TOWARDS the end of
an autumn afternoon an elderly with a thin face and grey Piccadilly weepers
pushed open the swing-door leading into the vestibule of a certain famous
libra ry, and addressing himself to an attendant, stated that he believed
he was entitled to use the library, and inquired if he might tak a book
out. Yes, if he were on the list of those to whom that privilege was given.
He produced his card -- Mr John Eldred -- and, the register being consulted,
a favourable nswer was given. 'Now, another point,' said he. 'It is a long
time since I was here, and I do not know my way
about your building; besides, it is near closing-time,
and it is bad for me to hurry up and down stairs. I have here the title
of the book I want: is there anyone at liberty who could go and find it
for me?' After a moment's thought the doorkeeper beckoned to a young man
who was passing. 'Mr Garrett,' he said, 'have you minute to assist this
gentleman?' 'With pleasure,' was Mr Garrett's answer, The slip with the
title was handed to him. 'I think I can put my hand on this; it happens
to be in the class I inspected last quarter, but I'll just look it up in
the catalogue to make sure. I suppose it is that particular edition that
you require, sir?' 'Yes, if you please; that, and no other,' said Mr 'Eldred;
'I am exceedingly obliged to you.' 'Don't mention it I beg, sir,' said
Mr Garrett, and hurried off.
'I thought so,' he said to himself, when his finger, travelling
down the pages of the catalogue, stopped at a particular entry. 'Talmud:
Tractate Middoth, with the commentary of Nachmanides, Amsterdam, I707.
II.3.34. Hebrew class, of course. Not a very difficult job this.'
Mr Eldred, accommodated with a chair in the vestibule,
awaited anxiously the return of his messenger and his disappointment at
seeing an empty -handed Mr Garrett running down the staircase was very
evident. 'I'm sorry to disappoint you, sir,' said the young man, 'but the
book is out.' 'Oh dear!' said Mr Eldred, 'is that so? You are sure there
can be no mistake?' 'I don't think there is much chance of it, sir: but
it's possible, if you like to wait a minute, that you might meet the very
gentleman that's got it. He must be leaving the library soon, and I think
I saw him take that particular book out of the shelf.' 'Indeed! You didn't
reco nize him, I suppose ? Would it be one of the professors or one of
the students?' 'I don't think so: certainly not a professor. I should have
known him; but the light isn't very good in that part of the library at
this time of day, and I didn't see his face. I should have said he was
a shortish old gentleman, perhaps a clergyman, in a cloak. If you could
wait, I can easily find out whether he wants the book very particularly.'
'No, no,' said Mr Eldred, 'I won't -- I can't wait now,
thank you -- no. I must be off. But I'll call again tomorrow if I may,.
and perhaps you could find out who has it.'
'Certainly, sir, and I'll have the book ready for you
if we -' But Mr Eldred was already off, and hurrying more than one would
have thought wholesome for him.
Garrett had a few moments to spare; and, thought he, 'I'll
go back to that case and see if I can find the old man. Most likely he
could put off using the book for a few days. I dare say the other one doesn't
want to keep it for long.' So off with him to the Hebrew class. But when
he got there it was unoccupied, and the volume marked II.3.34 was in its
place on the shelf It was vexatious to Garrett's self-respect to have disappointed
an inquirer with so little reason: and he would have liked, had it not
been against library rules, to take the book down to the vestibule then
and there, so that it might be ready for Mr Eldred when he called. However,
next morning he would be on the look out for him, and he begged the doorkeeper
to send and let him know when the moment came. As a matter of fact, he
was himself in the vestibule when Mr Eldred arrived, very soon after the
library opened and when hardly anyone besides the staff were in the building.
'I'm very sorry' he said; 'it's not often that I make
such a stupid mistake, but I did feel sure that the old gentleman I saw
took out that very book and kept it in his hand without opening it, just
as people do, you know sir, when they mean to take a book out of the library
and not merely refer to it. But, however I'll run up now at once and get
it for you this time.'
