Read CHAPTER V of Novel Notes , free online book, by Jerome K Jerome, on

Brown and MacShaughnassy came down together on the Saturday afternoon; and, as soon as they had dried themselves, and had had some tea, we settled down to work.

Jephson had written that he would not be able to be with us until late in the evening, and Brown proposed that we should occupy ourselves until his arrival with plots.

“Let each of us,” said he, “sketch out a plot.  Afterwards we can compare them, and select the best.”

This we proceeded to do.  The plots themselves I forget, but I remember that at the subsequent judging each man selected his own, and became so indignant at the bitter criticism to which it was subjected by the other two, that he tore it up; and, for the next half-hour, we sat and smoked in silence.

When I was very young I yearned to know other people’s opinion of me and all my works; now, my chief aim is to avoid hearing it.  In those days, had any one told me there was half a line about myself in a newspaper, I should have tramped London to obtain that publication.  Now, when I see a column headed with my name, I hurriedly fold up the paper and put it away from me, subduing my natural curiosity to read it by saying to myself, “Why should you?  It will only upset you for the day.”

In my cubhood I possessed a friend.  Other friends have come into my life since ­very dear and precious friends ­but they have none of them been to me quite what this friend was.  Because he was my first friend, and we lived together in a world that was much bigger than this world ­more full of joy and of grief; and, in that world, we loved and hated deeper than we love and hate in this smaller world that I have come to dwell in since.

He also had the very young man’s craving to be criticised, and we made it our custom to oblige each other.  We did not know then that what we meant, when we asked for “criticism,” was encouragement.  We thought that we were strong ­one does at the beginning of the battle, and that we could bear to hear the truth.

Accordingly, each one pointed out to the other one his errors, and this task kept us both so busy that we had never time to say a word of praise to one another.  That we each had a high opinion of the other’s talents I am convinced, but our heads were full of silly saws.  We said to ourselves:  “There are many who will praise a man; it is only his friend who will tell him of his faults.”  Also, we said:  “No man sees his own shortcomings, but when these are pointed out to him by another he is grateful, and proceeds to mend them.”

As we came to know the world better, we learnt the fallacy of these ideas.  But then it was too late, for the mischief had been done.

When one of us had written anything, he would read it to the other, and when he had finished he would say, “Now, tell me what you think of it ­frankly and as a friend.”

Those were his words.  But his thoughts, though he may not have known them, were: ­

“Tell me it is clever and good, my friend, even if you do not think so.  The world is very cruel to those that have not yet conquered it, and, though we keep a careless face, our young hearts are scored with wrinkles.  Often we grow weary and faint-hearted.  Is it not so, my friend?  No one has faith in us, and in our dark hours we doubt ourselves.  You are my comrade.  You know what of myself I have put into this thing that to others will be but an idle half-hour’s reading.  Tell me it is good, my friend.  Put a little heart into me, I pray you.”

But the other, full of the lust of criticism, which is civilisation’s substitute for cruelty, would answer more in frankness than in friendship.  Then he who had written would flush angrily, and scornful words would pass.

One evening, he read me a play he had written.  There was much that was good in it, but there were also faults (there are in some plays), and these I seized upon and made merry over.  I could hardly have dealt out to the piece more unnecessary bitterness had I been a professional critic.

As soon as I paused from my sport he rose, and, taking his manuscript from the table, tore it in two, and flung it in the fire ­he was but a very young man, you must remember ­and then, standing before me with a white face, told me, unsolicited, his opinion of me and of my art.  After which double event, it is perhaps needless to say that we parted in hot anger.

I did not see him again for years.  The streets of life are very crowded, and if we loose each other’s hands we are soon hustled far apart.  When I did next meet him it was by accident.

I had left the Whitehall Rooms after a public dinner, and, glad of the cool night air, was strolling home by the Embankment.  A man, slouching along under the trees, paused as I overtook him.

