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THE TALE OF ANGUS HUNTER
A TALL, pleasantly ugly, youngish sort of man, with very large hands and feet, stood gazing out from an upper window into Little Oakfield Street, which is in the southwestern district of London and lies off the Haymarket, in mid-afternoon of a chilly day in May. Beneath him, and on the opposite side of the street, was an outfitter’s shop, and, eyeing the display in the shop window as well as he could at this height and distance, he meditated over buying ties. There was nothing else to do, it appeared, so why not go out and buy ties?
He faced about, still considering the idea, and looked at his well-appointed desk in the middle of the room, with its swivelling chair for himself, and comfortable leather-upholstered armchair for clients—but it appeared that there were no clients. Therefore, ties! Lots of ties. Striped ties, speckled ties, plain-coloured ties—any old ties! He had reached that point in his meditations when a tallish, graceful girl entered, approached him, and silently handed him a card. Gazing at it, he postponed the expedition in quest of ties.
“Angus d’Arcy Hunter,” he read out. “Does he look it, Miss Brandon?”
His secretary, used to his ways, neither smiled nor frowned. She merely looked at him with that superior air which, for over a year, now, had impressed on him that familiarities would not be tolerated.
“Oldish, stout, and red-faced,” she said.
“High blood-pressure,” he diagnosed. “All right, I’ll see him.”
She left the door open as she went out, and presently returned.
“Mr. Hunter, Mr. Green,” she announced and also introduced.
The visitor proved decidedly stout, bay-windowed, in fact. He had scant grey hair, grizzled eyebrows, deeply-set and widely-spaced grey eyes, a purplish nose, and a firm, rather thin-lipped mouth. The younger man sized him up as good-tempered in a general way, but choleric, and, on sight, liked him. He stood at gaze, two paces inside the room, as Miss Brandon closed the door on him.
“Won’t you sit down?” the younger man inquired politely, indicating the comfortable armchair intended for clients—such as this.
“Young man”—Hunter spoke clearly and incisively—“can you lay ghosts?” And he made no move to accept the invitation.
“Well”—Green spoke in a thoughtful way, as if doubtful of committing himself—“so far, I’ve only laid two. Both at once, though.”
“How?” This second question was even more incisive.
“Shot ’em, and then burnt ’em,” Green replied. “To make sure, you know. But do sit down, won’t you, Mr. Hunter?”
Hunter advanced toward the indicated chair, lowered himself into it, and shook his head gravely as the other took the swivel chair at the desk. “No good, I’m afraid,” he said. “Not for mine, I mean.”
“My secretary brought in your card,” Green observed, rather abstractedly, “but there was no address on it.”
“No. Well, that can wait. Do you believe in ghosts?”
“Which way did you come here?” Green inquired in reply.
“Which way? Why, Piccadilly Circus and the Haymarket, of course.”
“Oh, no, Mr. Hunter! Not of course. You might have rolled up from Charing Cross. But if you think of all that Piccadilly Circus and the Haymarket are—if you consider this mechanised city, you will realise it as impossible to believe in ghosts, here. In the quiet places of the earth, though, one is forced to admit, sometimes, a belief.”
“The quiet places of the earth,” his visitor echoed thoughtfully. “I see, Mr. Green, that you are not altogether a fool.”
“If ever we get to know each other, I hope to be able to return your compliment, Mr. Hunter,” Green said. “Meanwhile—?” He paused, suggestively, and lifted his wrist to look at his watch.
“Yes,” said Hunter, quite unabashed. “But—this Gees. Who is he?”
“I am,” Green said. “I have four names, and it is my solitary initial. Therefore, when I founded this firm, I used that name.”
“And the firm?” Hunter asked.
Gees frowned slightly at this apparently unreasonable inquisitiveness. “Myself, and my secretary,” he (answered. “I had thoughts of an office boy, but decided against it. Too banal. Too conventional.”
“Well, Mr. Green”—Hunter appeared to have made up his mind to get to business at last—“happening to be in town—”
Then he paused, and Green waited, but in vain. “One might almost say it is obvious,” he prompted gently.
“Yes.” Hunter appeared to rouse himself. “In the club to-day, I happened to meet your father, and he recommended me to you.”
“Well, well!” Green observed, with mild surprise. “Getting liberal-minded—and at his age, too! Recommended me as a ghost-layer?”
“As nearly as I can remember, he said you were fond of cock-and-bull tales, and fool enough to undertake anything. Murmured something about mumps to murder, in a tone of extreme disgust.”
“Ah! That will be my slogan. ‘Consult Gees for anything from mumps to murder.’ He doesn’t like it, I know. But—I conclude, from your knowing him, you are one of the Shropshire Hunters?”
“The last one, except for my son,” Hunter admitted, “and he is at present with his battalion in India. I may tell you, Mr. Green, that my object in calling on you is neither mumps nor murder. Er—were you serious when you said you had laid two ghosts?”
“Perfectly serious,” Green answered gravely.
“Then you might undertake to lay another—for a consideration?”
“The consideration would be serious, too,” Green informed him.
“Name your own terms,” Hunter said promptly. “For laying the ghost, I mean—not for merely attempting to lay it.”
“Then”—Green settled himself comfortably in his chair, and put his foot on a button which warned Miss Brandon to take down a conversation—the microphone which would give it her was in front of Hunter, but invisible to him—“if you will particularise, Mr. Hunter, I will decide whether the undertaking would appeal to me.”
There was a momentary gleam of anger in Hunter’s eyes. He had come here to employ a certain man for a certain task, arid give him his orders, but it was not working out like that at all. He controlled himself, though, and proceeded to detail his affair.
“We Shropshire Hunters, Mr. Green—that is, my family, own practically all Denlandham, as probably you know,” he said. “Have you been there, though? Your father knows it, but—”
“I have not been there, nor met any of your family,” Green interposed. “Miss nothing out—tell it as to a stranger.”
“Very well, then,” Hunter assented. “An ancestor of mine received the estate from Henry the Eighth as reward for services when the monasteries were being broken up—I believe it was entirely church lands, till that time. And the family residence was a house called Knightsmere, now known as Knightsmere Farm, and still belonging to the estate.”
“But no longer the home of the Hunters,” Green suggested.
“No. It ceased to be that early in the eighteenth century. Through siding with Charles against the Parliament, the family lost everything. The second Charles gave back the estate—the lands, that is—but forgot the very large sum of money which my ancestor of that day contributed to the royal cause. Knightsmere was half ruined by the Parliamentarian troops, and was restored to no more than a farmhouse, with the rooms all set round one tremendous chimney, when an Angus Hunter took back the estate after the accession of Charles the Second. The family was too poor to make a mansion of it again.”
“I have an idea it is not a poor family now,” Green remarked.
“Since I am the family,” Hunter said, “I may as well own that I do not consider myself poor. Because, toward the end of the seventeenth century, a certain Robert Hunter went adventuring in the East, slave-trading, and what-not. He was a younger son, and went to make his fortune, but returned in middle age to find his brother had died childless so that he was next in succession, with enough of capital to build the present Denlandham House and still leave a respectable fortune in addition to the income from the land. That income has dwindled till the land is more of a responsibility than an asset, in these days.”
“As is the case with our Shropshire estate,” Green put in.
“Yes. Taxation, hen-roost-robbing by the Criccieth charlatan, and—but if I begin on that, I shall never put my case before you. The ghost, Mr. Green, begins with Robert Hunter, the adventurer.”
“Oh! Not before his time?” Green inquired in surprise.
“No. No shadowy monk, and not the knight who was murdered by being drowned in the mere—which gives the old house its name. It never appeared, as far as family records and traditions go, until Robert came back from the East and built our present home.”
“It sounds slightly interesting,” Green remarked thoughtfully.
“Are you being sceptical?” There was a hint of anger in the query.
“No,” Green answered. “An open mind is as good as a banking account, though one may make an overdraft on either. Proceed, Mr. Hunter. The ghost came in with your ancestor Robert—and still walks?”
“Never has walked,” Hunter demurred. “It whirls and guggles—I call it guggling, and it’s like the noise of liquid being poured from a bottle, nearly, a sort of clucking, guggling noise. And it only appears intermittently. It seems to have been quiet after Robert’s death till his grandson had inherited, missing out a generation entirely.”
“What sort of man was the grandson?” Green interrupted.
“Rather—well, not an attractive character,” Hunter confessed. “In fact, a murder was traced to him, but after his death.”
“Ye—es.” He sounded thoughtful over it. “And after his death it went quiet again—refrained from appearing, that is?”
“Exactly.” Hunter sounded pleased as he confirmed the surmise. “I gather you know something about this type of ghost, Mr. Green?”
“No. I have not—well, collected ghosts, as one might say. I’ve never collected them enough to range them in types, I mean. Then—the next appearance, if there were one prior to your own annoyance over it.”
