Before he could interfere the tall figure set a dark object rolling down the stairs with infernal reverberation, then sat himself down on what seemed a tea-tray, and shot clattering into the gloomy deep.
The Minister turned and leaped into his bed, annoyed, yet shaken with laughter.
Another moment and he heard the door opposite unbolted, and a perturbed but angry voice rose outside his door:
'What the devil are ye up to? Are ye playing a trick on me, Minister? What was that fearfu' noise?'
'I'm playin' nae tricks on ye,' replied the Minister, as he opened the door and stood face to face with his guest, whose face was plainly agitated by fear and anger. 'It's either the storm, or aiblins a ghaist, or else some one's playin' tricks on baith o' us.'
'Did ye no place this bit paper i' my room?' inquired his guest wrathfully, holding up a document with his hand accusingly.
'What bit paper is 't?' inquired the Minister. 'I hae pit nae bit paper i' your room.'
'Did Dr. Thomson o' the auld toon no' send ye this bit waste-paper—codicil he called it, or come to see ye aboot it?'
'No, he didna,' replied the Minister, 'neither he nor any ither doctor has been i' my manse yet, an' I hope never wull.'
'On your hon——' began the other. Then catching his host's gleaming eye, said brokenly, 'It's the —— Well—it's the most extraordinary thing that ever happened to me i' my life. The ghastly noise—then to find this bit paper lyin' i' my room.'
'What is the paper?' inquired the Minister. 'Can ye no hae brocht it wi' ye yoursel'?'
Macmanus looked about him stricken and unnerved, the anger had died down in his face, and he seemed to be seeking consolation.
'I'll tell ye the hail matter,' he decided impulsively, 'and what's mair, I'll abide by your advice.'
Thereon very briefly he set forth the tale of the codicil, justified himself on all legal grounds, and awaited the Minister's decision.
'Aweel, Macmanus,' replied the Minister slowly but decisively, 'as ye ask my opeenion, aal I can say is that if I was i' your shoes I'd juist forego my legal rights an' let the puir woman hae the twa hundred punds.'
'I believe you're richt,' replied the other; 'but if that ghastly noise happens again I'll come and spend the rest o' the night i' your bedchamber.'
'Come your ways in noo,' responded his host, 'and I'll get ye a drop whisky.'
'Aweel,' murmured the listener with pricked ears, who sat beside gong and tea-tray at the stair-foot, 'I'm thinkin if the Meenister's Macchiavelli, the elder's Machiavelli-er.'
SCENE I. TEMPTATION
Late one spring evening not long after the disaster of Solway Moss, Sir Robert Maxwell was walking to and fro within the Tower of Lochmaben—a heavy frown upon his brow—cogitating his reply to a letter from my Lord Arran—now governor of Scotland under the regency of the widowed Queen, Mary of Lorraine.
Amongst other matters touched upon Arran made mention of his purpose to find the right suitor for the hand of Agnes Herries—daughter and heiress of the Lord Herries of Hoddam Castle. A hint was delicately conveyed that possibly Maxwell himself might be eligible—if he gave up his 'assurance with England.'
Now Sir Robert's late father—the Lord Maxwell—had been made prisoner at Solway Moss, but had been set free on 'taking assurance' with England and giving twelve hostages of his own name to the opposite warden—Lord Wharton at Carlisle.
In addition there was a suggestive allusion to the Scots Wardenry of the Western march, which was vacant at the moment.
The offer was most tempting, but—there were the twelve Maxwell hostages, his cousins, in Wharton's hands.
Sir Robert grew wroth as he read and re-read the letter. 'Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?' he questioned angrily, as he sat down to indite a peremptory refusal.
He found his task very difficult, for he had little skill in writing. Shortly, he determined to send over to Dumfries first thing in the morning for the notary public to come and write the letter for him, and be a witness to his signature.
This he did, but the messenger brought word back that the notary was ill with the spotted fever and could not come.
Sir Robert's anger increased, for the temptation beckoned insistently. He had already had thoughts of the fair and well-dowered Agnes, but he knew 'twas hopeless unless he was reconciled to Arran.
He determined to ride out and rid himself of black care by a gallop. Mounting, he let the horse choose his ain gait, and shortly found himself in the airt of Hoddam, whence he rode up to the grassy fells above Solway. Then he let his horse out on a gallop, and away he sped like a curlew—sweeping over the short grass, and drinking in the breeze like wine.
Maxwell rode till his horse was white with sweat, and the rubies in his nostrils red as fire.
Then he turned and came back at a slow trot to the point of starting. Pausing here, Maxwell gazed down on the one hand to the rich fields and well-timbered lands of Hoddam; on the other hand across Solway to where below the deep-piled, purple masses of Helvellyn and Skiddaw lay 'merry Carlisle'—the abode of my Lord Wharton.
Maxwell shook his fist across Solway, as though in defiance. Then he turned about and rode slowly home.
SCENE II. THE RAID
As soon as he was back again at Lochmaben he dispatched a special messenger to Arran in Edinburgh with the brief assurance that he himself would follow on the morrow and explain in person the difficulty of accepting the Governor's proposals.
On the evening of the day that Sir Robert Maxwell arrived in Edinburgh a ball was held in Holyrood—the first ball since Solway Moss had overwhelmed Scotland with gloom. The Queen-Dowager was to be present, and Arran insisted on Maxwell's attendance, though against his will. A gay and brilliant assembly filled the great galleries of Holyrood that night.
After a minuet had been paced to the gentle music of the lute and clavichord, a schottische succeeded to the martial skirl of the pipes.
For this dance Arran had craftily arranged that Maxwell should have as partner the fair Agnes Herries, and as he watched them his brow relaxed its tension. His policy was to strengthen and consolidate Scotland, and to this end he would break Maxwell's assurance with England. 'The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,' he muttered to himself as he watched the couple dancing with animation, 'are gey guid baits.' As the company departed in the early dawn Arran took the opportunity of walking back with Maxwell to his lodging. 'Ye partnered ilk ither fine,' said the Governor; 'time and step suited ye bonny. Weel,' he added slowly, 'ye hae to decide. Wull ye tak her?' Maxwell hesitated a moment, then impulsively, 'I will. Here's my hand on 't.'
'Dune!' cried the Governor triumphantly. Then he added by way of an evasion from any difficulty with Wharton. 'I'm thinking ye micht emulate Douglas in his raid on the eastern march:
"And he has burn'd the dales of Tyne, And part of Bambroughshire; And three good towers on Reidswire fells, He left them all on fire."
That is, if ye hae any fash wi' Wharton,' said Arran in conclusion. 'Juist pit the fear o' auld Scotland intil him, for I'll uphaud ye.'
No sooner had Maxwell returned home than he found a menacing letter from Wharton, who had evidently heard of the reconciliation. Maxwell's dark face glowed hotly as he made a vow to terrify Wharton into inaction. He would instantly give him a 'handsel' of harrying to stay his proud stomach. So he caused warn the waters far and wide. Nith he summoned, and Annan, and then with his whole 'name' rode through the debatable land, and crossing the Eden by the ford above Rockliff proceeded to harry and burn through the English march. He drave his foray throughout the day; horses and nowt, sheep, goats, and swine he collected, and made the 'red cock crow' on many a peel and bastlehouse.
Then as evening drew on and his messengers announced the approach of Wharton's men-at-arms he withdrew with his spoil, repulsed with slaughter his opponent's forces, and safely guarded his spoil, till all the 'gear' was across the Eden water.
Then Maxwell himself and his bailiff—Sandie Irvine—rode down to Solway where his lugger was awaiting by his orders the chance of their return by water.
Maxwell himself was 'forefaughten,' his horse was foundered; he sank gratefully into the stern of the boat, and Sandie took the tiller.
SCENE III. THE STORM ON SOLWAY
The lugger shot ahead for Scotland, the swift wind upon her beam. Suddenly its strength increased, and a storm swept down upon Solway. Clouds gathered above, and on the incoming 'bore' Maxwell saw with dismay the 'white horses of Solway' shaking their manes.
Darkness lowered about them; then a jagged flash of lightning rent the murky air, and Sandie as he wrestled with the tiller saw a face white as foam and 'unco ghash' beside him.
'Hae ye onything on your conscience, Laird?' cried Sandie in his ear, 'ony bit adultery or murder? If ye hae, mak a vow instantly to St. Nicholas, or we're lost.'
Maxwell made no reply, but groaned as he looked wildly through the storm.
Twelve forms—well kent to him—did he not see them pointing their accusing fingers against him? There was Ian—there Alastair, next Hamilton—he could look no further. God in Heaven! Wharton had hung his pledges.
Maxwell sank backwards, his hands to his eyes.
'Mak the vow, Laird,' yelled Sandie again in his ear, desperately.
'I'll mak a vow to Saint Nicholas,' murmured the other brokenly, 'to build a tower to his honour, and put a light into it nightly for all poor sailors on Solway.'
Heartened by this, Sandie thrust all his strength upon the tiller and kept the lugger straight 'twixt Scylla and Charybdis.
But 'the white horses' were now upon them, their streaming manes enveloping the gunwale, and Maxwell gave himself up for lost. The lugger shivered, then grated violently. 'What's yon?' he cried in terror.
'Yon's the first stone o' Repentance Tower,' cried Sandie triumphantly, as he drave the lugger high upon the beach.
[Footnote 1: Tradition commonly holds that the builder of the tower had thrown his captives overboard to lighten the boat, when returning from a raid into England; but if the writer remembers aright, Dr. Nielson in one of his erudite articles, seemed able to prove that Sir Robert Maxwell—who married the Herries heiress and became Lord Herries—was the builder. In this case the above tale gives the truer version of the tower's origin.]
THE LORD WARDEN'S TOMB
My companion had surprised me by a sudden change of demeanour, for which I could not account, and I was watching him out of the tail of my eye from behind a pillar in the nave of the church which we were exploring. We had just been viewing the recumbent figure of a famous Lord Warden of the western English march, that lay on a raised tomb in the north transept, and after I had blazoned the coat of arms and admired the dignity of the carving, I passed on into the nave, but my companion had not followed me.
I noted that he was extraordinarily interested in this figure of Lord Wharton, and I watched him, as I have said, with attention.
