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Chapter 3 Rats
  'And if you walked through the bedrooms now,you'd see the dirty grey bedsheets rising and falling like the waves of the sea.'

'Rising and falling with what?'

'Why,with the rats crawling underneath them.'



But was it rats?I ask,because in another story it was not.I cannot put a date to the story,but I was young when I heard it,and the teller was old.

It happened in Suffolk,at a place where the coast road climbs a little hill as it travels northwards.At the top of the hill,on the left,stands a tall narrow house built about 1770. Behind it are the gardens and other buildings,and in front lies open heath with a view of the distant sea.The house was once a well-known inn,though I believe few people stay there now.

To this inn came Mr Thomson,a young man from the University of Cambridge,in search of peace and pleasant surroundings in which to study.He found both;the innkeeper and his wife kept a comfortable house,and Mr Thomson was the only guest.

It was fine spring weather and Mr Thomson's days passed very happily.His plan was to stay a month:studying all morning,walking on the heath in the afternoon,and talking with the local people in the bar in the evening.

On one of his walks over the heath he came upon a large white stone with a square hole in the top.No doubt it had once held a post of some kind.He looked around him at the wide,open heath and beyond that,the sea shining in the bright sunlight and decided that the stone had probably once held a sign to guide the local sailors back to their homes.

In the bar that evening he spoke of the stone and his idea that it had,perhaps,once held a sign to guide sailors.

'Yes,'said Mr Betts,the innkeeper,'I've heard they could see it from out at sea,but whatever was there fell down long before our time.'

'A good thing it did,too,'said one of the villagers.'It wasn't a lucky sign-that's what the old men used to say. Not lucky for the fishing,I mean.'

'Why ever not?'said Thomson.

'Well,I never saw it myself,'answered the other.'But those old fishermen had some strange ideas,and I wouldn't be surprised if they pulled it down themselves.'

It was impossible to get anything clearer than this,and people soon began to talk about something else.

One day Mr Thomson decided not to have a walk in the afternoon,but to continue studying.He returned to his room after an early lunch and read on until about three o'clock.Then he put down his book,rose and went out into the passage, thinking that he would have a rest for five minutes.The house was completely silent.He remembered that it was market day and everyone had gone into the local town.

As he stood there,the idea came to him to look at the four other rooms along the passage.He was sure that the Bettses would not mind.The room opposite his was big but had no view of the sea.The next two were both smaller than his with only one window each——his had two.He walked down the passage to the door at the end and found that it was locked. Thomson decided that he must see inside that room;perhaps the key of his room would unlock the door.It did not,so he fetched the keys from the other three rooms and tried them. One of them fitted the lock and he opened the door.

The room had two windows looking south and west,and hot bright sunshine filled the room.Here there was no carpet, only wooden floorboards;no pictures,no furniture,except a bed in the farther corner—a metal bed covered with a bluishgrey blanket.You could not imagine a more ordinary room, but there was something that made Thomson close the door very quickly and very quietly behind him,and then lean against the wall in the passage,trembling all over.

Under the blanket someone lay,and not only lay,but moved.It was certainly some one and not some thing,be- cause the shape of the head and body was clear under the blanket.However,it was all covered,and no one lies with covered head except a dead person;and this was not dead,not truly dead,because it was moving and shaking.

Thomson tried to tell himself that he was imagining things, but on this bright sunny day that was impossible.What should he do?First,lock the door again.With a trembling hand he turned the key in the lock,but as he did so,it made a little noise,and at once soft footsteps were heard coming towards the door.Thomson ran to his room and locked himself in,although he knew it was useless.How could doors and locks stop what he suspected?He stood listening for several minutes,but no sound came from the passage.

