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Chapter 2 A School Story

Two men, John and Edgar, were having dinner together one night when a conversation started on the subject of school-days.

One of them, John, told the following strange story:

‘When I went to the school in September of 1870, I

immediately became friendly with a Scottish boy called McLeod.

It was a large school and the teachers changed quite often. O n e term a new teacher named Sampson came to teach at the school.

He taught us Latin. He was tall and pale with a black beard and he was popular with the boys because he used to tell us all about his travels to different countries. He always carried an old gold coin in is pocket, which he found on a trip to Turkey, and one day he let us look at this coin closely. On one side of it was the head of a king - I don’t know which one - and on the other side of it were the letters G.W.S. (for Sampsons name) and the date 24 July 1865.

We enjoyed Sampsons classes because he often asked us to invent sentences of our own, instead of always doing the boring exercises in the grammar book. O n e day, he asked us for sentences using the word ‘remember’ in Latin. We all wrote our sentences in the usual way, and Sampson came round to correct each of us. My friend McLeod seemed to be having some

difficulty in thinking of a sentence and when the bell went for break. I saw him write something very quickly, just before Sampson reached him. So McLeod’s semence was the last one that Sampson corrected that day; I waited outside the classroom for what seemed a long time before my friend at last came out. I guessed that he was in trouble for making a mistake.When he did come out, he was looking thoughtful.

‘What happened? Was old Sampson angry?’ I asked.

‘No. My sentence was all right. I think. I wrote “Memento putei inter quattuor taxos”,’ said McLeod.

‘Well, what does all that mean?’ I asked.

‘That’s the funny thing,’ he explained.’I don’t really know, you see. I couldn’t think of anything to write until just before Sampson got to me. Then those words just came into my head from nowhere and - it was very strange - I could see a sort of picture of it in my head. I think it means “ Remember the well among the four trees”. When Sampson read it he went quiet for a long time, then he started to ask me questions about my family and where I came from. Then he let me go.’

We soon forgot about the lesson and McLeod’s strange sentence because the next day McLeod became ill with a cold and he didn’t come to school for a week. Nothing happened for about a month, until one day when we were, again, writing Latin sentences for Sampson. This time we had to write them on pieces of paper and give them to him for correction. He started looking through them, but when he got to one piece of paper he turned white and cried out, looking very frightened. He got up and hurried out of the classroom and we sat there for a long time, wondering what to do. Finally, I got up to have a look at the papers and the first thing I noticed was that the top one was in red ink. Our school never allowed us to use red ink; it was against the rules. The sentence on the paper said ‘Si tu non veneris ad me, ego veniam ad te’, which means ‘If you don’t come to me, I will come to you’. All the boys looked at it and they all promised that the sentence was not theirs.

To check, I counted the pieces of paper - there were seventeen of them . . . but there were only sixteen boys in the class. Where this paper came from, no one could say. I put it in my pocket and it wasn’t until that afternoon that I took it out again: it was completely white, with no sign of the red writing on it anywhere!

I know it was the same piece of paper because I could still see my fingermarks on it. Anyway, Sampson eventually came back at the end of that lesson and told us we could go. He looked at the papers one by one, and probably thought it was his imagination playing tricks. He looked pale and worried.

Thenext day; Sampson was in school again and he seemed quite normal, but it was that night that the third strange thing happened It was about midnight when I suddenly woke up; somebody was shouting at me. It was McLeod, w h o shared my r o o m ; he looked terrified, ‘Quick,’ he said, ‘I think a burglar is trying to get into Sampson’s room.’ I rushed to the window but could see nothing. Somehow, though, I felt that something was wrong o u t there and the two of us waited, watching closely.

‘Tell me exactly what you saw or heard,’ I whispered.

‘I didn’t hear anything but about five minutes before I woke you I just found myself standing here’ at the window,’ McLeod whispered back.’There was a terrible-looking man standing just outside Sampson’s window. He was very tall and very thin . . . and . . . he didn’t really look like a living person at all. More like a ghost. He seemed to be making a sign to Sampson to go with him. That’s all I saw before I woke you up.’

We waited a long time, watching, but we saw nothing more that night. Everything was quiet outside. We woke up feeling tired and strange in the morning. But during the day the news went round that no one could find Sampson anywhere, and he didn’t come for our Latin class that day. In fact, we never heard of or saw Sampson again. Somehow, McLeod and I knew that we should keep quiet about what he had seen that night and we never told anyone.’

‘It’s a good story, John,’ said Edgar, listening to his friend as he finished his wine,’a very good one. But now I really must be on my way home. I hope I don’t meet any strange, thin men on the way.’ The two men laughed, shook hands and went their different ways.

It was about a year later that Edgar, the listener to John’s story, travelled to Ireland to visit another friend who lived in an old country house there. One evening his host was looking in a box full of various old things for a key that he wanted. Suddenly he pulled a small object out of the box and held it up.’Have a look at this, Edgar. What do you think it is?’ he asked.

It was an old gold coin with the head of a king on the front.

Edgar looked closely.’Where did you get it?’ he asked quietly.

‘Well, it’s quite an interesting story,’ began his friend.’A year or two ago we were working on that area of the garden over there in the corner, can you see? Among the four trees? Right in the middle of the trees, we found an old well and at the bottom of it, you’ll never guess what we found.’

‘Yes. I will. Was it a body, by any chance?’ asked Edgar.

His friend was surprised. ‘Yes, it was. In fact, we found two bodies. One of them had its arms tightly around the other. They were probably there for thirty years or more. Anyway, we pulled them out and in the pocket of one of them we found this old coin . . . from Turkey or somewhere, by the look of it. It’s got something on the back of it, too. Can you see what it says?’

‘Yes. I think I can,’ said Edgar.’It seems to be the letters G.W.S.

and the date 24 July 1865.’

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