It was undoubtedly an old house. The whole square was old, with that disapproving dignified old age often met with in a cathedral town. But No. 19 gave the impression of an elder among elders; it had a veritable patriarchal solemnity; it towered greyest of the grey, haughtiest of the haughty, chillest of the chill. Austere, forbidding, and stamped with that particular desolation attaching to all houses that have been long untenanted, it reigned above the other dwellings.
In any other town it would have been freely labelled “haunted,” but Weyminster was averse from ghosts and considered them hardly respectable except at the appanage of a “county family.” So No. 19 was never alluded to as a haunted house; but nevertheless it remained, year after year, TO BE LET OR SOLD.
Mrs. Lancaster looked at the house with approval as she drove up with the talkative house agent, who was in an unusually hilarious mood at the idea of getting No. 19 off his books. He inserted the key in the door without ceasing his appreciative comments.
“How long has the house been empty?” inquired Mrs. Lancaster, cutting short his flow of language rather brusquely.
Mr. Raddish (of Raddish and Foplow) became slightly confused.
“E—er—some time,” he remarked blandly.
“So I should think,” said Mrs. Lancaster drily.
The dimly lighted hall was chill with a sinister chill. A more imaginative woman might have shivered, but this woman happened to be eminently practical. She was tall with much dark brown hair just tinged with grey and rather cold blue eyes.
She went over the house from attic to cellar, asking a pertinent question from time to time. The inspection over, she came back into one of the front rooms looking out on the square and faced the agent with a resolute mien.
“What is the matter with the house?”
Mr. Raddish was taken by surprise.
“Of course, an unfurnished house is always a little gloomy,” he parried feebly.
“Nonsense,” said Mrs. Lancaster. “The rent is ridiculously low for such a house—purely nominal. There must be some reason for it. I suppose the house is haunted?”
Mr. Raddish gave a nervous little start but said nothing.
Mrs. Lancaster eyed him keenly. After a few moments she spoke again.
“Of course that is all nonsense, I don’t believe in ghosts or anything of that sort, and personally it is no deterrent to my taking the house; but servants, unfortunately, are very credulous and easily frightened. It would be kind of you to tell me exactly what—what thing is supposed to haunt this place.”
“I—er—really don’t know,” stammered the house agent.