In the year 1775, there stood upon the borders of Epping Forest, at a distanc_f about twelve miles from London—measuring from the Standard in Cornhill,’ o_ather from the spot on or near to which the Standard used to be in days o_ore—a house of public entertainment called the Maypole; which fact wa_emonstrated to all such travellers as could neither read nor write (and a_hat time a vast number both of travellers and stay-at-homes were in thi_ondition) by the emblem reared on the roadside over against the house, which, if not of those goodly proportions that Maypoles were wont to present in olde_imes, was a fair young ash, thirty feet in height, and straight as any arro_hat ever English yeoman drew.
The Maypole—by which term from henceforth is meant the house, and not it_ign—the Maypole was an old building, with more gable ends than a lazy ma_ould care to count on a sunny day; huge zig-zag chimneys, out of which i_eemed as though even smoke could not choose but come in more than naturall_antastic shapes, imparted to it in its tortuous progress; and vast stables, gloomy, ruinous, and empty. The place was said to have been built in the day_f King Henry the Eighth; and there was a legend, not only that Quee_lizabeth had slept there one night while upon a hunting excursion, to wit, i_ certain oak-panelled room with a deep bay window, but that next morning, while standing on a mounting block before the door with one foot in th_tirrup, the virgin monarch had then and there boxed and cuffed an unluck_age for some neglect of duty. The matter-of-fact and doubtful folks, of who_here were a few among the Maypole customers, as unluckily there always are i_very little community, were inclined to look upon this tradition as rathe_pocryphal; but, whenever the landlord of that ancient hostelry appealed t_he mounting block itself as evidence, and triumphantly pointed out that ther_t stood in the same place to that very day, the doubters never failed to b_ut down by a large majority, and all true believers exulted as in a victory.
Whether these, and many other stories of the like nature, were true or untrue, the Maypole was really an old house, a very old house, perhaps as old as i_laimed to be, and perhaps older, which will sometimes happen with houses o_n uncertain, as with ladies of a certain, age. Its windows were old diamond- pane lattices, its floors were sunken and uneven, its ceilings blackened b_he hand of time, and heavy with massive beams. Over the doorway was a_ncient porch, quaintly and grotesquely carved; and here on summer evening_he more favoured customers smoked and drank—ay, and sang many a good son_oo, sometimes—reposing on two grim-looking high-backed settles, which, lik_he twin dragons of some fairy tale, guarded the entrance to the mansion.
In the chimneys of the disused rooms, swallows had built their nests for man_ long year, and from earliest spring to latest autumn whole colonies o_parrows chirped and twittered in the eaves. There were more pigeons about th_reary stable-yard and out-buildings than anybody but the landlord coul_eckon up. The wheeling and circling flights of runts, fantails, tumblers, an_outers, were perhaps not quite consistent with the grave and sober characte_f the building, but the monotonous cooing, which never ceased to be raised b_ome among them all day long, suited it exactly, and seemed to lull it t_est. With its overhanging stories, drowsy little panes of glass, and fron_ulging out and projecting over the pathway, the old house looked as if i_ere nodding in its sleep. Indeed, it needed no very great stretch of fancy t_etect in it other resemblances to humanity. The bricks of which it was buil_ad originally been a deep dark red, but had grown yellow and discoloured lik_n old man’s skin; the sturdy timbers had decayed like teeth; and here an_here the ivy, like a warm garment to comfort it in its age, wrapt its gree_eaves closely round the time-worn walls.
It was a hale and hearty age though, still: and in the summer or autum_venings, when the glow of the setting sun fell upon the oak and chestnu_rees of the adjacent forest, the old house, partaking of its lustre, seeme_heir fit companion, and to have many good years of life in him yet.
The evening with which we have to do, was neither a summer nor an autumn one, but the twilight of a day in March, when the wind howled dismally among th_are branches of the trees, and rumbling in the wide chimneys and driving th_ain against the windows of the Maypole Inn, gave such of its frequenters a_hanced to be there at the moment an undeniable reason for prolonging thei_tay, and caused the landlord to prophesy that the night would certainly clea_t eleven o’clock precisely,—which by a remarkable coincidence was the hour a_hich he always closed his house.
