“That I can’t rightly say, sir. Her ladyship’s always sweet and gentle, with kind words on her lips for every one, but there’s the terror there in her eyes that was lit that night when you staggered into the hall, Squire, and I’ve never seen it properly quenched yet, so to speak. She carries fear with her, but whether it’s the fear of seeing you again, or the fear of Roger Unthank’s spirit, I could not tell.”
Dominey seemed suddenly to become possessed of a strange desire to thrust the whole subject away. He dismissed the old man kindly but a little abruptly, accompanying him to the corridor which led to the servants’ quarters and talking all the time about the pheasants. When he returned, he found that his guest had emptied his second glass of brandy and was surreptitiously mopping his forehead.
“That,” the latter remarked, “is the class of old retainer who lives too long. If I were a Dominey of the Middle Ages, I think a stone around his neck and the deepest well would be the sensible way of dealing with him. He made me feel positively uncomfortable.”
“I noticed it,” Dominey remarked, with a faint smile. “I’m not going to pretend that it was a pleasant conversation myself.”
“I’ve heard some ghost stories,” Mangan went on, “but a spook that comes and howls once a week for ten years takes some beating.”
Dominey poured himself out a glass of brandy with a steady hand.
“You’ve been neglecting things here, Mangan,” he complained. “You ought to have come down and exorcised that ghost. We shall have those smart maidservants of yours off to-morrow, I suppose, unless you and I can get a little ghost-laying in first.”
Mr. Mangan began to feel more comfortable. The brandy and the warmth of the burning logs were creeping into his system.
“By the by, Sir Everard,” he enquired, a little later on, “where are you going to sleep to-night?”
Dominey stretched himself out composedly.
“There is obviously only one place for me,” he replied. “I can’t disappoint any one. I shall sleep in the oak room.”
For the first few tangled moments of nightmare, slowly developing into a live horror, Dominey fancied himself back in Africa, with the hand of an enemy upon his throat. Then a rush of awakened memories—the silence of the great house, the mysterious rustling of the heavy hangings around the black oak four-poster on which he lay, the faint pricking of something deadly at his throat—these things rolled back the curtain of unreality, brought him acute and painful consciousness of a situation almost appalling. He opened his eyes, and although a brave and callous man he lay still, paralysed with the fear which forbids motion. The dim light of a candle, recently lit, flashed upon the bodkin-like dagger held at his throat. He gazed at the thin line of gleaming steel, fascinated.