Masterpieces of Mystery, Vol. 1, Ghost Stories
by Joseph Lewis French
II. NUMBER 13
III. JOSEPH: A
IV. THE HORLA
V. THE BEAST
VIII. THE YELLOW
IX. LETTER TO
The Editor desires especially to acknowledge assistance in granting
the use of original material, and for helpful advice and suggestion, to
Professor Brander Matthews of Columbia University, to Mrs. Anna
Katherine Green Rohlfs, to Cleveland Moffett, to Arthur Reeve, creator
of Craig Kennedy, to Wilbur Daniel Steele, to Ralph Adams Cram, to
Chester Bailey Fernald, to Brian Brown, to Mrs. Lillian M. Robins of
the publisher's office, and to Charles E. Farrington of the Brooklyn
The ghost story is as old as human speech,and perhaps even
antedates it. A naïve acceptance of the supernatural was unquestionably
one of the primal attributes of human intelligence. The ghost story may
thus quite conceivably be the first form of tale ever invented. It
makes its appearance comparatively early in the annals of literature.
Who that has read it is likely to forget Pliny's account in a letter to
an intimate of an apparition shortly after death to a mutual
acquaintance? Old books of tales and legends are full of the ghost
story. It has persisted throughout the ages. It began to attain some
real standing in literature,to take its definite place,a little
more than a century ago. Like the apparition it embodies it had always
beenand is still to-day evenmore or less discredited. Mrs.
Radcliffe gave it a new being and even a certain dignity in her Castle
of Otranto; and after her came Sir Walter Scott who frankly
surrendered to the power and charm of the theme. The line of succession
has been continuous. The ghost has held his own with his human fellow
in fiction, and his tale has been told with increasing skill as the art
of the writer has developed. To-day the case for the ghost as an
element in fiction is an exceedingly strong one. There has indeed
sprung into being within a couple of decades a new school of such
writers. Nowadays almost every fictionist of account produces one good
thriller at least of this sort. The temptation is irresistible for the
simple reason that the theme imposes absolutely no limit on the
The reader will find here a careful selection illustrating the
growth in art of this exotic in literature during the past fifty years,
and for a contrast, spanning the centuries, the naïve narration of
Pliny the Younger.
JOSEPH LEWIS FRENCH.
I. THE LISTENER 3
II. NUMBER 13 45
Montague Rhodes James
III. JOSEPH: A STORY 70
IV. THE HORLA 84
Guy de Maupassant
V. THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS 123
William F. Harvey
VI. SISTER MADDELENA 167
Ralph Adams Cram
VII. THRAWN JANET 191
Robert Louis Stevenson
VIII. THE YELLOW CAT 207
Wilbur Daniel Steele
IX. LETTER TO SURA 237
Pliny the Younger
MASTERPIECES OF MYSTERY
Masterpieces of Mystery
I. THE LISTENER[A]
Sept. 4.I have hunted all over London for rooms suited to my
income£120 a yearand have at last found them. Two rooms, without
modern conveniences, it is true, and in an old, ramshackle building,
but within a stone's throw of PPlace and in an eminently respectable
street. The rent is only £25 a year. I had begun to despair when at
last I found them by chance. The chance was a mere chance, and unworthy
of record. I had to sign a lease for a year, and I did so willingly.
The furniture from our old place in Hshire, which has been stored so
long, will just suit them.
* * * * *
Oct. 1.Here I am in my two rooms, in the centre of London, and not
far from the offices of the periodicals where occasionally I dispose of
an article or two. The building is at the end of a cul-de-sac.
The alley is well paved and clean, and lined chiefly with the backs of
sedate and institutional-looking buildings. There is a stable in it. My
own house is dignified with the title of Chambers. I feel as if one
day the honour must prove too much for it, and it will swell with
prideand fall asunder. It is very old. The floor of my sitting-room
has valleys and low hills on it, and the top of the door slants away
from the ceiling with a glorious disregard of what is usual. They must
have quarrelledfifty years agoand have been going apart ever since.
* * * * *
Oct. 2.My landlady is old and thin, with a faded, dusty face. She
is uncommunicative. The few words she utters seem to cost her pain.
Probably her lungs are half choked with dust. She keeps my rooms as
free from this commodity as possible, and has the assistance of a
strong girl who brings up the breakfast and lights the fire. As I have
said already, she is not communicative. In reply to pleasant efforts on
my part she informed me briefly that I was the only occupant of the
house at present. My rooms had not been occupied for some years. There
had been other gentlemen upstairs, but they had left.
She never looks straight at me when she speaks, but fixes her dim
eyes on my middle waistcoat button, till I get nervous and begin to
think it isn't on straight, or is the wrong sort of button altogether.
* * * * *
Oct. 8.My week's book is nicely kept, and so far is reasonable.
Milk and sugar 7d., bread 6d., butter 8d., marmalade 6d., eggs 1s. 8d.,
laundress 2s. 9d., oil 6d., attendance 5s.; total 12s. 2d.
The landlady has a son who, she told me, is somethink on a
homnibus. He comes occasionally to see her. I think he drinks, for he
talks very loud, regardless of the hour of the day or night, and
tumbles about over the furniture downstairs.
All the morning I sit indoors writingarticles; verses for the
comic papers; a novel I've been at for three years, and concerning
which I have dreams; a children's book, in which the imagination has
free rein; and another book which is to last as long as myself, since
it is an honest record of my soul's advance or retreat in the struggle
of life. Besides these, I keep a book of poems which I use as a safety
valve, and concerning which I have no dreams whatsoever. Between the
lot I am always occupied. In the afternoons I generally try to take a
walk for my health's sake, through Regent's Park, into Kensington
Gardens, or farther afield to Hampstead Heath.
* * * * *
Oct. 10.Everything went wrong to-day. I have two eggs for
breakfast. This morning one of them was bad. I rang the bell for Emily.
When she came in I was reading the paper, and, without looking up, I
said, Egg's bad. Oh, is it, sir? she said; I'll get another one,
and went out, taking the egg with her. I waited my breakfast for her
return, which was in five minutes. She put the new egg on the table and
went away. But, when I looked down, I saw that she had taken away the
good egg and left the bad oneall green and yellowin the slop basin.
I rang again.
You've taken the wrong egg, I said.
Oh! she exclaimed; I thought the one I took down didn't smell so
very bad. In due time she returned with the good egg, and I
resumed my breakfast with two eggs, but less appetite. It was all very
trivial, to be sure, but so stupid that I felt annoyed. The character
of that egg influenced everything I did. I wrote a bad article, and
tore it up. I got a bad headache. I used bad wordsto myself.
Everything was bad, so I chucked work and went for a long walk.
I dined at a cheap chop-house on my way back, and reached home about
Rain was just beginning to fall as I came in, and the wind was
rising. It promised an ugly night. The alley looked dismal and dreary,
and the hall of the house, as I passed through it, felt chilly as a
tomb. It was the first stormy night I had experienced in my new
quarters. The draughts were awful. They came criss-cross, met in the
middle of the room, and formed eddies and whirlpools and cold silent
currents that almost lifted the hair of my head. I stuffed up the
sashes of the windows with neckties and odd socks, and sat over the
smoky fire to keep warm. First I tried to write, but found it too cold.
My hand turned to ice on the paper.
What tricks the wind did play with the old place! It came rushing up
the forsaken alley with a sound like the feet of a hurrying crowd of
people who stopped suddenly at the door. I felt as if a lot of curious
folk had arranged themselves just outside and were staring up at my
windows. Then they took to their heels again and fled whispering and
laughing down the lane, only, however, to return with the next gust of
wind and repeat their impertinence. On the other side of my room, a
single square window opens into a sort of shaft, or well, that measures
about six feet across to the back wall of another house. Down this
funnel the wind dropped, and puffed and shouted. Such noises I never
heard before. Between these two entertainments I sat over the fire in a
great-coat, listening to the deep booming in the chimney. It was like
being in a ship at sea, and I almost looked for the floor to rise in
undulations and rock to and fro.
* * * * *
Oct. 12.I wish I were not quite so lonelyand so poor. And yet I
love both my loneliness and my poverty. The former makes me appreciate
the companionship of the wind and rain, while the latter preserves my
liver and prevents me wasting time in dancing attendance upon women.
Poor, ill-dressed men are not acceptable attendants.
My parents are dead, and my only sister isno, not dead exactly,
but married to a very rich man. They travel most of the time, he to
find his health, she to lose herself. Through sheer neglect on her part
she has long passed out of my life. The door closed when, after an
absolute silence of five years, she sent me a cheque for £50 at
Christmas. It was signed by her husband! I returned it to her in a
thousand pieces and in an unstamped envelope. So at least I had the
satisfaction of knowing that it cost her something! She wrote back with
a broad quill pen that covered a whole page with three lines, You are
evidently as cracked as ever, and rude and ungrateful into the
bargain. It had always been my special terror lest the insanity in my
father's family should leap across the generations and appear in me.
This thought haunted me, and she knew it. So after this little exchange
of civilities the door slammed, never to open again. I heard the crash
it made, and, with it, the falling from the walls of my heart of many
little bits of china with their own peculiar valuerare china, some of
it, that only needed dusting. The same walls, too, carried mirrors in
which I used sometimes to see reflected the misty lawns of childhood,
the daisy chains, the wind-torn blossoms scattered through the orchard
by warm rains, the robbers' cave in the long walk, and the hidden store
of apples in the hay-loft. She was my inseparable companion thenbut,
when the door slammed, the mirrors cracked across their entire length,
and the visions they held vanished for ever. Now I am quite alone. At
forty one cannot begin all over again to build up careful friendships,
and all others are comparatively worthless.
* * * * *
Oct. 14.My bedroom is 10 by 10. It is below the level of the front
room, and a step leads down into it. Both rooms are very quiet on calm
nights, for there is no traffic down this forsaken alley-way. In spite
of the occasional larks of the wind, it is a most sheltered strip. At
its upper end, below my windows, all the cats of the neighbourhood
congregate as soon as darkness gathers. They lie undisturbed on the
long ledge of a blind window of the opposite building, for after the
postman has come and gone at 9:30, no footsteps ever dare to interrupt
their sinister conclave, no step but my own, or sometimes the unsteady
footfall of the son who is somethink on a homnibus.
* * * * *
Oct. 15.I dined at an A. B. C. shop on poached eggs and coffee,
and then went for a stroll round the outer edge of Regent's Park. It
was ten o'clock when I got home. I counted no less than thirteen cats,
all of a dark colour, crouching under the lee side of the alley walls.
It was a cold night, and the stars shone like points of ice in a
blue-black sky. The cats turned their heads and stared at me in silence
as I passed. An odd sensation of shyness took possession of me under
the glare of so many pairs of unblinking eyes. As I fumbled with the
latch-key they jumped noiselessly down and pressed against my legs, as
if anxious to be let in. But I slammed the door in their faces and ran
quickly upstairs. The front room, as I entered to grope for the
matches, felt as cold as a stone vault, and the air held an unusual
* * * * *
Oct. 17.For several days I have been working on a ponderous
article that allows no play for the fancy. My imagination requires a
judicious rein; I am afraid to let it loose, for it carries me
sometimes into appalling places beyond the stars and beneath the world.
No one realizes the danger more than I do. But what a foolish thing to
write herefor there is no one to know, no one to realize! My mind of
late has held unusual thoughts, thoughts I have never had before, about
medicines and drugs and the treatment of strange illnesses. I cannot
imagine their source. At no time in my life have I dwelt upon such
ideas as now constantly throng my brain. I have had no exercise lately,
for the weather has been shocking; and all my afternoons have been
spent in the reading-room of the British Museum, where I have a
I have made an unpleasant discovery: there are rats in the house. At
night from my bed I have heard them scampering across the hills and
valleys of the front room, and my sleep has been a good deal disturbed
* * * * *
Oct. 24.Last night the son who is somethink on a homnibus came
in. He had evidently been drinking, for I heard loud and angry voices
below in the kitchen long after I had gone to bed. Once, too, I caught
the singular words rising up to me through the floor, Burning from top
to bottom is the only thing that'll ever make this 'ouse right. I
knocked on the floor, and the voices ceased suddenly, though later I
again heard their clamour in my dreams.
These rooms are very quiet, almost too quiet sometimes. On windless
nights they are silent as the grave, and the house might be miles in
the country. The roar of London's traffic reaches me only in heavy,
distant vibrations. It holds an ominous note sometimes, like that of an
approaching army, or an immense tidal-wave very far away thundering in
* * * * *
Oct. 27.Mrs. Monson, though admirably silent, is a foolish, fussy
woman. She does such stupid things. In dusting the room she puts all my
things in the wrong places. The ash-trays, which should be on the
writing-table she sets in a silly row on the mantelpiece. The pen-tray,
which should be beside the inkstand, she hides away cleverly among the
books on my reading-desk. My gloves she arranges daily in idiotic array
upon a half-filled bookshelf, and I always have to rearrange them on
the low table by the door. She places my armchair at impossible angles
between the fire and the light, and the tablecloththe one with
Trinity Hall stainsshe puts on the table in such a fashion that when
I look at it I feel as if my tie and all my clothes were on crooked and
awry. She exasperates me. Her very silence and meekness are irritating.
Sometimes I feel inclined to throw the inkstand at her, just to bring
an expression into her watery eyes and a squeak from those colourless
lips. Dear me! What violent expressions I am making use of! How very
foolish of me! And yet it almost seems as if the words were not my own,
but had been spoken into my earI mean, I never make use of such terms
* * * * *
Oct. 30.I have been here a month. The place does not agree with
me, I think. My headaches are more frequent and violent, and my nerves
are a perpetual source of discomfort and annoyance.
I have conceived a great dislike for Mrs. Monson, a feeling I am
certain she reciprocates. Somehow, the impression comes frequently to
me that there are goings on in this house of which I know nothing, and
which she is careful to hide from me.
Last night her son slept in the house, and this morning as I was
standing at the window I saw him go out. He glanced up and caught my
eye. It was a loutish figure and a singularly repulsive face that I
saw, and he gave me the benefit of a very unpleasant leer. At least, so
* * * * *
Nov. 2.The utter stillness of this house is beginning to oppress
me. I wish there were other fellows living upstairs. No footsteps ever
sound overhead, and no tread ever passes my door to go up the next
flight of stairs. I am beginning to feel some curiosity to go up myself
and see what the upper rooms are like. I feel lonely here and isolated,
swept into a deserted corner of the world and forgotten.... Once I
actually caught myself gazing into the long, cracked mirrors, trying to
see the sunlight dancing beneath the trees in the orchard. But only
deep shadows seemed to congregate there now, and I soon desisted.
It has been very dark all day, and no wind stirring. The fogs have
begun. I had to use a reading-lamp all this morning. There was no cart
to be heard to-day. I actually missed it. This morning, in the gloom
and silence, I think I could almost have welcomed it. After all, the
sound is a very human one, and this empty house at the end of the alley
holds other noises that are not quite so satisfactory.
I have never once seen a policeman in the lane, and the postmen
always hurry out with no evidence of a desire to loiter.
10 P.M.As I write this I hear no sound but the deep murmur of the
distant traffic and the low sighing of the wind. The two sounds melt
into one another. Now and again a cat raises its shrill, uncanny cry
upon the darkness. The cats are always there under my windows when the
darkness falls. The wind is dropping into the funnel with a noise like
the sudden sweeping of immense distant wings. It is a dreary night. I
feel lost and forgotten.
* * * * *
Nov. 3.From my windows I can see arrivals. When anyone comes to
the door I can just see the hat and shoulders and the hand on the bell.
Only two fellows have been to see me since I came here two months ago.
Both of them I saw from the window before they came up, and heard their
voices asking if I was in. Neither of them ever came back.
I have finished the ponderous article. On reading it through,
however, I was dissatisfied with it, and drew my pencil through almost
every page. There were strange expressions and ideas in it that I could
not explain, and viewed with amazement, not to say alarm. They did not
sound like my very own, and I could not remember having written
them. Can it be that my memory is beginning to be affected?
My pens are never to be found. That stupid old woman puts them in a
different place each day. I must give her due credit for finding so
many new hiding places; such ingenuity is wonderful. I have told her
repeatedly, but she always says, I'll speak to Emily, sir. Emily
always says, I'll tell Mrs. Monson, sir. Their foolishness makes me
irritable and scatters all my thoughts. I should like to stick the lost
pens into them and turn them out, blind-eyed, to be scratched and
mauled by those thousand hungry cats. Whew! What a ghastly thought!
Where in the world did it come from? Such an idea is no more my own
than it is the policeman's. Yet I felt I had to write it. It was
like a voice singing in my head, and my pen wouldn't stop till the last
word was finished. What ridiculous nonsense! I must and will restrain
myself. I must take more regular exercise; my nerves and liver plague
* * * * *
Nov. 4.I attended a curious lecture in the French quarter on
Death, but the room was so hot and I was so weary that I fell asleep.
The only part I heard, however, touched my imagination vividly.
Speaking of suicides, the lecturer said that self-murder was no escape
from the miseries of the present, but only a preparation of greater
sorrow for the future. Suicides, he declared, cannot shirk their
responsibilities so easily. They must return to take up life exactly
where they laid it so violently down, but with the added pain and
punishment of their weakness. Many of them wander the earth in
unspeakable misery till they can reclothe themselves in the body
of some one elsegenerally a lunatic or weak-minded person, who cannot
resist the hideous obsession. This is their only means of escape.
Surely a weird and horrible idea! I wish I had slept all the time and
not heard it at all. My mind is morbid enough without such ghastly
fancies. Such mischievous propaganda should be stopped by the police.
I'll write to the Times and suggest it. Good idea!
I walked home through Greek Street, Soho, and imagined that a
hundred years had slipped back into place and De Quincey was still
there, haunting the night with invocations to his just, subtle, and
mighty drug. His vast dreams seemed to hover not very far away. Once
started in my brain, the pictures refused to go away; and I saw him
sleeping in that cold, tenantless mansion with the strange little waif
who was afraid of its ghosts, both together in the shadows under a
single horseman's cloak; or wandering in the companionship of the
spectral Anne; or, later still, on his way to the eternal rendezvous
she never was able to keep. What an unutterable gloom, what an untold
horror of sorrow and suffering comes over me as I try to realize
something of what that manboy he then wasmust have taken into his
As I came up the alley I saw a light in the top window, and a head
and shoulders thrown in an exaggerated shadow upon the blind. I
wondered what the son could be doing up there at such an hour.
* * * * *
Nov. 5.This morning, while writing, some one came up the creaking
stairs and knocked cautiously at my door. Thinking it was the landlady,
I said, Come in! The knock was repeated, and I cried louder, Come
in, come in! But no one turned the handle, and I continued my writing
with a vexed Well, stay out, then! under my breath. Went on writing.
I tried to, but my thoughts had suddenly dried up at their source. I
could not set down a single word. It was a dark, yellow-fog morning,
and there was little enough inspiration in the air as it was, but that
stupid woman standing just outside my door waiting to be told again to
come in roused a spirit of vexation that filled my head to the
exclusion of all else. At last I jumped up and opened the door myself.
What do you want, and why in the world don't you come in? I cried
out. But the words dropped into empty air. There was no one there. The
fog poured up the dingy staircase in deep yellow coils, but there was
no sign of a human being anywhere.
I slammed the door, with imprecations upon the house and its noises,
and went back to my work. A few minutes later Emily came in with a
Were you or Mrs. Monson outside a few minutes ago knocking at my
Are you sure?
Mrs. Monson's gone to market, and there's no one but me and the
child in the 'ole 'ouse, and I've been washing the dishes for the last
I fancied the girl's face turned a shade paler. She fidgeted toward
the door with a glance over her shoulder.
Wait, Emily, I said, and then told her what I had heard. She
stared stupidly at me, though her eyes shifted now and then over the
articles in the room.
Who was it? I asked when I had come to the end.
Mrs. Monson says it's honly mice, she said, as if repeating a
Mice! I exclaimed; it's nothing of the sort. Someone was feeling
about outside my door. Who was it? Is the son in the house?
Her whole manner changed suddenly, and she became earnest instead of
evasive. She seemed anxious to tell the truth.
Oh, no, sir; there's no one in the house at all but you and me and
the child, and there couldn't have been nobody at your door. As for
them knocks She stopped abruptly, as though she had said too much.
Well, what about the knocks? I said more gently.
Of course, she stammered, the knocks isn't mice, nor the
footsteps neither, but then Again she came to a full halt.
Anything wrong with the house?
Lor', no, sir; the drains is splendid.
I don't mean drains, girl. I mean, did anythinganything bad ever
She flushed up to the roots of her hair, and then turned suddenly
pale again. She was obviously in considerable distress, and there was
something she was anxious, yet afraid to tellsome forbidden thing she
was not allowed to mention.
I don't mind what it was, only I should like to know, I said
Raising her frightened eyes to my face, she began to blurt out
something about that which 'appened once to a gentleman that lived
hupstairs, when a shrill voice calling her name sounded below.
Emily, Emily! It was the returning landlady, and the girl tumbled
downstairs as if pulled backward by a rope, leaving me full of
conjectures as to what in the world could have happened to a gentleman
upstairs that could in so curious a manner affect my ears
* * * * *
Nov. 10.I have done capital work; have finished the ponderous
article and had it accepted for the Review, and another one
ordered. I feel well and cheerful, and have had regular exercise and
good sleep; no headaches, no nerves, no liver! Those pills the chemist
recommended are wonderful. Even the gray-faced landlady rouses pity in
me; I am sorry for her: so worn, so weary, so oddly put together, just
like the building. She looks as if she had once suffered some shock of
terror, and was momentarily dreading another. When I spoke to her
to-day very gently about not putting the pens in the ash-tray and the
gloves on the book-shelf she raised her faint eyes to mine for the
first time, and said with the ghost of a smile, I'll try and remember,
sir, I felt inclined to pat her on the back and say, Come, cheer up
and be jolly. Life's not so bad after all. Oh! I am much better.
There's nothing like open air and success and good sleep. They build up
as if by magic the portions of the heart eaten down by despair and
unsatisfied yearnings. Even to the cats I feel friendly. When I came in
at eleven o'clock to-night they followed me to the door in a stream,
and I stooped down to stroke the one nearest to me. Bah! The brute
hissed and spat, and struck at me with her paws. The claw caught my
hand and drew blood in a thin line. The others danced sideways into the
darkness, screeching, as though I had done them an injury. I believe
these cats really hate me. Perhaps they are only waiting to be
reinforced. Then they will attack me. Ha, ha! In spite of the momentary
annoyance, this fancy sent me laughing upstairs to my room.
The fire was out, and the room seemed unusually cold. As I groped my
way over to the mantelpiece to find the matches I realized all at once
that there was another person standing beside me in the darkness. I
could, of course, see nothing, but my fingers, feeling along the ledge,
came into forcible contact with something that was at once withdrawn.
It was cold and moist. I could have sworn it was somebody's hand. My
flesh began to creep instantly.
Who's that? I exclaimed in a loud voice.
My voice dropped into the silence like a pebble into a deep well.
There was no answer, but at the same moment I heard someone moving away
from me across the room in the direction of the door. It was a confused
sort of footstep, and the sound of garments brushing the furniture on
the way. The same second my hand stumbled upon the matchbox, and I
struck a light. I expected to see Mrs. Monson, or Emily, or perhaps the
son who is something on an omnibus. But the flare of the gas jet
illumined an empty room; there was not a sign of a person anywhere. I
felt the hair stir upon my head, and instinctively I backed up against
the wall, lest something should approach me from behind. I was
distinctly alarmed. But the next minute I recovered myself. The door
was open on to the landing, and I crossed the room, not without some
inward trepidation, and went out. The light from the room fell upon the
stairs, but there was no one to be seen anywhere, nor was there any
sound on the creaking wooden staircase to indicate a departing
I was in the act of turning to go in again when a sound overhead
caught my ear. It was a very faint sound, not unlike the sigh of wind;
yet it could not have been the wind, for the night was still as the
grave. Though it was not repeated, I resolved to go upstairs and see
for myself what it all meant. Two senses had been affectedtouch and
hearingand I could not believe that I had been deceived. So, with a
lighted candle, I went stealthily forth on my unpleasant journey into
the upper regions of this queer little old house.
On the first landing there was only one door, and it was locked. On
the second there was also only one door, but when I turned the handle
it opened. There came forth to meet me the chill musty air that is
characteristic of a long unoccupied room. With it there came an
indescribable odour. I use the adjective advisedly. Though very faint,
diluted as it were, it was nevertheless an odour that made my gorge
rise. I had never smelt anything like it before, and I cannot describe
The room was small and square, close under the roof, with a sloping
ceiling and two tiny windows. It was cold as the grave, without a shred
of carpet or a stick of furniture. The icy atmosphere and the nameless
odour combined to make the room abominable to me, and, after lingering
a moment to see that it contained no cupboards or corners into which a
person might have crept for concealment, I made haste to shut the door,
and went downstairs again to bed. Evidently I had been deceived after
all as to the noise.
In the night I had a foolish but very vivid dream. I dreamed that
the landlady and another person, dark and not properly visible, entered
my room on all fours, followed by a horde of immense cats. They
attacked me as I lay in bed, and murdered me, and then dragged my body
upstairs and deposited it on the floor of that cold little square room
under the roof.
* * * * *
Nov. 11.Since my talk with Emilythe unfinished talkI have
hardly once set eyes on her. Mrs. Monson now attends wholly to my
wants. As usual, she does everything exactly as I don't like it done.
It is all too utterly trivial to mention, but it is exceedingly
irritating. Like small doses of morphine often repeated she has finally
a cumulative effect.
* * * * *
Nov. 12.This morning I woke early, and came into the front room to
get a book, meaning to read in bed till it was time to get up. Emily
was laying the fire.
Good morning! I said cheerfully. Mind you make a good fire. It's
The girl turned and showed me a startled face. It was not Emily at
Where's Emily? I exclaimed.
You mean the girl as was 'ere before me?
Has Emily left?
I came on the 6th, she replied sullenly, and she'd gone then. I
got my book and went back to bed. Emily must have been sent away almost
immediately after our conversation. This reflection kept coming between
me and the printed page. I was glad when it was time to get up. Such
prompt energy, such merciless decision, seemed to argue something of
* * * * *
Nov. 13.The wound inflicted by the cat's claw has swollen, and
causes me annoyance and some pain. It throbs and itches. I'm afraid my
blood must be in poor condition, or it would have healed by now. I
opened it with a penknife soaked in an antiseptic solution, and cleaned
it thoroughly. I have heard unpleasant stories of the results of wounds
inflicted by cats.
* * * * *
Nov. 14.In spite of the curious effect this house certainly
exercises upon my nerves, I like it. It is lonely and deserted in the
very heart of London, but it is also for that reason quiet to work in.
I wonder why it is so cheap. Some people might be suspicious, but I did
not even ask the reason. No answer is better than a lie. If only I
could remove the cats from the outside and the rats from the inside. I
feel that I shall grow accustomed more and more to its peculiarities,
and shall die here. Ah, that expression reads queerly and gives a wrong
impression: I meant live and die here. I shall renew the lease
from year to year till one of us crumbles to pieces. From present
indications the building will be the first to go.
* * * * *
Nov. 16.This morning I woke to find my clothes scattered about the
room, and a cane chair overturned beside the bed. My coat and waistcoat
looked just as if they had been tried on by someone in the
night. I had horribly vivid dreams, too, in which someone covering his
face with his hands kept coming close up to me, crying out as if in
pain, Where can I find covering? Oh, who will clothe me? How silly,
and yet it frightened me a little. It was so dreadfully real. It is now
over a year since I last walked in my sleep and woke up with such a
shock on the cold pavement of Earl's Court Road, where I then lived. I
thought I was cured, but evidently not. This discovery has rather a
disquieting effect upon me. To-night I shall resort to the old trick of
tying my toe to the bed-post.
* * * * *
Nov. 17.Last night I was again troubled by most oppressive dreams.
Someone seemed to be moving in the night up and down my room, sometimes
passing into the front room, and then returning to stand beside the bed
and stare intently down upon me. I was being watched by this person all
night long. I never actually awoke, though I was often very near it. I
suppose it was a nightmare from indigestion, for this morning I have
one of my old vile headaches. Yet all my clothes lay about the floor
when I awoke, where they had evidently been flung (had I tossed them?)
during the dark hours, and my trousers trailed over the step into the
Worse than this, thoughI fancied I noticed about the room in the
morning that strange, fetid odour. Though very faint, its mere
suggestion is foul and nauseating. What in the world can it be, I
wonder?... In future I shall lock my door.
* * * * *
Nov. 26.I have accomplished a lot of good work during this past
week, and have also managed to get regular exercise. I have felt well
and in an equable state of mind. Only two things have occurred to
disturb my equanimity. The first is trivial in itself, and no doubt to
be easily explained. The upper window where I saw the light on the
night of November 4, with the shadow of a large head and shoulder upon
the blind, is one of the windows in the square room under the roof. In
reality it has no blind at all!
Here is the other thing. I was coming home last night in a fresh
fall of snow about eleven o'clock, my umbrella low down over my head.
Half-way up the alley, where the snow was wholly untrodden, I saw a
man's legs in front of me. The umbrella hid the rest of his figure, but
on raising it I saw that he was tall and broad and was walking, as I
was, towards the door of my house. He could not have been four feet
ahead of me. I had thought the alley was empty when I entered it, but
might of course been mistaken very easily.
A sudden gust of wind compelled me to lower the umbrella, and when I
raised it again, not half a minute later, there was no longer any man
to be seen. With a few more steps I reached the door. It was closed as
usual. I then noticed with a sudden sensation of dismay that the
surface of the freshly fallen snow was unbroken. My own
footmarks were the only ones to be seen anywhere, and though I retraced
my way to the point where I had first seen the man, I could find no
slightest impression of any other boots. Feeling creepy and
uncomfortable, I went upstairs, and was glad to get into bed.
* * * * *
Nov. 28.With the fastening of my bedroom door the disturbances
ceased. I am convinced that I walked in my sleep. Probably I untied my
toe and then tied it up again. The fancied security of the locked door
would alone have been enough to restore sleep to my troubled spirit and
enable me to rest quietly.
Last night, however, the annoyance was suddenly renewed in another
and more aggressive form. I woke in the darkness with the impression
that some one was standing outside my bedroom door listening. As
I became more awake the impression grew into positive knowledge. Though
there was no appreciable sound of moving or breathing, I was so
convinced of the propinquity of a listener that I crept out of bed and
approached the door. As I did so there came faintly from the next room
the unmistakable sound of someone retreating stealthily across the
floor. Yet, as I heard it, it was neither the tread of a man nor a
regular footstep, but rather, it seemed to me, a confused sort of
crawling, almost as of someone on his hands and knees.
I unlocked the door in less than a second, and passed quickly into
the front room, and I could feel, as by the subtlest imaginable
vibrations upon my nerves, that the spot I was standing in had just
that instant been vacated! The Listener had moved; he was now behind
the other door, standing in the passage. Yet this door was also closed.
I moved swiftly, and as silently as possible, across the floor, and
turned the handle. A cold rush of air met me from the passage and sent
shiver after shiver down my back. There was no one in the doorway;
there was no one on the little landing; there was no one moving down
the staircase. Yet I had been so quick that this midnight Listener
could not be very far away, and I felt that if I persevered I should
eventually come face to face with him. And the courage that came so
opportunely to overcome my nervousness and horror seemed born of the
unwilling conviction that it was somehow necessary for my safety as
well as my sanity that I should find this intruder and force his secret
from him. For was it not the intent action of his mind upon my own, in
concentrated listening, that had awakened me with such a vivid
realization of his presence?
Advancing across the narrow landing, I peered down into the well of
the little house. There was nothing to be seen; no one was moving in
the darkness. How cold the oilcloth was to my bare feet.
I cannot say what it was that suddenly drew my eyes upward. I only
know that, without apparent reason, I looked up and saw a person about
half-way up the next turn of the stairs, leaning forward over the
balustrade and staring straight into my face. It was a man. He appeared
to be clinging to the rail rather than standing on the stairs. The
gloom made it impossible to see much beyond the general outline, but
the head and shoulders were seemingly enormous, and stood sharply
silhouetted against the skylight in the roof immediately above. The
idea flashed into my brain in a moment that I was looking into the
visage of something monstrous. The huge skull, the mane-like hair, the
wide-humped shoulders, suggested, in a way I did not pause to analyze,
that which was scarcely human; and for some seconds, fascinated by
horror, I returned the gaze and stared into the dark, inscrutable
countenance above me, without knowing exactly where I was or what I was
doing. Then I realized in quite a new way that I was face to face with
the secret midnight Listener, and I steeled myself as best I could for
what was about to come.
The source of the rash courage that came to me at this awful moment
will ever be to me an inexplicable mystery. Though shivering with fear,
and my forehead wet with an unholy dew, I resolved to advance. Twenty
questions leaped to my lips: What are you? What do you want? Why do you
listen and watch? Why do you come into my room? But none of them found
I began forthwith to climb the stairs, and with the first signs of
my advance he drew himself back into the shadows and began to
move too. He retreated as swiftly as I advanced. I heard the sound of
his crawling motion a few steps ahead of me, ever maintaining the same
distance. When I reached the landing he was half-way up the next
flight, and when I was half-way up the next flight he had already
arrived at the top landing. And then I heard him open the door of the
little square room under the roof and go in. Immediately, though the
door did not close after him, the sound of his moving entirely ceased.
At this moment I longed for a light, or a stick, or any weapon
whatsoever; but I had none of these things, and it was impossible to go
back. So I marched steadily up the rest of the stairs, and in less than
a minute found myself standing in the gloom face to face with the door
through which this creature had just entered.
