The Tractate Middoth
Scary Books: Ghost Stories Of An Antiquary
: Montague Rhodes James
Towards the end of an autumn afternoon an elderly man with a thin face
and grey Piccadilly weepers pushed open the swing-door leading into the
vestibule of a certain famous library, and addressing himself to an
attendant, stated that he believed he was entitled to use the library,
and inquired if he might take a book out. Yes, if he were on the list of
those to whom that privilege was given. He produced his card--Mr John
Eldred--and, the register being consulted, a favourable answer was given.
'Now, another point,' said he. 'It is a long time since I was here, and I
do not know my way about your building; besides, it is near closing-time,
and it is bad for me to hurry up and down stairs. I have here the title
of the book I want: is there anyone at liberty who could go and find it
for me?' After a moment's thought the doorkeeper beckoned to a young man
who was passing. 'Mr Garrett,' he said, 'have you a minute to assist this
gentleman?' 'With pleasure,' was Mr Garrett's answer. The slip with the
title was handed to him. 'I think I can put my hand on this; it happens
to be in the class I inspected last quarter, but I'll just look it up in
the catalogue to make sure. I suppose it is that particular edition that
you require, sir?' 'Yes, if you please; that, and no other,' said Mr
Eldred; 'I am exceedingly obliged to you.' 'Don't mention it I beg, sir,'
said Mr Garrett, and hurried off.
'I thought so,' he said to himself, when his finger, travelling down the
pages of the catalogue, stopped at a particular entry. 'Talmud: Tractate
Middoth, with the commentary of Nachmanides, Amsterdam, 1707. 11.3.34.
Hebrew class, of course. Not a very difficult job this.'
Mr Eldred, accommodated with a chair in the vestibule, awaited anxiously
the return of his messenger--and his disappointment at seeing an
empty-handed Mr Garrett running down the staircase was very evident. 'I'm
sorry to disappoint you, sir,' said the young man, 'but the book is out.'
'Oh dear!' said Mr Eldred, 'is that so? You are sure there can be no
mistake?' 'I don't think there is much chance of it, sir: but it's
possible, if you like to wait a minute, that you might meet the very
gentleman that's got it. He must be leaving the library soon, and I
_think_ I saw him take that particular book out of the shelf.' 'Indeed!
You didn't recognize him, I suppose? Would it be one of the professors or
one of the students?' 'I don't think so: certainly not a professor. I
should have known him; but the light isn't very good in that part of the
library at this time of day, and I didn't see his face. I should have
said he was a shortish old gentleman, perhaps a clergyman, in a cloak. If
you could wait, I can easily find out whether he wants the book very
'No, no,' said Mr Eldred, 'I won't--I can't wait now, thank you--no. I
must be off. But I'll call again to-morrow if I may, and perhaps you
could find out who has it.'
'Certainly, sir, and I'll have the book ready for you if we--' But Mr
Eldred was already off, and hurrying more than one would have thought
wholesome for him.
Garrett had a few moments to spare; and, thought he, 'I'll go back to
that case and see if I can find the old man. Most likely he could put off
using the book for a few days. I dare say the other one doesn't want to
keep it for long.' So off with him to the Hebrew class. But when he got
there it was unoccupied, and the volume marked 11.3.34 was in its place
on the shelf. It was vexatious to Garrett's self-respect to have
disappointed an inquirer with so little reason: and he would have liked,
had it not been against library rules, to take the book down to the
vestibule then and there, so that it might be ready for Mr Eldred when he
called. However, next morning he would be on the look out for him, and he
begged the doorkeeper to send and let him know when the moment came. As a
matter of fact, he was himself in the vestibule when Mr Eldred arrived,
very soon after the library opened and when hardly anyone besides the
staff were in the building.
'I'm very sorry,' he said; 'it's not often that I make such a stupid
mistake, but I did feel sure that the old gentleman I saw took out that
very book and kept it in his hand without opening it, just as people do,
you know, sir, when they mean to take a book out of the library and not
merely refer to it. But, however, I'll run up now at once and get it for
you this time.'
And here intervened a pause. Mr Eldred paced the entry, read all the
notices, consulted his watch, sat and gazed up the staircase, did all
that a very impatient man could, until some twenty minutes had run out.