Then, driven seemingly by sudden impulse, he lifted his right hand and dealt the stone figure a swift buffet with his fist. At once he glanced round hurriedly—ashamed, evidently, of his action—and rejoined me in the nave without comment, trusting, doubtless, that I had not observed him.
I was infinitely astonished, for Maxwell, my companion on our bicycling and walking tour, was a quiet, somewhat dour but devout Scot, a history scholar of Balliol College, and usually most reticent of emotion. I talked of Border ballads and Lord Wardens of the marches, and endeavoured to draw him on the subject, but he made no response.
Then I sang softly—
'As I went down the water side None but my foe to be my guide.'
Hereat his eyes flashed, and he responded with extended fist:
'I lighted down, my sword did draw— I hackit him in pieces sma'.'
Then turning swiftly upon me he said sternly:
'You mustn't quote the Border Ballads to me; I have them in my blood.'
He looked so strange that at once I changed the conversation and suggested that we should ascend Wild Boar's Fell that afternoon, and return for supper at the inn where we proposed stopping the night.
He assented, and we had a fine climb and a glorious view over the West Borderland; we could see Skiddaw and Helvellyn to the north-west, and even thought we saw Criffel looming in the haze beyond Solway; to the east the great hills beside Crossfell lifted their great rampire and gave a sense of security to the green vale below.
Reinvigorated by our walk we returned in good heart to the inn.
After supper I thought a pipe and Stevenson's essay on 'A Walking Tour' were appropriate to my mood, but Maxwell said he was for a stroll in the moonlight, and went out.
As he had not returned by eleven I grew a little anxious, also a trifle annoyed at the thought that perhaps I ought to put on my boots again and go in search of him.
At 11.15 I determined to sally forth, but when I was on the street and could see nobody about I was perplexed as to where to look for him.
I turned to the church, and without definite aim went through the gate and walked around the church through the numerous headstones.
By the side of the north transept, wherein was the Wharton recumbent figure, I noticed a new-made grave, and casually looking over it saw a dark figure lying therein. The grave was half in the shadow of the church, half lit by the moon, so that I could not see very distinctly, but as I bent over it I thought I recognised—with a sudden start of horror—the knickerbockers of my friend Maxwell.
I looked about in hope of seeing some one, but all was silent; not a sound stirred in the village.
I must make certain, I felt, for I could not leave the man there, whoever it might be, so gingerly enough I let myself down into the further end of the grave, and, taking a step forward, bent over the body.
Yes, it was Maxwell; he was lying in a huddled lump with his head bent forward on his breast. I felt for his pulse, and found it beating regularly. Thank heaven, he was not dead! He must have fallen in by misadventure in the darkness before the moon rose, I conjectured.
I determined to run back to the inn for the 'boots,' since with another man's help I could lift my friend out and carry him back, and get the doctor to attend him.
'Boots' was just going to bed, and while he was searching for a rope and a lantern I ran for the doctor, and thence back to the graveyard.
'Boots' was there awaiting me, and between us we raised Maxwell's limp body and then carried him slowly to the inn.
As far as we could see he had sustained a severe concussion, but I noticed he had a big bruise on his forehead as well as a swelling on the back of his head. We had laid him on the sofa in the parlour, and had just completed our investigation when the doctor arrived. I shook hands and explained how I had found my friend in the open grave by the north transept so unexpectedly.
'He hadn't had—well, let us say, too much supper?' asked the physician, after he had felt the pulse and examined the limbs to see if anything was broken.
'No,' I replied. 'We had supper together; he had a lemon squash and a cup of coffee only to drink.'
'He's been in for a fight then,' said the doctor. 'Got one on the brow, then falling into the grave has bruised the back of the head. He's suffering from concussion, but nothing more, so far as I can see. Was he a quarrelsome fellow?' he inquired. 'Strange place in any event to come to blows in—and with whom? for we're a peaceable folk here save perhaps at the annual horse fair when gipsies and others congregate in numbers, and whisky bottles are everywhere.'
I assured him that Maxwell was a quiet Oxford scholar, and incapable of brawling.
The doctor drew a bottle of strong smelling salts from his pocket and applied them to Maxwell's nostrils.
'He's coming round,' he said; 'we'll just give him some sal volatile, and then to bed and a long rest. In a day or two he should be all right again.'
Maxwell now opened his eyes, looked about him dizzily, then said faintly, 'Where am I?' Then still faintly, so low that only I caught the words, 'I could swear it was Wharton himself.'
Thereon we took him upstairs, undressed him and put him to bed, and after he had had his dose of sal volatile the doctor departed, assuring me that my friend was 'all right,' but that he would look in again about midday.
I saw him off at the front door, then I turned to the 'Boots,' and said in his ear, 'Look here, I'm going out to see if I can't find out who the fellow was who tackled my friend. If I want to be let in before daybreak I'll come and tap on your window in the yard.'
I slid a pourboire into his hand and went off softly across the street to the church once more, for I felt almost certain that the fellow—whoever he was—would come back some time or another to see how his victim had fared, since conceivably the blow might have proved mortal. Once in the churchyard I made my way on tiptoe to the graveside. There I waited in the re-entering angle of the transept, where the shadow of the church was darkest, in the hope of Maxwell's assailant soon returning to the scene of the encounter. I did not venture to light my pipe, fearing the smell of tobacco might discover me.
I waited with infinite patience till the moon lost her radiance and a pale light glimmered through the eastern trees. Nothing had stirred, no sound had I caught save that of an owl in the distance.
I returned to the inn, knocked up 'Boots,' went silently to bed, and slept late.
As soon as I was up I went to see how Maxwell fared, and found him sitting up and drinking a cup of tea.
He looked a little pale, but otherwise was not much worse for his misadventure.
'Now,' I said, after, congratulating him on his recovery, 'if it doesn't excite you too much tell me exactly what occurred in the churchyard last night, for 'tis an absolute mystery to me, besides having given me an awful "gliff," old fellow, for I have been wondering what might have happened if I hadn't by the merest chance discovered you in your premature grave.'
'I should probably have got an infernal chill, old chap, had it not been for your kindly foresight,' he replied with a smile; then with a change of tone he went on, 'But it was the most extraordinary adventure conceivable—so extraordinary that you'll scarcely credit me in relating it.
'I felt curiously attracted by the old church and the tomb within, so I went across after leaving you and wandered about the churchyard. Close beside the corner of the north transept was the empty grave, as you know, and beside it a quaint old headstone with an interesting coat-of-arms upon it. I knelt down and tried to decipher the blazon in the moonlight.
'Suddenly I felt as if some one were near me—some one with an ill intent, and, turning, saw stepping out of the shadow a figure with its face outlined against the moon, the exact image of the Lord Warden on the tomb in the transept. I felt the same access of rage I had experienced in the church sweep over me. I clenched my fists unconsciously. "You're one of the false Maxwells?" he said threateningly. "And you're a damned murderer," I retorted, and let out at him with my fists. At that moment I felt a sharp, stinging blow on my temple, and, reeling backward, tripped and fell—in a night of stars as it were—all of a huddle into the empty grave.'
Maxwell stopped, looked me directly in the face. 'That's all I remember—and that's an exact description of my strange adventure.'
Whilst I was recovering from my astonishment at his weird story, the doctor was announced, and came forward to shake hands with his patient.
'Tell the doctor,' said Maxwell to me, 'exactly what I have told you, and let us hear what he has to say.'
I obeyed, and when I had concluded I inquired if he felt able to put any faith in the relation.
'Doctors are often a sceptical folk,' he replied with a smile, 'but if they are wise they try to account for things. Once out of curiosity I stayed a night in a "haunted house," as it was called, and I confess I did not like the experience. I had that curious feeling as of a hostile presence which your friend evidently had both in the church and in the churchyard. I saw nothing, but I had strange impressions borne in on me, and I heard noises I could not account for.'
'Have you ever heard of any one having encountered the form or wraith of this Lord Warden of old?' I inquired.
'I don't think any one in the village would wander in the churchyard after dark,' he replied, smiling. Then he rose up to go, saying he had another appointment, but promised to call again in the afternoon with a sleeping draught, and hoped his patient would be quite well in the morning.
I accompanied him to the inn door, and went down the street with him.
'Tell me,' I said, 'exactly what you do think, for if I mistake not you were purposely reticent with my friend just now.'
'I was,' he said, after a pause, 'because I had reasons. Promise not to mention to your friend either now or at any time later——' I gave the required promise, and waited eagerly for his response.
'Well,' he said slowly, 'I once got a "gliff" myself in exactly the same place as I made a short cut through the churchyard one autumn evening. I was not thinking of the dead Warden or the tomb in the transept, and yet 'twas none other that I saw.'
Then he added gravely, 'These things are not good for the nerves. Wherefore I would advise you to take your friend off as soon as possible, and don't let him visit the churchyard again.'
'When you saw the dog, my dear,' said my uncle, the Rector, to his wife, 'almost exactly, if I remember right, a year ago this month of November, what sort of size and colour was it, again? I remember it growled terribly on the top of the wall by the mausoleum, and I thought it must have been a retriever, from your description of it, but it ought really as a wraith to have been a collie,' and here my uncle slightly contracted his left eye in my direction.
'I think it must have been a retriever, John,' replied my aunt gravely, yet I thought a waft from her eye stole towards me as she spoke, 'for "Geordie" swears it was a tarrible great savage durg; but it may be, of course, that he had forgotten himself and your exhortations, at the King's Head last night, and mistaken a collie for a retriever.' I found it difficult not to smile, for, if my uncle had been 'pulling my aunt's leg' she was certainly twitching his cassock. This was a 'parlour game' at the Rectory, as I discovered later, and one in which my aunt always came off the winner.
My uncle now addressed himself to me. 'You must know, Charles,' said he, 'that the northern part of the Castle Park, between the burn and the ring wall, is supposed to be haunted by the wraiths of a shepherd and his collie dog. He was taking a short cut home from our village to the big moor farm beyond the common, and was probably suffering from the old disease of the north; he tried to cross the swollen burn by the stepping-stones, it seems, fell in, and was drowned. The faithful collie had tried to save him, for he was found with him, his teeth fast in his master's plaid.'
'I love that collie,' said my aunt; 'he ought to have had a headstone with "Faithful unto Death" engraved on it.'