And here intervened a pause. Mr Eldred paced the entry,
read, all the notices, consulted his watch, sat and gazed up the staircase,
did all that a very impatient man could, until some twenty minutes had
run out. At last he addressed himself to the doorkeeper and inquired if
it was a very long way to that part of the library to which Mr Garrett
'Well, I was thinking it was funny, sir: he's a quick
man asa rule, but to be sure he might have been sent for by the librarian,
but even so 1 think he'd have mentioned to him that you was waiting. I'll
just speak him up on the toob and see.' And to the tube he ad-ressed himself.
As he absorbed the reply to his question his face changed. and he made
one or two supplementary inquiries which were shortly answered. Then he
came forward to his counter and spoke in a lower tone. 'I'm sorry to hear,
sir, that something seems to have 'appened a little awkward. Mr Garrett
has been took poorly, it appears, and the librarian sent him 'ome in a
cab the other way. Something of an attack, by what I can hear.' 'What,
really? Do you mean that someone has injured him?' 'No, sir, not violence
'ere, but, as I should judge, attacked with an attack, what you might term
it, of illness. Not a strong constitootion, Mr Garrett. But as to your
book, sir, perhaps you might be able to find it for yourself, It's too
bad you should be disappointed this way twice over -- ' 'Er -- well, but
I'm so sorry that Mr Garrett should have been taken ill in this way while
he was obliging me. I think I must leave the book, and call and inquire
after him. You can give me his address, I suppose.' That was easily done:
Mr Garrett, it appeared, lodged in rooms not far from the station. 'And
one other question. Did you happen to notice if an old gentleman, perhaps
a clergyman, in a -- yes -- in a black cloak, left the library after I
did yesterday. I think he may have been a -- I think, that is, that he
may be staying -- or rather that I may have known him.'
'Not in a black cloak, sir, no. There were only two gentlemen
left later than what you done, sir, both of them youngish men. There was
Mr Carter took out a rnusic-book and one of the professors with a couple
o' novels. That's,the lot, sir; and then I went off to me tea, and glad
to get it. Thank you, sir ,much obliged.'
Mr Eldred, still a prey to anxiety, betook himself in
a cab to Mr Garrett's address, but the young man was not yet in a condition
to receive visitors. He was better, but his landlady considered that he
must have had a severe shock. She thought most likely from what the doctor
said that he would be able to see Mr Eldred to-morrow. Mr Eldred returned
to his hotel at dusk and spent, I fear, but a dull evening.
On the next day he was able to see Mr Garrett. When in
health Mr Garrett was a cheerful and pleasant-looking young man. Now he
was a very white and shaky being, propped up in an armchair by the fire,
and inclined to shiver and keep an eye on the door. If however, there were
visitors whom he was not prepared to welcome, Mr Eldred was not among them.
'It really is I who owe you an apology, and I was despairing of being able
to pay it, for I didn't know your address. But I am very glad you have
called. I do dislike and regret giving all this trouble, but you know I
could not have foreseen this -- this attack which I had.'
'Of course not; but now, I am something of a doctor. You'll
excuse my asking; you have had, I am sure, good advice. Was it a fall you
'No.I did fall on the floor -- but not from any height.
It was, really, a shock.'
'You mean something startled you. Was it anything you
thought you saw?'
'Not much thinking in the case, I'm afraid. Yes, it was
something I saw. You remember when you called the first time at the library
'Yes, of course. Well, now, let me beg you not to try
to describe it -- it will not be good for you to recall it, I'm sure.'
'But indeed it would be a relief to me to tell anyone
like yourself: you might be able to explain it away. It was just when I
was going into the class where your book is -'
'Indeed, Mr Garrett, I insist; besides, my watch tells
me I have but very little time left in which to get my things together
and take the train. No -- not another word -- it would be more distressing
to you than you imagine, perhaps. Now there is just one thing I want to
say. I feel that I am really indirectly responsible for this illness of
yours, and I think I ought to defray the expense which it has -- eh ?'
