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Chapter 5 The Locked Room

(from Rats)

It happened in Suffolk, near the coast. There is a tall, red house there, built in about 1770, perhaps. It has a small, untidy garden behind it and from the front windows you can see the sea. Tall, dark trees stand around this lonely house. Near the front door there is a sign which shows that this was once a public house, where travellers could stop to eat and sleep.

One fine spring day, a young Cambridge University student called Thomson arrived at this house. He wanted to spend some time in a quiet and pleasant place where he could read and study.

No one else was staying there at the time and Mr and Mrs Betts, who managed the house, welcomed him and made him feel very comfortable. They gave him a large room on the first floor with a good view from the window. He spent his days very calmly and quietly. Every morning he worked, he walked in the country in the afternoon, and he usually had a drink with some of the local people in the bar in the evening before going to bed. He was very happy to continue his life like this for as long as possible. He planned to stay for a whole month.

One afternoon, Thomson walked along a different road from the usual one and in the distance he saw a large white object. He walked towards it and discovered that it was a large square stone with a square hole in the middle. He examined the stone, then he looked at the view for a moment - the sea, the churches in the distance, the windows of one or two houses shining here and there in the sun - and he continued his walk.

Thar evening in the bar, he asked why the white stone was there.’It’s been there for a very long time, since before any of us were born, in fact,’ said Mr Betts.

‘People used to say that it brought bad luck . . . that it was unlucky for fishing,’ said another man.

‘Why?’ asked Thomson, but the people in the bar became silent and clearly didn’t want to talk about the stone any more.

Thomson was puzzled.

A few days later, he decided to stay at home to study in the afternoon. He didn’t feel like going out for a walk, but at about three o’clock he needed a break. He decided to spend five minutes looking at the other rooms on his floor of the house he was interested to know what they were like. He got up and went quietly out of his room, into the corridor. Nobody else was at home.’They are all probably at market today,’ he thought. The house was still and silent, except for the flies. The sun was shining and it was very hot. He went into the three rooms near his own bedroom; each one was pretty and clean. Then he tried the door of the south-west room, but found that it was locked. This made Thomson want to know why it was locked and what was inside it. and he took the keys of all the other doors on the floor to try to open it. He finally succeeded, the door opened, he went in and looked around him.

The room had two windows looking south and west, so it was very bright and hot. There were no carpets and no pictures, only a bed, alone in the corner. It was not a very interesting room, but suddenly . . . Thomson turned and ran out of the room, closing the door behind him noisily.

‘Someone was in there, in the bed!’ he almost shouted. There were covers over the whole body on the bed, but it was not dead, because it moved. He was not dreaming, Thomson knew: this was the middle of a bright, sunny day, after all. He didn’t know what to do.

First, of course, he had to lock the door again but, before he did this, he listened. Everything was silent inside the room. He put the key into the lock and turned it as quietly as he could, but he still made some noise. Suddenly he stopped: someone was walking towards the door! He turned and ran along the corridor to his room, closed the door and locked it behind him as fast as he could. He waited and listened. ‘Perhaps this person can walk through doors and walls?’ he whispered to himself. Nothing happened.

“Now what?’ he thought. His first idea was to leave the house as soon as he could, but if he changed his plans, Mr and Mrs Belts would know that something was wrong. Also, if they already knew about the person in The locked r o o m but they still lived in the house, then there was surely nothing for him to be afraid of. Maybe it would be better to stay and say nothing. This was the easiest thing to do. Thomson stayed there for another week and, although he never went near the door again, he often stopped in the corridor and listened, but there was only silence. He didn’t ask anyone in the village about the locked room because he was too afraid, but near the end of the week he started to think more and more about the person in the locked room and he eventually decided to find out more before he left. He made a plan - he would leave on the four o’clock train the next day and, while the horse waited outside with his bugs, he would go upstairs and take one last, quick look into the room.

This is what happened. He paid Mr Betts, put the bags on the horse, thanked Mrs lietts and said, ‘I’ll just take a last look upstairs to be sure that I have all my things.’ He then ran up the stairs and opened the door to the room as quietly as possible.

He almost laughed. ‘It’s not a real person at all. How silly of me!

It’s just a pile of old clothes,’ he thought. He turned to go, but suddenly something moved behind him. He turned quickly and saw the pile of old clothes walking towards him, with a knife stuck into the front of its jacket and dried blood all d o w n its shirt. He pulled open the door and rushed out of the room and down the stairs. The n he fell and everything went black.

When he opened his eyes, Mr Betts was standing over him with a strong drink in a glass. He looked annoyed. ‘You shouldn’t have done that, Mr. Thomson , sir. It was a stupid thing to do after we’ve been so good to you. Why did you want to look in that room? Nobody will want to stay in this house any more if you tell people what you’ve seen,’ he said.

‘I’m sorry. I just wanted to know, that’s all,’ said Thomson. ‘I won’t tell anyone, I promise.’ So. before he left, Mr and Mrs Beds told him what they knew.

‘People say that a rich gentleman lived here a long time ago.

One evening, he was out walking in the village, when a group of men attacked him. They wanted to steal his money. They held him down on that big, white stone which you saw when you were out walking the other day and they killed him with a knife.

Then they threw his body into the sea. Later some people from the village moved the stone away from the village; they said the fish along this part of the coast would not come anywhere near it. The fishermen were not catching anything, you see. The people w h o lived in this house before us told us to lock that bedroom but to leave the bed in it, because the gentleman’s ghost might want to come back and sleep in the house again You’re the first person to see him since we’ve been here. He’s never been a problem to us. But please don’t tell anyone,’ they repeated. ‘Wc don’t want people talking about ghosts in this house.’

For many years, Thomson didn’t say a word to anyone about what happened in the Betts’s house in Suffolk, and I only know his story because, years later, when he came to stay with my family, I was the person w h o showed him to his bedroom. When we reached the bedroom door, he opened it very loudly and stopped outside. He stood there for a minute and carefully inspected every corner of the room before he went in. The n he remembered that I was standing there and said, ‘ Oh , I’m sorry, my dear, but something very odd happened to me once.’

And he told me the story I have just told you.

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