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The padded room at Deepwater.
a Tale of an English inn.
by Mary W. Stanley Gibson.

It was nearly dark when I reached Deepwater, and I was glad enough to see the ‘ "fly"’ of the ‘"Ten Jolly Drovers"’ waiting at one end of the station as I stepped out upon the other. The ‘"Ten Jolly Drovers"’ was a gem of a country inn. And the plump, comely woman, in a widow's cap and gown, who stood curtesying in the porch, with a great silver tankard of ‘"home brewed"’ in her hands, ‘ "take the dust out of the gentleman's throat"’--what of her? Why, she was a gem of a country landlady, to be sure.

I mentioned, when my pen first touched this paper, that it was nearly dark when I reached Deepwater Station. A drive of four miles with Jim, the coachman, had made it still more near, and by the time I entered the red-tiled porch every owl had gone to roost, and lamps were twinkling in the kitchen and the hall. Candles had been taken into a room at the right, just beyond the bar, for me, and the sight of a tempting table for a meal, half supper and half tea, made me so hungry that I at once ‘"fell to,"’ feasted like a king, and then went to bed and slept without the least incursion of nightmare.

The week which I had allotted for my holiday passed rapidly away. I congratulated myself on having found this happy valley — this home where no shadow of care brooded — these friends whose lives had more of sunshine and less of shadow than any I had ever had before.

But ‘"call no man happy till he dies,"’ says a wise Eastern proverb; and I rejoin, call no place a paradise till you see its angels. For places, like people, have their good and bad attendant spirits. I found it so before my sojourn at the Ten Jolly Drovers was over.

On the last night of my stay I sat late in my little parlor below stairs. When I took my candle to go up stairs, the house was shut up. Mrs. Bell had retired to her bed-room on the third story, and I could hear my friend Jim snoring on his settee in the kitchen, where he always slept, with the house dog at his feet, ready to defend the place if burglars should take a sudden fancy to visit it during the small hours of the night.

The dog growled, but hearing my voice, gave a kind of satisfactory snort, and betook himself to slumber again. I stole cautiously up the creaking stairs. A gust of air coming from the landing place, nearly blew my light out, and, shading it with my hand, I saw that a small, arched door opposite the stairs, which I had never noticed before, stood ajar. It seemed to lead into a narrow passage — and wondering much how it could have escaped my notice, I stepped in. Another door, strongly barred with iron, was just before me. I hesitated a moment — but something stronger than mere curiosity — a kind of breathless interest, that startled me, led me on. I opened it. Not easily, however,--till it was suddenly wrenched from my hand by some one inside — so suddenly that I almost fell into a large, square room, hung with dark curtains, and only lighted by an iron lamp, in a wire case, that hung high up on the wall. The door closed gently behind me, but I could see no person in the room. Yet something certainly wrenched it from my grasp.

I suppose I felt afraid. I remember I was very much inclined to whistle or sing — just as I used to be when in my boyhood I had to pass a lonely church-yard at night. I walked into the middle of the room, and put my lamp down on the floor, because there was no chair or table on which I could leave it. Then I took a long look at my surroundings, feeling more and more like whistling every moment.

Not a picture hung on the wall — not an article of furniture made the place more home- like. A low divan ran around the room; at one end it widened, and was furnished with blankets, counterpanes and pillows, now tossed into a confused heap. The windows were heavily shuttered and barred — the gate was also barred in, and wired — the shovel, poker and tongs had been removed, also the fender — the floor felt strangely beneath my feet, and I bent down to examine it. It was ‘"padded"’ and covered over with elastic matting. I touched the walls, they were not hung with black drapery, as I had first imagined, but padded also, and covered with a cloth looking and feeling like leather. What a strange mystery is this, in this quiet, out of the way place? Who dwelt in this room where safety was evidently the first thing studied, where even the solitary lamp twinkled, like a star, far out of reach? I sat down on the divan and wondered at my discovery.

At last, as my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness of the place, I saw something stir near the bed — a moment later, I heard a low sigh.

‘"Who sighs so?"’ I asked with a beating heart.

A tall, dark figure rose from the ground. It sounds romantic at this distance of time, but it seemed anything but romatic then.

I was almost frightened to death, and had no power to speak or stir, as it advanced slowly toward me. Clad in a long, dark robe, like the habit of a monk, a man stood before me, pale, wasted and with long, white hair, and a beard like snow. He gazed at me a moment in silence, and then sighed again heavily. I gathered up my courage and said to myself that I must be dreaming, and that my first word would scare the illusion.

‘"Who are you, and how came you here?"’ I asked.

‘"I am a lost soul,"’ he said in a melancholy voice. ‘"Lost forever, and forever, and forever."’

Again he sighed. Heaven knows that I am as matter-of fact as any lawyer can very well be, and have little faith to spare for visions and hallucinations; but there was something so awful in his look and tone, that my blood ran cold; and for the moment I believed that what I had heard was true.

‘"But why do you seek me?"’ I managed to say.

‘"You were to come. You came,"’ said the sad voice; ‘"but will you help me?"’

‘"How can I?"’

He drew nearer, and bent down, clasping and unclasping his hands in a strange nervous way.

‘"There was blood upon the stairs to-night, I suppose, when you came up?"’