“You couldn’t oblige me with a light, could you, guv’nor?” he said.  The voice sounded strange, coming from the figure that it did.

I struck a match, and held it out to him, shaded by my hands.  As the faint light illumined his face, I started back, and let the match fall: ­


He answered with a short dry laugh.  “I didn’t know it was you,” he said, “or I shouldn’t have stopped you.”

“How has it come to this, old fellow?” I asked, laying my hand upon his shoulder.  His coat was unpleasantly greasy, and I drew my hand away again as quickly as I could, and tried to wipe it covertly upon my handkerchief.

“Oh, it’s a long, story,” he answered carelessly, “and too conventional to be worth telling.  Some of us go up, you know.  Some of us go down.  You’re doing pretty well, I hear.”

“I suppose so,” I replied; “I’ve climbed a few feet up a greasy pole, and am trying to stick there.  But it is of you I want to talk.  Can’t I do anything for you?”

We were passing under a gas-lamp at the moment.  He thrust his face forward close to mine, and the light fell full and pitilessly upon it.

“Do I look like a man you could do anything for?” he said.

We walked on in silence side by side, I casting about for words that might seize hold of him.

“You needn’t worry about me,” he continued after a while, “I’m comfortable enough.  We take life easily down here where I am.  We’ve no disappointments.”

“Why did you give up like a weak coward?” I burst out angrily.  “You had talent.  You would have won with ordinary perseverance.”

“Maybe,” he replied, in the same even tone of indifference.  “I suppose I hadn’t the grit.  I think if somebody had believed in me it might have helped me.  But nobody did, and at last I lost belief in myself.  And when a man loses that, he’s like a balloon with the gas let out.”

I listened to his words in indignation and astonishment.  “Nobody believed in you!” I repeated.  “Why, I always believed in you, you know that I ­”

Then I paused, remembering our “candid criticism” of one another.

“Did you?” he replied quietly, “I never heard you say so.  Good-night.”

In the course of our Strandward walking we had come to the neighbourhood of the Savoy, and, as he spoke, he disappeared down one of the dark turnings thereabouts.

I hastened after him, calling him by name, but though I heard his quick steps before me for a little way, they were soon swallowed up in the sound of other steps, and, when I reached the square in which the chapel stands, I had lost all trace of him.

A policeman was standing by the churchyard railings, and of him I made inquiries.

“What sort of a gent was he, sir?” questioned the man.

“A tall thin gentleman, very shabbily dressed ­might be mistaken for a tramp.”

“Ah, there’s a good many of that sort living in this town,” replied the man.  “I’m afraid you’ll have some difficulty in finding him.”

Thus for a second time had I heard his footsteps die away, knowing I should never listen for their drawing near again.

I wondered as I walked on ­I have wondered before and since ­whether Art, even with a capital A, is quite worth all the suffering that is inflicted in her behalf ­whether she and we are better for all the scorning and the sneering, all the envying and the hating, that is done in her name.

Jephson arrived about nine o’clock in the ferry-boat.  We were made acquainted with this fact by having our heads bumped against the sides of the saloon.

Somebody or other always had their head bumped whenever the ferry-boat arrived.  It was a heavy and cumbersome machine, and the ferry-boy was not a good punter.  He admitted this frankly, which was creditable of him.  But he made no attempt to improve himself; that is, where he was wrong.  His method was to arrange the punt before starting in a line with the point towards which he wished to proceed, and then to push hard, without ever looking behind him, until something suddenly stopped him.  This was sometimes the bank, sometimes another boat, occasionally a steamer, from six to a dozen times a day our riparian dwelling.  That he never succeeded in staving the houseboat in speaks highly for the man who built her.

One day he came down upon us with a tremendous crash.  Amenda was walking along the passage at the moment, and the result to her was that she received a violent blow first on the left side of her head and then on the right.

