Mr Humphreys And His Inheritance
Scary Books: Ghost Stories Of An Antiquary
: Montague Rhodes James
About fifteen years ago, on a date late in August or early in September,
a train drew up at Wilsthorpe, a country station in Eastern England. Out
of it stepped (with other passengers) a rather tall and reasonably
good-looking young man, carrying a handbag and some papers tied up in a
packet. He was expecting to be met, one would say, from the way in which
he looked about him: and he was, as obviously, expected. The
ionmaster ran forward a step or two, and then, seeming to recollect
himself, turned and beckoned to a stout and consequential person with a
short round beard who was scanning the train with some appearance of
bewilderment. 'Mr Cooper,' he called out,--'Mr Cooper, I think this is
your gentleman'; and then to the passenger who had just alighted, 'Mr
Humphreys, sir? Glad to bid you welcome to Wilsthorpe. There's a cart
from the Hall for your luggage, and here's Mr Cooper, what I think you
know.' Mr Cooper had hurried up, and now raised his hat and shook hands.
'Very pleased, I'm sure,' he said, 'to give the echo to Mr Palmer's kind
words. I should have been the first to render expression to them but for
the face not being familiar to me, Mr Humphreys. May your residence among
us be marked as a red-letter day, sir.' 'Thank you very much, Mr Cooper,'
said Humphreys, 'for your good wishes, and Mr Palmer also. I do hope very
much that this change of--er--tenancy--which you must all regret, I am
sure--will not be to the detriment of those with whom I shall be brought
in contact.' He stopped, feeling that the words were not fitting
themselves together in the happiest way, and Mr Cooper cut in, 'Oh, you
may rest satisfied of that, Mr Humphreys. I'll take it upon myself to
assure you, sir, that a warm welcome awaits you on all sides. And as to
any change of propriety turning out detrimental to the neighbourhood,
well, your late uncle--' And here Mr Cooper also stopped, possibly in
obedience to an inner monitor, possibly because Mr Palmer, clearing his
throat loudly, asked Humphreys for his ticket. The two men left the
little station, and--at Humphreys' suggestion--decided to walk to Mr
Cooper's house, where luncheon was awaiting them.
The relation in which these personages stood to each other can be
explained in a very few lines. Humphreys had inherited--quite
unexpectedly--a property from an uncle: neither the property nor the
uncle had he ever seen. He was alone in the world--a man of good ability
and kindly nature, whose employment in a Government office for the last
four or five years had not gone far to fit him for the life of a country
gentleman. He was studious and rather diffident, and had few out-of-door
pursuits except golf and gardening. To-day he had come down for the first
time to visit Wilsthorpe and confer with Mr Cooper, the bailiff, as to
the matters which needed immediate attention. It may be asked how this
came to be his first visit? Ought he not in decency to have attended his
uncle's funeral? The answer is not far to seek: he had been abroad at the
time of the death, and his address had not been at once procurable. So he
had put off coming to Wilsthorpe till he heard that all things were ready
for him. And now we find him arrived at Mr Cooper's comfortable house,
facing the parsonage, and having just shaken hands with the smiling Mrs
and Miss Cooper.
During the minutes that preceded the announcement of luncheon the party
settled themselves on elaborate chairs in the drawing-room, Humphreys,
for his part, perspiring quietly in the consciousness that stock was
being taken of him.
'I was just saying to Mr Humphreys, my dear,' said Mr Cooper, 'that I
hope and trust that his residence among us here in Wilsthorpe will be
marked as a red-letter day.'
'Yes, indeed, I'm sure,' said Mrs Cooper heartily, 'and many, many of
Miss Cooper murmured words to the same effect, and Humphreys attempted a
pleasantry about painting the whole calendar red, which, though greeted
with shrill laughter, was evidently not fully understood. At this point
they proceeded to luncheon.
'Do you know this part of the country at all, Mr Humphreys?' said Mrs
Cooper, after a short interval. This was a better opening.
'No, I'm sorry to say I do _not_,' said Humphreys. 'It seems very
pleasant, what I could see of it coming down in the train.'
'Oh, it _is_ a pleasant part. Really, I sometimes say I don't know a
nicer district, for the country; and the people round, too: such a
quantity always going on. But I'm afraid you've come a little late for
some of the better garden parties, Mr Humphreys.'
'I suppose I have; dear me, what a pity!' said Humphreys, with a gleam of
relief; and then, feeling that something more could be got out of this
topic, 'But after all, you see, Mrs Cooper, even if I could have been
here earlier, I should have been cut off from them, should I not? My poor
uncle's recent death, you know--'
'Oh dear, Mr Humphreys, to be sure; what a dreadful thing of me to say!'
(And Mr and Miss Cooper seconded the proposition inarticulately.) 'What
must you have thought? I _am_ sorry: you must really forgive me.'
'Not at all, Mrs Cooper, I assure you. I can't honestly assert that my
uncle's death was a great grief to me, for I had never seen him. All I
meant was that I supposed I shouldn't be expected to take part for some
little time in festivities of that kind.'
'Now, really it's very kind of you to take it in that way, Mr Humphreys,
isn't it, George? And you _do_ forgive me? But only fancy! You never saw
poor old Mr Wilson!'
'Never in my life; nor did I ever have a letter from him. But, by the
way, you have something to forgive _me_ for. I've never thanked you,
except by letter, for all the trouble you've taken to find people to look
after me at the Hall.'
'Oh, I'm sure that was nothing, Mr Humphreys; but I really do think that
you'll find them give satisfaction. The man and his wife whom we've got
for the butler and housekeeper we've known for a number of years: such a
nice respectable couple, and Mr Cooper, I'm sure, can answer for the men
in the stables and gardens.'
'Yes, Mr Humphreys, they're a good lot. The head gardener's the only one
who's stopped on from Mr Wilson's time. The major part of the employees,
as you no doubt saw by the will, received legacies from the old gentleman
and retired from their posts, and as the wife says, your housekeeper and
butler are calculated to render you every satisfaction.'
'So everything, Mr Humphreys, is ready for you to step in this very day,
according to what I understood you to wish,' said Mrs Cooper.
