Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

ghost's. We were close behind it as it entered the room. In the half darkness I saw it flash across the room and—and disappear. Quick as lightning Challoner leapt forward, and, with a suppressed cry of exultation, flung himself against, no, by all that was wonderful, through the wall. One of the tall narrow plaistered panels had swung inwards, and through it ghost and Challoner had disappeared. I rushed to the aperture and looked in. I had only time to see a few stone steps, seemingly the top of a very narrow and winding flight of stairs. There was nothing for it; I could hear a distant rattling and plunging as of some one descending at full speed below me ; Challoner had gone and I must follow him. In another second I was groping my way down, candle in hand, cutting my knuckles, and grazing my shins in my haste. It was a long flight of stairs, evidently made in the thickness of the wall. I thought I could hear Challoner close in front, but I did not stop to listen ; and once I fancied I heard footsteps coming down behind me from above.

At last I stumbled through a narrow doorway, and was met by a chill damp air as of a vault. I raised my candle high above my head. For a moment the feeble wavering light half showed half hid massive stone arches and a low vaulted roof, showed for a moment Challoner a few paces in front of me, showed in a corner for one moment a shrinking white figure brought to bay, convulsively holding up its long dress in front, as it had evidently caught it up to facilitate its flight, and revealing below it a pair of thin and dissipated-looking check trousers. For one moment and then Challoner sprang forward on his

with a roar that made the walls ring again, and at the same instant a hand came suddenly over my shoulder, and the heavy brass candlestick was wrenched out of my hand and forcibly applied to my head. I turned upon my adversary in the darkness and grappled with him. In another moment the candlestick was bounding and rolling on the floor, I had got my two hands fast on a muscular hairy throat, and we were struggling furiously, swaying backwards and forwards, his hot stertorous breath close on my face. But I soon found he was a heavy man, and I was overmatched. I tripped him up, and we came down together with a bang on the stone floor, he undermost, I on the top. But he was too much for me. I could not keep my advantage, and in another moment we were rolling over and over, halfchoked by straw and dust, and then-then my head suddenly came in violent contact with something sharp, I struggled hard,

prey

but I was undermost, my hands relaxed their grip, a number of stars flew up in all directions, the darkness reeled and spun round me, and I remembered nothing more.

CHAPTER IV.

WHEN first I came to myself I found myself lying on my face in a pool of what I concluded vaguely must be my own heart's blood, and so resigned myself to my fate. Presently I heard Challoner's voice calling to me, and after some groping about, he stumbled against me, and was soon tenderly turning me right side upwards, anxiously feeling me, calling to me, asking if I were hurt.

'I don't know,' I said, as soon as I could get out a word; but I am afraid I am bleeding a good deal.'

Challoner raised me with the tenderness of a woman, and laid my head on his shoulder. I could hear the drip, drip from my head and neck on to the floor. A cold stream was exploring down my back and arm.

Where are you hurt ?' he exclaimed, in a voice sharpened by anxiety. “Oh, Heavens! if I only had a light.' Stay! I think I have a fusee about me. By Jove !' as he found his match-case, it's the last in the box.'

He struck it and looked round for the candlestick, but it was nowhere to be seen, the small feeble ray seeming indeed only to augment the darkness round us. As it burned down, he held it near my face and gazed anxiously at me I saw him start, and a look of horror came over his pale face, and in a moment we were in the dark again. I felt myself turning cold and faint.

‘Don't leave me, for Heaven's sake,' I whispered, as I felt he was going to lay me down.

'I must go!' he exclaimed, half-frantic. 'I must go and fetch a light. I must see where you're hurt before I can do anything.'

But he did not go. My head fell back on his shoulder. The darkness seemed to swim and float before my eyes.

Challoner!' I whispered.

“Yes, old man, I'm here,' and I felt the pressure of his strong, warm hand. VOL. 85 (V.—NEW SERIES). 19

NO. 505.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

6

а.

You'll give my love to all at home,' I whispered, my breath coming short and hard, 'and-and

Nonsense,' replied Challoner, huskily. 'Yes, but I mean it,' I replied, speaking with great effort close to his ear; and there's—there's a bit of hair in an envelope in my waistcoat pocket. You'll burn it, won't you?'

Challoner started.

'A light!' he exclaimed. “Thank God, there's a light at last.'

I opened my eyes with a suddenly returning consciousness, and saw a faint light in a doorway at a little distance, the same by which we had entered. It was but a faint glimmer, but it was -yes, it was becoming brighter.

A slow and cautious step might be heard on the stairs. As we listened it hesitated and-stopped.

Come on, whoever you are,' shouted Challoner, hoarsely. 'Man, devil, or ghost, only come on and bring a light.'

Perhaps the invitation was not sufficiently reassuring, for a moment afterwards we heard a sudden scuttle in the opposite direction, and the glimmer of light disappeared.

