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The Ghostly Door
by [?]

Told by one of Dave’s mates.

Dave and I were tramping on a lonely Bush track in New Zealand, making for a sawmill where we expected to get work, and we were caught in one of those three-days’ gales, with rain and hail in it and cold enough to cut off a man’s legs. Camping out was not to be thought of, so we just tramped on in silence, with the stinging pain coming between our shoulder-blades–from cold, weariness, and the weight of our swags–and our boots, full of water, going splosh, splosh, splosh along the track. We were settled to it–to drag on like wet, weary, muddy working bullocks till we came to somewhere–when, just before darkness settled down, we saw the loom of a humpy of some sort on the slope of a tussock hill, back from the road, and we made for it, without holding a consultation.

It was a two-roomed hut built of waste timber from a sawmill, and was either a deserted settler’s home or a hut attached to an abandoned sawmill round there somewhere. The windows were boarded up. We dumped our swags under the little verandah and banged at the door, to make sure; then Dave pulled a couple of boards off a window and looked in: there was light enough to see that the place was empty. Dave pulled off some more boards, put his arm in through a broken pane, clicked the catch back, and then pushed up the window and got in. I handed in the swags to him. The room was very draughty; the wind came in through the broken window and the cracks between the slabs, so we tried the partitioned-off room–the bedroom–and that was better. It had been lined with chaff-bags, and there were two stretchers left by some timber-getters or other Bush contractors who’d camped there last; and there were a box and a couple of three-legged stools.

We carried the remnant of the wood-heap inside, made a fire, and put the billy on. We unrolled our swags and spread the blankets on the stretchers; and then we stripped and hung our clothes about the fire to dry. There was plenty in our tucker-bags, so we had a good feed. I hadn’t shaved for days, and Dave had a coarse red beard with a twist in it like an ill-used fibre brush–a beard that got redder the longer it grew; he had a hooked nose, and his hair stood straight up (I never saw a man so easy-going about the expression and so scared about the head), and he was very tall, with long, thin, hairy legs. We must have looked a weird pair as we sat there, naked, on the low three-legged stools, with the billy and the tucker on the box between us, and ate our bread and meat with clasp-knives.

‘I shouldn’t wonder,’ says Dave, ‘but this is the “whare”* where the murder was that we heard about along the road. I suppose if any one was to come along now and look in he’d get scared.’ Then after a while he looked down at the flooring-boards close to my feet, and scratched his ear, and said, ‘That looks very much like a blood-stain under your stool, doesn’t it, Jim?’

* ‘Whare’, ‘whorrie’, Maori name for house.

I shifted my feet and presently moved the stool farther away from the fire–it was too hot.

I wouldn’t have liked to camp there by myself, but I don’t think Dave would have minded–he’d knocked round too much in the Australian Bush to mind anything much, or to be surprised at anything; besides, he was more than half murdered once by a man who said afterwards that he’d mistook him for some one else: he must have been a very short-sighted murderer.

Presently we put tobacco, matches, and bits of candle we had, on the two stools by the heads of our bunks, turned in, and filled up and smoked comfortably, dropping in a lazy word now and again about nothing in particular. Once I happened to look across at Dave, and saw him sitting up a bit and watching the door. The door opened very slowly, wide, and a black cat walked in, looked first at me, then at Dave, and walked out again; and the door closed behind it.