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The Residence At Whitminster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'For goodness sake finish your story first,' I said. 'I never heard
anything like it.' 'Oh,' said he, 'there's no more to tell. Mary ran
in with a light, and there was nothing there. I didn't tell her what
was the matter. I changed my room for last night, and I expect for
good.' 'Have you searched this odd room of yours?' I said. 'What do
you keep in it?' 'We don't use it,' he answered. 'There's an old press
there, and some little other furniture.' 'And in the press?' said I.
'I don't know; I never saw it opened, but I do know that it's locked.'
'Well, I should have it looked into, and, if you had time, I own to
having some curiosity to see the place myself.' 'I didn't exactly like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: The Diary Of Mr Poynter

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