'Everything, that is, except company, and there I'm afraid you'll find
yourself quite at a standstill. Only we did understand it was your
intention to move in at once. If not, I'm sure you know we should have
been only too pleased for you to stay here.'
'I'm quite sure you would, Mrs Cooper, and I'm very grateful to you. But
I thought I had really better make the plunge at once. I'm accustomed to
living alone, and there will be quite enough to occupy my
evenings--looking over papers and books and so on--for some time to come,
I thought if Mr Cooper could spare the time this afternoon to go over the
house and grounds with me--'
'Certainly, certainly, Mr Humphreys. My time is your own, up to any hour
'Till dinner-time, father, you mean,' said Miss Cooper. 'Don't forget
we're going over to the Brasnetts'. And have you got all the garden
'Are you a great gardener, Miss Cooper?' said Mr Humphreys. 'I wish you
would tell me what I'm to expect at the Hall.'
'Oh, I don't know about a _great_ gardener, Mr Humphreys: I'm very fond
of flowers--but the Hall garden might be made quite lovely, I often say.
It's very old-fashioned as it is: and a great deal of shrubbery. There's
an old temple, besides, and a maze.'
'Really? Have you explored it ever?'
'No-o,' said Miss Cooper, drawing in her lips and shaking her head. 'I've
often longed to try, but old Mr Wilson always kept it locked. He wouldn't
even let Lady Wardrop into it. (She lives near here, at Bentley, you
know, and she's a _great_ gardener, if you like.) That's why I asked
father if he had all the keys.'
'I see. Well, I must evidently look into that, and show you over it when
I've learnt the way.'
'Oh, thank you so much, Mr Humphreys! Now I shall have the laugh of Miss
Foster (that's our rector's daughter, you know; they're away on their
holiday now--such nice people). We always had a joke between us which
should be the first to get into the maze.'
'I think the garden keys must be up at the house,' said Mr Cooper, who
had been looking over a large bunch. 'There is a number there in the
library. Now, Mr Humphreys, if you're prepared, we might bid goodbye to
these ladies and set forward on our little tour of exploration.'
As they came out of Mr Cooper's front gate, Humphreys had to run the
gauntlet--not of an organized demonstration, but of a good deal of
touching of hats and careful contemplation from the men and women who had
gathered in somewhat unusual numbers in the village street. He had,
further, to exchange some remarks with the wife of the lodge-keeper as
they passed the park gates, and with the lodge-keeper himself, who was
attending to the park road. I cannot, however, spare the time to report
the progress fully. As they traversed the half-mile or so between the
lodge and the house, Humphreys took occasion to ask his companion some
question which brought up the topic of his late uncle, and it did not
take long before Mr Cooper was embarked upon a disquisition.
'It is singular to think, as the wife was saying just now, that you
should never have seen the old gentleman. And yet--you won't
misunderstand me, Mr Humphreys, I feel confident, when I say that in my
opinion there would have been but little congeniality betwixt yourself
and him. Not that I have a word to say in deprecation--not a single word.
I can tell you what he was,' said Mr Cooper, pulling up suddenly and
fixing Humphreys with his eye. 'Can tell you what he was in a nutshell,
as the saying goes. He was a complete, thorough valentudinarian. That
describes him to a T. That's what he was, sir, a complete
valentudinarian. No participation in what went on around him. I did
venture, I think, to send you a few words of cutting from our local
paper, which I took the occasion to contribute on his decease. If I
recollect myself aright, such is very much the gist of them. But don't,
Mr Humphreys,' continued Cooper, tapping him impressively on the
chest,--'don't you run away with the impression that I wish to say aught
but what is most creditable--_most_ creditable--of your respected uncle
and my late employer. Upright, Mr Humphreys--open as the day; liberal to
all in his dealings. He had the heart to feel and the hand to
accommodate. But there it was: there was the stumbling-block--his
unfortunate health--or, as I might more truly phrase it, his _want_ of
'Yes, poor man. Did he suffer from any special disorder before his last
illness--which, I take it, was little more than old age?'
'Just that, Mr Humphreys--just that. The flash flickering slowly away in
the pan,' said Cooper, with what he considered an appropriate
gesture,--'the golden bowl gradually ceasing to vibrate. But as to your
other question I should return a negative answer. General absence of
vitality? yes: special complaint? no, unless you reckon a nasty cough he
had with him. Why, here we are pretty much at the house. A handsome
mansion, Mr Humphreys, don't you consider?'
It deserved the epithet, on the whole: but it was oddly proportioned--a
very tall red-brick house, with a plain parapet concealing the roof
almost entirely. It gave the impression of a town house set down in the
country; there was a basement, and a rather imposing flight of steps
leading up to the front door. It seemed also, owing to its height, to
desiderate wings, but there were none. The stables and other offices were
concealed by trees. Humphreys guessed its probable date as 1770 or
The mature couple who had been engaged to act as butler and
cook-housekeeper were waiting inside the front door, and opened it as
their new master approached. Their name, Humphreys already knew, was
Calton; of their appearance and manner he formed a favourable impression
in the few minutes' talk he had with them. It was agreed that he should
go through the plate and the cellar next day with Mr Calton, and that Mrs
C. should have a talk with him about linen, bedding, and so on--what
there was, and what there ought to be. Then he and Cooper, dismissing the
Caltons for the present, began their view of the house. Its topography is
not of importance to this story. The large rooms on the ground floor were
satisfactory, especially the library, which was as large as the
dining-room, and had three tall windows facing east. The bedroom prepared
for Humphreys was immediately above it. There were many pleasant, and a
few really interesting, old pictures. None of the furniture was new, and
hardly any of the books were later than the seventies. After hearing of
and seeing the few changes his uncle had made in the house, and
contemplating a shiny portrait of him which adorned the drawing-room,
Humphreys was forced to agree with Cooper that in all probability there
would have been little to attract him in his predecessor. It made him
rather sad that he could not be sorry--_dolebat se dolere non posse_--for
the man who, whether with or without some feeling of kindliness towards
his unknown nephew, had contributed so much to his well-being; for he
felt that Wilsthorpe was a place in which he could be happy, and
especially happy, it might be, in its library.
