The Screaming Skull
by F. Marion Crawford
I have often heard it scream. No, I am not
nervous, I am not imaginative, and I never believed in
ghosts, unless that thing is one. Whatever it is, it hates
me almost as much as it hated Luke Pratt, and it screams at
If I were you, I would never tell ugly
stories about ingenious ways of killing people, for you
never can tell but that some one at the table may be tired
of his or her nearest and dearest. I have always blamed
myself for Mrs. Pratt's death, and I suppose I was
responsible for it in a way, though heaven knows I never
wished her anything but long life and happiness. If I had
not told that story she might be alive yet. That is why the
thing screams at me, I fancy.
She was a good little woman, with a sweet
temper, all things considered, and a nice gentle voice; but
I remember hearing her shriek once when she thought her
little boy was killed by a pistol that went off though
everyone was sure that it was not loaded. It was the same
scream; exactly the same, with a sort of rising quaver at
the end; do you know what I mean? Unmistakable.
The truth is, I had not realized that the
doctor and his wife were not on good terms. They used to
bicker a bit now and then when I was here, and I often
noticed that little Mrs. Pratt got very red and bit her lip
hard to keep her temper, while Luke grew pale and said the
most offensive things. He was that sort when he was in the
nursery, I remember, and afterwards at school. He was my
cousin, you know; that is how I came by this house; after he
died, and his boy Charley was killed in South Africa, there
were no relations left. Yes, it's a pretty little property,
just the sort of thing for an old sailor like me who has
taken to gardening.
One always remembers one's mistakes much more
vividly than one's cleverest things, doesn't one? I've often
noticed it. I was dining with the Pratts one night, when I
told them the story that afterwards made so much difference.
It was a wet night in November, and the sea was moaning.
Hush!--if you don't speak you will hear it now. . .
Do you hear the tide? Gloomy sound, isn't it?
Sometimes, about this time of year--hallo!--there it is!
Don't be frightened, man--it won't eat you--it's only a
noise, after all! But I'm glad you've heard it, because
there are always people who think it's the wind, or my
imagination, or something. You won't hear it again tonight,
I fancy, for it doesn't often come more than once.
Yes--that's right. Put another stick on the fire, and a
little more stuff into that weak mixture you're so fond of.
Do you remember old Blauklot the carpenter, on that German
ship that picked us up when the Clontarf went to the
bottom? We were hove to in a howling gale one night, as snug
as you please, with no land within five hundred miles, and
the ship coming up and falling off as regularly as
clockwork--"Biddy te boor beebles ashore tis night,
poys!" old Blauklot sang out, as he went off to his
quarters with the sail-maker. I often think of that, now
that I'm ashore for good and all.
Yes, it was on a night like this, when I was
at home for a spell, waiting to take the Olympia out
on her first trip--it was on the next voyage that she broke
the record, you remember--but that dates it. Ninety-two was
the year, early in November.
The weather was dirty, Pratt was out of
temper, and the dinner was bad, very bad indeed, which
didn't improve matters, and cold, which made it worse. The
poor little lady was very unhappy about it, and insisted on
making a Welsh rarebit on the table to counteract the raw
turnips and the half-boiled mutton. Pratt must have had a
hard day. Perhaps he had lost a patient. At all events, he
was in a nasty temper.
"My wife is trying to poison me, you
see!" he said. "She'll succeed some day." I
saw that she was hurt, and I made believe to laugh, and said
that Mrs. Pratt was much too clever to get rid of her
husband in such a simple way; and then I began to tell them
about Japanese tricks with spun glass and chopped horsehair
and the like.
Pratt was a doctor, and knew a lot more than
I did about such things, but that only put me on my mettle,
and I told a story about a woman in Ireland who did for
three husbands before anyone suspected foul play.
Did you never hear that tale? The fourth
husband managed to keep awake and caught her, and she was
hanged. How did she do it? She drugged them, and poured
melted lead into their ears through a little horn funnel
when they were asleep... No--that's the wind whistling. It's
backing up to the southward again. I can tell by the sound.
Besides, the other thing doesn't often come more than once
in an evening even at this time of year--when it happened.
Yes, it was in November. Poor Mrs. Pratt died suddenly in
her bed not long after I dined here. I can fix the date,
because I got the news in New York by the steamer that
followed the Olympia when I took her out on her first
trip. You had the Leofric the same year? Yes, I
remember. What a pair of old buffers we are coming to be,
you and I. Nearly fifty years since we were apprentices
together on the Clontarf. Shall you ever forget old
Blauklot? "Biddy te boor beebles ashore, poys!"
Ha, ha! Take a little more, with all that water. It's the
old Hulstkamp I found in the cellar when this house came to
me, the same I brought Luke from Amsterdam five-and-twenty
years ago. He had never touched a drop of it. Perhaps he's
sorry now, poor fellow.
Where did I leave off? I told you that Mrs.
Pratt died suddenly--yes. Luke must have been lonely here
after she was dead, I should think; I came to see him now
and then, and he looked worn and nervous, and told me that
his practice was growing too heavy for him, though he
wouldn't take an assistant on any account. Years went on,
and his son was killed in South Africa, and after that he
began to be queer. There was something about him not like
other people. I believe he kept his senses in his profession
to the end; there was no complaint of his having made mad
mistakes in cases, or anything of that sort, but he had a
look about him----
Luke was a red-headed man with a pale face
when he was young, and he was never stout; in middle age he
turned a sandy grey, and after his son died he grew thinner
and thinner, till his head looked like a skull with
parchment stretched over it very tight, and his eyes had a
sort of glare in them that was very disagreeable to look at.
He had an old dog that poor Mrs. Pratt had
been fond of, and that used to follow her everywhere. He was
a bulldog, and the sweetest tempered beast you ever saw,
though he had a way of hitching his upper lip behind one of
his fangs that frightened strangers a good deal. Sometimes,
of an evening, Pratt and Bumble--that was the dog's name--used
to sit and look at each other a long time, thinking
about old times, I suppose, when Luke's wife used to sit in
that chair you've got. That was always her place, and this
was the doctor's, where I'm sitting. Bumble used to climb up
by the footstool--he was old and fat by that time, and could
not jump much, and his teeth were getting shaky. He would
look steadily at Luke, and Luke looked steadily at the dog,
his face growing more and more like a skull with two little
coals for eyes; and after about five minutes or so, though
it may have been less, old Bumble would suddenly begin to
shake all over, and all on a sudden he would set up an awful
howl, as if he had been shot, and tumble out of the
easy-chair and trot away, and hide himself under the
sideboard, and lie there making odd noises.
Considering Pratt's looks in those last
months, the thing is not surprising, you know. I'm not
nervous or imaginative, but I can quite believe he might
have sent a sensitive woman into hysterics--his head looked
so much like a skull in parchment.
At last I came down one day before Christmas,
when my ship was in dock and I had three weeks off. Bumble
was not about, and I said casually that I supposed the old
dog was dead.
"Yes," Pratt answered, and I
thought there was something odd in his tone even before he
went on after a little pause. "I killed him," he
said presently. "I could stand it no longer."
