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Title: Thurnley Abbey
Author: Perceval Landon (1869-1927)
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eBook No.: 0801041.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2008
Date most recently updated: September 2008

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Title: Thurnley Abbey (1869-1927)
Author: Perceval Landon

From "Raw Edges", 1908

Three years ago I was on my way out to the East, and as an extra day in
London was of some importance, I took the Friday evening mail-train to
Brindisi instead of the usual Thursday morning Marseilles express. Many
people shrink from the long forty-eight-hour train journey through
Europe, and the subsequent rush across the Mediterranean on the
nineteen-knot _Isis_ or _Osiris_; but there is really very little
discomfort on either the train or the mail-boat, and unless there is
actually nothing for me to do, I always like to save the extra day and a
half in London before I say goodbye to her for one of my longer tramps.
This time--it was early, I remember, in the shipping season, probably
about the beginning of September--there were few passengers, and I had a
compartment in the P. & 0. Indian express to myself all the way from
Calais. All Sunday I watched the blue waves dimpling the Adriatic, and
the pale rosemary along the cuttings; the plain white towns, with their
flat roofs and their bold 'duomos', and the grey-green gnarled olive
orchards of Apulia. The journey was just like any other. We ate in the
dining-car as often and as long as we decently could. We slept after
luncheon; we dawdled the afternoon away with yellow-backed novels;
sometimes we exchanged platitudes in the smoking-room, and it was there
that I met Alastair Colvin.

Colvin was a man of middle height, with a resolute, well-cut jaw; his
hair was turning grey; his moustache was sun-whitened, otherwise he was
clean-shaven--obviously a gentleman, and obviously also a preoccupied
man. He had no great wit. When spoken to, he made the usual remarks in
the right way, and I dare say he refrained from banalities only because
he spoke less than the rest of us; most of the time he buried himself in
the Wagon-lit Company's time-table, but seemed unable to concentrate his
attention on any one page of it. He found that I had been over the
Siberian railway, and for a quarter of an hour he discussed it with me.
Then he lost interest in it, and rose to go to his compartment. But he
came back again very soon, and seemed glad to pick up the conversation

Of course this did not seem to me to be of any importance. Most
travellers by train become a trifle infirm of purpose after thirty-six
hours' rattling. But Colvin's restless way I noticed in somewhat marked
contrast with the man's personal importance and dignity; especially ill
suited was it to his finely made large hand with strong, broad, regular
nails and its few lines. As I looked at his hand I noticed a long, deep,
and recent scar of ragged shape. However, it is absurd to pretend that I
thought anything was unusual. I went off at five o'clock on Sunday
afternoon to sleep away the hour or two that had still to be got through
before we arrived at Brindisi.

Once there, we few passengers transhipped our hand baggage, verified our
berths--there were only a score of us in all--and then, after an aimless
ramble of half an hour in Brindisi, we returned to dinner at the Hotel
International, not wholly surprised that the town had been the death of
Virgil. If I remember rightly, there is a gaily painted hall at the
International--I do not wish to advertise am-thine, but there is no other
place in Brindisi at which to await the coming of the mails--and after
dinner I was looking with awe at a trellis overgrown with blue vines,
when Colvin moved across the room to my table. He picked up _Il Secolo_,
but almost immediately gave up the pretence of reading it. He turned
squarely to me and said:

'Would you do me a favour?'

One doesn't do favours to stray acquaintances on Continental expresses
without knowing something more of them than I knew of Colvin. But I
smiled in a noncommittal way, and asked him what he wanted. I wasn't
wrong in part of my estimate of him; he said bluntly:

'Will you let me sleep in your cabin on the _Osiris_?' And he coloured a
little as he said it.

Now, there is nothing more tiresome than having to put up with a
stable-companion at sea, and I asked him rather pointedly:

'Surely there is room for all of us?' I thought that perhaps he had been
partnered off with some mangy Levantine, and wanted to escape from him at
all hazards.

