We should not have heard the thing again if you had not said that. I'm pretty sure we should not. Oh yes, if you choose
to describe it as a coincidence, you are quite welcome, but I would rather that you should not call the thing names again,
if you don't mind. It may be that the poor little woman hears, and perhaps it hurts her, don't you know? Ghosts? No! You don't
call anything a ghost that you can take in your hands and look at in broad daylight, and that rattles when you shake it Do
you, now? But it's something that hears and understands; there's no doubt about that.
I tried sleeping in the best bedroom when I first came to the house just because it was the best and most comfortable,
but I had to give it up It was their room, and there's the big bed she died in, and the cupboard is in the thickness of the
wall, near the head, on the left. That's where it likes to be kept, in its bandbox. I only used the room for a fortnight after
I came, and then I turned out and took the little room downstairs, next to the surgery, where Luke used to sleep when he expected
to be called to a patient during the night.
I was always a good sleeper ashore; eight hours is my dose, eleven to seven when I'm alone, twelve to eight when I have
a friend with me. But I could not sleep after three o'clock in the morning in that room, a quarter past, to be accurate..as
a matter of fact, I timed it with my old pocket chronometer, which still keeps good time, and it was always at exactly seventeen
minutes past three. I wonder whether that was the hour when she died?
It was not what you have heard. If it had been that, I could not have stood it two nights. It was just a start and a moan
and hard breathing for a few seconds in the cupboard, and it could never have waked me under ordinary circumstances, I'm sure.
I suppose you are like me in that, and we are just like other people who have been to sea. No natural sounds disturb us at
all, not all the racket of a square-rigger hove to in a heavy gale, or rolling on her beam ends before the wind. But if a
lead pencil gets adrift and rattles in the drawer of your cabin table you are awake in a moment. Just so you always understand.
Very well, the noise in the cupboard was no louder than that, but it waked me instantly.
I said it was like a "start". I know what I mean, but it's hard to explain without seeming to talk nonsense. Of course
you cannot exactly "hear" a person "start"; at the most, you might hear the quick drawing of the breath between the parted
lips and closed teeth, and the almost imperceptible sound of clothing that moved suddenly though very slightly. It was like
You know how one feels what a sailing vessel is going to do, two or three seconds before she does it, when one has the
wheel. Riders say the same of a horse, but that's less strange, because the horse is a live animal with feelings of its own,
and only poets and landsmen talk about a ship being alive, and all that. But I have always felt somehow that besides being
a steaming machine or a sailing machine for carrying weights, a vessel at sea is a sensitive instrument, and a means of communication
between nature and man, and most particularly the man at the wheel, if she is steered by hand. She takes her impressions directly
from wind and sea, tide and stream, and transmits them to the man's hand, just as the wireless telegraphy picks up the interrupted
currents aloft and turns them out below in the form of a message.
You see what I am driving at; I felt that something started in the cupboard, and I felt it so vividly that I heard it,
though there may have' been nothing to hear, and the sound inside my head waked me suddenly. But I really heard the other
noise. It was as if it were muffled inside a box, as far away as if it came through a long-distance telephone; and yet I knew
that it was inside the cupboard near the head of my bed. My hair did not bristle and my blood did not run cold that time.
I simply resented being waked up by something that had no business to make a noise, any more than a pencil should rattle in
the drawer of my cabin table on board ship. For I did not understand; I just supposed that the cupboard had some communication
with the outside air, and that the wind had got in and was moaning through it with a sort of very faint screech. I struck
a light and looked at my watch, and it was seventeen minutes past three. Then I turned over and went to sleep on my right
ear. That's my good one; I'm pretty deaf with the other, for I struck the water with it when I was a lad in diving from the
fore-topsail yard. Silly thing to do, it was, but the result is very convenient when I want to go to sleep when there's a
That was the first night, and the same thing happened again and several times afterwards, but not regularly, though it
was always at the same time, to a second; perhaps I was sometimes sleeping on my good ear, and sometimes not. I overhauled
the cupboard and there was no way by which the wind could get in, or anything else, for the door makes a good fit, having
been meant to keep out moths, I suppose; Mrs. Pratt must have kept her winter things in it, for it still smells of camphor
After about a fortnight I had had enough of the noises. So far I had said to myself that it would be silly to yield to
it and take the skull out of the room. Things always look differently by daylight, don't they? But the voice grew louder,
I suppose one may call it a voice, and it got inside my deaf ear, too, one night. I realized that when I was wide awake, for
my good ear was jammed down on the pillow, and I ought not to have heard a foghorn in that position. But I heard that, and
it made me lose my temper, unless it scared me, for sometimes the two are not far apart. I struck a light and got up, and
I opened the cupboard, grabbed the bandbox and threw it out of the window, as far as I could.
