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The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 12933

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

I was naturally curious when I arrived home to see if the cat was there. It was. It did not meet me at the street door, but it lay on the spot on which I had left it a few hours previously. Of course this distressed me, but I did not betray my uneasiness to my wife. I had at least cause for thankfulness in the silent announcement made by the apparition that it was not its intention to accompany me to every place I visited.

We had our supper and went to bed; and it was an additional comfort to me when I found that it did not follow us to our bedroom.

It was not likely, after such an exciting day, that I should pass a good night. My rest was greatly disturbed; and at about three o'clock I was wide awake. My wife was sleeping soundly. I rose quietly, thrust my feet in my slippers, and went downstairs to the dining-room. There lay the cat with its eyes wide open.

"You infernal creature," I cried, holding the candle so that its light fell upon the specter, "what are you here for? What do you want me to do? Why do you not go back to your grave and leave me in peace?"

I asked these questions slowly, and paused between each, with an insane notion that an answer might be given to them. No answer was vouchsafed, and I recognized the folly of my expectation. The peculiarity of the apparition was that its eyes never seemed to be closed, as the eyes of other cats are when they are in repose. It appeared to be ever on the watch, but what it was watching for was a sealed mystery to me. In a moment of exasperation I raised my hand against it threateningly; it did not move. I went no further than this, feeling that it would be cowardly to strike at a shadow. I returned to my bedroom, and after tossing about for an hour fell into a disturbed sleep.

Bob lived at Canonbury, and had given me directions to take a North London train, his station being about half a mile from his lodgings.

All the day the cat had remained in the dining-room, but when I was leaving the house on my visit to Bob, it rose and followed me.

"Do you intend to favor me with your company?" I asked. "Very well, come along."

And come along it did, to the train I took, got into the carriage with me, and emerged from it at the Canonbury station, where I found Bob waiting for me on the platform.

"I have brought another visitor with me, Bob," I said, "but I can assure you it has accompanied me without any invitation."

"Is it here, then?" he asked, following the direction of my eyes.

"Yes, Bob, it is here." And as we walked to the old-fashioned house in which he rented one room at the top, I remarked, "Is it not singular that it did not come to the theater with me last night, and that it should accompany me now upon this friendly visit to you?" Bob nodded. "I am beginning to have theories about it," I continued, "and one is, that something will occur to-night in connection with the haunted house in Lamb's Terrace."

"Do not get too many fancies into your head, old fellow," said Bob.

"I will not get more than I can help, but ideas come without any active prompting or wish of my own; I am like a man who is being driven, or led."

Bob's one room was by no means uncomfortable; it served at once for his living and bedroom, but the bed he occupied being a folding bed, and the washstand he used being inclosed, it did not present the appearance of a bedroom. There were shelves on the walls containing a large number of books; four or five of these were on the table.

"Now, sir or madam," said I to the cat, "what do you think of Bob's residence, and what can we do to make you comfortable?"

The cat glided to the hearthrug and stretched itself upon it; I wrested my attention from the unpleasant object.

"I am very well off here," said Bob; "the landlady cooks my meals for me, and allows me to have them downstairs. I am at the top of the house, and there is a fine view from the roof; I often smoke for an hour there. You see that door in the corner; it is a closet, with a fixed flight of steps leading to the roof; in case of fire I should be safe. Sit in the armchair, Ned, and let us reason out things. I have been thinking a great deal about you to-day, and talking about you, too."

"That was scarcely right, Bob."

"Don't be afraid; you were not mentioned by name, and the gentleman I conversed with is blind. That is the reason, very likely, why he believes in what he does not see."

"A friend of yours?"

"A dear friend; a poor gentleman who has suffered, and who bears his sufferings with a resignation which can only spring from faith. I told you yesterday that I had been married and that I lost my wife. The gentleman I speak of is the son of my dead wife's sister, who is herself a widow. My wife's family were gentlefolk, who had fallen from affluence, not exactly into poverty, but into very poor circumstances. Ronald Elsdale--the name of my nephew--is a tutor; he was not born blind; the affliction came upon him gradually, and was accelerated by over study in his boyish days. Four years ago he could see, and when blindness came upon him he was fortunately armed, and able to obtain a fair living for himself and his widowed mother by tutoring. He is an accomplished musician, and frequently obtains remunerative engagements to play. He speaks modern languages fluently, is well up in the sciences, has read deeply, and is altogether as noble and sweet a gentleman as moves upon the earth."

Bob spoke with enthusiasm, and it was easy to perceive that he had a sincere love for Mr. Ronald Elsdale.

"In every way so accomplished and admirable," I said, "and with such a misfortune hanging over him, he needs a wife to look after him."

"His mother does that," Bob replied, "with tender devotion, and Ronald will never marry unless--but thereby hangs a tale, as Shakspere says. He is not the only man who cherishes delusions."

"Ah! he has delusions. I hope they are more agreeable than mine. How is it, Bob, that you have had time for so much talk to-day with your nephew?"

"This is Thursday, and Mr. Gascoigne closes his office on Thursdays at two o'clock, so I have had a few hours at my disposal, which have been partly employed in talking with Ronald and partly in studying your case."


"I have been looking up apparitions," said Bob, pointing to the books upon the table.