For a moment I hesitated. The door was about half-way open, and the
Listener was standing evidently in his favourite attitude just behind
itlistening. To search through that dark room for him seemed
hopeless; to enter the same small space where he was seemed horrible.
The very idea filled me with loathing, and I almost decided to turn
It is strange at such times how trivial things impinge on the
consciousness with a shock as of something important and immense.
Somethingit might have been a beetle or a mousescuttled over the
bare boards behind me. The door moved a quarter of an inch, closing. My
decision came back with a sudden rush, as it were, and thrusting out a
foot, I kicked the door so that it swung sharply back to its full
extent, and permitted me to walk forward slowly into the aperture of
profound blackness beyond. What a queer soft sound my bare feet made on
the boards! How the blood sang and buzzed in my head!
I was inside. The darkness closed over me, hiding even the windows.
I groped my way round the walls in a thorough search; but in order to
prevent all possibility of the other's escape, I first of all closed
There we were, we two, shut in together between four walls, within a
few feet of one another. But with what, with whom, was I thus
momentarily imprisoned? A new light flashed suddenly over the affair
with a swift, illuminating brillianceand I knew I was a fool, an
utter fool! I was wide awake at last, and the horror was evaporating.
My cursed nerves again; a dream, a nightmare, and the old
resultwalking in my sleep. The figure was a dream-figure. Many a time
before had the actors in my dreams stood before me for some moments
after I was awake.... There was a chance match in my pajamas' pocket,
and I struck it on the wall. The room was utterly empty. It held not
even a shadow. I went quickly down to bed, cursing my wretched nerves
and my foolish, vivid dreams. But as soon as ever I was asleep again,
the same uncouth figure of a man crept back to my bedside, and bending
over me with his immense head close to my ear whispered repeatedly in
my dreams, I want your body; I want its covering. I'm waiting for it,
and listening always. Words scarcely less foolish than the dream.
But I wonder what that queer odour was up in the square room. I
noticed it again, and stronger than ever before and it seemed to be
also in my bedroom when I woke this morning.
* * * * *
Nov. 29.Slowly, as moonbeams rise over a misty sea in June, the
thought is entering my mind that my nerves and somnambulistic dreams do
not adequately account for the influence this house exercises upon me.
It holds me as with a fine, invisible net. I cannot escape if I would.
It draws me, and it means to keep me.
* * * * *
Nov. 30.The post this morning brought me a letter from Aden,
forwarded from my old rooms in Earl's Court. It was from Chapter, my
former Trinity chum, who is on his way home from the East, and asks for
my address. I sent it to him at the hotel he mentioned, to await
As I have already said, my windows command a view of the alley, and
I can see an arrival without difficulty. This morning, while I was busy
writing, the sound of footsteps coming up the alley filled me with a
sense of vague alarm that I could in no way account for. I went over to
the window, and saw a man standing below waiting for the door to be
opened. His shoulders were broad, his top-hat glossy, and his overcoat
fitted beautifully round the collar. All this I could see, but no more.
Presently the door opened, and the shock to my nerves was unmistakable
when I heard a man's voice ask, Is Mr. still here? mentioning my
name. I could not catch the answer, but it could only have been in the
affirmative, for the man entered the hall and the door shut to behind
him. But I waited in vain for the sound of his steps on the stairs.
There was no sound of any kind. It seemed to me so strange that I
opened my door and looked out. No one was anywhere to be seen. I walked
across the narrow landing, and looked through the window that commands
the whole length of the alley. There was no sign of a human being,
coming or going. The lane was deserted. Then I deliberately walked
downstairs into the kitchen, and asked the gray-faced landlady if a
gentleman had just that minute called for me.
The answer, given with an odd, weary sort of smile, was No!
* * * * *
Dec. 1.I feel genuinely alarmed and uneasy over the state of my
nerves. Dreams are dreams, but never before have I had dreams in broad
I am looking forward very much to Chapter's arrival. He is a capital
fellow, vigorous, healthy, with no nerves, and even less imagination;
and he has £2000 a year into the bargain. Periodically he makes me
offersthe last was to travel round the world with him as secretary,
which was a delicate way of paying my expenses and giving me some
pocket-moneyoffers, however, which I invariably decline. I prefer to
keep his friendship. Women could not come between us; money
mighttherefore I give it no opportunity. Chapter always laughed at
what he called my fancies, being himself possessed only of that
thin-blooded quality of imagination which is ever associated with the
prosaic-minded man. Yet, if taunted with this obvious lack, his wrath
is deeply stirred. His psychology is that of the crass
materialistalways a rather funny article. It will afford me genuine
relief, none the less, to hear the cold judgment his mind will have to
pass upon the story of this house as I shall have it to tell.
* * * * *
Dec. 2.The strangest part of it all I have not referred to in this
brief diary. Truth to tell, I have been afraid to set it down in black
and white. I have kept it in the background of my thoughts, preventing
it as far as possible from taking shape. In spite of my efforts,
however, it has continued to grow stronger.
Now that I come to face the issue squarely, it is harder to express
than I imagined. Like a half-remembered melody that trips in the head
but vanishes the moment you try to sing it, these thoughts form a group
in the background of my mind, behind my mind, as it were, and
refuse to come forward. They are crouching ready to spring, but the
actual leap never takes place.
In these rooms, except when my mind is strongly concentrated on my
own work, I find myself suddenly dealing in thoughts and ideas that are
not my own! New, strange conceptions, wholly foreign to my temperament,
are forever cropping up in my head. What precisely they are is of no
particular importance. The point is that they are entirely apart from
the channel in which my thoughts have hitherto been accustomed to flow.
Especially they come when my mind is at rest, unoccupied; when I'm
dreaming over the fire, or sitting with a book which fails to hold my
attention. Then these thoughts which are not mine spring into life and
make me feel exceedingly uncomfortable. Sometimes they are so strong
that I almost feel as if someone were in the room beside me, thinking
Evidently my nerves and liver are shockingly out of order. I must
work harder and take more vigorous exercise. The horrid thoughts never
come when my mind is much occupied. But they are always therewaiting
and as it were alive.
What I have attempted to describe above came first upon me gradually
after I had been some days in the house, and then grew steadily in
strength. The other strange thing has come to me only twice in all
these weeks. It appals me. It is the consciousness of the
propinquity of some deadly and loathsome disease. It comes over me like
a wave of fever heat, and then passes off, leaving me cold and
trembling. The air seems for a few seconds to become tainted. So
penetrating and convincing is the thought of this sickness, that on
both occasions my brain has turned momentarily dizzy, and through my
mind, like flames of white heat, have flashed the ominous names of all
the dangerous illnesses I know. I can no more explain these visitations
than I can fly, yet I know there is no dreaming about the clammy skin
and palpitating heart which they always leave as witnesses of their
Most strongly of all was I aware of this nearness of a mortal
sickness when, on the night of the 28th, I went upstairs in pursuit of
the listening figure. When we were shut in together in that little
square room under the roof, I felt that I was face to face with the
actual essence of this invisible and malignant disease. Such a feeling
never entered my heart before, and I pray to God it never may again.
There! Now I have confessed. I have given some expression at least
to the feelings that so far I have been afraid to see in my own
writing. Forsince I can no longer deceive myselfthe experiences of
that night (28th) were no more a dream than my daily breakfast is a
dream; and the trivial entry in this diary by which I sought to explain
away an occurrence that caused me unutterable horror was due solely to
my desire not to acknowledge in words what I really felt and believed
to be true. The increase that would have accrued to my horror by so
doing might have been more than I could stand.
* * * * *
Dec. 3.I wish Chapter would come. My facts are all ready
marshalled, and I can see his cool, gray eyes fixed incredulously on my
face as I relate them: the knocking at my door, the well-dressed
caller, the light in the upper window and the shadow upon the blind,
the man who preceded me in the snow, the scattering of my clothes at
night, Emily's arrested confession, the landlady's suspicious
reticence, the midnight listener on the stairs, and those awful
subsequent words in my sleep; and above all, and hardest to tell, the
presence of the abominable sickness, and the stream of thoughts and
ideas that are not my own.
I can see Chapter's face, and I can almost hear his deliberate
words, You've been at the tea again, and underfeeding, I expect, as
usual. Better see my nerve doctor, and then come with me to the south
of France. For this fellow, who knows nothing of disordered liver or
high-strung nerves, goes regularly to a great nerve specialist with the
periodical belief that his nervous system is beginning to decay.
* * * * *
Dec. 5.Ever since the incident of the Listener, I have kept a
night-light burning in my bedroom, and my sleep has been undisturbed.
Last night, however, I was subjected to a far worse annoyance. I woke
suddenly, and saw a man in front of the dressing-table regarding
himself in the mirror. The door was locked, as usual. I knew at once it
was the Listener, and the blood turned to ice in my veins. Such a wave
of horror and dread swept over me that it seemed to turn me rigid in
the bed, and I could neither move nor speak. I noted, however, that the
odour I so abhorred was strong in the room.
The man seemed to be tall and broad. He was stooping forward over
the mirror. His back was turned to me, but in the glass I saw the
reflection of a huge head and face illumined fitfully by the flicker of
the night-light. The spectral gray of very early morning stealing in
round the edges of the curtains lent an additional horror to the
picture, for it fell upon the hair that was tawny and mane-like,
hanging about a face whose swollen, rugose features bore the once seen
never forgotten leonine expression ofI dare not write down that awful
word. But, by way of corroborative proof, I saw in the faint mingling
of the two lights that there were several bronze-coloured blotches on
the cheeks which the man was evidently examining with great care in the
glass. The lips were pale and very thick and large. One hand I could
not see, but the other rested on the ivory back of my hair-brush. Its
muscles were strangely contracted, the fingers thin to emaciation, the
back of the hand closely puckered up. It was like a big gray spider
crouching to spring, or the claw of a great bird.
The full realization that I was alone in the room with this nameless
creature, almost within arm's reach of him, overcame me to such a
degree that, when he suddenly turned and regarded me with small beady
eyes, wholly out of proportion to the grandeur of their massive
setting, I sat bolt upright in bed, uttered a loud cry, and then fell
back in a dead swoon of terror upon the bed.
* * * * *
Dec. 6.... When I came to this morning, the first thing I noticed
was that my clothes were strewn all over the floor.... I find it
difficult to put my thoughts together, and have sudden accesses of
violent trembling. I determined that I would go at once to Chapter's
hotel and find out when he is expected. I cannot refer to what happened
in the night; it is too awful, and I have to keep my thoughts
rigorously away from it. I feel lightheaded and queer, couldn't eat any
breakfast, and have twice vomited with blood. While dressing to go out,
a hansom rattled up noisily over the cobbles, and a minute later the
door opened, and to my great joy in walked the very subject of my
The sight of his strong face and quiet eyes had an immediate effect
upon me, and I grew calmer again. His very handshake was a sort of
tonic. But, as I listened eagerly to the deep tones of his reassuring
voice, and the visions of the night time paled a little, I began to
realize how very hard it was going to be to tell him my wild,
intangible tale. Some men radiate an animal vigour that destroys the
delicate woof of a vision and effectually prevents its reconstruction.
Chapter was one of these men.
We talked of incidents that had filled the interval since we last
met, and he told me something of his travels. He talked and I listened.
But, so full was I of the horrid thing I had to tell that I made a poor
listener. I was forever watching my opportunity to leap in and explode
it all under his nose.
Before very long, however, it was borne in upon me that he too was
merely talking for time. He too held something of importance in the
background of his mind, something too weighty to let fall till the
right moment presented itself. So that during the whole of the first
half-hour we were both waiting for the psychological moment in which
properly to release our respective bombs; and the intensity of our
minds' action set up opposing forces that merely sufficed to hold one
another in checkand nothing more. As soon as I realized this,
therefore, I resolved to yield. I renounced for the time my purpose of
telling my story, and had the satisfaction of seeing that his mind,
released from the restraint of my own, at once began to make
preparations for the discharge of its momentous burden. The talk grew
less and less magnetic; the interest waned; the descriptions of his
travels became less alive. There were pauses between his sentences.
Presently he repeated himself. His words clothed no living thoughts.
The pauses grew longer. Then the interest dwindled altogether and went
out like a candle in the wind. His voice ceased, and he looked up
squarely into my face with serious and anxious eyes.
The psychological moment had come at last!
I say he began, and then stopped short.
I made an unconscious gesture of encouragement, but said no word. I
dreaded the impending disclosure exceedingly. A dark shadow seemed to
I say, he blurted out at last, what in the world made you ever
come to this placeto these rooms, I mean?
They're cheap, for one thing, I began, and central and
They're too cheap, he interrupted. Didn't you ask what made 'em
It never occurred to me at the time.
There was a pause in which he avoided my eyes.
For God's sake, go on, man, and tell it! I cried, for the suspense
was getting more than I could stand in my nervous condition.
This was where Blount lived so long, he said quietly, and where
hedied. You know, in the old days I often used to come here and see
him and do what I could to alleviate his He stuck fast again.
Well! I said with a great effort. Please go onfaster.
But, Chapter went on, turning his face to the window with a
perceptible shiver, he finally got so terrible I simply couldn't stand
it, though I always thought I could stand anything. It got on my nerves
and made me dream, and haunted me day and night.
I stared at him, and said nothing. I had never heard of Blount in my
life, and didn't know what he was talking about. But all the same, I
was trembling, and my mouth had become strangely dry.
This is the first time I've been back here since, he said almost
in a whisper, and, 'pon my word, it gives me the creeps. I swear it
isn't fit for a man to live in. I never saw you look so bad, old man.
I've got it for a year, I jerked out, with a forced laugh; signed
the lease and all. I thought it was rather a bargain.
Chapter shuddered, and buttoned his overcoat up to his neck. Then he
spoke in a low voice, looking occasionally behind him as though he
thought someone was listening. I too could have sworn someone else was
in the room with us.
He did it himself, you know, and no one blamed him a bit; his
sufferings were awful. For the last two years he used to wear a veil
when he went out, and even then it was always in a closed carriage.
Even the attendant who had nursed him for so long was at length obliged
to leave. The extremities of both the lower limbs were gone, dropped
off, and he moved about the ground on all fours with a sort of crawling
motion. The odour, too, was
I was obliged to interrupt him here. I could hear no more details of
that sort. My skin was moist, I felt hot and cold by turns, for at last
I was beginning to understand.
Poor devil, Chapter went on; I used to keep my eyes closed as
much as possible. He always begged to be allowed to take his veil off,
and asked if I minded very much. I used to stand by the open window. He
never touched me, though. He rented the whole house. Nothing would
induce him to leave it.
Did he occupythese very rooms?
No. He had the little room on the top floor, the square one just
under the roof. He preferred it because it was dark. These rooms were
too near the ground, and he was afraid people might see him through the
windows. A crowd had been known to follow him up to the very door, and
then stand below the windows in the hope of catching a glimpse of his
But there were hospitals.
He wouldn't go near one, and they didn't like to force him. You
know, they say it's not contagious, so there was nothing to
prevent his staying here if he wanted to. He spent all his time reading
medical books, about drugs and so on. His head and face were something
appalling, just like a lion's.
I held up my hand to arrest further description.
He was a burden to the world, and he knew it. One night I suppose
he realized it too keenly to wish to live. He had the free use of
drugsand in the morning he was found dead on the floor. Two years
ago, that was, and they said then he had still several years to live.
Then, in Heaven's name! I cried, unable to bear the suspense any
longer, tell me what it was he had, and be quick about it.
I thought you knew! he exclaimed, with genuine surprise. I
thought you knew!
He leaned forward and our eyes met. In a scarcely audible whisper I
caught the words his lip seemed almost afraid to utter:
He was a leper!
[A] Courtesy of Laurence J. Gomme.
II. NUMBER 13
MONTAGUE RHODES JAMES
Among the towns of Jutland, Viborg justly holds a high place. It is
the seat of a bishopric; it has a handsome but almost entirely new
cathedral, a charming garden, a lake of great beauty, and many storks.
Near it is Hald, accounted one of the prettiest things in Denmark, and
hard by is Finderup, where Marsk Stig murdered King Erik Glipping on
St. Cecilia's Day, in the year 1286. Fifty-six blows of square-headed
iron maces were traced on Erik's skull when his tomb was opened in the
seventeenth century. But I am not writing a guide-book.
There are good hotels in ViborgPreisler's and the Phoenix are all
that can be desired. But my cousin whose experiences I have to tell you
now, went to the Golden Lion the first time that he visited Viborg. He
has not been there since, and the following pages will perhaps explain
the reason of his abstention.
The Golden Lion is one of the very few houses in the town that were
not destroyed in the great fire of 1726, which practically demolished
the cathedral, the Sognekirke, the Raadhuus, and so much else that was
old and interesting. It is a great red-brick housethat is, the front
is of brick, with corbie steps on the gables and a text over the door,
but the courtyard into which the omnibus drives is of black and white
wood and plaster.
The sun was declining in the heavens when my cousin walked up to the
door, and the light smote full upon the imposing façade of the house.
He was delighted with the old-fashioned aspect of the place, and
promised himself a thoroughly satisfactory and amusing stay in an inn
so typical of old Jutland.
It was not business in the ordinary sense of the word that had
brought Mr. Anderson to Viborg. He was engaged upon some researches
into the Church history of Denmark, and it had come to his knowledge
that in the Rigsarkiv of Viborg there were papers, saved from the fire,
relating to the last days of Roman Catholicism in the country. He
proposed, therefore, to spend a considerable timeperhaps as much as a
fortnight or three weeksin examining and copying these, and he hoped
that the Golden Lion would be able to give him a room of sufficient
size to serve alike as a bedroom and a study. His wishes were explained
to the landlord, and, after a certain amount of thought, the latter
suggested that perhaps it might be the best way for the gentleman to
look at one or two of the larger rooms and pick one for himself. It
seemed a good idea.
The top floor was soon rejected as entailing too much getting
upstairs after the day's work; the second floor contained no room of
exactly the dimensions required; but on the first floor there was a
choice of two or three rooms which would, so far as size went, suit
The landlord was strongly in favour of Number 17, but Mr. Anderson
pointed out that its windows commanded only the blank wall of the next
house, and that it would be very dark in the afternoon. Either Number
12 or Number 14 would be better, for both of them looked on the street,
and the bright evening light and the pretty view would more than
compensate him for the additional amount of noise.
Eventually Number 12 was selected. Like its neighbours, it had three
windows, all on one side of the room; it was fairly high and unusually
long. There was, of course, no fireplace, but the stove was handsome
and rather olda cast-iron erection, on the side of which was a
representation of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, and the inscription, 1
Bog Mose, Cap. 22, above. Nothing else in the room was remarkable; the
only interesting picture was an old coloured print of the town, date
Supper-time was approaching, but when Anderson, refreshed by the
ordinary ablutions, descended the staircase, there were still a few
minutes before the bell rang. He devoted them to examining the list of
his fellow-lodgers. As is usual in Denmark, their names were displayed
on a large blackboard, divided into columns and lines, the numbers of
the rooms being painted in at the beginning of each line. The list was
not exciting. There was an advocate, or Sagförer, a German, and some
bagmen from Copenhagen. The one and only point which suggested any food
for thought was the absence of any Number 13 from the tale of the
rooms, and even this was a thing which Anderson had already noticed
half a dozen times in his experience of Danish hotels. He could not
help wondering whether the objection to that particular number, common
as it is, was so widespread and so strong as to make it difficult to
let a room so ticketed, and he resolved to ask the landlord if he and
his colleagues in the profession had actually met with many clients who
refused to be accommodated in the thirteenth room.
He had nothing to tell me (I am giving the story as I heard it from
him) about what passed at supper, and the evening, which was spent in
unpacking and arranging his clothes, books, and papers, was not more
eventful. Toward eleven o'clock he resolved to go to bed, but with him,
as with a good many other people nowadays, an almost necessary
preliminary to bed, if he meant to sleep, was the reading of a few
pages of print, and he now remembered that the particular book which he
had been reading in the train, and which alone would satisfy him at
that present moment, was in the pocket of his greatcoat, then hanging
on a peg outside the dining-room.
To run down and secure it was the work of a moment, and, as the
passages were by no means dark, it was not difficult for him to find
his way back to his own door. So, at least, he thought; but when he
arrived there, and turned the handle, the door entirely refused to
open, and he caught the sound of a hasty movement toward it from
within. He had tried the wrong door, of course. Was his own room to the
right or to the left? He glanced at the number: it was 13. His room
would be on the left; and so it was. And not before he had been in bed
for some minutes, had read his wonted three or four pages of his book,
blown out his light, and turned over to go to sleep, did it occur to
him that, whereas on the blackboard of the hotel there had been no
Number 13, there was undoubtedly a room numbered 13 in the hotel. He
felt rather sorry he had not chosen it for his own. Perhaps he might
have done the landlord a little service by occupying it, and given him
the chance of saying that a well-worn English gentleman had lived in it
for three weeks and liked it very much. But probably it was used as a
servant's room or something of the kind. After all, it was most likely
not so large or good a room as his own. And he looked drowsily about
the room, which was fairly perceptible in the half-light from the
street-lamp. It was a curious effect, he thought. Rooms usually look
larger in a dim light than a full one, but this seemed to have
contracted in length and grown proportionately higher. Well, well!
sleep was more important than these vague ruminationsand to sleep he
On the day after his arrival Anderson attacked the Rigsarkiv of
Viborg. He was, as one might expect in Denmark, kindly received, and
access to all that he wished to see was made as easy for him as
possible. The documents laid before him were far more numerous and
interesting than he had at all anticipated. Besides official papers,
there was a large bundle of correspondence relating to Bishop Jörgen
Friis, the last Roman Catholic who held the see, and in these there
cropped up many amusing and what are called intimate details of
private life and individual character. There was much talk of a house
owned by the Bishop, but not inhabited by him in the town. Its tenant
was apparently somewhat of a scandal and a stumbling-block to the
reforming party. He was a disgrace, they wrote, to the city; he
practised secret and wicked arts, and had sold his soul to the enemy.
It was of a piece with the gross corruption and superstition of the
Babylonish Church that such a viper and blood-sucking Troldmand
should be patronized and harboured by the Bishop. The Bishop met these
reproaches boldly; he protested his own abhorrence of all such things
as secret arts, and required his antagonists to bring the matter before
the proper courtof course, the spiritual courtand sift it to the
bottom. No one could be more ready and willing than himself to condemn
Mag. Nicolas Francken if the evidence showed him to have been guilty of
any of the crimes informally alleged against him.
Anderson had not time to do more than glance at the next letter of
the Protestant leader, Rasmus Nielsen, before the record office was
closed for the day, but he gathered its general tenor, which was to the
effect that Christian men were now no longer bound by the decisions of
Bishops of Rome, and that the Bishop's Court was not, and could not be,
a fit or competent tribunal to judge so grave and weighty a cause.
On leaving the office, Mr. Anderson was accompanied by the old
gentleman who presided over it, and, as they walked, the conversation
very naturally turned to the papers of which I have just been speaking.
Herr Scavenius, the Archivist of Viborg, though very well informed
as to the general run of the documents under his charge, was not a
specialist in those of the Reformation period. He was much interested
in what Anderson had to tell him about them. He looked forward with
great pleasure, he said, to seeing the publication in which Mr.
Anderson spoke of embodying their contents. This house of the Bishop
Friis, he added, it is a great puzzle to me where it can have stood.
I have studied carefully the topography of old Viborg, but it is most
unluckyof the old terrier of the Bishop's property which was made in
1560, and of which we have the greater part in the Arkiv, just the
piece which had the list of the town property is missing. Never mind.
Perhaps I shall some day succeed to find him.
After taking some exerciseI forget exactly how or whereAnderson
went back to the Golden Lion, his supper, his game of patience, and his
bed. On the way to his room it occurred to him that he had forgotten to
talk to the landlord about the omission of Number 13 from the hotel
board, and also that he might as well make sure that Number 13 did
actually exist before he made any reference to the matter.
The decision was not difficult to arrive at. There was the door with
its number as plain as could be, and work of some kind was evidently
going on inside it, for as he neared the door he could hear footsteps
and voices, or a voice, within. During the few seconds in which he
halted to make sure of the number, the footsteps ceased, seemingly very
near the door, and he was a little startled at hearing a quick hissing
breathing as of a person in strong excitement. He went on to his own
room, and again he was surprised to find how much smaller it seemed now
than it had when he selected it. It was a slight disappointment, but
only slight. If he found it really not large enough, he could very
easily shift to another. In the meantime he wanted somethingas far as
I remember it was a pocket-handkerchiefout of his portmanteau, which
had been placed by the porter on a very inadequate trestle or stool
against the wall at the furthest end of the room from his bed. Here was
a very curious thing: the portmanteau was not to be seen. It had been
moved by officious servants; doubtless the contents had been put in the
wardrobe. No, none of them were there. This was vexatious. The idea of
a theft he dismissed at once. Such things rarely happen in Denmark, but
some piece of stupidity had certainly been performed (which is not so
uncommon), and the stuepige must be severely spoken to. Whatever
it was that he wanted, it was not so necessary to his comfort that he
could not wait till the morning for it, and he therefore settled not to
ring the bell and disturb the servants. He went to the windowthe
right-hand window it wasand looked out on the quiet street. There was
a tall building opposite, with large spaces of dead wall; no passers
by; a dark night; and very little to be seen of any kind.
The light was behind him, and he could see his own shadow clearly
cast on the wall opposite. Also the shadow of the bearded man in Number
11 on the left, who passed to and fro in shirt sleeves once or twice,
and was seen first brushing his hair, and later on in a nightgown. Also
the shadow of the occupant of Number 13 on the right. This might be
more interesting. Number 13 was, like himself, leaning on his elbows on
the window-sill looking out into the street. He seemed to be a tall
thin manor was it by any chance a woman?at least, it was someone
who covered his or her head with some kind of drapery before going to
bed, and, he thought, must be possessed of a red lamp-shadeand the
lamp must be flickering very much. There was a distinct playing up and
down of a dull red light on the opposite wall. He craned out a little
to see if he could make any more of the figure, but beyond a fold of
some light, perhaps white, material on the window-sill he could see
Now came a distant step in the street, and its approach seemed to
recall Number 13 to a sense of his exposed position, for very swiftly
and suddenly he swept aside from the window, and his red light went
out. Anderson, who had been smoking a cigarette, laid the end of it on
the window-sill and went to bed.
Next morning he was woke by the stuepige with hot water, etc.
He roused himself, and after thinking out the correct Danish words,
said as distinctly as he could:
You must not move my portmanteau. Where is it?
As is not uncommon, the maid laughed, and went away without making
any distinct answer.
Anderson, rather irritated, sat up in bed, intending to call her
back, but he remained sitting up, staring straight in front of him.
There was his portmanteau on its trestle, exactly where he had seen the
porter put it when he first arrived. This was a rude shock for a man
who prided himself on his accuracy of observation. How it could
possibly have escaped him the night before he did not pretend to
understand; at any rate, there it was now.
The daylight showed more than the portmanteau; it let the true
proportions of the room with its three windows appear, and satisfied
its tenant that his choice after all had not been a bad one. When he
was almost dressed he walked to the middle one of the three windows to
look out at the weather. Another shock awaited him. Strangely
unobservant he must have been last night. He could have sworn ten times
over that he had been smoking at the right-hand window the last thing
before he went to bed, and here was his cigarette-end on the sill of
the middle window.
He started to go down to breakfast. Rather late, but Number 13 was
later: here were his boots still outside his doora gentleman's boots.
So then Number 13 was a man, not a woman. Just then he caught sight of
the number on the door. It was 14. He thought he must have passed
Number 13 without noticing it. Three stupid mistakes in twelve hours
were too much for a methodical, accurate-minded man, so he turned back
to make sure. The next number to 14 was number 12, his own room. There
was no Number 13 at all.
After some minutes devoted to a careful consideration of everything
he had had to eat and drink during the last twenty-four hours, Anderson
decided to give the question up. If his eyes or his brain were giving
way he would have plenty of opportunities for ascertaining that fact;
if not, then he was evidently being treated to a very interesting
experience. In either case the development of events would certainly be
During the day he continued his examination of the episcopal
correspondence which I have already summarized. To his disappointment,
it was incomplete. Only one other letter could be found which referred
to the affair of Mag. Nicolas Francken. It was from the Bishop Jörgen
Friis to Rasmus Nielsen. He said:
Although we are not in the least degree inclined to assent to your
judgment concerning our court, and shall be prepared if need be to
withstand you to the uttermost in that behalf, yet forasmuch as our
trusty and well-beloved Mag. Nicolas Francken, against whom you have
dared to allege certain false and malicious charges, hath been suddenly
removed from among us, it is apparent that the question for this term
falls. But forasmuch as you further allege that the Apostle and
Evangelist St. John in his heavenly Apocalypse describes the Holy Roman
Church under the guise and symbol of the Scarlet Woman, be it known to
Search as he would, Anderson could find no sequel to this letter nor
any clue to the cause or manner of the removal of the casus belli. He could only suppose that Francken had died suddenly; and as there
were only two days between the date of Nielsen's last letterwhen
Francken was evidently still in beingand that of the Bishop's letter,
the death must have been completely unexpected.
In the afternoon he paid a short visit to Hald, and took his tea at
Baekkelund; nor could he notice, though he was in a somewhat nervous
frame of mind, that there was any indication of such a failure of eye
or brain as his experiences of the morning had led him to fear.
At supper he found himself next to the landlord.
What, he asked him, after some indifferent conversation, is the
reason why in most of the hotels one visits in this country the number
thirteen is left out of the list of rooms? I see you have none here.
The landlord seemed amused.
To think that you should have noticed a thing like that! I've
thought about it once or twice, myself, to tell the truth. An educated
man, I've said, has no business with these superstitious notions. I was
brought up myself here in the high school of Viborg, and our old master
was always a man to set his face against anything of that kind. He's
been dead now this many yearsa fine upstanding man he was, and ready
with his hands as well as his head. I recollect us boys, one snowy
Here he plunged into reminiscence.
Then you don't think there is any particular objection to having a
Number 13? said Anderson.
Ah! to be sure. Well, you understand, I was brought up to the
business by my poor old father. He kept an hotel in Aarhuus first, and
then, when we were born, he moved to Viborg here, which was his native
place, and had the Phoenix here until he died. That was in 1876. Then I
started business in Silkeborg, and only the year before last I moved
into this house.
Then followed more details as to the state of the house and business
when first taken over.
And when you came here, was there a Number 13?
No, no. I was going to tell you about that. You see, in a place
like this, the commercial classthe travellersare what we have to
provide for in general. And put them in Number 13? Why, they'd as soon
sleep in the street, or sooner. As far as I'm concerned myself, it
wouldn't make a penny difference to me what the number of my room was,
and so I've often said to them; but they stick to it that it brings
them bad luck. Quantities of stories they have among them of men that
have slept in a Number 13 and never been the same again, or lost their
best customers, orone thing and another, said the landlord, after
searching for a more graphic phrase.
Then, what do you use your Number 13 for? said Anderson, conscious
as he said the words of a curious anxiety quite disproportionate to the
importance of the question.
My Number 13? Why, don't I tell you that there isn't such a thing
in the house? I thought you might have noticed that. If there was it
would be next door to your own room.
Well, yes; only I happened to thinkthat is, I fancied last night
that I had seen a door numbered thirteen in that passage; and, really,
I am almost certain I must have been right, for I saw it the night
before as well.
Of course, Herr Kristensen laughed this notion to scorn, as Anderson
had expected, and emphasized with much iteration the fact that no
Number 13 existed or had existed before him in that hotel.
Anderson was in some ways relieved by his certainty, but still
puzzled, and he began to think that the best way to make sure whether
he had indeed been subject to an illusion or not was to invite the
landlord to his room to smoke a cigar later on in the evening. Some
photographs of English towns which he had with him formed a
sufficiently good excuse.
Herr Kristensen was flattered by the invitation, and most willingly
accepted it. At about ten o'clock he was to make his appearance, but
before that Anderson had some letters to write, and retired for the
purpose of writing them. He almost blushed to himself at confessing it,
but he could not deny that it was the fact that he was becoming quite
nervous about the question of the existence of Number 13; so much so
that he approached his room by way of Number 11, in order that he might
not be obliged to pass the door, or the place where the door ought to
be. He looked quickly and suspiciously about the room when he entered
it, but there was nothing beyond that indefinable air of being smaller
than usual, to warrant any misgivings. There was no question of the
presence or absence of his portmanteau to-night. He had himself emptied
it of its contents and lodged it under his bed. With a certain effort
he dismissed the thought of Number 13 from his mind, and sat down to
His neighbours were quiet enough. Occasionally a door opened in the
passage and a pair of boots was thrown out, or a bagman walked past
humming to himself, and outside, from time to time a cart thundered
over the atrocious cobble-stones, or a quick step hurried along the
Anderson finished his letters, ordered in whiskey and soda, and then
went to the window and studied the dead wall opposite and the shadows
As far as he could remember, Number 14 had been occupied by the
lawyer, a staid man, who said little at meals, being generally engaged
in studying a small bundle of papers beside his plate. Apparently,
however, he was in the habit of giving vent to his animal spirits when
alone. Why else should he be dancing? The shadow from the next room
evidently showed that he was. Again and again his thin form crossed the
window, his arms waved, and a gaunt leg was kicked up with surprising
agility. He seemed to be barefooted, and the floor must be well laid,
for no sound betrayed his movements. Sagförer Herr Anders Jensen,
dancing at ten o'clock at night in a hotel bedroom, seemed a fitting
subject for a historical painting in the grand style; and Anderson's
thoughts, like those of Emily in the Mysteries of Udolpho, began to
arrange themselves in the following lines:
When I return to my hotel,
At ten o'clock P.M.,
The waiters think I am unwell;
I do not care for them.