But this offer was quite distinctly declined. Mr Eldred,
not pressing it, left almost at once: not, however, before, Mr Garrett
had insisted upon his taking a note of the class-mark of the Tractate Middoth,
which, as he said, Mr Eldred could at leisure get for himself. But Mr Eldred
did not reappear at the library.
William Garrett had another visitor that day in the person
of a contemporary and colleague from the library, one George Earle. Earle
had been one of those who found Garrett lying insensible on the floor just
inside the 'Class' or cubicle (opening upon the central alley of a spacious
gallery) in which the Hebrew books were placed, and Earle had naturally
been very anxious about his friend's condition. So as soon as library hours
were over he appeared at the lodgings. 'Well,' he said (after other conversation),
'I've no notion what it was that put you wrong, but I've got the idea that
there's something wrong in the atmosphere of the library. I know this,
that just before we found you I was coming along the gallery with Davis,
and I said to him, 'Did ever you know such a musty smell anywhere as there
is about here? It can't be wholesome." Well now, if one goes on living
a long time with a smell of that kind (I tell you it was worse than I ever
knew it) it must get into the system and break out some time, don't you
Garrett shook his head. 'That's all very well about the
smell -- but it isn't always there, though I've noticed it the last day
or two -- a sort of unnaturally strong smell of dust. But no -- that's
not what did for me. It was something I saw. And I want to tell you about
it. I went into that Hebrew class to get a book for a man, that was inquiring
for it down below. Now that same book I'd made a mistake about the day
before. I'd been for it, for the same man, and made sure that I saw an
parson in a cloak taking it out. I told my man it was out: off he went,
to call again next day. I went back to if I could get it out of the parson:
no parson there, and the book on the shelf at into that Hebrew class to
get a book for a man, for it down below. Well, yesterday, as I say, I went
again. This time, if you please -- ten o'clock in the morning, remember,
and as much light as ever you get in those classes, and there was my parson
back again, looking at the books on the shelf I wanted. His hat was on
the table, and he had a bald head. I waited a second or two looking, at
him rather particularly. I tell you, he had a very nasty bald head. It
looked to me dry, and it looked dusty, and the streaks of hair across it
were much less like hair than cobwebs. Well. I made a bit of a noise on
purpose, coughed and moved my feet. He turned round and let me see his
face -- which I hadn't seen before. 1 tell you again, I'm not mistaken.
Though, for one reason or another, I didn't take in the lower part of his
face, I did see the upper part; and it was perfectly dry, and the eyes
were very deep-sunk; and over them, from the eyebrows to the cheek-bone,
there were cobwebs -- thick. Now that closed me up, as they say, and I
can't tell you anything more.'
What explanations were furnished by Earle of this phenomenon
it does not very much concern us to inquire; at all events they did not
convince Garrett that he not seen what he had seen.
Before William Garrett returned to work at the library,
the librarian insisted upon his taking a week's rest and change of air.
Within a few days' time, there. fore, he was at the station with his bag,
looking for a desirable smoking compartment in which to travel to Burnstow-on-Sea,
which he had not previously visited. One compartment and one only seemed
to be suitable. But, just as he approached it, he saw, standing in front
of the door, a figure so like one bound up with recent unpleasant associations
that, with a sickening qualm, and hardly knowing what he did, he tore open
the door of the next compartment and pulled himself into it as quickly
as if death were at his heels. The train moved off, and he must have turned
quite faint, for he was next conscious of a smelling-bottle being put to
his nose. His physician was a nice-looking old lady, who, with her daughter,
was the only passenger in the carriage.
But for this incident it is not very likely that he would
have made any overtures to his fellow-travellers. As it was, thanks and
inquiries and general conversation supervened inevitably; and Garrett found
himself provided before the journey's end not only with a physician, but
with a landlady: for Mrs Simpson had apartments to let at Bumstow, which
seemed in all ways suitable. The place was empty at that season so that
Garrett was thrown a good deal into the society of the mother and daughter.