At last he addressed himself to the doorkeeper and inquired if it was a
very long way to that part of the library to which Mr Garrett had gone.
'Well, I was thinking it was funny, sir: he's a quick man as a rule, but
to be sure he might have been sent for by the librarian, but even so I
think he'd have mentioned to him that you was waiting. I'll just speak
him up on the toob and see.' And to the tube he addressed himself. As he
absorbed the reply to his question his face changed, and he made one or
two supplementary inquiries which were shortly answered. Then he came
forward to his counter and spoke in a lower tone. 'I'm sorry to hear,
sir, that something seems to have 'appened a little awkward. Mr Garrett
has been took poorly, it appears, and the librarian sent him 'ome in a
cab the other way. Something of an attack, by what I can hear.' 'What,
really? Do you mean that someone has injured him?' 'No, sir, not violence
'ere, but, as I should judge, attacked with an attack, what you might
term it, of illness. Not a strong constitootion, Mr Garrett. But as to
your book, sir, perhaps you might be able to find it for yourself. It's
too bad you should be disappointed this way twice over--' 'Er--well, but
I'm so sorry that Mr Garrett should have been taken ill in this way while
he was obliging me. I think I must leave the book, and call and inquire
after him. You can give me his address, I suppose.' That was easily done:
Mr Garrett, it appeared, lodged in rooms not far from the station. 'And
one other question. Did you happen to notice if an old gentleman, perhaps
a clergyman, in a--yes--in a black cloak, left the library after I did
yesterday. I think he may have been a--I think, that is, that he may be
staying--or rather that I may have known him.'
'Not in a black cloak, sir; no. There were only two gentlemen left later
than what you done, sir, both of them youngish men. There was Mr Carter
took out a music-book and one of the prefessors with a couple o' novels.
That's the lot, sir; and then I went off to me tea, and glad to get it.
Thank you, sir, much obliged.'
Mr Eldred, still a prey to anxiety, betook himself in a cab to Mr
Garrett's address, but the young man was not yet in a condition to
receive visitors. He was better, but his landlady considered that he must
have had a severe shock. She thought most likely from what the doctor
said that he would be able to see Mr Eldred to-morrow. Mr Eldred returned
to his hotel at dusk and spent, I fear, but a dull evening.
On the next day he was able to see Mr Garrett. When in health Mr Garrett
was a cheerful and pleasant-looking young man. Now he was a very white
and shaky being, propped up in an arm-chair by the fire, and inclined to
shiver and keep an eye on the door. If however, there were visitors whom
he was not prepared to welcome, Mr Eldred was not among them. 'It really
is I who owe you an apology, and I was despairing of being able to pay
it, for I didn't know your address. But I am very glad you have called. I
do dislike and regret giving all this trouble, but you know I could not
have foreseen this--this attack which I had.'
'Of course not; but now, I am something of a doctor. You'll excuse my
asking; you have had, I am sure, good advice. Was it a fall you had?'
'No. I did fall on the floor--but not from any height. It was, really, a
'You mean something startled you. Was it anything you thought you saw?'
'Not much _thinking_ in the case, I'm afraid. Yes, it was something I
saw. You remember when you called the first time at the library?'
'Yes, of course. Well, now, let me beg you not to try to describe it--it
will not be good for you to recall it, I'm sure.'
'But indeed it would be a relief to me to tell anyone like yourself: you
might be able to explain it away. It was just when I was going into the
class where your book is--'
'Indeed, Mr Garrett, I insist; besides, my watch tells me I have but very
little time left in which to get my things together and take the train.
No--not another word--it would be more distressing to you than you
imagine, perhaps. Now there is just one thing I want to say. I feel that
I am really indirectly responsible for this illness of yours, and I think
I ought to defray the expense which it has--eh?'
But this offer was quite distinctly declined. Mr Eldred, not pressing it,
left almost at once: not, however, before Mr Garrett had insisted upon
his taking a note of the class-mark of the Tractate Middoth, which, as he
said, Mr Eldred could at leisure get for himself. But Mr Eldred did not
reappear at the library.
