“Our fair but unfortunate victim has a sore throat to-night,” he announced. “The performance is consequently postponed;” and he seated himself sulkily upon the coffin, when the limelight-man from the wings promptly bathed him in a flood of the most beautiful rose-colour. “Oh, this is intolerable!” he exclaimed, starting to his feet.
“It is not first-rate, I agree,” said John, “but, such as it is, we had better go through with it. Should the company doubt its genuineness, I can go around afterwards and show the brand on the cork.” Here he tapped the leg, which he had been careful to bring with him.
Before this evidence of contract the ghosts’ resistance collapsed. They seated themselves on the coffin and began the casting of dice; the performance proceeded, but in a half-hearted and perfunctory manner, notwithstanding the vivacious efforts of the limelight-man.
The tall ghost struck his brow and fled from the stage. There were cries of “Call him back!” But John explained that this was part of the drama, and no encores would be allowed; whereupon the audience fell to hissing the villain, who now sat alone with the most lifelike expression of malignity.
“Oh, hang it!” he expostulated after a while, “I am doing this under protest, and you need not make it worse for a fellow. I draw the line at hissing.”
“It’s the usual thing,” explained John affably.
But when the ghostly lady walked on, and in the act of falling on her father’s body was interrupted by the pianist, who handed up an immense bouquet, the performers held another hurried colloquy.
“Look here,” said the dark-browed villain, stepping forward and addressing John; “what will you take to call it quits?”
“I’ll take,” said John, “the key which the lady has just handed you. And if the treasure is at all commensurate with the fuss you have been making about it, we’ll let bygones be bygones.”
Well, it did; and John, having counted it out behind the curtain, came forward and asked the pianist to play “God save the King”; and so, having bowed his guests to the door, took possession of the haunted house and lived in it many years with his bride, in high renown and prosperity.
“Photograph all the prisoners? But why?” demanded Sir Felix Felix-Williams. Old Canon Kempe shrugged his shoulders; Admiral Trewbody turned the pages of the Home Secretary’s letter. They sat at the baize-covered table in the Magistrates’ Room—the last of the Visiting Justices who met, under the old regime, to receive the Governor’s report and look after the welfare of the prisoners in Tregarrick County Gaol.
“But why, in the name of common-sense?” Sir Felix persisted.
“I suppose,” hazarded the Admiral, “it helps the police in identifying criminals.”
“But the letter says ‘all the prisoners.’ You don’t seriously tell me that anyone wants a photograph to identify Poacher Tresize, whom I’ve committed a score of times if I’ve committed him once? And perhaps you’ll explain to me this further demand for a ‘Composite Photograph’ of all the prisoners, male and female. A ’Composite Photograph!’—have you ever seen one?”