Colvin, still somewhat confused, said: 'Yes; I am in a cabin by myself.
But you would do me the greatest favour if you would allow me to share

This was all very well, but, besides the fact that I always sleep better
when alone, there had been some recent thefts on board English liners,
and I hesitated, frank and honest and self-conscious as Colvin was. Just
then the mail-train came in with a clatter and a rush of escaping steam,
and I asked him to see me again about at on the boat when we started. He
answered me curtly--I suppose he saw the mistrust in my manner--'I am a
member of White's. I smiled to myself as he said it, but I remembered in
a moment that the man--if he were really what he claimed to be, and I
make no doubt that he was--must have been sorely put to it before he
urged the fact as a guarantee of his respectability to a total stranger
at a Brindisi hotel.

That evening, as we cleared the red and green harbour-lights of Brindisi,
Colvin explained. This is his story in his own words.

'When I was travelling in India some years ago, I made the acquaintance
of a youngish man in the Woods and Forests. We camped out together for a
week, and I found him a pleasant companion. John Broughton was a
light-hearted soul when off duty, but a steady and capable man in any of
the small emergencies that continually arise in that department. He was
liked and trusted by the natives, and though a trifle over-pleased with
himself when he escaped to civilization at Simla or Calcutta, Broughton's
future was well assured in Government service, when a fair-sized estate
was unexpectedly left to him, and he joyfully shook the dust of the
Indian plains from his feet and returned to England. For five years he
drifted about London. I saw him now and then. We dined together about
every eighteen months, and I could trace pretty exactly the gradual
sickening of Broughton with a merely idle life. He then set out on a
couple of long voyages, returned as restless as before, and at last told
me that he had decided to marry and settle down at his place, Burnley
Abbey, which had long been empty. He spoke about looking after the
property and standing for his constituency in the usual way. Vivien
Wilde, his fiancée, had, I suppose, begun to take him in hand. She was a
pretty girl with a deal of fair hair and rather an exclusive manner;
deeply religious in a narrow school, she was still kindly and
high-spirited, and I thought that Broughton was in luck. He was quite
happy and full of information about his future.

'Among other things, I asked him about Burnley Abbey. He confessed that
he hardly knew the place. The last tenant, a man called Clarke, had lived
in one wing for fifteen years and seen no one. He had been a miser and a
hermit. It was the rarest thing for a light to be seen at the Abbey after
dark. Only the barest necessities of life were ordered, and the tenant
himself received them at the side-door. His one half-caste manservant,
after a month's stay in the house, had abruptly left without warning, and
had returned to the Southern States. One thing Broughton complained
bitterly about: Clarke had wilfully spread the rumour among the villagers
that the Abbey was haunted, and had even condescended to play childish
tricks with spirit-lamps and salt in order to scare trespassers away at
niglyt. He had been detected in the act of this tomfoolery, but the story
spread, and no one, said Broughton, would venture near the house except
in broad daylight. The hauntedness of Burnley Abbev was now, he said with
a grin, part of the gospel of the countryside, but he and his young wife
were going to change all that. Would I propose myself any time I liked?
I, of course, said I would, and equally, of course, intended to do
nothing of the sort without a definite invitation.

'The house was put in thorough repair, though not a stick of the old
furniture and tapestry were removed. Floors and ceilings were relaid: the
roof was made watertight again, and the dust of half a century was
scoured out. He showed me some photographs of the place. It was called an
Abbey, though as a matter of fact it had been only the infirmary of the
long-vanished Abbey of Closter some five miles away. The larger part of
this building remained as it had been in pre-Reformation days, but a wing
had been added in Jacobean times, and that part of the house had been
kept in something like repair by Mr Clarke. He had in both the ground and
first floors set a heavy timber door, strongly barred with iron, in the
passage between the earlier and the Jacobean parts of the house, and had
entirely neglected the former. So there had been a good deal of work to
be done.

'Broughton, whom I saw in London two or three times about this period,
made a deal of fun over the positive refusal of the workmen to remain
after sundown. Even after the electric light had been put into every
room, nothing would induce them to remain, though, as Broughton observed,
electric light was death on ghosts. The legend of the Abbey's ghosts had
gone far and wide, and the men would take no risks. They went home in
batches of five and six, and even during the daylight hours there was an
inordinate amount of talking between one and another, if either happened
to be out of sight of his companion. On the whole, though nothing of any
sort or kind had been conjured up even by their heated imaginations
during their five months' work upon the Abbey, the belief in the ghosts
was rather strengthened than otherwise in Thurnley because of the men's
confessed nervousness, and local tradition declared itself in favour of
the ghost of an immured nun.

"Good old nun!" said Broughton.

