "took place in the Stone Chamber
underneath the stairway."

I had got so far when the entrance of Miss Bosanquet disturbed me. I
remember rising in a dazed condition--the room swung about me. A
conviction, hitherto resisted and stealthily entertained upon
compulsion, now overpowered me.

"I thought my father was here," explained Miss Bosanquet, with a quick
glance round the room.

I explained the circumstances, and she hesitated in my neighbourhood
with a slight air of embarrassment.

"I have not thanked you properly, Mr Heywood," she said presently, in
a low voice, scarcely articulate. "You have been very considerate and
kind. Let me thank you now." And ended with a tiny spasmodic sob.

Somehow, an impulse overmastered my tongue. Fresh from the perusal of
that chapter, queer possibilities crowded in my mind, odd
considerations urged me.

"Miss Bosanquet," said I, abruptly, "let me speak of that a little. I
will not touch on details."

"Please," she cried, with a shrinking notion as of one that would
retreat in very alarm.

"Nay," said I, eagerly; "hear me. It is no wantonness that would press
the memory upon you."

"You have been a witness to distressful acts; you have seen a man
under the influence of temporary madness. Nay, even yourself, you have
been a victim to the same unaccountable phenomena."

"What do you mean?" she cried, tensely.

"I will say no more," said I. "I should incur your laughter. No, you
would not laugh, but my dim suspicions would leave you still
incredulous. But if this were so, and if these were the phenomena of a
brief madness, surely you would make your memory a grave to bury the
past."

"I cannot do that," said she, in low tones.

"What!" I asked. "Would you turn from your lover, aye, even from a
friend, because he was smitten with disease? Consider; if your dearest
upon earth tossed in a fever upon his bed, and denied you in his
ravings, using you despitefully, it would not be he that entreated you
so. When he was quit of his madness and returned to his proper person,
would you not forget--would you not rather recall his insanity with
the pity of affection?"

"I do not understand you," she whispered.

"You read your Bible," said I. "You have wondered at the evil spirits
that possessed poor victims. Why should you decide that these things
have ceased? We are too dogmatic in our modern world. Who can say
under what malign influence a soul may pass, and out of its own
custody?"

She looked at me earnestly, searching my eyes.

"You hint at strange things," said she, very low.

But somehow, even as I met her eyes, the spirit of my mission failed
me. My gaze, I felt, devoured her ruthlessly. The light shone on her
pale and comely features; they burned me with an irresistible
attraction. I put forth my hand and took hers gently. It was passive
to my touch, as though in acknowledgment of my kindly offices. All the
while I experienced a sense of fierce elation. In my blood ran, as it
had been fire, a horrible incentive, and I knew that I was holding her
hand very tightly. She herself seemed to grow conscious of this, for
she made an effort to withdraw her fingers, at which, the passion
rushing through my body, I clutched them closer, laughing aloud. I saw
a wondering look dawn in her eyes, and her bosom thinly veiled, heaved
with a tiny tremor. I was aware that I was drawing her steadily to me.
Suddenly her bewildered eyes, dropping from my face, lit with a flare
of terror, and, wrenching her hand away, she fell back with a cry, her
gaze riveted upon my throat.

"That accursed mark! What is it? What is it?--" she cried, shivering
from head to foot.

In an instant, the wild blood singing in my head, I sprang towards
her. What would have followed I know not, but at that moment the door
opened and Sir William returned. He regarded us with consternation;
but Miss Bosanquet had fainted, and the next moment he was at her
side. I stood near, watching her come to with a certain nameless fury,
as of a beast cheated of its prey.

Sir William turned to me, and in his most courteous manner begged me
to excuse the untoward scene. His daughter, he said, was not at all
strong, and he ended by suggesting that I should leave them for a
time.

Reluctantly I obeyed, but when I was out of the house, I took a sudden
panic. The demoniac possession lifted, and in a craven state of
trembling I saddled my horse, and rode for the Abbey as if my life
depended upon my speed.

I arrived at about ten o'clock, and immediately gave orders to have my
bed prepared in my old room. In my shaken condition the sinister
influences of that stone chamber terrified me; and it was not until I
had drunk deeply that I regained my composure.

But I was destined to get little sleep. I had steadily resolved to
keep my thoughts off the matter until the morning, but the spell of
the chamber was strong upon me. I awoke after midnight with an
irresistible feeling drawing me to the room. I was conscious of the
impulse, and combated it, but in the end succumbed; and throwing on my
clothes, took a light and went downstairs. I flung wide the door of
the room and peered in, listening, as though for some voice of
welcome. It was as silent as a sepulchre; but directly I crossed the
threshold voices seemed to surround and coax me. I stood wavering,
with a curious fascination upon me. I knew I could not return to my
own room, and I now had no desire to do so. As I stood, my candle
flaring solemnly against the darkness, I noticed upon the floor in an
alcove bare of carpet, a large black mark, which appeared to be a
stain. Bending down, I examined it, passing my fingers over the stone.
It moved to my touch. Setting the candle upon the floor, I put my
fingertips to the edges, and pulled hard. As I did so the sounds that
were ringing in my ears died instantaneously; the next moment the slab
turned with a crash, and discovered a gaping hole of impenetrable
blackness.