But when I've locked my chamber door,
And put my boots outside,
I dance all night upon the floor.
And even if my neighbours swore,
I'd go on dancing all the more,
For I'm acquainted with the law,
And in despite of all their jaw,
Their protests I deride.
Had not the landlord at this moment knocked at the door, it is
probable that quite a long poem might have been laid before the reader.
To judge from his look of surprise when he found himself in the room,
Herr Kristensen was struck, as Anderson had been, by something unusual
in its aspect. But he made no remark. Anderson's photographs interested
him mightily, and formed the text of many autobiographical discourses.
Nor is it quite clear how the conversation could have been diverted
into the desired channel of Number 13, had not the lawyer at this
moment begun to sing, and to sing in a manner which could leave no
doubt in anyone's mind that he was either exceedingly drunk or raving
mad. It was a high, thin voice that they heard, and it seemed dry, as
if from long disuse. Of words or tune there was no question. It went
sailing up to a surprising height, and was carried down with a
despairing moan as of a winter wind in a hollow chimney, or an organ
whose wind fails suddenly. It was a really horrible sound, and Anderson
felt that if he had been alone he must have fled for refuge and society
to some neighbour bagman's room.
The landlord sat open-mouthed.
I don't understand it, he said at last, wiping his forehead. It
is dreadful. I have heard it once before, but I made sure it was a
Is he mad? said Anderson.
He must be; and what a sad thing! Such a good customer, too, and so
successful in his business, by what I hear, and a young family to bring
Just then came an impatient knock at the door, and the knocker
entered, without waiting to be asked. It was the lawyer, in deshabille
and very rough-haired; and very angry he looked.
I beg pardon, sir, he said, but I should be much obliged if you
would kindly desist
Here he stopped, for it was evident that neither of the persons
before him was responsible for the disturbance; and after a moment's
lull it swelled forth again more wildly than before.
But what in the name of Heaven does it mean? broke out the lawyer.
Where is it? Who is it? Am I going out of my mind?
Surely, Herr Jensen, it comes from your room next door? Isn't there
a cat or something stuck in the chimney?
This was the best that occurred to Anderson to say, and he realized
its futility as he spoke; but any thing was better than to stand and
listen to that horrible voice, and look at the broad, white face of the
landlord, all perspiring and quivering as he clutched the arms of his
Impossible, said the lawyer, impossible. There is no chimney. I
came here because I was convinced the noise was going on here. It was
certainly in the next room to mine.
Was there no door between yours and mine? said Anderson eagerly.
No, sir, said Herr Jensen, rather sharply. At least, not this
Ah! said Anderson. Nor to-night?
I am not sure, said the lawyer with some hesitation.
Suddenly the crying or singing voice in the next room died away, and
the singer was heard seemingly to laugh to himself in a crooning
manner. The three men actually shivered at the sound. Then there was a
Come, said the lawyer, what have you to say, Herr Kristensen?
What does this mean?
Good Heaven! said Kristensen. How should I tell! I know no more
than you, gentlemen. I pray I may never hear such a noise again.
So do I, said Herr Jensen, and he added something under his
breath. Anderson thought it sounded like the last words of the Psalter,
omnis spiritus laudet Dominum, but he could not be sure.
But we must do something, said Andersonthe three of us. Shall
we go and investigate in the next room?
But that is Herr Jensen's room, wailed the landlord. It is no
use; he has come from there himself.
I am not so sure, said Jensen. I think this gentleman is right:
we must go and see.
The only weapons of defence that could be mustered on the spot were
a stick and umbrella. The expedition went out into the passage, not
without quakings. There was a deadly quiet outside, but a light shone
from under the next door. Anderson and Jensen approached it. The latter
turned the handle, and gave a sudden vigorous push. No use. The door
Herr Kristensen, said Jensen, will you go and fetch the strongest
servant you have in the place? We must see this through.
The landlord nodded, and hurried off, glad to be away from the scene
of action. Jensen and Anderson remained outside looking at the door.
It is Number 13, you see, said the latter.
Yes; there is your door, and there is mine, said Jensen.
My room has three windows in the daytime, said Anderson, with
difficulty suppressing a nervous laugh.
By George, so has mine! said the lawyer, turning and looking at
Anderson. His back was now to the door. In that moment the door opened,
and an arm came out and clawed at his shoulder. It was clad in ragged,
yellowish linen, and the bare skin, where it could be seen, had long
gray hair upon it.
Anderson was just in time to pull Jensen out of its reach with a cry
of disgust and fright, when the door shut again, and a low laugh was
Jensen had seen nothing, but when Anderson hurriedly told him what a
risk he had run, he fell into a great state of agitation, and suggested
that they should retire from the enterprise, and lock themselves up in
one or other of their rooms.
However, while he was developing this plan, the landlord and two
able-bodied men arrived on the scene, all looking rather serious and
alarmed. Jensen met them with a torrent of description and explanation,
which did not at all tend to encourage them for the fray.
The men dropped the crowbars they had brought, and said flatly that
they were not going to risk their throats in that devil's den. The
landlord was miserably nervous and undecided, conscious that if the
danger were not faced his hotel was ruined, and very loath to face it
himself. Luckily Anderson hit upon a way of rallying the demoralized
Is this, he said, the Danish courage I have heard so much of? It
isn't a German in there, and if it was, we are five to one.
The two servants and Jensen were stung into action by this, and made
a dash at the door.
Stop! said Anderson. Don't lose your heads. You stay out here
with the light, landlord, and one of you two men break in the door, and
don't go in when it gives way.
The men nodded, and the younger stepped forward, raised his crowbar,
and dealt a tremendous blow on the upper panel. The result was not in
the least what any of them anticipated. There was no cracking or
rending of woodonly a dull sound, as if the solid wall had been
struck. The man dropped his tool with a shout, and began rubbing his
elbow. His cry drew their eyes upon him for a moment; then Anderson
looked at the door again. It was gone; the plaster wall of the passage
stared him in the face, with a considerable gash in it where the
crowbar had struck it. Number 13 had passed out of existence.
For a brief space they stood perfectly still, gazing at the blank
wall. An early cock in the yard beneath was heard to crow; and as
Anderson glanced in the direction of the sound, he saw through the
window at the end of the long passage that the eastern sky was paling
to the dawn.
* * * * *
Perhaps, said the landlord, with hesitation, you gentleman would
like another room for to-nighta double-bedded one?
Neither Jensen nor Anderson was averse to the suggestion. They felt
inclined to hunt in couples after their late experience. It was found
convenient, when each of them went to his room to collect the articles
he wanted for the night, that the other should go with him and hold the
candle. They noticed that both Number 12 and Number 14 had three
* * * * *
Next morning the same party re-assembled in Number 12. The landlord
was naturally anxious to avoid engaging outside help, and yet it was
imperative that the mystery attaching to that part of the house should
be cleared up. Accordingly the two servants had been induced to take
upon them the function of carpenters. The furniture was cleared away,
and, at the cost of a good many irretrievably damaged planks, that
portion of the floor was taken up which lay nearest to Number 14.
You will naturally suppose that a skeletonsay that of Mag. Nicolas
Franckenwas discovered. That was not so. What they did find lying
between the beams which supported the flooring was a small copper box.
In it was a neatly-folded vellum document, with about twenty lines of
writing. Both Anderson and Jensen (who proved to be something of a
palæographer) were much excited by this discovery, which promised to
afford the key to these extraordinary phenomena.
* * * * *
I possess a copy of an astrological work which I have never read. It
has, by way of frontispiece, a woodcut by Hans Sebald Beham,
representing a number of sages seated round a table. This detail may
enable connoisseurs to identify the book. I cannot myself recollect its
title, and it is not at this moment within reach; but the fly-leaves of
it are covered with writing, and, during the ten years in which I have
owned the volume, I have not been able to determine which way up this
writing ought to be read, much less in what language it is. Not
dissimilar was the position of Anderson and Jensen after the protracted
examination to which they submitted the document in the copper box.
After two days' contemplation of it, Jensen, who was the bolder
spirit of the two, hazarded the conjecture that the language was either
Latin or Old Danish.
Anderson ventured upon no surmises, and was very willing to
surrender the box and the parchment to the Historical Society of Viborg
to be placed in their museum.
I had the whole story from him a few months later, as we sat in a
wood near Upsala, after a visit to the library there, where weor,
rather, Ihad laughed over the contract by which Daniel Salthenius (in
later life Professor of Hebrew at Königsberg) sold himself to Satan.
Anderson was not really amused.
Young idiot! he said, meaning Salthenius, who was only an
undergraduate when he committed that indiscretion, how did he know
what company he was courting?
And when I suggested the usual considerations he only grunted. That
same afternoon he told me what you have read; but he refused to draw
any inferences from it, and to assent to any that I drew for him.
III. JOSEPH: A STORY
They were sitting round the fire after dinnernot an ordinary fire,
one of those fires that has a little room all to itself with seats at
each side of it to hold a couple of people or three.
The big dining-room was panelled with oak. At the far end was a
handsome dresser that dated back for generations. One's imagination ran
riot when one pictured the people who must have laid those pewter
plates on the long, narrow, solid table. Massive, mediæval chests stood
against the walls. Arms and parts of armour hung against the panelling;
but one noticed few of these things, for there was no light in the room
save what the fire gave.
It was Christmas Eve. Games had been played. The old had vied with
the young at snatching raisins from the burning snapdragon. The
children had long since gone to bed; it was time their elders followed
them, but they lingered round the fire, taking turns at telling
stories. Nothing very weird had been told; no one had felt any wish to
peep over his shoulder or try to penetrate the darkness of the far end
of the room; the omission caused a sensation of something wanting. From
each one there this thought went out, and so a sudden silence fell upon
the party. It was a girl who broke ita mere child; she wore her hair
up that night for the first time, and that seemed to give her the right
to sit up so late.
Mr. Grady is going to tell one, she said.
All eyes were turned to a middle-aged man in a deep armchair placed
straight in front of the fire. He was short, inclined to be fat, with a
bald head and a pointed beard like the beards that sailors wear. It was
plain that he was deeply conscious of the sudden turning of so much
strained yet forceful thought upon himself. He was restless in his
chair as people are in a room that is overheated. He blinked his eyes
as he looked round the company. His lips twitched in a nervous manner.
One side of him seemed to be endeavouring to restrain another side of
him from a feverish desire to speak.
It was this room that made me think of him, he said thoughtfully.
There was a long silence, but it occurred to no one to prompt him.
Everyone seemed to understand that he was going to speak, or rather
that something inside him was going to speak, some force that craved
expression and was using him as a medium.
The little old man's pink face grew strangely calm, the animation
that usually lit it was gone. One would have said that the girl who had
started him already regretted the impulse, and now wanted to stop him.
She was breathing heavily, and once or twice made as though she would
speak to him, but no words came. She must have abandoned the idea, for
she fell to studying the company. She examined them carefully, one by
one. This one, she told herself, is so-and-so, and that one there
just another so-and-so. She stared at them, knowing that she could not
turn them to herself with her stare. They were just bodies kept
working, so to speak, by some subtle sort of sentry left behind by the
real selves that streamed out in pent-up thought to the little old man
in the chair in front of the fire.
His name was Joseph: at least they called him Joseph. He dreamed,
you understanddreams. He was an extraordinary lad in many ways. His
motherI knew her very wellhad three children in quick succession,
soon after marriage; then ten years went by and Joseph was born. Quiet
and reserved he always was, a self-contained child whose only friend
was his mother. People said things about him, you know how people talk.
Some said he was not Clara's child at all, but that she had adopted
him; others, that her husband was not his father, and these put her
change of manner down to a perpetual struggle to keep her husband
comfortably in the dark. I always imagined that the boy was in some way
aware of all this gossip, for I noticed that he took a dislike to the
people who spread it most.
The little man rested his elbows on the arms of his chair and let
the tips of his fingers meet in front of him. A smile played about his
mouth. He seemed to be searching among his reminiscences for the one
that would give the clearest portrait of Joseph.
Well, anyway, he said at last, the boy was odd, there is no
gainsaying the fact. I suppose he was eleven when Clara came down here
with her family for Christmas. The Coningtons owned the place
thenMrs. Conington was Clara's sister. It was Christmas Eve, as it is
now, many years ago. We had spent a normal Christmas Eve; a little
happier, perhaps, than usual by reason of the family reunion and
because of the presence of so many children. We had eaten and drank,
laughed and played and gone to bed.
I woke in the middle of the night from sheer restlessness. Clara,
knowing my weakness, had given me a fire in my room. I lit a cigarette,
played with a book, and then, purely from curiosity, opened the door
and looked down the passage. From my door I could see the head of the
staircase in the distance; the opposite wing of the house, or the
passage rather beyond the stairs, was in darkness. The reason I saw the
staircase at all was that the window you pass coming downstairs allowed
the moon to throw an uncertain light upon it, a weird light because of
the stained glass. I was arrested by the curious effect of this patch
of light in so much darkness when suddenly someone came into it,
turned, and went downstairs. It was just like a scene in a theatre;
something was about to happen that I was going to miss. I ran as I was,
barefooted, to the head of the stairs and looked over the banister. I
was excited, strung up, too strung up to feel the fright that I knew
must be with me. I remember the sensation perfectly. I knew that I was
afraid, yet I did not feel fright.
On the stairs nothing moved. The little hall down here was lost in
darkness. Looking over the banister I was facing the stained glass
window. You know how the stairs run round three sides of the hall;
well, it occurred to me that if I went half-way down and stood under
the window I should be able to keep the top of the stairs in sight and
see anything that might happen in the hall. I crept down very
cautiously and waited under the window. First of all, I saw the suit of
empty armour just outside the door here. You know how a thing like
that, if you stare at it in a poor light, appears to move; well, it
moved sure enough, and the illusion was enhanced by clouds being blown
across the moon. By the fire like this one can talk of these things
rationally, but in the dead of night it is a different matter, so I
went down a few steps to make sure of that armour, when suddenly
something passed me on the stairs. I did not hear it, I did not see it,
I sensed it in no way, I just knew that something had passed me on its
way upstairs. I realized that my retreat was cut off, and with the
knowledge fear came upon me.
I had seen someone come down the stairs; that, at any rate, was
definite; now I wanted to see him again. Any ghost is bad enough, but a
ghost that one can see is better than one that one can't. I managed to
get past the suit of armour, but then I had to feel my way to these
double doors here.
He indicated the direction of the doors by a curious wave of his
hand. He did not look toward them nor did any of the party. Both men
and women were completely absorbed in his story, they seemed to be
mesmerized by the earnestness of his manner. Only the girl was
restless, she gave an impression of impatience with the slowness with
which he came to his point. One would have said that she was apart from
her fellows, an alien among strangers.
So dense was the darkness that I made sure of finding the first
door closed, but it was not, it was wide open, and, standing between
them, I could feel that the other was open, too. I was standing
literally in the wall of the house, and as I peered into the room,
trying to make out some familiar object, thoughts ran through my mind
of people who had been bricked up in walls and left there to die. For a
moment I caught the spirit of the inside of a thick wall. Then suddenly
I felt the sensation I have often read about but never experienced
before: I knew there was someone in the room. You are surprised, yes,
but wait! I knew more: I knew that that someone was conscious of my
presence. It occurred to me that whoever it was might want to get out
of the door. I made room for him to pass. I waited for him, made sure
of him, began to feel giddy, and then a man's voice, deep and clear:
'There is someone there; who is it?'
I answered mechanically: 'George Grady.'
A match was drawn across a match-box, and I saw the boy bending
over a candle waiting for the wick to catch. For a moment I thought he
must be walking in his sleep, but he turned to me quite naturally and
said in his own boyish voice:
I was amazed at the lad's complete calm. I wanted to share my
fright with someone, instead I had to hide it from this boy. I was
conscious of a curious sense of shame. I had watched him grow, taught
him, praised him, scolded him, and yet here he was waiting for an
explanation of my presence in the dining-room at that odd hour of the
Soon he repeated the question: 'Lost anything?'
'No,' I said, and then I stammered: 'Have you?'
'No,' he said with a little laugh. 'It's that room, I can't sleep
'Oh,' I said. 'What's the matter with the room?'
'It's the room I was killed in,' he said quite simply.
Of course I had heard about his dreams, but I had had no direct
experience of them; when, therefore, he said that he had been killed in
his room I took it for granted that he had been dreaming again. I was
at a loss to know quite how to tackle him; whether to treat the whole
thing as absurd and laugh it off as such, or whether to humour him and
hear his story. I got him upstairs to my room, sat him in a big
armchair, and poked the fire into a blaze.
'You've been dreaming again,' I said bluntly.
'Oh, no I haven't. Don't you run away with that idea.'
His whole manner was so grown up that it was quite unthinkable to
treat him as the child he really was. In fact, it was a little uncanny,
this man in a child's frame.
'I was killed there,' he said again.
'How do you mean killed?' I asked him.
'Why, killedmurdered. Of course it was years and years ago, I
can't say when; still I remember the room. I suppose it was the room
that reminded me of the incident.'
'Incident!' I exclaimed.
'What else? Being killed is only an incident in the existence of
anyone. One makes a fuss about it at the time, of course, but really
when you come to think of it...'
'Tell me about it,' I said, lighting a cigarette. He lit one too,
that child, and began.
'You know my room is the only modern one in this old house. Nobody
knows why it is modern. The reason is obvious. Of course it was made
modern after I was killed there. The funny thing is that I should have
been put there. I suppose it was done for a purpose, because II'
He looked at me so fixedly I knew he would catch me if I lied.
'What,' I asked.
'Yes,' I said, 'that is why you were put there.'
'I thought so, and yet of all the roomsbut then, of course, no
one knew. Anyhow I did not recognize the room until after I was in bed.
I had been asleep some time and then I woke suddenly. There is an old
wheel-back chair therethe only old thing in the room. It is standing
facing the fire as it must have stood the night I was killed. The fire
was burning brightly, the pattern of the back of the chair was thrown
in shadow across the ceiling. Now the night I was murdered the
conditions were exactly the same, so directly I saw that pattern on the
ceiling I remembered the whole thing. I was not dreaming, don't think
it, I was not. What happened that night was this: I was lying in bed
counting the parts of the back of that chair in shadow on the ceiling.
I probably could not get to sleep: you know the sort of thing, count up
to a thousand and remember in the morning where you got to. Well, I was
counting those pieces when suddenly they were obliterated, the whole
back became a shadow, someone was sitting in the chair. Now, surely you
understand that directly I saw the shadow of that chair on the ceiling
to-night I realized that I had not a moment to lose. At any moment that
same person might come back to that same chair and escape would be
impossible. I slipped from my bed as quickly as I could and ran
'But were you not afraid,' I asked,'downstairs?'
'That she might follow me? It was a woman, you know. No, I don't
think I was. She does not belong downstairs. Anyhow she didn't.'
'No,' I said. 'No.'
My voice must have been out of control, for he caught me up at
'You don't mean to say you saw her?' he said vehemently.
'You felt her?'
'She passed me as I came downstairs,' I said.
'What can I have done to her that she follows me so?' He buried his
face in his hands as though searching for an answer to his thought.
Suddenly he looked up and stared at me.
'Where had I got to? Oh yes, the murder. I can remember it all
'You can imagine how startled I was to see that shadow in the
chairstartled, you know, but not really frightened. I leaned up in
bed and looked at the chair, and sure enough a woman was sitting in
ita young woman. I watched her with a profound interest until she
began to turn in her chair, as I felt, to look at me; when she did that
I shrank back in bed. I dared not meet her eyes. She might not have had
eyes, she might not have had a face. You know the sort of pictures that
one sees when one glances back at all one's soul has ever thought.
'I got back in the bed as far as I could and peeped over the sheets
at the shadow on the ceiling. I was tired; frightened to death; I grew
weary of watching; I must have fallen asleep, for suddenly the fire was
almost out, the pattern of the chair barely discernible, the shadow had
gone. I raised myself with a sense of huge relief. Yes, the chair was
empty, but, just think of it: the woman was on the floor, on her hands
and knees, crawling toward the bed.
'I fell back stricken with terror.
'Very soon I felt a gentle pull at the counterpane. I thought I was
in a nightmare but too lazy or too comfortable to try to wake myself
from it. I waited in an agony of suspense, but nothing seemed to be
happening, in fact I had just persuaded myself that the movement of the
counterpane was fancy when a hand brushed softly over my knee. There
was no mistaking it, I could feel the long, thin fingers. Now was the
time to do something. I tried to rouse myself, but all my efforts were
futile, I was stiff from head to foot.
'Although the hand was lost to me, outwardly, it now came within my
range of knowledge, if you know what I mean. I knew that it was groping
its way along the bed, feeling for some other part of me. At any moment
I could have said exactly where it had got to. When it was hovering
just over my chest another hand knocked lightly against my shoulder. I
fancied it lost, and wandering in search of its fellow.
'I was lying on my back staring at the ceiling when the hands met;
the weight of their presence brought a feeling of oppression to my
chest. I seemed to be completely cut off from my body; I had no sort of
connection with any part of it, nothing about me would respond to my
will to make it move.
'There was no sound at all anywhere.
'I fell into a state of indifference, a sort of patient
indifference that can wait for an appointed time to come. How long I
waited I cannot say, but when the time came it found me ready. I was
not taken by surprise.
'There was a great upward rush of pent-up force released; it was
like a mighty mass of men who have been lost in prayer rising to their
feet. I can't remember clearly, but I think the woman must have got on
to my bed. I could not follow her distinctly, my whole attention was
concentrated on her hands. All the time I felt those fingers itching
for my throat.
'At last they moved; slowly at first, then quicker; and then a
long-drawn swish like the sound of an overbold wave that has broken too
far up the beach and is sweeping back to join the sea.'
The boy was silent for a moment, then he stretched out his hand for
'You remember nothing else?' I asked him.
'No,' he said. 'The next thing I remember clearly is deliberately
breaking the nursery window because it was raining and mother would not
let me go out.'
There was a moment's tension, then the strain of listening passed
and everyone seemed to be speaking at once. The Rector was taking the
Tell me, Grady, he said. How long do you suppose elapsed between
the boy's murder and his breaking the nursery window?
But a young married woman in the first flush of her happiness broke
in between them. She ridiculed the whole idea. Of course the boy was
dreaming. She was drawing the majority to her way of thinking when,
from the corner where the girl sat, a hollow-sounding voice:
And the boy? Where is he?
The tone of the girl's voice inspired horror, that fear that does
not know what it is it fears; one could see it on every face; on every
face, that is, but the face of the bald-headed little man; there was no
horror on his face, he was smiling serenely as he looked the girl
straight in the eyes.
He's a man now, he said.
Alive? she cried.
Why not? said the little old man, rubbing his hands together.
She tried to rise, but her frock had got caught between the chairs
and pulled her to her seat again. The man next her put out his hand to
steady her, but she dashed it away roughly. She looked round the party
for an instant for all the world like an animal at bay, then she sprang
to her feet and charged blindly. They crowded round her to prevent her
falling; at the touch of their hands she stopped. She was out of breath
as though she had been running.
All right, she said, pushing their hands from her. All right.
I'll come quietly. I did it.
They caught her as she fell and laid her on the sofa watching the
colour fade from her face.
The hostess, an old woman with white hair and a kind face,
approached the little old man; for once in her life she was roused to
I can't think how you could be so stupid, she said. See what you
I did it for a purpose, he said.
For a purpose?
I have always thought that girl was the culprit. I have to thank
you for the opportunity you have given me of making sure.
IV. THE HORLA
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
May 8th. What a lovely day! I have spent all the morning
lying in the grass in front of my house, under the enormous plantain
tree which covers it, and shades and shelters the whole of it. I like
this part of the country and I am fond of living here because I am
attached to it by deep roots, profound and delicate roots which attach
a man to the soil on which his ancestors were born and died, which
attach him to what people think and what they eat, to the usages as
well as to the food, local expression, the peculiar language of the
peasants, to the smell of the soil, of the villages and of the
I love my house in which I grew up. From my windows I can see the
Seine which flows by the side of my garden, on the other side of the
road, almost through my grounds, the great and wide Seine which goes to
Rouen and Havre, and which is covered with boats passing to and fro.
On the left, down yonder, lies Rouen, that large town with its blue
roofs, under its pointed Gothic towers. They are innumerable, delicate
or broad, dominated by the spire of the cathedral, and full of bells
which sound through the blue air on fine mornings, sending their sweet
and distant iron clang to me; their metallic sound which the breeze
wafts in my direction, now stronger and now weaker, according as the
wind is stronger or lighter.
What a delicious morning it was!
About eleven o'clock, a long line of boats drawn by a steam tug, as
big as a fly, and which scarcely puffed while emitting its thick smoke,
passed my gate.
After two English schooners, whose red flag fluttered toward the
sky, there came a magnificent Brazilian three-master; it was perfectly
white and wonderfully clean and shining. I saluted it, I hardly know
why, except that the sight of the vessel gave me great pleasure.
May 12th. I have had a slight feverish attack for the last
few days, and I feel ill, or rather I feel low-spirited.
Whence do these mysterious influences come, which change our
happiness into discouragement, and our self-confidence into diffidence?
One might almost say that the air, the invisible air, is full of
unknowable Forces, whose mysterious presence we have to endure. I wake
up in the best spirits, with an inclination to sing in my throat. Why?
I go down by the side of the water, and suddenly, after walking a short
distance, I return home wretched, as if some misfortune were awaiting
me there. Why? Is it a cold shiver which, passing over my skin, has
upset my nerves and given me low spirits? Is it the form of the clouds,
or the colour of the sky, or the colour of the surrounding objects
which is so changeable, which have troubled my thoughts as they passed
before my eyes? Who can tell? Everything that surrounds us, everything
that we see without looking at it, everything that we touch without
knowing it, everything that we handle without feeling it, all that we
meet without clearly distinguishing it, has a rapid, surprising and
inexplicable effect upon us and upon our organs, and through them on
our ideas and on our heart itself.
How profound that mystery of the Invisible is! We cannot fathom it
with our miserable senses, with our eyes which are unable to perceive
what is either too small or too great, too near to, or too far from us;
neither the inhabitants of a star nor of a drop of water ... with our
ears that deceive us, for they transmit to us the vibrations of the air
in sonorous notes. They are fairies who work the miracle of changing
that movement into noise, and by that metamorphosis give birth to
music, which makes the mute agitation of nature musical ... with our
sense of smell which is smaller than that of a dog ... with our sense
of taste which can scarcely distinguish the age of a wine!
Oh! If we only had other organs which would work other miracles in
our favour, what a number of fresh things we might discover around us!
May 16th. I am ill, decidedly! I was so well last month! I am
feverish, horribly feverish, or rather I am in a state of feverish
enervation, which makes my mind suffer as much as my body. I have
without ceasing that horrible sensation of some danger threatening me,
that apprehension of some coming misfortune or of approaching death,
that presentiment which is, no doubt, an attack of some illness which
is still unknown, which germinates in the flesh and in the blood.
May 18th. I have just come from consulting my medical man,
for I could no longer get any sleep. He found that my pulse was high,
my eyes dilated, my nerves highly strung, but no alarming symptoms. I
must have a course of shower-baths and of bromide of potassium.
May 25th. No change! My state is really very peculiar. As the
evening comes on, an incomprehensible feeling of disquietude seizes me,
just as if night concealed some terrible menace toward me. I dine
quickly, and then try to read, but I do not understand the words, and
can scarcely distinguish the letters. Then I walk up and down my
drawing-room, oppressed by a feeling of confused and irresistible fear,
the fear of sleep and fear of my bed.
About ten o'clock I go up to my room. As soon as I have got in I
double lock, and bolt it: I am frightenedof what? Up till the present
time I have been frightened of nothingI open my cupboards, and look
under my bed; I listenI listento what? How strange it is that a
simple feeling of discomfort, impeded or heightened circulation,
perhaps the irritation of a nervous thread, a slight congestion, a
small disturbance in the imperfect and delicate functions of our living
machinery, can turn the most lighthearted of men into a melancholy one,
and make a coward of the bravest! Then, I go to bed, and I wait for
sleep as a man might wait for the executioner. I wait for its coming
with dread, and my heart beats and my legs tremble, while my whole body
shivers beneath the warmth of the bedclothes, until the moment when I
suddenly fall asleep, as one would throw oneself into a pool of
stagnant water in order to drown oneself. I do not feel coming over me,
as I used to do formerly, this perfidious sleep which is close to me
and watching me, which is going to seize me by the head, to close my
eyes and annihilate me.
I sleepa long timetwo or three hours perhapsthen a
dreamnoa nightmare lays hold on me. I feel that I am in bed and
asleepI feel it and I know itand I feel also that somebody is
coming close to me, is looking at me, touching me, is getting on to my
bed, is kneeling on my chest, is taking my neck between his hands and
squeezing itsqueezing it with all his might in order to strangle me.
I struggle, bound by that terrible powerlessness which paralyzes us
in our dreams; I try to cry outbut I cannot; I want to moveI
cannot; I try, with the most violent efforts and out of breath, to turn
over and throw off this being which is crushing and suffocating meI
And then, suddenly, I wake up, shaken and bathed in perspiration; I
light a candle and find that I am alone, and after that crisis, which
occurs every night, I at length fall asleep and slumber tranquilly till
June 2d. My state has grown worse. What is the matter with
me? The bromide does me no good, and the shower-baths have no effect
whatever. Sometimes, in order to tire myself out, though I am fatigued
enough already, I go for a walk in the forest of Roumare. I used to
think at first that the fresh light and soft air, impregnated with the
odour of herbs and leaves, would instill new blood into my veins and
impart fresh energy to my heart. I turned into a broad ride in the
wood, and then I turned toward La Bouille, through a narrow path,
between two rows of exceedingly tall trees, which placed a thick,
green, almost black roof between the sky and me.
A sudden shiver ran through me, not a cold shiver, but a shiver of
agony, and so I hastened my steps, uneasy at being alone in the wood,
frightened stupidly and without reason, at the profound solitude.
Suddenly it seemed to me as if I were being followed, that somebody was
walking at my heels, close, quite close to me, near enough to touch me.
I turned round suddenly, but I was alone. I saw nothing behind me
except the straight, broad ride, empty and bordered by high trees,
horribly empty; on the other side it also extended until it was lost in
the distance, and looked just the same, terrible.
I closed my eyes. Why? And then I began to turn round on one heel
very quickly, just like a top. I nearly fell down, and opened my eyes;
the trees were dancing round me and the earth heaved; I was obliged to
sit down. Then, ah! I no longer remembered how I had come! What a
strange idea! What a strange, strange idea! I did not the least know. I
started off to the right, and got back into the avenue which had led me
into the middle of the forest.
June 3d. I have had a terrible night. I shall go away for a
few weeks, for no doubt a journey will set me up again.
July 2d. I have come back, quite cured, and have had a most
delightful trip into the bargain. I have been to Mont Saint-Michel,
which I had not seen before.
What a sight, when one arrives as I did, at Avranches toward the end
of the day! The town stands on a hill, and I was taken into the public
garden at the extremity of the town. I uttered a cry of astonishment.
An extraordinary large bay lay extended before me, as far as my eyes
could reach, between two hills which were lost to sight in the mist;
and in the middle of this immense yellow bay, under a clear, golden
sky, a peculiar hill rose up, sombre and pointed in the midst of the
sand. The sun had just disappeared, and under the still flaming sky the
outline of that fantastic rock stood out, which bears on its summit a
At daybreak I went to it. The tide was low as it had been the night
before, and I saw that wonderful abbey rise up before me as I
approached it. After several hours' walking, I reached the enormous
mass of rocks which supports the little town, dominated by the great
church. Having climbed the steep and narrow street, I entered the most
wonderful Gothic building that has ever been built to God on earth, as
large as a town, full of low rooms which seem buried beneath vaulted
roofs, and lofty galleries supported by delicate columns.
I entered this gigantic granite jewel which is as light as a bit of
lace, covered with towers, with slender belfries to which spiral
staircases ascend, and which raise their strange heads that bristle
with chimeras, with devils, with fantastic animals, with monstrous
flowers, and which are joined together by finely carved arches, to the
blue sky by day, and to the black sky by night.
When I had reached the summit, I said to the monk who accompanied
me: Father, how happy you must be here! And he replied: It is very
windy, Monsieur; and so we began to talk while watching the rising
tide, which ran over the sand and covered it with a steel cuirass.
And then the monk told me stories, all the old stories belonging to
the place, legends, nothing but legends.
One of them struck me forcibly. The country people, those belonging
to the Mornet, declare that at night one can hear talking going on in
the sand, and then that one hears two goats bleat, one with a strong,
the other with a weak voice. Incredulous people declare that it is
nothing but the cry of the sea birds, which occasionally resembles
bleatings, and occasionally human lamentations; but belated fishermen
swear that they have met an old shepherd, whose head, which is covered
by his cloak, they can never see, wandering on the downs, between two
tides, round the little town placed so far out of the world, and who is
guiding and walking before them, a he-goat with a man's face, and a
she-goat with a woman's face, and both of them with white hair; and
talking incessantly, quarrelling in a strange language, and then
suddenly ceasing to talk in order to bleat with all their might.
Do you believe it? I asked the monk. I scarcely know, he
replied, and I continued: If there are other beings besides ourselves
on this earth, how comes it that we have not known it for so long a
time, or why have you not seen them? How is it that I have not seen
them? He replied: Do we see the hundred thousandth part of what
exists? Look here; there is the wind, which is the strongest force in
nature, which knocks down men, and blows down buildings, uproots trees,
raises the sea into mountains of water; destroys cliffs and casts great
ships onto the breakers; the wind which kills, which whistles, which
sighs, which roarshave you ever seen it, and can you see it? It
exists for all that, however.
I was silent before this simple reasoning. The man was a
philosopher, or perhaps a fool; I could not say which exactly, so I
held my tongue. What he had said, had often been in my own thoughts.
July 3d. I have slept badly; certainly there is some feverish
influence here, for my coachman is suffering in the same way as I am.
When I went back home yesterday, I noticed his singular paleness, and I
asked him: What is the matter with you, Jean? The matter is that I
never get any rest, and my nights devour my days. Since your departure,
monsieur, there has been a spell over me.
However, the other servants are all well, but I am very frightened
of having another attack, myself.
July 4th. I am decidedly taken again; for my old nightmares
have returned. Last night I felt somebody leaning on me who was sucking
my life from between my lips with his mouth. Yes, he was sucking it out
of my neck, like a leech would have done. Then he got up, satiated, and
I woke up, so beaten, crushed and annihilated that I could not move. If
this continues for a few days, I shall certainly go away again.
July 5th. Have I lost my reason? What has happened? What I
saw last night is so strange that my head wanders when I think of it!
As I do now every evening, I had locked my door, and then, being
thirsty, I drank half a glass of water, and I accidentally noticed that
the water bottle was full up to the cut-glass stopper.
Then I went to bed and fell into one of my terrible sleeps, from
which I was aroused in about two hours by a still more terrible shock.
Picture to yourself a sleeping man who is being murdered and who
wakes up with a knife in his chest, and who is rattling in his throat,
covered with blood, and who can no longer breathe, and is going to die,
and does not understand anything at all about itthere it is.
Having recovered my senses, I was thirsty again, so I lit a candle
and went to the table on which my water bottle was. I lifted it up and
tilted it over my glass, but nothing came out. It was empty! It was
completely empty! At first I could not understand it at all, and then
suddenly I was seized by such a terrible feeling that I had to sit
down, or rather I fell into a chair! Then I sprang up with a bound to
look about me, and then I sat down again, overcome by astonishment and
fear, in front of the transparent crystal bottle! I looked at it with
fixed eyes, trying to conjecture, and my hands trembled! Somebody had
drunk the water, but who? I? I without any doubt. It could surely only
be I? In that case I was a somnambulist, I lived, without knowing it,
that double mysterious life which makes us doubt whether there are not
two beings in us, or whether a strange, unknowable and invisible being
does not at such moments, when our soul is in a state of torpor,
animate our captive body which obeys this other being, as it does us
ourselves, and more than it does ourselves.
Oh! Who will understand my horrible agony? Who will understand the
emotion of a man who is sound in mind, wide awake, full of sound sense,
and who looks in horror at the remains of a little water that has
disappeared while he was asleep, through the glass of a water bottle?
And I remained there until it was daylight, without venturing to go to
July 6th. I am going mad. Again all the contents of my water
bottle have been drunk during the nightor rather, I have drunk it!
But is it I? Is it I? Who could it be? Who? Oh! God! Am I going mad?
Who will save me?
July 10th. I have just been through some surprising ordeals.
Decidedly I am mad! And yet!
On July 6th, before going to bed, I put some wine, milk, water,
bread and strawberries on my table. Somebody drankI drankall the
water and a little of the milk, but neither the wine, bread nor the
strawberries were touched.
On the seventh of July I renewed the same experiment, with the same
results, and on July 8th, I left out the water and the milk and nothing
Lastly, on July 9th I put only water and milk on my table, taking
care to wrap up the bottles in white muslin and to tie down the
stoppers. Then I rubbed my lips, my beard and my hands with pencil
lead, and went to bed.
Irresistible sleep seized me, which was soon followed by a terrible
awakening. I had not moved, and my sheets were not marked. I rushed to
the table. The muslin round the bottles remained intact; I undid the
string, trembling with fear. All the water had been drunk, and so had
the milk! Ah! Great God!
I must start for Paris immediately.
July 12th. Paris. I must have lost my head during the last
few days! I must be the plaything of my enervated imagination, unless I
am really a somnambulist, or that I have been brought under the power
of one of those influences which have been proved to exist, but which
have hitherto been inexplicable, which are called suggestions. In any
case, my mental state bordered on madness, and twenty-four hours of
Paris sufficed to restore me to my equilibrium.
Yesterday after doing some business and paying some visits which
instilled fresh and invigorating mental air into me, I wound up my
evening at the Théâtre Français. A play by Alexandre Dumas the
Younger was being acted, and his active and powerful mind completed my
cure. Certainly solitude is dangerous for active minds. We require men
who can think and can talk, around us. When we are alone for a long
time we people space with phantoms.
I returned along the boulevards to my hotel in excellent spirits.
Amid the jostling of the crowd I thought, not without irony, of my
terrors and surmises of the previous week, because I believed, yes, I
believed, that an invisible being lived beneath my roof. How weak our
head is, and how quickly it is terrified and goes astray, as soon as we
are struck by a small, incomprehensible fact.
Instead of concluding with these simple words: I do not understand
because the cause escapes me, we immediately imagine terrible
mysteries and supernatural powers.
July 14th. Fête of the Republic. I walked through the
streets, and the crackers and flags amused me like a child. Still it is
very foolish to be merry on a fixed date, by a Government decree. The
populace is an imbecile flock of sheep, now steadily patient, and now
in ferocious revolt. Say to it: Amuse yourself, and it amuses itself.
Say to it: Go and fight with your neighbour, and it goes and fights.
Say to it: Vote for the Emperor, and it votes for the Emperor, and
then say to it: Vote for the Republic, and it votes for the Republic.
Those who direct it are also stupid; but instead of obeying men they
obey principles, which can only be stupid, sterile, and false, for the
very reason that they are principles, that is to say, ideas which are
considered as certain and unchangeable, in this world where one is
certain of nothing, since light is an illusion and noise is an
July 16th. I saw some things yesterday that troubled me very
I was dining at my cousin's Madame Sablé, whose husband is colonel
of the 76th Chasseurs at Limoges. There were two young women there, one
of whom had married a medical man, Dr. Parent, who devotes himself a
great deal to nervous diseases and the extraordinary manifestations to
which at this moment experiments in hypnotism and suggestion give rise.
He related to us at some length, the enormous results obtained by
English scientists and the doctors of the medical school at Nancy, and
the facts which he adduced appeared to me so strange, that I declared
that I was altogether incredulous.
We are, he declared, on the point of discovering one of the most
important secrets of nature, I mean to say, one of its most important
secrets on this earth, for there are certainly some which are of a
different kind of importance up in the stars, yonder. Ever since man
has thought, since he has been able to express and write down his
thoughts, he has felt himself close to a mystery which is impenetrable
to his coarse and imperfect senses, and he endeavours to supplement the
want of power of his organs by the efforts of his intellect. As long as
that intellect still remained in its elementary stage, this intercourse
with invisible spirits assumed forms which were commonplace though
terrifying. Thence sprang the popular belief in the supernatural, the
legends of wandering spirits, of fairies, of gnomes, ghosts, I might
even say the legend of God, for our conceptions of the workman-creator,
from whatever religion they may have come down to us, are certainly the
most mediocre, the stupidest and the most unacceptable inventions that
ever sprang from the frightened brain of any human creatures. Nothing
is truer than what Voltaire says: 'God made man in His own image, but
man has certainly paid Him back again.'
But for rather more than a century, men seem to have had a
presentiment of something new. Mesmer and some others have put us on an
unexpected track, and especially within the last two or three years, we
have arrived at really surprising results.
My cousin, who is also very incredulous, smiled, and Dr. Parent said
to her: Would you like me to try and send you to sleep, Madame? Yes,
She sat down in an easy-chair, and he began to look at her fixedly,
so as to fascinate her. I suddenly felt myself somewhat uncomfortable,
with a beating heart and a choking feeling in my throat. I saw that
Madame Sablé's eyes were growing heavy, her mouth twitched and her
bosom heaved, and at the end of ten minutes she was asleep.
Stand behind her, the doctor said to me, and so I took a seat
behind her. He put a visiting card into her hands, and said to her:
This is a looking-glass; what do you see in it? And she replied: I
see my cousin. What is he doing? He is twisting his moustache.
And now? He is taking a photograph out of his pocket. Whose
photograph is it? His own.
That was true, and that photograph had been given me that same
evening at the hotel.
What is his attitude in this portrait? He is standing up with his
hat in his hand.
So she saw on that card, on that piece of white pasteboard, as if
she had seen it in a looking glass.
The young women were frightened, and exclaimed: That is quite
enough! Quite, quite enough!
But the doctor said to her authoritatively: You will get up at
eight o'clock to-morrow morning; then you will go and call on your
cousin at his hotel and ask him to lend you five thousand francs which
your husband demands of you, and which he will ask for when he sets out
on his coming journey.
Then he woke her up.
On returning to my hotel, I thought over this curious séance
and I was assailed by doubts, not as to my cousin's absolute and
undoubted good faith, for I had known her as well as if she had been my
own sister ever since she was a child, but as to a possible trick on
the doctor's part. Had not he, perhaps, kept a glass hidden in his
hand, which he showed to the young woman in her sleep, at the same time
as he did the card? Professional conjurers do things which are just as
So I went home and to bed, and this morning, at about half past
eight, I was awakened by my footman, who said to me: Madame Sablé has
asked to see you immediately, Monsieur, so I dressed hastily and went
She sat down in some agitation, with her eyes on the floor, and
without raising her veil she said to me: My dear cousin, I am going to
ask a great favour of you. What is it, cousin? I do not like to
tell you, and yet I must. I am in absolute want of five thousand
francs. What, you? Yes, I, or rather my husband, who has asked me
to procure them for him.
I was so stupefied that I stammered out my answers. I asked myself
whether she had not really been making fun of me with Doctor Parent, if
it were not merely a very well-acted farce which had been got up
beforehand. On looking at her attentively, however, my doubts
disappeared. She was trembling with grief, so painful was this step to
her, and I was sure that her throat was full of sobs.
I knew that she was very rich and so I continued: What! Has not
your husband five thousand francs at his disposal! Come, think. Are you
sure that he commissioned you to ask me for them?
She hesitated for a few seconds, as if she were making a great
effort to search her memory, and then she replied: Yes ... yes, I am
quite sure of it. He has written to you?
She hesitated again and reflected, and I guessed the torture of her
thoughts. She did not know. She only knew that she was to borrow five
thousand francs of me for her husband. So she told a lie. Yes, he has
written to me. When, pray? You did not mention it to me yesterday.
I received his letter this morning. Can you show it me? No; no ...
no ... it contained private matters ... things too personal to
ourselves.... I burnt it. So your husband runs into debt?
She hesitated again, and then murmured: I do not know. Thereupon I
said bluntly: I have not five thousand francs at my disposal at this
moment, my dear cousin.
She uttered a kind of cry as if she were in pain and said: Oh! oh!
I beseech you, I beseech you to get them for me...
She got excited and clasped her hands as if she were praying to me!
I heard her voice change its tone; she wept and stammered, harassed and
dominated by the irresistible order that she had received.
Oh! oh! I beg you to ... if you knew what I am suffering.... I want
I had pity on her: You shall have them by and by, I swear to you.
Oh! thank you! thank you! How kind you are!
I continued: Do you remember what took place at your house last
night? Yes. Do you remember that Doctor Parent sent you to sleep?
Yes. Oh! Very well then; he ordered you to come to me this morning
to borrow five thousand francs, and at this moment you are obeying that
She considered for a few moments, and then replied: But as it is my
husband who wants them...
For a whole hour I tried to convince her, but could not succeed, and
when she had gone I went to the doctor. He was just going out, and he
listened to me with a smile, and said: Do you believe now? Yes, I
cannot help it. Let us go to your cousin's.
She was already dozing on a couch, overcome with fatigue. The doctor
felt her pulse, looked at her for some time with one hand raised toward
her eyes which she closed by degrees under the irresistible power of
this influence, and when she was asleep, he said:
Your husband does not require the five thousand francs any longer!
You must, therefore, forget that you asked your cousin to lend them to
you, and, if he speaks to you about it, you will not understand him.
Then he woke her up, and I took out a pocketbook and said: Here is
what you asked me for this morning, my dear cousin. But she was so
surprised that I did not venture to persist; nevertheless, I tried to
recall the circumstance to her, but she denied it vigorously, thought
that I was making fun of her, and in the end very nearly lost her
* * * * *
There! I have just come back, and I have not been able to eat any
lunch, for this experiment has altogether upset me.
July 19th. Many people to whom I have told the adventure have
laughed at me. I no longer know what to think. The wise man says:
July 21st. I dined at Bougival, and then I spent the evening
at a boatmen's ball. Decidedly everything depends on place and
surroundings. It would be the height of folly to believe in the
supernatural on the île de la Grenouillière ... but on the
top of Mont Saint-Michel?... and in India? We are terribly under the
influence of our surroundings. I shall return home next week.
 Frog Island.
July 30th. I came back to my own house yesterday. Everything
is going on well.
August 2d. Nothing fresh; it is splendid weather, and I spend
my days in watching the Seine flow past.
August 4th. Quarrels among my servants. They declare that the
glasses are broken in the cupboards at night. The footman accuses the
cook, who accuses the needlewoman, who accuses the other two. Who is
the culprit? A clever person, to be able to tell.
August 6th. This time I am not mad. I have seen ... I have
seen ... I have seen!... I can doubt no longer ... I have seen it!...
I was walking at two o'clock among my rose trees, in the full
sunlight ... in the walk bordered by autumn roses which are beginning
to fall. As I stopped to look at a Géant de Bataille, which had
three splendid blooms, I distinctly saw the stalk of one of the roses
bend, close to me, as if an invisible hand had bent it, and then break,
as if that hand had picked it! Then the flower raised itself, following
the curve which a hand would have described in carrying it toward a
mouth, and it remained suspended in the transparent air, all alone and
motionless, a terrible red spot, three yards from my eyes. In
desperation I rushed at it to take it! I found nothing; it had
disappeared. Then I was seized with furious rage against myself, for it
is not allowable for a reasonable and serious man to have such
But was it a hallucination? I turned round to look for the stalk,
and I found it immediately under the bush, freshly broken, between two
other roses which remained on the branch, and I returned home then,
with a much disturbed mind; for I am certain now, as certain as I am of
the alternation of day and night, that there exists close to me an
invisible being that lives on milk and on water, which can touch
objects, take them and change their places; which is, consequently,
endowed with a material nature, although it is impossible to our
senses, and which lives as I do, under my roof....
August 7th. I slept tranquilly. He drank the water out of my
decanter, but did not disturb my sleep.
I ask myself whether I am mad. As I was walking just now in the sun
by the riverside, doubts as to my own sanity arose in me; not vague
doubts such as I have had hitherto, but precise and absolute doubts. I
have seen mad people, and I have known some who have been quite
intelligent, lucid, even clear-sighted in every concern of life, except
on one point. They spoke clearly, readily, profoundly, on everything,
when suddenly their thoughts struck upon the breakers of their madness
and broke to pieces there, and were dispersed and foundered in that
furious and terrible sea, full of bounding waves, fogs and squalls,
which is called madness.
I certainly should think that I was mad, absolutely mad, if I were
not conscious, did not perfectly know my state, if I did fathom it by
analyzing it with the most complete lucidity. I should, in fact, be a
reasonable man who was labouring under a hallucination. Some unknown
disturbance must have been excited in my brain, one of those
disturbances which physiologists of the present day try to note and to
fix precisely, and that disturbance must have caused a profound gulf in
my mind and in the order and logic of my ideas. Similar phenomena occur
in the dreams which lead us through the most unlikely phantasmagoria,
without causing us any surprise, because our verifying apparatus and
our sense of control has gone to sleep, while our imaginative faculty
wakes and works. Is it not possible that one of the imperceptible keys
of the cerebral finger-board has been paralyzed in me? Some men lose
the recollection of proper names, or of verbs, or of numbers, or merely
of dates, in consequence of an accident. The localization of all the
particles of thought has been proved nowadays; what then would there be
surprising in the fact that my faculty of controlling the unreality of
certain hallucinations should be destroyed for the time being!
I thought of all this as I walked by the side of the water. The sun
was shining brightly on the river and made earth delightful, while it
filled my looks with love for life, for the swallows, whose agility is
always delightful in my eyes, for the plants by the riverside, whose
rustling is a pleasure to my ears.
By degrees, however, an inexplicable feeling of discomfort seized
me. It seemed to me as if some unknown force were numbing and stopping
me, were preventing me from going farther and were calling me back. I
felt that painful wish to return which oppresses you when you have left
a beloved invalid at home, and when you are seized by a presentiment
that he is worse.
I, therefore, returned in spite of myself, feeling certain that I
should find some bad news awaiting me, a letter or a telegram. There
was nothing, however, and I was more surprised and uneasy than if I had
had another fantastic vision.
August 8th. I spent a terrible evening yesterday. He does not
show himself any more, but I feel that he is near me, watching me,
looking at me, penetrating me, dominating me, and more redoubtable when
he hides himself thus than if he were to manifest his constant and
invisible presence by supernatural phenomena. However, I slept.
August 9th. Nothing, but I am afraid.
August 10th. Nothing; what will happen to-morrow?
August 11th. Still nothing; I cannot stop at home with this
fear hanging over me and these thoughts in my mind; I shall go away.
August 12th. Ten o'clock at night. All day long I have been
trying to get away, and have not been able. I wished to accomplish this
simple and easy act of libertygo outget into my carriage in order
to go to Rouenand I have not been able to do it. What is the reason?
August 13th. When one is attacked by certain maladies, all
the springs of our physical being appear to be broken, all our energies
destroyed, all our muscles relaxed, our bones to have become as soft as
our flesh, and our blood as liquid as water. I am experiencing that in
my moral being in a strange and distressing manner. I have no longer
any strength, any courage, any self-control, nor even any power to set
my own will in motion. I have no power left to will anything,
but someone does it for me and I obey.
August 14th. I am lost! Somebody possesses my soul and
governs it! Somebody orders all my acts, all my movements, all my
thoughts. I am no longer anything in myself, nothing except an enslaved
and terrified spectator of all the things which I do. I wish to go out;
I cannot. He does not wish to, and so I remain, trembling and
distracted, in the armchair in which he keeps me sitting. I merely wish
to get up and to rouse myself, so as to think that I am still master of
myself: I cannot! I am riveted to my chair, and my chair adheres to the
ground in such a manner that no force could move us.
Then suddenly, I must, I must go to the bottom of my garden to pick
some strawberries and eat them, and I go there. I pick the strawberries
and I eat them! Oh! my God! my God! Is there a God? If there be one,
deliver me! save me! succour me! Pardon! Pity! Mercy! Save me! Oh! what
sufferings! what torture! what horror!
August 15th. Certainly this is the way in which my poor
cousin was possessed and swayed, when she came to borrow five thousand
francs of me. She was under the power of a strange will which had
entered into her, like another soul, like another parasitic and ruling
soul. Is the world coming to an end?
But who is he, this invisible being that rules me? This unknowable
being, this rover of a supernatural race?
Invisible beings exist, then! How is it then that since the
beginning of the world they have never manifested themselves in such a
manner precisely as they do to me? I have never read anything which
resembles what goes on in my house. Oh! If I could only leave it, if I
could only go away and flee, so as never to return, I should be saved;
but I cannot.
August 16th. I managed to escape to-day for two hours, like a
prisoner who finds the door of his dungeon accidentally open. I
suddenly felt that I was free and that he was far away, and so I gave
orders to put the horses in as quickly as possible, and I drove to
Rouen. Oh! How delightful to be able to say to a man who obeyed you:
Go to Rouen!
I made him pull up before the library, and I begged them to lend me
Dr. Herrmann Herestauss's treatise on the unknown inhabitants of the
ancient and modern world.
Then, as I was getting into my carriage, I intended to say: To the
railway station! but instead of this I shoutedI did not say, but I
shoutedin such a loud voice that all the passers-by turned round:
Home! and I fell back onto the cushion of my carriage, overcome by
mental agony. He had found me out and regained possession of me.
August 17th. Oh! What a night! what a night! And yet it seems
to me that I ought to rejoice. I read until one o'clock in the morning!
Herestauss, Doctor of Philosophy and Theogony, wrote the history and
the manifestation of all those invisible beings which hover around man,
or of whom he dreams. He describes their origin, their domains, their
power; but none of them resembles the one which haunts me. One might
say that man, ever since he has thought, has had a foreboding of, and
feared a new being, stronger than himself, his successor in this world,
and that, feeling him near, and not being able to foretell the nature
of that master, he has, in his terror, created the whole race of hidden
beings, of vague phantoms born of fear.
Having, therefore, read until one o'clock in the morning, I went and
sat down at the open window, in order to cool my forehead and my
thoughts, in the calm night air. It was very pleasant and warm! How I
should have enjoyed such a night formerly!
There was no moon, but the stars darted out their rays in the dark
heavens. Who inhabits those worlds? What forms, what living beings,
what animals are there yonder? What do those who are thinkers in those
distant worlds know more than we do? What can they do more than we can?
What do they see which we do not know? Will not one of them, some day
or other, traversing space, appear on our earth to conquer it, just as
the Norsemen formerly crossed the sea in order to subjugate nations
more feeble than themselves?
We are so weak, so unarmed, so ignorant, so small, we who live on
this particle of mud which turns round in a drop of water.
I fell asleep, dreaming thus in the cool night air, and then, having
slept for about three quarters of an hour, I opened my eyes without
moving, awakened by I know not what confused and strange sensation. At
first I saw nothing, and then suddenly it appeared to me as if a page
of a book which had remained open on my table, turned over of its own
accord. Not a breath of air had come in at my window, and I was
surprised and waited. In about four minutes, I saw, I saw, yes I saw
with my own eyes another page lift itself up and fall down on the
others, as if a finger had turned it over. My armchair was empty,
appeared empty, but I knew that he was there, he, and sitting in my
place, and that he was reading. With a furious bound, the bound of an
enraged wild beast that wishes to disembowel its tamer, I crossed my
room to seize him, to strangle him, to kill him!... But before I could
reach it, my chair fell over as if somebody had run away from me ... my
table rocked, my lamp fell and went out, and my window closed as if
some thief had been surprised and had fled out into the night, shutting
it behind him.
So he had run away: he had been afraid; he, afraid of me!
So ... so ... to-morrow ... or later ... some day or other ... I
should be able to hold him in my clutches and crush him against the
ground! Do not dogs occasionally bite and strangle their masters?
August 18th. I have been thinking the whole day long. Oh!
yes, I will obey him, follow his impulses, fulfill all his wishes, show
myself humble, submissive, a coward. He is the stronger; but an hour
August 19th. I know, ... I know ... I know all! I have just
read the following in the Revue de Monde Scientifique: A
curious piece of news comes to us from Rio de Janeiro. Madness, an
epidemic of madness, which may be compared to that contagious madness
which attacked the people of Europe in the Middle Ages, is at this
moment raging in the Province of San-Paulo. The frightened inhabitants
are leaving their houses, deserting their villages, abandoning their
land, saying that they are pursued, possessed, governed like human
cattle by invisible, though tangible beings, a species of vampire,
which feed on their life while they are asleep, and who, besides, drink
water and milk without appearing to touch any other nourishment.
Professor Dom Pedro Henriques, accompanied by several medical
savants, has gone to the Province of San-Paulo, in order to study the
origin and the manifestations of this surprising madness on the spot,
and to propose such measures to the Emperor as may appear to him to be
most fitted to restore the mad population to reason.
Ah! Ah! I remember now that fine Brazilian three-master which passed
in front of my windows as it was going up the Seine, on the 8th of last
May! I thought it looked so pretty, so white and bright! That Being was
on board of her, coming from there, where its race sprang from. And it
saw me! It saw my house which was also white, and it sprang from the
ship onto the land. Oh! Good heavens!
Now I know, I can divine. The reign of man is over, and he has come.
He whom disquieted priests exorcised, whom sorcerers evoked on dark
nights, without yet seeing him appear, to whom the presentiments of the
transient masters of the world lent all the monstrous or graceful forms
of gnomes, spirits, genii, fairies, and familiar spirits. After the
coarse conceptions of primitive fear, more clear-sighted men foresaw it
more clearly. Mesmer divined him, and ten years ago physicians
accurately discovered the nature of his power, even before he exercised
it himself. They played with that weapon of their new Lord, the sway of
a mysterious will over the human soul, which had become enslaved. They
called it magnetism, hypnotism, suggestion ... what do I know? I have
seen them amusing themselves like impudent children with this horrible
power! Woe to us! Woe to man! He has come, the ... the ... what does he
call himself ... the ... I fancy that he is shouting out his name to me
and I do not hear him ... the ... yes ... he is shouting it out ... I
am listening ... I cannot ... repeat ... it ... Horla ... I have heard
... the Horla ... it is he ... the Horla ... he has come!...
Ah! the vulture has eaten the pigeon, the wolf has eaten the lamb;
the lion has devoured the buffalo with sharp horns; man has killed the
lion with an arrow, with a sword, with gunpowder; but the Horla will
make of man what we have made of the horse and of the ox: his chattel,
his slave and his food, by the mere power of his will. Woe to us!
But, nevertheless, the animal sometimes revolts and kills the man
who has subjugated it.... I should also like ... I shall be able to ...
but I must know him, touch him, see him! Learned men say that beasts'
eyes, as they differ from ours, do not distinguish like ours do.... And
my eye cannot distinguish this newcomer who is oppressing me.
Why? Oh! Now I remember the words of the monk at Mont Saint-Michel:
Can we see the hundred-thousandth part of what exists? Look here;
there is the wind which is the strongest force in nature, which knocks
down men, and blows down buildings, uproots trees, raises the sea into
mountains of water, destroys cliffs and casts great ships onto the
breakers; the wind which kills, which whistles, which sighs, which
roarshave you ever seen it, and can you see it? It exists for all
And I went on thinking: my eyes are so weak, so imperfect, that they
do not even distinguish hard bodies, if they are as transparent as
glass!... If a glass without tinfoil behind it were to bar my way, I
should run into it, just as a bird which has flown into a room breaks
its head against the window panes. A thousand things, moreover, deceive
him and lead him astray. How should it then be surprising that he
cannot perceive a fresh body which is traversed by the light?
A new being! Why not? It was assuredly bound to come! Why should we
be the last? We do not distinguish it, like all the others created
before us. The reason is, that its nature is more perfect, its body
finer and more finished than ours, that ours is so weak, so awkwardly
conceived, encumbered with organs that are always tired, always on the
strain like locks that are too complicated, which lives like a plant
and like a beast, nourishing itself with difficulty on air, herbs and
flesh, an animal machine which is a prey to maladies, to malformations,
to decay; broken-winded, badly regulated, simple and eccentric,
ingeniously badly made, a coarse and a delicate work, the outline of a
being which might become intelligent and grand.
We are only a few, so few in this world, from the oyster up to man.
Why should there not be one more, when once that period is accomplished
which separates the successive apparitions from all the different
Why not one more? Why not, also, other trees with immense, splendid
flowers, perfuming whole regions? Why not other elements besides fire,
air, earth and water? There are four, only four, those nursing fathers
of various beings! What a pity! Why are they not forty, four hundred,
four thousand! How poor everything is, how mean and wretched!
grudgingly given, dryly invented, clumsily made! Ah! the elephant and
the hippopotamus, what grace! And the camel, what elegance!
But, the butterfly you will say, a flying flower! I dream of one
that should be as large as a hundred worlds, with wings whose shape,
beauty, colours, and motion I cannot even express. But I see it ... it
flutters from star to star, refreshing them and perfuming them with the
light and harmonious breath of its flight!... And the people up there
look at it as it passes in an ecstasy of delight!...
What is the matter with me? It is he, the Horla who haunts me, and
who makes me think of these foolish things! He is within me, he is
becoming my soul; I shall kill him!
August 19th. I shall kill him. I have seen him! Yesterday I
sat down at my table and pretended to write very assiduously. I knew
quite well that he would come prowling round me, quite close to me, so
close that I might perhaps be able to touch him, to seize him. And
then!... then I should have the strength of desperation; I should have
my hands, my knees, my chest, my forehead, my teeth to strangle him, to
crush him, to bite him, to tear him to pieces. And I watched for him
with all my overexcited organs.
I had lighted my two lamps and the eight wax candles on my
mantelpiece, as if by this light I could have discovered him.
My bed, my old oak bed with its columns, was opposite to me; on my
right was the fireplace; on my left the door which was carefully
closed, after I had left it open for some time, in order to attract
him; behind me was a very high wardrobe with a looking-glass in it,
which served me to make my toilet every day, and in which I was in the
habit of looking at myself from head to foot every time I passed it.
So I pretended to be writing in order to deceive him, for he also
was watching me, and suddenly I felt, I was certain that he was reading
over my shoulder, that he was there, almost touching my ear.
I got up so quickly, with my hands extended, that I almost fell. Eh!
well?... It was as bright as at midday, but I did not see myself in the
glass!... It was empty, clear, profound, full of light! But my figure
was not reflected in it ... and I, I was opposite to it! I saw the
large, clear glass from top to bottom, and I looked at it with unsteady
eyes; and I did not dare to advance; I did not venture to make a
movement, nevertheless, feeling perfectly that he was there, but that
he would escape me again, he whose imperceptible body had absorbed my
How frightened I was! And then suddenly I began to see myself
through a mist in the depths of the looking-glass, in a mist as it were
through a sheet of water; and it seemed to me as if this water were
flowing slowly from left to right, and making my figure clearer every
moment. It was like the end of an eclipse. Whatever it was that hid me,
did not appear to possess any clearly defined outlines, but a sort of
opaque transparency, which gradually grew clearer.
At last I was able to distinguish myself completely, as I do every
day when I look at myself.
I had seen it! And the horror of it remained with me and makes me
shudder even now.
August 20th. How could I kill it, as I could not get hold of
it? Poison? But it would see me mix it with the water; and then, would
our poisons have any effect on its impalpable body? No ... no ... no
doubt about the matter.... Then?... then?...
August 21st. I sent for a blacksmith from Rouen, and ordered
iron shutters of him for my room, such as some private hotels in Paris
have on the ground floor, for fear of thieves, and he is going to make
me a similar door as well. I have made myself out as a coward, but I do
not care about that!...
September 10th. Rouen, Hotel Continental. It is done; ... it
is done ... but is he dead? My mind is thoroughly upset by what I have
Well, then, yesterday the locksmith having put on the iron shutters
and door, I left everything open until midnight, although it was
Suddenly I felt that he was there and joy, mad joy, took possession
of me. I got up softly, and I walked to the right and left for some
time, so that he might not guess anything; then I took off my boots and
put on my slippers carelessly; then I fastened the iron shutters and
going back to the door quickly I double-locked it with a padlock,
putting the key into my pocket.
Suddenly I noticed that he was moving restlessly round me, that in
his turn he was frightened and was ordering me to let him out. I nearly
yielded, though I did not yet, but putting my back to the door I half
opened it, just enough to allow me to go out backward, and as I am very
tall, my head touched the lintel. I was sure that he had not been able
to escape, and I shut him up quite alone, quite alone. What happiness!
I had him fast. Then I ran downstairs; in the drawing-room, which was
under my bedroom, I took the two lamps and I poured all the oil onto
the carpet, the furniture, everywhere; then I set fire to it and made
my escape, after having carefully double-locked the door.
I went and hid myself at the bottom of the garden in a clump of
laurel bushes. How long it was! how long it was! Everything was dark,
silent, motionless, not a breath of air and not a star, but heavy banks
of clouds which one could not see, but which weighed, oh! so heavily on
I looked at my house and waited. How long it was! I already began to
think that the fire had gone out of its own accord, or that he had
extinguished it, when one of the lower windows gave way under the
violence of the flames, and a long, soft, caressing sheet of red flame
mounted up the white wall and kissed it as high as the roof. The light
fell onto the trees, the branches, and the leaves, and a shiver of fear
pervaded them also! The birds awoke; a dog began to howl, and it seemed
to me as if the day were breaking! Almost immediately two other windows
flew into fragments, and I saw that the whole of the lower part of my
house was nothing but a terrible furnace. But a cry, a horrible,
shrill, heartrending cry, a woman's cry, sounded through the night, and
two garret windows were opened! I had forgotten the servants! I saw the
terrorstruck faces, and their frantically waving arms!...
Then, overwhelmed with horror, I set off to run to the village,
shouting: Help! help! fire! fire! I met some people who were already
coming onto the scene, and I went back with them to see!
By this time the house was nothing but a horrible and magnificent
funeral pile, a monstrous funeral pile which lit up the whole country,
a funeral pile where men were burning, and where he was burning also,
He, He, my prisoner, that new Being, the new master, the Horla!
Suddenly the whole roof fell in between the walls, and a volcano of
flames darted up to the sky. Through all the windows which opened onto
that furnace I saw the flames darting, and I thought that he was there,
in that kiln, dead.
Dead? perhaps?... His body? Was not his body, which was transparent,
indestructible by such means as would kill ours?
If he was not dead?... Perhaps time alone has power over that
Invisible and Redoubtable Being. Why this transparent, unrecognizable
body, this body belonging to a spirit, if it also had to fear ills,
infirmities and premature destruction?
Premature destruction? All human terror springs from that! After man
the Horla. After him who can die every day, at any hour, at any moment,
by any accident, he came who was only to die at his own proper hour and
minute, because he had touched the limits of his existence!