And now it was time to go over the garden: the empty stables could wait,
and so could the laundry. So to the garden they addressed themselves, and
it was soon evident that Miss Cooper had been right in thinking that
there were possibilities. Also that Mr Cooper had done well in keeping on
the gardener. The deceased Mr Wilson might not have, indeed plainly had
not, been imbued with the latest views on gardening, but whatever had
been done here had been done under the eye of a knowledgeable man, and
the equipment and stock were excellent. Cooper was delighted with the
pleasure Humphreys showed, and with the suggestions he let fall from time
to time. 'I can see,' he said, 'that you've found your meatear here, Mr
Humphreys: you'll make this place a regular signosier before very many
seasons have passed over our heads. I wish Clutterham had been
here--that's the head gardener--and here he would have been of course,
as I told you, but for his son's being horse doover with a fever, poor
fellow! I should like him to have heard how the place strikes you.'
'Yes, you told me he couldn't be here today, and I was very sorry to hear
the reason, but it will be time enough tomorrow. What is that white
building on the mound at the end of the grass ride? Is it the temple Miss
'That it is, Mr Humphreys--the Temple of Friendship. Constructed of
marble brought out of Italy for the purpose, by your late uncle's
grandfather. Would it interest you perhaps to take a turn there? You get
a very sweet prospect of the park.'
The general lines of the temple were those of the Sibyl's Temple at
Tivoli, helped out by a dome, only the whole was a good deal smaller.
Some ancient sepulchral reliefs were built into the wall, and about it
all was a pleasant flavour of the grand tour. Cooper produced the key,
and with some difficulty opened the heavy door. Inside there was a
handsome ceiling, but little furniture. Most of the floor was occupied by
a pile of thick circular blocks of stone, each of which had a single
letter deeply cut on its slightly convex upper surface. 'What is the
meaning of these?' Humphreys inquired.
'Meaning? Well, all things, we're told, have their purpose, Mr Humphreys,
and I suppose these blocks have had theirs as well as another. But what
that purpose is or was [Mr Cooper assumed a didactic attitude here], I,
for one, should be at a loss to point out to you, sir. All I know of
them--and it's summed up in a very few words--is just this: that they're
stated to have been removed by your late uncle, at a period before I
entered on the scene, from the maze. That, Mr Humphreys, is--'
'Oh, the maze!' exclaimed Humphreys. 'I'd forgotten that: we must have a
look at it. Where is it?'
Cooper drew him to the door of the temple, and pointed with his stick.
'Guide your eye,' he said (somewhat in the manner of the Second Elder in
Far to the west direct your straining eyes
Where yon tall holm-tree rises to the skies)
'Guide your eye by my stick here, and follow out the line directly
opposite to the spot where we're standing now, and I'll engage, Mr
Humphreys, that you'll catch the archway over the entrance. You'll see it
just at the end of the walk answering to the one that leads up to this
very building. Did you think of going there at once? because if that be
the case, I must go to the house and procure the key. If you would walk
on there, I'll rejoin you in a few moments' time.'
Accordingly Humphreys strolled down the ride leading to the temple, past
the garden-front of the house, and up the turfy approach to the archway
which Cooper had pointed out to him. He was surprised to find that the
whole maze was surrounded by a high wall, and that the archway was
provided with a padlocked iron gate; but then he remembered that Miss
Cooper had spoken of his uncle's objection to letting anyone enter this
part of the garden. He was now at the gate, and still Cooper came not.
For a few minutes he occupied himself in reading the motto cut over the
entrance, _Secretum meum mihi et filiis domus meae_, and in trying to
recollect the source of it. Then he became impatient and considered the
possibility of scaling the wall. This was clearly not worth while; it
might have been done if he had been wearing an older suit: or could the
padlock--a very old one--be forced? No, apparently not: and yet, as he
gave a final irritated kick at the gate, something gave way, and the lock
fell at his feet. He pushed the gate open inconveniencing a number of
nettles as he did so, and stepped into the enclosure.
It was a yew maze, of circular form, and the hedges, long untrimmed, had
grown out and upwards to a most unorthodox breadth and height. The walks,
too, were next door to impassable. Only by entirely disregarding
scratches, nettle-stings, and wet, could Humphreys force his way along
them; but at any rate this condition of things, he reflected, would make
it easier for him to find his way out again, for he left a very visible
track. So far as he could remember, he had never been in a maze before,
nor did it seem to him now that he had missed much. The dankness and
darkness, and smell of crushed goosegrass and nettles were anything but
cheerful. Still, it did not seem to be a very intricate specimen of its
kind. Here he was (by the way, was that Cooper arrived at last? No!) very
nearly at the heart of it, without having taken much thought as to what
path he was following. Ah! there at last was the centre, easily gained.
And there was something to reward him. His first impression was that the
central ornament was a sundial; but when he had switched away some
portion of the thick growth of brambles and bindweed that had formed over
it, he saw that it was a less ordinary decoration. A stone column about
four feet high, and on the top of it a metal globe--copper, to judge by
the green patina--engraved, and finely engraved too, with figures in
outline, and letters. That was what Humphreys saw, and a brief glance at
the figures convinced him that it was one of those mysterious things
called celestial globes, from which, one would suppose, no one ever yet
derived any information about the heavens. However, it was too dark--at
least in the maze--for him to examine this curiosity at all closely, and
besides, he now heard Cooper's voice, and sounds as of an elephant in the
jungle. Humphreys called to him to follow the track he had beaten out,
and soon Cooper emerged panting into the central circle. He was full of
apologies for his delay; he had not been able, after all, to find the
key. 'But there!' he said, 'you've penetrated into the heart of the
mystery unaided and unannealed, as the saying goes. Well! I suppose it's
a matter of thirty to forty years since any human foot has trod these
precincts. Certain it is that I've never set foot in them before. Well,
well! what's the old proverb about angels fearing to tread? It's proved
true once again in this case.' Humphreys' acquaintance with Cooper,
though it had been short, was sufficient to assure him that there was no
guile in this allusion, and he forbore the obvious remark, merely
suggesting that it was fully time to get back to the house for a late cup
of tea, and to release Cooper for his evening engagement. They left the
maze accordingly, experiencing well-nigh the same ease in retracing their
path as they had in coming in.
'Have you any idea,' Humphreys asked, as they went towards the house,
'why my uncle kept that place so carefully locked?'
