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.He was well-known on the road, but had never been molested, though he had never before tried the experiment of putting up for a night at Jones’s place.The latter had a bad character, and I heard afterwards that this last episode caused him finally to decamp from the vicinity with his wife.We met with no further adventure, and arrived in Milnaska in due course, where I parted from Mr Sykes, not without the assurance of seeing him again whenever I might be in Chicago.’‘That is the story of my late friend, Mr Larrabee,’ said Mr Smithson.‘I believe him to have been a truthful man, and I consequently for one believe in ghosts.’This dogma we none of us felt inclined to dispute, especially as the welcome call, ‘Dinner now ready in the dining-car’, was heard approaching.The StepsThe following story purports to be the actual experience of one of our leading medical men, who, during the late war, attained considerable eminence in the treatment of nervous diseases and affections of the brain.The earlier part of the tale has been collected from other sources for the purpose of bringing about the necessary explanations of the experience itself.At the beginning of the war, Sir Arthur H.was living with his wife and only unmarried daughter at their place in Hampshire.Sir Arthur was a soldier, and soon after the outbreak of hostilities was despatched to a command Overseas, leaving Lady and Miss H.in charge of Atherfield Court, which is situated in an accessible and pleasant part of Hampshire.The advantages of the neighbourhood caused it to be selected by the War Office as the site for an instructional camp for the new Army, and the quiet lanes around Atherfield were soon alive with khaki-clad men, exotic-looking mules and motor vehicles of every type and size.Lady and Miss H.were both of them anxious to take their place in giving pleasure to our young soldiers, and besides occasional entertainments for the men, they threw open the doors of the Court to the officers of their acquaintance, who were cordially invited to bring their friends with them.Among the officers so brought was a certain Captain X., a man slightly older than most of the officers of his rank and an agreeable, cultivated and travelled man.He was very popular in his Mess and had the reputation of being a capable officer, but no one knew much about him.Like so many other of the men who came to the aid of the old country from Overseas, he had no friends in England and if he had family ties here he never spoke of them.At first he was very much liked by both Lady and Miss H., and was a very welcome visitor; but after a time the two ladies reached the conclusion that, charming and well-educated as he was, he lacked that indescribable something which characterises a gentleman.However, they did not vary their hospitality towards him on that account, and he became gradually one of their most frequent visitors.This state of things was interrupted after a time by Captain X.proposing marriage to Miss H., a proposal which she promptly and emphatically declined.Thereupon he ceased for a while to visit the Court, but after a certain interval once more reappeared there and gradually resumed his old habit of frequent visits.The ladies did not greatly like this, and endeavoured by a colder manner towards him to discourage any intimacy; and matters remained on this slightly strained footing until Lady H.learned that the battalion to which Captain X.was attached, having completed its training, was about to proceed to France.A few days before it left Captain X.called, ostensibly to make his farewells, but to the surprise and annoyance of Miss H.he seized an opportunity and once more offered himself as a suitor for her hand.She repulsed him firmly and finally, and a somewhat unpleasant scene took place, Captain X.vowing that come what might he intended to marry her and that, though she might refuse him now, a time would come when he would carry his point.Naturally angered, Miss H.replied equally emphatically that no earthly power would force her to marry him, and the two parted on very strained terms.A few days later the battalion went abroad, nothing further having been heard at Atherfield of Captain X., and in fact nothing more was heard from him.For some little time various officers of the battalion who had been entertained by the H.’s kept up a desultory correspondence with them, and very occasionally one or other of them mentioned Captain X.’s name, but he himself neither wrote nor sent any message to Atherfield, and gradually the memory of him became dim, to Lady H.at any rate.Miss H., if indeed she ever thought of him, never spoke of him, and the whole episode of his acquaintance seemed in a fair way to be forgotten.About a year later Lady H.and her daughter were sitting in the drawing-room at Atherfield, the former busily writing letters for the afternoon post and the latter immersed in a book.Both were silent and deeply intent on their respective occupations.Suddenly Miss H.started and, laying down her book, exclaimed: ‘Who can that be coming down the passage?’ adding after a moment’s pause, ‘It sounds like that horrid Captain X.’s footsteps.’Lady H., who had heard nothing, looked up from her letters, saying placidly: ‘That is quite impossible, my dear, and I do not think there is anybody in the passage, at least I hear no one.’Miss H.listened for a moment or so longer and then said: ‘No, I was mistaken, but I certainly thought I heard someone walking quickly and rather uncertainly along the passage, and for a second the idea that it was Captain X.came into my head.I cannot think why I should have thought it was him, I fancied I had forgotten him.Anyway,’ she went on, ‘I was quite wrong because evidently there was nobody at all and I must have been dreaming.’Saying this, she picked up her book and Lady H.resumed her letters and thought no more about the occurrence.Two days later Lady H.when looking through the list of Killed in Action in The Times noticed the name of Captain X.She did not associate this event in any way with the recent occurrence in the drawing-room, which she had completely forgotten, neither did she mention the notice to ber daughter.The latter probably saw it herself, however, although she did not speak of it to Lady H.Both mother and daughter appeared anxious to avoid any allusion to the dead man of whom neither had any pleasant recollection.About a week after the notice in the paper, Lady H.began to observe a change in her daughter’s usual placid and cheerful manner.She had begun to grow nervous and wore an uneasy look.She made no complaints and at first eluded her mother’s efforts to penetrate into what was wrong, but at last a mother’s love and anxiety prevailed and Miss H.confessed that at intervals, in fact ever since the afternoon in the drawing-room, she had had an impression of the sound of approaching footsteps.These footsteps, she said, occurred at irregular intervals and at any time and place.They might be heard as she sat with her mother, or when she was out of doors or alone in her room.They always began some way off, approached hastily and, at first especially, rather irregularly and they always ceased at some little distance from her [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]