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The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories (Algernon Blackwood) online
WITH INTENT TO STEAL
"But is there no evidence, no more recent evidence, to show that something is likely to happen if we sit up there?" I asked, pressing him yet further, and I think to his liking, for it showed at least that I was interested. "Has anything happened there lately, for instance?"
Shorthouse glanced up from the gun he was cleaning so assiduously, and the smoke from his pipe curled up into an odd twist between me and the black beard and oriental, sun-tanned face. The magnetism of his look and expression brought more sense of conviction to me than I had felt hitherto, and I realised that there had been a sudden little change in my attitude and that I was now much more inclined to go in for the adventure with him. At least, I thought, with such a man, one would be safe in any emergency; for he is determined, resourceful, and to be depended upon.
"There's the point," he answered slowly; "for there has apparently been a fresh outburst--an attack almost, it seems,--quite recently. There is evidence, of course, plenty of it, or I should not feel the interest I do feel, but--" he hesitated a moment, as though considering how much he ought to let me know, "but the fact is that three men this summer, on separate occasions, who have gone into that barn after nightfall, have been _accosted_--"
"Accosted?" I repeated, betrayed into the interruption by his choice of so singular a word.
"And one of the stablemen--a recent arrival and quite ignorant of the story--who had to go in there late one night, saw a dark substance hanging down from one of the rafters, and when he climbed up, shaking all over, to cut it down--for he said he felt sure it was a corpse--the knife passed through nothing but air, and he heard a sound up under the eaves as if someone were laughing. Yet, while he slashed away, and afterwards too, the thing went on swinging there before his eyes and turning slowly with its own weight, like a huge joint on a spit. The man declares, too, that it had a large bearded face, and that the mouth was open and drawn down like the mouth of a hanged man."
"Can we question this fellow?"
"He's gone--gave notice at once, but not before I had questioned him myself very closely."
"Then this was quite recent?" I said, for I knew Shorthouse had not been in the house more than a week.
"Four days ago," he replied. "But, more than that, only three days ago a couple of men were in there together in full daylight when one of them suddenly turned deadly faint. He said that he felt an overmastering impulse to hang himself; and he looked about for a rope and was furious when his companion tried to prevent him--"
"But he did prevent him?"
"Just in time, but not before he had clambered on to a beam. He was very violent."
I had so much to say and ask that I could get nothing out in time, and Shorthouse went on again.
"I've had a sort of watching brief for this case," he said with a smile, whose real significance, however, completely escaped me at the time, "and one of the most disagreeable features about it is the deliberate way the servants have invented excuses to go out to the place, and always after dark; some of them who have no right to go there, and no real occasion at all--have never been there in their lives before probably--and now all of a sudden have shown the keenest desire and determination to go out there about dusk, or soon after, and with the most paltry and foolish excuses in the world. Of course," he added, "they have been prevented, but the desire, stronger than their superstitious dread, and which they cannot explain, is very curious."