Now he could not think what to do.He wanted to pack his bags and leave the inn at once,but only that morning he had told Mr and Mrs Betts that he would stay for another week.If he left suddenly,they would surely guess the reason.Then he thought,either the Bettses knew about the creature in that room but still stayed in the house,or they knew nothing about it.Perhaps they knew just enough to make them keep the room locked,but not enough to make them leave the house. In any case,they did not seem to be afraid of whatever was in that room,so why should he be afraid of it?He decided to stay another week as he had arranged.

As the days passed,Thomson listened hard for sounds from the room at the end of the passage,but he heard nothing.Of course he could not ask Mr or Mrs Betts about it,and he did not think he could ask anyone else.However,he wanted very much to find some kind of explanation,so he decided that he would try to see inside the locked room once again before he left the inn.

He made a simple plan.He would arrange to leave by an afternoon train and would have his luggage put on the cart for the station.Then,just before leaving,he would go back upstairs to make sure that he had not left anything behind.But, instead of going to his own room,he would go to the other. He put oil on the key to make it easier to open the door quietly.

His last day arrived.After lunch his luggage was taken downstairs and put on the cart for the station.Mr and Mrs Betts came to the front door to say goodbye.Thomson thanked them for making him so comfortable and they thanked him for staying with them.Then,as he had planned,Thomson said:

'I'll just check that I haven't left a book or anything in my room.No,please don't worry,I can do it myself.'

He hurried up the stairs to the locked room,turned the key quietly and opened the door.He almost laughed aloud.Leaning,or perhaps sitting,on the edge of the bed was—nothing more than an ordinary scarecrow!A scarecrow out of the garden,of course,just put away in the empty room…

Yes;but suddenly amusement stopped.Do scarecrows have bony feet?Do their heads roll from side to side on their shoulders?Have they got heavy metal chains around their necks? Can they get up and move across the floor,with rolling head and arms close at their sides… and shake with the cold?

Thomson shut the door with a bang,jumped down the stairs and fell in a faint at the door of the inn.When he became con- scious again,Mr Betts was standing over him with a glass of whisky and a serious face.

'You shouldn't do it,sir,'said Betts.'You shouldn't go looking into people's secrets,especially when they've done their best to make you comfortable.'

Thomson said that he was very sorry but the innkeeper and his wife found it hard to accept his apologies.

'Who knows what damage it will do to the good name of the inn?'said Mr Betts,and his wife agreed.

At last Thomson managed to make Mr and Mrs Betts believe that he would not say anything about what he had seen.By that time he had missed his train but he decided to go into town and spend the night at the Station Hotel.

Before he went,Mr Betts told him what little he knew.

'They say he used to be the innkeeper here many years ago, and he worked with the thieves who robbed and murdered travellers on the heath.That's why he was hanged——in chains,they say,up at the gallows on that white stone you saw.Yes,the fishermen pulled the gallows down,I bleieve, because they saw it out at sea,and they said it kept the fish away.We heard all this from the peple who sold us the inn. “You keep that room shut up,”they said,“but don't move the bed out,and you'll find there won't be any trouble.”And we haven't had any trouble.He hasn't once come out into the house,though who knows what he might do now?I've never seen him myself,and I don't want to.But I do hope you'll keep it a secret,sir.If word gets out,people won't want to come and stay here,will they?'

The promise of silence was kept for many years.I heard the story when Mr Thomson,now an old man,came to stay with my father.I was told to take him up to his room,but when we got there,Mr Thomson stepped forward and threw the door open himself.He stood there in the doorway for some moments,looking carefully into every corner of the room.

Then he turned to me.'I beg your pardon,'he said.'A strange way to behave,I know.But there is a very good reason for it.'

A few days later I heard what the reason was,and you have heard it now.



老 鼠



“假如你现在走过卧室,就会看到那脏兮兮的灰床单像海浪一样起伏着。”

“随着什么起伏?”