“Did I say I was annoyed?” Hunter spoke rather testily. “Never mind, though, because I am, and worse. The next appearance was in my grandfather’s days—my father was at Cambridge at the time. There is some doubt as to whether it were an actual appearance, or a hoax played for his own ends by a man named Utter—Henry Utter. He was the son of one of the estate tenants, and grew up as a ne’er-do-well, eventually drifting to crime and going to serve a two-year sentence for a particularly despicable type of offence. The ghost is said to have reappeared for the period between his coming out of gaol, and his death.”
“A fairly long period, then?” Green asked.
“No. Oh, no! Henry Utter broke into Denlandham House one night and gathered up the family silver and some other trifles. A branch of ivy gave way as he was climbing down from an upper window—the one he had used for entry—and he fell. There was a gold-hafted poniard, one of the curios our adventurer Robert brought back, among the loot, and Henry was so unfortunate as to fall on the point of it. That was eighteen months after his release from prison, and the ghost was seen during that time, but not after. So it was generally thought that he resurrected the old story by playing ghost, though I don’t see what he gained by it, if he did that. And the description of the thing tallies with the old stories, and with what I know.”
“Appeared with Robert, vanished at Robert’s death,” Green summarised reflectively. “Again appeared with an ancestor who was a murderer, and vanished at his death. Appeared again with Henry Utter, and vanished at his death. Only those three appearances, Mr. Hunter?”
“Only those three periods of appearance, as far as I know,” Hunter answered. “That is, until this present out-break.”
“Which began when?” Green asked.
“Last November. There is neither rhyme nor reason in it, as far as I can see. The thing seems to haunt Knightsmere Farm and the roadway leading to it—that has always been its location, according to the records of it. It delights in frightening women.”
“As how?” Green appeared to take all this as matter of course.
“Merely by appearing to them,” Hunter answered, rather nervously. “I, of course, give out that I don’t believe in the supernaturalness of it, but when I tell you that the only time I saw it myself, I emptied two twelve-bore cartridges of number five shot into it, and saw it caper away utterly unharmed, you will realise that I am forced to believe there is something uncanny about it.”
“Or a shot-proof suit,” Green suggested. “But supposing you had killed someone quite human, how would you have accounted for your act?”
“I don’t know,” Hunter confessed frankly, “but after Norris’s daughter—Norris was my tenant at Knightsmere Farm—after the girl had been taken to a mental home through encountering the ghost, I gave out that I intended to shoot the masquerader on sight, and he must take the risk if he persisted in his horrible impersonation.”
“I see. And was it dusk, or full dark, when you shot this ghost?”
“How do you know it wasn’t daylight?” Hunter demanded.
“I don’t,” Green answered. “What was it, anyhow?”
“The last of the dusk. I’d been to Knightsmere to inquire about the girl, and was coming back along the roadway—that is, the private lane between the farmhouse and the road, and I had a double-barrelled twelve-bore hammerless loaded in the crook of my arm—I’d been potting rabbits, which are a nuisance on that farm. The roadway is enclosed between two enormous hawthorn hedges, each well over twenty-five feet high and quite impenetrable for all their length, so it was practically dark between them— and it’s about half a mile from the house to the gate leading into the road. Half way between the house and the road I first heard this thing and then saw it. I called to it, ‘What are you doing here?’ or something of that sort—I don’t remember clearly what I said, because, I’ve got to confess, I was in a more awful state of fear than I’d thought possible to myself. It didn’t answer, and I managed to get the gun to my shoulder and loose off both barrels. And—and it just went twirling and guggling in among the hawthorns on one side of the roadway, and disappeared, with no trace of how it had got away.”
“Climbed through the hedge,” Green conjectured.
“Haven’t I told you that’s impossible?” Hunter exclaimed angrily, “A child of five couldn’t squeeze through between those hawthorn stems, and certainly nobody could climb through. Both hedges are utterly impenetrable to anything bigger than a small terrier. They’re the pride of Knightsmere, and haven’t been more than slashed back to shape— the outer branches trimmed back—for over half a century. No. The thing vanished as a ghost vanishes, not humanly at all.”
“And at what distance were you when you shot at it?” Green asked.
“Anything between twelve and twenty yards—not more than twenty.”
“Being what sort of shot?” The question came after a long pause.
“I don’t miss, with a twelve-bore only left-choked, at that distance,” Hunter answered. “And if you’ve got another question in mind, I’ve been a teetotaller for over twenty years, by medical orders.”
“Yes.” He thought over it. “And this girl—in the mental home?”
“May Norris. Yes. Will recover, they say, in time. Mind deranged by shock. I offered anything Norris chose to ask, but he refused everything and left the farm at the April quarter. I put a bailiff in to manage, since I took over the growing crops at a valuation when Norris left, and now he—the bailiff—is quitting my employ altogether at the end of this month. Would have left sooner, if I hadn’t almost begged him to stay till I could get another man to replace him.”