‘"Upon the stairs? Why — no!"’

‘"No. Are you sure?"’

‘"Quite."’

‘"No blood!"’ He kept repeating. ‘"It is very strange. It is all because I did not go myself. If I had been out I should have cut her throat from ear to ear, you know; and that would have made a beautiful path to walk in"’

I nodded, though my heart died within me.

‘"You know her blood is like the carmine,"’ he went on. ‘"I cut her once — before she put me here — and you might have painted a house with it. You would be charmed to see the color — would you not!"’

‘"No doubt, sir."’

‘"Well, then, I promise you some. I can find my way to her, only you must lead me through the passage. I can't go through there alone — I always see him if I do."’

‘"Who?"’

‘"Charles — my brother Charles, you know. It is very odd,"’ he added in an injured tone; ‘"the minister said he was in heaven; and, if that is the case, I don't see why he should always stay in that passage, and keep me from going out."’

‘"Shall I go and see if he is there now?"’ I said, fancying a chance of escape.

‘"No,"’ he answered, in a terrible voice, while his eyes began to gleam. ‘ "On second thought, I shall not go to her — she shall come to us — I know how I can bring her."’

He snatched up the lamp I had left on the floor, and held it so that the flame touched the padding on the wall. In another moment it would have been on fire, but the real danger drove the imaginary out of my head, and I sprang upon him. He dropped the lamp and caught me in his powerful arms; I managed to trample out the flame, and then gave all my strength to the task of keeping his talon-like fingers from my throat. Up and down the padded room we struggled, fighting for life and death, yet making no noise and uttering no cry. The stillness terrified me. What would I not have given to have heard the sharp bark of Towser below.

It seemed an hour — I suppose it was not really more than five minutes. But the maniac's strength seemed to increase as mine gave way; he held one of my hands behind me, and, though I kept him off for a time with the other, he fastened upon my throat at last. We had struggled down to the barred door; it was not quite shut, and in utter desperation I cried aloud for help. The maniac ground his teeth, and uttered a strange cry; the blood rushed to my head as his hands tightened about my neck; my eyes seemed ting from their sockets. I was just gasp last prayer for mercy, when I heard a noise upon the stairs, the door burst open; the great dog flew in with a low growl, and after him came Jim, who flung himself upon the madman, and loosened his grasp in an instant. I saw no more, for I went into a long swoon then that was almost like death.

When, with much pain and anguish, sense and reason came back to me, I opened my eyes, and saw Jim bending over me, bathing my lips and temples with brandy and water. I was lying on the kitchen settee; the grey dawn was stealing through the window, and Towser was sitting bolt upright in the middle of the floor, watching for my recovery with an anxious eye. He whined and wagged his bushy tail when I spoke. Jim held the brandy to my lips; he was pale, and a contused mark over his eye showed that he had not rescued me without danger on his part.

‘"In the name of Heaven, who was it, Jim?"’ I asked.

‘"Take some more brandy, sir. How in the world did you come to be in there with him?"’

I told him how the outer door was ajar, and how the other one had been opened for me. He gave a long, low whistle, and shook his head.

‘"It's missus' fault — and I often tells her we shall all be killed in our beds some night, if she will go on visiting him. It always drives him wild. And to-night she must have gone off crying, as she often does, poor thing — and so forgotten to see that the doors were quite safe. It's a living mercy I heard you, sir."’

‘"But who is he, Jim? And why is he here, instead of being in a proper mad-house?"’

‘"That's her fault, too, as I tells her often enough. You see, sir, he was taken this way not long after they were married."’

‘"Good Heavens, is he her husband?"’

‘"Yes, sir, I may say it to you — though every one thinks he's dead, except the parson. He knows. And the doctor, he knows too. It's a long story, and not over and above pleasant. He went mad two year's after she married him, and killed his brother Charles--leastwise he stabbed him in that little passage, and he never got over it. But it was all hushed up — and the people thought he went to a mad house. Afterward they thought he died. But missus had that room fitted up, and has always kept him there. I mean to see to the bolts myself after this. He's fast enough now — and I've got the key of the passage in my pocket. I'm main glad missus didn't hear you, though."’

‘"And so am I. But, Jim, I wouldn't stay under the same roof with him another night for millions."’

He smiled.

‘"Oh! it's nothing when one gets used to it. Look at missus. Who would fancy she had a raving maniac in charge?"’

Who, indeed? I drank some more brandy, and going up to my own room, packed my port-manteau, and prepared for my journey. At seven I came into the breakfast room, and lo! there was Mrs. Bell, fresh and smiling as the morning, hovering about me with a thousand attentions, little dreaming that I had by chance discovered the tragedy of her life, and nearly paid my own in forfeit thereby. I shook hands with her as Jim brought around the fly, and looked at her wonderingly, waving her 'kerchief, and smiling as gaily as a girl of sixteen years, when we drove away. Jim looked at her too — then at me — and whistled ‘"Jock o' Hazledean."’

‘"Strange things happen every day, if we only knew them,"’ he said, as he acknowledged the gratuity I presented him at the station.--‘"But for all that, I hope we shall see you and Master Hartington, too, next summer. I'll take good care you'll not be troubled yonder again."’

But I never went; one visit to Deepwater was quite enough for me.

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