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by: William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) + short story .52
The following short story is reprinted from Carnacki, The Ghost Finder. William Hope Hodgson. London: Eveleigh Nash, 1913.
Carnacki had just returned to Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. I was aware of this interesting fact by reason of the curtly worded postcard which I was re-reading, and by which I was requested to present myself at No. 472, not later than seven o'clock on that same evening.
Mr. Carnacki had, as I and the others of his strictly limited circle of friends knew, been away in Kent for the past three weeks; but, beyond that, we had no knowledge. Carnacki was always secretive, and generally curt, and spoke only when he was ready to speak. When this stage arrived, I and his three other friends, Jessop, Arkright, and Taylor, would receive a card or a wire, asking us to call. Not one of us ever willingly missed; for after a thoroughly sensible little dinner, Carnacki would snuggle down into his big armchair, and begin to talk. And what talks they were! Stories, true in every word, yet full of weird and extraordinary incidents that held one silent and awed until had made an end of speaking. And afterwards, we four would shake him silently by the hand and stumble out into the dark streets, fearful even of our own shadows, and so with haste to our homes.
Upon this particular night I was the first to arrive, and found Carnacki sitting, quietly smoking over a paper. He stood up; shook me firmly by the hand; pointed to a chair and sat down again, never having uttered a word. A man such a mixture of curtness and courtesy I never met.
For my part I said nothing. I knew the man too well to bother him with questions or the weather, and so took a seat and a cigarette. Presently the three others turned up, and after that we spent a comfortable and busy hour at dinner.
Dinner over, Carnacki snugged himself down luxuriously into his great chair, filled his pipe, and puffed for awhile, his gaze directed on the fire. The rest of us made ourselves comfortable, each after his own particular manner. A minute later Carnacki began to speak, ignoring any preliminary remarks, and going straight to the subject of the story we knew he had to tell.
"I've just come back from Sir Alfred Jarnock's place at Burtontree, in South Kent," he began, without removing his gaze from the fire. "Most extraordinary things have been happening there lately, and Mr. George Jarnock, the eldest son, wired me to come over and see if I could help to clear things up a bit. I went. When I got there I found that they've an old chapel with a fine reputation for being haunted. They've been rather proud of this, I could see, until, suddenly, quite lately, the ghost has started being dangerous - deadly dangerous, too - the butler being nearly stabbed to death in the chapel with a queer old dagger. It's this dagger that's supposed to haunt the chapel. At least, there has always been an old yarn in the family that this dagger would attack any enemy who should dare to venture into the chapel after night-fall. But, of course, it's all been taken as most ghost-tales are. Yet, now, it would seem that there must be something in the old story about it being able to act on its own, or in the hand of some invisible thing. At least, that's how it seemed to everyone when I arrived and began to look into things a bit.
"Of course, the first thing I did was to make sure that there was no obvious human agency in the matter, and this I found to be a simpler thing than I had anticipated; for the butler was stabbed when there were other people in the chapel and the place lighted up. Stabbed there right before the onlookers, and no one could tell how it had been done, not even the man himself. And the force used must have been prodigious, for he was driven back into the body of the chapel as though he had been kicked by a horse. Fortunately, his injury was not mortal, and when I got there he was sufficiently recovered to be able to talk to me. Yet I got little from him to help me to any sane conclusion. He had just gone up the chancel to extinguish the candles on the altar when he was attacked. He had seen nothing, heard nothing - just been stricken down with tremendous power and hurled down the aisle.
"I felt very much mystified, but kept my mind open until I had examined the chapel. This I found to be small and extremely old. It is very massively built, and entered through only one door, which leads out of the castle itself; and the key of which is kept by Sir Jarnock himself, the butler having no duplicate. The shape of the chapel is oblong, and the altar is railed off after the usual fashion. There are two tombs in the body of the place; but none in the chancel, which is bare, except for the tall candlesticks, and the chancel rail, beyond which is the undraped altar of solid marble, upon which stand two candlesticks, one at each end. Above the altar hangs the 'waeful dagger,' as it has been called through the past five hundred years. I reached up and took it down to examine it. The blade is ten inches long, two inches broad at the base, and tapering to a sharp point. It is double-edged. The sheath is rather curious for having a cross-piece, which, taken in conjunction with the fact that the sheath itself is continued three parts the way up the hilt of the dagger, gives it the appearance of a cross. That this is not unintentional is shown by an engraving of the Christ crucified upon one side. Upon the other, in Latin, is the inscription: 'Vengeance is Mine, I will Repay.' A quaint and rather terrible conjunction of ideas. Upon the blade of the dagger itself is graven in old English capitals: 'I Watch. I Strike.' On the butt of the hilt there is carved deeply a Pentacle.
