CASE OF THE HAUNTING OF GRANGE
A large lamp burned in the centre of the table; a red-shaded candle stood close by each diner; and the soft light made a brave enough show upon the snowy napery and spotless silver, but dispersed nothing of the gloom about us. The table was a lighted oasis in the desert of the huge apartment. One could barely pick out the suits of armour and trophies which hung from distant panelled walls, and I started repeatedly when the butler appeared, silent, at my elbow.
Of the party of five, four were men—three of them (for I venture to include myself) neatly groomed and dressed with care in conventional dinner fashion. The fourth was a heavy figure in a dress-coat with broad satin lapels such as I have seen, I think, in pictures of Victorian celebrities. I have no doubt, judging from its shiny appearance, that it was the workmanship of a Victorian tailor. The vest was cut high and also boasted lapels; the trousers, though at present they were concealed beneath the table, belonged to a different suit, possibly a mourning suit, and to a different sartorial epoch.
The woman, young, dark and exceedingly pretty, wore a gown of shimmering amber, cut with Parisian daring. Her beautiful eyes were more often lowered than raised, for Sir James Leyland, our host, was unable to conceal his admiration; his face, tanned by his life in the Bush, was often turned to her. Clement Leyland, the baronet’s cousin, bore a striking resemblance to Sir James, but entirely lacked the latter’s breezy manner. I set him down for a man who thought much and said little.
However, conversation could not well flag at a board boasting the presence of such a genial colonial as Sir James, and such a storehouse of anecdotal oddities as Moris Klaw. Mr. Leyland and myself, then, for the most part practised the difficult art of listening; for Isis Klaw, I learned, could talk almost as entertainingly as her father.
“I am so glad,” said Moris Klaw, and his voice rumbled thunderously about the room, “that I have this opportunity to visit Grange.”
“It certainly has great historic interest,” agreed Sir James. “I had never anticipated inheriting the grand old place, much less the title. My uncle’s early death, unmarried, very considerably altered my prospects; I became a landed proprietor who might otherwise have become a ‘Murrumbidgee whaler!’ ”
He laughed, light-heartedly, glancing at Isis Klaw, and from her to his cousin.
“Clem had everything in apple-pie order for me,” he added, “including the family goblin!”
“Ah! that family goblin!” rumbled Moris Klaw. “It is him I am after, that goblin!”
The history of Grange, in fact, was directly responsible for Moris Klaw’s presence that night. An odd little book, Psychic Angles, had recently attracted considerable attention amongst students of the occult, and had proved equally interesting to the general public. It dealt with the subject of ghosts from quite a new standpoint, and incidentally revealed its anonymous author as one conversant apparently with the history of every haunted house in Europe. Few knew that the curio-dealer of Wapping was the author, but as Grange was dealt with in Psychic Angles, amongst a number of other haunted homes of England, a letter from Sir James Leyland, forwarded by the publisher, had invited the author to investigate the latest developments of the Leyland family ghost.
I had had the privilege to be associated with Moris Klaw, in another case of apparent haunting—that which I have dealt with in an earlier paper; the haunting of The Grove. He had courteously invited me, then, to assist him (his own expression) in the inquiry at Grange. I welcomed the opportunity; for I was anxious to include in my annals at least one other case of the apparent occult.
“We shall without delay,” continued the eccentric investigator, “endeavour to meet him face to face—this disturber of the peace. Sir James, it is with the phenomena you call ghosts the same as with valuable relics, with jewels, with mummies—ah, those mummies!—with beautiful women!”
“To liken a beautiful woman to a relic,” said Sir James, “would be—well——” he glanced at Isis, “hardly complimentary!”
“It would be true!” Moris Klaw assured him impressively. “Nature, that mystic process of reproduction, wastes not its models. Sir James, all beauty is duplicated. Look at my daughter Isis.” (Sir James readily obeyed.) “You see her, yes? And what do you see?”
Isis lowered her eyes, but, frankly, I was unable to perceive an evidence of embarrassment in this singularly self-possessed girl.
“Perhaps,” resumed her father, “I could tell you what you see; but I will only tell you what it is you may see. You may see a beauty of your Regency or a favourite of your Charles; the daughter of a Viking, an ancient British princess; the slave of a Caesar, the dancer of a Pharaoh!”
“You believe in reincarnation?” suggested Clement Leyland, quietly.
