The OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR
Mystery that was never explained, murder that never could be condoned—here's a story that Poe might have written
MR. RICHARD HARLANDTRESHAM, of Toronto, slipped a trifle lower into the depths of the smokeroom chair and surveyed his fellow passengers moodily. A moldy bunch, was his dispassionate verdict. Ghastly thought, having to spend the next five days in such company. For lack of anything else to do he beckoned a waiter and ordered a whisky and soda. The drink brought, he relapsed again into immobility and presently fell into a doze, lulled by the warmth of the room, the steady pulse of the liner’s engines and the seventh whisky since lunch.
He was awakened by a clamor of voices and the crash of a chair falling over backwards. Wide awake in an instant, he sat up to watch with quickening interest the beginning of what he mentally described as a “nice little free-for-all.” It centred round the card table in the near comer, and that table, and more particularly the poker game in progress over it, had been the only things of even passing interest to Mr. Richard Harland Tresham all day.
The same four men had been playing since ten o’clock that morning and the stakes were high enough to make even Dick Tresham, who possessed a millionaire father and an expensive education in cards, open his eyes when he had, an
hour or so earlier, stopped behind one of the chairs to watch the game. Now apparently had come the show-down for somebody.
Three of the players were on their feet and all shouting at once, their remarks -mainly abuse—being directed at the fourth man, who watched them with cold, sardonic eyes.
“Cool devil,” thought Dick Tresham, "it's that high-hat Englishman, too. Must have been caught with aces wild— up his sleeve perhaps.” By this time a circle of wellmeaning, pacific passengers and diplomatic, soothing waiters had obscured his view, so he rose to his feet and sauntered across to the scene of the trouble. The united efforts of the peace delegation had almost silenced the three disputants, and the self-elected arbitrator, an elderly and fussy mannered little passenger, was plaintively repeating, “Now gentlemen, don’t get excited ! What is it all about?”
The centre of the disturbance, the “high-hat Englishman,” was still seated, watching the crowd with cynical contempt and coolly smoking a cigarette. He rose as Dick Tresham approached the group and, addressing the fussy little arbitrator who was still asking what it was all about, began to explain in quiet, clear tones.
“I have been playing with these three—er—gentlemen practically all day. They have been moderately unlucky and now accuse me of cheating.” This succinct account was the signal for another outburst of denunciation from the three. On this dying away, the Englishman continued: “They say a card fell from my cigarette case, and it is lucky that I can appeal to a neutral witness to refute
His eyes looked straight into Dick Tresham’s, and it seemed to that astounded gentleman that the ironic light in the blue English eyes deepened and changed to a debonair laughter.
“You, sir.” continued this singularly cool individual, "were, I believe, watching our game closely and so, I am sure, will be able to tell these gentlemen they were mistaken. It is hardly necessary, as the card is not in evidence, but I shall be infinitely indebted to you if you will convince them they were victims of hallucination.”
"pOR a moment Dick Tresham was thrown off his mental
balance. Surely the fellow had seen he was asleep and so an impossible witness. Then realization struck him. Of course, the man was a card sharper and, having been clumsy, was now trying to evade the consequences by getting an onlooker to lie for him. Rage possessed him at the thought and he half opened his mouth to give vent to it, when again those whimsical eyes met his in a frank, if laughing appeal.
To his surprise Dick heard himself saying, “Sure, I was watching the game but saw nothing crooked.”
Babel again broke forth, and would have continued indefinitely but for the action of the Englishman. First scooping up the money in front of him and placing it carefully and deliberately in an inside pocket, he moved around the table to confront his accusers.
“It seems to me.” he drawled, “that you three are in this together. You were out to rook me and finding I knew just a little about cards myself, attempted to frighten me into refunding my winnings by staging this public accusation of cheating. However, thanks to an unimpeachable witness your scheme has failed. And now, you rats, get out of my way !”
The last sentence, in sharp contrast to the preceding quiet drawl, came like the crack of a whip, and so ice cold and venomous was the tone that the circle of spectators opened to let the speaker walk leisurely out. As he passed Dick Tresham he smiled and said, “Come and have a drink,
Again against his instincts, but governed by the charm of the man’s manner and a certain curiosity to hear what he had to say, Dick fell into step beside him, and finding a couple of chairs close to the bar, the two sat down, the Englishman ordering whiskies and soda. With a grin he then pulled out the suspected cigarette case and proffered it, saying, “Have one? And watch it doesn’t suddenly change into an ace of spades or a white rabbit.”
