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The Diary Of Mr Poynter
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The Diary Of Mr Poynter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for him, he was naturally somewhat dashed by the consciousness of
duty unfulfilled, but more so by the prospect of a lawn-tennis party,
which, though an inevitable evil in August, he had thought there was
no occasion to fear in May. But he was to some extent cheered by the
arrival on the Friday morning of an intimation that he had secured at
the price of L12 10s. the four volumes of Poynter's manuscript diary,
and still more by the arrival on the next morning of the diary itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did he find it a difficult job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh? said his aunt interrogatively.

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

Why, I thought it was a perfectly still night.

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

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

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

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

The entry was made in 1707.

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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