An Episode Of Cathedral History
There was once a learned gentleman who was deputed to examine and
report upon the archives of the Cathedral of Southminster. The
examination of these records demanded a very considerable expenditure
of time: hence it became advisable for him to engage lodgings in the
city: for though the Cathedral body were profuse in their offers of
hospitality, Mr. Lake felt that he would prefer to be master of his
day. This was recognized as reasonable. The Dean eventually wrote
advising Mr. Lake, if he were not already suited, to communicate with
Mr. Worby, the principal Verger, who occupied a house convenient to
the church and was prepared to take in a quiet lodger for three or
four weeks. Such an arrangement was precisely what Mr. Lake desired.
Terms were easily agreed upon, and early in December, like another Mr.
Datchery (as he remarked to himself), the investigator found himself
in the occupation of a very comfortable room in an ancient and
One so familiar with the customs of Cathedral churches, and treated
with such obvious consideration by the Dean and Chapter of this
Cathedral in particular, could not fail to command the respect of the
Head Verger. Mr. Worby even acquiesced in certain modifications of
statements he had been accustomed to offer for years to parties of
visitors. Mr. Lake, on his part, found the Verger a very cheery
companion, and took advantage of any occasion that presented itself
for enjoying his conversation when the day's work was over.
One evening, about nine o'clock, Mr. Worby knocked at his lodger's
door. I've occasion, he said, to go across to the Cathedral, Mr.
Lake, and I think I made you a promise when I did so next I would give
you the opportunity to see what it looks like at night time. It is
quite fine and dry outside, if you care to come.
To be sure I will; very much obliged to you, Mr. Worby, for thinking
of it, but let me get my coat.
Here it is, sir, and I've another lantern here that you'll find
advisable for the steps, as there's no moon.
Any one might think we were Jasper and Durdles, over again, mightn't
they, said Lake, as they crossed the close, for he had ascertained
that the Verger had read Edwin Drood.
Well, so they might, said Mr. Worby, with a short laugh, though I
don't know whether we ought to take it as a compliment. Odd ways, I
often think, they had at that Cathedral, don't it seem so to you, sir?
Full choral matins at seven o'clock in the morning all the year round.
Wouldn't suit our boys' voices nowadays, and I think there's one or
two of the men would be applying for a rise if the Chapter was to
bring it in--particular the alltoes.
They were now at the south-west door. As Mr. Worby was unlocking it,
Lake said, Did you ever find anybody locked in here by accident?
Twice I did. One was a drunk sailor; however he got in I don't know.
I s'pose he went to sleep in the service, but by the time I got to him
he was praying fit to bring the roof in. Lor'! what a noise that man
did make! said it was the first time he'd been inside a church for ten
years, and blest if ever he'd try it again. The other was an old
sheep: them boys it was, up to their games. That was the last time
they tried it on, though. There, sir, now you see what we look like;
our late Dean used now and again to bring parties in, but he preferred
a moonlight night, and there was a piece of verse he'd coat to 'em,
relating to a Scotch cathedral, I understand; but I don't know; I
almost think the effect's better when it's all dark-like. Seems to add
to the size and heighth. Now if you won't mind stopping somewhere in
the nave while I go up into the choir where my business lays, you'll
see what I mean.
Accordingly Lake waited, leaning against a pillar, and watched the
light wavering along the length of the church, and up the steps into
the choir, until it was intercepted by some screen or other furniture,
which only allowed the reflection to be seen on the piers and roof.
Not many minutes had passed before Worby reappeared at the door of the
choir and by waving his lantern signalled to Lake to rejoin him.
I suppose it is Worby, and not a substitute, thought Lake to
himself, as he walked up the nave. There was, in fact, nothing
untoward. Worby showed him the papers which he had come to fetch out
of the Dean's stall, and asked him what he thought of the spectacle:
Lake agreed that it was well worth seeing. I suppose, he said, as
they walked towards the altar-steps together, that you're too much
used to going about here at night to feel nervous--but you must get a
start every now and then, don't you, when a book falls down or a door
No, Mr. Lake, I can't say I think much about noises, not nowadays:
I'm much more afraid of finding an escape of gas or a burst in the
stove pipes than anything else. Still there have been times, years
ago. Did you notice that plain altar-tomb there--fifteenth century we
say it is, I don't know if you agree to that? Well, if you didn't look
at it, just come back and give it a glance, if you'd be so good. It
was on the north side of the choir, and rather awkwardly placed: only
about three feet from the enclosing stone screen. Quite plain, as the
Verger had said, but for some ordinary stone panelling. A metal cross
of some size on the northern side (that next to the screen) was the
solitary feature of any interest.