Then my hair stood on end. The thing screamed in the air, like a shell from a twelve-inch gun. It fell on the other side
of the road. The night was very dark, and I could not see it fall, but I know it fell beyond the road The window is just over
the front door, it's fifteen yards to the fence, more or less, and the road is ten yards wide. There's a thick-set hedge beyond,
along the glebe that belongs to the vicarage.
I did not sleep much more than night. It was not more than half an hour after I had thrown the bandbox out when I heard
a shriek outside, like what we've had tonight, but worse, more despairing, I should call it; and it may have been my imagination,
but I could have sworn that the screams came nearer and nearer each time. I lit a pipe, and walked up and down for a bit,
and then took a book and sat up reading, but I'll be hanged if I can remember what I read nor even what the book was, for
every now and then a shriek came up that would have made a dead man turn in his coffin.
A little before dawn someone knocked at the front door. There was no mistaking that for anything else, and I opened my
window and looked down, for I guessed that someone wanted the doctor, supposing that the new man had taken Luke's house. It
was rather a relief to hear a human knock after that awful noise.
You cannot see the door from above, owing to the little porch. The knocking came again, and I called out, asking who was
there, but nobody answered, though the knock was repeated. I sang out again, and said that the doctor did not live here any
longer. There was no answer, but it occurred to me that it might be some old countryman who was stone deaf. So I took my candle
and went down to open the door. Upon my word, I was not thinking of the thing yet, and I had almost forgotten the other noises.
I went down convinced that I should find somebody outside, on the doorstep, with a message. I set the candle on the hall table,
so that the wind should not blow it out when I opened. While I was drawing the old-fashioned bolt I heard the knocking again.
It was not loud, and it had a queer, hollow sound, now that I was close to it, I remember, but I certainly thought it was
made by some person who wanted to get in.
It wasn't. There was nobody there, but as I opened the door inward, standing a little on one side, so as to see out at
once, something rolled across the threshold and stopped against my foot.
I drew back as I felt it, for I knew what it was before I looked down. I cannot tell you how I knew, and it seemed unreasonable,
for I am still quite sure that I had thrown it across the road. It's a French window, that opens wide, and I got a good swing
when I flung it out. Besides, when I went out early in the morning, I found the bandbox beyond the thick hedge.
You may think it opened when I threw it, and that the skull dropped out; but that's impossible, for nobody could throw
an empty cardboard box so far. It's out of the question; you might as well try to fling a ball of paper twenty-five yards,
or a blown bird's egg.
To go back, I shut and bolted the hall door, picked the thing up carefully, and put it on the table beside the candle.
I did that mechanically, as one instinctively does the right thing in danger without thinking at all..unless one does the
opposite. It may seem odd, but I believe my first thought had been that somebody might come and find me there on the threshold
while it was resting against my foot, lying a little on its side, and turning one hollow eye up at my face, as if it meant
to accuse me. And the light and shadow from the candle played in the hollows of the eyes as it stood on the table, so that
they seemed to open and shut at me. Then the candle went out quite unexpectedly, though the door was fastened and there was
not the least draught; and I used up at least half a dozen matches before it would burn again.
sat down rather suddenly, without quite knowing why. Probably I had been badly frightened, and perhaps you will admit
there was no great shame in being scared. The thing had come home, and it wanted to go upstairs, back to its cupboard. I sat
still and stared at it for a bit till I began to feel very cold; then I took it and carried it up and set it in its place,
and I remember that I spoke to it, and promised that it should have its bandbox again in the morning.
You want to know whether I stayed in the room till daybreak? Yes but I kept a light burning, and sat up smoking and reading,
most likely out of fright; plain, undeniable fear, and you need not call it cowardice either, for that's not the same thing.
I could not have stayed alone with that thing in the cupboard; I should have been scared to death, though I'm not more timid
than other people. Confound it all, man, it had crossed the road alone, and had got up the doorstep and had knocked to be
When the dawn came, I put on my boots and went out to find the bandbox. I had to go a good way round, by the gate near
the high road, and I found the box open and hanging on the other side of the hedge. It had caught on the twigs by the string,
and the lid had fallen off and was lying on the ground below it. That shows that it did not open till it was well over; and
if it had not opened as soon as it left my hand, what was inside it must have gone beyond the road too.
That's all. I took the box upstairs to the cupboard, and put the skull back and locked it up. When the girl brought me
my breakfast she said she was sorry, but that she must go, and she did not care if she lost her month's wages. I looked at
her, and her face was a sort of greenish yellowish white. I pretended to be surprised, and asked what was the matter; but
that was of no use, for she just turned on me and wanted to know whether I meant to stay in a haunted house, and how long
I expected to live if I did, for though she noticed I was sometimes a little hard of hearing, she did not believe that even
I could sleep through those screams again..and if I could, why had I been moving about the house and opening and shutting
the front door, between three and four in the morning?
