"Featureless save for the dreadful eyes! Semi-materialized! Horrible!"

"What about the lights?"

"Oh, damn the lights! Let them burn. I am not going in again!"

"Well, Belchamber can come in the morning. Maybe he is waiting for us now at the inn."

"Yes, let us go to the inn. Let us get back to humanity." Malone and Roxton turned away, but the clergyman stood fast. He had drawn a crucifix from his pocket.

"You can go," said he. "I am going back."

"What! Into the house?"

"Yes, into the house."

"Padre, this is madness! It will break your neck. We were all like stuffed dolls in its clutch."

"Well, let it break my neck. I am going."

"You are not! Here, Malone, catch hold of him!"

But it was too late With a few quick steps, Mr. Mason had reached the door, flung it open, passed in and closed it behind him. As his comrades tried to follow, they heard a creaking clang upon the further side. The padre had bolted them out. There was a great slit where the letter-box had been. Through it Lord Roxton entreated him to return.

"Stay there!" said the quick, stern voice of the clergyman. " I have my work to do. I will come when it is done." A moment later he began to speak. His sweet, homely, affectionate accents rang through the hall. They could only hear snatches outside, bits of prayer, bits of exhortation, bits of kindly greeting. Looking through the narrow opening, Malone could see the straight, dark figure in the candlelight, its back to the door, its face to the shadows of the stair, the crucifix held aloft in its right hand.

His voice sank into silence and then there came one more of the miracles of this eventful night. A voice answered him. It was such a sound as neither of the auditors had heard before -- a guttural, rasping, croaking utterance, indescribably menacing. What it said was short, but it was instantly answered by the clergyman, his tone sharpened to a fine edge by emotion. His utterance seemed to be exhortation and was at once answered by the ominous voice from beyond. Again and again, and yet again came the speech and the answer, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer, varying in every key of pleading, arguing, praying, soothing, and everything save upbraiding. Chilled to the marrow, Roxton and Malone crouched by the door, catching snatches of that inconceivable dialogue. Then, after what seemed a weary time, though it was less than an hour, Mr. Mason, in a loud, full, exultant tone, repeated the " Our Father." Was it fancy, or echo, or was there really some accompanying voice in the darkness beyond him? A moment later the light went out in the left-hand window, the bolt was drawn, and the clergyman emerged carrying Lord Roxton's bag. His face looked ghastly in the moonlight, but his manner was brisk and happy.

"I think you will find everything here," he said, handing over the bag.

Roxton and Malone took him by either arm and hurried him down to the road.

"By Jove! You don't give us the slip again!" cried the nobleman. " Padre, you should have a row of Victoria Crosses."

"No, no, it was my duty. Poor fellow, he needed help so badly. I am but a fellow-sinner and yet I was able to give it."

"You did him good?"

"I humbly hope so. I was but the instrument of the higher forces. The house is haunted no longer. He promised. But I will not speak of it now. It may be easier in days to come."

The landlord and the maids stared at the three adventurers in amazement when, in the chill light of the winter dawn, they presented themselves at the inn once more. Each of them seemed to have aged five years in the night. Mr. Mason, with the reaction upon him, threw himself down upon the horsehair sofa in the humble coffee-room and was instantly asleep.

"Poor chap! He looks pretty bad!" said Malone. Indeed, his white, haggard face and long, limp limbs might have been those of a corpse.

"We will get a cup of hot tea into him," Lord Roxton answered, warming his hands at the fire, which the maid had just lit. " By Jove! We shall be none the worse for some ourselves.

The Land of Mist Page 54

Arthur Conan Doyle

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