'So he should have had, my dear,' my uncle assented, 'had we been here at the time. Well, Charles, the point is that several people have thought——' Here my aunt moved a little impatiently in her chair. 'Have been quite sure,' corrected my uncle, 'that they have seen the dog or its wraith, but no one has yet seen the shepherd, I believe. Your aunt last autumn saw the dog on the top of the wall that surrounds the mausoleum, jumping up and down and growling dreadfully, and last night our stableman—"Geordie"—a disabled pitman, was chivvied by him across the park from close beside the mausoleum. What can you make of that?' questioned my uncle, the humorous look again in his eye.
'Did Geordie run away?' I inquired magisterially.
'He ran,' replied my uncle, smiling, 'as he expressed it himself, "like a whippet or a hunted hare."'
'Did you run, Aunt Mary?' I inquired next.
'I daren't, Charlie, to tell you the truth. If I had begun to run I should have screamed, so I just walked on as fast as ever I could.'
'Then it didn't follow you?' I inquired.
'No,' said my aunt, shaking her head; 'it seemed to me like one of those savage, tied-up mongrels that guard the carts of carriers in the town on market days.'
'The curious thing,' interrupted my uncle, who was a keen antiquary, 'is that the dog should haunt the mausoleum, since it contains not his master, but "Hell-fire Dick," the last of the Norman Fitzalans—and so named not only because he belonged to the famous club, but also, as I gather from tradition, because of his language and complexion.
'Had he been alive no shepherd had dared trespass in his park, and no dog would have come out alive. So it is curious they should forgather after death.'
My aunt here interposed.
'Are you not afraid for your uncle's orthodoxy?' she asked of me, 'when he shows himself so sceptical?'
My uncle, discovering that he had put himself at a disadvantage, now suggested that I should—as a lawyer—investigate the matter and give my opinion upon it.
'Willingly,' I replied, laughing. 'The chief witness, I take it, will be your henchman, the redoubtable "Geordie," aunt being prosecutor, the wraith the defendant, and you, uncle, the sceptical public.'
This being arranged, the subject was dropped, and my uncle gave me further information about the Fitzalans.
'Undoubtedly they were Normans,' said he, 'but descent has been so frequently in the female line that when my Lord Richard—"Hell-fire Dick"—died, he had perhaps no more Norman blood in him than you have. There was this one virtue about him, that he loved the old abode and possessions of his ancestors passionately, and when he died he left directions that he should be buried in the mausoleum on the knoll in the park whence the sea stands out clearly behind the castle.
He had daughters—wild and high-spirited like their father—who divided up the property between them, and the present owner of the Castle—the representative of the eldest daughter—cares only for his rents and royalties, would sell if he could, and comes here about twice a year for what partridge and pheasant shooting there may be. The coal pits are extending their shafts and workings northward, his park will soon be undermined, and the "amenities"—to use the auctioneers' phrase—will soon no longer exist. I think we may truthfully call the great pile of building Castle Ichabod, for its glory has certainly departed.'
My uncle thus concluded his tale, then knocked out the ashes of his pipe, and conducted me to my bedroom.
The next morning after breakfast I went in search of 'Geordie,' my chief witness, concerning whom my uncle had already given me a little information.
He had when working as a hewer down the pit been disabled by a fall of stone; then as he had been a 'handy man' and used to both horses and flowers the Rector had taken him into his service as groom-gardener. 'Crammed with northern self-sufficiency and a sort of scornful incivility, he has a keen sense of humour and a heart of gold,' said my uncle, as he forewarned me as to the character of my witness.
Thus fortified, I went in search of 'Geordie,' and found him busy tying up chrysanthemums.
Pretending a deep interest in them and a profound admiration of his skill, I soon found I had established friendly relations. Then I offered him a cigarette, and plunged boldly into my examination.
'Tell me,' I said, 'about your adventure with the dog or its ghost in the park two nights ago. My aunt has told me something of her own experience a year ago, and advised me to compare her account with yours, for I am much interested in these occurrences.'
'Why,' replied he, nothing loth to talk about himself, 'it happened this fashion. Aa wes comin' back through the park cannily enough when close beside the mussulyum oot spangs at us a great ugly brute of a durg wivoot a sound to his pads. Aa'd heard nowt, but there he was glarin' at us, an' showin' his great ugly fangs. "By gox, Geordie," I says to maaself, "it's a mad durg ye have to fettle." Sae I lets oot wiv a kick that would have shifted a bullock, but aal that happened was that he seemed to catch haud o' my trousers, for I felt them rip. Gox! I thinks, 'tis an evil sperrit, sae I set awa like a hare—game leg an' aal—tearin' towards the park wall like a whippit, followed by the evil sperrit that made no sound wiv his pads, but was growlin' terrible aal the time.'
'Then it wasn't a real dog?' I interrupted here.
'Wasn't a real durg?' replied Geordie indignantly, his eyebrows puckering and his jowl coming forward aggressively.
'It made no noise with its feet, and you called it a spirit,' I explained hastily.
'Aa's feared o' nowt,' said Geordie, 'that's livin', but when it comes to evil sperrits 'tis the Priest should tackle them. Aa winnot.'
'So it was an evil spirit in the form of a dog,' I suggested; 'but what was the precise form—mastiff, retriever, or collie perhaps, for the Rector says there is a tale of a ghost of a drowned collie that haunts the Park?'
'Collie be damned!' cried he decisively. 'An' as for what specie o' durg it was hoo can Aa tell hoo many species there may be in Hell?'
'You had me there,' I acknowledged, smiling. 'Well, tell me how you escaped from the brute.'
'He chivvied us aboot halfway te the wall, an' then I think he gied it up; leastways when Aa gied a keek ower my shoulder as Aa drew near it he wasn't there.'
'You didn't hear the dog dashing on you or galloping after you, and yet you heard it growling, and felt it take a piece out of your trousers. It seems half real, half Hell-hound!' I commented.
'It's easy talkin',' replied Geordie contemptuously, 'but if he had had a hand o' yor breeks ye'd have knawn he was damned real, Aa's warrant ye,' and he spat on the ground with emphasis.
'My aunt saw the hound a year ago,' I continued, 'but it didn't chase her; it only growled and frightened her.'
'Mevvies it kenned she was the Priest's wife,' suggested my companion. Then with a grin, 'Noo, as thoo's his nephew thoo gan and see if it will chivvy thoo, and, if it does, Aa'l bet thoo thoo'll run from it faster than thoo's ever run i' your life afore.'
I turned away with a laugh, saying I was going to look about for the dog's tracks.
'The beggar had ne tracks, Aa warrant thoo,' shouted my informant after me, but he was wrong, for I soon found tracks in the park here and there in the soft grass, and an impress of paws which evidently must have been bandaged—that is, there was a round slot only, no separate pads were showing. The Hell-hound was evidently club-footed. As I looked at the imprint a little closer I grew certain that the hound's paws had been bound round with some soft material—linen, calico, or washleather, for one of the coverings had come unloosed and I saw a distinct mark of claws.
I investigated the mausoleum next, and found that there was a wall some four feet six inches high round about it for the evident purpose of protection against cattle. Between this and the circular tomb-containing tower were some yew trees which had thriven well, and now extended their long fingers above and beyond the encircling wall.
The yew branches were so thick and the dews had been so heavy that certainty was out of the question, but I thought I had discovered this at least, that the hound had been lying beneath the bushes, and had given 'Geordie' his hunt from the mausoleum exactly as he had asserted.
I returned to the Rectory, my mind made up. I would borrow a revolver from my uncle, and watch beside the mausoleum all that night.
Fortified by tea, encouraged by my aunt, and chaffed by my uncle, I set off for my sentry post carrying an electric torch, some sticks of chocolate, and a revolver. I approached the mausoleum very warily; a soft west wind was blowing, the night was quiet with alternate swathes of darkness and light as billowy clouds took the moon by storm and passed beyond her. I stayed in the shadow of the trees, beside the knoll, and spied out the landscape, and listened for any tell-tale sound. Beyond the jet-black bastions of Castle Ichabod I could see the white turmoil of the waking sea half a mile to the eastward; I could hear her ancient threnody, but saw no sign of life within the park.
Waiting for the next spell of darkness I walked swiftly up to the protecting wall of the mausoleum, climbed over, and with the torch's aid found a yew branch on which I could sit and observe—whenever it was moonlight—the little dell that ran down to the burn wherein the shepherd and dog had been drowned.
Silence reigned supreme. I could just hear the gentle brushings of the yew branches as they rose and fell upon the wind—the ghostly sighing of a ghostly spirit that had once belonged, perhaps, to the former owner of the Castle.
I was fairly comfortable with my back against the trunk of the yew, and ate chocolate instead of smoking; hours passed, and I had fits of drowsiness, and began to think I was wasting my time.
Then on a sudden I woke with a start; some nerve in my subconsciousness had warned me in time; I was certain some one or something was near that was uncanny.
The moonlight flooded the little dell, I saw a black shadow advancing swiftly on all fours, not unlike a big baboon. What in Heaven's name was it?
A touch of ice slid down my spine—the unknown with its terrors besieged my brain—the apparition was too big for a dog. I gazed, rooted to my perch, unable to move a hand or foot.
The creature drew swiftly closer, then on the sudden rose up; I saw the glint of the moonlight touch on a gun barrel, and discovered that the bearer was a man.
I breathed more freely, but—what was he doing with the gun? Then I caught sight of a dog padding swiftly after the newcomer, who was now close beside the mausoleum, and stood erect beside the wall two yards away from me. I did not stir, but watched him in a fascinated attention. Just as the press of cloud again obscured the moon I saw him take a bag from his back out of which pheasants' tails were distinctly protruding. I almost laughed aloud, for I recognised that it was only a poacher I had to deal with. In one hand I held my torch, in the other my revolver.
'Have you had good sport?' I asked, as I covered him with both my weapons simultaneously. He jumped back in alarm, then, 'Who the devil are you?' he inquired hoarsely, and in another second recovering himself, cried to the dog, 'Sick him, Tyke.'
'Call off your damned dog,' I retorted, pulling up my feet, 'or I shoot.'
He hesitated a moment, pulling his gun round.
'Quick,' I shouted.
'Down, Tyke,' he said sulkily to his dog, that was already growling and jumping at my trousers. 'What d' ye want, damn ye?' he inquired surlily.
'I wanted to find out about the dog that frightened my aunt up at the Rectory last year and the gardener two nights ago,' I replied, feeling I had the upper hand in the encounter. 'There was a tale of a ghost in the park, and I thought I would investigate it.' The moon had emerged again, and I could see that my poacher was a strong, burly fellow, with a rough, resolute face, who was surveying me as thoroughly as I surveyed him.
'Would you like a brace of pheasants?' he inquired abruptly.
'No, thanks,' I said; 'I'm only here for a day or two.'
'Well,' he continued with a touch of defiance, 'if every yen had their right I'd mevvies be shuttin' pheasants all day long like aad "Hell-Fire Dick" i' the monument here, for he was a tarrible favouryte wi' the women, ye must ken. Why, my grandfether was the very spit image o' the aad Lord, for I've seen his picture up at the Castle. Ay, an' my name's Allan as well.'
The man interested me considerably, for he was a splendid figure—compact, alert, with hair cropped like a poilu, vivid with life as a sporting terrier—so I inquired what he did for a living when he wasn't covert shooting.
'I work doon the pit,' he replied, 'an' earns a good wage, but whiles I tires ov it an' longs for a walk up the hedgerows, to hear the partridge call and the pheasant shoutin' as he gans up to roost, an' to say to myself, "Aha, my fine fellow, but thoo'll be i' my bag to-morrow night, an' in my kite the night after that."' He paused a moment, then asked suspiciously, 'Thoo'll not blab—thoo'll not tell the police?'
'No,' I replied readily, 'that's no concern of mine, but I shall have to tell my aunt at the Rectory, for you gave her with your dog a great fright that night she crossed the park a year ago.
'If it had been aad "Oleomargarine," commented my companion, 'it wud ha' done him good, for he's sairly wantin' a bit exercise.'
Smothering a smile at his irreverent description of my uncle, I asked my poacher a final question.
'Have you ever seen the ghost of the man or the collie dog they talk about here in the park?'
'Not I,' said he, fondling the ears of his savage mongrel retriever, 'I reckon they're gliffed o' my aad Tyke.'
NOTE.—The individuals described above, and the episode are imaginary, but a ghost is said to haunt the hall, in the form of a lady with a child in her arms, who watches from one of the high windows in 'lofty Seaton Delaval,' for the return of a Delaval lover.
It has been suggested that the apparition is due to an optical illusion of light upon the window panes.
THE MUNIMENT ROOM
My uncle had succeeded late in life to the family estate in the north of England, which was situated on the wild moorland of north-west Yorkshire.
With him the entail would end, and though it was known that the estate had been much impoverished and was heavily mortgaged, still the succession was not a thing 'to be sneezed at.' So my mother, his sister, herself a practical Yorkshire woman, phrased it, and consequently I was bid to accept with gratitude an invitation to visit my uncle in the home of his fathers.
Thither, therefore, I went, yet reluctantly, for my uncle was reputed somewhat eccentric, and a great antiquary, and as he had been early reconciled to Rome and ordained a priest, whereas I came of a sound Protestant stock, I feared we might not find each other's company entirely sympathetic. 'I shall only find in him,' I thought, 'a "snuffy priest," and he in me only an Oxford cub.'
A long drive over the moorland in a pelting storm of sleet and rain was not encouraging, nor was the companionship of the old, deaf Scots groom, who drove me, exhilarating, for he persisted, as the ancient deaf not uncommonly do, in regarding a stranger as a personal grievance gratuitously thrust upon him.
Thus if I blamed the weather he transferred the fault upon myself for having chosen to come upon such a stormy day; and when I inquired after my uncle's health he replied that he was 'well enough so long as folk didn't come hindering him from his studies.'
To this I replied humbly that I had heard he was writing a book upon his family, which was one of the most ancient in the county, and that it was a pity he should be the last of so old and formerly so famous a stock.
'Ay,' retorted my driver, with a glance of scorn out of the tail of his eye, as he flicked upon his white steed, 'ay, there'll maybe be a sair down-come when he's depairted.'
After this shaft I sank into silence, and was relieved when I saw the grey, buttressed gables of Startington Hall appear below us grouped amid its trees.
'It certainly looks like a haunted house,' I remarked aloud, though I was merely speaking to myself, 'even though the tradition has no foundation of fact.'
'How do ye ken it's haunted?' retorted my companion, whose hearing seemed to vary with his mood. 'And even if 'tis, there's naething can steer the maister, for tak awa Papistry, he has a hairt o' gold—the bairns aboot here juist love him.'
'So you're not a Papist?' I inquired, smiling.
'No' me,' responded he grimly. 'I come o' the reet auld Presbyterian stock, and I keep off the maister some o' thae hairpies that are aye after him and his gear.'
He pulled up as he spoke at the porch of the Hall, and as I descended I noted a stooping figure clad in a black soutane coming round the corner of the house evidently to greet me.
As I shook hands with him I could see in a glance that though he might be a recluse and an antiquary he had a lively and gentle heart; for if his face was yellow and his pupils sere there was a wonderfully shy and sympathetic mobility about his lips and face.
'You have had a long, wet drive, I fear,' he said, 'and these wild Yorkshire moorlands are often inhospitable to strangers, yet in time one gets to love them for this, their very bold and uncompromising character. Also, they make one rejoice the more in a warm fireside.'
So speaking he led the way through a rounded hall, very poorly furnished, but hung with family portraits interspersed with heads of deer, and many masks of foxes, badgers, and hares.
Turning to the left he opened a door into a small library, which was lined with books from skirting-board to cornice; a ripe fire glowed upon the hearth, and two easy full-bottomed leathern chairs stood on either side.
'The rougher the weather without,' said my uncle genially, 'the warmer the welcome within, and here one may warm both body and soul,' he pointed to the fire and the well-filled bookshelves.
'Most of them are my own treasures,' he added, 'for the Startington family was given to keep up cellar and stable, rather than the library, as probably you know. Most of my time now, however,' he said in conclusion, 'is spent in the muniment room upstairs, so that you may count this room as your own, and may smoke as much as you please. Since you are an Oxford man, and all Oxford men smoke, you are bound, syllogistically, to be a smoker. For myself,' he added, his hand upon the door-handle, 'I—like most priests—do not smoke, yet tobacco is not in the index, and we usually take a little snuff occasionally,' and he tapped upon a small box hidden within his waistband.
Therewith he was gone, and left me to my own devices till dinner-time, or supper rather, for he did not dress.
The next few days passed very enjoyably for me, since the weather was fine, and after studying in my Aristotle all morning, I took long walks over the breezy moorland, and then in the evening after supper made myself very much at home amid my uncle's books and the burnt sacrifice of tobacco. I was not, however, very long in the house before I found that my uncle was uncommonly preoccupied; something seemed to be weighing upon his mind, for though he unbent at supper-time, and talked by starts excellently over the port wine at dessert, he frequently fell into an abstraction from which only with a mighty effort could he pluck himself and resume his speech.
As I knew him to be engaged upon his family history I thought that his gentle mind must be exercised upon some uncomfortable episode in the life story of an ancestor, and I hit upon the notion that a certain Sir Humphrey Startington—a notable merchant adventurer, who was said to have largely increased the family estate by his traffic in slaves in the seventeenth century—was the family skeleton that was haunting him. I thought perhaps that my uncle's conscience was whispering in his ear that he should make restitution, and as I knew that he was most eager to find funds to rebuild and redecorate the chapel—now much dilapidated—I assumed that a battle was being waged within his soul between these two opposing claims.
Having arrived at this solution I led up to the subject of family histories in general one evening over the supper-table when he was more than usually inclined to talk and linger over our dessert.
'Families, I suppose, like nations, wax and wane,' I said, 'they become atrophied, if not extinct.' The port was magnificent—of the year '64—and I felt oracular. 'Hence the use of bastards. Robert the Devil from the top of his tower falls in love with the laundrywoman bleaching linen on the green, and in natural course William the Conqueror sees the light of day.'
My uncle interrupted my eloquence.
'Far more often than people think the fall of a family, ay, or even of a nation, is due to some crime or other which—unrepented and unpurged—has festered in the body and brought corruption with it.
'I have deeply studied this profound problem, and I might tell you tales of how son has never succeeded father, how gradually a house has sunk into physical decay, and ended in abortion and an idiot.'
Falling into dejection he paused a moment, then with great emotion he repeated the magnificent lines of Hector prophesying the fall of Priam, and his house, and his great town of Troy. His voice trembled and shook sadly as he concluded, 'My house too has fallen and nears its end, and I alone am left to tell the tale—the tale of a most foul—as I am convinced—and unnatural murder.'
With this he clasped his hands together and looked darkly into the future; then as he rose to bid me farewell and turned towards the door, I heard him murmur to himself: 'Illa culpa, illa culpa, illa maxima culpa.'
The door closed; I was left to my pipe and my reverie. 'It must have been the Buccaneer who "wrought this deed of shame,"' I reflected, but then I understood that he had been 'reconciled' to Rome before he died, had given gifts to the Church, built the chapel here, and so 'made a good end.' On the other hand I remembered that he had died childless.
The past was dead and gone, however, and did not much interest me, but my uncle's emotion and distress touched me to the quick, and I determined to avoid the subject henceforth in our conversation.
I went to bed early that night, for I had been a longer walk than usual that afternoon, but whether it was that I was overtired, or could not rid my mind of my uncle's suffering I know not. The one thing certain was that after a slight doze I became extraordinarily wide-awake.
I was convinced that I heard footsteps somewhere or other in the house, and as I listened with the greatest intentness I distinctly caught the sound of some one treading upon the staircase that led into the hall.
It must be either my uncle—walking perhaps in his sleep—or else the ghost. I sat up in bed to listen the better, and without a doubt caught the sound of a footfall treading on the stone floor, apparently down in the hall below. Curiosity prevailed over alarm; I got up, put on a dressing-gown and socks, and proceeded cautiously without along the corridor.
The footsteps had come to a halt seemingly, for now I heard nothing; and then on a sudden by the light of the waning moon that showed in a faint milk-white aureole through the high window emblazoned with the bugles and caltrops of the Startingtons, that lit the hall below, I saw a dim figure coming up the stairway towards me upon soundless feet; I drew back in utmost astonishment, and shrank away beside a massive oak cupboard on the landing.
The figure mounted the steps slowly, and as though in pain, passed gently by me with just such a movement of the air as a moth might make in its flight, and with a tiny sound as of a sigh turned to the left and retreated along the passage.