William Garrett had another visitor that day in the person of a
contemporary and colleague from the library, one George Earle. Earle had
been one of those who found Garrett lying insensible on the floor just
inside the 'class' or cubicle (opening upon the central alley of a
spacious gallery) in which the Hebrew books were placed, and Earle had
naturally been very anxious about his friend's condition. So as soon as
library hours were over he appeared at the lodgings. 'Well,' he said
(after other conversation), 'I've no notion what it was that put you
wrong, but I've got the idea that there's something wrong in the
atmosphere of the library. I know this, that just before we found you I
was coming along the gallery with Davis, and I said to him, "Did ever you
know such a musty smell anywhere as there is about here? It can't be
wholesome." Well now, if one goes on living a long time with a smell of
that kind (I tell you it was worse than I ever knew it) it must get into
the system and break out some time, don't you think?'
Garrett shook his head. 'That's all very well about the smell--but it
isn't always there, though I've noticed it the last day or two--a sort of
unnaturally strong smell of dust. But no--that's not what did for me. It
was something I _saw_. And I want to tell you about it. I went into that
Hebrew class to get a book for a man that was inquiring for it down
below. Now that same book I'd made a mistake about the day before. I'd
been for it, for the same man, and made sure that I saw an old parson in
a cloak taking it out. I told my man it was out: off he went, to call
again next day. I went back to see if I could get it out of the parson:
no parson there, and the book on the shelf. Well, yesterday, as I say, I
went again. This time, if you please--ten o'clock in the morning,
remember, and as much light as ever you get in those classes, and there
was my parson again, back to me, looking at the books on the shelf I
wanted. His hat was on the table, and he had a bald head. I waited a
second or two looking at him rather particularly. I tell you, he had a
very nasty bald head. It looked to me dry, and it looked dusty, and the
streaks of hair across it were much less like hair than cobwebs. Well, I
made a bit of a noise on purpose, coughed and moved my feet. He turned
round and let me see his face--which I hadn't seen before. I tell you
again, I'm not mistaken. Though, for one reason or another I didn't take
in the lower part of his face, I did see the upper part; and it was
perfectly dry, and the eyes were very deep-sunk; and over them, from the
eyebrows to the cheek-bone, there were _cobwebs_--thick. Now that closed
me up, as they say, and I can't tell you anything more.'
What explanations were furnished by Earle of this phenomenon it does not
very much concern us to inquire; at all events they did not convince
Garrett that he had not seen what he had seen.
Before William Garrett returned to work at the library, the librarian
insisted upon his taking a week's rest and change of air. Within a few
days' time, therefore, he was at the station with his bag, looking for a
desirable smoking compartment in which to travel to Burnstow-on-Sea,
which he had not previously visited. One compartment and one only seemed
to be suitable. But, just as he approached it, he saw, standing in front
of the door, a figure so like one bound up with recent unpleasant
associations that, with a sickening qualm, and hardly knowing what he
did, he tore open the door of the next compartment and pulled himself
into it as quickly as if death were at his heels. The train moved off,
and he must have turned quite faint, for he was next conscious of a
smelling-bottle being put to his nose. His physician was a nice-looking
old lady, who, with her daughter, was the only passenger in the carriage.
But for this incident it is not very likely that he would have made any
overtures to his fellow-travellers. As it was, thanks and inquiries and
general conversation supervened inevitably; and Garrett found himself
provided before the journey's end not only with a physician, but with a
landlady: for Mrs Simpson had apartments to let at Burnstow, which seemed
in all ways suitable. The place was empty at that season, so that Garrett
was thrown a good deal into the society of the mother and daughter. He
found them very acceptable company. On the third evening of his stay he
was on such terms with them as to be asked to spend the evening in their
During their talk it transpired that Garrett's work lay in a library.
'Ah, libraries are fine places,' said Mrs Simpson, putting down her work
with a sigh; 'but for all that, books have played me a sad turn, or
rather _a_ book has.'
'Well, books give me my living, Mrs Simpson, and I should be sorry to say
a word against them: I don't like to hear that they have been bad for
'Perhaps Mr Garrett could help us to solve our puzzle, mother,' said Miss
'I don't want to set Mr Garrett off on a hunt that might waste a
lifetime, my dear, nor yet to trouble him with our private affairs.'