No ... no ... without any doubt ... he is not dead. Then ... then
... I suppose I must kill myself!
V. THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS[B]
WILLIAM F. HARVEY
When I was a little boy I once went with my father to call on Adrian
Borlsover. I played on the floor with a black spaniel while my father
appealed for a subscription. Just before we left my father said, Mr.
Borlsover, may my son here shake hands with you? It will be a thing to
look back upon with pride when he grows to be a man.
I came up to the bed on which the old man was lying and put my hand
in his, awed by the still beauty of his face. He spoke to me kindly,
and hoped that I should always try to please my father. Then he placed
his right hand on my head and asked for a blessing to rest upon me.
Amen! said my father, and I followed him out of the room, feeling as
if I wanted to cry. But my father was in excellent spirits.
That old gentleman, Jim, said he, is the most wonderful man in
the whole town. For ten years he has been quite blind.
But I saw his eyes, I said. They were ever so black and shiny;
they weren't shut up like Nora's puppies. Can't he see at all?
And so I learnt for the first time that a man might have eyes that
looked dark and beautiful and shining without being able to see.
Just like Mrs. Tomlinson has big ears, I said, and can't hear at
all except when Mr. Tomlinson shouts.
Jim, said my father, it's not right to talk about a lady's ears.
Remember what Mr. Borlsover said about pleasing me and being a good
That was the only time I saw Adrian Borlsover. I soon forgot about
him and the hand which he laid in blessing on my head. But for a week I
prayed that those dark tender eyes might see.
His spaniel may have puppies, I said in my prayers, and he will
never be able to know how funny they look with their eyes all closed
up. Please let old Mr. Borlsover see.
* * * * *
Adrian Borlsover, as my father had said, was a wonderful man. He
came of an eccentric family. Borlsovers' sons, for some reason, always
seemed to marry very ordinary women, which perhaps accounted for the
fact that no Borlsover had been a genius, and only one Borlsover had
been mad. But they were great champions of little causes, generous
patrons of odd sciences, founders of querulous sects, trustworthy
guides to the bypath meadows of erudition.
Adrian was an authority on the fertilization of orchids. He had held
at one time the family living at Borlsover Conyers, until a congenital
weakness of the lungs obliged him to seek a less rigorous climate in
the sunny south coast watering-place where I had seen him. Occasionally
he would relieve one or other of the local clergy. My father described
him as a fine preacher, who gave long and inspiring sermons from what
many men would have considered unprofitable texts. An excellent
proof, he would add, of the truth of the doctrine of direct verbal
Adrian Borlsover was exceedingly clever with his hands. His
penmanship was exquisite. He illustrated all his scientific papers,
made his own woodcuts, and carved the reredos that is at present the
chief feature of interest in the church at Borlsover Conyers. He had an
exceedingly clever knack in cutting silhouettes for young ladies and
paper pigs and cows for little children, and made more than one
complicated wind instrument of his own devising.
When he was fifty years old Adrian Borlsover lost his sight. In a
wonderfully short time he had adapted himself to the new conditions of
life. He quickly learned to read Braille. So marvellous indeed was his
sense of touch that he was still able to maintain his interest in
botany. The mere passing of his long supple fingers over a flower was
sufficient means for its identification, though occasionally he would
use his lips. I have found several letters of his among my father's
correspondence. In no case was there anything to show that he was
afflicted with blindness, and this in spite of the fact that he
exercised undue economy in the spacing of lines. Toward the close of
his life the old man was credited with powers of touch that seemed
almost uncanny: it has been said that he could tell at once the colour
of a ribbon placed between his fingers. My father would neither confirm
nor deny the story.
Adrian Borlsover was a bachelor. His elder brother George had
married late in life, leaving one son, Eustace, who lived in the gloomy
Georgian mansion at Borlsover Conyers, where he could work undisturbed
in collecting material for his great book on heredity.
Like his uncle, he was a remarkable man. The Borlsovers had always
been born naturalists, but Eustace possessed in a special degree the
power of systematizing his knowledge. He had received his university
education in Germany, and then, after post-graduate work in Vienna and
Naples, had travelled for four years in South America and the East,
getting together a huge store of material for a new study into the
processes of variation.
He lived alone at Borlsover Conyers with Saunders his secretary, a
man who bore a somewhat dubious reputation in the district, but whose
powers as a mathematician, combined with his business abilities, were
invaluable to Eustace.
Uncle and nephew saw little of each other. The visits of Eustace
were confined to a week in the summer or autumn: long weeks, that
dragged almost as slowly as the bath-chair in which the old man was
drawn along the sunny sea front. In their way the two men were fond of
each other, though their intimacy would doubtless have been greater had
they shared the same religious views. Adrian held to the old-fashioned
evangelical dogmas of his early manhood; his nephew for many years had
been thinking of embracing Buddhism. Both men possessed, too, the
reticence the Borlsovers had always shown, and which their enemies
sometimes called hypocrisy. With Adrian it was a reticence as to the
things he had left undone; but with Eustace it seemed that the curtain
which he was so careful to leave undrawn hid something more than a
* * * * *
Two years before his death Adrian Borlsover developed, unknown to
himself, the not uncommon power of automatic writing. Eustace made the
discovery by accident. Adrian was sitting reading in bed, the
forefinger of his left hand tracing the Braille characters, when his
nephew noticed that a pencil the old man held in his right hand was
moving slowly along the opposite page. He left his seat in the window
and sat down beside the bed. The right hand continued to move, and now
he could see plainly that they were letters and words which it was
Adrian Borlsover, wrote the hand, Eustace Borlsover, George
Borlsover, Francis Borlsover, Sigismund Borlsover, Adrian Borlsover,
Eustace Borlsover, Saville Borlsover. B, for Borlsover. Honesty is the
Best Policy. Beautiful Belinda Borlsover.
What curious nonsense! said Eustace to himself.
King George the Third ascended the throne in 1760, wrote the hand.
Crowd, a noun of multitude; a collection of individualsAdrian
Borlsover, Eustace Borlsover.
It seems to me, said his uncle, closing the book, that you had
much better make the most of the afternoon sunshine and take your walk
I think perhaps I will, Eustace answered as he picked up the
volume. I won't go far, and when I come back I can read to you those
articles in Nature about which we were speaking.
He went along the promenade, but stopped at the first shelter, and
seating himself in the corner best protected from the wind, he examined
the book at leisure. Nearly every page was scored with a meaningless
jungle of pencil marks: rows of capital letters, short words, long
words, complete sentences, copy-book tags. The whole thing, in fact,
had the appearance of a copy-book, and on a more careful scrutiny
Eustace thought that there was ample evidence to show that the
handwriting at the beginning of the book, good though it was, was not
nearly so good as the handwriting at the end.
He left his uncle at the end of October, with a promise to return
early in December. It seemed to him quite clear that the old man's
power of automatic writing was developing rapidly, and for the first
time he looked forward to a visit that combined duty with interest.
But on his return he was at first disappointed. His uncle, he
thought, looked older. He was listless too, preferring others to read
to him and dictating nearly all his letters. Not until the day before
he left had Eustace an opportunity of observing Adrian Borlsover's
The old man, propped up in bed with pillows, had sunk into a light
sleep. His two hands lay on the coverlet, his left hand tightly
clasping his right. Eustace took an empty manuscript book and placed a
pencil within reach of the fingers of the right hand. They snatched at
it eagerly; then dropped the pencil to unloose the left hand from its
Perhaps to prevent interference I had better hold that hand, said
Eustace to himself, as he watched the pencil. Almost immediately it
began to write.
Blundering Borlsovers, unnecessarily unnatural, extraordinarily
eccentric, culpably curious.
Who are you? asked Eustace, in a low voice.
Never you mind, wrote the hand of Adrian.
Is it my uncle who is writing?
Oh, my prophetic soul, mine uncle.
Is it anyone I know?
Silly Eustace, you'll see me very soon.
When shall I see you?
When poor old Adrian's dead.
Where shall I see you?
Where shall you not?
Instead of speaking his next question, Borlsover wrote it. What is
The fingers dropped the pencil and moved three or four times across
the paper. Then, picking up the pencil, they wrote:
Ten minutes before four. Put your book away, Eustace. Adrian
mustn't find us working at this sort of thing. He doesn't know what to
make of it, and I won't have poor old Adrian disturbed. Au revoir.
Adrian Borlsover awoke with a start.
I've been dreaming again, he said; such queer dreams of leaguered
cities and forgotten towns. You were mixed up in this one, Eustace,
though I can't remember how. Eustace, I want to warn you. Don't walk in
doubtful paths. Choose your friends well. Your poor grandfather
A fit of coughing put an end to what he was saying, but Eustace saw
that the hand was still writing. He managed unnoticed to draw the book
away. I'll light the gas, he said, and ring for tea. On the other
side of the bed curtain he saw the last sentences that had been
It's too late, Adrian, he read. We're friends already; aren't we,
On the following day Eustace Borlsover left. He thought his uncle
looked ill when he said goodbye, and the old man spoke despondently of
the failure his life had been.
Nonsense, uncle! said his nephew. You have got over your
difficulties in a way not one in a hundred thousand would have done.
Everyone marvels at your splendid perseverance in teaching your hand to
take the place of your lost sight. To me it's been a revelation of the
possibilities of education.
Education, said his uncle dreamily, as if the word had started a
new train of thought, education is good so long as you know to whom
and for what purpose you give it. But with the lower orders of men, the
base and more sordid spirits, I have grave doubts as to its results.
Well, goodbye, Eustace, I may not see you again. You are a true
Borlsover, with all the Borlsover faults. Marry, Eustace. Marry some
good, sensible girl. And if by any chance I don't see you again, my
will is at my solicitor's. I've not left you any legacy, because I know
you're well provided for, but I thought you might like to have my
books. Oh, and there's just one other thing. You know, before the end
people often lose control over themselves and make absurd requests.
Don't pay any attention to them, Eustace. Good-bye! and he held out
his hand. Eustace took it. It remained in his a fraction of a second
longer than he had expected, and gripped him with a virility that was
surprising. There was, too, in its touch a subtle sense of intimacy.
Why, uncle! he said, I shall see you alive and well for many long
years to come.
Two months later Adrian Borlsover died.
Eustace Borlsover was in Naples at the time. He read the obituary
notice in the Morning Post on the day announced for the funeral.
Poor old fellow! he said. I wonder where I shall find room for
all his books.
The question occurred to him again with greater force when three
days later he found himself standing in the library at Borlsover
Conyers, a huge room built for use, and not for beauty, in the year of
Waterloo by a Borlsover who was an ardent admirer of the great
Napoleon. It was arranged on the plan of many college libraries, with
tall, projecting bookcases forming deep recesses of dusty silence, fit
graves for the old hates of forgotten controversy, the dead passions of
forgotten lives. At the end of the room, behind the bust of some
unknown eighteenth-century divine, an ugly iron corkscrew stair led to
a shelf-lined gallery. Nearly every shelf was full.
I must talk to Saunders about it, said Eustace. I suppose that it
will be necessary to have the billiard-room fitted up with bookcases.
The two men met for the first time after many weeks in the
dining-room that evening.
Hullo! said Eustace, standing before the fire with his hands in
his pockets. How goes the world, Saunders? Why these dress togs? He
himself was wearing an old shooting-jacket. He did not believe in
mourning, as he had told his uncle on his last visit; and though he
usually went in for quiet-coloured ties, he wore this evening one of an
ugly red, in order to shock Morton the butler, and to make them thrash
out the whole question of mourning for themselves in the servants'
hall. Eustace was a true Borlsover. The world, said Saunders, goes
the same as usual, confoundedly slow. The dress togs are accounted for
by an invitation from Captain Lockwood to bridge.
How are you getting there?
I've told your coachman to drive me in your carriage. Any
Oh, dear me, no! We've had all things in common for far too many
years for me to raise objections at this hour of the day.
You'll find your correspondence in the library, went on Saunders.
Most of it I've seen to. There are a few private letters I haven't
opened. There's also a box with a rat, or something, inside it that
came by the evening post. Very likely it's the six-toed beast Terry was
sending us to cross with the four-toed albino. I didn't look, because I
didn't want to mess up my things, but I should gather from the way it's
jumping about that it's pretty hungry.
Oh, I'll see to it, said Eustace, while you and the Captain earn
an honest penny.
Dinner over and Saunders gone, Eustace went into the library. Though
the fire had been lit the room was by no means cheerful.
We'll have all the lights on at any rate, he said, as he turned
the switches. And, Morton, he added, when the butler brought the
coffee, get me a screwdriver or something to undo this box. Whatever
the animal is, he's kicking up the deuce of a row. What is it? Why are
If you please, sir, when the postman brought it he told me that
they'd bored the holes in the lid at the post-office. There were no
breathin' holes in the lid, sir, and they didn't want the animal to
die. That is all, sir.
It's culpably careless of the man, whoever he was, said Eustace,
as he removed the screws, packing an animal like this in a wooden box
with no means of getting air. Confound it all! I meant to ask Morton to
bring me a cage to put it in. Now I suppose I shall have to get one
He placed a heavy book on the lid from which the screws had been
removed, and went into the billiard-room. As he came back into the
library with an empty cage in his hand he heard the sound of something
falling, and then of something scuttling along the floor.
Bother it! The beast's got out. How in the world am I to find it
again in this library!
To search for it did indeed seem hopeless. He tried to follow the
sound of the scuttling in one of the recesses where the animal seemed
to be running behind the books in the shelves, but it was impossible to
locate it. Eustace resolved to go on quietly reading. Very likely the
animal might gain confidence and show itself. Saunders seemed to have
dealt in his usual methodical manner with most of the correspondence.
There were still the private letters.
What was that? Two sharp clicks and the lights in the hideous
candelabra that hung from the ceiling suddenly went out.
I wonder if something has gone wrong with the fuse, said Eustace,
as he went to the switches by the door. Then he stopped. There was a
noise at the other end of the room, as if something was crawling up the
iron corkscrew stair. If it's gone into the gallery, he said, well
and good. He hastily turned on the lights, crossed the room, and
climbed up the stair. But he could see nothing. His grandfather had
placed a little gate at the top of the stair, so that children could
run and romp in the gallery without fear of accident. This Eustace
closed, and having considerably narrowed the circle of his search,
returned to his desk by the fire.
How gloomy the library was! There was no sense of intimacy about the
room. The few busts that an eighteenth-century Borlsover had brought
back from the grand tour, might have been in keeping in the old
library. Here they seemed out of place. They made the room feel cold,
in spite of the heavy red damask curtains and great gilt cornices.
With a crash two heavy books fell from the gallery to the floor;
then, as Borlsover looked, another and yet another.
Very well; you'll starve for this, my beauty! he said. We'll do
some little experiments on the metabolism of rats deprived of water. Go
on! Chuck them down! I think I've got the upper hand. He turned once
again to his correspondence. The letter was from the family solicitor.
It spoke of his uncle's death and of the valuable collection of books
that had been left to him in the will.
There was one request, he read, which certainly came as a
surprise to me. As you know, Mr. Adrian Borlsover had left instructions
that his body was to be buried in as simple a manner as possible at
Eastbourne. He expressed a desire that there should be neither wreaths
nor flowers of any kind, and hoped that his friends and relatives would
not consider it necessary to wear mourning. The day before his death we
received a letter cancelling these instructions. He wished his body to
be embalmed (he gave us the address of the man we were to
employPennifer, Ludgate Hill), with orders that his right hand was to
be sent to you, stating that it was at your special request. The other
arrangements as to the funeral remained unaltered.
Good Lord! said Eustace; what in the world was the old boy
driving at? And what in the name of all that's holy is that?
Someone was in the gallery. Someone had pulled the cord attached to
one of the blinds, and it had rolled up with a snap. Someone must be in
the gallery, for a second blind did the same. Someone must be walking
round the gallery, for one after the other the blinds sprang up,
letting in the moonlight.
I haven't got to the bottom of this yet, said Eustace, but I will
before the night is very much older, and he hurried up the corkscrew
stair. He had just got to the top when the lights went out a second
time, and he heard again the scuttling along the floor. Quickly he
stole on tiptoe in the dim moonshine in the direction of the noise,
feeling as he went for one of the switches. His fingers touched the
metal knob at last. He turned on the electric light.
About ten yards in front of him, crawling along the floor, was a
man's hand. Eustace stared at it in utter astonishment. It was moving
quickly, in the manner of a geometer caterpillar, the five fingers
humped up one moment, flattened out the next; the thumb appeared to
give a crab-like motion to the whole. While he was looking, too
surprised to stir, the hand disappeared round the corner. Eustace ran
forward. He no longer saw it, but he could hear it as it squeezed its
way behind the books on one of the shelves. A heavy volume had been
displaced. There was a gap in the row of books where it had got in. In
his fear lest it should escape him again, he seized the first book that
came to his hand and plugged it into the hole. Then, emptying two
shelves of their contents, he took the wooden boards and propped them
up in front to make his barrier doubly sure.
I wish Saunders was back, he said; one can't tackle this sort of
thing alone. It was after eleven, and there seemed little likelihood
of Saunders returning before twelve. He did not dare to leave the shelf
unwatched, even to run downstairs to ring the bell. Morton the butler
often used to come round about eleven to see that the windows were
fastened, but he might not come. Eustace was thoroughly unstrung. At
last he heard steps down below.
Morton! he shouted; Morton!
Has Mr. Saunders got back yet?
Not yet, sir.
Well, bring me some brandy, and hurry up about it. I'm up here in
the gallery, you duffer.
Thanks, said Eustace, as he emptied the glass. Don't go to bed
yet, Morton. There are a lot of books that have fallen down by
accident; bring them up and put them back in their shelves.
Morton had never seen Borlsover in so talkative a mood as on that
night. Here, said Eustace, when the books had been put back and
dusted, you might hold up these boards for me, Morton. That beast in
the box got out, and I've been chasing it all over the place.
I think I can hear it chawing at the books, sir. They're not
valuable, I hope? I think that's the carriage, sir; I'll go and call
It seemed to Eustace that he was away for five minutes, but it could
hardly have been more than one when he returned with Saunders. All
right, Morton, you can go now. I'm up here, Saunders.
What's all the row? asked Saunders, as he lounged forward with his
hands in his pockets. The luck had been with him all the evening. He
was completely satisfied, both with himself and with Captain Lockwood's
taste in wines. What's the matter? You look to me to be in an absolute
That old devil of an uncle of mine, began Eustaceoh, I can't
explain it all. It's his hand that's been playing old Harry all the
evening. But I've got it cornered behind these books. You've got to
help me catch it.
What's up with you, Eustace? What's the game?
It's no game, you silly idiot! If you don't believe me take out one
of those books and put your hand in and feel.
All right, said Saunders; but wait till I've rolled up my sleeve.
The accumulated dust of centuries, eh? He took off his coat, knelt
down, and thrust his arm along the shelf.
There's something there right enough, he said. It's got a funny
stumpy end to it, whatever it is, and nips like a crab. Ah, no, you
don't! He pulled his hand out in a flash. Shove in a book quickly.
Now it can't get out.
What was it? asked Eustace.
It was something that wanted very much to get hold of me. I felt
what seemed like a thumb and forefinger. Give me some brandy.
How are we to get it out of there?
What about a landing net?
No good. It would be too smart for us. I tell you, Saunders, it can
cover the ground far faster than I can walk. But I think I see how we
can manage it. The two books at the end of the shelf are big ones that
go right back against the wall. The others are very thin. I'll take out
one at a time, and you slide the rest along until we have it squashed
between the end two.
It certainly seemed to be the best plan. One by one, as they took
out the books, the space behind grew smaller and smaller. There was
something in it that was certainly very much alive. Once they caught
sight of fingers pressing outward for a way of escape. At last they had
it pressed between the two big books.
There's muscle there, if there isn't flesh and blood, said
Saunders, as he held them together. It seems to be a hand right
enough, too. I suppose this is a sort of infectious hallucination. I've
read about such cases before.
Infectious fiddlesticks! said Eustace, his face white with anger;
bring the thing downstairs. We'll get it back into the box.
It was not altogether easy, but they were successful at last. Drive
in the screws, said Eustace, we won't run any risks. Put the box in
this old desk of mine. There's nothing in it that I want. Here's the
key. Thank goodness, there's nothing wrong with the lock.
Quite a lively evening, said Saunders. Now let's hear more about
They sat up together until early morning. Saunders had no desire for
sleep. Eustace was trying to explain and to forget: to conceal from
himself a fear that he had never felt beforethe fear of walking alone
down the long corridor to his bedroom.
Whatever it was, said Eustace to Saunders on the following
morning, I propose that we drop the subject. There's nothing to keep
us here for the next ten days. We'll motor up to the Lakes and get some
And see nobody all day, and sit bored to death with each other
every night. Not for me, thanks. Why not run up to town? Run's the
exact word in this case, isn't it? We're both in such a blessed funk.
Pull yourself together, Eustace, and let's have another look at the
As you like, said Eustace; there's the key. They went into the
library and opened the desk. The box was as they had left it on the
What are you waiting for? asked Eustace.
I am waiting for you to volunteer to open the lid. However, since
you seem to funk it, allow me. There doesn't seem to be the likelihood
of any rumpus this morning, at all events. He opened the lid and
picked out the hand.
Cold? asked Eustace.
Tepid. A bit below blood-heat by the feel. Soft and supple too. If
it's the embalming, it's a sort of embalming I've never seen before. Is
it your uncle's hand?
Oh, yes, it's his all right, said Eustace. I should know those
long thin fingers anywhere. Put it back in the box, Saunders. Never
mind about the screws. I'll lock the desk, so that there'll be no
chance of its getting out. We'll compromise by motoring up to town for
a week. If we get off soon after lunch we ought to be at Grantham or
Stamford by night.
Right, said Saunders; and to-morrowOh, well, by to-morrow we
shall have forgotten all about this beastly thing.
If when the morrow came they had not forgotten, it was certainly
true that at the end of the week they were able to tell a very vivid
ghost story at the little supper Eustace gave on Hallow E'en.
You don't want us to believe that it's true, Mr. Borlsover? How
I'll take my oath on it, and so would Saunders here; wouldn't you,
Any number of oaths, said Saunders. It was a long thin hand, you
know, and it gripped me just like that.
Don't, Mr. Saunders! Don't! How perfectly horrid! Now tell us
another one, do. Only a really creepy one, please!
* * * * *
Here's a pretty mess! said Eustace on the following day as he
threw a letter across the table to Saunders. It's your affair, though.
Mrs. Merrit, if I understand it, gives a month's notice.
Oh, that's quite absurd on Mrs. Merrit's part, Saunders replied.
She doesn't know what she's talking about. Let's see what she says.
DEAR SIR, he read, this is to let you know that I must
give you a month's notice as from Tuesday the 13th. For a
long time I've felt the place too big for me, but when Jane
Parfit and Emma Laidlaw go off with scarcely as much as an
'if you please,' after frightening the wits out of the other
girls, so that they can't turn out a room by themselves or
walk alone down the stairs for fear of treading on
half-frozen toads or hearing it run along the passages at
night, all I can say is that it's no place for me. So I must
ask you, Mr. Borlsover, sir, to find a new housekeeper that
has no objection to large and lonely houses, which some
people do say, not that I believe them for a minute, my poor
mother always having been a Wesleyan, are haunted.
P. S.I should be obliged if you would give my respects to
Mr. Saunders. I hope that he won't run no risks with his
Saunders, said Eustace, you've always had a wonderful way with
you in dealing with servants. You mustn't let poor old Merrit go.
Of course she shan't go, said Saunders. She's probably only
angling for a rise in salary. I'll write to her this morning.
No; there's nothing like a personal interview. We've had enough of
town. We'll go back to-morrow, and you must work your cold for all it's
worth. Don't forget that it's got on to the chest, and will require
weeks of feeding up and nursing.
All right. I think I can manage Mrs. Merrit.
But Mrs. Merrit was more obstinate than he had thought. She was very
sorry to hear of Mr. Saunders's cold, and how he lay awake all night in
London coughing; very sorry indeed. She'd change his room for him
gladly, and get the south room aired. And wouldn't he have a hot basin
of bread and milk last thing at night? But she was afraid that she
would have to leave at the end of the month.
Try her with an increase of salary, was the advice of Eustace.
It was no use. Mrs. Merrit was obdurate, though she knew of a Mrs.
Handyside who had been housekeeper to Lord Gargrave, who might be glad
to come at the salary mentioned.
What's the matter with the servants, Morton? asked Eustace that
evening when he brought the coffee into the library. What's all this
about Mrs. Merrit wanting to leave?
If you please, sir, I was going to mention it myself. I have a
confession to make, sir. When I found your note asking me to open that
desk and take out the box with the rat, I broke the lock as you told
me, and was glad to do it, because I could hear the animal in the box
making a great noise, and I thought it wanted food. So I took out the
box, sir, and got a cage and was going to transfer it, when the animal
What in the world are you talking about? I never wrote any such
Excuse me, sir, it was the note I picked up here on the floor on
the day you and Mr. Saunders left. I have it in my pocket now.
It certainly seemed to be in Eustace's handwriting. It was written
in pencil, and began somewhat abruptly.
Get a hammer, Morton, he read, or some other tool, and break open
the lock in the old desk in the library. Take out the box that is
inside. You need not do anything else. The lid is already open. Eustace
And you opened the desk?
Yes, sir; and as I was getting the cage ready the animal hopped
The animal inside the box, sir.
What did it look like?
Well, sir, I couldn't tell you, said Morton nervously; my back
was turned, and it was half-way down the room when I looked up.
What was its colour? asked Saunders; black?
Oh, no, sir, a grayish white. It crept along in a very funny way,
sir. I don't think it had a tail.
What did you do then?
I tried to catch it, but it was no use. So I set the rat-traps and
kept the library shut. Then that girl Emma Laidlaw left the door open
when she was cleaning, and I think it must have escaped.
And you think it was the animal that's been frightening the maids?
Well, no, sir, not quite. They said it wasyou'll excuse me,
sira hand that they saw. Emma trod on it once at the bottom of the
stairs. She thought then it was a half-frozen toad, only white. And
then Parfit was washing up the dishes in the scullery. She wasn't
thinking about anything in particular. It was close on dusk. She took
her hands out of the water and was drying them absentminded like on the
roller towel, when she found that she was drying someone else's hand as
well, only colder than hers.
What nonsense! exclaimed Saunders.
Exactly, sir; that's what I told her; but we couldn't get her to
You don't believe all this? said Eustace, turning suddenly towards
Me, sir? Oh, no, sir! I've not seen anything.
Nor heard anything?
Well, sir, if you must know, the bells do ring at odd times, and
there's nobody there when we go; and when we go round to draw the
blinds of a night, as often as not somebody's been there before us. But
as I says to Mrs. Merrit, a young monkey might do wonderful things, and
we all know that Mr. Borlsover has had some strange animals about the
Very well, Morton, that will do.
What do you make of it? asked Saunders when they were alone. I
mean of the letter he said you wrote.
Oh, that's simple enough, said Eustace. See the paper it's
written on? I stopped using that years ago, but there were a few odd
sheets and envelopes left in the old desk. We never fastened up the lid
of the box before locking it in. The hand got out, found a pencil,
wrote this note, and shoved it through the crack on to the floor where
Morton found it. That's plain as daylight.
But the hand couldn't write?
Couldn't it? You've not seen it do the things I've seen, and he
told Saunders more of what had happened at Eastbourne.
Well, said Saunders, in that case we have at least an explanation
of the legacy. It was the hand which wrote unknown to your uncle that
letter to your solicitor, bequeathing itself to you. Your uncle had no
more to do with that request than I. In fact, it would seem that he had
some idea of this automatic writing, and feared it.
Then if it's not my uncle, what is it?
I suppose some people might say that a disembodied spirit had got
your uncle to educate and prepare a little body for it. Now it's got
into that little body and is off on its own.
Well, what are we to do?
We'll keep our eyes open, said Saunders, and try to catch it. If
we can't do that, we shall have to wait till the bally clockwork runs
down. After all, if it's flesh and blood, it can't live forever.
For two days nothing happened. Then Saunders saw it sliding down the
banister in the hall. He was taken unawares, and lost a full second
before he started in pursuit, only to find that the thing had escaped
him. Three days later, Eustace, writing alone in the library at night,
saw it sitting on an open book at the other end of the room. The
fingers crept over the page, feeling the print as if it were reading;
but before he had time to get up from his seat, it had taken the alarm
and was pulling itself up the curtains. Eustace watched it grimly as it
hung on to the cornice with three fingers, flicking thumb and
forefinger at him in an expression of scornful derision.
I know what I'll do, he said. If I only get it into the open I'll
set the dogs on to it.
He spoke to Saunders of the suggestion.
It's a jolly good idea, he said; only we won't wait till we find
it out of doors. We'll get the dogs. There are the two terriers and the
underkeeper's Irish mongrel that's on to rats like a flash. Your
spaniel has not got spirit enough for this sort of game. They brought
the dogs into the house, and the keeper's Irish mongrel chewed up the
slippers, and the terriers tripped up Morton as he waited at table; but
all three were welcome. Even false security is better than no security
For a fortnight nothing happened. Then the hand was caught, not by
the dogs, but by Mrs. Merrit's gray parrot. The bird was in the habit
of periodically removing the pins that kept its seed and water tins in
place, and of escaping through the holes in the side of the cage. When
once at liberty Peter would show no inclination to return, and would
often be about the house for days. Now, after six consecutive weeks of
captivity, Peter had again discovered a new means of unloosing his
bolts and was at large, exploring the tapestried forests of the
curtains and singing songs in praise of liberty from cornice and
It's no use your trying to catch him, said Eustace to Mrs. Merrit,
as she came into the study one afternoon toward dusk with a
step-ladder. You'd much better leave Peter alone. Starve him into
surrender, Mrs. Merrit, and don't leave bananas and seed about for him
to peck at when he fancies he's hungry. You're far too soft-hearted.
Well, sir, I see he's right out of reach now on that picture rail,
so if you wouldn't mind closing the door, sir, when you leave the room,
I'll bring his cage in to-night and put some meat inside it. He's that
fond of meat, though it does make him pull out his feathers to suck the
quills. They do say that if you cook
Never mind, Mrs. Merrit, said Eustace, who was busy writing. That
will do; I'll keep an eye on the bird.
There was silence in the room, unbroken but for the continuous
whisper of his pen.
Scratch poor Peter, said the bird. Scratch poor old Peter!
Be quiet, you beastly bird!
Poor old Peter! Scratch poor Peter, do.
I'm more likely to wring your neck if I get hold of you. He looked
up at the picture rail, and there was the hand holding on to a hook
with three fingers, and slowly scratching the head of the parrot with
the fourth. Eustace ran to the bell and pressed it hard; then across to
the window, which he closed with a bang. Frightened by the noise the
parrot shook its wings preparatory to flight, and as it did so the
fingers of the hand got hold of it by the throat. There was a shrill
scream from Peter as he fluttered across the room, wheeling round in
circles that ever descended, borne down under the weight that clung to
him. The bird dropped at last quite suddenly, and Eustace saw fingers
and feathers rolled into an inextricable mass on the floor. The
struggle abruptly ceased as finger and thumb squeezed the neck; the
bird's eyes rolled up to show the whites, and there was a faint,
half-choked gurgle. But before the fingers had time to loose their
hold, Eustace had them in his own.
Send Mr. Saunders here at once, he said to the maid who came in
answer to the bell. Tell him I want him immediately.
Then he went with the hand to the fire. There was a ragged gash
across the back where the bird's beak had torn it, but no blood oozed
from the wound. He noticed with disgust that the nails had grown long
I'll burn the beastly thing, he said. But he could not burn it. He
tried to throw it into the flames, but his own hands, as if restrained
by some old primitive feeling, would not let him. And so Saunders found
him, pale and irresolute, with the hand still clasped tightly in his
I've got it at last, he said in a tone of triumph.
Good; let's have a look at it.
Not when it's loose. Get me some nails and a hammer and a board of
Can you hold it all right?
Yes, the thing's quite limp; tired out with throttling poor old
Peter, I should say.
And now, said Saunders when he returned with the things, what are
we going to do?
Drive a nail through it first, so that it can't get away; then we
can take our time over examining it.
Do it yourself, said Saunders. I don't mind helping you with
guinea-pigs occasionally when there's something to be learned; partly
because I don't fear a guinea-pig's revenge. This thing's different.
All right, you miserable skunk. I won't forget the way you've stood
He took up a nail, and before Saunders had realized what he was
doing had driven it through the hand, deep into the board.
Oh, my aunt, he giggled hysterically, look at it now, for the
hand was writhing in agonized contortions, squirming and wriggling upon
the nail like a worm upon the hook.
Well, said Saunders, you've done it now. I'll leave you to
Don't go, in heaven's name. Cover it up, man, cover it up! Shove a
cloth over it! Here! and he pulled off the antimacassar from the back
of a chair and wrapped the board in it. Now get the keys from my
pocket and open the safe. Chuck the other things out. Oh, Lord, it's
getting itself into frightful knots! and open it quick! He threw the
thing in and banged the door.
We'll keep it there till it dies, he said. May I burn in hell if
I ever open the door of that safe again.
* * * * *
Mrs. Merrit departed at the end of the month. Her successor
certainly was more successful in the management of the servants. Early
in her rule she declared that she would stand no nonsense, and gossip
soon withered and died. Eustace Borlsover went back to his old way of
life. Old habits crept over and covered his new experience. He was if
anything, less morose, and showed a greater inclination to take his
natural part in country society.
