THE FURNITURE THAT WENT MAD
Now it happened that in the early hours of Whit Monday, before Millie
was hunted out for the day, Mr. Hall and Mrs. Hall both rose and went
noiselessly down into the cellar. Their business there was of a private
nature, and had something to do with the specific gravity of their
beer. They had hardly entered the cellar when Mrs. Hall found she had
forgotten to bring down a bottle of sarsaparilla from their joint-room.
As she was the expert and principal operator in this affair, Hall very
properly went upstairs for it.
On the landing he was surprised to see that the stranger’s door was
ajar. He went on into his own room and found the bottle as he had been
But returning with the bottle, he noticed that the bolts of the front
door had been shot back, that the door was in fact simply on the latch.
And with a flash of inspiration he connected this with the stranger’s
room upstairs and the suggestions of Mr. Teddy Henfrey. He distinctly
remembered holding the candle while Mrs. Hall shot these bolts
overnight. At the sight he stopped, gaping, then with the bottle still
in his hand went upstairs again. He rapped at the stranger’s door.
There was no answer. He rapped again; then pushed the door wide open
It was as he expected. The bed, the room also, was empty. And what was
stranger, even to his heavy intelligence, on the bedroom chair and
along the rail of the bed were scattered the garments, the only
garments so far as he knew, and the bandages of their guest. His big
slouch hat even was cocked jauntily over the bed-post.
As Hall stood there he heard his wife’s voice coming out of the depth
of the cellar, with that rapid telescoping of the syllables and
interrogative cocking up of the final words to a high note, by which
the West Sussex villager is wont to indicate a brisk impatience.
“George! You gart whad a wand?”
At that he turned and hurried down to her. “Janny,” he said, over the
rail of the cellar steps, “’tas the truth what Henfrey sez. ’E’s not in
uz room, ’e en’t. And the front door’s onbolted.”
At first Mrs. Hall did not understand, and as soon as she did she
resolved to see the empty room for herself. Hall, still holding the
bottle, went first. “If ’e en’t there,” he said, “’is close are. And
what’s ’e doin’ ’ithout ’is close, then? ’Tas a most curious business.”
As they came up the cellar steps they both, it was afterwards
ascertained, fancied they heard the front door open and shut, but
seeing it closed and nothing there, neither said a word to the other
about it at the time. Mrs. Hall passed her husband in the passage and
ran on first upstairs. Someone sneezed on the staircase. Hall,
following six steps behind, thought that he heard her sneeze. She,
going on first, was under the impression that Hall was sneezing. She
flung open the door and stood regarding the room. “Of all the curious!”
She heard a sniff close behind her head as it seemed, and turning, was
surprised to see Hall a dozen feet off on the topmost stair. But in
another moment he was beside her. She bent forward and put her hand on
the pillow and then under the clothes.
“Cold,” she said. “He’s been up this hour or more.”
As she did so, a most extraordinary thing happened. The bed-clothes
gathered themselves together, leapt up suddenly into a sort of peak,
and then jumped headlong over the bottom rail. It was exactly as if a
hand had clutched them in the centre and flung them aside. Immediately
after, the stranger’s hat hopped off the bed-post, described a whirling
flight in the air through the better part of a circle, and then dashed
straight at Mrs. Hall’s face. Then as swiftly came the sponge from the
washstand; and then the chair, flinging the stranger’s coat and
trousers carelessly aside, and laughing drily in a voice singularly
like the stranger’s, turned itself up with its four legs at Mrs. Hall,
seemed to take aim at her for a moment, and charged at her. She
screamed and turned, and then the chair legs came gently but firmly
against her back and impelled her and Hall out of the room. The door
slammed violently and was locked. The chair and bed seemed to be
executing a dance of triumph for a moment, and then abruptly everything
Mrs. Hall was left almost in a fainting condition in Mr. Hall’s arms on
the landing. It was with the greatest difficulty that Mr. Hall and
Millie, who had been roused by her scream of alarm, succeeded in
getting her downstairs, and applying the restoratives customary in such
“’Tas sperits,” said Mrs. Hall. “I know ’tas sperits. I’ve read in
papers of en. Tables and chairs leaping and dancing…”
“Take a drop more, Janny,” said Hall. “’Twill steady ye.”
“Lock him out,” said Mrs. Hall. “Don’t let him come in again. I half
guessed—I might ha’ known. With them goggling eyes and bandaged head,
and never going to church of a Sunday. And all they bottles—more’n it’s
right for any one to have. He’s put the sperits into the furniture….
My good old furniture! ’Twas in that very chair my poor dear mother
used to sit when I was a little girl. To think it should rise up
against me now!”
“Just a drop more, Janny,” said Hall. “Your nerves is all upset.”
They sent Millie across the street through the golden five o’clock
sunshine to rouse up Mr. Sandy Wadgers, the blacksmith. Mr. Hall’s
compliments and the furniture upstairs was behaving most extraordinary.
Would Mr. Wadgers come round? He was a knowing man, was Mr. Wadgers,
and very resourceful. He took quite a grave view of the case. “Arm
darmed if thet ent witchcraft,” was the view of Mr. Sandy Wadgers. “You
warnt horseshoes for such gentry as he.”
He came round greatly concerned. They wanted him to lead the way
upstairs to the room, but he didn’t seem to be in any hurry. He
preferred to talk in the passage. Over the way Huxter’s apprentice came
out and began taking down the shutters of the tobacco window. He was
called over to join the discussion. Mr. Huxter naturally followed over
in the course of a few minutes. The Anglo-Saxon genius for
parliamentary government asserted itself; there was a great deal of
talk and no decisive action. “Let’s have the facts first,” insisted Mr.
Sandy Wadgers. “Let’s be sure we’d be acting perfectly right in bustin’
that there door open. A door onbust is always open to bustin’, but ye
can’t onbust a door once you’ve busted en.”
And suddenly and most wonderfully the door of the room upstairs opened
of its own accord, and as they looked up in amazement, they saw
descending the stairs the muffled figure of the stranger staring more
blackly and blankly than ever with those unreasonably large blue glass
eyes of his. He came down stiffly and slowly, staring all the time; he
walked across the passage staring, then stopped.
“Look there!” he said, and their eyes followed the direction of his
gloved finger and saw a bottle of sarsaparilla hard by the cellar door.
Then he entered the parlour, and suddenly, swiftly, viciously, slammed
the door in their faces.
Not a word was spoken until the last echoes of the slam had died away.
They stared at one another. “Well, if that don’t lick everything!” said
Mr. Wadgers, and left the alternative unsaid.
“I’d go in and ask’n ’bout it,” said Wadgers, to Mr. Hall. “I’d d’mand
It took some time to bring the landlady’s husband up to that pitch. At
last he rapped, opened the door, and got as far as, “Excuse me—”
“Go to the devil!” said the stranger in a tremendous voice, and “Shut
that door after you.” So that brief interview terminated.
Come back tomorrow for CHAPTER VII: THE UNVEILING OF THE STRANGER