Cooper pulled up, and Humphreys felt that he must be on the brink of a
'I should merely be deceiving you, Mr Humphreys, and that to no good
purpose, if I laid claim to possess any information whatsoever on that
topic. When I first entered upon my duties here, some eighteen years
back, that maze was word for word in the condition you see it now, and
the one and only occasion on which the question ever arose within my
knowledge was that of which my girl made mention in your hearing. Lady
Wardrop--I've not a word to say against her--wrote applying for admission
to the maze. Your uncle showed me the note--a most civil note--everything
that could be expected from such a quarter. "Cooper," he said, "I wish
you'd reply to that note on my behalf." "Certainly Mr Wilson," I said,
for I was quite inured to acting as his secretary, "what answer shall I
return to it?" "Well," he said, "give Lady Wardrop my compliments, and
tell her that if ever that portion of the grounds is taken in hand I
shall be happy to give her the first opportunity of viewing it, but that
it has been shut up now for a number of years, and I shall be grateful to
her if she kindly won't press the matter." That, Mr Humphreys, was your
good uncle's last word on the subject, and I don't think I can add
anything to it. Unless,' added Cooper, after a pause, 'it might be just
this: that, so far as I could form a judgement, he had a dislike (as
people often will for one reason or another) to the memory of his
grandfather, who, as I mentioned to you, had that maze laid out. A man of
peculiar teenets, Mr Humphreys, and a great traveller. You'll have the
opportunity, on the coming Sabbath, of seeing the tablet to him in our
little parish church; put up it was some long time after his death.'
'Oh! I should have expected a man who had such a taste for building to
have designed a mausoleum for himself.'
'Well, I've never noticed anything of the kind you mention; and, in fact,
come to think of it, I'm not at all sure that his resting-place is within
our boundaries at all: that he lays in the vault I'm pretty confident is
not the case. Curious now that I shouldn't be in a position to inform you
on that heading! Still, after all, we can't say, can we, Mr Humphreys,
that it's a point of crucial importance where the pore mortal coils are
At this point they entered the house, and Cooper's speculations were
Tea was laid in the library, where Mr Cooper fell upon subjects
appropriate to the scene. 'A fine collection of books! One of the finest,
I've understood from connoisseurs, in this part of the country; splendid
plates, too, in some of these works. I recollect your uncle showing me
one with views of foreign towns--most absorbing it was: got up in
first-rate style. And another all done by hand, with the ink as fresh as
if it had been laid on yesterday, and yet, he told me, it was the work of
some old monk hundreds of years back. I've always taken a keen interest
in literature myself. Hardly anything to my mind can compare with a good
hour's reading after a hard day's work; far better than wasting the whole
evening at a friend's house--and that reminds me, to be sure. I shall be
getting into trouble with the wife if I don't make the best of my way
home and get ready to squander away one of these same evenings! I must be
off, Mr Humphreys.'
'And that reminds _me_,' said Humphreys, 'if I'm to show Miss Cooper the
maze tomorrow we must have it cleared out a bit. Could you say a word
about that to the proper person?'
'Why, to be sure. A couple of men with scythes could cut out a track
tomorrow morning. I'll leave word as I pass the lodge, and I'll tell
them, what'll save you the trouble, perhaps, Mr Humphreys, of having to
go up and extract them yourself: that they'd better have some sticks or a
tape to mark out their way with as they go on.'
'A very good idea! Yes, do that; and I'll expect Mrs and Miss Cooper in
the afternoon, and yourself about half-past ten in the morning.'
'It'll be a pleasure, I'm sure, both to them and to myself, Mr Humphreys.
Humphreys dined at eight. But for the fact that it was his first evening,
and that Calton was evidently inclined for occasional conversation, he
would have finished the novel he had bought for his journey. As it was,
he had to listen and reply to some of Calton's impressions of the
neighbourhood and the season: the latter, it appeared, was seasonable,
and the former had changed considerably--and not altogether for the
worse--since Calton's boyhood (which had been spent there). The village
shop in particular had greatly improved since the year 1870. It was now
possible to procure there pretty much anything you liked in reason: which
was a conveniency, because suppose anythink was required of a suddent
(and he had known such things before now), he (Calton) could step down
there (supposing the shop to be still open), and order it in, without he
borrered it of the Rectory, whereas in earlier days it would have been
useless to pursue such a course in respect of anything but candles, or
soap, or treacle, or perhaps a penny child's picture-book, and nine times
out of ten it'd be something more in the nature of a bottle of whisky
_you'd_ be requiring; leastways--On the whole Humphreys thought he would
be prepared with a book in future.
The library was the obvious place for the after-dinner hours. Candle in
hand and pipe in mouth, he moved round the room for some time, taking
stock of the titles of the books. He had all the predisposition to take
interest in an old library, and there was every opportunity for him here
to make systematic acquaintance with one, for he had learned from Cooper
that there was no catalogue save the very superficial one made for
purposes of probate. The drawing up of a _catalogue raisonne_ would be a
delicious occupation for winter. There were probably treasures to be
found, too: even manuscripts, if Cooper might be trusted.
