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   Chapter 14 I TAKE THE HAUNTED HOUSE.

The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 10423

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


I was too much excited to go home by train, though I knew that my wife would be waiting up for me. I felt the need of physical motion; the idea of sitting down in a railway carriage, and being compelled to keep still because of the people with which at this time of night it was sure to be filled, was unendurable. The confinement and the close air would stifle me. The advantage of walking through streets more or less crowded is that you can be alone if you choose. Every person you meet or pass is so wrapt up in his own affairs that no notice is taken of you. You may wave your arms, flourish your stick or umbrella, mutter to yourself, even talk aloud, without attracting conspicuous attention. An idle fellow or two might think you eccentric--that is all. In a railway carriage or an omnibus such license and freedom are impossible; you cannot shift your seat without drawing all eyes upon you, in a certain sense you become the property of other passengers, who would be likely to regard you with alarmed suspicion, and would probably conclude that you were an escaped lunatic. In such circumstances you are deprived of the power of devoting yourself to the one absorbing subject which occupies your mind.

"I shall walk home," I said to Bob.

He nodded, as though he understood why at so late an hour I deliberately inflicted upon myself a good four mile tramp. For a quarter of that distance we proceeded in silence, and only then did it occur to me that Bob was coming out of his way. I made an observation to this effect.

"If you don't object to my company," he said, "I shall be glad to walk with you."

"What do you think of it all?" I asked.

"I don't know what to think," was his reply.

"No delusion, eh, Bob?" I said, in a tone of sarcastic triumph. "You will not hunt up any more cases of spectral illusions to prove that I am on the road to madness."

"No, Ned. Don't harp upon my lack of faith; the doubts I entertained were reasonable doubts after all. It is altogether a most awful mystery, but I accept it, and place myself at your service. Heaven only knows if I can be of any assistance to you, but it may be that even the renewal of our old friendship, and our coming together after a separation of forty years, are not due to chance. If so, I stand within the charmed circle."

"It was not by chance we met, Bob; in the smallest incident that has occurred in connection with that house--which I can see now with my mind's eye, dark, silent, spirit-haunted--I perceive the hand of fate. You can be of service to me."

"In what way?"

"I wish to take the house in Lamb's Terrace!"

A startled exclamation escaped his lips, but he said immediately afterward, as if in apology, "Yes, Ned, yes."

"I should say, rather, that I wish to have the refusal for a certain time of taking it for a term of years. This can be managed, I think, through you, and the death of your client may make it easier than it would otherwise have been. Say to your employer that I have not made up my mind whether it will suit me, and that I want a few weeks for consideration. Pending my decision, I will pay three months' rent, and at the expiration of that period, if I do not then take it for a term of years, it will be open to another tenant. I have no doubt that Mr. Gascoigne has some sort of provisional power in the matter, and that he will be glad of the chance there is in my offer of securing a permanent and responsible tenant. Will you undertake to carry this through?"

"Yes."

"Then you may as well walk all the way home with me, and I will write a check to-night, which you can give to Mr. Gascoigne in the morning. There is another thing which I must seriously consider. On the two occasions to-day when we and your nephew, and this specter of Fate gliding at my heels, were together, he was troubled by the fancy that I had brought some creature with me of which we made no mention. Is this new to you, or has your nephew expressed himself to a like effect on other occasions?"

"It is quite new to me. Ronald has never had such a fancy before."

"The natural conclusion, therefore, is that he was conscious of the presence of this apparition, without being able to define its nature. There is here a chain of psychological circumstances which would not be admissible in a court of law, but which I, with my strange experiences, cannot but believe to be of supreme importance. I have an odd impression upon me that the mysterious adventure in which I am engaged has lasted for some considerable time, whereas scarcely two days have elapsed since my introduction to beings of another world. I seem to be familiarized with mysterious incident, and I am so prepared that I doubt if anything would astonish me. Reflect, Bob, upon the links of a chain which is dragging me on, and which is not yet completely formed. Fate directs my steps, through the agency of my wife, to the office of Mr. Gascoigne; link number one. You, my old schoolfellow, whom I never thought to meet again, are employed in that office; link number two. My wife, against my wish, insists upon looking at a house to let in Lamb's Terrace, which I am certain will not suit us; link number thr