Dick Tresham grinned in response, took a cigarette and replied. “Nothing would surprise me from such a cool cuss as you.”
The eyebrows of the “cool cuss” lifted a little, and the little demons of laughter in his eyes danced as he returned: “I owe you more than I can ever repay for coming to my aid as you did back there. Seeing that we have not even been introduced it was all the more sporting. My name is Francis Catesby, and here’s your very good health.” And Catesby took a long pull at his drink while his companion observed him with amusement. Card sharper or not, the fellow was the only bright and interesting personality on the ship. And. reflected Tresham. there were five long days to be got through before the ship docked at Liverpool. Also, by his unaccountable impulse to back Catesby’s play before a crowd, he was now more or less committed to seeing it through regardless.
TUTIS thoughts were broken by Catesby speaking
“Funny thing, luck,” he moralized. “Take, for instance, that unfortunate lapse of mine a few minutes ago. Instead of concentrating on the business in hand, I was mooning over other things, with the result that I automatically pulled out that cigarette case and spilled the beans completely. Just a minute’s carelessness, but enough to smash a bank if luck is running sideways. And I’ve played with some of the keenest-eyed hawks that ever shuffled a pack !”
Tresham glanced across at the lean, bronzed face with its laughing blue eyes and dose-clipped mustache.
“Then you were guilty?” he asked casually.
“Why, of course,” returned the other. “Guilty of a carelessness for which I can’t forgive myself. But perhaps you are speaking of moral guilt? Again, yes. I have been making a living as a card—er, shall we say manipulator as being more polite? —yes, card manipulator, for the last twelve months, and a pretty good one. It is really marvellous the number of men in the world who think they can beat the next man at poker. Their egotism is providential to a poor devil like myself. In the last year I’ve made twenty trips across the Atlantic—on different ships, of course, and changing the lines as much as possible. Unfortunately the number of ships is limited, and a follower of my dubious trade soon becomes known; which, as you may understand, is fatal. And this affair of today
Catesby broke off and smiled cheerily across at Dick Tresham. “Shocked?” he asked.
“No, hardly shocked. Surprised, though, that a man such as you can find no better occupation than this. Army, weren’t you?”
Catesby’s grin faded.
“Yes. Regular Army.” he answered moodily. “Cashiered for drink and other things some time after the war. So what was I to do? No other training or profession. True, a friend got me a job in a shipping firm, but I was like a fish out of water and, to be frank, was fired very quickly. So having a natural aptitude for cards I drifted into this game, and here I am. You see, being quite unmoral—as distinct from the vulgar immoral—I rather enjoy it, and since even a broken soldier must live, it’s just as well that ethical sense was left out of my composition. Have another drink and we’ll talk of something else.”
As the days went on, Tresham was more and more drawn to Catesby. There was a quality about the man which showed through the veneer of cynicism and reckless mockery. And in an indefinable manner Tresham was conscious of a vague and subtle stirring of memory at times. There was something familiar about some of Catesby’s mannerisms, something fleeting and elusive, baffling and intangible, as something from a dead life known and forgotten. Ridiculous, these disturbing thoughts. The paths of the broken English soldier and the young and wealthy Canadian could not possibly have crossed without mutual knowledge.
Sufficient the fact that Catesby w»as an amusing companion and novel character. What he had said about being unmoral was perfectly true. He had no morals, conformed to no laws voluntarily and was quite unable to see any reason for respecting conditions which were unfavorable to him as an individual. As he put it, why should he be governed by laws written and unwritten, which were made by men years before he was born and which he had not had the opportunity of criticizing? All laws and rules of conduct were designed merely as a protection for the weak against the strong. If a man could not look after his own possessions by virtue of his strength of mind or body, why should community law do so for him, and why should a
shrewder or stronger man be crippled in his natural powers by observance of a law so palpably unjust to him? Only the weak needed law, and being unable to fight for themselves, paid policemen and lawyers to do it for them.
Tresham scoffed at these views, which to Catesby’s delight he called “Lone Wolf Gospel,” and even the other’s brilliant eloquence on the subject failed to impress him.
