Agatha Christie

The Lamp

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Previously published in the print anthology The Golden Ball and Other Stories.
Thirty years ago, a house was inhabited by a man and his young son. One day the man traveled to London, was recognized as a criminal, and shot himself. What ever happened to the boy?
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    Анна Халезоваje citiralaпре 5 година
    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.
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    Geoff grew steadily worse and in his delirium he spoke of the “little boy” again and again. “I do want to help him get away, I do!” he cried.
    Succeeding the delirium there came a state of lethargy. Geoffrey lay very still, hardly breathing, sunk in oblivion. There was nothing to do but wait and watch. Then there came a still night, clear and calm, without one breath of wind.
    Suddenly the child stirred. His eyes opened. He looked past his mother toward the open door. He tried to speak and she bent down to catch the half breathed words.
    “All right, I’m comin’,” he whispered; then he sank back.
    The mother felt suddenly terrified, she crossed the room to her father. Somewhere near them the other child was laughing. Joyful, contented, triumphant and silvery laughter echoed through the room.
    “I’m frightened; I’m frightened,” she moaned.
    He put his arm round her protectingly. A sudden gust of wind made them both start, but it passed swiftly and left the air quiet as before.
    The laughter had ceased and there crept to them a faint sound, so faint as hardly to be heard, but growing louder till they could distinguish it. Footsteps—light footsteps, swiftly departing.
    Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, they ran—those well-known halting little feet. Yet—surely—now other footsteps suddenly mingled with them, moving with a quicker and a lighter tread.
    With one accord they hastened to the door.
    Down, down, down, past the door, close to them, pitter-patter, pitter-patter, went the unseen feet of the little children together.
    Mrs. Lancaster looked up wildly.
    “There are two of them—two!”
    Grey with sudden fear, she turned towards the cot in the corner, but her father restrained her gently, and pointed away.
    “There,” he said simply.
    Pitter-patter, pitter-patter—fainter and fainter.
    And then—silence.

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