"There; you have a pretty accurate description of the weapon that for five hundred years or more has had the reputation of being able, either of its own accord, or in the hand of some thing invisible, to strike murderously any enemy of the Jarnock family who may chance to enter the old chapel after dark. And what is to the point, I can tell you that before I left I had pretty good reason to think that there was more in the old story than any sane man would care to credit.
"However, as is my way, I was treating everything with an open mind, and I continued my investigation of the chapel, sounding and examining walls and floor, not omitting the two ancient tombs, and by evening had come to the conclusion that the only means of ingress and egress was through the doorway into the castle, the door of which is kept always locked. That is, I mean to say, that this was the only entrance practicable for material beings. Although, even had I discovered some other opening, secret or otherwise, it would have helped but little to solve the mystery; for the butler, you must remember, had been struck down before the eyes of most of the family and many of the servants, and a short questioning of each of these showed me that no visible thing could have come near to the man without having been seen by one or more of those present.
"And this was the mystery to which I had been called in to find a sane and normal solution!
"From Tommie, the second son, a bright boy of about fifteen, I got some further details. He had seen the butler struck, or, to be more correct, had seen the butler at the moment he was struck. He told me that if a horse had kicked the man he couldn't have been thrown further, or with more force. It was just as he was going in to put out the candles on the altar. The dagger had been driven right through him, the point appearing behind the left shoulder; and the doctor who had been called immediately had been put to it to remove the weapon, so forcibly had it penetrated the scapula. This latter information I got from the doctor himself, who, along with the rest, was completely and absolutely mystified; as indeed I was myself, for it seemed that there was nothing for it but to accept the fact that some unseen thing - some creature of the invisible world - had actually done a human being nearly to death. And more was to follow. I was, with my own eyes, to see a miracle happen in this so-called prosaic century of ours. Yes, with my own eyes! I was, as it were, to have proof of the supernatural forced upon me!
"That night I proposed to Sir Jarnock (a little, wizened, nervous old man) that I should spend the night in the chapel and keep a constant watch upon the dagger, but to this he would not listen for a moment, informing me that it had been his habit each night, since he inherited the place, to lock up the chapel door so that none might foolishly or heedlessly run the risk of the peril of the dagger. At that, I must say, I stared at him moment, thinking him a bit of an old woman; but when he went on to point out how too well his precautions had been justified by the attack upon the butler I had nothing to say. Yet it seemed a strange thing for a man in this twentieth century to be listening seriously to such talk.
"One thing there was, however, that I pointed out to Sir Jarnock, in reply to his story of the care he had used through all these years to lock the ghost in by itself at nights, so that it could have no chance to work hurt on any, and that was that the dagger had not been used upon an enemy of the family, but upon an old and tried servant. Moreover, that the attack had not been made in the dark, but when the chapel was lighted up.
"To my remarks upon this point the old gentleman replied, in a somewhat troubled voice, that I was certainly right about the latter, but who could we say for certain was trustworthy in this world.
"'Well anyway, Sir Jarnock,' I replied, 'you've no reason for suspecting your butler of being an enemy of the family?' I spoke half-jestingly; but the old man answered me seriously enough that he had never found reason to mistrust Parker in any way. And then, with a little courteous movement, and pleading the fatigue of his years, he said good-night, and left me, having given me the impression of being a polite but rather superstitious old gentleman.
"That night, whilst I was undressing, an idea came to me. I had a feeling that if ever I were to make any progress in the case before me I should have to find some way of getting in and out of the chapel at any hour of the day or night that suited me. The idea that struck me was, on the morrow when the key should be handed to me, to take an impression, and have a duplicate made of it. This I could manage, and no one need ever be the wiser. I should be able then to enter the chapel after dark, and keep a watch over the 'waeful dagger' without affronting old Sir Jarnock by appearing to laugh at his long-continued precautions.