It was, as he repeatedly argued, a justification of self, a creed of theft and anarchy which would create chaos in any society and result only in a reign of terror.
Catesby replied to this by saying that were he, too, a full-fed member of the herd he would obey the law of the herd and see the less fortunate members did also; but since the lone wolf must of necessity prey on the herd, its laws were naturally in direct opposition to the wolf viewpoint, which was a moderately full belly regardless of the filling. As a logical defense of his chosen profession his arguments were magnificent.
It was therefore with some diffidence in face of these materialistic reasonings that Tresham. in answer to Catesby’s casual question, explained his visit to England. The question arose the last night of the voyage. The Superbus was due to dock next morning at nine o’clock, and Tresham and Catesby, by now firm friends despite their endless disputes, were leaning over the rail of the boatdeck watching the coast lights of Ireland flashing across the blue darkness. There had been silence between them for some minutes when Catesby asked :
“Been to England before, Tresham?”
“No,” replied his friend. “This is the first time and I’m a bit nervous.”
“Nervous; whatever can make you nervous? Why, man, if I were in your place I’d only be nervous in case the ship sank and so did me out of the good time ahead. Pots of money; nothing to do but spend it; all Merry England waiting to be painted red. Jove, but you’re a cheery little ray of sunshine, Tresham!”
Dick’s voice was curiously quiet when he answered; which he did slowly and haltingly as though choosing his words carefully.
“Well, you see, it’s a curious business altogether, and you’ll probably say I’m crazy when I tell you what brings me. Why I tell you, I don't know, for I’ve not mentioned it to a soul, and just told the folks at home I wanted to see England for a holiday. Anyhow, I’ll chance you giving me the horselaugh and if I seem ‘nuts’ to you, just forget it. I’m quite harmless, really. It’s a dream, Catesby. I’ve had the same dream all my life. Sometimes night after night for as long as a week, more often with intervals of about a mouth, but never have I gone three months without its haunting me. It started when I was just a kid—say about seven or eight—and although I’ve had it hundreds of times since, it’s never varied in the slightest detail.
“It’s not the ordinary dream. I’ve had those too, of course. It has none of the unreality and semiconscious knowledge of dreaming which marks the usual, i tell you, Catesby—and laugh your fool head off if you like—I live it. It is myself, my concrete physical body, who walks that dream stage, and no mere working of a brain in an unconscious body.
“I can even feel the warmth of the sun before entering the chill of that old house, and the cobblestones under my boots before I tread the thick carpet in that ghastly room.
“And I’m going to find that room in that house in that old English village. I know I shall find it, and that’s what makes me nervous. Nervous, nothing! I don’t mind confessing I’m scared stiff of what I shall find, for it’s something awful beyond words that’s called me all these years. There’s
Continued on page 50
Continued from page 4
unspeakable horror of some kind awaiting me at the end of this trail. I know it, can feel it ! Every day it is closer, but I cannot keep away. For years I've fought the feeling, but always have known that some day I would have to go and accept my destiny. That day is nearly upon me, and I’m scared of the thing. Say, Catesby, I don’t look crazy, do I?”
“Crazy be damned,” the adventurer spoke softly. “You’re one of the hardest-headed men I’ve met. Do you feel like telling me more. Perhaps I could help. That dream, what is it? But first, have you any relatives or associations in England that may in some way account for it?”
“None. My family has been in Canada for well over a hundred years and I believe came from somewhere in Yorkshire, but as far as I know there’s no branch in England now. No, it’s something dating from long
ago, sometime in the seventeenth century, 1 imagine, by the dress.”
“Dress,” interrupted Catesby. “What
“In the dream. I’m wearing a riding costume of those days. You know—the usual fancy dress cavalier outfit with high boots, big plumed hat and long rapier. But I’ll tell you the whole darned silly affair. As I said, the dream never changes. From beginning to end, its course, happenings and details are the same. 1 always know what is coming, but it’s the sudden ending with its attendant feeling of stark terror of what is left unrevealed, what ghastly thing is going to happen next—it’s that which drives me to the verge of madness.
‘ “It never does happen, and I don’t know, daren’t try to imagine what it’s going to be, but always it’s just going to, and I’m
terribly afraid that some night it will go on to the end.
‘‘If it does, Catesby, my brain will snap, for this unknown horror is beyond the strength of mortal reason.”