“Yes, certainly, why not, of course!” rumbled Moris Klaw. “But I do not speak of it now, not I; I speak of Nature’s reproduction; I tell you how Nature wastes nothing which is beautiful. What has the soul to do with the body? I tell you how the reproduction goes on and on until the mould, the plate, the die, has perished! So is it with ghosts. You write me that your goblin has learned some new tricks. I answer, your goblin can never learn new tricks; I answer this is not he, it is another goblin! Nature is conservative with her goblins as with her beautiful women; she does not disfigure the old model with alterations. What! Chop them about! Never! she makes new ones.”
Clement Leyland smiled discreetly, but Sir James was evidently interested.
“Of course I’ve read Psychic Angles, Mr. Klaw,” he said, “consequently your novel theories do not altogether surprise me. I gather your meaning to be this: a haunted house is haunted in exactly the same way generation after generation? Any new development points to the presence of a new force or intelligence?”
“It is exactly quite so,” Moris Klaw nodded sympathetically. “You have the receptive mind, Sir James; you should take up ghosts; they would like you. There is a scientific future for the sympathetic ghost-hunter—for I will whisper it—these poor ghosts are sometimes so glad to be hunted! It is a lonely life, that of a ghost!”
“The Grange ghost,” Sir James assured him, “is a most gregarious animal. He doesn’t go in for lonely groanings in the chapel or anything of that kind; he drops into the billiard-room frequently, he’s often to be met with right here in the dining-room, and of late he’s been sleeping with me regularly!”
“So I hear,” rumbled Moris Klaw; “so I hear. It is quaint, yes, proceed, my friend.”
Isis Klaw sat with her big eyes fixed upon Sir James as he continued:
“The traditional ghost of Grange was a grey monk who on certain nights—I forget the exact dates—came out from the chapel beyond the orchard carrying a long staff, walked up to a buttress of the west wall and disappeared at the point where formerly there was a private entrance. In fact there used to be a secret stair opening at that point and communicating with a room built by a remote Leyland of the eighth Henry’s time—a notorious roué. The last Leyland to use the room was Sir Francis, an intimate of Charles II. The next heir had the wing rebuilt, and the ancient door walled up.”
“Yes, yes,” said Moris Klaw. “I know it all, but you tell it well. This is a most interesting house, this Grange. I have recorded him, the grey monk, and I learn with surprise how another spook comes poaching on his preserves! Tell us now of these new developments, Sir James.”
Sir James cleared his throat and glanced about the table. “Please smoke,” said Isis; “because I should like to smoke, too!”
“Yes, yes!” agreed Moris Klaw. “Remain, my child, we will all remain; do not let us move an inch. This banqueting-hall is loaded with psychic impressions. Let us smoke and concentrate our minds upon the problem.”
Coffee and liqueurs were placed upon the table and cigarettes lighted. In deference to the presence of Isis, I suppose, no cigars were smoked; but the girl lighted an Egyptian cigarette proffered by Sir James with the insouciance of an old devotee of my Lady Nicotine. The butler having made his final departure, we were left—a lonely company in our lighted oasis—amid the shadow desert of that huge and ghostly apartment.
“All sorts of singular things have happened,” began Sir James, “since my return from Australia. Of course I cannot say if these are recent developments, because my uncle, for seven or eight years before his death, resided entirely in London, and Grange was in charge of the housekeeper. It is notorious, is it not, that housekeepers and such worthy ladies never by any chance detect anything unseemly in family establishments with which they are associated? Anyway, when I was dug up out of the Bush, and all the formalities were through, good old Clement here set about putting things to rights for me and I arrived to find Grange a perfect picture from floor to roof. New servants engaged, too, though the housekeeper and the butler, who have been in the family for years, remained, of course, with some other old servants. As I have said, everything was in apple-pie order.”
“Including the ghost!” interpolated his cousin, laughing.
“That’s the trouble,” said Sir James, banging his fist upon the table; “the very first night I dined in this room there was a most uncanny manifestation. Clement and I were sitting here at this very table; we had dined—not unwisely, don’t think that—and were just smoking and chatting, when——”
He ceased abruptly; in fact the effect was similar to that which would have resulted had a solid door suddenly been closed upon the speaker. But the stark silence which ensued was instantly interrupted. My blood seemed to freeze in my veins; a horrid, supernatural dread held me fast in my chair.
For, echoing hollowly around and about the huge, ancient apartment, rolled, booming, a peal of demoniacal laughter! From whence it proceeded I was wholly unable to imagine. It seemed to be all about, above us, and beneath us. It was mad, devilish, a hell-sound impossible to describe. It rose, it fell, it rose again—and ceased abruptly.
“My God!” I whispered. “What was it?”
