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Title: Collected Stories
Author: Charlotte Riddell
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606251.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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Collected Stories
Charlotte Riddell



TABLE OF CONTENTS

The Open Door
The Old House in Vauxhall Walk
The Last of Squire Ennismore



THE OPEN DOOR

Some people do not believe in ghosts. For that matter, some people do
not believe in anything.

There are persons who even affect incredulity concerning that open
door at Ladlow Hall. They say it did not stand wide open--that they
could have shut it; that the whole affair was a delusion; that they
are sure it must have been a conspiracy; that they are doubtful
whether there is such a place as Ladlow on the face of the earth; that
the first time they are in Meadowshire they will look it up.

That is the manner in which this story, hitherto unpublished, has been
greeted by my acquaintances. How it will be received by strangers is
quite another matter. I am going to tell what happened to me exactly
as it happened, and readers can credit or scoff at the tale as it
pleases them. It is not necessary for me to find faith and
comprehension in addition to a ghost story, for the world at large. If
such were the case, I should lay down my pen.

Perhaps, before going further, I ought to premise there was a time
when I did not believe in ghosts either. If you had asked me one
summer's morning years ago when you met me on London Bridge if I held
such appearances to be probable or possible, you would have received
an emphatic 'No' for answer.

But, at this rate, the story of the Open Door will never be told; so
we will, with your permission, plunge into it immediately.

'Sandy!'

'What do you want?'

'Should you like to earn a sovereign?'

'Of course I should.'

A somewhat curt dialogue, but we were given to curtness in the office
of Messrs Frimpton, Frampton and Fryer, auctioneers and estate agents,
St Benet's Hill, City.

(My name is not Sandy or anything like it, but the other clerks so
styled me because of a real or fancied likeness to some character, an
ill-looking Scotchman, they had seen at the theatre. From this it may
be inferred I was not handsome. Far from it. The only ugly specimen in
my family, I knew I was very plain; and it chanced to be no secret to
me either that I felt grievously discontented with my lot. I did not
like the occupation of clerk in an auctioneer's office, and I did not
like my employers.

We are all of us inconsistent, I suppose, for it was a shock to me to
find they entertained a most cordial antipathy to me.)

'Because,' went on Parton, a fellow, my senior by many years--a fellow
who delighted in chaffing me, 'I can tell you how to lay hands on
one.'

'How?' I asked, sulkily enough, for I felt he was having what he
called his fun.

'You know that place we let to Carrison, the tea-dealer?' Carrison was
a merchant in the China trade, possessed of fleets of vessels and
towns of warehouses; but I did not correct Parton's expression, I
simply nodded.

'He took it on a long lease, and he can't live in it; and our governor
said this morning he wouldn't mind giving anybody who could find out
what the deuce is the matter, a couple of sovereigns and his
travelling expenses.'

'Where is the place?' I asked, without turning my head; for the
convenience of listening I had put my elbows on the desk and propped
up my face with both hands.

'Away down in Meadowshire, in the heart of the grazing country.'

'And what is the matter?' I further enquired.

'A door that won't keep shut.'

'What?'

'A door that will keep open, if you prefer that way of putting it,'
said Parton.

'You are jesting.'

'If I am, Carrison is not, or Fryer either. Carrison came here in a
nice passion, and Fryer was in a fine rage; I could see he was, though
he kept his temper outwardly. They have had an active correspondence
it appears, and Carrison went away to talk to his lawyer. Won't make
much by that move, I fancy.'

'But tell me,' I entreated, 'why the door won't keep shut?'

'They say the place is haunted.'

'What nonsense!' I exclaimed.

Then you are just the person to take the ghost in hand. I thought so
while old Fryer was speaking.'

'If the door won't keep shut,' I remarked, pursuing my own train of
thought, 'why can't they let it stay open?'

'I have not the slightest idea. I only know there are two sovereigns
to be made, and that I give you a present of the information.'

And having thus spoken, Parton took down his hat and went out, either
upon his own business or that of his employers.

There was one thing I can truly say about our office, we were never
serious in it. I fancy that is the case in most offices nowadays; at
all events, it was the case in ours. We were always chaffing each
other, playing practical jokes, telling stupid stories, scamping our
work, looking at the clock, counting the weeks to next St Lubbock's
Day, counting the hours to Saturday.

For all that we were all very earnest in our desire to have our
salaries raised, and unanimous in the opinion no fellows ever before
received such wretched pay. I had twenty pounds a year, which I was
aware did not half provide for what I ate at home. My mother and
sisters left me in no doubt on the point, and when new clothes were
wanted I always hated to mention the fact to my poor worried father.

We had been better off once, I believe, though I never remember the
time. My father owned a small property in the country, but owing to
the failure of some bank, I never could understand what bank, it had
to be mortgaged; then the interest was not paid, and the mortgages
foreclosed, and we had nothing left save the half-pay of a major, and
about a hundred a year which my mother brought to the common fund.

We might have managed on our income, I think, if we had not been so
painfully genteel; but we were always trying to do something quite
beyond our means, and consequently debts accumulated, and creditors
ruled us with rods of iron.

Before the final smash came, one of my sisters married the younger son
of a distinguished family, and even if they had been disposed to live
comfortably and sensibly she would have kept her sisters up to the
mark. My only brother, too, was an officer, and of course the family
thought it necessary he should see we preserved appearances.

It was all a great trial to my father, I think, who had to bear the
brunt of the dunning and harass, and eternal shortness of money; and
it would have driven me crazy if I had not found a happy refuge when
matters were going wrong at home at my aunt's. She was my father's
sister, and had married so 'dreadfully below her' that my mother
refused to acknowledge the relationship at all.

For these reasons and others, Parton's careless words about the two
sovereigns stayed in my memory.

I wanted money badly--I may say I never had sixpence in the world of
my own--and I thought if I could earn two sovereigns I might buy some
trifles I needed for myself, and present my father with a new
umbrella. Fancy is a dangerous little jade to flirt with, as I soon
discovered.

She led me on and on. First I thought of the two sovereigns; then I
recalled the amount of the rent Mr Carrison agreed to pay for Ladlow
Hall; then I decided he would gladly give more than two sovereigns if
he could only have the ghost turned out of possession. I fancied I
might get ten pounds--twenty pounds. I considered the matter all day,
and I dreamed of it all night, and when I dressed myself next morning
I was determined to speak to Mr Fryer on the subject.

I did so--I told that gentleman Parton had mentioned the matter to me,
and that if Mr Fryer had no objection, I should like to try whether I
could not solve the mystery. I told him I had been accustomed to
lonely houses, and that I should not feel at all nervous; that I did
not believe in ghosts, and as for burglars, I was not afraid of them.

'I don't mind your trying,' he said at last. 'Of course you understand
it is no cure, no pay. Stay in the house for a week; if at the end of
that time you can keep the door shut, locked, bolted, or nailed up,
telegraph for mc, and I will go down--if not, come back. If you like
to take a companion there is no objection.'

I thanked him, but said I would rather not have a companion.

'There is only one thing, sir, I should like,' I ventured.

'And that--?' he interrupted.

'Is a little more money. If I lay the ghost, or find out the ghost, I
think I ought to have more than two sovereigns.'

'How much more do you think you ought to have?' he asked.

His tone quite threw me off my guard, it was so civil and
conciliatory, and I answered boldly:

'Well, if Mr Carrison cannot now live in the place perhaps he wouldn't
mind giving me a ten-pound note.'

Mr Fryer turned, and opened one of the books lying on his desk. He did
not look at or refer to it in any war--I saw that.

'You have been with us how long, Edlyd?' he said.

'Eleven months tomorrow,' I replied.

'And our arrangement was, I think, quarterly payments, and one month's
notice on either side?'

'Yes, sir.' I heard my voice tremble, though I could not have said
what frightened me.

'Then you will please to take your notice now. Come in before you
leave this evening, and I'll pay you three months' salary, and then we
shall be quits.'

'I don't think I quite understand,' I was beginning, when he broke in:

'But I understand, and that's enough. I have had enough of you and
your airs, and your indifference, and your insolence here. I never had
a clerk I disliked as I do you. Coming and dictating terms, forsooth!
No, you shan't go to Ladlow. Many a poor chap'--(he said 'devil')---
'would have been glad to earn half a guinea, let alone two sovereigns;
and perhaps you may be before you are much older.'

'Do you mean that you won't keep me here any longer, sir?' I asked in
despair. I had no intention of offending you. I--'

'Now you need not say another word,' he interrupted, 'for I won't
bandy words with you.

Since you have been in this place you have never known your position,
and you don't seem able to realize it. When I was foolish enough to
take you, I did it on the strength of your connections, but your
connections have done nothing for mc. I have never had a penny out of
any one of your friends--if you have any. You'll not do any good in
business for yourself or anybody else, and the sooner you go to
Australia'--(here he was very emphatic)--and get off these premises,
the better I shall be pleased.'

I did not answer him--I could not. He had worked himself to a white
heat by this time, and evidently intended I should leave his premises
then and there. He counted five pounds out of his cash-box, and,
writing a receipt, pushed it and the money across the table, and bade
me sign and be off at once.

My hand trembled So I could scarcely hold the pen, but I had presence
of mind enough left to return one pound ten in gold, and three
shillings and fourpence I had, quite by the merest good fortune, in my
waistcoat pocket.

'I can't take wages for work I haven't done,' I said, as well as
sorrow and passion would let me. 'Good-morning,' and I left his office
and passed out among the clerks.

I took from my desk the few articles belonging to me, left the papers
it contained in order, and then, locking it, asked Parton if he would
be so good as to give the key to Mr Fryer.

'What's up?' he asked 'Are you going?'

I said, 'Yes, I am going'.

'Got the sack?'

'That is exactly what has happened.'

'Well, I'm--!' exclaimed Mr Parton.

I did not stop to hear any further commentary on the matter, but
bidding my fellow-clerks goodbye, shook the dust of Frimpton's Estate
and Agency Office from off my feet.

I did not like to go home and say I was discharged, so I walked about
aimlessly, and at length found myself in Regent Street. There I met my
father, looking more worried than usual.

'Do you think, Phil,' he said (my name is Theophilus), 'you could get
two or three pounds from your employers?'

Maintaining a discreet silence regarding what had passed, I answered:

'No doubt I could.'

I shall be glad if you will then, my boy,' he went on, for we are
badly in want of it.'

I did not ask him what was the special trouble. Where would have been
the use? There was always something--gas, or water, or poor-rates, or
the butcher, or the baker, or the bootmaker.

Well, it did not much matter, for we were well accustomed to the life;
but, I thought, 'if ever I marry, we will keep within our means'. And
then there rose up before me a vision of Patty, my cousin--the
blithest, prettiest, most useful, most sensible girl that ever made
sunshine in poor man's house.

My father and I had parted by this time, and I was still walking
aimlessly on, when all at once an idea occurred to me. Mr Fryer had
not treated me well or fairly. I would hoist him on his own petard. I
would go to headquarters, and try to make terms with Mr Carrison
direct.

No sooner thought than done. I hailed a passing omnibus, and was ere
long in the heart of the city. Like other great men, Mr Carrison was
difficult of access--indeed, so difficult of access, that the clerk to
whom I applied for an audience told me plainly I could not see him at
all. I might send in my message if I liked, he was good enough to add,
and no doubt it would be attended to. I said I should not send in a
message, and was then asked what I would do. My answer was simple. I
meant to wait till I did see him. I was told they could not have
people waiting about the office in this way.

I said I supposed I might stay in the street. 'Carrison didn't own
that,' I suggested.

The clerk advised me not to try that game, or I might get locked up.

I said I would take my chance of it.

After that we went on arguing the question at some length, and we were
in the middle of a heated argument, in which several of Carrison's
'young gentlemen', as they called themselves, were good enough to
join, when we were all suddenly silenced by a grave-looking
individual, who authoritatively enquired:

'What is all this noise about?'

Before anyone could answer I spoke up:

'I want to see Mr Carrison, and they won't let me.'

'What do you want with Mr Garrison?'

'I will tell that to himself only.'

'Very well, say on--I am Mr Garrison.'

For a moment I felt abashed and almost ashamed of my persistency; next
instant, however, what Mr Fryer would have called my 'native audacity'
came to the rescue, and I said, drawing a step or two nearer to him,
and taking off my hat:

'I wanted to speak to you about Ladlow hall, if you please, sir.'

In an instant the fashion of his face changed, a look of irritation
succeeded to that of immobility; an angry contraction of the eyebrows
disfigured the expression of his countenance.