He found them very acceptable company. On the third evening of his stay
he was on such terms with them as to be asked to spend the evening in their
During their talk it transpired that Garrett's work lay
in a library. 'Ah, libraries are fine places,' said Mrs Simpson, putting
down her work with sigh; 'but for all that, books have played me a sad
turn, or rather a book has.'
'Well, books give me my living, Mrs Simpson, and I should
be sorry to say a word against them: I don't like to hear that they have
been bad for you.'
'Perhaps Mr Garrett could help us to solve our puzzle,
mother,' said Miss Simpson.
'I don't want to set Mr Garrett off on a hunt that might
waste a lifetime, my dear, nor yet to trouble him with our private affairs.'
'But if you think it in the least likely that I could
be of use, I do beg you to tell me what the puzzl is, Mrs Simpson. If it
is finding out anything about a book, you see, I am in rather a good position
to do it.'
'Yes, I do see that, but the worst of it is that we don't
know the name of the book.'
'Nor what it is about?'
'No, nor that either.'
'Except that we don't think it's in English, mother --
and that is not much of a clue.'
'Well, Mr Garrett, said Mrs Simpson, who had not yet resumed
her works and was looking at. the fire thoughtfully, 1 I shall tell you
the story. You will please keep it to yourself, if you don't mind? Thank
you. Now it is just this. I had an old uncle, a Dr Rant. Perhaps you may
have heard of him. Not that he was a distinguished man, but from the odd
way he chose to be buried.'
'I rather think 1 have seen the name in some guide-book.'
'That would be it,' said Miss Simpson. He left directions
-- horrid old man! -- that he was to be put, sitting at a table in his
ordinary clothes, in a brick room that he'd had made underground in a field
his near house.. Of course the country people say he's been seen about
there in his old black cloak.'
'Well, dear, I don't know much about such things,' Mrs
Simpson went on, 'but anyhow he is dead, these years and more. He was a
clergyman, though I'm sure I can't imagine how he got to beone: but he
did no duty for the last part of his life, which I. think was a good thing;
and he lived on his own property: a very nice estate not a great way from
here. He had no wife or family; only one niece, who was myself, and one
nephew, and he had no particular liking for either of us -- nor for anyone
else, as far as that goes. If anything, he liked my cousin better than
he did me -- for John was much more like him in his temper, and, I'm afraid
I must say, his very mean sharp ways. It might have been different if I
had not married; but I did, and that he very much resented. Very well:
here he was with this estate and a good deal of money, as it turned out,
of which he had the absolute disposal, and it was understood that we --
my cousin and I -- would share it equall at his death. In a certain winter,
over twenty years back, as I said, he was taken ill, and I was sent for
to nurse him. My husband was alive then, but the old man would not hear
of his coming. As I drove up to the house I saw my cousin John driving
away from it in an open fly, and looking, I noticed, in very good spirits.
I went up and did what I could for my uncle, but I was very soon sure that
this would be his last illness; and he was convinced of it too. During
the day before he died he got me to sit by him all the time, and I could
see there was something, and probably something unpleasant, that he was
saving up to tell me, and putting it off as long as he felt he could afford
the strength I'm afraid purposely in order to keep me on the stretch. But,
at last, out it came. " Mary," he said, -- " Mary. I've made my will in
John's favour: he has everything, Mary." Well, of course, that came as
a bitter shock to me, for we -- my husband and I -- were not rich people,
and if he could have managed to live a little easier than he was obliged
to do, I felt it might be the prolonging of his life. But I said little
or nothing to my uncle; except that he had a right to do what he pleased:
partly because I couldn't.think of anything to say, and partly because
I was sure there was more to come: and so there was. "But, Mary," he said,
"I'm not very fond of John, and I've made another will in your favour.
You can have everything. Only you've got, to find the
will, you see: and I don't mean to tell you where it is." Then he chuckled
to himself, and I waited for again I was sure he hadn't finished. "That's
a good girl;' he said after a time, -- "you wait, and I'll tell you as
much as I told John. But just let me remind you, you can't go into court
with what I'm saying to you, for you won't be able to produce any collateral
evidence beyond your own word, and John's a man that can do a little hard
swearing if necessary. Very well then, that's understood.
