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Title: A Thin Ghost and Others
Author: James, M. R. (Montague Rhodes), 1862-1936
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Thin Ghost and Others" ***

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A THIN GHOST AND OTHERS

by

MONTAGUE RHODES JAMES, LITT.D.

Provost Of Eton College
Author of "Ghost Stories of an Antiquary," "More Ghost Stories," etc.

Third Impression



New York
Longmans, Green & Co.
London: Edward Arnold
1920
(All rights reserved)



PREFACE


Two of these stories, the third and fourth, have appeared in print in
the _Cambridge Review_, and I wish to thank the proprietor for
permitting me to republish them here.

I have had my doubts about the wisdom of publishing a third set of
tales; sequels are, not only proverbially but actually, very hazardous
things. However, the tales make no pretence but to amuse, and my
friends have not seldom asked for the publication. So not a great deal
is risked, perhaps, and perhaps also some one's Christmas may be the
cheerfuller for a storybook which, I think, only once mentions the
war.



CONTENTS


                                                                 PAGE

THE RESIDENCE AT WHITMINSTER                                        1

THE DIARY OF MR. POYNTER                                           49

AN EPISODE OF CATHEDRAL HISTORY                                    73

THE STORY OF A DISAPPEARANCE AND AN APPEARANCE                    107

TWO DOCTORS                                                       135



THE RESIDENCE AT WHITMINSTER



A Thin Ghost and Others

THE RESIDENCE AT WHITMINSTER


Dr. Ashton--Thomas Ashton, Doctor of Divinity--sat in his study,
habited in a dressing-gown, and with a silk cap on his shaven
head--his wig being for the time taken off and placed on its block on
a side table. He was a man of some fifty-five years, strongly made, of
a sanguine complexion, an angry eye, and a long upper lip. Face and
eye were lighted up at the moment when I picture him by the level ray
of an afternoon sun that shone in upon him through a tall sash window,
giving on the west. The room into which it shone was also tall, lined
with book-cases, and, where the wall showed between them, panelled. On
the table near the doctor's elbow was a green cloth, and upon it what
he would have called a silver standish--a tray with inkstands--quill
pens, a calf-bound book or two, some papers, a churchwarden pipe and
brass tobacco-box, a flask cased in plaited straw, and a liqueur
glass. The year was 1730, the month December, the hour somewhat past
three in the afternoon.

I have described in these lines pretty much all that a superficial
observer would have noted when he looked into the room. What met Dr.
Ashton's eye when he looked out of it, sitting in his leather
arm-chair? Little more than the tops of the shrubs and fruit-trees of
his garden could be seen from that point, but the red brick wall of it
was visible in almost all the length of its western side. In the
middle of that was a gate--a double gate of rather elaborate iron
scroll-work, which allowed something of a view beyond. Through it he
could see that the ground sloped away almost at once to a bottom,
along which a stream must run, and rose steeply from it on the other
side, up to a field that was park-like in character, and thickly
studded with oaks, now, of course, leafless. They did not stand so
thick together but that some glimpse of sky and horizon could be seen
between their stems. The sky was now golden and the horizon, a horizon
of distant woods, it seemed, was purple.

But all that Dr. Ashton could find to say, after contemplating this
prospect for many minutes, was: "Abominable!"

A listener would have been aware, immediately upon this, of the sound
of footsteps coming somewhat hurriedly in the direction of the study:
by the resonance he could have told that they were traversing a much
larger room. Dr. Ashton turned round in his chair as the door opened,
and looked expectant. The incomer was a lady--a stout lady in the
dress of the time: though I have made some attempt at indicating the
doctor's costume, I will not enterprise that of his wife--for it was
Mrs. Ashton who now entered. She had an anxious, even a sorely
distracted, look, and it was in a very disturbed voice that she almost
whispered to Dr. Ashton, putting her head close to his, "He's in a
very sad way, love, worse, I'm afraid." "Tt--tt, is he really?" and he
leaned back and looked in her face. She nodded. Two solemn bells, high
up, and not far away, rang out the half-hour at this moment. Mrs.
Ashton started. "Oh, do you think you can give order that the minster
clock be stopped chiming to-night? 'Tis just over his chamber, and
will keep him from sleeping, and to sleep is the only chance for him,
that's certain." "Why, to be sure, if there were need, real need, it
could be done, but not upon any light occasion. This Frank, now, do
you assure me that his recovery stands upon it?" said Dr. Ashton: his
voice was loud and rather hard. "I do verily believe it," said his
wife. "Then, if it must be, bid Molly run across to Simpkins and say
on my authority that he is to stop the clock chimes at sunset:
and--yes--she is after that to say to my lord Saul that I wish to see
him presently in this room." Mrs. Ashton hurried off.

Before any other visitor enters, it will be well to explain the
situation.

Dr. Ashton was the holder, among other preferments, of a prebend in
the rich collegiate church of Whitminster, one of the foundations
which, though not a cathedral, survived dissolution and reformation,
and retained its constitution and endowments for a hundred years after
the time of which I write. The great church, the residences of the
dean and the two prebendaries, the choir and its appurtenances, were
all intact and in working order. A dean who flourished soon after 1500
had been a great builder, and had erected a spacious quadrangle of red
brick adjoining the church for the residence of the officials. Some of
these persons were no longer required: their offices had dwindled
down to mere titles, borne by clergy or lawyers in the town and
neighbourhood; and so the houses that had been meant to accommodate
eight or ten people were now shared among three, the dean and the two
prebendaries. Dr. Ashton's included what had been the common parlour
and the dining-hall of the whole body. It occupied a whole side of the
court, and at one end had a private door into the minster. The other
end, as we have seen, looked out over the country.

So much for the house. As for the inmates, Dr. Ashton was a wealthy
man and childless, and he had adopted, or rather undertaken to bring
up, the orphan son of his wife's sister. Frank Sydall was the lad's
name: he had been a good many months in the house. Then one day came a
letter from an Irish peer, the Earl of Kildonan (who had known Dr.
Ashton at college), putting it to the doctor whether he would consider
taking into his family the Viscount Saul, the Earl's heir, and acting
in some sort as his tutor. Lord Kildonan was shortly to take up a post
in the Lisbon Embassy, and the boy was unfit to make the voyage: "not
that he is sickly," the Earl wrote, "though you'll find him whimsical,
or of late I've thought him so, and to confirm this, 'twas only
to-day his old nurse came expressly to tell me he was possess'd: but
let that pass; I'll warrant you can find a spell to make all straight.
Your arm was stout enough in old days, and I give you plenary
authority to use it as you see fit. The truth is, he has here no boys
of his age or quality to consort with, and is given to moping about in
our raths and graveyards: and he brings home romances that fright my
servants out of their wits. So there are you and your lady
forewarned." It was perhaps with half an eye open to the possibility
of an Irish bishopric (at which another sentence in the Earl's letter
seemed to hint) that Dr. Ashton accepted the charge of my Lord
Viscount Saul and of the 200 guineas a year that were to come with
him.

So he came, one night in September. When he got out of the chaise that
brought him, he went first and spoke to the postboy and gave him some
money, and patted the neck of his horse. Whether he made some movement
that scared it or not, there was very nearly a nasty accident, for the
beast started violently, and the postilion being unready was thrown
and lost his fee, as he found afterwards, and the chaise lost some
paint on the gateposts, and the wheel went over the man's foot who was
taking out the baggage. When Lord Saul came up the steps into the
light of the lamp in the porch to be greeted by Dr. Ashton, he was
seen to be a thin youth of, say, sixteen years old, with straight
black hair and the pale colouring that is common to such a figure. He
took the accident and commotion calmly enough, and expressed a proper
anxiety for the people who had been, or might have been, hurt: his
voice was smooth and pleasant, and without any trace, curiously, of an
Irish brogue.

Frank Sydall was a younger boy, perhaps of eleven or twelve, but Lord
Saul did not for that reject his company. Frank was able to teach him
various games he had not known in Ireland, and he was apt at learning
them; apt, too, at his books, though he had had little or no regular
teaching at home. It was not long before he was making a shift to
puzzle out the inscriptions on the tombs in the minster, and he would
often put a question to the doctor about the old books in the library
that required some thought to answer. It is to be supposed that he
made himself very agreeable to the servants, for within ten days of
his coming they were almost falling over each other in their efforts
to oblige him. At the same time, Mrs. Ashton was rather put to it to
find new maidservants; for there were several changes, and some of the
families in the town from which she had been accustomed to draw seemed
to have no one available. She was forced to go further afield than was
usual.

These generalities I gather from the doctor's notes in his diary and
from letters. They are generalities, and we should like, in view of
what has to be told, something sharper and more detailed. We get it in
entries which begin late in the year, and, I think, were posted up all
together after the final incident; but they cover so few days in all
that there is no need to doubt that the writer could remember the
course of things accurately.

On a Friday morning it was that a fox, or perhaps a cat, made away
with Mrs. Ashton's most prized black cockerel, a bird without a single
white feather on its body. Her husband had told her often enough that
it would make a suitable sacrifice to Æsculapius; that had discomfited
her much, and now she would hardly be consoled. The boys looked
everywhere for traces of it: Lord Saul brought in a few feathers,
which seemed to have been partially burnt on the garden rubbish-heap.
It was on the same day that Dr. Ashton, looking out of an upper
window, saw the two boys playing in the corner of the garden at a game
he did not understand. Frank was looking earnestly at something in the
palm of his hand. Saul stood behind him and seemed to be listening.
After some minutes he very gently laid his hand on Frank's head, and
almost instantly thereupon, Frank suddenly dropped whatever it was
that he was holding, clapped his hands to his eyes, and sank down on
the grass. Saul, whose face expressed great anger, hastily picked the
object up, of which it could only be seen that it was glittering, put
it in his pocket, and turned away, leaving Frank huddled up on the
grass. Dr. Ashton rapped on the window to attract their attention, and
Saul looked up as if in alarm, and then springing to Frank, pulled him
up by the arm and led him away. When they came in to dinner, Saul
explained that they had been acting a part of the tragedy of
Radamistus, in which the heroine reads the future fate of her father's
kingdom by means of a glass ball held in her hand, and is overcome by
the terrible events she has seen. During this explanation Frank said
nothing, only looked rather bewilderedly at Saul. He must, Mrs. Ashton
thought, have contracted a chill from the wet of the grass, for that
evening he was certainly feverish and disordered; and the disorder was
of the mind as well as the body, for he seemed to have something he
wished to say to Mrs. Ashton, only a press of household affairs
prevented her from paying attention to him; and when she went,
according to her habit, to see that the light in the boys' chamber had
been taken away, and to bid them good-night, he seemed to be sleeping,
though his face was unnaturally flushed, to her thinking: Lord Saul,
however, was pale and quiet, and smiling in his slumber.

Next morning it happened that Dr. Ashton was occupied in church and
other business, and unable to take the boys' lessons. He therefore set
them tasks to be written and brought to him. Three times, if not
oftener, Frank knocked at the study door, and each time the doctor
chanced to be engaged with some visitor, and sent the boy off rather
roughly, which he later regretted. Two clergymen were at dinner this
day, and both remarked--being fathers of families--that the lad seemed
sickening for a fever, in which they were too near the truth, and it
had been better if he had been put to bed forthwith: for a couple of
hours later in the afternoon he came running into the house, crying
out in a way that was really terrifying, and rushing to Mrs. Ashton,
clung about her, begging her to protect him, and saying, "Keep them
off! keep them off!" without intermission. And it was now evident that
some sickness had taken strong hold of him. He was therefore got to
bed in another chamber from that in which he commonly lay, and the
physician brought to him: who pronounced the disorder to be grave and
affecting the lad's brain, and prognosticated a fatal end to it if
strict quiet were not observed, and those sedative remedies used which
he should prescribe.

We are now come by another way to the point we had reached before. The
minster clock has been stopped from striking, and Lord Saul is on the
threshold of the study.

"What account can you give of this poor lad's state?" was Dr. Ashton's
first question. "Why, sir, little more than you know already, I fancy.
I must blame myself, though, for giving him a fright yesterday when we
were acting that foolish play you saw. I fear I made him take it more
to heart than I meant." "How so?" "Well, by telling him foolish tales
I had picked up in Ireland of what we call the second sight."
"_Second_ sight! What kind of sight might that be?" "Why, you know our
ignorant people pretend that some are able to foresee what is to
come--sometimes in a glass, or in the air, maybe, and at Kildonan we
had an old woman that pretended to such a power. And I daresay I
coloured the matter more highly than I should: but I never dreamed
Frank would take it so near as he did." "You were wrong, my lord, very
wrong, in meddling with such superstitious matters at all, and you
should have considered whose house you were in, and how little
becoming such actions are to my character and person or to your own:
but pray how came it that you, acting, as you say, a play, should fall
upon anything that could so alarm Frank?" "That is what I can hardly
tell, sir: he passed all in a moment from rant about battles and
lovers and Cleodora and Antigenes to something I could not follow at
all, and then dropped down as you saw." "Yes: was that at the moment
when you laid your hand on the top of his head?" Lord Saul gave a
quick look at his questioner--quick and spiteful--and for the first
time seemed unready with an answer. "About that time it may have
been," he said. "I have tried to recollect myself, but I am not sure.
There was, at any rate, no significance in what I did then." "Ah!"
said Dr. Ashton, "well, my lord, I should do wrong were I not to tell
you that this fright of my poor nephew may have very ill consequences
to him. The doctor speaks very despondingly of his state." Lord Saul
pressed his hands together and looked earnestly upon Dr. Ashton. "I am
willing to believe you had no bad intention, as assuredly you could
have no reason to bear the poor boy malice: but I cannot wholly free
you from blame in the affair." As he spoke, the hurrying steps were
heard again, and Mrs. Ashton came quickly into the room, carrying a
candle, for the evening had by this time closed in. She was greatly
agitated. "O come!" she cried, "come directly. I'm sure he is going."
"Going? Frank? Is it possible? Already?" With some such incoherent
words the doctor caught up a book of prayers from the table and ran
out after his wife. Lord Saul stopped for a moment where he was.
Molly, the maid, saw him bend over and put both hands to his face. If
it were the last words she had to speak, she said afterwards, he was
striving to keep back a fit of laughing. Then he went out softly,
following the others.

Mrs. Ashton was sadly right in her forecast. I have no inclination to
imagine the last scene in detail. What Dr. Ashton records is, or may
be taken to be, important to the story. They asked Frank if he would
like to see his companion, Lord Saul, once again. The boy was quite
collected, it appears, in these moments. "No," he said, "I do not want
to see him; but you should tell him I am afraid he will be very cold."
"What do you mean, my dear?" said Mrs. Ashton. "Only that;" said
Frank, "but say to him besides that I am free of them now, but he
should take care. And I am sorry about your black cockerel, Aunt
Ashton; but he said we must use it so, if we were to see all that
could be seen."

Not many minutes after, he was gone. Both the Ashtons were grieved,
she naturally most; but the doctor, though not an emotional man, felt
the pathos of the early death: and, besides, there was the growing
suspicion that all had not been told him by Saul, and that there was
something here which was out of his beaten track. When he left the
chamber of death, it was to walk across the quadrangle of the
residence to the sexton's house. A passing bell, the greatest of the
minster bells, must be rung, a grave must be dug in the minster yard,
and there was now no need to silence the chiming of the minster clock.
As he came slowly back in the dark, he thought he must see Lord Saul
again. That matter of the black cockerel--trifling as it might
seem--would have to be cleared up. It might be merely a fancy of the
sick boy, but if not, was there not a witch-trial he had read, in
which some grim little rite of sacrifice had played a part? Yes, he
must see Saul.

I rather guess these thoughts of his than find written authority for
them. That there was another interview is certain: certain also that
Saul would (or, as he said, could) throw no light on Frank's words:
though the message, or some part of it, appeared to affect him
horribly. But there is no record of the talk in detail. It is only
said that Saul sat all that evening in the study, and when he bid
good-night, which he did most reluctantly, asked for the doctor's
prayers.

The month of January was near its end when Lord Kildonan, in the
Embassy at Lisbon, received a letter that for once gravely disturbed
that vain man and neglectful father. Saul was dead. The scene at
Frank's burial had been very distressing. The day was awful in
blackness and wind: the bearers, staggering blindly along under the
flapping black pall, found it a hard job, when they emerged from the
porch of the minster, to make their way to the grave. Mrs. Ashton was
in her room--women did not then go to their kinsfolk's funerals--but
Saul was there, draped in the mourning cloak of the time, and his face
was white and fixed as that of one dead, except when, as was noticed
three or four times, he suddenly turned his head to the left and
looked over his shoulder. It was then alive with a terrible expression
of listening fear. No one saw him go away: and no one could find him
that evening. All night the gale buffeted the high windows of the
church, and howled over the upland and roared through the woodland. It
was useless to search in the open: no voice of shouting or cry for
help could possibly be heard. All that Dr. Ashton could do was to warn
the people about the college, and the town constables, and to sit up,
on the alert for any news, and this he did. News came early next
morning, brought by the sexton, whose business it was to open the
church for early prayers at seven, and who sent the maid rushing
upstairs with wild eyes and flying hair to summon her master. The two
men dashed across to the south door of the minster, there to find Lord
Saul clinging desperately to the great ring of the door, his head sunk
between his shoulders, his stockings in rags, his shoes gone, his legs
torn and bloody.

