'Hallo, Jack. Where are you going? Are you staying with your parents for Christmas?' Jack Darent and I were in the army together. It was December the 23rd and everyone was going away for the holiday.
Jack stood in the doorway, tall and good-looking, laughing at
my question.'Not this year. I've had enough of old aunts and my sister's six children. I'm not a family man like you. By the way, how is your beautiful sister?'
'She's very well and going to lots of parties,' I answered, smiling.
Jack looked a little sad at this. He was in love with my sister and she was in love with him, but they did not have enough money to get married. 'Well, please send her my love,' he said. 'I'm going down to your part of England — Westernshire — for some shooting. Henderson has asked me and some others. We're staying in an old house, where I hear the shooting is very good. Perhaps you know it? It's called Varley Grange.'
'Varley Grange?' I said.'Oh no, Jack.You can't go there.'
'Why not?' he asked, surprised.
'I've heard ... uncomfortable things about that house,' I said, searching for the right words.
'Uncomfortable? What do you mean?' laughed Jack. 'It'll probably be a bit cold and there'll be a few rats maybe, but Henderson's French cook is coming and he's bringing lots of wine. I'm sure I won't feel the cold.'
'No, Jack. I don't think you quite understand ...' I began. I think he thought I was a bit crazy.
'Well, I must go, or I'll miss the train. See you after Christmas,' he said happily, not hearing my last words, and he was gone.
When I got home, my wife, my sister Bella, and my two children were all waiting for me to have tea.
'I've just seen Jack Darent, Bella,' I said.
'Oh yes,' she answered, pretending not to be interested. 'And where s he going for Christmas?'
'You'll be surprised when I tell you. He's going to Varley Grange.'
'Varley Grange?' she said. 'But that's terrible! Did you try to stop him?'
'Of course I did, but he didn't understand.'
She did not wait to hear any more, but ran out of the room, crying.
My wife was very confused. She was from London, not Westernshire, and she did not know the story of Varley Grange. 'Why is she crying?' she asked. 'What is this place you're talking about?'
'Well, my dear, do you believe in ghosts?' I asked her.
'Of course not,' she said, looking at the children, who were listening carefully. 'Wait, let me take the children out.'
When the children were playing happily in another room, I told her the story.'Varley Grange is an old house in Westernshire. It belonged to the Varley family - all of them are dead now. The last two members of the family, Dennis Varley and his sister, lived there a hundred years ago. The sister fell in love with a poor man and her brother didn't want them to marry. To stop them, he locked her up. One night she and her lover ran away, but her brother caught her and took her back to Varley Grange, where he killed her.'
'He murdered his own sister?'
'Yes. And since that day, Dennis Varley's ghost has walked around the house. Many people have seen it. They say that if you
also see the ghost of his sister, you will have very bad luck or a serious illness, or perhaps you'll even die.'
Of course, my wife did not believe the story and we all forgot about it until a week later when I saw Jack again, sitting in a London cafe.
'Well, Jack, how was the shooting?' I asked. From his white face I saw that all was not well. He asked me to sit down. ""
'I understand now what you were saying before I left London,' he began. 'I'm only sorry I didn't listen to you.'
'Did you see something?' I asked.
'I saw everything,' he whispered. 'Let me tell you what happened. We all left London together and had a good journey down to Westernshire. We were all very happy and that night we slept well. The next day, we went shooting. It was wonderful -birds everywhere. We shot about two hundred altogether, and
Henderson's French cook made us a wonderful dinner from them. After the food we all sat around drinking coffee, smoking and telling stories about shooting and fishing. Suddenly one of us — I can't remember who it was — shouted and pointed up to the top of the stairs. We all looked round and there was a man looking down at us.'
'How was he dressed?' I asked.
'He was wearing black clothes, but it was his face that I noticed most. It was white and thin and he had a long beard and terrible eyes. He looked like a dead man. As we watched he went into my bedroom and everyone ran to the stairs. We searched all the rooms but could find nothing.
'Well, none of us slept very well that night, but the next morning at breakfast, Henderson asked us not to talk about it any more. He seemed quite angry and did not want the servants to hear. We had another good day's shooting and we all slept well that night. Two nights went by and nothing happened. Then, on the third night, we were sitting by the fire after dinner as before, when suddenly the room went cold. I knew it was there before I turned and saw it at the top of the stairs. Everyone went silent. Then one of the men picked up his gun and shot at it, but nothing happened. The thing just smiled and, once again, went into my bedroom.
'The next morning, four out of the eight of us decided to leave immediately. Some said they had important business in London, others suddenly remembered that they had to see their families. Anyway, there were four of us left - Wells, Harford, Henderson and myself. In the morning, we were all happy and laughing about the ghost and we decided that someone from the village was probably making fools of us. Henderson told us the story he heard from one of the villagers about Dennis Varley's murder of his sister. I'm sure you know it, so I won't tell you again.'
'Yes, I do know it,' I said. 'I also know that anyone who sees the ghosts of both Dennis and his sister will have terrible bad luck.'
'Not only that,' said Jack. 'Anyone who sees the sister's face will die within one year.' His face turned whiter as he said this and he did not speak for a few minutes. Then he continued his story.
'Well, that night we felt far less brave than in the morning. At eleven o'clock we all waited in different places for the ghosts to come. I was at the top of the stairs with Harford opposite me. There was a storm outside and the wind made a sound like someone crying. At midnight there was a scream from Henderson downstairs and Harford and I jumped up. We saw the dead man coming slowly up the stairs towards us. Henderson ran after it and, as the ghost passed us, we felt cold and terribly afraid.
Then, suddenly, Harford held my arm and pointed. I turned and saw the ghost of the sister coming. She wore a long, black and white dress and she had a big cross round her neck. I could not see her face, but I wanted to •— I don't know why, I couldn't stop myself. I went towards her and, as I did so, she looked up.'
'You saw her face? What was it like?' I asked. 'I saw it,' he said,'but I can never describe it to anyone.' 'Well, what happened next?' I asked.
'I can't remember. I think Ã fell. Everything just went black. I left the house the next day. I know that I'll die in a year and something terrible will happen to Harford. He saw her too, but not her face. The others only saw the brother.'
I decided not to tell my sister the terrible story, but soon things happened which everyone heard about. Bob Harford's wife ran away from him two days after they got married. He has gone to live in a wild part of Canada and no one hears from him any more. And Jack Darent? Poor, handsome Jack Darent died in South Africa about eleven months after I met him in the cafe that day. And my sister Bella? She is still beautiful, but she always wears black and she always looks sad.