Tresham’s voice had sunk to the merest whisper, a croak of awe, as though the tortured brain saw itself shattered and doomed, inevitably condemned to that shrieking, raving region across the borderline of sanity.
Strive as he might for words to lighten the tension, Catesby was dumb. The horror in Tresham’s voice had created for him also the glimpse of an atmosphere of eternal blackness, peopled only by screaming things frantic with the fear of the light they had never seen. He shook himself impatiently, as does a dog when it comes from the water, as if to rid himself of the obsession.
At that moment eight bells sounded from the bridge of the ship, were answered by the lookout man in the crow’s nest and his voice floated down, “Lights burning bright, sir.”
The matter-of-fact interruption broke through the curtain of thought and brought them both back to realities.
Tresham laughed. “Midnight, eh? The witching hour. Just the time for spook yams. Shall I go on?”
“Go on,” answered Catesby emphatically. “I’m interested. If nothing else, it will relieve your mind to confide in someone."
“I’ve wanted to, dozens of times, but was afraid of being laughed at or thought crazy. You know how people are when they hear something even a little bit out of the ordinary, and this living horror of three hundred years ago—well, it’s mote than extraordinary, isn’t it? Can’t you see them pointing me out to all their friends and laughing at me behind my back as the story goes around? But you’re different, Catesby. Somehow I knew you’d understand. It’s as though I’ve been waiting for you . . . waiting for you,” repeated Tresham slowly.
WELL,” he continued after a short pause, “I’ll give you the dope and see what you make of it. It starts by my finding myself riding into an old-world village on a horse that’s about foundered. My clothes are covered with dust and I’m hungry, thirsty and dead tired. I pass an ivy-covered church with a queer rounded steeple on my left, and a little farther on, right in the centre of the village, is the green with a small duck pond in the middle of it. The stocks are close by the pond but are empty, and the whole village is sleepy and peaceful under the afternoon sun. Opposite the green is an inn with a sign swinging outside, the sign of a bell. I ride up to this hostelry and, without dismounting, hammer on the door with my whip until the landlord comes. He is a big and very fat man, with a red, jovial face, and that he knows me is obvious. His red face turns a dirty yellow and he clutches his paunch with great fleshy hands when he sees me. ‘By Our Lady,’ he says, ‘has it failed then, y’r honor?’
“ ‘Yes,’ I answer curtly, ‘and I am proscribed a rebel. But bring me a tankard of ale, and haste, man. I must first to The Grange and then be on my way to the coast. The king’s men be not far behind.’ “The landlord’s absurdly small mouth opens into a round hole in his cheese of a face. 'Ye go not to The Grange, y’r honor?’ he asks fearfully.
“ ‘Where else, man?’ I retort impatiently. ‘Now the ale and stir those fat stumps of thine!’
“The ton of fat scuttles away, to return almost at once with a quart tankard of ale which I drink in a few gulps. Then throwing the empty tankard and a coin to him, I wheel my jaded horse and ride away. As I go I hear him crying, ‘Y’r honor, y’r honor, stay a moment, a moment. Go not to The Grange—’ But I spur on unheeding.
“I continue on through the village until the last cottage is passed, and another half mile brings me to the lodge gates of a large house. This is The Grange, my destination, and riding through the gates and up a long Irive, I dismount at the foot of the steps
leading up to the door. An ostler appearing, I throw him my reins and springing up the steps, enter the house. Straight into a large, sunny room opening off the hall I go. There is no one in it, but a chair is pushed back from a table in the centre, as though someone had recently been busy with the mass of papers littering the table. A clock ticking on the mantelpiece attracts my attention. I glance at it, note the time and smile as I remember Roger’s habit of sleeping at this time in the afternoon. Well, I reflect, I shall have to disturb him. Better I than the king’s troopers.
