صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

THE MYSTERY OF NEXT DOOR.

BY A YOUNG DOCTOR.

CHAPTER I.

HE house had been empty for months, and as the dirt accumulated on the windows, and the steps became a refuge for all the waifs and strays of the neighbourhood, we naturally began to look upon the place as a nuisance; a blot on the page of social life as represented by the inhabitants of Causland-street. But one day a change took place; the odious bill "To be Let" was removed, and painters, paper-hangers, and all the other mysterious craftsmen of the British workman genus were to be seen moving about within. Next came vans of furniture, handsome indeed, but old-fashioned.

Of course all the immediate neighbours were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the new inhabitants, but, strange to say, we were all disappointed. Their incoming must have taken place after dark, and they may have been there for days before we were really sure of it.

If next door had been an eye-sore before, it now became a positive heart-ache. The blinds were never raised, except in the kitchen, where they were just high enough to enable one to see that there was a fire in the grate. The door was rarely assailed by visitors, but if some persistent vendor of ottomans or onions did succeed in getting an answer, the door was just opened enough to admit the faces of besieger and besieged. There was something uncanny about the place, and my sisters began to shun even passing it.

Some weeks elapsed before any human being was seen to leave the house, but at last, just as I was starting for my rounds one morning, I beheld the proprietor walking down the steps.

A dried-up old man, bending under the weight of years, or calamities, with loose, untidy garments and a slouch hat, thrust well over a pair of grey eyes which seemed to look every way at once; such was our new neighbour. He was walking somewhat quickly, and it was not till he had passed me that I realised that he was perfectly noiseless in his movements.

Struck by this thought I turned round and walked briskly after him. I then became aware of two things: first, that he wore goloshes, although the ground was hard with frost; secondly, that he was talking to himself. "Twenty-seven, Burton-street," he murmured as I passed him.

For a few minutes I thought a good deal of the mysterious old man, but a hard day's work drove out all recollections of the morning's encounter.

I did not get home till late, and found my sisters had gone out for the evening. Sitting over the fire and thinking of nothing in particular, I was suddenly roused by a peal of laughter coming through the walls from next door.

A child in that house! It seemed too dreadful, and at first I fancied I must have dozed and been dreaming, but the same sound came again, a bright ringing peal of childish laughter, and then all was still.

[graphic]

Next door was beginning to interest me, and I was weaving together all sorts of romantic ideas, when I was brought back to reality by the postman's knock and the entrance of our maid Jane with some letters.

It was bitterly cold, and settling down for a read, I congratulated myself that no patient required my attention that evening, but I was reckoning without my host.

Aboat eight o'clock I was startled by a long piercing shriek from next door.

The place seemed shrouded in mystery, and I had just began to wonder whether it would not be advisable to give notice myself on the next quarter-day, when a sharp pull at my own door-bell which certainly meant "Doctor," sent me flying to answer it.

An old woman stood there without bonnet or shawl, and raising her hands beseechingly, cried,

"For dear's sake come in, sir; the poor child's nearly burnt to death!"

Hastily gathering together such things as might be necessary, I followed the woman into the house.

In the back room on the first floor, which was fitted up luxuriously as a bedroom, lay a little girl of perhaps ten years of age. Her face was unmarred and wonderfully pretty, but the poor little body was sadly burnt, and it required all my skill to dress the wounds.

She, poor mite, bore my handling with the patient endurance of an older person, only the deep blue veins almost starting through the delicate skin testifying to the intensity of the pain.

"Never mind crying out, little woman," I said, for I felt as if this unnatural fortitude must be wrong.

"I must not cry out," she answered; "it would ves grandpapa."

"So that old miser is your grandfather; you are a heap too good for him."

So thought I, forgetting that it is God alone who judgeth.

The servant meanwhile was standing near, moaning and rocking herself backwards and forwards. How did it happen ?" I asked her..

66

"I left the poor child for a few minutes to go and get the master's beer, and she undressed herself and got playing with the fire in her nightgown, I suppose."

"No, nurse, I didn't," said the child. "I was cold, and knelt down too near the fire to say my prayers. Something popped out and set fire to my nightgown. I tried to put it out myself, but when I found I couldn't do it I screamed and ran out of the room to you. Do go down, nurse, and get grandpapa's tea, and please tell him I am better."

The woman looked first at me and then at the

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic][merged small]

The fire was low and therefore we were in dark-greeted my ears-the voice of wailing and woe from ness, while I could see well into the front room. A the other room. firm, quick step ascended the stairs, and I heard a voice exclaim :—

66

Oh, God forgive me! How could I do it! Oh, Stanley, my darling; I did it for your sake; I did it to avenge you!"

"Who's that?"

