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The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories (Algernon Blackwood) online
KEEPING HIS PROMISE
"Let me examine it for you," said Greene. "I'm awfully good at bones in spite of the examiners' opinion to the contrary." It was a relief to play the fool a bit, and Marriott took his coat off and rolled up his sleeve.
"By George, though, I'm bleeding!" he exclaimed. "Look here! What on earth's this?"
On the forearm, quite close to the wrist, was a thin red line. There was a tiny drop of apparently fresh blood on it. Greene came over and looked closely at it for some minutes. Then he sat back in his chair, looking curiously at his friend's face.
"You've scratched yourself without knowing it," he said presently.
"There's no sign of a bruise. It must be something else that made the arm ache."
Marriott sat very still, staring silently at his arm as though the solution of the whole mystery lay there actually written upon the skin.
"What's the matter? I see nothing very strange about a scratch," said Greene, in an unconvincing sort of voice. "It was your cuff links probably. Last night in your excitement--"
But Marriott, white to the very lips, was trying to speak. The sweat stood in great beads on his forehead. At last he leaned forward close to his friend's face.
"Look," he said, in a low voice that shook a little. "Do you see that red mark? I mean _underneath_ what you call the scratch?"
Greene admitted he saw something or other, and Marriott wiped the place clean with his handkerchief and told him to look again more closely.
"Yes, I see," returned the other, lifting his head after a moment's careful inspection. "It looks like an old scar."
"It _is_ an old scar," whispered Marriott, his lips trembling. "_Now_ it all comes back to me."
"All what?" Greene fidgeted on his chair. He tried to laugh, but without success. His friend seemed bordering on collapse.
"Hush! Be quiet, and--I'll tell you," he said. "_Field made that scar._"
For a whole minute the two men looked each other full in the face without speaking.
"Field made that scar!" repeated Marriott at length in a louder voice.
"Field! You mean--last night?"
"No, not last night. Years ago--at school, with his knife. And I made a scar in his arm with mine." Marriott was talking rapidly now.
"We exchanged drops of blood in each other's cuts. He put a drop into my arm and I put one into his--"
"In the name of heaven, what for?"
"It was a boys' compact. We made a sacred pledge, a bargain. I remember it all perfectly now. We had been reading some dreadful book and we swore to appear to one another--I mean, whoever died first swore to show himself to the other. And we sealed the compact with each other's blood. I remember it all so well--the hot summer afternoon in the playground, seven years ago--and one of the masters caught us and confiscated the knives--and I have never thought of it again to this day--"
"And you mean--" stammered Greene.
But Marriott made no answer. He got up and crossed the room and lay down wearily upon the sofa, hiding his face in his hands.
Greene himself was a bit non-plussed. He left his friend alone for a little while, thinking it all over again. Suddenly an idea seemed to strike him. He went over to where Marriott still lay motionless on the sofa and roused him. In any case it was better to face the matter, whether there was an explanation or not. Giving in was always the silly exit.
"I say, Marriott," he began, as the other turned his white face up to him. "There's no good being so upset about it. I mean--if it's all an hallucination we know what to do. And if it isn't--well, we know what to think, don't we?"