I asked what it was that Luke could not
stand, though I guessed well enough.
"He had a way of sitting in her chair
and glaring at me, and then howling," Luke shivered a
little. "He didn't suffer at all, poor old
Bumble," he went on in a hurry, as if he thought I
might imagine he had been cruel. "I put dionine into
his drink to make him sleep soundly, and then I chloroformed
him gradually, so that he could not have felt suffocated
even if he was dreaming. It's been quieter since then."
I wondered what he meant, for the words
slipped out as if he could not help saying them. I've
understood since. He meant that he did not hear that noise
so often after the dog was out of the way. Perhaps he
thought at first that it was old Bumble in the yard howling
at the moon, though it's not that kind of noise, is it?
Besides, I know what it is, if Luke didn't. It's only a
noise after all, and a noise never hurt anybody yet. But he
was much more imaginative than I am. No doubt there really
is something about this place that I don't understand; but
when I don't understand a thing, I call it a phenomenon, and
I don't take it for granted that it's going to kill me, as
he did. I don't understand everything, by long odds, nor do
you, nor does any man who has been to sea. We used to talk
of tidal waves, for instance, and we could not account for
them; now we account for them by calling them submarine
earthquakes, and we branch off into fifty theories, any one
of which might make earthquakes quite comprehensible if we
only knew what they were. I fell in with one of them once,
and the inkstand flew straight up from the table against the
ceiling of my cabin. The same thing happened to Captain
Lecky--I dare say you've read about it in his
"Wrinkles". Very good. If that sort of thing took
place ashore, in this room for instance, a nervous person
would talk about spirits and levitation and fifty things
that mean nothing, instead of just quietly setting it down
as a "phenomenon" that has not been explained yet.
My view of that voice, you see.
Besides, what is there to prove that Luke
killed his wife? I would not even suggest such a thing to
anyone but you. After all, there was nothing but the
coincidence that poor little Mrs. Pratt died suddenly in her
bed a few days after I told that story at dinner. She was
not the only woman who ever died like that. Luke got the
doctor over from the next parish, and they agreed that she
had died of something the matter with her heart Why not?
It's common enough.
Of course, there was the ladle. I never told
anybody about that, and, it made me start when I found it in
the cupboard in the bedroom. It was new, too--a little
tinned iron ladle that had not been in the fire more than
once or twice, and there was some lead in it that had been
melted, and stuck to the bottom of the bowl, all grey, with
hardened dross on it. But that proves nothing. A country
doctor is generally a handy man, who does everything for
himself, and Luke may have had a dozen reasons for melting a
little lead in a ladle. He was fond of sea-fishing, for
instance, and he may have cast a sinker for a night-line;
perhaps it was a weight for the hall clock, or something
like that. All the same, when I found it I had a rather
queer sensation, because it looked so much like the thing I
had described when I told them the story. Do you understand?
It affected me unpleasantly, and I threw it away; it's at
the bottom of the sea a mile from the Spit, and it will be
jolly well rusted beyond recognizing if it's ever washed up
by the tide.
You see, Luke must have bought it in the
village, years ago, for the man sells just such ladles
still. I suppose they are used in cooking. In any case,
there was no reason why an inquisitive housemaid should find
such a thing lying about, with lead in it, and wonder what
it was, and perhaps talk to the maid who heard me tell the
story at dinner--for that girl married the plumber's son in
the village, and may remember the whole thing.
You understand me, don't you? Now that Luke
Pratt is dead and gone, and lies buried beside his wife,
with an honest man's tombstone at his head, I should not
care to stir up anything that could hurt his memory. They
are both dead, and their son, too. There was trouble enough
about Luke's death, as it was.
How? He was found dead on the beach one
morning, and there was a coroner's inquest. There were marks
on his throat, but he had not been robbed. The verdict was
that he had come to his end "By the hands or teeth of
some person or animal unknown," for half the jury
thought it might have been a big dog that had thrown him
down and gripped his windpipe, though the skin of his throat
was not broken. No one knew at what time he had gone out,
nor where he had been. He was found lying on his back above
high-water mark, and an old cardboard bandbox that had
belonged to his wife lay under his hand, open. The lid had
fallen off. He seemed to have been carrying home a skull in
the box--doctors are fond of collecting such things. It had
rolled out and lay near his head, and it was a remarkably
fine skull, rather small, beautifully shaped and very white,
with perfect teeth. That is to say, the upper jaw was
perfect, but there was no lower one at all, when I first saw
Yes, I found it here when I came. You see, it
was very white and polished, like a thing meant to be kept
under a glass case, and the people did not know where it
came from, nor what to do with it; so they put it back into
the bandbox and set it on the shelf of the cupboard in the
best bedroom, and of course they showed it to me when I took
possession. I was taken down to the beach, too, to be shown
the place where Luke was found, and the old fisherman
explained just how he was lying, and the skull beside him.
The only point he could not explain was why the skull had
rolled up the sloping sand towards Luke's head instead of
rolling downhill to his feet. It did not seem odd to me at
the time, but I have often thought of it since, for the
place is rather steep. I'll take you there tomorrow if you
like--I made a sort of cairn of stones there afterwards.
When he fell down, or was thrown
down--whichever happened--the bandbox struck the sand, and
the lid came off, and the thing came out and ought to have
rolled down. But it didn't. It was close to his head almost
touching it, and turned with the face towards it. I say it
didn't strike me as odd when the man told me; but I could
not help thinking about It afterwards, again and again, till
I saw a picture of it all when I closed my eyes; and then I
began to ask myself why the plaguey thing had rolled up
instead of down, and why it had stopped near Luke's head
instead of anywhere else, a yard away, for instance.
You naturally want to know what conclusion I
reached, don't you? None that at all explained the rolling,
at all events. But I got something else into my head, after
a time, that made me feel downright uncomfortable.
Oh, I don't mean as to anything supernatural!
There may be ghosts, or there may not be. If there are, I'm
not inclined to believe that they can hurt living people
except by frightening them, and, for my part, I would rather
face any shape of ghost than a fog in the Channel when it's
crowded. No. What bothered me was just a foolish idea,
that's all, and I cannot tell how it began, nor what made it
grow till it turned into a certainty.
I was thinking about Luke and his poor wife
one evening over my pipe and a dull book, when it occurred
to me that the skull might possibly be hers, and I have
never got rid of the thought since. You'll tell me there's
no sense in it, no doubt, that Mrs. Pratt was buried like a
Christian and is lying in the churchyard where they put her,
and that it's perfectly monstrous to suppose her husband
kept her skull in her old bandbox in his bedroom. All the
same, in the face of reason, and common sense, and
probability, I'm convinced that he did. Doctors do all sorts
of queer things that would make men like you and me feel
creepy, and those are Just the things that don't seem
probable, nor logical, nor sensible to us.
Then, don't you see?--if it really was her
skull, poor woman, the only way of accounting for his having
it is that he really killed her, and did it in that way, as
the woman killed her husbands in the story, and that he was
afraid there might be an examination some day which would
betray him. You see, I told that too, and I believe it had
really happened some fifty or sixty years ago. They dug up
the three skulls, you know, and there was a small lump of
lead rattling about in each one. That was what hanged the
woman. Luke remembered that, I'm sure. I don't want to know
what he did when he thought of it; my taste never ran in the
direction of horrors, and I don't fancy you care for them
either, do you? No. If you did, you might supply what is
wanting to the story.
It must have been rather grim, eh? I wish I
did not see the whole thing so distinctly, just as
everything must have happened. He took it the night before
she was buried, I'm sure, after the coffin had been shut,
and when the servant girl was asleep. I would bet anything,
that when he'd got it, he put something under the sheet in
its place, to fill up and look like it. What do you suppose
he put there, under the sheet?
I don't wonder you take me up on what I'm
saying! First I tell you that I don't want to know what
happened, and that I hate to think about horrors, and then I
describe the whole thing to you as if I had seen it. I'm
quite sure that it was her work-bag that he put there. I
remember the bag very well, for she always used it of an
evening; it was made of brown plush, and when it was stuffed
full it was about the size of--you understand. Yes, there I
am, at it again! You may laugh at me, but you don't live
here alone, where it was done, and you didn't tell Luke the
story about the melted lead. I'm not nervous, I tell you,
but sometimes I begin to feel that I understand why some
people are. I dwell on all this when I'm alone, and I dream
of it, and when that thing screams--well, frankly, I don't
like the noise any more than you do, though I should be used
to it by this time.
I ought not to be nervous. I've sailed in a
haunted ship. There was a Man in the Top, and two-thirds of
the crew died of the West Coast fever inside of ten days
after we anchored; but I was all right, then and afterwards.
I have seen some ugly sights, too, just as you have, and all
the rest of us. But nothing ever stuck in my head in the way
You see, I've tried to get rid of the thing,
but it doesn't like that. It wants to be there in its place,
in Mrs. Pratt's bandbox in the cupboard in the best bedroom.
It's not happy anywhere else. How do I know that? Because
I've tried it. You don't suppose that I've not tried, do
you? As long as it's there it only screams now and then,
generally at this time of year, but if I put it out of the
house it goes on all night, and no servant will stay here
twenty-four hours. As it is, I've often been left alone and
have been obliged to shift for myself for a fortnight at a
time. No one from the village would ever pass a night under
the roof now, and as for selling the place, or even letting
it, that's out of the question. The old women say that if I
stay here I shall come to a bad end myself before long.
I'm not afraid of that. You smile at the mere
idea that anyone could take such nonsense seriously. Quite
right. It's utterly blatant nonsense, I agree with you.
Didn't I tell you that it's only a noise after all when you
started and looked round as if you expected to see a ghost
standing behind your chair?
I may be all wrong about the skull, and I
like to think that I am when I can. It may be just a fine
specimen which Luke got somewhere long ago, and what rattles
about inside when you shake it may be nothing but a pebble,
or a bit of hard clay, or anything. Skulls that have lain
long in the ground generally have something inside them that
rattles don't they? No, I've never tried to get it out,
whatever it is; I'm afraid it might be lead, don't you see?
And if it is, I don't want to know the fact, for I'd much
rather not be sure. If it really is lead, I killed her quite
as much as if I had done the deed myself. Anybody must see
that, I should think. As long as I don't know for certain, I
have the consolation of saying that it's all utterly
ridiculous nonsense, that Mrs. Pratt died a natural death
and that the beautiful skull belonged to Luke when he was a
student in London. But if I were quite sure, I believe I
should have to leave the house; indeed I do, most certainly.
As it is, I had to give up trying to sleep in the best
bedroom where the cupboard is
You ask me why I don't throw it into the
pond--yes, but please don't call it a "confounded
bugbear"--it doesn't like being called names.
There! Lord, what a shriek! I told you so!
You're quite pale, man. Fill up your pipe and draw your
chair nearer to the fire, and take some more drink. Old
Hollands never hurt anybody yet. I've seen a Dutchman in
Java drink half a jug of Hulstkamp in a morning without
turning a hair. I don't take much rum myself, because it
doesn't agree with my rheumatism, but you are not rheumatic
and it won't damage you Besides, it's a very damp night
outside. The wind is howling again, and it will soon be in
the south-west; do you hear how the windows rattle? The tide
must have turned too, by the moaning.
We should not have heard the thing again if
you had not said that. I'm pretty sure we should not. Oh
yes, if you choose to describe it as a coincidence, you are
quite welcome, but I would rather that you should not call
the thing names again, if you don't mind. It may be that the
poor little woman hears, and perhaps it hurts her, don't you
know? Ghosts? No! You don't call anything a ghost that you
can take in your hands and look at in broad daylight, and
that rattles when you shake it Do you, now? But it's
something that hears and understands; there's no doubt about
I tried sleeping in the best bedroom when I
first came to the house just because it was the best and
most comfortable, but I had to give it up It was their room,
and there's the big bed she died in, and the cupboard is in
the thickness of the wall, near the head, on the left.
That's where it likes to be kept, in its bandbox. I only
used the room for a fortnight after I came, and then I
turned out and took the little room downstairs, next to the
surgery, where Luke used to sleep when he expected to be
called to a patient during the night.
I was always a good sleeper ashore; eight
hours is my dose, eleven to seven when I'm alone, twelve to
eight when I have a friend with me. But I could not sleep
after three o'clock in the morning in that room--a quarter
past, to be accurate--as a matter of fact, I timed it with
my old pocket chronometer, which still keeps good time, and
it was always at exactly seventeen minutes past three. I
wonder whether that was the hour when she died?
It was not what you have heard. If it had
been that, I could not have stood it two nights. It was just
a start and a moan and hard breathing for a few seconds in
the cupboard, and it could never have waked me under
ordinary circumstances, I'm sure. I suppose you are like me
in that, and we are just like other people who have been to
sea. No natural sounds disturb us at all, not all the racket
of a square-rigger hove to in a heavy gale, or rolling on
her beam ends before the wind. But if a lead pencil gets
adrift and rattles in the drawer of your cabin table you are
awake in a moment. Just so--you always understand. Very
well, the noise in the cupboard was no louder than that, but
it waked me instantly.
I said it was like a "start". I
know what I mean, but it's hard to explain without seeming
to talk nonsense. Of course you cannot exactly
"hear" a person "start"; at the most,you
might hear the quick drawing of the breath between the
parted lips and closed teeth, and the almost imperceptible
sound of clothing that moved suddenly though very slightly.
It was like that.
You know how one feels what a sailing vessel
is going to do, two or three seconds before she does it,
when one has the wheel. Riders say the same of a horse, but
that's less strange, because the horse is a live animal with
feelings of its own, and only poets and landsmen talk about
a ship being alive, and all that. But I have always felt
somehow that besides being a steaming machine or a sailing
machine for carrying weights, a vessel at sea is a sensitive
instrument, and a means of communication between nature and
man, and most particularly the man at the wheel, if she is
steered by hand. She takes her impressions directly from
wind and sea, tide and stream, and transmits them to the
man's hand, just as the wireless telegraphy picks up the
interrupted currents aloft and turns them out below in the
form of a message.