'Ladlow Hall!' he repeated; 'and what have you got to say about Ladlow
Hall?'

'That is what I wanted to tell you, sir,' I answered, and a dead hush
seemed to fall on the office as I spoke.

The silence seemed to attract his attention, for he looked sternly at
the clerks, who were not using a pen or moving a finger.

'Come this way, then,' he said abruptly; and next minute I was in his
private office.

'Now, what is it?' he asked, flinging himself into a chair, and
addressing me, who stood hat in hand beside the great table in the
middle of the room.

I began--I will say he was a patient listener--at the very beginning,
and told my story straight trough. I concealed nothing. I enlarged on
nothing. A discharged clerk I stood before him, and in the capacity of
a discharged clerk I said what I had to say. He heard me to the end,
then he sat silent, thinking.

At last he spoke.

'You have heard a great deal of conversation about Ladlow, I suppose?'
he remarked.

'No sir; I have heard nothing except what I have told you.'

'And why do you desire to strive to solve such a mystery?'

'If there is any money to be made, I should like to make it, sir.'

'How old are you?'

'Two-and-twenty last January.'

'And how much salary had you at Frimpton's?'

'Twenty pounds a year.'

'Humph! More than you are worth, I should say.'

'Mr Fryer seemed to imagine so, sir, at any rate,' I agreed,
sorrowfully.

'But what do you think?' he asked, smiling in spite of himself.

'I think I did quite as much work as the other clerks,' I answered.

'That is not saying much, perhaps,' he observed. I was of his opinion,
but I held my peace.

'You will never make much of a clerk, I am afraid,' Mr Garrison
proceeded, fitting his disparaging remarks upon me as he might on a
lay figure. 'You don't like desk work?'

'Not much, sir.'

'I should judge the best thing you could do would be to emigrate,' he
went on, eyeing me critically.

'Mr Fryer said I had better go to Australia or--' I stopped,
remembering the alternative that gentleman had presented.

'Or where?' asked Mr Carrison.

'The---, sir' I explained, softly and apologetically.

He laughed--he lay back in his chair and laughed--and I laughed
myself, though ruefully.

After all, twenty pounds was twenty pounds, though I had not thought
much of the salary till I lost it.

We went on talking for a long time after that; he asked me all about
my father and my early life, and how we lived, and where we lived, and
the people we knew; and, in fact, put more questions than I can well
remember.

'It seems a crazy thing to do,' he said at last; 'and yet I feel
disposed to trust you. The house is standing perfectly empty. I can't
live in it, and I can't get rid of it; all my own furniture I have
removed, and there is nothing in the place except a few old-fashioned
articles belonging to Lord Ladlow. The place is a loss to me. It is of
no use trying to let it, and thus, in fact, matters are at a deadlock.
You won't be able to find out anything, I know, because, of course,
others have tried to solve the mystery ere now; still, if you like to
try you may. I will make this bargain with you.

If you like to go down, I will pay your reasonable expenses for a
fortnight; and if you do any good for mc, I will give you a ten-pound
note for yourself. Of course I must be satisfied that what you have
told me is true and tat you are what you represent. Do you know
anybody in the city who would speak for you?'

I could think of no one but my uncle. I hinted to Mr Carrison he was
not grand enough or rich enough, perhaps, but I knew nobody else to
whom I could refer him.

'What!' he said, 'Robert Dorland, of Cullum Street. He does business
with us. If he will go bail for your good behaviour I shan't want any
further guarantee. Come along.' And to my intense amazement, he rose,
put on his hat, walked me across the outer office and along the
pavements till we came to Cullum Street.

'Do you know this youth, Mr Dorland?' he said, standing in front of my
uncle's desk, and laying a hand on my shoulder.

'Of course I do, Mr Carrison,' answered my uncle, a little
apprehensively; for, as he told me afterwards, he could not imagine
what mischief I had been up to. 'He is my nephew.'

'And what is your opinion of him--do you think he is a young fellow I
may safely trust?'

My uncle smiled, and answered, 'That depends on what you wish to trust
him with.'

'A long column of addition, for instance.'

'It would be safer to give that task to somebody else.'

'Oh, uncle!' I remonstrated; for I had really striven to conquer my
natural antipathy to figures--worked hard, and every bit of it against
the collar.

My uncle got off his stool, and said, standing with his back to the
empty fire-grate: 'Tell me what you wish the boy to do, Mr Carrison,
and I will tell you whether he will suit your purpose or not. I know
him, I believe, better than he knows himself.'

In an easy, affable way, for so rich a man, Mr Carrison took
possession of the vacant stool, and nursing his right leg over his
left knee, answered:

'He wants to go and shut the open door at Ladlow for mc. Do you think
he can do that?'

My uncle looked steadily back at the speaker, and said, 'I thought, Mr
Carrison, it was quite settled no one could shut it?'

Mr Carrison shifted a little uneasily on his scat, and replied: I did
not set your nephew the task he fancies he would like to undertake.'

'Have nothing to do with it, Phil,' advised my uncle, shortly.

'You don't believe in ghosts, do you, Mr Dorland?' asked Mr Carrison,
with a slight sneer.

'Don't you, Mr Carrison?' retorted my uncle.

There was a pause--an uncomfortable pause--during the course of which
I felt the ten pounds, which, in imagination, I had really spent,
trembling in the scale. I was not afraid. For ten pounds, or half the
money, I would have faced all the inhabitants of spirit land. I longed
to tell them so; but something in the way those two men looked at each
other stayed my tongue.

'If you ask me the question here in the heart of the city, Mr
Dorland,' said Mr Carrison, at length, slowly and carefully, 'I answer
"No"; but it you were to put it to me on a dark night at Ladlow, I
should beg time to consider. I do not believe in supernatural
phenomena myself, and yet--the door at Ladlow is as much beyond my
comprehension as the ebbing and flowing of the sea.'

'And you can't Live at Ladlow?' remarked my uncle.

'I can't live at Ladlow, and what is more, I can't get anyone else to
live at Ladlow.'

'And you want to get rid of your lease?'

'I want so much to get rid of my lease that I told Fryer I would give
him a handsome sum if he could induce anyone to solve the mystery. Is
there any other information you desire, Mr Dorland? Because if here
is, you have only to ask and have. I feel I am not here in a prosaic
office in the city of London, but in the Palace of Truth.'

My uncle took no notice of the implied compliment. When wine is good
it needs no bush. If a man is habitually honest in his speech and in
his thoughts, he desires no recognition of the fact.

'I don't think so,' he answered; 'it is for the boy to say what he
will do. If he be advised by me he will stick to his ordinary work in
his employers' office, and leave ghost-hunting and spirit-laying
alone.'

Mr Carrison shot a rapid glance in my direction, a glance which,
implying a secret understanding, might have influenced my uncle could
I have stooped to deceive my uncle.

'I can't stick to my work there any longer,' I said. 'I got my
marching orders today.'

'What had you been doing, Phil?' asked my uncle.

'I wanted ten pounds to go and lay the ghost!' I answered, so
dejectedly, that both Mr Carrison and my uncle broke out laughing.

'Ten pounds!' cried my uncle, almost between laughing and crying.
'Why, Phil boy, I had rather, poor man though I am, have given thee
ten pounds than that thou should'st go ghost-hunting or ghostlaying.'

When he was very much in earnest my uncle went back to thee and thou
of his native dialect. I liked the vulgarism, as my mother called it,
and I knew my aunt loved to hear him use the caressing words to her.
He had risen, not quite from the ranks it is true, but if ever a
gentleman came ready born into the world it was Robert Dorland, upon
whom at our home everyone seemed to look down.

'What will you do, Edlyd?' asked Mr Carrison; 'you hear what your
uncle says, "Give up the enterprise," and what I say; I do not want
either to bribe or force your inclinations.'

'I will go, sir,' I answered quite steadily. I am not afraid, and I
should like to show you--' I stopped. I had been going to say, 'I
should like to show you I am not such a fool as you all take me for',
but I felt such an address would be too familiar, and refrained.

Mr Carrison looked at me curiously. I think he supplied the end of the
sentence for himself, but he only answered:

'I should like you to show me that door fast shut; at any rate, if you
can stay in the place alone for a fortnight, you shall have your
money.'

'I don't like it, Phil,' said my uncle: 'I don't like this freak at
all.'

'I am sorry for that, uncle,' I answered, 'for I mean to go.

'When?' asked Mr Carrison.

'Tomorrow morning,' I replied.

'Give him five pounds, Dorland, please, and I will send you my cheque.
You will account to me for that sum, you understand,' added Mr
Garrison, turning to where I stood.

'A sovereign will be quite enough,' I said.

'You will take five pounds, and account to me for it,' repeated Mr
Carrison, firmly; 'also, you will write to me every day, to my private
address, and if at any moment you feel the thing too much for you,
throw it up. Good afternoon,' and without more formal leavetaking he
departed.

'It is of no use talking to you, Phil, I suppose?' said my uncle.

'I don't think it is,' I replied; 'you won't say anything to them at
home, will you?'

'I am not very likely to meet any of them, am I?' he answered, without
a shade of bitterness---merely stating a fact.

'I suppose I shall not see you again before I start,' I said, 'so I
will bid you goodbye now.

'Goodbye, my lad; I wish I could see you a bit wiser and steadier.'

I did not answer him; my heart was very full, and my eyes too. I had
tried, but office-work was not in me, and I felt it was just as vain
to ask me to sit on a stool and pore over writing and figures as to
think a person born destitute of musical ability could compose an
opera.

Of course I went straight to Patty; though we were not then married,
though sometimes it seemed to me as if we never should be married, she
was my better half then as she is my better half now.

She did not throw cold water on the project; she did not discourage
me. What she said, with her dear face aglow with excitement, was, 'I
only wish, Phil, I was going with you.' Heaven knows, so did I.

Next morning I was up before the milkman. I had told my people
overnight I should be going out of town on business. Patty and I
settled the whole plan in detail. I was to breakfast and dress there,
for I meant to go down to Ladlow in my volunteer garments. That was a
subject upon which my poor father and I never could agree; he called
volunteering child's play, and other things equally hard to bear;
whilst my brother, a very carpet warrior to my mind, was never weary
of ridiculing the force, and chaffing me for imagining I was 'a
soldier'.

Patty and I had talked matters over, and settled, as I have said, that
I should dress at her father's.

A young fellow I knew had won a revolver at a raffle, and willingly
lent it to me. With that and my rifle I felt I could conquer an army.

It was a lovely afternoon when I found myself walking through leafy
lanes in the heart of Meadowshire. With every vein of my heart I loved
the country, and the country was looking its best just then: grass
ripe for the mower, grain forming in the ear, rippling streams, dreamy
rivers, old orchards, quaint cottages.

'Oh that I had never to go back to London,' I thought, for I am one of
the few people left on earth who love the country and hate cities. I
walked on, I walked a long way, and being uncertain as to my road,
asked a gentleman who was slowly riding a powerful roan horse under
arching trees--a gentleman accompanied by a young lady mounted on a
stiff white pony--my way to Ladlow Hall.

'That is Ladlow Hall,' he answered, pointing with his whip over the
fence to my left hand. I thanked him and was going on, when he said:

'No one is living there now.'

'I am aware of that,' I answered.

He did not say anything more, only courteously bade me good-day, and
rode off. The young lady inclined her head in acknowledgement of my
uplifted cap, and smiled kindly. Altogether I felt pleased, little
things always did please me. It was a good beginning--half-way to a
good ending!

When I got to the Lodge I showed Mr Garrison's letter to the woman,
and received the key.

'You are not going to stop up at the Hall alone, are you, sir?' she
asked.

'Yes, I am,' I answered, uncompromisingly, so uncompromisingly that
she said no more.

The avenue led straight to the house; it was uphill all the way, and
bordered by rows of the most magnificent limes I ever beheld. A light
iron fence divided the avenue from the park, and between the trunks of
the trees I could see the deer browsing and cattle grazing. Ever and
anon there came likewise to my ear the sound of a sheep-bell.

It was a long avenue, but at length I stood in front of the Hall--a
square, solid-looking, old-fashioned house, three stories high, with
no basement; a flight of steps up to the principal entrance; four
windows to the right of the door, four windows to the left; the whole
building flanked and backed with trees; all the blinds pulled down, a
dead silence brooding over the place: the sun westering behind the
great trees studding the park. I took all this in as I approached, and
afterwards as I stood for a moment under the ample porch; then,
remembering the business which had brought me so far, I fitted the
great key in the lock, turned the handle, and entered Ladlow Hall.