The name of him upon whom the spirit of prophecy thus descended was Joh_illet, a burly, large-headed man with a fat face, which betokened profoun_bstinacy and slowness of apprehension, combined with a very strong relianc_pon his own merits. It was John Willet’s ordinary boast in his more placi_oods that if he were slow he was sure; which assertion could, in one sense a_east, be by no means gainsaid, seeing that he was in everythin_nquestionably the reverse of fast, and withal one of the most dogged an_ositive fellows in existence—always sure that what he thought or said or di_as right, and holding it as a thing quite settled and ordained by the laws o_ature and Providence, that anybody who said or did or thought otherwise mus_e inevitably and of necessity wrong.
Mr Willet walked slowly up to the window, flattened his fat nose against th_old glass, and shading his eyes that his sight might not be affected by th_uddy glow of the fire, looked abroad. Then he walked slowly back to his ol_eat in the chimney-corner, and, composing himself in it with a slight shiver, such as a man might give way to and so acquire an additional relish for th_arm blaze, said, looking round upon his guests:
‘It’ll clear at eleven o’clock. No sooner and no later. Not before and no_rterwards.’
‘How do you make out that?’ said a little man in the opposite corner. ‘Th_oon is past the full, and she rises at nine.’
John looked sedately and solemnly at his questioner until he had brought hi_ind to bear upon the whole of his observation, and then made answer, in _one which seemed to imply that the moon was peculiarly his business an_obody else’s:
‘Never you mind about the moon. Don’t you trouble yourself about her. You le_he moon alone, and I’ll let you alone.’
‘No offence I hope?’ said the little man.
Again John waited leisurely until the observation had thoroughly penetrated t_is brain, and then replying, ‘No offence as yet,’ applied a light to his pip_nd smoked in placid silence; now and then casting a sidelong look at a ma_rapped in a loose riding- coat with huge cuffs ornamented with tarnishe_ilver lace and large metal buttons, who sat apart from the regula_requenters of the house, and wearing a hat flapped over his face, which wa_till further shaded by the hand on which his forehead rested, looke_nsociable enough.
There was another guest, who sat, booted and spurred, at some distance fro_he fire also, and whose thoughts—to judge from his folded arms and knitte_rows, and from the untasted liquor before him—were occupied with othe_atters than the topics under discussion or the persons who discussed them.
This was a young man of about eight-and-twenty, rather above the middl_eight, and though of somewhat slight figure, gracefully and strongly made. H_ore his own dark hair, and was accoutred in a riding dress, which togethe_ith his large boots (resembling in shape and fashion those worn by our Lif_uardsmen at the present day), showed indisputable traces of the bad conditio_f the roads. But travel- stained though he was, he was well and even richl_ttired, and without being overdressed looked a gallant gentleman.
Lying upon the table beside him, as he had carelessly thrown them down, were _eavy riding-whip and a slouched hat, the latter worn no doubt as being bes_uited to the inclemency of the weather. There, too, were a pair of pistols i_ holster-case, and a short riding-cloak. Little of his face was visible, except the long dark lashes which concealed his downcast eyes, but an air o_areless ease and natural gracefulness of demeanour pervaded the figure, an_eemed to comprehend even those slight accessories, which were all handsome, and in good keeping.
Towards this young gentleman the eyes of Mr Willet wandered but once, and the_s if in mute inquiry whether he had observed his silent neighbour. It wa_lain that John and the young gentleman had often met before. Finding that hi_ook was not returned, or indeed observed by the person to whom it wa_ddressed, John gradually concentrated the whole power of his eyes into on_ocus, and brought it to bear upon the man in the flapped hat, at whom he cam_o stare in course of time with an intensity so remarkable, that it affecte_is fireside cronies, who all, as with one accord, took their pipes from thei_ips, and stared with open mouths at the stranger likewise.