“Is he married, this bailiff?” Green asked.
“Yes, and says he’s leaving on account of his wife—at her wish.”
“Ah! Have you seen this wife lately?”
“Not since they went to Knightsmere. Why? Do you think—?”
“A lot,” Green said in the pause. “Now tell me, Mr. Hunter, are you overstocked with bad characters round about Denlandham just now?”
“Overstocked—bad characters?” Hunter echoed in a puzzled way. “Why—what on earth has that got to do with it, even if we are?”
“Possibly nothing,” Green admitted—but he shifted his ground of questioning at once. “What’s this poltergeist of yours like, Mr. Hunter, since you’ve actually seen it yourself and—”
“Poltergeist be damned!” Hunter interjected angrily. “They’re things that throw plates and crockery about, mischief and no more—not one atom impressive, by all I’ve read and heard. And this is impressive! I know that from my one encounter with it.”
“But not impressionable,” Green observed. “At least, it doesn’t react to two charges of number five shot in the way one might expect. Could you give me any description of it, though?”
“Does that mean you’re going to lay it?” Hunter asked.
“You haven’t told me enough about it, yet,” Green countered.
“Well, it’s”—he hesitated—“it’s tall. Taller than I am. Taller than you are, I’d say. Mind, it was practically dark when I shot at it, but light enough for me to align the gun on it, though I couldn’t see the bead of the foresight. And it seemed to be wearing—well, a thin sort of fur, I suppose it was. Something that looked all fuzzy, and made it look broad as well as tall. But whatever that was, it was thin stuff—almost semi-transparent by daylight, I should say. Features I couldn’t see—if it had any. And it didn’t keep still.”
“Do you mind explaining that?” Green asked.
“Well, I got the impression that it was twirling and twisting all the time,” Hunter said. “Rather like—like one of those miniature whirlwinds that gather up dust and leaves in harvest time, twirling round and round as if it were on a pivot instead of feet—till I shot at it. Then it appeared to run, tremendously fast, till I lost sight of it.”
“No blood, nor any trace of the results of your shots?”
“Nothing whatever. That roadway was muddy, but there was no footprint, apart from my own. I struck matches, and came back the next morning as well, to look, but there was no trace of it at all.”
“Has it done anything?” Green asked abruptly, after a pause.
“Done anything—what do you mean?” Hunter snapped.
“Exactly what I say. Can you trace any activities to it?”
“If you don’t call frightening a girl into a mental home, and driving one man after another out of living at a farm-house, doing anything, I don’t know what is,” Hunter snapped still more sharply.
“The girl may have had delusions, her father may have believed her story and left on account of it, and your bailiff may be a superstitious type that gets frightened of living in an old house,” Green said.
“And I—in such terror of the sight of it as I had never believed possible of myself—what am I?” Hunter demanded. “A rank coward?”
“No-o-o,” Green conceded, rather dubiously. “It seems that there may be something in it. And you say you are willing to pay for results over laying it. Well, money is generally truthful, even if—”
“If you mean that you are prepared to put an end to this—this haunting, call it—name your own terms. Payable for success, mind. I pay nothing at all if you fail, not even your expenses.”
“Very well,” Green said calmly. “Two hundred and fifty pounds.”
“Agreed!” The word was uttered eagerly, without a second’s delay.
“Very good, Mr. Hunter.” Green stood up as he spoke. “Put that in writing and send the letter to me here—no conditions or stipulations, only that when you are satisfied that this ghost is laid, you will pay me the sum of two hundred and fifty pounds. I think that is all.”
“Yes, I’ll send you the letter. And when shall I see you at Denlandham, ready to begin on it?”
“I said, no conditions or stipulations, Mr. Hunter,” Green reminded him quietly. “Send the letter, and leave the rest to me.”
For some few seconds Hunter looked as if he would not merely repudiate the bargain, but speak a piece of his mind as well. Then, meeting Green’s steady, tranquil gaze, he thought better of it.
“Very well, I will send the letter,” he said. “It commits me to nothing, until you can report success. Good afternoon, Mr. Green.”
“Good afternoon, sir. My secretary will see you out.”
Hunter, quite unaware that Miss Brandon had heard that last remark through the microphone, was not a little surprised to see her open the door and stand ready to escort him to the exit from the office—and from Green’s residence as well, since all but the two rooms which he and his secretary used as offices were living quarters. He left, and Green lighted a cigarette and then went from his own room to Miss Brandon’s, to see her stand gazing down at the pothooks in her notebook.