There was no answering that, since she had heard me, so off she went, and I was left to myself. I went down to the village
during the morning and found a woman who was willing to come and do the little work there is and cook my dinner, on condition
that she might go home every night. As for me, I moved downstairs that day, and I have never tried to sleep in the best bedroom
since. After a little while I got a brace of middle-aged Scotch servants from London, and things were quiet enough for a long
time. I began by telling them that the house was in a very exposed position, and that the wind whistled round it a good deal
in the autumn and winter, which had given it a bad name in the village, the Cornish people being inclined to superstition
and telling ghost stories. The two hard-faced, sandy-haired sisters almost smiled, and they answered with great contempt that
they had no great opinion of any Southern bogey whatever, having been in service in two English haunted houses, where they
had never seen so much as the Boy in Grey, whom they reckoned no very particular rarity in Forfarshire.
They stayed with me several months, and while they were in the house we had peace and quiet. One of them is here again
now, but she went away with her sister within the year. This one, she was the cook, married the sexton, who works in my garden.
That's the way of it. It's a small village and he has not much to do, and he knows enough about flowers to help me nicely,
besides doing most of the hard work; for though I'm fond of exercise, I'm getting a little stiff in the hinges. He's a sober,
silent sort of fellow, who minds his own business, and he was a widower when I came here. Trehearn is his name, James Trehearn.
The Scottish sisters would not admit that there was anything wrong about the house, but when November came they gave me warning
that they were going, on the ground that the chapel was such a long walk from here, being in the next parish, and that they
could not possibly go to our church. But the younger one came back in the spring, and as soon as the banns could be published
she was married to James Trehearn by the vicar, and she seems to have had no scruples about hearing him preach since then.
I'm quite satisfied, if she is! The couple live in a small cottage that looks over the churchyard.
I suppose you are wondering what all this has to do with what I was talking about. I'm alone so much that when an old friend
comes to see me, I sometimes go on talking just for the sake of hearing my own voice. But in this case there is really a connection
of ideas. It was James Trehearn who buried poor Mrs. Pratt, and her husband after her in the same grave, and it's not far
from the back of his cottage. That's the connection in my mind, you see. It's plain enough. He knows something; I'm quite
sure that he does, though he's such a reticent beggar.
Yes, I'm alone in the house at night now, for Mrs. Trehearn does everything herself, and when I have a friend the sexton's
niece comes in to wait on the table. He takes his wife home every evening in winter, but in summer, when there's light, she
goes by herself. She's not a nervous woman, but she's less sure than she used to be that there are no bogies in England worth
a Scotch-woman's notice. Isn't it amusing, the idea that Scotland has a monopoly of the supernatural? Odd sort of national
pride, I call that, don't you?
That's a good fire, isn't it? When driftwood gets started at last there's nothing like it, I think. Yes, we get lots of
it, for I'm sorry to say there are still a great many wrecks about here. It's a lonely coast, and you may have all the wood
you want for the trouble of bringing it in. Trehearn and I borrow a cart now and then, and load it between here and the Spit.
I hate a coal fire when I can get wood of any sort A log is company, even if it's only a piece of a deck beam or timber sawn
off, and the salt in it makes pretty sparks. See how they fly, like Japanese hand-fireworks! Upon my word, with an old friend
and a good fire and a pipe, one forgets all about that thing upstairs, especially now that the wind has moderated. It's only
a lull, though, and it will blow a gale before morning.
You think you would like to see the skull? I've no objection. There's no reason why you shouldn't have a look at it, and
you never saw a more perfect one in your life, except that there are two front teeth missing in the lower jaw.
Oh yes, I had not told you about the jaw yet. Trehearn found it in the garden last spring when he was digging a pit for
a new asparagus bed. You know we make asparagus beds six or eight feet deep here. Yes, yes, I had forgotten to tell you that.
He was digging straight down, just as he digs a grave; if you want a good asparagus bed made, I advise you to get a sexton
to make it for you. Those fellows have a wonderful knack at that sort of digging.