Now, I had the fancy that I wouldn't write
this will quite in the ordinary way, so I wrote it in
a book, Mary, a printed book. And there's several thousand books in this
house. But there! you needn't trouble yourself with them, for it isn't
one of them. It's in safe keeping elsewhere: in a place where John can
go and find it any day, if he only knew, and you can't. A good will it
is: properly signed and witnessed, but I don't think you'll find the witnesses
in a hurry."
Still I said nothing: if I had moved at all I must have
taken hold of the old wretch and shaken him. He lay there laughing to himself,
and at last he said: "Well, well, you've taken it very quietly, and as
I want to start you both on equal terms, and John has a bit of a purchase
in being able to go where the book is, I'll tell you just two other things
which I didn't tell him. The will's in English but you won't k now that
if ever you see it. That's one thing, and another is that when I'm gone
you'll find an envelope in my desk directed to you, and inside it something
that would help you find it, if only you have the wits to use it."
'In a few hours from that he was gone, and though I made
an appeal to John Edred about it-'
'John Eldred? I beg your pardon, Mrs,Simpson -- I think
I've seen a Mr John Eldred. What is he like to look at?'
'It must be ten years since I saw him: he would be a man
now, and unless he has shaved them off, he has that sort of whiskers which
people used to call Dundreary or Piccadilly something.'
' -- weepers. Yes, that is the man.'
'Where did you come across him, Mr Garrett?'
'I don't know if I could tell you," said Garrett mendaciously,
'in some public place. But you hadn't finished.'
'Really I had nothing much to add, only that John Eldred,
of course, paid no attention whatever to my letters, and has enjoyed the
estate ever since, while my daughter and I have had to take to the lodging-house
which I must say has not turned out by, so unpleasant as I feared it might.'
'But what about the envelope.'
To be sure! Why, the puzzle turns on that. Give Mr. Garret
the paper out of my desk.'
It was a small slip, with nothing whatever on it but five
numerals, not divided or punctuated in any way: II334.
Mr Garret pondered, but there was a light in his eye.
Suddenly he 'made a face, and then asked, 'Do you suppose that Mr Eldred
can have any more clue than you have to the title of the book?'
'I have sometimes thought he must,' said Mrs Simpson,
'and in this way: that my uncle must have made the will not very long before
he died (that, I think, he said himself), and got rid of the book immediately
afterwards. But all his books were, very. carefully catalogued. and John
has the catalogue: and John was nost particular that no books whatever
should be sold out of the house. And I'm told that he is always journeyng
about to bookseller and libraries; so I fancy that he must have found out
which books are missing from my uncle's library of 'those which are entered
in the catalogue, and must be hunting for them.'
'Just so, just so,' Mr Garrett, and relapsed into thought.
No later than next day he received a letter which, as
he told Mrs Simpson with great regret, made it absolutely necessary for
him to cut short his stay at, Burnstow.
Sorry as he was to leave them (and they were at least
as sorry to part with him), he had begun to feel that a crisis, all-important
to Mrs (and shall we add, Miss?) Simpson, was very possibly supervening.
In the train Garrett was uneasy and excited. He racked
his brains to think whether the press mark of the book which Mr Eldred
had been inquiring after was one in any way corresponding to the numbers
on Mrs Simpson's little bit of paper. But he found to his dismay that the
shock of the previous week had really so upset him that he could neither
remember any vestige of the title or nature of the book, or even of the
locality to which. he had gone to seek it., And yet all other parts of
library topography and work were clear as ever in his mind.
And another thing -- he stamped with annoyance as he thought
of it -- he had at first hesitated, and then had forgotten, to ask Mrs
Simpson for the name of the place where Eldred lived. That, however, he
could write about.
At least he had his clue in the figures on the paper.