She was accustomed to accept one bump as a matter of course, and to regard it as an intimation from the boy that he had come; but this double knock annoyed her:  so much “style” was out of place in a mere ferry-boy.  Accordingly she went out to him in a state of high indignation.

“What do you think you are?” she cried, balancing accounts by boxing his ears first on one side and then on the other, “a torpedo!  What are you doing here at all?  What do you want?”

“I don’t want nothin’,” explained the boy, rubbing his head; “I’ve brought a gent down.”

“A gent?” said Amenda, looking round, but seeing no one.  “What gent?”

“A stout gent in a straw ’at,” answered the boy, staring round him bewilderedly.

“Well, where is he?” asked Amenda.

“I dunno,” replied the boy, in an awed voice; “‘e was a-standin’ there, at the other end of the punt, a-smokin’ a cigar.”

Just then a head appeared above the water, and a spent but infuriated swimmer struggled up between the houseboat and the bank.

“Oh, there ’e is!” cried the boy delightedly, evidently much relieved at this satisfactory solution of the mystery; “‘e must ha’ tumbled off the punt.”

“You’re quite right, my lad, that’s just what he did do, and there’s your fee for assisting him to do it.”  Saying which, my dripping friend, who had now scrambled upon deck, leant over, and following Amenda’s excellent example, expressed his feelings upon the boy’s head.

There was one comforting reflection about the transaction as a whole, and that was that the ferry-boy had at last received a fit and proper reward for his services.  I had often felt inclined to give him something myself.  I think he was, without exception, the most clumsy and stupid boy I have ever come across; and that is saying a good deal.

His mother undertook that for three-and-sixpence a week he should “make himself generally useful” to us for a couple of hours every morning.

Those were the old lady’s very words, and I repeated them to Amenda when I introduced the boy to her.

“This is James, Amenda,” I said; “he will come down here every morning at seven, and bring us our milk and the letters, and from then till nine he will make himself generally useful.”

Amenda took stock of him.

“It will be a change of occupation for him, sir, I should say, by the look of him,” she remarked.

After that, whenever some more than usually stirring crash or blood-curdling bump would cause us to leap from our seats and cry:  “What on earth has happened?” Amenda would reply:  “Oh, it’s only James, mum, making himself generally useful.”

Whatever he lifted he let fall; whatever he touched he upset; whatever he came near ­that was not a fixture ­he knocked over; if it was a fixture, it knocked him over.  This was not carelessness:  it seemed to be a natural gift.  Never in his life, I am convinced, had he carried a bucketful of anything anywhere without tumbling over it before he got there.  One of his duties was to water the flowers on the roof.  Fortunately ­for the flowers ­Nature, that summer, stood drinks with a lavishness sufficient to satisfy the most confirmed vegetable toper:  otherwise every plant on our boat would have died from drought.  Never one drop of water did they receive from him.  He was for ever taking them water, but he never arrived there with it.  As a rule he upset the pail before he got it on to the boat at all, and this was the best thing that could happen, because then the water simply went back into the river, and did no harm to any one.  Sometimes, however, he would succeed in landing it, and then the chances were he would spill it over the deck or into the passage.  Now and again, he would get half-way up the ladder before the accident occurred.  Twice he nearly reached the top; and once he actually did gain the roof.  What happened there on that memorable occasion will never be known.  The boy himself, when picked up, could explain nothing.  It is supposed that he lost his head with the pride of the achievement, and essayed feats that neither his previous training nor his natural abilities justified him in attempting.  However that may be, the fact remains that the main body of the water came down the kitchen chimney; and that the boy and the empty pail arrived together on deck before they knew they had started.

When he could find nothing else to damage, he would go out of his way to upset himself.  He could not be sure of stepping from his own punt on to the boat with safety.  As often as not, he would catch his foot in the chain or the punt-pole, and arrive on his chest.

Amenda used to condole with him.  “Your mother ought to be ashamed of herself,” I heard her telling him one morning; “she could never have taught you to walk.  What you want is a go-cart.”

