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Title: The Face of the Abbot
Author: L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0800251.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: March 2008
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Title: The Face of the Abbot
Author: L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace

(From The Strand magazine, December 1902.)


If Madame Sara had one prerogative more than another it was that of
taking people unawares. When least expected she would spring a mine at
your feet, engulf you in a most horrible danger, stab you in the dark, or
injure you through your best friend; in short, this dangerous woman was
likely to become the terror of London if steps were not soon taken to
place her in such confinement that her genius could no longer assert
itself.

Months went by after my last adventure. Once again my fears slumbered.
Madame Sara's was not the first name that I thought of when I awoke in
the morning, nor the last to visit my dreams at night. Absorbed in my
profession, I had little time to waste upon her. After all, I made up my
mind, she might have left London; she might have carried her
machinations, her cruelties, and her genius elsewhere.

That such was not the case this story quickly shows.

The matter which brought Madame Sara once again to the fore began in the
following way.

On the 17th of July, 1900, I received a letter; it ran as follows:--

"23, West Terrace,

"Charlton Road, Putney.

"DEAR MR. DRUCE,--I am in considerable difficulty and am writing to beg
for your advice. My father died a fortnight ago at his castle in
Portugal, leaving me his heiress. His brother-in-law, who lived there
with him, arrived in London yesterday and came to see me, bringing me
full details of my father's death. These are in the last degree
mysterious and terrifying. There are also a lot of business affairs to
arrange. I know little about business and should greatly value your
advice on the whole situation. Can you come here and see me to-morrow at
three o'clock? Senhor de Castro, my uncle, my mother's brother, will be
here, and I should like you to meet him. If you can come I shall be very
grateful.--Yours sincerely,

"HELEN SHERWOOD."

I replied to this letter by telegram:---

"Will be with you at three to-morrow."

Helen Sherwood was an old friend of mine; that is, I had known her since
she was a child. She was now about twenty-three years of age, and was
engaged to a certain Godfrey Despard, one of the best fellows I ever met.
Despard was employed in a merchant's office in Shanghai, and the chance
of immediate marriage was small. Nevertheless, the young people were
determined to be true to each other and to wait that turn in the tide
which comes to most people who watch for it.

Helen's life had been a sad one. Her mother, a Portuguese lady of good
family, had died at her birth; her father, Henry Sherwood, had gone to
Lisbon in 1860 as one of the Under-Secretaries to the Embassy and never
cared to return to England. After the death of his wife he had lived as
an eccentric recluse. When Helen was three years old he had sent her
home, and she had been brought up by a maiden aunt of her father's, who
had never understood the impulsive, eager girl, and had treated her with
a rare want of sympathy. This woman had died when her young charge was
sixteen years of age. She had left no money behind her, and, as her
father declined to devote one penny to his daughter's maintenance, Helen
had to face the world before her education was finished. But her
character was full of spirit and determination. She stayed on at school
as pupil teacher, and afterwards supported herself by her attainments.
She was a good linguist, a clever musician, and had one of the most
charming voices I ever heard in an amateur. When this story opens she was
earning a comfortable independence, and was even saving a little money
for that distant date when she would marry the man she loved.

Meanwhile Sherwood's career was an extraordinary one. He had an extreme
stroke of fortune in drawing the first prize of the Grand Christmas State
Lottery in Lisbon, amounting to one hundred and fifty million reis,
representing in English money thirty thousand pounds. With this sum he
bought an old castle in the Estrella Mountains, and, accompanied by his
wife's brother, a certain Petro de Castro, went there to live. He was
hated by his fellow-men and, with the exception of De Castro, he had no
friends. The old castle was said to be of extraordinary beauty, and was
known as Castello Mondego. It was situated some twenty miles beyond the
old Portuguese town of Coimbra. The historical accounts of the place were
full of interest, and its situation was marvellously romantic, being
built on the heights above the Mondego River. The castle dated from the
twelfth century, and had seen brave and violent deeds. It was supposed to
be haunted by an old monk who was said to have been murdered there, but
within living memory no one had seen him. At least, so Helen had informed
me.

Punctually at three o'clock on the following day I found myself at West
Terrace, and was shown into my young friend's pretty little sitting-room.

"How kind of you to come, Mr. Druce!" she said. "May I introduce you to
my uncle, Senhor de Castro?"

The Senhor, a fine-looking man, who spoke English remarkably well, bowed,
gave a gracious smile, and immediately entered into conversation. His
face had strong features; his beard was iron-grey, so also were his hair
and moustache. He was slightly bald about the temples. I imagined him to
be a man about forty-five years of age.

"Now," said Helen, after we had talked to each other for a few minutes,
"perhaps, Uncle Petro, you will explain to Mr. Druce what has happened."

As she spoke I noticed that her face was very pale and that her lips
slightly trembled.

"It is a painful story," said the Portuguese, "most horrible and
inexplicable."

I prepared myself to listen, and he continued:--

"For the last few months my dear friend had been troubled in his mind.
The reason appeared to me extraordinary. I knew that Sherwood was
eccentric, but he was also matter-of-fact, and I should have thought him
the last man who would be likely to be a prey to nervous terrors.
Nevertheless, such was the case. The old castle has the reputation of
being haunted, and the apparition that is supposed to trouble Mondego is
that of a ghastly white face that is now and then seen at night peering
out through some of the windows or one of the embrasures of the
battlements surrounding the courtyard. It is said to be the shade of an
abbot who was foully murdered there by a Castilian nobleman who owned the
castle a hundred years ago.

