Midnight House - Ethel Lina White - ebook

Midnight House ebook

Ethel Lina White

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The story „Midnight House” about the mysterious house. The owners, who went abroad. However, neighbors claim that they saw them in the city. This house is associated with ill-fated love and early death. For a long time, it was closed, but soon reopened...

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Liczba stron: 317

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Contents

I. THE EMPTY HOUSE

II. MURDER LANE

III. BLACK HAND

IV. THE CELLAR

V. POLTERGEISTER

VI. THE RACE

VII. THE LAST POST

VIII. The Game

IX. CROOKED MARY

X. "HOME"

XI. ANCIENT HISTORY

XII. GOOD VICTORIANS NEVER DIE

XIII. THE LAST WORD

I. THE EMPTY HOUSE

–I–

THE house had been barred, locked and shuttered for over eleven years. Thousands of days had dawned without a ray of sunlight striking through its windows. Thousands of nights had fallen with no flicker of a match within its walls.

Lying awake in the next house, Elizabeth Featherstonhaugh–aged nineteen and possessed of a fertile imagination–used to shudder at the thought of black emptiness pressing on the other side of her room. Herself a child of loneliness and twilight–she believed that the darkness must be in absolute possession of the deserted mansion. She imagined it clotted to material strength and shredded with solid cores of density–so that if an intruder dared to force a passage through it, he would be drawn in and crushed between rollers of atmospheric pressure.

Occasionally, as she listened, she thought she heard strange noises in the empty house. There were sounds of tapping, creaking, rumbling. Footsteps walked where there were no feet. Drawers seemed to be pulled open where there were no hands. When the furniture appeared to thud from spot to spot, she knew that it was time to switch on her bed-light.

The reassurance of her own cheerful room, with its comfort and fine proportions, reminded her that she was in charge of Captain Pewter’s two children and that it was more than a job.

“This family belongs to my caste,” she told herself. “The Captain comes from my wonderful India. I like Geraldine. I’m fond of dear little Philippa. And I love Barnaby... I won’t be frightened.”

When she was small, she had been so terrified of the dread “Black Man in the cellar” that she petitioned the angels to protect her. Now, as she sat up in bed, with her short fair hair ruffled from the pillow and her white pyjama-jacket open to reveal a thin neck, she looked almost a child again.

Her eyes were wide with fear as she stared at her bedroom wall, as though she were actually threatened by the crowding darkness. At such moments she pictured a sudden burst and bulge of masonry displaced by the encroachment of the evil force which had choked the light.

“There’s someone–or something–in the empty house,” she whispered before, once again, she prayed for protection.

“Deliver me from the Powers of Darkness.”

–II–

The empty house was listed in the postal directory as No. 11 India Crescent, Rivermead, but it was a dead address. Its absentee owner and his wife were reported to be living abroad; but it was so long since they had been seen in the town that few people remembered them. During the years there had grown up a new generation who were too accustomed to the blinded building to be curious.

Occasionally strangers asked questions about it, only to be told that it was just another of those deserted homes sprinkled about every country–shrines to memory. Only a few residents remembered its tragic story of domestic tyranny, ill-starred love and early death.

Mr. Spree, the lawyer, knew more than any outsider, but as representative of legal caution his lips were sealed. He used to walk to his office and had been accustomed to pass No. 11 four times daily without giving it a thought. Towards the middle of November, 1938, his interest in it was revived by the calendar.

He was a healthy, well-preserved man of sixty, wearing the conventional clothes of his profession while resembling the traditional farmer. Doomed by inheritance to a sedentary life, he spent his leisure in chopping wood and cutting lawns. He was also a keen gardener and specialised in yellow tomatoes.

It gave him a pang to remember that he was still in the forties when he had been responsible for sealing up No. 11 India Crescent. This house had been the property of General Tygarth, who lived there for many years with his wife and two children. Mrs. Tygarth was a silly, snobbish woman, who got the sort of husband she deserved, for the General–irritable, eccentric and tradition-bound–pushed her about remorselessly.

The children were gentle, listless and apparently of poor stamina. The daughter, Madeline, married a local doctor who–in spite of his youth–was considered destined for the first flight. Her parents were glad to be rid of her, for they concentrated on their son–Clement.

In spite of their devotion they were deeply disappointed in his character. He was delicate, dreamy and devoid of the requisite lethal instincts. The sporting community had a name for him. Yet during the War of 1914-1918 he ran away from Oxford and enlisted as a private. He became a prisoner of war in Germany–escaped, only to be recaptured–and finally, after the Armistice, returned to his family as a total disability.