You see what I am driving at; I felt that
something started in the cupboard, and I felt it so vividly
that I heard it, though there may have' been nothing to
hear, and the sound inside my head waked me suddenly. But I
really heard the other noise. It was as if it were muffled
inside a box, as far away as if it came through a
long-distance telephone; and yet I knew that it was inside
the cupboard near the head of my bed. My hair did not
bristle and my blood did not run cold that time. I simply
resented being waked up by something that had no business to
make a noise, any more than a pencil should rattle in the
drawer of my cabin table on board ship. For I did not
understand; I just supposed that the cupboard had some
communication with the outside air, and that the wind had
got in and was moaning through it with a sort of very faint
screech. I struck a light and looked at my watch, and it was
seventeen minutes past three. Then I turned over and went to
sleep on my right ear. That's my good one; I'm pretty deaf
with the other, for I struck the water with it when I was a
lad in diving from the fore-topsail yard. Silly thing to do,
it was, but the result is very convenient when I want to go
to sleep when there's a noise.
That was the first night, and the same thing
happened again and several times afterwards, but not
regularly, though it was always at the same time, to a
second; perhaps I was sometimes sleeping on my good ear, and
sometimes not. I overhauled the cupboard and there was no
way by which the wind could get in, or anything else, for
the door makes a good fit, having been meant to keep out
moths, I suppose; Mrs. Pratt must have kept her winter
things in it, for it still smells of camphor and turpentine.
After about a fortnight I had had enough of
the noises. So far I had said to myself that it would be
silly to yield to it and take the skull out of the room.
Things always look differently by daylight, don't they? But
the voice grew louder--I suppose one may call it a voice--and
it got inside my deaf ear, too, one night. I realized that
when I was wide awake, for my good ear was jammed down on
the pillow, and I ought not to have heard a foghorn in that
position. But I heard that, and it made me lose my temper,
unless it scared me, for sometimes the two are not far
apart. I struck a light and got up, and I opened the
cupboard, grabbed the bandbox and threw it out of the
window, as far as I could.
Then my hair stood on end. The thing screamed
in the air, like a shell from a twelve-inch gun. It fell on
the other side of the road. The night was very dark, and I
could not see it fall, but I know it fell beyond the road
The window is just over the front door, it's fifteen yards
to the fence, more or less, and the road is ten yards wide.
There's a thick-set hedge beyond, along the glebe that
belongs to the vicarage.
I did not sleep much more than night. It was
not more than half an hour after I had thrown the bandbox
out when I heard a shriek outside--like what we've had
tonight, but worse, more despairing, I should call it; and
it may have been my imagination, but I could have sworn that
the screams came nearer and nearer each time. I lit a pipe,
and walked up and down for a bit, and then took a book and
sat up reading, but I'll be hanged if I can remember what I
read nor even what the book was, for every now and then a
shriek came up that would have made a dead man turn in his
A little before dawn someone knocked at the
front door. There was no mistaking that for anything else,
and I opened my window and looked down, for I guessed that
someone wanted the doctor, supposing that the new man had
taken Luke's house. It was rather a relief to hear a human
knock after that awful noise.
You cannot see the door from above, owing to
the little porch. The knocking came again, and I called out,
asking who was there, but nobody answered, though the knock
was repeated. I sang out again, and said that the doctor did
not live here any longer. There was no answer, but it
occurred to me that it might be some old countryman who was
stone deaf. So I took my candle and went down to open the
door. Upon my word, I was not thinking of the thing yet, and
I had almost forgotten the other noises. I went down
convinced that I should find somebody outside, on the
doorstep, with a message. I set the candle on the hall
table, so that the wind should not blow it out when I
opened. While I was drawing the old-fashioned bolt I heard
the knocking again. It was not loud, and it had a queer,
hollow sound, now that I was close to it, I remember, but I
certainly thought it was made by some person who wanted to
It wasn't. There was nobody there, but as I
opened the door inward, standing a little on one side, so as
to see out at once, something rolled across the threshold
and stopped against my foot.
I drew back as I felt it, for I knew what it
was before I looked down. I cannot tell you how I knew, and
it seemed unreasonable, for I am still quite sure that I had
thrown it across the road. It's a French window, that opens
wide, and I got a good swing when I flung it out. Besides,
when I went out early in the morning, I found the bandbox
beyond the thick hedge.
You may think it opened when I threw it, and
that the skull dropped out; but that's impossible, for
nobody could throw an empty cardboard box so far. It's out
of the question; you might as well try to fling a ball of
paper twenty-five yards, or a blown bird's egg.
To go back, I shut and bolted the hall door,
picked the thing up carefully, and put it on the table
beside the candle. I did that mechanically, as one
instinctively does the right thing in danger without
thinking at all--unless one does the opposite. It may seem
odd, but I believe my first thought had been that somebody
might come and find me there on the threshold while it was
resting against my foot, lying a little on its side, and
turning one hollow eye up at my face, as if it meant to
accuse me. And the light and shadow from the candle played
in the hollows of the eyes as it stood on the table, so that
they seemed to open and shut at me. Then the candle went out
quite unexpectedly, though the door was fastened and there
was not the least draught; and I used up at least half a
dozen matches before it would burn again.
I sat down rather suddenly, without quite
knowing why. Probably I had been badly frightened, and
perhaps you will admit there was no great shame in being
scared. The thing had come home, and it wanted to go
upstairs, back to its cupboard. I sat still and stared at it
for a bit till I began to feel very cold; then I took it and
carried it up and set it in its place, and I remember that I
spoke to it, and promised that it should have its bandbox
again in the morning.
You want to know whether I stayed in the room
till daybreak? Yes but I kept a light burning, and sat up
smoking and reading, most likely out of fright; plain,
undeniable fear, and you need not call it cowardice either,
for that's not the same thing. I could not have stayed alone
with that thing in the cupboard; I should have been scared
to death, though I'm not more timid than other people.
Confound it all, man, it had crossed the road alone, and had
got up the doorstep and had knocked to be let in.
When the dawn came, I put on my boots and
went out to find the bandbox. I had to go a good way round,
by the gate near the high road, and I found the box open and
hanging on the other side of the hedge. It had caught on the
twigs by the string, and the lid had fallen off and was
lying on the ground below it. That shows that it did not
open till it was well over; and if it had not opened as soon
as it left my hand, what was inside it must have gone beyond
the road too.