I shouldn't be surprised if he marries one of these days, said
Saunders. Well, I'm in no hurry for such an event. I know Eustace far
too well for the future Mrs. Borlsover to like me. It will be the same
old story again: a long friendship slowly mademarriageand a long
friendship quickly forgotten.
But Eustace Borlsover did not follow the advice of his uncle and
marry. He was too fond of old slippers and tobacco. The cooking, too,
under Mrs. Handyside's management was excellent, and she seemed, too,
to have a heaven-sent faculty in knowing when to stop dusting.
Little by little the old life resumed its old power. Then came the
burglary. The men, it was said, broke into the house by way of the
conservatory. It was really little more than an attempt, for they only
succeeded in carrying away a few pieces of plate from the pantry. The
safe in the study was certainly found open and empty, but, as Mr.
Borlsover informed the police inspector, he had kept nothing of value
in it during the last six months.
Then you're lucky in getting off so easily, sir, the man replied.
By the way they have gone about their business, I should say they were
experienced cracksmen. They must have caught the alarm when they were
just beginning their evening's work.
Yes, said Eustace, I suppose I am lucky.
I've no doubt, said the inspector, that we shall be able to trace
the men. I've said that they must have been old hands at the game. The
way they got in and opened the safe shows that. But there's one little
thing that puzzles me. One of them was careless enough not to wear
gloves, and I'm bothered if I know what he was trying to do. I've
traced his finger-marks on the new varnish on the window sashes in
every one of the downstairs rooms. They are very distinctive ones too.
Right hand or left, or both? asked Eustace.
Oh, right every time. That's the funny thing. He must have been a
foolhardy fellow, and I rather think it was him that wrote that. He
took out a slip of paper from his pocket. That's what he wrote, sir.
'I've got out, Eustace Borlsover, but I'll be back before long.' Some
jail bird just escaped, I suppose. It will make it all the easier for
us to trace him. Do you know the writing, sir?
No, said Eustace; it's not the writing of any one I know.
I'm not going to stay here any longer, said Eustace to Saunders at
luncheon. I've got on far better during the last six months than ever
I expected, but I'm not going to run the risk of seeing that thing
again. I shall go up to town this afternoon. Get Morton to put my
things together, and join me with the car at Brighton on the day after
to-morrow. And bring the proofs of those two papers with you. We'll run
over them together.
How long are you going to be away?
I can't say for certain, but be prepared to stay for some time.
We've stuck to work pretty closely through the summer, and I for one
need a holiday. I'll engage the rooms at Brighton. You'll find it best
to break the journey at Hitchin. I'll wire to you there at the Crown to
tell you the Brighton address.
The house he chose at Brighton was in a terrace. He had been there
before. It was kept by his old college gyp, a man of discreet silence,
who was admirably partnered by an excellent cook. The rooms were on the
first floor. The two bedrooms were at the back, and opened out of each
other. Saunders can have the smaller one, though it is the only one
with a fireplace, he said. I'll stick to the larger of the two, since
it's got a bathroom adjoining. I wonder what time he'll arrive with the
Saunders came about seven, cold and cross and dirty. We'll light
the fire in the dining-room, said Eustace, and get Prince to unpack
some of the things while we are at dinner. What were the roads like?
Rotten; swimming with mud, and a beastly cold wind against us all
day. And this is July. Dear old England!
Yes, said Eustace, I think we might do worse than leave dear old
England for a few months.
They turned in soon after twelve.
You oughtn't to feel cold, Saunders, said Eustace, when you can
afford to sport a great cat-skin lined coat like this. You do yourself
very well, all things considered. Look at those gloves, for instance.
Who could possibly feel cold when wearing them?
They are far too clumsy though for driving. Try them on and see,
and he tossed them through the door on to Eustace's bed, and went on
with his unpacking. A minute later he heard a shrill cry of terror.
Oh, Lord, he heard, it's in the glove! Quick, Saunders, quick! Then
came a smacking thud. Eustace had thrown it from him. I've chucked it
into the bathroom, he gasped, it's hit the wall and fallen into the
bath. Come now if you want to help. Saunders, with a lighted candle in
his hand, looked over the edge of the bath. There it was, old and
maimed, dumb and blind, with a ragged hole in the middle, crawling,
staggering, trying to creep up the slippery sides, only to fall back
Stay there, said Saunders. I'll empty a collar box or something,
and we'll jam it in. It can't get out while I'm away.
Yes, it can, shouted Eustace. It's getting out now. It's climbing
up the plug chain. No, you brute, you filthy brute, you don't! Come
back, Saunders, it's getting away from me. I can't hold it; it's all
slippery. Curse its claw! Shut the window, you idiot! The top too, as
well as the bottom. You utter idiot! It's got out! There was the sound
of something dropping on to the hard flagstones below, and Eustace fell
* * * * *
For a fortnight he was ill.
I don't know what to make of it, the doctor said to Saunders. I
can only suppose that Mr. Borlsover has suffered some great emotional
shock. You had better let me send someone to help you nurse him. And by
all means indulge that whim of his never to be left alone in the dark.
I would keep a light burning all night if I were you. But he must
have more fresh air. It's perfectly absurdthis hatred of open
Eustace, however, would have no one with him but Saunders. I don't
want the other men, he said. They'd smuggle it in somehow. I know
Don't worry about it, old chap. This sort of thing can't go on
indefinitely. You know I saw it this time as well as you. It wasn't
half so active. It won't go on living much longer, especially after
that fall. I heard it hit the flags myself. As soon as you're a bit
stronger we'll leave this place; not bag and baggage, but with only the
clothes on our backs, so that it won't be able to hide anywhere. We'll
escape it that way. We won't give any address, and we won't have any
parcels sent after us. Cheer up, Eustace! You'll be well enough to
leave in a day or two. The doctor says I can take you out in a chair
What have I done? asked Eustace. Why does it come after me? I'm
no worse than other men. I'm no worse than you, Saunders; you know I'm
not. It was you who were at the bottom of that dirty business in San
Diego, and that was fifteen years ago.
It's not that, of course, said Saunders. We are in the twentieth
century, and even the parsons have dropped the idea of your old sins
finding you out. Before you caught the hand in the library it was
filled with pure malevolenceto you and all mankind. After you spiked
it through with that nail it naturally forgot about other people, and
concentrated its attention on you. It was shut up in that safe, you
know, for nearly six months. That gives plenty of time for thinking of
Eustace Borlsover would not leave his room, but he thought that
there might be something in Saunders's suggestion to leave Brighton
without notice. He began rapidly to regain his strength.
We'll go on the first of September, he said.
* * * * *
The evening of August 31st was oppressively warm. Though at midday
the windows had been wide open, they had been shut an hour or so before
dusk. Mrs. Prince had long since ceased to wonder at the strange habits
of the gentlemen on the first floor. Soon after their arrival she had
been told to take down the heavy window curtains in the two bedrooms,
and day by day the rooms had seemed to grow more bare. Nothing was left
Mr. Borlsover doesn't like to have any place where dirt can
collect, Saunders had said as an excuse. He likes to see into all the
corners of the room.
Couldn't I open the window just a little? he said to Eustace that
evening. We're simply roasting in here, you know.
No, leave well alone. We're not a couple of boarding-school misses
fresh from a course of hygiene lectures. Get the chessboard out.
They sat down and played. At ten o'clock Mrs. Prince came to the
door with a note. I am sorry I didn't bring it before, she said, but
it was left in the letter-box.
Open it, Saunders, and see if it wants answering.
It was very brief. There was neither address nor signature.
Will eleven o'clock to-night be suitable for our last
Who is it from? asked Borlsover.
It was meant for me, said Saunders. There's no answer, Mrs.
Prince, and he put the paper into his pocket. A dunning letter from a
tailor; I suppose he must have got wind of our leaving.
It was a clever lie, and Eustace asked no more questions. They went
on with their game.
On the landing outside Saunders could hear the grandfather's clock
whispering the seconds, blurting out the quarter-hours.
Check! said Eustace. The clock struck eleven. At the same time
there was a gentle knocking on the door; it seemed to come from the
Who's there? asked Eustace.
There was no answer.
Mrs. Prince, is that you?
She is up above, said Saunders; I can hear her walking about the
Then lock the door; bolt it too. Your move, Saunders.
While Saunders sat with his eyes on the chessboard, Eustace walked
over to the window and examined the fastenings. He did the same in
Saunders's room and the bathroom. There were no doors between the three
rooms, or he would have shut and locked them too.
Now, Saunders, he said, don't stay all night over your move. I've
had time to smoke one cigarette already. It's bad to keep an invalid
waiting. There's only one possible thing for you to do. What was that?
The ivy blowing against the window. There, it's your move now,
It wasn't the ivy, you idiot. It was someone tapping at the
window, and he pulled up the blind. On the outer side of the window,
clinging to the sash, was the hand.
What is it that it's holding?
It's a pocket-knife. It's going to try to open the window by
pushing back the fastener with the blade.
Well, let it try, said Eustace. Those fasteners screw down; they
can't be opened that way. Anyhow, we'll close the shutters. It's your
move, Saunders. I've played.
But Saunders found it impossible to fix his attention on the game.
He could not understand Eustace who seemed all at once to have lost his
fear. What do you say to some wine? he asked. You seem to be taking
things coolly, but I don't mind confessing that I'm in a blessed funk.
You've no need to be. There's nothing supernatural about that hand,
Saunders. I mean it seems to be governed by the laws of time and space.
It's not the sort of thing that vanishes into thin air or slides
through oaken doors. And since that's so, I defy it to get in here.
We'll leave the place in the morning. I for one have bottomed the
depths of fear. Fill your glass, man! The windows are all shuttered,
the door is locked and bolted. Pledge me my uncle Adrian! Drink, man!
What are you waiting for?
Saunders was standing with his glass half raised. It can get in,
he said hoarsely; it can get in! We've forgotten. There's the
fireplace in my bedroom. It will come down the chimney.
Quick! said Eustace, as he rushed into the other room; we haven't
a minute to lose. What can we do? Light the fire, Saunders. Give me a
They must be all in the other room. I'll get them.
Hurry, man, for goodness' sake! Look in the bookcase! Look in the
bathroom! Here, come and stand here; I'll look.
Be quick! shouted Saunders. I can hear something!
Then plug a sheet from your bed up the chimney. No, here's a
match. He had found one at last that had slipped into a crack in the
Is the fire laid? Good, but it may not burn. I knowthe oil from
that old reading-lamp and this cotton-wool. Now the match, quick! Pull
the sheet away, you fool! We don't want it now.
There was a great roar from the grate as the flames shot up.
Saunders had been a fraction of a second too late with the sheet. The
oil had fallen on to it. It, too, was burning.
The whole place will be on fire! cried Eustace, as he tried to
beat out the flames with a blanket. It's no good! I can't manage it.
You must open the door, Saunders, and get help.
Saunders ran to the door and fumbled with the bolts. The key was
stiff in the lock.
Hurry! shouted Eustace; the whole place is ablaze!
The key turned in the lock at last. For half a second Saunders
stopped to look back. Afterwards he could never be quite sure as to
what he had seen, but at the time he thought that something black and
charred was creeping slowly, very slowly, from the mass of flames
toward Eustace Borlsover. For a moment he thought of returning to his
friend, but the noise and the smell of the burning sent him running
down the passage crying, Fire! Fire! He rushed to the telephone to
summon help, and then back to the bathroomhe should have thought of
that beforefor water. As he burst open the bedroom door there came a
scream of terror which ended suddenly, and then the sound of a heavy
* * * * *
This is the story which I heard on successive Saturday evenings from
the senior mathematical master at a second-rate suburban school. For
Saunders has had to earn a living in a way which other men might reckon
less congenial than his old manner of life. I had mentioned by chance
the name of Adrian Borlsover, and wondered at the time why he changed
the conversation with such unusual abruptness. A week later, Saunders
began to tell me something of his own historysordid enough, though
shielded with a reserve I could well understand, for it had to cover
not only his failings but those of a dead friend. Of the final tragedy
he was at first especially loath to speak, and it was only gradually
that I was able to piece together the narrative of the preceding pages.
Saunders was reluctant to draw any conclusions. At one time he thought
that the fingered beast had been animated by the spirit of Sigismund
Borlsover, a sinister eighteenth-century ancestor, who, according to
legend, built and worshipped in the ugly pagan temple that overlooked
the lake. At another time Saunders believed the spirit to belong to a
man whom Eustace had once employed as a laboratory assistant, a
black-haired spiteful little brute, he said, who died cursing his
doctor because the fellow couldn't help him to live to settle some
paltry score with Borlsover.
From the point of view of direct contemporary evidence, Saunders's
story is practically uncorroborated. All the letters mentioned in the
narrative were destroyed, with the exception of the last note which
Eustace received, or rather which he would have received had not
Saunders intercepted it. That I have seen myself. The handwriting was
thin and shaky, the handwriting of an old man. I remember the Greek e
was used in appointment. A little thing that amused me at the time
was that Saunders seemed to keep the note pressed between the pages of
I had seen Adrian Borlsover once. Saunders, I learnt to know well.
It was by chance, however, and not by design, that I met a third person
of the story, Morton the butler. Saunders and I were walking in the
Zoological Gardens one Sunday afternoon, when he called my attention to
an old man who was standing before the door of the reptile house.
Why, Morton! he said, clapping him on the back. How is the world
Poorly, Mr. Saunders, said the old fellow, though his face lighted
up at the greeting. The winters drag terribly nowadays. There don't
seem no summers or springs.
You haven't found what you were looking for, I suppose?
No, sir, not yet; but I shall some day. I always told them that Mr.
Borlsover kept some queer animals.
And what is he looking for? I asked, when we had parted from him.
A beast with five fingers, said Saunders. This afternoon, since
he has been in the reptile house, I suppose it will be a reptile with a
hand. Next week it will be a monkey with practically no body. The poor
old chap is a born materialist.
It's a queer coincidence, by the way, that you should have known
Adrian Borlsover and that you should have received a blessing at his
hand. Has it brought you any luck?
No, I answered slowly, as I looked back over a life of
inconspicuous failure, I don't think it has. It was his right hand,
[B] Reprinted by permission of Robt. M. McBride &Co.
VI. SISTER MADDELENA
RALPH ADAMS CRAM
Across the valley of the Oreto from Monreale, on the slopes of the
mountains just above the little village of Parco, lies the old convent
of Sta. Catarina. From the cloister terrace at Monreale you can see its
pale walls and the slim campanile of its chapel rising from the crowded
citron and mulberry orchards that flourish, rank and wild, no longer
cared for by pious and loving hands. From the rough road that climbs
the mountains to Assunto, the convent is invisible, a gnarled and
ragged olive grove intervening, and a spur of cliffs as well, while
from Palermo one sees only the speck of white, flashing in the sun,
indistinguishable from the many similar gleams of desert monastery or
Partly because of this seclusion, partly by reason of its extreme
beauty, partly, it may be, because the present owners are more than
charming and gracious in their pressing hospitality, Sta. Catarina
seems to preserve an element of the poetic, almost magical; and as I
drove with the Cavaliere Valguanera one evening in March out of
Palermo, along the garden valley of the Oreto, then up the mountain
side where the warm light of the spring sunset swept across from
Monreale, lying golden and mellow on the luxuriant growth of figs, and
olives, and orange-trees, and fantastic cacti, and so up to where the
path of the convent swung off to the right round a dizzy point of cliff
that reached out gaunt and gray from the olives below,as I drove thus
in the balmy air, and saw of a sudden a vision of creamy walls and
orange roof, draped in fantastic festoons of roses, with a single
curving palm-tree stuck black and feathery against the gold sunset, it
is hardly to be wondered at that I should slip into a mood of visionary
enjoyment, looking for a time on the whole thing as the misty phantasm
of a summer dream.
The Cavaliere had introduced himself to us,Tom Rendel and me,one
morning soon after we reached Palermo, when, in the first bewilderment
of architects in this paradise of art and colour, we were working nobly
at our sketches in that dream of delight, the Capella Palatina. He was
himself an amateur archæologist, he told us, and passionately devoted
to his island; so he felt impelled to speak to anyone whom he saw
appreciating the almostand in a way fortunatelyunknown beauties of
Palermo. In a little time we were fully acquainted, and talking like
the oldest friends. Of course he knew acquaintances of
Rendel's,someone always does: this time they were officers on the
tubby U. S. S. Quinebaug, that, during the summer of 1888, was
trying to uphold the maritime honour of the United States in European
waters. Luckily for us, one of the officers was a kind of cousin of
Rendel's, and came from Baltimore as well, so, as he had visited at the
Cavaliere's place, we were soon invited to do the same. It was in this
way that, with the luck that attends Rendel wherever he goes, we came
to see something of domestic life in Italy, and that I found myself
involved in another of those adventures for which I naturally sought so
I wonder if there is any other place in Sicily so faultless as Sta.
Catarina? Taormina is a paradise, an epitome of all that is beautiful
in Italy,Venice excepted. Girgenti is a solemn epic, with its golden
temples between the sea and hills. Cefalú is wild and strange, and
Monreale a vision out of a fairy tale; but Sta. Catarina!
Fancy a convent of creamy stone and rose red brick perched on a
ledge of rock midway between earth and heaven, the cliff falling almost
sheer to the valley two hundred feet and more, the mountain rising
behind straight toward the sky; all the rocks covered with cactus and
dwarf fig-trees, the convent draped in smothering roses, and in front a
terrace with a fountain in the midst; and thennothingbetween you
and the sapphire sea, six miles away. Below stretches the Eden valley,
the Concha d'Oro, gold-green fig orchards alternating with smoke-blue
olives, the mountains rising on either hand and sinking undulously away
toward the bay where, like a magic city of ivory and nacre, Palermo
lies guarded by the twin mountains, Monte Pelligrino and Capo
Zafferano, arid rocks like dull amethysts, rose in sunlight, violet in
shadow: lions couchant, guarding the sleeping town.
Seen as we saw it for the first time that hot evening in March, with
the golden lambent light pouring down through the valley, making it in
verity a shell of gold, sitting in Indian chairs on the terrace, with
the perfume of roses and jasmines all around us, the valley of the
Oreto, Palermo, Sta. Catarina, Monreale,all were but parts of a
dreamy vision, like the heavenly city of Sir Percivale, to attain which
he passed across the golden bridge that burned after him as he vanished
in the intolerable light of the Beatific Vision.
It was all so unreal, so phantasmal, that I was not surprised in the
least when, late in the evening after the ladies had gone to their
rooms, and the Cavaliere, Tom, and I were stretched out in chairs on
the terrace, smoking lazily under the multitudinous stars, the
Cavaliere said, There is something I really must tell you both before
you go to bed, so that you may be spared any unnecessary alarm.
You are going to say that the place is haunted, said Rendel,
feeling vaguely on the floor beside him for his glass of Amaro: thank
you; it is all it needs.
The Cavaliere smiled a little: Yes, that is just it. Sta. Catarina
is really haunted; and much as my reason revolts against the idea as
superstitious and savouring of priestcraft, yet I must acknowledge I
see no way of avoiding the admission. I do not presume to offer any
explanations, I only state the fact; and the fact is that to-night one
or other of you will, in all humanor unhumanprobability, receive a
visit from Sister Maddelena. You need not be in the least afraid, the
apparition is perfectly gentle and harmless; and, moreover, having seen
it once, you will never see it again. No one sees the ghost, or
whatever it is, but once, and that usually the first night he spends in
the house. I myself saw the thing eightnine years ago, when I first
bought the place from the Marchese di Muxaro; all my people have seen
it, nearly all my guests, so I think you may as well be prepared.
Then tell us what to expect, I said; what kind of a ghost is this
It is simple enough. Some time to-night you will suddenly awake and
see before you a Carmelite nun who will look fixedly at you, say
distinctly and very sadly, 'I cannot sleep,' and then vanish. That is
all, it is hardly worth speaking of, only some people are terribly
frightened if they are visited unwarned by strange apparitions; so I
tell you this that you may be prepared.
This was a Carmelite convent, then? I said.
Yes; it was suppressed after the unification of Italy, and given to
the House of Muxaro; but the family died out, and I bought it. There is
a story about the ghostly nun, who was only a novice, and even that
unwillingly, which gives an interest to an otherwise very commonplace
and uninteresting ghost.
I beg that you will tell it us, cried Rendel.
There is a storm coming, I added. See, the lightning is flashing
already up among the mountains at the head of the valley; if the story
is tragic, as it must be, now is just the time for it. You will tell
it, will you not?
The Cavaliere smiled that slow, cryptic smile of his that was so
As you say, there is a shower coming, and as we have fierce
tempests here, we might not sleep; so perhaps we may as well sit up a
little longer, and I will tell you the story.
The air was utterly still, hot and oppressive; the rich, sick odour
of the oranges just bursting into bloom came up from the valley in a
gently rising tide. The sky, thick with stars, seemed mirrored in the
rich foliage below, so numerous were the glow-worms under the still
trees, and the fireflies that gleamed in the hot air. Lightning flashed
fitfully from the darkening west; but as yet no thunder broke the heavy
The Cavaliere lighted another cigar, and pulled a cushion under his
head so that he could look down to the distant lights of the city.
This is the story, he said.
Once upon a time, late in the last century, the Duca di Castiglione
was attached to the court of Charles III., King of the Two Sicilies,
down at Palermo. They tell me he was very ambitious, and, not content
with marrying his son to one of the ladies of the House of Tuscany, had
betrothed his only daughter, Rosalia, to Prince Antonio, a cousin of
the king. His whole life was wrapped up in the fame of his family, and
he quite forgot all domestic affection in his madness for dynastic
glory. His son was a worthy scion, cold and proud; but Rosalia was,
according to legend, utterly the reverse,a passionate, beautiful
girl, wilful and headstrong, and careless of her family and the world.
The time had nearly come for her to marry Prince Antonio, a typical
roué of the Spanish court, when, through the treachery of a
servant, the Duke discovered that his daughter was in love with a young
military officer whose name I don't remember, and that an elopement had
been planned to take place the next night. The fury and dismay of the
old autocrat passed belief; he saw in a flash the downfall of all his
hopes of family aggrandizement through union with the royal house, and,
knowing well the spirit of his daughter, despaired of ever bringing her
to subjection. Nevertheless, he attacked her unmercifully, and, by
bullying and threats, by imprisonment, and even bodily chastisement, he
tried to break her spirit and bend her to his indomitable will. Through
his power at court he had the lover sent away to the mainland, and for
more than a year he held his daughter closely imprisoned in his palace
on the Toledo,that one, you may remember, on the right, just beyond
the Via del Collegio dei Gesuiti, with the beautiful ironwork grilles
at all the windows, and the painted frieze. But nothing could move her,
nothing bend her stubborn will; and at last, furious at the girl he
could not govern, Castiglione sent her to this convent, then one of the
few houses of barefoot Carmelite nuns in Italy. He stipulated that she
should take the name of Maddelena, that he should never hear of her
again, and that she should be held an absolute prisoner in this
Rosaliaor Sister Maddelena, as she was nowbelieved her lover
dead, for her father had given her good proofs of this, and she
believed him; nevertheless she refused to marry another, and seized
upon the convent life as a blessed relief from the tyranny of her
She lived here for four or five years; her name was forgotten at
court and in her father's palace. Rosalia di Castiglione was dead, and
only Sister Maddelena lived, a Carmelite nun, in her place.
In 1798 Ferdinand IV. found himself driven from his throne on the
mainland, his kingdom divided, and he himself forced to flee to Sicily.
With him came the lover of the dead Rosalia, now high in military
honour. He on his part had thought Rosalia dead, and it was only by
accident that he found that she still lived, a Carmelite nun. Then
began the second act of the romance that until then had been only sadly
commonplace, but now became dark and tragic. MicheleMichele
Biscari,that was his name; I remember nowhaunted the region of the
convent, striving to communicate with Sister Maddelena; and at last,
from the cliffs over us, up there among the citronsyou will see by
the next flash of lightninghe saw her in the great cloister,
recognized her in her white habit, found her the same dark and splendid
beauty of six years before, only made more beautiful by her white habit
and her rigid life. By and by he found a day when she was alone, and
tossed a ring to her as she stood in the midst of the cloister. She
looked up, saw him, and from that moment lived only to love him in life
as she had loved his memory in the death she had thought had overtaken
With the utmost craft they arranged their plans together. They
could not speak, for a word would have aroused the other inmates of the
convent. They could make signs only when Sister Maddelena was alone.
Michele could throw notes to her from the cliff,a feat demanding a
strong arm, as you will see, if you measure the distance with your
eye,and she could drop replies from the window over the cliff, which
he picked up at the bottom. Finally he succeeded in casting into the
cloister a coil of light rope. The girl fastened it to the bars of one
of the windows, andso great is the madness of loveBiscari actually
climbed the rope from the valley to the window of the cell, a distance
of almost two hundred feet, with but three little craggy resting-places
in all that height. For nearly a month these nocturnal visits were
undiscovered, and Michele had almost completed his arrangements for
carrying the girl from Sta. Catarina and away to Spain, when
unfortunately one of the sisters, suspecting some mystery, from the
changed face of Sister Maddelena, began investigating, and at length
discovered the rope neatly coiled up by the nun's window, and hidden
under some clinging vines. She instantly told the Mother Superior; and
together they watched from a window in the crypt of the chapel,the
only place, as you will see to-morrow, from which one could see the
window of Sister Maddelena's cell. They saw the figure of Michele
daringly ascending the slim rope; watched hour after hour, the Sister
remaining while the Superior went to say the hours in the chapel, at
each of which Sister Maddelena was present; and at last, at prime, just
as the sun was rising, they saw the figure slip down the rope, watched
the rope drawn up and concealed, and knew that Sister Maddelena was in
their hands for vengeance and punishment,a criminal.
The next day, by the order of the Mother Superior, Sister Maddelena
was imprisoned in one of the cells under the chapel, charged with her
guilt, and commanded to make full and complete confession. But not a
word would she say, although they offered her forgiveness if she would
tell the name of her lover. At last the Superior told her that after
this fashion would they act the coming night: she herself would be
placed in the crypt, tied in front of the window, her mouth gagged;
that the rope would be lowered, and the lover allowed to approach even
to the sill of her window, and at that moment the rope would be cut,
and before her eyes her lover would be dashed to death on the ragged
cliffs. The plan was feasible, and Sister Maddelena knew that the
Mother was perfectly capable of carrying it out. Her stubborn spirit
was broken, and in the only way possible she begged for mercy, for the
sparing of her lover. The Mother Superior was deaf at first; at last
she said, 'It is your life or his. I will spare him on condition that
you sacrifice your own life.' Sister Maddelena accepted the terms
joyfully, wrote a last farewell to Michele, fastened the note to the
rope, and with her own hands cut the rope and saw it fall coiling down
to the valley bed far below.
Then she silently prepared for death; and at midnight, while her
lover was wandering, mad with the horror of impotent fear, around the
white walls of the convent, Sister Maddelena, for love of Michele, gave
up her life. How, was never known. That she was indeed dead was only a
suspicion, for when Biscari finally compelled the civil authorities to
enter the convent, claiming that murder had been done there, they found
no sign. Sister Maddelena had been sent to the parent house of the
barefoot Carmelites at Avila in Spain, so the Superior stated, because
of her incorrigible contumacy. The old Duke of Castiglione refused to
stir hand or foot in the matter, and Michele, after fruitless attempts
to prove that the Superior of Sta. Catarina had caused the death, was
forced to leave Sicily. He sought in Spain for very long; but no sign
of the girl was to be found, and at last he died, exhausted with
suffering and sorrow.
Even the name of Sister Maddelena was forgotten, and it was not
until the convents were suppressed, and this house came into the hands
of the Muxaros, that her story was remembered. It was then that the
ghost began to appear; and, an explanation being necessary, the story,
or legend, was obtained from one of the nuns who still lived after the
suppression. I think the factfor it is a factof the ghost rather
goes to prove that Michele was right, and that poor Rosalia gave her
life a sacrifice for love,whether in accordance with the terms of the
legend or not, I cannot say. One or the other of you will probably see
her to-night. You might ask her for the facts. Well, that is all the
story of Sister Maddelena, known in the world as Rosalia di
Castiglione. Do you like it?
It is admirable, said Rendel, enthusiastically. But I fancy I
should rather look on it simply as a story, and not as a warning of
what is going to happen. I don't much fancy real ghosts myself.
But the poor Sister is quite harmless; and Valguanera rose,
stretching himself. My servants say she wants a mass said over her, or
something of that kind; but I haven't much love for such priestly
hocus-pocus,I beg your pardon (turning to me), I had forgotten that
you were a Catholic: forgive my rudeness.
My dear Cavaliere, I beg you not to apologize. I am sorry you
cannot see things as I do; but don't for a moment think I am
I have an excuse,perhaps you will say only an explanation; but I
live where I see all the absurdities and corruptions of the Church.
Perhaps you let the accidents blind you to the essentials; but do
not let us quarrel to-night,see, the storm is close on us. Shall we
The stars were blotted out through nearly all the sky; low,
thunderous clouds, massed at the head of the valley, were sweeping over
so close that they seemed to brush the black pines on the mountain
above us. To the south and east the storm-clouds had shut down almost
to the sea, leaving a space of black sky where the moon in its last
quarter was rising just to the left of Monte Pellegrino,a black
silhouette against the pallid moonlight. The rosy lightning flashed
almost incessantly, and through the fitful darkness came the sound of
bells across the valley, the rushing torrent below, and the dull roar
of the approaching rain, with a deep organ-point of solemn thunder
through it all.
We fled indoors from the coming tempest, and taking our candles,
said good-night, and sought each his respective room.
My own was in the southern part of the old convent, giving on the
terrace we had just quitted, and about over the main doorway. The
rushing storm, as it swept down the valley with the swelling torrent
beneath, was very fascinating, and after wrapping myself in a
dressing-gown I stood for some time by the deeply embrasured window,
watching the blazing lightning and the beating rain whirled by fitful
gusts of wind around the spurs of the mountains. Gradually the violence
of the shower seemed to decrease, and I threw myself down on my bed in
the hot air, wondering if I really was to experience the ghostly visit
the Cavaliere so confidently predicted.
I had thought out the whole matter to my own satisfaction, and
fancied I knew exactly what I should do, in case Sister Maddelena came
to visit me. The story touched me: the thought of the poor faithful
girl who sacrificed herself for her lover,himself very likely, quite
unworthy,and who now could never sleep for reason of her unquiet
soul, sent out into the storm of eternity without spiritual aid or
counsel. I could not sleep; for the still vivid lightning, the crowding
thoughts of the dead nun, and the shivering anticipation of my possible
visitation, made slumber quite out of the question. No suspicion of
sleepiness had visited me, when, perhaps an hour after midnight, came a
sudden vivid flash of lightning, and, as my dazzled eyes began to
regain the power of sight, I saw her as plainly as in life,a tall
figure, shrouded in the white habit of the Carmelites, her head bent,
her hands clasped before her. In another flash of lightning she slowly
raised her head and looked at me long and earnestly. She was very
beautiful, like the Virgin of Beltraffio in the National Gallery,more
beautiful than I had supposed possible, her deep, passionate eyes very
tender and pitiful in their pleading, beseeching glance. I hardly think
I was frightened, or even startled, but lay looking steadily at her as
she stood in the beating lightning.
Then she breathed, rather than articulated, with a voice that almost
brought tears, so infinitely sad and sorrowful was it, I cannot
sleep! and the liquid eyes grew more pitiful and questioning as bright
tears fell from them down the pale dark face.
The figure began to move slowly toward the door, its eyes fixed on
mine with a look that was weary and almost agonized. I leaped from the
bed and stood waiting. A look of utter gratitude swept over the face,
and, turning, the figure passed through the doorway.
Out into the shadow of the corridor it moved, like a drift of pallid
storm-cloud, and I followed, all natural and instinctive fear or
nervousness quite blotted out by the part I felt I was to play in
giving rest to a tortured soul. The corridors were velvet black; but
the pale figure floated before me always, an unerring guide, now but a
thin mist on the utter night, now white and clear in the bluish
lightning through some window or doorway.
Down the stairway into the lower hall, across the refectory, where
the great frescoed Crucifixion flared into sudden clearness under the
fitful lightning, out into the silent cloister.
It was very dark. I stumbled along the heaving bricks, now guiding
myself by a hand on the whitewashed wall, now by a touch on a column
wet with the storm. From all the eaves the rain was dripping on to the
pebbles at the foot of the arcade: a pigeon, startled from the capital
where it was sleeping, beat its way into the cloister close. Still the
white thing drifted before me to the farther side of the court, then
along the cloister at right angles, and paused before one of the many
doorways that led to the cells.
A sudden blaze of fierce lightning, the last now of the fleeting
trail of storm, leaped around us, and in the vivid light I saw the
white face turned again with the look of overwhelming desire, of
beseeching pathos, that had choked my throat with an involuntary sob
when first I saw Sister Maddelena. In the brief interval that ensued
after the flash, and before the roaring thunder burst like the crash of
battle over the trembling convent, I heard again the sorrowful words,
I cannot sleep, come from the impenetrable darkness. And when the
lightning came again, the white figure was gone.
I wandered around the courtyard, searching in vain for Sister
Maddelena, even until the moonlight broke through the torn and sweeping
fringes of the storm. I tried the door where the white figure vanished:
it was locked; but I had found what I sought, and, carefully noting its
location, went back to my room, but not to sleep.
In the morning the Cavaliere asked Rendel and me which of us had
seen the ghost, and I told him my story; then I asked him to grant me
permission to sift the thing to the bottom; and he courteously gave the
whole matter into my charge, promising that he would consent to
I could hardly wait to finish breakfast; but no sooner was this done
than, forgetting my morning pipe, I started with Rendel and the
Cavaliere to investigate.