In the silence that followed the ghostly disturbance we sat around the table listening. Sir James was the first to speak.
“A demonstration, Mr. Klaw!” he said. “This sort of thing happens every night!”
“Ah!” rumbled Moris Klaw, “every night, eh? That laughing? You have investigated—yes—no?”
“I tried to investigate,” explained the baronet, “but quite frankly I didn’t know where to begin.”
We were all recovering our composure somewhat, I think. “You hear that laughter nowhere but in this room?” asked Klaw.
“I have always heard it when we have been seated at this table,” was the reply; “at no other time, but it can be heard clearly beyond the room. The servants have heard it. Excepting the housekeeper and the butler, they are leaving almost immediately.”
“Ah! canaille!” grunted Moris Klaw, “fear-pigs! It is always so, these servants. So you have not located the one that laughs, no?”
“No,” answered Sir James; “and he doesn’t stop at laughing—does he, Clem?”
Clement Leyland shook his head. He looked even paler than usual, I thought, and the uncanny incident seemed to have disturbed him greatly.
“What else?” rumbled Moris Klaw. “The grey monk is forgetting his manners. He becomes rude, eh—that grey monk?”
“The house has practically become uninhabitable,” said the baronet, bitterly. “None of the unusual phenomena are missing. We have slamming doors, phantom footsteps, and, if the servants are to be believed, half the forces of hell loose here at night!”
“But your own experiences?” interrupted Klaw.
“My own experiences in brief amount to this: I rarely sit at this table at night without hearing that beastly laughter, at least once. I never go into the billiard-room, which opens out under the gallery yonder, without feeling a cold wind blowing upon my face or head, even in perfectly still weather, or with all the windows closed. To the left of the billiard-room, and opening out of it, is a third centre of these disturbances. It’s the gun-room, and guns have been fired there in the night with the door locked, on no fewer than five occasions!”
Moris Klaw, from a tail pocket of his coat, produced a cylindrical scent-spray and squirted verbena upon his high, yellow forehead.
“It grows exciting, this,” he said. “I require the cool brain.”
“Finally,” added Sir James, “the only other point worth mentioning is the ghostly voice which regularly wakes me from my sleep at night.”
“A voice,” rumbled Klaw, “what voice and what does it sау, that voice?”
“I won’t repeat what it says!” replied the baronet, glancing at Isis; “but it offers obscene suggestions, or that is the impression I have of it—a low filthy mumbling; if you can follow me, the voice of something dead and infinitely evil.”
Moris Klaw stood up.
“This intelligence,” he rumbled, “a living or a dead one, has thoughts then, and thoughts, Sir James, are things. I shall sleep in one of the centres of its activity to-night, perhaps here, perhaps in the billiard-room or the gun-room. Isis, my child, bring for me my odically sterilised pillows. This is a charming case and worthy of the subtle method.”
He placed his hands upon the shoulders of Sir James Leyland, who stood facing him.
“Evil thoughts live, Sir James,” he said. “I cannot explain to you how hard it is to slay them. Few good thoughts survive; but such an ancient abode as this”—he waved his long hands characteristically about him—“is peopled with thought-forms surviving from the dark ages. I have opened the inner eye, my friend. Mercifully, perhaps, the inner eye is closed in most of us; in some it is blind. But I have opened that eye and trained it. As I sleep”—he lowered his voice oddly—“those thought-things come to me. It is an uncomfortable gift, yes; for here in Grange I shall find myself to-night in evil company. Murders long forgotten will be accomplished again before that inner eye of mine! I shall swim in blood! Assassins will come stealing to me, murdered ones will scream in my ears, the secret knife will flash, the honest axe do its deadly work; for in the moment of such deeds two imperishable thought-forms are created: the thought-form of the slayer, strong to survive, because a blood-lustful thought, a revengeful thought; and the thought of the slain, likewise a long-surviving thought because a thought of wildest despair, a final massing of the mental forces greater than any generally possible in life, upon that last awful grievance.”
He paused, looking around him. “From the phantom company,” he said, “I must pick out that one whose thought is of laughter, of firing guns, and of evil whisperings. What a task! Wondrous is the science of the mental negative!”
The meeting broke up, then, and Isis Klaw, having brought from a large case, which formed part of her father’s luggage, two huge red cushions, bade us good-night and retired to her own room. Moris Klaw, with a cushion swinging in each hand, went shuffling ungainly from room to room like some strange animal seeking a lair.
“Do I understand,” Clement Leyland whispered to me, “that your friend proposes to sleep down here?”