That's all. I took the box upstairs to the
cupboard, and put the skull back and locked it up. When the
girl brought me my breakfast she said she was sorry, but
that she must go, and she did not care if she lost her
month's wages. I looked at her, and her face was a sort of
greenish yellowish white. I pretended to be surprised, and
asked what was the matter; but that was of no use, for she
just turned on me and wanted to know whether I meant to stay
in a haunted house, and how long I expected to live if I
did, for though she noticed I was sometimes a little hard of
hearing, she did not believe that even I could sleep through
those screams again--and if I could, why had I been moving
about the house and opening and shutting the front door,
between three and four in the morning? There was no
answering that, since she had heard me, so off she went, and
I was left to myself. I went down to the village during the
morning and found a woman who was willing to come and do the
little work there is and cook my dinner, on condition that
she might go home every night. As for me, I moved downstairs
that day, and I have never tried to sleep in the best
bedroom since. After a little while I got a brace of
middle-aged Scotch servants from London, and things were
quiet enough for a long time. I began by telling them that
the house was in a very exposed position, and that the wind
whistled round it a good deal in the autumn and winter,
which had given it a bad name in the village, the Cornish
people being inclined to superstition and telling ghost
stories. The two hard-faced, sandy-haired sisters almost
smiled, and they answered with great contempt that they had
no great opinion of any Southern bogey whatever, having been
in service in two English haunted houses, where they had
never seen so much as the Boy in Grey, whom they reckoned no
very particular rarity in Forfarshire.
They stayed with me several months, and while
they were in the house we had peace and quiet. One of them
is here again now, but she went away with her sister within
the year. This one--she was the cook--married the sexton,
who works in my garden. That's the way of it. It's a small
village and he has not much to do, and he knows enough about
flowers to help me nicely, besides doing most of the hard
work; for though I'm fond of exercise, I'm getting a little
stiff in the hinges. He's a sober, silent sort of fellow,
who minds his own business, and he was a widower when I came
here--Trehearn is his name, James Trehearn. The Scottish
sisters would not admit that there was anything wrong about
the house, but when November came they gave me warning that
they were going, on the ground that the chapel was such a
long walk from here, being in the next parish, and that they
could not possibly go to our church. But the younger one
came back in the spring, and as soon as the banns could be
published she was married to James Trehearn by the vicar,
and she seems to have had no scruples about hearing him
preach since then. I'm quite satisfied, if she is! The
couple live in a small cottage that looks over the
I suppose you are wondering what all this has
to do with what I was talking about. I'm alone so much that
when an old friend comes to see me, I sometimes go on
talking just for the sake of hearing my own voice. But in
this case there is really a connection of ideas. It was
James Trehearn who buried poor Mrs. Pratt, and her husband
after her in the same grave, and it's not far from the back
of his cottage. That's the connection in my mind, you see.
It's plain enough. He knows something; I'm quite sure that
he does, though he's such a reticent beggar.
Yes, I'm alone in the house at night now, for
Mrs. Trehearn does everything herself, and when I have a
friend the sexton's niece comes in to wait on the table. He
takes his wife home every evening in winter, but in summer,
when there's light, she goes by herself. She's not a nervous
woman, but she's less sure than she used to be that there
are no bogies in England worth a Scotch-woman's notice.
Isn't it amusing, the idea that Scotland has a monopoly of
the supernatural? Odd sort of national pride, I call that,
That's a good fire, isn't it? When driftwood
gets started at last there's nothing like it, I think. Yes,
we get lots of it, for I'm sorry to say there are still a
great many wrecks about here. It's a lonely coast, and you
may have all the wood you want for the trouble of bringing
it in. Trehearn and I borrow a cart now and then, and load
it between here and the Spit. I hate a coal fire when I can
get wood of any sort A log is company, even if it's only a
piece of a deck beam or timber sawn off, and the salt in it
makes pretty sparks. See how they fly, like Japanese
hand-fireworks! Upon my word, with an old friend and a good
fire and a pipe, one forgets all about that thing upstairs,
especially now that the wind has moderated. It's only a
lull, though, and it will blow a gale before morning.
You think you would like to see the skull?
I've no objection. There's no reason why you shouldn't have
a look at it, and you never saw a more perfect one in your
life, except that there are two front teeth missing in the
Oh yes--I had not told you about the jaw yet.
Trehearn found it in the garden last spring when he was
digging a pit for a new asparagus bed. You know we make
asparagus beds six or eight feet deep here. Yes, yes--I had
forgotten to tell you that. He was digging straight down,
just as he digs a grave; if you want a good asparagus bed
made, I advise you to get a sexton to make it for you. Those
fellows have a wonderful knack at that sort of digging.
Trehearn had got down about three feet when
he cut into a mass of white lime in the side of the trench.
He had noticed that the earth was a little looser there,
though he says it had not been disturbed for a number of
years. I suppose he thought that even old lime might not be
good for asparagus, so he broke it out and threw it up. It
was pretty hard, he says, in biggish lumps, and out of sheer
force of habit he cracked the lumps with his spade as they
lay outside the pit beside him; the jaw bone of the skull
dropped out of one of the pieces. He thinks he must have
knocked out the two front teeth in breaking up the lime, but
he did not see them anywhere. He's a very experienced man in
such things, as you may imagine, and he said at once that
the jaw had probably belonged to a young woman, and that the
teeth had been complete when she died. He brought it to me,
and asked me if I wanted to keep it; if I did not, he said
he would drop it into the next grave he made in the
churchyard, as he supposed it was a Christian jaw, and ought
to have decent burial, wherever the rest of the body might
be. I told him that doctors often put bones into quicklime
to whiten them nicely, and that I supposed Dr Pratt had once
had a little lime pit in the garden for that purpose, and
had forgotten the jaw. Trehearn looked at me quietly.
"Maybe it fitted that skull that used to
be in the cupboard upstairs, sir," he said. "Maybe
Dr Pratt had put the skull into the lime to clean it, or
something, and when he took it out he left the lower jaw
behind. There's some human hair sticking in the lime,
I saw there was, and that was what Trehearn
said. If he did not suspect something, why in the world
should he have suggested that the jaw might fit the skull?
Besides, it did. That's proof that he knows more than he
cares to tell. Do you suppose he looked before she was
buried? Or perhaps--when he buried Luke in the same grave----
Well, well, it's of no use to go over that,
is it? I said I would keep the jaw with the skull, and I
took it upstairs and fitted it into its place. There's not
the slightest doubt about the two belonging together, and
together they are.
Trehearn knows several things. We were
talking about plastering the kitchen a while ago, and he
happened to remember that it had not been done since the
very week when Mrs. Pratt died. He did not say that the
mason must have left some lime on the place, but he thought
it, and that it was the very same lime he had found in the
asparagus pit. He knows a lot. Trehearn is one of your
silent beggars who can put two and two together. That grave
is very near the back of his cottage, too, and he's one of
the quickest men with a spade I ever saw. If he wanted to
know the truth, he could, and no one else would ever be the
wiser unless he chose to tell. In a quiet village like ours,
people don't go and spend the night in the churchyard to see
whether the sexton potters about by himself between ten
o'clock and daylight.
What is awful to think of, is Luke's
deliberation, if he did it; his cool certainty that no one
would find him out; above all, his nerve, for that must have
been extraordinary. I sometimes think it's bad enough to
live in the place where it was done, if it really was done.
I always put in the condition, you see, for the sake of his
memory, and a little bit for my own sake, too.
I'll go upstairs and fetch the box in a
minute. Let me light my pipe; there's no hurry! We had
supper early, and it's only half-past nine o'clock. I never
let a friend go to bed before twelve, or with less than
three glasses--you may have as many more as you like, but
you shan't have less, for the sake of old times.