For a minute--stepping out of the bright sunlight--the place looked to
me so dark that I could scarcely distinguish the objects by which I
was surrounded; but my eyes soon grew accustomed to the comparative
darkness, and I found I was in an immense hall, lighted from the roof,
a magnificent old oak staircase conducted to the upper rooms.

The floor was of black and white marble. There were two fireplaces,
fitted with dogs for burning wood; around the walls hung pictures,
antlers, and horns, and in odd niches and corners stood groups of
statues, and the figures of men in complete suits of armour.

To look at the place outside, no one would have expected to find such
a hall. I stood lost in amazement and admiration, and then I began to
glance more particularly around.

Mr Garrison had not given me any instructions by which to identify the
ghostly chamber---which I concluded would most probably be found on
the first floor.

I knew nothing of the story connected with it--if there were a story.
On that point I had left London as badly provided with mental as with
actual luggage--worse provided, indeed, for a hamper, packed by Patty,
and a small bag were coming over from the station; but regarding the
mystery I was perfectly unencumbered. I had not the faintest idea in
which apartment it resided.

Well, I should discover that, no doubt, for myself ere long.

I looked around me--doors--doors--doors I had never before seen so
many doors together all at once. Two of them stood open--one wide, the
other slightly ajar.

'I'll just shut them as a beginning,' I thought, 'before I go
upstairs.'

The doors were of oak, heavy, well-fitting, furnished with good locks
and sound handles. After I had closed I tried them. Yes, they were
quite secure. I ascended the great staircase feeling curiously like an
intruder, paced the corridors, entered the many bed-chambers--some
quite bare of furniture, others containing articles of an ancient
fashion, and no doubt of considerable value--chairs, antique dressing-
tables, curious wardrobes, and such like. For the most part the doors
were closed, and I shut those that stood open before making my way
into the attics.

I was greatly delighted with the attics. The windows lighting them did
not, as a rule, overlook the front of the Hall, but commanded wide
views over wood, and valley, and meadow. Leaning out of one, I could
see, that to the right of the Hall the ground, thickly planted,
shelved down to a stream, which came out into the daylight a little
distance beyond the plantation, and meandered through the deer park.
At the back of the Hall the windows looked out on nothing save a dense
wood and a portion of the stable-yard, whilst on the side nearest the
point from whence I had come there were spreading gardens surrounded
by thick yew hedges, and kitchen-gardens protected by high walls; and
further on a farmyard, where I could perceive cows and oxen, and,
further still, luxuriant meadows, and fields glad with waving corn.

'What a beautiful place!' I said. 'Garrison must have been a duffer to
leave it.' And then I thought what a great ramshackle house it was for
anyone to be in all alone.

Getting heated with my long walk, I suppose, made me feel chilly, for
I shivered as I drew my head in from the last dormer window, and
prepared to go downstairs again.

In the attics, as in the other parts of the house I had as yet
explored, I closed the doors, when there were keys locking them; when
there were not, trying them, and in all cases, leaving them securely
fastened.

When I reached the ground floor the evening was drawing on apace, and
I felt that if I wanted to explore the whole house before dusk I must
hurry my proceedings.

'I'll take the kitchens next,' I decided, and so made my way to a
wilderness of domestic offices lying to the rear of the great hall.
Stone passages, great kitchens, an immense servants'-hall, larders,
pantries, coal-cellars, beer-cellars, laundries, brewhouses,
housekeeper's room--it was not of any use lingering over these
details. The mystery that troubled Mr Garrison could scarcely lodge
amongst cinders and empty bottles, and there did not seem much else
left in this part of the building.

I would go through the living-rooms, and then decide as to the
apartments I should occupy myself.

The evening shadows were drawing on apace, so I hurried back into the
hall, feeling it was a weird position to be there all alone with those
ghostly hollow figures of men in armour, and the statues on which the
moon's beams must fall so coldly. I would just look through the lower
apartments and then kindle a fire. I had seen quantities of wood in a
cupboard close at hand, and felt that beside a blazing hearth, and
after a good cup of tea, I should not feel the solitary sensation
which was oppressing me.

The sun had sunk below the horizon by this time, for to reach Ladlow I
had been obliged to travel by cross lines of railway, and wait besides
for such trains as condescended to carry third-class passengers; but
there was still light enough in the hail to see all objects
distinctly. With my own eyes I saw that one of the doors I had shut
with my own hands was standing wide!

I turned to the door on the other side of the hail. It was as I had
left it--closed. This, then, was the room--this with the open door For
a second I stood appalled; I think I was fairly frightened.

That did not last long, however. There lay the work I had desired to
undertake, the foe I had offered to fight; so without more ado I shut
the door and tried it.

'Now I will walk to the end of the hall and sec what happens,' I
considered. I did so. I walked to the foot of the grand staircase and
back again, and looked.

The door stood wide open.

I went into the room, after just a spasm of irresolution--went in and
pulled up the blinds: a good-sized room, twenty by twenty (I knew,
because I paced it afterwards), lighted by two long windows.

The floor, of polished oak, was partially covered with a Turkey
carpet. There were two recesses beside the fireplace, one fitted up as
a bookcase, the other with an old and elaborately caned cabinet. I was
astonished also to find a bedstead in an apartment so little retired
from the traffic of the house; and there were also some chairs of an
obsolete make, covered, so far as I could make out, with Faded
tapestry. Beside the bedstead, which stood against the wall opposite
to the door, I perceived another door. It was fast locked, the only
locked door I had as yet met with in the interior of the house. It was
a dreary, gloomy room: the dark panelled walls; the black, shining
floor; the windows high from the ground; the antique furniture; the
dull four-poster bedstead, with dingy velvet curtains; the gaping
chimney; the silk counterpane that looked like a pall.

'Any crime might have been committed in such a room,' I thought
pettishly; and then I looked at the door critically.

Someone had been at the trouble of fitting bolts upon it, for when I
passed out I not merely shut the door securely, but bolted it as well.

'I will go and get some wood, and then look at it again,' I
soliloquized. When I came back it stood wide open once more.

'Stay open, then!' I cried in a fury. 'I won't trouble myself any more
with you tonight!'

Almost as I spoke the words, there came a ring at the front door.
Echoing through the desolate house, the peal in the then state of my
nerves startled me beyond expression.

It was only the man who had agreed to bring over my traps. I bade him
lay them down in the ball, and, while looking out some small silver,
asked where the nearest post-office was to be found. Not far from the
park gates, he said; if I wanted any letter sent, he would drop it in
the box for me; the mail-cart picked up the bag at ten o'clock.

I had nothing ready to post then, and told him so. Perhaps the money I
gave was more than he expected, or perhaps the dreariness of my
position impressed him as it had impressed mc, for he paused with his
hand on the lock, and asked:

'Are you going to stop here all alone, master?'

'All alone,' I answercd, with such cheerfulness as was possible under
the circumstances.

'That's the room, you know,' he said, nodding in the direction of the
open door, and dropping his voice to a whisper.

'Yes, I know,' I replied.

'What you've been trying to shut it already, have you? Well, you are a
game one!' And with this complementary if not very respectful comment
he hastened out of the house. Evidently he had no intention of
proffering his services towards the solution of the mystery.

I cast one glance at the door--it stood wide open. Through the windows
I had left bare to the night, moonlight was beginning to stream cold
and silvery. Before I did aught else I felt I must write to Mr
Carrison and Patty, so straightway I hurried to one of the great
tables in the hall, and lighting a candle my thoughtful link girl had
provided, with many other things, sat down and dashed off the two
epistles.

Then down the long avenue, with its mysterious lights and shades, with
the moonbeams glinting here and there, playing at hide-and-seek round
the boles of the trees and through the tracery of quivering leaf and
stem, I walked as fast as if I were doing a match against time.

It was delicious, the scent of the summer odours, the smell of the
earth; if it had not been for the door I should have felt too happy.
As it was--'Look here, Phil,' I said, all of a sudden; 'life's not
child's play, as uncle truly remarks. That door is just the trouble
you have now to face, and you must face it! But for that door you
would never have been here. I hope you are not going to turn coward
the very first night. Courage!--that is your enemy--conquer it.'

'I will try,' my other self answered back. 'I can but try. I can but
fail.'

The post-office was at Ladlow Hollow, a little hamlet through which
the stream I had remarked dawdling on its way across the park flowed
swiftly, spanned by an ancient bridge.

As I stood by the door of the little shop, asking some questions of
the postmistress, the same gentleman I had met in the afternoon
mounted on his roan horse, passed on foot. He wished me goodnight as
he went by, and nodded familiarly to my companion, who curtseyed her
acknowledgements.

'His lordship ages fast,' she remarked, following the retreating
figure with her eyes.

'His lordship,' I repeated. 'Of whom are you speaking?'

'Of Lord Ladlow,' she said.

'Oh! I have never seen him,' I answered, puzzled.

'Why, that was Lord Ladlow!' she exclaimed.

You may be sure I had something to think about as I walked back to the
Hall--something beside the moonlight and the sweet night-scents, and
the rustle of beast and bird and leaf, that make silence seem more
eloquent than noise away down in the heart of the country.

Lord Ladlow! my word, I thought he was hundreds, thousands of miles
away; and here I find him--he walking in the opposite direction from
his own home--I an inmate of his desolate abode. Hi!--what was that? I
heard a noise in a shrubbery close at hand, and in an instant I was in
the thick of the underwood. Something shot out and darted into the
cover of the further plantation. I followed, but I could catch never a
glimpse of it. I did not know the lie of the ground sufficiently to
course with success, and I had at length to give up the hunt--heated,
baffled, and annoyed.

When I got into the house the moon's beams were streaming down upon
the hall; I could see every statue, every square of marble, every
piece of armour. For all the world it seemed to me like something in a
dream; but I was tired and sleepy, and decided I would not trouble
about fire or food, or the open door, till the next morning: I would
go to sleep.

With this intention I picked up some of my traps and carried them to a
room on the first floor I had selected as small and habitable. I went
down for the rest, and this time chanced to lay my hand on my rifle.

It was wet. I touched the floor--it was wet likewise.

I never felt anything like the thrill of delight which shot through
me. I had to deal with flesh and blood, and I would deal with it,
heaven helping me.

The next morning broke clear and bright. I was up with the lark--had
washed, dressed, breakfasted, explored the house before the postman
came with my letters.

One from Mr Carrison, one from Patty, and one from my uncle: I gave
the man half a crown, I was so delighted, and said I was afraid my
being at the Hall would cause him some additional trouble.

'No, sir,' he answered, profuse in his expressions of gratitude; 'I
pass here every morning on my way to her ladyship's.'

'Who is her ladyship?' I asked.

'The Dowager Lady Ladlow,' he answered--'the old lord's widow.'

'And where is her place?' I persisted.

'If you keep on through the shrubbery and across the waterfall, you
come to the house about a quarter of a mile further up the stream.'

He departed, after telling me there was only one post a day; and I
hurried back to the room in which I had breakfasted, carrying my
letters with me.

I opened Mr Carrison's first. The gist of it was, 'Spare no expense;
if you run short of money telegraph for it.'

I opened my uncle's next. He implored me to return; he had always
thought me hair-brained, but he felt a deep interest in and affection
for me, and thought he could get me a good berth if I would only try
to settle down and promise to stick to my work. The last was from
Patty. O Patty, God bless you! Such women, I fancy, the men who fight
best in battle, who stick last to a sinking ship, who are firm in
life's struggles, who are brave to resist temptation, must have known
and loved. I can't tell you more about the letter, except that it gave
me strength to go on to the end.

I spent the forenoon considering that door. I looked at it from within
and from without. I eyed it critically. I tried whether there was any
reason why it should fly open, and I found that so long as I remained
on the threshold it remained closed; if I walked even so far away as
the opposite side of the hall, it swung wide.

Do what I would, it burst from latch and bolt. I could not lock it
because there was no key.

Well, before two o'clock I confess I was baffled.

At two there came a visitor--none other than Lord Ladlow himself.
Sorely I wanted to take his horse round to the stables, but he would
not hear of it.

'Walk beside me across the park, if you will be so kind,' he said; 'I
want to speak to you.

We went together across the park, and before we parted I felt I could
have gone through fire and water for this simple-spoken nobleman.

'You must not stay here ignorant of the rumours which are afloat,' he
said. 'Of course, when I let the place to Mr Carrison I knew nothing
of the open door.'