"It was late in April of this year when my brother-in-law first declared
that he saw the apparition. I shall never forget his terror. He came to
me in my room, woke me, and pointed out the embrasure where he had seen
it. He described it as a black figure leaning out of a window, with an
appallingly horrible white face, with wide-open eyes apparently staring
at nothing. I argued with him and tried to appeal to his common sense,
and did everything in my power to bring him to reason, but without avail.
His terror grew worse and worse. He could think and talk of nothing else,
and, to make matters worse, he collected all the old literature he could
find bearing on the legend. This he would read, and repeat the ghastly
information to me at meal times. I began to fear that his mind would
become affected, and three weeks ago I persuaded him to come away with me
for a change to Lisbon. He agreed, but the very night before we were to
leave I was awakened in the small hours by hearing an awful cry, followed
by another, and then the sound of my own name. I ran out into the
courtyard and looked up at the battlements. There I saw, to my horror, my
brother-in-law rushing along the edge, screaming as though in extreme
terror, and evidently imagining that he was pursued by something. The
next moment he dashed headlong down a hundred feet on to the flagstones
by my side, dying instantaneously. Now comes the most horrible part. As I
glanced up I saw, and I swear it with as much certainty as I am now
speaking to you, a black figure leaning out over the battlement exactly
at the spot from which he had fallen--a figure with a ghastly white face,
which stared straight down at me. The moon was full, and gave the face a
clearness that was unmistakable. It was large, round, and smooth, white
with a whiteness I had never seen on human face, with eyes widely open,
and a fixed stare; the face was rigid and tense; the mouth shut and drawn
at the corners. Fleeting as the glance was, for it vanished almost the
next moment, I shall never forget it. It is indelibly imprinted on my
memory."

He ceased speaking.

From my long and constant contact with men and their affairs, I knew at
once that what De Castro had just said instantly raised the whole matter
out of the commonplace; true or untrue, real or false, serious issues
were at stake.

"Who else was in the castle that night?" I asked

"No one," was his instant reply. "Not even old Gonsalves, our one
man-servant. He had gone to visit his people in the mountains about ten
miles off. We were absolutely alone."

"You know Mr. Sherwood's affairs pretty well?" I went on. "On the
supposition of trickery, could there be any motive that you know of for
anyone to play such a ghastly trick?"

"Absolutely none."

"You never saw the apparition before this occasion?"

"Never."

"And what were your next steps?"

"There was nothing to be done except to carry poor Sherwood indoors. He
was buried on the following day. I made every effort to have a systematic
inquiry set on foot, but the castle is in a remote spot and the
authorities are slow to move. The Portuguese doctor gave his sanction to
the burial after a formal inquiry. Deceased was testified as having
committed suicide while temporarily insane, but to investigate the
apparition they absolutely declined."

"And now," I said, "will you tell me what you can with regard to the
disposition of the property?"

"The will is a very remarkable one," replied De Castro. "Senhor Sousa, my
brother-in-law's lawyer, holds it. Sherwood died a much richer man than I
had any idea of. This was owing to some very successful speculations. The
real and personal estate amounts to seventy thousand pounds, but the
terms of the will are eccentric. Henry Sherwood's passionate affection
for the old castle was quite morbid, and the gist of the conditions of
the will is this: Helen is to live on the property, and if she does, and
as long as she does, she is to receive the full interest on forty
thousand pounds, which is now invested in good English securities.
Failing this condition, the property is to be sold, and the said forty
thousand pounds is to go to a Portuguese charity in Lisbon. I also have a
personal interest in the will. This I knew from Sherwood himself. He told
me that his firm intention was to retain the castle in the family for his
daughter, and for her son if she married. He earnestly begged of me to
promote his wishes in the event of his dying. I was not to leave a stone
unturned to persuade Helen to live at the castle, and in order to ensure
my carrying out his wishes he bequeathed to me the sum of ten thousand
pounds provided Helen lives at Castello Mondego. If she does not do so I
lose the money. Hence my presence here and my own personal anxiety to
clear up the mystery of my friend's death, and to see my niece installed
as owner of the most lovely and romantic property in the Peninsula. It
has, of course, been my duty to give a true account of the mystery
surrounding my unhappy brother-in-law's death, and I sincerely trust that
a solution to this terrible mystery will be found, and that Helen will
enter into her beautiful possessions with all confidence."

"The terms of the will are truly eccentric," I said. Then turning to
Helen I added:--

"Surely you can have no fear in living at Castello Mondego when it would
be the means of bringing about the desire of your heart?"

"Does that mean that you are engaged to be married, Helen?" asked De
Castro.

"It does," she replied. Then she turned to me. "I am only human, and a
woman. I could not live at Castello Mondego with this mystery
unexplained; but I am willing to take every step--yes, every step, to
find out the truth."

"Let me think over the case," I said, after a pause. "Perhaps I may be
able to devise some plan for clearing up this unaccountable matter. There
is no man in the whole of London better fitted to grapple with the
mystery than I, for it is, so to speak, my profession."