“In the act of turning back to the door, my eyes fall on the topmost document of the pile on the desk. I stare unbelievingly and then snatch up the thing. One glance is enough. It is a king’s warrant for my arrest on a charge of high treason. A hand of ice clutches my heart as my brain slowly grasps the situation. How has this warrant arrived before me when I have ridden my horse to a standstill straight from the scene of the great failure? It hasn’t! It must have been here all the time—
“Full comprehension bursts upon me in all its loathsome light. To be here now, in readiness for my return, it must have been prepared beforehand; which could only be done by someone with foreknowledge of the plot. Further, by someone reasonably sure of its failure. Who, then, was in a position high enough to have the keeping of a king’s warrant, who had been a fellow conspirator, and finally who was the only one not actively concerned and so most admirably situated to turn king’s evidence? Roger! My friend! Yet had I always distrusted him. I knew him so well. His self-confessed lack of moral scruples, his immense ambition, his disposition to sweep aside any obstacle between himself and the goal of his vanity. The type to walk to royal favor over a road paved with dead men’s heads. And mine, his friend’s, would be one of them.
“I creep on tiptoe cautiously to the door. No one is in sight, and I listen in vain for any sound of life. The servants have apparently not heard my arrival and the ostler will still be at the stables ministering to my horse.
“Roger! But your friend’s head is still on his shoulders. Roger! Well, I know his bedroom. I laugh softly and check myself lest any should hear. My wife, wedded but a year, my son but newly born. The Tower, the rack, the last scene on Tower Green. Roger !
“The thoughts whirl through my head as noiselessly I make my slow way to the stairs and begin their ascent.
“It is when I reach the spacious landing, Catesby, and pause for a moment to listen, my hand on the door-knob of the bedroom, that black, unreasoning terror assails me— and the dream stops.
"What terrible thing am I to find in that room?
“Something so unspeakably awful that its horror has remained waiting for me for three hundred years, and acted as a diabolical magnet to me over three thousand miles. Oh, I’ve thought and thought, until, to save my sanity, I’ve come to find out— as I shall!”
There was a look of grim determination on the young Canadian’s face as he uttered the last three words.
Catesby, who had been listening intently, saw it and said:
“Yes. It’s the unknown that terrifies. Face the thing, whatever it is, and half the terror is gone. But I can make nothing of it now, Tresham, except one very peculiar thing. You say you have never been before in England and don’t know the name of the village, where it is, or anything about it, barring what the dream tells you.”
“Then,” continued Catesby, speaking in slow, grim voice, “I can tell you. You have described without possible doubt the village of Hirlby on the Yorkshire Moors. The church with its quaint old steeple, the village pub still called ‘The Bell,’ the duck pond and the house. It’s unmistakable to anyone who knows it.”
Tresham stared at him in amazement.
“You know it?”
“Know it,” answered Catesby with a short laugh. “I know every rat hole of the place. I ought to. Hirlby was my home.”
He made an effort to speak casually, but it was easy to see that the usual cool poise of the adventurer was shaken by the weird coincidence.
“Anyhow,” he went on, “you’ve effectually banished any doubts I had about the thing being genuine. How the deuce you could describe a place you’d never been to, or heard the name of, beats me. It’s amazing.”
“It’s devilish,” corrected Tresham, “but tell me what you know about it, and of your home. Do your parents live there
“They’re dead,” replied Catesby, “and anyhow they didn't live at Hirlby. You see I was bom in India—my father was in the Indian Army—but my boyhood was spent in England with my grandfather at Hirlby. He was a rummy old bird, and it was common talk in the district that he had bats in the belfry. It’s not surprising, considering how he lived. All alone in that great house except for one old servant, who was as eccentric as his master. When the old boy died, just before the war, it was found that he had been practically penniless for years. What little he had to leave he willed to my father, but only on the condition that the family house should never be lived in by any member of the family. That peculiar idea was put down, of course, to eccentricity, but my father agreed, for in any case we could never have afforded to keep up that huge old place. Since my parents died in the influenza epidemic after the war, the place is mine now, though I’ve not seen it for years. It was a lonely old ruin then, so by now I suppose it’s falling to pieces. Anyhow, I’m the last of the family, haven’t even a fifty-fifth cousin; and since I’m never likely to marry, it doesn’t matter much. When I die, so do the Catesbys; so let the old house go, too.”
He had been talking rapidly, without a pause, as though staving off the inevitable question. Now he halted uncertainly, and Tresham eagerly seized the chance he had awaited.
“But the name, Catesby, the name of the house?” and there was destiny in his
“The Grange,” replied Catesby, and he pulled out his case and carefully chose a cigarette.
THE village of Hirlby, high up on the rolling, heather-clad moors of Yorkshire, is sleepily aloof from all modem progress. It might aptly be described as finished, for not a house has been erected in it for more than a century.
