Thank God,' he said with genuine fervour, on hearing that all was arranged. 'On your account I am delighted. As to myself, I assure you that no earthly consideration could have induced me ever again to pass a night in this disastrous old house.'
'Confound the house!' I ejaculated, with a genuine mixture of fear and detestation, 'we have not had a pleasant hour since we came to live here'; and so I went on, and related incidentally my adventure with the plethoric old rat.
'Well, if that were all,' said my cousin, affecting to make light of the matter, 'I don't think I should have minded it very much.'
'Ay, but its eye - its countenance, my dear Tom,' urged I; 'if you had seen that, you would have felt it might be anything but what it seemed.'
'I inclined to think the best conjurer in such a case would be an able-bodied cat,' he said, with a provoking chuckle.
'But let us hear of your own adventure,' I said tartly.
At this challenge he looked uneasily round him. I had poked up a very unpleasant recollection.
'You shall hear it, Dick; I'll tell it to you,' he said. 'Begad, sir, I should feel quite queer, though, telling it here, though we are too strong a body for ghosts to meddle with just now.'
Though he spoke this like a joke, I think it was serious calculation. Our Hebe was in a corner of the room, packing our cracked delft tea and dinner-services in a basket. She soon suspended operations, and with mouth and eyes wide open became an absorbed listener. Tom's experiences were told nearly in these words:
'I saw it three times, Dick - three distinct times; and I am perfectly certain it meant me some infernal harm. I was, I say, in danger - in extreme danger; for, if nothing else had happened, my reason would most certainly have failed me, unless I had escaped so soon. Thank God. I did escape.
'The first night of this hateful disturbance, I was lying in the attitude of sleep, in that lumbering old bed. I hate to think of it. I was really wide awake, though I had put out my candle, and was lying as quietly as I had been asleep; and although accidentally restless, my thoughts were running in a cheerful and agreeable channel.
'I think it must have been two o'clock at least when I thought I heard a sound in that - that odious dark recess at the far end of the bedroom. It was as if someone was drawing a piece of cord slowly along the floor, lifting it up, and dropping it softly down again in coils. I sat up once or twice in my bed, but could see nothing, so I concluded it must be mice in the wainscot. I felt no emotion graver than curiosity, and after a few minutes ceased to observe it.
'While lying in this state, strange to say; without at first a suspicion of anything supernatural, on a sudden I saw an old man, rather stout and square, in a sort of roan-red dressing-gown, and with a black cap on his head, moving stiffly and slowly in a diagonal direction, from the recess, across the floor of the bedroom, passing my bed at the foot, and entering the lumber-closet at the left. He had something under his arm; his head hung a little to one side; and merciful God! when I saw his face.'
Tom stopped for a while, and then said -
'That awful countenance, which living or dying I never can forget, disclosed what he was. Without turning to the right or left, he passed beside me, and entered the closet by the bed's head.
'While this fearful and indescribable type of death and guilt was passing, I felt that I had no more power to speak or stir than if I had been myself a corpse. For hours after it had disappeared, I was too terrified and weak to move. As soon as daylight came, I took courage, and examined the room, and especially the course which the frightful intruder had seemed to take, but there was not a vestige to indicate anybody's having passed there; no sign of any disturbing agency visible among the lumber that strewed the floor of the closet.