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Title: A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories
Author: James, M. R. (Montague Rhodes)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories" ***

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GHOST STORIES ***



A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS



  By Dr M. R. JAMES
  PROVOST OF ETON


  GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY
                                 5s. net.

  MORE GHOST STORIES
                                 5s. net.

  A THIN GHOST AND OTHERS
                             4s. 6d. net.

  THE FIVE JARS
             With Illustrations. 6s. net.


  LONDON: EDWARD ARNOLD & CO.



  A WARNING TO
  THE CURIOUS

  and other Ghost Stories

  BY
  MONTAGUE RHODES JAMES
  Author of “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary,” etc.

  LONDON
  EDWARD ARNOLD & CO.
  1925

  [_All rights reserved_]



  MADE AND PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY
  THE EDINBURGH PRESS, 9 AND 11 YOUNG STREET, EDINBURGH.



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


The first of these stories was written for the library of the Queen’s
Doll’s House, and was printed in the Book thereof; I gratefully
acknowledge the gracious permission granted by Her Majesty to have it
reprinted in this volume.

For like permissions from the editors of the _Atlantic Monthly_,
_Empire Review_, _London Mercury_, and _Eton Chronic_ I return thanks.

                                                            M. R. JAMES.

  _September 1925._



CONTENTS


                                 PAGE

  THE HAUNTED DOLL’S HOUSE          9

  THE UNCOMMON PRAYER-BOOK         35

  A NEIGHBOUR’S LANDMARK           70

  A VIEW FROM A HILL               97

  A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS        138

  AN EVENING’S ENTERTAINMENT      176



THE HAUNTED DOLL’S HOUSE.


“I suppose you get stuff of that kind through your hands pretty often?”
said Mr Dillet, as he pointed with his stick to an object which shall
be described when the time comes: and when he said it, he lied in his
throat, and knew that he lied. Not once in twenty years--perhaps not
once in a lifetime--could Mr Chittenden, skilled as he was in ferreting
out the forgotten treasures of half-a-dozen counties, expect to
handle such a specimen. It was collectors’ palaver, and Mr Chittenden
recognised it as such.

“Stuff of that kind, Mr Dillet! It’s a museum piece, that is.”

“Well, I suppose there are museums that’ll take anything.”

“I’ve seen one, not as good as that, years back,” said Mr Chittenden,
thoughtfully. “But that’s not likely to come into the market: and
I’m told they ’ave some fine ones of the period over the water. No:
I’m only telling you the truth, Mr Dillet, when I say that if you was
to place an unlimited order with me for the very best that could be
got--and you know I ’ave facilities for getting to know of such things,
and a reputation to maintain--well, all I can say is, I should lead you
straight up to that one and say, ‘I can’t do no better for you than
that, Sir.’”

“Hear, hear!” said Mr Dillet, applauding ironically with the end of his
stick on the floor of the shop. “How much are you sticking the innocent
American buyer for it, eh?”

“Oh, I shan’t be over hard on the buyer, American or otherwise. You
see, it stands this way, Mr Dillet--if I knew just a bit more about the
pedigree----”

“Or just a bit less,” Mr Dillet put in.

“Ha, ha! you will have your joke, Sir. No, but as I was saying, if I
knew just a little more than what I do about the piece--though anyone
can see for themselves it’s a genuine thing, every last corner of it,
and there’s not been one of my men allowed to so much as touch it since
it came into the shop--there’d be another figure in the price I’m
asking.”

“And what’s that: five and twenty?”

“Multiply that by three and you’ve got it, Sir. Seventy-five’s my
price.”

“And fifty’s mine,” said Mr Dillet.

The point of agreement was, of course, somewhere between the two, it
does not matter exactly where--I think sixty guineas. But half-an-hour
later the object was being packed, and within an hour Mr Dillet had
called for it in his car and driven away. Mr Chittenden, holding
the cheque in his hand, saw him off from the door with smiles, and
returned, still smiling, into the parlour where his wife was making the
tea. He stopped at the door.

“It’s gone,” he said.

“Thank God for that!” said Mrs Chittenden, putting down the teapot. “Mr
Dillet, was it?”

“Yes, it was.”

“Well, I’d sooner it was him than another.”

“Oh, I don’t know, he ain’t a bad feller, my dear.”

“May be not, but in my opinion he’d be none the worse for a bit of a
shake up.”

“Well, if that’s your opinion, it’s my opinion he’s put himself into
the way of getting one. Anyhow, we shan’t have no more of it, and
that’s something to be thankful for.”

And so Mr and Mrs Chittenden sat down to tea.

And what of Mr Dillet and of his new acquisition? What it was, the
title of this story will have told you. What it was like, I shall have
to indicate as well as I can.

There was only just room enough for it in the car, and Mr Dillet had to
sit with the driver: he had also to go slow, for though the rooms of
the Doll’s House had all been stuffed carefully with soft cotton-wool,
jolting was to be avoided, in view of the immense number of small
objects which thronged them; and the ten-mile drive was an anxious
time for him, in spite of all the precautions he insisted upon. At last
his front door was reached, and Collins, the butler, came out.

“Look here, Collins, you must help me with this thing--it’s a delicate
job. We must get it out upright, see? It’s full of little things that
mustn’t be displaced more than we can help. Let’s see, where shall we
have it? (After a pause for consideration). Really, I think I shall
have to put it in my own room, to begin with at any rate. On the big
table--that’s it.”

It was conveyed--with much talking--to Mr Dillet’s spacious room on the
first floor, looking out on the drive. The sheeting was unwound from
it, and the front thrown open, and for the next hour or two Mr Dillet
was fully occupied in extracting the padding and setting in order the
contents of the rooms.

When this thoroughly congenial task was finished, I must say that
it would have been difficult to find a more perfect and attractive
specimen of a Doll’s House in Strawberry Hill Gothic than that which
now stood on Mr Dillet’s large kneehole table, lighted up by the
evening sun which came slanting through three tall sash-windows.

It was quite six feet long, including the Chapel or Oratory which
flanked the front on the left as you faced it, and the stable on
the right. The main block of the house was, as I have said, in the
Gothic manner: that is to say, the windows had pointed arches and were
surmounted by what are called ogival hoods, with crockets and finials
such as we see on the canopies of tombs built into church walls. At the
angles were absurd turrets covered with arched panels. The Chapel had
pinnacles and buttresses, and a bell in the turret and coloured glass
in the windows. When the front of the house was open you saw four large
rooms, bedroom, dining-room, drawing-room and kitchen, each with its
appropriate furniture in a very complete state.

The stable on the right was in two storeys, with its proper complement
of horses, coaches and grooms, and with its clock and Gothic cupola
for the clock bell.

Pages, of course, might be written on the outfit of the mansion--how
many frying pans, how many gilt chairs, what pictures, carpets,
chandeliers, four-posters, table linen, glass, crockery and plate it
possessed; but all this must be left to the imagination. I will only
say that the base or plinth on which the house stood (for it was fitted
with one of some depth which allowed of a flight of steps to the front
door and a terrace, partly balustraded) contained a shallow drawer
or drawers in which were neatly stored sets of embroidered curtains,
changes of raiment for the inmates, and, in short, all the materials
for an infinite series of variations and refittings of the most
absorbing and delightful kind.

“Quintessence of Horace Walpole, that’s what it is: he must have had
something to do with the making of it.” Such was Mr Dillet’s murmured
reflection as he knelt before it in a reverent ecstasy. “Simply
wonderful; this is my day and no mistake. Five hundred pound coming in
this morning for that cabinet which I never cared about, and now this
tumbling into my hands for a tenth, at the very most, of what it would
fetch in town. Well, well! It almost makes one afraid something’ll
happen to counter it. Let’s have a look at the population, anyhow.”

Accordingly, he set them before him in a row. Again, here is an
opportunity, which some would snatch at, of making an inventory of
costume: I am incapable of it.

There were a gentleman and lady, in blue satin and brocade
respectively. There were two children, a boy and a girl. There was
a cook, a nurse, a footman, and there were the stable servants, two
postillions, a coachman, two grooms.

“Anyone else? Yes, possibly.”

The curtains of the four-poster in the bedroom were closely drawn round
four sides of it, and he put his finger in between them and felt in
the bed. He drew the finger back hastily, for it almost seemed to him
as if something had--not stirred, perhaps, but yielded--in an odd live
way as he pressed it. Then he put back the curtains, which ran on rods
in the proper manner, and extracted from the bed a white-haired old
gentleman in a long linen night-dress and cap, and laid him down by the
rest. The tale was complete.

Dinner time was now near, so Mr Dillet spent but five minutes in
putting the lady and children into the drawing-room, the gentleman into
the dining-room, the servants into the kitchen and stables, and the old
man back into his bed. He retired into his dressing room next door, and
we see and hear no more of him until something like eleven o’clock at
night.

His whim was to sleep surrounded by some of the gems of his collection.
The big room in which we have seen him contained his bed: bath,
wardrobe, and all the appliances of dressing were in a commodious room
adjoining: but his four-poster, which itself was a valued treasure,
stood in the large room where he sometimes wrote, and often sat,
and even received visitors. To-night he repaired to it in a highly
complacent frame of mind.

There was no striking clock within earshot--none on the staircase, none
in the stable, none in the distant Church tower. Yet it is indubitable
that Mr Dillet was startled out of a very pleasant slumber by a bell
tolling One.

He was so much startled that he did not merely lie breathless with
wide-open eyes, but actually sat up in his bed.

He never asked himself, till the morning hours, how it was that,
though there was no light at all in the room, the Doll’s House on the
kneehole table stood out with complete clearness. But it was so. The
effect was that of a bright harvest moon shining full on the front of
a big white stone mansion--a quarter of a mile away it might be, and
yet every detail was photographically sharp. There were trees about
it, too--trees rising behind the chapel and the house. He seemed to be
conscious of the scent of a cool still September night. He thought he
could hear an occasional stamp and clink from the stables, as of horses
stirring. And with another shock he realized that, above the house, he
was looking, not at the wall of his room with its pictures, but into
the profound blue of a night sky.

There were lights, more than one, in the windows, and he quickly saw
that this was no four-roomed house with a movable front, but one of
many rooms, and staircases--a real house, but seen as if through the
wrong end of a telescope. “You mean to show me something,” he muttered
to himself, and he gazed earnestly on the lighted windows. They would
in real life have been shuttered or curtained, no doubt, he thought;
but, as it was, there was nothing to intercept his view of what was
being transacted inside the rooms.

Two rooms were lighted--one on the ground floor to the right of the
door, one upstairs, on the left--the first brightly enough, the other
rather dimly. The lower room was the dining-room: a table was laid,
but the meal was over, and only wine and glasses were left on the
table. The man of the blue satin and the woman of the brocade were
alone in the room, and they were talking very earnestly, seated close
together at the table, their elbows on it: every now and again stopping
to listen, as it seemed. Once _he_ rose, came to the window and opened
it and put his head out and his hand to his ear. There was a lighted
taper in a silver candlestick on a sideboard. When the man left the
window he seemed to leave the room also; and the lady, taper in hand,
remained standing and listening. The expression on her face was that
of one striving her utmost to keep down a fear that threatened to
master her--and succeeding. It was a hateful face, too; broad, flat and
sly. Now the man came back and she took some small thing from him and
hurried out of the room. He, too, disappeared, but only for a moment or
two. The front door slowly opened and he stepped out and stood on the
top of the _perron_, looking this way and that; then turned towards
the upper window that was lighted, and shook his fist.

It was time to look at that upper window. Through it was seen a
four-post bed: a nurse or other servant in an armchair, evidently
sound asleep; in the bed an old man lying: awake, and, one would say,
anxious, from the way in which he shifted about and moved his fingers,
beating tunes on the coverlet. Beyond the bed a door opened. Light was
seen on the ceiling, and the lady came in: she set down her candle on
a table, came to the fireside and roused the nurse. In her hand she
had an old-fashioned wine bottle, ready uncorked. The nurse took it,
poured some of the contents into a little silver sauce-pan, added some
spice and sugar from casters on the table, and set it to warm on the
fire. Meanwhile the old man in the bed beckoned feebly to the lady,
who came to him, smiling, took his wrist as if to feel his pulse, and
bit her lip as if in consternation. He looked at her anxiously, and
then pointed to the window, and spoke. She nodded, and did as the
man below had done; opened the casement and listened--perhaps rather
ostentatiously: then drew in her head and shook it, looking at the old
man, who seemed to sigh.

By this time the posset on the fire was steaming, and the nurse poured
it into a small two-handled silver bowl and brought it to the bedside.
The old man seemed disinclined for it and was waving it away, but the
lady and the nurse together bent over him and evidently pressed it
upon him. He must have yielded, for they supported him into a sitting
position, and put it to his lips. He drank most of it, in several
draughts, and they laid him down. The lady left the room, smiling
good-night to him, and took the bowl, the bottle and the silver
sauce-pan with her. The nurse returned to the chair, and there was an
interval of complete quiet.

Suddenly the old man started up in his bed--and he must have uttered
some cry, for the nurse started out of her chair and made but one step
of it to the bedside. He was a sad and terrible sight--flushed in
the face, almost to blackness, the eyes glaring whitely, both hands
clutching at his heart, foam at his lips.

For a moment the nurse left him, ran to the door, flung it wide open,
and, one supposes, screamed aloud for help, then darted back to the bed
and seemed to try feverishly to soothe him--to lay him down--anything.
But as the lady, her husband, and several servants, rushed into the
room with horrified faces, the old man collapsed under the nurse’s
hands and lay back, and the features, contorted with agony and rage,
relaxed slowly into calm.

A few moments later, lights showed out to the left of the house, and
a coach with flambeaux drove up to the door. A white-wigged man in
black got nimbly out and ran up the steps, carrying a small leather
trunk-shaped box. He was met in the doorway by the man and his wife,
she with her handkerchief clutched between her hands, he with a tragic
face, but retaining his self-control. They led the newcomer into the
dining-room, where he set his box of papers on the table, and, turning
to them, listened with a face of consternation at what they had to
tell. He nodded his head again and again, threw out his hands slightly,
declined, it seemed, offers of refreshment and lodging for the night,
and within a few minutes came slowly down the steps entering the coach
and driving off the way he had come. As the man in blue watched him
from the top of the steps, a smile not pleasant to see stole slowly
over his fat white face. Darkness fell over the whole scene as the
lights of the coach disappeared.

But Mr Dillet remained sitting up in the bed: he had rightly guessed
that there would be a sequel. The house front glimmered out again
before long. But now there was a difference. The lights were in other
windows, one at the top of the house, the other illuminating the range
of coloured windows of the chapel. How he saw through these is not
quite obvious, but he did. The interior was as carefully furnished as
the rest of the establishment, with its minute red cushions on the
desks, its Gothic stall-canopies, and its western gallery and pinnacled
organ with gold pipes. On the centre of the black and white pavement
was a bier: four tall candles burned at the corners. On the bier was a
coffin covered with a pall of black velvet.

As he looked the folds of the pall stirred. It seemed to rise at one
end: it slid downwards: it fell away, exposing the black coffin with
its silver handles and name-plate. One of the tall candlesticks swayed
and toppled over. Ask no more, but turn, as Mr Dillet hastily did,
and look in at the lighted window at the top of the house, where a
boy and girl lay in two truckle-beds, and a four-poster for the nurse
rose above them. The nurse was not visible for the moment; but the
father and mother were there, dressed now in mourning, but with very
little sign of mourning in their demeanour. Indeed, they were laughing
and talking with a good deal of animation, sometimes to each other,
and sometimes throwing a remark to one or other of the children,
and again laughing at the answers. Then the father was seen to go on
tiptoe out of the room, taking with him as he went a white garment that
hung on a peg near the door. He shut the door after him. A minute or
two later it was slowly opened again, and a muffled head poked round
it. A bent form of sinister shape stepped across to the truckle-beds,
and suddenly stopped, threw up its arms and revealed, of course, the
father, laughing. The children were in agonies of terror, the boy with
the bed clothes over his head, the girl throwing herself out of bed
into her mother’s arms. Attempts at consolation followed--the parents
took the children on their laps, patted them, picked up the white gown
and showed there was no harm in it, and so forth; and at last putting
the children back into bed, left the room with encouraging waves of the
hand. As they left it, the nurse came in, and soon the light died down.

Still Mr Dillet watched immovable.

A new sort of light--not of lamp or candle--a pale ugly light,
began to dawn around the door-case at the back of the room. The door
was opening again. The seer does not like to dwell upon what he saw
entering the room: he says it might be described as a frog--the size of
a man--but it had scanty white hair about its head. It was busy about
the truckle-beds, but not for long. The sound of cries--faint, as if
coming out of a vast distance--but, even so, infinitely appalling,
reached the ear.

There were signs of a hideous commotion all over the house: lights
passed along and up, and doors opened and shut, and running figures
passed within the windows. The clock in the stable turret tolled one,
and darkness fell again.

It was only dispelled once more, to show the house front. At the bottom
of the steps dark figures were drawn up in two lines, holding flaming
torches. More dark figures came down the steps, bearing, first one,
then another small coffin. And the lines of torch-bearers with the
coffins between them moved silently onward to the left.

The hours of night passed on--never so slowly, Mr Dillet thought.
Gradually he sank down from sitting to lying in his bed--but he did not
close an eye: and early next morning he sent for the doctor.

The doctor found him in a disquieting state of nerves, and recommended
sea-air. To a quiet place on the East Coast he accordingly repaired by
easy stages in his car.

One of the first people he met on the sea-front was Mr Chittenden, who,
it appeared, had likewise been advised to take his wife away for a bit
of a change.

Mr Chittenden looked somewhat askance upon him when they met: and not
without cause.

“Well, I don’t wonder at you being a bit upset, Mr Dillet. What? yes,
well, I might say ’orrible upset, to be sure, seeing what me and my
poor wife went through ourselves. But I put it to you, Mr Dillet, one
of two things: was I going to scrap a lovely piece like that on the one
’and, or was I going to tell customers: ‘I’m selling you a regular
picture-palace-dramar in reel life of the olden time, billed to perform
regular at one o’clock a.m.’? Why, what would you ’ave said yourself?
And next thing you know, two Justices of the Peace in the back parlour,
and pore Mr and Mrs Chittenden off in a spring cart to the County
Asylum and everyone in the street saying, ‘Ah, I thought it ’ud come
to that. Look at the way the man drank!’--and me next door, or next
door but one, to a total abstainer, as you know. Well, there was my
position. What? Me ’ave it back in the shop? Well, what do _you_ think?
No, but I’ll tell you what I will do. You shall have your money back,
bar the ten pound I paid for it, and you make what you can.”

Later in the day, in what is offensively called the “smoke-room” of the
hotel, a murmured conversation between the two went on for some time.

“How much do you really know about that thing, and where it came from?”

“Honest, Mr Dillet, I don’t know the ’ouse. Of course, it came out
of the lumber room of a country ’ouse--that anyone could guess. But
I’ll go as far as say this, that I believe it’s not a hundred miles
from this place. Which direction and how far I’ve no notion. I’m only
judging by guess-work. The man as I actually paid the cheque to ain’t
one of my regular men, and I’ve lost sight of him; but I ’ave the idea
that this part of the country was his beat, and that’s every word I can
tell you. But now, Mr Dillet, there’s one thing that rather physicks
me--that old chap,--I suppose you saw him drive up to the door--I
thought so: now, would he have been the medical man, do you take it? My
wife would have it so, but I stuck to it that was the lawyer, because
he had papers with him, and one he took out was folded up.”

“I agree,” said Mr Dillet. “Thinking it over, I came to the conclusion
that was the old man’s will, ready to be signed.”

“Just what I thought,” said Mr Chittenden, “and I took it that will
would have cut out the young people, eh? Well, well! It’s been a
lesson to me, I know that. I shan’t buy no more dolls’ houses, nor
waste no more money on the pictures--and as to this business of
poisonin’ grandpa, well, if I know myself, I never ’ad much of a turn
for that. Live and let live: that’s bin my motto throughout life, and I
ain’t found it a bad one.”

