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


The Devils Of Loudun The Dominican Friar facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail