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The Lamp is a short story, written by Agatha Christie which is the fifth story of the anthology The Hound of Death and Other Stories first published in the UK in October 1933. This anthology was however not published in the United States. The story did not appear there until 1971 with the release of the collection The Golden Ball and Other Stories.

Many of the stories in "Hound of Death" were first published in the 1920s in publications such as The Grand Magazine. Whether this was done with "The Lamp" is not known.

Synopsis

Mrs Lancaster takes a lease on a house but the rent is suspiciously low....

Plot summary

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

A Mrs Lancaster takes a lease on an empty house that sits in a square of an old cathedral town. Suspicious of the extremely low rent she accurately guesses that the house is haunted and pushes the agent for details. He reluctantly tells her of the version of the story that he has heard about a man called Williams living there some thirty years ago with his young son. Williams went up to London for the day and, being a wanted man on the run, was arrested and jailed by the police. His young son was left to fend for himself in the house but died of starvation. The story goes that the boy's sobbing as he waits for his father to return can sometimes be heard.

Mrs Lancaster soon moves into the house with her elderly father, Mr Winburn, and her lively young son, Geoffrey. Mr Winburn knows that the house is haunted and hears another set of footsteps on the stairs following his grandson down. He also has a disturbing dream that he is in a town populated by no one but children who are begging him to know if he has "brought him". In addition, he overhears the servants gossiping about hearing a child cry. Somewhat oblivious to this, Geoffrey nevertheless asks his startled mother if he can play with the little boy that he sometimes sees watching him but Mrs Lancaster brusquely stops all such talk. A month later, Geoffrey starts to fall ill and even his mother starts to hear the sobs of the other little boy that they seem to share the house with. The doctor confesses to his grandfather that there is little they can do as his lungs were never strong in the first place. One night, Geoffrey dies and his mother and grandfather suddenly hear the sound of the other child's joyous laughter and the receding sound of two pairs of footsteps. The little boy has a playmate at last.

Characters

References or allusions

References to other works

In The Lamp the lines of poetry that Mr. Winburn quotes are taken from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám and they provide the story's title:

"What Lamp has Destiny to guide Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?" "A Blind Understanding," Heaven replied.

Adaptations

The short story was adapted by the BBC World Service in 1984.

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