"On the morrow I got the key from the old gentleman and opened the chapel, he accompanying me. Then I went up to my room for my stand camera, and whilst I was up there I took the impression, returning the key to its owner when I came back with the camera. I fixed my camera up in the aisle, and took a photograph of the chancel; then, saying I would leave my camera where it was, Sir Jarnock accompanying me and locking the door after us. He told me that any time I wanted to enter the chapel he would be pleased to let me have the key, but not after dark, for he was resolved that no other person should run the risk of the stroke of the enchanted dagger.
"I took my dark-slide into Burtontree, and left it with the local photographer, telling him to develop the one plate it contained, but take no print off it until he should hear from me. Then I enquired for a locksmith, and when I found one I gave him an order to get me a key made from the impression as quickly as the thing could be done, insisting that I would call for it that evening. This I did, and found it finished, much to my satisfaction.
"I returned to the castle in time for dinner, after which, making my excuses, I retired to my room. Here, from beneath my bed, where I had hidden them earlier in the evening, I drew out several fine pieces of plate armour that I had removed from the armoury. There was also a shirt of chain-mail, with a sort of quilted hood to go over the head. I buckled on the plate armour, and after that I drew on the chain-mail. I don't know much about armour; but from what I've learned since, I must have put on parts of two suits. Anyway, I felt beastly. But I knew that the thing I was thinking of doing called for some sort of protection for my body, so I made the best of matters. Then I pulled on my dressing gown over the armour, and shoved my revolver into one of the side pockets, and my repeating flashlight into the other. My dark lantern I carried in my hand.
"I went out into the passage and closed and locked my bedroom door. Then I descended quietly to the chapel, praying no one would see me as I went. I reached the door, and tried my key. It fitted perfectly, and the next minute I was in the dark, silent chapel, and the door locked behind me.
"I don't mind saying that I felt a bit queer. To stand there in the utter darkness, and not know but some invisible thing was coming for you, isn't as nice as some of you might think. Yet it was no use funking, so I switched on the light of my lantern and made the tour of the place.
"I found nothing unusual. The dagger hung demurely in its place above the altar, and for the rest, all was still and cold and very quiet. Then I wend down to where my camera stood, as I had left it. From the satchel that I had put beneath the tripod I took out a dark-slide, and inserted it in the camera, drawing the shutter. After that I uncapped the lens, pulled out my flashlight apparatus, and pressed the trigger. There was an intense, brilliant flash of light that made the whole of the interior of the chapel jump into sight and disappear as quickly. Then, in the light from my lantern, I inserted the shutter into the slide, and reversed it, so as to have a fresh plate ready to expose at any time.
"I shut off the light of my lantern then, and sat down in one of the pews beside my camera. I don't know what I expected to happen, but I had an extraordinary feeling that something would. It was as though I knew.
"An hour passed - an hour of absolute silence. I was beastly cold, for the whole place was without any kind of heating pipes or furnace, as I'd noticed during my search; so that the inside of the chapel was about as cold as a blessed tomb. Also, in addition to the coldness about me, my feelings were not of the kind to warm one, as you can imagine. All at once I had a horrible feeling that something was a-move in the place. It wasn't that I could hear anything; but I had a sort of intuitive knowledge that something was stirring in the darkness. And I tell you, for a few moments I just sweated - cold sweat. Not a pleasant feeling, either.
"Suddenly I put my mailed arms up over my face. I wanted to hide it - I mean, to protect it. I had had a sudden horrible feeling that something was hovering over me in the dark - waiting. Talk about a man's heart melting in his breast! Mine seemed to have gone to a puddle. I could have shouted, if I'd not been afraid of the noise. And then, abruptly, I heard something. Away up the aisle there sounded a dull clang of metal, as it might be the tread of a mailed heel upon the stone of the aisle. I sat, immovable, fighting with myself to keep from being a putrid coward. I still kept my face covered, but I was getting hold of the man part of me again. I made a mighty effort, and took my arms down from my face, holding it up in the darkness. I tell you, I realised then that the Thing, whatever it was, had better strike me dead than that I should let all my courage rot like that. But nothing touched me, and I got a bit calmer.