This was what had to be told to Lord Kildonan, and this really ends
the first part of the story. The tomb of Frank Sydall and of the Lord
Viscount Saul, only child and heir to William Earl of Kildonan, is
one: a stone altar tomb in Whitminster churchyard.

Dr. Ashton lived on for over thirty years in his prebendal house, I do
not know how quietly, but without visible disturbance. His successor
preferred a house he already owned in the town, and left that of the
senior prebendary vacant. Between them these two men saw the
eighteenth century out and the nineteenth in; for Mr. Hindes, the
successor of Ashton, became prebendary at nine-and-twenty and died at
nine-and-eighty. So that it was not till 1823 or 1824 that any one
succeeded to the post who intended to make the house his home. The man
who did was Dr. Henry Oldys, whose name may be known to some of my
readers as that of the author of a row of volumes labelled _Oldys's
Works_, which occupy a place that must be honoured, since it is so
rarely touched, upon the shelves of many a substantial library.

Dr. Oldys, his niece, and his servants took some months to transfer
furniture and books from his Dorsetshire parsonage to the quadrangle
of Whitminster, and to get everything into place. But eventually the
work was done, and the house (which, though untenanted, had always
been kept sound and weather-tight) woke up, and like Monte Cristo's
mansion at Auteuil, lived, sang, and bloomed once more. On a certain
morning in June it looked especially fair, as Dr. Oldys strolled in
his garden before breakfast and gazed over the red roof at the minster
tower with its four gold vanes, backed by a very blue sky, and very
white little clouds.

"Mary," he said, as he seated himself at the breakfast table and laid
down something hard and shiny on the cloth, "here's a find which the
boy made just now. You'll be sharper than I if you can guess what it's
meant for." It was a round and perfectly smooth tablet--as much as an
inch thick--of what seemed clear glass. "It is rather attractive at
all events," said Mary: she was a fair woman, with light hair and
large eyes, rather a devotee of literature. "Yes," said her uncle, "I
thought you'd be pleased with it. I presume it came from the house: it
turned up in the rubbish-heap in the corner." "I'm not sure that I do
like it, after all," said Mary, some minutes later. "Why in the world
not, my dear?" "I don't know, I'm sure. Perhaps it's only fancy."
"Yes, only fancy and romance, of course. What's that book, now--the
name of that book, I mean, that you had your head in all yesterday?"
"_The Talisman_, Uncle. Oh, if this should turn out to be a talisman,
how enchanting it would be!" "Yes, _The Talisman_: ah, well, you're
welcome to it, whatever it is: I must be off about my business. Is all
well in the house? Does it suit you? Any complaints from the servants'
hall?" "No, indeed, nothing could be more charming. The only _soupçon_
of a complaint besides the lock of the linen closet, which I told you
of, is that Mrs. Maple says she cannot get rid of the sawflies out of
that room you pass through at the other end of the hall. By the way,
are you sure you like your bedroom? It is a long way off from any one
else, you know." "Like it? To be sure I do; the further off from you,
my dear, the better. There, don't think it necessary to beat me:
accept my apologies. But what are sawflies? will they eat my coats? If
not, they may have the room to themselves for what I care. We are not
likely to be using it." "No, of course not. Well, what she calls
sawflies are those reddish things like a daddy-longlegs, but
smaller,[1] and there are a great many of them perching about that
room, certainly. I don't like them, but I don't fancy they are
mischievous." "There seem to be several things you don't like this
fine morning," said her uncle, as he closed the door. Miss Oldys
remained in her chair looking at the tablet, which she was holding in
the palm of her hand. The smile that had been on her face faded slowly
from it and gave place to an expression of curiosity and almost
strained attention. Her reverie was broken by the entrance of Mrs.
Maple, and her invariable opening, "Oh, Miss, could I speak to you a
minute?"

A letter from Miss Oldys to a friend in Lichfield, begun a day or two
before, is the next source for this story. It is not devoid of traces
of the influence of that leader of female thought in her day, Miss
Anna Seward, known to some as the Swan of Lichfield.

"My sweetest Emily will be rejoiced to hear that we are at length--my
beloved uncle and myself--settled in the house that now calls us
master--nay, master and mistress--as in past ages it has called so
many others. Here we taste a mingling of modern elegance and hoary
antiquity, such as has never ere now graced life for either of us. The
town, small as it is, affords us some reflection, pale indeed, but
veritable, of the sweets of polite intercourse: the adjacent country
numbers amid the occupants of its scattered mansions some whose polish
is annually refreshed by contact with metropolitan splendour, and
others whose robust and homely geniality is, at times, and by way of
contrast, not less cheering and acceptable. Tired of the parlours and
drawing-rooms of our friends, we have ready to hand a refuge from the
clash of wits or the small talk of the day amid the solemn beauties of
our venerable minster, whose silvern chimes daily 'knoll us to
prayer,' and in the shady walks of whose tranquil graveyard we muse
with softened heart, and ever and anon with moistened eye, upon the
memorials of the young, the beautiful, the aged, the wise, and the
good."

Here there is an abrupt break both in the writing and the style.

"But my dearest Emily, I can no longer write with the care which you
deserve, and in which we both take pleasure. What I have to tell you
is wholly foreign to what has gone before. This morning my uncle
brought in to breakfast an object which had been found in the garden;
it was a glass or crystal tablet of this shape (a little sketch is
given), which he handed to me, and which, after he left the room,
remained on the table by me. I gazed at it, I know not why, for some
minutes, till called away by the day's duties; and you will smile
incredulously when I say that I seemed to myself to begin to descry
reflected in it objects and scenes which were not in the room where I
was. You will not, however, be surprised that after such an experience
I took the first opportunity to seclude myself in my room with what I
now half believed to be a talisman of mickle might. I was not
disappointed. I assure you, Emily, by that memory which is dearest to
both of us, that what I went through this afternoon transcends the
limits of what I had before deemed credible. In brief, what I saw,
seated in my bedroom, in the broad daylight of summer, and looking
into the crystal depth of that small round tablet, was this. First, a
prospect, strange to me, of an enclosure of rough and hillocky grass,
with a grey stone ruin in the midst, and a wall of rough stones about
it. In this stood an old, and very ugly, woman in a red cloak and
ragged skirt, talking to a boy dressed in the fashion of maybe a
hundred years ago. She put something which glittered into his hand,
and he something into hers, which I saw to be money, for a single coin
fell from her trembling hand into the grass. The scene passed--I
should have remarked, by the way, that on the rough walls of the
enclosure I could distinguish bones, and even a skull, lying in a
disorderly fashion. Next, I was looking upon two boys; one the figure
of the former vision, the other younger. They were in a plot of
garden, walled round, and this garden, in spite of the difference in
arrangement, and the small size of the trees, I could clearly
recognize as being that upon which I now look from my window. The boys
were engaged in some curious play, it seemed. Something was
smouldering on the ground. The elder placed his hands upon it, and
then raised them in what I took to be an attitude of prayer: and I
saw, and started at seeing, that on them were deep stains of blood.
The sky above was overcast. The same boy now turned his face towards
the wall of the garden, and beckoned with both his raised hands, and
as he did so I was conscious that some moving objects were becoming
visible over the top of the wall--whether heads or other parts of some
animal or human forms I could not tell. Upon the instant the elder boy
turned sharply, seized the arm of the younger (who all this time had
been poring over what lay on the ground), and both hurried off. I then
saw blood upon the grass, a little pile of bricks, and what I thought
were black feathers scattered about. That scene closed, and the next
was so dark that perhaps the full meaning of it escaped me. But what I
seemed to see was a form, at first crouching low among trees or bushes
that were being threshed by a violent wind, then running very swiftly,
and constantly turning a pale face to look behind him, as if he feared
a pursuer: and, indeed, pursuers were following hard after him. Their
shapes were but dimly seen, their number--three or four, perhaps,
only guessed. I suppose they were on the whole more like dogs than
anything else, but dogs such as we have seen they assuredly were not.
Could I have closed my eyes to this horror, I would have done so at
once, but I was helpless. The last I saw was the victim darting
beneath an arch and clutching at some object to which he clung: and
those that were pursuing him overtook him, and I seemed to hear the
echo of a cry of despair. It may be that I became unconscious:
certainly I had the sensation of awaking to the light of day after an
interval of darkness. Such, in literal truth, Emily, was my vision--I
can call it by no other name--of this afternoon. Tell me, have I not
been the unwilling witness of some episode of a tragedy connected with
this very house?"

The letter is continued next day. "The tale of yesterday was not
completed when I laid down my pen. I said nothing of my experiences to
my uncle--you know, yourself, how little his robust common-sense would
be prepared to allow of them, and how in his eyes the specific remedy
would be a black draught or a glass of port. After a silent evening,
then--silent, not sullen--I retired to rest. Judge of my terror,
when, not yet in bed, I heard what I can only describe as a distant
bellow, and knew it for my uncle's voice, though never in my hearing
so exerted before. His sleeping-room is at the further extremity of
this large house, and to gain access to it one must traverse an
antique hall some eighty feet long and a lofty panelled chamber, and
two unoccupied bedrooms. In the second of these--a room almost devoid
of furniture--I found him, in the dark, his candle lying smashed on
the floor. As I ran in, bearing a light, he clasped me in arms that
trembled for the first time since I have known him, thanked God, and
hurried me out of the room. He would say nothing of what had alarmed
him. 'To-morrow, to-morrow,' was all I could get from him. A bed was
hastily improvised for him in the room next to my own. I doubt if his
night was more restful than mine. I could only get to sleep in the
small hours, when daylight was already strong, and then my dreams were
of the grimmest--particularly one which stamped itself on my brain,
and which I must set down on the chance of dispersing the impression
it has made. It was that I came up to my room with a heavy foreboding
of evil oppressing me, and went with a hesitation and reluctance I
could not explain to my chest of drawers. I opened the top drawer, in
which was nothing but ribbons and handkerchiefs, and then the second,
where was as little to alarm, and then, O heavens, the third and last:
and there was a mass of linen neatly folded: upon which, as I looked
with curiosity that began to be tinged with horror, I perceived a
movement in it, and a pink hand was thrust out of the folds and began
to grope feebly in the air. I could bear it no more, and rushed from
the room, clapping the door after me, and strove with all my force to
lock it. But the key would not turn in the wards, and from within the
room came a sound of rustling and bumping, drawing nearer and nearer
to the door. Why I did not flee down the stairs I know not. I
continued grasping the handle, and mercifully, as the door was plucked
from my hand with an irresistible force, I awoke. You may not think
this very alarming, but I assure you it was so to me.

"At breakfast to-day my uncle was very uncommunicative, and I think
ashamed of the fright he had given us; but afterwards he inquired of
me whether Mr. Spearman was still in town, adding that he thought that
was a young man who had some sense left in his head. I think you
know, my dear Emily, that I am not inclined to disagree with him
there, and also that I was not unlikely to be able to answer his
question. To Mr. Spearman he accordingly went, and I have not seen him
since. I must send this strange budget of news to you now, or it may
have to wait over more than one post."

The reader will not be far out if he guesses that Miss Mary and Mr.
Spearman made a match of it not very long after this month of June.
Mr. Spearman was a young spark, who had a good property in the
neighbourhood of Whitminster, and not unfrequently about this time
spent a few days at the "King's Head," ostensibly on business. But he
must have had some leisure, for his diary is copious, especially for
the days of which I am telling the story. It is probable to me that he
wrote this episode as fully as he could at the bidding of Miss Mary.

"Uncle Oldys (how I hope I may have the right to call him so before
long!) called this morning. After throwing out a good many short
remarks on indifferent topics, he said 'I wish, Spearman, you'd listen
to an odd story and keep a close tongue about it just for a bit, till
I get more light on it.' 'To be sure,' said I, 'you may count on me.'
'I don't know what to make of it,' he said. 'You know my bedroom. It
is well away from every one else's, and I pass through the great hall
and two or three other rooms to get to it.' 'Is it at the end next the
minster, then?' I asked. 'Yes, it is: well, now, yesterday morning my
Mary told me that the room next before it was infested with some sort
of fly that the housekeeper couldn't get rid of. That may be the
explanation, or it may not. What do you think?' 'Why,' said I, 'you've
not yet told me what has to be explained.' 'True enough, I don't
believe I have; but by-the-by, what are these sawflies? What's the
size of them?' I began to wonder if he was touched in the head. 'What
I call a sawfly,' I said very patiently, 'is a red animal, like a
daddy-longlegs, but not so big, perhaps an inch long, perhaps less. It
is very hard in the body, and to me'--I was going to say 'particularly
offensive,' but he broke in, 'Come, come; an inch or less. That won't
do.' 'I can only tell you,' I said, 'what I know. Would it not be
better if you told me from first to last what it is that has puzzled
you, and then I may be able to give you some kind of an opinion.' He
gazed at me meditatively. 'Perhaps it would,' he said. 'I told Mary
only to-day that I thought you had some vestiges of sense in your
head.' (I bowed my acknowledgements.) 'The thing is, I've an odd kind
of shyness about talking of it. Nothing of the sort has happened to me
before. Well, about eleven o'clock last night, or after, I took my
candle and set out for my room. I had a book in my other hand--I
always read something for a few minutes before I drop off to sleep. A
dangerous habit: I don't recommend it: but I know how to manage my
light and my bed curtains. Now then, first, as I stepped out of my
study into the great half that's next to it, and shut the door, my
candle went out. I supposed I had clapped the door behind me too
quick, and made a draught, and I was annoyed, for I'd no tinder-box
nearer than my bedroom. But I knew my way well enough, and went on.
The next thing was that my book was struck out of my hand in the dark:
if I said twitched out of my hand it would better express the
sensation. It fell on the floor. I picked it up, and went on, more
annoyed than before, and a little startled. But as you know, that hall
has many windows without curtains, and in summer nights like these it
is easy to see not only where the furniture is, but whether there's
any one or anything moving, and there was no one--nothing of the kind.
So on I went through the hall and through the audit chamber next to
it, which also has big windows, and then into the bedrooms which lead
to my own, where the curtains were drawn, and I had to go slower
because of steps here and there. It was in the second of those rooms
that I nearly got my _quietus_. The moment I opened the door of it I
felt there was something wrong. I thought twice, I confess, whether I
shouldn't turn back and find another way there is to my room rather
than go through that one. Then I was ashamed of myself, and thought
what people call better of it, though I don't know about "better" in
this case. If I was to describe my experience exactly, I should say
this: there was a dry, light, rustling sound all over the room as I
went in, and then (you remember it was perfectly dark) something
seemed to rush at me, and there was--I don't know how to put it--a
sensation of long thin arms, or legs, or feelers, all about my face,
and neck, and body. Very little strength in them, there seemed to be,
but Spearman, I don't think I was ever more horrified or disgusted in
all my life, that I remember: and it does take something to put me
out. I roared out as loud as I could, and flung away my candle at
random, and, knowing I was near the window, I tore at the curtain and
somehow let in enough light to be able to see something waving which I
knew was an insect's leg, by the shape of it: but, Lord, what a size!
Why the beast must have been as tall as I am. And now you tell me
sawflies are an inch long or less. What do you make of it, Spearman?'

"'For goodness sake finish your story first,' I said. 'I never heard
anything like it.' 'Oh,' said he, 'there's no more to tell. Mary ran
in with a light, and there was nothing there. I didn't tell her what
was the matter. I changed my room for last night, and I expect for
good.' 'Have you searched this odd room of yours?' I said. 'What do
you keep in it?' 'We don't use it,' he answered. 'There's an old press
there, and some little other furniture.' 'And in the press?' said I.
'I don't know; I never saw it opened, but I do know that it's locked.'
'Well, I should have it looked into, and, if you had time, I own to
having some curiosity to see the place myself.' 'I didn't exactly like
to ask you, but that's rather what I hoped you'd say. Name your time
and I'll take you there.' 'No time like the present,' I said at once,
for I saw he would never settle down to anything while this affair was
in suspense. He got up with great alacrity, and looked at me, I am
tempted to think, with marked approval. 'Come along,' was all he said,
however; and was pretty silent all the way to his house. My Mary (as
he calls her in public, and I in private) was summoned, and we
proceeded to the room. The Doctor had gone so far as to tell her that
he had had something of a fright there last night, of what nature he
had not yet divulged; but now he pointed out and described, very
briefly, the incidents of his progress. When we were near the
important spot, he pulled up, and allowed me to pass on. 'There's the
room,' he said. 'Go in, Spearman, and tell us what you find.' Whatever
I might have felt at midnight, noonday I was sure would keep back
anything sinister, and I flung the door open with an air and stepped
in. It was a well-lighted room, with its large window on the right,
though not, I thought, a very airy one. The principal piece of
furniture was the gaunt old press of dark wood. There was, too, a
four-post bedstead, a mere skeleton which could hide nothing, and
there was a chest of drawers. On the window-sill and the floor near it
were the dead bodies of many hundred sawflies, and one torpid one
which I had some satisfaction in killing. I tried the door of the
press, but could not open it: the drawers, too, were locked.
Somewhere, I was conscious, there was a faint rustling sound, but I
could not locate it, and when I made my report to those outside, I
said nothing of it. But, I said, clearly the next thing was to see
what was in those locked receptacles. Uncle Oldys turned to Mary.
'Mrs. Maple,' he said, and Mary ran off--no one, I am sure, steps like
her--and soon came back at a soberer pace, with an elderly lady of
discreet aspect.