'I asked him whether in general he believed in the possibility of ghosts,
and, rather to my surprise, he said that he couldn't say he entirely
disbelieved in them. A man in India had told him one mornang in camp that
he believed that his mother was dead in England, as her vision had come
to his tent the night before. He had not been alarmed, but had said
nothing, and the figure vanished again. As a matter of tact, the next
possible dak-walla brought on a telegram announcing the mother's death.
"There the thing was," said Broughton. But at Thurnley he was practical
enough. He roundly cursed the idiotic selfishness of Clarke, whose silly
antics had caused all the inconvenience. At the same time, he couldn't
refuse to sympathize to some extent with the ignorant workmen. "My own
idea," said he, "is that if a ghost ever does come in one's way, one
ought to speak to it."

'I agreed. Little as I knew of the ghost world and its conventions, I had
always remembered that a spook was in honour bound to wait to be spoken
to. It didn't seem much to do, and I felt that the sound of one's own
voice would at any rate reassure oneself as to one's wakefulness. But
there are few ghosts outside Europe--few, that is, that a white man can
see--and I had never been troubled with any. However, as I have said, I
told Broughton that I agreed.

'So the wedding took place, and I went to it in a tall hat which I bought
for the occasion, and the new Mrs Broughton smiled very nicely at me
afterwards. As it had to happen, I took the Orient Express that evening
and was not in England again for nearly six months. Just before I came
back I got a letter from Broughton. He asked if I could see him in London
or come to Thurnley, as he thought I should be better able to help him
than anyone else he knew. His wife sent a nice message to me at the end,
so I was reassured about at least one thing. I wrote from Budapest that I
would come and sec him at Thurnley two days after my arrival in London,
and as I sauntered out of the Pannonia into the Kerepesi Utcza to post my
letters, I wondered of what earthly service I could be to Broughton. I
had been out with him after tiger on foot, and I could imagine few men
better able at a pinch to manage their own business. However, I had
nothing to do, so after dealing with some small accumulations of business
during my absence, I packed a kit-bag and departed to Euston.

'I was met by Broughton's great limousine at Thurnley Road station, and
after a drive of nearly seven miles we echoed through the sleepy streets
of Thurnley village, into which the main gates of the park thrust
themselves, splendid with pillars and spreadeagles and tom-cats rampant
atop of them. I never was a herald, but I know that the Broughtons have
the right to supporters--Heaven knows why! From the gates a quadruple
avenue of beech-trees led inwards for a quarter of a mile. Beneath them a
neat strip of fine turf edged the road and ran back until the poison of
the dead beech-leaves killed it under the trees. There were many
wheel-tracks on the road, and a comfortable little pony trap jogged past
me laden with a country parson and his wife and daughter. Evidently there
was some garden party going on at the Abbey. The road dropped away to the
right at the end of the avenue, and I could see the Abbey across a wide
pasturage and a broad lawn thickly dotted with guests.

'The end of the building was plain. It must have been almost mercilessly
austere when it was first built, but time had crumbled the edges and
toned the stone down to an orange-lichened grey wherever it showed behind
its curtain of magnolia, jasmine, and ivy. Further on was the
three-storied Jacobean house, tall and handsome. There had not been the
slightest attempt to adapt the one to the other, but the kindly ivy had
glossed over the touching-point. There was a tall flèche in the middle of
the building, surmounting a small bell tower. Behind the house there rose
the mountainous verdure of Spanish chestnuts all the way up the hill.

'Broughton had seen me coming from afar, and walked across from his other
guests to welcome me before turning me over to the butler's care. This
man was sandy-haired and rather inclined to be talkative. He could,
however, answer hardly any questions about the house; he had, he said,
only been there three weeks. Mindful of what Broughton had told me, I
made no enquiries about ghosts, though the room into which I was shown
might have justified anything. It was a very large low room with oak
beams projecting from the white ceiling. Every inch of the walls,
including the doors, was covered with tapestry, and a remarkably fine
Italian fourpost bedstead, heavily draped, added to the darkness and
dignity of the place. All the furniture was old, well made and dark.
Underfoot there was a plain green pile carpet, the only new thing about
the room except the electric light fittings and the jugs and basins. Even
the looking-glass on the dressing-table was an old pyramidal Venetian
glass set in heavy repoussé frame of tarnished silver.

