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Ghost Stories

The Watseka Wonder
When the biography of the late Richard Hodgson is wri...

The Ghost At Garpsdal
In Autumn, 1807, there was a disturbance by night in th...

The Maniac Or Fatal Effects Of Wanton Mischief
Some years ago, a very intelligent, handsome, and pro...

The Great Amherst Mystery
On 13th February, 1888, Mr. Walter Hubbell, an actor by...

The Goodwood Ghost Story
My wife's sister, Mrs M----, was left a widow at t...

Appearances Of The Dead
We now pass beyond the utmost limits to which a "scient...

The Isle Of Pines
For many years there lived near the town of Gallipo...

The Old Family Coach
A distinguished and accomplished country gentleman and ...

Keeping His Promise
It was eleven o'clock at night, and young Marriott wa...

An Essay On Ghosts And Apparitions
There is no folly more predominant, in the country at...





With Intent To Steal






To sleep in a lonely barn when the best bedrooms in the house were at
our disposal, seemed, to say the least, unnecessary, and I felt that
some explanation was due to our host.

But Shorthouse, I soon discovered, had seen to all that; our enterprise
would be tolerated, not welcomed, for the master kept this sort of thing
down with a firm hand. And then, how little I could get this man,
Shorthouse, to tell me. There was much I wanted to ask and hear, but he
surrounded himself with impossible barriers. It was ludicrous; he was
surely asking a good deal of me, and yet he would give so little in
return, and his reason--that it was for my good--may have been perfectly
true, but did not bring me any comfort in its train. He gave me sops now
and then, however, to keep up my curiosity, till I soon was aware that
there were growing up side by side within me a genuine interest and an
equally genuine fear; and something of both these is probably necessary
to all real excitement.

The barn in question was some distance from the house, on the side of
the stables, and I had passed it on several of my journeyings to and fro
wondering at its forlorn and untarred appearance under a regime where
everything was so spick and span; but it had never once occurred to me
as possible that I should come to spend a night under its roof with a
comparative stranger, and undergo there an experience belonging to an
order of things I had always rather ridiculed and despised.

At the moment I can only partially recall the process by which
Shorthouse persuaded me to lend him my company. Like myself, he was a
guest in this autumn house-party, and where there were so many to
chatter and to chaff, I think his taciturnity of manner had appealed to
me by contrast, and that I wished to repay something of what I owed.
There was, no doubt, flattery in it as well, for he was more than twice
my age, a man of amazingly wide experience, an explorer of all the
world's corners where danger lurked, and--most subtle flattery of
all--by far the best shot in the whole party, our host included.

At first, however, I held out a bit.

"But surely this story you tell," I said, "has the parentage common to
all such tales--a superstitious heart and an imaginative brain--and has
grown now by frequent repetition into an authentic ghost story? Besides,
this head gardener of half a century ago," I added, seeing that he still
went on cleaning his gun in silence, "who was he, and what positive
information have you about him beyond the fact that he was found hanging
from the rafters, dead?"

"He was no mere head gardener, this man who passed as such," he replied
without looking up, "but a fellow of splendid education who used this
curious disguise for his own purposes. Part of this very barn, of which
he always kept the key, was found to have been fitted up as a complete
laboratory, with athanor, alembic, cucurbite, and other appliances, some
of which the master destroyed at once--perhaps for the best--and which I
have only been able to guess at--"

"Black Arts," I laughed.

"Who knows?" he rejoined quietly. "The man undoubtedly possessed
knowledge--dark knowledge--that was most unusual and dangerous, and I
can discover no means by which he came to it--no ordinary means, that
is. But I _have_ found many facts in the case which point to the
exercise of a most desperate and unscrupulous will; and the strange
disappearances in the neighbourhood, as well as the bones found buried
in the kitchen garden, though never actually traced to him, seem to me
full of dreadful suggestion."

I laughed again, a little uncomfortably perhaps, and said it reminded
one of the story of Giles de Rays, marechal of France, who was said to
have killed and tortured to death in a few years no less than one
hundred and sixty women and children for the purposes of necromancy, and
who was executed for his crimes at Nantes. But Shorthouse would not
"rise," and only returned to his subject.

"His suicide seems to have been only just in time to escape arrest," he
said.

"A magician of no high order then," I observed sceptically, "if suicide
was his only way of evading the country police."

"The police of London and St. Petersburg rather," returned Shorthouse;
"for the headquarters of this pretty company was somewhere in Russia,
and his apparatus all bore the marks of the most skilful foreign make. A
Russian woman then employed in the household--governess, or
something--vanished, too, about the same time and was never caught. She
was no doubt the cleverest of the lot. And, remember, the object of this
appalling group was not mere vulgar gain, but a kind of knowledge that
called for the highest qualities of courage and intellect in the
seekers."

I admit I was impressed by the man's conviction of voice and manner, for
there is something very compelling in the force of an earnest man's
belief, though I still affected to sneer politely.

"But, like most Black Magicians, the fellow only succeeded in compassing
his own destruction--that of his tools, rather, and of escaping
himself."

"So that he might better accomplish his objects _elsewhere and
otherwise_," said Shorthouse, giving, as he spoke, the most minute
attention to the cleaning of the lock.

"Elsewhere and otherwise," I gasped.

"As if the shell he left hanging from the rafter in the barn in no way
impeded the man's spirit from continuing his dreadful work under new
conditions," he added quietly, without noticing my interruption. "The
idea being that he sometimes revisits the garden and the barn, chiefly
the barn--"

"The barn!" I exclaimed; "for what purpose?"

"Chiefly the barn," he finished, as if he had not heard me, "that is,
when there is anybody in it."

I stared at him without speaking, for there was a wonder in me how he
would add to this.

"When he wants fresh material, that is--he comes to steal from the
living."

"Fresh material!" I repeated aghast. "To steal from the living!" Even
then, in broad daylight, I was foolishly conscious of a creeping
sensation at the roots of my hair, as if a cold breeze were passing over
my skull.

"The strong vitality of the living is what this sort of creature is
supposed to need most," he went on imperturbably, "and where he has
worked and thought and struggled before is the easiest place for him to
get it in. The former conditions are in some way more easily
reconstructed--" He stopped suddenly, and devoted all his attention to
the gun. "It's difficult to explain, you know, rather," he added
presently, "and, besides, it's much better that you should not know till
afterwards."

I made a noise that was the beginning of a score of questions and of as
many sentences, but it got no further than a mere noise, and Shorthouse,
of course, stepped in again.

"Your scepticism," he added, "is one of the qualities that induce me to
ask you to spend the night there with me."

"In those days," he went on, in response to my urging for more
information, "the family were much abroad, and often travelled for years
at a time. This man was invaluable in their absence. His wonderful
knowledge of horticulture kept the gardens--French, Italian, English--in
perfect order. He had carte blanche in the matter of expense, and of
course selected all his own underlings. It was the sudden, unexpected
return of the master that surprised the amazing stories of the
countryside before the fellow, with all his cleverness, had time to
prepare or conceal."

"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 reali