The sturdy landlord had a large pair of dull fish-like eyes, and the littl_an who had hazarded the remark about the moon (and who was the parish-cler_nd bell-ringer of Chigwell, a village hard by) had little round black shin_yes like beads; moreover this little man wore at the knees of his rusty blac_reeches, and on his rusty black coat, and all down his long flappe_aistcoat, little queer buttons like nothing except his eyes; but so lik_hem, that as they twinkled and glistened in the light of the fire, whic_hone too in his bright shoe-buckles, he seemed all eyes from head to foot, and to be gazing with every one of them at the unknown customer. No wonde_hat a man should grow restless under such an inspection as this, to sa_othing of the eyes belonging to short Tom Cobb the general chandler and post- office keeper, and long Phil Parkes the ranger, both of whom, infected by th_xample of their companions, regarded him of the flapped hat no les_ttentively.
The stranger became restless; perhaps from being exposed to this raking fir_f eyes, perhaps from the nature of his previous meditations—most probabl_rom the latter cause, for as he changed his position and looked hastil_ound, he started to find himself the object of such keen regard, and darte_n angry and suspicious glance at the fireside group. It had the effect o_mmediately diverting all eyes to the chimney, except those of John Willet, who finding himself as it were, caught in the fact, and not being (as has bee_lready observed) of a very ready nature, remained staring at his guest in _articularly awkward and disconcerted manner.
‘Well?’ said the stranger.
Well. There was not much in well. It was not a long speech. ‘I thought yo_ave an order,’ said the landlord, after a pause of two or three minutes fo_onsideration.
The stranger took off his hat, and disclosed the hard features of a man o_ixty or thereabouts, much weatherbeaten and worn by time, and the naturall_arsh expression of which was not improved by a dark handkerchief which wa_ound tightly round his head, and, while it served the purpose of a wig, shaded his forehead, and almost hid his eyebrows. If it were intended t_onceal or divert attention from a deep gash, now healed into an ugly seam, which when it was first inflicted must have laid bare his cheekbone, th_bject was but indifferently attained, for it could scarcely fail to be note_t a glance. His complexion was of a cadaverous hue, and he had a grizzl_agged beard of some three weeks’ date. Such was the figure (very meanly an_oorly clad) that now rose from the seat, and stalking across the room sa_own in a corner of the chimney, which the politeness or fears of the littl_lerk very readily assigned to him.
‘A highwayman!’ whispered Tom Cobb to Parkes the ranger.
‘Do you suppose highwaymen don’t dress handsomer than that?’ replied Parkes.
‘It’s a better business than you think for, Tom, and highwaymen don’t need o_se to be shabby, take my word for it.’
Meanwhile the subject of their speculations had done due honour to the hous_y calling for some drink, which was promptly supplied by the landlord’s so_oe, a broad-shouldered strapping young fellow of twenty, whom it pleased hi_ather still to consider a little boy, and to treat accordingly. Stretchin_ut his hands to warm them by the blazing fire, the man turned his hea_owards the company, and after running his eye sharply over them, said in _oice well suited to his appearance:
‘What house is that which stands a mile or so from here?’
‘Public-house?’ said the landlord, with his usual deliberation.
‘Public-house, father!’ exclaimed Joe, ‘where’s the public-house within a mil_r so of the Maypole? He means the great house—the Warren—naturally and o_ourse. The old red brick house, sir, that stands in its own grounds—?’
‘Aye,’ said the stranger.
‘And that fifteen or twenty years ago stood in a park five times as broad, which with other and richer property has bit by bit changed hands and dwindle_way—more’s the pity!’ pursued the young man.
‘Maybe,’ was the reply. ‘But my question related to the owner. What it ha_een I don’t care to know, and what it is I can see for myself.’
The heir-apparent to the Maypole pressed his finger on his lips, and glancin_t the young gentleman already noticed, who had changed his attitude when th_ouse was first mentioned, replied in a lower tone:
‘The owner’s name is Haredale, Mr Geoffrey Haredale, and’—again he glanced i_he same direction as before—‘and a worthy gentleman too—hem!’
Paying as little regard to this admonitory cough, as to the significan_esture that had preceded it, the stranger pursued his questioning.
‘I turned out of my way coming here, and took the footpath that crosses th_rounds. Who was the young lady that I saw entering a carriage? His daughter?’
‘Why, how should I know, honest man?’ replied Joe, contriving in the course o_ome arrangements about the hearth, to advance close to his questioner an_luck him by the sleeve, ‘I didn’t see the young lady, you know. Whew! There’_he wind again—AND rain— well it Is a night!’
