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Keeping his Promise
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At length the page before him turned from yellow to grey, and there were sounds of wheels in the street below. It was four o'clock. Marriott leaned back and yawned prodigiously. Then he drew back the curtains. The storm had subsided and the Castle Rock was shrouded in mist. With another yawn he turned away from the dreary outlook and prepared to sleep the remaining four hours till breakfast on the sofa. Field was still breathing heavily in the next room, and he first tip-toed across the floor to take another look at him.
Peering cautiously round the half-opened door his first glance fell upon the bed now plainly discernible in the grey light of morning. He stared hard. Then he rubbed his eyes. Then he rubbed his eyes again and thrust his head farther round the edge of the door. With fixed eyes he stared harder still, and harder.
But it made no difference at all. He was staring into an empty room.
The sensation of fear he had felt when Field first appeared upon the scene returned suddenly, but with much greater force. He became conscious, too, that his left arm was throbbing violently and causing him great pain. He stood wondering, and staring, and trying to collect his thoughts. He was trembling from head to foot.
By a great effort of the will he left the support of the door and walked forward boldly into the room.
There, upon the bed, was the impress of a body, where Field had lain and slept. There was the mark of the head on the pillow, and the slight indentation at the foot of the bed where the boots had rested on the counterpane. And there, plainer than ever--for he was closer to it--was _the breathing_!
Marriott tried to pull himself together. With a great effort he found his voice and called his friend aloud by name!
"Field! Is that you? Where are you?"
There was no reply; but the breathing continued without interruption, coming directly from the bed. His voice had such an unfamiliar sound that Marriott did not care to repeat his questions, but he went down on his knees and examined the bed above and below, pulling the mattress off finally, and taking the coverings away separately one by one. But though the sounds continued there was no visible sign of Field, nor was there any space in which a human being, however small, could have concealed itself. He pulled the bed out from the wall, but the sound _stayed where it was_. It did not move with the bed.
Marriott, finding self-control a little difficult in his weary condition, at once set about a thorough search of the room. He went through the cupboard, the chest of drawers, the little alcove where the clothes hung--everything. But there was no sign of anyone. The small window near the ceiling was closed; and, anyhow, was not large enough to let a cat pass. The sitting-room door was locked on the inside; he could not have got out that way. Curious thoughts began to trouble Marriott's mind, bringing in their train unwelcome sensations. He grew more and more excited; he searched the bed again till it resembled the scene of a pillow fight; he searched both rooms, knowing all the time it was useless,--and then he searched again. A cold perspiration broke out all over his body; and the sound of heavy breathing, all this time, never ceased to come from the corner where Field had lain down to sleep.
Then he tried something else. He pushed the bed back exactly into its original position--and himself lay down upon it just where his guest had lain. But the same instant he sprang up again in a single bound. The breathing was close beside him, almost on his cheek, and between him and the wall! Not even a child could have squeezed into the space.
He went back into his sitting-room, opened the windows, welcoming all the light and air possible, and tried to think the whole matter over quietly and clearly. Men who read too hard, and slept too little, he knew were sometimes troubled with very vivid hallucinations. Again he calmly reviewed every incident of the night; his accurate sensations; the vivid details; the emotions stirred in him; the dreadful feast--no single hallucination could ever combine all these and cover so long a period of time. But with less satisfaction he thought of the recurring faintness, and curious sense of horror that had once or twice come over him, and then of the violent pains in his arm. These were quite unaccountable.
Moreover, now that he began to analyse and examine, there was one other thing that fell upon him like a sudden revelation: _During the whole time Field had not actually uttered a single word!_ Yet, as though in mockery upon his reflections, there came ever from that inner room the sound of the breathing, long-drawn, deep, and regular. The thing was incredible. It was absurd.
Haunted by visions of brain fever and insanity, Marriott put on his cap and macintosh and left the house. The morning air on Arthur's Seat would blow the cobwebs from his brain; the scent of the heather, and above all, the sight of the sea. He roamed over the wet slopes above Holyrood for a couple of hours, and did not return until the exercise had shaken some of the horror out of his bones, and given him a ravening appetite into the bargain.
As he entered he saw that there was another man in the room, standing against the window with his back to the light. He recognised his fellow-student Greene, who was reading for the same examination.
"Read hard all night, Marriott," he said, "and thought I'd drop in here to compare notes and have some breakfast. You're out early?" he added, by way of a question. Marriott said he had a headache and a walk had helped it, and Greene nodded and said "Ah!" But when the girl had set the steaming porridge on the table and gone out again, he went on with rather a forced tone, "Didn't know you had any friends who drank, Marriott?"