Filled with these elevated sentiments, Mr Chittenden retired to
his lodgings. Mr Dillet next day repaired to the local Institute,
where he hoped to find some clue to the riddle that absorbed him. He
gazed in despair at a long file of the Canterbury and York Society’s
publications of the Parish Registers of the district. No print
resembling the house of his nightmare was among those that hung on the
staircase and in the passages. Disconsolate, he found himself at last
in a derelict room, staring at a dusty model of a church in a dusty
glass case: _Model of St Stephen’s Church, Coxham. Presented by J.
Merewether, Esq., of Ilbridge House, 1877. The work of his ancestor
James Merewether, d. 1786._ There was something in the fashion of it
that reminded him dimly of his horror. He retraced his steps to a wall
map he had noticed, and made out that Ilbridge House was in Coxham
Parish. Coxham was, as it happened, one of the parishes of which he had
retained the name when he glanced over the file of printed registers,
and it was not long before he found in them the record of the burial of
Roger Milford, aged 76, on the 11th of September, 1757, and of Roger
and Elizabeth Merewether, aged 9 and 7, on the 19th of the same month.
It seemed worth while to follow up this clue, frail as it was; and in
the afternoon he drove out to Coxham. The east end of the north aisle
of the church is a Milford chapel, and on its north wall are tablets
to the same persons; Roger, the elder, it seems, was distinguished by
all the qualities which adorn “the Father, the Magistrate, and the
Man”: the memorial was erected by his attached daughter Elizabeth,
“who did not long survive the loss of a parent ever solicitous for her
welfare, and of two amiable children.” The last sentence was plainly
an addition to the original inscription.

A yet later slab told of James Merewether, husband of Elizabeth,
“who in the dawn of life practised, not without success, those arts
which, had he continued their exercise, might in the opinion of the
most competent judges have earned for him the name of the British
Vitruvius: but who, overwhelmed by the visitation which deprived him of
an affectionate partner and a blooming offspring, passed his Prime and
Age in a secluded yet elegant Retirement: his grateful Nephew and Heir
indulges a pious sorrow by this too brief recital of his excellences.”

The children were more simply commemorated. Both died on the night of
the 12th of September.

Mr Dillet felt sure that in Ilbridge House he had found the scene of
his drama. In some old sketch-book, possibly in some old print, he may
yet find convincing evidence that he is right. But the Ilbridge House
of to-day is not that which he sought; it is an Elizabethan erection of
the forties, in red brick with stone quoins and dressings. A quarter
of a mile from it, in a low part of the park, backed by ancient,
stag-horned, ivy-strangled trees and thick undergrowth, are marks of
a terraced platform overgrown with rough grass. A few stone balusters
lie here and there, and a heap or two, covered with nettles and ivy,
of wrought stones with badly carved crockets. This, someone told Mr
Dillet, was the site of an older house.

As he drove out of the village, the hall clock struck four, and Mr
Dillet started up and clapped his hands to his ears. It was not the
first time he had heard that bell.

Awaiting an offer from the other side of the Atlantic, the doll’s house
still reposes, carefully sheeted, in a loft over Mr Dillet’s stables,
whither Collins conveyed it on the day when Mr Dillet started for the
sea coast.

       *       *       *       *       *

[It will be said, perhaps, and not unjustly, that this is no more than
a variation on a former story of mine called _The Mezzotint_. I can
only hope that there is enough of variation in the setting to make the
repetition of the _motif_ tolerable].



THE UNCOMMON PRAYER-BOOK


I

Mr Davidson was spending the first week in January alone in a country
town. A combination of circumstances had driven him to that drastic
course: his nearest relations were enjoying winter sports abroad,
and the friends who had been kindly anxious to replace them had an
infectious complaint in the house. Doubtless he might have found
someone else to take pity on him. “But,” he reflected, “most of them
have made up their parties, and, after all, it is only for three or
four days at most that I have to fend for myself, and it will be just
as well if I can get a move on with my introduction to the Leventhorp
Papers. I might use the time by going down as near as I can to
Gaulsford and making acquaintance with the neighbourhood. I ought to
see the remains of Leventhorp House, and the tombs in the church.”

The first day after his arrival at the Swan Hotel at Longbridge was
so stormy that he got no farther than the tobacconist’s. The next,
comparatively bright, he used for his visit to Gaulsford, which
interested him more than a little, but had no ulterior consequences.
The third, which was really a pearl of a day for early January, was
too fine to be spent indoors. He gathered from the landlord that a
favourite practice of visitors in the summer was to take a morning
train to a couple of stations westward, and walk back down the valley
of the Tent, through Stanford St Thomas and Stanford Magdalene, both
of which were accounted highly picturesque villages. He closed with
this plan, and we now find him seated in a third-class carriage at 9.45
A.M., on his way to Kingsbourne Junction, and studying the map of the
district.

One old man was his only fellow-traveller, a piping old man, who seemed
inclined for conversation. So Mr Davidson, after going through the
necessary versicles and responses about the weather, inquired whether
he was going far.

“No, sir, not far, not this morning, sir,” said the old man. “I ain’t
only goin’ so far as what they call Kingsbourne Junction. There isn’t
but two stations betwixt here and there. Yes, they calls it Kingsbourne
Junction.”

“I’m going there, too,” said Mr Davidson.

“Oh, indeed, sir; do you know that part?”

“No, I’m only going for the sake of taking a walk back to Longbridge,
and seeing a bit of the country.”

“Oh, indeed, sir! Well, ’tis a beautiful day for a gentleman as enjoys
a bit of a walk.”

“Yes, to be sure. Have you got far to go when you get to Kingsbourne?”

“No, sir, I ain’t got far to go, once I get to Kingsbourne Junction.
I’m agoin’ to see my daughter, sir. She live at Brockstone. That’s
about two mile across the fields from what they call Kingsbourne
Junction, that is. You’ve got that marked down on your map, I expect,
sir.”

“I expect I have. Let me see, Brockstone, did you say? Here’s
Kingsbourne, yes; and which way is Brockstone--toward the Stanfords?
Ah, I see it: Brockstone Court, in a park. I don’t see the village,
though.”

“No, sir, you wouldn’t see no village of Brockstone. There ain’t only
the Court and the Chapel at Brockstone.”

“Chapel? Oh, yes, that’s marked here, too. The Chapel; close by the
Court, it seems to be. Does it belong to the Court?”

“Yes, sir, that’s close up to the Court, only a step. Yes, that belong
to the Court. My daughter, you see, sir, she’s the keeper’s wife now,
and she live at the Court and look after things now the family’s away.”

“No one living there now, then?”

“No, sir, not for a number of years. The old gentleman, he lived there
when I was a lad; and the lady, she lived on after him to very near
upon ninety years of age. And then she died, and them that have it
now, they’ve got this other place, in Warwickshire I believe it is, and
they don’t do nothin’ about lettin’ the Court out; but Colonel Wildman,
he have the shooting, and young Mr Clark, he’s the agent, he come over
once in so many weeks to see to things, and my daughter’s husband, he’s
the keeper.”

“And who uses the Chapel? just the people round about, I suppose.”

“Oh, no, no one don’t use the Chapel. Why, there ain’t no one to go.
All the people about, they go to Stanford St Thomas Church; but my
son-in-law, he go to Kingsbourne Church now, because the gentleman at
Stanford, he have this Gregory singin’, and my son-in-law, he don’t
like that; he say he can hear the old donkey brayin’ any day of the
week, and he like something a little cheerful on the Sunday.” The
old man drew his hand across his mouth and laughed. “That’s what my
son-in-law say; he say he can hear the old donkey,” etc., _da capo_.

Mr Davidson also laughed as honestly as he could, thinking meanwhile
that Brockstone Court and Chapel would probably be worth including
in his walk; for the map showed that from Brockstone he could
strike the Tent Valley quite as easily as by following the main
Kingsbourne-Longbridge road. So, when the mirth excited by the
remembrance of the son-in-law’s _bon mot_ had died down, he returned to
the charge, and ascertained that both the Court and the Chapel were of
the class known as “old-fashioned places,” and that the old man would
be very willing to take him thither, and his daughter would be happy to
show him whatever she could.

“But that ain’t a lot, sir, not as if the family was livin’ there; all
the lookin’-glasses is covered up, and the paintin’s, and the curtains
and carpets folded away; not but what I dare say she could show you
a pair just to look at, because she go over them to see as the morth
shouldn’t get into ’em.”

“I shan’t mind about that, thank you; if she can show me the inside of
the Chapel, that’s what I’d like best to see.”

“Oh, she can show you that right enough, sir. She have the key of the
door, you see, and most weeks she go in and dust about. That’s a nice
Chapel, that is. My son-in-law, he say he’ll be bound they didn’t have
none of this Gregory singin’ there. Dear! I can’t help but smile when I
think of him sayin’ that about th’ old donkey. ‘I can hear him bray,’
he say, ‘any day of the week’; and so he can, sir; that’s true, anyway.”

The walk across the fields from Kingsbourne to Brockstone was very
pleasant. It lay for the most part on the top of the country, and
commanded wide views over a succession of ridges, plough and pasture,
or covered with dark-blue woods--all ending, more or less abruptly,
on the right, in headlands that overlooked the wide valley of a great
western river. The last field they crossed was bounded by a close
copse, and no sooner were they in it than the path turned downward
very sharply, and it became evident that Brockstone was neatly fitted
into a sudden and very narrow valley. It was not long before they had
glimpses of groups of smokeless stone chimneys, and stone-tiled roofs,
close beneath their feet; and, not many minutes after that, they were
wiping their shoes at the back door of Brockstone Court, while the
keeper’s dogs barked very loudly in unseen places, and Mrs Porter, in
quick succession, screamed at them to be quiet, greeted her father, and
begged both her visitors to step in.


II

It was not to be expected that Mr Davidson should escape being taken
through the principal rooms of the Court, in spite of the fact that
the house was entirely out of commission. Pictures, carpets, curtains,
furniture, were all covered up or put away, as old Mr Avery had
said; and the admiration which our friend was very ready to bestow
had to be lavished on the proportions of the rooms, and on the one
painted ceiling, upon which an artist who had fled from London in the
plague-year had depicted the Triumph of Loyalty and Defeat of Sedition.
In this Mr Davidson could show an unfeigned interest. The portraits of
Cromwell, Ireton, Bradshaw, Peters, and the rest, writhing in carefully
devised torments, were evidently the part of the design to which most
pains had been devoted.

“That were the old Lady Sadleir had that paintin’ done, same as the
one what put up the Chapel. They say she were the first that went up
to London to dance on Oliver Cromwell’s grave.” So said Mr Avery, and
continued musingly, “Well, I suppose she got some satisfaction to her
mind, but I don’t know as I should want to pay the fare to London and
back just for that; and my son-in-law, he say the same; he say he don’t
know as he should have cared to pay all that money only for that. I was
tellin’ the gentleman as we came along in the train, Mary, what your
’Arry says about this Gregory singin’ down at Stanford here. We ’ad a
bit of a laugh over that, sir, didn’t us?”

“Yes, to be sure we did; ha! ha!” Once again Mr Davidson strove to do
justice to the pleasantry of the keeper. “But,” he said, “if Mrs Porter
can show me the Chapel, I think it should be now, for the days aren’t
long, and I want to get back to Longbridge before it falls quite dark.”

Even if Brockstone Court has not been illustrated in _Rural Life_ (and
I think it has not), I do not propose to point out its excellences
here; but of the Chapel a word must be said. It stands about a hundred
yards from the house, and has its own little graveyard and trees about
it. It is a stone building about seventy feet long, and in the Gothic
style, as that style was understood in the middle of the seventeenth
century. On the whole it resembles some of the Oxford college chapels
as much as anything, save that it has a distinct chancel, like a parish
church, and a fanciful domed bell-turret at the south-west angle.

When the west door was thrown open, Mr Davidson could not repress an
exclamation of pleased surprise at the completeness and richness of
the interior. Screen-work, pulpit, seating, and glass--all were of
the same period; and as he advanced into the nave and sighted the
organ-case with its gold-embossed pipes in the western gallery, his cup
of satisfaction was filled. The glass in the nave windows was chiefly
armorial; and in the chancel were figure-subjects, of the kind that may
be seen at Abbey Dore, of Lord Scudamore’s work.

But this is not an archæological review.

While Mr Davidson was still busy examining the remains of the organ
(attributed to one of the Dallams, I believe), old Mr Avery had
stumped up into the chancel and was lifting the dust-cloths from the
blue-velvet cushions of the stall-desks. Evidently it was here that the
family sat.

Mr Davidson heard him say in a rather hushed tone of surprise, “Why,
Mary, here’s all the books open agin!”

The reply was in a voice that sounded peevish rather than surprised.
“Tt-tt-tt, well, there, I never!”

Mrs Porter went over to where her father was standing, and they
continued talking in a lower key. Mr Davidson saw plainly that
something not quite in the common run was under discussion; so he came
down the gallery stairs and joined them. There was no sign of disorder
in the chancel any more than in the rest of the Chapel, which was
beautifully clean; but the eight folio Prayer-Books on the cushions of
the stall-desks were indubitably open.

Mrs Porter was inclined to be fretful over it. “Whoever can it be as
does it?” she said: “for there’s no key but mine, nor yet door but the
one we came in by, and the winders is barred, every one of ’em; I don’t
like it, father, that I don’t.”

“What is it, Mrs Porter? Anything wrong?” said Mr Davidson.

“No, sir, nothing reely wrong, only these books. Every time, pretty
near, that I come in to do up the place, I shuts ’em and spreads the
cloths over ’em to keep off the dust, ever since Mr Clark spoke about
it, when I first come; and yet there they are again, and always the
same page--and as I says, whoever it can be as does it with the door
and winders shut; and as I says, it makes anyone feel queer comin’ in
here alone, as I ’ave to do, not as I’m given that way myself, not
to be frightened easy, I mean to say; and there’s not a rat in the
place--not as no rat wouldn’t trouble to do a thing like that, do you
think, sir?”

“Hardly, I should say; but it sounds very queer. Are they always open
at the same place, did you say?”

“Always the same place, sir, one of the psalms it is, and I didn’t
particular notice it the first time or two, till I see a little red
line of printing, and it’s always caught my eye since.”

Mr Davidson walked along the stalls and looked at the open books. Sure
enough, they all stood at the same page; Psalm cix., and at the head
of it, just between the number and the _Deus laudum_, was a rubric,
“For the 25th day of April.” Without pretending to minute knowledge
of the history of the Book of Common Prayer, he knew enough to be sure
that this was a very odd and wholly unauthorized addition to its text;
and though he remembered that April 25 is St Mark’s Day, he could not
imagine what appropriateness this very savage psalm could have to that
festival. With slight misgivings he ventured to turn over the leaves to
examine the title-page, and knowing the need for particular accuracy in
these matters, he devoted some ten minutes to making a line-for-line
transcript of it. The date was 1653; the printer called himself Anthony
Cadman. He turned to the list of proper psalms for certain days; yes,
added to it was that same inexplicable entry: _For the 25th day of
April: the 109th Psalm_. An expert would no doubt have thought of many
other points to inquire into, but this antiquary, as I have said, was
no expert. He took stock, however, of the binding--a handsome one of
tooled blue leather, bearing the arms that figured in several of the
nave windows in various combinations.

“How often,” he said at last to Mrs Porter, “have you found these books
lying open like this?”

“Reely I couldn’t say, sir, but it’s a great many times now. Do you
recollect, father, me telling you about it the first time I noticed it?”

“That I do, my dear; you was in a rare taking, and I don’t so much
wonder at it; that was five year ago I was paying you a visit at
Michaelmas time, and you come in at tea-time, and says you, ‘Father,
there’s the books laying open under the cloths agin;’ and I didn’t
know what my daughter was speakin’ about, you see, sir, and I says,
‘Books?’ just like that, I says; and then it all came out. But as Harry
says,--that’s my son-in-law, sir,--‘whoever it can be,’ he says, ‘as
does it, because there ain’t only the one door, and we keeps the key
locked up,’ he says, ‘and the winders is barred, every one on ’em.
Well,’ he says, ‘I lay once I could catch ’em at it, they wouldn’t do
it a second time,’ he says. And no more they wouldn’t, I don’t believe,
sir. Well, that was five year ago, and it’s been happenin’ constant
ever since by your account, my dear. Young Mr Clark, he don’t seem to
think much to it; but then he don’t live here, you see, and ’tisn’t his
business to come and clean up here of a dark afternoon, is it?”

“I suppose you never notice anything else odd when you are at work
here, Mrs Porter?” said Mr Davidson.

“No, sir, I do not,” said Mrs Porter, “and it’s a funny thing to me I
don’t, with the feeling I have as there’s someone settin’ here--no,
it’s the other side, just within the screen--and lookin’ at me all the
time I’m dustin’ in the gallery and pews. But I never yet see nothin’
worse than myself, as the sayin’ goes, and I kindly hope I never may.”


III

In the conversation that followed (there was not much of it), nothing
was added to the statement of the case. Having parted on good terms
with Mr Avery and his daughter, Mr Davidson addressed himself to his
eight-mile walk. The little valley of Brockstone soon led him down into
the broader one of the Tent, and on to Stanford St Thomas, where he
found refreshment.

We need not accompany him all the way to Longbridge. But as he
was changing his socks before dinner, he suddenly paused and said
half-aloud, “By Jove, that is a rum thing!” It had not occurred to him
before how strange it was that any edition of the Prayer-Book should
have been issued in 1653, seven years before the Restoration, five
years before Cromwell’s death, and when the use of the book, let alone
the printing of it, was penal. He must have been a bold man who put his
name and a date on that title-page. Only, Mr Davidson reflected, it
probably was not his name at all, for the ways of printers in difficult
times were devious.

As he was in the front hall of the Swan that evening, making some
investigations about trains, a small motor stopped in front of the
door, and out of it came a small man in a fur coat, who stood on the
steps and gave directions in a rather yapping foreign accent to his
chauffeur. When he came into the hotel, he was seen to be black-haired
and pale-faced, with a little pointed beard, and gold _pince-nez_;
altogether, very neatly turned out.

He went to his room, and Mr Davidson saw no more of him till
dinner-time. As they were the only two dining that night, it was not
difficult for the newcomer to find an excuse for falling into talk; he
was evidently wishing to make out what brought Mr Davidson into that
neighbourhood at that season.

“Can you tell me how far it is from here to Arlingworth?” was one of
his early questions; and it was one which threw some light on his
own plans; for Mr Davidson recollected having seen at the station an
advertisement of a sale at Arlingworth Hall, comprising old furniture,
pictures, and books. This, then, was a London dealer.

“No,” he said, “I’ve never been there. I believe it lies out by
Kingsbourne--it can’t be less than twelve miles. I see there’s a sale
there shortly.”

The other looked at him inquisitively, and he laughed. “No,” he said,
as if answering a question, “you needn’t be afraid of my competing; I’m
leaving this place to-morrow.”

This cleared the air, and the dealer, whose name was Homberger,
admitted that he was interested in books, and thought there might be
in these old country-house libraries something to repay a journey.
“For,” said he, “we English have always this marvellous talent for
accumulating rarities in the most unexpected places, ain’t it?”

And in the course of the evening he was most interesting on the subject
of finds made by himself and others. “I shall take the occasion after
this sale to look round the district a bit; perhaps you could inform me
of some likely spots, Mr Davidson?”

But Mr Davidson, though he had seen some very tempting locked-up
book-cases at Brockstone Court, kept his counsel. He did not really
like Mr Homberger.

Next day, as he sat in the train, a little ray of light came to
illuminate one of yesterday’s puzzles. He happened to take out an
almanac-diary that he had bought for the new year, and it occurred to
him to look at the remarkable events for April 25. There it was: “St
Mark. Oliver Cromwell born, 1599.”