'Did you not, sir?--my lord, I mean,' I stammered.

He smiled. 'Do not trouble yourself about my title, which, indeed,
carries a very empty state with it, but talk to me as you might to a
friend. I had no idea there was any ghost story connected with the
Hall, or I should have kept the place empty.'

I did not exactly know what to answer, so I remained silent.

'How did you chance to be sent here?' he asked, after a pause.

I told him. When the first shock was over, a lord did not seem very
different from anybody else. If an emperor had taken a morning canter
across the park, I might, supposing him equally affable, have spoken
as familiarly to him as to Lord Ladlow. My mother always said I
entirely lacked the bump of veneration! Beginning at the beginning, I
repeated the whole story, from Parton's remark about the sovereign to
Mr Carrison's conversation with my uncle. When I had left London
behind in the narrative, however, and arrived at the Hall, I became
somewhat more reticent. After all, it was his Hall people could not
live in--his door that would not keep shut; and it seemed to me these
were facts he might dislike being forced upon his attention.

But he would have it. What had I seen? What did I think of the matter?
Very honestly I told him I did not know what to say. The door
certainly would not remain shut, and there seemed no human agency to
account for its persistent opening; but then, on the other hand,
ghosts generally did not tamper with firearms, and my rifle, though
not loaded, had been tampered with--I was sure of that.

My companion listened attentively. 'You are not frightened, are you?'
he enquired at length.

'Not now,' I answered. 'The door did give me a start last evening, but
I am not afraid of that since I find someone else is afraid of a
bullet.'

He did not answer for a minute; then he said:

'The theory people have set up about the open door is this: As in that
room my uncle was murdered, they say the door will never remain shut
till the murderer is discovered.'

'Murdered!' I did not like the word at all; it made me feel chill and
uncomfortable.

'Yes--he was murdered sitting in his chair, and the assassin has never
been discovered. At first mans persons inclined to the belief that I
killed him; indeed, many are of that opinion still.'

'But you did not, sir--there is not a word of truth in that story, is
there?'

He laid his hand on my shoulder as he said:

'No, my lad; not a word. I loved the old man tenderly. Even when he
disinherited me for the sake of his young wife, I was sorry, but not
angry; and when he sent for me and assured me he had resolved to
repair that wrong, I tried to induce him to leave the lady a handsome
sum in addition to her jointure. "If you do not, people may think she
has not been the source of happiness you expected," I added.

"Thank you, Hal," he said. "You are a good fellow; we will talk
further about this tomorrow."

And then he bade me goodnight.

'Before morning broke--it was in the summer two years ago--the
household was aroused by a fearful scream. It was his death-cry. He
had been stabbed from behind in the neck. He was seated in his chair
writing--writing a letter to me. But for that I might have found it
harder to clear myself than was in the case; for his solicitors came
forward and said he had signed a will leaving all his personalty to
me--he was very rich--unconditionally, only three days previously.
That, of course, supplied the motive, as my lady's lawyer put it. She
was very vindictive, spared no expense in trying to prove my guilt,
and said openly she would never rest till she saw justice done, if it
cost her the whole of her fortune. The letter lying before the dead
man, over which blood had spurted, she declared must have been placed
on his table by me; but the coroner saw there was an animus in this,
for the few opening lines stated my uncle's desire to confide in me
his reasons for changing his will--reasons, he said, that involved his
honour, as they had destroyed his peace. "In the statement you will
find sealed up with my will in--" At that point he was dealt his
death-blow. The papers were never found, and the will was never
proved. My lady put in the former will, leaving her everything. Ill as
I could afford to go to law, I was obliged to dispute the matter, and
the lawyers are at it still, and very likely will continue at it for
years.

When I lost my good name, I lost my good health, and had to go abroad;
and while I was away Mr Carrison took the Hall. Till I returned, I
never heard a word about the open door. My solicitor said Mr Carrison
was behaving badly; but I think now I must see them or him, and
consider what can be done in the affair. As for yourself, it is of
vital importance to me that this mystery should be cleared up, and if
you are really not timid, stay on. I am too poor to make rash
promises, but you won't find me ungrateful.'

'Oh, my lord!' I cried--the address slipped quite easily and naturally
off my tongue--'I don't want any more money or anything, if I can only
show Patty's father I am good for something--'

'Who is Patty?' he asked.

He read the answer in my face, for he said no more.

'Should you like to have a good dog for company?' he enquired after a
pause.

I hesitated; then I said:

'No, thank you. I would rather watch and hunt for myself.'

And as I spoke, the remembrance of that 'something' in the shrubbery
recurred to me, and I told him I thought there had been someone about
the place the previous evening.

'Poachers,' he suggested; but I shook my head.

'A girl or a woman I imagine. However, I think a dog might hamper me.'

He went away, and I returned to the house. I never left it all day. I
did not go into the garden, or the stable-yard, or the shrubbery, or
anywhere; I devoted myself solely and exclusively to that door.

If I shut it once, I shut it a hundred times, and always with the same
result. Do what I would, it swung wide. Never, however, when I was
looking at it. So long as I could endure to remain, it stayed shut--
the instant I turned my back, it stood open.

About four o'clock I had another visitor; no other than Lord Ladlow's
daughter--the Honourable Beatrice, riding her funny little white pony.

She was a beautiful girl of fifteen or thereabouts, and she had the
sweetest smile you ever saw.

'Papa sent me with this,' she said; 'he would not trust any other
messenger,' and she put a piece of paper in my hand.

'Keep your food under lock and key; buy what you require yourself. Get
your water from the pump in the stable-yard. I am going from home; but
if you want anything, go or send to my daughter.'

'Any answer?' she asked, patting her pony's neck.

'Tell his lordship, if you please, I will "keep my powder dry"!' I
replied.

'You have made papa look so happy,' she said, still patting that
fortunate pony.

'If it is in my power, I will make him look happier still, Miss---'
and I hesitated, not knowing how to address her.

'Call me Beatrice,' she said, with an enchanting grace; then added,
slily, 'Papa promises me I shall be introduced to Patty ere long,' and
before I could recover from my astonishment, she had tightened the bit
and was turning across the park.

'One moment, please,' I cried. 'You can do something for me.'

'What is it?' and she came back, trotting over the great sweep in
front of the house.

'Lend me your pony for a minute.'

She was off before I could even offer to help her alight--off, and
gathering up her habit dexterously with one hand, led the docile old
sheep forward with the other.

I took the bridle--when I was with horses I felt amongst my own kind--
stroked the pony, pulled his ears, and let him thrust his nose into my
hand.

Miss Beatrice is a countess now, and a happy wife and mother; but I
sometimes see her, and the other night she took me carefully into a
conservatory and asked:

'Do you remember Toddy, Mr Edlyd?'

'Remember him!' I exclaimed; 'I can never forget him!'

'He is dead!' she told me, and there were tears in her beautiful eyes
as she spoke the words.

'Mr Edlyd, I loved Toddy!'

Well, I took Toddy up to the house, and under the third window to the
right hand. He was a docile creature, and let me stand on the saddle
while I looked into the only room in Ladlow Hall I had been unable to
enter.

It was perfectly bare of furniture, there was not a thing in it--not a
chair or table, not a picture on the walls, or ornament on the
chimney-piece.

'That is where my grand-uncle's valet slept,' said Miss Beatrice. 'It
was he who first ran in to help him the night he was murdered.'

'Where is the valet?' I asked.

'Dead,' she answered. 'The shock killed him. He loved his master more
than he loved himself.'

I had seen all I wished, so I jumped off the saddle, which I had
carefully dusted with a branch plucked from a lilac tree; between jest
and earnest pressed the hem of Miss Beatrice's habit to my lips as I
arranged its folds; saw her wave her hand as she went at a hand-gallop
across the park; and then turned back once again into the lonely
house, with the determination to solve the mystery attached to it or
die in the attempt.

Why, I cannot explain, but before I went to bed that night I drove a
gimlet I found in the stables hard into the floor, and said to the
door:

'Now I am keeping you open.'

When I went down in the morning the door was close shut, and the
handle of the gimlet, broken off short, lying in the hall.

I put my hand to wipe my forehead; it was dripping with perspiration.
I did not know what to make of the place at all! I went out into the
open air for a few minutes; when I returned the door again stood wide.

If I were to pursue in detail the days and nights that followed, I
should weary my readers. I can only say they changed my life. The
solitude, the solemnity, the mystery, produced an effect I do not
profess to understand, but that I cannot regret.

I have hesitated about writing of the end, but it must come, so let me
hasten to it.

Though feeling convinced that no human agency did or could keep the
door open, I was certain that some living person had means of access
to the house which I could not discover, This was made apparent in
trifles which might well have escaped unnoticed had several, or even
two people occupied the mansion, but that in my solitary position it
was impossible to overlook. A chair would be misplaced, for instance;
a path would be visible over a dusty floor; my papers I found were
moved; my clothes touched--letters I carried about with me, and kept
under my pillow at night; still, the fact remained that when I went to
the post-office, and while I was asleep, someone did wander over the
house. On Lord Ladlow's return I meant to ask him for some further
particulars of his uncle's death, and I was about to write to Mr
Carrison and beg permission to have the door where the valet had slept
broken open, when one morning, very early indeed, I spied a hairpin
lying close beside it.

What an idiot I had been! If I wanted to solve the mystery of the open
door, of course I must keep watch in the room itself. The door would
not stay wide unless there was a reason for it, and most certainly a
hairpin could not have got into the house without assistance.

I made up my mind what I should do--that I would go to the post early,
and take up my position about the hour I had hitherto started for
Ladlow Hollow. I felt on the eve of a discovery, and longed for the
day to pass, that the night might come.

It was a lovely morning; the weather had been exquisite during the
whole week, and I flung the hall-door wide to let in the sunshine and
the breeze. As I did so, I saw there was a basket on the top step--a
basket filled with rare and beautiful fruit and flowers.

Mr Carrison had let off the gardens attached to Ladlow Hall for the
season--he thought he might as well save something out of the fire, he
said, so my fare had not been varied with delicacies of that kind. I
was very fond of fruit in those days, and seeing a card addressed to
me, I instantly selected a tempting peach, and ate it a little
greedily perhaps.

I might say I had barely swallowed the last morsel, when Lord Ladlow's
caution recurred to me. The fruit had a curious flavour--there was a
strange taste hanging about my palate. For a moment, sky, trees and
park swam before my eyes; then I made up my mind what to do.

I smelt the fruit--it had all the same faint odour; then I put some in
my pocket--took the basket and locked it away--walked round to the
farmyard--asked for the loan of a horse that was generally driven in a
light cart, and in less than half an hour was asking in Ladlow to be
directed to a doctor.

Rather cross at being disturbed so early, he was at first inclined to
pooh-pooh my idea; but I made him cut open a pear and satisfy himself
the fruit had been tampered with.

'It is fortunate you stopped at the first peach,' he remarked, after
giving me a draught, and some medicine to take back, and advising me
to keep in the open air as much as possible. 'I should like to retain
this fruit and see you again tomorrow.'

We did not think then on how many morrows we should see each other!

Riding across to Ladlow, the postman had given me three letters, but I
did not read them till I was seated under a great tree in the park,
with a basin of milk and a piece of bread beside me.

Hitherto, there had been nothing exciting in my correspondence.
Patty's epistles were always delightful, but they could not be
regarded as sensational; and about Mr Carrison's there was a monotony
I had begun to find tedious. On this occasion, however, no fault could
be found on that score. The contents of his letter greatly surprised
me. He said Lord Ladlow had released him from his bargain--that I
could, therefore, leave the Hall at once. He enclosed me ten pounds,
and said he would consider how he could best advance my interests; and
that I had better call upon him at his private house when I returned
to London.

'I do not think I shall leave Ladlow yet awhile,' I considered, as I
replaced his letter in its envelope. 'Before I go I should like to
make it hot for whoever sent me that fruit; so unless Lord Ladlow
turns me out I'll stay a little longer.'

Lord Ladlow did not wish me to leave. The third letter was from him.

'I shall return home tomorrow night,' he wrote, 'and see you on
Wednesday. I have arranged satisfactorily with Mr Carrison, and as the
Hall is my own again, I mean to try to solve the mystery it contains
myself. If you choose to stop and help me to do so, you would confer a
favour, and I will try to make it worth your while.'

'I will keep watch tonight, and see if I cannot give you some news
tomorrow,' I thought. And then I opened Patty's letter--the best,
dearest, sweetest letter any postman in all the world could have
brought me.