“Yes,” I replied, smiling at his evident wonderment; “such is his method of investigation, eccentric, but effective.”
“It is really effective, then? The experiences given in Psychic Angles are not fabulous?”
“In no way. Moris Klaw is a very remarkable man. I have yet to meet the mystery which is beyond him.”
Moris Klaw’s rumbling voice, which frequently reminded me of the rolling of casks in a distant cellar, broke in upon our conversation—
“Here is the ideal spot; here upon this settee by the door of the gun-room I am in the centre of these psychic storms which nightly arise in Grange.”
“If you are determined to remain here, Mr. Klaw,” said Sir James, “I shall not endevour to dissuade you, of course; but I should prefer to see you turn into more comfortable quarters.”
“No, no,” was the reply; “it is here I shall lay down my old head, it is here I shall lie and wait for him, the one who laughs.”
Accordingly, since the hour grew late, we left this novel ghost-hunter stretched out upon the settee in the billiard-room; and as I knew his objection to any disturbance, I suggested to Sir James that we should retire out of earshot for a final smoke ere seeking our separate apartments.
We sat chatting for close upon an hour, I suppose. Then Clement Leyland left us, saying that he had had a heavy day.
“Clement’s been working real hard,” the baronet confided to me. “In the circumstances, as I think I told you, I have decided to abandon Grange, and we are having the old Friars House, a mile from here, but on part of the estate, restored. It hasn’t been inhabited for about three generations, and it’s very much older than Grange; part of it dates back to King John. Perhaps I can get servants to stop there, though, and it’s quite impossible to keep up Grange without a staff. Clement has been superintending the work over there all day; he’s one of the best.”
A few moments later we parted for the night. I left Sir James at the door of his room, which had formerly opened off the balcony overlooking the banqueting-hall. That door was now walled up, however, and the entrance was from the corridor beyond. The room allotted to me was upon the opposite side of the same corridor and farther to the north.
I felt particularly unlike sleep. The extremely modern furniture of my room could not rob the walls, with their small square paneling, of the air of hoary antiquity which was theirs. The one window, deep set, and overlooking an extensive orchard, was such as might have formed the focus for cavalierly glance, was such as might have framed the head of a romantic maid of Stuart days. And with it all was that gloomy air that had a more remote antiquity, that harked back to darker times than those of the Merry Monarch: the air of ghostly evil, the cloud from which proceeded the devilish laughter, the obscene whisperings.
Where the shadows of the trees lay beneath me on the turf, I could fancy a grey cowled figure flitting across the lighted patches and lurking, evilly watching, amid the pools of darkness. Sleep was impossible. Moris Klaw, to whom such fears as mine were utterly unknown, might repose, nay, was actually reposing, in the very vortex of this psychical storm; but I was otherwise constituted. I had been with him in many cases of dark enough evil-doing, but this purely ghostly menace was something that sapped my courage.
Grange stood upon rather high ground, and in a north-easterly direction, peeping out from the trees of a wooded slope, showed a grey tower almost like a giant monkish figure under the moon. I watched it with a vague interest. It was Friars House, to which the baronet projected retreat from the haunted Grange. Lighting my pipe, I leaned from the window, idly watching that ancient tower and wondering if more evil deeds had taken place within it—long as it had stood there amid the trees—than those which had left their mark ghostly upon Grange.
The night was very beautiful and very still. Not the slightest sound could I detect within or without the house. How long I had lounged there in this half-dreamy, but vaguely fearful, mood I cannot say, but I was aroused by a tremendous outcry. Loud it broke in upon the silence of the night, broke in on my mood with nerve-racking effect. My pipe dropped upon the floor, and taking one step across the room I stood there, rooted to the spot with indefinable horror.
“Father!” it came in a piercing scream, and again: “Father! O God! save him! save him!”
The voice was that of Isis Klaw!
Whenever I accompanied her father upon any of his inquiries I came armed, and now with a magazine pistol held in my hand I leapt out into the corridor and turned toward the stair. A door slammed open in front of me and Sir James Leyland also came running out, pulling on his dressing-gown as he ran. One quick glance he gave me; his face was very pale; and together we went racing down the stairs into the hall patched with ghostly moonlight.
“You heard it?” he breathed, hoarsely. “It was Miss Klaw! What in God’s Name has happened? Where is she?”
But even as he asked the question, and as we pressed on into the billiard-room, it was answered. For Isis Klaw, with a dressing-gown thrown over her night apparel, was kneeling beside the settee upon which her father lay!