"You will please see in me your hearty collaborator, Mr. Druce," said
Senhor de Castro.

"When do you propose to return to Portugal?" I asked.

"As soon as I possibly can."

Where are you staying now?"

"At the Cecil."

He stood up as he spoke.

"I am sorry to have to run away," he said. "I promised to meet a friend,
a lady, in half an hour from now. She is a very busy woman, and I must
not keep her waiting."

His words were commonplace enough, but I noticed a queer change in his
face. His eyes grew full of eagerness, and yet--was it possible?--a
curious fear seemed also to fill them. He shook hands with Helen, bowed
to me, and hurriedly left the room.

"I wonder whom he is going to meet," she said, glancing out of the window
and watching his figure as he walked down the street. "He told me when he
first came that he had an interview pending of a very important
character. But, there, I must not keep you, Mr. Druce; you are also a
very busy man. Before you go, however, do tell me what you think of the
whole thing. I certainly cannot live at the castle while that ghastly
face is unexplained; but at the same time I do not wish to give up the
property."

"You shall live there, enjoy the property, and be happy," I answered. "I
will think over everything; I am certain we shall see a way out of the
mystery."

I wrung her hand and hurried away.

During the remainder of the evening this extraordinary case occupied my
thoughts to the exclusion of almost everything else. I made up my mind to
take it up, to set every inquiry on foot, and, above all things, to
ascertain if there was a physical reason for the apparition's appearance;
in short, if Mr. Sherwood's awful death was for the benefit of any living
person. But I must confess that, think as I would, I could not see the
slightest daylight until I remembered the curious expression of De
Castro's face when he spoke of his appointment with a lady. The man had
undoubtedly his weak point; he had his own private personal fear. What
was its nature?

I made a note of the circumstance and determined to speak to Vandeleur
about it when I had a chance.

The next morning one of the directors of our agency called. He and I had
a long talk over business matters, and when he was leaving he asked me
when I wished to take my holiday.

"If you like to go away for a fortnight or three weeks, now is your
time," was his final remark.

I answered without a moment's hesitation that I should wish to go to
Portugal, and would take advantage of the leave of absence which he
offered me.

Now, it had never occurred to me to think of visiting Portugal until that
moment; but so strongly did the idea now take possession of me that I
went at once to the Cecil and had an interview with De Castro. I told him
that I could not fulfil my promise to Miss Sherwood without being on the
spot, and I should therefore accompany him when he returned to Lisbon.
His face expressed genuine delight, and before we parted we arranged to
meet at Charing Cross on the morning after the morrow. I then hastened to
Putney to inform Helen Sherwood of my intention.

To my surprise I saw her busy placing different articles of her wardrobe
in a large trunk which occupied the place of honour in the centre of the
little sitting-room.

"What are you doing?" I cried.

She coloured.

"You must not scold me," she said. "There is only one thing to do, and I
made up my mind this morning to do it. The day after to-morrow I am going
to Lisbon. I mean to investigate the mystery for myself."

"You are a good, brave girl," I cried. "But listen, Helen; it is not
necessary."

I then told her that I had unexpectedly obtained a few weeks' holiday and
that I intended to devote the time to her service.

"Better and better," she cried. "I go with you. Nothing could have been
planned more advantageously for me."

"What put the idea into your head?" I asked.

"It isn't my own," she said. "I spent a dreadful night, and this morning,
soon after ten o'clock, I had an unexpected visitor. She is not a
stranger to me, although I have never mentioned her name. She is known as
Madame Sara, and is----"

"My dear Helen!" I cried. "You don't mean to tell me you know that woman?
She is one of the most unscrupulous in the whole of London. You must have
nothing to do with her--nothing whatever."

Helen opened her eyes to their widest extent.

"You misjudge Madame Sara," she said. "I have known her for the last few
years, and she has been a most kind friend to me. She has got me more
than one good post as teacher, and I have always felt a warm admiration
for her. She is, beyond doubt, the most unselfish woman I ever met."

I shook my head.

"You will not get me to alter my opinion of her," continued Helen. "Think
of her kindness in calling to see me to-day. She drove here this morning
just because she happened to see my uncle, Petro de Castro, yesterday.
She has known him, too, for some time. She had a talk with him about me,
and he told her all about the strange will. She was immensely interested,
and said that it was imperative for me to investigate the matter myself.
She spoke in the most sensible way, and said finally that she would not
leave me until I had promised to go to Portugal to visit the castle, and
in my own person to unearth the mystery. I promised her and felt she was
right. I am keeping my word."

When Helen had done speaking I remained silent. I could scarcely describe
the strange sensation which visited me. Was it possible that the fear
which I had seen so strongly depicted on De Castro's face was caused by
Madame Sara? Was the mystery in the old Portuguese castle also connected
with this terrible woman? If so, what dreadful revelations might not be
before us! Helen was not the first innocent girl who believed in Madame,
and not the first whose life was threatened.

"Why don't you speak, Mr. Druce?" she asked me at last. "What are you
thinking of?"

"I would rather not say what I am thinking of," I answered; "but I am
very glad of one thing, and that is that I am going with you."