Lake agreed that it was not earlier than the Perpendicular period:
but, he said, unless it's the tomb of some remarkable person,
you'll forgive me for saying that I don't think it's particularly
Well, I can't say as it is the tomb of anybody noted in 'istory,
said Worby, who had a dry smile on his face, for we don't own any
record whatsoever of who it was put up to. For all that, if you've
half an hour to spare, sir, when we get back to the house, Mr. Lake, I
could tell you a tale about that tomb. I won't begin on it now; it
strikes cold here, and we don't want to be dawdling about all night.
Of course I should like to hear it immensely.
Very well, sir, you shall. Now if I might put a question to you, he
went on, as they passed down the choir aisle, in our little local
guide--and not only there, but in the little book on our Cathedral in
the series--you'll find it stated that this portion of the building
was erected previous to the twelfth century. Now of course I should be
glad enough to take that view, but--mind the step, sir--but, I put it
to you--does the lay of the stone 'ere in this portion of the wall
(which he tapped with his key) does it to your eye carry the flavour
of what you might call Saxon masonry? No? I thought not; no more it
does to me: now, if you'll believe me, I've said as much to those
men--one's the librarian of our Free Libry here, and the other came
down from London on purpose--fifty times, if I have once, but I might
just as well have talked to that bit of stonework. But there it is, I
suppose every one's got their opinions.
The discussion of this peculiar trait of human nature occupied Mr.
Worby almost up to the moment when he and Lake re-entered the former's
house. The condition of the fire in Lake's sitting-room led to a
suggestion from Mr. Worby that they should finish the evening in his
own parlour. We find them accordingly settled there some short time
Mr. Worby made his story a long one, and I will not undertake to tell
it wholly in his own words, or in his own order. Lake committed the
substance of it to paper immediately after hearing it, together with
some few passages of the narrative which had fixed themselves
verbatim in his mind; I shall probably find it expedient to condense
Lake's record to some extent.
Mr. Worby was born, it appeared, about the year 1828. His father
before him had been connected with the Cathedral, and likewise his
grandfather. One or both had been choristers, and in later life both
had done work as mason and carpenter respectively about the fabric.
Worby himself, though possessed, as he frankly acknowledged, of an
indifferent voice, had been drafted into the choir at about ten years
It was in 1840 that the wave of the Gothic revival smote the Cathedral
of Southminster. There was a lot of lovely stuff went then, sir,
said Worby, with a sigh. My father couldn't hardly believe it when he
got his orders to clear out the choir. There was a new dean just come
in--Dean Burscough it was--and my father had been 'prenticed to a good
firm of joiners in the city, and knew what good work was when he saw
it. Crool it was, he used to say: all that beautiful wainscot oak, as
good as the day it was put up, and garlands-like of foliage and fruit,
and lovely old gilding work on the coats of arms and the organ pipes.
All went to the timber yard--every bit except some little pieces
worked up in the Lady Chapel, and 'ere in this overmantel. Well--I may
be mistook, but I say our choir never looked as well since. Still
there was a lot found out about the history of the church, and no
doubt but what it did stand in need of repair. There were very few
winters passed but what we'd lose a pinnicle. Mr. Lake expressed his
concurrence with Worby's views of restoration, but owns to a fear
about this point lest the story proper should never be reached.
Possibly this was perceptible in his manner.
Worby hastened to reassure him, Not but what I could carry on about
that topic for hours at a time, and do do when I see my opportunity.
