I opened the door softly, and went in. Mrs Marjorum was dozing in a high-backed arm-chair by the glowing hearth, dressed in her state gown of grey watered silk, and with a cap that was a perfect garden of roses. She opened her eyes as I approached her, and stared at me with a puzzled look for the first moment or so.
'Why, is that you, Miss Sarah?' she exclaimed; 'and looking as pale as a ghost, I can see, even by this firelight! Let me just light a candle, and then I'll get you some sal volatile. Sit down in my armchair, miss; why, I declare you're all of a tremble!'
She put me into her easy-chair before I could resist, and lighted the two candles which stood ready upon her table, while I was trying to speak. My lips were dry, and it seemed at first as if my voice was gone.
'Never mind the sal volatile, Marjorum,' I said at last. 'I am not ill; I've been startled, that's all; and I've come to ask you for an explanation of the business that frightened me.'
'What business, Miss Sarah?'
'You must have heard something of it yourself, surely. Didn't you hear a horn just now, a huntsman's horn?'
'A horn! Lord no, Miss Sarah. What ever could have put such a fancy into your head?'
I saw that Mrs Marjorum's ruddy cheeks had suddenly lost their colour, that she was now almost as pale as I could have been myself.
'It was no fancy,' I said; 'I heard the sound, and saw the people. A hunting-party has just taken shelter in the north quadrangle. Dogs and horses, and gentlemen and servants.'
'What were they like, Miss Sarah?' the housekeeper asked in a strange voice.
'I can hardly tell you that. I could see that they wore red coats; and I could scarcely see more than that. Yes, I did get a glimpse of one of the gentlemen by the light of the lantern. A tall man, with grey hair and whiskers, and a stoop in his shoulders. I noticed that he wore a short waisted coat with a very high collar - a coat that looked a hundred years old.'
'The old Squire!' muttered Mrs Marjorum under her breath; and then turning to me, she said with a cheery resolute air, 'You've been dreaming, Miss Sarah, that's just what it is. You've dropped off in your chair before the fire, and had a dream, that's it.'
'No, Marjorum, it was no dream. The horn woke me, and I stood at my window and saw the dogs and huntsmen come in.'
'Do you know, Miss Sarah, that the gates of the north quadrangle have been locked and barred for the last forty years, and that no one ever goes in there except through the house?'
'The gates may have been opened this evening to give shelter to strangers,' I said.
'Not when the only keys that will open them hang yonder in my cupboard, miss,' said the housekeeper, pointing to a corner of the room.
'But I tell you, Marjorum, these people came into the quadrangle; the horses and dogs are in the stables and kennels at this moment. I'll go and ask Mr Chrighton, or my cousin Fanny, or Edward, all about it, since you won't tell me the truth.'
I said this with a purpose, and it answered. Mrs Marjorum caught me eagerly by the wrist.
'No, miss, don't do that; for pity's sake don't do that; don't breathe a word to missus or master.'
'But why not?'
'Because you've seen that which always brings misfortune and sorrow to this house, Miss Sarah. You've seen the dead.'
'What do you mean?' I gasped, awed in spite of myself.
'I daresay you've heard say that there's been something seen at times at the Abbey - many years apart, thank God; for it never came that trouble didn't come after it.'
'Yes,' I answered hurriedly; 'but I could never get any one to tell me what it was that haunted this place.'
'No, miss. Those that know have kept the secret. But you have seen it all tonight. There's no use in trying to hide it from you any longer. You have seen the old Squire, Meredith Chrighton, whose eldest son was killed by a fall in the hunting-field, brought home dead one December night, an hour after his father and the rest of the party had come safe home to the Abbey. The old gentleman had missed his son in the field, but had thought nothing of that, fancying that master John had had enough of the day's sport, and had turned his horse's head homewards. He was found by a labouring-man, poor lad, lying in a ditch with his back broken, and his horse beside him staked. The old Squire never held his head up after that day, and never rode to hounds again, though he was passionately fond of hunting. Dogs and horses were sold, and the north quadrangle ham been empty from that day.'
'How long is it since this kind of thing has been seen?'