Trehearn had got down about three feet when he cut into a mass of white lime in the side of the trench. He had noticed
that the earth was a little looser there, though he says it had not been disturbed for a number of years. I suppose he thought
that even old lime might not be good for asparagus, so he broke it out and threw it up. It was pretty hard, he says, in biggish
lumps, and out of sheer force of habit he cracked the lumps with his spade as they lay outside the pit beside him; the jaw
bone of the skull dropped out of one of the pieces. He thinks he must have knocked out the two front teeth in breaking up
the lime, but he did not see them anywhere. He's a very experienced man in such things, as you may imagine, and he said at
once that the jaw had probably belonged to a young woman, and that the teeth had been complete when she died. He brought it
to me, and asked me if I wanted to keep it; if I did not, he said he would drop it into the next grave he made in the churchyard,
as he supposed it was a Christian jaw, and ought to have decent burial, wherever the rest of the body might be. I told him
that doctors often put bones into quicklime to whiten them nicely, and that I supposed Dr Pratt had once had a little lime
pit in the garden for that purpose, and had forgotten the jaw. Trehearn looked at me quietly.
"Maybe it fitted that skull that used to be in the cupboard upstairs, sir," he said. "Maybe Dr Pratt had put the skull
into the lime to clean it, or something, and when he took it out he left the lower jaw behind. There's some human hair sticking
in the lime, sir."
I saw there was, and that was what Trehearn said. If he did not suspect something, why in the world
should he have suggested that the jaw might fit the skull? Besides, it did. That's proof that he knows more than he cares
to tell. Do you suppose he looked before she was buried? Or perhaps....when he buried Luke in the same grave....
Well, well, it's of no use to go over that, is it? I said I would keep the jaw with the skull, and I took it upstairs and
fitted it into its place. There's not the slightest doubt about the two belonging together, and together they are.
Trehearn knows several things. We were talking about plastering the kitchen a while ago, and he happened to remember that
it had not been done since the very week when Mrs. Pratt died. He did not say that the mason must have left some lime on the
place, but he thought it, and that it was the very same lime he had found in the asparagus pit. He knows a lot. Trehearn is
one of your silent beggars who can put two and two together. That grave is very near the back of his cottage, too, and he's
one of the quickest men with a spade I ever saw. If he wanted to know the truth, he could, and no one else would ever be the
wiser unless he chose to tell. In a quiet village like ours, people don't go and spend the night in the churchyard to see
whether the sexton potters about by himself between ten o'clock and daylight.
What is awful to think of, is Luke's deliberation, if he did it; his cool certainty that no one would find him out; above
all, his nerve, for that must have been extraordinary. I sometimes think it's bad enough to live in the place where it was
done, if it really was done. I always put in the condition, you see, for the sake of his memory, and a little bit for my own
I'll go upstairs and fetch the box in a minute. Let me light my pipe; there's no hurry! We had supper early, and it's only
half-past nine o'clock. I never let a friend go to bed before twelve, or with less than three glasses...you may have as many
more as you like, but you shan't have less, for the sake of old times.
It's breezing up again, do you hear? That was only a lull just now, and we are going to have a bad night.
A thing happened that made me start a little when I found that the jaw fitted exactly. I'm not very easily startled in
that way myself, but I have seen people make a quick movement, drawing their breath sharply, when they had thought they were
alone and suddenly turned and saw someone very near them. Nobody can call that fear. You wouldn't, would you? No. Well, just
when I had set the jaw in its place under the skull, the teeth closed sharply on my finger. It felt exactly as if it were
biting me hard, and I confess that I jumped before I realized that I had been pressing the jaw and the skull together with
my other hand. I assure you I was not at all nervous. It was broad daylight, too, and a fine day, and the sun was streaming
into the best bedroom. It would have been absurd to be nervous, and it was only a quick mistaken impression, but it really
made me feel queer. Somehow it made me think of the funny verdict of the coroner's jury on Luke's death, "by the hand or teeth
of some person or animal unknown". Ever since that I've wished I had seen those marks on his throat, though the lower jaw
was missing then.
I have often seen a man do insane things with his hands that he does not realize at all. I once saw a man hanging on by
an old awning stop with one hand, leaning backward, outboard, with all his weight on it, and he was just cutting the stop
with the knife in his other hand when I got my arms round him. We were in mid-ocean, going twenty knots. He had not the smallest
idea what he was doing; neither had I when I managed to pinch my finger between the teeth of that thing. I can feel it now.
It was exactly as if it were alive and were trying to bite me. It would if it could, for I know it hates me, poor thing! Do
you suppose that what rattles about inside is really a bit of lead? Well, I'll get the box down presently, and if whatever
it is happens to drop out into your hands, that's your affair. If it's only a clod of earth or a pebble, the whole matter
would be off my mind, and I don't believe I should ever think of the skull again; but somehow I cannot bring myself to shake
out the bit of hard stuff myself. The mere idea that it may be lead makes me confoundedly uncomfortable, yet I've got the
conviction that I shall know before long. I shall certainly know. I'm sure Trehearn knows, but he's such a silent beggar.
go upstairs now and get it. What? You had better go with me? Ha, ha! do you think I'm afraid of a bandbox and a noise? Nonsense!