It's breezing up again, do you hear? That was
only a lull just now, and we are going to have a bad night.
A thing happened that made me start a little
when I found that the jaw fitted exactly. I'm not very
easily startled in that way myself, but I have seen people
make a quick movement, drawing their breath sharply, when
they had thought they were alone and suddenly turned and saw
someone very near them. Nobody can call that fear. You
wouldn't, would you? No. Well, just when I had set the jaw
in its place under the skull, the teeth closed sharply on my
finger. It felt exactly as if it were biting me hard, and I
confess that I jumped before I realized that I had been
pressing the jaw and the skull together with my other hand.
I assure you I was not at all nervous. It was broad
daylight, too, and a fine day, and the sun was streaming
into the best bedroom. It would have been absurd to be
nervous, and it was only a quick mistaken impression, but it
really made me feel queer. Somehow it made me think of the
funny verdict of the coroner's jury on Luke's death,
"by the hand or teeth of some person or animal
unknown". Ever since that I've wished I had seen those
marks on his throat, though the lower jaw was missing then.
I have often seen a man do insane things with
his hands that he does not realize at all. I once saw a man
hanging on by an old awning stop with one hand, leaning
backward, outboard, with all his weight on it, and he was
just cutting the stop with the knife in his other hand when
I got my arms round him. We were in mid-ocean, going twenty
knots. He had not the smallest idea what he was doing;
neither had I when I managed to pinch my finger between the
teeth of that thing. I can feel it now. It was exactly as if
it were alive and were trying to bite me. It would if it
could, for I know it hates me, poor thing! Do you suppose
that what rattles about inside is really a bit of lead?
Well, I'll get the box down presently, and if whatever it is
happens to drop out into your hands, that's your affair. If
it's only a clod of earth or a pebble, the whole matter
would be off my mind, and I don't believe I should ever
think of the skull again; but somehow I cannot bring myself
to shake out the bit of hard stuff myself. The mere idea
that it may be lead makes me confoundedly uncomfortable, yet
I've got the conviction that I shall know before long. I
shall certainly know. I'm sure Trehearn knows, but he's such
a silent beggar
I'll go upstairs now and get it. What? You
had better go with me? Ha, ha! do you think I'm afraid of a
bandbox and a noise? Nonsense!
Bother the candle, it won't light! As if the
ridiculous thing understood what it's wanted for! Look at
that--the third match. They light fast enough for my pipe.
There, do you see? It's a fresh box, just out of the tin
safe where I keep the supply on account of the dampness. Oh,
you think the wick of the candle may be damp, do you? All
right, I'll light the beastly thing in the fire. That won't
go out, at all events. Yes, it sputters a bit, but it will
keep lighted now. It burns just like any other candle,
doesn't it? The fact is, candles are not very good about
here. I don't know where they come from, but they have a way
of burning low occasionally, with a greenish flame that
spits tiny sparks, and I'm often annoyed by their going out
of themselves. It cannot be helped, for it will be long
before we have electricity in our village. It really is
rather a poor light, isn't it?
You think I had better leave you the candle
and take the lamp, do you? I don't like to carry lamps
about, that's the truth. I never dropped one in my life, but
I have always thought I might, and it's so confoundedly
dangerous if you do. Besides, I am pretty well used to these
rotten candles by this time.
You may as well finish that glass while I'm
getting it, for I don't mean to let you off with less than
three before you go to bed. You won't have to go upstairs,
either, for I've put you in the old study next to the
surgery--that's where I live myself. The fact is, I never
ask a friend to sleep upstairs now. The last man who did was
Crackenthorpe, and he said he was kept awake all night. You
remember old Crack, don't you? He stuck to the Service, and
they've just made him an admiral. Yes, I'm off now--unless
the candle goes out. I couldn't help asking if you
remembered Crackenthorpe. If anyone had told us that the
skinny little idiot he used to be was to turn out the most
successful of the lot of us, we should have laughed at the
idea, shouldn't we? You and I did not do badly, it's true--but
I'm really going now. I don't mean to let you think that
I've been putting it off by talking! As if there were
anything to be afraid of! If I were scared, I should tell
you so quite frankly, and get you to go upstairs with me.
Here's the box. I brought it down very
carefully, so as not to disturb it, poor thing. You see, if
it were shaken, the jaw might get separated from it again,
and I'm sure it wouldn't like that. Yes, the candle went out
as I was coming downstairs, but that was the draught from
the leaky window on the landing. Did you hear anything? Yes,
there was another scream. Am I pale, do you say? That's
nothing. My heart is a little queer sometimes, and I went
upstairs too fast. In fact, that's one reason why I really
prefer to live altogether on the ground floor.
Wherever the shriek came from, it was not
from the skull, for I had the box in my hand when I heard
the noise, and here it is now; so we have proved definitely
that the screams are produced by something else. I've no
doubt I shall find out some day what makes them. Some
crevice in the wall, of course, or a crack in a chimney, or
a chink in the frame of a window. That's the way all ghost
stories end in real life. Do you know, I'm jolly glad I
thought of going up and bringing it down for you to see, for
that last shriek settles the question. To think that I
should have been so weak as to fancy that the poor skull
could really cry out like a living thing!
Now I'll open the box, and we'll take it out
and look at it under the bright light. It's rather awful to
think that the poor lady used to sit there, in your chair,
evening after evening, in just the same light, isn't it? But
then--I've made up my mind that it's all rubbish from
beginning to end, and that it's just an old skull that Luke
had when he was a student and perhaps he put it into the
lime merely to whiten it, and could not find the jaw.
I made a seal on the string, you see, after I
had put the jaw in its place, and I wrote on the cover.
There's the old white label on it still, from the
milliner's, addressed to Mrs. Pratt when the hat was sent to
her, and as there was room I wrote on the edge: "A
skull, once the property of the late Luke Pratt, MD." I
don't quite know why I wrote that, unless it was with the
idea of explaining how the thing happened to be in my
possession. I cannot help wondering sometimes what sort of
hat it was that came in the bandbox. What colour was it, do
you think? Was it a gay spring hat with a bobbing feather
and pretty ribands? Strange that the very same box should
hold the head that wore the finery--perhaps. No--we made up
our minds that it just came from the hospital in London
where Luke did his time. It's far better to look at it in
that light, isn't it? There's no more connection between
that skull and poor Mrs. Pratt than there was between my
story about the lead and----
Good Lord! Take the lamp--don't let it go
out, if you can help it--I'll have the window fastened again
in a second--I say, what a gale! There, it's out! I told you
so! Never mind, there's the firelight--I've got the window
shut--the bolt was only half down. Was the box blown off the
table? Where the deuce is it? There! That won't open again,
for I've put up the bar. Good dodge, an old-fashioned
bar--there's nothing like it. Now, you find the bandbox
while I light the lamp. Confound those wretched matches!
