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The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 13170

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

For a little while we walked along in silence, and then I asked my wife whether she would ride or walk home.

"I should prefer to walk," she said; "it is early, and the air is fresh and reviving. Things look all the brighter now we are out of that horrible place. A walk will do us good."

I made no demur, though I was curious to see what the skeleton cat would do when we entered an omnibus full of people. It would experience a difficulty in finding a place on the floor of the 'bus, and there would be no room for it to stretch itself comfortably on the seats. I wished to ascertain, also, whether among a number of strangers there would be one to whom it would make itself visible. I peered into the faces of the passers-by with this thought in my mind, but I saw no expression of surprise in them, notwithstanding that the cat seemed to touch their legs in brushing past. Again and again did I turn my eyes away from the apparition; and again and again, looking down at my feet, I beheld it as clearly as if it were an actual living example of its species. Once we got into a crowd and I hoped that I had lost it. No such luck; it evinced no disposition to leave me.

"Edward," said my wife, "I am sure you are not well. I have tired you out with this eternal looking over houses to let. You have been very patient with me"--she pressed my arm affectionately--"and I will try and make it up to you. I know you never really wished to move."

"I never wished it, Maria."

"And you have gone through all this for my sake. I don't like to give up a thing once I have set my mind on it,--you know that of old, my dear,--but the experiences of this morning will last me a lifetime; so I will give this up."

"The idea of moving?" I asked in a dull voice. "You give it up altogether?"

"Yes, altogether. We will remain in our old house."

It is a singular confession to make, but this proclamation of the victory I had gained afforded me no satisfaction. I had no wish to move; my earnest desire was to remain where we were; but with the infernal cat gliding by my side, I could think of nothing but the haunted house in Lamb's Terrace which we had just quitted. In that house was the spectral figure of the girl who, by spiritual means, had opened a door I had locked, and presented herself to me. She was now alone. I had deprived her of a companion who, for aught I knew, might have been a solace to her. It was as if I had been guilty of a crime; as if I had condemned her to solitude. But it was folly to torment myself with such reflections. What had I to do with the incidents of this eventful day? I was a passive instrument, and was being led by unseen hands. More pertinent to ask what was the portent of the apparitions, and why the supernatural visitation was inflicted upon me, although to these questions I could expect no answer. Involuntarily I stooped to assure myself once more that the cat was but a shadow.

"What are you stooping for?" inquired my wife.

"I thought I had dropped my handkerchief."

"It is here, in your pocket." She took it out and handed it to me.

"I was mistaken," I muttered.

She held up her sunshade and hailed a passing hansom, saying energetically, and with a troubled look at me, "We will ride home."

I did not object. I think if she had said "We will fly home," I should have made an attempt to fly, so absolutely was I, for the time, deprived of the power of deciding my own movements. I did not see the cat spring into the cab, but directly we were seated, there it lay crouched in front of us; and when the driver pulled up at our house there it was waiting for the street door to be opened.

"Lie down and rest yourself for an hour," said my wife, with deep concern in her voice.

"No," I replied, "I will smoke a pipe in the garden."

With wifely solicitude she filled my pipe for me, and held a lighted match to the tobacco. I puffed up, thanked her with a look, and went into the garden accompanied by the cat.

In the part of London in which we live there are pleasant gardens attached to many of the houses, and our little plot of ground is by no means to be despised. It is some ninety feet in length, is divided in the center by a broad graveled space, and has a graveled walk all around it; and here when the weather permits, my wife and I frequently sit and enjoy ourselves. I am also the proud possessor of a greenhouse, which, as well as the borders and beds I have laid out, is in summer and autumn generally bright with flowers, of which I am very fond; and into this greenhouse I walked to smoke the green fly, which was doing its worst for my pelargoniums. There are a couple of trees in my garden, and birds' nests in them. The birds were flitting among the branches, and I looked at the cat, wondering whether it would spring after its feathered victims.

It took no notice of them, nor they of it. I remained in the greenhouse ten or twelve minutes, and then it occurred to me to make an experiment. With a swift and sudden motion I left the greenhouse and pulled the door behind me, shutting the cat inside. I walked toward the center of the garden, and the animal I thought I had cunningly imprisoned glided on at my side. Doors shut and locked, and doubtless stone walls, presented no greater obstacle to the creature than the air I breathed.

I sat down on the garden seat and smoked and pondered, and was aroused by a soft purring at my feet, and the contact of a furry body against my legs. I uttered an exclamation, and, looking down, saw our own household cat--a tortoise-shell tabby--rubbing against me. Now, thought I, there will be a fight. But there was nothing of the kind. I felt convinced that the skeleton cat saw our tortoise-shell cat, and presently I was quite as convinced that the flesh and blood reality was unconscious of the presence of the disembodied spirit.

I made another experiment. I went stealthily into the kitchen, and filled a saucer with milk. This saucer I took into the garden and put upon the gravel before the two cats.

"You must be hungry," I said aloud to the spectral figure, with a feeble attempt at jocularity. "Lap up."

It made no movement. With a look of gratitude at me our tabby lapped up the whole of the milk, and licked the saucer dry.

My wife came out and, seeing what I had done, smiled.

"Are you feeling better?" she asked solicitously.

"There is nothing whatever the matter with me," I said, with an unreasonable show of irritation.

She wisely made no reply, and I was once more left alone with my s

upernatural companion.