Even its meagre population is aged. Old men and old women, drifting placidly down the last reach of the River of Life to the Sea of Beyond and ever looking back to the source. There are no young folks, for what occupation could they find in a completed village? The roaring steel furnaces of Middlesbrôugh to the north and the rattling factories to the south absorb them. Or they go down to the grey North Sea whose bitter gales for ever sweep the moors, and from there to the uttermost parts of the
And Hirlby is left, dying quietly in its fragrance of old-world roses and living pathetically in ancient memories of romance.
Into this peaceful backwater came Tresham and Catesby after a ten-mile taxi drive from Guisborough, the nearest railway station. It was toward the end of an endless summer evening, and the thatched roofs seemed to be ablaze in the reflection of a red sunset as the taxi bumped over the cobblestones to stop outside The Bell.
To both the friends it was like a homecoming. To Catesby because of his boyhood memories, and to Tresham because of a lifetime’s knowledge of the place, stamped indelibly on his mind in living dream pictures. It was an eerie experience, this familiarity with a place he had never visited except in unconsciousness. It gave him a
feeling of unreality. As he said to Catesby, he knew exactly what was around every comer and kept wondering if he were awake.
Little in the village was changed from his mental image of it except in one or two details. There were a few more houses, the duck pond was smaller, the stocks had vanished from the village green, and the ojd swinging, wooden sign outside the inn had given place to a fixed one of metal.
That Catesby should accompany him had been mutually taken for granted after that night of revelation aboard the Superbus. The adventurer would have demanded the right to see the thing through even had Tresham denied it. But nothing was farther from the Canadian’s thoughts. Catesby, with his intimate knowledge of the house and district, would be of invaluable aid to him in his quest of peace of mind and the laying of his obsession for ever.
Also, Tresham had no desire to face the Unknown alone, and Catesby with his cool, military trained brain, was the ideal comrade.
Now that they were actually in the village and on the threshold of the adventure, Tresham felt more at ease. Whatever might be the nature of the ordeal ahead, he was strangely keyed up and felt ready to grapple with anything. If danger was imminent he was ready for it.
On the other hand, Catesby had been moody and irritable as the journey neared its end. He had made several references to his grandfather and expressed it as his opinion that “the old boy” had not been as “batty” as public opinion made out. Many secrets must have died with him, and how was it he had left so little money and such a forbidding clause in his will?
To these speculations Tresham ventured no solution, and had merely let his gloomy companion grumble on.
Arriving at the inn, Catesby had made at once for the saloon bar and now, under the influence of two or three whiskies, was more cheerful and entered with zest into discussing a plan of campaign. Darkness was rapidly falling and it was decided to leave the exploration of the old house until next day, so having arranged with the landlord for rooms, the two friends abandoned further discussion and went early to bed.
And not a mile down the road the old deserted house stood and brooded, silent, grim and waiting as it had waited through the years.
IT WAS nearly noon next day when they left the inn and made their way along the village street in the direction of the house. The way was terribly familiar to Tresham, who, thousands of miles away in Canada, had traversed the same road innumerable times. Yet the bright sunlight made supernatural fears seem absurd. What, he wondered, could be harmful in an empty house? The solid, blue uniformed figure of the village policeman entering his cottage at the end of the High Street was a welcome touch of reality, and Tresham began to believe that the adventure would end in nothing. If only the hideous familiarity of everything could be explained . . .
He switched off such unprofitable musings and addressed Catesby who was tramping along beside him.
“Got the keys?” he asked.
“Yes,” was the answer, “here they are,” and he jingled them in his jacket pocket. Catesby had called at an estate office in Guisborough for the keys before taking the
Through the lodge gates and up the long drive they walked in silence, each busy with his thoughts. It was not until he was inserting the big key into the lock of the front door that Catesby spoke, and his words were banal enough.
“Well, here we are,” he said.
“Yes, now for it,” replied Tresham as the massive, bolt-studded door swung open.
Dust lay thick over everything, and there was the dead, musty smell peculiar to houses long closed up.
All the furniture was as it had been left on the death of Catesby’s grandfather, and it was with a premonition of disaster that
in the large front room Tresham recognized the clock on the mantelpiece and the table from which he had so often snatched the fatal warrant.
