His usual retinue of Malay footmen, Hindu grooms and Chinese cooks, was missing apparently, and the rest of the household, including the charming old housekeeper, had been at the Park for periods varying from five to five-and-twenty years. I must admit that I welcomed the fact; my tastes are essentially insular.
But the untimely illness of our host had cast a shadow upon the party. I found myself speaking in a church-whisper, whilst Karamaneh was quite silent. That curious dinner party in the shadow desert of the huge apartment frequently recurs in my memories of those days because of the uncanny happening which terminated it.
Nayland Smith, who palpably had been as ill at ease as myself, and who had not escaped the contagious habit of speaking in a hushed whisper, suddenly began, in a loud and cheery manner, to tell us something of the history of Graywater Park, which in his methodical way he had looked up. It was a desperate revolt, on the part of his strenuous spirit, against the phantom of gloom which threatened to obsess us all.
Parts of the house, it appeared, were of very great age, although successive owners had added portions. There were fascinating traditions connected with the place; secret rooms walled up since the Middle Ages, a private stair whose entrance, though undiscoverable, was said to be somewhere in the orchard to the west of the ancient chapel. It had been built by an ancestor of Sir Lionel who had flourished in the reign of the eighth Henry. At this point in his reminiscences (Smith had an astonishing memory where recondite facts were concerned) there came an interruption.
The smooth voice of the butler almost made me leap from my chair, as he spoke out of the shadows immediately behind me.
“The ’45 port, sir,” he said—and proceeded to place a crusted bottle upon the table. “Sir Lionel desires me to say that he is with you in spirit and that he proposes the health of Dr. Petrie and his fiancee’, whom he hopes to have the pleasure of meeting in the morning.”
Truly it was a singular situation, and I am unlikely ever to forget the scene as the three of us solemnly rose to our feet and drank our host’s toast, thus proposed by proxy, under the eye of Homopoulo, who stood a shadowy figure in the background.
The ceremony solemnly performed and the gloomy butler having departed with a suitable message to Sir Lionel—
“I was about to tell you,” resumed Nayland Smith, with a gaiety palpably forced, “of the traditional ghost of Graywater Park. He is a black clad priest, said to be the Spanish chaplain of the owner of the Park in the early days of the Reformation. Owing to some little misunderstanding with His Majesty’s commissioners, this unfortunate churchman met with an untimely death, and his shade is said to haunt the secret room—the site of which is unknown—and to clamor upon the door, and upon the walls of the private stair.”