“What has happened? What has happened?” groaned Sir James. Then, as we approached together: “Mr. Klaw! Mr. Klaw!” he cried.
“All right, my friend!” came the rumbling voice, and to my inestimable relief, Moris Klaw sat up and looked around upon us, adjusting his pince-nez to the bridge of his massive nose: “I live! It has saved me, the Science of the Mind!”
Isis Klaw bowed her head upon the red cushion, and I saw that she was trembling violently. It was the first time I had known her to lose her regal composure, and, utterly mystified, I wondered what awful danger had threatened Moris Klaw.
“Thank Heaven for that!” said the baronet, earnestly.
Approaching footsteps sounded now, and a group of frightened servants, headed by the butler, appeared at the door of the billiard-room. Through them came pressing Mr. Clement Leyland. His face was ghastly, showing a startling white against the dull red of the dressing-gown he wore.
“James!” he said, huskily. “James! that awful screaming! What was it? What has occurred?”
I knew that he slept in the west wing and that he must have been unable to distinguish the words which Isis had cried. Thus heard, the shrill scream must have sounded even more terrifying.
Moris Klaw raised his hand protestingly.
“No fuss, dear friends,” he implored, in rumbling accents, “no wonderings and botherings. They so disturb the nerves. Let us be calm, let us be peaceful.” He laid his hand upon the head of the girl who knelt beside him. “Isis, my child, what a delicate instrument is the psychic perception! You knew it, the danger to your poor old father, to the poor old fool who lies here waiting to be slaughtered! Almost you knew it before I knew it myself!”
“For God’s sake, Mr. Klaw,” said Clement Leyland, shakily, “what has happened? Who, or what, came to you here? What occasioned Miss Klaw’s terror?”
“My friend,” replied Klaw, “you ask me conundrum-riddles. Some dreadful thing haunts this Grange, some deadly thing. The man has not lived who has not tasted fear, and I, the old foolish, have lived indeed to-night! I fail, my friend. There is some evil intelligence ruling this Grange, which I cannot capture upon my negative”—he tapped his brow characteristically—“to attempt it would be to die. It is too powerful for me. Grange is unclean, Sir James. You will leave Grange without delay; it is I, the old experienced who knows, that warns you. Fly from Grange. Take up your residence, to-morrow, at Friars House!”
No further explanation would he vouchsafe.
“I am defeated, my friends!” he declared, shrugging resignedly.
Accordingly, Isis, her beautiful face deathly pale and her great eyes feverishly bright, returned to her room. She covered her face with her hands as she passed to the door. Moris Klaw accepted the use of an apartment next to mine, and we all sought our couches again in states of varying perturbation.
That there was some profound mystery underlying these happenings of the night was evident to me. Moris Klaw and Isis Klaw were keeping something back. They shared some dark secret and guarded it jealously; but with what motive they acted in this fashion was a problem that defied my efforts at solution.
The morning came, and brought a haggard company to the breakfast table. Few, if any, beneath the roof of Grange, had known sleep that night, although, so far as I could gather, there had been no manifestations of any kind.
Moris Klaw talked incessantly about the fauna of the Sahara Desert, and so monopolised the conversation with his queer anecdotes of snakes and scorpions, that no other topic found entrance.
After breakfast the whole party, in Sir James’s car, drove over to Friars House; and despite the up-to-date furniture and upholstery, I found it a very gloomy residence. Stripped of its ghostly atmosphere, Grange had been quite a charming seat for any man; but this dungeonesque place, with its lichened tower that had dominated the valley when John signed Magna Charta, with its massive walls and arrow-slit windows, its eccentrically designed apartments and crypt-like smell, was altogether too archaic to be comfortable.
Moris Klaw, standing in the room which had been fitted up as a library, removed his flat-topped brown bowler and fumbled for his scent-spray.
“This place,” he said, “smells abominably of dead abbots!”
He squirted verbena upon himself and upon Isis. He replaced the scent-spray in the lining of the hat, and was about to replace the hat on his head, when he paused, staring straight up at the ceiling reflectively.
“My notes!” he said abruptly; “I have left those notes in my valise. I must have them. Curse me, for an old foolish! Sir James, you will show Isis this charming old tower in my absence? Do I intrude? But I would borrow the car and return to Grange for my notes!”
“Not a bit!” replied the baronet readily. “Clement can go with you!”
“No, no! Certainly no! I could not think of it! My old friend, Mr. Searles, may come if he so likes; if not, I go alone.”