"'Have you the keys of these things, Mrs. Maple?' said Uncle Oldys.
His simple words let loose a torrent (not violent, but copious) of
speech: had she been a shade or two higher in the social scale, Mrs.
Maple might have stood as the model for Miss Bates.

"'Oh, Doctor, and Miss, and you too, sir,' she said, acknowledging my
presence with a bend, 'them keys! who was that again that come when
first we took over things in this house--a gentleman in business it
was, and I gave him his luncheon in the small parlour on account of us
not having everything as we should like to see it in the large
one--chicken, and apple-pie, and a glass of madeira--dear, dear,
you'll say I'm running on, Miss Mary; but I only mention it to bring
back my recollection; and there it comes--Gardner, just the same as it
did last week with the artichokes and the text of the sermon. Now that
Mr. Gardner, every key I got from him were labelled to itself, and
each and every one was a key of some door or another in this house,
and sometimes two; and when I say door, my meaning is door of a room,
not like such a press as this is. Yes, Miss Mary, I know full well,
and I'm just making it clear to your uncle and you too, sir. But now
there _was_ a box which this same gentleman he give over into my
charge, and thinking no harm after he was gone I took the liberty,
knowing it was your uncle's property, to rattle it: and unless I'm
most surprisingly deceived, in that box there was keys, but what keys,
that, Doctor, is known Elsewhere, for open the box, no that I would
not do.'

"I wondered that Uncle Oldys remained as quiet as he did under this
address. Mary, I knew, was amused by it, and he probably had been
taught by experience that it was useless to break in upon it. At any
rate he did not, but merely said at the end, 'Have you that box handy,
Mrs. Maple? If so, you might bring it here.' Mrs. Maple pointed her
finger at him, either in accusation or in gloomy triumph. 'There,' she
said, 'was I to choose out the very words out of your mouth, Doctor,
them would be the ones. And if I've took it to my own rebuke one
half-a-dozen times, it's been nearer fifty. Laid awake I have in my
bed, sat down in my chair I have, the same you and Miss Mary gave me
the day I was twenty year in your service, and no person could desire
a better--yes, Miss Mary, but it _is_ the truth, and well we know who
it is would have it different if he could. "All very well," says I to
myself, "but pray, when the Doctor calls you to account for that box,
what are you going to say?" No, Doctor, if you was some masters I've
heard of and I was some servants I could name, I should have an easy
task before me, but things being, humanly speaking, what they are, the
one course open to me is just to say to you that without Miss Mary
comes to my room and helps me to my recollection, which her wits
_may_ manage what's slipped beyond mine, no such box as that, small
though it be, will cross your eyes this many a day to come.'

"'Why, dear Mrs. Maple, why didn't you tell me before that you wanted
me to help you to find it?' said my Mary. 'No, never mind telling me
why it was: let us come at once and look for it.' They hastened off
together. I could hear Mrs. Maple beginning an explanation which, I
doubt not, lasted into the furthest recesses of the housekeeper's
department. Uncle Oldys and I were left alone. 'A valuable servant,'
he said, nodding towards the door. 'Nothing goes wrong under her: the
speeches are seldom over three minutes.' 'How will Miss Oldys manage
to make her remember about the box?' I asked.

"'Mary? Oh, she'll make her sit down and ask her about her aunt's last
illness, or who gave her the china dog on the mantel-piece--something
quite off the point. Then, as Maple says, one thing brings up another,
and the right one will come round sooner than you could suppose.
There! I believe I hear them coming back already.'

"It was indeed so, and Mrs. Maple was hurrying on ahead of Mary with
the box in her outstretched hand, and a beaming face. 'What was it,'
she cried as she drew near, 'what was it as I said, before ever I come
out of Dorsetshire to this place? Not that I'm a Dorset woman myself,
nor had need to be. "Safe bind, safe find," and there it was in the
place where I'd put it--what?--two months back, I daresay.' She handed
it to Uncle Oldys, and he and I examined it with some interest, so
that I ceased to pay attention to Mrs. Ann Maple for the moment,
though I know that she went on to expound exactly where the box had
been, and in what way Mary had helped to refresh her memory on the
subject.

"It was an oldish box, tied with pink tape and sealed, and on the lid
was pasted a label inscribed in old ink, 'The Senior Prebendary's
House, Whitminster.' On being opened it was found to contain two keys
of moderate size, and a paper, on which, in the same hand as the
label, was 'Keys of the Press and Box of Drawers standing in the
disused Chamber.' Also this: 'The Effects in this Press and Box are
held by me, and to be held by my successors in the Residence, in trust
for the noble Family of Kildonan, if claim be made by any survivor of
it. I having made all the Enquiry possible to myself am of the
opinion that that noble House is wholly extinct: the last Earl having
been, as is notorious, cast away at sea, and his only Child and Heire
deceas'd in my House (the Papers as to which melancholy Casualty were
by me repos'd in the same Press in this year of our Lord 1753, 21
March). I am further of opinion that unless grave discomfort arise,
such persons, not being of the Family of Kildonan, as shall become
possess'd of these keys, will be well advised to leave matters as they
are: which opinion I do not express without weighty and sufficient
reason; and am Happy to have my Judgment confirm'd by the other
Members of this College and Church who are conversant with the Events
referr'd to in this Paper. Tho. Ashton, _S.T.P._, _Præb. senr._ Will.
Blake, _S.T.P._, _Decanus_. Hen. Goodman, _S.T.B._, _Præb. junr._'

"'Ah!' said Uncle Oldys, 'grave discomfort! So he thought there might
be something. I suspect it was that young man,' he went on, pointing
with the key to the line about the 'only Child and Heire.' 'Eh, Mary?
The viscounty of Kildonan was Saul.' 'How _do_ you know that, Uncle?'
said Mary. 'Oh, why not? it's all in Debrett--two little fat books.
But I meant the tomb by the lime walk. He's there. What's the story, I
wonder? Do you know it, Mrs. Maple? and, by the way, look at your
sawflies by the window there.'

"Mrs. Maple, thus confronted with two subjects at once, was a little
put to it to do justice to both. It was no doubt rash in Uncle Oldys
to give her the opportunity. I could only guess that he had some
slight hesitation about using the key he held in his hand.

"'Oh them flies, how bad they was, Doctor and Miss, this three or four
days: and you, too, sir, you wouldn't guess, none of you! And how they
come, too! First we took the room in hand, the shutters was up, and
had been, I daresay, years upon years, and not a fly to be seen. Then
we got the shutter bars down with a deal of trouble and left it so for
the day, and next day I sent Susan in with the broom to sweep about,
and not two minutes hadn't passed when out she come into the hall like
a blind thing, and we had regular to beat them off her. Why her cap
and her hair, you couldn't see the colour of it, I do assure you, and
all clustering round her eyes, too. Fortunate enough she's not a girl
with fancies, else if it had been me, why only the tickling of the
nasty things would have drove me out of my wits. And now there they
lay like so many dead things. Well, they was lively enough on the
Monday, and now here's Thursday, is it, or no, Friday. Only to come
near the door and you'd hear them pattering up against it, and once
you opened it, dash at you, they would, as if they'd eat you. I
couldn't help thinking to myself, "If you was bats, where should we be
this night?" Nor you can't cresh 'em, not like a usual kind of a fly.
Well, there's something to be thankful for, if we could but learn by
it. And then this tomb, too,' she said, hastening on to her second
point to elude any chance of interruption, 'of them two poor young
lads. I say poor, and yet when I recollect myself, I was at tea with
Mrs. Simpkins, the sexton's wife, before you come, Doctor and Miss
Mary, and that's a family has been in the place, what? I daresay a
hundred years in that very house, and could put their hand on any tomb
or yet grave in all the yard and give you name and age. And his
account of that young man, Mr. Simpkins's I mean to say--_well_!' She
compressed her lips and nodded several times. 'Tell us, Mrs. Maple,'
said Mary. 'Go on,' said Uncle Oldys. 'What about him?' said I.
'Never was such a thing seen in this place, not since Queen Mary's
times and the Pope and all,' said Mrs. Maple. 'Why, do you know he
lived in this very house, him and them that was with him, and for all
I can tell in this identical room' (she shifted her feet uneasily on
the floor). 'Who was with him? Do you mean the people of the house?'
said Uncle Oldys suspiciously. 'Not to call people, Doctor, dear no,'
was the answer; 'more what he brought with him from Ireland, I believe
it was. No, the people in the house was the last to hear anything of
his goings-on. But in the town not a family but knew how he stopped
out at night: and them that was with him, why they were such as would
strip the skin from the child in its grave; and a withered heart makes
an ugly thin ghost, says Mr. Simpkins. But they turned on him at the
last, he says, and there's the mark still to be seen on the minster
door where they run him down. And that's no more than the truth, for I
got him to show it to myself, and that's what he said. A lord he was,
with a Bible name of a wicked king, whatever his godfathers could have
been thinking of.' 'Saul was the name,' said Uncle Oldys. 'To be sure
it was Saul, Doctor, and thank you; and now isn't it King Saul that we
read of raising up the dead ghost that was slumbering in its tomb till
he disturbed it, and isn't that a strange thing, this young lord to
have such a name, and Mr. Simpkins's grandfather to see him out of his
window of a dark night going about from one grave to another in the
yard with a candle, and them that was with him following through the
grass at his heels: and one night him to come right up to old Mr.
Simpkins's window that gives on the yard and press his face up against
it to find out if there was any one in the room that could see him:
and only just time there was for old Mr. Simpkins to drop down like,
quiet, just under the window and hold his breath, and not stir till he
heard him stepping away again, and this rustling-like in the grass
after him as he went, and then when he looked out of his window in the
morning there was treadings in the grass and a dead man's bone. Oh, he
was a cruel child for certain, but he had to pay in the end, and
after.' 'After?' said Uncle Oldys, with a frown. 'Oh yes, Doctor,
night after night in old Mr. Simpkins's time, and his son, that's our
Mr. Simpkins's father, yes, and our own Mr. Simpkins too. Up against
that same window, particular when they've had a fire of a chilly
evening, with his face right on the panes, and his hands fluttering
out, and his mouth open and shut, open and shut, for a minute or more,
and then gone off in the dark yard. But open the window at such times,
no, that they dare not do, though they could find it in their heart to
pity the poor thing, that pinched up with the cold, and seemingly
fading away to a nothink as the years passed on. Well, indeed, I
believe it is no more than the truth what our Mr. Simpkins says on his
own grandfather's word, "A withered heart makes an ugly thin ghost."'
'I daresay,' said Uncle Oldys suddenly: so suddenly that Mrs. Maple
stopped short. 'Thank you. Come away, all of you.' 'Why, _Uncle_,'
said Mary, 'are you not going to open the press after all?' Uncle
Oldys blushed, actually blushed. 'My dear,' he said, 'you are at
liberty to call me a coward, or applaud me as a prudent man, whichever
you please. But I am neither going to open that press nor that chest
of drawers myself, nor am I going to hand over the keys to you or to
any other person. Mrs. Maple, will you kindly see about getting a man
or two to move those pieces of furniture into the garret?' 'And when
they do it, Mrs. Maple,' said Mary, who seemed to me--I did not then
know why--more relieved than disappointed by her uncle's decision, 'I
have something that I want put with the rest; only quite a small
packet.'

"We left that curious room not unwillingly, I think. Uncle Oldys's
orders were carried out that same day. And so," concludes Mr.
Spearman, "Whitminster has a Bluebeard's chamber, and, I am rather
inclined to suspect, a Jack-in-the-box, awaiting some future occupant
of the residence of the senior prebendary."

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: Apparently the ichneumon fly (_Ophion obscurum_), and not
the true sawfly, is meant.]



THE DIARY OF MR. POYNTER



THE DIARY OF MR. POYNTER


The sale-room of an old and famous firm of book auctioneers in London
is, of course, a great meeting-place for collectors, librarians,
dealers: not only when an auction is in progress, but perhaps even
more notably when books that are coming on for sale are upon view. It
was in such a sale-room that the remarkable series of events began
which were detailed to me not many months ago by the person whom they
principally affected, namely, Mr. James Denton, M.A., F.S.A., etc.,
etc., some time of Trinity Hall, now, or lately, of Rendcomb Manor in
the county of Warwick.

He, on a certain spring day not many years since, was in London for a
few days upon business connected principally with the furnishing of
the house which he had just finished building at Rendcomb. It may be a
disappointment to you to learn that Rendcomb Manor was new; that I
cannot help. There had, no doubt, been an old house; but it was not
remarkable for beauty or interest. Even had it been, neither beauty
nor interest would have enabled it to resist the disastrous fire which
about a couple of years before the date of my story had razed it to
the ground. I am glad to say that all that was most valuable in it had
been saved, and that it was fully insured. So that it was with a
comparatively light heart that Mr. Denton was able to face the task of
building a new and considerably more convenient dwelling for himself
and his aunt who constituted his whole _ménage_.

Being in London, with time on his hands, and not far from the
sale-room at which I have obscurely hinted, Mr. Denton thought that he
would spend an hour there upon the chance of finding, among that
portion of the famous Thomas collection of MSS., which he knew to be
then on view, something bearing upon the history or topography of his
part of Warwickshire.

He turned in accordingly, purchased a catalogue and ascended to the
sale-room, where, as usual, the books were disposed in cases and some
laid out upon the long tables. At the shelves, or sitting about at the
tables, were figures, many of whom were familiar to him. He exchanged
nods and greetings with several, and then settled down to examine his
catalogue and note likely items. He had made good progress through
about two hundred of the five hundred lots--every now and then rising
to take a volume from the shelf and give it a cursory glance--when a
hand was laid on his shoulder, and he looked up. His interrupter was
one of those intelligent men with a pointed beard and a flannel shirt,
of whom the last quarter of the nineteenth century was, it seems to
me, very prolific.

It is no part of my plan to repeat the whole conversation which ensued
between the two. I must content myself with stating that it largely
referred to common acquaintances, e.g., to the nephew of Mr. Denton's
friend who had recently married and settled in Chelsea, to the
sister-in-law of Mr. Denton's friend who had been seriously
indisposed, but was now better, and to a piece of china which Mr.
Denton's friend had purchased some months before at a price much below
its true value. From which you will rightly infer that the
conversation was rather in the nature of a monologue. In due time,
however, the friend bethought himself that Mr. Denton was there for a
purpose, and said he, "What are you looking out for in particular? I
don't think there's much in this lot." "Why, I thought there might be
some Warwickshire collections, but I don't see anything under Warwick
in the catalogue." "No, apparently not," said the friend. "All the
same, I believe I noticed something like a Warwickshire diary. What
was the name again? Drayton? Potter? Painter--either a P or a D, I
feel sure." He turned over the leaves quickly. "Yes, here it is.
Poynter. Lot 486. That might interest you. There are the books, I
think: out on the table. Some one has been looking at them. Well, I
must be getting on. Good-bye, you'll look us up, won't you? Couldn't
you come this afternoon? We've got a little music about four. Well,
then, when you're next in town." He went off. Mr. Denton looked at his
watch and found to his confusion that he could spare no more than a
moment before retrieving his luggage and going for the train. The
moment was just enough to show him that there were four largish
volumes of the diary--that it concerned the years about 1710, and that
there seemed to be a good many insertions in it of various kinds. It
seemed quite worth while to leave a commission of five and twenty
pounds for it, and this he was able to do, for his usual agent entered
the room as he was on the point of leaving it.

That evening he rejoined his aunt at their temporary abode, which was
a small dower-house not many hundred yards from the Manor. On the
following morning the two resumed a discussion that had now lasted for
some weeks as to the equipment of the new house. Mr. Denton laid
before his relative a statement of the results of his visit to
town--particulars of carpets, of chairs, of wardrobes, and of bedroom
china. "Yes, dear," said his aunt, "but I don't see any chintzes here.
Did you go to ----?" Mr. Denton stamped on the floor (where else,
indeed, could he have stamped?). "Oh dear, oh dear," he said, "the one
thing I missed. I _am_ sorry. The fact is I was on my way there and I
happened to be passing Robins's." His aunt threw up her hands.
"Robins's! Then the next thing will be another parcel of horrible old
books at some outrageous price. I do think, James, when I am taking
all this trouble for you, you might contrive to remember the one or
two things which I specially begged you to see after. It's not as if I
was asking it for myself. I don't know whether you think I get any
pleasure out of it, but if so I can assure you it's very much the
reverse. The thought and worry and trouble I have over it you have no
idea of, and _you_ have simply to go to the shops and order the
things." Mr. Denton interposed a moan of penitence. "Oh, aunt----"
"Yes, that's all very well, dear, and I don't want to speak sharply,
but you _must_ know how very annoying it is: particularly as it delays
the whole of our business for I can't tell how long: here is
Wednesday--the Simpsons come to-morrow, and you can't leave them. Then
on Saturday we have friends, as you know, coming for tennis. Yes,
indeed, you spoke of asking them yourself, but, of course, I had to
write the notes, and it is ridiculous, James, to look like that. We
must occasionally be civil to our neighbours: you wouldn't like to
have it said we were perfect bears. What was I saying? Well, anyhow it
comes to this, that it must be Thursday in next week at least, before
you can go to town again, and until we have decided upon the chintzes
it is impossible to settle upon one single other thing."

