The Ghost of Downhill – Chapter 4
THE PASSING OF SIBBY
When James Stuart returned the girl told him of her unpleasant experience and he listened with a grave face.
“As a rule we see few tramps in this neighbourhood,” he said. “You must not go out alone, Margot. What did he call himself?”
“Sibby Carter!” she repeated with a half smile, but Mr. Stuart did not smile.
“I must remember the name. It may be useful for purposes of identifying him,” he said. “We must thank Mr. Jowlett for the service that his servant has rendered us.”
He himself met Jeremiah at the station that night, and Jeremiah, whose work had suffered that day by the memory of two laughing grey eyes, accepted the invitation to dine with indecent haste.
“I am glad Minter was on hand,” he said. “Confound that fellow! But that was Minter all over. Ever the knight-errant and rescuer of distressed ladies – lucky devil! Do you dress at nights?”
“No, no” said Mr. Stuart, shaking his head. “I want you to come as you are. Perhaps you’ll drive straight to the house.”
“I’ll take the elevator to the ninth,” said Jeremiah, “and I’ll be back at the house in time to welcome you.”
But when he did get to Arthurton Lodge Mr. Stuart was waiting. The dinner was a great success from the point of view of two peopled who rallied one another as though they had been friends since childhood. The old man was a silent but appreciative audience.
“And so you actually saw the ghost! And he wore hob-nailed boots. Bully for the ghost,” he said boisterously.
“It’s fun for you but I was scared to death,” said the girl.
“You were afraid I’d lose him I suppose,” said Jerry.
“and thank you for your thoughtfulness. He certainly had no right to stray on to your property, and any time you see him away from his ancestral home I hope you will send him back. I must get some slippers for him,” he said gravely. “You have no idea how that ghost wears out boots – “
“You haven’t seen him yet!” she challenged. “You won’t speak so flippantly of him when you do.”
“I never speak flippantly of ghosts,” protested Jerry. “Certainly not of my own ghost. When I bought the property five years ago and built that bungalow I particularly asked for special provision to be made for William – “
“Who is William?” asked the unsuspecting girl.
“William is the name of the ghost,” said the other solemnly.
“You’re incorrigible. And besides you know uncle takes quite a different view.”
“About ghosts?” asked the other incredulously.
“Don’t you uncle?” the girl appealed.
Mr. Stuart rubbed his beard.
“Naturally I believe in manifestations,” he said. “I have witnessed some extraordinary psychic phenomena and I would not exclude the possibility of even a ghost.”
“I am sorry if I – “ began Jerry.
“You can say anything you like about them,” said the old man good-humouredly. “I’m merely expressing an opinion.”
They adjourned to the drawing room after dinner and to the girl’s surprise Mr. Stuart accompanied them and sat whilst she sang. It was in an interval of silence, one of those momentary cessations of speech which the superstitious associate with the twentieth minute, that an interruption came. The girl looked round suddenly at the shuttered window.
“What was that?” asked Mr. Stuart quickly.
“I thought I heard a sound,” she said. “It was as though somebody had touched the window pane.”
“I’ll go and see,” he said, but the hand of James Stuart detained him.
“It may be our friend the ghost,” he said, half jocularly and half seriously, “and in that case I think that somebody should see him who takes a less frivolous view.”
“Shall I come with you?” asked Jerry.
“I’d rather go alone,” replied Mr. Stuart, and was gone for some time.
They heard his footsteps walking along the gravel path which run round the house and then they heard him return. It was some minutes before he came back to them and he met Jerry in the passage.
“Miss Panton was getting anxious,” said the young man.
“Nobody was there,” explained Stuart as he came back to the drawing room and laid an electric torch upon a table. “I searched the shrubbery and the garden but there is no sign of ghost or burglar.”
“It may have been the creeper knocking against the window,” said Margot, but Stuart shook his head.
“There is no wind and I particularly noticed that the creeper is trimmed close near the window,” he said. “Perhaps it was your imagination.”
They sat talking for some time and the old man included himself in the conversation. Jerry was hoping that the scientist would tell something of his adventures in Brazil but beyond a perfunctory and superficial reference to the heat and the mosquitoes he said little or nothing and the talk was mostly of Margot’s school life and Mr. Stuart’s reminiscences of her mother when she was a girl.
He was in the midst of one of these stories when he stopped suddenly and bent his head.
“Did you hear anything?” he asked.
“I heard nothing,” said Jerry in surprise. “What did it sound like?”
“It sounded like a footstep on the gravel. Did you hear it Margot?”
But Margot had not heard it either.
“Strange!” muttered Mr. Stuart.
The conversation was resumed. Again he stopped.
“I’ll swear I heard a cry,” he said.
Jerry had heard what he thought was the faint screech of a distant owl.”
“I thought it was an own, too,” said Margot.
Soon after Jerry rose to go and they walked with him to the hall, Mr. Stuart helping him on with his coat. He had left his car at the back of the house outside the little garage but refused the old man’s company.
“I can find my way up the hill road blind folded.” He said as Stuart opened the door, “and – “
He stopped and started back with a little exclamation of surprise. And well he might be surprised, for crouched in the porch was the figure of a man. The light in the hall was strong enough to show every detail of the huddled man and Margot recognized him.
“Why, it is the tramp!” she cried. “Sibby Carter.”
Jerry learnt over the figure and touched it, and at that touch it rolled over and fell in an inanimate heap.
“Dead!” gasped Jerry and looked closer.
As the figure lay its throat was exposed and there was a round and livid bruise at the nape of the neck.
“Dead!” said Jerry again. “And murdered I think. The Ghost of Down Hill has a pair of very powerful hands, Mr. Stuart, for this man’s neck is broken!”
END OF CHAPTER 4