"I dare say a couple of minutes passed, and then, away up near the chancel, there came again that clang, as though of an armoured foot stepping cautiously. By Jove! but I can tell you, I felt myself stiffen all over. And then, suddenly, came the thought that the sound I had heard might be the rattle of the dagger above the altar. The idea of that insensate thing becoming animate, and attacking me, did not occur to me with any sense of reality. I thought rather of some invisible monster of the other world fumbling at it. I remembered the butler's remark that it was like the kick of a horse, and with that I felt swiftly for my lantern. I found it on the seat beside me, and switched on the light. Then I flashed it up the aisle. I could see nothing to frighten me. To and fro I sent the jet of light darting, and saw nothing to fear. Before and behind me, up at the roof, and down at the floor, I shone the light. There was nothing visible that need have set my flesh thrilling as it did. I had been standing whilst I sent the light about the chapel, but now I pulled out my revolver, and then, with a tremendous effort of will, I switched off the light and sat down again in the darkness, once more to watch.
"It seemed to me that some half-hour or so must have passed like this, and no sound had broken the intense stillness of the chapel. As for my own feelings, they were much easier, which was foolish, for the thing that made the chapel dangerous couldn't be seen, however much the light. And then, after I'd sat there, as I've said,. waiting, with my revolver in my fist, and feeling more like myself, I thought I heard something. I listened extra hard, if that were possible, and presently I could almost swear I heard something move up near the top of the aisle, but so quiet that I couldn't be sure. And then I thought I heard it again, and afterwards there was a horrible time of silence, and then it seemed to come again, nearer to me, as though a vast, soft tread was coming slowly down the aisle.
"I didn't move, but just sat and stiffened, and listened, so that I fancied I heard the tread all about the chapel; and then I was just as sure I couldn't hear it. And so some precious long minutes passed.
"After a little, though, I fancy I must have quietened down a bit, for I remember knowing that my shoulders just ached with the way they'd contracted with my hunching them rigid. Mind you, I was still in a pretty awful funk, but not with the feeling that any moment I might have to fight for my blessed soul. The worst of it was, though, I couldn't hear very plainly for quite a time, with the blood beating in my ears; and this is a simply beastly feeling.
"I was sitting like this, and listening, body and soul, when suddenly I got that awful feeling again that something was moving the air of the place. The feeling got so awful that it made my head go tight all over, so that it actually pained. And I can tell you that's a pretty rotten sensation, when it's caused the way it was. But I kept my arms off my face, I'm glad to say. If I'd done that again I should simply have bunked out of the place; so I just sat and sweated, cold, and the 'creep' busy with my head and spine. And then, suddenly, once more I thought I heard the sound of that queer, soft tread - huge, somehow I thought of it - on the aisle; and this time it seemed a heap closer to me. Then there was an awful little time of quietness, with the feeling in it that something was hovering or bending over towards me from the aisle; and then, through the booming of the blood in my ears, there came a slight sound from the place where my camera stood - a disagreeable sort of slithering sound, and then a sharp tap. I'd had the lantern ready in my left hand, and now I snapped it on, desperately, and shone it straight above my head; for I'd a conviction that there was something there; but I saw nothing, and then I flashed the light at the camera, and along the aisle; but again there was nothing, and after that I sent it to and fro, all about the place, jerking it here and there, but there was nothing anywhere visible.
"I had stood up, the instant that I had seen that there was nothing in sight over me, and now forced myself to go up the aisle towards the altar. I would see, I thought, whether the dagger had been touched. As I went, I kept glancing round and about me, flashing the light to and fro all the time. But there was never for an instant anything unusual to be seen. Then I had reached the step that led up to the chancel rail, and the little gate. I threw the beam from the lantern upon the dagger. Yes, I thought, it's all right. Abruptly, it seemed to me that there was something wanting, and I leaned forward over the little chancel gate, to peer, holding the light high. I was only too correct in my thought. The dagger had gone. Only the sheath hung there above the altar. In a sudden, frightened flash of imagination, I pictured the thing adrift in the Chapel, moving here and there, as though of its own volition, for the Thing that wielded would be invisible to mortal eyes. I turned my head swiftly over to the left, glancing frightenedly behind me, and flashing the light to help my eyes. In the same instant I was struck a tremendous blow over the left breast and hurled backward from the chancel rail, down the aisle, my armour clanging loudly. I landed on my back, but scrambled up quickly, though half stunned, and began to run blindly down the aisle towards the door. I bowed my head as I ran, putting my mailed arms over my face. I plunged into my camera, hurling it among the pews. I crashed into the font and staggered back. Then I was at the exit. I fumbled madly for the key in the pocket of my dressing-gown. I found it, and scraped at the door feverishly for the keyhole. Behind me, for all I knew, threatened that incredible thing. I found the keyhole, turned the key, burst the door open, and was in the passage. I slammed the door and leant hard against it whilst I fumbled again with the key, this time to lock it. I succeeded, and reeled more than walked to my room.