As he pursued his round the sense came upon him (as it does upon most of
us in similar places) of the extreme unreadableness of a great portion of
the collection. 'Editions of Classics and Fathers, and Picart's
_Religious Ceremonies_, and the _Harleian Miscellany_, I suppose are all
very well, but who is ever going to read Tostatus Abulensis, or Pineda on
Job, or a book like this?' He picked out a small quarto, loose in the
binding, and from which the lettered label had fallen off; and observing
that coffee was waiting for him, retired to a chair. Eventually he opened
the book. It will be observed that his condemnation of it rested wholly
on external grounds. For all he knew it might have been a collection of
unique plays, but undeniably the outside was blank and forbidding. As a
matter of fact, it was a collection of sermons or meditations, and
mutilated at that, for the first sheet was gone. It seemed to belong to
the latter end of the seventeenth century. He turned over the pages till
his eye was caught by a marginal note: '_A Parable of this Unhappy
Condition_,' and he thought he would see what aptitudes the author might
have for imaginative composition. 'I have heard or read,' so ran the
passage, 'whether in the way of _Parable_ or true _Relation_ I leave my
Reader to judge, of a Man who, like _Theseus_, in the _Attick Tale_,
should adventure himself, into a _Labyrinth_ or _Maze_: and such an one
indeed as was not laid out in the Fashion of our _Topiary_ artists of
this Age, but of a wide compass, in which, moreover, such unknown
Pitfalls and Snares, nay, such ill-omened Inhabitants were commonly
thought to lurk as could only be encountered at the Hazard of one's very
life. Now you may be sure that in such a Case the Disswasions of Friends
were not wanting. "Consider of such-an-one" says a Brother "how he went
the way you wot of, and was never seen more." "Or of such another" says
the Mother "that adventured himself but a little way in, and from that
day forth is so troubled in his Wits that he cannot tell what he saw, nor
hath passed one good Night." "And have you never heard" cries a Neighbour
"of what Faces have been seen to look out over the _Palisadoes_ and
betwixt the Bars of the Gate?" But all would not do: the Man was set upon
his Purpose: for it seems it was the common fireside Talk of that Country
that at the Heart and Centre of this _Labyrinth_ there was a Jewel of
such Price and Rarity that would enrich the Finder thereof for his life:
and this should be his by right that could persever to come at it. What
then? _Quid multa?_ The Adventurer pass'd the Gates, and for a whole
day's space his Friends without had no news of him, except it might be by
some indistinct Cries heard afar off in the Night, such as made them turn
in their restless Beds and sweat for very Fear, not doubting but that
their Son and Brother had put one more to the _Catalogue_ of those
unfortunates that had suffer'd shipwreck on that Voyage. So the next day
they went with weeping Tears to the Clark of the Parish to order the Bell
to be toll'd. And their Way took them hard by the gate of the
_Labyrinth_: which they would have hastened by, from the Horrour they had
of it, but that they caught sight of a sudden of a Man's Body lying in
the Roadway, and going up to it (with what Anticipations may be easily
figured) found it to be him whom they reckoned as lost: and not dead,
though he were in a Swound most like Death. They then, who had gone forth
as Mourners came back rejoycing, and set to by all means to revive their
Prodigal. Who, being come to himself, and hearing of their Anxieties and
their Errand of that Morning, "Ay" says he "you may as well finish what
you were about: for, for all I have brought back the Jewel (which he
shew'd them, and 'twas indeed a rare Piece) I have brought back that with
it that will leave me neither Rest at Night nor Pleasure by Day."
Whereupon they were instant with him to learn his Meaning, and where his
Company should be that went so sore against his Stomach. "O" says he
"'tis here in my Breast: I cannot flee from it, do what I may." So it
needed no Wizard to help them to a guess that it was the Recollection of
what he had seen that troubled him so wonderfully. But they could get no
more of him for a long Time but by Fits and Starts. However at long and
at last they made shift to collect somewhat of this kind: that at first,
while the Sun was bright, he went merrily on, and without any Difficulty
reached the Heart of the _Labyrinth_ and got the Jewel, and so set out on
his way back rejoycing: but as the Night fell, _wherein all the Beasts of
the Forest do move_, he begun to be sensible of some Creature keeping
Pace with him and, as he thought, _peering and looking upon him_ from the
next Alley to that he was in; and that when he should stop, this
Companion should stop also, which put him in some Disorder of his
Spirits. And, indeed, as the Darkness increas'd, it seemed to him that
there was more than one, and, it might be, even a whole Band of such
Followers: at least so he judg'd by the Rustling and Cracking that they
kept among the Thickets; besides that there would be at a Time a Sound of
Whispering, which seem'd to import a Conference among them. But in regard
of who they were or what Form they were of, he would not be persuaded to
say what he thought. Upon his Hearers asking him what the Cries were
which they heard in the Night (as was observ'd above) he gave them this
Account: That about Midnight (so far as he could judge) he heard his Name
call'd from a long way off, and he would have been sworn it was his
Brother that so call'd him. So he stood still and hilloo'd at the Pitch
of his Voice, and he suppos'd that the _Echo_, or the Noyse of his
Shouting, disguis'd for the Moment any lesser sound; because, when there
fell a Stillness again, he distinguish'd a Trampling (not loud) of
running Feet coming very close behind him, wherewith he was so daunted
that himself set off to run, and that he continued till the Dawn broke.
Sometimes when his Breath fail'd him, he would cast himself flat on his
Face, and hope that his Pursuers might over-run him in the Darkness, but
at such a Time they would regularly make a Pause, and he could hear them
pant and snuff as it had been a Hound at Fault: which wrought in him so
extream an Horrour of mind, that he would be forc'd to betake himself
again to turning and doubling, if by any Means he might throw them off
the Scent. And, as if this Exertion was in itself not terrible enough, he
had before him the constant Fear of falling into some Pit or Trap, of
which he had heard, and indeed seen with his own Eyes that there were
several, some at the sides and other in the Midst of the Alleys. So that
in fine (he said) a more dreadful Night was never spent by Mortal
Creature than that he had endur'd in that _Labyrinth_; and not that Jewel
which he had in his Wallet, nor the richest that was ever brought out of
the _Indies_, could be a sufficient Recompence to him for the Pains he
'I will spare to set down the further Recital of this Man's Troubles,
inasmuch as I am confident my Reader's Intelligence will hit the
_Parallel_ I desire to draw. For is not this Jewel a just Emblem of the
Satisfaction which a Man may bring back with him from a Course of this
World's Pleasures? and will not the _Labyrinth_ serve for an Image of the
World itself wherein such a Treasure (if we may believe the common Voice)
is stored up?'
At about this point Humphreys thought that a little Patience would be an
agreeable change, and that the writer's 'improvement' of his Parable
might be left to itself. So he put the book back in its former place,
wondering as he did so whether his uncle had ever stumbled across that
passage; and if so, whether it had worked on his fancy so much as to make
him dislike the idea of a maze, and determine to shut up the one in the
garden. Not long afterwards he went to bed.