Naturally I agreed to accompany him; and leaving the others at the ancient gateway, we set off in Sir James’s car back to Grange. Down into the valley we swept and up the slope to Grange, Moris Klaw sitting muttering in his beard, but offering no remark and patently desirous to avoid conversation.
“Come, my friend,” he said, as the car drew up before the house, “and I will show you what my mental negative recorded to me last night, just before the great danger came.”
He led the way into the billiard-room, curtly directing the butler to leave us. When we were alone—
“You will note something,” he rumbled, swinging his arm vaguely around in the direction of the banqueting-hall. “What you will note is this: the laughter—where is it heard? It is heard here, in the gun-room on my right, in the banquet-room before me. Great is the science of the mind! I will now test my negative.”
I followed him with wondering gaze as he stepped into the deep old-fashioned fireplace which formed one of the quaintest features of the room. He bent his tall figure to avoid striking his head upon the stonework, and placed the historic brown bowler upon one of the settles.
“Perhaps I cannot find it,” came his rumbling voice; “my negative was fogged by assassinations, murderous sieges, candle-light duels, and other thought-forms of the troubled past; but I may triumph—I may triumph!”
He was standing on a settle with his head far up the chimney, and presently a faint grating sound proceeded from that sooty darkness.
“I have it!” he rumbled, triumphantly. “And in my pocket reposes the electric lamp, I ascend; you, my good friend, will follow.”
True enough he scrambled upwards, and to my unspeakable amazement disappeared in the chimney. Filled with great wonder I followed and saw him standing in a recess high above my head, a recess which he must have opened in some way unknown to me. He extended a long arm and grasped my hand in his.
“Up!” he cried, exerted his surprising strength, and jerked me up beside him with as little effort as though I had been a child.
He pressed the button of a torch which he held and I saw that we stood upon an exceedingly steep and narrow wooden stair.
“It is in the thickness of the wall between the panellings,” he whispered, solemnly; “a Jacobite hiding-place. Sir James knows nothing of it, for has he not spent his life in the Bush.”
He mounted the stair.
“On the right,” his voice came back to me, “the gun-room, the billiard-room! On the left the banquet-room. From here comes laughter—from here comes the danger.”
Still he ascended and I followed. The narrow stair terminated in a dusty box-like apartment no more than six feet high by six feet square. Moris Klaw, ducking his head grotesquely, stood there shining the light about him. From the floor he took up a square wooden case, and waved to me to descend again.
“No exit,” he said; “no exit. Sir James’s bedroom is upon the further side, but, as I had anticipated, there is no exit.”
We returned the way we had come; clearly there was no other. Beneath his caped coat Moris Klaw jealously concealed the case which he had discovered in the secret chamber. I was filled with intense curiosity; but Moris Klaw, having gone to his room, asking me to await him outside in the drive, returned ultimately, without the case, but carrying a huge notebook, and intimated that he was prepared to re-enter the waiting car.
Behind the pebbles of his pince-nez, his strange eyes gleamed triumphantly.
“We triumph,” he said. “The haunting of Grange succumbs to the Science of the Mind!”
We all had lunch at Friars House, but were by no means a jovial party. Sir James seemed worried and preoccupied, and Clement Leyland even more reticent than usual. Moris Klaw talked, certainly, but his conversation turned entirely upon the subject of the Borgias, concerning which notorious family he was possessed of a stock of most unsavoury anecdote. So realistic were his gruesome stories, delivered in that rumbling whisper, wholly impossible to describe or imitate, that every mouthful of food which I swallowed threatened to choke me.
Afterwards we wandered idly about the beautiful old grounds, which bore ineffaceable marks of monkish cultivation. Sir James, who was walking ahead with Moris Klaw and Isis, suddenly turned and waited for me. I had been examining a sundial with much interest, but I now walked on and joined our host.
“Mr. Searles,” he said, “may I press you to remain here over the week-end?”
“That’s very good of you,” I replied. “I think I could manage it, and I should enjoy the stay immensely.”
I concluded that Moris Klaw also was remaining, and consequently was surprised when a short time later he drew me aside into a rose-covered arbour, and announced that he was leaving by the four o’clock train.
“But I shall be back in the morning, Mr. Searles,” he assured me, wagging his finger mysteriously, “I shall be back in the morning!”
“And Miss Klaw?”
“She, too, goes by the four o’clock train and will not be returning—for the present.”
“I understand that Sir James is taking up his residence here at Friars House from now onward?”
“It is so, my friend; he deserts Grange. The servants come over here to-day. Is he not well advised? Mr. Clement has all along recommended that this shall be his residence. He was against it, the idea of inhabiting Grange, from the first. He is wise, that Mr. Clement. He has lived in these parts so long. He knows that Grange is haunted, is uninhabitable.”