Rough weather indeed!’ observed the strange man.
‘You’re used to it?’ said Joe, catching at anything which seemed to promise _iversion of the subject.
‘Pretty well,’ returned the other. ‘About the young lady—has Mr Haredale _aughter?’
‘No, no,’ said the young fellow fretfully, ‘he’s a single gentleman—he’s—b_uiet, can’t you, man? Don’t you see this talk is not relished yonder?’
Regardless of this whispered remonstrance, and affecting not to hear it, hi_ormentor provokingly continued:
‘Single men have had daughters before now. Perhaps she may be his daughter, though he is not married.’
‘What do you mean?’ said Joe, adding in an undertone as he approached hi_gain, ‘You’ll come in for it presently, I know you will!’
‘I mean no harm’—returned the traveller boldly, ‘and have said none that _now of. I ask a few questions—as any stranger may, and not unnaturally—abou_he inmates of a remarkable house in a neighbourhood which is new to me, an_ou are as aghast and disturbed as if I were talking treason against Kin_eorge. Perhaps you can tell me why, sir, for (as I say) I am a stranger, an_his is Greek to me?’
The latter observation was addressed to the obvious cause of Joe Willet’_iscomposure, who had risen and was adjusting his riding- cloak preparatory t_allying abroad. Briefly replying that he could give him no information, th_oung man beckoned to Joe, and handing him a piece of money in payment of hi_eckoning, hurried out attended by young Willet himself, who taking up _andle followed to light him to the house-door.
While Joe was absent on this errand, the elder Willet and his three companion_ontinued to smoke with profound gravity, and in a deep silence, each havin_is eyes fixed on a huge copper boiler that was suspended over the fire. Afte_ome time John Willet slowly shook his head, and thereupon his friends slowl_hook theirs; but no man withdrew his eyes from the boiler, or altered th_olemn expression of his countenance in the slightest degree.
At length Joe returned—very talkative and conciliatory, as though with _trong presentiment that he was going to be found fault with.
‘Such a thing as love is!’ he said, drawing a chair near the fire, and lookin_ound for sympathy. ‘He has set off to walk to London,—all the way to London.
His nag gone lame in riding out here this blessed afternoon, and comfortabl_ittered down in our stable at this minute; and he giving up a good hot suppe_nd our best bed, because Miss Haredale has gone to a masquerade up in town, and he has set his heart upon seeing her! I don’t think I could persuad_yself to do that, beautiful as she is,—but then I’m not in love (at least _on’t think I am) and that’s the whole difference.’
‘He is in love then?’ said the stranger.
‘Rather,’ replied Joe. ‘He’ll never be more in love, and may very easily b_ess.’
‘Silence, sir!’ cried his father.
‘What a chap you are, Joe!’ said Long Parkes.
‘Such a inconsiderate lad!’ murmured Tom Cobb.
‘Putting himself forward and wringing the very nose off his own father’_ace!’ exclaimed the parish-clerk, metaphorically.
‘What have I done?’ reasoned poor Joe.
‘Silence, sir!’ returned his father, ‘what do you mean by talking, when yo_ee people that are more than two or three times your age, sitting still an_ilent and not dreaming of saying a word?’
‘Why that’s the proper time for me to talk, isn’t it?’ said Joe rebelliously.
‘The proper time, sir!’ retorted his father, ‘the proper time’s no time.’
‘Ah to be sure!’ muttered Parkes, nodding gravely to the other two who nodde_ikewise, observing under their breaths that that was the point.
‘The proper time’s no time, sir,’ repeated John Willet; ‘when I was your age _ever talked, I never wanted to talk. I listened and improved myself that’_hat I did.’
‘And you’d find your father rather a tough customer in argeyment, Joe, i_nybody was to try and tackle him,’ said Parkes.
‘For the matter o’ that, Phil!’ observed Mr Willet, blowing a long, thin, spiral cloud of smoke out of the corner of his mouth, and staring at i_bstractedly as it floated away; ‘For the matter o’ that, Phil, argeyment is _ift of Natur. If Natur has gifted a man with powers of argeyment, a man has _ight to make the best of ’em, and has not a right to stand on false delicacy, and deny that he is so gifted; for that is a turning of his back on Natur, _louting of her, a slighting of her precious caskets, and a proving of one’_elf to be a swine that isn’t worth her scattering pearls before.’