That, coupled with the painted ceiling, seemed to explain a good
deal. The figure of old Lady Sadleir became more substantial to his
imagination, as of one in whom love for Church and King had gradually
given place to intense hate of the power that had silenced the one and
slaughtered the other. What curious evil service was that which she and
a few like her had been wont to celebrate year by year in that remote
valley? And how in the world had she managed to elude authority? And
again, did not this persistent opening of the books agree oddly with
the other traits of her portrait known to him? It would be interesting
for anyone who chanced to be near Brockstone on the twenty-fifth
of April to look in at the Chapel and see if anything exceptional
happened. When he came to think of it, there seemed to be no reason
why he should not be that person himself; he, and if possible, some
congenial friend. He resolved that so it should be.

Knowing that he knew really nothing about the printing of Prayer-Books,
he realized that he must make it his business to get the best light
on the matter without divulging his reasons. I may say at once that
his search was entirely fruitless. One writer of the early part of the
nineteenth century, a writer of rather windy and rhapsodical chat about
books, professed to have heard of a special anti-Cromwellian issue of
the Prayer-Book in the very midst of the Commonwealth period. But he
did not claim to have seen a copy, and no one had believed him. Looking
into this matter, Mr Davidson found that the statement was based on
letters from a correspondent who had lived near Longbridge; so he was
inclined to think that the Brockstone Prayer-Books were at the bottom
of it, and had excited a momentary interest.

Months went on, and St Mark’s Day came near. Nothing interfered with Mr
Davidson’s plans of visiting Brockstone, or with those of the friend
whom he had persuaded to go with him, and to whom alone he had confided
the puzzle. The same 9.45 train which had taken him in January took
them now to Kingsbourne; the same field-path led them to Brockstone.
But to-day they stopped more than once to pick a cowslip; the distant
woods and ploughed uplands were of another colour, and in the copse
there was, as Mrs Porter said, “a regular charm of birds; why you
couldn’t hardly collect your mind sometimes with it.”

She recognized Mr Davidson at once, and was very ready to do the
honours of the Chapel. The new visitor, Mr Witham, was as much struck
by the completeness of it as Mr Davidson had been. “There can’t be
such another in England,” he said.

“Books open again, Mrs Porter?” said Davidson, as they walked up to the
chancel.

“Dear, yes, I expect so, sir,” said Mrs Porter, as she drew off the
cloths. “Well, there!” she exclaimed the next moment, “if they ain’t
shut! That’s the first time ever I’ve found ’em so. But it’s not for
want of care on my part, I do assure you, gentlemen, if they wasn’t,
for I felt the cloths the last thing before I shut up last week, when
the gentleman had done photografting the heast winder, and every one
was shut, and where there was ribbons left, I tied ’em. Now I think
of it, I don’t remember ever to ’ave done that before, and per’aps,
whoever it is, it just made the difference to ’em. Well, it only shows,
don’t it? If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”

Meanwhile the two men had been examining the books, and now Davidson
spoke.

“I’m sorry to say I’m afraid there’s something wrong here, Mrs Porter.
These are not the same books.”

It would make too long a business to detail all Mrs Porter’s outcries,
and the questionings that followed. The upshot was this. Early in
January the gentleman had come to see over the Chapel, and thought a
great deal of it, and said he must come back in the spring weather
and take some photografts. And only a week ago he had drove up in his
motoring car, and a very ’eavy box with the slides in it, and she had
locked him in because he said something about a long explosion, and she
was afraid of some damage happening; and he says, no, not explosion,
but it appeared the lantern what they take the slides with worked very
slow; and so he was in there the best part of an hour and she come and
let him out, and he drove off with his box and all and gave her his
visiting-card, and oh, dear, dear, to think of such a thing! he must
have changed the books and took the old ones away with him in his box.

“What sort of man was he?”

“Oh, dear, he was a small-made gentleman, if you can call him so after
the way he’ve behaved, with black hair, that is if it was hair, and
gold eye-glasses, if they was gold; reely, one don’t know what to
believe. Sometimes I doubt he weren’t a reel Englishman at all, and yet
he seemed to know the language, and had the name on his visiting-card
like anybody else might.”

“Just so; might we see the card? Yes; T. W. Henderson, and an address
somewhere near Bristol. Well, Mrs Porter, it’s quite plain this
Mr Henderson, as he calls himself, has walked off with your eight
Prayer-Books and put eight others about the same size in place of them.
Now listen to me. I suppose you must tell your husband about this, but
neither you nor he must say one word about it to anyone else. If you’ll
give me the address of the agent,--Mr Clark, isn’t it?--I will write to
him and tell him exactly what has happened, and that it really is no
fault of yours. But, you understand, we must keep it very quiet; and
why? Because this man who has stolen the books will of course try to
sell them one at a time--for I may tell you they are worth a good deal
of money--and the only way we can bring it home to him is by keeping a
sharp lookout and saying nothing.”

By dint of repeating the same advice in various forms, they succeeded
in impressing Mrs Porter with the real need for silence, and were
forced to make a concession only in the case of Mr Avery, who was
expected on a visit shortly. “But you may be safe with father, sir,”
said Mrs Porter. “Father ain’t a talkin’ man.”

It was not quite Mr Davidson’s experience of him; still, there were no
neighbours at Brockstone, and even Mr Avery must be aware that gossip
with anybody on such a subject would be likely to end in the Porters’
having to look out for another situation.

A last question was whether Mr Henderson, so-called, had anyone with
him.

“No, sir, not when he come he hadn’t; he was working his own motoring
car himself, and what luggage he had, let me see: there was his
lantern and this box of slides inside the carriage, which I helped him
into the Chapel and out of it myself with it, if only I’d knowed! And
as he drove away under the big yew tree by the monument, I see the long
white bundle laying on the top of the coach, what I didn’t notice when
he drove up. But he set in front, sir, and only the boxes inside behind
him. And do you reely think, sir, as his name weren’t Henderson at all?
Oh, dear me, what a dreadful thing! Why, fancy what trouble it might
bring to a innocent person that might never have set foot in the place
but for that!”

They left Mrs Porter in tears. On the way home there was much
discussion as to the best means of keeping watch upon possible sales.
What Henderson-Homberger (for there could be no real doubt of the
identity) had done was, obviously, to bring down the requisite number
of folio Prayer-Books--disused copies from college chapels and the
like, bought ostensibly for the sake of the bindings, which were
superficially like enough to the old ones--and to substitute them at
his leisure for the genuine articles. A week had now passed without
any public notice being taken of the theft. He would take a little
time himself to find out about the rarity of the books, and would
ultimately, no doubt, “place” them cautiously. Between them, Davidson
and Witham were in a position to know a good deal of what was passing
in the book-world, and they could map out the ground pretty completely.
A weak point with them at the moment was that neither of them knew
under what other name or names Henderson-Homberger carried on business.
But there are ways of solving these problems.

And yet all this planning proved unnecessary.


IV

We are transported to a London office on this same 25th of April.
We find there, within closed doors, late in the day, two police
inspectors, a commissionaire, and a youthful clerk. The two latter,
both rather pale and shaky in appearance, are sitting on chairs and
being questioned.

“How long do you say you’ve been in this Mr Poschwitz’s employment?
Six months? And what was his business? Attended sales in various parts
and brought home parcels of books. Did he keep a shop anywhere? No?
Disposed of ’em here and there, and sometimes to private collectors.
Right. Now then, when did he go out last? Rather better than a week
ago? Tell you where he was going? No? Said he was going to start next
day from his private residence, and shouldn’t be at the office--that’s
here, eh?--before two days; you was to attend as usual. Where is his
private residence? Oh, that’s the address, Norwood way; I see. Any
family? Not in this country? Now, then, what account do you give of
what’s happened since he came back? Came back on the Tuesday, did he?
and this is the Saturday. Bring any books? One package; where is it?
In the safe? You got the key? No, to be sure, it’s open, of course.
How did he seem when he got back--cheerful? Well, but how do you
mean--curious? Thought he might be in for an illness: he said that, did
he? Odd smell got in his nose, couldn’t get rid of it; told you to let
him know who wanted to see him before you let ’em in? That wasn’t usual
with him? Much the same all Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Out a good
deal; said he was going to the British Museum. Often went there to make
inquiries in the way of his business. Walked up and down a lot in the
office when he was in. Anyone call in on those days? Mostly when he was
out. Anyone find him in? Oh, Mr Collinson? Who’s Mr Collinson? An old
customer; know his address? All right, give it us afterwards. Well,
now, what about this morning? You left Mr Poschwitz’s here at twelve
and went home. Anybody see you? Commissionaire, you did? Remained at
home till summoned here. Very well.

“Now, commissionaire; we have your name--Watkins, eh? Very well, make
your statement; don’t go too quick, so as we can get it down.”

“I was on duty ’ere later than usual, Mr Potwitch ’aving asked me
to remain on, and ordered his lunching to be sent in, which came as
ordered. I was in the lobby from eleven-thirty on, and see Mr Bligh
[the clerk] leave at about twelve. After that no one come in at all
except Mr Potwitch’s lunching come at one o’clock and the man left in
five minutes’ time. Towards the afternoon I became tired of waitin’
and I come upstairs to this first floor. The outer door what lead to
the orfice stood open, and I come up to the plate-glass door here. Mr
Potwitch he was standing behind the table smoking a cigar, and he laid
it down on the mantelpiece and felt in his trouser pockets and took
out a key and went across to the safe. And I knocked on the glass,
thinkin’ to see if he wanted me to come and take away his tray; but he
didn’t take no notice, bein’ engaged with the safe door. Then he got
it open and stooped down and seemed to be lifting up a package off of
the floor of the safe. And then, sir, I see what looked to be like a
great roll of old shabby white flannel, about four to five feet high,
fall for’ards out of the inside of the safe right against Mr Potwitch’s
shoulder as he was stooping over; and Mr Potwitch, he raised himself up
as it were, resting his hands on the package, and gave a exclamation.
And I can’t hardly expect you should take what I says, but as true as
I stand here I see this roll had a kind of a face in the upper end of
it, sir. You can’t be more surprised than what I was, I can assure you,
and I’ve seen a lot in me time. Yes, I can describe it if you wish it,
sir; it was very much the same as this wall here in colour [the wall
had an earth-coloured distemper] and it had a bit of a band tied round
underneath. And the eyes, well they was dry-like, and much as if there
was two big spiders’ bodies in the holes. Hair? no, I don’t know as
there was much hair to be seen; the flannel-stuff was over the top of
the ’ead. I’m very sure it warn’t what it should have been. No, I only
see it in a flash, but I took it in like a photograft--wish I hadn’t.
Yes, sir, it fell right over on to Mr Potwitch’s shoulder, and this
face hid in his neck,--yes, sir, about where the injury was,--more like
a ferret going for a rabbit than anythink else; and he rolled over, and
of course I tried to get in at the door; but as you know, sir, it were
locked on the inside, and all I could do, I rung up everyone, and the
surgeon come, and the police and you gentlemen, and you know as much as
what I do. If you won’t be requirin’ me any more to-day I’d be glad to
be getting off home; it’s shook me up more than I thought for.”

“Well,” said one of the inspectors, when they were left alone; and
“Well?” said the other inspector; and, after a pause, “What’s the
surgeon’s report again? You’ve got it there. Yes. Effect on the blood
like the worst kind of snake-bite; death almost instantaneous. I’m glad
of that, for his sake; he was a nasty sight. No case for detaining this
man Watkins, anyway; we know all about him. And what about this safe,
now? We’d better go over it again; and, by the way, we haven’t opened
that package he was busy with when he died.”

“Well, handle it careful,” said the other; “there might be this snake
in it, for what you know. Get a light into the corners of the place,
too. Well, there’s room for a shortish person to stand up in; but what
about ventilation?”

“Perhaps,” said the other slowly, as he explored the safe with an
electric torch, “perhaps they didn’t require much of that. My word! it
strikes warm coming out of that place! like a vault, it is. But here,
what’s this bank-like of dust all spread out into the room? That must
have come there since the door was opened; it would sweep it all away
if you moved it--see? Now what do you make of that?”

“Make of it? About as much as I make of anything else in this case.
One of London’s mysteries this is going to be, by what I can see. And
I don’t believe a photographer’s box full of large-size old-fashioned
Prayer-Books is going to take us much further. For that’s just what
your package is.”

It was a natural but hasty utterance. The preceding narrative shows
that there was in fact plenty of material for constructing a case; and
when once Messrs Davidson and Witham had brought their end to Scotland
Yard, the join-up was soon made, and the circle completed.

To the relief of Mrs Porter, the owners of Brockstone decided not
to replace the books in the Chapel; they repose, I believe, in a
safe-deposit in town. The police have their own methods of keeping
certain matters out of the newspapers; otherwise, it can hardly be
supposed that Watkins’s evidence about Mr Poschwitz’s death could have
failed to furnish a good many head-lines of a startling character to
the press.



A NEIGHBOUR’S LANDMARK


Those who spend the greater part of their time in reading or writing
books are, of course, apt to take rather particular notice of
accumulations of books when they come across them. They will not pass a
stall, a shop, or even a bedroom-shelf without reading some title, and
if they find themselves in an unfamiliar library, no host need trouble
himself further about their entertainment. The putting of dispersed
sets of volumes together, or the turning right way up of those which
the dusting housemaid has left in an apoplectic condition, appeals to
them as one of the lesser Works of Mercy. Happy in these employments,
and in occasionally opening an eighteenth-century octavo, to see “what
it is all about,” and to conclude after five minutes that it deserves
the seclusion it now enjoys, I had reached the middle of a wet August
afternoon at Betton Court----

“You begin in a deeply Victorian manner,” I said; “is this to continue?”

“Remember, if you please,” said my friend, looking at me over his
spectacles, “that I am a Victorian by birth and education, and that
the Victorian tree may not unreasonably be expected to bear Victorian
fruit. Further, remember that an immense quantity of clever and
thoughtful Rubbish is now being written about the Victorian age. Now,”
he went on, laying his papers on his knee, “that article, ‘The Stricken
Years,’ in the _Times_ Literary Supplement the other day,--able? of
course it is able; but, oh! my soul and body, do just hand it over
here, will you? it’s on the table by you.”

“I thought you were to read me something you had written,” I said,
without moving, “but, of course----”

“Yes, I know,” he said. “Very well, then, I’ll do that first. But I
_should_ like to show you afterwards what I mean. However----” And he
lifted the sheets of paper and adjusted his spectacles.

----at Betton Court, where, generations back, two country-house
libraries had been fused together, and no descendant of either stock
had ever faced the task of picking them over or getting rid of
duplicates. Now I am not setting out to tell of rarities I may have
discovered, of Shakespeare quartos bound up in volumes of political
tracts, or anything of that kind, but of an experience which befell me
in the course of my search--an experience which I cannot either explain
away or fit into the scheme of my ordinary life.

It was, I said, a wet August afternoon, rather windy, rather warm.
Outside the window great trees were stirring and weeping. Between them
were stretches of green and yellow country (for the Court stands high
on a hillside), and blue hills far off, veiled with rain. Up above
was a very restless and hopeless movement of low clouds travelling
north-west. I had suspended my work--if you call it work--for some
minutes to stand at the window and look at these things, and at the
greenhouse roof on the right with the water sliding off it, and the
Church tower that rose behind that. It was all in favour of my going
steadily on; no likelihood of a clearing up for hours to come. I,
therefore, returned to the shelves, lifted out a set of eight or nine
volumes, lettered “Tracts,” and conveyed them to the table for closer
examination.

They were for the most part of the reign of Anne. There was a good
deal of _The Late Peace_, _The Late War_, _The Conduct of the Allies_:
there were also _Letters to a Convocation Man_; _Sermons preached at
St Michael’s, Queenhithe_; _Enquiries into a late Charge of the Rt.
Rev. the Lord Bishop of Winchester_ (or more probably Winton) _to his
Clergy_: things all very lively once, and indeed still keeping so much
of their old sting that I was tempted to betake myself into an armchair
in the window, and give them more time than I had intended. Besides,
I was somewhat tired by the day. The Church clock struck four, and it
really was four, for in 1889 there was no saving of daylight.

So I settled myself. And first I glanced over some of the War
pamphlets, and pleased myself by trying to pick out Swift by his style
from among the undistinguished. But the War pamphlets needed more
knowledge of the geography of the Low Countries than I had. I turned
to the Church, and read several pages of what the Dean of Canterbury
said to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge on the occasion
of their anniversary meeting in 1711. When I turned over to a Letter
from a Beneficed Clergyman in the Country to the Bishop of C....r, I
was becoming languid, and I gazed for some moments at the following
sentence without surprise:

“This Abuse (for I think myself justified in calling it by that name)
is one which I am persuaded Your Lordship would (if ’twere known to
you) exert your utmost efforts to do away. But I am also persuaded
that you know no more of its existence than (in the words of the
Country Song)

  ‘That which walks in Betton Wood
    Knows why it walks or why it cries.’”

Then indeed I did sit up in my chair, and run my finger along the
lines to make sure that I had read them right. There was no mistake.
Nothing more was to be gathered from the rest of the pamphlet. The
next paragraph definitely changed the subject: “But I have said enough
upon this _Topick_” were its opening words. So discreet, too, was the
namelessness of the Beneficed Clergyman that he refrained even from
initials, and had his letter printed in London.

The riddle was of a kind that might faintly interest anyone: to me,
who have dabbled a good deal in works of folklore, it was really
exciting. I was set upon solving it--on finding out, I mean, what story
lay behind it; and, at least, I felt myself lucky in one point, that,
whereas I might have come on the paragraph in some College Library far
away, here I was at Betton, on the very scene of action.

The Church clock struck five, and a single stroke on a gong followed.
This, I knew, meant tea. I heaved myself out of the deep chair, and
obeyed the summons.

My host and I were alone at the Court. He came in soon, wet from a
round of landlord’s errands, and with pieces of local news which had to
be passed on before I could make an opportunity of asking whether there
was a particular place in the Parish that was still known as Betton
Wood.

“Betton Wood,” he said, “was a short mile away, just on the crest of
Betton Hill, and my father stubbed up the last bit of it when it paid
better to grow corn than scrub oaks. Why do you want to know about
Betton Wood?”

“Because,” I said, “in an old pamphlet I was reading just now, there
are two lines of a country song which mention it, and they sound as if
there was a story belonging to them. Someone says that someone else
knows no more of whatever it may be--

  ‘Than that which walks in Betton Wood
    Knows why it walks or why it cries.’”

“Goodness,” said Philipson, “I wonder whether that was why.... I must
ask old Mitchell.” He muttered something else to himself, and took some
more tea, thoughtfully.

“Whether that was why----?” I said.

“Yes, I was going to say, whether that was why my father had the Wood
stubbed up. I said just now it was to get more plough-land, but I
don’t really know if it was. I don’t believe he ever broke it up: it’s
rough pasture at this moment. But there’s one old chap at least who’d
remember something of it--old Mitchell.” He looked at his watch. “Blest
if I don’t go down there and ask him. I don’t think I’ll take you,”
he went on, “he’s not so likely to tell anything he thinks is odd if
there’s a stranger by.”

“Well, mind you remember every single thing he does tell. As for me, if
it clears up, I shall go out, and if it doesn’t, I shall go on with the
books.”

It did clear up, sufficiently at least to make me think it worth while
to walk up the nearest hill and look over the country. I did not know
the lie of the land; it was the first visit I had paid to Philipson,
and this was the first day of it. So I went down the garden and through
the wet shrubberies with a very open mind, and offered no resistance
to the indistinct impulse--was it, however, so very indistinct?--which
kept urging me to bear to the left whenever there was a forking of
the path. The result was that after ten minutes or more of dark going
between dripping rows of box and laurel and privet, I was confronted by
a stone arch in the Gothic style set in the stone wall which encircled
the whole demesne. The door was fastened by a spring-lock, and I took
the precaution of leaving this on the jar as I passed out into the
road. That road I crossed, and entered a narrow lane between hedges
which led upward; and that lane I pursued at a leisurely pace for as
much as half-a-mile, and went on to the field to which it led. I was
now on a good point of vantage for taking in the situation of the
Court, the village, and the environment; and I leant upon a gate and
gazed westward and downward.