''Tis a lady!' I murmured to myself, overcome with astonishment.
Almost at once I heard a firm tread of feet upon the stairs below, and there mounting quickly another figure now showed at the head of the stairs, and I recognised in the half light that it was my uncle.
He did not pause, but turned at once to the left, and incontinently followed after the fragile figure of the lady, who had disappeared from view into the misty depth of the corridor.
I stood dumbfounded. Here was a double mystery which I felt bound, though a little shaken in my nerves, to unravel.
A-tiptoe I followed after my uncle along the dark passage, feeling my way lest I should knock against the pictures or the various bronze casts that stood on pedestals beside the wall.
The passage turned shortly again to the left and led, as I knew, past my uncle's bedroom to the muniment room situate at the end of the wing.
When I turned the corner there was just sufficient moonlight from the south window to show me the dim figure of my uncle standing within the muniment room, apparently feeling with his hands upon the wall.
As I stood irresolute, but keenly watchful, I saw the sudden purple flame of a match leap up in the darkling room. My uncle had lit a match, and with trembling, excited fingers was applying the flame to a candle that stood on the table.
He held the candle up towards the wall, peering intently upon it, and as I drew nearer on tiptoe I could hear him exclaiming in disjointed utterance.
'She vanished here. Just here. At last, then, I have discovered her grave. Yet the cruelty of it! for I know she was innocent.'
He drew something from his pocket and marked upon the wall therewith; then tapped with his knuckles, and, finding it to resound hollow, cried joyfully, 'Ay, it is as I suspected, quite resonant. Yes! she shall have a Christian burial.' He drew his hand across his forehead, signed with the Cross, louted low before an ikon of the Madonna, and I heard him say fervently:
'Ago tibi gratias, Immaculata.'
Seemingly satisfied, he turned again and narrowly scrutinised the wall once more, then slowly, and as though very tired, withdrew from the room and came back along the passage, and passed within his own chamber.
As he came on I stepped velvet-footed backwards, waited a few minutes at the corner to see if he would come out once more, but as he almost immediately extinguished the light I concluded that his quest was completed for the night, and made my way back to my bedroom.
In the morning I was surprised to find my uncle already in the parlour where usually I breakfasted by myself, for he was used to take his cafe au lait in his own room.
Bidding him good morning I had scarcely taken my seat when he produced a miniature from his pocket, and earnestly gazing upon me inquired what I thought of the character of the individual depicted in it.
I looked upon the medallion with great intentness, for I felt convinced the mystery of the night was connected inseparably with it.
What I saw was a portrait—artistically executed in pastel—of a delicate lady in eighteenth-century costume, with a strangely pathetic expression in her dark brown eyes as of one perpetually striving to understand and to be understood by others. Her mouth also showed the same fragile tenderness of feeling, and altogether she seemed intended to be—if not herself a musician or a poetess—at least the wife of a musician or poet or sculptor.
'Not a strong character,' I replied musingly, 'but a most sweet and delicate lady—one who should pass her time in playing upon the clavichord or the viol d'amore. In sympathy of temperament I think she would be more Italian than English.'
'You are right,' said my companion eagerly, 'she was Italian on her mother's side. But what of her moral character?—that is what I want to know from you—what think you of her constancy?'
I looked again into the deep brown eyes and pondered before I replied. 'I think,' I said slowly, 'I think that where she had once loved she would love ever.'
My uncle's intensity became instantly relaxed, and a joyous look overspread his face.
'I am sure of it,' he said with conviction, 'but I rejoice, nephew, that your sound judgment bears out my intuition; but though you make me happy the thought of the outrageous cruelty of her death makes me miserable, for there is but one poor thing we now can do for her, that is, to find her bones, and lay them to rest in the graveyard.
'As for the jealous and inhuman pride of the husband that could thus immure in the walls of his house the tender, loving, fragile bride I can find no adequate words.
'I cannot rest till I know this for a certainty, or till I have given the poor bones their proper service and burial. I have sent for the village mason—a discreet man enough—and should you care to assist me in my task, nephew, I shall be greatly indebted to you.'
I very readily volunteered my services, for I had been profoundly interested in the cause of my uncle's abstraction from the first, and the mysterious apparition had enhanced my curiosity.
So the three of us set to work with hammers and chisels, and in the course of a few hours' work we had proved to my uncle's satisfaction that his intuition had been correct in that we found the remains of a human body interred within the hollow of the walls; yet 'twas not the corpse of a woman, as he had surmised, but that of a young man.
IN THE CLIFF LAND OF THE DANE
A LETTER TO THE REVEREND LAURENCE STERNE AT COXWOLD FROM JOHN HALL STEVENSON AT SKELTON CASTLE, AS SET DOWN BY HIS NEPHEW FREDDY HALL.
The truth is, reverend sir, that being eventually designed for the Bar, I had taken up this quest with an additional vigour, for here was a mystery wherein my Lord Chief-Justice himself would have had a difficulty in seeing the proper clue on 't.
For some months previous to my sojourn at Skelton Castle there had been mysterious midnight thefts of sheep, heifers, and suchlike cattle on the hills about here, Redcar, and Danby-way, and even on occasion a murder added, as in the case of poor Jack Moscrop, the shepherd, who was found in the early morning with his head cut in twain, as though by some mighty cleaver, stark dead and cold on the low-lying ground beyond Kirkleatham.
Much disquietude had been caused thereby amongst the farmer folk, and the whole countryside was agape with excitement and conjecture, but nothing had been discovered as to the malefactor, though many tales were told, more especially by the womenfolk, who put down all mishaps to the same unknown agent.
Some said 'twas a black man who had escaped off a foreign ship that had been stranded by Teesmouth, but in that case one would imagine that such an one would have eaten his victim raw, whereas the sheep and heifers that were killed had always been 'gralloched,' as the Scotch term it, that is, had been cut open with a knife and disembowelled, and the carcases removed.
Some again avowed 'twas an agent of the Prince of Darkness, for there were hoofmarks of an unshod horse discovered on one or two occasions leading up and away from the scene of the slaughter, and blood drops alongside, as though the booty had been slung from the horse's quarters, and there dripped down as he sped along.
Now as you may imagine, I too had battered my brain with various conjectures, but without practical result till one night after hunting all day, and having lamed my mare badly with an overreach, I was returning slowly homeward by a short cut across Eston Nab, so as to strike the Guisboro' Road, and thence straight to Skelton.
'Twas a stormy November night, time about nine o'clock, for I had stayed supper with a friendly yeoman, one Petch, of a noted family hereabout, and was trudging a-foot, so as to ease the mare, along the desolate hill-top, where in a kind of basin there lies a lonely pool of water, set round in the farther side by a few draggled, wind-torn firs.
There was a swamped moon overhead, shining now and again as wreckage shows amongst billows, the gleam but momentary, so that when I caught sight of a kneeling figure across t' other side of the mere I could scarce distinguish anything at all, whether 'twere a boggart, as they say here, or some solitary shepherd seeking his sheep.
However, at that moment there was a break overhead, and the moon, rheumy-eyed, shook her head clear of cloud, whereby I saw plain enough 'twas a tall, burly man kneeling beside some object or other, and a mighty big horse standing a bit to the rearward of him.
I drew nigher without being perceived, and the light still holding, saw that 'twas a young stirk or heifer the man was disembowelling.
'Ha, ha!' shouts I, without a further thought than that here was the midnight miscreant and cattle-stealer, and that I had caught him red-handed.
With that he lifts his head and gazes across the pool at me fixedly for an instant of time, then with a whistle to his horse, leaps to his feet, vaults to the saddle, and swings away at a hard gallop round the mere's edge, the moonlight flashing back from some big axe he was carrying in his right hand.
'Tally ho!' shouted I, commencing to run after him, bethinking me he was for escaping, but no sooner had he rounded the edge some hundred and fifty yards away than I saw 'twas he who was chasing me.
Another look at him tearing towards me was sufficient to change my resolution, and hot foot I tore round to t' other end, trusting to win to the wood's edge before he could catch me up.
I heard the hard breathing of the horse close behind me, the crunch of his hoofs coming quicker and quicker; one fleeting glimpse I threw backward, and saw a bright axe gleam above me, then my foot catching in a tussock, I sank headlong, the horse's hoofs striking me as I fell.
I must suppose—for at that moment the moon was swallowed again by a swirl of cloud—that in the changing light he had missed his blow, and finding myself unhurt, I was able to gain my feet, make a double and gain the wall's edge by the plantation before he had caught me up once more. Just as I vaulted over a crash of stones sounded, some loose ones at top grazing my foot as I touched the ground on the far side.
The wood, however, was pitch black, thick with unpruned trees; I bent double and dived deeper into its gloomy belly.
'Safe now,' thinks I, as utterly outdone I sank on a noiseless bed of pine-needles; and by the Lord Harry 'twas none too soon, for if it hadn't been for the kindly moon dipping I'd have been in two pieces by now. 'To Jupiter Optimus Maximus I owe an altar,' says I, in my first recovered breath, and, 'curse that infernal reiver,' says I in my second, 'but I'll be up ends with him yet.'
No sound came from without; all was still, save for the soughing in the pines overhead.
A quarter of an hour passed perhaps, and I determined to creep to the wall and see if my assailant were anywhere visible.
The wind had freshened; the clouds were unravelling to its touch, and I could see clearly enough now across the desolate hill-top. Nothing living showed save my mare, who was cropping the coarse grass tufts just where I had left her.
Surmounting the wall, I approached the spot where I had seen the reiver first. There lay red remnants that clearly told a tale. The carcase, however, had been 'lifted,' and I could trace the direction in which my raider had gone by the drops of blood that lay here and there by the side of the horse's track.
As the ground in places was soft with peat or bog, by a careful examination of the hoof marks of his horse, I was able to ascertain the direction in which he had gone, which seemed to be nearly due north-east, or at least east by north. The marks proved another thing, moreover, and that is, that here was the same miscreant who had killed the shepherd and carried off the cattle elsewhere, for 'twas an unshod horse that had galloped over Eston Nab top that night.
'Twas sore-footed that I gained home at last, but all the way I discussed a many plans for the discovery and punishment of my moss-trooper.
'Tis an unpleasant remembrance to have fled; next time we met I swore to be in a better preparation for the encounter.
Next morning I started to explore, for I knew something of the direction. I knew also that my man was a tall, well-built, burly fellow with a big ruddy beard, and the horse a fine seventeen hands roan that would be known far and wide in the district.
Determining to stay out till I had discovered somewhat, I rode down to the low-lying ground between Boulby and Redcar, as being the likeliest region to get news of horse or man and, sure enough, at the second time of inquiry, I was informed at a farmhouse that some six months ago Farmer Allison, away over by Stokesly, had lost a fine, big, upstanding roan stallion, of which he had been inordinately proud.
Of the man, though, I could glean nothing, till finally, a good housewife, overhearing her man and myself conversing, cried out, 'Eh! but by my surely, there's that Red Tom o' the "Fisherman's Rest," nigh to Saltburn, that's new come there, who features him you speak of; but he's nowt but a "fondy," oaf-rocked, they say he is; why, Moll who hawks t' fish about says his wife beats him an' maks him wash up t' dishes—the man being a soart o' cholterhead by all accounts.'
However, 'fondy' or no, I was sworn to go and see for myself, though the thought that 'twas perhaps a disguise the reiver had worn gave me discomfort, and made my quest seem foolish enough.
As I drew close to the little tavern above the cliff, I could hear a dispute going on inside; then a crash as of some crockery falling, and shortly a big, burly man with an auburn beard came tumbling forth in an awkward haste, pursued by the high tone of a woman's voice within.
Shaking his sleeve free of some water-drops, he sat down on a low rock near hand, and fell knitting at a stocking he proceeded to draw from his jacket.
''Tis surely the man,' says I to myself, for in height, build, and colour of hair, he seemed the fellow of the midnight raider, but yet it seemed impossible; there might be a brother, however.
I rode up to him, and asked if I could bait my horse and seek refreshment within.
'Ay, sir, surely ye can; if ye'll dismount I'll tak your horse, sir, an' give him a feed o' corn,' and shambling away he touched a greasy lock at me as he led my horse to the stable behind.
I turned to the inn, and encountered mine hostess, fuming within the bar.
'Please draw me a pot of ale, ma'am,' says I, 'while my horse gets a feed. Your good man, I suppose 'tis, who took him away outside?'
'Ay, he's mine, so says t' Church an' t' law, Aah b'lieve, but 'od rabbit him, Aah says, who knaws the clumsiness o' the creature. Just fit for nowt else but cuttin' up t' bait for t' harrin' fishin'.'
'Been here long?' says I further, carelessly.
'Six months mair or less,' says she with a snap, eyeing me suspiciously.
'Well, here's for luck and a smarter man at the next time of asking,' and with that I tossed down the ale, paid the reckoning, and strode out to the stable, for nothing further was to be got out of the vinegar lips of Mrs. Boniface.
I looked narrowly round the low-roofed and ill-lit stable, but no sign of a big roan horse anywhere did I see, only a jack-spavined cob, such as a fishwife might hawk her fish about with.
'Ever seen or heard tell of that big roan of Farmer Allison's, strayed, stolen, or lost, about six months since?' so I accosted Boniface anew, on finding him rubbing down my horse's hocks with a bit of straw.
'Noah, sir, not Aah; Aah nevver seen 'im, sir. What soart o' a mak o' horse was 'e, sir?'
I looked him full in the face as question and answer passed, and not a shred of intelligence could I detect in his opaque, fish-like eyes.
'Oaf-rocked,' truly enough; he seemed as incapable of dissimulation as a stalled ox, and with a heavy feeling of disappointment I inquired what was to pay, and rode away down the slope.
'Curious,' I mused, 'how imagination plays one tricks at times! Once get the idea of a red beard into your mind, and Barbarossa is as often met with as the robin redbreast.'
Then all in a moment my eye caught in the spongy bottom a thin mark cut clearly crescent-wise upon the turf. There was something strangely familiar about the horseshoe curve. Then I remembered the unshod roan of the night before.
'Twas the same impress, for in neither case was there any trace of the iron rim. 'Where the horse is the rider will not be far away,' thinks I, and hope kindled afresh in my heart, as I rode slowly on, resolving various conjectures.
I determined finally to go call upon the farmer at Kirkleatham, whose heifer it was, as I had learnt, that had been killed and carried off the night before.
He was said to be tightfisted, so probably would be in a mood for revenge, and ready enough to join in any scheme for discovery of the reiver.
As luck had it, Farmer Johnson was within doors, and in a fine taking about the loss of his beast: he was ready to swear an oath that he wouldn't rest till he had caught the malefactor, and agreed upon the instant to watch out every night in the week with me round about 'The Fisherman's Rest' on chance of coming across the suspect either going or returning.
'Ay, Aah'll gan mahself, an' Aah'll tak feyther's owd gun wi' me there, for Aah'll stan' none o' his reiver tricks, an' Tom and Jack, they'll come along too, an' 'od burn him, but we'll nab him betwixt us, the impudent scoundrel, if it's a leevin' man he is.'
By eight o'clock we four had ensconced ourselves in hiding-places on all sides of the little inn, having tethered our horses within a small but thick-grown covert above the rise that led to the inn door. Here I stationed myself and for better vision climbed a tree wherefrom I commanded the whole situation. The others hid themselves as they found shelter convenient, one below the cliff's edge some two hundred yards to the east, another amongst broken boulders to the southward, while Farmer Johnson crouched behind the wall that girt the road leading past the ale-house from the north.
'Twas weary work watching, more by token that that night nothing appeared save a thirsty fisherman or two, and a stray, shuffle-footed vagrant or the like.
Next night the same, and I for one was growing somewhat cold, but Farmer Johnson, bull-like in his obstinacy, swore he wouldn't shave his chin till he had 'caught summat,' so off we started on the third night to our rendezvous.
'The third time brings luck,' thought I, as I squatted down in the fork of the same old twisted elm; 'and 'tis something stormy this evening, which might suit our reiver's tastes.'
It would then be about eight of the clock, as I may suppose, the wind from the seaward, the clouds lowering, fringed with a moonlight border like broidery on a cloak, and that raw, cold touch in the air that chills worse than the hardest winter's frost.
The night grew stormier; vapour lifted upward, and assumed strange and threatening shape. The cloud forms might be the giants rising up out of Jotunheim, and advancing to attack Odin and the Aesir—the evil wolf Fenrir in the van—his bristles silvered by the moon.
An hour passed, and I began to wish I had never undertaken the quest, or mentioned the matter to Farmer Johnson, when I heard, as if some way off, not exactly a neigh, but a sort of defiant snorting, such as a stallion breathes forth when he wishes to be free. Then a sound as of a heavy stone falling succeeded, mingled with a scraping and a trampling noise.
Craning my neck forward, I saw under a broadened fringe of moonlight the roan horse with the ruddy-bearded reiver beside him. They had evidently crept through some secret passage that issued into the bottom below me.
I was just upon the point of raising the hue and cry on him when an action of his took me by surprise.
Holding up his battle-axe—for such was his weapon—he raised it aloft, then thrust its handle deep into the soft moss of the hollow. Next, he threw the horse's reins over the head of it, and sinking down upon his knees, appeared to be pouring forth a prayer to Heaven, expressed in old Danish, which I have set down in English as nearly as I can:
'Vafoder, the swiftness of Sleipnir Breathe Thou into my roan. Let him fly like Thy ravens Black Munin and Hugi. May my axe be as Thor's, When he wieldeth Miolnir. Winged Thor's mighty weapon. The pride of Valhalla. This grant me, O Odin, Grim, Ygg and All Father.'
He then drew forth from his breast a small phial, and having set up a square stone beside him poured forth into the cup or hollow at the top, liquid of a dark colour, which I imagined must be either blood or wine. This done, he seemed to fall to prayer afresh, but in so low a tone that I could not catch the words of his utterance with any distinctness.
Then he leapt to his feet, lifted the axe, tossed it into the air, caught it as it fell, and had vaulted upon the stallion's back before I had even recovered from my first astonishment.
'Tally-ho!' shouts I, 'yonder he goes; forrard Mr. Johnson! forrard Tom and Jack!' and, scrambling down my tree, I made for my horse.
The next thing I heard was a 'pang,' evidently the discharge of Farmer Johnson's musket, and thereat a weird, smothered, savage note of pain and rage broke out upon the night.
Seizing my horse I mounted, and out of the covert across a gap in the wall. Dimly I could see a centaur-like figure plunging and snorting upon the short turf by the cliff's edge, then three figures running from the north, south, and east towards it.
The roan horse plunged and reared like one demented; the rider sitting the while firm and supple as an Indian; then, seizing on a sudden the bit 'twixt his teeth, off set the stallion at a tearing gallop southward.
Away I followed hotly, the others giving chase and halloaing in the background.
Dyke after dyke we flew headlong in the grey-white mist—the space still even betwixt us—then, at a sudden high dry-stone wall, which loomed up as a wave of darkness seaward, my horse jumped short, and down we fell together, on the turf beyond.
As I lay there for a moment or two, I was certain I heard a heavy rumbling of rock or stone by the cliff edge hard by, followed by a deep plunge far below into the sea.
I rose to my feet and looked around me. There was no sign of horse or rider; both had disappeared.
The cliff here made a sudden bend inland, so that I could even catch the come and go of the waves in the far void below, and I felt 'twas lucky for me that I had been riding the nethermost line of the twain of us.
Cautiously approaching the edge, I noticed it had been just broken away under the tramplings of a horse, and as I peeped over I caught sight of an indistinct figure lying on a broad slab of rock below that jutted out some way from the cliff.
Feeling carefully around for support of root or stone, I made my way down, and discovered, as I had already conjectured, 'twas the reiver that lay there.
He was lying motionless, spread on his back, and was murmuring to himself as I drew close.
I knelt beside him to lift him up, and could catch, as I tried to raise him, what he was saying.
'Whisht ye, then, whisht, Effie, Aah never meant to break t' dish, Aah tell thee. Leave us aloan, then, lass, doan't plague t' life oot of a man. Ay, Aah'll fetch t' coo in i' guid time, there's no call t' bang us that gait.'
Then he babbled indistinctly; his lips grew whiter and ceased from moving; and when the others had come up I think he was already dead.