'After a few minutes' cleaning up, I went downstairs and out upon the
lawn, where I greeted my hostess. The people gathered there were of the
usual country type, all anxious to be pleased and roundly curious as to
the new master of the Abbey. Rather to my surprise, and quite to my
pleasure, I rediscovered Glenham, whom I had known well in old days in
Barotseland: he lived quite close, as, he remarked with a grin. I ought
to have known. "But," he added, "I don't live in a place like this." He
swept his hand to the long, low lines of the Abbey in obvaous admiration,
and then, to my intense interest, muttered beneath his breath, "Thank
God!" He saw that I had overheard him, and turning to me said decidedly,
"Yes, 'thank God' I said, and I meant it. I wouldn't live at the Abbey
for all Broughton's money."

'"But surely," I demurred, "you know that old Clarke was discovered in
the very act of setting light to his bug-a-boos?"

'Glenham shrugged his shoulders. "Yes, I know about that. But there is
something wrong with the place still. All I can say is that Broughton is
a different man since he has lived here. I don't believe that he will
remain much longer. But--you're staying here?--well, you'll hear all
about it tonight. There's a big dinner, I understand." Be conversation
turned off to old reminiscences, and Glenham soon after had to go.

'Before I went to dress that evening I had twenty minutes' talk with
Broughton in his library. There was no doubt that the man was altered,
gravely altered. He was nervous and fidgety, and I found him looking at
me only when my eye was off him. I naturally asked him what he wanted of
me. I told him I would do anything I could, but that I couldn't conceive
what he lacked that I could provide. He said with a lustreless smile that
there was, however, something, and that he would tell me the following
morning. It struck me that he was somehow ashamed of himself and perhaps
ashamed of the part he was asking me to play. However, I dismissed the
subject from my mind and went up to dress in my palatial room. As I shut
the door a draught blew out the Queen of Sheba from the wall, and I
noticed that the tapestries were not fastened to the wall at the bottom.
I have always held very practical views about spooks, and it has often
seemed to me that the slow waving in firelight of loose tapestry upon a
wall would account for ninety-nine per cent of the stories one hears.
Certainly the dignified undulation of this lady with her attendants and
huntsmen--one of whom was untidily cutting the throat of a fallow deer
upon the very steps on which King Solomon, a grey-faced Flemish nobleman
with the order of the Golden Fleece, awaited his fair visitor--gave
colour to my hypothesis.

'Nothing much happened at dinner. The people were very much like those of
the garden party. A young woman next to me seemed anxious to know what
was being read in London. As she was far more familiar than I with the
most recent magazines and literary supplements, I found salvation in
being myself instructed in the tendencies of modern fiction. All true
art, she said, was shot through and through with melancholy. How vulgar
were the attempts at wit that marked so many modern books! From the
beginning of literature it had always been tragedy that embodied the
highest attainment of every age. To call such works morbid merely begged
the question. No thoughtful man--she looked sternly at me through the
steel rim of her glasses--could fail to agree with me. Of course, as one
would, I immediately and properly said that I slept with Pett Ridge and
Jacobs under my pillow at night, and that if _Jorrocks_ weren't quite so
large and cornery, I would add him to the company. She hadn't read any of
them, so I was saved--for a time. But I remember grimly that she said
that the dearest wish of her life was to be in some awful and
soul-freezing situation of horror, and I remember that she dealt hardly
with the hero of Nat Paynter's vampire story, between nibbles at her
brown-bread ice. She was a cheerless soul, and I couldn't help thinking
that if there were many such in the neighbourhood, it was not surprising
that old Glenham had been stuffed with some nonsense or other about the
Abbey. Yet nothing could well have been less creeps than the glitter of
silver and glass, and the subdued lights and cackle of conversation all
round the dinner-table.

'After the ladies had gone I found myself talking to the rural dean. He
was a thin, earnest man, who at once turned the conversation to old
Clarke's buffooneries. But, he said, Mr Broughton had introduced such a
new and cheerful spirit, not only into the Abbey, but, he might say, into
the whole neighbourhood, that he had great hopes that the ignorant
superstitions of the past were from henceforth destined to oblivion.
Thereupon his other neighbour, a portly gentleman of independent means
and position, audibly remarked "Amen", which damped the rural dean, and
we talked of partridges past, partridges present, and pheasants to come.
At the other end of the table Broughton sat with a couple of his friends,
red-faced hunting men. Once I noticed that they were discussing me, but I
paid no attention to it at the time. I remembered it a few hours later.