The landlord pausing here for a very long time, Mr Parkes naturally conclude_hat he had brought his discourse to an end; and therefore, turning to th_oung man with some austerity, exclaimed:
‘You hear what your father says, Joe? You wouldn’t much like to tackle him i_rgeyment, I’m thinking, sir.’
‘If,’ said John Willet, turning his eyes from the ceiling to the face of hi_nterrupter, and uttering the monosyllable in capitals, to apprise him that h_ad put in his oar, as the vulgar say, with unbecoming and irreverent haste; ‘if, sir, Natur has fixed upon me the gift of argeyment, why should I not ow_o it, and rather glory in the same? Yes, sir, I am a tough customer that way.
You are right, sir. My toughness has been proved, sir, in this room many an_any a time, as I think you know; and if you don’t know,’ added John, puttin_is pipe in his mouth again, ‘so much the better, for I an’t proud and am no_oing to tell you.’
A general murmur from his three cronies, and a general shaking of heads at th_opper boiler, assured John Willet that they had had good experience of hi_owers and needed no further evidence to assure them of his superiority. Joh_moked with a little more dignity and surveyed them in silence.
‘It’s all very fine talking,’ muttered Joe, who had been fidgeting in hi_hair with divers uneasy gestures. ‘But if you mean to tell me that I’m neve_o open my lips—’
‘Silence, sir!’ roared his father. ‘No, you never are. When your opinion’_anted, you give it. When you’re spoke to, you speak. When your opinion’s no_anted and you’re not spoke to, don’t you give an opinion and don’t you speak.
The world’s undergone a nice alteration since my time, certainly. My belief i_hat there an’t any boys left—that there isn’t such a thing as a boy—tha_here’s nothing now between a male baby and a man—and that all the boys wen_ut with his blessed Majesty King George the Second.’
‘That’s a very true observation, always excepting the young princes,’ said th_arish-clerk, who, as the representative of church and state in that company, held himself bound to the nicest loyalty. ‘If it’s godly and righteous fo_oys, being of the ages of boys, to behave themselves like boys, then th_oung princes must be boys and cannot be otherwise.’
‘Did you ever hear tell of mermaids, sir?’ said Mr Willet.
‘Certainly I have,’ replied the clerk.
‘Very good,’ said Mr Willet. ‘According to the constitution of mermaids, s_uch of a mermaid as is not a woman must be a fish. According to th_onstitution of young princes, so much of a young prince (if anything) as i_ot actually an angel, must be godly and righteous. Therefore if it’s becomin_nd godly and righteous in the young princes (as it is at their ages) tha_hey should be boys, they are and must be boys, and cannot by possibility b_nything else.’
This elucidation of a knotty point being received with such marks of approva_s to put John Willet into a good humour, he contented himself with repeatin_o his son his command of silence, and addressing the stranger, said:
‘If you had asked your questions of a grown-up person—of me or any of thes_entlemen—you’d have had some satisfaction, and wouldn’t have wasted breath.
Miss Haredale is Mr Geoffrey Haredale’s niece.’
‘Is her father alive?’ said the man, carelessly.
‘No,’ rejoined the landlord, ‘he is not alive, and he is not dead—’
‘Not dead!’ cried the other.
‘Not dead in a common sort of way,’ said the landlord.
The cronies nodded to each other, and Mr Parkes remarked in an undertone, shaking his head meanwhile as who should say, ‘let no man contradict me, for _on’t believe him,’ that John Willet was in amazing force to-night, and fit t_ackle a Chief Justice.
The stranger suffered a short pause to elapse, and then asked abruptly, ‘Wha_o you mean?’
‘More than you think for, friend,’ returned John Willet. ‘Perhaps there’s mor_eaning in them words than you suspect.’
‘Perhaps there is,’ said the strange man, gruffly; ‘but what the devil do yo_peak in such mysteries for? You tell me, first, that a man is not alive, no_et dead—then, that he’s not dead in a common sort of way—then, that you mea_ great deal more than I think for. To tell you the truth, you may do tha_asily; for so far as I can make out, you mean nothing. What do you mean, _sk again?’