The next day brought a morning's hard work with Mr Cooper, who, if
exuberant in language, had the business of the estate at his fingers'
ends. He was very breezy this morning, Mr Cooper was: had not forgotten
the order to clear out the maze--the work was going on at that moment:
his girl was on the tentacles of expectation about it. He also hoped that
Humphreys had slept the sleep of the just, and that we should be favoured
with a continuance of this congenial weather. At luncheon he enlarged on
the pictures in the dining-room, and pointed out the portrait of the
constructor of the temple and the maze. Humphreys examined this with
considerable interest. It was the work of an Italian, and had been
painted when old Mr Wilson was visiting Rome as a young man. (There was,
indeed, a view of the Colosseum in the background.) A pale thin face and
large eyes were the characteristic features. In the hand was a partially
unfolded roll of paper, on which could be distinguished the plan of a
circular building, very probably the temple, and also part of that of a
labyrinth. Humphreys got up on a chair to examine it, but it was not
painted with sufficient clearness to be worth copying. It suggested to
him, however, that he might as well make a plan of his own maze and hang
it in the hall for the use of visitors.
This determination of his was confirmed that same afternoon; for when Mrs
and Miss Cooper arrived, eager to be inducted into the maze, he found
that he was wholly unable to lead them to the centre. The gardeners had
removed the guide-marks they had been using, and even Clutterham, when
summoned to assist, was as helpless as the rest. 'The point is, you see,
Mr Wilson--I should say 'Umphreys--these mazes is purposely constructed
so much alike, with a view to mislead. Still, if you'll foller me, I
think I can put you right. I'll just put my 'at down 'ere as a
starting-point.' He stumped off, and after five minutes brought the party
safe to the hat again. 'Now that's a very peculiar thing,' he said, with
a sheepish laugh. 'I made sure I'd left that 'at just over against a
bramble-bush, and you can see for yourself there ain't no bramble-bush
not in this walk at all. If you'll allow me, Mr Humphreys--that's the
name, ain't it, sir?--I'll just call one of the men in to mark the place
William Crack arrived, in answer to repeated shouts. He had some
difficulty in making his way to the party. First he was seen or heard in
an inside alley, then, almost at the same moment, in an outer one.
However, he joined them at last, and was first consulted without effect
and then stationed by the hat, which Clutterham still considered it
necessary to leave on the ground. In spite of this strategy, they spent
the best part of three-quarters of an hour in quite fruitless wanderings,
and Humphreys was obliged at last, seeing how tired Mrs Cooper was
becoming, to suggest a retreat to tea, with profuse apologies to Miss
Cooper. 'At any rate you've won your bet with Miss Foster,' he said; 'you
have been inside the maze; and I promise you the first thing I do shall
be to make a proper plan of it with the lines marked out for you to go
by.' 'That's what's wanted, sir,' said Clutterham, 'someone to draw out a
plan and keep it by them. It might be very awkward, you see, anyone
getting into that place and a shower of rain come on, and them not able
to find their way out again; it might be hours before they could be got
out, without you'd permit of me makin' a short cut to the middle: what my
meanin' is, takin' down a couple of trees in each 'edge in a straight
line so as you could git a clear view right through. Of course that'd do
away with it as a maze, but I don't know as you'd approve of that.'
'No, I won't have that done yet: I'll make a plan first, and let you have
a copy. Later on, if we find occasion, I'll think of what you say.'
Humphreys was vexed and ashamed at the fiasco of the afternoon, and could
not be satisfied without making another effort that evening to reach the
centre of the maze. His irritation was increased by finding it without a
single false step. He had thoughts of beginning his plan at once; but the
light was fading, and he felt that by the time he had got the necessary
materials together, work would be impossible.
Next morning accordingly, carrying a drawing-board, pencils, compasses,
cartridge paper, and so forth (some of which had been borrowed from the
Coopers and some found in the library cupboards), he went to the middle
of the maze (again without any hesitation), and set out his materials. He
was, however, delayed in making a start. The brambles and weeds that had
obscured the column and globe were now all cleared away, and it was for
the first time possible to see clearly what these were like. The column
was featureless, resembling those on which sundials are usually placed.
Not so the globe. I have said that it was finely engraved with figures
and inscriptions, and that on a first glance Humphreys had taken it for a
celestial globe: but he soon found that it did not answer to his
recollection of such things. One feature seemed familiar; a winged
serpent--_Draco_--encircled it about the place which, on a terrestrial
globe, is occupied by the equator: but on the other hand, a good part of
the upper hemisphere was covered by the outspread wings of a large figure
whose head was concealed by a ring at the pole or summit of the whole.
Around the place of the head the words _princeps tenebrarum_ could be
deciphered. In the lower hemisphere there was a space hatched all over
with cross-lines and marked as _umbra mortis_. Near it was a range of
mountains, and among them a valley with flames rising from it. This was
lettered (will you be surprised to learn it?) _vallis filiorum Hinnom_.
Above and below _Draco_ were outlined various figures not unlike the
pictures of the ordinary constellations, but not the same. Thus, a nude
man with a raised club was described, not as _Hercules_ but as _Cain_.
Another, plunged up to his middle in earth and stretching out despairing
arms, was _Chore_, not _Ophiuchus_, and a third, hung by his hair to a
snaky tree, was _Absolon_. Near the last, a man in long robes and high
cap, standing in a circle and addressing two shaggy demons who hovered
outside, was described as _Hostanes magus_ (a character unfamiliar to
Humphreys). The scheme of the whole, indeed, seemed to be an assemblage
of the patriarchs of evil, perhaps not uninfluenced by a study of Dante.
Humphreys thought it an unusual exhibition of his great-grandfather's
taste, but reflected that he had probably picked it up in Italy and had
never taken the trouble to examine it closely: certainly, had he set much
store by it, he would not have exposed it to wind and weather. He tapped
the metal--it seemed hollow and not very thick--and, turning from it,
addressed himself to his plan. After half an hour's work he found it was
impossible to get on without using a clue: so he procured a roll of twine
from Clutterham, and laid it out along the alleys from the entrance to
the centre, tying the end to the ring at the top of the globe. This
expedient helped him to set out a rough plan before luncheon, and in the
afternoon he was able to draw it in more neatly. Towards tea-time Mr
Cooper joined him, and was much interested in his progress. 'Now this--'
said Mr Cooper, laying his hand on the globe, and then drawing it away
hastily. 'Whew! Holds the heat, doesn't it, to a surprising degree, Mr
Humphreys. I suppose this metal--copper, isn't it?--would be an insulator
or conductor, or whatever they call it.'