I think we must all know the landscapes--are they by Birket Foster,
or somewhat earlier?--which, in the form of wood-cuts, decorate the
volumes of poetry that lay on the drawing-room tables of our fathers
and grandfathers--volumes in “Art Cloth, embossed bindings”; that
strikes me as being the right phrase. I confess myself an admirer of
them, and especially of those which show the peasant leaning over a
gate in a hedge and surveying, at the bottom of a downward slope, the
village church spire--embosomed amid venerable trees, and a fertile
plain intersected by hedgerows, and bounded by distant hills, behind
which the orb of day is sinking (or it may be rising) amid level clouds
illumined by his dying (or nascent) ray. The expressions employed here
are those which seem appropriate to the pictures I have in mind; and
were there opportunity, I would try to work in the Vale, the Grove,
the Cot, and the Flood. Anyhow, they are beautiful to me, these
landscapes, and it was just such a one that I was now surveying. It
might have come straight out of “Gems of Sacred Song, selected by a
Lady” and given as a birthday present to Eleanor Philipson in 1852 by
her attached friend Millicent Graves. All at once I turned as if I had
been stung. There thrilled into my right ear and pierced my head a
note of incredible sharpness, like the shriek of a bat, only ten times
intensified--the kind of thing that makes one wonder if something has
not given way in one’s brain. I held my breath, and covered my ear,
and shivered. Something in the circulation: another minute or two,
I thought, and I return home. But I must fix the view a little more
firmly in my mind. Only, when I turned to it again, the taste was gone
out of it. The sun was down behind the hill, and the light was off the
fields, and when the clock bell in the Church tower struck seven, I
thought no longer of kind mellow evening hours of rest, and scents of
flowers and woods on evening air; and of how someone on a farm a mile
or two off would be saying “How clear Betton bell sounds to-night after
the rain!”; but instead images came to me of dusty beams and creeping
spiders and savage owls up in the tower, and forgotten graves and their
ugly contents below, and of flying Time and all it had taken out of my
life. And just then into my left ear--close as if lips had been put
within an inch of my head, the frightful scream came thrilling again.

There was no mistake possible now. It _was_ from outside. “With no
language but a cry” was the thought that flashed into my mind. Hideous
it was beyond anything I had heard or have heard since, but I could
read no emotion in it, and doubted if I could read any intelligence.
All its effect was to take away every vestige, every possibility, of
enjoyment, and make this no place to stay in one moment more. Of course
there was nothing to be seen: but I was convinced that, if I waited,
the thing would pass me again on its aimless, endless beat, and I could
not bear the notion of a third repetition. I hurried back to the lane
and down the hill. But when I came to the arch in the wall I stopped.
Could I be sure of my way among those dank alleys, which would be
danker and darker now? No, I confessed to myself that I was afraid: so
jarred were all my nerves with the cry on the hill that I really felt
I could not afford to be startled even by a little bird in a bush, or
a rabbit. I followed the road which followed the wall, and I was not
sorry when I came to the gate and the lodge, and descried Philipson
coming up towards it from the direction of the village.

“And where have you been?” said he.

“I took that lane that goes up the hill opposite the stone arch in the
wall.”

“Oh! did you? Then you’ve been very near where Betton Wood used to be:
at least, if you followed it up to the top, and out into the field.”

And if the reader will believe it, that was the first time that I put
two and two together. Did I at once tell Philipson what had happened to
me? I did not. I have not had other experiences of the kind which are
called super-natural, or -normal, or -physical, but, though I knew very
well I must speak of this one before long, I was not at all anxious to
do so; and I think I have read that this is a common case.

So all I said was: “Did you see the old man you meant to?”

“Old Mitchell? Yes, I did; and got something of a story out of him.
I’ll keep it till after dinner. It really is rather odd.”

So when we were settled after dinner he began to report, faithfully,
as he said, the dialogue that had taken place. Mitchell, not far off
eighty years old, was in his elbow-chair. The married daughter with
whom he lived was in and out preparing for tea.

After the usual salutations: “Mitchell, I want you to tell me something
about the Wood.”

“What Wood’s that, Master Reginald?”

“Betton Wood. Do you remember it?”

Mitchell slowly raised his hand and pointed an accusing forefinger. “It
were your father done away with Betton Wood, Master Reginald, I can
tell you that much.”

“Well, I know it was, Mitchell. You needn’t look at me as if it were my
fault.”

“Your fault? No, I says it were your father done it, before your time.”

“Yes, and I dare say if the truth was known, it was your father that
advised him to do it, and I want to know why.”

Mitchell seemed a little amused. “Well,” he said, “my father were
woodman to your father and your grandfather before him, and if he
didn’t know what belonged to his business, he’d oughter done. And if
he did give advice that way, I suppose he might have had his reasons,
mightn’t he now?”

“Of course he might, and I want you to tell me what they were.”

“Well now, Master Reginald, whatever makes you think as I know what his
reasons might ’a been I don’t know how many year ago?”

“Well, to be sure, it is a long time, and you might easily have
forgotten, if ever you knew. I suppose the only thing is for me to go
and ask old Ellis what he can recollect about it.”

That had the effect I hoped for.

“Old Ellis!” he growled. “First time ever I hear anyone say old Ellis
were any use for any purpose. I should ’a thought you know’d better
than that yourself, Master Reginald. What do you suppose old Ellis can
tell you better’n what I can about Betton Wood, and what call have
he got to be put afore me, I should like to know. His father warn’t
woodman on the place: he were ploughman--that’s what he was, and so
anyone could tell you what knows; anyone could tell you that, I says.”

“Just so, Mitchell, but if you know all about Betton Wood and won’t
tell me, why, I must do the next best I can, and try and get it out of
somebody else; and old Ellis has been on the place very nearly as long
as you have.”

“That he ain’t, not by eighteen months! Who says I wouldn’t tell you
nothing about the Wood? I ain’t no objection; only it’s a funny kind
of a tale, and ’taint right to my thinkin’ it should be all about the
Parish. You, Lizzie, do you keep in your kitchen a bit. Me and Master
Reginald wants to have a word or two private. But one thing I’d like
to know, Master Reginald, what come to put you upon asking about it
to-day?”

“Oh! well, I happened to hear of an old saying about something that
walks in Betton Wood. And I wondered if that had anything to do with
its being cleared away: that’s all.”

“Well, you was in the right, Master Reginald, however you come to hear
of it, and I believe I can tell you the rights of it better than anyone
in this Parish, let alone old Ellis. You see it came about this way:
that the shortest road to Allen’s Farm laid through the Wood, and when
we was little my poor mother she used to go so many times in the week
to the farm to fetch a quart of milk, because Mr Allen what had the
farm then under your father, he was a good man, and anyone that had a
young family to bring up, he was willing to allow ’em so much in the
week. But never you mind about that now. And my poor mother she never
liked to go through the Wood, because there was a lot of talk in the
place, and sayings like what you spoke about just now. But every now
and again, when she happened to be late with her work, she’d have to
take the short road through the Wood, and as sure as ever she did,
she’d come home in a rare state. I remember her and my father talking
about it, and he’d say, ‘Well, but it can’t do you no harm, Emma,’ and
she’d say, ‘Oh! but you haven’t an idear of it, George. Why, it went
right through my head,’ she says, ‘and I came over all bewildered-like,
and as if I didn’t know where I was. You see, George,’ she says, ‘it
ain’t as if you was about there in the dusk. You always goes there in
the daytime, now don’t you?’ and he says: ‘Why, to be sure I do, do
you take me for a fool?’ And so they’d go on. And time passed by, and
I think it wore her out, because, you understand, it warn’t no use
to go for the milk not till the afternoon, and she wouldn’t never
send none of us children instead, for fear we should get a fright.
Nor she wouldn’t tell us about it herself. ‘No,’ she says, ‘it’s bad
enough for me. I don’t want no one else to go through it, nor yet hear
talk about it.’ But one time I recollect she says, ‘Well, first it’s
a rustling-like all along in the bushes, coming very quick, either
towards me or after me according to the time, and then there comes
this scream as appears to pierce right through from the one ear to the
other, and the later I am coming through, the more like I am to hear
it twice over; but thanks be, I never yet heard it the three times.’
And then I asked her, and I says: ‘Why, that seems like someone walking
to and fro all the time, don’t it?’ and she says, ‘Yes, it do, and
whatever it is she wants, I can’t think’: and I says, ‘Is it a woman,
mother?’ and she says, ‘Yes, I’ve heard it is a woman.’

“Anyway, the end of it was my father he spoke to your father, and told
him the Wood was a bad wood. ‘There’s never a bit of game in it, and
there’s never a bird’s nest there,’ he says, ‘and it ain’t no manner
of use to you.’ And after a lot of talk, your father he come and see
my mother about it, and he see she warn’t one of these silly women as
gets nervish about nothink at all, and he made up his mind there was
somethink in it, and after that he asked about in the neighbourhood,
and I believe he made out somethink, and wrote it down in a paper what
very like you’ve got up at the Court, Master Reginald. And then he gave
the order, and the Wood was stubbed up. They done all the work in the
daytime, I recollect, and was never there after three o’clock.”

“Didn’t they find anything to explain it, Mitchell? No bones or
anything of that kind?”

“Nothink at all, Master Reginald, only the mark of a hedge and ditch
along the middle, much about where the quickset hedge run now, and with
all the work they done, if there had been anyone put away there, they
was bound to find ’em. But I don’t know whether it done much good,
after all. People here don’t seem to like the place no better than they
did afore.”

“That’s about what I got out of Mitchell,” said Philipson, “and as far
as any explanation goes, it leaves us very much where we were. I must
see if I can’t find that paper.”

“Why didn’t your father ever tell you about the business?” I said.

“He died before I went to school, you know, and I imagine he didn’t
want to frighten us children by any such story. I can remember being
shaken and slapped by my nurse for running up that lane towards the
Wood when we were coming back rather late one winter afternoon: but in
the daytime no one interfered with our going into the Wood if we wanted
to--only we never did want.”

“Hm!” I said, and then, “Do you think you’ll be able to find that paper
that your father wrote?”

“Yes,” he said, “I do. I expect it’s no further away than that
cupboard behind you. There’s a bundle or two of things specially put
aside, most of which I’ve looked through at various times, and I know
there’s one envelope labelled Betton Wood: but as there was no Betton
Wood any more, I never thought it would be worth while to open it, and
I never have. We’ll do it now, though.”

“Before you do,” I said (I was still reluctant, but I thought this was
perhaps the moment for my disclosure), “I’d better tell you I think
Mitchell was right when he doubted if clearing away the Wood had put
things straight.” And I gave the account you have heard already: I
need not say Philipson was interested. “Still there?” he said. “It’s
amazing. Look here, will you come out there with me now, and see what
happens?”

“I will do no such thing,” I said, “and if you knew the feeling, you’d
be glad to walk ten miles in the opposite direction. Don’t talk of it.
Open your envelope, and let’s hear what your father made out.”

He did so, and read me the three or four pages of jottings which it
contained. At the top was written a motto from Scott’s _Glenfinlas_,
which seemed to me well-chosen:

  “Where walks, they say, the shrieking ghost.”

Then there were notes of his talk with Mitchell’s mother, from which
I extract only this much. “I asked her if she never thought she saw
anything to account for the sounds she heard. She told me, no more
than once, on the darkest evening she ever came through the Wood; and
then she seemed forced to look behind her as the rustling came in the
bushes, and she thought she saw something all in tatters with the two
arms held out in front of it coming on very fast, and at that she ran
for the stile, and tore her gown all to flinders getting over it.”

Then he had gone to two other people whom he found very shy of talking.
They seemed to think, among other things, that it reflected discredit
on the parish. However, one, Mrs Emma Frost, was prevailed upon to
repeat what her mother had told her. “They say it was a lady of title
that married twice over, and her first husband went by the name of
Brown, or it might have been Bryan (“Yes, there were Bryans at the
Court before it came into our family,” Philipson put in), and she
removed her neighbour’s landmark: leastways she took in a fair piece
of the best pasture in Betton Parish what belonged by rights to two
children as hadn’t no one to speak for them, and they say years after
she went from bad to worse, and made out false papers to gain thousands
of pounds up in London, and at last they was proved in law to be false,
and she would have been tried and put to death very like, only she
escaped away for the time. But no one can’t avoid the curse that’s laid
on them that removes the landmark, and so we take it she can’t leave
Betton before someone take and put it right again.”

At the end of the paper there was a note to this effect. “I regret
that I cannot find any clue to previous owners of the fields adjoining
the Wood. I do not hesitate to say that if I could discover their
representatives, I should do my best to indemnify them for the wrong
done to them in years now long past: for it is undeniable that the
Wood is very curiously disturbed in the manner described by the people
of the place. In my present ignorance alike of the extent of the land
wrongly appropriated, and of the rightful owners, I am reduced to
keeping a separate note of the profits derived from this part of the
estate, and my custom has been to apply the sum that would represent
the annual yield of about five acres to the common benefit of the
Parish and to charitable uses: and I hope that those who succeed me may
see fit to continue this practice.”

So much for the elder Mr Philipson’s paper. To those who, like myself,
are readers of the State Trials it will have gone far to illuminate
the situation. They will remember how between the years 1678 and 1684
the Lady Ivy, formerly Theodosia Bryan, was alternately Plaintiff and
Defendant in a series of trials in which she was trying to establish
a claim against the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s for a considerable
and very valuable tract of land in Shadwell: how in the last of those
trials, presided over by L.C.J. Jeffreys, it was proved up to the hilt
that the deeds upon which she based her claim were forgeries executed
under her orders: and how, after an information for perjury and forgery
was issued against her, she disappeared completely--so completely,
indeed, that no expert has ever been able to tell me what became of her.

Does not the story I have told suggest that she may still be heard of
on the scene of one of her earlier and more successful exploits?

       *       *       *       *       *

“That,” said my friend, as he folded up his papers, “is a very faithful
record of my one extraordinary experience. And now----”

But I had so many questions to ask him, as for instance, whether his
friend had found the proper owner of the land, whether he had done
anything about the hedge, whether the sounds were ever heard now, what
was the exact title and date of his pamphlet, etc., etc., that bed-time
came and passed, without his having an opportunity to revert to the
Literary Supplement of the _Times_.



A VIEW FROM A HILL


How pleasant it can be, alone in a first-class railway carriage, on the
first day of a holiday that is to be fairly long, to dawdle through a
bit of English country that is unfamiliar, stopping at every station.
You have a map open on your knee, and you pick out the villages that
lie to right and left by their church towers. You marvel at the
complete stillness that attends your stoppage at the stations, broken
only by a footstep crunching the gravel. Yet perhaps that is best
experienced after sundown, and the traveller I have in mind was making
his leisurely progress on a sunny afternoon in the latter half of June.

He was in the depths of the country. I need not particularise further
than to say that if you divided the map of England into four quarters,
he would have been found in the south-western of them.

He was a man of academic pursuits, and his term was just over. He was
on his way to meet a new friend, older than himself. The two of them
had met first on an official enquiry in town, had found that they had
many tastes and habits in common, liked each other, and the result was
an invitation from Squire Richards to Mr Fanshawe which was now taking
effect.

The journey ended about five o’clock. Fanshawe was told by a cheerful
country porter that the car from the Hall had been up to the station
and left a message that something had to be fetched from half-a-mile
farther on, and would the gentleman please to wait a few minutes till
it came back? “But I see,” continued the porter, “as you’ve got your
bysticle, and very like you’d find it pleasanter to ride up to the
’All yourself. Straight up the road ’ere, and then first turn to the
left--it ain’t above two mile--and I’ll see as your things is put in
the car for you. You’ll excuse me mentioning it, only I thought it
were a nice evening for a ride. Yes, sir, very seasonable weather for
the haymakers: let me see, I have your bike ticket. Thank you, sir;
much obliged: you can’t miss your road, etc., etc.”

The two miles to the Hall were just what was needed, after the day in
the train, to dispel somnolence and impart a wish for tea. The Hall,
when sighted, also promised just what was needed in the way of a quiet
resting-place after days of sitting on committees and college-meetings.
It was neither excitingly old nor depressingly new. Plastered walls,
sash-windows, old trees, smooth lawns, were the features which Fanshawe
noticed as he came up the drive. Squire Richards, a burly man of sixty
odd, was awaiting him in the porch with evident pleasure.

“Tea first,” he said, “or would you like a longer drink? No? All right,
tea’s ready in the garden. Come along, they’ll put your machine away. I
always have tea under the lime-tree by the stream on a day like this.”

Nor could you ask for a better place. Midsummer afternoon, shade and
scent of a vast lime-tree, cool, swirling water within five yards. It
was long before either of them suggested a move. But about six, Mr
Richards sat up, knocked out his pipe, and said: “Look here, it’s cool
enough now to think of a stroll, if you’re inclined? All right: then
what I suggest is that we walk up the park and get on to the hillside,
where we can look over the country. We’ll have a map, and I’ll show you
where things are; and you can go off on your machine, or we can take
the car, according as you want exercise or not. If you’re ready, we can
start now and be back well before eight, taking it very easy.”

“I’m ready. I should like my stick, though, and have you got any
field-glasses? I lent mine to a man a week ago, and he’s gone off Lord
knows where and taken them with him.”

Mr Richards pondered. “Yes,” he said, “I have, but they’re not things
I use myself, and I don’t know whether the ones I have will suit you.
They’re old-fashioned, and about twice as heavy as they make ’em now.
You’re welcome to have them, but _I_ won’t carry them. By the way, what
do you want to drink after dinner?”

Protestations that anything would do were overruled, and a satisfactory
settlement was reached on the way to the front hall, where Mr Fanshawe
found his stick, and Mr Richards, after thoughtful pinching of his
lower lip, resorted to a drawer in the hall-table, extracted a key,
crossed to a cupboard in the panelling, opened it, took a box from the
shelf, and put it on the table. “The glasses are in there,” he said,
“and there’s some dodge of opening it, but I’ve forgotten what it is.
You try.” Mr Fanshawe accordingly tried. There was no keyhole, and the
box was solid, heavy and smooth: it seemed obvious that some part of it
would have to be pressed before anything could happen. “The corners,”
said he to himself, “are the likely places; and infernally sharp
corners they are too,” he added, as he put his thumb in his mouth
after exerting force on a lower corner.

“What’s the matter?” said the Squire.

“Why, your disgusting Borgia box has scratched me, drat it,” said
Fanshawe. The Squire chuckled unfeelingly. “Well, you’ve got it open,
anyway,” he said.

“So I have! Well, I don’t begrudge a drop of blood in a good cause, and
here are the glasses. They _are_ pretty heavy, as you said, but I think
I’m equal to carrying them.”

“Ready?” said the Squire. “Come on then; we go out by the garden.”

So they did, and passed out into the park, which sloped decidedly
upwards to the hill which, as Fanshawe had seen from the train,
dominated the country. It was a spur of a larger range that lay behind.
On the way, the Squire, who was great on earthworks, pointed out
various spots where he detected or imagined traces of war-ditches and
the like. “And here,” he said, stopping on a more or less level plot
with a ring of large trees, “is Baxter’s Roman villa.” “Baxter?” said
Mr Fanshawe.

“I forgot; you don’t know about him. He was the old chap I got those
glasses from. I believe he made them. He was an old watch-maker down
in the village, a great antiquary. My father gave him leave to grub
about where he liked; and when he made a find he used to lend him a
man or two to help him with the digging. He got a surprising lot of
things together, and when he died--I dare say it’s ten or fifteen years
ago--I bought the whole lot and gave them to the town museum. We’ll
run in one of these days, and look over them. The glasses came to me
with the rest, but of course I kept them. If you look at them, you’ll
see they’re more or less amateur work--the body of them; naturally the
lenses weren’t his making.”

“Yes, I see they are just the sort of thing that a clever workman in a
different line of business might turn out. But I don’t see why he made
them so heavy. And did Baxter actually find a Roman villa here?”