‘That,’ returned the landlord, a little brought down from his dignity by th_tranger’s surliness, ‘is a Maypole story, and has been any time these four- and-twenty years. That story is Solomon Daisy’s story. It belongs to th_ouse; and nobody but Solomon Daisy has ever told it under this roof, or eve_hall—that’s more.’
The man glanced at the parish-clerk, whose air of consciousness and importanc_lainly betokened him to be the person referred to, and, observing that he ha_aken his pipe from his lips, after a very long whiff to keep it alight, an_as evidently about to tell his story without further solicitation, gathere_is large coat about him, and shrinking further back was almost lost in th_loom of the spacious chimney-corner, except when the flame, struggling fro_nder a great faggot, whose weight almost crushed it for the time, shot upwar_ith a strong and sudden glare, and illumining his figure for a moment, seeme_fterwards to cast it into deeper obscurity than before.
By this flickering light, which made the old room, with its heavy timbers an_anelled walls, look as if it were built of polished ebony—the wind roarin_nd howling without, now rattling the latch and creaking the hinges of th_tout oaken door, and now driving at the casement as though it would beat i_n—by this light, and under circumstances so auspicious, Solomon Daisy bega_is tale:
‘It was Mr Reuben Haredale, Mr Geoffrey’s elder brother—’
Here he came to a dead stop, and made so long a pause that even John Wille_rew impatient and asked why he did not proceed.
‘Cobb,’ said Solomon Daisy, dropping his voice and appealing to the post- office keeper; ‘what day of the month is this?’
‘Of March,’ said the clerk, bending forward, ‘the nineteenth of March; that’_ery strange.’
In a low voice they all acquiesced, and Solomon went on:
‘It was Mr Reuben Haredale, Mr Geoffrey’s elder brother, that twenty-two year_go was the owner of the Warren, which, as Joe has said—not that you remembe_t, Joe, for a boy like you can’t do that, but because you have often heard m_ay so—was then a much larger and better place, and a much more valuabl_roperty than it is now. His lady was lately dead, and he was left with on_hild—the Miss Haredale you have been inquiring about—who was then scarcely _ear old.’
Although the speaker addressed himself to the man who had shown so muc_uriosity about this same family, and made a pause here as if expecting som_xclamation of surprise or encouragement, the latter made no remark, nor gav_ny indication that he heard or was interested in what was said. Solomo_herefore turned to his old companions, whose noses were brightly illuminate_y the deep red glow from the bowls of their pipes; assured, by lon_xperience, of their attention, and resolved to show his sense of suc_ndecent behaviour.
‘Mr Haredale,’ said Solomon, turning his back upon the strange man, ‘left thi_lace when his lady died, feeling it lonely like, and went up to London, wher_e stopped some months; but finding that place as lonely as this—as I suppos_nd have always heard say—he suddenly came back again with his little girl t_he Warren, bringing with him besides, that day, only two women servants, an_is steward, and a gardener.’
Mr Daisy stopped to take a whiff at his pipe, which was going out, and the_roceeded—at first in a snuffling tone, occasioned by keen enjoyment of th_obacco and strong pulling at the pipe, and afterwards with increasin_istinctness:
'—Bringing with him two women servants, and his steward, and a gardener. Th_est stopped behind up in London, and were to follow next day. It happene_hat that night, an old gentleman who lived at Chigwell Row, and had long bee_oorly, deceased, and an order came to me at half after twelve o’clock a_ight to go and toll the passing-bell.’
There was a movement in the little group of listeners, sufficiently indicativ_f the strong repugnance any one of them would have felt to have turned out a_uch a time upon such an errand. The clerk felt and understood it, and pursue_is theme accordingly.
‘It was a dreary thing, especially as the grave-digger was laid up in his bed, from long working in a damp soil and sitting down to take his dinner on col_ombstones, and I was consequently under obligation to go alone, for it wa_oo late to hope to get any other companion. However, I wasn’t unprepared fo_t; as the old gentleman had often made it a request that the bell should b_olled as soon as possible after the breath was out of his body, and he ha_een expected to go for some days. I put as good a face upon it as I could, and muffling myself up (for it was mortal cold), started out with a lighte_antern in one hand and the key of the church in the other.’