"There I sat for a while, until my nerves had steadied somewhat. Then I commenced to strip off the armour. I saw then that both the chain mail and the plate had been pierced over the breast; And suddenly, it came home to me that the Thing had struck for my heart.
"Stripping rapidly, I found that the skin over the heart had just been pierced sufficiently to allow a few drops of blood to stain my shirt - nothing more. I thought of what would have happened if I had not worn the armour!
"I did not go to sleep that night at all, but sat upon the edge of my bed, thinking and thinking. In the morning, so soon as it was light, I made my way quietly down to the chapel. I opened the door, and peered in; but though the whole place was now flooded with the rays of the rising sun it took a tremendous effort of will before I could force myself to enter.
"After a minute's hesitation, however, I plucked up sufficient courage. I went over to where I had overthrown my camera. The ground glass was smashed, but otherwise it did not seem to have suffered. I replaced it in the position in which it had been overnight; but the slide containing the flashlight photograph I removed and put in one of my side pockets, regretting that I had not taken a second one at the instant when I heard those strange sounds up near the chancel.
"Having tidied my photographic apparatus, I went up the aisle to recover my lantern and revolver, which had both been knocked from my hands when I was stabbed. The lantern was hopelessly bent, but the pistol seemed all right. These secured, I made considerable haste to get out of the place and lock the door. I can tell you that I felt less inclined than the night before to call Sir Alfred an old woman for his precautions regarding the chapel, and a sudden thought flashed into my mind whether he might not have knowledge of some previous tragedy concerned with the dagger that made his so particular to see that the chapel should not be entered at night.
"I returned to my room, washed, shaved, and dressed; then went downstairs and got the acting butler to give me some sandwiches and a cup of coffee.
"A little later I was heading for Burtontree as hard as I could walk, for a sudden idea had come to me, which I was anxious to test. I reached the place a little before eight-thirty, and found the local photographer with his shutters still up. But I did not wait. I just knocked until he appeared with his coat off, evidently in the act of dealing with his breakfast. In a few words I made clear that I wanted the use of his dark room immediately, and this he placed at once at my disposal.
"I set to work immediately to develop, not the plate I had exposed, but the one that had been in the camera during all the time of waiting in the darkness. You see, the lens had been uncapped all that while, so that the whole chancel had been, as it were, under observation. You all know something of my experiments in lightless photography, that is "lightless" so far as our human eyes are capable of appreciating light? It was X-ray work that started me in that direction, and now I had vague and indefinite hopes that, if anything immaterial had been moving in the chapel the camera might have recorded it.
"And so it was with the most intense and absorbing interest that I watched that plate under the action of the developer. Presently I saw a faint smudge of black appear, and after that others, vague and wavering in outline. I held the negative up to the red light. The marks appeared all over the plate, but had no definiteness, yet they were sufficient to make me very excited, and I put the thing back into the solution. For some minutes further I watched it, lifting it out once or twice to make a more careful scrutiny, but could not discover what the markings might represent, until, suddenly, it occurred to me that in one of two places they appeared to have the shape of a dagger, but so indefinite that I could not be sure. Yet the very idea made me, as you may imagine, feel thrilly. I carried development a little further, then put the negative into the hypo, and commenced work upon the other plate. It came up nicely, and very soon I had a decent negative that appeared similar in every respect - except for the difference of lighting - to the negative I had taken the previous day. This plate I also fixed; then I washed the two quickly, and put them in methylated spirits for ten or fifteen minutes; after which I took them into the man's kitchen and dried them in the oven.
"Whilst the two plates were drying, the photographer and I made an enlargement from the negative I had taken by daylight. Then we did the same with the two that I had just developed, washing and mounting them as quickly as possible, for I was not troubling about the permanency of the prints. When this was done I took them out into the daylight and made a thorough examination of them, commencing with the one that seemed to show shadowy daggers in several places; but now that it was enlarged I could not be certain that I was not letting my imagination play too large a part in constructing weapons out of the indefinite outlines. And it was with a certain queer disappointment that I put the photograph down and took up the other two to compare.