Pictures of long dead Catesbys looked down from the walls and to his overwrought imagination seemed to be gloating through their masks of dust over the victory of time and fate. Old-fashioned weapons, swords, pistols, poniards, axes, maces, boar spears and a few shields, completed the austere decorations of the room. One beautifully chased poniard with twisted steel guard and hilt lay on the floor. Obviously its supporting wire had snapped during the years. Catesby stooped to pick it up, remarking as he did so, “Bloodthirsty gang we’ve been, by the look of all these. All soldiers, or living in some way by the sword, if these are the tools of our trade.” Laughing, he placed the dagger on the table and they continued the exploration of the house.
As they went up the stairs it seemed to Tresham that a cloud had covered the sun. A chill struck him and the shadows deepened. Standing on the landing, he shivered and glanced involuntarily over his shoulder. The old house was creaking and rustling all around him.
Catesby opened the door of the fatal room, the room outside of which Tresham had so often gone down to the abysmal depths of brain-shaking, soul-searing terror, and they entered.
A broad shaft of sunlight was pouring through the grimy cobwebbed window, and tiny particles of dust eddied and swirled in the strong, bright light. A large four-poster bed and the usual bedroom furniture were all that met their quick, nervous glances.
Catesby laughed as he walked to the window to look over a sun-bathed country-
“Looks like a false alarm, Tresham. There’s nothing here.”
His friend drew a deep breath and more closely surveyed the room.
“I don’t know what I expected to find,” he answered, “but, as you say, there’s nothing here. But I’m not satisfied, Catesby. If I go now, there’s no peace of mind for me. I must settle this thing once and for all, now that I’m here. There’s something, if only we can find it!”
Catesby looked at him curiously.
“A lot of worm-eaten old furniture is all I can see, but you’re the doctor and what you say goes. What do you suggest?”
“Let’s give whatever it is a chance to start something,” said the Canadian. “If it won’t materialize in daylight, let’s come back before dark and stay the night. If nothing happens before morning I’ll feel that the thing is laid and will never haunt me again. But I want to give it every chance, for if I leave any doubt in my mind, I might as well have stayed in Toronto. I’m going to be sure.”
Turningfrom his contemplation of waving trees and rolling moorland, Catesby agreed.
“All right, if you must. It’ll be fun anyway, with a bottle of whisky. Fight fire with fire and spirits with spirits. Well, let’s get out of it now. I’m beginning to ge hungry.”
THE long English twilight was beginning to shade the day when they returned, and they were more subdued on entering the house than they had been in the sunlight Catesby had a bottle of whisky, which he shoved under his arm while he opened the
“Where shall we camp?” he asked, pushing the door open.
“In the bedroom,” answered Tresham promptly. ‘‘That’s where it always happens.”
“All that’s likely to happen,” grunted his companion, “is rheumatism. Never mind, it’s a good cause. Come on ! Perhaps Little Johnny here, born 1820, will see us through that as well as the ghosts. By Jove Tresham, fancy being a teetotaller anc doing a job like this on a flask of hoi lemonade. Cheers for Little Johnny ! He’i the stout little fella—” And Catesby pattec the whisky bottle lovingly.
In the bedroom they made themselves as comfortable as was possible in the circumstances. Electric light had never been fitted in the house, the gas was long ago disconnected, but Catesby had a pocketful of candles and Tresham a powerful electric torch. Placing the candles in position around the room, they lighted them, and having sat down, Catesby on the bed and Tresham in a big chair, proceeded to make plans.
"Better split the night into watches,” suggested Catesby, "or we may both fall asleep, and either sleep right through until morning and so discover nothing, or else be at the mercy of the damned ghosts if they .come. Agreed? Right. Then let’s toss for it. Heads I take the watch from eight till twelve, tails you do.”
The coin was spun and fell with the king’s head uppermost.
“My first go,” said Catesby. “I’ll call you at midnight if nothing happens before. How about a drink to keep the willies away?”
Toward eleven o’clock Tresham fell into a doze, and Catesby passed the time by practising sleight of hand tricks with a pack of cards and taking frequent drinks -of whisky. These latter had the effect of making him drowsy, and it was with relief that at midnight he shook Tresham into wakefulness.