As I rode off for the physician in Redcar, I minded me I had once read in a book, Reverend Sir, that this same Cleveland was once 'the Cliff-land of the Danes,' and that the older name of Roseberry Topping—the famous hill of these parts—was Othenesberg, or Odin's Hill, together with much else of an antiquarian interest and varied conjecture, which I must even leave to wiser heads than mine to determine the true issues of, as well as their bearing upon the events just narrated, but this I may say, that here is the same 'crazy tale' my cousin mentioned to you, set down in all true verisimilitude by, reverend sir, your very faithful and humble servant to command,
So this was the old home—the cradle of his race!
Percy Osbaldistone of Osbaldistone Tower gazed curiously about him in what had formerly been the library, and espied a capacious Queen Anne chair by the fireside which looked inviting.
Having ensconced himself therein he put up his feet against the mantelpiece, lit a long cigar, and drew in the smoke slowly and meditatively.
The old housekeeper and her pretty niece had given him a good supper, and he himself, foreseeing empty cellars, had brought with him an ample freight, so now at the long last he had arrived in harbour.
After all his vicissitudes and being for years the black sheep of the ancient family, that he should come into possession of Osbaldistone Tower and Manor touched his vein of humour.
He laughed grimly, rubbed one hand upon the other, and looked contemptuously up at the portrait of an ancestor who seemed to be scowling at the last representative of his race. It was true that there was not much of the old family estate left, and what was left was mortgaged, but still it was good for a few thousands, and the family lawyer had to find them or go. The heir of the Osbaldistones continued his reflections. He didn't 'give a damn' for his ancestors, for what had they done save bring him into the world—a doubtful blessing?
'Apres moi le Deluge,' murmured he to himself with a cynical smile, as he ensconced himself deeper in the recesses of his armchair and drank deep from the glass by his side. His hand shook badly, and he spilled some drops of whisky and soda upon his trousers.
'Damn!' cried he in annoyance. Then to himself sotto voce, 'Now that I've got back to this old quiet place I'll soon have my rotten nerves right again.'
Looking up after wiping his trousers he suddenly perceived to his great astonishment, for he had heard no sound of entrance, a fellow seated in the chair opposite which nestled under the Spanish leather screen that kept off the draught from the door behind.
'Who the devil are you?' inquired the Lord of the Manor angrily, 'and what d' ye want?'
'I am an Osbaldistone like yourself,' replied the stranger suavely; 'we are the last of the ancient house that bears upon its chevron the spear and spurs (mullets), so when I heard of your good fortune I thought it but polite to call and gratulate you on your succession.'
Percy Osbaldistone looked across upon his unwelcome visitor with narrowed eyes. The room was dark in its old oak panelling; there was but the one lamp on the table behind him, and it was by the light of the fire that he had to scrutinise the newcomer. So far as he could see the fellow was not unlike himself: he seemed to have the high-ridged nose of the family, which had become almost a birthmark in course of years. Yet the sardonic hardness of chin and jaw was very different to his own flabbiness; and as he watched his opposite Osbaldistone felt hatred surge up within his soul.
He had heard of men having their 'double.' Perhaps this was his own. He shivered at the thought.
Then he recollected that a branch of the family had long years ago migrated to Virginia. Possibly the fellow was one of their descendants.
'Are you from America?' he inquired. Then he went on in haste, not waiting for reply, 'For myself, I've only just arrived here. The only servants are an ancient housekeeper and her little niece, and I can't do with visitors—you'll understand me. Take a whisky and soda and then go,' and the speaker ended with a snarl and suggestive stretch of leg and boot.
'You are not very hospitable,' replied his opposite, suavely as before, 'but it matters little, nor do I require a whisky and soda. I simply called in for a "crack," as you say up here, and to congratulate you on succeeding.'
'A crack!' echoed his host surlily. 'What about?'
'Oh, about our family and yourself,' returned the other caressingly. 'I am something of a genealogist, love family histories and dote on skeletons in the cupboard. As a matter of fact, ours is a singularly dull chronicle: except that the head of the family was an unsuccessful rebel in the "15," we never travelled beyond our Anglo-Saxon fatherdom—deep drinking, gambling, hard riding—and the droit de Seigneur'—here the speaker paused a moment—'this little niece, for example?' he hinted delicately.
'How the devil has the fellow guessed that?' thought Osbaldistone, white with anger and touched by secret fear.
'Get out!' he cried hoarsely, and felt if his revolver lay handy in his pocket, ready for use if needful.
His guest, however, took no notice of the command. Indeed, he went on more coolly than before. 'I mention it,' said he, 'because there was an ugly story about in British East Africa when you were farming out in the wilds beyond Simba, of the rape of a native girl, who was eventually turned out of doors at night and never reached her home again. Hyaena or lion? Which d' ye think?'
Osbaldistone's hand dropped feebly back from his revolver. His face was ashen-coloured. Good God! Who was this visitor? The episode of this black girl was the one thing he had never been able to forget. Shrinking back into his chair, he gazed as a rabbit may gaze upon the approaching python.
'Damn the fellow!' He plucked forth his revolver with quivering fingers, levelled it at his guest, and pulled upon the trigger. The bullet sang across the room, passed through armchair and screen into the wainscot beyond.
The smoke cleared; Osbaldistone could still see the unmoved and mocking eye of his enemy that filled him with a nameless horror. He lifted his pistol to take a better aim, then—on a strange misgiving—turned the barrel round upon himself. 'You fool!' muttered the strange visitor sardonically, and as he spake he vanished as silently as he had come.
IN MY LADY'S BEDCHAMBER
'Well,' said Harry laughingly, as he showed me the family portraits, and more especially the ladies, on the wall of the panelled dining-room, 'which of them would you choose if you were, like Henry VIII., on the look-out for a fresh wife?'
'This one, I think,' I replied, as I gazed at a charming fragile beauty in a big bonnet, beneath which shy eyes looked bewitchingly; 'surely she was a Frenchwoman and painted by Fragonard?'
'Aha!' cried he, 'you are a bold man, for there are tales told of her—strange tales of feminine and deadly jealousy for all her soft demureness. She was French, as you say, and a devoted wife, I believe, but probably her mari was not as faithful as he should have been. She is said to haunt the house, but I haven't come across her yet myself. You are to sleep in her bedchamber,' he added with a smile, 'so perhaps you may be favoured with the sight of your charmer.'
I pressed naturally for further information, but he put me off by saying it was too long a story, and that he had many other things to show me on this my first evening in the manor house.
I had only just arrived by motor. We had dined, and my friend was showing me round his possessions with all the pride of new and sudden inheritance. Harry had always been lucky; he had a talent for 'dropping in' for things unexpectedly. Thus at Eton, though really only thirteenth man, he had played against Harrow; and now owing to unexpected deaths he had become the possessor of a charming seventeenth-century manor house on the northern Border—a house that, lying in a deep crook of the Tweed and hidden by trees, had marvellously escaped the hand and torch of the raider.
He had succeeded to his great-uncle—an antiquary and recluse—a disappointed bachelor, and latterly, 'twas said, somewhat of a miser, which was fortunate for my friend, who had very little of his own.
Harry was soon to be married, and I was to be best man. He had come down to interview the agent and see what alterations and new furniture would be required, and had insisted on my joining him for a few days' fishing in the Tweed, while he was being inducted by agent and bailiff into his estate and introduced to the tenantry. After surveying his ancestors' portraits we adjourned to the hall, which was furnished with battle-axes, Jethart spears, basket-hilted swords, maces, salmon leisters, masks of otters and foumarts, foxes and badgers, and all the various trophies of Border sport and warfare of old time. This was the oldest part of the house, and proved by its stone-vaulted roof that it had belonged to the old peel tower on to which the manor had been engrafted; a fire of pine logs flamed in an open fireplace, gleaming and glancing on the copper drums that held relays of firewood on either hand.
Skins of red deer and the tufted pelts of kyloe cattle lay on the stone floor: there were massive black oak coffers and a great wardrobe like some huge safe for coats behind us, but two broad ancient leathern armchairs stood by the hearth invitingly, suggestive of unperturbed eighteenth-century ease, wherein we at once settled ourselves.
It was perhaps the absence of feminine taste and adornment that made the house seem older than it really was; apart from the charming portraits of the ladies in the dining-room the house resembled rather a Border strength than a Jacobean manor house.
However, the atmosphere was rendered all the more romantic thereby, and I lay back in my chair making believe to myself that I was staying with a Lord Warden of the Marches in the days of the ancient feud between England and Scotland.
We smoked and talked, however, not of the far, but of the immediate, past, of Eton and Oxford, and of mutual friends till twelve o'clock struck on the brazen rim of a Cromwellian clock, and we agreed that it was bedtime.
I had clean forgotten all about the reputed ghost till my host said 'good-night' at the door of my bedroom and bade me call him if I got a 'gliff' in the night from the apparition of 'Silkie'—so he informed me the lady was called locally. 'You've got your retriever with you,' he said, 'so no doubt you will feel protected.'
'Brenda,' I replied, 'is Scotch by birth, so possibly she may be superstitious. The event will determine. So long,' I said, as Harry went off to the room of his late bachelor great-uncle.
Though very sleepy after a long motor ride I could not 'turn in' till I had explored my bedroom, which was indeed a fascinating and enchanting chamber. It seemed to be a coign plucked out of an old French chateau, and inset here like a rare plant in an old stone wall. The panelling was of Italian intarsia work inlaid with a renaissance design portraying the tale of Cupid and Psyche; on the final panel Jupiter was handing the cup of ambrosia to Psyche with the words, 'Sume, Psyche, et immortalis esto, nec unquam digridietur a tuo nexu Cupido, sed istae vobis erunt perpetuae nuptiae'; the floor was formed of parquetry, and the rugs above were of fine Persian workmanship. The curtains of the window were of purple silk, embroidered, I imagined, by the fair Frenchwoman herself, and the great four-poster bed was of fine walnut with deep mouldings, and adorned with the fleur-de-lys of France. The whole room seemed to be redolent of the grace of a charming grande dame of old France. I made up the fire with fresh pine logs upon the tiled hearth, settled Brenda upon a rug by the side of it, undressed and went to bed, enchanted by my surroundings, and very much inclined to envy my friend his good fortune.
I fell asleep at once, for the bed was luxuriously comfortable, and I was extraordinarily sleepy.
