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Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (M R James) online
THE TRACTATE MIDDOTH
It was obviously a case for an inquest, and obvious also that Garrett must stay at Bretfield and give his evidence. The medical inspection showed that, though some black dust was found on the face and in the mouth of the deceased, the cause of death was a shock to a weak heart, and not asphyxiation. The fateful book was produced, a respectable quarto printed wholly in Hebrew, and not of an aspect likely to excite even the most sensitive.
'You say, Mr Garrett, that the deceased gentleman appeared at the moment before his attack to be tearing a leaf out of this book?'
'Yes; I think one of the fly-leaves.'
'There is here a fly-leaf partially torn through. It has Hebrew writing on it. Will you kindly inspect it?'
'There are three names in English, sir, also, and a date. But I am sorry to say I cannot read Hebrew writing.'
'Thank you. The names have the appearance of being signatures. They are John Rant, Walter Gibson, and James Frost, and the date is 20 July, 1875. Does anyone here know any of these names?'
The Rector, who was present, volunteered a statement that the uncle of the deceased, from whom he inherited, had been named Rant.
The book being handed to him, he shook a puzzled head. 'This is not like any Hebrew I ever learnt.'
'You are sure that it is Hebrew?'
'What? Yes--I suppose.... No--my dear sir, you are perfectly right--that is, your suggestion is exactly to the point. Of course--it is not Hebrew at all. It is English, and it is a will.'
It did not take many minutes to show that here was indeed a will of Dr John Rant, bequeathing the whole of the property lately held by John Eldred to Mrs Mary Simpson. Clearly the discovery of such a document would amply justify Mr Eldred's agitation. As to the partial tearing of the leaf, the coroner pointed out that no useful purpose could be attained by speculations whose correctness it would never be possible to establish.
* * * * *
The Tractate Middoth was naturally taken in charge by the coroner for further investigation, and Mr Garrett explained privately to him the history of it, and the position of events so far as he knew or guessed them.
He returned to his work next day, and on his walk to the station passed the scene of Mr Eldred's catastrophe. He could hardly leave it without another look, though the recollection of what he had seen there made him shiver, even on that bright morning. He walked round, with some misgivings, behind the felled tree. Something dark that still lay there made him start back for a moment: but it hardly stirred. Looking closer, he saw that it was a thick black mass of cobwebs; and, as he stirred it gingerly with his stick, several large spiders ran out of it into the grass.
* * * * *
There is no great difficulty in imagining the steps by which William Garrett, from being an assistant in a great library, attained to his present position of prospective owner of Bretfield Manor, now in the occupation of his mother-in-law, Mrs Mary Simpson.