'But if you think it in the least likely that I could be of use, I do beg
you to tell me what the puzzle is, Mrs Simpson. If it is finding out
anything about a book, you see, I am in rather a good position to do it.'
'Yes, I do see that, but the worst of it is that we don't know the name
of the book.'
'Nor what it is about?'
'No, nor that either.'
'Except that we don't think it's in English, mother--and that is not much
of a clue.'
'Well, Mr Garrett,' said Mrs Simpson, who had not yet resumed her work,
and was looking at the fire thoughtfully, 'I shall tell you the story.
You will please keep it to yourself, if you don't mind? Thank you. Now it
is just this. I had an old uncle, a Dr Rant. Perhaps you may have heard
of him. Not that he was a distinguished man, but from the odd way he
chose to be buried.'
'I rather think I have seen the name in some guidebook.'
'That would be it,' said Miss Simpson. 'He left directions--horrid old
man!--that he was to be put, sitting at a table in his ordinary clothes,
in a brick room that he'd had made underground in a field near his house.
Of course the country people say he's been seen about there in his old
'Well, dear, I don't know much about such things,' Mrs Simpson went on,
'but anyhow he is dead, these twenty years and more. He was a clergyman,
though I'm sure I can't imagine how he got to be one: but he did no duty
for the last part of his life, which I think was a good thing; and he
lived on his own property: a very nice estate not a great way from here.
He had no wife or family; only one niece, who was myself, and one nephew,
and he had no particular liking for either of us--nor for anyone else, as
far as that goes. If anything, he liked my cousin better than he did
me--for John was much more like him in his temper, and, I'm afraid I must
say, his very mean sharp ways. It might have been different if I had not
married; but I did, and that he very much resented. Very well: here he
was with this estate and a good deal of money, as it turned out, of which
he had the absolute disposal, and it was understood that we--my cousin
and I--would share it equally at his death. In a certain winter, over
twenty years back, as I said, he was taken ill, and I was sent for to
nurse him. My husband was alive then, but the old man would not hear of
_his_ coming. As I drove up to the house I saw my cousin John driving
away from it in an open fly and looking, I noticed, in very good spirits.
I went up and did what I could for my uncle, but I was very soon sure
that this would be his last illness; and he was convinced of it too.
During the day before he died he got me to sit by him all the time, and I
could see there was something, and probably something unpleasant, that he
was saving up to tell me, and putting it off as long as he felt he could
afford the strength--I'm afraid purposely in order to keep me on the
stretch. But, at last, out it came. "Mary," he said,--"Mary, I've made my
will in John's favour: he has everything, Mary." Well, of course that
came as a bitter shock to me, for we--my husband and I--were not rich
people, and if he could have managed to live a little easier than he was
obliged to do, I felt it might be the prolonging of his life. But I said
little or nothing to my uncle, except that he had a right to do what he
pleased: partly because I couldn't think of anything to say, and partly
because I was sure there was more to come: and so there was. "But, Mary,"
he said, "I'm not very fond of John, and I've made another will in _your_
favour. _You_ can have everything. Only you've got to find the will, you
see: and I don't mean to tell you where it is." Then he chuckled to
himself, and I waited, for again I was sure he hadn't finished. "That's a
good girl," he said after a time,--"you wait, and I'll tell you as much
as I told John. But just let me remind you, you can't go into court with
what I'm saying to you, for _you_ won't be able to produce any collateral
evidence beyond your own word, and John's a man that can do a little hard
swearing if necessary. Very well then, that's understood. Now, I had the
fancy that I wouldn't write this will quite in the common way, so I wrote
it in a book, Mary, a printed book. And there's several thousand books in
this house. But there! you needn't trouble yourself with them, for it
isn't one of them. It's in safe keeping elsewhere: in a place where John
can go and find it any day, if he only knew, and you can't. A good will
it is: properly signed and witnessed, but I don't think you'll find the
witnesses in a hurry."
'Still I said nothing: if I had moved at all I must have taken hold of
the old wretch and shaken him. He lay there laughing to himself, and at
last he said:
'"Well, well, you've taken it very quietly, and as I want to start you
both on equal terms, and John has a bit of a purchase in being able to go
where the book is, I'll tell you just two other things which I didn't
tell him. The will's in English, but you won't know that if ever you see
it. That's one thing, and another is that when I'm gone you'll find an
envelope in my desk directed to you, and inside it something that would
help you to find it, if only you have the wits to use it."