But Dean Burscough he was very set on the Gothic period, and nothing
would serve him but everything must be made agreeable to that. And one
morning after service he appointed for my father to meet him in the
choir, and he came back after he'd taken off his robes in the vestry,
and he'd got a roll of paper with him, and the verger that was then
brought in a table, and they begun spreading it out on the table with
prayer books to keep it down, and my father helped 'em, and he saw it
was a picture of the inside of a choir in a Cathedral; and the
Dean--he was a quick spoken gentleman--he says, 'Well, Worby, what do
you think of that?' 'Why', says my father, 'I don't think I 'ave the
pleasure of knowing that view. Would that be Hereford Cathedral, Mr.
Dean?' 'No, Worby,' says the Dean, 'that's Southminster Cathedral as
we hope to see it before many years.' 'In-deed, sir,' says my father,
and that was all he did say--leastways to the Dean--but he used to
tell me he felt really faint in himself when he looked round our
choir as I can remember it, all comfortable and furnished-like, and
then see this nasty little dry picter, as he called it, drawn out by
some London architect. Well, there I am again. But you'll see what I
mean if you look at this old view.
Worby reached down a framed print from the wall. Well, the long and
the short of it was that the Dean he handed over to my father a copy
of an order of the Chapter that he was to clear out every bit of the
choir--make a clean sweep--ready for the new work that was being
designed up in town, and he was to put it in hand as soon as ever he
could get the breakers together. Now then, sir, if you look at that
view, you'll see where the pulpit used to stand: that's what I want
you to notice, if you please. It was, indeed, easily seen; an
unusually large structure of timber with a domed sounding-board,
standing at the east end of the stalls on the north side of the choir,
facing the bishop's throne. Worby proceeded to explain that during the
alterations, services were held in the nave, the members of the choir
being thereby disappointed of an anticipated holiday, and the organist
in particular incurring the suspicion of having wilfully damaged the
mechanism of the temporary organ that was hired at considerable
expense from London.
The work of demolition began with the choir screen and organ loft, and
proceeded gradually eastwards, disclosing, as Worby said, many
interesting features of older work. While this was going on, the
members of the Chapter were, naturally, in and about the choir a great
deal, and it soon became apparent to the elder Worby--who could not
help overhearing some of their talk--that, on the part of the senior
Canons especially, there must have been a good deal of disagreement
before the policy now being carried out had been adopted. Some were of
opinion that they should catch their deaths of cold in the
return-stalls, unprotected by a screen from the draughts in the nave:
others objected to being exposed to the view of persons in the choir
aisles, especially, they said, during the sermons, when they found it
helpful to listen in a posture which was liable to misconstruction.
The strongest opposition, however, came from the oldest of the body,
who up to the last moment objected to the removal of the pulpit. You
ought not to touch it, Mr. Dean, he said with great emphasis one
morning, when the two were standing before it: you don't know what
mischief you may do. Mischief? it's not a work of any particular
merit, Canon. Don't call me Canon, said the old man with great
asperity, that is, for thirty years I've been known as Dr. Ayloff,
and I shall be obliged, Mr. Dean, if you would kindly humour me in
that matter. And as to the pulpit (which I've preached from for thirty
years, though I don't insist on that) all I'll say is, I know you're
doing wrong in moving it. But what sense could there be, my dear
Doctor, in leaving it where it is, when we're fitting up the rest of
the choir in a totally different style? What reason could be
given--apart from the look of the thing? Reason! reason! said old
Dr. Ayloff; if you young men--if I may say so without any disrespect,
Mr. Dean--if you'd only listen to reason a little, and not be always
asking for it, we should get on better. But there, I've said my say.
The old gentleman hobbled off, and as it proved, never entered the
Cathedral again. The season--it was a hot summer--turned sickly on a
sudden. Dr. Ayloff was one of the first to go, with some affection of
the muscles of the thorax, which took him painfully at night. And at
many services the number of choirmen and boys was very thin.
