The Ghost Stor­ies of M.R. James

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Around this time of year on the Solstice there are two things I like to do as a person­al tradi­tion- go for a walk to Botany Bay around sunset and read the ghost stor­ies of M.R. James. The Kent­ist Botany Bay has mono­lith-like chalk stacks on the beach, and very much feels like some­where you could defin­itely enter anoth­er dimen­sion by walk­ing through the gaps in the wrong direc­tion. Unfor­tu­nately this year I’ve been stuck at home with a bug, so didn’t make it to the beach. I can read the ghost stor­ies though.

Montague Rhodes James was a quiet Edwar­d­i­an Cambridge academ­ic who is better known for produ­cing clas­sic collec­tions of ghost stor­ies, which are inex­tric­ably asso­ci­ated with the Winter Solstice and Christ­mas, as he would debut new tales at his Christ­mas party. The typic­al M.R. James ghost story features a mild-mannered academ­ic or archae­olo­gist who turns up at some beau­ti­ful quaint seaside resort or medi­ev­al French village and then dooms himself to some kind of horror by acci­dent­ally acquir­ing a Cursed Arte­fact.

A few years back I went to a Halloween themed archae­ology confer­ence at UCL.  M.R. James came up quite frequently in the talks. Fiction­al archae­olo­gists have contin­ued to doom them­selves by invest­ig­at­ing Forbid­den Myster­ies ever since his day. (He also came up frequently in the Haunted Cambridge tour I went on via work- you can see my sketch­book notes from it here)

As he is long dead and his stor­ies are now out of copy­right you can read the Collec­ted Ghost Stor­ies of MR James online for free. They are also avail­able as a paper­back collec­tion for around £3 online (or vari­ous fancy hard­backed editions with illus­tra­tions)

The BBC also produced some frankly unset­tling films of his stor­ies in the 70s as Christ­mas specials- someone has been kind enough to upload and make a playl­ist of them on Youtube. These films are one of the big influ­ences on people like the League of Gentle­men.


As it is now out of copy­right, I’ve included the full text of one of James’ most famous stor­ies below. You will never look at rumpled bedsheets or whistles in the same way.

“I suppose you will be getting away pretty soon, now Full term is over, Profess­or,” said a person not in the story to the Profess­or of Onto­graphy, soon after they had sat down next to each other at a feast in the hospit­able hall of St. James’s College.

The Profess­or was young, neat, and precise in speech.

“Yes,” he said; “my friends have been making me take up golf this term, and I mean to go to the East Coast — in point of fact to Burn­stow — (I dare say you know it) for a week or ten days, to improve my game. I hope to get off to-morrow.”

“Oh, Parkins,” said his neigh­bour on the other side, “if you are going to Burn­stow, I wish you would look at the site of the Templars’ precept­ory, and let me know if you think it would be any good to have a dig there in the summer.”

It was, as you might suppose, a person of anti­quar­i­an pursuits who said this, but, since he merely appears in this prologue, there is no need to give his enti­tle­ments.

“Certainly,” said Parkins, the Profess­or: “if you will describe to me where­abouts the site is, I will do my best to give you an idea of the lie of the land when I get back; or I could write to you about it, if you would tell me where you are likely to be.”

“Don’t trouble to do that, thanks. It’s only that I’m think­ing of taking my family in that direc­tion in the Long, and it occurred to me that, as very few of the English precept­or­ies have ever been prop­erly planned, I might have an oppor­tun­ity of doing some­thing useful on off-days.”

The Profess­or rather sniffed at the idea that plan­ning out a precept­ory could be described as useful. His neigh­bour contin­ued:

“The site — I doubt if there is anything show­ing above ground — must be down quite close to the beach now. The sea has encroached tremend­ously, as you know, all along that bit of coast. I should think, from the map, that it must be about three-quar­ters of a mile from the Globe Inn, at the north end of the town. Where are you going to stay?”

“Well, at the Globe Inn, as a matter of fact,” said Parkins; “I have engaged a room there. I couldn’t get in anywhere else; most of the lodging-houses are shut up in winter, it seems; and, as it is, they tell me that the only room of any size I can have is really a double-bedded one, and that they haven’t a corner in which to store the other bed, and so on. But I must have a fairly large room, for I am taking some books down, and mean to do a bit of work; and though I don’t quite fancy having an empty bed — not to speak of two — in what I may call for the time being my study, I suppose I can manage to rough it for the short time I shall be there.”

“Do you call having an extra bed in your room rough­ing it, Parkins?” said a bluff person oppos­ite. “Look here, I shall come down and occupy it for a bit; it’ll be company for you.”

The Profess­or quivered, but managed to laugh in a cour­teous manner.

“By all means, Rogers; there’s noth­ing I should like better. But I’m afraid you would find it rather dull; you don’t play golf, do you?”

“No, thank Heav­en!” said rude Mr. Rogers.

“Well, you see, when I’m not writ­ing I shall most likely be out on the links, and that, as I say, would be rather dull for you, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, I don’t know! There’s certain to be some­body I know in the place; but, of course, if you don’t want me, speak the word, Parkins; I shan’t be offen­ded. Truth, as you always tell us, is never offens­ive.”

Parkins was, indeed, scru­pu­lously polite and strictly truth­ful. It is to be feared that Mr. Rogers some­times prac­tised upon his know­ledge of these char­ac­ter­ist­ics. In Parkins’s breast there was a conflict now raging, which for a moment or two did not allow him to answer. That inter­val being over, he said:

“Well, if you want the exact truth, Rogers, I was consid­er­ing wheth­er the room I speak of would really be large enough to accom­mod­ate us both comfort­ably; and also wheth­er (mind, I shouldn’t have said this if you hadn’t pressed me) you would not consti­tute some­thing in the nature of a hindrance to my work.”

Rogers laughed loudly.

“Well done, Parkins!” he said. “It’s all right. I prom­ise not to inter­rupt your work; don’t you disturb your­self about that. No, I won’t come if you don’t want me; but I thought I should do so nicely to keep the ghosts off.” Here he might have been seen to wink and to nudge his next neigh­bour. Parkins might also have been seen to become pink. “I beg pardon, Parkins,” Rogers contin­ued; “I oughtn’t to have said that. I forgot you didn’t like levity on these topics.”

“Well,” Parkins said, “as you have mentioned the matter, I freely own that I do not like care­less talk about what you call ghosts. A man in my posi­tion,” he went on, rais­ing his voice a little, “cannot, I find, be too care­ful about appear­ing to sanc­tion the current beliefs on such subjects. As you know, Rogers, or as you ought to know; for I think I have never concealed my views —  — ”

“No, you certainly have not, old man,” put in Rogers sotto voce.

“ —  — I hold that any semb­lance, any appear­ance of conces­sion to the view that such things might exist is equi­val­ent to a renun­ci­ation of all that I hold most sacred. But I’m afraid I have not succeeded in secur­ing your atten­tion.”

“Your undi­vided atten­tion, was what Dr. Blimber actu­ally said,”[4] Rogers inter­rup­ted, with every appear­ance of an earn­est desire for accur­acy. “But I beg your pardon, Parkins: I’m stop­ping you.”

“No, not at all,” said Parkins. “I don’t remem­ber Blimber; perhaps he was before my time. But I needn’t go on. I’m sure you know what I mean.”

“Yes, yes,” said Rogers, rather hast­ily — ”just so. We’ll go into it fully at Burn­stow, or some­where.”

In repeat­ing the above dialogue I have tried to give the impres­sion which it made on me, that Parkins was some­thing of an old woman — rather hen-like, perhaps, in his little ways; totally desti­tute, alas! of the sense of humour, but at the same time daunt­less and sincere in his convic­tions, and a man deserving of the greatest respect. Wheth­er or not the read­er has gathered so much, that was the char­ac­ter which Parkins had.

On the follow­ing day Parkins did, as he had hoped, succeed in getting away from his college, and in arriv­ing at Burn­stow. He was made welcome at the Globe Inn, was safely installed in the large double-bedded room of which we have heard, and was able before retir­ing to rest to arrange his mater­i­als for work in apple-pie order upon a commo­di­ous table which occu­pied the outer end of the room, and was surroun­ded on three sides by windows look­ing out seaward; that is to say, the cent­ral window looked straight out to sea, and those on the left and right commanded prospects along the shore to the north and south respect­ively. On the south you saw the village of Burn­stow. On the north no houses were to be seen, but only the beach and the low cliff back­ing it. Imme­di­ately in front was a strip — not consid­er­able — of rough grass, dotted with old anchors, capstans, and so forth; then a broad path; then the beach. Whatever may have been the origin­al distance between the Globe Inn and the sea, not more than sixty yards now separ­ated them.

The rest of the popu­la­tion of the inn was, of course, a golf­ing one, and included few elements that call for a special descrip­tion. The most conspicu­ous figure was, perhaps, that of an ancient milit­aire, secret­ary of a London club, and possessed of a voice of incred­ible strength, and of views of a pronouncedly Prot­est­ant type. These were apt to find utter­ance after his attend­ance upon the minis­tra­tions of the Vicar, an estim­able man with inclin­a­tions towards a pictur­esque ritu­al, which he gallantly kept down as far as he could out of defer­ence to East Angli­an tradi­tion.

Profess­or Parkins, one of whose prin­cip­al char­ac­ter­ist­ics was pluck, spent the great­er part of the day follow­ing his arrival at Burn­stow in what he had called improv­ing his game, in company with this Colon­el Wilson: and during the after­noon — wheth­er the process of improve­ment were to blame or not, I am not sure — the Colonel’s demean­our assumed a colour­ing so lurid that even Parkins jibbed at the thought of walk­ing home with him from the links. He determ­ined, after a short and furt­ive look at that brist­ling mous­tache and those incar­nadined features, that it would be wiser to allow the influ­ences of tea and tobacco to do what they could with the Colon­el before the dinner-hour should render a meet­ing inev­it­able.

“I might walk home to-night along the beach,” he reflec­ted — ”yes, and take a look — there will be light enough for that — at the ruins of which Disney was talk­ing. I don’t exactly know where they are, by the way; but I expect I can hardly help stum­bling on them.”

This he accom­plished, I may say, in the most liter­al sense, for in pick­ing his way from the links to the shingle beach his foot caught, partly in a gorse-root and partly in a biggish stone, and over he went. When he got up and surveyed his surround­ings, he found himself in a patch of some­what broken ground covered with small depres­sions and mounds. These latter, when he came to exam­ine them, proved to be simply masses of flints embed­ded in mortar and grown over with turf. He must, he quite rightly concluded, be on the site of the precept­ory he had prom­ised to look at. It seemed not unlikely to reward the spade of the explorer; enough of the found­a­tions was prob­ably left at no great depth to throw a good deal of light on the gener­al plan. He remembered vaguely that the Templars, to whom this site had belonged, were in the habit of build­ing round churches, and he thought a partic­u­lar series of the humps or mounds near him did appear to be arranged in some­thing of a circu­lar form. Few people can resist the tempta­tion to try a little amateur research in a depart­ment quite outside their own, if only for the satis­fac­tion of show­ing how success­ful they would have been had they only taken it up seri­ously. Our Profess­or, however, if he felt some­thing of this mean desire, was also truly anxious to oblige Mr. Disney. So he paced with care the circu­lar area he had noticed, and wrote down its rough dimen­sions in his pock­et-book. Then he proceeded to exam­ine an oblong emin­ence which lay east of the centre of the circle, and seemed to his think­ing likely to be the base of a plat­form or altar. At one end of it, the north­ern, a patch of the turf was gone — removed by some boy or other creature feræ naturæ. It might, he thought, be as well to probe the soil here for evid­ences of masonry, and he took out his knife and began scrap­ing away the earth. And now followed anoth­er little discov­ery: a portion of soil fell inward as he scraped, and disclosed a small cavity. He lighted one match after anoth­er to help him to see of what nature the hole was, but the wind was too strong for them all. By tapping and scratch­ing the sides with his knife, however, he was able to make out that it must be an arti­fi­cial hole in masonry. It was rect­an­gu­lar, and the sides, top, and bottom, if not actu­ally plastered, were smooth and regu­lar. Of course it was empty. No! As he with­drew the knife he heard a metal­lic clink, and when he intro­duced his hand it met with a cylindric­al object lying on the floor of the hole. Natur­ally enough, he picked it up, and when he brought it into the light, now fast fading, he could see that it, too, was of man’s making — a metal tube about four inches long, and evid­ently of some consid­er­able age.

By the time Parkins had made sure that there was noth­ing else in this odd recept­acle, it was too late and too dark for him to think of under­tak­ing any further search. What he had done had proved so unex­pec­tedly inter­est­ing that he determ­ined to sacri­fice a little more of the daylight on the morrow to archæo­logy. The object which he now had safe in his pock­et was bound to be of some slight value at least, he felt sure.

Bleak and solemn was the view on which he took a last look before start­ing home­ward. A faint yellow light in the west showed the links, on which a few figures moving towards the club-house were still visible, the squat martello tower, the lights of Aldsey village, the pale ribbon of sands inter­sec­ted at inter­vals by black wooden groynes, the dim and murmur­ing sea. The wind was bitter from the north, but was at his back when he set out for the Globe. He quickly rattled and clashed through the shingle and gained the sand, upon which, but for the groynes which had to be got over every few yards, the going was both good and quiet. One last look behind, to meas­ure the distance he had made since leav­ing the ruined Templars’ church, showed him a prospect of company on his walk, in the shape of a rather indis­tinct person­age, who seemed to be making great efforts to catch up with him, but made little, if any, progress. I mean that there was an appear­ance of running about his move­ments, but that the distance between him and Parkins did not seem mater­i­ally to lessen. So, at least, Parkins thought, and decided that he almost certainly did not know him, and that it would be absurd to wait until he came up. For all that, company, he began to think, would really be very welcome on that lonely shore, if only you could choose your compan­ion. In his unen­lightened days he had read of meet­ings in such places which even now would hardly bear think­ing of. He went on think­ing of them, however, until he reached home, and partic­u­larly of one which catches most people’s fancy at some time of their child­hood. “Now I saw in my dream that Chris­ti­an had gone but a very little way when he saw a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him.” “What should I do now,” he thought, “if I looked back and caught sight of a black figure sharply defined against the yellow sky, and saw that it had horns and wings? I wonder wheth­er I should stand or run for it. Luck­ily, the gentle­man behind is not of that kind, and he seems to be about as far off now as when I saw him first. Well, at this rate he won’t get his dinner as soon as I shall; and, dear me! it’s with­in a quarter of an hour of the time now. I must run!”

Parkins had, in fact, very little time for dress­ing. When he met the Colon­el at dinner, Peace — or as much of her as that gentle­man could manage — reigned once more in the milit­ary bosom; nor was she put to flight in the hours of bridge that followed dinner, for Parkins was a more than respect­able play­er. When, there­fore, he retired towards twelve o’clock, he felt that he had spent his even­ing in quite a satis­fact­ory way, and that, even for so long as a fort­night or three weeks, life at the Globe would be support­able under simil­ar condi­tions — ”espe­cially,” thought he, “if I go on improv­ing my game.”

As he went along the passages he met the boots of the Globe, who stopped and said:

“Beg your pardon, sir, but as I was a-brush­ing your coat just now there was some­think fell out of the pock­et. I put it on your chest of draw­ers, sir, in your room, sir — a piece of a pipe or some­think of that, sir. Thank you, sir. You’ll find it on your chest of draw­ers, sir — yes, sir. Good night, sir.”

The speech served to remind Parkins of his little discov­ery of that after­noon. It was with some consid­er­able curi­os­ity that he turned it over by the light of his candles. It was of bronze, he now saw, and was shaped very much after the manner of the modern dog-whistle; in fact it was — yes, certainly it was — actu­ally no more nor less than a whistle. He put it to his lips, but it was quite full of a fine, caked-up sand or earth, which would not yield to knock­ing, but must be loosened with a knife. Tidy as ever in his habits, Parkins cleared out the earth on to a piece of paper, and took the latter to the window to empty it out. The night was clear and bright, as he saw when he had opened the case­ment, and he stopped for an instant to look at the sea and note a belated wander­er stationed on the shore in front of the inn. Then he shut the window, a little surprised at the late hours people kept at Burn­stow, and took his whistle to the light again. Why, surely there were marks on it, and not merely marks, but letters! A very little rubbing rendered the deeply-cut inscrip­tion quite legible, but the Profess­or had to confess, after some earn­est thought, that the mean­ing of it was as obscure to him as the writ­ing on the wall to Belshaz­zar. There were legends both on the front and on the back of the whistle. The one read thus:


The other:


“I ought to be able to make it out,” he thought; “but I suppose I am a little rusty in my Latin. When I come to think of it, I don’t believe I even know the word for a whistle. The long one does seem simple enough. It ought to mean, ‘Who is this who is coming?’ Well, the best way to find out is evid­ently to whistle for him.”

He blew tent­at­ively and stopped suddenly, startled and yet pleased at the note he had elicited. It had a qual­ity of infin­ite distance in it, and, soft as it was, he some­how felt it must be audible for miles round. It was a sound, too, that seemed to have the power (which many scents possess) of form­ing pictures in the brain. He saw quite clearly for a moment a vision of a wide, dark expanse at night, with a fresh wind blow­ing, and in the midst a lonely figure — how employed, he could not tell. Perhaps he would have seen more had not the picture been broken by the sudden surge of a gust of wind against his case­ment, so sudden that it made him look up, just in time to see the white glint of a sea-bird’s wing some­where outside the dark panes.

The sound of the whistle had so fascin­ated him that he could not help trying it once more, this time more boldly. The note was little, if at all, louder than before, and repe­ti­tion broke the illu­sion — no picture followed, as he had half hoped it might. “But what is this? Good­ness! what force the wind can get up in a few minutes! What a tremend­ous gust! There! I knew that window-fasten­ing was no use! Ah! I thought so — both candles out. It’s enough to tear the room to pieces.”

The first thing was to get the window shut. While you might count twenty Parkins was strug­gling with the small case­ment, and felt almost as if he were push­ing back a sturdy burg­lar, so strong was the pres­sure. It slackened all at once, and the window banged to and latched itself. Now to relight the candles and see what damage, if any, had been done. No, noth­ing seemed amiss; no glass even was broken in the case­ment. But the noise had evid­ently roused at least one member of the house­hold: the Colon­el was to be heard stump­ing in his stockinged feet on the floor above, and growl­ing.

Quickly as it had risen, the wind did not fall at once. On it went, moan­ing and rush­ing past the house, at times rising to a cry so desol­ate that, as Parkins disin­ter­estedly said, it might have made fanci­ful people feel quite uncom­fort­able; even the unima­gin­at­ive, he thought after a quarter of an hour, might be happi­er without it.

Wheth­er it was the wind, or the excite­ment of golf, or of the researches in the precept­ory that kept Parkins awake, he was not sure. Awake he remained, in any case, long enough to fancy (as I am afraid I often do myself under such condi­tions) that he was the victim of all manner of fatal disorders: he would lie count­ing the beats of his heart, convinced that it was going to stop work every moment, and would enter­tain grave suspi­cions of his lungs, brain, liver, etc. — suspi­cions which he was sure would be dispelled by the return of daylight, but which until then refused to be put aside. He found a little vicari­ous comfort in the idea that someone else was in the same boat. A near neigh­bour (in the dark­ness it was not easy to tell his direc­tion) was toss­ing and rust­ling in his bed, too.

The next stage was that Parkins shut his eyes and determ­ined to give sleep every chance. Here again over-excite­ment asser­ted itself in anoth­er form — that of making pictures. Experto crede, pictures do come to the closed eyes of one trying to sleep, and are often so little to his taste that he must open his eyes and disperse them.

Parkins’s exper­i­ence on this occa­sion was a very distress­ing one. He found that the picture which presen­ted itself to him was continu­ous. When he opened his eyes, of course, it went; but when he shut them once more it framed itself afresh, and acted itself out again, neither quick­er nor slower than before. What he saw was this:

A long stretch of shore — shingle edged by sand, and inter­sec­ted at short inter­vals with black groynes running down to the water — a scene, in fact, so like that of his afternoon’s walk that, in the absence of any land­mark, it could not be distin­guished there­from. The light was obscure, convey­ing an impres­sion of gath­er­ing storm, late winter even­ing, and slight cold rain. On this bleak stage at first no actor was visible. Then, in the distance, a bobbing black object appeared; a moment more, and it was a man running, jump­ing, clam­ber­ing over the groynes, and every few seconds look­ing eagerly back. The near­er he came the more obvi­ous it was that he was not only anxious, but even terribly frightened, though his face was not to be distin­guished. He was, moreover, almost at the end of his strength. On he came; each success­ive obstacle seemed to cause him more diffi­culty than the last. “Will he get over this next one?” thought Parkins; “it seems a little high­er than the others.” Yes; half climb­ing, half throw­ing himself, he did get over, and fell all in a heap on the other side (the side nearest to the spec­tat­or). There, as if really unable to get up again, he remained crouch­ing under the groyne, look­ing up in an atti­tude of pain­ful anxi­ety.

So far no cause whatever for the fear of the runner had been shown; but now there began to be seen, far up the shore, a little flick­er of some­thing light-coloured moving to and fro with great swift­ness and irreg­u­lar­ity. Rapidly grow­ing larger, it, too, declared itself as a figure in pale, flut­ter­ing draper­ies, ill-defined. There was some­thing about its motion which made Parkins very unwill­ing to see it at close quar­ters. It would stop, raise arms, bow itself toward the sand, then run stoop­ing across the beach to the water-edge and back again; and then, rising upright, once more contin­ue its course forward at a speed that was start­ling and terri­fy­ing. The moment came when the pursuer was hover­ing about from left to right only a few yards beyond the groyne where the runner lay in hiding. After two or three inef­fec­tu­al cast­ings hith­er and thith­er it came to a stop, stood upright, with arms raised high, and then darted straight forward towards the groyne.

It was at this point that Parkins always failed in his resol­u­tion to keep his eyes shut. With many misgiv­ings as to incip­i­ent fail­ure of eyesight, over-worked brain, excess­ive smoking, and so on, he finally resigned himself to light his candle, get out a book, and pass the night waking, rather than be tormen­ted by this persist­ent panor­ama, which he saw clearly enough could only be a morbid reflec­tion of his walk and his thoughts on that very day.

The scrap­ing of match on box and the glare of light must have startled some creatures of the night — rats or what not — which he heard scurry across the floor from the side of his bed with much rust­ling. Dear, dear! the match is out! Fool that it is! But the second one burnt better, and a candle and book were duly procured, over which Parkins pored till sleep of a whole­some kind came upon him, and that in no long space. For about the first time in his orderly and prudent life he forgot to blow out the candle, and when he was called next morn­ing at eight there was still a flick­er in the sock­et and a sad mess of guttered grease on the top of the little table.

After break­fast he was in his room, putting the finish­ing touches to his golf­ing costume — fortune had again allot­ted the Colon­el to him for a part­ner — when one of the maids came in.

“Oh, if you please,” she said, “would you like any extra blankets on your bed, sir?”

“Ah! thank you,” said Parkins. “Yes, I think I should like one. It seems likely to turn rather colder.”

In a very short time the maid was back with the blanket.

“Which bed should I put it on, sir?” she asked.

“What? Why, that one — the one I slept in last night,” he said, point­ing to it.

“Oh yes! I beg your pardon, sir, but you seemed to have tried both of ’em; least­ways, we had to make ’em both up this morn­ing.”

“Really? How very absurd!” said Parkins. “I certainly never touched the other, except to lay some things on it. Did it actu­ally seem to have been slept in?”

“Oh yes, sir!” said the maid. “Why, all the things was crumpled and throwed about all ways, if you’ll excuse me, sir — quite as if anyone ‘adn’t passed but a very poor night, sir.”

“Dear me,” said Parkins. “Well, I may have disordered it more than I thought when I unpacked my things. I’m very sorry to have given you the extra trouble, I’m sure. I expect a friend of mine soon, by the way — a gentle­man from Cambridge — to come and occupy it for a night or two. That will be all right, I suppose, won’t it?”

“Oh yes, to be sure, sir. Thank you, sir. It’s no trouble, I’m sure,” said the maid, and depar­ted to giggle with her colleagues.

Parkins set forth, with a stern determ­in­a­tion to improve his game.

I am glad to be able to report that he succeeded so far in this enter­prise that the Colon­el, who had been rather repin­ing at the prospect of a second day’s play in his company, became quite chatty as the morn­ing advanced; and his voice boomed out over the flats, as certain also of our own minor poets have said, “like some great bour­don in a minster tower.”

“Extraordin­ary wind, that, we had last night,” he said. “In my old home we should have said someone had been whist­ling for it.”

“Should you, indeed!” said Parkins. “Is there a super­sti­tion of that kind still current in your part of the coun­try?”

“I don’t know about super­sti­tion,” said the Colon­el. “They believe in it all over Denmark and Norway, as well as on the York­shire coast; and my exper­i­ence is, mind you, that there’s gener­ally some­thing at the bottom of what these coun­try-folk hold to, and have held to for gener­a­tions. But it’s your drive” (or whatever it might have been: the golf­ing read­er will have to imagine appro­pri­ate digres­sions at the prop­er inter­vals).

When conver­sa­tion was resumed, Parkins said, with a slight hesit­ancy:

“Apro­pos of what you were saying just now, Colon­el, I think I ought to tell you that my own views on such subjects are very strong. I am, in fact, a convinced disbe­liev­er in what is called the ‘super­nat­ur­al.'”

“What!” said the Colon­el, “do you mean to tell me you don’t believe in second-sight, or ghosts, or anything of that kind?”

“In noth­ing whatever of that kind,” returned Parkins firmly.

“Well,” said the Colon­el, “but it appears to me at that rate, sir, that you must be little better than a Sadducee.”

Parkins was on the point of answer­ing that, in his opin­ion, the Sadducees were the most sens­ible persons he had ever read of in the Old Test­a­ment; but, feel­ing some doubt as to wheth­er much mention of them was to be found in that work, he preferred to laugh the accus­a­tion off.

“Perhaps I am,” he said; “but —  — Here, give me my cleek, boy! — Excuse me one moment, Colon­el.” A short inter­val. “Now, as to whist­ling for the wind, let me give you my theory about it. The laws which govern winds are really not at all perfectly known — to fish­er-folk and such, of course, not known at all. A man or woman of eccent­ric habits, perhaps, or a stranger, is seen repeatedly on the beach at some unusu­al hour, and is heard whist­ling. Soon after­wards a viol­ent wind rises; a man who could read the sky perfectly or who possessed a baro­met­er could have fore­told that it would. The simple people of a fish­ing-village have no baro­met­ers, and only a few rough rules for proph­esy­ing weath­er. What more natur­al than that the eccent­ric person­age I postu­lated should be regarded as having raised the wind, or that he or she should clutch eagerly at the repu­ta­tion of being able to do so? Now, take last night’s wind: as it happens, I myself was whist­ling. I blew a whistle twice, and the wind seemed to come abso­lutely in answer to my call. If anyone had seen me —  — ”

The audi­ence had been a little rest­ive under this harangue, and Parkins had, I fear, fallen some­what into the tone of a lecturer; but at the last sentence the Colon­el stopped.

“Whist­ling, were you?” he said. “And what sort of whistle did you use? Play this stroke first.” Inter­val.

“About that whistle you were asking, Colon­el. It’s rather a curi­ous one. I have it in my —  — No; I see I’ve left it in my room. As a matter of fact, I found it yester­day.”

And then Parkins narrated the manner of his discov­ery of the whistle, upon hear­ing which the Colon­el grunted, and opined that, in Parkins’s place, he should himself be care­ful about using a thing that had belonged to a set of Papists, of whom, speak­ing gener­ally, it might be affirmed that you never knew what they might not have been up to. From this topic he diverged to the enorm­it­ies of the Vicar, who had given notice on the previ­ous Sunday that Friday would be the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, and that there would be service at elev­en o’clock in the church. This and other simil­ar proceed­ings consti­tuted in the Colonel’s view a strong presump­tion that the Vicar was a concealed Papist, if not a Jesuit; and Parkins, who could not very read­ily follow the Colon­el in this region, did not disagree with him. In fact, they got on so well togeth­er in the morn­ing that there was no talk on either side of their separ­at­ing after lunch.

Both contin­ued to play well during the after­noon, or, at least, well enough to make them forget everything else until the light began to fail them. Not until then did Parkins remem­ber that he had meant to do some more invest­ig­at­ing at the precept­ory; but it was of no great import­ance, he reflec­ted. One day was as good as anoth­er; he might as well go home with the Colon­el.

As they turned the corner of the house, the Colon­el was almost knocked down by a boy who rushed into him at the very top of his speed, and then, instead of running away, remained hanging on to him and pant­ing. The first words of the warri­or were natur­ally those of reproof and objur­ga­tion, but he very quickly discerned that the boy was almost speech­less with fright. Inquir­ies were useless at first. When the boy got his breath he began to howl, and still clung to the Colonel’s legs. He was at last detached, but contin­ued to howl.

“What in the world is the matter with you? What have you been up to? What have you seen?” said the two men.

“Ow, I seen it wive at me out of the winder,” wailed the boy, “and I don’t like it.”

“What window?” said the irrit­ated Colon­el. “Come, pull your­self togeth­er, my boy.”

“The front winder it was, at the ‘otel,” said the boy.

At this point Parkins was in favour of send­ing the boy home, but the Colon­el refused; he wanted to get to the bottom of it, he said; it was most danger­ous to give a boy such a fright as this one had had, and if it turned out that people had been play­ing jokes, they should suffer for it in some way. And by a series of ques­tions he made out this story: The boy had been play­ing about on the grass in front of the Globe with some others; then they had gone home to their teas, and he was just going, when he happened to look up at the front winder and see it a-wiving at him. It seemed to be a figure of some sort, in white as far as he knew — couldn’t see its face; but it wived at him, and it warn’t a right thing — not to say not a right person. Was there a light in the room? No, he didn’t think to look if there was a light. Which was the window? Was it the top one or the second one? The seckind one it was — the big winder what got two little uns at the sides.

“Very well, my boy,” said the Colon­el, after a few more ques­tions. “You run away home now. I expect it was some person trying to give you a start. Anoth­er time, like a brave English boy, you just throw a stone — well, no, not that exactly, but you go and speak to the waiter, or to Mr. Simpson, the land­lord, and — yes — and say that I advised you to do so.”

The boy’s face expressed some of the doubt he felt as to the like­li­hood of Mr. Simpson’s lend­ing a favour­able ear to his complaint, but the Colon­el did not appear to perceive this, and went on:

“And here’s a sixpence — no, I see it’s a shil­ling — and you be off home, and don’t think any more about it.”

The youth hurried off with agit­ated thanks, and the Colon­el and Parkins went round to the front of the Globe and recon­noitred. There was only one window answer­ing to the descrip­tion they had been hear­ing.

“Well, that’s curi­ous,” said Parkins; “it’s evid­ently my window the lad was talk­ing about. Will you come up for a moment, Colon­el Wilson? We ought to be able to see if anyone has been taking liber­ties in my room.”

They were soon in the passage, and Parkins made as if to open the door. Then he stopped and felt in his pock­ets.

“This is more seri­ous than I thought,” was his next remark. “I remem­ber now that before I star­ted this morn­ing I locked the door. It is locked now, and, what is more, here is the key.” And he held it up. “Now,” he went on, “if the servants are in the habit of going into one’s room during the day when one is away, I can only say that — well, that I don’t approve of it at all.” Conscious of a some­what weak climax, he busied himself in open­ing the door (which was indeed locked) and in light­ing candles. “No,” he said, “noth­ing seems disturbed.”

“Except your bed,” put in the Colon­el.

“Excuse me, that isn’t my bed,” said Parkins. “I don’t use that one. But it does look as if someone had been play­ing tricks with it.”

It certainly did: the clothes were bundled up and twis­ted togeth­er in a most tortu­ous confu­sion. Parkins pondered.

“That must be it,” he said at last: “I disordered the clothes last night in unpack­ing, and they haven’t made it since. Perhaps they came in to make it, and that boy saw them through the window; and then they were called away and locked the door after them. Yes, I think that must be it.”

“Well, ring and ask,” said the Colon­el, and this appealed to Parkins as prac­tic­al.

The maid appeared, and, to make a long story short, deposed that she had made the bed in the morn­ing when the gentle­man was in the room, and hadn’t been there since. No, she hadn’t no other key. Mr. Simpson he kep’ the keys; he’d be able to tell the gentle­man if anyone had been up.

This was a puzzle. Invest­ig­a­tion showed that noth­ing of value had been taken, and Parkins remembered the dispos­i­tion of the small objects on tables and so forth well enough to be pretty sure that no pranks had been played with them. Mr. and Mrs. Simpson further­more agreed that neither of them had given the duplic­ate key of the room to any person whatever during the day. Nor could Parkins, fair-minded man as he was, detect anything in the demean­our of master, mistress, or maid that indic­ated guilt. He was much more inclined to think that the boy had been impos­ing on the Colon­el.

The latter was unwontedly silent and pens­ive at dinner and through­out the even­ing. When he bade good night to Parkins, he murmured in a gruff under­tone:

“You know where I am if you want me during the night.”

“Why, yes, thank you, Colon­el Wilson, I think I do; but there isn’t much prospect of my disturb­ing you, I hope. By the way,” he added, “did I show you that old whistle I spoke of? I think not. Well, here it is.”

The Colon­el turned it over gingerly in the light of the candle.

“Can you make anything of the inscrip­tion?” asked Parkins, as he took it back.

“No, not in this light. What do you mean to do with it?”

“Oh, well, when I get back to Cambridge I shall submit it to some of the archæo­lo­gists there, and see what they think of it; and very likely, if they consider it worth having, I may present it to one of the museums.”

“‘M!” said the Colon­el. “Well, you may be right. All I know is that, if it were mine, I should chuck it straight into the sea. It’s no use talk­ing, I’m well aware, but I expect that with you it’s a case of live and learn. I hope so, I’m sure, and I wish you a good night.”

He turned away, leav­ing Parkins in act to speak at the bottom of the stair, and soon each was in his own bedroom.

By some unfor­tu­nate acci­dent, there were neither blinds nor curtains to the windows of the Professor’s room. The previ­ous night he had thought little of this, but to-night there seemed every prospect of a bright moon rising to shine directly on his bed, and prob­ably wake him later on. When he noticed this he was a good deal annoyed, but, with an ingenu­ity which I can only envy, he succeeded in rigging up, with the help of a rail­way-rug, some safety-pins, and a stick and umbrella, a screen which, if it only held togeth­er, would completely keep the moon­light off his bed. And shortly after­wards he was comfort­ably in that bed. When he had read a some­what solid work long enough to produce a decided wish for sleep, he cast a drowsy glance round the room, blew out the candle, and fell back upon the pillow.