I am sure there is nothing in that cell, said Valguanera, when we
came in front of the door I had marked. It is curious that you should
have chosen the door of the very cell that tradition assigns to Sister
Maddelena; but I have often examined that room myself, and I am sure
that there is no chance for anything to be concealed. In fact, I had
the floor taken up once, soon after I came here, knowing the room was
that of the mysterious Sister, and thinking that there, if anywhere,
the monastic crime would have taken place; still, we will go in, if you
He unlocked the door, and we entered, one of us, at all events, with
a beating heart. The cell was very small, hardly eight feet square.
There certainly seemed no opportunity for concealing a body in the tiny
place; and although I sounded the floor and walls, all gave a solid,
heavy answer,the unmistakable sound of masonry.
For the innocence of the floor the Cavaliere answered. He had, he
said, had it all removed, even to the curving surfaces of the vault
below; yet somewhere in this room the body of the murdered girl was
concealed,of this I was certain. But where? There seemed no answer;
and I was compelled to give up the search for the moment, somewhat to
the amusement of Valguanera, who had watched curiously to see if I
could solve the mystery.
But I could not forget the subject, and toward noon started on
another tour of investigation. I procured the keys from the Cavaliere,
and examined the cells adjoining; they were apparently the same, each
with its window opposite the door, and nothingStay, were they the
same? I hastened into the suspected cell; it was as I thought: this
cell, being on the corner, could have had two windows, yet only one was
visible, and that to the left, at right angles with the doorway. Was it
imagination? As I sounded the wall opposite the door, where the other
window should be; I fancied that the sound was a trifle less solid and
dull. I was becoming excited. I dashed back to the cell on the right,
and, forcing open the little window, thrust my head out.
It was found at last! In the smooth surface of the yellow wall was a
rough space, following approximately the shape of the other cell
windows, not plastered like the rest of the wall, but showing the
shapes of bricks through its thick coatings of whitewash. I turned with
a gasp of excitement and satisfaction: yes, the embrasure of the wall
was deep enough; what a wall it was!four feet at least, and the
opening of the window reached to the floor, though the window itself
was hardly three feet square. I felt absolutely certain that the secret
was solved, and called the Cavaliere and Rendel, too excited to give
them an explanation of my theories.
They must have thought me mad when I suddenly began scraping away at
the solid wall in front of the door; but in a few minutes they
understood what I was about, for under the coatings of paint and
plaster appeared the original bricks; and as my architectural knowledge
had led me rightly, the space I had cleared was directly over a
vertical joint between firm, workmanlike masonry on one hand, and rough
amateurish work on the other, bricks laid anyway, and without order or
Rendel seized a pick, and was about to assail the rude wall, when I
Let us be careful, I said; who knows what we may find? So we set
to work digging out the mortar around a brick at about the level of our
How hard the mortar had become! But a brick yielded at last, and
with trembling fingers I detached it. Darkness within, yet beyond
question there was a cavity there, not a solid wall; and with infinite
care we removed another brick. Still the hole was too small to admit
enough light from the dimly illuminated cell. With a chisel we pried at
the sides of a large block of masonry, perhaps eight bricks in size. It
moved, and we softly slid it from its bed.
Valguanera, who was standing watching us as we lowered the bricks to
the floor, gave a sudden cry, a cry like that of a frightened
woman,terrible, coming from him. Yet there was cause.
Framed by the ragged opening of the bricks, hardly seen in the dim
light, was a face, an ivory image, more beautiful than any antique
bust, but drawn and distorted by unspeakable agony: the lovely mouth
half open, as though gasping for breath; the eyes cast upward; and
below, slim chiselled hands crossed on the breast, but clutching the
folds of the white Carmelite habit, torture and agony visible in every
tense muscle, fighting against the determination of the rigid pose.
We stood there breathless, staring at the pitiful sight, fascinated,
bewitched. So this was the secret. With fiendish ingenuity, the rigid
ecclesiastics had blocked up the window, then forced the beautiful
creature to stand in the alcove, while with remorseless hands and iron
hearts they had shut her into a living tomb. I had read of such things
in romance; but to find the verity here, before my eyes
Steps came down the cloister, and with a simultaneous thought we
sprang to the door and closed it behind us. The room was sacred; that
awful sight was not for curious eyes. The gardener was coming to ask
some trivial question of Valguanera. The Cavaliere cut him short.
Pietro, go down to Parco and ask Padre Stefano to come here at once.
(I thanked him with a glance.) Stay! He turned to me: Signore, it is
already two o'clock and too late for mass, is it not?
Valguanera thought a moment, then he said, Bring two horses; the
Signor Americano will go with you,do you understand? Then, turning
to me, You will go, will you not? I think you can explain matters to
Padre Stefano better than I.
Of course I will go, more than gladly. So it happened that after a
hasty luncheon I wound down the mountain to Parco, found Padre Stefano,
explained my errand to him, found him intensely eager and sympathetic,
and by five o'clock had him back at the convent with all that was
necessary for the resting of the soul of the dead girl.
In the warm twilight, with the last light of the sunset pouring into
the little cell through the window where almost a century ago Rosalia
had for the last time said farewell to her lover, we gathered together
to speed her tortured soul on its journey, so long delayed. Nothing was
omitted; all the needful offices of the Church were said by Padre
Stefano, while the light in the window died away, and the flickering
flames of the candles carried by two of the acolytes from San Francesco
threw fitful flashes of pallid light into the dark recess where the
white face had prayed to Heaven for a hundred years.
Finally, the Padre took the asperge from the hands of one of the
acolytes, and with a sign of the cross in benediction while he chanted
the Asperges, gently sprinkled the holy water on the upturned
face. Instantly the whole vision crumbled to dust, the face was gone,
and where once the candlelight had flickered on the perfect semblance
of the girl dead so very long, it now fell only on the rough bricks
which closed the window, bricks laid with frozen hearts by pitiless
But our task was not done yet. It had been arranged that Padre
Stefano should remain at the convent all night, and that as soon as
midnight made it possible he should say the first mass for the repose
of the girl's soul. We sat on the terrace talking over the strange
events of the last crowded hours, and I noted with satisfaction that
the Cavaliere no longer spoke of the Church with that hardness, which
had hurt me so often. It is true that the Padre was with us nearly all
the time; but not only was Valguanera courteous, he was almost
sympathetic; and I wondered if it might not prove that more than one
soul benefited by the untoward events of the day.
With the aid of the astonished and delighted servants, and no little
help as well from Signora Valguanera, I fitted up the long cold Altar
in the chapel, and by midnight we had the gloomy sanctuary beautiful
with flowers and candles. It was a curiously solemn service, in the
first hour of the new day, in the midst of blazing candles and the
thick incense, the odour of the opening orange-blooms drifting up in
the fresh morning air, and mingling with the incense smoke and the
perfume of flowers within. Many prayers were said that night for the
soul of the dead girl, and I think many afterward; for after the
benediction I remained for a little time in my place, and when I rose
from my knees and went toward the chapel door, I saw a figure kneeling
still, and, with a start, recognized the form of the Cavaliere. I
smiled with quiet satisfaction and gratitude, and went away softly,
content with the chain of events that now seemed finished.
The next day the alcove was again walled up, for the precious dust
could not be gathered together for transportation to consecrated
ground; so I went down to the little cemetery at Parco for a basket of
earth, which we cast in over the ashes of Sister Maddelena.
By and by, when Rendel and I went away, with great regret,
Valguanera came down to Palermo with us; and the last act that we
performed in Sicily was assisting him to order a tablet of marble,
whereon was carved this simple inscription:
HERE LIES THE BODY OF
ROSALIA DI CASTIGLIONI,
IS WITH HIM WHO GAVE IT.
To this I added in thought:
Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.
VII. THRAWN JANET
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
The Reverend Murdoch Soulis was long minister of the moorland parish
of Balweary, in the vale of Dule. A severe, bleak-faced old man,
dreadful to his hearers, he dwelt in the last years of his life,
without relative or servant or any human company, in the small and
lonely manse under the Hanging Shaw. In spite of the iron composure of
his features, his eye was wild, scared, and uncertain; and when he
dwelt, in private admonitions, on the future of the impenitent, it
seemed as if his eye pierced through the storms of time to the terrors
of eternity. Many young persons, coming to prepare themselves against
the season of the Holy Communion, were dreadfully affected by his talk.
He had a sermon on 1st Peter, v. and 8th, The devil as a roaring
lion, on the Sunday after every seventeenth of August, and he was
accustomed to surpass himself upon that text both by the appalling
nature of the matter and the terror of his bearing in the pulpit. The
children were frightened into fits, and the old looked more than
usually oracular, and were, all that day, full of those hints that
Hamlet deprecated. The manse itself, where it stood by the water of
Dule among some thick trees, with the Shaw overhanging it on the one
side, and on the other many cold, moorish hill-tops rising toward the
sky, had begun, at a very early period of Mr. Soulis's ministry, to be
avoided in the dusk hours by all who valued themselves upon their
prudence; and guidmen sitting at the clachan alehouse shook their heads
together at the thought of passing late by that uncanny neighbourhood.
There was one spot, to be more particular, which was regarded with
especial awe. The manse stood between the highroad and the water of
Dule with a gable to each; its back was toward the kirktown of
Balweary, nearly half a mile away; in front of it, a bare garden,
hedged with thorn, occupied the land between the river and the road.
The house was two stories high, with two large rooms on each. It opened
not directly on the garden, but on a causewayed path, or passage,
giving on the road on the one hand, and closed on the other by the tall
willows and elders that bordered on the stream. And it was this strip
of causeway that enjoyed among the young parishioners of Balweary so
infamous a reputation. The minister walked there often after dark,
sometimes groaning aloud in the instancy of his unspoken prayers; and
when he was from home, and the manse door was locked, the more daring
schoolboys ventured, with beating hearts, to follow my leader across
that legendary spot.
This atmosphere of terror, surrounding, as it did, a man of God of
spotless character and orthodoxy, was a common cause of wonder and
subject of inquiry among the few strangers who were led by chance or
business into that unknown, outlying country. But many even of the
people of the parish were ignorant of the strange events which had
marked the first year of Mr. Soulis's ministrations; and among those
who were better informed, some were naturally reticent, and others shy
of that particular topic. Now and again, only, one of the older folk
would warm into courage over his third tumbler, and recount the cause
of the minister's strange and solitary life.
* * * * *
Fifty years syne, when Mr. Soulis cam' first into Ba'weary, he was
still a young mana callant, the folk saidfu' o' book learnin' and
grand at the exposition, but, as was natural in sae young a man, wi'
nae leevin' experience in religion. The younger sort were greatly taken
wi' his gifts and his gab; but auld, concerned, serious men and women
were moved even to prayer for the young man, whom they took to be a
self-deceiver, and the parish that was like to be sae ill-supplied. It
was before the days o' the moderatesweary fa' them; but ill things
are like guidthey baith come bit by bit, a pickle at a time; and
there were folk even then that said the Lord had left the college
professors to their ain devices an' the lads that went to study wi'
them wad hae done mair and better sittin' in a peat-bog, like their
forbears of the persecution, wi' a Bible under their oxter and a
speerit o' prayer in their heart. There was nae doubt, onyway, but that
Mr. Soulis had been ower lang at the college. He was careful and
troubled for mony things besides the ae thing needful. He had a feck o'
books wi' himmair than had ever been seen before in a' that
presbytery; and a sair wark the carrier had wi' them, for they were a'
like to have smoored in the Deil's Hag between this and Kilmackerlie.
They were books o' divinity, to be sure, or so they ca'd them; but the
serious were o' opinion there was little service for sae mony, when the
hail o' God's Word would gang in the neuk of a plaid. Then he wad sit
half the day and half the nicht forbye, which was scant decentwritin'
nae less; and first, they were feared he wad read his sermons; and syne
it proved he was writin' a book himsel', which was surely no fittin'
for ane of his years and sma' experience.
Onyway it behoved him to get an auld, decent wife to keep the manse
for him an' see to his bit denners; and he was recommended to an auld
limmerJanet M'Clour, they ca'ed herand sae far left to himsel' as
to be ower persuaded. There was mony advised him to the contrar, for
Janet was mair than suspeckit by the best folk in Ba'weary. Lang or
that, she had had a wean to a dragoon; she hadnae come forrit for
maybe thretty year; and bairns had seen her mumblin' to hersel' up on
Key's Loan in the gloamin', whilk was an unco time an' place for a
God-fearin' woman. Howsoever, it was the laird himsel' that had first
tauld the minister o' Janet; and in thae days he wad have gane a far
gate to pleesure the laird. When folk tauld him that Janet was sib to
the deil, it was a' superstition by his way of it; an' when they cast
up the Bible to him an' the witch of Endor, he wad threep it doun their
thrapples that thir days were a' gane by, and the deil was mercifully
 To come forritto offer oneself as a communicant.
Weel, when it got about the clachan that Janet M'Clour was to be
servant at the manse, the folk were fair mad wi' her an' him thegether;
and some o' the guidwives had nae better to dae than get round her door
cheeks and chairge her wi' a' that was ken't again her, frae the
sodger's bairn to John Tamson's twa kye. She was nae great speaker;
folk usually let her gang her ain gate, an' she let them gang theirs,
wi' neither Fair-gui-deen nor Fair-guid-day; but when she buckled to,
she had a tongue to deave the miller. Up she got, an' there wasnae an
auld story in Ba'weary but she gart somebody lowp for it that day; they
couldnae say ae thing but she could say twa to it; till, at the hinder
end, the guidwives up and claught hand of her, and clawed the coats aff
her back, and pu'd her doun the clachan to the water o' Dule, to see if
she were a witch or no, soum or droun. The carline skirled till ye
could hear her at the Hangin' Shaw, and she focht like ten; there was
mony a guidwife bure the mark of her neist day an' mony a lang day
after; and just in the hettest o' the collieshangie, wha suld come up
(for his sins) but the new minister.
Women, said he (and he had a grand voice), I charge you in the
Lord's name to let her go.
Janet ran to himshe was fair wud wi' terroran' clang to him, an'
prayed him, for Christ's sake, save her frae the cummers; an' they, for
their part, tauld him a' that was ken't, and maybe mair.
Woman, says he to Janet, is this true?
As the Lord sees me, says she, as the Lord made me, no a word
o't. Forbye the bairn, says she, I've been a decent woman a' my
Will you, says Mr. Soulis, in the name of God, and before me, His
unworthy minister, renounce the devil and his works?
Weel, it wad appear that when he askit that, she gave a girn that
fairly frichtit them that saw her, an' they could hear her teeth play
dirl thegether in her chafts; but there was naething for it but the ae
way or the ither; an' Janet lifted up her hand and renounced the deil
before them a'.
And now, says Mr. Soulis to the guidwives, home with ye, one and
all, and pray to God for His forgiveness.
And he gied Janet his arm, though she had little on her but a sark,
and took her up the clachan to her ain door like a leddy of the land;
an' her scrieghin, and laughin' as was a scandal to be heard.
There were mony grave folk lang ower their prayers that nicht; but
when the morn cam' there was sic a fear fell upon a' Ba'weary that the
bairns hid theirsels, and even the men folk stood and keekit frae their
doors. For there was Janet comin' doun the clachanher or her
likeness, nane could tellwi' her neck thrawn, and her held on ae
side, like a body that has been hangit, and a grin on her face like an
unstreakit corp. By an' by they got used wi' it, and even speered at
her to ken what was wrang; but frae that day forth she couldnae speak
like a Christian woman, but slavered and played click wi' her teeth
like a pair o' shears; and frae that day forth the name o' God cam'
never on her lips. Whiles she wad try to say it, but it michtnae be.
Them that kenned best said least; but they never gied that Thing the
name o' Janet M'Clour; for the auld Janet, by their way o't, was in
muckle hell that day. But the minister was neither to haud nor to bind;
he preached about naething but the folk's cruelty that had gi'en her a
stroke of the palsy; he skelpt the bairns that meddled her; and he had
her up to the manse that same nicht, and dwalled there a' his lane wi'
her under the Hangin' Shaw.
Weel, time gaed by: and the idler sort commenced to think mair
lichtly o' that black business. The minister was weel thocht o'; he was
aye late at the writing, folk wad see his can'le doon by the Dule water
after twal' at e'en; and he seemed pleased wi' himsel' and upsitten as
at first, though a' body could see that he was dwining. As for Janet
she cam' an' she gaed; if she didnae speak muckle afore, it was reason
she should speak less then; she meddled naebody; but she was an
eldritch thing to see, an' nane wad hae mistrysted wi' her for Ba'weary
About the end o' July there cam' a spell o' weather, the like o't
never was in that countryside; it was lown an' het an' heartless; the
herds couldnae win up the Black Hill, the bairns were ower weariet to
play; an' yet it was gousty too, wi' claps o' het wund that rummled in
the glens, and bits o' shouers that slockened naething. We aye thocht
it but to thun'er on the morn; but the morn cam', an' the morn's
morning, and it was aye the same uncanny weather, sair on folks and
bestial. Of a' that were the waur, nane suffered like Mr. Soulis; he
could neither sleep nor eat, he tauld his elders; an' when he wasnae
writin' at his weary book, he wad be stravaguin' ower a' the
countryside like a man possessed, when a' body else was blythe to keep
caller ben the house.
Abune Hangin' Shaw, in the bield o' the Black Hill, there's a bit
enclosed grund wi' an iron yett; and it seems, in the auld days, that
was the kirkyaird o' Ba'weary, and consecrated by the Papists before
the blessed licht shone upon the kingdom. It was a great howff, o' Mr.
Soulis's onyway; there he would sit an' consider his sermons; and inded
it's a bieldy bit. Weel, as he cam' ower the wast end o' the Black
Hill, ae day, he saw first twa, an' syne fower, an' syne seeven corbie
craws fleein' round an' round abune the auld kirkyaird. They flew laigh
and heavy, an' squawked to ither as they gaed; and it was clear to Mr.
Soulis that something had put them frae their ordinar. He wasnae easy
fleyed, an' gaed straucht up to the wa's; and what suld he find there
but a man, or the appearance of a man, sittin' in the inside upon a
grave. He was of a great stature, an' black as hell, and his e'en were
singular to see. Mr. Soulis had heard tell o' black men mony's the
time; but there was something unco about this black man that daunted
him. Het as he was, he took a kind o' cauld grue in the marrow o' his
banes; but up he spak for a' that; an' says he: My friend, are you a
stranger in this place? The black man answered never a word; he got
upon his feet, an' begude to hirsle to the wa' on the far side; but he
aye lookit at the minister; an' the minister stood an' lookit back;
till a' in a meenute the black man was ower the wa' an' runnin' for the
bield o' the trees. Mr. Soulis, he hardly kenned why, ran after him;
but he was sair forjaskit wi' his walk an' the het, unhalsome weather;
and rin as he likit, he got nae mair than a glisk o' the black man
amang the birks, till he won doun to the foot o' the hillside, an'
there he saw him ance mair, gaun, hap, step, an' lowp, ower Dule water
to the manse.
 It was a common belief in Scotland that the devil appeared as a
black man. This appears in several witch trials and I think in Law's
Memorials, that delightful storehouse of the quaint and grisly.
Mr. Soulis wasnae weel pleased that this fearsome gangrel suld mak'
sae free wi' Ba'weary manse; an' he ran the harder, an' wet shoon, ower
the burn, an' up the walk; but the deil a black man was there to see.
He stepped out upon the road, but there was naebody there; he gaed a'
ower the gairden, but na, nae black man. At the binder end, and a bit
feared as was but natural, he lifted the hasp and into the manse; and
there was Janet M'Clour before his een, wi' her thrawn craig, and nane
sae pleased to see him. And he aye minded sinsyne, when first he set
his een upon her, he had the same cauld and deidly grue.
Janet, says he, have you seen a black man?
A black man! quo' she. Save us a'! Ye're no wise, minister.
There's nae black man in a' Ba'weary.
But she didnae speak plain, ye maun understand; but yam-yammered,
like a powny wi' the bit in its moo.
Weel, says he, Janet, if there was nae black man, I have spoken
with the Accuser of the Brethren.
And he sat doun like ane wi' a fever, an' his teeth chittered in his
Hoots, says she, think shame to yoursel', minister; and gied him
a drap brandy that she keept aye by her.
Syne Mr. Soulis gaed into his study amang a' his books. It's a lang,
laigh, mirk chalmer, perishin' cauld in winter, an' no very dry even in
the top o' the simmer, for the manse stands near the burn. Sae doun he
sat, and thocht of a' that had come an' gane since he was in Ba'weary,
an' his hame, an' the days when he was a bairn an' ran daffin' on the
braes; and that black man aye ran in his held like the owercome of a
sang. Aye the mair he thocht, the mair he thocht o' the black man. He
tried the prayer, an' the words wouldnae come to him; an' he tried,
they say, to write at his book, but he couldnae mak' nae mair o' that.
There was whiles he thocht the black man was at his oxter, an' the swat
stood upon him cauld as well-water; and there was other whiles, when he
cam' to himsel' like a christened bairn and minded naething.
The upshot was that he gaed to the window an' stood glowrin' at Dule
water. The trees are unco thick, an' the water lies deep an' black
under the manse; and there was Janet washin' the cla'es wi' her coats
kilted. She had her back to the minister, an' he, for his pairt, hardly
kenned what he was lookin' at. Syne she turned round, an' shawed her
face: Mr. Soulis had the same cauld grue as twice that day afore, an'
it was borne in upon him what folk said, that Janet was deid lang syne,
an' this was a bogle in her clay-cauld flesh. He drew back a pickle and
he scanned her narrowly. She was tramp-trampin' in the cla'es, croonin'
to hersel'; and eh! Gude guide us, but it was a fearsome face. Whiles
she sang louder, but there was nae man born o' woman that could tell
the words o' her sang; an' whiles she lookit side-lang doun, but there
was naething there for her to look at. There gaed a scunner through the
flesh upon his banes; and that was Heeven's advertisement. But Mr.
Soulis just blamed himsel', he said, to think sae ill of a puir, auld
afflicted wife that hadnae a freend forbye himsel'; an' he put up a bit
prayer for him an' her, an' drank a little caller waterfor his heart
rose again the meatan' gaed up to his naked bed in the gloaming.
That was a nicht that has never been forgotten in Ba'weary, the
nicht o' the seeventeenth of August, seventeen hun'er' an' twal'. It
had been het afore, as I hae said, but that nicht it was better than
ever. The sun gaed doun amang unco-lookin' clouds; it fell as mirk as
the pit; no a star, no a breath o' wund; ye couldnae see your han'
afore your face, and even the auld folk cuist the covers frae their
beds and lay pechin' for their breath. Wi' a' that he had upon his
mind, it was gey and unlikely Mr. Soulis wad get muckle sleep. He lay
an' he tummled; the gude, caller bed that he got into brunt his very
banes; whiles he slept, and whiles he waukened; whiles he heard the
time o' nicht, and whiles a tyke yowlin' up the muir, as if somebody
was deid; whiles he thocht he heard bogles claverin' in his lug, an'
whiles he saw spunkies in the room. He behoved, he judged, to be sick;
an' sick he waslittle he jaloosed the sickness.
At the hinder end, he got a clearness in his mind, sat up in his
sark on the bed-side, and fell thinkin' ance mair o' the black man an'
Janet. He couldnae weel tell howmaybe it was the cauld to his
feetbut it cam' in up upon him wi' a spate that there was some
connection between thir twa, an' that either or baith o' them were
bogles. And just at that moment, in Janet's room, which was neist to
his, there cam' a stramp o' feet as if men were wars'lin', an' then a
loud bang; an' then a wund gaed reishling round the fower quarters of
the house; an' then a' was ance mair as seelent as the grave.
Mr. Soulis was feared for neither man nor deevil. He got his
tinder-box, an' lit a can'le. He made three steps o't ower to Janet's
door. It was on the hasp, an' he pushed it open, an' keeked bauldly in.
It was a big room, as big as the minister's ain, a' plenished wi'
grand, auld, solid gear, for he had nathing else. There was a
fower-posted bed wi' auld tapestry; and a braw cabinet of aik, that was
fu' o' the minister's divinity books, an' put there to be out o' the
gate; an' a wheen duds o' Janet's lying here and there about the floor.
But nae Janet could Mr. Soulis see; nor ony sign of a contention. In he
gaed (an' there's few that wad ha'e followed him) an' lookit a' round,
an' listened. But there was naethin' to be heard, neither inside the
manse nor in a' Ba'weary parish, an' naethin' to be seen but the muckle
shadows turnin' round the can'le. An' then, a' at ance, the minister's
heart played dunt an' stood stock-still; an' a cauld wund blew amang
the hairs o' his heid. Whaten a weary sicht was that for the puir man's
een! For there was Janet hangin' frae a nail beside the auld aik
cabinet: her heid aye lay on her shouther, her een were steeked, the
tongue projeckit frae her mouth, and her heels were twa feet clear
abune the floor.
God forgive us all! thocht Mr. Soulis, poor Janet's dead.
He cam' a step nearer to the corp; an' then his heart fair whammled
in his inside. For by what cantrip it wad ill-beseem a man to judge,
she was hingin' frae a single nail an' by a single wursted thread for
It's a awfu' thing to be your lane at nicht wi' siccan prodigies o'
darkness; but Mr. Soulis was strong in the Lord. He turned an' gaed his
ways oot o' that room, and lockit the door ahint him; and step by step,
doon the stairs, as heavy as leed; and set doon the can'le on the table
at the stairfoot. He couldnae pray, he couldnae think, he was dreepin'
wi' caul' swat, an' naething could he hear but the dunt-dunt-duntin' o'
his ain heart. He micht maybe have stood there an hour, or maybe twa,
he minded sae little; when a' o' a sudden, he heard a laigh, uncanny
steer up-stairs; a foot gaed to an' fro in the chalmer whaur the corp
was hingin'; syne the door was opened, though he minded weel that he
had lockit it; an' syne there was a step upon the landin', an' it
seemed to him as if the corp was lookin' ower the rail and doun upon
him whaur he stood.
He took up the can'le again (for he couldnae want the licht), and as
saftly as ever he could, gaed straucht out o' the manse an' to the far
end o' the causeway. It was aye pit-mirk; the flame o' th can'le, when
he set it on the grund, brunt steedy an clear as in a room; naething
moved, but the Dule water seepin' and sabbin' doon the glen, an' yon
unhaly footstep that cam' ploddin' doun the stairs inside the manse. He
kenned the foot ower weel, for it was Janet's; and at ilka step that
cam' a wee thing nearer, the cauld got deeper in his vitals. He
commended his soul to Him that made an' keepit him; and O Lord, said
he, give me strength this night to war against the powers of evil.
By this time the foot was comin' through the passage for the door;
he could hear a hand skirt alang the wa', as if the fearsome thing was
feelin' for its way. The saughs tossed an' maned thegether, a long sigh
cam' ower the hills, the flame o' the can'le was blawn aboot; an' there
stood the corp of Thrawn Janet, wi' her grogram goun an' her black
mutch, wi' the heid upon the shouther, an' the grin still upon the face
o'tleevin', ye wad he saiddeid, as Mr. Soulis weel kennedupon the
threshold o' the manse.
It's a strange thing that the saul of man should be that thirled
into his perishable body; but the minister saw that, an' his heart
She didnae stand there lang; she began to move again an' cam' slowly
towards Mr. Soulis whaur he stood under the saughs. A' the life o' his
body, a' the strength o' his speerit, were glowerin' frae his een. It
seemed she was gaun to speak, but wanted words, an' made a sign wi' the
left hand. There cam' a clap o' wund, like a cat's fuff; oot gaed the
can'le, the saughs skrieghed like folk; an' Mr. Soulis keened that,
live or die, this was the end o't.
Witch, beldame, devil! he cried, I charge you, by the power of
God, begoneif you be dead, to the graveif you be damned, to hell.
An' at that moment the Lord's ain hand out o' the Heevens struck the
Horror whaur it stood; the auld, deid, desecrated corp o' the
witch-wife, sae lang keepit frae the grave and hirsled round by deils,
lowed up like a brunstane spunk and fell in ashes to the grund; the
thunder followed, peal on dirling peal, the rairing rain upon the back
o' that; and Mr. Soulis lowped through the garden hedge, and ran, wi'
skelloch upon skelloch, for the clachan.
That same mornin', John Christie saw the Black Man pass the Muckle
Cairn as it was chappin' six; before eicht, he gaed by the change-house
at Knockdow; an' no lang after, Sandy M'Lellan saw him gaun linkin'
doun the braes frae Kilmackerlie. There's little doubt but it was him
that dwalled se lang in Janet's body; but he was awa' at last; and
sinsyne the deil has never fashed us in Ba'weary.
But it was a sair dispensation for the minister; lang, lang he lay
ravin' in his bed; and frae that hour to this, he was the man ye ken
VIII. THE YELLOW CAT[C]
WILBUR DANIEL STEELE
At least once in my life I have had the good fortune to board a
deserted vessel at sea. I say good fortune because it has left me the
memory of a singular impression. I have felt a ghost of the same thing
two or three times since then, when peeping through the doorway of an
Now that vessel was not dead. She was a good vessel, a sound vessel,
even a handsome vessel, in her blunt-bowed, coastwise way. She sailed
under four lowers across as blue and glittering a sea as I have ever
known, and there was not a point in her sailing that one could lay a
finger upon as wrong. And yet, passing that schooner at two miles, one
knew, somehow, that no hand was on her wheel. Sometimes I can imagine a
vessel, stricken like that, moving over the empty spaces of the sea,
carrying it off quite well were it not for that indefinable suggestion
of a stagger; and I can think of all those ocean gods, in whom no
landsman will ever believe, looking at one another and tapping their
foreheads with just the shadow of a smile.
I wonder if they all screamthese ships that have lost their souls?
Mine screamed. We heard her voice, like nothing I have ever heard
before, when we rowed under her counter to read her namethe
Marionnette it was, of Halifax. I remember how it made me shiver,
there in the full blaze of the sun, to hear her going on so, railing
and screaming in that stark fashion. And I remember, too, how our
footsteps, pattering through the vacant internals in search of that
haggard utterance, made me think of the footsteps of hurrying warders
roused in the night.
And we found a parrot in a cage; that was all. It wanted water. We
gave it water and went away to look things over, keeping pretty close
together, all of us. In the quarters the table was set for four. Two
men had begun to eat, by the evidences of the plates. Nowhere in the
vessel was there any sign of disorder, except one sea-chest broken out,
evidently in haste. Her papers were gone and the stern davits were
empty. That is how the case stood that day, and that is how it has
stood to this. I saw this same Marionnette a week later, tied up
to a Hoboken dock, where she awaited news from her owners; but even
there, in the midst of all the water-front bustle, I could not get rid
of the feeling that she was still very far awayin a sort of shippish
The thing happens now and then. Sometimes half a dozen years will go
by without a solitary wanderer of this sort crossing the ocean paths,
and then in a single season perhaps several of them will turn up:
vacant waifs, impassive and mysteriousa quarter-column of tidings
tucked away on the second page of the evening paper.
That is where I read the story about the Abbie Rose. I
recollect how painfully awkward and out-of-place it looked there,
cramped between ruled black edges and smelling of landsman's inkthis
thing that had to do essentially with air and vast coloured spaces. I
forget the exact words of the headingsomething like Abandoned Craft
Picked Up At Seabut I still have the clipping itself, couched in the
formal patter of the marine-news writer:
The first hint of another mystery of the sea came in to-day
when the schooner Abbie Rose dropped anchor in the
river, manned only by a crew of one. It appears that the
outbound freighter Mercury sighted the Abbie Rose
Block Island on Thursday last, acting in a suspicious
manner. A boat-party sent aboard found the schooner in
perfect order and condition, sailing under four lower sails,
the topsails being pursed up to the mastheads but not
stowed. With the exception of a yellow cat, the vessel was
found to be utterly deserted, though her small boat still
hung in the davits. No evidences of disorder were visible in
any part of the craft. The dishes were washed up, the stove
in the galley was still slightly warm to the touch,
everything in its proper place with the exception of the
vessel's papers, which were not to be found.
All indications being for fair weather, Captain Rohmer of
the Mercury detailed two of his company to bring the
back to this port, a distance of one hundred and fifteen
miles. The only man available with a knowledge of the
fore-and-aft rig was Stewart McCord, the second engineer. A
seaman by the name of Björnsen was sent with him. McCord
arrived this noon, after a very heavy voyage of five days,
reporting that Björnsen had fallen overboard while shaking
out the foretopsail. McCord himself showed evidence of the
hardships he has passed through, being almost a nervous
Stewart McCord! Yes, Stewart McCord would have a knowledge of the
fore-and-aft rig, or of almost anything else connected with the affairs
of the sea. It happened that I used to know this fellow. I had even
been quite chummy with him in the old daysthat is, to the extent of
drinking too many beers with him in certain hot-country ports. I
remembered him as a stolid and deliberate sort of a person, with an
amazing hodgepodge of learning, a stamp collection, and a theory about
the effects of tropical sunshine on the Caucasian race, to which I have
listened half of more than one night, stretched out naked on a
freighter's deck. He had not impressed me as a fellow who would be
bothered by his nerves.
And there was another thing about the story which struck me as
rather queer. Perhaps it is a relic of my seafaring days, but I have
always been a conscientious reader of the weather reports; and I could
remember no weather in the past week sufficient to shake a man out of a
top, especially a man by the name of Björnsena thoroughgoing
I was destined to hear more of this in the evening, from the ancient
boatman who rowed me out on the upper river. He had been to sea in his
day. He knew enough to wonder about this thing, even to indulge in a
little superstitious awe about it.