He was a willing lad, but his stupidity was super-natural.  A comet appeared in the sky that year, and everybody was talking about it.  One day he said to me: ­

“There’s a comet coming, ain’t there, sir?” He talked about it as though it were a circus.

“Coming!” I answered, “it’s come.  Haven’t you seen it?”

“No, sir.”

“Oh, well, you have a look for it to-night.  It’s worth seeing.”

“Yees, sir, I should like to see it.  It’s got a tail, ain’t it, sir?”

“Yes, a very fine tail.”

“Yees, sir, they said it ’ad a tail.  Where do you go to see it, sir?”

“Go!  You don’t want to go anywhere.  You’ll see it in your own garden at ten o’clock.”

He thanked me, and, tumbling over a sack of potatoes, plunged head foremost into his punt and departed.

Next morning, I asked him if he had seen the comet.

“No, sir, I couldn’t see it anywhere.”

“Did you look?”

“Yees, sir.  I looked a long time.”

“How on earth did you manage to miss it then?” I exclaimed.  “It was a clear enough night.  Where did you look?”

“In our garden, sir.  Where you told me.”

“Whereabouts in the garden?” chimed in Amenda, who happened to be standing by; “under the gooseberry bushes?”

“Yees ­everywhere.”

That is what he had done:  he had taken the stable lantern and searched the garden for it.

But the day when he broke even his own record for foolishness happened about three weeks later.  MacShaughnassy was staying with us at the time, and on the Friday evening he mixed us a salad, according to a recipe given him by his aunt.  On the Saturday morning, everybody was, of course, very ill.  Everybody always is very ill after partaking of any dish prepared by MacShaughnassy.  Some people attempt to explain this fact by talking glibly of “cause and effect.”  MacShaughnassy maintains that it is simply coincidence.

“How do you know,” he says, “that you wouldn’t have been ill if you hadn’t eaten any?  You’re queer enough now, any one can see, and I’m very sorry for you; but, for all that you can tell, if you hadn’t eaten any of that stuff you might have been very much worse ­perhaps dead.  In all probability, it has saved your life.”  And for the rest of the day, he assumes towards you the attitude of a man who has dragged you from the grave.

The moment Jimmy arrived I seized hold of him.

“Jimmy,” I said, “you must rush off to the chemist’s immediately.  Don’t stop for anything.  Tell him to give you something for colic ­the result of vegetable poisoning.  It must be something very strong, and enough for four.  Don’t forget, something to counteract the effects of vegetable poisoning.  Hurry up, or it may be too late.”

My excitement communicated itself to the boy.  He tumbled back into his punt, and pushed off vigorously.  I watched him land, and disappear in the direction of the village.

Half an hour passed, but Jimmy did not return.  No one felt sufficiently energetic to go after him.  We had only just strength enough to sit still and feebly abuse him.  At the end of an hour we were all feeling very much better.  At the end of an hour and a half we were glad he had not returned when he ought to have, and were only curious as to what had become of him.

In the evening, strolling through the village, we saw him sitting by the open door of his mother’s cottage, with a shawl wrapped round him.  He was looking worn and ill.

“Why, Jimmy,” I said, “what’s the matter?  Why didn’t you come back this morning?”

“I couldn’t, sir,” Jimmy answered, “I was so queer.  Mother made me go to bed.”

“You seemed all right in the morning,” I said; “what’s made you queer?”

“What Mr. Jones give me, sir:  it upset me awful.”

A light broke in upon me.

“What did you say, Jimmy, when you got to Mr. Jones’s shop?” I asked.

“I told ’im what you said, sir, that ’e was to give me something to counteract the effects of vegetable poisoning.  And that it was to be very strong, and enough for four.”

“And what did he say?”

“’E said that was only your nonsense, sir, and that I’d better have enough for one to begin with; and then ’e asked me if I’d been eating green apples again.”