It was not to be borne. Challoner laid me down and in an instant had reached the foot of the stairs, and was pursuing the retreating footsteps. A moment more, and there was a little suppressed squeak, an angry exclamation from Challoner, and a clatter down the stairs again, Challoner appearing with a lamp in his hand, and Lord Carden following, rather crestfallen, at his heels.

Challoner placed the lamp on the floor beside me, and bent over me.

'Why, Mostyn,” he, exclaimed, you are lying in a pool of water. As I live, in the dark, I thought it was blood.'

I 'So did I,' replied I, much reassured, and I broke into a weak laugh, which I was quite unable to stop, and in which Challoner and Lord Carden joined.

'I don't believe there is anything the matter with him,' said Challoner, evidently much relieved, 'though when I saw his face by the fleeting light of my last match it certainly was a gruesome object. However, a little warm water and some sticking-plaister will set that right. Here, Charles, you take his heels,' and raising me by the shoulders, he deposited me on some dry straw at a little distance. Lord Carden lifted my heels delicately and then wiped his hands on his pocket-handkerchief.

J

a

6

· A little frightened, I daresay, Mostyn !' he said, "and no wonder. But you will soon be all right. Faint? Yes. Dear me! Here's my whiskey flask. I wish I had arrived sooner.'

* I wish you had,' growled Challoner. 'I wish to goodness you had not turned back when you did come,' and he pressed the mouth of his brother's flask against my cheek, introducing a considerable portion of the spirit into my collar, and a little more into my nose and mouth. I was soon able to choke and sneeze, then to sit up, and finally, with Challoner's help, to stand, and to assure myself and him that, except for a few severe bruises and a good shaking, no serious damage was done.

* And now, you young blackguard, you young scamp,' said Challoner, turning (too much relieved not to be furious) to a cowering figure in the corner that I noticed for the first time. What do you mean by it, I should like to know.'

The check trousers wriggled a little as if they were out of place, and there was a deep sniff, whether proceeding from contrition or from inability to apply a needful pocket-handkerchief, I know not, but there was no answer.

Where is the other one ?' said Challoner, looking round. 'Got clean off, of course, by this time, more's the pity. Well, you had better get up. It's no good lying whining there. I am not going to stop here all night, and if you had nothing better to do than to play the ghost, Her Majesty will find you better employment for some time to come, I'll be bound.'

Another deep sniff was the only answer, and Challoner seizing on his victim, whose hands he had tied behind his back with his pocket-handkerchief, we proceeded upstairs, Lord Carden helping me to keep my feet, and telling me I should soon be all right, that there was nothing on earth the matter with me, and that I really need not feel so much alarmed. He had felt alarmed himself, he did not mind owning at the moment, but, dear me, life was made up of alarms. If I had been through all he had, in hansom cabs, and elsewhere, I should grow as callous as himself after the first moment. I let him rattle on, my whole mind being absorbed by anxiety to keep on my legs. I reached the hall at last and sank exhausted into the arm-chair. Then for the first time 'Challoner turned up the lamp, and threw the light full on the face of the pseudo ghost.

It was the timid, haggard face of a boy of twenty-a face that spoke of late hours and excess and dissipation. Challoner looked at him hard and long.

[blocks in formation]

Explanations are always tedious, and my story ought to end here. Of course my reader, if he has ever read a story before, knows, without my telling him, that the ghost was arranged by the Morton brothers who had got wind of the terms of the will. I may perhaps add that the younger brother had been forced into personating the ghost by his elder brother, a hard-headed ne'erdo-weel, who from the time he half-killed me was never seen or heard of more, though I fancy he must have had a sore throat fo: many a long day.

Jack Morton made a full and complete confession, thankful at any cost to be rid of his brother, and showed us the trick of the sliding panel, of which Challoner had made himself aware on the afternoon I found him putting on his boots, having just returned from the boudoir, the walls of which he had sounded in every direction, and at last found a place that sounded hollow. The next day he showed us how it was possible to get from the outside of the house into the cellars by means of a barred window, a little below the ground level, one of the bars of which could be removed at will. It seemed his elder brother had before taken refuge in this manner at the Chase, at different times when he had been an object of interest to the police, and when he had found a blue light in one of the windows went far to secure his privacy.

Jack, who became very confidential and communicative when he found us inclined to lay most of the blame on his brother, was even so obliging as to produce out of the straw in one corner of the cellar, the flattened, and much squeezed remains of a puppy which had, so he informed us, played its little part in bringing out the stain on the floor.

*We spoilt the whole concern by trying it on a second time.' he said, with genuine regret. We should have let well alone. I told Dan so, but he is such a infernal brute, he will never listen to a fellow. I wouldn't go for ever so long, that was why I was so late ; but he made me at last. I knew it would spoil the whole thing, and so it did. When I heard Challoner closing up behind me, I knew it was all up. Serve him right too. But he's a tremendous fellow. I wonder that there was anything left of What's-his-name--the thin chap-after a round with him!'

There was not much.

6

« AnteriorContinuar »