'By eleven all the guests were gone, and Broughton, his wife, and I were
alone together under the fine plaster ceiling of the Jacobean
drawing-room. Mrs Broughton talked about one or two of the neighbours,
and then, with a smile, said that she knew I would excuse her, shook
hands with me, and went off to bed. I am not very good at analysing
things, but I felt that she talked a little uncomfortably and with a
suspicion of effort, smiled rather conventionally, and was obviously glad
to go. These things seem trifling enough to repeat, but I had throughout
the faint feeling that everything was not square. L nder the
circumstances, this was enough to set me wondering what on earth the
service could be that I was to render--wondering also whether the whole
business were not some ill-advised jest in order to make me come down
from London for a mere shooting-party.

'Broughton said little after she had gone. But he was evidently
labouring to bring the conversation round to the so-called haunting of
the Abbey. As soon as I saw this, of course I asked him directly about
it. He then seemed at once to lose interest in the matter. There was no
doubt about it: Broughton was somehow a changed man, and to my mind he
had changed in no way for the better. Mrs Broughton seemed no sufficient
cause. He was clearly very fond of her, and she of him. I reminded him
that he was going to tell me what I could do for him in the morning,
pleaded my journey, lighted a candle, and went upstairs with him. At the
end of the passage leading into the old house he grinned weakly and said,
"Mind, if you sec a ghost, do talk to it; you said you would." He stood
irresolutely a moment and then turned away. At the door of his
dressing-room he paused once more: "I'm here," he called out, "if you
should want anything. Good night," and he shut his door.

'I went along the passage to my room, undressed, switched on a lamp
beside my bed, read a few pages of _The Jungle Book_, and then, more than
ready for sleep, turned the light off and went fast asleep.

'Three hours later I woke up. There was not a breath of wind outside.
There was not even a flicker of light from the fireplace. As I lay there,
an ash tinkled slightly as it cooled, but there was hardly a gleam of the
dullest red in the grate. An owl cried among the silent Spanish chesmuts
on the slope outside. I idly reviewed the events of the day, hoping that
I should fall off to sleep again before I reached dinner. But at the end
I seemed as wakeful as ever. There was no help for it. I must read my
Jungle Book again till I felt ready to go off, so I fumbled for the pear
at the end of the cord that hung down inside the bed, and I switched on
the bedside lamp. The sudden glory dazzled me for a moment. I felt under
my pillow for my hook with half-shut eyes. Then, growing used to the
light, I happened to look down to the foot of my bed.

'I can never tell you really what happened then. Nothing I could ever
confess in the most abject words could even faintly picture to you what I
felt. I know that my heart stopped dead, and my throat shut
automatically. In one instinctive movement I crouched back up against the
head-boards of the bed, staring at the horror. The movement set my heart
going again, and the sweat dripped from every pore. I am not a
particularly religious man, but I had always believed that God would
never allow any supernatural appearance to present itself to man in such
a guise and in such circumstances that harm, either bodily or mental,
could result to him. I can only tell you that at that moment both my life
and my reason rocked unsteadily on their seats.'

The other _Osiris_ passengers had gone to bed. Only he and I remained
leaning over the starboard railing, which rattled uneasily now and then
under the fierce vibration of the over-engined mail-boat. Far over, there
were the lights of a few fishing-smacks riding out the night, and a great
rush of white combing and seething water fell out and away from us

At last Colvin went on:

'Leaning over the foot of my bed, looking at me, was a figure swathed in
a rotten and tattered veiling. This shroud passed over the head, but left
both eyes and the right side of the face bare. It then followed the line
of the arm down to where the hand grasped the bed-end. The face was not
entirely that of a skull, though the eyes and the flesh of the face were
totally gone. There was a thin, dry skin drawn tightly over the features,
and there was some skin left on the hand. One wisp of hair crossed the
forehead. It was perfectly still. I looked at it, and it looked at me,
and my brains turned dry and hot in my head. I had still got the pear of
the electric lamp in my hand, and I played idly with it; only I dared not
turn the light out again. I shut my eyes, only to open them in a hideous
terror the same second. Be thing had not moved. My heart was thumping,
and the sweat cooled me as it evaporated. Another cinder tinkled in the
grate, and a panel creaked in the wall.