Mr. Denton ventured to suggest that as the paint and wallpapers had
been dealt with, this was too severe a view: but this his aunt was
not prepared to admit at the moment. Nor, indeed, was there any
proposition he could have advanced which she would have found herself
able to accept. However, as the day went on, she receded a little from
this position: examined with lessening disfavour the samples and price
lists submitted by her nephew, and even in some cases gave a qualified
approval to his choice.

As for him, he was naturally somewhat dashed by the consciousness of
duty unfulfilled, but more so by the prospect of a lawn-tennis party,
which, though an inevitable evil in August, he had thought there was
no occasion to fear in May. But he was to some extent cheered by the
arrival on the Friday morning of an intimation that he had secured at
the price of £12 10s. the four volumes of Poynter's manuscript diary,
and still more by the arrival on the next morning of the diary itself.

The necessity of taking Mr. and Mrs. Simpson for a drive in the car on
Saturday morning and of attending to his neighbours and guests that
afternoon prevented him from doing more than open the parcel until the
party had retired to bed on the Saturday night. It was then that he
made certain of the fact, which he had before only suspected, that he
had indeed acquired the diary of Mr. William Poynter, Squire of
Acrington (about four miles from his own parish)--that same Poynter
who was for a time a member of the circle of Oxford antiquaries, the
centre of which was Thomas Hearne, and with whom Hearne seems
ultimately to have quarrelled--a not uncommon episode in the career of
that excellent man. As is the case with Hearne's own collections, the
diary of Poynter contained a good many notes from printed books,
descriptions of coins and other antiquities that had been brought to
his notice, and drafts of letters on these subjects, besides the
chronicle of everyday events. The description in the sale-catalogue
had given Mr. Denton no idea of the amount of interest which seemed to
lie in the book, and he sat up reading in the first of the four
volumes until a reprehensibly late hour.

On the Sunday morning, after church, his aunt came into the study and
was diverted from what she had been going to say to him by the sight
of the four brown leather quartos on the table. "What are these?" she
said suspiciously. "New, aren't they? Oh! are these the things that
made you forget my chintzes? I thought so. Disgusting. What did you
give for them, I should like to know? Over Ten Pounds? James, it is
really sinful. Well, if you have money to throw away on this kind of
thing, there _can_ be no reason why you should not subscribe--and
subscribe handsomely--to my anti-Vivisection League. There is not,
indeed, James, and I shall be very seriously annoyed if----. Who did
you say wrote them? Old Mr. Poynter, of Acrington? Well, of course,
there is some interest in getting together old papers about this
neighbourhood. But Ten Pounds!" She picked up one of the volumes--not
that which her nephew had been reading--and opened it at random,
dashing it to the floor the next instant with a cry of disgust as a
earwig fell from between the pages. Mr. Denton picked it up with a
smothered expletive and said, "Poor book! I think you're rather hard
on Mr. Poynter." "Was I, my dear? I beg his pardon, but you know I
cannot abide those horrid creatures. Let me see if I've done any
mischief." "No, I think all's well: but look here what you've opened
him on." "Dear me, yes, to be sure! how very interesting. Do unpin it,
James, and let me look at it."

It was a piece of patterned stuff about the size of the quarto page,
to which it was fastened by an old-fashioned pin. James detached it
and handed it to his aunt, carefully replacing the pin in the paper.

Now, I do not know exactly what the fabric was; but it had a design
printed upon it, which completely fascinated Miss Denton. She went
into raptures over it, held it against the wall, made James do the
same, that she might retire to contemplate it from a distance: then
pored over it at close quarters, and ended her examination by
expressing in the warmest terms her appreciation of the taste of the
ancient Mr. Poynter who had had the happy idea of preserving this
sample in his diary. "It is a most charming pattern," she said, "and
remarkable too. Look, James, how delightfully the lines ripple. It
reminds one of hair, very much, doesn't it. And then these knots of
ribbon at intervals. They give just the relief of colour that is
wanted. I wonder----" "I was going to say," said James with deference,
"I wonder if it would cost much to have it copied for our curtains."
"Copied? how could you have it copied, James?" "Well, I don't know the
details, but I suppose that is a printed pattern, and that you could
have a block cut from it in wood or metal." "Now, really, that is a
capital idea, James. I am almost inclined to be glad that you were
so--that you forgot the chintzes on Monday. At any rate, I'll promise
to forgive and forget if you get this _lovely_ old thing copied. No
one will have anything in the least like it, and mind, James, we won't
allow it to be sold. Now I _must_ go, and I've totally forgotten what
it was I came in to say: never mind, it'll keep."

After his aunt had gone James Denton devoted a few minutes to
examining the pattern more closely than he had yet had a chance of
doing. He was puzzled to think why it should have struck Miss Benton
so forcibly. It seemed to him not specially remarkable or pretty. No
doubt it was suitable enough for a curtain pattern: it ran in vertical
bands, and there was some indication that these were intended to
converge at the top. She was right, too, in thinking that these main
bands resembled rippling--almost curling--tresses of hair. Well, the
main thing was to find out by means of trade directories, or
otherwise, what firm would undertake the reproduction of an old
pattern of this kind. Not to delay the reader over this portion of
the story, a list of likely names was made out, and Mr. Denton fixed a
day for calling on them, or some of them, with his sample.

The first two visits which he paid were unsuccessful: but there is
luck in odd numbers. The firm in Bermondsey which was third on his
list was accustomed to handling this line. The evidence they were able
to produce justified their being entrusted with the job. "Our Mr.
Cattell" took a fervent personal interest in it. "It's 'eartrending,
isn't it, sir," he said, "to picture the quantity of reelly lovely
medeevial stuff of this kind that lays well-nigh unnoticed in many of
our residential country 'ouses: much of it in peril, I take it, of
being cast aside as so much rubbish. What is it Shakespeare
says--unconsidered trifles. Ah, I often say he 'as a word for us all,
sir. I say Shakespeare, but I'm well aware all don't 'old with me
there--I 'ad something of an upset the other day when a gentleman came
in--a titled man, too, he was, and I think he told me he'd wrote on
the topic, and I 'appened to cite out something about 'Ercules and the
painted cloth. Dear me, you never see such a pother. But as to this,
what you've kindly confided to us, it's a piece of work we shall take
a reel enthusiasm in achieving it out to the very best of our ability.
What man 'as done, as I was observing only a few weeks back to another
esteemed client, man can do, and in three to four weeks' time, all
being well, we shall 'ope to lay before you evidence to that effect,
sir. Take the address, Mr. 'Iggins, if you please."

Such was the general drift of Mr. Cattell's observations on the
occasion of his first interview with Mr. Denton. About a month later,
being advised that some samples were ready for his inspection, Mr.
Denton met him again, and had, it seems, reason to be satisfied with
the faithfulness of the reproduction of the design. It had been
finished off at the top in accordance with the indication I mentioned,
so that the vertical bands joined. But something still needed to be
done in the way of matching the colour of the original. Mr. Cattell
had suggestions of a technical kind to offer, with which I need not
trouble you. He had also views as to the general desirability of the
pattern which were vaguely adverse. "You say you don't wish this to be
supplied excepting to personal friends equipped with a authorization
from yourself, sir. It shall be done. I quite understand your wish to
keep it exclusive: lends it a catchit, does it not, to the suite?
What's every man's, it's been said, is no man's."

"Do you think it would be popular if it were generally obtainable?"
asked Mr. Denton.

"I 'ardly think it, sir," said Cattell, pensively clasping his beard.
"I 'ardly think it. Not popular: it wasn't popular with the man that
cut the block, was it, Mr. 'Iggins?"

"Did he find it a difficult job?"

"He'd no call to do so, sir; but the fact is that the artistic
temperament--and our men are artists, sir, every man of them--true
artists as much as many that the world styles by that term--it's apt
to take some strange 'ardly accountable likes or dislikes, and here
was an example. The twice or thrice that I went to inspect his
progress: language I could understand, for that's 'abitual to him, but
reel distaste for what I should call a dainty enough thing, I did not,
nor am I now able to fathom. It seemed," said Mr. Cattell, looking
narrowly upon Mr. Denton, "as if the man scented something almost
Hevil in the design."

"Indeed? did he tell you so? I can't say I see anything sinister in it
myself."

"Neether can I, sir. In fact I said as much. 'Come, Gatwick,' I said,
'what's to do here? What's the reason of your prejudice--for I can
call it no more than that?' But, no! no explanation was forthcoming.
And I was merely reduced, as I am now, to a shrug of the shoulders,
and a _cui bono_. However, here it is," and with that the technical
side of the question came to the front again.

The matching of the colours for the background, the hem, and the knots
of ribbon was by far the longest part of the business, and
necessitated many sendings to and fro of the original pattern and of
new samples. During part of August and September, too, the Dentons
were away from the Manor. So that it was not until October was well in
that a sufficient quantity of the stuff had been manufactured to
furnish curtains for the three or four bedrooms which were to be
fitted up with it.

On the feast of Simon and Jude the aunt and nephew returned from a
short visit to find all completed, and their satisfaction at the
general effect was great. The new curtains, in particular, agreed to
admiration with their surroundings. When Mr. Denton was dressing for
dinner, and took stock of his room, in which there was a large amount
of the chintz displayed, he congratulated himself over and over again
on the luck which had first made him forget his aunt's commission and
had then put into his hands this extremely effective means of
remedying his mistake. The pattern was, as he said at dinner, so
restful and yet so far from being dull. And Miss Denton--who, by the
way, had none of the stuff in her own room--was much disposed to agree
with him.

At breakfast next morning he was induced to qualify his satisfaction
to some extent--but very slightly. "There is one thing I rather
regret," he said, "that we allowed them to join up the vertical bands
of the pattern at the top. I think it would have been better to leave
that alone."

"Oh?" said his aunt interrogatively.

"Yes: as I was reading in bed last night they kept catching my eye
rather. That is, I found myself looking across at them every now and
then. There was an effect as if some one kept peeping out between the
curtains in one place or another, where there was no edge, and I think
that was due to the joining up of the bands at the top. The only other
thing that troubled me was the wind."

"Why, I thought it was a perfectly still night."

"Perhaps it was only on my side of the house, but there was enough to
sway my curtains and rustle them more than I wanted."

That night a bachelor friend of James Denton's came to stay, and was
lodged in a room on the same floor as his host, but at the end of a
long passage, halfway down which was a red baize door, put there to
cut off the draught and intercept noise.

The party of three had separated. Miss Denton a good first, the two
men at about eleven. James Denton, not yet inclined for bed, sat him
down in an arm-chair and read for a time. Then he dozed, and then he
woke, and bethought himself that his brown spaniel, which ordinarily
slept in his room, had not come upstairs with him. Then he thought he
was mistaken: for happening to move his hand which hung down over the
arm of the chair within a few inches of the floor, he felt on the back
of it just the slightest touch of a surface of hair, and stretching it
out in that direction he stroked and patted a rounded something. But
the feel of it, and still more the fact that instead of a responsive
movement, absolute stillness greeted his touch, made him look over
the arm. What he had been touching rose to meet him. It was in the
attitude of one that had crept along the floor on its belly, and it
was, so far as could be collected, a human figure. But of the face
which was now rising to within a few inches of his own no feature was
discernible, only hair. Shapeless as it was, there was about it so
horrible an air of menace that as he bounded from his chair and rushed
from the room he heard himself moaning with fear: and doubtless he did
right to fly. As he dashed into the baize door that cut the passage in
two, and--forgetting that it opened towards him--beat against it with
all the force in him, he felt a soft ineffectual tearing at his back
which, all the same, seemed to be growing in power, as if the hand, or
whatever worse than a hand was there, were becoming more material as
the pursuer's rage was more concentrated. Then he remembered the trick
of the door--he got it open--he shut it behind him--he gained his
friend's room, and that is all we need know.

It seems curious that, during all the time that had elapsed since the
purchase of Poynter's diary, James Denton should not have sought an
explanation of the presence of the pattern that had been pinned into
it. Well, he had read the diary through without finding it mentioned,
and had concluded that there was nothing to be said. But, on leaving
Rendcomb Manor (he did not know whether for good), as he naturally
insisted upon doing on the day after experiencing the horror I have
tried to put into words, he took the diary with him. And at his
seaside lodgings he examined more narrowly the portion whence the
pattern had been taken. What he remembered having suspected about it
turned out to be correct. Two or three leaves were pasted together,
but written upon, as was patent when they were held up to the light.
They yielded easily to steaming, for the paste had lost much of its
strength, and they contained something relevant to the pattern.

The entry was made in 1707.

     "Old Mr. Casbury, of Acrington, told me this day much of
     young Sir Everard Charlett, whom he remember'd Commoner of
     University College, and thought was of the same Family as
     Dr. Arthur Charlett, now master of ye Coll. This Charlett
     was a personable young gent., but a loose atheistical
     companion, and a great Lifter, as they then call'd the hard
     drinkers, and for what I know do so now. He was noted, and
     subject to severall censures at different times for his
     extravagancies: and if the full history of his debaucheries
     had bin known, no doubt would have been expell'd ye Coll.,
     supposing that no interest had been imploy'd on his behalf,
     of which Mr. Casbury had some suspicion. He was a very
     beautiful person, and constantly wore his own Hair, which
     was very abundant, from which, and his loose way of living,
     the cant name for him was Absalom, and he was accustom'd to
     say that indeed he believ'd he had shortened old David's
     days, meaning his father, Sir Job Charlett, an old worthy
     cavalier.

     "Note that Mr. Casbury said that he remembers not the year
     of Sir Everard Charlett's death, but it was 1692 or 3. He
     died suddenly in October. [Several lines describing his
     unpleasant habits and reputed delinquencies are omitted.]
     Having seen him in such topping spirits the night before,
     Mr. Casbury was amaz'd when he learn'd the death. He was
     found in the town ditch, the hair as was said pluck'd clean
     off his head. Most bells in Oxford rung out for him, being a
     nobleman, and he was buried next night in St. Peter's in the
     East. But two years after, being to be moved to his country
     estate by his successor, it was said the coffin, breaking by
     mischance, proved quite full of Hair: which sounds fabulous,
     but yet I believe precedents are upon record, as in Dr.
     Plot's _History of Staffordshire_.

     "His chambers being afterwards stripp'd, Mr. Casbury came by
     part of the hangings of it, which 'twas said this Charlett
     had design'd expressly for a memorial of his Hair, giving
     the Fellow that drew it a lock to work by, and the piece
     which I have fasten'd in here was parcel of the same, which
     Mr. Casbury gave to me. He said he believ'd there was a
     subtlety in the drawing, but had never discover'd it
     himself, nor much liked to pore upon it."

       *       *       *       *       *

The money spent upon the curtains might as well have been thrown into
the fire, as they were. Mr. Cattell's comment upon what he heard of
the story took the form of a quotation from Shakespeare. You may guess
it without difficulty. It began with the words "There are more
things."



AN EPISODE OF CATHEDRAL HISTORY



AN EPISODE OF CATHEDRAL HISTORY


There was once a learned gentleman who was deputed to examine and
report upon the archives of the Cathedral of Southminster. The
examination of these records demanded a very considerable expenditure
of time: hence it became advisable for him to engage lodgings in the
city: for though the Cathedral body were profuse in their offers of
hospitality, Mr. Lake felt that he would prefer to be master of his
day. This was recognized as reasonable. The Dean eventually wrote
advising Mr. Lake, if he were not already suited, to communicate with
Mr. Worby, the principal Verger, who occupied a house convenient to
the church and was prepared to take in a quiet lodger for three or
four weeks. Such an arrangement was precisely what Mr. Lake desired.
Terms were easily agreed upon, and early in December, like another Mr.
Datchery (as he remarked to himself), the investigator found himself
in the occupation of a very comfortable room in an ancient and
"cathedraly" house.

One so familiar with the customs of Cathedral churches, and treated
with such obvious consideration by the Dean and Chapter of this
Cathedral in particular, could not fail to command the respect of the
Head Verger. Mr. Worby even acquiesced in certain modifications of
statements he had been accustomed to offer for years to parties of
visitors. Mr. Lake, on his part, found the Verger a very cheery
companion, and took advantage of any occasion that presented itself
for enjoying his conversation when the day's work was over.

One evening, about nine o'clock, Mr. Worby knocked at his lodger's
door. "I've occasion," he said, "to go across to the Cathedral, Mr.
Lake, and I think I made you a promise when I did so next I would give
you the opportunity to see what it looks like at night time. It is
quite fine and dry outside, if you care to come."

"To be sure I will; very much obliged to you, Mr. Worby, for thinking
of it, but let me get my coat."

"Here it is, sir, and I've another lantern here that you'll find
advisable for the steps, as there's no moon."

"Any one might think we were Jasper and Durdles, over again, mightn't
they," said Lake, as they crossed the close, for he had ascertained
that the Verger had read _Edwin Drood_.

"Well, so they might," said Mr. Worby, with a short laugh, "though I
don't know whether we ought to take it as a compliment. Odd ways, I
often think, they had at that Cathedral, don't it seem so to you, sir?
Full choral matins at seven o'clock in the morning all the year round.
Wouldn't suit our boys' voices nowadays, and I think there's one or
two of the men would be applying for a rise if the Chapter was to
bring it in--particular the alltoes."