“Yes, there’s a pavement turfed over, where we’re standing: it was too
rough and plain to be worth taking up, but of course there are drawings
of it: and the small things and pottery that turned up were quite good
of their kind. An ingenious chap, old Baxter: he seemed to have a
quite out-of-the-way instinct for these things. He was invaluable to
our archæologists. He used to shut up his shop for days at a time, and
wander off over the district, marking down places, where he scented
anything, on the ordnance map; and he kept a book with fuller notes of
the places. Since his death, a good many of them have been sampled, and
there’s always been something to justify him.”

“What a good man!” said Mr Fanshawe.

“Good?” said the Squire, pulling up brusquely.

“I meant useful to have about the place,” said Mr Fanshawe. “But was he
a villain?”

“I don’t know about that either,” said the Squire; “but all I can say
is, if he was good, he wasn’t lucky. And he wasn’t liked: I didn’t like
him,” he added, after a moment.

“Oh?” said Fanshawe, interrogatively.

“No, I didn’t; but that’s enough about Baxter: besides, this is the
stiffest bit, and I don’t want to talk and walk as well.”

Indeed it was hot, climbing a slippery grass slope that evening. “I
told you I should take you the short way,” panted the Squire, “and I
wish I hadn’t. However, a bath won’t do us any harm when we get back.
Here we are, and there’s the seat.”

A small clump of old Scotch firs crowned the top of the hill; and, at
the edge of it, commanding the cream of the view, was a wide and solid
seat, on which the two disposed themselves, and wiped their brows, and
regained breath.

“Now, then,” said the Squire, as soon as he was in a condition to talk
connectedly, “this is where your glasses come in. But you’d better take
a general look round first. My word! I’ve never seen the view look
better.”

Writing as I am now with a winter wind flapping against dark windows
and a rushing, tumbling sea within a hundred yards, I find it hard to
summon up the feelings and words which will put my reader in possession
of the June evening and the lovely English landscape of which the
Squire was speaking.

Across a broad level plain they looked upon ranges of great hills,
whose uplands--some green, some furred with woods--caught the light of
a sun, westering but not yet low. And all the plain was fertile, though
the river which traversed it was nowhere seen. There were copses, green
wheat, hedges and pasture-land: the little compact white moving cloud
marked the evening train. Then the eye picked out red farms and grey
houses, and nearer home scattered cottages, and then the Hall, nestled
under the hill. The smoke of chimneys was very blue and straight. There
was a smell of hay in the air: there were wild roses on bushes hard by.
It was the acme of summer.

After some minutes of silent contemplation, the Squire began to point
out the leading features, the hills and valleys, and told where the
towns and villages lay. “Now,” he said, “with the glasses you’ll be
able to pick out Fulnaker Abbey. Take a line across that big green
field, then over the wood beyond it, then over the farm on the knoll.”

“Yes, yes,” said Fanshawe. “I’ve got it. What a fine tower!”

“You must have got the wrong direction,” said the Squire; “there’s not
much of a tower about there that I remember, unless it’s Oldbourne
Church that you’ve got hold of. And if you call that a fine tower,
you’re easily pleased.”

“Well, I do call it a fine tower,” said Fanshawe, the glasses still at
his eyes, “whether it’s Oldbourne or any other. And it must belong to a
largish church--it looks to me like a central tower; four big pinnacles
at the corners, and four smaller ones between. I must certainly go over
there. How far is it?”

“Oldbourne’s about nine miles, or less,” said the Squire. “It’s a long
time since I’ve been there, but I don’t remember thinking much of it.
Now I’ll show you another thing.”

Fanshawe had lowered the glasses, and was still gazing in the Oldbourne
direction. “No,” he said, “I can’t make out anything with the naked
eye. What was it you were going to show me?”

“A good deal more to the left--it oughtn’t to be difficult to find. Do
you see a rather sudden knob of a hill with a thick wood on top of it?
It’s in a dead line with that single tree on the top of the big ridge.”

“I do,” said Fanshawe, “and I believe I could tell you without much
difficulty what it’s called.”

“Could you now?” said the Squire. “Say on.”

“Why, Gallows Hill,” was the answer.

“How did you guess that?”

“Well, if you don’t want it guessed, you shouldn’t put up a dummy
gibbet and a man hanging on it.”

“What’s that?” said the Squire abruptly. “There’s nothing on that hill
but wood.”

“On the contrary,” said Fanshawe, “there’s a largish expanse of grass
on the top and your dummy gibbet in the middle; and I thought there was
something on it when I looked first. But I see there’s nothing--or is
there? I can’t be sure.”

“Nonsense, nonsense, Fanshawe, there’s no such thing as a dummy gibbet,
or any other sort, on that hill. And it’s thick wood--a fairly young
plantation. I was in it myself not a year ago. Hand me the glasses,
though I don’t suppose I can see anything.” After a pause: “No, I
thought not: they won’t show a thing.”

Meanwhile Fanshawe was scanning the hill--it might be only two or three
miles away. “Well, it’s very odd,” he said, “it does look exactly like
a wood without the glass.” He took it again. “That _is_ one of the
oddest effects. The gibbet is perfectly plain, and the grass field, and
there even seem to be people on it, and carts, or _a_ cart, with men
in it. And yet when I take the glass away, there’s nothing. It must
be something in the way this afternoon light falls: I shall come up
earlier in the day when the sun’s full on it.”

“Did you say you saw people and a cart on that hill?” said the Squire
incredulously. “What should they be doing there at this time of day,
even if the trees have been felled? Do talk sense--look again.”

“Well, I certainly thought I saw them. Yes, I should say there were a
few, just clearing off. And now--by Jove, it does look like something
hanging on the gibbet. But these glasses are so beastly heavy I can’t
hold them steady for long. Anyhow, you can take it from me there’s
no wood. And if you’ll show me the road on the map, I’ll go there
to-morrow.”

The Squire remained brooding for some little time. At last he rose and
said, “Well, I suppose that will be the best way to settle it. And now
we’d better be getting back. Bath and dinner is my idea.” And on the
way back he was not very communicative.

They returned through the garden, and went into the great hall to
leave sticks, etc., in their due place. And here they found the aged
butler Patten evidently in a state of some anxiety. “Beg pardon, Master
Henry,” he began at once, “but someone’s been up to mischief here,
I’m much afraid.” He pointed to the open box which had contained the
glasses.

“Nothing worse than that, Patten?” said the Squire. “Mayn’t I take out
my own glasses and lend them to a friend? Bought with my own money, you
recollect? At old Baxter’s sale, eh?”

Patten bowed, unconvinced. “O, very well, Master Henry, as long as you
know who it was. Only I thought proper to name it, for I didn’t think
that box’d been off its shelf since you first put it there; and, if
you’ll excuse me, after what happened....” The voice was lowered, and
the rest was not audible to Fanshawe. The Squire replied with a few
words and a gruff laugh, and called on Fanshawe to come and be shown
his room. And I do not think that anything else happened that night
which bears on my story.

Except, perhaps, the sensation which invaded Fanshawe in the small
hours that something had been let out which ought not to have been
let out. It came into his dreams. He was walking in a garden which
he seemed half to know, and stopped in front of a rockery made of
old wrought stones, pieces of window tracery from a church, and even
bits of figures. One of these moved his curiosity: it seemed to be a
sculptured capital with scenes carved on it. He felt he must pull it
out, and worked away, and, with an ease that surprised him, moved the
stones that obscured it aside, and pulled out the block. As he did so,
a tin label fell down by his feet with a little clatter. He picked it
up and read on it: “On no account move this stone. Yours sincerely, J.
Patten.” As often happens in dreams, he felt that this injunction was
of extreme importance; and with an anxiety that amounted to anguish he
looked to see if the stone had really been shifted. Indeed it had;
in fact he could not see it anywhere. The removal had disclosed the
mouth of a burrow, and he bent down to look into it. Something stirred
in the blackness, and then, to his intense horror, a hand emerged--a
clean right hand in a neat cuff and coat-sleeve, just in the attitude
of a hand that means to shake yours. He wondered whether it would not
be rude to let it alone. But, as he looked at it, it began to grow
hairy and dirty and thin, and also to change its pose and stretch
out as if to take hold of his leg. At that he dropped all thought of
politeness, decided to run, screamed and woke himself up.

This was the dream he remembered; but it seemed to him (as, again, it
often does) that there had been others of the same import before, but
not so insistent. He lay awake for some little time, fixing the details
of the last dream in his mind, and wondering in particular what the
figures had been which he had seen or half seen on the carved capital.
Something quite incongruous, he felt sure; but that was the most he
could recall.

Whether because of the dream, or because it was the first day of his
holiday, he did not get up very early; nor did he at once plunge into
the exploration of the country. He spent a morning, half lazy, half
instructive, in looking over the volumes of the County Archæological
Society’s transactions, in which were many contributions from Mr
Baxter on finds of flint implements, Roman sites, ruins of monastic
establishments; in fact, most departments of archæology. They were
written in an odd, pompous, only half-educated style. If the man had
had more early schooling, thought Fanshawe, he would have been a very
distinguished antiquary; or he might have been (he thus qualified his
opinion a little later), but for a certain love of opposition and
controversy, and, yes, a patronising tone as of one possessing superior
knowledge, which left an unpleasant taste. He might have been a very
respectable artist. There was an imaginary restoration and elevation of
a priory church which was very well conceived. A fine pinnacled central
tower was a conspicuous feature of this; it reminded Fanshawe of that
which he had seen from the hill, and which the Squire had told him
must be Oldbourne. But it was not Oldbourne; it was Fulnaker Priory.
“Oh, well,” he said to himself, “I suppose Oldbourne Church may have
been built by Fulnaker monks, and Baxter has copied Oldbourne tower.
Anything about it in the letterpress? Ah, I see it was published after
his death,--found among his papers.”

After lunch the Squire asked Fanshawe what he meant to do.

“Well,” said Fanshawe, “I think I shall go out on my bike about four as
far as Oldbourne and back by Gallows Hill. That ought to be a round of
about fifteen miles, oughtn’t it?”

“About that,” said the Squire, “and you’ll pass Lambsfield and
Wanstone, both of which are worth looking at. There’s a little glass at
Lambsfield and the stone at Wanstone.”

“Good,” said Fanshawe, “I’ll get tea somewhere, and may I take the
glasses? I’ll strap them on my bike, on the carrier.”

“Of course, if you like,” said the Squire. “I really ought to have some
better ones. If I go into the town to-day, I’ll see if I can pick up
some.”

“Why should you trouble to do that, if you can’t use them yourself?”
said Fanshawe.

“Oh, I don’t know; one ought to have a decent pair; and--well, old
Patten doesn’t think those are fit to use.”

“Is he a judge?”

“He’s got some tale: I don’t know: something about old Baxter. I’ve
promised to let him tell me about it. It seems very much on his mind
since last night.”

“Why that? Did he have a nightmare like me?”

“He had something: he was looking an old man this morning, and he said
he hadn’t closed an eye.”

“Well, let him save up his tale till I come back.”

“Very well, I will if I can. Look here, are you going to be late? If
you get a puncture eight miles off and have to walk home, what then? I
don’t trust these bicycles: I shall tell them to give us cold things to
eat.”

“I shan’t mind that, whether I’m late or early. But I’ve got things to
mend punctures with. And now I’m off.”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was just as well that the Squire had made that arrangement about
a cold supper, Fanshawe thought, and not for the first time, as he
wheeled his bicycle up the drive about nine o’clock. So also the Squire
thought and said, several times, as he met him in the hall, rather
pleased at the confirmation of his want of faith in bicycles than
sympathetic with his hot, weary, thirsty, and indeed haggard, friend.
In fact, the kindest thing he found to say was: “You’ll want a long
drink to-night? Cider-cup do? All right. Hear that, Patten? Cider-cup,
iced, lots of it.” Then to Fanshawe, “Don’t be all night over your
bath.”

By half-past nine they were at dinner, and Fanshawe was reporting
progress, if progress it might be called.

“I got to Lambsfield very smoothly, and saw the glass. It is very
interesting stuff, but there’s a lot of lettering I couldn’t read.”

“Not with glasses?” said the Squire.

“Those glasses of yours are no manner of use inside a church--or inside
anywhere, I suppose, for that matter. But the only places I took ’em
into were churches.”

“H’m! Well, go on,” said the Squire.

“However, I took some sort of a photograph of the window, and I dare
say an enlargement would show what I want. Then Wanstone; I should
think that stone was a very out-of-the-way thing, only I don’t know
about that class of antiquities. Has anybody opened the mound it stands
on?”

“Baxter wanted to, but the farmer wouldn’t let him.”

“Oh, well, I should think it would be worth doing. Anyhow, the next
thing was Fulnaker and Oldbourne. You know, it’s very odd about that
tower I saw from the hill. Oldbourne Church is nothing like it, and of
course there’s nothing over thirty feet high at Fulnaker, though you
can see it had a central tower. I didn’t tell you, did I? that Baxter’s
fancy drawing of Fulnaker shows a tower exactly like the one I saw.”

“So you thought, I dare say,” put in the Squire.

“No, it wasn’t a case of thinking. The picture actually _reminded_
me of what I’d seen, and I made sure it was Oldbourne, well before I
looked at the title.”

“Well, Baxter had a very fair idea of architecture. I dare say what’s
left made it easy for him to draw the right sort of tower.”

“That may be it, of course, but I’m doubtful if even a professional
could have got it so exactly right. There’s absolutely nothing left at
Fulnaker but the bases of the piers which supported it. However, that
isn’t the oddest thing.”

“What about Gallows Hill?” said the Squire. “Here, Patten, listen to
this. I told you what Mr Fanshawe said he saw from the hill.”

“Yes, Master Henry, you did; and I can’t say I was so much surprised,
considering.”

“All right, all right. You keep that till afterwards. We want to hear
what Mr Fanshawe saw to-day. Go on, Fanshawe. You turned to come back
by Ackford and Thorfield, I suppose?”

“Yes, and I looked into both the churches. Then I got to the turning
which goes to the top of Gallows Hill; I saw that if I wheeled my
machine over the field at the top of the hill I could join the home
road on this side. It was about half-past six when I got to the top
of the hill, and there was a gate on my right, where it ought to be,
leading into the belt of plantation.”

“You hear that, Patten? A belt, he says.”

“So I thought it was--a belt. But it wasn’t. You were quite right,
and I was hopelessly wrong. I _cannot_ understand it. The whole top
is planted quite thick. Well, I went on into this wood, wheeling and
dragging my bike, expecting every minute to come to a clearing, and
then my misfortunes began. Thorns, I suppose; first I realised that the
front tyre was slack, then the back. I couldn’t stop to do more than
try to find the punctures and mark them; but even that was hopeless. So
I ploughed on, and the farther I went, the less I liked the place.”

“Not much poaching in that cover, eh, Patten?” said the Squire.

“No, indeed, Master Henry: there’s very few cares to go----”

“No, I know: never mind that now. Go on, Fanshawe.”

“I don’t blame anybody for not caring to go there. I know I had all
the fancies one least likes: steps crackling over twigs behind me,
indistinct people stepping behind trees in front of me, yes, and even
a hand laid on my shoulder. I pulled up very sharp at that and looked
round, but there really was no branch or bush that could have done it.
Then, when I was just about at the middle of the plot, I was convinced
that there was someone looking down on me from above--and not with any
pleasant intent. I stopped again, or at least slackened my pace, to
look up. And as I did, down I came, and barked my shins abominably on,
what do you think? a block of stone with a big square hole in the top
of it. And within a few paces there were two others just like it. The
three were set in a triangle. Now, do you make out what they were put
there for?”

“I think I can,” said the Squire, who was now very grave and absorbed
in the story. “Sit down, Patten.”

It was time, for the old man was supporting himself by one hand, and
leaning heavily on it. He dropped into a chair, and said in a very
tremulous voice, “You didn’t go between them stones, did you, sir?”

“I did _not_,” said Fanshawe, emphatically. “I dare say I was an
ass, but as soon as it dawned on me where I was, I just shouldered
my machine and did my best to run. It seemed to me as if I was in an
unholy evil sort of graveyard, and I was most profoundly thankful that
it was one of the longest days and still sunlight. Well, I had a horrid
run, even if it was only a few hundred yards. Everything caught on
everything: handles and spokes and carrier and pedals--caught in them
viciously, or I fancied so. I fell over at least five times. At last I
saw the hedge, and I couldn’t trouble to hunt for the gate.”

“There _is_ no gate on my side,” the Squire interpolated.

“Just as well I didn’t waste time, then. I dropped the machine over
somehow and went into the road pretty near head-first; some branch or
something got my ankle at the last moment. Anyhow, there I was out of
the wood, and seldom more thankful or more generally sore. Then came
the job of mending my punctures. I had a good outfit and I’m not at all
bad at the business; but this was an absolutely hopeless case. It was
seven when I got out of the wood, and I spent fifty minutes over one
tyre. As fast as I found a hole and put on a patch, and blew it up, it
went flat again. So I made up my mind to walk. That hill isn’t three
miles away, is it?”

“Not more across country, but nearer six by road.”

“I thought it must be. I thought I couldn’t have taken well over the
hour over less than five miles, even leading a bike. Well, there’s my
story: where’s yours and Patten’s?”

“Mine? I’ve no story,” said the Squire. “But you weren’t very far out
when you thought you were in a graveyard. There must be a good few of
them up there, Patten, don’t you think? They left ’em there when they
fell to bits, I fancy.”

Patten nodded, too much interested to speak. “Don’t,” said Fanshawe.

“Now then, Patten,” said the Squire, “you’ve heard what sort of a time
Mr Fanshawe’s been having. What do you make of it? Anything to do with
Mr Baxter? Fill yourself a glass of port, and tell us.”

“Ah, that done me good, Master Henry,” said Patten, after absorbing
what was before him. “If you really wish to know what were in my
thoughts, my answer would be clear in the affirmative. Yes,” he went
on, warming to his work, “I should say as Mr Fanshawe’s experience of
to-day were very largely doo to the person you named. And I think,
Master Henry, as I have some title to speak, in view of me ’aving been
many years on speaking terms with him, and swore in to be jury on the
Coroner’s inquest near this time ten years ago, you being then, if you
carry your mind back, Master Henry, travelling abroad, and no one ’ere
to represent the family.”

“Inquest?” said Fanshawe. “An inquest on Mr Baxter, was there?”

“Yes, sir, on--on that very person. The facts as led up to that
occurrence was these. The deceased was, as you may have gathered, a
very peculiar individual in ’is ’abits--in my idear, at least, but all
must speak as they find. He lived very much to himself, without neither
chick nor child, as the saying is. And how he passed away his time was
what very few could orfer a guess at.”

“He lived unknown, and few could know when Baxter ceased to be,” said
the Squire to his pipe.

“I beg pardon, Master Henry, I was just coming to that. But when I say
how he passed away his time--to be sure we know ’ow intent he was in
rummaging and ransacking out all the ’istry of the neighbourhood and
the number of things he’d managed to collect together--well, it was
spoke of for miles round as Baxter’s Museum, and many a time when he
might be in the mood, and I might have an hour to spare, have he showed
me his pieces of pots and what not, going back by his account to the
times of the ancient Romans. However, you know more about that than
what I do, Master Henry: only what I was a-going to say was this, as
know what he might and interesting as he might be in his talk, there
was something about the man--well, for one thing, no one ever remember
to see him in church nor yet chapel at service-time. And that made
talk. Our rector he never come in the house but once. ‘Never ask me
what the man said’: that was all anybody could ever get out of _him_.
Then how did he spend his nights, particularly about this season of the
year? Time and again the labouring men’d meet him coming back as they
went out to their work, and he’d pass ’em by without a word, looking,
they says, like someone straight out of the asylum. They see the whites
of his eyes all round. He’d have a fish-basket with him, that they
noticed, and he always come the same road. And the talk got to be that
he’d made himself some business, and that not the best kind--well, not
so far from where you was at seven o’clock this evening, sir.