"You are my kindest, best friend," she said; "and now I will tell you one
thing more. Madame said that the fact of your being one of the party put
all danger out of the case so far as I was concerned, for she knew you to
be the cleverest man she ever met."

"Ah!" I replied, slowly, "there is a cleverer man than I, and his name is
Eric Vandeleur. Did she happen to speak of him?"

"No. Who is he? I have never heard of him."

"I will tell you some day," I replied, "but not now."

I rose, bade her a hasty good-bye, and went straight to Vandeleur's
rooms.

Whatever happened, I had made up my mind to consult him in the matter. He
was out when I called, but I left a note, and he came round to my place
in the course of the evening.

In less than a quarter of an hour I put him in possession of all the
facts. He received my story in silence.

"Well!" I cried at last. "What do you think?"

"There is but one conclusion, Druce," was his reply. "There is a motive
in this mystery--method in this madness. Madame is mixed up in it. That
being the case, anything supernatural is out of the question. I am sorry
Miss Sherwood is going to Lisbon, but the fact that you are going too may
be her protection. Beyond doubt her life is in danger. Well, you must do
your best, and forewarned is forearmed. I should like to go with you, but
I cannot. Perhaps I may do more good here watching the arch-fiend who is
pulling the strings."

De Castro took the information quietly that his niece was about to
accompany us.

"Women are strange creatures," he said. "Who would suppose that a
delicate girl would subject herself to the nervous terrors she must
undergo in the castle? Well, let her come--it may be best, and my friend,
the lady about whom I spoke to you, recommended it."

"You mean Madame Sara?" I said.

"Ah!" he answered, with a start. "Do you know her?"

"Slightly," I replied, in a guarded tone. Then I turned the conversation.

Our journey took place without adventure, and when we got to Lisbon we
put up at Durrand's Hotel.

On the afternoon of that same day we went to interview Manuel Sousa, the
lawyer who had charge of Mr. Sherwood's affairs. His office was in the
Rue do Rio Janeiro. He was a short, bright-eyed little man, having every
appearance of honesty and ability. He received us affably and looked with
much interest at Helen Sherwood, whose calm, brave face and English
appearance impressed him favourably.

"So you have come all this long way, Senhora," he said, "to investigate
the mystery of your poor father's death? Be assured I will do everything
in my power to help you. And now you would all like to see the documents
and papers. Here they are at your service."

He opened a tin box and lifted out a pile of papers. Helen went up to one
of the windows.

"I don't understand Portuguese," she said. "You will examine them for me,
won't you, Uncle Petro, and you also, Mr. Druce?"

I had a sufficient knowledge of Portuguese to be able to read the will,
and I quickly discovered that De Castro's account of it was quite
correct.

"Is it your intention to go to Castello Mondego?" asked the lawyer, when
our interview was coming to an end.

"I can answer for myself that I intend to go," I replied.

"It will give me great pleasure to take Mr. Druce to that romantic spot,"
said De Castro.

"And I go with you," cried Helen.

"My dear, dear young lady," said the lawyer, a flicker of concern
crossing his bright eyes, "is that necessary? You will find the castle
very lonely and not prepared for the reception of a lady."

"Even so, I have come all this long way to visit it," replied Helen. "I
go with my friend, Mr. Druce, and with my uncle, and so far as I am
concerned the sooner we get there the better."

The lawyer held up his hands. "I wouldn't sleep in that place," he
exclaimed, "for twenty contos of reis."

"Then you really believe in the apparition?" I said. "You think it is
supernatural?"

He involuntarily crossed himself.

"The tale is an old one," he said. "It has been known for a hundred
years that the castle is haunted by a monk who was treacherously murdered
there. That is the reason, Miss Sherwood, why your father got it so
cheap."

"Supernatural or not, I must get to the bottom of the thing," she said,
in a low voice.

De Castro jumped up, an impatient expression crossing his face.

"If you don't want me for the present, Druce," he said. "I have some
business of my own that I wish to attend to."

He left the office, and Helen and I were about to follow him when Senhor
Sousa suddenly addressed me.

"By the way, Mr. Druce, I am given to understand that you are from the
Solvency Inquiry Agency of London. I know that great business well; I
presume, therefore, that matters of much interest depend upon this
inquiry?"

"The interests are great," I replied, "but are in no way connected with
my business. My motive in coming here is due to friendship. This young
lady is engaged to be married to a special friend of mine, and I have
known her personally from her childhood. If we can clear up the present
mystery, Helen Sherwood's marriage can take place at once. If, on the
other hand, that terror which hangs over Castello Mondego is so
overpowering that Miss Sherwood cannot make up her mind to live there, a
long separation awaits the young pair. I have answered your question,
Senhor Sousa; will you, on your part, answer mine?"

"Certainly," he replied. His face looked keenly interested, and from time
to time he glanced from Helen to me.

"Are you aware of the existence of any motive which would induce someone
to personate the apparition and so bring about Mr. Sherwood's death?"

"I know of no such motive, my dear sir. Senhor de Castro will come into
ten thousand pounds provided, and only provided, Miss Sherwood takes
possession of the property. He is the one and only person who benefits
under the will, except Miss Sherwood herself."