They were now at the south-west door. As Mr. Worby was unlocking it,
Lake said, "Did you ever find anybody locked in here by accident?"

"Twice I did. One was a drunk sailor; however he got in I don't know.
I s'pose he went to sleep in the service, but by the time I got to him
he was praying fit to bring the roof in. Lor'! what a noise that man
did make! said it was the first time he'd been inside a church for ten
years, and blest if ever he'd try it again. The other was an old
sheep: them boys it was, up to their games. That was the last time
they tried it on, though. There, sir, now you see what we look like;
our late Dean used now and again to bring parties in, but he preferred
a moonlight night, and there was a piece of verse he'd coat to 'em,
relating to a Scotch cathedral, I understand; but I don't know; I
almost think the effect's better when it's all dark-like. Seems to add
to the size and heighth. Now if you won't mind stopping somewhere in
the nave while I go up into the choir where my business lays, you'll
see what I mean."

Accordingly Lake waited, leaning against a pillar, and watched the
light wavering along the length of the church, and up the steps into
the choir, until it was intercepted by some screen or other furniture,
which only allowed the reflection to be seen on the piers and roof.
Not many minutes had passed before Worby reappeared at the door of the
choir and by waving his lantern signalled to Lake to rejoin him.

"I suppose it _is_ Worby, and not a substitute," thought Lake to
himself, as he walked up the nave. There was, in fact, nothing
untoward. Worby showed him the papers which he had come to fetch out
of the Dean's stall, and asked him what he thought of the spectacle:
Lake agreed that it was well worth seeing. "I suppose," he said, as
they walked towards the altar-steps together, "that you're too much
used to going about here at night to feel nervous--but you must get a
start every now and then, don't you, when a book falls down or a door
swings to."

"No, Mr. Lake, I can't say I think much about noises, not nowadays:
I'm much more afraid of finding an escape of gas or a burst in the
stove pipes than anything else. Still there have been times, years
ago. Did you notice that plain altar-tomb there--fifteenth century we
say it is, I don't know if you agree to that? Well, if you didn't look
at it, just come back and give it a glance, if you'd be so good." It
was on the north side of the choir, and rather awkwardly placed: only
about three feet from the enclosing stone screen. Quite plain, as the
Verger had said, but for some ordinary stone panelling. A metal cross
of some size on the northern side (that next to the screen) was the
solitary feature of any interest.

Lake agreed that it was not earlier than the Perpendicular period:
"but," he said, "unless it's the tomb of some remarkable person,
you'll forgive me for saying that I don't think it's particularly
noteworthy."

"Well, I can't say as it is the tomb of anybody noted in 'istory,"
said Worby, who had a dry smile on his face, "for we don't own any
record whatsoever of who it was put up to. For all that, if you've
half an hour to spare, sir, when we get back to the house, Mr. Lake, I
could tell you a tale about that tomb. I won't begin on it now; it
strikes cold here, and we don't want to be dawdling about all night."

"Of course I should like to hear it immensely."

"Very well, sir, you shall. Now if I might put a question to you," he
went on, as they passed down the choir aisle, "in our little local
guide--and not only there, but in the little book on our Cathedral in
the series--you'll find it stated that this portion of the building
was erected previous to the twelfth century. Now of course I should be
glad enough to take that view, but--mind the step, sir--but, I put it
to you--does the lay of the stone 'ere in this portion of the wall
(which he tapped with his key) does it to your eye carry the flavour
of what you might call Saxon masonry? No? I thought not; no more it
does to me: now, if you'll believe me, I've said as much to those
men--one's the librarian of our Free Libry here, and the other came
down from London on purpose--fifty times, if I have once, but I might
just as well have talked to that bit of stonework. But there it is, I
suppose every one's got their opinions."

The discussion of this peculiar trait of human nature occupied Mr.
Worby almost up to the moment when he and Lake re-entered the former's
house. The condition of the fire in Lake's sitting-room led to a
suggestion from Mr. Worby that they should finish the evening in his
own parlour. We find them accordingly settled there some short time
afterwards.

Mr. Worby made his story a long one, and I will not undertake to tell
it wholly in his own words, or in his own order. Lake committed the
substance of it to paper immediately after hearing it, together with
some few passages of the narrative which had fixed themselves
_verbatim_ in his mind; I shall probably find it expedient to condense
Lake's record to some extent.

Mr. Worby was born, it appeared, about the year 1828. His father
before him had been connected with the Cathedral, and likewise his
grandfather. One or both had been choristers, and in later life both
had done work as mason and carpenter respectively about the fabric.
Worby himself, though possessed, as he frankly acknowledged, of an
indifferent voice, had been drafted into the choir at about ten years
of age.

It was in 1840 that the wave of the Gothic revival smote the Cathedral
of Southminster. "There was a lot of lovely stuff went then, sir,"
said Worby, with a sigh. "My father couldn't hardly believe it when he
got his orders to clear out the choir. There was a new dean just come
in--Dean Burscough it was--and my father had been 'prenticed to a good
firm of joiners in the city, and knew what good work was when he saw
it. Crool it was, he used to say: all that beautiful wainscot oak, as
good as the day it was put up, and garlands-like of foliage and fruit,
and lovely old gilding work on the coats of arms and the organ pipes.
All went to the timber yard--every bit except some little pieces
worked up in the Lady Chapel, and 'ere in this overmantel. Well--I may
be mistook, but I say our choir never looked as well since. Still
there was a lot found out about the history of the church, and no
doubt but what it did stand in need of repair. There were very few
winters passed but what we'd lose a pinnicle." Mr. Lake expressed his
concurrence with Worby's views of restoration, but owns to a fear
about this point lest the story proper should never be reached.
Possibly this was perceptible in his manner.

Worby hastened to reassure him, "Not but what I could carry on about
that topic for hours at a time, and do do when I see my opportunity.
But Dean Burscough he was very set on the Gothic period, and nothing
would serve him but everything must be made agreeable to that. And one
morning after service he appointed for my father to meet him in the
choir, and he came back after he'd taken off his robes in the vestry,
and he'd got a roll of paper with him, and the verger that was then
brought in a table, and they begun spreading it out on the table with
prayer books to keep it down, and my father helped 'em, and he saw it
was a picture of the inside of a choir in a Cathedral; and the
Dean--he was a quick spoken gentleman--he says, 'Well, Worby, what do
you think of that?' 'Why', says my father, 'I don't think I 'ave the
pleasure of knowing that view. Would that be Hereford Cathedral, Mr.
Dean?' 'No, Worby,' says the Dean, 'that's Southminster Cathedral as
we hope to see it before many years.' 'In-deed, sir,' says my father,
and that was all he did say--leastways to the Dean--but he used to
tell me he felt really faint in himself when he looked round our
choir as I can remember it, all comfortable and furnished-like, and
then see this nasty little dry picter, as he called it, drawn out by
some London architect. Well, there I am again. But you'll see what I
mean if you look at this old view."

Worby reached down a framed print from the wall. "Well, the long and
the short of it was that the Dean he handed over to my father a copy
of an order of the Chapter that he was to clear out every bit of the
choir--make a clean sweep--ready for the new work that was being
designed up in town, and he was to put it in hand as soon as ever he
could get the breakers together. Now then, sir, if you look at that
view, you'll see where the pulpit used to stand: that's what I want
you to notice, if you please." It was, indeed, easily seen; an
unusually large structure of timber with a domed sounding-board,
standing at the east end of the stalls on the north side of the choir,
facing the bishop's throne. Worby proceeded to explain that during the
alterations, services were held in the nave, the members of the choir
being thereby disappointed of an anticipated holiday, and the organist
in particular incurring the suspicion of having wilfully damaged the
mechanism of the temporary organ that was hired at considerable
expense from London.

The work of demolition began with the choir screen and organ loft, and
proceeded gradually eastwards, disclosing, as Worby said, many
interesting features of older work. While this was going on, the
members of the Chapter were, naturally, in and about the choir a great
deal, and it soon became apparent to the elder Worby--who could not
help overhearing some of their talk--that, on the part of the senior
Canons especially, there must have been a good deal of disagreement
before the policy now being carried out had been adopted. Some were of
opinion that they should catch their deaths of cold in the
return-stalls, unprotected by a screen from the draughts in the nave:
others objected to being exposed to the view of persons in the choir
aisles, especially, they said, during the sermons, when they found it
helpful to listen in a posture which was liable to misconstruction.
The strongest opposition, however, came from the oldest of the body,
who up to the last moment objected to the removal of the pulpit. "You
ought not to touch it, Mr. Dean," he said with great emphasis one
morning, when the two were standing before it: "you don't know what
mischief you may do." "Mischief? it's not a work of any particular
merit, Canon." "Don't call me Canon," said the old man with great
asperity, "that is, for thirty years I've been known as Dr. Ayloff,
and I shall be obliged, Mr. Dean, if you would kindly humour me in
that matter. And as to the pulpit (which I've preached from for thirty
years, though I don't insist on that) all I'll say is, I _know_ you're
doing wrong in moving it." "But what sense could there be, my dear
Doctor, in leaving it where it is, when we're fitting up the rest of
the choir in a totally different _style_? What reason could be
given--apart from the look of the thing?" "Reason! reason!" said old
Dr. Ayloff; "if you young men--if I may say so without any disrespect,
Mr. Dean--if you'd only listen to reason a little, and not be always
asking for it, we should get on better. But there, I've said my say."
The old gentleman hobbled off, and as it proved, never entered the
Cathedral again. The season--it was a hot summer--turned sickly on a
sudden. Dr. Ayloff was one of the first to go, with some affection of
the muscles of the thorax, which took him painfully at night. And at
many services the number of choirmen and boys was very thin.

Meanwhile the pulpit had been done away with. In fact, the
sounding-board (part of which still exists as a table in a
summer-house in the palace garden) was taken down within an hour or
two of Dr. Ayloff's protest. The removal of the base--not effected
without considerable trouble--disclosed to view, greatly to the
exultation of the restoring party, an altar-tomb--the tomb, of course,
to which Worby had attracted Lake's attention that same evening. Much
fruitless research was expended in attempts to identify the occupant;
from that day to this he has never had a name put to him. The
structure had been most carefully boxed in under the pulpit-base, so
that such slight ornament as it possessed was not defaced; only on the
north side of it there was what looked like an injury; a gap between
two of the slabs composing the side. It might be two or three inches
across. Palmer, the mason, was directed to fill it up in a week's
time, when he came to do some other small jobs near that part of the
choir.

The season was undoubtedly a very trying one. Whether the church was
built on a site that had once been a marsh, as was suggested, or for
whatever reason, the residents in its immediate neighbourhood had,
many of them, but little enjoyment of the exquisite sunny days and
the calm nights of August and September. To several of the older
people--Dr. Ayloff, among others, as we have seen--the summer proved
downright fatal, but even among the younger, few escaped either a
sojourn in bed for a matter of weeks, or at the least, a brooding
sense of oppression, accompanied by hateful nightmares. Gradually
there formulated itself a suspicion--which grew into a conviction--that
the alterations in the Cathedral had something to say in the matter.
The widow of a former old verger, a pensioner of the Chapter of
Southminster, was visited by dreams, which she retailed to her
friends, of a shape that slipped out of the little door of the south
transept as the dark fell in, and flitted--taking a fresh direction
every night--about the close, disappearing for a while in house after
house, and finally emerging again when the night sky was paling. She
could see nothing of it, she said, but that it was a moving form: only
she had an impression that when it returned to the church, as it
seemed to do in the end of the dream, it turned its head: and then,
she could not tell why, but she thought it had red eyes. Worby
remembered hearing the old lady tell this dream at a tea-party in the
house of the chapter clerk. Its recurrence might, perhaps, he said, be
taken as a symptom of approaching illness; at any rate before the end
of September the old lady was in her grave.

The interest excited by the restoration of this great church was not
confined to its own county. One day that summer an F.S.A., of some
celebrity, visited the place. His business was to write an account of
the discoveries that had been made, for the Society of Antiquaries,
and his wife, who accompanied him, was to make a series of
illustrative drawings for his report. In the morning she employed
herself in making a general sketch of the choir; in the afternoon she
devoted herself to details. She first drew the newly exposed
altar-tomb, and when that was finished, she called her husband's
attention to a beautiful piece of diaper-ornament on the screen just
behind it, which had, like the tomb itself, been completely concealed
by the pulpit. Of course, he said, an illustration of that must be
made; so she seated herself on the tomb and began a careful drawing
which occupied her till dusk.

Her husband had by this time finished his work of measuring and
description, and they agreed that it was time to be getting back to
their hotel. "You may as well brush my skirt, Frank," said the lady,
"it must have got covered with dust, I'm sure." He obeyed dutifully;
but, after a moment, he said, "I don't know whether you value this
dress particularly, my dear, but I'm inclined to think it's seen its
best days. There's a great bit of it gone." "Gone? Where?" said she.
"I don't know where it's gone, but it's off at the bottom edge behind
here." She pulled it hastily into sight, and was horrified to find a
jagged tear extending some way into the substance of the stuff; very
much, she said, as if a dog had rent it away. The dress was, in any
case, hopelessly spoilt, to her great vexation, and though they looked
everywhere, the missing piece could not be found. There were many
ways, they concluded, in which the injury might have come about, for
the choir was full of old bits of woodwork with nails sticking out of
them. Finally, they could only suppose that one of these had caused
the mischief, and that the workmen, who had been about all day, had
carried off the particular piece with the fragment of dress still
attached to it.

It was about this time, Worby thought, that his little dog began to
wear an anxious expression when the hour for it to be put into the
shed in the back yard approached. (For his mother had ordained that it
must not sleep in the house.) One evening, he said, when he was just
going to pick it up and carry it out, it looked at him "like a
Christian, and waved its 'and, I was going to say--well, you know 'ow
they do carry on sometimes, and the end of it was I put it under my
coat, and 'uddled it upstairs--and I'm afraid I as good as deceived my
poor mother on the subject. After that the dog acted very artful with
'iding itself under the bed for half-an-hour or more before bed-time
came, and we worked it so as my mother never found out what we'd
done." Of course Worby was glad of its company anyhow, but more
particularly when the nuisance that is still remembered in
Southminster as "the crying" set in.

"Night after night," said Worby, "that dog seemed to know it was
coming; he'd creep out, he would, and snuggle into the bed and cuddle
right up to me shivering, and when the crying come he'd be like a wild
thing, shoving his head under my arm, and I was fully near as bad. Six
or seven times we'd hear it, not more, and when he'd dror out his 'ed
again I'd know it was over for that night. What was it like, sir?
Well, I never heard but one thing that seemed to hit it off. I
happened to be playing about in the Close, and there was two of the
Canons met and said 'Good morning' one to another. 'Sleep well last
night?' says one--it was Mr. Henslow that one, and Mr. Lyall was the
other--'Can't say I did,' says Mr. Lyall, 'rather too much of Isaiah
34. 14 for me.' '34. 14,' says Mr. Henslow, 'what's that?' 'You call
yourself a Bible reader!' says Mr. Lyall. (Mr. Henslow, you must know,
he was one of what used to be termed Simeon's lot--pretty much what we
should call the Evangelical party.) 'You go and look it up.' I wanted
to know what he was getting at myself, and so off I ran home and got
out my own Bible, and there it was: 'the satyr shall cry to his
fellow.' Well, I thought, is that what we've been listening to these
past nights? and I tell you it made me look over my shoulder a time or
two. Of course I'd asked my father and mother about what it could be
before that, but they both said it was most likely cats: but they
spoke very short, and I could see they was troubled. My word! that was
a noise--'ungry-like, as if it was calling after some one that
wouldn't come. If ever you felt you wanted company, it would be when
you was waiting for it to begin again. I believe two or three nights
there was men put on to watch in different parts of the Close; but
they all used to get together in one corner, the nearest they could to
the High Street, and nothing came of it.

"Well, the next thing was this. Me and another of the boys--he's in
business in the city now as a grocer, like his father before him--we'd
gone up in the Close after morning service was over, and we heard old
Palmer the mason bellowing to some of his men. So we went up nearer,
because we knew he was a rusty old chap and there might be some fun
going. It appears Palmer'd told this man to stop up the chink in that
old tomb. Well, there was this man keeping on saying he'd done it the
best he could, and there was Palmer carrying on like all possessed
about it. 'Call that making a job of it?' he says. 'If you had your
rights you'd get the sack for this. What do you suppose I pay you your
wages for? What do you suppose I'm going to say to the Dean and
Chapter when they come round, as come they may do any time, and see
where you've been bungling about covering the 'ole place with mess
and plaster and Lord knows what?' 'Well, master, I done the best I
could,' says the man; 'I don't know no more than what you do 'ow it
come to fall out this way. I tamped it right in the 'ole,' he says,
'and now it's fell out,' he says, 'I never see.'