“Well, now, after such a night as that, Mr Baxter he’d shut up the
shop, and the old lady that did for him had orders not to come in;
and knowing what she did about his language, she took care to obey
them orders. But one day it so happened, about three o’clock in the
afternoon, the house being shut up as I said, there come a most fearful
to-do inside, and smoke out of the windows, and Baxter crying out
seemingly in an agony. So the man as lived next door he run round to
the back premises and burst the door in, and several others come too.
Well, he tell me he never in all his life smelt such a fearful--well,
odour, as what there was in that kitchen-place. It seem as if Baxter
had been boiling something in a pot and overset it on his leg. There
he laid on the floor, trying to keep back the cries, but it was more
than he could manage, and when he seen the people come in--oh, he was
in a nice condition: if his tongue warn’t blistered worse than his
leg it warn’t his fault. Well, they picked him up, and got him into a
chair, and run for the medical man, and one of ’em was going to pick
up the pot, and Baxter, he screams out to let it alone. So he did,
but he couldn’t see as there was anything in the pot but a few old
brown bones. Then they says ‘Dr Lawrence’ll be here in a minute, Mr
Baxter; he’ll soon put you to rights.’ And then he was off again. He
must be got up to his room, he couldn’t have the doctor come in there
and see all that mess--they must throw a cloth over it--anything--the
table-cloth out of the parlour; well, so they did. But that must have
been poisonous stuff in that pot, for it was pretty near on two months
afore Baxter were about agin. Beg pardon, Master Henry, was you going
to say something?”

“Yes, I was,” said the Squire. “I wonder you haven’t told me all this
before. However, I was going to say I remember old Lawrence telling me
he’d attended Baxter. He was a queer card, he said. Lawrence was up in
the bedroom one day, and picked up a little mask covered with black
velvet, and put it on in fun and went to look at himself in the glass.
He hadn’t time for a proper look, for old Baxter shouted out to him
from the bed: ‘Put it down, you fool! Do you want to look through a
dead man’s eyes?’ and it startled him so that he did put it down, and
then he asked Baxter what he meant. And Baxter insisted on him handing
it over, and said the man he bought it from was dead, or some such
nonsense. But Lawrence felt it as he handed it over, and he declared
he was sure it was made out of the front of a skull. He bought a
distilling apparatus at Baxter’s sale, he told me, but he could never
use it: it seemed to taint everything, however much he cleaned it. But
go on, Patten.”

“Yes, Master Henry, I’m nearly done now, and time, too, for I don’t
know what they’ll think about me in the servants’ ’all. Well, this
business of the scalding was some few years before Mr Baxter was took,
and he got about again, and went on just as he’d used. And one of the
last jobs he done was finishing up them actual glasses what you took
out last night. You see he’d made the body of them some long time, and
got the pieces of glass for them, but there was somethink wanted to
finish ’em, whatever it was, I don’t know, but I picked up the frame
one day, and I says: ‘Mr Baxter, why don’t you make a job of this?’
And he says, ‘Ah, when I’ve done that, you’ll hear news, you will:
there’s going to be no such pair of glasses as mine when they’re filled
and sealed,’ and there he stopped, and I says: ‘Why, Mr Baxter, you
talk as if they was wine bottles: filled and sealed--why, where’s the
necessity for that?’ ‘Did I say filled and sealed?’ he says, ‘O, well,
I was suiting my conversation to my company.’ Well, then come round
this time of year, and one fine evening, I was passing his shop on my
way home, and he was standing on the step, very pleased with hisself,
and he says: ‘All right and tight now: my best bit of work’s finished,
and I’ll be out with ’em to-morrow.’ ‘What, finished them glasses?’ I
says, ‘might I have a look at them?’ ‘No, no,’ he says, ‘I’ve put ’em
to bed for to-night, and when I do show ’em you, you’ll have to pay for
peepin’, so I tell you.’ And that, gentlemen, were the last words I
heard that man say.

“That were the 17th of June, and just a week after, there was a funny
thing happened, and it was doo to that as we brought in ‘unsound mind’
at the inquest, for barring that, no one as knew Baxter in business
could anyways have laid that against him. But George Williams, as lived
in the next house, and do now, he was woke up that same night with a
stumbling and tumbling about in Mr Baxter’s premises, and he got out
o’ bed, and went to the front window on the street to see if there was
any rough customers about. And it being a very light night, he could
make sure as there was not. Then he stood and listened, and he hear Mr
Baxter coming down his front stair one step after another very slow,
and he got the idear as it was like someone bein’ pushed or pulled
down and holdin’ on to everythin’ he could. Next thing he hear the
street door come open, and out come Mr Baxter into the street in his
day-clothes, ’at and all, with his arms straight down by his sides,
and talking to hisself, and shakin’ his head from one side to the
other, and walking in that peculiar way that he appeared to be going
as it were against his own will. George Williams put up the window,
and hear him say: ‘O mercy, gentlemen!’ and then he shut up sudden as
if, he said, someone clapped his hand over his mouth, and Mr Baxter
threw his head back, and his hat fell off. And Williams see his face
looking something pitiful, so as he couldn’t keep from calling out to
him: ‘Why, Mr Baxter, ain’t you well?’ and he was goin’ to offer to
fetch Dr Lawrence to him, only he heard the answer: ‘’Tis best you mind
your own business. Put in your head.’ But whether it were Mr Baxter
said it so hoarse-like and faint, he never could be sure. Still there
weren’t no one but him in the street, and yet Williams was that upset
by the way he spoke that he shrank back from the window and went and
sat on the bed. And he heard Mr Baxter’s step go on and up the road,
and after a minute or more he couldn’t help but look out once more and
he see him going along the same curious way as before. And one thing he
recollected was that Mr Baxter never stopped to pick up his ’at when
it fell off, and yet there it was on his head. Well, Master Henry,
that was the last anybody see of Mr Baxter, leastways for a week or
more. There was a lot of people said he was called off on business, or
made off because he’d got into some scrape, but he was well-known for
miles round, and none of the railway-people nor the public-house people
hadn’t seen him; and then ponds was looked into and nothink found; and
at last one evening Fakes the keeper come down from over the hill to
the village, and he says he seen the Gallows Hill planting black with
birds, and that were a funny thing, because he never see no sign of a
creature there in his time. So they looked at each other a bit, and
first one says: ‘I’m game to go up,’ and another says: ‘So am I, if you
are,’ and half a dozen of ’em set out in the evening time, and took Dr
Lawrence with them, and you know, Master Henry, there he was between
them three stones with his neck broke.”

Useless to imagine the talk which this story set going. It is not
remembered. But before Patten left them, he said to Fanshawe: “Excuse
me, sir, but did I understand as you took out them glasses with you
to-day? I thought you did; and might I ask, did you make use of them at
all?”

“Yes. Only to look at something in a church.”

“Oh, indeed, you took ’em into the church, did you, sir?”

“Yes, I did; it was Lambsfield church. By the way, I left them strapped
on to my bicycle, I’m afraid, in the stable-yard.”

“No matter for that, sir. I can bring them in the first thing to-morrow
and perhaps you’ll be so good as to look at ’em then.”

Accordingly, before breakfast, after a tranquil and well-earned
sleep, Fanshawe took the glasses into the garden and directed them
to a distant hill. He lowered them instantly, and looked at top and
bottom, worked the screws, tried them again and yet again, shrugged his
shoulders and replaced them on the hall-table.

“Patten,” he said, “they’re absolutely useless. I can’t see a thing:
it’s as if someone had stuck a black wafer over the lens.”

“Spoilt my glasses, have you?” said the Squire. “Thank you: the only
ones I’ve got.”

“You try them yourself,” said Fanshawe, “I’ve done nothing to them.”

So after breakfast the Squire took them out to the terrace and stood
on the steps. After a few ineffectual attempts, “Lord, how heavy they
are!” he said impatiently, and in the same instant dropped them on to
the stones, and the lens splintered and the barrel cracked: a little
pool of liquid formed on the stone slab. It was inky black, and the
odour that rose from it is not to be described.

“Filled and sealed, eh?” said the Squire. “If I could bring myself to
touch it, I dare say we should find the seal. So that’s what came of
his boiling and distilling, is it? Old Ghoul!”

“What in the world do you mean?”

“Don’t you see, my good man? Remember what he said to the doctor about
looking through dead men’s eyes? Well, this was another way of it. But
they didn’t like having their bones boiled, I take it, and the end of
it was they carried him off whither he would not. Well, I’ll get a
spade, and we’ll bury this thing decently.”

As they smoothed the turf over it, the Squire, handing the spade to
Patten, who had been a reverential spectator, remarked to Fanshawe:
“It’s almost a pity you took that thing into the church: you might have
seen more than you did. Baxter only had them for a week, I make out,
but I don’t see that he did much in the time.”

“I’m not sure,” said Fanshawe, “there is that picture of Fulnaker
Priory Church.”



A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS


The place on the east coast which the reader is asked to consider is
Seaburgh. It is not very different now from what I remember it to have
been when I was a child. Marshes intersected by dykes to the south,
recalling the early chapters of _Great Expectations_; flat fields
to the north, merging into heath; heath, fir woods, and, above all,
gorse, inland. A long sea-front and a street: behind that a spacious
church of flint, with a broad, solid western tower and a peal of six
bells. How well I remember their sound on a hot Sunday in August, as
our party went slowly up the white, dusty slope of road towards them,
for the church stands at the top of a short, steep incline. They rang
with a flat clacking sort of sound on those hot days, but when the air
was softer they were mellower too. The railway ran down to its little
terminus farther along the same road. There was a gay white windmill
just before you came to the station, and another down near the shingle
at the south end of the town, and others on higher ground to the north.
There were cottages of bright red brick with slate roofs ... but why do
I encumber you with these commonplace details? The fact is that they
come crowding to the point of the pencil when it begins to write of
Seaburgh. I should like to be sure that I had allowed the right ones
to get on to the paper. But I forgot. I have not quite done with the
word-painting business yet.

Walk away from the sea and the town, pass the station, and turn up the
road on the right. It is a sandy road, parallel with the railway, and
if you follow it, it climbs to somewhat higher ground. On your left
(you are now going northward) is heath, on your right (the side towards
the sea) is a belt of old firs, wind-beaten, thick at the top, with
the slope that old seaside trees have; seen on the skyline from the
train they would tell you in an instant, if you did not know it, that
you were approaching a windy coast. Well, at the top of my little hill,
a line of these firs strikes out and runs towards the sea, for there is
a ridge that goes that way; and the ridge ends in a rather well-defined
mound commanding the level fields of rough grass, and a little knot of
fir trees crowns it. And here you may sit on a hot spring day, very
well content to look at blue sea, white windmills, red cottages, bright
green grass, church tower, and distant martello tower on the south.

As I have said, I began to know Seaburgh as a child; but a gap of a
good many years separates my early knowledge from that which is more
recent. Still it keeps its place in my affections, and any tales of it
that I pick up have an interest for me. One such tale is this: it came
to me in a place very remote from Seaburgh, and quite accidentally,
from a man whom I had been able to oblige--enough in his opinion to
justify his making me his confidant to this extent.

       *       *       *       *       *

I know all that country more or less, (he said). I used to go to
Seaburgh pretty regularly for golf in the spring. I generally put
up at the “Bear,” with a friend--Henry Long it was, you knew him
perhaps--(“Slightly,” I said) and we used to take a sitting-room and
be very happy there. Since he died I haven’t cared to go there. And
I don’t know that I should anyhow after the particular thing that
happened on our last visit.

It was in April, 19--, we were there, and by some chance we were
almost the only people in the hotel. So the ordinary public rooms were
practically empty, and we were the more surprised when, after dinner,
our sitting-room door opened, and a young man put his head in. We were
aware of this young man. He was rather a rabbity anæmic subject--light
hair and light eyes--but not unpleasing. So when he said: “I beg your
pardon, is this a private room?” we did not growl and say: “Yes, it
is,” but Long said, or I did--no matter which: “Please come in.” “Oh,
may I?” he said, and seemed relieved. Of course it was obvious that he
wanted company; and as he was a reasonable kind of person--not the sort
to bestow his whole family history on you--we urged him to make himself
at home. “I dare say you find the other rooms rather bleak,” I said.
Yes, he did: but it was really too good of us, and so on. That being
got over, he made some pretence of reading a book. Long was playing
Patience, I was writing. It became plain to me after a few minutes that
this visitor of ours was in rather a state of fidgets or nerves, which
communicated itself to me, and so I put away my writing and turned to
at engaging him in talk.

After some remarks, which I forget, he became rather confidential.
“You’ll think it very odd of me,” (this was the sort of way he began),
“but the fact is I’ve had something of a shock.” Well, I recommended a
drink of some cheering kind, and we had it. The waiter coming in made
an interruption (and I thought our young man seemed very jumpy when
the door opened), but after a while he got back to his woes again.
There was nobody he knew in the place, and he did happen to know who we
both were (it turned out there was some common acquaintance in town),
and really he did want a word of advice, if we didn’t mind. Of course
we both said: “By all means,” or “Not at all,” and Long put away his
cards. And we settled down to hear what his difficulty was.

“It began,” he said, “more than a week ago, when I bicycled over to
Froston, only about five or six miles, to see the church--I’m very much
interested in architecture, and it’s got one of those pretty porches
with niches and shields. I took a photograph of it, and then an old man
who was tidying up in the churchyard came and asked if I’d care to look
into the church. I said yes, and he produced a key and let me in. There
wasn’t much inside, but I told him it was a nice little church, and he
kept it very clean, ‘but,’ I said, ‘the porch is the best part of it.’
We were just outside the porch then, and he said, ‘Ah, yes, that is a
nice porch; and do you know, sir, what’s the meanin’ of that coat of
arms there?’

“It was the one with the three crowns, and though I’m not much of a
herald, I was able to say yes, I thought it was the old arms of the
kingdom of East Anglia.

“‘That’s right, sir,’ he said, ‘and do you know the meanin’ of them
three crowns that’s on it?’

“I said I’d no doubt it was known, but I couldn’t recollect to have
heard it myself.

“‘Well, then,’ he said, ‘for all you’re a scholard, I can tell you
something you don’t know. Them’s the three ’oly crowns what was buried
in the ground near by the coast to keep the Germans from landing--ah,
I can see you don’t believe that. But I tell you, if it hadn’t have
been for one of them ’oly crowns bein’ there still, them Germans would
a landed here time and again, they would. Landed with their ships, and
killed man, woman and child in their beds. Now then, that’s the truth
what I’m telling you, that is; and if you don’t believe me, you ast
the rector. There he comes: you ast him, I says.’

“I looked round, and there was the rector, a nice-looking old man,
coming up the path; and before I could begin assuring my old man, who
was getting quite excited, that I didn’t disbelieve him, the rector
struck in, and said: ‘What’s all this about, John? Good-day to you,
sir. Have you been looking at our little church?’

“So then there was a little talk which allowed the old man to calm
down, and then the rector asked him again what was the matter.

“‘Oh,’ he said, ‘it warn’t nothink, only I was telling this gentleman
he’d ought to ast you about them ’oly crowns.’

“‘Ah, yes, to be sure,’ said the rector, ‘that’s a very curious matter,
isn’t it? But I don’t know whether the gentleman is interested in our
old stories, eh?’

“‘Oh, he’ll be interested fast enough,’ says the old man, ‘he’ll put
his confidence in what you tells him, sir; why, you known William Ager
yourself, father and son too.’

“Then I put in a word to say how much I should like to hear all about
it, and before many minutes I was walking up the village street with
the rector who had one or two words to say to parishioners, and then to
the rectory, where he took me into his study. He had made out, on the
way, that I really was capable of taking an intelligent interest in a
piece of folklore and not quite the ordinary tripper. So he was very
willing to talk, and it is rather surprising to me that the particular
legend he told me has not made its way into print before. His account
of it was this: ‘There has always been a belief in these parts in the
three holy crowns. The old people say they were buried in different
places near the coast to keep off the Danes or the French or the
Germans. And they say that one of the three was dug up a long time ago,
and another has disappeared by the encroaching of the sea, and one’s
still left doing its work, keeping off invaders. Well, now, if you
have read the ordinary guides and histories of this county, you will
remember perhaps that in 1687 a crown, which was said to be the crown
of Redwald, King of the East Angles, was dug up at Rendlesham, and
alas! alas! melted down before it was even properly described or drawn.
Well, Rendlesham isn’t on the coast, but it isn’t so very far inland,
and it’s on a very important line of access. And I believe that is the
crown which the people mean when they say that one has been dug up.
Then on the south you don’t want me to tell you where there was a Saxon
royal palace which is now under the sea, eh? Well, there was the second
crown, I take it. And between these two, they say, lies the third.’

“‘Do they say where it is?’ of course I asked.

“He said, ‘Yes, indeed, they do, but they don’t tell,’ and his manner
did not encourage me to put the obvious question. Instead of that I
waited a moment, and said: ‘What did the old man mean when he said you
knew William Ager, as if that had something to do with the crowns?’

“‘To be sure,’ he said, ‘now that’s another curious story. These
Agers--it’s a very old name in these parts, but I can’t find that they
were ever people of quality or big owners--these Agers say, or said,
that their branch of the family were the guardians of the last crown.
A certain old Nathaniel Ager was the first one I knew--I was born and
brought up quite near here--and he, I believe, camped out at the place
during the whole of the war of 1870. William, his son, did the same,
I know, during the South African War. And young William, _his_ son, who
has only died fairly recently, took lodgings at the cottage nearest the
spot, and I’ve no doubt hastened his end, for he was a consumptive, by
exposure and night watching. And he was the last of that branch. It was
a dreadful grief to him to think that he was the last, but he could do
nothing, the only relations at all near to him were in the colonies. I
wrote letters for him to them imploring them to come over on business
very important to the family, but there has been no answer. So the
last of the holy crowns, if it’s there, has no guardian now.’

“That was what the rector told me, and you can fancy how interesting I
found it. The only thing I could think of when I left him was how to
hit upon the spot where the crown was supposed to be. I wish I’d left
it alone.

“But there was a sort of fate in it, for as I bicycled back past the
churchyard wall my eye caught a fairly new gravestone, and on it was
the name of William Ager. Of course I got off and read it. It said ‘of
this parish, died at Seaburgh, 19--, aged 28.’ There it was, you see.
A little judicious questioning in the right place, and I should at
least find the cottage nearest the spot. Only I didn’t quite know what
was the right spot to begin my questioning at. Again there was fate:
it took me to the curiosity-shop down that way--you know--and I turned
over some old books, and, if you please, one was a prayer-book of 1740
odd, in a rather handsome binding--I’ll just go and get it, it’s in my
room.”

He left us in a state of some surprise, but we had hardly time to
exchange any remarks when he was back, panting, and handed us the book
opened at the fly-leaf, on which was, in a straggly hand:

  “Nathaniel Ager is my name and England is my nation,
  Seaburgh is my dwelling-place and Christ is my Salvation,
  When I am dead and in my Grave, and all my bones are rotton,
  I hope the Lord will think on me when I am quite forgotton.”

This poem was dated 1754, and there were many more entries of Agers,
Nathaniel, Frederick, William, and so on, ending with William, 19--.

“You see,” he said, “anybody would call it the greatest bit of luck.
_I_ did, but I don’t now. Of course I asked the shopman about William
Ager, and of course he happened to remember that he lodged in a cottage
in the North Field and died there. This was just chalking the road for
me. I knew which the cottage must be: there is only one sizable one
about there. The next thing was to scrape some sort of acquaintance
with the people, and I took a walk that way at once. A dog did the
business for me: he made at me so fiercely that they had to run out
and beat him off, and then naturally begged my pardon, and we got
into talk. I had only to bring up Ager’s name, and pretend I knew, or
thought I knew something of him, and then the woman said how sad it was
him dying so young, and she was sure it came of him spending the night
out of doors in the cold weather. Then I had to say: ‘Did he go out on
the sea at night?’ and she said: ‘Oh, no, it was on the hillock yonder
with the trees on it.’ And there I was.

“I know something about digging in these barrows: I’ve opened many
of them in the down country. But that was with owner’s leave, and in
broad daylight and with men to help. I had to prospect very carefully
here before I put a spade in: I couldn’t trench across the mound, and
with those old firs growing there I knew there would be awkward tree
roots. Still the soil was very light and sandy and easy, and there was
a rabbit hole or so that might be developed into a sort of tunnel. The
going out and coming back at odd hours to the hotel was going to be
the awkward part. When I made up my mind about the way to excavate I
told the people that I was called away for a night, and I spent it out
there. I made my tunnel: I won’t bore you with the details of how I
supported it and filled it in when I’d done, but the main thing is that
I got the crown.”

