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0105_001E Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter VI The Sole Survivor

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Relatives I had as few as misanthropist could desire; but from self-congratulation on the fact, on first landing, I soon came to keen regret. They at least would have sheltered me from spies and busybodies; they at least would have secured the peace and privacy of one who was no hero in fact or spirit, whose noblest deed was a piece of self preservation which he wished undone with all his heart.

Self-consciousness no doubt multiplied my flattering assailants. I have said that my nerves were shattered. I may have imagined much and exaggerated the rest. Yet what truth there was in my suspicions you shall duly see. I felt sure that I was followed in the street, and my every movement dogged by those to whom I would not condescend to turn and look. Meanwhile, I had not the courage to go near my club, and the Temple was a place where I was accosted in every court, effusively congratulated on the marvellous preservation of my stale spoilt life, and invited right and left to spin my yarn over a quiet pipe! Well, perhaps such invitations were not so common as they have grown in my memory; nor must you confuse my then feelings on all these matters with those which I entertain as I write. I have grown older, and, I hope, something kindlier and wiser since then. Yet to this day I cannot blame myself for abandoning my chambers and avoiding my club.

For a temporary asylum I pitched upon a small, quiet, empty, private hotel which I knew of in Charterhouse Square. Instantly the room next mine became occupied.

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All the first night I imagined I heard voices talking about me in that room next door. It was becoming a disease with me. Either I was being dogged, watched, followed, day and night, indoors and out, or I was the victim of a very ominous hallucination. That night I never closed an eye nor lowered my light. In the morning I took a four-wheel cab and drove straight to Harley Street; and, upon my soul, as I stood on the specialist's door-step, I could have sworn I saw the occupant of the room next mine dash by me in a hansom!

"Ah!" said the specialist; "so you cannot sleep; you hear voices; you fancy you are being followed in the street. You don't think these fancies spring entirely from the imagination? Not entirely - just so. And you keep looking behind you, as though somebody were at your elbow; and you prefer to sit with your back close to the wall. Just so - just so. Distressing symptoms, to be sure, but - but hardly to be wondered at in a man who has come through your nervous strain." A keen professional light glittered in his eyes. "And almost commonplace," he added, smiling, "compared with the hallucinations you must have suffered from on that hen-coop! Ah, my dear sir, the psychological interest of your case is very great!"

"It may be," said I, brusquely. "But I come to you to get that hen-coop out of my head, not to be reminded of it. Everybody asks me about the damned thing, and you follow everybody else. I wish it and I were at the bottom of the sea together!"

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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