"We must, of course, exclude Senhor de Castro," I answered. "His conduct
has been most honourable in the matter throughout; he might have been
tempted to suppress the story of the ghost, which would have been to his
obvious advantage. Is there no one else whom you can possibly suspect?"

"No one--absolutely no one."

"Very well; my course is clear. I have come here to get an explanation of
the mystery. When it is explained Miss Sherwood will take possession of
the castle."

"And should you fail, sir? Ghosts have a way of suppressing themselves
when most earnestly desired to put in an appearance."

"I don't anticipate failure, Senhor Sousa, and I mean to go to the castle
immediately."

"We are a superstitious race," he replied, "and I would not go there for
any money you liked to offer me."

"I am an Englishman, and this lady is English on her father's side. We do
not easily abandon a problem when we set to work to solve it."

"What do you think of it all?" asked Helen of me, when we found ourselves
soon afterwards in the quaint, old-world streets.

"Think!" I answered. "Our course is clear. We have got to discover the
motive. There must be a motive. There was someone who had a grudge
against the old man, and who wished to terrify him out of the world. As
to believing that the apparition is supernatural, I decline even to allow
myself to consider it."

"Heaven grant that you may be right," she answered; "but I must say a
strange and most unaccountable terror oppresses me whenever I conjure up
that ghastly face."

"And yet you have the courage to go to the castle!"

"It is a case of duty, not of courage, Mr. Druce."

For the rest of that day I thought over the whole problem, looking at it
from every point of view, trying to gaze at it with fresh eyes,
endeavouring to discover the indiscoverable--the motive. There must be a
motive. We should find it at the castle. We would go there on the morrow.
But, no; undue haste was unnecessary. It might be well for me, helped as
I should be by my own agency, a branch of which was to be found in
Lisbon, to discover amongst the late Mr. Sherwood's acquaintances,
friends, or relatives the motive that I wanted. My agents set to work for
me, but though they did their utmost no discovery of the least value was
found, and at the end of a week I told De Castro and Helen that I was
ready to start.

"We will go early to-morrow morning," I said. "You must make all your
preparations, Helen. It will take us the day to reach Castello Mondego. I
hope that our work may be completed there, and that we may be back again
in Lisbon within the week."

Helen's face lit up with a smile of genuine delight.

"The inaction of the last week has been terribly trying," she said. "But
now that we are really going to get near the thing I feel quite
cheerful."

"Your courage fills me with admiration," I could not help saying, and
then I went out to make certain purchases. Amongst these were three
revolvers--one for Helen, one for De Castro, and one for myself.

Afterwards I had an interview with Sousa, and took him as far as I could
into my confidence.

"The danger of the supernatural is not worth considering," I said, "but
the danger of treachery, of unknown motives, is considerable. I do not
deny this fact for a moment. In case you get no tidings of us, come
yourself or send some one to the castle within a week."

"This letter came for you by the last post," said Sousa, and he handed me
one from Vandeleur.

I opened it and read as follows:--

"I met Madame Sara a week ago at the house of a friend. I spoke to her
about Castello Mondego. She admitted that she was interested in it, that
she knew Miss Sherwood, and hoped when she had taken possession to visit
her in that romantic spot. I inquired further if she was aware of the
contents of the strange will. She said she had heard of it. Her manner
was perfectly frank, but I saw that she was uneasy. She took the first
opportunity of leaving the house, and on making inquiries I hear that she
left London by the first train this morning, en route for the Continent.
These facts may mean a great deal, and I should advise you to be more
than ever on your guard."

I put the letter into my pocket, got Sousa to promise all that was
necessary, and went away.

At an early hour the following morning we left Rocio Station for Coimbra,
and it was nearly seven in the evening when we finally came to the end of
our railway journey and entered a light wagonette drawn by two powerful
bay stallions for our twenty-mile drive to the castle.

The scenery as we approached the spurs of the Estrella was magnificent
beyond description, and as I gazed up at the great peaks, now bathed in
the purples and golds of the sunset, the magic and mystery of our strange
mission became tenfold intensified. Presently the steep ascent began
along a winding road between high walls that shut out our view, and by
the time we reached the castle it was too dark to form any idea of its
special features.

De Castro had already sent word of our probable arrival, and when we rang
the bell at the old castle a phlegmatic-looking man opened the door for
us.

"Ah, Gonsalves," cried De Castro, "here we are! I trust you have provided
comfortable beds and a good meal, for we are all as hungry as hawks."

The old man shrugged his shoulders, raised his beetle-brows a trifle, and
fixed his eyes on Helen with some astonishment. He muttered, in a
Portuguese dialect which I did not in the least comprehend, something to
De Castro, who professed himself satisfied. Then he, said something
further, and I noticed the face of my Portuguese friend turn pale.

"Gonsalves saw the spectre three nights ago," he remarked, turning to me.
"It was leaning as usual out of one of the windows of the north-west
turret. But, come; we must not terrify ourselves the moment we enter your
future home, Niece Helen. You are doubtless hungry. Shall we go to the
banqueting-hall?"

The supper prepared for us was not appetizing, consisting of some
miserable goatchops, and in the great hall, dimly lighted by a few
candles in silver sconces, we could scarcely see each other's faces. As
supper was coming to an end I made a suggestion.