Bother the candle, it won't light! As if the ridiculous thing understood what it's wanted for! Look at that...the third
match. They light fast enough for my pipe. There, do you see? It's a fresh box, just out of the tin safe where I keep the
supply on account of the dampness. Oh, you think the wick of the candle may be damp, do you? All right, I'll light the beastly
thing in the fire. That won't go out, at all events. Yes, it sputters a bit, but it will keep lighted now. It burns just like
any other candle, doesn't it? The fact is, candles are not very good about here. I don't know where they come from, but they
have a way of burning low occasionally, with a greenish flame that spits tiny sparks, and I'm often annoyed by their going
out of themselves. It cannot be helped, for it will be long before we have electricity in our village. It really is rather
a poor light, isn't it?
You think I had better leave you the candle and take the lamp, do you? I don't like to carry lamps about, that's the truth.
I never dropped one in my life, but I have always thought I might, and it's so confoundedly dangerous if you do. Besides,
I am pretty well used to these rotten candles by this time.
You may as well finish that glass while I'm getting it, for I don't mean to let you off with less than three before you
go to bed. You won't have to go upstairs, either, for I've put you in the old study next to the surgery....that's where I
live myself. The fact is, I never ask a friend to sleep upstairs now. The last man who did was Crackenthorpe, and he said
he was kept awake all night. You remember old Crack, don't you? He stuck to the Service, and they've just made him an admiral.
Yes, I'm off now...unless the candle goes out. I couldn't help asking if you remembered Crackenthorpe. If anyone had told
us that the skinny little idiot he used to be was to turn out the most successful of the lot of us, we should have laughed
at the idea, shouldn't we? You and I did not do badly, it's true...but I'm really going now. I don't mean to let you think
that I've been putting it off by talking! As if there were anything to be afraid of! If I were scared, I should tell you so
quite frankly, and get you to go upstairs with me.
Here's the box. I brought it down very carefully, so as not to disturb it, poor thing. You see, if it were shaken, the
jaw might get separated from it again, and I'm sure it wouldn't like that. Yes, the candle went out as I was coming downstairs,
but that was the draught from the leaky window on the landing. Did you hear anything? Yes, there was another scream. Am I
pale, do you say? That's nothing. My heart is a little queer sometimes, and I went upstairs too fast. In fact, that's one
reason why I really prefer to live altogether on the ground floor.
Wherever the shriek came from, it was not from the skull, for I had the box in my hand when I heard the noise, and here
it is now; so we have proved definitely that the screams are produced by something else. I've no doubt I shall find out some
day what makes them. Some crevice in the wall, of course, or a crack in a chimney, or a chink in the frame of a window. That's
the way all ghost stories end in real life. Do you know, I'm jolly glad I thought of going up and bringing it down for you
to see, for that last shriek settles the question. To think that I should have been so weak as to fancy that the poor skull
could really cry out like a living thing!
Now I'll open the box, and we'll take it out and look at it under the bright light. It's rather awful to think that the
poor lady used to sit there, in your chair, evening after evening, in just the same light, isn't it? But then I've made up
my mind that it's all rubbish from beginning to end, and that it's just an old skull that Luke had when he was a student and
perhaps he put it into the lime merely to whiten it, and could not find the jaw.
I made a seal on the string, you see, after I had put the jaw in its place, and I wrote on the cover. There's the old white
label on it still, from the milliner's, addressed to Mrs. Pratt when the hat was sent to her, and as there was room I wrote
on the edge: "A skull, once the property of the late Luke Pratt, MD." I don't quite know why I wrote that, unless it was with
the idea of explaining how the thing happened to be in my possession. I cannot help wondering sometimes what sort of hat it
was that came in the bandbox. What colour was it, do you think? Was it a gay spring hat with a bobbing feather and pretty
ribands? Strange that the very same box should hold the head that wore the finery...perhaps. No we made up our minds that
it just came from the hospital in London where Luke did his time. It's far better to look at it in that light, isn't it? There's
no more connection between that skull and poor Mrs. Pratt than there was between my story about the lead and - Good Lord!
Take the lamp, don't let it go out if you can help it, I'll have the window fastened again in a second, I say, what a gale!
There, it's out! I told you so! Never mind, there's the firelight - I've got the window shut - the bolt was only half down.
Was the box blown off the table? Where the deuce is it? There! That won't open again, for I've put up the bar. Good dodge,
an old-fashioned bar - there's nothing like it. Now, you find the bandbox while I light the lamp. Confound those wretched
matches! Yes, a pipe spill is better - it must light in the fire -hadn't thought of it - thank you - there we are again. Now,
where's the box? Yes, put it back on the table, and we'll open it.