'In a few hours from that he was gone, and though I made an appeal to
John Eldred about it--'
'John Eldred? I beg your pardon, Mrs Simpson--I think I've seen a Mr John
Eldred. What is he like to look at?'
'It must be ten years since I saw him: he would be a thin elderly man
now, and unless he has shaved them off, he has that sort of whiskers
which people used to call Dundreary or Piccadilly something.'
'--weepers. Yes, that _is_ the man.'
'Where did you come across him, Mr Garrett?'
'I don't know if I could tell you,' said Garrett mendaciously, 'in some
public place. But you hadn't finished.'
'Really I had nothing much to add, only that John Eldred, of course, paid
no attention whatever to my letters, and has enjoyed the estate ever
since, while my daughter and I have had to take to the lodging-house
business here, which I must say has not turned out by any means so
unpleasant as I feared it might.'
'But about the envelope.'
'To be sure! Why, the puzzle turns on that. Give Mr Garrett the paper out
of my desk.'
It was a small slip, with nothing whatever on it but five numerals, not
divided or punctuated in any way: 11334.
Mr Garrett pondered, but there was a light in his eye. Suddenly he 'made
a face', and then asked, 'Do you suppose that Mr Eldred can have any more
clue than you have to the title of the book?'
'I have sometimes thought he must,' said Mrs Simpson, 'and in this way:
that my uncle must have made the will not very long before he died (that,
I think, he said himself), and got rid of the book immediately
afterwards. But all his books were very carefully catalogued: and John
has the catalogue: and John was most particular that no books whatever
should be sold out of the house. And I'm told that he is always
journeying about to booksellers and libraries; so I fancy that he must
have found out just which books are missing from my uncle's library of
those which are entered in the catalogue, and must be hunting for them.
'Just so, just so,' said Mr Garrett, and relapsed into thought.
No later than next day he received a letter which, as he told Mrs Simpson
with great regret, made it absolutely necessary for him to cut short his
stay at Burnstow.
Sorry as he was to leave them (and they were at least as sorry to part
with him), he had begun to feel that a crisis, all-important to Mrs (and
shall we add, Miss?) Simpson, was very possibly supervening.
In the train Garrett was uneasy and excited. He racked his brains to
think whether the press mark of the book which Mr Eldred had been
inquiring after was one in any way corresponding to the numbers on Mrs
Simpson's little bit of paper. But he found to his dismay that the shock
of the previous week had really so upset him that he could neither
remember any vestige of the title or nature of the book, or even of the
locality to which he had gone to seek it. And yet all other parts of
library topography and work were clear as ever in his mind.
And another thing--he stamped with annoyance as he thought of it--he had
at first hesitated, and then had forgotten, to ask Mrs Simpson for the
name of the place where Eldred lived. That, however, he could write
At least he had his clue in the figures on the paper. If they referred to
a press mark in his library, they were only susceptible of a limited
number of interpretations. They might be divided into 1.13.34, 11.33.4,
or 11.3.34. He could try all these in the space of a few minutes, and if
any one were missing he had every means of tracing it. He got very
quickly to work, though a few minutes had to be spent in explaining his
early return to his landlady and his colleagues. 1.13.34. was in place
and contained no extraneous writing. As he drew near to Class 11 in the
same gallery, its association struck him like a chill. But he _must_ go
on. After a cursory glance at 11.33.4 (which first confronted him, and
was a perfectly new book) he ran his eye along the line of quartos which
fills 11.3. The gap he feared was there: 34 was out. A moment was spent
in making sure that it had not been misplaced, and then he was off to the
'Has 11.3.34 gone out? Do you recollect noticing that number?'
'Notice the number? What do you take me for, Mr Garrett? There, take and
look over the tickets for yourself, if you've got a free day before you.'
'Well then, has a Mr Eldred called again?--the old gentleman who came the
day I was taken ill. Come! you'd remember him.'