Later, then, Moris Klaw and Isis took their departure; and just as the car was about to drive off my eccentric friend removed his brown bowler, and sprayed his bald brow with verbena. He bent to me:
“Day and night,” he whispered, huskily, “do not lose sight of him, Sir James! Above all, allow him not to explore!”
With that the car drove off, and I stood looking after it, wondering, utterly mystified. On the steps behind me stood Clement Leyland and his cousin. The latter’s gaze followed the course of the car along the picturesque winding road until it became lost from view. I thought I heard him sigh.
Ensued an uneventful day and night. Life was pleasant enough at Friars House, if a trifle dull; and Sir James seemed unsettled, whilst his disquietude was reflected in his cousin. The latter, now that his active labours in preparing this new residence for the baronet were checked, seemed a man at a loss what to do with himself. His was one of those quietly ardent temperaments, I divined, and idleness palled upon him. Apparently he had no profession, and although I presumed that he had some residence of his own in the neighbourhood, he, apparently, was prepared indefinitely to prolong his stay at Friars House. I think his companionship was welcome to Sir James, for the latter was yet strange to the new duties of a landed gentleman.
The next morning brought Moris Klaw, and I learned with ever-growing surprise that he had made arrangements to spend the following week beneath the hospitable roof of Friars House.
I have nothing to record of interest up to the time I left; but often during the ensuing six days the problem of the haunting of Grange, and the mystery of Moris Klaw’s protracted visit to Friars House came between me and my work. Then on the Saturday morning arrived a telegram—
“Can you join us for week-end—car will meet 2.30. Wire reply. Best wishes.—LEYLAND.”
I determined to accept the invitation; for respecting the nature of Moris Klaw’s business at Friars House—and that he had some other motive than ordinary in sojourning there I was persuaded—my curiosity knew no bounds. Accordingly I packed my grip, and at about five o’clock on a delightful afternoon found myself taking tea in a cloister-like apartment of the former Friary.
“Grange,” said Sir James, in answer to a question of mine, “is shut up.”
“It is shut, yes,” rumbled Moris Klaw. “What a pity! What a pity!”
In the course of the day occurred incidents which I have since perceived to have been significant. I will pass over them, however, and hasten to what I may term the catastrophe of this very singular case.
Four of us sat down to dinner in an apartment which clearly had been the ancient refectory of the monks. Clement Leyland, who had arrived barely in time to dress, looked haggard and worried. I determined that he had some private troubles of his own, and beneath his quiet geniality I thought I could detect a sort of brooding gloom. His pale, clean-shaven face, so like, yet so unlike, that of his cousin, was a mask that ill repaid study; yet I knew that the real Clement Leyland was a stranger to me, perhaps to all of us. I was most anxious to learn if Moris Klaw had divulged the secret of the hidden chamber at Grange to Sir James; and I was unspeakably curious concerning the box of which I had had but a glimpse—the box that he had found there. But he baffled my curiosity at every point.
Have you experienced that sense of impending calamity which sometimes heralds tragic things? It was with me that night, throughout dinner; and afterwards, when we entered the library and sat over our cigars, it grew portentously. I felt that I stood upon the brink of a precipice. And literally I was not in great error. Moris Klaw, to the evident discomfort of Sir James, brought the conversation around to the subject of the haunting. I observed him to glance at his watch, with a rather odd expression upon his vellum-hued face.
“Is it not singular,” he said, “how poor spectres are confined, like linnets, to their cages? They seem, these spooks, never to roam. That laughing demon of Grange—look at him. He remains in that empty, desolate house; he— —”
There was a dreadful interruption.
Commencing with a sort of guttural rattle, out upon the cloisteresque stillness burst a peal of wicked laughter!
It rang throughout the room; it poured fear into my every fibre. It died away—and was gone.
Sir James, clutching the leather-covered chair-arms, looked like a man of stone. I was frankly terrorised. Moris Klaw stood behind me, by a bookcase; him I could not see. But Clement Leyland’s face I can never forget. It was positively deathlike. His eyes seemed starting from their sockets, and his teeth chattered horribly.
“God in Heaven!” he whispered, brokenly. “What is it? O God! What is it! Take it away—take it away!”
Then Moris Klaw spoke, slowly—
“It is for you to take it away, Mr. Leyland!”
Clement Leyland rose from his seat; he swayed like a drunken man, and there was madness in the glaring eyes that he turned in Klaw’s direction.