'The sun has been pretty strong this afternoon,' said Humphreys, evading
the scientific point, 'but I didn't notice the globe had got hot. No--it
doesn't seem very hot to me,' he added.
'Odd!' said Mr Cooper. 'Now I can't hardly bear my hand on it. Something
in the difference of temperament between us, I suppose. I dare say you're
a chilly subject, Mr Humphreys: I'm not: and there's where the
distinction lies. All this summer I've slept, if you'll believe me,
practically _in statu quo_, and had my morning tub as cold as I could get
it. Day out and day in--let me assist you with that string.'
'It's all right, thanks; but if you'll collect some of these pencils and
things that are lying about I shall be much obliged. Now I think we've
got everything, and we might get back to the house.'
They left the maze, Humphreys rolling up the clue as they went.
The night was rainy.
Most unfortunately it turned out that, whether by Cooper's fault or not,
the plan had been the one thing forgotten the evening before. As was to
be expected, it was ruined by the wet. There was nothing for it but to
begin again (the job would not be a long one this time). The clue
therefore was put in place once more and a fresh start made. But
Humphreys had not done much before an interruption came in the shape of
Calton with a telegram. His late chief in London wanted to consult him.
Only a brief interview was wanted, but the summons was urgent. This was
annoying, yet it was not really upsetting; there was a train available in
half an hour, and, unless things went very cross, he could be back,
possibly by five o'clock, certainly by eight. He gave the plan to Calton
to take to the house, but it was not worth while to remove the clue.
All went as he had hoped. He spent a rather exciting evening in the
library, for he lighted tonight upon a cupboard where some of the rarer
books were kept. When he went up to bed he was glad to find that the
servant had remembered to leave his curtains undrawn and his windows
open. He put down his light, and went to the window which commanded a
view of the garden and the park. It was a brilliant moonlight night. In a
few weeks' time the sonorous winds of autumn would break up all this
calm. But now the distant woods were in a deep stillness; the slopes of
the lawns were shining with dew; the colours of some of the flowers could
almost be guessed. The light of the moon just caught the cornice of the
temple and the curve of its leaden dome, and Humphreys had to own that,
so seen, these conceits of a past age have a real beauty. In short, the
light, the perfume of the woods, and the absolute quiet called up such
kind old associations in his mind that he went on ruminating them for a
long, long time. As he turned from the window he felt he had never seen
anything more complete of its sort. The one feature that struck him with
a sense of incongruity was a small Irish yew, thin and black, which stood
out like an outpost of the shrubbery, through which the maze was
approached. That, he thought, might as well be away: the wonder was that
anyone should have thought it would look well in that position.
However, next morning, in the press of answering letters and going over
books with Mr Cooper, the Irish yew was forgotten. One letter, by the
way, arrived this day which has to be mentioned. It was from that Lady
Wardrop whom Miss Cooper had mentioned, and it renewed the application
which she had addressed to Mr Wilson. She pleaded, in the first place,
that she was about to publish a Book of Mazes, and earnestly desired to
include the plan of the Wilsthorpe Maze, and also that it would be a
great kindness if Mr Humphreys could let her see it (if at all) at an
early date, since she would soon have to go abroad for the winter months.
Her house at Bentley was not far distant, so Humphreys was able to send a
note by hand to her suggesting the very next day or the day after for her
visit; it may be said at once that the messenger brought back a most
grateful answer, to the effect that the morrow would suit her admirably.
The only other event of the day was that the plan of the maze was
This night again was fair and brilliant and calm, and Humphreys lingered
almost as long at his window. The Irish yew came to his mind again as he
was on the point of drawing his curtains: but either he had been misled
by a shadow the night before, or else the shrub was not really so
obtrusive as he had fancied. Anyhow, he saw no reason for interfering
with it. What he _would_ do away with, however, was a clump of dark
growth which had usurped a place against the house wall, and was
threatening to obscure one of the lower range of windows. It did not look
as if it could possibly be worth keeping; he fancied it dank and
unhealthy, little as he could see of it.
Next day (it was a Friday--he had arrived at Wilsthorpe on a Monday) Lady
Wardrop came over in her car soon after luncheon. She was a stout elderly
person, very full of talk of all sorts and particularly inclined to make
herself agreeable to Humphreys, who had gratified her very much by his
ready granting of her request. They made a thorough exploration of the
place together; and Lady Wardrop's opinion of her host obviously rose
sky-high when she found that he really knew something of gardening. She
entered enthusiastically into all his plans for improvement, but agreed
that it would be a vandalism to interfere with the characteristic
laying-out of the ground near the house. With the temple she was
particularly delighted, and, said she, 'Do you know, Mr Humphreys, I
think your bailiff must be right about those lettered blocks of stone.
One of my mazes--I'm sorry to say the stupid people have destroyed it
now--it was at a place in Hampshire--had the track marked out in that
way. They were tiles there, but lettered just like yours, and the
letters, taken in the right order, formed an inscription--what it was I
forget--something about Theseus and Ariadne. I have a copy of it, as well
as the plan of the maze where it was. How people can do such things! I
shall never forgive you if you injure _your_ maze. Do you know, they're
becoming very uncommon? Almost every year I hear of one being grubbed up.
Now, do let's get straight to it: or, if you're too busy, I know my way
there perfectly, and I'm not afraid of getting lost in it; I know too
much about mazes for that. Though I remember missing my lunch--not so
very long ago either--through getting entangled in the one at Busbury.
Well, of course, if you _can_ manage to come with me, that will be all
After this confident prelude justice would seem to require that Lady
Wardrop should have been hopelessly muddled by the Wilsthorpe maze.
Nothing of that kind happened: yet it is to be doubted whether she got
all the enjoyment from her new specimen that she expected. She was
interested--keenly interested--to be sure, and pointed out to Humphreys a
series of little depressions in the ground which, she thought, marked the
places of the lettered blocks. She told him, too, what other mazes
resembled his most closely in arrangement, and explained how it was
usually possible to date a maze to within twenty years by means of its
plan. This one, she already knew, must be about as old as 1780, and its
features were just what might be expected. The globe, furthermore,
completely absorbed her. It was unique in her experience, and she pored
over it for long. 'I should like a rubbing of that,' she said, 'if it
could possibly be made. Yes, I am sure you would be most kind about it,
Mr Humphreys, but I trust you won't attempt it on my account, I do
indeed; I shouldn't like to take any liberties here. I have the feeling
that it might be resented. Now, confess,' she went on, turning and facing
Humphreys, 'don't you feel--haven't you felt ever since you came in
here--that a watch is being kept on us, and that if we overstepped the
mark in any way there would be a--well, a pounce? No? _I_ do; and I don't
care how soon we are outside the gate.'