“噢,随着下面爬行的老鼠。”



是老鼠吗?我问道,因为在另一个故事中并不是老鼠。我也说不出这故事讲的是什么时候的事,只是听这个故事时我还年轻,讲故事的人已经老了。

故事发生在萨福克郡,一条沿海岸向北延伸的路翻过一座小山的地方。山顶上左侧矗立着一幢大约建于1770年的高高的窄房子。房子后面是些花园和其他建筑物,前面是一片能够看到远处大海的开阔荒地。这房子曾是一家很有名的旅店,尽管我知道现在已经很少有人住了。

汤姆森先生,一位剑桥大学的年轻人来到这家旅店,想寻找一份宁静和一种读书的愉悦环境。两者他都找到了。旅店老板和妻子把房子收拾得很舒适,而汤姆森先生又是唯一的客人。

当时正值天气晴好的春天,汤姆森先生过得很愉快。他计划呆一个月:整个上午读书,下午去荒地里散散步,晚上和酒吧里的当地人聊聊天。

一次他在荒地里散步,发现了一块顶部有个方形洞的白色大石头。这肯定曾安插过什么标杆。他看看四周宽敞而开阔的荒地和远处明亮的阳光下闪着波光的大海,判定这块石头可能曾安插用于指引当地海员回家的标志。

晚上在酒吧里,他谈到那块石头和他觉得那石头可能曾安插用于指引海员的标志的想法。

“是的,”旅店老板贝茨说,“我听说他们在海上就能看到它,可插在那里的东西很久以前就倒了。”

“那倒是件好事,”其中一位村民说,“那不是什么吉祥的标志,老人们过去经常这么说。我是说对捕鱼来说不吉祥。”

“为什么呢?”汤姆森问进。

“噢,我从来没有亲眼见过那东西,”那村民回答,“可那些老渔夫们的想法很怪,如果是他们亲手毁掉了它,我也不会感到奇怪我不可能找到比这更明确的答案了,人们很快就开始谈起别的事儿了。

一天,汤姆森先生决定下午接着看书,不去散步。他早早吃完午饭回到房间里,继续看书看到大约3点。然后他放下书站起身,走出房间进了走廊,想休息5分钟。整座房子安静至极。他想起今天是赶集的日于,人们都到镇上去了。

他站在那里,突然想到要看看走廊两边的其他4个房间。他觉得贝茨夫妇肯定不会介意。他对面的那间屋子很大,但是看不到海。相邻的两间都比他的房间小,而且都只有一个窗户——他的房间有两个窗户。他走到走廊尽头的那个房门前,发现门锁着。他决意一定要看看这间屋子里面是什么样的;也许自己房间的钥匙能打开这个门。试了试打不开。于是他又从另外3个房间拿来钥匙试,其中一把打开了锁,他开了门。

这房间有两面窗户分别朝南朝西,明亮而炙热的阳光洒满了房间。屋里没有地毯,只有木头地板;没有画,没有家具,只在远处墙角有一张床,一张上面盖着条带点儿蓝色的灰毯子的金属床。这间屋子再平常不过了,却有某种情况使汤姆森非常迅速而又轻轻地关上门,然后倚在走廊的墙上浑身发起抖来。

原来毯子下面躺着个人,不仅是躺着,而且还在动。肯定是人而不是东西,因为毯子下面头部和身体的轮廓很清晰。然而却从头到脚都盖着,除非死人才盖着头躺着,而这人没有死,没有真死,因为它还在动并且在发抖。

汤姆森试图告诉自己他在胡思乱想,可在这光天化日之下这又是不可能的。他该怎么办呢?首先再锁上门。他的手颤抖着用钥匙在锁眼里转动着,这时出了点儿声音,他马上便听到有轻轻朝门口走来的脚步声。虽然他知道这么做无济于事,汤姆森还是跑回自己的房间把自己锁在了里面。关上门上了锁又怎么能挡住他怀疑的东西呢?他站在那里听了几分钟,走廊里没有任何声音。