"We have come here," I said, "on a serious matter. We propose to start an
investigation of a very grave character. It is well known that ghosts
prefer to reveal themselves to one man or woman alone, and not to a
company. I propose, therefore, that we three should occupy rooms as far
as possible each from the other in the castle, and that the windows of
our three bedrooms should command the centre square."

De Castro shrugged his shoulders and a look of dismay spread for a moment
over his face; but Helen fixed her great eyes on mine, her lips moved
slightly as though she would speak, then she pulled herself together.

"You are right, Mr. Druce," she said. "Having come on this inquiry, we
must fear nothing."

"Well, come at once, and we will choose our bedrooms. You as the lady
shall have the first choice."

De Castro called Gonsalves, who appeared holding a lantern in his hand. A
few words were said to the man in his own dialect, and he led the way,
going up many stone stairs, down many others, and at last he flung open a
huge oak door and we found ourselves in a vast chamber with five windows,
all mullioned and sunk in deep recesses. On the floor was a heavy carpet.
A four-post bed-head with velvet hangings was in a recess. The rest of
the furniture was antique and massive, nearly black with age, but
relieved by brass mountings, which, strange to say, were bright as though
they had recently been rubbed.

"This was poor Sherwood's own bedroom," said De Castro. "Do you mind
sleeping here?"

He turned to Helen.

"No, I should like it," she replied, emphatically.

"I am glad that this is your choice," he said, "for I don't believe,
although I am a man and you are a woman, that I could myself endure this
room. It was here I watched by his dead body. Ah, poor fellow, I loved
him well."

"We won't talk of memories to-night," said Helen. "I am very tired, and I
believe I shall sleep. Strange as it may sound, I am not afraid. Mr.
Druce, where will you locate yourself? I should like, at least, to know
what room you will be in."

I smiled at her. Her bravery astonished me. I selected a room at right
angles to Helen's. Standing in one of her windows she could, if
necessary, get a glimpse of me if I were to stand in one of mine.

De Castro chose a room equally far away from Helen's on the other side.
We then both bade the girl good-night.

"I hate to leave her so far from help," I said, glancing at De Castro.

"Nothing will happen," he replied. "I can guarantee that. I am dead
tired; the moment I lay my head on my pillow, ghost or no ghost, I shall
sleep till morning."

He hurried off to his own room.

The chamber that I had selected was vast, lofty, and might have
accommodated twenty people. I must have been more tired even than I knew,
for I fell asleep when my head touched the pillow.

When I awoke it was dawn, and, eager to see my surroundings by the light
of day, I sprang up, dressed, and went down to the courtyard. Three sides
of this court were formed by the castle buildings, but along the fourth
ran a low balustrade of stone. I sauntered towards it. I shall never
forget the loveliness of the scene that met my eyes. I stood upon what
was practically a terrace--a mere shelf on the scarping of rock on the
side of a dizzy cliff that went down below me a sheer two thousand feet.
The Mondego River ran with a swift rushing noise at the foot of the
gorge, although at the height at which I stood it looked more like a
thread of silver than any thing else. Towering straight in front of me,
solemnly up into the heavens, stood the great peak of the Serra da
Estrella, from which in the rosy sunrise the morning clouds were rolling
into gigantic white wreaths. Behind me was the great irregular pile of
the castle, with its battlements, turrets, and cupolas, hoar and grey
with the weight of centuries, but now transfigured and bathed in the
golden light. I had just turned to glance at them when I saw De Castro
approaching me.

"Surely," I said, "there never was such a beautiful place in the world
before! We can never let it go out of the family. Helen shall live here."

De Castro came close to me; he took my arm, and pointed to a spot on the
stone flags.

"On this very spot her father fell from the battlements above," he said,
slowly.

I shuddered, and all pleasant thoughts were instantly dispelled by the
memory of that hideous tragedy and the work we had still to do. It seemed
impossible in this radiant, living sunlight to realize the horror that
these walls had contained, and might still contain. At some of these very
windows the ghastly face had appeared.

Helen, De Castro, and I spent the whole day exploring the castle. We went
from dungeons to turrets, and made elaborate plans for alternate nightly
vigils. One of the first things that I insisted on was that Gonsalves
should not sleep in the castle at night. This was easily arranged, the
old man having friends in the neighbouring village. Thus the only people
in the castle after nightfall would be De Castro, Helen, and myself.

After we had locked old Gonsalves out and had raised the portcullis, we
again went the complete round of the entire place. Thus we ensured that
no one else could be hiding in the precincts. Finally we placed across
every entrance thin silken threads which would be broken if anyone
attempted to pass them.

Helen was extremely anxious that the night should be divided into three
portions, and that she should share the vigils; but this both De Castro
and I prohibited.

"At least for to-night," I said. "Sleep soundly; trust the matter to us.
Believe me, this will be best. All arrangements are made. Your uncle will
patrol until one o'clock in the morning, then I will go on duty."

This plan was evidently most repugnant to her, and when De Castro left
the room she came up and began to plead with me.

"I have a strange and overpowering sensation of terror," she said. "Fight
as I will, I cannot get rid of it. I would much rather be up than in that
terrible room. I slept last night because I was too weary to do anything
else, but I am wakeful to-night, and I shall not close my eyes. Let me
share your watch at least. Let us pace the courtyard side by side."