That's the first time I have ever known the wind to burst that window open; but it was partly carelessness on my part when
I last shut it. Yes, of course I heard the scream. It seemed to go all round the house before it broke in at the window. That
proves that it's always been the wind and nothing else, doesn't it? When it was not the wind, it was my imagination I've always
been a very imaginative man: I must have been, though I did not know it. As we grow older we understand ourselves better,
don't you know?
I'll have a drop of the Hulstkamp neat, by way of an exception, since you are filling up your glass. That damp gust chilled
me, and with my rheumatic tendency I'm very much afraid of a chill, for the cold sometimes seems to stick in my joints all
winter when it once gets in.
By George, that's good stuff! I'll just light a fresh pipe, now that everything is snug again, and then we'll open the
box. I'm so glad we heard that last scream together, with the skull here on the table between us, for a thing cannot possibly
be in two places at the same time, and the noise most certainly came from outside, as any noise the wind makes must. You thought
you heard it scream through the room after the window was burst open? Oh yes, so did I, but that was natural enough when everything
was open. Of course we heard the wind. What could one expect?
Look here, please. I want you to see that the seal is intact before we open the box together. Will you take my glasses?
No, you have your own. All right. The seal is sound, you see, and you can read the words of the motto easily. "Sweet and low"
that's it - because the poem goes on "Wind of the Western Sea", and says, "blow him again to me", and all that. Here is the
seal on my watch chain, where it's hung for more than forty years. My poor little wife gave it to me when I was courting,
and I never had any other. It was just like her to think of those words - she was always fond of Tennyson.
It's no use to cut the string, for it's fastened to the box, so I'll just break the wax and untie the knot, and afterwards
we'll seal it up again. You see, I like to feel that the thing is safe in its place, and that nobody can take it out. Not
that I should suspect Trehearn of meddling with it, but I always feel that he knows a lot more than he tells.
You see, I've managed it without breaking the string, though when I fastened it I never expected to open the bandbox again.
The lid comes off easily enough. There! Now look!
What! Nothing in it! Empty! It's gone, man, the skull is gone!
No, there's nothing the matter with me. I'm only trying to collect my thoughts. It's so strange. I'm positively certain
that it was inside when I put on the seal last spring. I can't have imagined that: it's utterly impossible. If I ever took
a stiff glass with a friend now and then, I would admit that I might have made some idiotic mistake when I had taken too much.
But I don't, and I never did. A pint of ale at supper and half a go of rum at bedtime was the most I ever took in my good
days. I believe it's always we sober fellows who get rheumatism and gout! Yet there was my seal, and there is the empty bandbox.
That's plain enough.
I say, I don't half like this. It's not right. There's something wrong about it, in my opinion. You needn't talk to me
about supernatural manifestations, for I don't believe in them, not a little bit! Somebody must have tampered with the seal
and stolen the skull. Sometimes, when I go out to work in the garden in summer, I leave my watch and chain on the table. Trehearn
must have taken the seal then, and used it, for he would be quite sure that I should not come in for at least an hour.
If it was not Trehearn.....oh, don't talk to me about the possibility that the thing has got out by itself! If it has,
it must be somewhere about the house, in some out-of-the-way corner, waiting. We may come upon it anywhere, waiting for us,
don't you know? just waiting in the dark. Then it will scream at me; it will shriek at me in the dark, for it hates me, I
The bandbox is quite empty. We are not dreaming, either of us. There, I turn it upside down.
What's that? Something fell out as I turned it over. It's on the floor, it s near your feet. I know it is, and we must
find it. Help me to find it, man. Have you got it? For God's sake, give it to me, quickly!
Lead! I knew it when I heard it fall. I knew it couldn't be anything else by the little thud it made on the hearthrug.
So it was lead after all and Luke did it.
I feel a little bit shaken up...not exactly nervous, you know, but badly shaken up, that's the fact. Anybody would, I should
think. After all, you cannot say that it's fear of the thing, for I went up and brought it down..at least, I believed I was
bringing it down, and that's the same thing, and by George, rather than give in to such silly nonsense, I'll take the box
upstairs again and put it back in its place. It's not that. It's the certainty that the poor little woman came to her end
in that way, by my fault, because I told the story. That's what is so dreadful. Somehow, I had always hoped that I should
never be quite sure of it, but there is no doubting it now. Look at that!
Look at it! That little lump of lead with no particular shape. Think of what it did, man! Doesn't it make you shiver? He
gave her something to make her sleep, of course, but there must have been one moment of awful agony. Think of having boiling
lead poured into your brain. Think of it. She was dead before she could scream, but only think of...oh! there it is again....it's
just outside...I know it's just outside...I can't keep it out of my head!-...oh!..oh!