If they referred to a press mark in his library, they were only susceptible
of a limited number of interpretations. They might be divided into i. i
3.34, I I.33.4, or I I .3.34. He could try all these in the space of a
few minutes, and if any one were missing he had every means of tracing
it. He got very quickly to, work, though a few minutes had to be spent
in explaining his early return to his landlady and his colleagues. I. I
3.34. was in place and contained no extraneous writing. As he drew near
to Class IIi in the same gallery, its association struck him like a chill.
But he must go on. After a cursory glance at I I.33.4 (which first confronted
him, and was a perfectly new book) he ran his eye along the line of quartos
which fills I I.3. The gap he feared was there: 34 was out. A moment was
spent in making sure that it had not been misplaced, and then he was off
to the vestibule.
'Has 11.3.34 gone out? Do you recollect noticing that
'Notice the number? What do you take me for, Mr Garrett?
There, take and look over the tickets for yourself, if you've got a free
day before you.'
'Well then, has a Mr Eldred called again? -- the old gentleman
who came the day I was taken ill. Come! you'd remember him.'
'What do you suppose? Of course I recollect of him: no,
he haven't been in again, not since you went off for your 'oliday. And
yet I seem to -- there now. Roberts'll know. Roberts, do you recollect
of the name of Heldred ?'
'Not arf,' said Roberts. 'You mean the man that over the
price for the parcel, and I wish they
'Do you mean to say you've been sending books to Mr. Eldred?
Come, do speak up! Have you ?
'Well, now, Mr Garrett, if a gentleman sends the ticket
all wrote correct and the secketry says this book may go and the box ready
addressed sent with the note, and a sum of money sufficient to deefray
the railway charges, would be your action in the matter, Mr Garrett, if
I may take the liberty to ask such a question? Would you or would you not
have taken the; trouble to oblige, or would you have chucked the 'ole thing
under counter and -- '
'You're perfectly' right, of course, Hodgson -- perfectly
right; only, would you kindly oblige me by showing me the ticket Mr Eldred
sent, and letting me know his address?'
To be sure, Mr Garrett; so long as I'm not 'ectored about
and informed that 1 don't know my duty, I'm willing to oblige in every
way feasible to my power. There is the ticket on the file. J. Eldred, 1
I.3.34. Title of work: T -- a -- 1 -- m -- well, there, you can make what
you like of it -- not a novel, I should guess' And here is Mr Heldred's
note applying for the book in question which I see he terms it a track.'
'Thanks, thanks: but the address? There's none on the
'Ah, indeed; well ' now ... stay now, Mr Garrett, I 'ave
it. Why, that note come inside of the,parcel, which was directed very thoughtful
to save all trouble, ready to be sent back with the book inside; and if
I have made mistake in this 'ole transaction, it lays just in the point
that I neglected to enter the address in my little book here what I keep.
Not but what I dare say there was good reasons for me not entering of it:
but there, I haven't the time, neither have you, I dare to say, go into
'em just now. And -- no, Mr Garrett I do not carry it in my 'ed, else what
would be the use of me keeping this little book here -- just a ordinary
common notebook, you see, which I make a practice of entering all such
names and addresses in it as I see fit to do?'
'Admirable arrangement, to be sure -- but -- all right,
thank you. When did the parcel go off?'
'Half-Past, ten, this morning.'
'Oh, good. and it's just one now.'
Garrett went upstairs in deep thought. How was he to get
the address ? A telegram to Mrs Simpson: he might miss a train by waiting
for the answer. Yes, there was one other way. She had said that Eldred
lived on his uncle's estate. If this were so, he might find.that place
entered in the donation-book. That he could run through quickly, now that
he knew the title of the book. The register was soon before him, and knowing
that the old man had died more than twenty years ago, he gave him a good
margin, and turned back to 1870. There was but one entry possible. 1875,
August I4th. Talmud: Tractatus Middoth cum comm. R. Nachmanidæ. Amstelod.
Given by J. Rant, D.D., of Bretfield Manor.
A gazetteer showed Bretfield to be three miles from a
small station on the main line. Now to ask the doorkeeper whether he recollected
if the name on the parcel had been anything like Bretfield.