"'Fell out?' says old Palmer, 'why it's nowhere near the place. Blowed
out, you mean,' and he picked up a bit of plaster, and so did I, that
was laying up against the screen, three or four feet off, and not dry
yet; and old Palmer he looked at it curious-like, and then he turned
round on me and he says, 'Now then, you boys, have you been up to some
of your games here?' 'No,' I says, 'I haven't, Mr. Palmer; there's
none of us been about here till just this minute,' and while I was
talking the other boy, Evans, he got looking in through the chink, and
I heard him draw in his breath, and he came away sharp and up to us,
and says he, 'I believe there's something in there. I saw something
shiny.' 'What! I daresay,' says old Palmer; 'Well, I ain't got time to
stop about there. You, William, you go off and get some more stuff and
make a job of it this time; if not, there'll be trouble in my yard,'
he says.

"So the man he went off, and Palmer too, and us boys stopped behind,
and I says to Evans, 'Did you really see anything in there?' 'Yes,' he
says, 'I did indeed.' So then I says, 'Let's shove something in and
stir it up.' And we tried several of the bits of wood that was laying
about, but they were all too big. Then Evans he had a sheet of music
he'd brought with him, an anthem or a service, I forget which it was
now, and he rolled it up small and shoved it in the chink; two or
three times he did it, and nothing happened. 'Give it me, boy,' I
said, and I had a try. No, nothing happened. Then, I don't know why I
thought of it, I'm sure, but I stooped down just opposite the chink
and put my two fingers in my mouth and whistled--you know the way--and
at that I seemed to think I heard something stirring, and I says to
Evans, 'Come away,' I says; 'I don't like this.' 'Oh, rot,' he says,
'Give me that roll,' and he took it and shoved it in. And I don't
think ever I see any one go so pale as he did. 'I say, Worby,' he
says, 'it's caught, or else some one's got hold of it.' 'Pull it out
or leave it,' I says, 'Come and let's get off.' So he gave a good
pull, and it came away. Leastways most of it did, but the end was
gone. Torn off it was, and Evans looked at it for a second and then he
gave a sort of a croak and let it drop, and we both made off out of
there as quick as ever we could. When we got outside Evans says to me,
'Did you see the end of that paper.' 'No,' I says, 'only it was torn.'
'Yes, it was,' he says, 'but it was wet too, and black!' Well, partly
because of the fright we had, and partly because that music was wanted
in a day or two, and we knew there'd be a set-out about it with the
organist, we didn't say nothing to any one else, and I suppose the
workmen they swept up the bit that was left along with the rest of the
rubbish. But Evans, if you were to ask him this very day about it,
he'd stick to it he saw that paper wet and black at the end where it
was torn."

After that the boys gave the choir a wide berth, so that Worby was not
sure what was the result of the mason's renewed mending of the tomb.
Only he made out from fragments of conversation dropped by the workmen
passing through the choir that some difficulty had been met with, and
that the governor--Mr. Palmer to wit--had tried his own hand at the
job. A little later, he happened to see Mr. Palmer himself knocking at
the door of the Deanery and being admitted by the butler. A day or so
after that, he gathered from a remark his father let fall at breakfast
that something a little out of the common was to be done in the
Cathedral after morning service on the morrow. "And I'd just as soon
it was to-day," his father added, "I don't see the use of running
risks." "'Father,' I says, 'what are you going to do in the Cathedral
to-morrow?' and he turned on me as savage as I ever see him--he was a
wonderful good-tempered man as a general thing, my poor father was.
'My lad,' he says, 'I'll trouble you not to go picking up your elders'
and betters' talk: it's not manners and it's not straight. What I'm
going to do or not going to do in the Cathedral to-morrow is none of
your business: and if I catch sight of you hanging about the place
to-morrow after your work's done, I'll send you home with a flea in
your ear. Now you mind that.' Of course I said I was very sorry and
that, and equally of course I went off and laid my plans with Evans.
We knew there was a stair up in the corner of the transept which you
can get up to the triforium, and in them days the door to it was
pretty well always open, and even if it wasn't we knew the key usually
laid under a bit of matting hard by. So we made up our minds we'd be
putting away music and that, next morning while the rest of the boys
was clearing off, and then slip up the stairs and watch from the
triforium if there was any signs of work going on.

"Well, that same night I dropped off asleep as sound as a boy does,
and all of a sudden the dog woke me up, coming into the bed, and
thought I, now we're going to get it sharp, for he seemed more
frightened than usual. After about five minutes sure enough came this
cry. I can't give you no idea what it was like; and so near
too--nearer than I'd heard it yet--and a funny thing, Mr. Lake, you
know what a place this Close is for an echo, and particular if you
stand this side of it. Well, this crying never made no sign of an echo
at all. But, as I said, it was dreadful near this night; and on the
top of the start I got with hearing it, I got another fright; for I
heard something rustling outside in the passage. Now to be sure I
thought I was done; but I noticed the dog seemed to perk up a bit, and
next there was some one whispered outside the door, and I very near
laughed out loud, for I knew it was my father and mother that had got
out of bed with the noise. 'Whatever is it?' says my mother. 'Hush! I
don't know,' says my father, excited-like, 'don't disturb the boy. I
hope he didn't hear nothing.'

"So, me knowing they were just outside, it made me bolder, and I
slipped out of bed across to my little window--giving on the
Close--but the dog he bored right down to the bottom of the bed--and I
looked out. First go off I couldn't see anything. Then right down in
the shadow under a buttress I made out what I shall always say was two
spots of red--a dull red it was--nothing like a lamp or a fire, but
just so as you could pick 'em out of the black shadow. I hadn't but
just sighted 'em when it seemed we wasn't the only people that had
been disturbed, because I see a window in a house on the left-hand
side become lighted up, and the light moving. I just turned my head to
make sure of it, and then looked back into the shadow for those two
red things, and they were gone, and for all I peered about and stared,
there was not a sign more of them. Then come my last fright that
night--something come against my bare leg--but that was all right:
that was my little dog had come out of bed, and prancing about, making
a great to-do, only holding his tongue, and me seeing he was quite in
spirits again, I took him back to bed and we slept the night out!

"Next morning I made out to tell my mother I'd had the dog in my room,
and I was surprised, after all she'd said about it before, how quiet
she took it. 'Did you?' she says. 'Well, by good rights you ought to
go without your breakfast for doing such a thing behind my back: but I
don't know as there's any great harm done, only another time you ask
my permission, do you hear?' A bit after that I said something to my
father about having heard the cats again. '_Cats_,' he says, and he
looked over at my poor mother, and she coughed and he says, 'Oh! ah!
yes, cats. I believe I heard 'em myself.'

"That was a funny morning altogether: nothing seemed to go right. The
organist he stopped in bed, and the minor Canon he forgot it was the
19th day and waited for the _Venite_; and after a bit the deputy he
set off playing the chant for evensong, which was a minor; and then
the Decani boys were laughing so much they couldn't sing, and when it
came to the anthem the solo boy he got took with the giggles, and made
out his nose was bleeding, and shoved the book at me what hadn't
practised the verse and wasn't much of a singer if I had known it.
Well, things was rougher, you see, fifty years ago, and I got a nip
from the counter-tenor behind me that I remembered.

"So we got through somehow, and neither the men nor the boys weren't
by way of waiting to see whether the Canon in residence--Mr. Henslow
it was--would come to the vestries and fine 'em, but I don't believe
he did: for one thing I fancy he'd read the wrong lesson for the first
time in his life, and knew it. Anyhow Evans and me didn't find no
difficulty in slipping up the stairs as I told you, and when we got up
we laid ourselves down flat on our stomachs where we could just
stretch our heads out over the old tomb, and we hadn't but just done
so when we heard the verger that was then, first shutting the iron
porch-gates and locking the south-west door, and then the transept
door, so we knew there was something up, and they meant to keep the
public out for a bit.

"Next thing was, the Dean and the Canon come in by their door on the
north, and then I see my father, and old Palmer, and a couple of their
best men, and Palmer stood a talking for a bit with the Dean in the
middle of the choir. He had a coil of rope and the men had crows. All
of 'em looked a bit nervous. So there they stood talking, and at last
I heard the Dean say, 'Well, I've no time to waste, Palmer. If you
think this'll satisfy Southminster people, I'll permit it to be done;
but I must say this, that never in the whole course of my life have I
heard such arrant nonsense from a practical man as I have from you.
Don't you agree with me, Henslow?' As far as I could hear Mr. Henslow
said something like 'Oh! well we're told, aren't we, Mr. Dean, not to
judge others?' and the Dean he gave a kind of sniff, and walked
straight up to the tomb, and took his stand behind it with his back to
the screen, and the others they come edging up rather gingerly.
Henslow, he stopped on the south side and scratched on his chin, he
did. Then the Dean spoke up: 'Palmer,' he says, 'which can you do
easiest, get the slab off the top, or shift one of the side slabs?'

"Old Palmer and his men they pottered about a bit looking round the
edge of the top slab and sounding the sides on the south and east and
west and everywhere but the north. Henslow said something about it
being better to have a try at the south side, because there was more
light and more room to move about in. Then my father, who'd been
watching of them, went round to the north side, and knelt down and
felt of the slab by the chink, and he got up and dusted his knees and
says to the Dean: 'Beg pardon, Mr. Dean, but I think if Mr. Palmer'll
try this here slab he'll find it'll come out easy enough. Seems to me
one of the men could prize it out with his crow by means of this
chink.' 'Ah! thank you, Worby,' says the Dean; 'that's a good
suggestion. Palmer, let one of your men do that, will you?'

"So the man come round, and put his bar in and bore on it, and just
that minute when they were all bending over, and we boys got our heads
well out over the edge of the triforium, there come a most fearful
crash down at the west end of the choir, as if a whole stack of big
timber had fallen down a flight of stairs. Well, you can't expect me
to tell you everything that happened all in a minute. Of course there
was a terrible commotion. I heard the slab fall out, and the crowbar
on the floor, and I heard the Dean say 'Good God!'

"When I looked down again I saw the Dean tumbled over on the floor,
the men was making off down the choir, Henslow was just going to help
the Dean up, Palmer was going to stop the men, as he said afterwards,
and my father was sitting on the altar step with his face in his
hands. The Dean he was very cross. 'I wish to goodness you'd look
where you're coming to, Henslow,' he says. 'Why you should all take
to your heels when a stick of wood tumbles down I cannot imagine,' and
all Henslow could do, explaining he was right away on the other side
of the tomb, would not satisfy him.

"Then Palmer came back and reported there was nothing to account for
this noise and nothing seemingly fallen down, and when the Dean
finished feeling of himself they gathered round--except my father, he
sat where he was--and some one lighted up a bit of candle and they
looked into the tomb. 'Nothing there,' says the Dean, 'what did I tell
you? Stay! here's something. What's this: a bit of music paper, and a
piece of torn stuff--part of a dress it looks like. Both quite
modern--no interest whatever. Another time perhaps you'll take the
advice of an educated man'--or something like that, and off he went,
limping a bit, and out through the north door, only as he went he
called back angry to Palmer for leaving the door standing open. Palmer
called out 'Very sorry, sir,' but he shrugged his shoulders, and
Henslow says, 'I fancy Mr. Dean's mistaken. I closed the door behind
me, but he's a little upset.' Then Palmer says, 'Why, where's Worby?'
and they saw him sitting on the step and went up to him. He was
recovering himself, it seemed, and wiping his forehead, and Palmer
helped him up on to his legs, as I was glad to see.

"They were too far off for me to hear what they said, but my father
pointed to the north door in the aisle, and Palmer and Henslow both of
them looked very surprised and scared. After a bit, my father and
Henslow went out of the church, and the others made what haste they
could to put the slab back and plaster it in. And about as the clock
struck twelve the Cathedral was opened again and us boys made the best
of our way home.

"I was in a great taking to know what it was had given my poor father
such a turn, and when I got in and found him sitting in his chair
taking a glass of spirits, and my mother standing looking anxious at
him, I couldn't keep from bursting out and making confession where I'd
been. But he didn't seem to take on, not in the way of losing his
temper. 'You was there, was you? Well did you see it?' 'I see
everything, father,' I said, 'except when the noise came.' 'Did you
see what it was knocked the Dean over?' he says, 'that what come out
of the monument? You didn't? Well, that's a mercy.' 'Why, what was it,
father?' I said. 'Come, you must have seen it,' he says. '_Didn't_
you see? A thing like a man, all over hair, and two great eyes to it?'

"Well, that was all I could get out of him that time, and later on he
seemed as if he was ashamed of being so frightened, and he used to put
me off when I asked him about it. But years after, when I was got to
be a grown man, we had more talk now and again on the matter, and he
always said the same thing. 'Black it was,' he'd say, 'and a mass of
hair, and two legs, and the light caught on its eyes.'

"Well, that's the tale of that tomb, Mr. Lake; it's one we don't tell
to our visitors, and I should be obliged to you not to make any use of
it till I'm out of the way. I doubt Mr. Evans'll feel the same as I
do, if you ask him."

This proved to be the case. But over twenty years have passed by, and
the grass is growing over both Worby and Evans; so Mr. Lake felt no
difficulty about communicating his notes--taken in 1890--to me. He
accompanied them with a sketch of the tomb and a copy of the short
inscription on the metal cross which was affixed at the expense of Dr.
Lyall to the centre of the northern side. It was from the Vulgate of
Isaiah xxxiv., and consisted merely of the three words--

IBI CUBAVIT LAMIA.



THE STORY OF A DISAPPEARANCE
AND AN APPEARANCE



THE STORY OF A DISAPPEARANCE
AND AN APPEARANCE


The letters which I now publish were sent to me recently by a person
who knows me to be interested in ghost stories. There is no doubt
about their authenticity. The paper on which they are written, the
ink, and the whole external aspect put their date beyond the reach of
question.

The only point which they do not make clear is the identity of the
writer. He signs with initials only, and as none of the envelopes of
the letters are preserved, the surname of his correspondent--obviously
a married brother--is as obscure as his own. No further preliminary
explanation is needed, I think. Luckily the first letter supplies all
that could be expected.


LETTER I

            GREAT CHRISHALL, _Dec. 22, 1837_.

MY DEAR ROBERT,--It is with great regret for the enjoyment I am
losing, and for a reason which you will deplore equally with myself,
that I write to inform you that I am unable to join your circle for
this Christmas: but you will agree with me that it is unavoidable when
I say that I have within these few hours received a letter from Mrs.
Hunt at B----, to the effect that our Uncle Henry has suddenly and
mysteriously disappeared, and begging me to go down there immediately
and join the search that is being made for him. Little as I, or you
either, I think, have ever seen of Uncle, I naturally feel that this
is not a request that can be regarded lightly, and accordingly I
propose to go to B---- by this afternoon's mail, reaching it late in
the evening. I shall not go to the Rectory, but put up at the King's
Head, and to which you may address letters. I enclose a small draft,
which you will please make use of for the benefit of the young people.
I shall write you daily (supposing me to be detained more than a
single day) what goes on, and you may be sure, should the business be
cleared up in time to permit of my coming to the Manor after all, I
shall present myself. I have but a few minutes at disposal. With
cordial greetings to you all, and many regrets, believe me, your
affectionate Bro.,

W. R.


LETTER II

            KING'S HEAD, _Dec. 23, '37_.

MY DEAR ROBERT,--In the first place, there is as yet no news of Uncle
H., and I think you may finally dismiss any idea--I won't say
hope--that I might after all "turn up" for Xmas. However, my thoughts
will be with you, and you have my best wishes for a really festive
day. Mind that none of my nephews or nieces expend any fraction of
their guineas on presents for me.

Since I got here I have been blaming myself for taking this affair of
Uncle H. too easily. From what people here say, I gather that there is
very little hope that he can still be alive; but whether it is
accident or design that carried him off I cannot judge. The facts are
these. On Friday the 19th, he went as usual shortly before five
o'clock to read evening prayers at the Church; and when they were over
the clerk brought him a message, in response to which he set off to
pay a visit to a sick person at an outlying cottage the better part of
two miles away. He paid the visit, and started on his return journey
at about half-past six. This is the last that is known of him. The
people here are very much grieved at his loss; he had been here many
years, as you know, and though, as you also know, he was not the most
genial of men, and had more than a little of the _martinet_ in his
composition, he seems to have been active in good works, and unsparing
of trouble to himself.

Poor Mrs. Hunt, who has been his housekeeper ever since she left
Woodley, is quite overcome: it seems like the end of the world to her.
I am glad that I did not entertain the idea of taking quarters at the
Rectory; and I have declined several kindly offers of hospitality from
people in the place, preferring as I do to be independent, and finding
myself very comfortable here.

You will, of course, wish to know what has been done in the way of
inquiry and search. First, nothing was to be expected from
investigation at the Rectory; and to be brief, nothing has transpired.
I asked Mrs. Hunt--as others had done before--whether there was either
any unfavourable symptom in her master such as might portend a sudden
stroke, or attack of illness, or whether he had ever had reason to
apprehend any such thing: but both she, and also his medical man, were
clear that this was not the case. He was quite in his usual health.
In the second place, naturally, ponds and streams have been dragged,
and fields in the neighbourhood which he is known to have visited
last, have been searched--without result. I have myself talked to the
parish clerk and--more important--have been to the house where he paid
his visit.