At this point of the narrative, the dress of the strange man rustled as if h_ad turned himself to hear more distinctly. Slightly pointing over hi_houlder, Solomon elevated his eyebrows and nodded a silent inquiry to Jo_hether this was the case. Joe shaded his eyes with his hand and peered int_he corner, but could make out nothing, and so shook his head.
‘It was just such a night as this; blowing a hurricane, raining heavily, an_ery dark—I often think now, darker than I ever saw it before or since; tha_ay be my fancy, but the houses were all close shut and the folks in doors, and perhaps there is only one other man who knows how dark it really was. _ot into the church, chained the door back so that it should keep ajar—for, t_ell the truth, I didn’t like to be shut in there alone—and putting my lanter_n the stone seat in the little corner where the bell-rope is, sat down besid_t to trim the candle.
‘I sat down to trim the candle, and when I had done so I could not persuad_yself to get up again, and go about my work. I don’t know how it was, but _hought of all the ghost stories I had ever heard, even those that I had hear_hen I was a boy at school, and had forgotten long ago; and they didn’t com_nto my mind one after another, but all crowding at once, like. I recollecte_ne story there was in the village, how that on a certain night in the year (it might be that very night for anything I knew), all the dead people cam_ut of the ground and sat at the heads of their own graves till morning. Thi_ade me think how many people I had known, were buried between the church-doo_nd the churchyard gate, and what a dreadful thing it would be to have to pas_mong them and know them again, so earthy and unlike themselves. I had know_ll the niches and arches in the church from a child; still, I couldn’_ersuade myself that those were their natural shadows which I saw on th_avement, but felt sure there were some ugly figures hiding among ’em an_eeping out. Thinking on in this way, I began to think of the old gentlema_ho was just dead, and I could have sworn, as I looked up the dark chancel, that I saw him in his usual place, wrapping his shroud about him and shiverin_s if he felt it cold. All this time I sat listening and listening, and hardl_ared to breathe. At length I started up and took the bell-rope in my hands.
At that minute there rang—not that bell, for I had hardly touched the rope—bu_nother!
‘I heard the ringing of another bell, and a deep bell too, plainly. It wa_nly for an instant, and even then the wind carried the sound away, but _eard it. I listened for a long time, but it rang no more. I had heard o_orpse candles, and at last I persuaded myself that this must be a corpse bel_olling of itself at midnight for the dead. I tolled my bell—how, or how long, I don’t know—and ran home to bed as fast as I could touch the ground.
‘I was up early next morning after a restless night, and told the story to m_eighbours. Some were serious and some made light of it; I don’t think anybod_elieved it real. But, that morning, Mr Reuben Haredale was found murdered i_is bedchamber; and in his hand was a piece of the cord attached to an alarm- bell outside the roof, which hung in his room and had been cut asunder, n_oubt by the murderer, when he seized it.
‘That was the bell I heard.
‘A bureau was found opened, and a cash-box, which Mr Haredale had brought dow_hat day, and was supposed to contain a large sum of money, was gone. Th_teward and gardener were both missing and both suspected for a long time, bu_hey were never found, though hunted far and wide. And far enough they migh_ave looked for poor Mr Rudge the steward, whose body—scarcely to b_ecognised by his clothes and the watch and ring he wore—was found, month_fterwards, at the bottom of a piece of water in the grounds, with a deep gas_n the breast where he had been stabbed with a knife. He was only partl_ressed; and people all agreed that he had been sitting up reading in his ow_oom, where there were many traces of blood, and was suddenly fallen upon an_illed before his master.
Everybody now knew that the gardener must be the murderer, and though he ha_ever been heard of from that day to this, he will be, mark my words. Th_rime was committed this day two-and-twenty years—on the nineteenth of March, one thousand seven hundred and fifty-three. On the nineteenth of March in som_ear—no matter when—I know it, I am sure of it, for we have always, in som_trange way or other, been brought back to the subject on that day eve_ince—on the nineteenth of March in some year, sooner or later, that man wil_e discovered.’