"No," I answered, "that would not do. If two of us are together the
ghost, or whatever human being poses as the ghost, will not dare to put
in an appearance. We must abide by our terrible mission, Helen; each must
watch alone. You will go to bed now, like a good girl, and to-morrow
night, if we have not then discovered anything, you will be allowed to
take your share in the night watch."

"Very well," she answered.

She sighed impatiently, and after a moment she said:--

"I have a premonition that something will happen to-night. As a rule my
premonitions come right."

I made no answer, but I could not help giving her a startled glance. It
is one thing to be devoid of ghostly terrors when living in practical
London, surrounded by the world and the ways of men, but it is another
thing to be proof against the strange terror which visits all human
beings more or less when they are alone, when it is night, when the heart
beats low. Then we are apt to have distorted visions, our mental
equilibrium is upset, and we fear we know not what.

Helen and I knew that there was something to fear, and as our eyes met we
dared not speak of what was uppermost in our thoughts. I could not find
De Castro, and presumed that he had taken up his watch without further
ado. I therefore retired to my own room and prepared to sleep. But the
wakefulness which had seized Helen was also mine, for when the Portuguese
entered my bedroom at one o'clock I was wide awake.

"You have seen nothing?" I said to him.

"Nothing," he answered, cheerfully. "The moon is bright, the night is
glorious. It is my opinion that the apparition will not appear."

"I will take the precaution to put this in my pocket," I said, and I took
up my revolver, which was loaded.

As I stepped out into the courtyard I found that the brilliant moonlight
had lit up the north-west wall and the turrets; but the sharp black
shadow of the south wall lay diagonally across the yard. Absolute
stillness reigned, broken only by the croaking of thousands of frogs from
the valley below. I sat down on a stone bench by the balustrade and tried
to analyze my feelings. For a time the cheerfulness which I had seen so
marked on De Castro's face seemed to have communicated itself to me; my
late fears vanished, I was not even nervous, I found it difficult to
concentrate my thoughts on the object which had brought me so far from
England. My mind wandered back to London and to my work there. But by
degrees, as the chill stole over me and the stillness of night began to
embrace me, I found myself glancing ever and again at those countless
windows and deep embrasures, while a queer, overpowering tension began to
be felt, and against my own will a terror, strange and humiliating,
overpowered me. I knew that it was stronger than I, and, fight against it
as I would, I could not overcome it. The instinctive dread of the unknown
that is at the bottom of the bravest man's courage was over me. Each
moment it increased, and I felt that if the hideous face were to appear
at one of the windows I would not be answerable for my self-control.
Suddenly, as I sat motionless, my eyes riveted on the windows of the old
castle, I felt, or fancied I felt, that I was not alone. It seemed to me
that a shadow moved down in the courtyard and close to me. I looked
again; it was coming towards me. It was with difficulty I could suppress
the scream which almost rose to my lips. The next instant I was glad that
I had not lost my self-control, when the slim, cold hand of Helen
Sherwood touched mine.

"Come," she said, softly.

She took my hand and, without a word, led me across the courtyard.

"Look up," she said.

I did look up, and then my heart seemed to stop and every muscle in my
body grew rigid as though from extreme cold. At one of the first-floor
windows in the north-west tower, there in the moonlight leant the
apparition itself: a black, solemn figure--its arms crossed on the
sill--a large, round face of waxy whiteness, features immobile and fixed
in a hideous, unwinking stare right across the courtyard.

My heart gave a stab of terror, then I remained absolutely rigid--I
forgot the girl by my side in the wild beating of my pulse. It seemed to
me that it must beat itself to death.

"Call my uncle," whispered Helen, and when I heard her voice I knew that
the girl was more self-possessed than I was.

"Call him," she said again, "loudly--at once."

I shouted his name:--

"De Castro, De Castro; it is here!"

The figure vanished at my voice.

"Go," said Helen again. "Go; I will wait for you here. Follow it at
once."

I rushed up the stairs towards the room where De Castro slept. I burst
open his door. The room was empty. The next instant I heard his voice.

"I am here--here," he said. "Come at once---quick!"

In a moment I was at his side.

"This is the very room where it stood," I said.

I ran to the window and looked down. De Castro followed me. Helen had not
moved. She was still gazing up--the moonlight fell full on her white
face.

"You saw it too?" gasped De Castro.

"Yes," I said, "and so did Helen. It stood by this window."

"I was awake," he said, "and heard your shout. I rushed to my window; I
saw the spectre distinctly, and followed it to this room. You swear you
saw it? It was the face of the abbot."

My brain was working quickly, my courage was returning. The unfathomable
terror of the night scene was leaving me. I took De Castro suddenly by
both his arms and turned him round so that the moonlight should fall upon
him.

"You and I are alone in this tower. Helen Sherwood is in the courtyard.
There is not another living being in the whole castle. Now listen. There
are only two possible explanations of what has just occurred. Either you
are the spectre, or it is supernatural."

"I?" he cried. "Are you mad?"