There can be no question of any foul play on these people's part. The
one man in the house is ill in bed and very weak: the wife and the
children of course could do nothing themselves, nor is there the
shadow of a probability that they or any of them should have agreed to
decoy poor Uncle H. out in order that he might be attacked on the way
back. They had told what they knew to several other inquirers already,
but the woman repeated it to me. The Rector was looking just as usual:
he wasn't very long with the sick man--"He ain't," she said, "like
some what has a gift in prayer; but there, if we was all that way,
'owever would the chapel people get their living?" He left some money
when he went away, and one of the children saw him cross the stile
into the next field. He was dressed as he always was: wore his
bands--I gather he is nearly the last man remaining who does so--at
any rate in this district.

You see I am putting down everything. The fact is that I have nothing
else to do, having brought no business papers with me; and, moreover,
it serves to clear my own mind, and may suggest points which have been
overlooked. So I shall continue to write all that passes, even to
conversations if need be--you may read or not as you please, but pray
keep the letters. I have another reason for writing so fully, but it
is not a very tangible one.

You may ask if I have myself made any search in the fields near the
cottage. Something--a good deal--has been done by others, as I
mentioned; but I hope to go over the ground to-morrow. Bow Street has
now been informed, and will send down by to-night's coach, but I do
not think they will make much of the job. There is no snow, which
might have helped us. The fields are all grass. Of course I was on the
_qui vive_ for any indication to-day both going and returning; but
there was a thick mist on the way back, and I was not in trim for
wandering about unknown pastures, especially on an evening when bushes
looked like men, and a cow lowing in the distance might have been the
last trump. I assure you, if Uncle Henry had stepped out from among
the trees in a little copse which borders the path at one place,
carrying his head under his arm, I should have been very little more
uncomfortable than I was. To tell you the truth, I was rather
expecting something of the kind. But I must drop my pen for the
moment: Mr. Lucas, the curate, is announced.

_Later._ Mr. Lucas has been, and gone, and there is not much beyond
the decencies of ordinary sentiment to be got from him. I can see that
he has given up any idea that the Rector can be alive, and that, so
far as he can be, he is truly sorry. I can also discern that even in a
more emotional person than Mr. Lucas, Uncle Henry was not likely to
inspire strong attachment.

Besides Mr. Lucas, I have had another visitor in the shape of my
Boniface--mine host of the "King's Head"--who came to see whether I
had everything I wished, and who really requires the pen of a Boz to
do him justice. He was very solemn and weighty at first. "Well, sir,"
he said, "I suppose we must bow our 'ead beneath the blow, as my poor
wife had used to say. So far as I can gather there's been neither
hide nor yet hair of our late respected incumbent scented out as yet;
not that he was what the Scripture terms a hairy man in any sense of
the word."

I said--as well as I could--that I supposed not, but could not help
adding that I had heard he was sometimes a little difficult to deal
with. Mr. Bowman looked at me sharply for a moment, and then passed in
a flash from solemn sympathy to impassioned declamation. "When I
think," he said, "of the language that man see fit to employ to me in
this here parlour over no more a matter than a cask of beer--such a
thing as I told him might happen any day of the week to a man with a
family--though as it turned out he was quite under a mistake, and that
I knew at the time, only I was that shocked to hear him I couldn't lay
my tongue to the right expression."

He stopped abruptly and eyed me with some embarrassment. I only said,
"Dear me, I'm sorry to hear you had any little differences; I suppose
my uncle will be a good deal missed in the parish?" Mr. Bowman drew a
long breath. "Ah, yes!" he said; "your uncle! You'll understand me
when I say that for the moment it had slipped my remembrance that he
was a relative; and natural enough, I must say, as it should, for as
to you bearing any resemblance to--to him, the notion of any such a
thing is clean ridiculous. All the same, 'ad I 'ave bore it in my
mind, you'll be among the first to feel, I'm sure, as I should have
abstained my lips, or rather I should _not_ have abstained my lips
with no such reflections."

I assured him that I quite understood, and was going to have asked him
some further questions, but he was called away to see after some
business. By the way, you need not take it into your head that he has
anything to fear from the inquiry into poor Uncle Henry's
disappearance--though, no doubt, in the watches of the night it will
occur to him that _I_ think he has, and I may expect explanations
to-morrow.

I must close this letter: it has to go by the late coach.


LETTER III

            _Dec. 25, '37_.

MY DEAR ROBERT,--This is a curious letter to be writing on Christmas
Day, and yet after all there is nothing much in it. Or there may
be--you shall be the judge. At least, nothing decisive. The Bow
Street men practically say that they have no clue. The length of time
and the weather conditions have made all tracks so faint as to be
quite useless: nothing that belonged to the dead man--I'm afraid no
other word will do--has been picked up.

As I expected, Mr. Bowman was uneasy in his mind this morning; quite
early I heard him holding forth in a very distinct voice--purposely
so, I thought--to the Bow Street officers in the bar, as to the loss
that the town had sustained in their Rector, and as to the necessity
of leaving no stone unturned (he was very great on this phrase) in
order to come at the truth. I suspect him of being an orator of repute
at convivial meetings.

When I was at breakfast he came to wait on me, and took an opportunity
when handing a muffin to say in a low tone, "I 'ope, sir, you reconize
as my feelings towards your relative is not actuated by any taint of
what you may call melignity--you can leave the room, Eliza, I will see
the gentleman 'as all he requires with my own hands--I ask your
pardon, sir, but you must be well aware a man is not always master of
himself: and when that man has been 'urt in his mind by the
application of expressions which I will go so far as to say 'ad not
ought to have been made use of (his voice was rising all this time and
his face growing redder); no, sir; and 'ere, if you will permit of it,
I should like to explain to you in a very few words the exact state of
the bone of contention. This cask--I might more truly call it a
firkin--of beer--"

I felt it was time to interpose, and said that I did not see that it
would help us very much to go into that matter in detail. Mr. Bowman
acquiesced, and resumed more calmly:

"Well, sir, I bow to your ruling, and as you say, be that here or be
it there, it don't contribute a great deal, perhaps, to the present
question. All I wish you to understand is that I am prepared as you
are yourself to lend every hand to the business we have afore us,
and--as I took the opportunity to say as much to the Orficers not
three-quarters of an hour ago--to leave no stone unturned as may throw
even a spark of light on this painful matter."

In fact, Mr. Bowman did accompany us on our exploration, but though I
am sure his genuine wish was to be helpful, I am afraid he did not
contribute to the serious side of it. He appeared to be under the
impression that we were likely to meet either Uncle Henry or the
person responsible for his disappearance, walking about the
fields--and did a great deal of shading his eyes with his hand and
calling our attention, by pointing with his stick, to distant cattle
and labourers. He held several long conversations with old women whom
we met, and was very strict and severe in his manner--but on each
occasion returned to our party saying, "Well, I find she don't seem to
'ave no connexion with this sad affair. I think you may take it from
me, sir, as there's little or no light to be looked for from that
quarter; not without she's keeping somethink back intentional."

We gained no appreciable result, as I told you at starting; the Bow
Street men have left the town, whether for London or not, I am not
sure.

This evening I had company in the shape of a bagman, a smartish
fellow. He knew what was going forward, but though he has been on the
roads for some days about here, he had nothing to tell of suspicious
characters--tramps, wandering sailors or gipsies. He was very full of
a capital Punch and Judy Show he had seen this same day at W----, and
asked if it had been here yet, and advised me by no means to miss it
if it does come. The best Punch and the best Toby dog, he said, he had
ever come across. Toby dogs, you know, are the last new thing in the
shows. I have only seen one myself, but before long all the men will
have them.

Now why, you will want to know, do I trouble to write all this to you?
I am obliged to do it, because it has something to do with another
absurd trifle (as you will inevitably say), which in my present state
of rather unquiet fancy--nothing more, perhaps--I have to put down. It
is a dream, sir, which I am going to record, and I must say it is one
of the oddest I have had. Is there anything in it beyond what the
bagman's talk and Uncle Henry's disappearance could have suggested?
You, I repeat, shall judge: I am not in a sufficiently cool and
judicial frame to do so.

It began with what I can only describe as a pulling aside of curtains:
and I found myself seated in a place--I don't know whether in doors or
out. There were people--only a few--on either side of me, but I did
not recognize them, or indeed think much about them. They never spoke,
but, so far as I remember, were all grave and pale-faced and looked
fixedly before them. Facing me there was a Punch and Judy Show,
perhaps rather larger than the ordinary ones, painted with black
figures on a reddish-yellow ground. Behind it and on each side was
only darkness, but in front there was a sufficiency of light. I was
"strung up" to a high degree of expectation and listened every moment
to hear the panpipes and the Roo-too-too-it. Instead of that there
came suddenly an enormous--I can use no other word--an enormous single
toll of a bell, I don't know from how far off--somewhere behind. The
little curtain flew up and the drama began.

I believe someone once tried to re-write Punch as a serious tragedy;
but whoever he may have been, this performance would have suited him
exactly. There was something Satanic about the hero. He varied his
methods of attack: for some of his victims he lay in wait, and to see
his horrible face--it was yellowish white, I may remark--peering round
the wings made me think of the Vampyre in Fuseli's foul sketch. To
others he was polite and carneying--particularly to the unfortunate
alien who can only say _Shallabalah_--though what Punch said I never
could catch. But with all of them I came to dread the moment of death.
The crack of the stick on their skulls, which in the ordinary way
delights me, had here a crushing sound as if the bone was giving way,
and the victims quivered and kicked as they lay. The baby--it sounds
more ridiculous as I go on--the baby, I am sure, was alive. Punch
wrung its neck, and if the choke or squeak which it gave were not
real, I know nothing of reality.

The stage got perceptibly darker as each crime was consummated, and at
last there was one murder which was done quite in the dark, so that I
could see nothing of the victim, and took some time to effect. It was
accompanied by hard breathing and horrid muffled sounds, and after it
Punch came and sat on the foot-board and fanned himself and looked at
his shoes, which were bloody, and hung his head on one side, and
sniggered in so deadly a fashion that I saw some of those beside me
cover their faces, and I would gladly have done the same. But in the
meantime the scene behind Punch was clearing, and showed, not the
usual house front, but something more ambitious--a grove of trees and
the gentle slope of a hill, with a very natural--in fact, I should say
a real--moon shining on it. Over this there rose slowly an object
which I soon perceived to be a human figure with something peculiar
about the head--what, I was unable at first to see. It did not stand
on its feet, but began creeping or dragging itself across the middle
distance towards Punch, who still sat back to it; and by this time, I
may remark (though it did not occur to me at the moment) that all
pretence of this being a puppet show had vanished. Punch was still
Punch, it is true, but, like the others, was in some sense a live
creature, and both moved themselves at their own will.

When I next glanced at him he was sitting in malignant reflection; but
in another instant something seemed to attract his attention, and he
first sat up sharply and then turned round, and evidently caught sight
of the person that was approaching him and was in fact now very near.
Then, indeed, did he show unmistakable signs of terror: catching up
his stick, he rushed towards the wood, only just eluding the arm of
his pursuer, which was suddenly flung out to intercept him. It was
with a revulsion which I cannot easily express that I now saw more or
less clearly what this pursuer was like. He was a sturdy figure clad
in black, and, as I thought, wearing bands: his head was covered with
a whitish bag.

The chase which now began lasted I do not know how long, now among the
trees, now along the slope of the field, sometimes both figures
disappearing wholly for a few seconds, and only some uncertain sounds
letting one know that they were still afoot. At length there came a
moment when Punch, evidently exhausted, staggered in from the left and
threw himself down among the trees. His pursuer was not long after
him, and came looking uncertainly from side to side. Then, catching
sight of the figure on the ground, he too threw himself down--his back
was turned to the audience--with a swift motion twitched the covering
from his head, and thrust his face into that of Punch. Everything on
the instant grew dark.

There was one long, loud, shuddering scream, and I awoke to find
myself looking straight into the face of--what in all the world do you
think?--but a large owl, which was seated on my window-sill
immediately opposite my bed-foot, holding up its wings like two
shrouded arms. I caught the fierce glance of its yellow eyes, and then
it was gone. I heard the single enormous bell again--very likely, as
you are saying to yourself, the church clock; but I do not think
so--and then I was broad awake.

All this, I may say, happened within the last half-hour. There was no
probability of my getting to sleep again, so I got up, put on clothes
enough to keep me warm, and am writing this rigmarole in the first
hours of Christmas Day. Have I left out anything? Yes, there was no
Toby dog, and the names over the front of the Punch and Judy booth
were Kidman and Gallop, which were certainly not what the bagman told
me to look out for.

By this time, I feel a little more as if I could sleep, so this shall
be sealed and wafered.


LETTER IV

            _Dec. 26, '37._

MY DEAR ROBERT,--All is over. The body has been found. I do not make
excuses for not having sent off my news by last night's mail, for the
simple reason that I was incapable of putting pen to paper. The events
that attended the discovery bewildered me so completely that I needed
what I could get of a night's rest to enable me to face the situation
at all. Now I can give you my journal of the day, certainly the
strangest Christmas Day that ever I spent or am likely to spend.

The first incident was not very serious. Mr. Bowman had, I think, been
keeping Christmas Eve, and was a little inclined to be captious: at
least, he was not on foot very early, and to judge from what I could
hear, neither men or maids could do anything to please him. The latter
were certainly reduced to tears; nor am I sure that Mr. Bowman
succeeded in preserving a manly composure. At any rate, when I came
downstairs, it was in a broken voice that he wished me the compliments
of the season, and a little later on, when he paid his visit of
ceremony at breakfast, he was far from cheerful: even Byronic, I might
almost say, in his outlook on life.

"I don't know," he said, "if you think with me, sir; but every
Christmas as comes round the world seems a hollerer thing to me. Why,
take an example now from what lays under my own eye. There's my
servant Eliza--been with me now for going on fifteen years. I thought
I could have placed my confidence in Elizar, and yet this very
morning--Christmas morning too, of all the blessed days in the
year--with the bells a ringing and--and--all like that--I say, this
very morning, had it not have been for Providence watching over us
all, that girl would have put--indeed I may go so far to say, 'ad put
the cheese on your breakfast table----" He saw I was about to speak,
and waved his hand at me. "It's all very well for you to say, 'Yes,
Mr. Bowman, but you took away the cheese and locked it up in the
cupboard,' which I did, and have the key here, or if not the actual
key one very much about the same size. That's true enough, sir, but
what do you think is the effect of that action on me? Why it's no
exaggeration for me to say that the ground is cut from under my feet.
And yet when I said as much to Eliza, not nasty, mind you, but just
firm like, what was my return? 'Oh,' she says: 'Well,' she says,
'there wasn't no bones broke, I suppose.' Well, sir, it 'urt me,
that's all I can say: it 'urt me, and I don't like to think of it
now."

There was an ominous pause here, in which I ventured to say something
like, "Yes, very trying," and then asked at what hour the church
service was to be. "Eleven o'clock," Mr. Bowman said with a heavy
sigh. "Ah, you won't have no such discourse from poor Mr. Lucas as
what you would have done from our late Rector. Him and me may have
had our little differences, and did do, more's the pity."

I could see that a powerful effort was needed to keep him off the
vexed question of the cask of beer, but he made it. "But I will say
this, that a better preacher, nor yet one to stand faster by his
rights, or what he considered to be his rights--however, that's not
the question now--I for one, never set under. Some might say, 'Was he
a eloquent man?' and to that my answer would be: 'Well, there you've a
better right per'aps to speak of your own uncle than what I have.'
Others might ask, 'Did he keep a hold of his congregation?' and there
again I should reply, 'That depends.' But as I say--Yes, Eliza, my
girl, I'm coming--eleven o'clock, sir, and you inquire for the King's
Head pew." I believe Eliza had been very near the door, and shall
consider it in my vail.

The next episode was church: I felt Mr. Lucas had a difficult task in
doing justice to Christmas sentiments, and also to the feeling of
disquiet and regret which, whatever Mr. Bowman might say, was clearly
prevalent. I do not think he rose to the occasion. I was
uncomfortable. The organ wolved--you know what I mean: the wind
died--twice in the Christmas Hymn, and the tenor bell, I suppose owing
to some negligence on the part of the ringers, kept sounding faintly
about once in a minute during the sermon. The clerk sent up a man to
see to it, but he seemed unable to do much. I was glad when it was
over. There was an odd incident, too, before the service. I went in
rather early, and came upon two men carrying the parish bier back to
its place under the tower. From what I overheard them saying, it
appeared that it had been put out by mistake, by some one who was not
there. I also saw the clerk busy folding up a moth-eaten velvet
pall--not a sight for Christmas Day.

I dined soon after this, and then, feeling disinclined to go out, took
my seat by the fire in the parlour, with the last number of
_Pickwick_, which I had been saving up for some days. I thought I
could be sure of keeping awake over this, but I turned out as bad as
our friend Smith. I suppose it was half-past two when I was roused by
a piercing whistle and laughing and talking voices outside in the
market-place. It was a Punch and Judy--I had no doubt the one that my
bagman had seen at W----. I was half delighted, half not--the latter
because my unpleasant dream came back to me so vividly; but, anyhow, I
determined to see it through, and I sent Eliza out with a crown-piece
to the performers and a request that they would face my window if they
could manage it.

The show was a very smart new one; the names of the proprietors, I
need hardly tell you, were Italian, Foresta and Calpigi. The Toby dog
was there, as I had been led to expect. All B---- turned out, but did
not obstruct my view, for I was at the large first-floor window and
not ten yards away.