Yes, a pipe spill is better--it must light in the fire--hadn't
thought of it--thank you--there we are again. Now,
where's the box? Yes, put it back on the table, and we'll
That's the first time I have ever known the
wind to burst that window open; but it was partly
carelessness on my part when I last shut it. Yes, of course
I heard the scream. It seemed to go all round the house
before it broke in at the window. That proves that it's
always been the wind and nothing else, doesn't it? When it
was not the wind, it was my imagination I've always been a
very imaginative man: I must have been, though I did not
know it. As we grow older we understand ourselves better,
don't you know?
I'll have a drop of the Hulstkamp neat, by
way of an exception, since you are filling up your glass.
That damp gust chilled me, and with my rheumatic tendency
I'm very much afraid of a chill, for the cold sometimes
seems to stick in my joints all winter when it once gets in.
By George, that's good stuff! I'll just light
a fresh pipe, now that everything is snug again, and then
we'll open the box. I'm so glad we heard that last scream
together, with the skull here on the table between us, for a
thing cannot possibly be in two places at the same time, and
the noise most certainly came from outside, as any noise the
wind makes must. You thought you heard it scream through the
room after the window was burst open? Oh yes, so did I, but
that was natural enough when everything was open. Of course
we heard the wind. What could one expect?
Look here, please. I want you to see that the
seal is intact before we open the box together. Will you
take my glasses? No, you have your own. All right. The seal
is sound, you see, and you can read the words of the motto
easily. "Sweet and low"--that's it--because the
poem goes on "Wind of the Western Sea", and says,
"blow him again to me", and all that. Here is the
seal on my watch chain, where it's hung for more than forty
years. My poor little wife gave it to me when I was
courting, and I never had any other. It was just like her to
think of those words--she was always fond of Tennyson.
It's no use to cut the string, for it's
fastened to the box, so I'll just break the wax and untie
the knot, and afterwards we'll seal it up again. You see, I
like to feel that the thing is safe in its place, and that
nobody can take it out. Not that I should suspect Trehearn
of meddling with it, but I always feel that he knows a lot
more than he tells.
You see, I've managed it without breaking the
string, though when I fastened it I never expected to open
the bandbox again. The lid comes off easily enough. There!
What! Nothing in it! Empty! It's gone, man,
the skull is gone!
No, there's nothing the matter with me. I'm
only trying to collect my thoughts. It's so strange. I'm
positively certain that it was inside when I put on the seal
last spring. I can't have imagined that: it's utterly
impossible. If I ever took a stiff glass with a friend now
and then, I would admit that I might have made some idiotic
mistake when I had taken too much. But I don't, and I never
did. A pint of ale at supper and half a go of rum at bedtime
was the most I ever took in my good days. I believe it's
always we sober fellows who get rheumatism and gout! Yet
there was my seal, and there is the empty bandbox. That's
I say, I don't half like this. It's not
right. There's something wrong about it, in my opinion. You
needn't talk to me about supernatural manifestations, for I
don't believe in them, not a little bit! Somebody must have
tampered with the seal and stolen the skull. Sometimes, when
I go out to work in the garden in summer, I leave my watch
and chain on the table. Trehearn must have taken the seal
then, and used it, for he would be quite sure that I should
not come in for at least an hour.
If it was not Trehearn--oh, don't talk to me
about the possibility that the thing has got out by itself!
If it has, it must be somewhere about the house, in some
out-of-the-way corner, waiting. We may come upon it
anywhere, waiting for us, don't you know?--just waiting in
the dark. Then it will scream at me; it will shriek at me in
the dark, for it hates me, I tell you!
The bandbox is quite empty. We are not
dreaming, either of us. There, I turn it upside down.
What's that? Something fell out as I turned
it over. It's on the floor, it s near your feet. I know it
is, and we must find it. Help me to find it, man. Have you
got it? For God's sake, give it to me, quickly!
Lead! I knew it when I heard it fall. I knew
it couldn't be anything else by the little thud it made on
the hearthrug. So it was lead after all and Luke did it.
I feel a little bit shaken up--not exactly
nervous, you know, but badly shaken up, that's the fact.
Anybody would, I should think. After all, you cannot say
that it's fear of the thing, for I went up and brought it
down--at least, I believed I was bringing it down, and that's
the same thing, and by George, rather than give in to such
silly nonsense, I'll take the box upstairs again and put it
back in its place. It's not that. It's the certainty that
the poor little woman came to her end in that way, by my
fault, because I told the story. That's what is so dreadful.
Somehow, I had always hoped that I should never be quite
sure of it, but there is no doubting it now. Look at that!
Look at it! That little lump of lead with no
particular shape. Think of what it did, man! Doesn't it make
you shiver? He gave her something to make her sleep, of
course, but there must have been one moment of awful agony.
Think of having boiling lead poured into your brain. Think
of it. She was dead before she could scream, but only think
of--oh! there it is again--it's just outside--I know it's
just outside--I can't keep it out of my head!--oh!--oh!
You thought I had fainted? No, I wish I had,
for it would have stopped sooner. It's all very well to say
that it's only a noise, and that a noise never hurt
anybody--you're as white as a shroud yourself. There's only
one thing to be done, if we hope to close an eye tonight. We
must find it and put it back into its bandbox and shut it up
in the cupboard, where it likes to be I don't know how it
got out, but it wants to get in again. That's why it screams
so awfully tonight--it was never so bad as this--never since
Bury it? Yes, if we can find it, we'll bury
it, if it takes us all night. We'll bury it six feet deep
and ram down the earth over it, so that it shall never get
out again, and if it screams, we shall hardly hear it so
deep down. Quick, we'll get the lantern and look for it. It
cannot be far away; I'm sure it's just outside--it was
coming in when I shut the window, I know it.
Yes, you're quite right. I'm losing my
senses, and I must get hold of myself. Don't speak to me for
a minute or two; I'll sit quite still and keep my eyes shut
and repeat something I know. That's the best way.
"Add together the altitude, the
latitude, and the polar distance, divide by two and subtract
the altitude from the half-sum; then add the logarithm of
the secant of the latitude, the cosecant of the polar
distance, the cosine of the half-sum and the sine of the
half-sum minus the altitude"--there! Don't say that I'm
out of my senses, for my memory is all right, isn't it?
Of course, you may say that it's mechanical,
and that we never forget the things we learned when we were
boys and have used almost every day for a lifetime. But
that's the very point. When a man is going crazy, it's the
mechanical part of his mind that gets out of order and won't
work right; he remembers things that never happened, or he
sees things that aren't real, or he hears noises when there
is perfect silence. That's not what is the matter with
either of us, is it?
Come, we'll get the lantern and go round the
house. It's not raining--only blowing like old boots, as we
used to say. The lantern is in the cupboard under the stairs
in the hall, and I always keep it trimmed in case of a
No use to look for the thing? I don't see how
you can say that. It was nonsense to talk of burying it, of
course, for it doesn't want to be buried; it wants to go
back into its bandbox and be taken upstairs, poor thing!
Trehearn took it out, I know, and made the seal over again.
Perhaps he took it to the churchyard, and he may have meant
well. I dare say he thought that it would not scream any
more if it were quietly laid in consecrated ground, near
where it belongs. But it has come home. Yes, that's it. He's
not half a bad fellow, Trehearn, and rather religiously
inclined, I think. Does not that sound natural, and
reasonable, and well meant? He supposed it screamed because
it was not decently buried--with the rest. But he was wrong.