Meanwhile the pulpit had been done away with. In fact, the
sounding-board (part of which still exists as a table in a
summer-house in the palace garden) was taken down within an hour or
two of Dr. Ayloff's protest. The removal of the base--not effected
without considerable trouble--disclosed to view, greatly to the
exultation of the restoring party, an altar-tomb--the tomb, of course,
to which Worby had attracted Lake's attention that same evening. Much
fruitless research was expended in attempts to identify the occupant;
from that day to this he has never had a name put to him. The
structure had been most carefully boxed in under the pulpit-base, so
that such slight ornament as it possessed was not defaced; only on the
north side of it there was what looked like an injury; a gap between
two of the slabs composing the side. It might be two or three inches
across. Palmer, the mason, was directed to fill it up in a week's
time, when he came to do some other small jobs near that part of the
The season was undoubtedly a very trying one. Whether the church was
built on a site that had once been a marsh, as was suggested, or for
whatever reason, the residents in its immediate neighbourhood had,
many of them, but little enjoyment of the exquisite sunny days and
the calm nights of August and September. To several of the older
people--Dr. Ayloff, among others, as we have seen--the summer proved
downright fatal, but even among the younger, few escaped either a
sojourn in bed for a matter of weeks, or at the least, a brooding
sense of oppression, accompanied by hateful nightmares. Gradually
there formulated itself a suspicion--which grew into a conviction--that
the alterations in the Cathedral had something to say in the matter.
The widow of a former old verger, a pensioner of the Chapter of
Southminster, was visited by dreams, which she retailed to her
friends, of a shape that slipped out of the little door of the south
transept as the dark fell in, and flitted--taking a fresh direction
every night--about the close, disappearing for a while in house after
house, and finally emerging again when the night sky was paling. She
could see nothing of it, she said, but that it was a moving form: only
she had an impression that when it returned to the church, as it
seemed to do in the end of the dream, it turned its head: and then,
she could not tell why, but she thought it had red eyes. Worby
remembered hearing the old lady tell this dream at a tea-party in the
house of the chapter clerk. Its recurrence might, perhaps, he said, be
taken as a symptom of approaching illness; at any rate before the end
of September the old lady was in her grave.
The interest excited by the restoration of this great church was not
confined to its own county. One day that summer an F.S.A., of some
celebrity, visited the place. His business was to write an account of
the discoveries that had been made, for the Society of Antiquaries,
and his wife, who accompanied him, was to make a series of
illustrative drawings for his report. In the morning she employed
herself in making a general sketch of the choir; in the afternoon she
devoted herself to details. She first drew the newly exposed
altar-tomb, and when that was finished, she called her husband's
attention to a beautiful piece of diaper-ornament on the screen just
behind it, which had, like the tomb itself, been completely concealed
by the pulpit. Of course, he said, an illustration of that must be
made; so she seated herself on the tomb and began a careful drawing
which occupied her till dusk.
Her husband had by this time finished his work of measuring and
description, and they agreed that it was time to be getting back to
their hotel. You may as well brush my skirt, Frank, said the lady,
it must have got covered with dust, I'm sure. He obeyed dutifully;
but, after a moment, he said, I don't know whether you value this
dress particularly, my dear, but I'm inclined to think it's seen its
best days. There's a great bit of it gone. Gone? Where? said she.
I don't know where it's gone, but it's off at the bottom edge behind
here. She pulled it hastily into sight, and was horrified to find a
jagged tear extending some way into the substance of the stuff; very
much, she said, as if a dog had rent it away. The dress was, in any
case, hopelessly spoilt, to her great vexation, and though they looked
everywhere, the missing piece could not be found. There were many
ways, they concluded, in which the injury might have come about, for
the choir was full of old bits of woodwork with nails sticking out of
them. Finally, they could only suppose that one of these had caused
the mischief, and that the workmen, who had been about all day, had
carried off the particular piece with the fragment of dress still
attached to it.
It was about this time, Worby thought, that his little dog began to
wear an anxious expression when the hour for it to be put into the
shed in the back yard approached. (For his mother had ordained that it
must not sleep in the house.) One evening, he said, when he was just
going to pick it up and carry it out, it looked at him like a
Christian, and waved its 'and, I was going to say--well, you know 'ow
they do carry on sometimes, and the end of it was I put it under my
coat, and 'uddled it upstairs--and I'm afraid I as good as deceived my
poor mother on the subject. After that the dog acted very artful with
'iding itself under the bed for half-an-hour or more before bed-time
came, and we worked it so as my mother never found out what we'd
done. Of course Worby was glad of its company anyhow, but more
particularly when the nuisance that is still remembered in
Southminster as the crying set in.