'After all,' she said, when they were once more on their way to the
house, 'it may have been only the airlessness and the dull heat of that
place that pressed on my brain. Still, I'll take back one thing I said.
I'm not sure that I shan't forgive you after all, if I find next spring
that that maze has been grubbed up.'
'Whether or no that's done, you shall have the plan, Lady Wardrop. I have
made one, and no later than tonight I can trace you a copy.'
'Admirable: a pencil tracing will be all I want, with an indication of
the scale. I can easily have it brought into line with the rest of my
plates. Many, many thanks.'
'Very well, you shall have that tomorrow. I wish you could help me to a
solution of my block-puzzle.'
'What, those stones in the summer-house? That _is_ a puzzle; they are in
no sort of order? Of course not. But the men who put them down must have
had some directions--perhaps you'll find a paper about it among your
uncle's things. If not, you'll have to call in somebody who's an expert
'Advise me about something else, please,' said Humphreys. 'That
bush-thing under the library window: you would have that away, wouldn't
'Which? That? Oh, I think not,' said Lady Wardrop. 'I can't see it very
well from this distance, but it's not unsightly.'
'Perhaps you're right; only, looking out of my window, just above it,
last night, I thought it took up too much room. It doesn't seem to, as
one sees it from here, certainly. Very well, I'll leave it alone for a
Tea was the next business, soon after which Lady Wardrop drove off; but,
half-way down the drive, she stopped the car and beckoned to Humphreys,
who was still on the front-door steps. He ran to glean her parting words,
which were: 'It just occurs to me, it might be worth your while to look
at the underside of those stones. They _must_ have been numbered, mustn't
they? _Good_-bye again. Home, please.'
The main occupation of this evening at any rate was settled. The tracing
of the plan for Lady Wardrop and the careful collation of it with the
original meant a couple of hours' work at least. Accordingly, soon after
nine Humphreys had his materials put out in the library and began. It was
a still, stuffy evening; windows had to stand open, and he had more than
one grisly encounter with a bat. These unnerving episodes made him keep
the tail of his eye on the window. Once or twice it was a question
whether there was--not a bat, but something more considerable--that had a
mind to join him. How unpleasant it would be if someone had slipped
noiselessly over the sill and was crouching on the floor!
The tracing of the plan was done: it remained to compare it with the
original, and to see whether any paths had been wrongly closed or left
open. With one finger on each paper, he traced out the course that must
be followed from the entrance. There were one or two slight mistakes, but
here, near the centre, was a bad confusion, probably due to the entry of
the Second or Third Bat. Before correcting the copy he followed out
carefully the last turnings of the path on the original. These, at least,
were right; they led without a hitch to the middle space. Here was a
feature which need not be repeated on the copy--an ugly black spot about
the size of a shilling. Ink? No. It resembled a hole, but how should a
hole be there? He stared at it with tired eyes: the work of tracing had
been very laborious, and he was drowsy and oppressed... But surely this
was a very odd hole. It seemed to go not only through the paper, but
through the table on which it lay. Yes, and through the floor below that,
down, and still down, even into infinite depths. He craned over it,
utterly bewildered. Just as, when you were a child, you may have pored
over a square inch of counterpane until it became a landscape with wooded
hills, and perhaps even churches and houses, and you lost all thought of
the true size of yourself and it, so this hole seemed to Humphreys for
the moment the only thing in the world. For some reason it was hateful to
him from the first, but he had gazed at it for some moments before any
feeling of anxiety came upon him; and then it did come, stronger and
stronger--a horror lest something might emerge from it, and a really
agonizing conviction that a terror was on its way, from the sight of
which he would not be able to escape. Oh yes, far, far down there was a
movement, and the movement was upwards--towards the surface. Nearer and
nearer it came, and it was of a blackish-grey colour with more than one
dark hole. It took shape as a face--a human face--a _burnt_ human face:
and with the odious writhings of a wasp creeping out of a rotten apple
there clambered forth an appearance of a form, waving black arms prepared
to clasp the head that was bending over them. With a convulsion of
despair Humphreys threw himself back, struck his head against a hanging
lamp, and fell.
There was concussion of the brain, shock to the system, and a long
confinement to bed. The doctor was badly puzzled, not by the symptoms,
but by a request which Humphreys made to him as soon as he was able to
say anything. 'I wish you would open the ball in the maze.' 'Hardly room
enough there, I should have thought,' was the best answer he could summon
up; 'but it's more in your way than mine; my dancing days are over.' At
which Humphreys muttered and turned over to sleep, and the doctor
intimated to the nurses that the patient was not out of the wood yet.
When he was better able to express his views, Humphreys made his meaning
clear, and received a promise that the thing should be done at once. He
was so anxious to learn the result that the doctor, who seemed a little
pensive next morning, saw that more harm than good would be done by
saving up his report. 'Well,' he said, 'I am afraid the ball is done for;
the metal must have worn thin, I suppose. Anyhow, it went all to bits
with the first blow of the chisel.' 'Well? go on, do!' said Humphreys
impatiently. 'Oh! you want to know what we found in it, of course. Well,
it was half full of stuff like ashes.' 'Ashes? What did you make of them?'
'I haven't thoroughly examined them yet; there's hardly been time: but
Cooper's made up his mind--I dare say from something I said--that it's a
case of cremation... Now don't excite yourself, my good sir: yes, I must
allow I think he's probably right.'
The maze is gone, and Lady Wardrop has forgiven Humphreys; in fact, I
believe he married her niece. She was right, too, in her conjecture that
the stones in the temple were numbered. There had been a numeral painted
on the bottom of each. Some few of these had rubbed off, but enough
remained to enable Humphreys to reconstruct the inscription. It ran thus: