remixed by Bobby Derie, text from Montague Rhodes James
The report then begins:
Those who spend the greater part of their time in reading or writing books are, of course, apt to take rather particular notice of accumulations of books when they come across them. Dinner was over, and Dennistoun was in his bedroom, shut up alone with his acquisition. He, on a certain spring day not many years since, was in London for a few days upon business connected principally with the furnishing of the house which he had just finished building at Rendcomb. He accordingly bade me go into his study, which was a room opening on the terrace path where he was walking, and came in himself and sat down.
His description of what he saw reminds me of what I once beheld myself in the famous vaults of St Michan’s Church in Dublin, which possesses the horrid property of preserving corpses from decay for centuries. The ground was almost bare of grass and dark of aspect. Some of the trees, Scotch firs and others, which form a backing and a surrounding, are of considerable size, but there is nothing that diffuses a mysterious gloom or imparts a sinister flavour — nothing of melancholy or funereal associations. Some ancient sepulchral reliefs were built into the wall, and about it all was a pleasant flavour of the grand tour. The structure had been most carefully boxed in under the pulpit-base, so that such slight ornament as it possessed was not defaced; only on the north side of it there was what looked like an injury; a gap between two of the slabs composing the side. Every child in the room could recognize the place from the pictures. It had a portal and steps of its own on the northern side. 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. They were at first slightly annoyed to see that the door of his rooms was unsported; but in a moment it was remembered that on Sunday the skips came for orders an hour or so earlier than on weekdays.
"Honoured friend,— I make some slow advance in our studies, but I know not well how far to trust our authors. For a visit is owing. You’ll swear to that? There is no prescribed place for this, so far as I know, in the plan of a monastery; you can’t predict of it, as you can of the chapter-house, that it will be on the eastern side of the cloister, or, as of the dormitory, that it will communicate with a transept of the church."
In the conversation that followed (there was not much of it) nothing was added to the statement of the case. Careful engravings of a hundred years ago show a very different state of things. Of course, I resolved that Brown and I would make an experiment that very night. They knew too well what the result would inevitably be. The shattering of the illusion!
I gazed at it, I know not why, for some minutes, till called away by the day’s duties; and you will smile incredulously when I say that I seemed to myself to begin to descry reflected in it objects and scenes which were not in the room where I was. And that is what I did.
You know how sometimes--but very, very seldom--you see something in a dream which you are quite sure is real. He seemed to be conscious of the scent of a cool still September night. It came into his dreams. Very gingerly he approached it and bending down listened, holding his breath; perhaps there might be a sound of heavy breathing, and a prosaic explanation. Now, too, was the moment near when the surroundings began to take on a threatening look; that the sunlight lost power and a quality of light replaced it which, though I did not know it at the time my memory years after told me was the lifeless pallor of an eclipse. It had a quality of infinite distance in it, and, soft as it was, he somehow felt it must be audible for miles round.
You don’t need to be told that he was dead. And they laid him on the bier which they brought, and they put a cloth over his head, and the priest walked before; and they began to sing the psalm for the dead as well as they could. I caught the fierce glance of its yellow eyes, and then it was gone. They made no very neat job of it, and next day, which was a Sunday, the churchgoers were rather sharp with the sexton, saying it was the untidiest grave in the yard. Then right down in the shadow under a buttress I made out what I shall always say was two spots of red — a dull red it was — nothing like a lamp or a fire, but just so as you could pick ’em out of the black shadow.
We have now arrived at March 24, 1812.
He lay awake for some little time, fixing the details of the last dream in his mind, and wondering in particular what the figures had been which he had seen or half seen on the carved capital. As I say, I saw this quite clearly, and remembered it because six times nine makes fifty-four, which happens to be a number which I had a particular reason for remembering at that moment.
He was duly installed, and entered with zeal upon the discharge of those functions which are appropriate to one in his position. But, just as he approached it, he saw, standing in front of the door, a figure so like one bound up with recent unpleasant associations that, with a sickening qualm, and hardly knowing what he did, he tore open the door of the next compartment and pulled himself into it as quickly as if death were at his heels.
"Are there witches here now?" That was the chief subject of his meditations at breakfast, and after it he began a systematic examination of the rooms to see which would suit his notions best. His companion lowered his paper.
"What do you want to know for?" said Parkins. There was something Satanic about the hero.
"We have opened his mouth," he said. It was very likely true: he was morbid in other ways, certainly.
“I beg your pardon,” I said. "I thought you were to read me something you had written,’ I said, without moving, ‘but, of course —" But he sat there and put his head between his hands and seemed to take no notice to what I said.
"The tale of yesterday was not completed when I laid down my pen." In the desultory evening talk in the bar, he asked why the white stone was there on the common.
"Why, I've heard, Mr. Davis, that they're all graves, and I know, when I've had occasion to plough up one, there's always been some old bones and pots turned up." The other looked at him inquisitively, and he laughed.
"You have had the same nightmare!" And I was merely reduced, as I am now, to a shrug of the shoulders, and a cui bono. "Yes, I do see that, but the worst of it is that we don’t know the name of the book."
"It is Number 13, you see," said the latter.
And when I suggested the usual considerations he only grunted. The offer was pressed three or four times and refused as often. Farewells were said. The promise of silence was kept for many years.
The sequel to this may perhaps be reckoned highly conventional; but a sequel there is, and so it must be produced. Of what nature the story was may be guessed later, but as yet no clue has been put into our hands.
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