He must have slept soundly for an hour or more, when a sudden clat­ter shook him up in a most unwel­come manner. In a moment he real­ized what had happened: his care­fully-construc­ted screen had given way, and a very bright frosty moon was shin­ing directly on his face. This was highly annoy­ing. Could he possibly get up and recon­struct the screen? or could he manage to sleep if he did not?

For some minutes he lay and pondered over the possib­il­it­ies; then he turned over sharply, and with all his eyes open lay breath­lessly listen­ing. There had been a move­ment, he was sure, in the empty bed on the oppos­ite side of the room. To-morrow he would have it moved, for there must be rats or some­thing play­ing about in it. It was quiet now. No! the commo­tion began again. There was a rust­ling and shak­ing: surely more than any rat could cause.

I can figure to myself some­thing of the Professor’s bewil­der­ment and horror, for I have in a dream thirty years back seen the same thing happen; but the read­er will hardly, perhaps, imagine how dread­ful it was to him to see a figure suddenly sit up in what he had known was an empty bed. He was out of his own bed in one bound, and made a dash towards the window, where lay his only weapon, the stick with which he had propped his screen. This was, as it turned out, the worst thing he could have done, because the person­age in the empty bed, with a sudden smooth motion, slipped from the bed and took up a posi­tion, with outspread arms, between the two beds, and in front of the door. Parkins watched it in a horrid perplex­ity. Some­how, the idea of getting past it and escap­ing through the door was intol­er­able to him; he could not have borne — he didn’t know why — to touch it; and as for its touch­ing him, he would soon­er dash himself through the window than have that happen. It stood for the moment in a band of dark shad­ow, and he had not seen what its face was like. Now it began to move, in a stoop­ing posture, and all at once the spec­tat­or real­ized, with some horror and some relief, that it must be blind, for it seemed to feel about it with its muffled arms in a grop­ing and random fash­ion. Turn­ing half away from him, it became suddenly conscious of the bed he had just left, and darted towards it, and bent over and felt the pillows in a way which made Parkins shud­der as he had never in his life thought it possible. In a very few moments it seemed to know that the bed was empty, and then, moving forward into the area of light and facing the window, it showed for the first time what manner of thing it was.

Parkins, who very much dislikes being ques­tioned about it, did once describe some­thing of it in my hear­ing, and I gathered that what he chiefly remem­bers about it is a horrible, an intensely horrible, face of crumpled linen. What expres­sion he read upon it he could not or would not tell, but that the fear of it went nigh to madden­ing him is certain.

But he was not at leis­ure to watch it for long. With formid­able quick­ness it moved into the middle of the room, and, as it groped and waved, one corner of its draper­ies swept across Parkins’s face. He could not — though he knew how peril­ous a sound was — he could not keep back a cry of disgust, and this gave the search­er an instant clue. It leapt towards him upon the instant, and the next moment he was half-way through the window back­wards, utter­ing cry upon cry at the utmost pitch of his voice, and the linen face was thrust close into his own. At this, almost the last possible second, deliv­er­ance came, as you will have guessed: the Colon­el burst the door open, and was just in time to see the dread­ful group at the window. When he reached the figures only one was left. Parkins sank forward into the room in a faint, and before him on the floor lay a tumbled heap of bed-clothes.

Colon­el Wilson asked no ques­tions, but busied himself in keep­ing every­one else out of the room and in getting Parkins back to his bed; and himself, wrapped in a rug, occu­pied the other bed for the rest of the night. Early on the next day Rogers arrived, more welcome than he would have been a day before, and the three of them held a very long consulta­tion in the Professor’s room. At the end of it the Colon­el left the hotel door carry­ing a small object between his finger and thumb, which he cast as far into the sea as a very brawny arm could send it. Later on the smoke of a burn­ing ascen­ded from the back premises of the Globe.

Exactly what explan­a­tion was patched up for the staff and visit­ors at the hotel I must confess I do not recol­lect. The Profess­or was some­how cleared of the ready suspi­cion of deli­ri­um tremens, and the hotel of the repu­ta­tion of a troubled house.

There is not much ques­tion as to what would have happened to Parkins if the Colon­el had not inter­vened when he did. He would either have fallen out of the window or else lost his wits. But it is not so evid­ent what more the creature that came in answer to the whistle could have done than fright­en. There seemed to be abso­lutely noth­ing mater­i­al about it save the bed-clothes of which it had made itself a body. The Colon­el, who remembered a not very dissim­il­ar occur­rence in India, was of opin­ion that if Parkins had closed with it it could really have done very little, and that its one power was that of fright­en­ing. The whole thing, he said, served to confirm his opin­ion of the Church of Rome.

There is really noth­ing more to tell, but, as you may imagine, the Professor’s views on certain points are less clear cut than they used to be. His nerves, too, have suffered: he cannot even now see a surplice hanging on a door quite unmoved, and the spec­tacle of a scare­crow in a field late on a winter after­noon has cost him more than one sleep­less night.

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