'What do you suppose? Of course I recollect of him: no, he haven't been
in again, not since you went off for your 'oliday. And yet I seem
to--there now. Roberts'll know. Roberts, do you recollect of the name of
'Not arf,' said Roberts. 'You mean the man that sent a bob over the price
for the parcel, and I wish they all did.'
'Do you mean to say you've been sending books to Mr Eldred? Come, do
speak up! Have you?'
'Well now, Mr Garrett, if a gentleman sends the ticket all wrote correct
and the secketry says this book may go and the box ready addressed sent
with the note, and a sum of money sufficient to deefray the railway
charges, what would be _your_ action in the matter, Mr Garrett, if I may
take the liberty to ask such a question? Would you or would you not have
taken the trouble to oblige, or would you have chucked the 'ole thing
under the counter and--'
'You were perfectly right, of course, Hodgson--perfectly right: only,
would you kindly oblige me by showing me the ticket Mr Eldred sent, and
letting me know his address?'
'To be sure, Mr Garrett; so long as I'm not 'ectored about and informed
that I don't know my duty, I'm willing to oblige in every way feasible to
my power. There is the ticket on the file. J. Eldred, 11.3.34. Title of
work: T-a-l-m--well, there, you can make what you like of it--not a
novel, I should 'azard the guess. And here is Mr Heldred's note applying
for the book in question, which I see he terms it a track.'
'Thanks, thanks: but the address? There's none on the note.'
'Ah, indeed; well, now ... stay now, Mr Garrett, I 'ave it. Why, that
note come inside of the parcel, which was directed very thoughtful to
save all trouble, ready to be sent back with the book inside; and if I
_have_ made any mistake in this 'ole transaction, it lays just in the one
point that I neglected to enter the address in my little book here what I
keep. Not but what I dare say there was good reasons for me not entering
of it: but there, I haven't the time, neither have you, I dare say, to go
into 'em just now. And--no, Mr Garrett, I do _not_ carry it in my 'ed,
else what would be the use of me keeping this little book here--just a
ordinary common notebook, you see, which I make a practice of entering
all such names and addresses in it as I see fit to do?'
'Admirable arrangement, to be sure--but--all right, thank you. When did
the parcel go off?'
'Half-past ten, this morning.'
'Oh, good; and it's just one now.'
Garrett went upstairs in deep thought. How was he to get the address? A
telegram to Mrs Simpson: he might miss a train by waiting for the answer.
Yes, there was one other way. She had said that Eldred lived on his
uncle's estate. If this were so, he might find that place entered in the
donation-book. That he could run through quickly, now that he knew the
title of the book. The register was soon before him, and, knowing that
the old man had died more than twenty years ago, he gave him a good
margin, and turned back to 1870. There was but one entry possible. 1875,
August 14th. _Talmud: Tractatus Middoth cum comm. R. Nachmanidae._
Amstelod. 1707. Given by J. Rant, D.D., of Bretfield Manor.
A gazetteer showed Bretfield to be three miles from a small station on
the main line. Now to ask the doorkeeper whether he recollected if the
name on the parcel had been anything like Bretfield.
'No, nothing like. It was, now you mention it, Mr Garrett, either
Bredfield or Britfield, but nothing like that other name what you
So far well. Next, a time-table. A train could be got in twenty
minutes--taking two hours over the journey. The only chance, but one not
to be missed; and the train was taken.
If he had been fidgety on the journey up, he was almost distracted on the
journey down. If he found Eldred, what could he say? That it had been
discovered that the book was a rarity and must be recalled? An obvious
untruth. Or that it was believed to contain important manuscript notes?
Eldred would of course show him the book, from which the leaf would
already have been removed. He might, perhaps, find traces of the
removal--a torn edge of a fly-leaf probably--and who could disprove, what
Eldred was certain to say, that he too had noticed and regretted the
mutilation? Altogether the chase seemed very hopeless. The one chance was
this. The book had left the library at 10.30: it might not have been put
into the first possible train, at 11.20. Granted that, then he might be
lucky enough to arrive simultaneously with it and patch up some story
which would induce Eldred to give it up.
It was drawing towards evening when he got out upon the platform of his
station, and, like most country stations, this one seemed unnaturally
quiet. He waited about till the one or two passengers who got out with
him had drifted off, and then inquired of the station-master whether Mr
Eldred was in the neighbourhood.