Then a tall fine-looking man walked into the drawing-room.

I would hear no more; slipping my hand gently from the child's, I crept downstairs and went quietly out.

The old man raised the candlestick as if the better to view the intruder, and drawing himself up till his usually drooping figure looked quite tall, exclaimed, in low, angry tones

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

"If!" was the answer in a tone of almost majestic scorn. "If! Did not you lead him into danger? Did not you plan that very boating excursion which cost him his life ?"

66

Yes, father, I know that it was owing to me that Stanley took to boating, but it was because I wanted to draw him from worse amusements. Remember there was another fellow with us. He was lost, too, but his body was found. Stanley's was not, and until I see his body nothing will make me believe that he was not saved. God knows I had a narrow escape myself; you must have heard that I was half dead when they pulled me out. Stanley was in difficulties, you know

""

"Yes, there again," and the old man stamped his foot impatiently, "there again you were cruel to him. You were jealous of him because you thought I spoilt him. You thought I was going to leave all my money to him, and so you got rid of him. But you won't gain by it! You are no son of mine now, and if you were starving I'd not give you the worth of a loaf. Go! I cannot bear the sight of you!"

"But, father, I can't go. I came for my child. Where is she? I will not move till I know. Stanley has been dead two years, my child I lost six months ago. I have only just been able to trace you, and now I come to claim her from you. Father, give her to me!"

Both speakers had moved out of my sight, and the conversation was carried on in low, earnest tones, which told of the depth of feeling in both speakers.

I seemed spell-bound; an unwilling listener at first, my very hair seemed to stand on end as I strained every nerve to catch the old man's answer: "She is dead!"

A deep groan, such as can only be drawn from a man by very agony, the crash of falling furniture, swift steps on the stairs, the slam of the front door, and then all was quiet; and all was dark too, for the candle had evidently been overturned.

I sat still in awe-struck silence awaiting the next scene in the domestic tragedy, when a fresh sound

How that old man's grief reminded me of the poor shepherd king's lament for his beloved Absalom, and evidently Stanley had not been a more dutiful son.

Next door had assumed a new aspect. Mysterious as it had ever been, the mysteries seemed to deepen. Yes! and I was to be mixed up in them too!

CHAPTER II.

OR the next week I saw my little patient daily, and each visit made me like her more. With her gentle, loving ways Winnie was a child to gain all hearts, but there was something about her which made me fancy she was tongue-tied on some particular subject. Often she would pull up short in the middle of a sentence, but whether this were due to herself or to a signal from the old nurse Anne, I never could find out.

"I shall not come and see you to-morrow," I said one day.

"Why not?" asked the child, taking hold of my hand as if to prevent my going.

"Because I am very busy, and have a lot of other patients to see."

"Burnt little girls, too?" Then without waiting for an answer she put her head down on my arm and whispered

[ocr errors]

"I wish you would come, you remind me ofA tremendous sneeze from Anne startled us both, and the sentence was left unfinished, as the old woman bustled about to get Miss Winifred's room in order.

[ocr errors]

"Where is your grandpapa?" I asked, more by way of something to say than because I really cared to know his whereabouts.

"He isn't well; nurse says he has a bad cold. I haven't seen him since I was ill, and it is so dull." "Never mind, Pussie; you will soon be able to get up if you are good."

The child's face brightened, and she murmured something to herself of which I could only distinguish the words "Pussie" and "father." I longed to take the child in my arms and ask the reason of all this self-command, so unnatural in one so young, but once more Anne stepped in as a marplot, and I kissed my little friend hurriedly and left the house. So the old man was ill. Serve him right! I thought.

Reading the Standard later in the day, my eyes chanced to fall on the "Agony Column.”

"Stanley! All satisfactorily arranged. If you would not cause the death of one who loves you, return, or write to Marmion."

Not many lines below I read the following:

The Mystery of Next Door.

The child lives. Come and see me the door, and putting her mouth within a few inches
of my ear whispered, "Is that true ?"
"Perfectly. I don't tell lies as easily as yon seem
to in this house."

Another random arrow, and once more it hit the mark.

"You are wanted at once, please, sir, at 27, Burton-street," said Jane, hurrying into the room.

"Did he tell a lie, then, that night? I thought so when I heard the dear young master fly out of the house. I ran upstairs to try to speak a word to him, "Who is it?" I asked, stepping out to the mes- but I was too late. Did he tell him she was dead?" senger; but I might have saved myself the trouble, "I heard him say a child was dead," I answered, for the small maiden of about eight could only tell and then I related to the old woman all that I had me that mother's new lodger was awful bad-overheard. screaming and frightening everybody." Burton-street was quite close to us, and within five minutes I found myself face to face with one of the worst cases of fever I had ever attended.

66

"Marmion! again."

As a rule such advertisements did but amuse me, but the familiar name Stanley and the word Marmion in each seemed to connect them in some way with next door. What could it all mean? Was it possible-

The patient was delirious, and I was fully an hour with him, whilst the landlady fetched a friend who professed to be a good nurse.

His talk was wild and disconnected, as such ravings always are, but I listened attentively if some chance words might lead to the discovery of what had upset the delicate machinery of the brain. My patience was rewarded at last.

"Stanley, Stanley!" said the sick man, as he snatched at the counterpane, "you'll sink! I paid them all!"

445

"Come, Anne, don't be an idiot," I said impatiently, my temper rather ruffled by this trifling. Give me his right name and address, will you?" "Well, sir, as to his address, I can't tell ye, for I don't know it meself, but he's coming home to inorrow; and as to his name, if ye don't believe what I say, sure and you'd better ask him your "Do you know that Mr. Marmion is very ill? "I asked, venturing a random shot. Little had I guessed how it would tell.

self."

The old woman pulled me into the hall, closed

"Listen, sir," she said when I stopped. "My master used to live in Ireland. He was married twice, and had one son by each wife, Charles and Stanley. Charles was the eldest by many years. He was a quiet, God-fearing young man, and master somehow never took to him even as a boy. He didn't understand him, I think. So when master brought a young Frenchwoman home as his wife and the house was always being turned out of windows with balls and such like, Charles was sent to school, and hardly ever came home, even for the holidays. When Stanley was born master seemed a new man, his whole heart was wrapped up in him, and although after a time Charles was fetched back to be a companion to him Stanley was always the favourite.

"Some years afterwards the French lady died, and then master seemed as if he was just mad about the boy. He was spoilt in every way, and grew up wilful, selfish, and extravagant. The only person who could do anything with him was his brother

Then again: "Pussie's gone! Poor Pussie!" The sudden change from an evidently heavy sorrow to lamentation over the loss of some favourite cat would have seemed ludicrous at any other time. The entrance of the nurse released me from my post, and, giving minute directions as to the treat-Marmion,' as he always called him, and so by ment of the patient, I left the house. degrees Master Charles' real name was quite dropped. "Marmion married about ten years ago, and then Stanley, not having anyone to look after him, just went to the bad altogether. About two years ago he had got into fearful debt, and Marmion came over to spend a week with us. I overheard Stanley tell him that unless the old gentleman "stumped up a fearful lot" he should have to run for it. Master's a bit of a miser, you know, sir, and had been saving up for this very boy, I believe, and had paid his debts till he refused to pay any more.

There was no doubt in my mind now. The sick man was evidently the gentleman whom I had heard talking to Winnie's grandfather. Stanley was the son and brother, and this was 27, Burton-street, the very address the old miser had been muttering to himself the first time I had the extreme pleasure of beholding him. The mystery was deepening, and I went home and wasted an hour over those two advertisements, and then did what I ought to have done at first-went in next door and asked to see the old gentleman.

66

"He's gone away, sir; been away for a week; but I didn't tell the child because she'd fret so." "Then give me his address, and I'll write to him. By the by, what's his name?"

66

Name, sir? Sure, and didn't ye know it was Jones?"

The good-natured Irish face looked blank enough, and yet I was convinced that Jones was no more his name than that it was mine.

The next day the two brothers went out boating with a friend; a sudden gale came on, as it often does on those lakes, and two of them were drowned. Master turned Marmion out when he returned to the house, and said he had done it on purpose. After that master seemed almost out of his mind for a time. About twelve months ago Marmion's wife was taken ill, and master offered to take care of their little girl. She came to us, and for some time letters passed between the two houses regularly, but when the lady got better she was ordered abroad, and the little one still left with us.

"No sooner had they gone than master sends off all the servants but me, shuts up the house at Killarney, and comes over to England, bringing only me and the child. Since then we have not been a week in one place, until I felt like a wandering Jew, but now we have settled down it is worse, for I am not allowed to go out in the daylight; one might as well be in prison. Now I know what it all means, and the poor little lamb has been stolen from its parents. Oh, oh, oh!" and the poor old woman

broke down at last, and burying her face in her I hope it wasn't wrong, sir, but I did it for the child's
apron, sobbed as if her heart would break.
sake, in case she was ill."
"Then Winnie is Marmion's child?"

[blocks in formation]

"The Villa, Hatfield, Herts,'" I read. "Why
didn't you let them know the child was burnt, then ?"
I asked, somewhat sternly.
"And how could I, then, when I could not write,
and there was nobody to send ?"

[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
« السابقةمتابعة »