How long I slept I did not know, but when I awoke I had an immediate and most lively intimation that some one was in the room. I drew myself noiselessly upward, and at once my eyes rested upon a dainty figure sitting in the chair by the dying fire, evidently engaged upon some absorbing occupation. It was a woman clad in a sprigged silk gown, the image of my lady of the dining-room portrait. What was she doing? Seemingly pounding some substance in a small mortar. As I gazed astounded a slight knock sounded on the door. My Lady seemed extraordinarily perturbed; she started violently, seemed to shake something white from the mortar as she gathered it hastily to her, moved swiftly with the slightest rustle as of a scurrying mouse and vanished through the door that led into the dressing-room.
I waited a few minutes to see if she would return, or perhaps some one else enter by the other door, but no sound greeted my ear, and my eyes could discover nothing unusual about the room.
I rose, and, moving on tiptoe, opened both doors, and with the light of an electric torch I always carried with me, investigated the corridor and dressing-room, but could make no discovery of any kind, nor perceive where my fair visitant had vanished.
When I returned to my room I found Brenda had been disturbed by my perambulation, for she was up and moving about restlessly. Giving her a pat I bade her lie down again, and went back to bed determined to stay awake for the chance of my Lady reappearing.
A few minutes after this Brenda seemed to be taken with a fit, for she got up suddenly, made a bolt, as it were, for the door, shook with some convulsive movements of her jaw, gave a horrible sort of strangled sob, and fell with a heavy thud on the floor.
I leapt out of bed, got some water in a basin and knelt down beside her, but she was already stiff, her teeth were clenched, and she showed a horribly distorted mask.
A horrid suspicion awoke in my mind. I searched with my torch on the floor where my Lady had dropped the powder, and I could plainly see the wet edge of Brenda's tongue and the smudge of the white powder which she had licked up.
I went back to where Brenda lay stiff and stark, and felt with a trembling hand for her heart.
It beat no more; my Brenda was dead—poisoned by the beautiful Lady.
THE WARLOCK OF GLORORUM
'But are you sure your father wouldn't object?' I asked of my companion—a most bright and amusing Eton boy—to whom I was playing bear leader. 'Not a bit,' replied he; 'my father is a naturalist and Darwinian; not a sceptic, but Agnosticus suavis or Verecundus, ordo compositae, you know. "Hunt the ghost by all means," said he, when I suggested a ghost "worry," and then as he does sometimes over coffee and a cigarette after dinner he talked with a real keen interest on the whole subject. He talked so long that old Mac (the butler) got quite shirty, and finally—after putting his head round the door two or three times—came in like the Lord Mayor and bore off the whisky decanter to the smoking-room. Now, the pater said that the love of the marvellous was native to mankind, and Tertullian had acquired a false credit for his motto, Credo quia impossible, since that was the natural failing of the untrained intellect, and, scientifically speaking, he ought to have been shot sitting.
'Then he went on to tell a jolly story which some great educationalist had told him of the little girl playing in the garden, who saw Fifine, the poodle, unexpectedly appear, and at once rushed in crying to her mother, "Mummy, mummy, there's a bear in the garden!" Her mother, being a wholly unimaginative creature, promptly put Maggie into the corner, and told her to beg God's pardon for having told a lie. Presently Maggie comes out of her corner radiant, "It's all right, mummy," she cried, "God tells me He has often mistaken Fifine for a bear Himself." No doubt, as he said, Maggie had had a momentary fright, and for half a second had thought of a bear, but she knew, too, that if she stayed to investigate she would find out it was Fifine, so preferring the luxury of the marvellous, she fled crying in to her mother. Sometimes, of course, he added, the ghost is the resultant of some horrible cruelty or murder, mankind, from various motives, refusing to let the memory of the crime die out, but more usually the ghost is born of the early mythopoeic imagination of man that cherishes the marvellous. One never hears of a new ghost nowadays. Science, no doubt, is an iconoclast in the matter.'
'Well,' said I, 'how do you propose to proceed? I have gathered that there was once a warlock or wizard here in the sixteenth century—one of your forebears—who bore a most unhallowed reputation. Is he your ghost, or is the ghost the result of his "goings on"?'
'Both,' replied Dick, smiling. 'At least there are a number of tales about him and his misdeeds; one version has it that he built himself a secret chamber wherein he conferred with the "Auld Enemy" in person, and no one has yet discovered his "dug-out." Here's a quaint woodcut of the old warlock,' he continued, taking down as he spoke a foxed print from the wall and holding it out for my inspection.
'Ain't he a fearsome figure? Looks as if his liver were cayenne pepper. Astrologer, botanist, poisoner, he is said to have been, and I don't wonder.'
The ancient warlock possessed indeed a most mischancy visage: hard, curious, inhuman eyes he had, thin, sunken cheeks, and a black straggling moustache, the whole surmounted by a great bald dome of brow. 'By Alchemist out of Misanthropos,' I suggested, after a lengthy scrutiny, 'and perhaps Misogynist as well.' My companion laughed appreciatively. 'That's about it,' he said; 'yet there is a tale of a fisherman's daughter, the belle of the village below.
'Well,' he continued with animation, 'our job is now to discover his secret chamber. 'Tis as good as a treasure hunt with the supernatural thrown in. By the way,' he went on, 'it's the first time I've ever been in Glororum Castle, as it is called, for the old place has only just come back to us, that is, to my father as representative of the senior branch of the Macellars, by the death of a cousin who died S.P. What nerves they had, these old chieftains! Fancy, like the Maclean, setting out your wife—even if a trifle passee—on the Skerry to drown before your dining-room window, or, like the Macleod, lowering her into the dungeon beneath the drawing-room that you might the better enjoy the charms of Amaryllis—your gardener's daughter—above. Well, it's too late this afternoon to begin our "worry," but to-morrow morning we must start by flagging all the windows with towels, as the inquisitive lady is said to have done at Glamis Castle.'
I willingly agreed to his proposal, which jumped well enough with my own humour, and then as Dick went off to unpack I determined to go without and view the castle from every side.
Dusk was now closing in on the dark and frowning tower that was perched like an osprey upon the basalt cliffs that overlooked the sea. The building was really rather a peel tower than a castle, for it was of no great extent, consisting merely of the tall, gaunt tower with a wing added on to its western side. Situated on the edge of the bare sea, like a lighthouse abandoned, scarred by the fierce nor'-easters, with the mutter of the waves about it below and the scream of sea-fowl above, one could scarce imagine a more desolate or forbidding human abode than fitly-named 'Glower-o'er-'em' Tower.
The neck of land by which it was approached from the west had been protected by a wall, within which a garden had sheltered, wherein the warlock had grown his herbs and poisons, but all was now ruinous and weed-grown, and gave only an added touch to the general forlornness. The place had been let as a shooting-box in recent years, but neither landlord nor tenant had thought it worth while to spend any money on reparation or embellishment. 'Twas indeed a fitting retreat for a warlock or wizard, I thought, as with a final regard I turned to go within doors.
Just at that moment I caught a glimpse of a fisher lass with a pannier rounding the corner. She looked back, and I saw a roguish Romney eye lighting a charming profile. 'Too pretty,' I thought, remembering Dick, as she tripped onward into the shadow of the Tower.
The sea was moaning under a heavy cloud-wrack; away to the west above the Lammermoors the sunset flared like a bale-fire, scattering sparks on the windows of the Tower. 'Twas cheerier within than without, for the walls were thick and kept the wind at bay, the wood fires were lively with hissing logs, and scarce heeded a chance buffet from the down draught lying in ambush within the open chimney-stack. We slept in the wing without any dread of the warlock, for it had been added on to the tower long after his time, and save for the sound of the sea far below, resembling the dim 'mutter of the Mass,' or the spell of a necromancer, I heard nothing throughout the night.
Next morning after breakfast was over Dick produced a pile of towels, which we divided up between us for our voyage of discovery. 'After all,' I said, 'we shan't want many, for bows and arrows in the far past, and later, the window tax, kept the number of openings down.'
We ascended by the ancient stone newel stair that circled up from the old iron 'yett' of the entry to the battlements above, and laid a towel below the sash of every window. In the topmost storey in some servants' rooms that had been long disused we discovered certain windows with broken cords that entirely refused to open.
Dick's way here was of the 'Jethart' kind. He simply knocked a pane out with the poker, and thrust the towel through.
When we had finished we descended in haste and perambulated the tower without, counting up our tale of towels in some excitement.
'As many windows, so many towels,' I said with disappointment, as I checked them off carefully.
'Damn!' said Dick meditatively. Then after a moment or two's thought, 'The old boy's cell must have been on the roof; he was sure to have been an astrologer. Let's go up again and start afresh.' So saying he led the way up to the parapet of the battlements, and there we surveyed the roof. The main part of the roof consisted of a gable covered with heavy stone tiles, but the further part that lay between the north-east and north-west bartizans was flat and covered with lead, and at the verge of this were iron steps that led down to the roof of the new wing below. This latter we did not concern ourselves with, as we knew it dated since the wizard's day, but carefully examined the stone tiles and the further leads without, however, any discovery resulting.
We were just about to give up our quest when Dick's quick eyes noticed a chink in the lead that formed the channel or gutter for the rain water leading either way to the gargoyles beneath the bartizans outside.
'Look here!' he cried. 'See the dim light showing! I swear it's a glimmer of glass. Evidently this particular lead was meant to be drawn aside and admit the light.' I hastened to the side and peered with him into the dirt-laden crack.
Opening my pen-knife I scraped away the dirt and soon verified his conjecture that there was glass below. 'You're right!' I cried in my excitement. 'It is glass. Now let's search and see if we can find anything like a hinge, or at least some indication that the lead could be withdrawn at will.' We sought all along by the containing wall and found that the lead did not end in a flat sheet, as is usual, against the wall, but was turned over, and evidently continued below.
'It looks very much as if it was meant to roll up and be turned over like a blind on a roller below,' I said to my companion.
'I'm sure of it,' Dick replied with conviction. 'I'll tell you what we must do. We'll pull up the lead, make sure of the extent of the glass, then go below and search for the wizard's cell from the exact indication we shall then have of its whereabouts.'
'Right!' said I, 'that's the method.'
We set to work, and soon had doubled back a strip of lead a foot broad from the centre till the glass ended by the bartizan on either side. We could not pull the lead right back because of the iron steps, which had evidently been inserted when the new wing was built, and now interfered with our further action.