Naturally we both broke out into exclamations of surprise and interest.
I for one had long known about the finding of the crown at Rendlesham
and had often lamented its fate. No one has ever seen an Anglo-Saxon
crown--at least no one had. But our man gazed at us with a rueful eye.
“Yes,” he said, “and the worst of it is I don’t know how to put it
back.”

“Put it back?” we cried out. “Why, my dear sir, you’ve made one of
the most exciting finds ever heard of in this country. Of course it
ought to go to the Jewel House at the Tower. What’s your difficulty? If
you’re thinking about the owner of the land, and treasure-trove, and
all that, we can certainly help you through. Nobody’s going to make a
fuss about technicalities in a case of this kind.”

Probably more was said, but all he did was to put his face in his
hands, and mutter: “I don’t know how to put it back.”

At last Long said: “You’ll forgive me, I hope, if I seem impertinent,
but are you _quite_ sure you’ve got it?” I was wanting to ask much the
same question myself, for of course the story did seem a lunatic’s
dream when one thought over it. But I hadn’t quite dared to say what
might hurt the poor young man’s feelings. However he took it quite
calmly--really, with the calm of despair, you might say. He sat up and
said: “Oh yes, there’s no doubt of that: I have it here, in my room,
locked up in my bag. You can come and look at it if you like: I won’t
offer to bring it here.”

We were not likely to let the chance slip. We went with him; his
room was only a few doors off. The boots was just collecting shoes
in the passage: or so we thought: afterwards we were not sure. Our
visitor--his name was Paxton--was in a worse state of shivers than
before, and went hurriedly into the room, and beckoned us after him,
turned on the light, and shut the door carefully. Then he unlocked his
kit-bag, and produced a bundle of clean pocket-handkerchiefs in which
something was wrapped, laid it on the bed, and undid it. I can now
say I _have_ seen an actual Anglo-Saxon crown. It was of silver--as
the Rendlesham one is always said to have been--it was set with some
gems, mostly antique intaglios and cameos, and was of rather plain,
almost rough workmanship. In fact, it was like those you see on the
coins and in the manuscripts. I found no reason to think it was later
than the ninth century. I was intensely interested, of course, and I
wanted to turn it over in my hands, but Paxton prevented me. “Don’t
_you_ touch it,” he said, “I’ll do that.” And with a sigh that was,
I declare to you, dreadful to hear, he took it up and turned it about
so that we could see every part of it. “Seen enough?” he said at last,
and we nodded. He wrapped it up and locked it in his bag, and stood
looking at us dumbly. “Come back to our room,” Long said, “and tell us
what the trouble is.” He thanked us, and said: “Will you go first and
see if--if the coast is clear?” That wasn’t very intelligible, for our
proceedings hadn’t been, after all, very suspicious, and the hotel,
as I said, was practically empty. However, we were beginning to have
inklings of--we didn’t know what, and anyhow nerves are infectious. So
we did go, first peering out as we opened the door, and fancying (I
found we both had the fancy) that a shadow, or more than a shadow--but
it made no sound--passed from before us to one side as we came out
into the passage. “It’s all right,” we whispered to Paxton--whispering
seemed the proper tone--and we went, with him between us, back to our
sitting-room. I was preparing, when we got there, to be ecstatic about
the unique interest of what we had seen, but when I looked at Paxton I
saw that would be terribly out of place, and I left it to him to begin.

“What _is_ to be done?” was his opening. Long thought it right (as he
explained to me afterwards) to be obtuse, and said: “Why not find out
who the owner of the land is, and inform----” “Oh, no, no!” Paxton
broke in impatiently, “I beg your pardon: you’ve been very kind, but
don’t you see it’s _got_ to go back, and I daren’t be there at night,
and daytime’s impossible. Perhaps, though, you don’t see: well, then,
the truth is that I’ve never been alone since I touched it.” I was
beginning some fairly stupid comment, but Long caught my eye, and I
stopped. Long said: “I think I do see, perhaps: but wouldn’t it be--a
relief--to tell us a little more clearly what the situation is?”

Then it all came out: Paxton looked over his shoulder and beckoned
to us to come nearer to him, and began speaking in a low voice: we
listened most intently, of course, and compared notes afterwards, and
I wrote down our version, so I am confident I have what he told us
almost word for word. He said: “It began when I was first prospecting,
and put me off again and again. There was always somebody--a
man--standing by one of the firs. This was in daylight, you know. He
was never in front of me. I always saw him with the tail of my eye on
the left or the right, and he was never there when I looked straight
for him. I would lie down for quite a long time and take careful
observations, and make sure there was no one, and then when I got up
and began prospecting again, there he was. And he began to give me
hints, besides; for wherever I put that prayer-book--short of locking
it up, which I did at last--when I came back to my room it was always
out on my table open at the fly-leaf where the names are, and one
of my razors across it to keep it open. I’m sure he just can’t open
my bag, or something more would have happened. You see, he’s light
and weak, but all the same I daren’t face him. Well, then, when I
was making the tunnel, of course it was worse, and if I hadn’t been
so keen I should have dropped the whole thing and run. It was like
someone scraping at my back all the time: I thought for a long time it
was only soil dropping on me, but as I got nearer the--the crown, it
was unmistakable. And when I actually laid it bare and got my fingers
into the ring of it and pulled it out, there came a sort of cry behind
me--Oh, I can’t tell you how desolate it was! And horribly threatening
too. It spoilt all my pleasure in my find--cut it off that moment.
And if I hadn’t been the wretched fool I am, I should have put the
thing back and left it. But I didn’t. The rest of the time was just
awful. I had hours to get through before I could decently come back
to the hotel. First I spent time filling up my tunnel and covering my
tracks, and all the while he was there trying to thwart me. Sometimes,
you know, you see him, and sometimes you don’t, just as he pleases,
I think: he’s there, but he has some power over your eyes. Well, I
wasn’t off the spot very long before sunrise, and then I had to get
to the junction for Seaburgh, and take a train back. And though it
was daylight fairly soon, I don’t know if that made it much better.
There were always hedges, or gorse-bushes, or park fences along the
road--some sort of cover, I mean--and I was never easy for a second.
And then when I began to meet people going to work, they always looked
behind me very strangely: it might have been that they were surprised
at seeing anyone so early; but I didn’t think it was only that, and
I don’t now: they didn’t look exactly at _me_. And the porter at the
train was like that too. And the guard held open the door after I’d got
into the carriage--just as he would if there was somebody else coming,
you know. Oh, you may be very sure it isn’t my fancy,” he said with a
dull sort of laugh. Then he went on: “And even if I do get it put back,
he won’t forgive me: I can tell that. And I was so happy a fortnight
ago.” He dropped into a chair, and I believe he began to cry.

We didn’t know what to say, but we felt we must come to the rescue
somehow, and so--it really seemed the only thing,--we said if he was
so set on putting the crown back in its place, we would help him. And
I must say that after what we had heard it did seem the right thing.
If these horrid consequences had come on this poor man, might there
not really be something in the original idea of the crown having some
curious power bound up with it, to guard the coast? At least, that was
my feeling, and I think it was Long’s too. Our offer was very welcome
to Paxton, anyhow. When could we do it? It was nearing half-past ten.
Could we contrive to make a late walk plausible to the hotel people
that very night? We looked out of the window: there was a brilliant
full moon--the Paschal moon. Long undertook to tackle the boots and
propitiate him. He was to say that we should not be much over the hour,
and if we did find it so pleasant that we stopped out a bit longer we
would see that he didn’t lose by sitting up. Well, we were pretty
regular customers of the hotel, and did not give much trouble, and were
considered by the servants to be not under the mark in the way of tips;
and so the boots _was_ propitiated, and let us out on to the sea-front,
and remained, as we heard later, looking after us. Paxton had a large
coat over his arm, under which was the wrapped-up crown.

So we were off on this strange errand before we had time to think how
very much out of the way it was. I have told this part quite shortly on
purpose, for it really does represent the haste with which we settled
our plan and took action. “The shortest way is up the hill and through
the churchyard,” Paxton said, as we stood a moment before the hotel
looking up and down the front. There was nobody about--nobody at all.
Seaburgh out of the season is an early, quiet place. “We can’t go along
the dyke by the cottage, because of the dog,” Paxton also said, when I
pointed to what I thought a shorter way along the front and across two
fields. The reason he gave was good enough. We went up the road to
the church, and turned in at the churchyard gate. I confess to having
thought that there might be some lying there who might be conscious of
our business: but if it was so, they were also conscious that one who
was on their side, so to say, had us under surveillance, and we saw no
sign of them. But under observation we felt we were, as I have never
felt it at another time. Specially was it so when we passed out of the
churchyard into a narrow path with close high hedges, through which we
hurried as Christian did through that Valley; and so got out into open
fields. Then along hedges, though I would sooner have been in the open,
where I could see if anyone was visible behind me; over a gate or two,
and then a swerve to the left, taking us up on to the ridge which ended
in that mound.

As we neared it, Henry Long felt, and I felt too, that there were what
I can only call dim presences waiting for us, as well as a far more
actual one attending us. Of Paxton’s agitation all this time I can
give you no adequate picture: he breathed like a hunted beast, and we
could not either of us look at his face. How he would manage when we
got to the very place we had not troubled to think: he had seemed so
sure that that would not be difficult. Nor was it. I never saw anything
like the dash with which he flung himself at a particular spot in the
side of the mound, and tore at it, so that in a very few minutes the
greater part of his body was out of sight. We stood holding the coat
and that bundle of handkerchiefs, and looking, very fearfully, I must
admit, about us. There was nothing to be seen: a line of dark firs
behind us made one skyline, more trees and the church tower half-a-mile
off on the right, cottages and a windmill on the horizon on the left,
calm sea dead in front, faint barking of a dog at a cottage on a
gleaming dyke between us and it: full moon making that path we know
across the sea: the eternal whisper of the Scotch firs just above us
and of the sea in front. Yet, in all this quiet, an acute, an acrid
consciousness of a restrained hostility very near us, like a dog on a
leash that might be let go at any moment.

Paxton pulled himself out of the hole, and stretched a hand back to
us. “Give it to me,” he whispered, “unwrapped.” We pulled off the
handkerchiefs, and he took the crown. The moonlight just fell on it as
he snatched it. We had not ourselves touched that bit of metal, and I
have thought since that it was just as well. In another moment Paxton
was out of the hole again and busy shovelling back the soil with hands
that were already bleeding. He would have none of our help, though.
It was much the longest part of the job to get the place to look
undisturbed: yet--I don’t know how--he made a wonderful success of it.
At last he was satisfied, and we turned back.

We were a couple of hundred yards from the hill when Long suddenly said
to him: “I say, you’ve left your coat there. That won’t do. See?” And
I certainly did see it--the long dark overcoat lying where the tunnel
had been. Paxton had not stopped, however: he only shook his head, and
held up the coat on his arm. And when we joined him, he said, without
any excitement, but as if nothing mattered any more: “That wasn’t my
coat.” And, indeed, when we looked back again, that dark thing was not
to be seen.

Well, we got out on to the road, and came rapidly back that way. It
was well before twelve when we got in, trying to put a good face on
it, and saying--Long and I--what a lovely night it was for a walk. The
boots was on the lookout for us, and we made remarks like that for his
edification as we entered the hotel. He gave another look up and down
the sea-front before he locked the front door, and said: “You didn’t
meet many people about, I s’pose, sir?” “No, indeed, not a soul,” I
said; at which I remember Paxton looked oddly at me. “Only I thought
I see someone turn up the station road after you gentlemen,” said the
boots. “Still, you was three together, and I don’t suppose he meant
mischief.” I didn’t know what to say; Long merely said “Good-night,”
and we went off upstairs, promising to turn out all lights, and to go
to bed in a few minutes.

Back in our room, we did our very best to make Paxton take a cheerful
view. “There’s the crown safe back,” we said, “very likely you’d have
done better not to touch it” (and he heavily assented to that), “but no
real harm has been done, and we shall never give this away to anyone
who would be so mad as to go near it. Besides, don’t you feel better
yourself? I don’t mind confessing,” I said, “that on the way there
I was very much inclined to take your view about--well, about being
followed; but going back, it wasn’t at all the same thing, was it?”
No, it wouldn’t do: “_You’ve_ nothing to trouble yourselves about,”
he said, “but I’m not forgiven. I’ve got to pay for that miserable
sacrilege still. I know what you are going to say. The Church might
help. Yes, but it’s the body that has to suffer. It’s true I’m not
feeling that he’s waiting outside for me just now. But----” then he
stopped. Then he turned to thanking us, and we put him off as soon as
we could. And naturally we pressed him to use our sitting-room next
day, and said we should be glad to go out with him. Or did he play
golf, perhaps? Yes, he did, but he didn’t think he should care about
that to-morrow. Well, we recommended him to get up late and sit in our
room in the morning while we were playing, and we would have a walk
later in the day. He was very submissive and _piano_ about it all:
ready to do just what we thought best, but clearly quite certain in
his own mind that what was coming could not be averted or palliated.
You’ll wonder why we didn’t insist on accompanying him to his home and
seeing him safe into the care of brothers or someone. The fact was he
had nobody. He had had a flat in town, but lately he had made up his
mind to settle for a time in Sweden, and he had dismantled his flat and
shipped off his belongings, and was whiling away a fortnight or three
weeks before he made a start. Anyhow we didn’t see what we could do
better than sleep on it--or not sleep very much, as was my case--and
see what we felt like to-morrow morning.

We felt very different, Long and I, on as beautiful an April morning as
you could desire; and Paxton also looked very different when we saw him
at breakfast. “The first approach to a decent night I seem ever to have
had,” was what he said. But he was going to do as we had settled: stay
in probably all the morning, and come out with us later. We went to the
links; we met some other men and played with them in the morning, and
had lunch there rather early, so as not to be late back. All the same,
the snares of death overtook him.

Whether it could have been prevented, I don’t know. I think he would
have been got at somehow, do what we might. Anyhow, this is what
happened.

We went straight up to our room. Paxton was there, reading quite
peaceably. “Ready to come out shortly?” said Long, “say in
half-an-hour’s time?” “Certainly,” he said: and I said we would change
first, and perhaps have baths, and call for him in half-an-hour. I had
my bath first, and went and lay down on my bed, and slept for about ten
minutes. We came out of our rooms at the same time, and went together
to the sitting-room. Paxton wasn’t there--only his book. Nor was he in
his room, nor in the downstair rooms. We shouted for him. A servant
came out and said: “Why, I thought you gentlemen was gone out already,
and so did the other gentleman. He heard you a-calling from the path
there, and run out in a hurry, and I looked out of the coffee-room
window, but I didn’t see you. ’Owever, he run off down the beach that
way.”

Without a word we ran that way too--it was the opposite direction to
that of last night’s expedition. It wasn’t quite four o’clock, and the
day was fair, though not so fair as it had been, so there was really
no reason, you’d say, for anxiety: with people about, surely a man
couldn’t come to much harm.

But something in our look as we ran out must have struck the servant,
for she came out on the steps, and pointed, and said, “Yes, that’s
the way he went.” We ran on as far as the top of the shingle bank, and
there pulled up. There was a choice of ways: past the houses on the
sea-front, or along the sand at the bottom of the beach, which, the
tide being now out, was fairly broad. Or of course we might keep along
the shingle between these two tracks and have some view of both of
them; only that was heavy going. We chose the sand, for that was the
loneliest, and someone _might_ come to harm there without being seen
from the public path.

Long said he saw Paxton some distance ahead, running and waving his
stick, as if he wanted to signal to people who were on ahead of him.
I couldn’t be sure: one of these sea-mists was coming up very quickly
from the south. There was someone, that’s all I could say. And there
were tracks on the sand as of someone running who wore shoes; and there
were other tracks made before those--for the shoes sometimes trod in
them and interfered with them--of someone not in shoes. Oh, of course,
it’s only my word you’ve got to take for all this: Long’s dead. We’d
no time or means to make sketches or take casts, and the next tide
washed everything away. All we could do was to notice these marks as
we hurried on. But there they were over and over again, and we had no
doubt whatever that what we saw was the track of a bare foot, and one
that showed more bones than flesh.

The notion of Paxton running after--after anything like this, and
supposing it to be the friends he was looking for, was very dreadful
to us. You can guess what we fancied: how the thing he was following
might stop suddenly and turn round on him, and what sort of face it
would show, half-seen at first in the mist--which all the while was
getting thicker and thicker. And as I ran on wondering how the poor
wretch could have been lured into mistaking that other thing for us,
I remembered his saying, “He has some power over your eyes.” And then
I wondered what the end would be, for I had no hope now that the end
could be averted, and--well, there is no need to tell all the dismal
and horrid thoughts that flitted through my head as we ran on into the
mist. It was uncanny, too, that the sun should still be bright in the
sky and we could see nothing. We could only tell that we were now past
the houses and had reached that gap there is between them and the old
martello tower. When you are past the tower, you know, there is nothing
but shingle for a long way--not a house, not a human creature, just
that spit of land, or rather shingle, with the river on your right and
the sea on your left.

But just before that, just by the martello tower, you remember there
is the old battery, close to the sea. I believe there are only a few
blocks of concrete left now: the rest has all been washed away, but
at this time there was a lot more, though the place was a ruin. Well,
when we got there, we clambered to the top as quick as we could to take
breath and look over the shingle in front if by chance the mist would
let us see anything. But a moment’s rest we must have. We had run a
mile at least. Nothing whatever was visible ahead of us, and we were
just turning by common consent to get down and run hopelessly on, when
we heard what I can only call a laugh: and if you can understand what
I mean by a breathless, a lungless laugh, you have it; but I don’t
suppose you can. It came from below, and swerved away into the mist.
That was enough. We bent over the wall. Paxton was there at the bottom.

You don’t need to be told that he was dead. His tracks showed that
he had run along the side of the battery, had turned sharp round the
corner of it, and, small doubt of it, must have dashed straight into
the open arms of someone who was waiting there. His mouth was full of
sand and stones, and his teeth and jaws were broken to bits. I only
glanced once at his face.

At the same moment, just as we were scrambling down from the battery
to get to the body, we heard a shout, and saw a man running down the
bank of the martello tower. He was the caretaker stationed there, and
his keen old eyes had managed to descry through the mist that something
was wrong. He had seen Paxton fall, and had seen us a moment after,
running up--fortunate this, for otherwise we could hardly have escaped
suspicion of being concerned in the dreadful business. Had he, we
asked, caught sight of anybody attacking our friend? He could not be
sure.

We sent him off for help, and stayed by the dead man till they came
with the stretcher. It was then that we traced out how he had come, on
the narrow fringe of sand under the battery wall. The rest was shingle,
and it was hopelessly impossible to tell whither the other had gone.

What were we to say at the inquest? It was a duty, we felt, not to give
up, there and then, the secret of the crown, to be published in every
paper. I don’t know how much you would have told; but what we did agree
upon was this: to say that we had only made acquaintance with Paxton
the day before, and that he had told us he was under some apprehension
of danger at the hands of a man called William Ager. Also that we had
seen some other tracks besides Paxton’s when we followed him along the
beach. But of course by that time everything was gone from the sands.

No one had any knowledge, fortunately, of any William Ager living in
the district. The evidence of the man at the martello tower freed us
from all suspicion. All that could be done was to return a verdict of
wilful murder by some person or persons unknown.

Paxton was so totally without connections that all the enquiries that
were subsequently made ended in a No Thoroughfare. And I have never
been at Seaburgh, or even near it, since.



AN EVENING’S ENTERTAINMENT


Nothing is more common form in old-fashioned books than the description
of the winter fireside, where the aged grandam narrates to the circle
of children that hangs on her lips story after story of ghosts and
fairies, and inspires her audience with a pleasing terror. But we
are never allowed to know what the stories were. We hear, indeed, of
sheeted spectres with saucer eyes, and--still more intriguing--of
“Rawhead and Bloody Bones” (an expression which the Oxford Dictionary
traces back to 1550), but the context of these striking images eludes
us.