Night after night, said Worby, that dog seemed to know it was
coming; he'd creep out, he would, and snuggle into the bed and cuddle
right up to me shivering, and when the crying come he'd be like a wild
thing, shoving his head under my arm, and I was fully near as bad. Six
or seven times we'd hear it, not more, and when he'd dror out his 'ed
again I'd know it was over for that night. What was it like, sir?
Well, I never heard but one thing that seemed to hit it off. I
happened to be playing about in the Close, and there was two of the
Canons met and said 'Good morning' one to another. 'Sleep well last
night?' says one--it was Mr. Henslow that one, and Mr. Lyall was the
other--'Can't say I did,' says Mr. Lyall, 'rather too much of Isaiah
34. 14 for me.' '34. 14,' says Mr. Henslow, 'what's that?' 'You call
yourself a Bible reader!' says Mr. Lyall. (Mr. Henslow, you must know,
he was one of what used to be termed Simeon's lot--pretty much what we
should call the Evangelical party.) 'You go and look it up.' I wanted
to know what he was getting at myself, and so off I ran home and got
out my own Bible, and there it was: 'the satyr shall cry to his
fellow.' Well, I thought, is that what we've been listening to these
past nights? and I tell you it made me look over my shoulder a time or
two. Of course I'd asked my father and mother about what it could be
before that, but they both said it was most likely cats: but they
spoke very short, and I could see they was troubled. My word! that was
a noise--'ungry-like, as if it was calling after some one that
wouldn't come. If ever you felt you wanted company, it would be when
you was waiting for it to begin again. I believe two or three nights
there was men put on to watch in different parts of the Close; but
they all used to get together in one corner, the nearest they could to
the High Street, and nothing came of it.
Well, the next thing was this. Me and another of the boys--he's in
business in the city now as a grocer, like his father before him--we'd
gone up in the Close after morning service was over, and we heard old
Palmer the mason bellowing to some of his men. So we went up nearer,
because we knew he was a rusty old chap and there might be some fun
going. It appears Palmer'd told this man to stop up the chink in that
old tomb. Well, there was this man keeping on saying he'd done it the
best he could, and there was Palmer carrying on like all possessed
about it. 'Call that making a job of it?' he says. 'If you had your
rights you'd get the sack for this. What do you suppose I pay you your
wages for? What do you suppose I'm going to say to the Dean and
Chapter when they come round, as come they may do any time, and see
where you've been bungling about covering the 'ole place with mess
and plaster and Lord knows what?' 'Well, master, I done the best I
could,' says the man; 'I don't know no more than what you do 'ow it
come to fall out this way. I tamped it right in the 'ole,' he says,
'and now it's fell out,' he says, 'I never see.'
'Fell out?' says old Palmer, 'why it's nowhere near the place. Blowed
out, you mean,' and he picked up a bit of plaster, and so did I, that
was laying up against the screen, three or four feet off, and not dry
yet; and old Palmer he looked at it curious-like, and then he turned
round on me and he says, 'Now then, you boys, have you been up to some
of your games here?' 'No,' I says, 'I haven't, Mr. Palmer; there's
none of us been about here till just this minute,' and while I was
talking the other boy, Evans, he got looking in through the chink, and
I heard him draw in his breath, and he came away sharp and up to us,
and says he, 'I believe there's something in there. I saw something
shiny.' 'What! I daresay,' says old Palmer; 'Well, I ain't got time to
stop about there. You, William, you go off and get some more stuff and
make a job of it this time; if not, there'll be trouble in my yard,'
So the man he went off, and Palmer too, and us boys stopped behind,
and I says to Evans, 'Did you really see anything in there?' 'Yes,' he
says, 'I did indeed.' So then I says, 'Let's shove something in and
stir it up.' And we tried several of the bits of wood that was laying
about, but they were all too big. Then Evans he had a sheet of music
he'd brought with him, an anthem or a service, I forget which it was
now, and he rolled it up small and shoved it in the chink; two or
three times he did it, and nothing happened. 'Give it me, boy,' I
said, and I had a try. No, nothing happened. Then, I don't know why I
thought of it, I'm sure, but I stooped down just opposite the chink
and put my two fingers in my mouth and whistled--you know the way--and
at that I seemed to think I heard something stirring, and I says to
Evans, 'Come away,' I says; 'I don't like this.' 'Oh, rot,' he says,
'Give me that roll,' and he took it and shoved it in. And I don't
think ever I see any one go so pale as he did. 'I say, Worby,' he
says, 'it's caught, or else some one's got hold of it.' 'Pull it out
or leave it,' I says, 'Come and let's get off.' So he gave a good
pull, and it came away. Leastways most of it did, but the end was
gone. Torn off it was, and Evans looked at it for a second and then he
gave a sort of a croak and let it drop, and we both made off out of
there as quick as ever we could. When we got outside Evans says to me,
'Did you see the end of that paper.' 'No,' I says, 'only it was torn.'