I did not trouble myself to examine them; it did not seem to me that the books wou

ld be of much service in my case; the facts themselves were sufficiently strong and stern, and I mentally scouted the idea that printed matter would enable me to get rid of the apparition that haunted me.

"It is clear to me," I said, "that you think I am laboring under some hallucination, and that I see the specter, now lying on the hearthrug, with my mental and not my actual vision. Very well, Bob; a difference of opinion will not alter the facts."

"The awkward part of it is," said Bob, "that all evidence is against you."

I nodded toward the books on the table, and said, "All such evidence as that."

"Yes, but you must not forget that cleverer heads than ours have occupied years of their lives in sifting these matters to the bottom."

"In trying to sift them, Bob."

"Well, in trying to sift them; but they give reasons for the conclusions they arrive at which it would be difficult, if not impossible, for men like ourselves to argue away."

"There are two strong witnesses on my side," I remarked; "one is myself, the other is my wife. Bear in mind that we both saw the apparition of the girl; there was no collusion between us beforehand, and if, in our fright, our imaginations were already prepared to conjure up a phantom of the air, it is hardly possible that that phantom should, without previous concert, assume exactly the same form and shape; nor was there any after conspiracy between us as to the manner in which this phantom was to be dressed. Now, my wife has described to me the dress of the girl, the shreds of a cap sticking to her hair, the frock of faded pink, the carpet slippers, the black stockings, and I recognize the faithfulness of these details, which presented themselves to me exactly as they did to her. Granted that one mind may be laboring under a delusion, it is hardly possible that two minds can simultaneously be thus imposed upon. Answer that, Bob."

"Sympathy," he replied.

"The word I used yesterday evening, when I was imagining what the doctors would say upon my case; it is an easy way to get out of it, but it does not satisfy me. I suppose you have come across some curious cases in looking up apparitions?"

"Some very curious cases. Here is one in which a door, not only locked but bolted, plays a part. A great Scotch physician relates how a person of high rank complains to him that he is in the habit of being visited by a hideous old woman at six o'clock every evening; that she rushes upon him with a crutch in her hand, and strikes him a blow so severe that he falls down in a swoon. The gentleman informs the physician that on the previous evening, at a quarter to six o'clock, he carefully locked and double bolted the door of the room, and that then he sat down in his chair and waited. Exactly as the clock strikes six the door flies wide open--as the door in Lamb's Terrace did, Ned--and the old woman rushes in and deals him a harder blow than she was in the habit of doing, and down he falls insensible. 'How many times has this occurred?' asks the physician. 'Several times,' is the reply. 'On any one of these occasions,' says the physician, 'have you had a companion with you?' 'No,' the gentleman replies, 'I have been quite alone.' The physician then inquires at what hour the gentleman dines, and he answers, five o'clock, and the physician proposes that they shall dine the next day in the room in which the old woman makes her appearance. The gentleman gladly consents; they dine together as agreed upon, and the physician--who is an agreeable talker--succeeds apparently in making his host forget all about the apparition. Suddenly, the clock on the mantelpiece is heard striking six. 'Here she is, here she is!' cries the gentleman, and a moment afterward falls down in a fit."

"Very curious," I said, "and how does the wise physician account for the delusion?"

"By the gentleman having a tendency to apoplexy."

"There is, generally," I observed, "a weak spot or two in this kind of story. Does it say in the account that the door was locked and bolted when the gentleman and the physician dined together, and that the door flew open upon the appearance of the old lady?"

"No, it does not say that."

"The omission of the precaution to lock the door," I said, "is fatal, for the absence of that visible and material manifestation deprives the physician of the one strong argument he could have brought forward. Had the door been locked and bolted, and had the old woman appeared without its flying open, the physician could have said to the gentleman, 'You see, the door remains fastened, as we fastened it before we sat down to dinner; you imagined that it flew open, and there it remains shut, a clear proof that the old woman and her crutch is but a fevered fancy.' That would have disposed of this gentleman at once."

"Quite so," said Bob.

"You will, I suppose, admit that if the locked door had opened in the physician's presence, it would have been a sign that some spiritual power had been exercised for which he could not so readily have accounted?"

"Yes, I should admit that."

"Admit, then, that as my wife and I--two witnesses, each uninfluenced by the other--saw the locked door in Lamb's Terrace fly open, that that is an evidence of the exercise of a spiritual power."

Bob laughed a little awkwardly. "You have made me give evidence against myself," he said.

Here there came a knock at the door, and Bob calling "Come in," the landlady of the house made her appearance.

"Mr. Elsdale is downstairs," she said, "and was coming up, when I told him you had a friend with you, and he sent me to ask whether he would be intruding."

Bob looked at me inquiringly.

"Not so far as I am concerned," I said; "I should very much like to make your nephew's acquaintance."

"Ask Mr. Elsdale to come up," said Bob; and the landlady departed.

"I have more than a passing fancy to see your nephew," I said; "you tell me he has delusions; what he says in our discussion, which I don't propose to drop when he joins us, may be of interest."

As I spoke Ronald Elsdale entered the room.

"My nephew, Ronald Elsdale," said Bob, introducing us. "My old friend, Mr. Emery."

As we shook hands my attention was diverted to an incident which, insignificant as it might appear, struck me as very singular; the skeleton cat had risen from the hearthrug and was now standing at Ronald Elsdale's feet, looking up into his face.

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