If it had not been for what Lord Ladlow said about his sharing my
undertaking, I should not have chosen that night for my vigil. I felt
ill and languid--fancy, no doubt, to a great degree inducing these
sensations. I had lost energy in a most unaccountable manner. The
long, lonely days had told upon my spirits--the fidgety feeling which
took me a hundred times in the twelve hours to look upon the open
door, to close it, and to count how many steps I could take before it
opened again, had tried my mental strength as a perpetual blister
might have worn away my physical. In no sense was I fit for the task I
had set myself, and yet I determined to go through with it. Why had I
never before decided to watch in that mysterious chamber? Had I been
at the bottom of my heart afraid? In the bravest of us there are
depths of cowardice that lurk unsuspected till they engulf our
courage.

The day wore on--the long, dreary day; evening approached--the night
shadows closed over the Hall. The moon would not rise for a couple of
hours more. Everything was still as death. The house had never before
seemed to me so silent and so deserted.

I took a light, and went up to my accustomed room, moving about for a
time as though preparing for bed; then I extinguished the candle,
softly opened the door, turned the key, and put it in my pocket,
slipped softly downstairs, across the hail, through the open door.
Then I knew I had been afraid, for I felt a thrill of terror as in the
dark I stepped over the threshold. I paused and listened--there was
not a sound--the night was still and sultry, as though a storm were
brewing.

Not a leaf seemed moving--the very mice remained in their holes!
Noiselessly I made my way to the other side of the room. There was an
old-fashioned easy-chair between the bookshelves and the bed; I sat
down in it, shrouded by the heavy curtain.

The hours passed--were ever hours so long? The moon rose, came and
looked in at the windows, and then sailed away to the west; but not a
sound, no, not even the cry of a bird. I seemed to myself a mere
collection of nerves. Every part of my body appeared twitching. It was
agony to remain still; the desire to move became a form of torture.
Ah! a streak in the sky; morning at last, Heaven be praised! Had ever
anyone before so welcomed the dawn? A thrush began to sing--was there
ever heard such delightful music? It was the morning twilight, soon
the sun would rise; soon that awful vigil would be over, and yet I was
no nearer the mystery than before. Hush! what was that? It had come.
After the hours of watching and waiting; after the long night and the
long suspense, it came in a moment.

The locked door opened--so suddenly, so silently, that I had barely
time to draw back behind the curtain, before I saw a woman in the
room. She went straight across to the other door and closed it,
securing it as I saw with bolt and lock. Then just glancing around,
she made her way to the cabinet, and with a key she produced shot back
the wards. I did not stir, I scarcely breathed, and yet she seemed
uneasy. Whatever she wanted to do she evidently was in haste to
finish, for she took out the drawers one by one, and placed them on
the floor; then, as the light grew better, I saw her first kneel on
the floor, and peer into every aperture, and subsequently repeat the
same process, standing on a chair she drew forward for the purpose. A
slight, lithe woman, not a lady, clad all in black--not a bit of white
about her. What on earth could she want? In a moment it flashed upon
me--THE WILL AND THE LETTER! SHE IS SEARCHING FOR THEM.

I sprang from my concealment--I had her in my grasp; but she tore
herself out of my hands, fighting like a wild-cat: she hit, scratched,
kicked, shifting her body as though she had not a bone in it, and at
last slipped herself free, and ran wildly towards the door by which
she had entered.

If she reached it, she would escape me. I rushed across the room and
just caught her dress as she was on the threshold. My blood was up,
and I dragged her back: she had the strength of twenty devils, I
think, and struggled as surely no woman ever did before.

'I do not want to kill you,' I managed to say in gasps, 'but I will if
you do not keep quiet.'

'Bah!' she cried; and before I knew what she was doing she had the
revolver out of my pocket and fired.

She missed: the ball just glanced off my sleeve. I fell upon her--I
can use no other expression, for it had become a fight for life, and
no man can tell the ferocity there is in him till he is placed as I
was then--fell upon her, and seized the weapon. She would not let it
go, but I held her so tight she could not use it. She bit my face;
with her disengaged hand she tore my hair. She turned and twisted and
slipped about like a snake, but I did not feel pain or anything except
a deadly horror lest my strength should give out.

Could I hold out much longer? She made one desperate plunge, I felt
the grasp with which I held her slackening; she felt it too, and
seizing her advantage tore herself free, and at the same instant fired
again blindly, and again missed.

Suddenly there came a look of horror into her eyes--a frozen
expression of fear.

'See!' she cried; and flinging the revolver at me, fled.

I saw, as in a momentary flash, that the door I had beheld locked
stood wide--that there stood beside the table an awful figure, with
uplifted hand--and then I saw no more. I was struck at last; as she
threw the revolver at me she must have pulled the trigger, for I felt
something like red-hot iron enter my shoulder, and I could but rush
from the room before I fell senseless on the marble pavement of the
ball.

When the postman came that morning, finding no one stirring, be looked
through one of the long windows that flanked the door; then he ran to
the farmyard and called for help.

'There is something wrong inside,' be cried. 'That young gentleman is
lying on the floor in a pool of blood.'

As they rushed round to the front of the house they saw Lord Ladlow
riding up the avenue, and breathlessly told him what had happened.

'Smash in one of the windows,' be said; 'and go instantly for a
doctor.'

They laid me on the bed in that terrible room, and telegraphed for my
father. For long I hovered between life and death, but at length I
recovered sufficiently to be removed to the house Lord Ladlow owned on
the other side of the Hollow.

Before that time I had told him all I knew, and begged him to make
instant search for the will.

'Break up the cabinet if necessary,' I entreated, 'I am sure the
papers are there.'

And they were. His lordship got his own, and as to the scandal and the
crime, one was hushed up and the other remained unpunished. The
dowager and her maid went abroad the very morning I lay on the marble
pavement at Ladlow Hall--they never returned.

My lord made that one condition of his silence.

Not in Meadowshire, but in a fairer county still, I have a farm which
I manage, and make both ends meet comfortably.

Patty is the best wife any man ever possessed--and I--well, I am just
as happy if a trifle more serious than of old; but there are times
when a great horror of darkness seems to fall upon me, and at such
periods I cannot endure to be left alone.



THE OLD HOUSE IN VAUXHALL WALK


CHAPTER ONE

'Houseless--homeless--hopeless!'

Many a one who had before him trodden that same street must have
uttered the same words---the weary, the desolate, the hungry, the
forsaken, the waifs and strays of struggling humanity that are always
coming and going, cold, starving and miserable, over the pavements of
Lambeth Parish; but it is open to question whether they were ever
previously spoken with a more thorough conviction of their truth, or
with a feeling of keener self-pity, than by the young man who hurried
along Vauxhall Walk one rainy winter's night, with no overcoat on his
shoulders and no hat on his head.

A strange sentence for one-and-twenty to give expression to--and it
was stranger still to come from the lips of a person who looked like
and who was a gentleman. He did not appear either to have sunk very
far down in the good graces of Fortune. There was no sign or token
which would have induced a passer-by to imagine he had been worsted
after a long fight with calamity. His boots were not worn down at the
heels or broken at the toes, as many, many boots were which dragged
and shuffled and scraped along the pavement. His clothes were good and
fashionably cut, and innocent of the rents and patches and tatters
that slunk wretchedly by, crouched in doorways, and held out a hand
mutely appealing for charity. His face was not pinched with famine or
lined with wicked wrinkles, or brutalised by drink and debauchery, and
yet he said and thought he was hopeless, and almost in his young
despair spoke the words aloud.

It was a bad night to be about with such a feeling in one's heart. The
rain was cold, pitiless and increasing. A damp, keen wind blew down
the cross streets leading from the river. The fumes of the gas works
seemed to fall with the rain. The roadway was muddy; the pavement
greasy; the lamps burned dimly; and that dreary district of London
looked its very gloomiest and worst.

Certainly not an evening to be abroad without a home to go to, or a
sixpence in one's pocket, yet this was the position of the young
gentleman who, without a hat, strode along Vauxhall Walk, the rain
beating on his unprotected head.

Upon the houses, so large and good--once inhabited by well-to-do
citizens, now let out for the most part in floors to weekly tenants--
he looked enviously. He would have given much to have had a room, or
even part of one. He had been walking for a long time, ever since dark
in fact, bind dark falls soon in December. He was tired and cold and
hungry, and he saw no prospect save of pacing the streets all night.

As he passed one of the lamps, the light falling on his face revealed
handsome young features, a mobile, sensitive mouth, and that
particular formation of the eyebrows--not a frown exactly, but a
certain draw of the brows--often considered to bespeak genius, but
which more surely accompanies an impulsive organisation easily
pleased, easily depressed, capable of suffering very keenly or of
enjoying fully. In his short life he had not enjoyed much, and he had
suffered a good deal. That night, when he walked bareheaded through
the rain, affairs had come to a crisis.

So far as he in his despair felt able to see or reason, the best thing
he could do was to die. The world did not want him; he would be better
out of it.

The door of one of the houses stood open, and he could see in the
dimly lighted hall some few articles of furniture waiting to be
removed. A van stood beside the curb, and two men were lifting a table
into it as he, for a second, paused.

'Ah,' he thought, 'even those poor people have some place to go to,
some shelter provided, while I have not a roof to cover my head, or a
shilling to get a night's lodging.' And he went on fast, as if memory
were spurring him, so fast that a man running after had some trouble
to overtake him.

'Master Graham! Master Graham!' this man exclaimed, breathlessly;
arid, thus addressed, the young fellow stopped as if he had been shot.

'Who are you that know me?' he asked, facing round.

'I'm William; don't you remember William, Master Graham? And, Lord's
sake, sir, what are you doing out a night like this without your hat?'

'I forgot it,' was the answer; 'and I did not care to go back and
fetch it.'

'Then why don't you buy another, sir? You'll catch your death of cold;
and besides, you'll excuse me, sir, but it does look odd.'

'I know that,' said Master Graham grimly; 'but I haven't a halfpenny
in the world.'

'Have you and the master, then--' began the man, but there he
hesitated and stopped.

'Had a quarrel? Yes, and one that will last us our lives,' finished
the other, with a bitter laugh.

'And where are you going now?'

'Going! Nowhere, except to seek out the softest paving stone, or the
shelter of an arch.'

'You are joking, sir.'

'I don't feel much in a mood for jesting either.'

'Will you come back with me, Master Graham? We are just at the last of
our moving, but there is a spark of fire still in the grate, and it
would be better talking out of this rain. Will you come, sir?'

'Come! Of course I will come,' said the young fellow, and, turning,
they retraced their steps to the house he had looked into as he passed
along.

An old, old house, with long, wide hall, stairs low, easy of ascent,
with deep cornices to the ceilings, and oak floorings, and mahogany
doors, which still spoke mutely of the wealth and stability of the
original owner, who lived before the Tradescants and Ashmoles were
thought of, arid had been sleeping far hnger than they, in St Mary's
churchyard, hard by the archbishop's palace.

'Step upstairs, sir,' entreated the departing tenant; 'it's cold down
here, with the door standing wide.'

'Had you the whole house, then, William?' asked Graham Coulton, in
some surprise.

'The whole of it, and right sorry I, for one, am to leave it; but
nothing else would serve my wife. This room, sir,' and with a little
conscious pride, William, doing the honours of his late residence,
asked his guest into a spacious apartment occupying the full width of
the house on the first floor.

Tired though he was, the young man could not repress an exclamation of
astonishment.

'Why, we have nothing so large as this at home, William,' he said.

'It's a fine house,' answered William, raking the embers together as
he spoke and throwing some wood upon them; 'but, like many a good
family, it has come down in the world.'

There were four windows in the room, shuttered close; they had deep,
low seats, suggestive of pleasant days gone by; when, well-curtained
and well-cushioned, they formed snug retreats for the children, and
sometimes for adults also; there was no furniture left, unless an
oaken settle beside the hearth, and a large mirror let into the
panelling at the opposite end of the apartment, with a black marble
console table beneath it, could be so considered; but the very absence
of chairs and tables enabled the magnificent proportions of the
chamber to be seen to full advantage, and there was nothing to
distract the attention from the ornamented ceiling, the panelled
walls, the old-world chimney-piece so quaintly carved, and the
fireplace lined with tiles, each one of which contained a picture of
some scriptural or allegorical subject.

'Had you been staying on here, William,' said Coulton, flinging
himself wearily on the settle, 'I'd have asked you to let me stop
where I am for the night.'

