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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

private sitting-room.

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

black cloak.'

'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

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


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.