Here, then, is a problem which has long obsessed me; but I see no means
of solving it finally. The aged grandams are gone, and the collectors
of folklore began their work in England too late to save most of the
actual stories which the grandams told. Yet such things do not easily
die quite out, and imagination, working on scattered hints, may be able
to devise a picture of an evening’s entertainment, such an one as Mrs
Marcet’s _Evening Conversations_, Mr Joyce’s _Dialogues on Chemistry_,
and somebody else’s _Philosophy in Sport made Science in Earnest_,
aimed at extinguishing by substituting for Error and Superstition the
light of Utility and Truth; in some such terms as these:

_Charles_: I think, papa, that I now understand the properties of the
lever, which you so kindly explained to me on Saturday; but I have been
very much puzzled since then in thinking about the pendulum, and have
wondered why it is that, when you stop it, the clock does not go on any
more.

_Papa_: (You young sinner, have you been meddling with the clock in the
hall? Come here to me! _No, this must be a gloss that has somehow crept
into the text_). Well, my boy, though I do not wholly approve of your
conducting without my supervision experiments which may possibly impair
the usefulness of a valuable scientific instrument, I will do my best
to explain the principles of the pendulum to you. Fetch me a piece of
stout whipcord from the drawer in my study, and ask cook to be so good
as to lend you one of the weights which she uses in her kitchen.

And so we are off.

How different the scene in a household to which the beams of Science
have not yet penetrated! The Squire, exhausted by a long day after the
partridges, and replete with food and drink, is snoring on one side of
the fireplace. His old mother sits opposite to him knitting, and the
children (Charles and Lucy, not Harry and Lucy: they would never have
stood it) are gathered about her knee.

_Grandmother_: Now, my dears, you must be very good and quiet, or
you’ll wake your father, and you know what’ll happen then.

_Charles_: Yes, I know: he’ll be woundy cross-tempered and send us off
to bed.

_Grandmother_ (_stops knitting and speaks with severity_): What’s that?
Fie upon you, Charles! that’s not a way to speak. Now I _was_ going
to have told you a story, but if you use such-like words, I shan’t.
(_Suppressed outcry_: “Oh, granny!”) Hush! hush! Now I believe you
_have_ woke your father!

_Squire_ (_thickly_): Look here, mother, if you can’t keep them brats
quiet----

_Grandmother_: Yes, John, yes! it’s too bad. I’ve been telling them if
it happens again, off to bed they shall go.

_Squire_ relapses.

_Grandmother_: There, now, you see, children, what did I tell you? you
_must_ be good and sit still. And I’ll tell you what: to-morrow you
shall go a-blackberrying, and if you bring home a nice basketful, I’ll
make you some jam.

_Charles_: Oh yes, granny, do! and I know where the best blackberries
are: I saw ’em to-day.

_Grandmother_: And where’s that, Charles?

_Charles_: Why, in the little lane that goes up past Collins’s cottage.

_Grandmother_ (_laying down her knitting_): Charles! whatever you do,
don’t you dare to pick one single blackberry in that lane. Don’t you
_know_--but there, how should you--what was I thinking of? Well,
anyway, you mind what I say----

_Charles and Lucy_: But why, granny? Why shouldn’t we pick ’em there?

_Grandmother_: Hush! hush! Very well then, I’ll tell you all about it,
only you mustn’t interrupt. Now let me see. When I was quite a little
girl that lane had a bad name, though it seems people don’t remember
about it now. And one day--dear me, just as it might be to-night--I
told my poor mother when I came home to my supper--a summer evening
it was--I told her where I’d been for my walk, and how I’d come back
down that lane, and I asked her how it was that there were currant
and gooseberry bushes growing in a little patch at the top of the
lane. And oh, dear me, such a taking as she was in! She shook me and
she slapped me, and says she, “You naughty, naughty child, haven’t I
forbid you twenty times over to set foot in that lane? and here you go
dawdling down it at night-time,” and so forth, and when she’d finished
I was almost too much taken aback to say anything: but I did make her
believe that was the first I’d ever heard of it; and that was no more
than the truth. And then, to be sure, she was sorry she’d been so short
with me, and to make up she told me the whole story after my supper.
And since then I’ve often heard the same from the old people in the
place, and had my own reasons besides for thinking there was something
in it.

Now, up at the far end of that lane--let me see, is it on the right-
or the left-hand side as you go up?--the left-hand side--you’ll find
a little patch of bushes and rough ground in the field, and something
like a broken old hedge round about, and you’ll notice there’s some old
gooseberry and currant bushes growing among it--or there used to be,
for it’s years now since I’ve been up that way. Well, that means there
was a cottage stood there, of course; and in that cottage, before I was
born or thought of, there lived a man named Davis. I’ve heard that he
wasn’t born in the parish, and it’s true there’s nobody of that name
been living about here since I’ve known the place. But however that
may be, this Mr Davis lived very much to himself and very seldom went
to the public-house, and he didn’t work for any of the farmers, having
as it seemed enough money of his own to get along. But he’d go to the
town on market-days and take up his letters at the post-house where
the mails called. And one day he came back from market, and brought
a young man with him; and this young man and he lived together for
some long time, and went about together, and whether he just did the
work of the house for Mr Davis, or whether Mr Davis was his teacher in
some way, nobody seemed to know. I’ve heard he was a pale, ugly young
fellow and hadn’t much to say for himself. Well, now, what did those
two men do with themselves? Of course I can’t tell you half the foolish
things that the people got into their heads, and we know, don’t we,
that you mustn’t speak evil when you aren’t sure it’s true, even when
people are dead and gone. But as I said, those two were always about
together, late and early, up on the downland and below in the woods;
and there was one walk in particular that they’d take regularly once
a month, to the place where you’ve seen that old figure cut out in the
hillside; and it was noticed that in the summer-time when they took
that walk, they’d camp out all night, either there or somewhere near
by. I remember once my father--that’s your great-grandfather--told me
he had spoken to Mr Davis about it (for it’s his land he lived on)
and asked him why he was so fond of going there, but he only said:
“Oh, it’s a wonderful old place, sir, and I’ve always been fond of the
old-fashioned things, and when him (that was his man he meant) and me
are together there, it seems to bring back the old times so plain.” And
my father said, “Well,” he said, “it may suit _you_, but _I_ shouldn’t
like a lonely place like that in the middle of the night.” And Mr Davis
smiled, and the young man, who’d been listening, said, “Oh, we don’t
want for company at such times,” and my father said he couldn’t help
thinking Mr Davis made some kind of sign, and the young man went on
quick, as if to mend his words, and said, “That’s to say, Mr Davis
and me’s company enough for each other, ain’t we, master? and then
there’s a beautiful air there of a summer night, and you can see all
the country round under the moon, and it looks so different, seemingly,
to what it do in the daytime. Why, all them barrows on the down----”

And then Mr Davis cut in, seeming to be out of temper with the lad, and
said, “Ah yes, they’re old-fashioned places, ain’t they, sir? Now, what
would you think was the purpose of them?” And my father said (now, dear
me, it seems funny doesn’t it, that I should recollect all this: but
it took my fancy at the time, and though it’s dull perhaps for you, I
can’t help finishing it out now), well, he said, “Why, I’ve heard, Mr
Davis, that they’re all graves, and I know, when I’ve had occasion to
plough up one, there’s always been some old bones and pots turned up.
But whose graves they are, I don’t know: people say the ancient Romans
were all about this country at one time, but whether they buried their
people like that I can’t tell.” And Mr Davis shook his head, thinking,
and said, “Ah, to be sure: well they look to me to be older-like than
the ancient Romans, and dressed different--that’s to say, according
to the pictures the Romans was in armour, and you didn’t never find
no armour, did you, sir, by what you said?” And my father was rather
surprised and said, “I don’t know that I mentioned anything about
armour, but it’s true I don’t remember to have found any. But you talk
as if you’d seen ’em, Mr Davis,” and they both of them laughed, Mr
Davis and the young man, and Mr Davis said, “Seen ’em, sir? that would
be a difficult matter after all these years. Not but what I should like
well enough to know more about them old times and people, and what
they worshipped and all.” And my father said, “Worshipped? Well, I dare
say they worshipped the old man on the hill.” “Ah, indeed!” Mr Davis
said, “well, I shouldn’t wonder,” and my father went on and told them
what he’d heard and read about the heathens and their sacrifices: what
you’ll learn some day for yourself, Charles, when you go to school and
begin your Latin. And they seemed to be very much interested, both of
them; but my father said he couldn’t help thinking the most of what he
was saying was no news to them. That was the only time he ever had much
talk with Mr Davis, and it stuck in his mind, particularly, he said,
the young man’s word about _not wanting for company_: because in those
days there was a lot of talk in the villages round about--why, but for
my father interfering, the people here would have ducked an old lady
for a witch.

_Charles_: What does that mean, granny, ducked an old lady for a witch?
Are there witches here now?

_Grandmother_: No, no, dear! why, what ever made me stray off like
that? No, no, that’s quite another affair. What I was going to say was
that the people in other places round about believed that some sort
of meetings went on at night-time on that hill where the man is, and
that those who went there were up to no good. But don’t you interrupt
me now, for it’s getting late. Well, I suppose it was a matter of
three years that Mr Davis and this young man went on living together:
and then all of a sudden, a dreadful thing happened. I don’t know if
I ought to tell you. (_Outcries of_ “Oh yes! yes, granny, you must,”
etc.), Well, then, you must promise not to get frightened and go
screaming out in the middle of the night. (“No, no, we won’t, of course
not!”) One morning very early towards the turn of the year, I think it
was in September, one of the woodmen had to go up to his work at the
top of the long covert just as it was getting light; and just where
there were some few big oaks in a sort of clearing deep in the wood
he saw at a distance a white thing that looked like a man through the
mist, and he was in two minds about going on, but go on he did, and
made out as he came near that it _was_ a man, and more than that, it
was Mr Davis’s young man: dressed in a sort of white gown he was, and
hanging by his neck to the limb of the biggest oak, quite, quite dead:
and near his feet there lay on the ground a hatchet all in a gore of
blood. Well, what a terrible sight that was for anyone to come upon in
that lonely place! This poor man was nearly out of his wits: he dropped
everything he was carrying and ran as hard as ever he could straight
down to the Parsonage, and woke them up and told what he’d seen. And
old Mr White, who was the parson then, sent him off to get two or three
of the best men, the blacksmith and the churchwardens and what not,
while he dressed himself, and all of them went up to this dreadful
place with a horse to lay the poor body on and take it to the house.
When they got there, everything was just as the woodman had said: but
it was a terrible shock to them all to see how the corpse was dressed,
specially to old Mr White, for it seemed to him to be like a mockery of
the church surplice that was on it, only, he told my father, not the
same in the fashion of it. And when they came to take down the body
from the oak-tree they found there was a chain of some metal round the
neck and a little ornament like a wheel hanging to it on the front,
and it was very old looking, they said. Now in the meantime they had
sent off a boy to run to Mr Davis’s house and see whether he was at
home; for of course they couldn’t but have their suspicions. And Mr
White said they must send too to the constable of the next parish, and
get a message to another magistrate (he was a magistrate himself), and
so there was running hither and thither. But my father as it happened
was away from home that night, otherwise they would have fetched him
first. So then they laid the body across the horse, and they say it was
all they could manage to keep the beast from bolting away from the time
they were in sight of the tree, for it seemed to be mad with fright.
However, they managed to bind the eyes and lead it down through the
wood and back into the village street; and there, just by the big tree
where the stocks are, they found a lot of the women gathered together,
and this boy whom they’d sent to Mr Davis’s house lying in the middle,
as white as paper, and not a word could they get out of him, good or
bad. So they saw there was something worse yet to come, and they made
the best of their way up the lane to Mr Davis’s house. And when they
got near that, the horse they were leading seemed to go mad again with
fear, and reared up and screamed, and struck out with its forefeet and
the man that was leading it was as near as possible being killed, and
the dead body fell off its back. So Mr White bid them get the horse
away as quick as might be, and they carried the body straight into the
living-room, for the door stood open. And then they saw what it was
that had given the poor boy such a fright, and they guessed why the
horse went mad, for you know horses can’t bear the smell of dead blood.

There was a long table in the room, more than the length of a man, and
on it there lay the body of Mr Davis. The eyes were bound over with a
linen band and the arms were tied across the back, and the feet were
bound together with another band. But the fearful thing was that the
breast being quite bare, the bone of it was split through from the top
downwards with an axe! Oh, it was a terrible sight; not one there but
turned faint and ill with it, and had to go out into the fresh air.
Even Mr White, who was what you might call a hard nature of a man, was
quite overcome and said a prayer for strength in the garden.

At last they laid out the other body as best they could in the room,
and searched about to see if they could find out how such a frightful
thing had come to pass. And in the cupboards they found a quantity
of herbs and jars with liquors, and it came out, when people that
understood such matters had looked into it, that some of these liquors
were drinks to put a person asleep. And they had little doubt that that
wicked young man had put some of this into Mr Davis’s drink, and then
used him as he did, and, after that, the sense of his sin had come upon
him and he had cast himself away.

Well now, you couldn’t understand all the law business that had to be
done by the coroner and the magistrates; but there was a great coming
and going of people over it for the next day or two, and then the
people of the parish got together and agreed that they couldn’t bear
the thought of these two being buried in the churchyard alongside of
Christian people; for I must tell you there were papers and writings
found in the drawers and cupboards that Mr White and some other
clergymen looked into; and they put their names to a paper that said
these men were guilty, by their own allowing, of the dreadful sin of
idolatry; and they feared there were some in the neighbouring places
that were not free from that wickedness, and called upon them to
repent, lest the same fearful thing that was come to these men should
befall them also; and then they burnt those writings. So then, Mr White
was of the same mind as the parishioners, and late one evening twelve
men that were chosen went with him to that evil house, and with them
they took two biers made very roughly for the purpose and two pieces of
black cloth, and down at the cross-road, where you take the turn for
Bascombe and Wilcombe, there were other men waiting with torches, and a
pit dug, and a great crowd of people gathered together from all round
about. And the men that went to the cottage went in with their hats
on their heads, and four of them took the two bodies and laid them on
the biers and covered them over with the black cloths, and no one said
a word, but they bore them down the lane, and they were cast into the
pit and covered over with stones and earth, and then Mr White spoke to
the people that were gathered together. My father was there, for he had
come back when he heard the news, and he said he never should forget
the strangeness of the sight, with the torches burning and those two
black things huddled together in the pit, and not a sound from any of
the people, except it might be a child or a woman whimpering with the
fright. And so, when Mr White had finished speaking, they all turned
away and left them lying there.

They say horses don’t like the spot even now, and I’ve heard there
was something of a mist or a light hung about for a long time after,
but I don’t know the truth of that. But this I do know, that next day
my father’s business took him past the opening of the lane, and he saw
three or four little knots of people standing at different places along
it, seemingly in a state of mind about something; and he rode up to
them, and asked what was the matter. And they ran up to him and said,
“Oh, Squire, it’s the blood! Look at the blood!” and kept on like that.
So he got off his horse and they showed him, and there, in four places,
I think it was, he saw great patches in the road, of blood: but he
could hardly see it was blood, for almost every spot of it was covered
with great black flies, that never changed their place or moved. And
that blood was what had fallen out of Mr Davis’s body as they bore it
down the lane. Well, my father couldn’t bear to do more than just take
in the nasty sight so as to be sure of it, and then he said to one of
those men that was there, “Do you make haste and fetch a basket or a
barrow full of clean earth out of the churchyard and spread it over
these places, and I’ll wait here till you come back.” And very soon he
came back, and the old man that was sexton with him, with a shovel and
the earth in a hand-barrow: and they set it down at the first of the
places and made ready to cast the earth upon it; and as soon as ever
they did that, what do you think? the flies that were on it rose up in
the air in a kind of a solid cloud and moved off up the lane towards
the house, and the sexton (he was parish clerk as well) stopped and
looked at them and said to my father, “Lord of flies, sir,” and no more
would he say. And just the same it was at the other places, every one
of them.

_Charles_: But what did he mean, granny?

_Grandmother_: Well, dear, you remember to ask Mr Lucas when you go to
him for your lesson to-morrow. I can’t stop now to talk about it: it’s
long past bed-time for you already. The next thing was, my father made
up his mind no one was going to live in that cottage again, or yet use
any of the things that were in it: so, though it was one of the best in
the place, he sent round word to the people that it was to be done away
with, and anyone that wished could bring a faggot to the burning of it;
and that’s what was done. They built a pile of wood in the living-room
and loosened the thatch so as the fire could take good hold, and then
set it alight; and as there was no brick, only the chimney-stack and
the oven, it wasn’t long before it was all gone. I seem to remember
seeing the chimney when I was a little girl, but that fell down of
itself at last.

Now this that I’ve got to is the last bit of all. You may be sure that
for a long time the people said Mr Davis and that young man were seen
about, the one of them in the wood and both of them where the house had
been, or passing together down the lane, particularly in the spring of
the year and at autumn-time. I can’t speak to that, though if we were
sure there are such things as ghosts, it would seem likely that people
like that wouldn’t rest quiet. But I can tell you this, that one
evening in the month of March, just before your grandfather and I were
married, we’d been taking a long walk in the woods together and picking
flowers and talking as young people will that are courting; and so
much taken up with each other that we never took any particular notice
where we were going. And on a sudden I cried out, and your grandfather
asked what was the matter. The matter was that I’d felt a sharp prick
on the back of my hand, and I snatched it to me and saw a black thing
on it, and struck it with the other hand and killed it. And I showed it
him, and he was a man who took notice of all such things, and he said,
“Well, I’ve never seen ought like that fly before,” and though to my
own eye it didn’t seem very much out of the common, I’ve no doubt he
was right.

And then we looked about us and lo and behold if we weren’t in the
very lane, just in front of the place where that house had stood, and,
as they told me after, just where the men set down the biers a minute
when they bore them out of the garden gate. You may be sure we made
haste away from there; at least, I made your grandfather come away
quick, for I was wholly upset at finding myself there; but he would
have lingered about out of curiosity if I’d have let him. Whether
there was anything about there more than we could see I shall never be
sure: perhaps it was partly the venom of that horrid fly’s bite that
was working in me that made me feel so strange; for, dear me, how that
poor arm and hand of mine did swell up, to be sure! I’m afraid to tell
you how large it was round! and the pain of it, too! Nothing my mother
could put on it had any power over it at all, and it wasn’t till she
was persuaded by our old nurse to get the wise man over at Bascombe to
come and look at it, that I got any peace at all. But he seemed to know
all about it, and said I wasn’t the first that had been taken that way.
“When the sun’s gathering his strength,” he said, “and when he’s in the
height of it, and when he’s beginning to lose his hold, and when he’s
in his weakness, them that haunts about that lane had best to take heed
to themselves.” But what it was he bound on my arm and what he said
over it, he wouldn’t tell us. After that I soon got well again, but
since then I’ve heard often enough of people suffering much the same as
I did; only of late years it doesn’t seem to happen but very seldom:
and maybe things like that do die out in the course of time.

But that’s the reason, Charles, why I say to you that I won’t have you
gathering me blackberries, no, nor eating them either, in that lane;
and now you know all about it, I don’t fancy you’ll want to yourself.
There! Off to bed you go this minute. What’s that, Lucy? A light in
your room? The idea of such a thing! You get yourself undressed at once
and say your prayers, and perhaps if your father doesn’t want me when
he wakes up, I’ll come and say good-night to you. And you, Charles, if
I hear anything of you frightening your little sister on the way up to
your bed, I shall tell your father that very moment, and you know what
happened to you the last time.

The door closes, and granny, after listening intently for a minute or
two, resumes her knitting. The Squire still slumbers.


PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY THE EDINBURGH PRESS, 9 AND 11 YOUNG STREET,
EDINBURGH



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.



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