“You—you— —” he gasped.
“I—I— —” rumbled Moris Klaw sternly, and took a step forward—“I have entered the Jacobite hiding-place at Grange, and there I found a box! Ah! you glare! glare on, my friend! I returned that box to where I found it; but first I examined its contents! What! that demon laughter frightens you! Then descend, Mr. Leyland, descend and bring him out—the one who laughs!”
Rigidly, Sir James sat in his chair; I, too, seemed to be palsied. But at sight of the next happening we both stood up. Moris Klaw stamped heavily upon the oaken floor in a deep recess; then applied his weight to a section of the seemingly solid stone wall.
It turned, as on a pivot, revealing a dark cavity.
He stood there, a bizarre figure, pointing down into the blackness.
“Descend, my friend!” he cried. “The one who laughs is upon the seventh step!”
“The seventh step!”
In a whisper the words came from Clement Leyland. A draft of damp, cavernous air blew into the library out of the opening.
“Descend, my friend!”
Remorselessly, Moris Klaw repeated the words. In the centre of the room, Clement Leyland, a pitiable sight, stood staring—and hesitating. Suddenly his cousin spoke.
“Don’t go, Clement!” he whispered.
The other turned to him, dazedly.
“Don’t go—down that place. But—O God! I understand at last, or partly….Quit! I give you half an hour!”
Sir James sank back into his chair and buried his face in his hands; Moris Klaw never moved from where he stood by the cavity. But Clement Leyland with bowed head, walked from the room.
In the silence that followed his going—
“Await me, gentlemen,” rumbled Klaw; “I descend for the laughter!”
He stepped into the opening.
“One,” he counted, “two—three—four—five— —” his voice came up to us from the depths, “six!”
We heard him ascending. Walking into the library he placed upon the table beside Sir James a very large and up-to-date gramophone!
“The laughter!” he explained, simply. “That night, my friends, when first I slept at Grange, I secured, among a host of other dreadful negatives, the negative of one who lurked in a secret hiding-place. I saw him come creeping from the chimney-corner, bearing a great mace which I recognised for one that had hung in the hall! Almost, the Science of the Mind betrayed me; for I mistook him for a thought-form! But the mind of Isis is en rapport with the mind of her poor old father. In her dreams she saw my peril, and she it was who, screaming, saved me!—saved me from the murderer with the mace!”
Sir James made no sign. Moris Klaw continued—
“I gathered, then, that the one who sometimes lurked in the Jacobite hiding-place and who, somehow, made the demon laughter, and the other phenomena, sought one end. It was to cause you to leave Grange and to live in Friars House! Beyond so far, my science could not show me. I assisted, therefore, the project of the lurker; and came myself, too, in order to watch, my friend, to guard and to spy!
“His gramophone I found, examined, and replaced. It had a clockwork attachment, very ingenious, which both started and stopped it; there was little or no scraping. To-night, from his room, unknown to him, I removed the instrument from its case which lay hidden at the bottom of his trunk. Yes! I stole his key! I am the old fox! Why did he bring it here? I cannot reply. Perhaps he meant again to use it; his future projects are dark to me, but their object is all too light.”
Sir James groaned.
“Old Clem!” he whispered, “and how I trusted him!”
“He did not quite believe in my science,” resumed Moris Klaw, “but he did not know that, hidden, I slept almost beside him as he sat, planning, in this very room! From his own bad mind I secured my second negative; and it showed me the death-trap of some bad old son of Mother Church! At Grange there was but the Jacobite hiding-place, but here was the devilry of feudal times! I returned to London. Why? To learn if my suspicions were well founded. Yes! You may, or may not, be aware; but if you die childless, the wicked Clement inherits Grange!”
“I knew that,” whispered Sir James.
“Ah! you knew? So. I returned to here, for, even at that time, I suspected that your accidental death was the object of removal! Then I secured it, my second negative. Biding my time, I explored that death-smelling place. Its wicked machinery had been freshly oiled! Ah! he knew its secrets well, the old house that he hoped to inherit!
“One night, all innocent, as you sat here, with other guests, he would have blundered upon that doorway! And you, the host, would have led the search-party! But I saw that he feared to move whilst I remained, and so I played the ghost upon him with his own spook!”
Sir James Leyland looked up. His bronzed face was transformed with emotion.
“Mr. Klaw,” he said, huskily, “why did you lay so much emphasis upon the words, ‘the seventh step’?”
Moris Klaw shrugged, replying simply:
“Because there is no seventh step—only the mouth of a well!”