How should he know that it screams at me because it hates
me, and because it's my fault that there was that little
lump of lead in it?
No use to look for it, anyhow? Nonsense! I
tell you it wants to be found--Hark! what's that knocking?
Do you hear it? Knock--knock--knock--three times, then a
pause, and then again. It has a hollow sound, hasn't it?
It has come home. I've heard that knock
before. It wants to come in and be taken upstairs in its
box. It's at the front door.
Will you come with me? We'll take it in. Yes,
I own that I don't like to go alone and open the door. The
thing will roll in and stop against my foot, just as it did
before, and the light will go out. I'm a good deal shaken by
finding that bit of lead, and, besides, my heart isn't quite
right--too much strong tobacco, perhaps. Besides, I'm quite
willing to own that I'm a bit nervous tonight, if I never
was before in my life.
That's right, come along! I'll take the box
with me, so as not to come back. Do you hear the knocking?
It's not like any other knocking I ever heard. If you will
hold this door open, I can find the lantern under the stairs
by the light from this room without bringing the lamp into
the hall--it would only go out.
The thing knows we are coming--hark! It's
impatient to get in. Don't shut the door till the lantern is
ready, whatever you do. There will be the usual trouble with
the matches, I suppose--no, the first one, by Jove! I tell
you it wants to get in, so there's no trouble. All right
with that door now; shut it, please. Now come and hold the
lantern, for it's blowing so hard outside that I shall have
to use both hands. That's it, hold the light low. Do you
hear the knocking still? Here goes--I'll open just enough
with my foot against the bottom of the door--now!
Catch it! it's only the wind that blows it
across the floor, that's all--there s half a hurricane
outside, I tell you! Have you got it? The bandbox is on the
table. One minute, and I'll have the bar up. There!
Why did you throw it into the box so roughly?
It doesn't like that, you know.
What do you say? Bitten your hand? Nonsense,
man! You did just what I did. You pressed the jaws together
with your other hand and pinched yourself. Let me see. You
don't mean to say you have drawn blood? You must have
squeezed hard by Jove, for the skin is certainly torn. I'll
give you some carbolic solution for it before we go to bed,
for they say a scratch from a skull's tooth may go bad and
Come inside again and let me see it by the
lamp. I'll bring the bandbox--never mind the lantern, it may
just as well burn in the hall for I shall need it presently
when I go up the stairs. Yes, shut the door if you will; it
makes it more cheerful and bright. Is your finger still
bleeding? I'll get you the carbolic in an instant; just let
me see the thing.
Ugh! There's a drop of blood on the upper
jaw. It's on the eyetooth. Ghastly, isn't it? When I saw it
running along the floor of the hall, the strength almost
went out of my hands, and I felt my knees bending, then I
understood that it was the gale, driving it over the smooth
boards. You don t blame me? No, I should think not! We were
boys together, and we've seen a thing or two, and we may
just as well own to each other that we were both in a
beastly funk when it slid across the floor at you. No wonder
you pinched your finger picking it up, after that, if I did
the same thing out of sheer nervousness, in broad daylight,
with the sun streaming in on me.
Strange that the jaw should stick to it so
closely, isn't it? I suppose it's the dampness, for it shuts
like a vice--I have wiped off the drop of blood, for it was
not nice to look at. I'm not going to try to open the jaws,
don't be afraid! I shall not play any tricks with the poor
thing, but I'll just seal the box again, and we'll take it
upstairs and put it away where it wants to be. The wax is on
the writing-table by the window. Thank you. It will be long
before I leave my seal lying about again, for Trehearn to
use, I can tell you. Explain? I don't explain natural
phenomena, but if you choose to think that Trehearn had
hidden it somewhere in the bushes, and that the gale blew it
to the house against the door, and made it knock, as if it
wanted to be let in, you're not thinking the impossible, and
I'm quite ready to agree with you.
Do you see that? You can swear that you've
actually seen me seal it this time, in case anything of the
kind should occur again. The wax fastens the strings to the
lid, which cannot possibly be lifted, even enough to get in
one finger. You're quite satisfied, aren't you? Yes.
Besides, I shall lock the cupboard and keep the key in my
Now we can take the lantern and go upstairs.
Do you know? I'm very much inclined to agree with your
theory that the wind blew it against the house. I'll go
ahead, for I know the stairs; just hold the lantern near my
feet as we go up. How the wind howls and whistles! Did you
feel the sand on the floor under your shoes as we crossed
Yes--this is the door of the best bedroom.
Hold up the lantern, please. This side, by the head of the
bed. I left the cupboard open when I got the box. Isn't it
queer how the faint odour of women's dresses will hang about
an old closet for years? This is the shelf. You've seen me
set the box there, and now you see me turn the key and put
it into my pocket. So that's done!
Goodnight. Are you sure you're quite
comfortable? It's not much of a room, but I dare say you
would as soon sleep here as upstairs tonight. If you want
anything, sing out; there's only a lath and plaster
partition between us. There's not so much wind on this side
by half. There's the Hollands on the table, if you'll have
one more nightcap. No? Well, do as you please. Goodnight
again, and don't dream about that thing, if you can.
The following paragraph appeared in the
Penraddon News, 23rd November 1906:
MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF A RETIRED SEA CAPTAIN
The village of Tredcombe is much disturbed by
the strange death of Captain Charles Braddock, and all sorts
of impossible stories are circulating with regard to the
circumstances, which certainly seem difficult of
explanation. The retired captain, who had successfully
commanded in his time the largest and fastest liners
belonging to one of the principal transatlantic steamship
companies, was found dead in his bed on Tuesday morning in
his own cottage, a quarter of a mile from the village. An
examination was made at once by the local practitioner,
which revealed the horrible fact that the deceased had been
bitten in the throat by a human assailant, with such amazing
force as to crush the windpipe and cause death. The marks of
the teeth of both jaws were so plainly visible on the skin
that they could be counted, but the perpetrator of the deed
had evidently lost the two lower middle incisors. It is
hoped that this peculiarity may help to identify the
murderer, who can only be a dangerous escaped maniac. The
deceased, though over sixty-five years of age, is said to
have been a hale man of considerable physical strength, and
it is remarkable that no signs of any struggle were visible
in the room, nor could it be ascertained how the murderer
had entered the house. Warning has been sent to all the
insane asylums in the United Kingdom, but as yet no
information has been received regarding the escape of any
The coroner's Jury returned the somewhat
singular verdict that Captain Braddock came to his death
"by the hands or teeth of some person unknown".
The local surgeon is said to have expressed privately the
opinion that the maniac is a woman, a view he deduces from
the small size of the jaws, as shown by the marks of the
teeth. The whole affair is shrouded in mystery. Captain
Braddock was a widower, and lived alone. He leaves no
(AUTHOR'S NOTE.--Students of ghost lore and
haunted houses will find the foundation of the foregoing
story in the legends about a skull which is still preserved
in the farmhouse called Bettiscombe Manor, situated, I
believe, on the Dorsetshire coast.)