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ghost stories
Scary and exciting Ghost Stories from around the World . . .
 

Ghost Story Title : Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book Part-3 by Montague Rhodes James

 

Ghost Story:

A fifth soldier lay dead on the pavement, his neck distorted, and his eyeballs starting from his head. The four surrounding guards were looking at the King. In their faces the sentiment of horror was intensified; they
seemed, in fact, only restrained from flight by their implicit trust in their master. All this terror was plainly
excited by the being that crouched in their midst. I entirely despair of conveying by any words the impression
which this figure makes upon any one who looks at it. I recollect once showing the photograph of the drawing
to a lecturer on morphology--a person of, I was going to say, abnormally sane and unimaginative habits of
mind. He absolutely refused to be alone for the rest of that evening, and he told me afterwards that for many
nights he had not dared to put out his light before going to sleep. However, the main traits of the figure I can
at least indicate. At first you saw only a mass of coarse, matted black hair; presently it was seen that this
covered a body of fearful thinness, almost a skeleton, but with the muscles standing out like wires. The hands
were of a dusky pallor, covered, like the body, with long, coarse hairs, and hideously taloned. The eyes,
touched in with a burning yellow, had intensely black pupils, and were fixed upon the throned king with a
look of beast-like hate. Imagine one of the awful bird-catching spiders of South America translated into
human form, and endowed with intelligence just less than human, and you will have some faint conception of
the terror inspired by the appalling effigy. One remark is universally made by those to whom I have shown the
picture: 'It was drawn from the life.'
As soon as the first shock of his irresistible fright had subsided, Dennistoun stole a look at his hosts. The
sacristan's hands were pressed upon his eyes; his daughter, looking up at the cross on the wall, was telling her
beads feverishly.
At last the question was asked, 'Is this book for sale?'
There was the same hesitation, the same plunge of determination, that he had noticed before, and then came
the welcome answer, 'If monsieur pleases.'
'How much do you ask for it?'
'I will take two hundred and fifty francs.'
This was confounding. Even a collector's conscience is sometimes stirred, and Dennistoun's conscience was
tenderer than a collector's.
'My good man!' he said again and again, 'your book is worth far more than two hundred and fifty francs, I assure you--far more.'
But the answer did not vary: 'I will take two hundred and fifty francs, not more.'
There was really no possibility of refusing such a chance. The money was paid, the receipt signed, a glass of wine drunk over the transaction, and then the sacristan seemed to become a new man. He stood upright, he ceased to throw those suspicious glances behind him, he actually laughed or tried to laugh. Dennistoun rose to go.
'I shall have the honor of accompanying monsieur to his hotel?' said the sacristan.
'Oh no, thanks! it isn't a hundred yards. I know the way perfectly, and there is a moon.'
The offer was pressed three or four times, and refused as often.
'Then, monsieur will summon me if--if he finds occasion; he will keep the middle of the road, the sides are so
rough.'
'Certainly, certainly,' said Dennistoun, who was impatient to examine his prize by himself; and he stepped
out into the passage with his book under his arm.
Here he was met by the daughter; she, it appeared, was anxious to do a little business on her own account;
perhaps, like Gehazi, to 'take somewhat' from the foreigner whom her father had spared.
'A silver crucifix and chain for the neck; monsieur would perhaps be good enough to accept it?'
Well, really, Dennistoun hadn't much use for these things. What did mademoiselle want for it?
'Nothing--nothing in the world. Monsieur is more than welcome to it.'
The tone in which this and much more was said was unmistakably genuine, so that Dennistoun was reduced to
profuse thanks, and submitted to have the chain put round his neck. It really seemed as if he had rendered the
father and daughter some service which they hardly knew how to repay. As he set off with his book they stood
at the door looking after him, and they were still looking when he waved them a last good-night from the steps
of the Chapeau Rouge.
Dinner was over, and Dennistoun was in his bedroom, shut up alone with his acquisition. The landlady had
manifested a particular interest in him since he had told her that he had paid a visit to the sacristan and bought
an old book from him. He thought, too, that he had heard a hurried dialogue between her and the said sacristan
in the passage outside the salle manger; some words to the effect that 'Pierre and Bertrand would be
sleeping in the house' had closed the conversation.
At this time a growing feeling of discomfort had been creeping over him--nervous reaction, perhaps, after the
delight of his discovery. Whatever it was, it resulted in a conviction that there was some one behind him, and
that he was far more comfortable with his back to the wall. All this, of course, weighed light in the balance as
against the obvious value of the collection he had acquired. And now, as I said, he was alone in his bedroom,
taking stock of Canon Alberic's treasures, in which every moment revealed something more charming.
'Bless Canon Alberic!' said Dennistoun, who had an inveterate habit of talking to himself. 'I wonder where
he is now? Dear me! I wish that landlady would learn to laugh in a more cheering manner; it makes one feel
as if there was some one dead in the house. Half a pipe more, did you say? I think perhaps you are right. I
wonder what that crucifix is that the young woman insisted on giving me? Last century, I suppose. Yes,
probably. It is rather a nuisance of a thing to have round one's neck--just too heavy. Most likely her father had
been wearing it for years. I think I might give it a clean up before I put it away.'
He had taken the crucifix off, and laid it on the table, when his attention was caught by an object lying on the
red cloth just by his left elbow. Two or three ideas of what it might be flitted through his brain with their own
incalculable quickness.




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