'No, nothing like. It was, now you mention it, Mr Garrett,
either Bredfield or Britfield, but nothing like that other name what you
So far well. Next, a time-table. A train could be got
in twenty minutes -- taking two hours over the journey. The, only chance,
but one not to be missed. and the train,was taken.
If he had been fidgety on the journey up, he was almost
distracted on the journey down. If he found Eldred, what could he say?
That it had been discovered that the book was a rarity and must be recalled?
An obvious untruth. Or that it was believed to contain important manuscript
notes? Eldred would of course show him the book, from which the leaf would
already have been removed. He might, perhaps, find traces of the removal
-- a torn edge of a flyleaf probably -- and who could disprove, what Eldred
was ccertain to say, that he too had noticed and regretted the mutilation?
Altogether the chase seemed very hopeless. The one chance was this. The
book had left the library at 10:30; it might not have been put into the
first possible train at 11:30. Granted that, then he might be lucky enough
to arrive simultaneously with it and patch up some story which would induce
Eldred to give it up.
It was drawing towards evening when he got out upon t
he platform of his station, and, like most country stations, this one seemed
unnaturally quiet. He waited about till the one or two passengers who got
out with him had drifted off, and then inquired of the stationnaster whether
Mr Eldred was in the neighbourhood. 'Yes, and pretty near too, I believe.
I fancy he means calling here for a parcel he expects. Called for it once
to-day already,didn't he,Bob?' (to the porter).
'Yes, sir, he did; and appeared to think it was all along
of me that it' didn't come by the two o'clock. Anyhow, I've got it for
him now,' and the porter flourished a square parcel, which a glance assured
Garrett contained all that was of any importance to him at that particular
'Bretfield, sir? Yes -- three miles just about. Short
cut across these three fields brings it down by half a mile. There: there's
Mr Eldred's trap.'
A dog-cart drove up, with two men in it, of whom Garrett,
gazing back as he crossed the little station yard, easily recognized one.
The fact that Eldred was driving was slightly in his favour -for most likely
he wonid not open the parcel in the presence of his servant. On the other
hand, he would get home quickly, and unless Garrett were. there within
a very few minutes of his arrival, all would be over. He. must hurry; and
that he did. His shortcut took him along one side of a triangle, while
cart had two sides to traverse; and it was delayed a little at the station;
so that Garrett was in the third of the three fields when he heard the
wheels fairly near. He had made the best progress possible, but the pace
at which he cart was coming made him despair. At this rate it must reach
home ten minutes before him,, and ten minutes would more than suffice for
the fulfilment of Mr Eldred's project.
It was just at this time that the luck fairly turned.
The evening was still, and sounds came clearly. Seldom has any sound given
greatcr relief than that which he now heard: that of the cart pulling up.
A few words were exchanged, and it drove on. Garrett, halting in the utmost
anxiety, was able to see as it drove past the stile (near which he now
stood) that it contained only the servant and not Eldred; farther, he made
out that Eldred was following on foot. From behind the tall hedge by the
stile leading into the road he watched the thin wiry figure pass quickly
by with the parcel beneath its arm, and feeling in its pockets. Just as
he passed the stile something fell out of a pocket upon the grass, but
with so little sound that Eldred was not conscious of it. In a moment more
it was safe for Garrett to cross the stile into the road and pick up --
a box of rnatches. Eldred went on, and, as he went, his arms made hasty
movements, difficult to interpret in the shadow of the trees that overhung
the road. But, as Garrett followed cautiousiy, he found at various points
the key to them -- a piece of string, and then the wrapper of the parcel
-- meant to be thrown over the hedge, but sticking in it.
Now Eldred was walking slower, and it could just be made
out that he had opened the book and was turning over the leaves. He stopped,
evidently troubled by the failing light. Garrett slipped into a gate-opening,
but still watched. Eldred, hastily looking around, sat down on a felled
tree- trunk by the roadside and held the open book up close to his eyes.