'My reason failed me. For twenty minutes, or twenty seconds. I was able
to think of nothing else but this awful figure, till there came, hurtling
through the empty channels of my senses, the remembrance that Broughton
and his friends had discussed me furtively at dinner. Be dim possibility
of its being a hoax stole gratefully into my unhappy mind, and once
there, one's pluck came creeping back along a thousand tiny veins. My
first sensation was one of blind unreasoning thankfulness that my brain
was going to stand the trial. I am not a timid man, but the best of us
needs some human handle to steady him in time of extremity, and in this
faint but growing hope that after all it might be only a brutal hoax, I
found the fulcrum that I needed. At last I moved.

'How I managed to do it I cannot tell you, but with one spring towards
the foot of the bed I got within arm's-length and struck out one fearful
blow with my fist at the thing. It crumbled under it, and my hand was cut
to the bone. With a sickening revulsion after my terror. I dropped
half-fainting across the end of the bed. So it was merely a foul trick
after all. No doubt the trick had been played many a tame before: no
doubt Broughton and his friends had had some large bet among themselves
as to what I should do when I discovered the gruesome thing. From my
state of abject terror I found myself transported into an insensate
anger. I shouted curses upon Broughton. I daved rather than climbed over
the bed-end on to the sofa. I tore at the robed skeleton--how well the
whole thing had been carried out, I thought--I broke the skull against
the floor, and stamped upon its dry bones. I flung the head away under
the bed, and rent the brittle bones of the trunk in pieces. I snapped the
thin thigh-bones across my knee, and flung them in different directions.
The shin-bones I set up against a stool and broke with my heel. I raged
like a Berserker against the loathly thing, and stripped the ribs from
the backbone and slung the breastbone against the cupboard. My fury
increased as the work of destruction went on. I tore the frail rotten
veil into twenty pieces, and the dust went up over everything, over the
clean blotting-paper and the silver inkstand. At last my work was done.
There was but a raffle of broken bones and strips of parchment and
crumbling wool. Then, picking up a piece of the skull--it was the check
and temple bone of the right side, I remember--I opened the door and went
down the passage to Broughton's dressing-room. I remember still how my
sweat-dripping pyjamas clung to me as I walked. At the door I kicked and

'Broughton was in bed. He had already turned the light on and seemed
shrunken and horrified. For a moment he could hardly pull himself
together. Then I spoke. I don't know what I said. Only I know that from a
heart full and over-full with hatred and contempt, spurred on by shame of
my own recent cowardice, I let my tongue run on. He answered nothing. I
was amazed at my own fluency. My hair still clung lankily to my wet
temples, my hand was bleeding profusely, and I must have looked a strange
sight. Broughton huddled himself up at the head of the bed just as I had.
Still he made no answer, no defence. He seemed preoccupied with something
besides my reproaches, and once or twice moistened his lips with his
tongue. But he could say nothing though he moved his hands now and then,
just as a baby who cannot speak moves its hands.

'At last the door into Mrs Broughton's room opened and she came in, white
and terrified. "What is it? What is it? Oh, in God's name! what is it?"
she cried again and again, and then she went up to her husband and sat on
the bed in her night-dress, and the two faced me. I told her what the
matter was. I spared her husband not a word for her presence there. Yet
he seemed hardly to understand. I told the pair that I had spoiled their
cowardly joke for them. Broughton looked up.

'"I have smashed the foul thing into a hundred pieces," I said.
Broughton licked his lips again and his mouth worked. "By God!" I
shouted, "it would serve you right if I thrashed you within an inch of
your life. I will take care that not a decent man or woman of my
acquaintance ever speaks to you again. And there," I added, throwing the
broken piece of the skull upon the floor beside his bed, "there is a
souvenir for you, of your damned work tonight!"