'Yes, and pretty near too, I believe. I fancy he means calling here for a
parcel he expects. Called for it once to-day already, didn't he, Bob?'
(to the porter).
'Yes, sir, he did; and appeared to think it was all along of me that it
didn't come by the two o'clock. Anyhow, I've got it for him now,' and the
porter flourished a square parcel, which--a glance assured Garrett--
contained all that was of any importance to him at that particular
'Bretfield, sir? Yes--three miles just about. Short cut across these
three fields brings it down by half a mile. There: there's Mr Eldred's
A dog-cart drove up with two men in it, of whom Garrett, gazing back as
he crossed the little station yard, easily recognized one. The fact that
Eldred was driving was slightly in his favour--for most likely he would
not open the parcel in the presence of his servant. On the other hand, he
would get home quickly, and unless Garrett were there within a very few
minutes of his arrival, all would be over. He must hurry; and that he
did. His short cut took him along one side of a triangle, while the cart
had two sides to traverse; and it was delayed a little at the station, so
that Garrett was in the third of the three fields when he heard the
wheels fairly near. He had made the best progress possible, but the pace
at which the cart was coming made him despair. At this rate it _must_
reach home ten minutes before him, and ten minutes would more than
suffice for the fulfilment of Mr Eldred's project.
It was just at this time that the luck fairly turned. The evening was
still, and sounds came clearly. Seldom has any sound given greater relief
than that which he now heard: that of the cart pulling up. A few words
were exchanged, and it drove on. Garrett, halting in the utmost anxiety,
was able to see as it drove past the stile (near which he now stood) that
it contained only the servant and not Eldred; further, he made out that
Eldred was following on foot. From behind the tall hedge by the stile
leading into the road he watched the thin wiry figure pass quickly by
with the parcel beneath its arm, and feeling in its pockets. Just as he
passed the stile something fell out of a pocket upon the grass, but with
so little sound that Eldred was not conscious of it. In a moment more it
was safe for Garrett to cross the stile into the road and pick up--a box
of matches. Eldred went on, and, as he went, his arms made hasty
movements, difficult to interpret in the shadow of the trees that
overhung the road. But, as Garrett followed cautiously, he found at
various points the key to them--a piece of string, and then the wrapper
of the parcel--meant to be thrown over the hedge, but sticking in it.
Now Eldred was walking slower, and it could just be made out that he had
opened the book and was turning over the leaves. He stopped, evidently
troubled by the failing light. Garrett slipped into a gate-opening, but
still watched. Eldred, hastily looking around, sat down on a felled
tree-trunk by the roadside and held the open book up close to his eyes.
Suddenly he laid it, still open, on his knee, and felt in all his
pockets: clearly in vain, and clearly to his annoyance. 'You would be
glad of your matches now,' thought Garrett. Then he took hold of a leaf,
and was carefully tearing it out, when two things happened. First,
something black seemed to drop upon the white leaf and run down it, and
then as Eldred started and was turning to look behind him, a little dark
form appeared to rise out of the shadow behind the tree-trunk and from it
two arms enclosing a mass of blackness came before Eldred's face and
covered his head and neck. His legs and arms were wildly flourished, but
no sound came. Then, there was no more movement. Eldred was alone. He had
fallen back into the grass behind the tree-trunk. The book was cast into
the roadway. Garrett, his anger and suspicion gone for the moment at the
sight of this horrid struggle, rushed up with loud cries of 'Help!' and
so too, to his enormous relief, did a labourer who had just emerged from
a field opposite. Together they bent over and supported Eldred, but to no
purpose. The conclusion that he was dead was inevitable. 'Poor
gentleman!' said Garrett to the labourer, when they had laid him down,
'what happened to him, do you think?' 'I wasn't two hundred yards away,'
said the man, 'when I see Squire Eldred setting reading in his book, and
to my thinking he was took with one of these fits--face seemed to go all
over black.' 'Just so,' said Garrett. 'You didn't see anyone near him? It
couldn't have been an assault?' 'Not possible--no one couldn't have got
away without you or me seeing them.' 'So I thought. Well, we must get
some help, and the doctor and the policeman; and perhaps I had better
give them this book.'
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
'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
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.