'Yes, it was,' he says, 'but it was wet too, and black!' Well, partly
because of the fright we had, and partly because that music was wanted
in a day or two, and we knew there'd be a set-out about it with the
organist, we didn't say nothing to any one else, and I suppose the
workmen they swept up the bit that was left along with the rest of the
rubbish. But Evans, if you were to ask him this very day about it,
he'd stick to it he saw that paper wet and black at the end where it
After that the boys gave the choir a wide berth, so that Worby was not
sure what was the result of the mason's renewed mending of the tomb.
Only he made out from fragments of conversation dropped by the workmen
passing through the choir that some difficulty had been met with, and
that the governor--Mr. Palmer to wit--had tried his own hand at the
job. A little later, he happened to see Mr. Palmer himself knocking at
the door of the Deanery and being admitted by the butler. A day or so
after that, he gathered from a remark his father let fall at breakfast
that something a little out of the common was to be done in the
Cathedral after morning service on the morrow. And I'd just as soon
it was to-day, his father added, I don't see the use of running
risks. 'Father,' I says, 'what are you going to do in the Cathedral
to-morrow?' and he turned on me as savage as I ever see him--he was a
wonderful good-tempered man as a general thing, my poor father was.
'My lad,' he says, 'I'll trouble you not to go picking up your elders'
and betters' talk: it's not manners and it's not straight. What I'm
going to do or not going to do in the Cathedral to-morrow is none of
your business: and if I catch sight of you hanging about the place
to-morrow after your work's done, I'll send you home with a flea in
your ear. Now you mind that.' Of course I said I was very sorry and
that, and equally of course I went off and laid my plans with Evans.
We knew there was a stair up in the corner of the transept which you
can get up to the triforium, and in them days the door to it was
pretty well always open, and even if it wasn't we knew the key usually
laid under a bit of matting hard by. So we made up our minds we'd be
putting away music and that, next morning while the rest of the boys
was clearing off, and then slip up the stairs and watch from the
triforium if there was any signs of work going on.
Well, that same night I dropped off asleep as sound as a boy does,
and all of a sudden the dog woke me up, coming into the bed, and
thought I, now we're going to get it sharp, for he seemed more
frightened than usual. After about five minutes sure enough came this
cry. I can't give you no idea what it was like; and so near
too--nearer than I'd heard it yet--and a funny thing, Mr. Lake, you
know what a place this Close is for an echo, and particular if you
stand this side of it. Well, this crying never made no sign of an echo
at all. But, as I said, it was dreadful near this night; and on the
top of the start I got with hearing it, I got another fright; for I
heard something rustling outside in the passage. Now to be sure I
thought I was done; but I noticed the dog seemed to perk up a bit, and
next there was some one whispered outside the door, and I very near
laughed out loud, for I knew it was my father and mother that had got
out of bed with the noise. 'Whatever is it?' says my mother. 'Hush! I
don't know,' says my father, excited-like, 'don't disturb the boy. I
hope he didn't hear nothing.'