“I think we’d better have a transcript, Miss Brandon,” he remarked.
“Then I will get on with it,” she answered, and seated herself at her desk in readiness to begin.
“No hurry—we’ve got to wait for his letter,” he said, and leaned against the doorpost to exhale smoke. “What did you think of him?”
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” she answered emphatically.
“No? It’s a wide term, though—takes in quite a lot of things. His is a wealthy family, I happen to know—my father is vaguely acquainted with him, as he let me know, and two hundred and fifty pounds to him is equal to the same number of shillings to me, which is why I fixed that figure. And he’ll pay it, too,” he ended with conviction.
“For what?” she asked, gazing straight at him.
“Laying the ghost,” he answered tranquilly, and blew more smoke.
“You talk about it—and he talked about it too—as if he were asking you to go and shoot rabbits,” she declared with some impatience.
“Well, I might do that,” he admitted, “since he says they’re a nuisance in his part of the country. But how should we have talked?”
“The supernatural—or whatever you choose to call it—one hardly considers it—well—I mean—in that everyday sort of fashion.”
“And why not?” He smiled slightly as he put the question.
“Well, I should think—” She hesitated. “And are you, as he puts it, going to lay this ghost—going there to do it?”
“I certainly am,” he answered decidedly.
“There is no such thing,” she declared with equal decision.
“Then I am going to persuade him I have laid it.”
“And take the money for doing it?”
“Inevitably,” he said coolly. “You don’t think I’d waste the time it will take, all for nothing, do you, Miss Brandon?”
“It wouldn’t be you if you did,” she answered with conviction.
“No. Meanwhile you haven’t answered my question— what you think of him. You deliberately hedged away from it to state a disbelief in the existence of ghosts, without defining what you mean by ghosts.”
“I mean—” she began, but he held up a protesting hand.
“No, no, Miss Brandon. I rely at times very largely on your—your feminine intuition, call it. What did you think of him?”
“On the strength of this, you mean?” She pointed down at her notes of the conversation that she had taken down.
“On that, since it’s more than what you saw of him,” he assented.
“Well, I don’t believe in ghosts,” she repeated.
“In other words, Angus d’Arcy Hunter is a liar. Feminine intuition wins once more. I began by being prepared to like him, but when he passed out that my father had recommended him to come to me—well!”
“But if there isn’t any ghost, why?” she began, and broke off.
“Oh, that part of it is sound enough,” he assured her. “He believes in his twirling guggler, whatever it is. But my father has gone all wild over my revival of that mumps to murder slogan in the personal columns of his favourite dailies, and he wouldn’t recommend a goat to come to me to be groomed. Moreover, I know he’d studiously ignore Angus—there’s been a coolness between the two families ever since a Green went off with a Mrs. Hunter and didn’t come back. And because Hunter knew that I’m the son of General Green, owner of the Shropshire property, he pitched me that tale to get me there, hoping I wouldn’t contact my father and get put off going to Denlandham for him.”
“But, if so, how did he know of you?” she asked.
“Through that Cumberland business, of course, when I put an end to the grey shapes. Somebody told him all there is known of that story, but I think he got it that the business was done by Gees, not me, which is why he asked after Gees—whoever told him knew that name for me.”
“But why—why not be straight about it?” she demanded. “Why should he lie about General Green, or—or be roundabout over it?”
“You’ll find, Miss Brandon,” he said, “that it suits some natures to be roundabout. They’ll go to no end of trouble, and even make trouble for themselves, rather than take a straight course. Hunter knew that a Shropshire Green would have no great liking for any one of his family, he wanted Gees to come and lay his ghost, and he found himself faced by a Shropshire Green for a beginning, and then found that particular Green was the Gees he was after. He hoped to get straight to Gees, missing out Green, and told that little tale when he found they were one and the same. But”—he straightened himself with a start—“by the holy pancake, I forgot all about the two guineas for initial consultation!”
“I didn’t.” She took up her notebook, and revealed two pound notes and a two shilling piece which it had concealed.
“Miss Brandon, you’re a pearl of exceeding price,” he told her feelingly. “If that letter arrives to-morrow morning, I’ll start for Denlandham after lunch, and meanwhile I want to consult some authorities on twirling gugglers, so you can mind the office.”
“You don’t mean you believe in it, Mr. Green?” she asked.
“An open mind,” he answered, “is as valuable as an account with a bookmaker, and I keep both. That two guineas will help to pay the bookmaker’s account for last week—if I hand you the account, you can make out the cheque for me to sign, Miss Brandon. Thanks so much.”
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