You thought I had fainted? No, I wish I had, for it would have stopped sooner. It's all very well to say that it's only
a noise, and that a noise never hurt anybody...you're as white as a shroud yourself. There's only one thing to be done, if
we hope to close an eye tonight. We must find it and put it back into its bandbox and shut it up in the cupboard, where it
likes to be I don't know how it got out, but it wants to get in again. That's why it screams so awfully tonight....it was
never so bad as this....never since I first........
Bury it? Yes, if we can find it, we'll bury it, if it takes us all night. We'll bury it six feet deep and ram down the
earth over it, so that it shall never get out again, and if it screams, we shall hardly hear it so deep down. Quick, we'll
get the lantern and look for it. It cannot be far away; I'm sure it's just outside...it was coming in when I shut the window,
I know it.
Yes, you're quite right. I'm losing my senses, and I must get hold of myself. Don't speak to me for a minute or two; I'll
sit quite still and keep my eyes shut and repeat something I know. That's the best way.
"Add together the altitude, the latitude, and the polar distance, divide by two and subtract the altitude from the half-sum;
then add the logarithm of the secant of the latitude, the cosecant of the polar distance, the cosine of the half-sum and the
sine of the half-sum minus the altitude"...there! Don't say that I'm out of my senses, for my memory is all right, isn't it?
Of course, you may say that it's mechanical, and that we never forget the things we learned when we were boys and have
used almost every day for a lifetime. But that's the very point. When a man is going crazy, it's the mechanical part of his
mind that gets out of order and won't work right; he remembers things that never happened, or he sees things that aren't real,
or he hears noises when there is perfect silence. That's not what is the matter with either of us, is it?
Come, we'll get the lantern and go round the house. It's not raining....only blowing like old boots, as we used to say.
The lantern is in the cupboard under the stairs in the hall, and I always keep it trimmed in case of a wreck.
No use to look for the thing? I don't see how you can say that. It was nonsense to talk of burying it, of course, for it
doesn't want to be buried; it wants to go back into its bandbox and be taken upstairs, poor thing! Trehearn took it out, I
know, and made the seal over again. Perhaps he took it to the churchyard, and he may have meant well. I dare say he thought
that it would not scream any more if it were quietly laid in consecrated ground, near where it belongs. But it has come home.
Yes, that's it. He's not half a bad fellow, Trehearn, and rather religiously inclined, I think. Does not that sound natural,
and reasonable, and well meant? He supposed it screamed because it was not decently buried--with the rest. But he was wrong.
How should he know that it screams at me because it hates me, and because it's my fault that there was that little lump of
lead in it?
No use to look for it, anyhow? Nonsense! I tell you it wants to be found.....Hark! what's that knocking? Do you hear it?
Knock--knock--knock--three times, then a pause, and then again. It has a hollow sound, hasn't it?
It has come home. I've heard that knock before. It wants to come in and be taken upstairs in its box. It's at the front
Will you come with me? We'll take it in. Yes, I own that I don't like to go alone and open the door. The thing will roll
in and stop against my foot, just as it did before, and the light will go out. I'm a good deal shaken by finding that bit
of lead, and, besides, my heart isn't quite right....too much strong tobacco, perhaps. Besides, I'm quite willing to own that
I'm a bit nervous tonight, if I never was before in my life.
That's right, come along! I'll take the box with me, so as not to come back. Do you hear the knocking? It's not like any
other knocking I ever heard. If you will hold this door open, I can find the lantern under the stairs by the light from this
room without bringing the lamp into the hall...it would only go out.
The thing knows we are coming.....hark! It's impatient to get in. Don't shut the door till the lantern is ready, whatever
you do. There will be the usual trouble with the matches, I suppose.......no, the first one, by Jove! I tell you it wants
to get in, so there's no trouble. All right with that door now; shut it, please. Now come and hold the lantern, for it's blowing
so hard outside that I shall have to use both hands. That's it, hold the light low. Do you hear the knocking still? Here goes....I'll
open just enough with my foot against the bottom of the door..now!
Catch it! it's only the wind that blows it across the floor, that's all--there s half a hurricane outside, I tell you!
Have you got it? The bandbox is on the table. One minute, and I'll have the bar up. There!
Why did you throw it into the box so roughly? It doesn't like that, you know.
What do you say? Bitten your hand? Nonsense, man! You did just what I did. You pressed the jaws together with your other
hand and pinched yourself. Let me see. You don't mean to say you have drawn blood? You must have squeezed hard by Jove, for
the skin is certainly torn. I'll give you some carbolic solution for it before we go to bed, for they say a scratch from a
skull's tooth may go bad and give trouble.