'Broughton saw the bone, and in a moment it was his turn to frighten me.
He squealed like a hare caught in a trap. Ile screamed and screamed till
Mrs Broughton, almost as bewildered as myself, held on to him and coaxed
him like a child to be quiet. But Broughton--and as he moved I thought
that ten minutes ago I perhaps looked as terribly ill as he did--thrust
her from him, and scrambled out of the bed on to the floor, and still
screaming put out his hand to the hone. It had blood on it from my hand.
He paid no attention to me whatever. In truth I said nothing. This was a
new turn indeed to the horrors of the evening. He rose from the floor
with the bone in his hand and stood silent. He seemed to be listening.
"Time, time, perhaps," he muttered, and almost at the same moment fell at
full length on the carpet, cutting his head against the fender. The bone
flew from his hand and came to rest near the door. I picked Broughton up,
haggard and broken, with blood over his face. He whispered hoarsely and
quickly, "Listen. listen!" We listened.

'After ten seconds' utter quiet, I seemed to hear something. I could not
be sure, but at last there was no doubt. There was a quiet sound as of
one moving along the passage. Little regular steps came towards us over
the hard oak flooring. Broughton moved to where his wife sat, white and
speechless, on the bed, and pressed her face into his shoulder.

'Then, the last thing that I could see as he turned the light out, he
fell forward with his own head pressed into the pillow of the bed.
Something in their company, something in their cowardice, helped me, and
I faced the open doorway of the room, which was outlined fairly clearly
against the dimly lighted passage. I put out one lyand and touched Mrs
Broughton's shoulder in the darkness. But at the last moment I too
failed. I sank on my knees and put my face in the bed. Only we all heard.
The footsteps came to the door, and there they stopped. Be piece of bone
was lying a yard inside the door. There was a rustle of moving stuff, and
the thing was in the room. Mrs Broughton was silent: I could hear
Broughton's voice praying, muffled an the pillow: I was cursing my own
cowardice. Then the steps moved out again on the oak boards of the
passage, and I heard the sounds dyang away. In a flash of remorse I went
to the door and looked out. At the end of the corridor I thought I saw
something that moved away. A moment later the passage was empty. I stood
with my forehead agaanst the jamb of the door almost physically sick.

'"You can turn the light on," I said, and there was an answering flare.
There was no bone at my feet. Mrs Broughton had fainted. Broughton was
almost useless, and it took me ten minutes to bring her to. Broughton
only said one thing worth remembering. For the most part he went on
muttering prayers. But I was glad afterwards to recollect that he had
said that thing. He said in a colourless voice, half as a question, half
as a reproach, "You didn't speak to her."

'We spent the remainder of the night together. Mrs Broughton actually
fell off into in a kind of sleep before dawn, but she suffered so
horribly in her dreams that I shook her into consciousness again. Never
was dawn so long in coming. Three or four times Broughton spoke to
himself. Mrs Broughton would then just tighten her hold on his arm, but
she could say nothing. As for me, I can honestly say that I grew worse as
the hours passed and the light strengthened. The two violent reactions
had battered down my steadiness of view, and I felt that the foundations
of my life had been built upon the sand. I said nothing, and after
binding up my hand with a towel, I did not move. It was better so. They
helped me and I helped them, and we all three knew that our reason had
gone very near to ruin that night. At last, when the light came in pretty
strongly, and the birds outside were chattering and singing, we felt that
we must do something. Yet we never moved. You might have thought that we
should particularly dislike being found as we were by the servants: yet
nothing of that kind mattered a straw, and an overpowering listlessness
bound us as we sat, until Chapman, Broughton's man, actually knocked and
opened the door. None of us moved. Broughton, speaking hardly and
stiffly, said, "Chapman you can come back in five minutes." Chapman, was
a discreet man, but it would have made no difference to us if he had
carried his news to the "room" at once.

'We looked at each other and I said I must go back. I meant to wait
outside till Chapman returned. I simply dared not re-enter my bedroom
alone. Broughton roused himself and said that he would come with me. Mrs
Broughton agreed to remain in her own room for five minutes if the blinds
were drawn up and all the doors left open.

'So Broughton and I, leaning stiffly one against the other, went down to
my room. By the morning light that filtered past the blinds we could see
our way, and I released the blinds. There was nothing wrong in the room
from end to end, except smears of my own blood on the end of the bed, on
the sofa, and on the carpet where I had torn the thing to pieces.'

Colvin had finished his story. There was nothing to say. Seven bells
stuttered out from the fo'c'sle, and the answering cry wailed through the
darkness. I took him downstairs.

'Of course I am much better now, but it is a kindness of you to let me
sleep in your cabin.'


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