他现在想不出来该怎么做。他想收拾起东西马上离开这家旅店,可就在那天早上他才告诉贝茨夫妇他要再呆上一周。如果他突然走了,他们肯定会猜测其中的原因。这时他想或许贝茨夫妇知道那房间里的东西却仍住在这套房子里,或许他们对此一无所知。可能他们知道的情况仅使他们将那间屋子锁起来,却不至于使他们离开这座房子。无论如何,不管那屋子里有什么东西,他们似乎并不害怕,他为什么要怕呢?于是他决定按原来自己的安排再呆上一周。

时间一天天过去,汤姆森仔细听着走廊尽头那间屋子有什么声音,可什么也没听到。他当然不能去问贝茨先生或夫人,而且觉得这事也不能去问别人。可是他却极想弄清此事,于是便决定离开这家旅馆前再找机会去看看那锁着的屋子里面的情况。

他简单地计划了一下:他安排坐下午的火车走并且把行李放在送站的马车上,然后就在临走前再回楼上看看是不是忘了什么东西,这时他不回自己的房间而是到那间屋子里去。他在钥匙上抹了点儿油,这样开起门来声音会小一点儿。

最后一天到了。吃完午饭,他的行李被拿下楼放在了送站的马车上。贝茨夫妇来到前门和他道别。汤姆森感谢他们让他住得很舒服,夫妇俩也对他住在他们这儿表示感谢。接着,汤姆森照计划说:

“我再去看看有没有把书或什么东西忘在房间里。不过没事,我自己去看看就行了。”

他快步上楼来到那间锁着的屋门前,轻轻转动钥匙打开了门。他几乎要大声笑出来。斜靠在或者说坐在床边的——只不过是个普普通通的稻草人!一个从花园里搬出来的稻草人,只不过被放在了这间空屋子里……

可突然他不再觉得这事情好玩了。稻草人有瘦骨嶙峋的双脚吗?头能在肩膀上晃动吗?脖子上会有沉重的金属链子吗?能从床上起来,摇晃着头、胳膊紧贴着身体两侧在地上走动……而且冻得发抖吗?

汤姆森砰地一声关上门,从楼梯上跳下来,随即昏倒在旅店门口。他醒过来时,贝茨先生正端着杯威士忌严肃地站在他身边。

“先生,你可不该这么做,”贝茨说,“你不应该窥探别人的秘密,尤其是尽力使你舒服的人家。”

汤姆森说他很抱歉,可旅店老板和妻子觉得难以接受他的道歉。

“谁知道这件事会对我们旅店的声誉造成什么损害呢?”贝茨先生说,他妻子也在附和着。

最后汤姆森还是让贝茨夫妇相信了他不会把自己见到的一切说出去。这时他已经错过了那趟火车,可他决定去镇上,在火车站旅馆过夜。

他临走前,贝茨先生给他讲了自己知道的一点儿情况。

“人们说多年前他是这家旅店的老板,和那些在荒原上抢夺和谋杀旅行者的小偷们同谋一起干坏事,所以被人——据说用链子——吊死在你看见的那块白石头上的绞架上。是啊,我想后来那些渔夫们把绞架拆了下来,因为他们在海上就能看见,他们说鱼一见到它就跑。这些都是从卖给我们旅店的人们那里听来的。'你们把那间屋子的门窗关好,'他们说,'别把床搬出来,就不会有什么麻烦。'我们确实也没遇到什么麻烦。虽然谁也不知道现在他会干什么,但是此前他从来没出来过。我从来没看见过他,而且也不想看见。不过,先生,我确实希望你能保守这个秘密。如果传出去,人们就不会想到这儿来住了,对吧?”

多年来汤姆森先生一直信守诺言,没有将此事说出来。如今他已经年迈,来看望我的父亲我才听到了这个故事。我奉命带他上楼到他的房间去。一到那儿,他便走上前去自己用力推开了门。他在门口站了会儿,仔细看了看房间的每一个角落。

接着他转向我。“对不起,”他说,“这么做很怪,却是很有理由的。”

几天后我听说了其中的理由,您现在也听说了。


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