"For a minute I looked from one to the other, but could distinguish no difference in the scene they portrayed. Then, abruptly, my interest was gripped, for there was a difference. In the second one the dagger was not in its sheath, though I had felt sure it was.
"After that I commenced to compare the two enlargements in a very different manner, using a pair of calipers and the most exacting scrutiny, and so, at last, came upon something that set me all tingling with excitement.
"I paid the photographer, put the three enlargements under my arm without waiting to have them wrapped up, and hurried back to the castle.
"I put the photographs in my room, then went down to see if I could find Sir Alfred, but Mr. George Jarnock, who met me, told me his father was too unwell to rise, and would prefer that no one entered the Chapel unless he was about. He made an apologetic excuse that his father was inclined to be, perhaps, a little over-careful; but that, even before the 'thing' happened, his father had been just as particular, always keeping the key, and never allowing the door to be unlocked, except when the place was in use. And, as the young fellow told me, with something of a troubled smile, this attack upon the butler seemed to have justified his father's superstitious attitude towards the place.
"When the young man had left me I took my duplicate key and made for the door of the chapel, and presently had it locked behind me, whilst I carried out some intensely interesting and rather weird experiments. These proved successful to such an extent that I came out of the place in a perfect little fever of excitement. I inquired for Mr. George Jarnock, and was told that he was in the morning room.
"'Come along,' I said, when I had rooted him out. 'I want you to give me a lift.'
"He was palpably very much puzzled, but came quickly and asking questions, to which, however, I shook my head, telling him to wait a few minutes.
"I led the way to the armoury. Here I directed him to take one side of a dummy dressed in full armour, whilst I took the other. He obeyed, though evidently vastly bewildered; and I led the way to the chapel door. When he saw that this was open he seemed even more astonished, but held himself in, waiting for me to explain. I locked the door of the chapel behind us, and then we carried the armoured dummy up the aisle to the gate of the chancel.
"'Stand back!' I shouted, as he made a sudden movement to open the gate. "Heavens, man! you mustn't do that!"
"'Do what?' he asked, half frightened and half irritated by my manner and words.
"'Stand to one side a moment, and watch!' I said, and he obeyed. I took the dummy in my arms and turned it to face the altar so that it stood close to the gate. Then, standing well to one side, I pressed its back so that it leant forward a little upon the gate, which flew open. In the same instant it was struck a tremendous blow that hurled it into the aisle, rattling and clanging upon the stone floor.
"'Good lord!' said Jarnock in a frightened voice. 'It's the dagger! The thing's been stabbed, same as Parker!"
"'Yes,' I replied, and saw him glance swiftly towards the doorway; but I'll do him the justice to say he never budged an inch.
"'Come and see how it was done,' I said, and led the way back to the chancel rail. From the wall to the left of the altar I took down a long, curiously ornamented iron instrument, not unlike a short spear. The sharp end of this I inserted in a hole in the left-hand gate-post. I lifted hard, and a section of the post, from the floor upwards, bent inwards towards the chancel as though hinged at the bottom. Down it went, leaving the remaining part of the post standing. As the movable portion was bent lower, a section of the floor slid to one side, showing a long, shallow cavity, sufficient to enclose the post. I hove it down into the niche, and there was a sharp clang as some catch caught and held it. Then I went and wrenched the dagger from the dummy. I brought the old weapon and placed its hilt in a hole near the top of the post, where it fitted loosely, the point upwards. After that I went to the lever and gave another heave, and the post descended about a foot to the bottom of the cavity, catching there with another clang. I withdrew the lever, and the floor slid back covering post and dagger, and looking no different from the surrounding surface.
"Then I shut the gate, and we both stood well to one side. I took the spear-like lever and gave the gate a little push so that it opened. Instantly there was a loud thud, and something sang through the air, striking the bottom wall of the chapel. It was the dagger. I showed Jarnock then that the portion of the post had sprung back into its place, making the whole as thick as the one upon the right-hand side of the gate.
"'There!' I said, turning to the young man, and tapping the post. 'There's the invisible thing that uses the dagger, but who the deuce is the person who sets the trap?' I looked at him keenly as I spoke.
"'My father is the only one who has a key,' he said. 'So that I don't see who could get in to meddle.'
"I looked at him again.