'If you can make shift, sir, there is nothing as I am aware of to
prevent you stopping,' answered the man, fanning the wood into a
flame. 'I shan't take the key back to the landlord till tomorrow, and
this would be better for you than the cold streets at any rate.'

'Do you really mean what you say?' asked the other eagerly. 'I should
be thankful to lie here; I feel dead beat.'

'Then stay, Master Graham, and welcome. I'll fetch a basket of coals I
was going to put in the van, and make up a good fire, so that you can
warm yourself then I must run round to the other house for a minute or
two, but it's not far, and I'll be back as soon as ever I can.'

'Thank you, William; you were always good to me,' said the young man
gratefully. 'This is delightful,' and he stretched his numbed hands
over the blazing wood, and looked round the room with a satisfied
smile.

'I did not expect to get into such quarters,' he remarked, as his
friend in need reappeared, carrying a half-bushel basket full of
coals, with which he proceeded to make up a roaring fire. 'I am sure
the last thing I could have imagined was meeting with anyone I knew in
Vauxhall Walk.'

'Where were you coming from, Master Graham?' asked William curiously.

'From old Melfield's. I was at his school once, you know, and he has
now retired, and is living upon the proceeds of years of robbery in
Kennington Oval. I thought, perhaps he would lend me a pound, or offer
me a night's lodging, or even a glass of wine; but, oh dear, no. He
took the moral tone, and observed he could have nothing to say to a
son who defied his father's authority.

He gave me plenty of advice, but nothing else, and showed me out into
the rain with a bland courtesy, for which I could have struck him.'

William muttered something under his breath which was not a blessing,
and added aloud:

'You are better here, sir, I think, at any rate. I'll be back in less
than half an hour.'

Left to himself, young Coulton took off his coat, and shifting the
settle a little, hung it over the end to dry. With his handkerchief he
rubbed some of the wet out of his hair; then, perfectly exhausted, he
lay down before the fire and, pillowing his head on his arm, fell fast
asleep.

He was awakened nearly an hour afterwards by the sound of someone
gently stirring the fire and moving quietly about the room. Starting
into a sitting posture, he looked around him, bewildered for a moment,
and then, recognising his humble friend, said laughingly:

'I had lost myself; I could not imagine where I was.'

'I am sorry to see you here, sir,' was the reply; 'but still this is
better than being out of doors. It has come on a nasty night. I
brought a rug round with me that, perhaps, you would wrap yourself
in.'

'I wish, at the same time, you had brought me something to eat,' said
the young man, laughing.

'Are you hungry, then, sir?' asked William, in a tone of concern.

'Yes; I have had nothing to eat since breakfast. The governor and I
commenced rowing the minute we sat down to luncheon, and I rose and
left the table. But hunger does not signify; I am dry and warm, and
can forget the other matter in sleep.'

'And it's too late now to buy anything,' soliloquised the man; 'the
shops are all shut long ago.

Do you think, sir,' he added, brightening, 'you could manage some
bread and cheese?'

'Do I think--I should call it a perfect feast,' answered Graham
Coulton. 'But never mind about food tonight, William; you have had
trouble enough, and to spare, already.'

William's only answer was to dart to the door and run downstairs.
Presently he reappeared, carrying in one hand bread and cheese wrapped
up in paper, and in the other a pewter measure full of beer.

'It's the best I could do, sir,' he said apologetically. 'I had to beg
this from the landlady.'

'Here's to her good health!' exclaimed the young fellow gaily, taking
a long pull at the tankard. 'That tastes better than champagne in my
father's house.'

'Won't he be uneasy about you?' ventured William, who, having by this
time emptied the coals, was now seated on the inverted basket, looking
wistfully at the relish with which the son of the former master was
eating his bread and cheese.

'No,' was the decided answer. 'When he hears it pouring cats and dogs
he will only hope I am out in the deluge, and say a good drenching
will cool my pride.'

'I do not think you are right there,' remarked the man.

'But I am sure I am. My father always hated me, as he hated my
mother.'

'Begging your pardon, sir; he was over fond of your mother.'

'If you had heard what he said about her today, you might find reason
to alter your opinion. He told me I resembled her in mind as well as
body; that I was a coward, a simpleton, and a hypocrite.'

'He did not mean it, sir.'

'He did, every word. He does think I am a coward, because I--I--' And
the young fellow broke into a passion of hysterical tears.

'I don't half like leaving you here alone,' said William, glancing
round the room with a quick trouble in his eyes; 'but I have no place
fit to ask you to stop, and I am forced to go myself, because I am
night watchman, and must be on at twelve o'clock.'

'I shall be right enough,' was the answer. 'Only I mustn't talk any
more of my father. Tell me about yourself, William. How did you manage
to get such a big house, and why are you leaving it?'

'The landlord put me in charge, sir; and it was my wife's fancy not to
like it.'

'Why did she not like it?'

'She felt desolate alone with the children at night,' answered
William, turning away his head; then added, next minute: 'Now, sir, if
you think I can do no more for you, I had best be off.

Time's getting on. I'll look round tomorrow morning.'

'Good night,' said the young fellow, stretching out his hand, which
the other took as freely and frankly as it was offered. 'What should I
have done this evening if I had not chanced to meet you?'

'I don't think there is much chance in the world, Master Graham,' was
the quiet answer. 'I do hope you will rest well, and not be the worse
for your wetting.'

'No fear of that,' was the rejoinder, and the next minute the young
man found himself all alone in the Old House in Vauxhall Walk.



CHAPTER TWO


Lying on the settle, with the fire burnt out, and the room in total
darkness, Graham Coulton dreamed a curious dream. He thought he awoke
from deep slumber to find a log smouldering away upon the hearth, and
the mirror at the end of the apartment reflecting fitful gleams of
light.

He could not understand how it came to pass that, far away as he was
from the glass, he was able to see everything in it; but he resigned
himself to the difficulty without astonishment, as people generally do
in dreams.

Neither did he feel surprised when he beheld the outline of a female
figure seated beside the fire, engaged in picking something out of her
lap and dropping it with a despairing gesture.

He heard the mellow sound of gold, and knew she was lifting and
dropping sovereigns, lie turned a little so as to see the person
engaged in such a singular and meaningless manner, and found that,
where there had been no chair on the previous night, there was a chair
now, on which was seated an old, wrinkled hag, her clothes poor and
ragged, a mob cap barely covering her scant white hair, her cheeks
sunken, her nose hooked, her fingers more like talons than aught else
as they dived down into the heap of gold, portions of which they
lifted but to scatter mournfully.

'Oh! my lost life,' she moaned, in a voice of the bitterest anguish.
'Oh! my lost life--for one day, for one hour of it again!'

Out of the darkness--out of the corner of the room where the shadows
lay deepest--out from the gloom abiding near the door--out from the
dreary night, with their sodden feet and wet dripping from their
heads, came the old men and the young children, the worn women and the
weary hearts, whose misery that gold might have relieved, but whose
wretchedness it mocked.

Round that miser, who once sat gloating as she now sat lamenting, they
crowded--all those pale, sad shapes--the aged of days, the infant of
hours, the sobbing outcast, honest poverty, repentant vice; but one
low cry proceeded from those pale lips--a cry for help she might have
given, but which she withheld.

They closed about her, all together, as they had done singly in life;
they prayed, they sobbed, they entreated; with haggard eyes the figure
regarded the poor she had repulsed, the children against whose cry she
had closed her ears, the old people she had suffered to starve and die
for want of what would have been the merest trifle to her; then, with
a terrible scream, she raised her lean arms above her head, and sank
down--down--the gold scattering as it fell out of her lap, and rolling
along the floor, till its gleam was lost in the outer darkness beyond.

Then Graham Coulton awoke in good earnest, with the perspiration
oozing from every pore, with a fear and an agony upon him such as he
had never before felt in all his existence, and with the sound of the
heart-rending cry--'Oh! my lost life'--still ringing in his ears.

Mingled with all, too, there seemed to have been some lesson for him
which he had forgotten, that, try as he would, eluded his memory, and
which, in the very act of waking, glided away.

He lay for a little thinking about all this, and then, still heavy
with sleep, retraced his way into dreamland once more.

It was natural, perhaps, that, mingling with the strange fantasies
which follow in the train of night and darkness, the former vision
should recur, and the young man ere long found himself toiling through
scene after scene wherein the figure of the woman he had seen seated
beside a dying fire held principal place.

He saw her walking slowly across the floor munching a dry crust--she
who could have purchased all the luxuries wealth can command; on the
hearth, contemplating her, stood a man of commanding presence, dressed
in the fashion of long ago. In his eyes there was a dark look of
anger, on his lips a curling smile of disgust, and somehow, even in
his sleep, the dreamer understood it was the ancestor to the
descendant he beheld--that the house put to mean uses in which he lay
had never so far descended from its high estate, as the woman
possessed of so pitiful a soul, contaminated with the most despicable
and insidious vice poor humanity knows, for all other vices seem to
have connection with the flesh, but the greed of the miser eats into
the very soul.

Filthy of person, repulsive to look at, hard of heart as she was, he
yet beheld another phantom, which, coming into the room, met her
almost on the threshold, taking her by the hand, and pleading, as it
seemed, for assistance. He could not hear all that passed, but a word
now and then fell upon his ear. Some talk of former days; some mention
of a fair young mother--an appeal, as it seemed, to a time when they
were tiny brother and sister, and the accursed greed for gold had not
divided them. All in vain; the hag only answered him as she had
answered the children, and the young girls, and the old people in his
former vision. Her heart was as invulnerable to natural affection as
it had proved to human sympathy. He begged, as it appeared, for aid to
avert some bitter misfortune or terrible disgrace, and adamant might
have been found more yielding to his prayer. Then the figure standing
on the hearth changed to an angel, which folded its wings mournfully
over its face, and the man, with bowed head, slowly left the room.

Even as he did so the scene changed again; it was night once more, and
the miser wended her way upstairs. From below, Graham Coulton fancied
he watched her toiling wearily from step to step. She had aged
strangely since the previous scenes. She moved with difficulty; it
seemed the greatest exertion for her to creep from step to step, her
skinny hand traversing the balusters with slow and painful
deliberateness. Fascinated, the young man's eyes followed the progress
of that feeble, decrepit woman. She was solitary in a desolate house,
with a deeper blackness than the darkness of night waiting to engulf
her.

It seemed to Graham Coulton that after that he lay for a time in a
still, dreamless sleep, upon awaking from which he found himself
entering a chamber as sordid and unclean in its appointments as the
woman of his previous vision had been in her person. The poorest
labourer's wife would have gathered more comforts around her than that
room contained. A four-poster bedstead without hangings of any kind--a
blind drawn up awry--an old carpet covered with dust, and dirt on the
floor--a rickety washstand with all the paint worn off it--an ancient
mahogany dressing-table, and a cracked glass spotted all over--were
all the objects he could at first discern, looking at the room through
that dim light which oftentimes obtains in dreams.

By degrees, however, he perceived the outline of someone lying huddled
on the bed. Drawing nearer, he found it was that of the person whose
dreadful presence seemed to pervade the house.

What a terrible sight she looked, with her thin white locks scattered
over the pillow, with what were mere remnants of blankets gathered
about her shoulders, with her claw-like fingers clutching the clothes,
as though even in sleep she was guarding her gold!

An awful and a repulsive spectacle, but not with half the terror in it
of that which followed.

Even as the young man looked he heard stealthy footsteps on the
stairs. Then he saw first one man and then his fellow steal cautiously
into the room. Another second, and the pair stood beside the bed,
murder in their eyes.

Graham Coulton tried to shout--tried to move, but the deterrent power
which exists in dreams only tied his tongue and paralysed his limbs.
He could but hear and look, and what he heard and saw was this:
aroused suddenly from sleep, the woman started, only to receive a blow
from one of the ruffians, whose fellow followed his lead by plunging a
knife into her breast.

Then, with a gurgling scream, she fell back on the bed, and at the
same moment, with a cry, Graham Coulton again awoke, to thank heaven
it was but an illusion.



CHAPTER THREE


'I hope you slept well, sir.' It was William, who, coming into the
hall with the sunlight of a fine bright morning streaming after him,
asked this question: 'Had you a good night's rest?'

Graham Coulton laughed, and answered:

'Why, faith, I was somewhat in the case of Paddy, "who could not slape
for dhraming". I slept well enough, I suppose, but whether it was in
consequence of the row with my dad, or the hard bed, or the cheese--
most likely the bread and cheese so late at night--I dreamt all the
night long, the most extraordinary dreams. Some old woman kept
cropping up, and I saw her murdered.'