Come inside again and let me see it by the lamp. I'll bring the bandbox..never mind the lantern, it may just as well burn
in the hall for I shall need it presently when I go up the stairs. Yes, shut the door if you will; it makes it more cheerful
and bright. Is your finger still bleeding? I'll get you the carbolic in an instant; just let me see the thing.
Ugh! There's a drop of blood on the upper jaw. It's on the eyetooth. Ghastly, isn't it? When I saw it running along the
floor of the hall, the strength almost went out of my hands, and I felt my knees bending, then I understood that it was the
gale, driving it over the smooth boards. You don t blame me? No, I should think not! We were boys together, and we've seen
a thing or two, and we may just as well own to each other that we were both in a beastly funk when it slid across the floor
at you. No wonder you pinched your finger picking it up, after that, if I did the same thing out of sheer nervousness, in
broad daylight, with the sun streaming in on me.
Strange that the jaw should stick to it so closely, isn't it? I suppose it's the dampness, for it shuts like a vice...I
have wiped off the drop of blood, for it was not nice to look at. I'm not going to try to open the jaws, don't be afraid!
I shall not play any tricks with the poor thing, but I'll just seal the box again, and we'll take it upstairs and put it away
where it wants to be. The wax is on the writing-table by the window. Thank you. It will be long before I leave my seal lying
about again, for Trehearn to use, I can tell you. Explain? I don't explain natural phenomena, but if you choose to think that
Trehearn had hidden it somewhere in the bushes, and that the gale blew it to the house against the door, and made it knock,
as if it wanted to be let in, you're not thinking the impossible, and I'm quite ready to agree with you.
Do you see that? You can swear that you've actually seen me seal it this time, in case anything of the kind should occur
again. The wax fastens the strings to the lid, which cannot possibly be lifted, even enough to get in one finger. You're quite
satisfied, aren't you? Yes. Besides, I shall lock the cupboard and keep the key in my pocket hereafter.
Now we can take the lantern and go upstairs. Do you know? I'm very much inclined to agree with your theory that the wind
blew it against the house. I'll go ahead, for I know the stairs; just hold the lantern near my feet as we go up. How the wind
howls and whistles! Did you feel the sand on the floor under your shoes as we crossed the hall?
Yes...this is the door of the best bedroom. Hold up the lantern, please. This side, by the head of the bed. I left the
cupboard open when I got the box. Isn't it queer how the faint odour of women's dresses will hang about an old closet for
years? This is the shelf. You've seen me set the box there, and now you see me turn the key and put it into my pocket. So
Goodnight. Are you sure you're quite comfortable? It's not much of a room, but I dare say you would as soon sleep here
as upstairs tonight. If you want anything, sing out; there's only a lath and plaster partition between us. There's not so
much wind on this side by half. There's the Hollands on the table, if you'll have one more nightcap. No? Well, do as you please.
Goodnight again, and don't dream about that thing, if you can.
The following paragraph appeared in the Penraddon News, 23rd November 1906:
MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF A RETIRED SEA CAPTAIN
The village of Tredcombe is much disturbed by the strange death of Captain Charles Braddock, and all sorts of impossible
stories are circulating with regard to the circumstances, which certainly seem difficult of explanation. The retired captain,
who had successfully commanded in his time the largest and fastest liners belonging to one of the principal transatlantic
steamship companies, was found dead in his bed on Tuesday morning in his own cottage, a quarter of a mile from the village.
An examination was made at once by the local practitioner, which revealed the horrible fact that the deceased had been bitten
in the throat by a human assailant, with such amazing force as to crush the windpipe and cause death. The marks of the teeth
of both jaws were so plainly visible on the skin that they could be counted, but the perpetrator of the deed had evidently
lost the two lower middle incisors. It is hoped that this peculiarity may help to identify the murderer, who can only be a
dangerous escaped maniac. The deceased, though over sixty-five years of age, is said to have been a hale man of considerable
physical strength, and it is remarkable that no signs of any struggle were visible in the room, nor could it be ascertained
how the murderer had entered the house. Warning has been sent to all the insane asylums in the United Kingdom, but as yet
no information has been received regarding the escape of any dangerous patient.
The coroner's Jury returned the somewhat singular verdict that Captain Braddock came to his death "by the hands or teeth
of some person unknown". The local surgeon is said to have expressed privately the opinion that the maniac is a woman, a view
he deduces from the small size of the jaws, as shown by the marks of the teeth. The whole affair is shrouded in mystery. Captain
Braddock was a widower, and lived alone. He leaves no children.