ee. These three links, to perfectly disinterested observers, would appear to be the result of the merest chance. We know that it is not so; we know that there is here at work a supernatural agency, every step in which is directed by an unseen power. You renew your old friendship with me, and accompany us home, and there you attempt to dissuade us from having anything to do with the house in Lamb's Terrace. Your kindly efforts are thrown away; link number four. You may ask me here how this seemingly trivial incident can be made into a link. My answer is that you are the uncle of Ronald Elsdale, and that when we left Mr. Gascoigne's office, had you not followed us and accepted my invitation to accompany us home, the natural probability is that I should not at the present moment have known of the existence of your nephew, who stands now a foremost stone in this monument of mystery. My wife and I visit the haunted house, and there we behold two apparitions, only one of which makes itself visible to her. I perceive two reasons for this. The first is, that she shall be so horrified by what she sees as to give up all idea of taking the house, and perhaps of ever going near it again. The second is, that I am the person appointed to carry this dark mystery to its as yet unknown end. The apparition of the girl and the cat form link number five. I visit your house this evening, and make the acquaintance of Ronald Elsdale; link number six. On this occasion, and on the occasion of my seeing him again in his own house an hour ago, he has a troubled consciousness of a spiritual presence--the presence of the specter now gliding at our feet; link number seven. The eighth link is fashioned from the circumstance that the young lady whom Ronald Elsdale loved and loves is said to have met her death in the house in Lamb's Terrace."

"You have reasoned all this out," said Bob, "in a most wonderful way."

"It is not I who reason it out. I am conscious of the extent of my own natural powers, and it would be impossible for me to bring forward these links and to logically connect them were I not spiritually directed. What is occupying my mind just now is the question whether I ought to take Ronald Elsdale into my confidence without waiting for further developments?"

Bob's reply was very humble. "Whatever you decide upon, Ned, will be right. The fatalist never doubts that the least incident in his life could have been otherwise than it is."

"Truly," I said, "I am in the position of a fatalist, and once a step is decided upon I shall not hesitate to take it, and shall not question its wisdom. By to-morrow morning the question will be answered for me."

My wife opened the street door for us.

"Why, who would have thought of seeing you, Mr. Millet!" she exclaimed. "But come in, come in; there's a bit of supper for you. Now, you two keeping together at this time of night shows what friends you must have been when you were boys. I hope you've had a pleasant evening."

"Rather an exciting one," I said. "We have been at a fire."

"A fire! Where?"

"In Stanmore Street; a long way from here."

"No one hurt, I hope?"

"An unfortunate gentleman lost his life in the fire. It is rather curious, Maria, that this gentleman should have been the owner of the house we looked over in Lamb's Terrace yesterday."

The news made her grave. "There is nothing but trouble connected with that dreadful place," she said. "But there, I don't want to think of it. I'd have given a good deal never to have set foot in it."

Before Bob left I wrote out the check for Mr. Gascoigne, and when I went to bed I was kept awake for a long time by thinking whether I ought to take Ronald Elsdale immediately into my confidence. I fell asleep with this question in my mind, and when I awoke in the morning I decided that it would be first advisable that I should ascertain some particulars of the last tenant, and of the death of the young lady, Beatrice. It was not an easy task I now set myself, and I felt that there was little chance of success, if I attempted it unaided. Desultory inquiries could lead to no satisfactory result, and I therefore determined to enlist the services of a private inquiry agent. Casting my mind over the most likely person to assist me, I recollected that a friend some years ago had need of the services of such a person, and had employed one Mr. Dickson, with good effect. Looking through the columns of a morning paper I saw Mr. Dickson's advertisement; and at eleven o'clock I set out for his office, which was situated in Arundel Street, Strand. On my doorstep I confronted a telegraph boy with a telegram for me. It was from Bob, and it ran as follows:

Arranged house, Lamb's Terrace; yours for three months.

My interview with Mr. Dickson was soon over. I explained to him what I wanted done, and he undertook the commission for a specified sum. It was arranged that he should give me his report in writing, and he promised to set about the inquiry without delay.

"Will it lead to anything further?" he asked.

"It is quite probable," I replied; "but at present this is all I require of you."

Two days afterward I received his report.

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