'You don't say that, sir?' said William nervously.

'I do, indeed,' was the reply. 'However, that is all gone and past. I
have been down in the kitchen and had a good wash, and I am as fresh
as a daisy, and as hungry as a hunter; and, oh, William, can you get
mc any breakfast?'

'Certainly, Master Graham. I have brought round a kettle, and I will
make the water boil immediately. I suppose, sir'--this tentatively--
'you'll be going home today?'

'Home!' repeated the young man. 'Decidedly not. I'll never go home
again till I return with some medal hung to my coat, or a leg or arm
cut off. I've thought it all out, William. I'll go and enlist. There's
a talk of war; and, living or dead, my father shall have reason to
retract his opinion about my being a coward.'

'I am sure the admiral never thought you anything of the sort, sir,'
said William. 'Why, you have the pluck of ten!'

'Not before him,' answered the young fellow sadly.

'You'll do nothing rash, Master Graham; you won't go 'listing, or
aught of that sort, in your anger?'

'If I do not, what is to become of me?' asked the other. 'I cannot
dig--to beg I am ashamed.

Why, but for you, I should not have had a roof over my head last
night.'

'Not much of a roof, I am afraid, sir.'

'Not much of a roof!' repeated the young man. 'Why, who could desire a
better? What a capital room this is,' he went on, looking around the
apartment, where William was now kindling a fire; 'one might dine
twenty people here easily!'

'If you think so well of the place, Master Graham, you might stay here
for a while, till you have made up your mind what you are going to do.
The landlord won't make any objection, I am very sure.'

'Oh! nonsense; he would want a long rent for a house like this.'

'I dare say; if he could get it,' was William's significant answer.

'What do you mean? Won't the place let?'

'No, sir. I did not tell you last night, but there was a murder done
here, and people are shy of the house ever since.'

'A murder! What sort of a murder? Who was murdered?'

'A woman, Master Graham--the landlord's sister; she lived here all
alone, and was supposed to have money. Whether she had or hot, she was
found dead from a stab in her breast, and if there ever was any money,
it must have been taken at the same time, for none ever was found in
the house from that day to this.'

'Was that the reason your wife would not stop here?' asked the young
man, leaning against the mantelshelf, and looking thoughtfully down on
William.

'Yes, sir. She could not stand it any longer; she got that thin and
nervous one would have believed it possible; she never saw anything,
but she said she heard footsteps and voices, and then when she walked
through the hall, or up the staircase, someone always seemed to be
following her. We put the children to sleep in that big room you had
last night, and they declared they often saw an old woman sitting by
the hearth. Nothing ever came my way, finished William, with a laugh;
'I was always ready to go to sleep the minute my head touched the
pillow.'

'Were not the murderers discovered?' asked Graham Coulton.

'No, sir; the landlord, Miss Tynan's brother, had always lain under
the suspicion of it--quite wrongfully, I am very sure--but he will
never clear himself now. It was known he came and asked her for help a
day or two before the murder, and it was also known he was able within
a week or two to weather whatever trouble had been harassing him.
Then, you see, the money was never found; and, altogether, people
scarce knew what to think.'

'Humph!' ejaculated Graham Coulton, and he took a few turns up and
down the apartment.

'Could I go and see this landlord?'

'Surely, sir, if you had a hat,' answered William, with such a serious
decorum that the young man burst out laughing.

'That is an obstacle, certainly,' he remarked, 'and I must make a note
do instead. I have a pencil in my pocket, so here goes.'

Within half an hour from the dispatch of that note William was back
again with a sovereign; the landlord's compliments, and he would be
much obliged if Mr Coulton could 'step round'.

'You'll do nothing rash, sir,' entreated William.

'Why, man,' answered the young fellow, 'one may as well be picked off
by a ghost as a bullet.

What is there to be afraid of?'

William only shook his head. He did not think his young master was
made of the stuff likely to remain alone in a haunted house and solve
the mystery it assuredly contained by dint of his own unassisted
endeavours. And yet when Graham Coulton came out of the landlord's
house he looked more bright and gay than usual, and walked up the
Lambeth road to the place where William awaited his return, humming an
air as he paced along.

'We have settled the matter,' he said. 'And now if the dad wants his
son for Christmas, it will trouble him to find him.'

'Don't say that, Master Graham, don't,' entreated the man, with a
shiver; 'maybe after all it would have been better if you had never
happened to chance upon Vauxhall Walk.'

'Don't croak, William,' answered the young man; 'if it was not the
best day's work I ever did for myself I'm a Dutchman.'

During the whole of that forenoon and afternoon, Graham Coulton
searched diligently for the missing treasurc Mr Tynan assured him had
never been discovered. Youth is confident and self-opinionated, and
this fresh explorer felt satisfied that, though others had failed, he
would be successful. On the second floor he found one door locked, but
he did not pay much attention to that at the moment, as he believed if
there was anything concealed it was more likely to be found in the
lower than the upper part of the house. Late into the evening he
pursued his researches in the kitchen and cellars and old-fashioned
cupboards, of which the basement had an abundance.

It was nearly eleven, when, engaged in poking about amongst the empty
bins of a wine cellar as large as a family vault, he suddenly felt a
rush of cold air at his back. Moving, his candle was instantly
extinguished, and in the very moment of being left in darkness he saw,
standing in the doorway, a woman, resembling her who had haunted his
dreams overnight.

He rushed with outstretched hands to seize her, but clutched only air.
He relit his candle, and closely examined the basement, shutting off
communication with the ground floor ere doing so.

All in vain. Not a trace could he find of living creature--not a
window was open--not a door unbolted.

'It is very odd,' he thought, as, after securely fastening the door at
the top of the staircase, he searched the whole upper portion of the
house, with the exception of the one room mentioned.

'I must get the key of that tomorrow,' he decided, standing gloomily
with his back to the fire and his eyes wandering about the drawing-
room, where he had once again taken up his abode.

Even as the thought passed through his mind, he saw standing in the
open doorway a woman with white dishevelled hair, clad in mean
garments, ragged and dirty. She lifted her hand and shook it at him
with a menacing gesture, and then, just as he was darting towards her,
a wonderful thing occurred.

From behind the great mirror there glided a second female figure, at
the sight of which the first turned and fled, littering piercing
shrieks as the other followed her from storey to storey.

Sick almost with terror, Graham Coulton watched the dreadful pair as
they fled upstairs past the locked room to the top of the house.

It was a few minutes before he recovered his self-possession. When he
did so, and searched the upper apartments, he found them totally
empty.

That night, ere lying down before the fire, he carefully locked and
bolted the drawing-room door; before he did more he drew the heavy
settle in front of it, so that if the lock were forced no entrance
could be effected without considerable noise.

For some time he lay awake, then dropped into a deep sleep, from which
he was awakened suddenly by a noise as if of something scuffling
stealthily behind the wainscot. He raised himself on his elbow and
listened, and, to his consternation, beheld seated at the opposite
side of the hearth the same woman he had seen before in his dreams,
lamenting over her gold.

The fire was not quite out, and at that moment shot up a last tongue
of flame. By the light, transient as it was, he saw that the figure
pressed a ghostly finger to its lips, and by the turn of its head and
the attitude of its body seemed to be listening.

He listened also--indeed, he was too much frightened to do aught else;
more and more distinct grew the sounds which had aroused him, a
stealthy rustling coming nearer and nearer--up and up it seemed,
behind the wainscot.

'It is rats,' thought the young man, though, indeed, his teeth were
almost chattering in his head with fear. But then in a moment ne saw
what disabused him of that idea--the gleam of a candle or lamp through
a crack in the panelling. He tried to rise, he strove to shout--all in
vain; and, sinking down, remembered nothing more till he awoke to find
the grey light of an early morning stealing through one of the
shutters he had left partially unclosed.

For hours after his breakfast, which he scarcely touched, long after
William had left him at mid-day, Graham Coulton, having in the morning
made a long and close survey of the house, sat thinking before the
fire, then, apparently having made up his mind, he put on the hat he
had bought, and went out.

When he returned the evening shadows were darkening down, but the
pavements were full of people going marketing, for it was Christmas
Eve, and all who had money to spend seemed bent on shopping.

It was terribly dreary inside the old house that night. Through the
deserted rooms Graham could feel that ghostly semblance was wandering
mournfully. When he turned his back he knew she was flitting from the
mirror to the fire, from the fire to the mirror; but he was not afraid
of her now--he was far more afraid of another matter he had taken in
hand that day.

The horror of the silent house grew and grew upon him. He could hear
the beating of his own heart in the dead quietude which reigned from
garret to cellar.

At last William came; but the young man said nothing to him of what
was in his mind. He talked to him cheerfully and hopefully enough--
wondered where his father would think he had got to, and hoped Mr
Tynan might send him some Christmas pudding. Then the man said it was
time for him to go, and, when Mr Coulton went downstairs to the hall-
door, remarked the key was not in it.

'No,' was the answer, 'I took it out today, to oil it.'

'It wanted oiling,' agreed William, 'for it worked terribly stiff.'
Having uttered which truism he departed.

Very slowly the young man retraced his way to the drawing-room, where
he only paused to lock the door on the outside; then taking off his
boots he went up to the top of the house, where, entering the front
attic, he waited patiently in darkness and in silence.

It was a long time, or at least it seemed long to him, before he heard
the same sound which had aroused him on the previous night--a stealthy
rustling--then a rush of cold air--then cautious footsteps--then the
quiet opening of a door below.

It did not take as long in action as it has required to tell. In a
moment the young man was out on the landing and had closed a portion
of the panelling on the wall which stood open; noiselessly he crept
back to the attic window, unlatched it, and sprung a rattle, the sound
of which echoed far and near through the deserted streets, then
rushing down the stairs, he encountered a man who, darting past him,
made for the landing above; but perceiving the way of escape closed,
fled down again, to find Graham struggling desperately with his
fellow.

'Give him the knife--come along,' he said savagely; and next instant
Graham felt something like a hot iron through his shoulder, and then
heard a thud, as one of the men, tripping in his rapid flight, fell
from the top of the stairs to the bottom.

At the same moment there came a crash, as if the house was falling,
and faint, sick, and bleeding, young Coulton lay insensible on the
threshold of the room where Miss Tynan had been murdered.

When he recovered he was in the dining-room, and a doctor was
examining his wound.

Near the door a policeman stiffly kept guard. The hall was full of
people; all the misery and vagabondism the streets contain at that
hour was crowding in to see what had happened.

Through the midst two men were being conveyed to the station-house;
one, with his head dreadfully injured, on a stretcher, the other
handcuffed, uttering frightful imprecations as he went.

After a time the house was cleared of the rabble, the police took
possession of it, and Mr Tynan was sent for.

'What was that dreadful noise?' asked Graham feebly, now seated on the
floor, with his back resting against the wall.

'I do not know. Was there a noise?' said Mr Tynan, humouring his
fancy, as he thought.

'Yes, in the drawing-room, I think; the key is in my pocket.'

Still humouring the wounded lad, Mr Tynan took the key and ran
upstairs.

When he unlocked the door, what a sight met his eyes! The mirror had
fallen--it was lying all over the floor shivered into a thousand
pieces; the console table had been borne down by its weight, and the
marble slab was shattered as well. But this was not what chained his
attention.

Hundreds, thousands of gold pieces were scattered about, and an
aperture behind the glass contained boxes filled with securities amid
deeds amid bonds, the possession of which had cost his sister her
life.

* * *

'Well, Graham, and what do you want?' asked Admiral Coulton that
evening as his eldest born appeared before him, looking somewhat pale
but otherwise unchanged.

'I want nothing,' was the answer, 'but to ask your forgiveness.
William has told me all the story I never knew before; and, if you let
me, I will try to make it up to you for the trouble you have had. I am
provided for,' went on the young fellow, with a nervous laugh; 'I have
made my fortune since I left you, and another man's fortune as well.'

'I think you are out of your senses,' said the Admiral shortly.

'No, sir, I have found them,' was the answer; 'and I mean to strive
and make a better thing of my life than I should ever have done had I
not gone to the Old House in Vauxhall Walk.'

'Vauxhall Walk! What is the lad talking about?'

'I will tell you, sir, if I may sit down,' was Graham Coulton's
answer, and then he told his story.



