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Famous Modern Ghost Stories (Various authors) online
The Beast with Five Fingers
"Yours faithfully, ELIZABETH MERRIT.
"P.S.--I should be obliged if you would give my respects to Mr. Saunders. I hope that he won't run no risks with his cold."
"Saunders," said Eustace, "you've always had a wonderful way with you in dealing with servants. You mustn't let poor old Merrit go."
"Of course she shan't go," said Saunders. "She's probably only angling for a rise in salary. I'll write to her this morning."
"No; there's nothing like a personal interview. We've had enough of town. We'll go back to-morrow, and you must work your cold for all it's worth. Don't forget that it's got on to the chest, and will require weeks of feeding up and nursing."
"All right. I think I can manage Mrs. Merrit."
But Mrs. Merrit was more obstinate than he had thought. She was very sorry to hear of Mr. Saunders's cold, and how he lay awake all night in London coughing; very sorry indeed. She'd change his room for him gladly, and get the south room aired. And wouldn't he have a basin of hot bread and milk last thing at night? But she was afraid that she would have to leave at the end of the month.
"Try her with an increase of salary," was the advice of Eustace.
It was no use. Mrs. Merrit was obdurate, though she knew of a Mrs. Handyside who had been housekeeper to Lord Gargrave, who might be glad to come at the salary mentioned.
"What's the matter with the servants, Morton?" asked Eustace that evening when he brought the coffee into the library. "What's all this about Mrs. Merrit wanting to leave?"
"If you please, sir, I was going to mention it myself. I have a confession to make, sir. When I found your note asking me to open that desk and take out the box with the rat, I broke the lock as you told me, and was glad to do it, because I could hear the animal in the box making a great noise, and I thought it wanted food. So I took out the box, sir, and got a cage, and was going to transfer it, when the animal got away."
"What in the world are you talking about? I never wrote any such note."
"Excuse me, sir, it was the note I picked up here on the floor on the day you and Mr. Saunders left. I have it in my pocket now."
It certainly seemed to be in Eustace's handwriting. It was written in pencil, and began somewhat abruptly.
"Get a hammer, Morton," he read, "or some other tool, and break open the lock in the old desk in the library. Take out the box that is inside. You need not do anything else. The lid is already open. Eustace Borlsover."
"And you opened the desk?"
"Yes, sir; and as I was getting the cage ready the animal hopped out."
"The animal inside the box, sir."
"What did it look like?" "Well, sir, I couldn't tell you," said Morton nervously; "my back was turned, and it was halfway down the room when I looked up."
"What was its color?" asked Saunders; "black?"
"Oh, no, sir, a grayish white. It crept along in a very funny way, sir. I don't think it had a tail."