"'Look here, Mr. Jarnock," I said, perhaps a bit curter than I should, considering what I said. "Are you quite sure that Sir Alfred is quite balanced - mentally?"
"He looked at me, half frightenedly and flushing a little. 'I - I don't know,' he said, after a slight pause.
"'Tell the truth,' I replied. 'Haven't you suspected his balance a bit at times? You needn't be afraid to tell me.'
"'Well, I'll admit I've thought him a bit - a bit strange at times.' he admitted: 'but I've always tried to blind myself and others to it. You see, he's my dad.
"I nodded. 'Quite right, too; and there's no need, now, to make any scandal about this, but something must be done - in a quiet sort of way, you know. I should go and have a chat with your father, and tell him you've found out about this thing.' and I touched the divided post.
"He seemed very grateful for my advice; and after shaking my hand very hard, took my key and let himself out of the Chapel. He came back in about an hour rather pale, but otherwise quite collected. I was quite right in my surmise. It was old Sir Alfred who set the trap every night, having learnt from an old M.S. of its existence and how it was worked, it having been used in the old days as a protection for the golden vessels of the altar, which were kept in a secret recess at the back. This recess Sir Alfred had utilised to store his wife's jewellery. She had died some twelve years back, and young Jarnock averred that his father had never been the same since.
"I mentioned to him about my puzzlement regarding the trap having been set before the service, when the butler was struck; for, if I understood him aright, his father had been in the habit of setting the trap last thing every night and unsetting it each morning before anyone entered the chapel. He replied that his father, in a fit of temporary forgetfulness, must have set it too early, and hence the almost fatal tragedy.
"That is about all. I don't think the old man is really insane. I believe it's more a case of hypochondria through dwelling too much upon his wife's death and being too much alone. Young Jarnock told me that his father would sometimes pray for hours at a time in the Chapel."
"But you've never told us just how you discovered the secret," I said, speaking for the four of us.
"Oh, that!" replied Carnacki. "I found, on comparing the photos, that the photo taken in the daytime showed a thicker left-hand gate-post than the one taken by flashlight. That put me on to the track that there might be some mechanical dodge in the business and no ghost at all. I examined the post, and I soon found out the business then. It was simple enough, you know, once I hit the right track.
"By the way," he continued, rising and going to the mantelpiece, "you may be interested to have a look at the 'waeful dagger.' Young Jarnock was kind enough to present it to me as a little memento of my adventure. He handed it round to us; and whilst we examined it, filled and lit his pipe, warning us, between puffs, not to make the story he had told us public. "You see," he said "young Jarnock and I made the trap so that it couldn't work, and I've got the dagger; so the whole thing can be hushed up, especially as the butler is on his feet again. But, all the same," he concluded, with a grim little smile, "I fancy the chapel'll never lose its reputation as a dangerous place - eh? Should be pretty safe not, I should think, to keep valuables in. As for the old man, I recommended that he should have a decent male attendant. Best thing in such cases, you know."
"There's two things, Carnacki, you haven't explained yet," I remarked. "What do you think caused the two clangey sounds when you were in the chapel in the dark? And do you think the soft tready sounds were real, or only a fancy, with your being so tense?"
"Don't just know, for certain, about the clangs," he replied. "I've puzzled a bit about them. I can only think that the spring which worked the post must have 'given' a trifle. If it did, under such a tension, it would make a bit of a ringing noise. And a little sound goes a long way in the middle of the night when you're thinking of "ghosteses." You can understand that - eh?"
"Yes," I assented. "And the other sounds?"
"Well, the same thing - I mean the extraordinary quietness - may help to explain these a bit. They may have been some usual enough sound that would never have been noticed under ordinary circumstances, or they may have been only fancy. It's just impossible to say. As for the slithery noise, I'm pretty sure, now, that the tripod leg of my camera must have slipped a little, and if it did, it may have jolted the cap off the base board, which would make a little tap when it struck the floor of the aisle. At least, that's how I've tried to explain it to myself."
"And the dagger being there in its place that night when first you entered the chapel?" I queried.
"It wasn't; I mistook the cross-hilted sheath for the complete weapon, you see."
I nodded.
Now, you chaps," he said "clear out, I want to get a sleep."
We rose, shook him by the hand, and passed out into the night, each to his separate home; and as we went, I doubt not that each pondered upon the strange story he had heard; for, truly, it is the true things that are strange. Very much so!
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