THE LAST OF SQUIRE ENNISMORE


"Did I see it myself? No, sir; I did not see it; and my father before
me did not see it; nor his father before him, and he was Phil Regan,
just the same as myself. But it is true, for all that; just as true as
that you are looking at the very place where the whole thing happened.
My great-grandfather (and he did not die till he was ninety-eight)
used to tell, many and many's the time, how he met the stranger, night
after night, walking lonesome-hike about the sands where most of the
wreckage came ashore."

"And the old house, then, stood behind that belt of Scotch firs?"

"Yes; and a fine house it was, too. Hearing so much talk about it when
a boy, my father said, made him often feel as if he knew every room in
the building, though it had all fallen to ruin before he was born.
None of the family ever lived in it after the squire went away. Nobody
else could be got to stop in the place. There used to be awful noises,
as if something was being pitched from the top of the great staircase
down in to the hall; and then there would be a sound as if a hundred
people were clinking glasses and talking all together at once. And
then it seemed as if barrels were rolling in the cellars; and there
would be screeches, and howls, and laughing, fit to make your blood
run cold. They say there is gold hid away in the cellars; but not one
has ever ventured to find it. The very children won't come here to
play; and when the men are plowing the field behind, nothing will make
them stay in it, once the day begins to change. When the night is
coming on, and the tide creeps in on the sand, more than one thinks he
has seen mighty queer things on the shore."

"But what is it really they think they see? When I asked my landlord
to tell me the story from beginning to end, he said he could not
remember it; and, at any rate, the whole rigmarole was nonsense, put
together to please strangers."

"And what is he but a stranger himself? And how should he know the
doings of real quality like the Ennismores? For they were gentry,
every one of them--good old stock; and as for wickedness, you might
have searched Ireland through and not found their match. It is a sure
thing, though, that if Riley can't tell you the story, I can; for, as
I said, my own people were in it, of a manner of speaking. So, if your
honour will rest yourself off your feet, on that bit of a bank, I'll
set down my creel and give you the whole pedigree of how Squire
Ennismore went away from Ardwinsagh."

It was a lovely day, in the early part of June; and, as the Englishman
cast himself on a low ridge of sand, he looked over Ardwinsagh Bay
with a feeling of ineffable content. To his left lay the Purple
Headland; to his right, a long range of breakers, that went straight
out into the Atlantic till they were lost from sight; in front lay the
Bay of Ardwinsagh, with its bluish-green water sparkling in the summer
sunlight, and here and there breaking over some sunken rock, against
which the waves spent themselves in foam.

"You see how the current's set, Sir? That is what makes it dangerous
for them as doesn't know the coast, to bathe here at any time, or walk
when the tide is flowing. Look how the sea is creeping in now, like a
race-horse at the finish. It leaves that tongue of sand bars to the
last, and then, before you could look round, it has you up to the
middle. That is why I made bold to speak to you; for it is not alone
on the account of Squire Ennismore the bay has a bad name. But it is
about him and the old house you want to hear. The last mortal being
that tried to live in it, my great-grandfather said, was a creature,
by name Molly Leary; and she had neither kith nor kin, and begged for
her bite and sup, sheltering herself at night in a turf cabin she had
built at the back of a ditch. You may be sure she thought herself a
made woman when the agent said, 'Yes: she might try if she could stop
in the house; there was peat and bog-wood,' he told her, 'and half-a--
crown a week for the winter, and a golden guinea once Easter came,'
when the house was to be put in order for the family; and his wife
gave Molly some warm clothes and a blanket or two; and she was well
set up.

"You may be sure she didn't choose the worst room to sleep in; and for
a while all went quiet, till one night she was wakened by feeling the
bedstead lifted by the four corners and shaken like a carpet. It was a
heavy four-post bedstead, with a solid top: and her life seemed to go
out of her with the fear. If it had been a ship in a storm off the
Headland, it couldn't have pitched worse and then, all of a sudden, it
was dropped with such a bang as nearly drove the heart into her mouth.

"But that, she said, was nothing to the screaming and laughing, and
hustling and rushing that filled the house. If a hundred people had
been running hard along the passages and tumbling downstairs, they
could not have made greater noise.

"Molly never was able to tell how she got clear of the place; but a
man coming late home from Ballycloyne Fair found the creature crouched
under the old thorn there, with very little on her---saving your
honour's presence. She had a bad fever, and talked about strange
things, and never was the same woman after."

"But what was the beginning of all this? When did the house first get
the name of being haunted?"

"After the old Squire went away: that was what I purposed telling you.
He did not come here to live regularly till he had got well on in
years. He was near seventy at the time I am talking about; but he held
himself as upright as ever, and rode as hard as the youngest; and
could have drunk a whole roomful under the table, and walked up to bed
as unconcerned as you please at the dead of the night.

"He was a terrible man. You couldn't lay your tongue to a wickedness
he had not been in the forefront of--drinking, duelling, gambling,--
all manner of sins had been meat and drink to him since he was a boy
almost. But at last he did something in London so bad, so beyond the
beyonds, that he thought he had best come home and live among people
who did not know so much about his goings on as the English. It was
said that he wanted to try and stay in this world for ever; and that
he had got some secret drops that kept him well and hearty. There was
something wonderful queer about him, anyhow.

"He could hold foot with the youngest; and he was strong, and had a
fine fresh colour in his face; and his eyes were like a hawk's; and
there was not a break in his voice--and him near upon threescore and
ten!

"At last and at long last it came to be the March before he was
seventy--the worst March ever known in all these parts--such blowing,
sheeting, snowing, had not been experienced in the memory of man; when
one blusterous night some foreign vessel went to bits on the Purple
Headland. They say it was an awful sound to hear the deathery that
went up high above the noise of the wind; and it was as bad a sight to
see the shore there strewed with corpses of all sorts and sizes, from
the little cabin-boy to the grizzled seaman.

"They never knew who they were or where they came from, but some of
the men had crosses, and beads, and such like, so the priest said they
belonged to him, and they were all buried deeply and decently in the
chapel graveyard.

"There was not much wreckage of value drifted on shore. Most of what
is lost about the Head stays there; but one thing did come into the
bay--a puncheon of brandy.

"The Squire claimed it; it was his right to have all that came on his
land, and he owned this sea-shore from the Head to the breakers---
every foot--so, in course, he had the brandy; and there was sore
illwill because he gave his men nothing, not even a glass of whiskey.

"Well, to make a long story short, that was the most wonderful liquor
anybody ever tasted. The gentry came from far and near to take share,
and it was cards and dice, and drinking and story-telling night after
night--week in, week out. Even on Sundays, God forgive them! The
officers would drive over from Ballyclone, and sit emptying tumbler
after tumbler till Monday morning came, for it made beautiful punch.

"But all at once people quit coming--a word went round that the liquor
was not all it ought to be. Nobody could say what ailed it, but it got
about that in some way men found it did not suit them.

"For one thing, they were losing money very fast.

"They could not make head against the Squire's luck, and a hint was
dropped the puncheon ought to have been towed out to sea, and sunk in
fifty fathoms of water.

"It was getting to the end of April, and fine, warm weather for the
time of year, when first one and then another, and then another still,
began to take notice of a stranger who walked the shore alone at
night. He was a dark man, the same colour as the drowned crew lying in
the chapel graveyard, and had rings in his ears, and wore a strange
kind of hat, and cut wonderful antics as he walked, and had an ambling
sort of gait, curious to look at. Many tried to talk to him, but he
only shook his head; so, as nobody could make out where he came from
or what he wanted, they made sure he was the spirit of some poor
wretch who was tossing about the Head, longing for a snug corner in
holy ground.

"The priest went and tried to get some sense out of him.

"'Is it Christian burial you're wanting?' asked his reverence; but the
creature only shook his head.

"'Is it word sent to the wives and daughters you've left orphans and
widows, you'd like?' But no; it wasn't that.

"'Is it for sin committed you're doomed to walk this way? Would masses
comfort ye? There's a heathen,' said his reverence; 'Did you ever hear
tell of a Christian that shook his head when masses were mentioned?'

"'Perhaps he doesn't understand English, Father,' says one of the
officers who was there; 'Try him with Latin.'

"No sooner said than done. The priest started off with such a string
of ayes and paters that the stranger fairly took to his heels and ran.

"'He is an evil spirit,' explained the priest, when he stopped, tired
out, 'and I have exorcised him.'"

"But next night my gentleman was back again, as unconcerned as ever."

'And he'll just have to stay,' said his reverence, 'For I've got
lumbago in the small of my back, and pains in all my joints--never to
speak of a hoarseness with standing there shouting; and I don't
believe he understood a sentence I said.'

"Well, this went on for a while, and people got that frightened of the
man, or appearance of a man, they would not go near the sand; till in
the end, Squire Ennismore, who had always scoffed at the talk, took it
into his head he would go down one night, and see into the rights of
the matter."

He, maybe, was feeling lonesome, because, as I told your honour
before, people had left off coming to the house, and there was nobody
for him to drink with.

"Out he goes, then, bold as brass; and there were a few followed him.
The man came forward at sight of the Squire and took off his hat with
a foreign flourish. Not to be behind in civility, the Squire lifted
his."

'I have come, sir,' he said, speaking very loud, to try to make him
understand, 'to know if you are looking for anything, and whether I
can assist you to find it.'

"The man looked at the Squire as if he had taken the greatest liking
to him, and took oft his hat again."

'Is it the vessel that was wrecked you are distressed about?'

"There came no answer, only a mournful shake of the head."

'Well, I haven't your ship, you know; it went all to bits months ago;
and, as for the sailors, they are snug and sound enough in consecrated
ground.'

"The man stood and looked at the Squire with a queer sort of smile on
his face."

"'What do you want?' asked Mr. Ennismore in a bit of a passion. 'If
anything belonging to you went down with the vessel, it's about the
Head you ought to be looking for it, not here---unless, indeed, its
after the brandy you're fretting!'"

"Now, the Squire had tried him in English and French, and was now
speaking a language you'd have thought nobody could understand; but,
faith, it seemed natural as kissing to the stranger."

"'Oh! That's where you are from, is it?' said the Squire. 'Why
couldn't you have told me so at once? I can't give you the brandy,
because it mostly is drunk; but come along, and you shall have as
stiff a glass of punch as ever crossed your lips.' And without more
to-do off they went, as sociable as you please, jabbering together in
some outlandish tongue that made moderate folks' jaws ache to hear
it."

"That was the first night they conversed together, but it wasn't the
last. The stranger must have been the height of good company, for the
Squire never tired of him. Every evening, regularly, he came up to the
house, always dressed the same, always smiling and polite, and then
the Squire called for brandy and hot water, and they drank and played
cards till cock-crow, talking and laughing into the small hours."

"This went on for weeks and weeks, nobody knowing where the man came
from, or where he went; only two things the old housekeeper did know--
that the puncheon was nearly empty, and that the Squire's flesh was
wasting off him; and she felt so uneasy she went to the priest, but he
could give her no manner of comfort."

"She got so concerned at last that she felt bound to listen at the
dining-room door; but they always talked in that foreign gibberish,
and whether it was blessing or cursing they were at she couldn't
tell."

"Well, the upshot of it came one night in July--on the eve of the
Squire's birthday--there wasn't a drop of spirit left in the
puncheon---no, not as much as would drown a fly. They had drunk the
whole lot clean up--and the old woman stood trembling, expecting every
minute to hear the bell ring for more brandy, for where was she to get
more if they wanted any?"

"All at once the Squire and the stranger came out into the hall. It
was a full moon, and light as day."

"'I'll go home with you to-night by way of a change,' says the
Squire."

"'Will you so?' asked the other."

"'That I will,' answered the Squire. "'It is your own choice, you
know.'"

"'Yes; it is my own choice; let us go.'"

"So they went. And the housekeeper ran up to the window on the great
staircase and watched the way they took. Her niece lived there as
housemaid, and she came and watched, too; and, after a while, the
butler as well. They all turned their faces this way, and looked after
their master walking beside the strange man along these very sands.
Well, they saw them walk on, and on, and on, and on, till the water
took them to their knees, and then to their waists, and then to their
arm-pits, and then to their throats and their heads; but long before
that the women and the butler were running out on the shore as fast as
they could, shouting for help."

"Well?" said the Englishman.

"Living or dead, Squire Ennismore never came back again. Next morning,
when the tides ebbed again, one walking over the sand saw the print of
a cloven foot--that he tracked to the water's edge. Then everybody
knew where the Squire had gone, and with whom."

"And no more search was made?"

"Where would have been the use searching?"

"Not much, I suppose. It's a strange story, anyhow."

"But true, your honour--every word of it."

"Oh! I have no doubt of that," was the satisfactory reply.



THE END



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