Thus passed the day, and I was glad when the hour arrived for Bob Millet to make his appearance. He came punctually and was cordially received by my wife.

"You are in time for tea, Mr. Millet," she said, shaking hands with him. "I want you to feel that you are really welcome here."

"Indeed I do feel so," said Bob, gratified by this reception, which I fancy he hardly expected.

They made a good meal, but though my wife had thoughtfully prepared a dish of which I was very fond--a tongue stewed with raisins--I ate very little.

"No appetite, Ned?" said Bob.

I shook my head gloomily.

"He is out of sorts, Mr. Millet," said my wife, "and I am delighted you are here to cheer him up. He has me to thank for his low spirits; it is all because of my stupid wish to leave the house in which we are as comfortable as we could reasonably hope to be. I have worried him to death, almost, dragging him about against his will--though he has never complained--from morning till night for I don't know how long past. He is not half the man he was; he doesn't eat well and he doesn't sleep well, and I am to blame for it."

She was ready to cry with remorse, and I felt ashamed of myself for not having the strength to battle with the delusion which surely would not torture me forever.

I patted her on the shoulder, and put on a more cheerful countenance. She brightened up instantly, and then Bob asked whether we had been to 79 Lamb's Terrace.

"Yes, we have," said my wife, "and I am truly thankful that we got out of it safely."

"Ah!" said Bob, lifting his eyes.

"You were right, Mr. Millet," said my wife, "the house is haunted."

"Oh," said Bob, "I only told you what I had heard. For my part, I don't even know where Lamb's Terrace is."

"Take my advice, Mr. Millet, and don't try to know. The less you see of the place the better it will be for you."


"Because it is haunted," she replied with emphatic shakes of her head, "and I am much obliged to you for putting us on our guard."

"Then you saw something?"

My wife looked at me.

"Tell him what you fancy you saw," I said.

"It was not fancy," she rejoined; "I have been thinking over it during the day, and the more I think, the more I am convinced that I did see--what I saw."

"I should like to hear about it," said Bob.

"You shall."

And she told him all; of our going over the house till we got to the room on the second floor, of my pulling the bell, of the sounds we had heard proceeding from the basement and approaching nearer and nearer till they were outside in the passage, of my locking the door, of the door opening of its own accord, and of the appearance on the threshold of the specter of a young girl, and, finally, of her fainting away.

"It was only my obstinacy," she said, "that took us up to the top of the house. Edward was quite ready to leave it before we had been in the place two minutes, but I insisted upon going into all the rooms, and I was properly punished for it. I was frightened enough, goodness knows, before I fainted, for I was chilled all over by what I had already seen, and I ought to have been satisfied; but you know what women are, Mr. Millet, when they take a fancy into their heads."

"There, Bob," said I, "there's a confession to make; not many women would say as much."

Bob smiled, and said, "You are too hard on yourself. We are much of a muchness--men and women alike; there is nothing to choose between us."

"You are very good to say so, Mr. Millet."

"When you recovered from your faint," said Bob, "was the figure still there?"

"No, it was gone."

"And you did not see it again?"

"No, thank God!"

"Did you see it?" asked Bob, turning to me. "He says he didn't," said my wife, quickly replying for me, "but----"

"But," I added, "she does not believe me."

"How can I believe you," said my wife reproachfully, "when the very moment before I swooned away I saw your eyes almost starting out of your head with fright."

"Oh, well," I said, "I suppose I have as much right to fancy things as you."

"Of course you have, and it was very considerate of you to deny that you saw anything. He is the best husband in the world, Mr. Millet, and if he thinks I don't appreciate him he is mistaken."

"Now, my dear," I said soothingly, "you know I don't think anything of the sort; if I am the best husband in the world, so are you the best wife in the world. What do you say to our going in for the flitch of bacon?"

"It is all very well to make a laughing matter of it," said my wife seriously. "I will ask Mr. Millet this plain question. He may say, like you, that it is all fancy; but pray how does he account for the opening of a locked door?"

"I told you," I interposed before Bob could speak, "that I must have been mistaken in supposing I had locked it."

"Very good. But the door was shut if it was not locked."

"I don't deny that it was."

"How did it come open, then?"

"I told you that, too," I replied. "The wind."

"What wind?"

"The wind from the window through the broken panes."

She turned to Bob triumphantly. "What do you think of that, Mr. Millet? When we go into the room the door slams, and my husband says it slams because of the wind through the window. I accept that as reasonable, but is it reasonable to suppose that the same wind that blows a door shut from the inside of a room should blow it open from the outside?"

"Well, no," said Bob, with a sly look at me; "I should say it was not reasonable."

I was fairly caught. My wife's logic was too much for me.

"And now," said she, "as I know it will worry him if I go on talking about it, I will leave you two gentlemen together while I go and look after some affairs. You will spend the evening with us, Mr. Millet?"

"With much pleasure," he said.

"And I beg your pardon," she said, "for having misjudged you. I did think that you and my husband were in a plot together to set me against the house, and I did not think it was nice behavior in a gentleman who was paying me his first visit. I told my husband as much last night before we went to sleep, and he stood up for you like the true friend he is; and now I am glad to say I have found out my mistake. I hope you will forgive me.

"There is nothing to forgive," said Bob, in the kindest and gentlest tone imaginable. "All that you have said and thought and done was most fair and reasonable, and I ought to be thankful for the little misunderstanding, if it has given you a better opinion of me."

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