The play began on the stroke of a quarter to three by the church
clock. Certainly it was very good; and I was soon relieved to find
that the disgust my dream had given me for Punch's onslaughts on his
ill-starred visitors was only transient. I laughed at the demise of
the Turncock, the Foreigner, the Beadle, and even the baby. The only
drawback was the Toby dog's developing a tendency to howl in the wrong
place. Something had occurred, I suppose, to upset him, and something
considerable: for, I forget exactly at what point, he gave a most
lamentable cry, leapt off the foot board, and shot away across the
market-place and down a side street. There was a stage-wait, but only
a brief one. I suppose the men decided that it was no good going after
him, and that he was likely to turn up again at night.

We went on. Punch dealt faithfully with Judy, and in fact with all
comers; and then came the moment when the gallows was erected, and the
great scene with Mr. Ketch was to be enacted. It was now that
something happened of which I can certainly not yet see the import
fully. You have witnessed an execution, and know what the criminal's
head looks like with the cap on. If you are like me, you never wish to
think of it again, and I do not willingly remind you of it. It was
just such a head as that, that I, from my somewhat higher post, saw in
the inside of the show-box; but at first the audience did not see it.
I expected it to emerge into their view, but instead of that there
slowly rose for a few seconds an uncovered face, with an expression of
terror upon it, of which I have never imagined the like. It seemed as
if the man, whoever he was, was being forcibly lifted, with his arms
somehow pinioned or held back, towards the little gibbet on the
stage. I could just see the nightcapped head behind him. Then there
was a cry and a crash. The whole show-box fell over backwards; kicking
legs were seen among the ruins, and then two figures--as some said; I
can only answer for one--were visible running at top speed across the
square and disappearing in a lane which leads to the fields.

Of course everybody gave chase. I followed; but the pace was killing,
and very few were in, literally, at the death. It happened in a chalk
pit: the man went over the edge quite blindly and broke his neck. They
searched everywhere for the other, until it occurred to me to ask
whether he had ever left the market-place. At first everyone was sure
that he had; but when we came to look, he was there, under the
show-box, dead too.

But in the chalk pit it was that poor Uncle Henry's body was found,
with a sack over the head, the throat horribly mangled. It was a
peaked corner of the sack sticking out of the soil that attracted
attention. I cannot bring myself to write in greater detail.

I forgot to say the men's real names were Kidman and Gallop. I feel
sure I have heard them, but no one here seems to know anything about
them.

I am coming to you as soon as I can after the funeral. I must tell you
when we meet what I think of it all.



TWO DOCTORS



TWO DOCTORS


It is a very common thing, in my experience, to find papers shut up in
old books; but one of the rarest things to come across any such that
are at all interesting. Still it does happen, and one should never
destroy them unlooked at. Now it was a practice of mine before the war
occasionally to buy old ledgers of which the paper was good, and which
possessed a good many blank leaves, and to extract these and use them
for my own notes and writings. One such I purchased for a small sum in
1911. It was tightly clasped, and its boards were warped by having for
years been obliged to embrace a number of extraneous sheets.
Three-quarters of this inserted matter had lost all vestige of
importance for any living human being: one bundle had not. That it
belonged to a lawyer is certain, for it is endorsed: _The strangest
case I have yet met_, and bears initials, and an address in Gray's
Inn. It is only materials for a case, and consists of statements by
possible witnesses. The man who would have been the defendant or
prisoner seems never to have appeared. The _dossier_ is not complete,
but, such as it is, it furnishes a riddle in which the supernatural
appears to play a part. You must see what you can make of it.

The following is the setting and the tale as I elicit it.

Dr. Abell was walking in his garden one afternoon waiting for his
horse to be brought round that he might set out on his visits for the
day. As the place was Islington, the month June, and the year 1718, we
conceive the surroundings as being countrified and pleasant. To him
entered his confidential servant, Luke Jennett, who had been with him
twenty years.

"I said I wished to speak to him, and what I had to say might take
some quarter of an hour. He accordingly bade me go into his study,
which was a room opening on the terrace path where he was walking, and
came in himself and sat down. I told him that, much against my will, I
must look out for another place. He inquired what was my reason, in
consideration I had been so long with him. I said if he would excuse
me he would do me a great kindness, because (this appears to have
been common form even in 1718) I was one that always liked to have
everything pleasant about me. As well as I can remember, he said that
was his case likewise, but he would wish to know why I should change
my mind after so many years, and, says he, 'you know there can be no
talk of a remembrance of you in my will if you leave my service now.'
I said I had made my reckoning of that.

"'Then,' says he, 'you must have some complaint to make, and if I
could I would willingly set it right.' And at that I told him, not
seeing how I could keep it back, the matter of my former affidavit and
of the bedstaff in the dispensing-room, and said that a house where
such things happened was no place for me. At which he, looking very
black upon me, said no more, but called me fool, and said he would pay
what was owing me in the morning; and so, his horse being waiting,
went out. So for that night I lodged with my sister's husband near
Battle Bridge and came early next morning to my late master, who then
made a great matter that I had not lain in his house and stopped a
crown out of my wages owing.

"After that I took service here and there, not for long at a time,
and saw no more of him till I came to be Dr. Quinn's man at Dodds Hall
in Islington."

There is one very obscure part in this statement, namely, the
reference to the former affidavit and the matter of the bedstaff. The
former affidavit is not in the bundle of papers. It is to be feared
that it was taken out to be read because of its special oddity, and
not put back. Of what nature the story was may be guessed later, but
as yet no clue has been put into our hands.

The Rector of Islington, Jonathan Pratt, is the next to step forward.
He furnishes particulars of the standing and reputation of Dr. Abell
and Dr. Quinn, both of whom lived and practised in his parish.

"It is not to be supposed," he says, "that a physician should be a
regular attendant at morning and evening prayers, or at the Wednesday
lectures, but within the measure of their ability I would say that
both these persons fulfilled their obligations as loyal members of the
Church of England. At the same time (as you desire my private mind) I
must say, in the language of the schools, _distinguo_. Dr. A. was to
me a source of perplexity, Dr. Q. to my eye a plain, honest believer,
not inquiring over closely into points of belief, but squaring his
practice to what lights he had. The other interested himself in
questions to which Providence, as I hold, designs no answer to be
given us in this state: he would ask me, for example, what place I
believed those beings now to hold in the scheme of creation which by
some are thought neither to have stood fast when the rebel angels
fell, nor to have joined with them to the full pitch of their
transgression.

"As was suitable, my first answer to him was a question, What warrant
he had for supposing any such beings to exist? for that there was none
in Scripture I took it he was aware. It appeared--for as I am on the
subject, the whole tale may be given--that he grounded himself on such
passages as that of the satyr which Jerome tells us conversed with
Antony; but thought too that some parts of Scripture might be cited in
support. 'And besides,' said he, 'you know 'tis the universal belief
among those that spend their days and nights abroad, and I would add
that if your calling took you so continuously as it does me about the
country lanes by night, you might not be so surprised as I see you to
be by my suggestion.' 'You are then of John Milton's mind,' I said,
'and hold that

    Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth
    Unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep.'

"'I do not know,' he said, 'why Milton should take upon himself to say
"unseen"; though to be sure he was blind when he wrote that. But for
the rest, why, yes, I think he was in the right.' 'Well,' I said,
'though not so often as you, I am not seldom called abroad pretty
late; but I have no mind of meeting a satyr in our Islington lanes in
all the years I have been here; and if you have had the better luck, I
am sure the Royal Society would be glad to know of it.'

"I am reminded of these trifling expressions because Dr. A. took them
so ill, stamping out of the room in a huff with some such word as that
these high and dry parsons had no eyes but for a prayerbook or a pint
of wine.

"But this was not the only time that our conversation took a
remarkable turn. There was an evening when he came in, at first
seeming gay and in good spirits, but afterwards as he sat and smoked
by the fire falling into a musing way; out of which to rouse him I
said pleasantly that I supposed he had had no meetings of late with
his odd friends. A question which did effectually arouse him, for he
looked most wildly, and as if scared, upon me, and said, '_You_ were
never there? I did not see you. Who brought you?' And then in a more
collected tone, 'What was this about a meeting? I believe I must have
been in a doze.' To which I answered that I was thinking of fauns and
centaurs in the dark lane, and not of a witches' Sabbath; but it
seemed he took it differently.

"'Well,' said he, 'I can plead guilty to neither; but I find you very
much more of a sceptic than becomes your cloth. If you care to know
about the dark lane you might do worse than ask my housekeeper that
lived at the other end of it when she was a child.' 'Yes,' said I,
'and the old women in the almshouse and the children in the kennel. If
I were you, I would send to your brother Quinn for a bolus to clear
your brain.' 'Damn Quinn,' says he; 'talk no more of him: he has
embezzled four of my best patients this month; I believe it is that
cursed man of his, Jennett, that used to be with me, his tongue is
never still; it should be nailed to the pillory if he had his
deserts.' This, I may say, was the only time of his showing me that he
had any grudge against either Dr. Quinn or Jennett, and as was my
business, I did my best to persuade him he was mistaken in them. Yet
it could not be denied that some respectable families in the parish
had given him the cold shoulder, and for no reason that they were
willing to allege. The end was that he said he had not done so ill at
Islington but that he could afford to live at ease elsewhere when he
chose, and anyhow he bore Dr. Quinn no malice. I think I now remember
what observation of mine drew him into the train of thought which he
next pursued. It was, I believe, my mentioning some juggling tricks
which my brother in the East Indies had seen at the court of the Rajah
of Mysore. 'A convenient thing enough,' said Dr. Abell to me, 'if by
some arrangement a man could get the power of communicating motion and
energy to inanimate objects.' 'As if the axe should move itself
against him that lifts it; something of that kind?' 'Well, I don't
know that that was in my mind so much; but if you could summon such a
volume from your shelf or even order it to open at the right page.'

"He was sitting by the fire--it was a cold evening--and stretched out
his hand that way, and just then the fire-irons, or at least the
poker, fell over towards him with a great clatter, and I did not hear
what else he said. But I told him that I could not easily conceive of
an arrangement, as he called it, of such a kind that would not include
as one of its conditions a heavier payment than any Christian would
care to make; to which he assented. 'But,' he said, 'I have no doubt
these bargains can be made very tempting, very persuasive. Still, you
would not favour them, eh, Doctor? No, I suppose not.'

"This is as much as I know of Dr. Abell's mind, and the feeling
between these men. Dr. Quinn, as I said, was a plain, honest creature,
and a man to whom I would have gone--indeed I have before now gone to
him for advice on matters of business. He was, however, every now and
again, and particularly of late, not exempt from troublesome fancies.
There was certainly a time when he was so much harassed by his dreams
that he could not keep them to himself, but would tell them to his
acquaintances and among them to me. I was at supper at his house, and
he was not inclined to let me leave him at my usual time. 'If you
go,' he said, 'there will be nothing for it but I must go to bed and
dream of the chrysalis.' 'You might be worse off,' said I. 'I do not
think it,' he said, and he shook himself like a man who is displeased
with the complexion of his thoughts. 'I only meant,' said I, 'that a
chrysalis is an innocent thing.' 'This one is not,' he said, 'and I do
not care to think of it.'

"However, sooner than lose my company he was fain to tell me (for I
pressed him) that this was a dream which had come to him several times
of late, and even more than once in a night. It was to this effect,
that he seemed to himself to wake under an extreme compulsion to rise
and go out of doors. So he would dress himself and go down to his
garden door. By the door there stood a spade which he must take, and
go out into the garden, and at a particular place in the shrubbery
somewhat clear and upon which the moon shone, for there was always in
his dream a full moon, he would feel himself forced to dig. And after
some time the spade would uncover something light-coloured, which he
would perceive to be a stuff, linen or woollen, and this he must clear
with his hands. It was always the same: of the size of a man and
shaped like the chrysalis of a moth, with the folds showing a promise
of an opening at one end.

"He could not describe how gladly he would have left all at this stage
and run to the house, but he must not escape so easily. So with many
groans, and knowing only too well what to expect, he parted these
folds of stuff, or, as it sometimes seemed to be, membrane, and
disclosed a head covered with a smooth pink skin, which breaking as
the creature stirred, showed him his own face in a state of death. The
telling of this so much disturbed him that I was forced out of mere
compassion to sit with him the greater part of the night and talk with
him upon indifferent subjects. He said that upon every recurrence of
this dream he woke and found himself, as it were, fighting for his
breath."

Another extract from Luke Jennett's long continuous statement comes in
at this point.

"I never told tales of my master, Dr. Abell, to anybody in the
neighbourhood. When I was in another service I remember to have spoken
to my fellow-servants about the matter of the bedstaff, but I am sure
I never said either I or he were the persons concerned, and it met
with so little credit that I was affronted and thought best to keep it
to myself. And when I came back to Islington and found Dr. Abell still
there, who I was told had left the parish, I was clear that it behoved
me to use great discretion, for indeed I was afraid of the man, and it
is certain I was no party to spreading any ill report of him. My
master, Dr. Quinn, was a very just, honest man, and no maker of
mischief. I am sure he never stirred a finger nor said a word by way
of inducement to a soul to make them leave going to Dr. Abell and come
to him; nay, he would hardly be persuaded to attend them that came,
until he was convinced that if he did not they would send into the
town for a physician rather than do as they had hitherto done.

"I believe it may be proved that Dr. Abell came into my master's house
more than once. We had a new chambermaid out of Hertfordshire, and she
asked me who was the gentleman that was looking after the master, that
is Dr. Quinn, when he was out, and seemed so disappointed that he was
out. She said whoever he was he knew the way of the house well,
running at once into the study and then into the dispensing-room, and
last into the bed-chamber. I made her tell me what he was like, and
what she said was suitable enough to Dr. Abell; but besides she told
me she saw the same man at church and some one told her that was the
Doctor.

"It was just after this that my master began to have his bad nights,
and complained to me and other persons, and in particular what
discomfort he suffered from his pillow and bedclothes. He said he must
buy some to suit him, and should do his own marketing. And accordingly
brought home a parcel which he said was of the right quality, but
where he bought it we had then no knowledge, only they were marked in
thread with a coronet and a bird. The women said they were of a sort
not commonly met with and very fine, and my master said they were the
comfortablest he ever used, and he slept now both soft and deep. Also
the feather pillows were the best sorted and his head would sink into
them as if they were a cloud: which I have myself remarked several
times when I came to wake him of a morning, his face being almost hid
by the pillow closing over it.

"I had never any communication with Dr. Abell after I came back to
Islington, but one day when he passed me in the street and asked me
whether I was not looking for another service, to which I answered I
was very well suited where I was, but he said I was a tickle-minded
fellow and he doubted not he should soon hear I was on the world
again, which indeed proved true."

Dr. Pratt is next taken up where he left off.

"On the 16th I was called up out of my bed soon after it was
light--that is about five--with a message that Dr. Quinn was dead or
dying. Making my way to his house I found there was no doubt which was
the truth. All the persons in the house except the one that let me in
were already in his chamber and standing about his bed, but none
touching him. He was stretched in the midst of the bed, on his back,
without any disorder, and indeed had the appearance of one ready laid
out for burial. His hands, I think, were even crossed on his breast.
The only thing not usual was that nothing was to be seen of his face,
the two ends of the pillow or bolster appearing to be closed quite
over it. These I immediately pulled apart, at the same time rebuking
those present, and especially the man, for not at once coming to the
assistance of his master. He, however, only looked at me and shook
his head, having evidently no more hope than myself that there was
anything but a corpse before us.

"Indeed it was plain to any one possessed of the least experience that
he was not only dead, but had died of suffocation. Nor could it be
conceived that his death was accidentally caused by the mere folding
of the pillow over his face. How should he not, feeling the
oppression, have lifted his hands to put it away? whereas not a fold
of the sheet which was closely gathered about him, as I now observed,
was disordered. The next thing was to procure a physician. I had
bethought me of this on leaving my house, and sent on the messenger
who had come to me to Dr. Abell; but I now heard that he was away from
home, and the nearest surgeon was got, who however could tell no more,
at least without opening the body, than we already knew.

"As to any person entering the room with evil purpose (which was the
next point to be cleared), it was visible that the bolts of the door
were burst from their stanchions, and the stanchions broken away from
the door-post by main force; and there was a sufficient body of
witness, the smith among them, to testify that this had been done but
a few minutes before I came. The chamber being moreover at the top of
the house, the window was neither easy of access nor did it show any
sign of an exit made that way, either by marks upon the sill or
footprints below upon soft mould."

The surgeon's evidence forms of course part of the report of the
inquest, but since it has nothing but remarks upon the healthy state
of the larger organs and the coagulation of blood in various parts of
the body, it need not be reproduced. The verdict was "Death by the
visitation of God."

Annexed to the other papers is one which I was at first inclined to
suppose had made its way among them by mistake. Upon further
consideration I think I can divine a reason for its presence.

It relates to the rifling of a mausoleum in Middlesex which stood in a
park (now broken up), the property of a noble family which I will not
name. The outrage was not that of an ordinary resurrection man. The
object, it seemed likely, was theft. The account is blunt and
terrible. I shall not quote it. A dealer in the North of London
suffered heavy penalties as a receiver of stolen goods in connexion
with the affair.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Printed in Great Britain by_
UNWIN BROTHERS, LIMITED, THE GRESHAM PRESS, WOKING AND LONDON





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