"I well might be," I answered, bitterly. "But of this I am certain: you
must prove to me whether you are the apparition or not. I make this
suggestion now in order to clear you from all possible blame; I make it
that we may have absolute evidence that could not be upset before the
most searching tribunal. Will you now strip before me?---yes, before you
leave the room, and prove that you have no mask hidden anywhere on you.
If you do this I shall be satisfied. Pardon my insistence, but in a case
like the present there must be no loophole."

"Of course, I understand you," he said. "I will remove my clothes."

In five minutes he had undressed and dressed again. There was no
treachery on his part. There was no mask nor any possible means of his
simulating that face on his person.

"There is no suspicion about you," I said, almost with bitterness. "By
heavens, I wish there were. The awfulness of this thing will drive me
mad. Look at that girl standing by herself in the courtyard. I must
return to her. Think of the courage of a woman who would stand there
alone."

He made no answer. I saw that he was shivering.

"Why do you tremble?" I said, suddenly.

"Because of the nameless fear," he replied. "Remember I saw her father--I
saw him with the terror on him--he ran along the battlements; he threw
himself over--he died. He was dashed to pieces on the very spot where she
is standing. Get her to come in, Druce."

"I will go and speak to her," I said.

I went back to the courtyard. I rejoined Helen, and in a few words told
her what had occurred.

"You must come in now," I said. "You will catch your death of cold
standing here."

She smiled, a slow, enigmatic sort of smile.

"I have not given up the solution yet," she said, "nor do I mean to."

As she spoke she took her revolver from her belt, and I saw that she was
strangely excited. Her manner showed intense excitement, but no fear.

"I suspect foul play," she said. "As I stood here and watched you and
Uncle Petro talking to each other by that window I felt convinced--I am
more than ever convinced----"

She broke off suddenly.

"Look!--oh, Heaven, look! What is that?"

She had scarcely uttered the words before the same face appeared at
another window to the right. Helen gave a sharp cry, and the next instant
she covered the awful face with her revolver and fired. A shrill scream
rang out on the night air.

"It is human after all," said Helen; "I thought it was. Come."

She rushed up the winding stairs; I followed. The door of the room where
we had seen the spectre was open. We both dashed in. Beneath the window
lay a dark huddled heap with the moonlight shining on it, and staring up
with the same wide-open eyes was the face of the abbot. Just for a moment
neither Helen nor I dared to approach it, but after a time we cautiously
drew near the dark mass. The figure never moved. I ran forward and
stretched out my hand. Closer and closer I bent until my hand touched the
face. It was human flesh and was still warm.

"Helen," I said, turning to the girl, "go at once and find your uncle."

But I had scarcely uttered the words before Helen burst into a low,
choking laugh--the most fearful laugh I had ever heard.

"Look, look!" she said.

For before our eyes the face tilted, foreshortened, and vanished. We were
both gazing into the countenance of the man whom we knew as Petro de
Castro. His face was bathed in blood and convulsed with pain. I lit the
lantern, and as I once more approached I saw, lying on the ground by his
side, something hairy which for an instant I did not recognise. The next
moment I saw that it was--it explained everything. It was a wig. I bent
still nearer, and the whole horrible deception became plain as daylight.
for, painted upon the back of the man's perfectly bald head, painted with
the most consummate skill, giving the startling illusion of depth and
relief, and all the hideous expression that had terrified one man at
least out of the world, was the face of the abbot. The wig had completely
covered it, and so skilfully was it made that the keenest observer would
never have suspected it was one, it being itself slightly bald in order
to add to the deception.

There in that dim, bare room, in broken sentences, in a voice that failed
as his life passed, De Castro faltered out the story of his sin.

"Yes," he said, "I have tried to deceive you, and Gonsalves aided me. I
was mad to risk one more appearance. Bend nearer, both of you; I am
dying. Listen.

"Upon this estate, not a league across the valley, I found six months ago
alluvial gold in great quantities in the bed of the gully. In the
'Bibliotheca Publica' in Lisbon I had years before got accounts of mines
worked by the Phoenicians, and was firmly persuaded that some of the gold
still remained. I found it, and to get the full benefit of it I devised
the ghastly scheme which you have just discovered. I knew that the castle
was supposed to be haunted by the face of an old monk. Sherwood with all
his peculiarities was superstitious. Very gradually I worked upon his
fears, and then, when I thought the time ripe for my experiment,
personated the apparition. It was I who flung him from the battlements
with my own hand. I knew that the terms of the will would divert all
suspicion from me, and had not your shot, Helen, been so true you would
never have come here to live. Well, you have avenged your father and
saved yourself at the same time. You will find in the safe in a corner of
the banqueting-hall plans and maps of the exact spot where the gold is to
be found. I could have worked there for years unsuspected. It is true
that I should have lost ten thousand pounds, but I should have gained
five times the amount. Between four and five months ago I went to see a
special friend of mine in London. She is a woman who stands alone as one
of the greatest criminals of her day. She promised at once to aid me, and
she suggested, devised, and executed the whole scheme. She made the wig
herself, with its strangely-bald appearance so deceptive to the ordinary
eye, and she painted the awful face on my bald skull. When you searched
me just now you suspected a mask, but I was safe from your detection. To
remove or replace the wig was the work of an instant. The woman who had
done all this was to share my spoils."

"Her name?" I cried.

"Sara, the Great, the Invincible," he murmured.

As he spoke the words he died.



THE END




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