The Riddle of the Frozen Flame

 

Merriton Towers had been called the loneliest spot in England…

by many of the tourists who chanced to visit the Fen district, and it was no misnomer.

Nigel, having seen it some thirteen years before, found that his memory had dimmed the true vision of the place considerably; that where he had builded romance, romance was not. Where he had softened harsh outlines, and peopled dark corridors with his own fancies, those same outlines had taken on a grimness that he could hardly believe possible, and the long, dark corridors of his mind's vision were longer and darker and lonelier than he had ever imagined any spot could be.

It was a handsome place, no doubt, in its gaunt, gray, prisonlike way. And, too, it had a moat and a miniature portcullis that rather tickled his boyish fancy. The furnishings, however, had an appalling grimness that took the very heart out of one. Chairs which seemed to have grown in their places for centuries crowded the corners of hallway and stairs like gigantic nightmares of their original prototypes. Monstrous curtains of red brocade, grown purple with the years, seemed to hang from every window and door crowding out the light and air. The carpets were thick and dark and had lost all sign of pattern in the dull gloom of the centuries.

It was, in fact, a house that would create ghosts. The atmosphere was alive with that strange sensation of disembodied spirits which some very old houses seem to possess. Narrow, slit-like windows in perfect keeping with the architecture and the needs of the period in which it was built—if not with modern ideas of hygiene and health—kept the rooms dark and musty. When Nigel first entered the place through the great front door thrown open by the solemn-faced butler, who he learned had been kept on from his uncle's time, he felt as though he were entering his own tomb. When the door shut he shuddered as the light and sunshine vanished……

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