No sir-ee. Something happened to them four chaps. And
I fancied I heard a sea-bird whining in the darkness overhead. A
shape moved out of the gloom ahead, passed to the left, lofty and
silent, and merged once more with the gloom behinda barge at anchor,
with the sea-grass clinging around her water-line.
Funny about that other chap, the old fellow speculated.
BjörnsenI b'lieve he called 'im. Now that story sounds to me kind
of He feathered his oars with a suspicious jerk and peered at me.
This McCord a friend of yourn? he inquired.
In a way, I said.
Hm-mwell He turned on his thwart to squint ahead. There she
is, he announced, with something of relief, I thought.
It was hard at that time of night to make anything but a black
blotch out of the Abbie Rose. Of course I could see that she was
pot-bellied, like the rest of the coastwise sisterhood. And that McCord
had not stowed his topsails. I could make them out, pursed at the
mastheads and hanging down as far as the cross-trees, like huge,
over-ripe pears. Then I recollected that he had found them soprobably
had not touched them since; a queer way to leave tops, it seemed to me.
I could see also the glowing tip of a cigar floating restlessly along
the farther rail. I called: McCord! Oh, McCord!
The spark came swimming across the deck. Hello! Hello, thereah
There was a note of querulous uneasiness there that somehow jarred with
my remembrance of this man.
Ridgeway, I explained.
He echoed the name uncertainly, still with that suggestion of
peevishness, hanging over the rail and peering down at us. Oh! By
gracious! he exclaimed, abruptly. I'm glad to see you, Ridgeway. I
had a boatman coming out before this, but I guesswell, I guess he'll
be along. By gracious! I'm glad
I'll not keep you, I told the gnome, putting the money in his palm
and reaching for the rail. McCord lent me a hand on my wrist. Then when
I stood squarely on the deck beside him he appeared to forget my
presence, leaned forward heavily on the rail, and squinted after my
Ahoyboat! he called out, sharply, shielding his lips with his
hand. His violence seemed to bring him out of the blank, for he fell
immediately to puffing strongly at his cigar and explaining in rather a
shame-voiced way that he was beginning to think his own boatman had
passed him up.
Come in and have a nip, he urged with an abrupt heartiness,
clapping me on the shoulder.
So you've I did not say what I had intended. I was thinking that
in the old days McCord had made rather a fetish of touching nothing
stronger than beer. Neither had he been of the shoulder-clapping sort.
So you've got something aboard? I shifted.
Dead men's liquor, he chuckled. It gave me a queer feeling in the
pit of my stomach to hear him. I began to wish I had not come, but
there was nothing for it now but to follow him into the after-house.
The cabin itself might have been nine feet square, with three bunks
occupying the port side. To the right opened the master's stateroom,
and a door in the forward bulkhead led to the galley.
I took in these features at a casual glance. Then, hardly knowing
why I did it, I began to examine them with greater care.
Have you a match? I asked. My voice sounded very small, as though
something unheard of had happened to all the air.
Smoke? he asked. I'll get you a cigar.
No. I took the proffered match, scratched it on the side of the
galley door, and passed out. There seemed to be a thousand pans there,
throwing my match back at me from every wall of the box-like
compartment. Even McCord's eyes, in the doorway, were large and round
and shining. He probably thought me crazy. Perhaps I was, a little. I
ran the match along close to the ceiling and came upon a rusty hook a
little aport of the centre.
There, I said. Was there anything hanging from thisersay a
parrotor something, McCord? The match burned my fingers and went
What do you mean? McCord demanded from the doorway. I got myself
back into the comfortable yellow glow of the cabin before I answered,
and then it was a question.
Do you happen to know anything about this craft's personal
No. What are you talking about! Why?
Well, I do, I offered. For one thing, she's changed her name. And
it happens this isn't the first time she'sWell, damn it all, fourteen
years ago I helped pick up this whatever-she-is off the Virginia
Capesin the same sort of condition. There you are! I was yapping
like a nerve-strung puppy.
McCord leaned forward with his hands on the table, bringing his face
beneath the fan of the hanging-lamp. For the first time I could mark
how shockingly it had changed. It was almost colourless. The jaw had
somehow lost its old-time security and the eyes seemed to be loose in
their sockets. I had expected him to start at my announcement; he only
blinked at the light.
I am not surprised, he remarked at length. After what I've seen
and heard He lifted his fist and brought it down with a sudden crash
on the table. Manlet's have a nip!
He was off before I could say a word, fumbling out of sight in the
narrow stateroom. Presently he reappeared, holding a glass in either
hand and a dark bottle hugged between his elbows. Putting the glasses
down, he held up the bottle between his eyes and the lamp, and its
shadow, falling across his face, green and luminous at the core, gave
him a ghastly looklike a mutilation or an unspeakable birthmark. He
shook the bottle gently and chuckled his Dead men's liquor again.
Then he poured two half-glasses of the clear gin, swallowed his
portion, and sat down.
A parrot, he mused, a little of the liquor's colour creeping into
his cheeks. No, this time it was a cat, Ridgeway. A yellow cat. She
Was? I caught him up. What's happenedwhat's become of
Vanished. Evaporated. I haven't seen her since night before last,
when I caught her trying to lower the boat
Stop it! It was I who banged the table now, without any of
the reserve of decency. McCord, you're drunkdrunk, I tell
you. A cat! Let a cat throw you off your head like this!
She's probably hiding out below this minute, on affairs of her own.
Hiding? He regarded me for a moment with the queer superiority of
the damned. I guess you don't realize how many times I've been over
this hulk, from decks to keelson, with a mallet and a foot-rule.
Or fallen overboard, I shifted, with less assurance. Like this
fellow Björnsen. By the way, McCord I stopped there on account of
the look in his eyes.
He reached out, poured himself a shot, swallowed it, and got up to
shuffle about the confined quarters. I watched their restless
circuitmy friend and his jumping shadow. He stopped and bent forward
to examine a Sunday-supplement chromo tacked on the wall, and the two
heads drew together, as though there were something to whisper. Of a
sudden I seemed to hear the old gnome croaking, Now that story sounds
to me kind of
McCord straightened up and turned to face me.
What do you know about Björnsen? he demanded.
Wellonly what they had you saying in the papers, I told him.
Pshaw! He snapped his fingers, tossing the affair aside. I found
her log, he announced in quite another voice.
You did, eh? I judged, from what I read in the paper, that there
wasn't a sign.
No, no; I happened on this the other night, under the mattress in
there. He jerked his head toward the stateroom. Wait! I heard him
knocking things over in the dark and mumbling at them. After a moment
he came out and threw on the table a long, cloth-covered ledger, of the
common commercial sort. It lay open at about the middle, showing close
script running indiscriminately across the column ruling.
When I said 'log,' he went on, I guess I was going it a little
strong. At least, I wouldn't want that sort of log found around my
vessel. Let's call it a personal record. Here's his picture,
somewhere He shook the book by its back and a common kodak
blue-print fluttered to the table. It was the likeness of a solid man
with a paunch, a huge square beard, small squinting eyes, and a bald
head. What do you make of hima writing chap?
From the nose down, yes, I estimated. From the nose up, he will
'tend to his own business if you will 'tend to yours, strictly.
McCord slapped his thigh. By gracious! that's the fellow! He hates
the Chinaman. He knows as well as anything he ought not to put down in
black and white how intolerably he hates the Chinaman, and yet he must
sneak off to his cubby-hole and suck his pencil, andhow is it
Stevenson has it?the 'agony of composition,' you remember. Can you
imagine the fellow, Ridgeway, bundling down here with the fever on
About the Chinaman, I broke in. I think you said something about
Yes. The cook, he must have been. I gather he wasn't the master's
pick, by the reading-matter here. Probably clapped on to him by the
ownersshifted from one of their others at the last moment; a queer
trick. Listen. He picked up the book and, running over the pages with
a selective thumb, read:
August second.First part, moderate southwesterly
and so fortherbut here he comes to it:
Anything can happen to a man at sea, even a funeral. In
special to a Chinyman, who is of no account to social
welfare, being a barbarian as I look at it.
Something of a philosopher, you see. And did you get the reserve in
that 'even a funeral'? An artist, I tell you. But wait: let me catch
him a bit wilder. Here:
I'll get that mustard-coloured [This is back a couple
of days.] Never can hear the coming, in them carpet
slippers. Turned round and found him standing right to my
back this morning. Could have stuck a knife into me easy.
'Look here!' says I, and fetched him a tap on the ear that
will make him walk louder next time, I warrant. He could
have stuck a knife into me easy.
A clear case of moral funk, I should say. Can you imagine the
Yes; oh, yes. I was ready with a phrase of my own. A man
handicapped with an imagination. You see he can't quite understand this
'barbarian,' who has him beaten by about thirty centuries of
civilizationand his imagination has to have something to chew on,
something to hita 'tap on the ear,' you know.
By gracious! that's the ticket! McCord pounded his knee. And now
we've got another chap going to piecesPeters, he calls him. Refuses
to eat dinner on August the third, claiming he caught the Chink making
passes over the chowder-pot with his thumb. Can you believe it,
Ridgewayin this very cabin here? Then he went on with a suggestion
of haste, as though he had somehow made a slip. Well, at any rate, the
disease seems to be catching. Next day it's Bach, the second seaman,
who begins to feel the gaff. Listen:
Bach he comes to me to-night, complaining he's being
watched. He claims the has got the evil eye. Says he
can see you through a two-inch bulkhead, and the like. The
Chink's laying in his bunk, turned the other way. 'Why don't
you go aboard of him?' says I. The Dutcher says nothing, but
goes over to his own bunk and feels under the straw. When he
comes back he's looking queer. 'By God!' says he, 'the devil
has swiped my gun!' ... Now if that's true there is going to
be hell to pay in this vessel very quick. I figure I'm still
master of this vessel.
The evil eye, I grunted. Consciences gone wrong there somewhere.
Not altogether, Ridgeway. I can see that yellow man peeking. Now
just figure yourself, say, eight thousand miles from home, out on the
water alone with a crowd of heathen fanatics crazy from fright, looking
around for guns and so on. Don't you believe you'd keep an eye around
the corners, kind ofeh? I'll bet a hat he was taking it all in, lying
there in his bunk, 'turned the other way.' Eh? I pity the poor
cussWell, there's only one more entry after that. He's good and mad.
Now, by God! this is the end. My gun's gone, too; right out
from under lock and key, by God! I been talking with Bach
this morning. Not to let on, I had him in to clean my lamp.
There's more ways than one, he says, and so do I.
McCord closed the book and dropped it on the table. Finis, he
said. The rest is blank paper.
Well! I will confess I felt much better than I had for some time
past. There's one 'mystery of the sea' gone to pot, at any
rate. And now, if you don't mind, I think I'll have another of your
He pushed my glass across the table and got up, and behind his back
his shadow rose to scour the corners of the room, like an incorruptible
sentinel. I forgot to take up my gin, watching him. After an uneasy
minute or so he came back to the table and pressed the tip of a
forefinger on the book.
Ridgeway, he said, you don't seem to understand. This particular
'mystery of the sea' hasn't been scratched yetnot even scratched, Ridgeway. He sat down and leaned forward, fixing me with a didactic
finger. What happened?
Well, I have an idea the 'barbarian' got them, when it came to the
And let theremains over the side?
I should say.
And they came back and got the 'barbarian' and let him over
the side, eh? There were none left, you remember.
Oh, good Lord, I don't know! I flared with a childish resentment
at this catechizing of his. But his finger remained there, challenging.
I do, he announced. The Chinaman put them over the side, as we
have said. And then, after that, he diedof wounds about the head.
So? I had still sarcasm.
You will remember, he went on, that the skipper did not happen to
mention a cat, a yellow cat, in his confessions.
McCord, I begged him, please drop it. Why in thunder should
he mention a cat?
True. Why should he mention a cat? I think one of the
reasons why he should not mention a cat is because there did not
happen to be a cat aboard at that time.
Oh, all right! I reached out and pulled the bottle to my side of
the table. Then I took out my watch. If you don't mind, I suggested,
I think we'd better be going ashore. I've got to get to my office
rather early in the morning. What do you say?
He said nothing for the moment, but his finger had dropped. He
leaned back and stared straight into the core of the light above, his
He would have been from the south of China, probably. He seemed to
be talking to himself. There's a considerable sprinkling of the belief
down there, I've heard. It's an uncanny businessthis transmigration
Personally, I had had enough of it. McCord's fingers came groping
across the table for the bottle. I picked it up hastily and let it go
through the open companionway, where it died with a faint gurgle, out
somewhere on the river.
Now, I said to him, shaking the vagrant wrist, either you come
ashore with me or you go in there and get under the blankets. You're
drunk, McCorddrunk. Do you hear me?
Ridgeway, he pronounced, bringing his eyes down to me and speaking
very slowly. You're a fool, if you can't see better than that. I'm not
drunk. I'm sick. I haven't slept for three nightsand now I can't. And
you sayyou He went to pieces very suddenly, jumped up, pounded the
legs of his chair on the decking, and shouted at me: And you say that,
youyou landlubber, you office coddler! You're so comfortably sure
that everything in the world is cut and dried. Come back to the water
again and learn how to wonderand stop talking like a damn fool. Do
you know whereIs there anything in your municipal budget to tell me
where Björnsen went? Listen! He sat down, waving me to do the same,
and went on with a sort of desperate repression.
It happened on the first night after we took this hellion. I'd
stood the wheel most of the afternoonoff and on, that is, because she
sails herself uncommonly well. Just put her on a reach, you know, and
she carries it off pretty well
I know, I nodded.
Well, we mugged up about seven o'clock. There was a good deal of
canned stuff in the galley, and Björnsen wasn't a bad hand with a
kettlea thoroughgoing Square-head he wastall and lean and
yellow-haired, with little fat, round cheeks and a white moustache. Not
a bad chap at all. He took the wheel to stand till midnight, and I
turned in, but I didn't drop off for quite a spell. I could hear his
boots wandering around over my head, padding off forward, coming back
again. I heard him whistling now and thenan outlandish air.
Occasionally I could see the shadow of his head waving in a block of
moonlight that lay on the decking right down there in front of the
stateroom door. It came from the companion; the cabin was dark because
we were going easy on the oil. They hadn't left a great deal, for some
reason or other.
McCord leaned back and described with his finger where the
illumination had cut the decking.
There! I could see it from my bunk, as I lay, you understand. I
must have almost dropped off once when I heard him fiddling around out
here in the cabin, and then he said something in a whisper, just to
find out if I was still awake, I suppose. I asked him what the matter
was. He came and poked his head in the door.
'The breeze is going out,' says he. 'I was wondering if we couldn't
get a little more sail on her.' Only I can't give you his fierce
Square-head tang. 'How about the tops?' he suggested.
I was so sleepy I didn't care, and I told him so. 'All right,' he
says, 'but I thought I might shake out one of them tops.' Then I heard
him blow at something outside. 'Scat, you !' Then: 'This cat's
going to set me crazy, Mr. McCord,' he says, 'following me around
everywhere.' He gave a kick, and I saw something yellow floating across
the moonlight. It never made a soundjust floated. You wouldn't have
known it ever lit anywhere, just like
McCord stopped and drummed a few beats on the table with his fist,
as though to bring himself back to the straight narrative.
I went to sleep, he began again. I dreamed about a lot of things.
I woke up sweating. You know how glad you are to wake up after a dream
like that and find none of it is so? Well, I turned over and settled to
go off again, and then I got a little more awake and thought to myself
it must be pretty near time for me to go on deck. I scratched a match
and looked at my watch. 'That fellow must be either a good chap or
asleep,' I said to myself. And I rolled out quick and went above-decks.
He wasn't at the wheel. I called him: 'Björnsen! Björnsen!' No answer.
McCord was really telling a story now. He paused for a long moment,
one hand shielding an ear and his eyeballs turned far up.
That was the first time I really went over the hulk, he ran on. I
got out a lantern and started at the forward end of the hold, and I
worked aft, and there was nothing there. Not a sign, or a stain, or a
scrap of clothing, or anything. You may believe that I began to feel
funny inside. I went over the decks and the rails and the house
itselfinch by inch. Not a trace. I went out aft again. The cat sat on
the wheel-box, washing her face. I hadn't noticed the scar on her head
before, running down between her earsrather a new scarthree or four
days old, I should say. It looked ghastly and blue-white in the flat
moonlight. I ran over and grabbed her up to heave her over the
sideyou understand how upset I was. Now you know a cat will squirm
around and grab something when you hold it like that, generally
speaking. This one didn't. She just drooped and began to purr and
looked up at me out of her moonlit eyes under that scar. I dropped her
on the deck and backed off. You remember Björnsen had kicked
herand I didn't want anything like that happening to
The narrator turned upon me with a sudden heat, leaned over and
shook his finger before my face.
There you go! he cried. You, with your stout stone buildings and
your policemen and your neighbourhood churchyou're so damn sure. But
I'd just like to see you out there, alone, with the moon setting, and
all the lights gone tall and queer, and a shipmate He lifted his
hand overhead, the finger-tips pressed together and then suddenly
separated as though he had released an impalpable something into the
Go on, I told him.
I felt more like you do, when it got light again, and warm and
sunshiny. I said 'Bah!' to the whole business. I even fed the cat, and
I slept awhile on the roof of the houseI was so sure. We lay dead
most of the day, without a streak of air. But that night! Well, that
night I hadn't got over being sure yet. It takes quite a jolt, you
know, to shake loose several dozen generations. A fair, steady breeze
had come along, the glass was high, she was staying herself like a
doll, and so I figured I could get a little rest, lying below in the
bunk, even if I didn't sleep.
I tried not to sleep, in case something should come upa squall or
the like. But I think I must have dropped off once or twice. I remember
I heard something fiddling around in the galley, and I hollered 'Scat!'
and everything was quiet again. I rolled over and lay on my left side,
staring at that square of moonlight outside my door for a long time.
You'll think it was a dreamwhat I saw there.
Go on, I said.
Call this table-top the spot of light, roughly, he said. He placed
a finger-tip at about the middle of the forward edge and drew it slowly
toward the centre. Here, what would correspond with the upper side of
the companionway, there came down very gradually the shadow of a tail.
I watched it streaking out there across the deck, wiggling the
slightest bit now and then. When it had come down about half-way across
the light, the solid part of the animalits shadow, you
understandbegan to appear, quite big and round. But how could she
hang there, done up in a ball, from the hatch?
He shifted his finger back to the edge of the table and puddled it
around to signify the shadowed body.
I fished my gun out from behind my back. You see, I was feeling
funny again. Then I started to slide one foot over the edge of the
bunk, always with my eyes on that shadow. Now I swear I didn't make the
sound of a pin dropping, but I had no more than moved a muscle when
that shadowed thing twisted itself around in a flashand there on the
floor before me was the profile of a man's head, upside down,
listeninga man's head with a tail of hair.
McCord got up hastily and stepped over in front of the stateroom
door, where he bent down and scratched a match.
See, he said, holding the tiny flame above a splintered scar on
the boards. You wouldn't think a man would be fool enough to shoot at
He came back and sat down.
It seemed to me all hell had shaken loose. You've no idea,
Ridgeway, the rumpus a gun raises in a box like this. I found out
afterward the slug ricochetted into the galley, bringing down a couple
of pansand that helped. Oh, yes, I got out of here quick enough. I
stood there, half out of the companion, with my hands on the hatch and
the gun between them, and my shadow running off across the top of the
house shivering before my eyes like a dry leaf. There wasn't a whisper
of sound in the worldjust the pale water floating past and the sails
towering up like a pair of twittering ghosts. And everything that crazy
Well, in a minute I saw it, just abreast of the mainmast, crouched
down in the shadow of the weather rail, sneaking off forward very
slowly. This time I took a good long sight before I let go. Did you
ever happen to see black-powder smoke in the moonlight? It puffed out
perfectly round, like a big, pale balloon, this did, and for a second
something was bounding through itwithout a sound, you
understandsomething a shade solider than the smoke and big as a cow,
it looked to me. It passed from the weather side to the lee and ducked
behind the sweep of the mainsail like that McCord snapped his
thumb and forefinger under the light.
Go on, I said. What did you do then?
McCord regarded me for an instant from beneath his lids, uncertain.
His fist hung above the table. You're He hesitated, his lips
working vacantly. A forefinger came out of the fist and gesticulated
before my face. If you're laughing, why, damn me, I'll
Go on, I repeated. What did you do then?
I followed the thing. He was still watching me sullenly. I got up
and went forward along the roof of the house, so as to have an eye on
either rail. You understand, this business had to be done with. I kept
straight along. Every shadow I wasn't absolutely sure of I made
sure ofpoint-blank. And I rounded the thing up at the very
sternsitting on the butt of the bowsprit, Ridgeway, washing her
yellow face under the moon. I didn't make any bones about it this time.
I put the bad end of that gun against the scar on her head and squeezed
the trigger. It snicked on an empty shell. I tell you a fact; I was
almost deafened by the report that didn't come.
She followed me aft. I couldn't get away from her. I went and sat
on the wheel-box and she came and sat on the edge of the house, facing
me. And there we stayed for upward of an hour, without moving. Finally
she went over and stuck her paw in the water-pan I'd set out for her;
then she raised her head and looked at me and yawled. At sundown
there'd been two quarts of water in that pan. You wouldn't think a cat
could get away with two quarts of water in
He broke off again and considered me with a sort of weary defiance.
What's the use? He spread out his hands in a gesture of
hopelessness. I knew you wouldn't believe it when I started. You
couldn't. It would be a kind of blasphemy against the sacred
institution of pavements. You're too damn smug, Ridgeway. I can't shake
you. You haven't sat two days and two nights, keeping your eyes open by
sheer teeth-gritting, until they got used to it and wouldn't shut any
more. When I tell you I found that yellow thing snooping around the
davits, and three bights off the boat-fall loosened out, plain on
deckyou grin behind your collar. When I tell you she padded off
forward and evaporatedflickered back to hell and hasn't been seen
since, thenwhy, you explain to yourself that I'm drunk. I tell you
He jerked his head back abruptly and turned to face the companionway,
his lips still apart. He listened so for a moment, then he shook
himself out of it and went on:
I tell you, Ridgeway, I've been over this hulk with a foot-rule.
There's not a cubic inch I haven't accounted for, not a plank I
This time he got up and moved a step toward the companion, where he
stood with his head bent forward and slightly to the side. After what
might have been twenty seconds of this he whispered, Do you hear?
Far and far away down the reach a ferry-boat lifted its
infinitesimal wail, and then the silence of the night river came down
once more, profound and inscrutable. A corner of the wick above my head
sputtered a littlethat was all.
Hear what? I whispered back. He lifted a cautious finger toward
The man's faculties must have been keyed up to the pitch of his
nerves, for to me the night remained as voiceless as a subterranean
cavern. I became intensely irritated with him; within my mind I cried
out against this infatuated pantomime of his. And then, of a sudden,
there was a soundthe dying rumour of a ripple, somewhere in the
outside darkness, as though an object had been let into the water with
I nodded. The ticking of the watch in my vest pocket came to my
ears, shucking off the leisurely seconds, while McCord's finger-nails
gnawed at the palms of his hands. The man was really sick. He wheeled
on me and cried out, My God! Ridgewaywhy don't we go out?
I, for one, refused to be a fool. I passed him and climbed out of
the opening; he followed far enough to lean his elbows on the hatch,
his feet and legs still within the secure glow of the cabin.
You see, there's nothing. My wave of assurance was possibly a
Over there, he muttered, jerking his head toward the shore lights.
I moved to the corner of the house and listened.
River thieves, I argued. The place is full of
Ridgeway. Look behind you!
Perhaps it is the pavementsbut no matter; I am not ordinarily a
jumping sort. And yet there was something in the quality of that voice
beyond my shoulder that brought the sweat stinging through the pores of
my scalp even while I was in the act of turning.
A cat sat there on the hatch, expressionless and immobile in the
I did not say anything. I turned and went below. McCord was there
already, standing on the farther side of the table. After a moment or
so the cat followed and sat on her haunches at the foot of the ladder
and stared at us without winking.
I think she wants something to eat, I said to McCord.
He lit a lantern and went out into the galley. Returning with a
chunk of salt beef, he threw it into the farther corner. The cat went
over and began to tear at it, her muscles playing with convulsive
shadow-lines under the sagging yellow hide.
And now it was she who listened, to something beyond the reach of
even McCord's faculties, her neck stiff and her ears flattened. I
looked at McCord and found him brooding at the animal with a sort of
listless malevolence. Quick! She has kittens somewhere about.
I shook his elbow sharply. When she starts, now
You don't seem to understand, he mumbled. It wouldn't be any
She had turned now and was making for the ladder with the soundless
agility of her race. I grasped McCord's wrist and dragged him after me,
the lantern banging against his knees. When we came up the cat was
already amidships, a scarcely discernible shadow at the margin of our
lantern's ring. She stopped and looked back at us with her luminous
eyes, appeared to hesitate, uneasy at our pursuit of her, shifted here
and there with quick, soft bounds, and stopped to fawn with her back
arched at the foot of the mast. Then she was off with an amazing
suddenness into the shadows forward.
Lively now! I yelled at McCord. He came pounding along behind me,
still protesting that it was of no use. Abreast of the foremast I took
the lantern from him to hold above my head.
You see, he complained, peering here and there over the
illuminated deck. I tell you, Ridgeway, this thing But my eyes were
in another quarter, and I slapped him on the shoulder.
An engineeran engineer to the core, I cried at him. Look aloft,
Our quarry was almost to the cross-trees, clambering up the shrouds
with a smartness no sailor has ever come to, her yellow body, cut by
the moving shadows of the ratlines, a queer sight against the mat of
the night. McCord closed his mouth and opened it again for two words:
By gracious! The following instant he had the lantern and was after
her. I watched him go up above my heada ponderous, swaying climber
into the skycome to the cross-trees, and squat there with his knees
clamped around the mast. The clear star of the lantern shot this way
and that for a moment, then it disappeared, and in its place there
sprang out a bag of yellow light, like a fire-balloon at anchor in the
heavens. I could see the shadows of his head and hands moving
monstrously over the inner surface of the sail, and muffled
exclamations without meaning came down to me. After a moment he drew
out his head and called: All rightthey're here. Heads! there below!
I ducked at his warning, and something spanked on the planking a
yard from my feet. I stepped over to the vague blur on the deck and
picked up a slippera slipper covered with some woven straw stuff and
soled with a matted felt, perhaps a half-inch thick. Another struck
somewhere abaft the mast, and then McCord reappeared above and began to
stagger down the shrouds. Under his left arm he hugged a curious
assortment of litter, a sheaf of papers, a brace of revolvers, a gray
kimono, and a soiled apron.
Well, he said when he had come to deck, I feel like a man who has
gone to hell and come back again. You know I'd come to the place where
I really believed that about the cat. When you think of itBy
gracious! we haven't come so far from the jungle, after all.
We went aft and below and sat down at the table as we had been.
McCord broke a prolonged silence.
I'm sort of glad he got awaypoor cuss! He's probably climbing up
a wharf this minute, shivering and scared to death. Over toward the
gas-tanks, by the way he was swimming. By gracious! now that the
world's turned over straight again, I feel I could sleep a solid week.
Poor cuss! can you imagine him, Ridgeway
Yes, I broke in. I think I can. He must have lost his nerve when
he made out your smoke and shinnied up there to stow away, taking the
ship's papers with him. He would have attached some profound importance
to themremember, the 'barbarian,' eight thousand miles from home.
Probably couldn't read a word. I suppose the cat followed himthe
traditional source of food. He must have wanted water badly.
I should say! He wouldn't have taken the chances he did.
Well, I announced, at any rate, I can say it nowthere's another
'mystery of the sea' gone to pot.
McCord lifted his heavy lids.
No, he mumbled. The mystery is that a man who has been to sea all
his life could sail around for three days with a man bundled up in his
top and not know it. When I think of him peeking down at meand
playing off that damn catprobably without realizing itscared to
deathby gracious! Ridgeway, there was a pair of funks aboard this
craft, eh? WowyowI could sleep
I should think you could.
McCord did not answer.
By the way, I speculated. I guess you were right about Björnsen,
McCordthat is, his fooling with the foretop. He must have been caught
all of a bunch, eh?
Again McCord failed to answer. I looked up mildly surprised, and
found his head hanging back over his chair and his mouth opened wide.
He was asleep.
[C] Reprinted by permission of the author and Messrs. Harper &
IX. LETTER TO SURA
PLINY, THE YOUNGER
Our leisure furnishes me with the opportunity of learning from you,
and you with that of instructing me. Accordingly, I particularly wish
to know whether you think there exist such things as phantoms,
possessing an appearance peculiar to themselves, and a certain
supernatural power, or that mere empty delusions receive a shape from
our fears. For my part, I am led to believe in their existence,
especially by what I hear happened to Curtius Rufus. While still in
humble circumstances and obscure, he was a hanger-on in the suit of the
Governor of Africa. While pacing the colonnade one afternoon, there
appeared to him a female form of superhuman size and beauty. She
informed the terrified man that she was Africa, and had come to
foretell future events; for that he would go to Rome, would fill
offices of state there, and would even return to that same province
with the highest powers, and die in it. All which things were
fulfilled. Moreover, as he touched at Carthage, and was disembarking
from his ship, the same form is said to have presented itself to him on
the shore. It is certain that, being seized with illness, and auguring
the future from the past and misfortune from his previous prosperity,
he himself abandoned all hope of life, though none of those about him
Is not the following story again still more appalling and not less
marvellous? I will relate it as it was received by me:
There was at Athens a mansion, spacious and commodious, but of evil
repute and dangerous to health. In the dead of night there was a noise
as of iron, and, if you listened more closely, a clanking of chains was
heard, first of all from a distance, and afterward hard by. Presently a
spectre used to appear, an ancient man sinking with emaciation and
squalor, with a long beard and bristly hair, wearing shackles on his
legs and fetters on his hands, and shaking them. Hence the inmates, by
reason of their fears, passed miserable and horrible nights in
sleeplessness. This want of sleep was followed by disease, and, their
terrors increasing, by death. For in the daytime as well, though the
apparition had departed, yet a reminiscence of it flitted before their
eyes, and their dread outlived its cause. The mansion was accordingly
deserted, and condemned to solitude, was entirely abandoned to the
dreadful ghost. However, it was advertised, on the chance of someone,
ignorant of the fearful curse attached to it, being willing to buy or
to rent it. Athenodorus, the philosopher, came to Athens and read the
advertisement. When he had been informed of the terms, which were so
low as to appear suspicious, he made inquiries, and learned the whole
of the particulars. Yet none the less on that account, nay, all the
more readily, did he rent the house. As evening began to draw on, he
ordered a sofa to be set for himself in the front part of the house,
and called for his notebooks, writing implements, and a light. The
whole of his servants he dismissed to the interior apartments, and for
himself applied his soul, eyes, and hand to composition, that his mind
might not, from want of occupation, picture to itself the phantoms of
which he had heard, or any empty terrors. At the commencement there was
the universal silence of night. Soon the shaking of irons and the
clanking of chains was heard, yet he never raised his eyes nor
slackened his pen, but hardened his soul and deadened his ears by its
help. The noise grew and approached: now it seemed to be heard at the
door, and next inside the door. He looked round, beheld and recognized
the figure he had been told of. It was standing and signalling to him
with its finger, as though inviting him. He, in reply, made a sign with
his hand that it should wait a moment, and applied himself afresh to
his tablets and pen. Upon this the figure kept rattling its chains over
his head as he wrote. On looking round again, he saw it making the same
signal as before, and without delay took up a light and followed it. It
moved with a slow step, as though oppressed by its chains, and, after
turning into the courtyard of the house, vanished suddenly and left his
company. On being thus left to himself, he marked the spot with some
grass and leaves which he plucked. Next day he applied to the
magistrates, and urged them to have the spot in question dug up. There
were found there some bones attached to and intermingled with fetters;
the body to which they had belonged, rotted away by time and the soil,
had abandoned them thus naked and corroded to the chains. They were
collected and interred at the public expense, and the house was ever
afterward free from the spirit, which had obtained due sepulture.
The above story I believe on the strength of those who affirm it.
What follows I am myself in a position to affirm to others. I have a
freedman, who is not without some knowledge of letters. A younger
brother of his was sleeping with him in the same bed. The latter
dreamed he saw someone sitting on the couch, who approached a pair of
scissors to his head, and even cut the hair from the crown of it. When
day dawned he was found to be cropped round the crown, and his locks
were discovered lying about. A very short time afterward a fresh
occurrence of the same kind confirmed the truth of the former one. A
lad of mine was sleeping, in company with several others, in the pages'
apartment. There came through the windows (so he tells the story) two
figures in white tunics, who cut his hair as he lay, and departed the
way they came. In his case, too, daylight exhibited him shorn, and his
locks scattered around. Nothing remarkable followed, except, perhaps,
this, that I was not brought under accusation, as I should have been,
if Domitian (in whose reign these events happened) had lived longer.
For in his desk was found an information against me which had been
presented by Carus; from which circumstance may be
conjecturedinasmuch as it is the custom of accused persons to let
their hair growthat the cutting off of my slaves' hair was a sign of
the danger which threatened me being averted.
I beg, then, that you will apply your great learning to this
subject. The matter is one which deserves long and deep consideration
on your part; nor am I, for my part, undeserving of having the fruits
of your wisdom imparted to me. You may even argue on both sides (as
your way is), provided you argue more forcibly on one side than the
other, so as not to dismiss me in suspense and anxiety, when the very
cause of my consulting you has been to have my doubts put an end to.