“Come on, old spook hunter,” he cried thickly. “It’s your witching hour, so up you get and catch one or two. If you get an ancestor of mine in the bag, treat him gently. All’s been quiet as the grave but I’m sleepy as the deuce. Call me at four.”
Tresham got up and stretched himself.
“I never thought I’d fall asleep,” he said.
“D'you know, Catesby, I’m beginning to think it’s all bunk and I feel a mutt to have believed anything could happen. I wish I hadn’t told the landlord of The Bell to get the village cop and break in here if we weren’t back by ten in the morning. He’ll think I'm nuts!”
But Catesby was already asleep.
SLOWLY the minutes ticked away, and as they passed, Tresham grew more and more convinced that his fears had been groundless. He was pouring out a drink and wondering how best to explain to the landlord in the morning without appearing too much a fool, when—
What was that? A crash awakened echoes in every part of the old house and brought back his fears a hundredfold.
He sat as if turned to stone and every drop of blood in his body congealed icily. The echoes died away and silence again came, but for the whispered suggestion of those infernal creakings and rustlings of the dark old house.
Tresham rose. He would go down and see what had caused the noise. Couldn’t sit here like a hysterical woman, frightened of shadows and a noise in the dark. He'd go down. Nothing to be scared of. He’d go now, at once !
He glanced at Catesby, who was still sound asleep. Should he wake him? No, he’d made fool enough of himself and would go alone. Moving quietly to the mantelpiece, he took from it the electric torch and went to the door and on to the landing.
All was silent, and slowly he went down the creaking stairs flashing his torch into all the dark corners. Nothing on the stairs and nothing in the hall. He would look through the rooms.
Into the large front room he went, pre-
ceded by the white beam of his torch. Ah, there it was! A picture had fallen and was lying, its heavy gilt frame splintered, on the floor by the wall. To reach it he passed the table. There was the dagger where Catesby had placed it that morning. Funny! Just in the place where the king’s warrant had lain years ago.
The light of the torch came to rest on the fallen picture, and Tresham moved nearer to study it. It was a portrait in oils of a man dressed in the style of the seventeenth century.
How noisy the old house had suddenly become! Those damnable groanings, rustlings and creakings, as though an army of dead men were moving around him, watching, waiting—
His torch flashed around the black vastness of the room and came back to the picture. Horror! The face had moved ! It was moving now. Laughing at him, jeering, scoffing; the lips drawn back from the cruel teeth in a snarling grin of hatred.
Something snapped in Tresham’s brain. He remembered. Roger ! Of course it was. Roger, who would mount to royal favor, using the block, bloody with his friend's blood, as a step. Ah, he had so nearly forgotten! The warrant, he must have the warrant! He turned back to the table. Gone now was all fear. Only was left a strong exultation.
T CREEP on tiptoe cautiously to the door. •*No one is in sight and I listen in vain for any sound of life. The servants have apparently not heard my arrival and the ostler will still be at the stables ministering to my horse.
“Roger! But your friend’s head is still on his shoulders. Roger! Well I know his bedroom. I laugh softly and check myself lest any should hear. My wife, wedded but a year, my son but newly born. The Tower, the rack, the last scene on Tower Green.
“The thoughts whirl through my head, as noiselessly I make my slow way to the stairs and begin their ascent.
"I reach the spacious landing and pause for a moment to listen, my hand on the door-knob of the bedroom. All is quiet.
“Slowly, carefully, I open the door ...”
W/HEN. next morning, the landlord of VV The Bell, accompanied by the village policeman, entered The Grange in search of his missing guests, all was silent.
On the floor of the front room lay a picture in a broken frame.
“That,” pointed out the landlord, “be Sir Roger Catesby. He were murdered hundreds of years ago by his friend, a scoundrel called Tresham. Stabbed in ’is sleep ’e were, pore gentleman. Parson told me about it. Powerful chap for l’arning, be t’ parson.”
The policeman looked impressed.
“Murdering villains they was in them days,” he said. “Now where’s them two gents?”
Upstairs in the bedroom they found them. Catesby was lying on the bed in a welter of blood, and frozen on his face was an expression of unutterable terror. A poniard still was stuck to the steel hilt in his breast.
In the corner farthest from the window crouched a pitiful figure with hair white as | snow, babbling childishly and playing with a i piece of paper.
The landlord had some difficulty in recognizing Mr. Richard Harland Tresham of Toronto.