Three years later, the next-door house, No. 10, was bought by a retired sanitary-engineer. He was an excellent plumber and his drains remained after him as a valuable legacy to future tenants; but the other residents resented his connection with trade.

As leader of the opposition, the General did his utmost to freeze out the newcomer. However, he met his match in the plumber, for Alexander Brown had dug in his heels.

“I’ll live to see you move out first,” he prophesied to the General. “Then I’ll clear out–and glad to leave the stinking place.”

–III–

While their parents raged like bulls in combat, the General’s son and the plumber’s daughter fell deeply in love. Marion Brown was sweet, simple, and a perfect type of natural blonde beauty, but as far as the Tygarth family was concerned, she was mud. From the first kiss, the romance was doomed to follow the tragic tradition of Romeo and Juliet, for the worthy Browns–smarting from wounded pride–turned their daughter into a virtual prisoner, to keep her from meeting her lover.

For two years she never went out alone. Clement was powerless, since he was dependent on his father for every shilling and on his mother for the care which kept him alive. Forbidden to write to his beloved, he used to stand at his window, to watch her come and go on her daily walk.

Although it was so long ago, Mr. Spree, the lawyer, felt slightly choky at the memory of that white fading face behind the glass. Thwarted of love, the young War-hero’s health grew steadily worse, and he died from collapse during an attack of influenza.

His parents were broken-hearted and possibly conscience-stricken. As No. 11 had become a place of hateful memories, the General decided to shut up the house and go abroad.

Thus was the plumber’s prophecy fulfilled...

On that misty November morning, nearly twelve years later, the lawyer recalled the General’s letter of instructions. No. 11 was to be sealed up and remain unopened, pending further orders or the owner’s return. Upon a specified date, he was to assume the death of his client and open up the property.

“I wish you to be personally responsible for locking up the house” [wrote the General]. “We are leaving nothing of value behind and there are no animals. It is intolerable to contemplate some inquisitive bounder from an Estate Office prying into details of our private life. We are moving out early tomorrow morning, and hope our departure will be secret. We have suffered too deeply to endure further painful publicity.”

Although his instructions were definite, the lawyer could not resist ringing up the General, to urge the sale of the property. He was nearly blasted over the wire by his client’s rage.

“My letter stands,” he roared. “No sale. Haven’t you the gumption to realise the last thing I want is a pack of strangers let loose in my house, making a catalogue and passing remarks on my furniture? I regard the place as dead money.”

Mr. Spree could congratulate himself that he had acted with none of the traditional Law’s delay. That same afternoon, he unlocked the door of No. 11 with the key enclosed in the General’s letter and went inside, to carry out his instructions. The house was dark, as many of the windows were already latched and shuttered. With meticulous care to avoid taking notice of his suroundings, he went from room to room, to make sure that every fastening was secure. While he waited in the hall for the Corporation employees to cut off the water and check the electric-light meter, he read his newspaper, to prove his lack of curiosity.

Later, when he was alone again, he locked the back door, which opened on to the area. Then, with a sense of drama, he walked out of the front door–reflecting that his would be the last foot to cross the threshold for many years.

The next morning, the windows were boarded up from the ouside, and both locked doors were double-chained. Even the chimneys were blocked, to prevent daws from building inside the pots. When all was finished, the lawyer remarked that the house would need a Houdini quality to wriggle itself free from its bolts and bars...

And now–within a fortnight–it would be opened again.

–IV–

Still held captive by the past, the lawyer stood in the road to gaze along the fine sweep of India Crescent. The tall Regency houses of buff stucco were too spacious for wholesale private ownership. Only a few nabobs had the means to install modern improvements and provide the essential domestic labour. Many of the mansions were converted into luxury flats. There was also an expensive private hotel and a very exclusive social club.

No. 10–at one time the property of the plumber–had been bought by Captain Nigel Pewter. Recently returned from India, he converted it from an ice-box into a conservatory, besides transforming its appearance. Glancing up at the unveiled glass, the lawyer recalled the windows when they were muffled with Nottingham lace and shrouded with peacock-blue velvet.

He remembered too the spell-binding beauty of the girl who used to stand there, waiting in hope of one glimpse of her beloved. Her long hair flowed loose over her shoulders in a golden cloud–her cheeks were petal-pink–and her eyes shone deeply blue as his own love-in-a-mist.

Where was that beauty now?... He had heard nothing of the family for years. The plumber sold the house–after the General had made the first move–and left the neighbourhood. With the passage of time the tragic Marion had become misty and remote as a legendary figure.

Feeling romantic, the lawyer quoted Shelley.

“For love, and beauty, and delight There is no death nor change–...

Damn.”

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