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The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories (Algernon Blackwood) online
WITH INTENT TO STEAL
"Very," I admitted, feeling that my hair was beginning to stand up again.
"You see," he went on presently, "it all points to volition--in fact to deliberate arrangement. It is no mere family ghost that goes with every ivied house in England of a certain age; it is something real, and something very malignant."
He raised his face from the gun barrel, and for the first time his eye caught mine in the full. Yes, he was very much in earnest. Also, he knew a great deal more than he meant to tell.
"It's worth tempting--and fighting, _I_ think," he said; "but I want a companion with me. Are you game?" His enthusiasm undoubtedly caught me, but I still wanted to hedge a bit.
"I'm very sceptical," I pleaded.
"All the better," he said, almost as if to himself. "You have the pluck; I have the knowledge--"
He looked round cautiously as if to make sure that there was no one within earshot.
"I've been in the place myself," he said in a lowered voice, "quite lately--in fact only three nights ago--the day the man turned queer."
"But--I was obliged to come out--"
Still I stared.
"Quickly," he added significantly.
"You've gone into the thing pretty thoroughly," was all I could find to say, for I had almost made up my mind to go with him, and was not sure that I wanted to hear too much beforehand.
He nodded. "It's a bore, of course, but I must do everything thoroughly--or not at all."
"That's why you clean your own gun, I suppose?"
"That's why, when there's any danger, I take as few chances as possible," he said, with the same enigmatical smile I had noticed before; and then he added with emphasis, "And that is also why I ask you to keep me company now."
Of course, the shaft went straight home, and I gave my promise without further ado.
Our preparations for the night--a couple of rugs and a flask of black coffee--were not elaborate, and we found no difficulty, about ten o'clock, in absenting ourselves from the billiard-room without attracting curiosity. Shorthouse met me by arrangement under the cedar on the back lawn, and I at once realised with vividness what a difference there is between making plans in the daytime and carrying them out in the dark. One's common-sense--at least in matters of this sort--is reduced to a minimum, and imagination with all her attendant sprites usurps the place of judgment. Two and two no longer make four--they make a mystery, and the mystery loses no time in growing into a menace. In this particular case, however, my imagination did not find wings very readily, for I knew that my companion was the most _unmovable_ of men--an unemotional, solid block of a man who would never lose his head, and in any conceivable state of affairs would always take the right as well as the strong course. So my faith in the man gave me a false courage that was nevertheless very consoling, and I looked forward to the night's adventure with a genuine appetite.
Side by side, and in silence, we followed the path that skirted the East Woods, as they were called, and then led across two hay fields, and through another wood, to the barn, which thus lay about half a mile from the Lower Farm. To the Lower Farm, indeed, it properly belonged; and this made us realise more clearly how very ingenious must have been the excuses of the Hall servants who felt the desire to visit it.
It had been raining during the late afternoon, and the trees were still dripping heavily on all sides, but the moment we left the second wood and came out into the open, we saw a clearing with the stars overhead, against which the barn outlined itself in a black, lugubrious shadow. Shorthouse led the way--still without a word--and we crawled in through a low door and seated ourselves in a soft heap of hay in the extreme corner.