This was obviously tentative, and Marriott replied drily that he did not know it either.
"Sounds just as if some chap were 'sleeping it off' in there, doesn't it, though?" persisted the other, with a nod in the direction of the bedroom, and looking curiously at his friend. The two men stared steadily at each other for several seconds, and then Marriott said earnestly--
"Then you hear it too, thank God!"
"Of course I hear it. The door's open. Sorry if I wasn't meant to."
"Oh, I don't mean that," said Marriott, lowering his voice. "But I'm awfully relieved. Let me explain. Of course, if you hear it too, then it's all right; but really it frightened me more than I can tell you. I thought I was going to have brain fever, or something, and you know what a lot depends on this exam. It always begins with sounds, or visions, or some sort of beastly hallucination, and I--"
"Rot!" ejaculated the other impatiently. "What _are_ you talking about?"
"Now, listen to me, Greene," said Marriott, as calmly as he could, for the breathing was still plainly audible, "and I'll tell you what I mean, only don't interrupt." And thereupon he related exactly what had happened during the night, telling everything, even down to the pain in his arm. When it was over he got up from the table and crossed the room.
"You hear the breathing now plainly, don't you?" he said. Greene said he did. "Well, come with me, and we'll search the room together." The other, however, did not move from his chair.
"I've been in already," he said sheepishly; "I heard the sounds and thought it was you. The door was ajar--so I went in."
Marriott made no comment, but pushed the door open as wide as it would go. As it opened, the sound of breathing grew more and more distinct.
"_Someone_ must be in there," said Greene under his breath.
"_Someone_ is in there, but _where_?" said Marriott. Again he urged his friend to go in with him. But Greene refused point-blank; said he had been in once and had searched the room and there was nothing there. He would not go in again for a good deal.
They shut the door and retired into the other room to talk it all over with many pipes. Greene questioned his friend very closely, but without illuminating result, since questions cannot alter facts.
"The only thing that ought to have a proper, a logical, explanation is the pain in my arm," said Marriott, rubbing that member with an attempt at a smile. "It hurts so infernally and aches all the way up. I can't remember bruising it, though."
"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?"
"I suppose so. But it frightens me horribly for some reason," returned his friend in a hushed voice. "And that poor devil--"
"But, after all, if the worst is true and--and that chap _has_ kept his promise--well, he has, that's all, isn't it?"
"There's only one thing that occurs to me," Greene went on, "and that is, are you quite sure that--that he really ate like that--I mean that he actually _ate anything at all_?" he finished, blurting out all his thought.
Marriott stared at him for a moment and then said he could easily make certain. He spoke quietly. After the main shock no lesser surprise could affect him.
"I put the things away myself," he said, "after we had finished. They are on the third shelf in that cupboard. No one's touched 'em since."
He pointed without getting up, and Greene took the hint and went over to look.
"Exactly," he said, after a brief examination; "just as I thought. It was partly hallucination, at any rate. The things haven't been touched. Come and see for yourself."
Together they examined the shelf. There was the brown loaf, the plate of stale scones, the oatcake, all untouched. Even the glass of whisky Marriott had poured out stood there with the whisky still in it.
"You were feeding--no one," said Greene "Field ate and drank nothing. He was not there at all!"
"But the breathing?" urged the other in a low voice, staring with a dazed expression on his face.
Greene did not answer. He walked over to the bedroom, while Marriott followed him with his eyes. He opened the door, and listened. There was no need for words. The sound of deep, regular breathing came floating through the air. There was no hallucination about that, at any rate. Marriott could hear it where he stood on the other side of the room.
Greene closed the door and came back. "There's only one thing to do," he declared with decision. "Write home and find out about him, and meanwhile come and finish your reading in my rooms. I've got an extra bed."
"Agreed," returned the Fourth Year Man; "there's no hallucination about that exam; I must pass that whatever happens."
And this was what they did.
It was about a week later when Marriott got the answer from his sister. Part of it he read out to Greene--
"It is curious," she wrote, "that in your letter you should have enquired after Field. It seems a terrible thing, but you know only a short while ago Sir John's patience became exhausted, and he turned him out of the house, they say without a penny. Well, what do you think? He has killed himself. At least, it looks like suicide. Instead of leaving the house, he went down into the cellar and simply starved himself to death. . . . They're trying to suppress it, of course, but I heard it all from my maid, who got it from their footman. . . . They found the body on the 14th and the doctor said he had died about twelve hours before. . . . He was dreadfully thin. . . ."
"Then he died on the 13th," said Greene.
"That's the very night he came to see you."
Marriott nodded again.
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