The patch of chasm thus opened to my eyes was near a yard square. The
candle held to it shed a dim light upon a stone step a foot or two
below, and it was clear to me that a stairway communicated with the
depths. Whether it had been used as a cellar in times gone by I could
not divine, but I was soon to determine this doubt; for, stirred by a
strange eagerness, I slipped my legs through the hole, and let myself
cautiously down with the light in my hand. There were a dozen steps to
descend ere I reached the floor and what turned out to be a narrow
passage. The vault ran forward straight as an arrow before my eyes,
and slowly I moved on. Dank and chill was the air in those close
confines, and the sound of my feet returned from those walls dull and
sullen. But I kept on, and, with infinite care, must have penetrated
quite a hundred yards along that musty corridor ere I came out upon an
ampler chamber. Here the air was freer, and I could perceive with the
aid of my light that the dimensions of the place were lofty. Above, a
solitary ray of moonlight, sliding through a crack, informed me that I
was not far from the level of the earth. It fell upon a block of
stone, which rose in the middle of the vault, and which I now
inspected with interest. As the candle threw its flickering beams upon
this I realized where I was.

I scarcely needed the rude lettering upon the coffins to acquaint me
that here was the family vault of the Marvyns. And now I began to
perceive upon all sides whereon my feeble light fell the crumbling
relics of the forgotten dead--coffins fallen into decay, bones and
grinning skulls resting in corners, disposed by the hand of chance and
time. This formidable array of the mortal remains of that poor family
moved me to a shudder. I turned from those ugly memorials once more to
the central altar where the two coffins rested in this sombre silence.
The lid had fallen from the one, disclosing to my sight the grisly
skeleton of a man, that mocked and leered at me.

It seemed in a manner to my fascinated eyes to challenge my mortality,
inviting me too to the rude and grotesque sleep of death. I knew, as
by an instinct, that I was standing by the bones of Sir Rupert Marvyn,
the protagonist in that terrible crime which had locked three souls in
eternal ruin. The consideration of this miserable spectacle held me
motionless for some moments, and then I moved a step closer and cast
my light upon the second coffin.

As I did so I was aware of a change within myself. The grave and
melancholy thoughts which I had entertained, the sober bent of my
solemn reflections, gave place instantly to a strange exultation, an
unholy sense of elation. My pulse swung feverishly, and, while my eyes
were riveted upon the tarnished silver of the plate, I stretched forth
a tremulously eager hand and touched the lid. It rattled gently under
my fingers. Disturbed by the noise, I hastily withdrew them; but
whether it was the impetus offered by my touch, or through some
horrible and nameless circumstance--God knows--slowly and softly a gap
opened between the lid and the body of the coffin! Before my startled
eyes the awful thing happened, and yet I was conscious of no terror,
merely of surprise and--it seems terrible to admit--of a feeling of
eager expectancy.

The lid rose slowly on the one side, and as it lifted the dark space
between it and the coffin grew gently charged with light. At that
moment my feeble candle, which had been gradually diminishing,
guttered and flickered. I seemed to catch a glimpse of something, as
it were, of white and shining raiment inside the coffin; and then came
a rush of wings and a whirring sound within the vault. I gave a cry,
and stepping back missed my foothold; the guttering candle was jerked
from my grasp, and I fell prone to the floor in darkness. The next
moment a sheet of flame flashed in the chamber and lit up the
grotesque skeletons about me; and at the same time a piercing cry rang
forth. Jumping to my feet, I gave a dazed glance at the conflagration.
The whole vault was in flames. Dazed and horror-struck, I rushed
blindly to the entrance; but as I did so the horrible cry pierced my
ears again, and I saw the bat swoop round and circle swiftly into the
flames. Then, finding the exit, I dashed with all the speed of terror
down the passage, groping my way along the walls, and striking myself
a dozen times in my terrified flight.

Arrived in my room, I pushed over the stone and listened. Not a sound
was audible. With a white face and a body torn and bleeding I rushed
from the room, and locking the door behind me, made my way upstairs to
my bedroom. Here I poured myself out a stiff glass of brandy.

It was six months later ere Warrington returned. In the meantime he
had sold the Abbey. It was inevitable that he should do so; and yet
the new owner, I believe, has found no drawback in his property, and
the Stone Chamber is still used for a bedroom upon occasions, being
considered very old-fashioned. But there are some facts against which
no appeal is possible, and so it was in his case. In my relation of
the tragedy I have made no attempt at explanation, hardly even to
myself; and it appears now for the first time in print, of course with
suppositious names.



THE END




This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia