THE HAND ON THE PANEL.
(Continued.) A fire was lighted in that bedroom early in the day. I took care to show myself at the window once or twice. Mr Barrington came, went over the house, even to the cellars, reserving the room for the last. I pointed out the door upon which the reflection appeared. Mr Barrington remarked it ‘ carried a good coat of paint; ’ then stood looking attentively at a large stain on the boards. ‘ They don’t seem to have scoured'
these planks, very well,’ I said, ‘though the rest seem very clean.’ ‘ Some stains never can be scoured out,’ he said ; ‘ this may be one.’ X knew what he meant, and began to wish I had never told that story. If he was going to ferret out some horrible circumstances in connection with the house, what was to become of my twenty years’ lease ? for little as I cared for evil reports, I knew irfy wife 100 well not to see what consequence would inevitably follow'. There was nothing for it now’, however, but to let things take their course. -
It was a cloudy, foggy day; so by five was tolerably dark. We—my wife, Barrington, and myself—sat by the fire in the drawing-room, dialling of the north, until I almost forgot the cause of our new friend’s presence.
A low ring at the bell brought my thoughts back to the cause sharply enough. Mr Barrington drew his chair into the window, and took a hand screen, saying—
‘ Do not appeal to me, lei me speak when the time comes, only keep him talking.’
Ellen, as I advised her, got up and left the room, thinking Mr Barringtcn was the strangest and most inquisitive person she had ever met.
As I knew and expected, our policeman was announced as wishing to speak to me. Mary brought him in, shut the door, and left him standing helmet in hand, the fire light shining full on his pale face and gleaming eyes.
He glanced suspiciously towards Barrington, but the shade of the chimney and the screen must have quite hidden him from sight. ‘ I made bold to call again, sir, to, ask if you and your good lady were all right,’ he said, in the same hoarse, suppressed sort of voice. ‘ Thank you ; yes, all right, though as you know we got a fright the other night.’ ‘ Indeed,’ he began, as if he was going to affect ignorance, then hesitatated, coughed, drew his hand across his face, and went on, speaking hurriedly.
‘ 1 am aware you were disturbed, very much so, sir; but you see, when your good lady screamed ’ —again he caught himself up, hesitated, made the same movement with his hand, and went on —“ it was a policeman’s duty to give an alarm.” ‘For an officer of the force, my friend, but scarcely for a private individual,’ said Mr Barrington quietly. The man did not stir an inch nearer, but he leant forward, stretching his neck, raising his chin by that action, and bringing down his eyebrows, as he peered into the shade. I never moved, or glanced aside ; something impelled me to act simply as if he had not spoken, as if he was not present; this involuntary proceeding on my part had a strange effect. The man drew himself up, uttered a short laugh, and said—<
‘ I am rather shortsighted, sir; I thought I saw a gentleman; I perceive it is only the shadow.’ ‘ Shadows, as well as appearances, are often deceitful,’ I said, acting up to the cue so strangely given me. ‘ You were talking of the alarm—were you on duty at the lime ?’ _ ‘ Not here, sir; oh ! no, not here. 1
was many miles distant. May I ask why your good lady did scream, sir ?’ ‘ Tell him,’ I seemed to hear breathed by Barrington.’ ‘ Well, my wife saw, or thought she saw, a strange appearance in the room —what I may call an illuminated or luminous mark upon the wall, resemble a man’s hand, spread out —so !’ suiting the action to the word.
‘As if he had thrown his hand up to prevent himself from falling,’ said Barrington, in the same measured tones as before. This time the effect of his words was startling. The madman, for the real stale of the man’s mind had been gradually dawning upon me, threw out his right arm, and cried— H * Get thee behind me, Satan. Behold ! If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee. Thou hast no power over me now.’ I shuddered as a new light flashed upon me. It was a handles||fth 1 Barrington rose api stood in the full light.
It was an extraordinary scene. The man never moved; I could hear his breath drawn thickly, and saw the muscles of his face working, as he glarecf at Barrington. Then he put up his hand, passed it over his face, gave that low, short laugh again, and said in his usual voice—
‘ You will excuse me, sir; I am somewhat incoherent to-night—the fact is I’ve been drinking. I really thought’ —here he laughed again, agtd wiped his white face —‘ that someone was standing there, just behind you, sir. You’ll excuse me, sir, mentioning it, but it’s the drink, sir—the drink.’ . ‘ 1 thought you had taken the pledge,’ I said. A cunning look came over his face.
* That is too true, but I broke it. There are times when a man must drink ; there are thoughts only drink can stop ; you may pray and pray, you may read Scripture, you. may go by Scripture, and still feel the worm gnawing at ycur heart It’s only drink that can quench the fire, or send the worm to sleep. Drink is oblivion.’ Then in an instant his lone changed to the old one, with the set form o words—
‘ You’ll excuse me, sir, since you and your good lady are all right; I will wish you a very good night. Good night, sir.’
He left the room, closed the door, and listening, I heard him cross the hall and leave the house. To make sure I followed, opened the front door softly, and saw him stalking quickly along the pavement. Then I came back, ‘ What in heaven’s name does it all mean ?’ I asked Barrington. ‘ Give me a glass of brandy and I’ll tell you.’
I brought the brandy. ‘ Now,’ he said, ‘ I’ll tell you. Ten years ago an old gentleman, who lived in this house, was robbed and murdered. The murder was done in that room in which your .wife, had her strange dream. The body was found lying across the door of a cupboard in which valuables had been kept, and against which there was the mark of an outstretched blood-smeared hand.’ . . 1 Good heavens !’ (To he continued.)
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THE HAND ON THE PANEL., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 322, 19 April 1881
THE HAND ON THE PANEL. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 322, 19 April 1881
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