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

situation.



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

him.



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

usual.



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

prayers.



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

minute?



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

good.



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

subject.



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

packet.'



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.





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