So, me knowing they were just outside, it made me bolder, and I
slipped out of bed across to my little window--giving on the
Close--but the dog he bored right down to the bottom of the bed--and I
looked out. First go off I couldn't see anything. Then right down in
the shadow under a buttress I made out what I shall always say was two
spots of red--a dull red it was--nothing like a lamp or a fire, but
just so as you could pick 'em out of the black shadow. I hadn't but
just sighted 'em when it seemed we wasn't the only people that had
been disturbed, because I see a window in a house on the left-hand
side become lighted up, and the light moving. I just turned my head to
make sure of it, and then looked back into the shadow for those two
red things, and they were gone, and for all I peered about and stared,
there was not a sign more of them. Then come my last fright that
night--something come against my bare leg--but that was all right:
that was my little dog had come out of bed, and prancing about, making
a great to-do, only holding his tongue, and me seeing he was quite in
spirits again, I took him back to bed and we slept the night out!
Next morning I made out to tell my mother I'd had the dog in my room,
and I was surprised, after all she'd said about it before, how quiet
she took it. 'Did you?' she says. 'Well, by good rights you ought to
go without your breakfast for doing such a thing behind my back: but I
don't know as there's any great harm done, only another time you ask
my permission, do you hear?' A bit after that I said something to my
father about having heard the cats again. 'Cats,' he says, and he
looked over at my poor mother, and she coughed and he says, 'Oh! ah!
yes, cats. I believe I heard 'em myself.'
That was a funny morning altogether: nothing seemed to go right. The
organist he stopped in bed, and the minor Canon he forgot it was the
19th day and waited for the Venite; and after a bit the deputy he
set off playing the chant for evensong, which was a minor; and then
the Decani boys were laughing so much they couldn't sing, and when it
came to the anthem the solo boy he got took with the giggles, and made
out his nose was bleeding, and shoved the book at me what hadn't
practised the verse and wasn't much of a singer if I had known it.
Well, things was rougher, you see, fifty years ago, and I got a nip
from the counter-tenor behind me that I remembered.
So we got through somehow, and neither the men nor the boys weren't
by way of waiting to see whether the Canon in residence--Mr. Henslow
it was--would come to the vestries and fine 'em, but I don't believe
he did: for one thing I fancy he'd read the wrong lesson for the first
time in his life, and knew it. Anyhow Evans and me didn't find no
difficulty in slipping up the stairs as I told you, and when we got up
we laid ourselves down flat on our stomachs where we could just
stretch our heads out over the old tomb, and we hadn't but just done
so when we heard the verger that was then, first shutting the iron
porch-gates and locking the south-west door, and then the transept
door, so we knew there was something up, and they meant to keep the
public out for a bit.
Next thing was, the Dean and the Canon come in by their door on the
north, and then I see my father, and old Palmer, and a couple of their
best men, and Palmer stood a talking for a bit with the Dean in the
middle of the choir. He had a coil of rope and the men had crows. All
of 'em looked a bit nervous. So there they stood talking, and at last
I heard the Dean say, 'Well, I've no time to waste, Palmer. If you
think this'll satisfy Southminster people, I'll permit it to be done;
but I must say this, that never in the whole course of my life have I
heard such arrant nonsense from a practical man as I have from you.
Don't you agree with me, Henslow?' As far as I could hear Mr. Henslow
said something like 'Oh! well we're told, aren't we, Mr. Dean, not to
judge others?' and the Dean he gave a kind of sniff, and walked
straight up to the tomb, and took his stand behind it with his back to
the screen, and the others they come edging up rather gingerly.
Henslow, he stopped on the south side and scratched on his chin, he
did. Then the Dean spoke up: 'Palmer,' he says, 'which can you do
easiest, get the slab off the top, or shift one of the side slabs?'
Old Palmer and his men they pottered about a bit looking round the
edge of the top slab and sounding the sides on the south and east and
west and everywhere but the north. Henslow said something about it
being better to have a try at the south side, because there was more
light and more room to move about in. Then my father, who'd been
watching of them, went round to the north side, and knelt down and
felt of the slab by the chink, and he got up and dusted his knees and
says to the Dean: 'Beg pardon, Mr. Dean, but I think if Mr. Palmer'll
try this here slab he'll find it'll come out easy enough. Seems to me
one of the men could prize it out with his crow by means of this
chink.' 'Ah! thank you, Worby,' says the Dean; 'that's a good
suggestion. Palmer, let one of your men do that, will you?'
So the man come round, and put his bar in and bore on it, and just
that minute when they were all bending over, and we boys got our heads
well out over the edge of the triforium, there come a most fearful
crash down at the west end of the choir, as if a whole stack of big
timber had fallen down a flight of stairs. Well, you can't expect me
to tell you everything that happened all in a minute. Of course there
was a terrible commotion. I heard the slab fall out, and the crowbar
on the floor, and I heard the Dean say 'Good God!'
When I looked down again I saw the Dean tumbled over on the floor,
the men was making off down the choir, Henslow was just going to help
the Dean up, Palmer was going to stop the men, as he said afterwards,
and my father was sitting on the altar step with his face in his
hands. The Dean he was very cross. 'I wish to goodness you'd look
where you're coming to, Henslow,' he says. 'Why you should all take
to your heels when a stick of wood tumbles down I cannot imagine,' and
all Henslow could do, explaining he was right away on the other side
of the tomb, would not satisfy him.
Then Palmer came back and reported there was nothing to account for
this noise and nothing seemingly fallen down, and when the Dean
finished feeling of himself they gathered round--except my father, he
sat where he was--and some one lighted up a bit of candle and they
looked into the tomb. 'Nothing there,' says the Dean, 'what did I tell
you? Stay! here's something. What's this: a bit of music paper, and a
piece of torn stuff--part of a dress it looks like. Both quite
modern--no interest whatever. Another time perhaps you'll take the
advice of an educated man'--or something like that, and off he went,
limping a bit, and out through the north door, only as he went he
called back angry to Palmer for leaving the door standing open. Palmer
called out 'Very sorry, sir,' but he shrugged his shoulders, and
Henslow says, 'I fancy Mr. Dean's mistaken. I closed the door behind
me, but he's a little upset.' Then Palmer says, 'Why, where's Worby?'
and they saw him sitting on the step and went up to him. He was
recovering himself, it seemed, and wiping his forehead, and Palmer
helped him up on to his legs, as I was glad to see.
They were too far off for me to hear what they said, but my father
pointed to the north door in the aisle, and Palmer and Henslow both of
them looked very surprised and scared. After a bit, my father and
Henslow went out of the church, and the others made what haste they
could to put the slab back and plaster it in. And about as the clock
struck twelve the Cathedral was opened again and us boys made the best
of our way home.
I was in a great taking to know what it was had given my poor father
such a turn, and when I got in and found him sitting in his chair
taking a glass of spirits, and my mother standing looking anxious at
him, I couldn't keep from bursting out and making confession where I'd
been. But he didn't seem to take on, not in the way of losing his
temper. 'You was there, was you? Well did you see it?' 'I see
everything, father,' I said, 'except when the noise came.' 'Did you
see what it was knocked the Dean over?' he says, 'that what come out
of the monument? You didn't? Well, that's a mercy.' 'Why, what was it,
father?' I said. 'Come, you must have seen it,' he says. 'Didn't
you see? A thing like a man, all over hair, and two great eyes to it?'
Well, that was all I could get out of him that time, and later on he
seemed as if he was ashamed of being so frightened, and he used to put
me off when I asked him about it. But years after, when I was got to
be a grown man, we had more talk now and again on the matter, and he
always said the same thing. 'Black it was,' he'd say, 'and a mass of
hair, and two legs, and the light caught on its eyes.'
Well, that's the tale of that tomb, Mr. Lake; it's one we don't tell
to our visitors, and I should be obliged to you not to make any use of
it till I'm out of the way. I doubt Mr. Evans'll feel the same as I
do, if you ask him.
This proved to be the case. But over twenty years have passed by, and
the grass is growing over both Worby and Evans; so Mr. Lake felt no
difficulty about communicating his notes--taken in 1890--to me. He
accompanied them with a sketch of the tomb and a copy of the short
inscription on the metal cross which was affixed at the expense of Dr.
Lyall to the centre of the northern side. It was from the Vulgate of
Isaiah xxxiv., and consisted merely of the three words--
IBI CUBAVIT LAMIA.
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