Suddenly he laid it, still open, on his knee, and felt in all his pockets:
clearly in vain, and clearly to his annoyance. .'You wou1d be glad of your
matches now,' thought Garrett. Then he took hold of a leaf, and was carefully
tearing it out, when two things happened. First, something black seemed
to drop upon the white leaf and run down it, and then as Eldred started
and was turning to look behind him, a 1ittle dark form appeared to rise
out of the shadow behind the tree-trunk and from it two arms enclosing
a mass of blackness came before Eldred's face and covered his head and
neck. His legs and arms were wildly flourished, but no sound came. Then,
there was no more movement. E1dred was alone. He had fallen back into the
grass behind the tree-trunk. The book was cast into the roadway. Garrett,
his anger and suspicion gone for the moment at the sight of this horrid
struggle, rushed up with loud cries of 'Help!' and so too, to his enormous
relief, did a labourer who had just emerged from a field opposite. Together
they bent over and supported Eldred, but to no purpose. The conclusion
that he was dead was inevitable. 'Poor gentleman!' said Garrctt to the
labourer, when they had laid him down, 'what happened to him, do you think?'
'I was two hundred yards away,' said the man, 'when I see Squire Eldred
setting reading in his book, and to my thinking he was took with one of
these fits -- face seemed to go all over black.' 'Just so, said Garrett.
'You didn't see anyone near him? It couldn't have been an assault?' 'Not
possible -- no one couldn't have got away without you or me seeing them.'
'So I thought Well, we must get some help,. and the doctor and the policeman;
and perhaps. I had better give them this book.'
It was obviously a case for an inquest, and obvious also
that Garrett must stay at Bretfield and give his evidence. The medical
inspection showed that, though some black dust was found on the face and
in the mouth of the deceased, the cause of death was a shock to a weak
heart, and not asphyxiation. The fateful book was produced, a respectable
quarto printed wholly in Hebrew, and not of an aspect likely to excite
even the most sensitive.
'You say, Mr Garrett, that the deceased gentleman appeared
at the moment before his attack to be tearing a leaf out of his book?'
'Yes; I think one of the fly-leaves.'
'There is here a fly-leaf partially torn through. It has
Hebrew writing on it. Will you kindly inspect it?'
'There are three names in English, sir, also, and a date.
But I am sorry to say I cannot read Hebrew writing.'
'Thank you. The names have the appearance of being signatures.
They are John Rant, Walter Gibson, and James Frost, and the date is 20
July, 1875. Does anyone here know any of these names?'
The Rector, who was present, voltinteered a statement
that the uncle of the deceased, from whom he inherited, had been named
The book being handed to him, he shook a puzzled ad. 'This
is not like any Hebrew I ever learnt.'
'You are sure that it is Hebrew?'
'What? Yes I suppose ... No -- my dear sir, you are perfectly
right -- that is, your suggestion is exactly the point. Of course -- it
is not Hebrew at all. It is English, and it's a will.'
It did not take many minutes to show that here was indeed
a will of Dr John Rant, bequeathing the whole the property lately held
by John Eldred to Mrs Mary Simpson. Clearly the discovery of such a document
would amply justify Mr Eldred's agitation. As to the partial tearing of
the leaf, the coroner pointed out that no useful purpose could be attained
by speculations whose correctness it would never be possible to establish.
The Tractate Middoth was naturally taken in charge by
the coroner for further investigation, and Mr Garrett explained privately
to him the history of it, and the position of events so far as he knew
or guessed them.
He returned to his work next day, and on his walk to the
station passed the scene of Mr E1dred's catastrophe. He could hardly leave
it without another look, though the recollection of what he had seen there
made him shiver, even on that bright morning. He walked round, with some
misgivings, behind the felled tree. Something dark that still lay there
made him start back for a moment: but it hardly stirred. Looking closer,
he saw that it was a thick black mass of cobwebs; and, as he stirred it
gingerly with his stick, several large spiders ran out of it into the grass.
There is no great difficulty in imagining the steps by
which William Garrett, from being an assistant in a great library, attained
to his present position of prospective owner of Bretfield Manor, now in
the occupation of his mother-in-law, Mrs Mary Simpson.