“And you told him?”

“Yees, sir, I told ’im I’d ’ad a few, and ’e said it served me right, and that ’e ’oped it would be a warning to me.  And then ’e put something fizzy in a glass and told me to drink it.”

“And you drank it?”

“Yees, sir.”

“It never occurred to you, Jimmy, that there was nothing the matter with you ­that you were never feeling better in your life, and that you did not require any medicine?”

“No, sir.”

“Did one single scintilla of thought of any kind occur to you in connection with the matter, Jimmy, from beginning to end?”

“No, sir.”

People who never met Jimmy disbelieve this story.  They argue that its premises are in disaccord with the known laws governing human nature, that its details do not square with the average of probability.  People who have seen and conversed with Jimmy accept it with simple faith.

The advent of Jephson ­which I trust the reader has not entirely forgotten ­cheered us up considerably.  Jephson was always at his best when all other things were at their worst.  It was not that he struggled in Mark Tapley fashion to appear most cheerful when most depressed; it was that petty misfortunes and mishaps genuinely amused and inspirited him.  Most of us can recall our unpleasant experiences with amused affection; Jephson possessed the robuster philosophy that enabled him to enjoy his during their actual progress.  He arrived drenched to the skin, chuckling hugely at the idea of having come down on a visit to a houseboat in such weather.

Under his warming influence, the hard lines on our faces thawed, and by supper time we were, as all Englishmen and women who wish to enjoy life should be, independent of the weather.

Later on, as if disheartened by our indifference, the rain ceased, and we took our chairs out on the deck, and sat watching the lightning, which still played incessantly.  Then, not unnaturally, the talk drifted into a sombre channel, and we began recounting stories, dealing with the gloomy and mysterious side of life.

Some of these were worth remembering, and some were not.  The one that left the strongest impression on my mind was a tale that Jephson told us.

I had been relating a somewhat curious experience of my own.  I met a man in the Strand one day that I knew very well, as I thought, though I had not seen him for years.  We walked together to Charing Cross, and there we shook hands and parted.  Next morning, I spoke of this meeting to a mutual friend, and then I learnt, for the first time, that the man had died six months before.

The natural inference was that I had mistaken one man for another, an error that, not having a good memory for faces, I frequently fall into.  What was remarkable about the matter, however, was that throughout our walk I had conversed with the man under the impression that he was that other dead man, and, whether by coincidence or not, his replies had never once suggested to me my mistake.

As soon as I finished, Jephson, who had been listening very thoughtfully, asked me if I believed in spiritualism “to its fullest extent.”

“That is rather a large question,” I answered.  “What do you mean by ’spiritualism to its fullest extent’?”

“Well, do you believe that the spirits of the dead have not only the power of revisiting this earth at their will, but that, when here, they have the power of action, or rather, of exciting to action?  Let me put a definite case.  A spiritualist friend of mine, a sensible and by no means imaginative man, once told me that a table, through the medium of which the spirit of a friend had been in the habit of communicating with him, came slowly across the room towards him, of its own accord, one night as he sat alone, and pinioned him against the wall.  Now can any of you believe that, or can’t you?”

“I could,” Brown took it upon himself to reply; “but, before doing so, I should wish for an introduction to the friend who told you the story.  Speaking generally,” he continued, “it seems to me that the difference between what we call the natural and the supernatural is merely the difference between frequency and rarity of occurrence.  Having regard to the phenomena we are compelled to admit, I think it illogical to disbelieve anything we are unable to disprove.”

“For my part,” remarked MacShaughnassy, “I can believe in the ability of our spirit friends to give the quaint entertainments credited to them much easier than I can in their desire to do so.”

“You mean,” added Jephson, “that you cannot understand why a spirit, not compelled as we are by the exigencies of society, should care to spend its evenings carrying on a laboured and childish conversation with a room full of abnormally uninteresting people.”

“That is precisely what I cannot understand,” MacShaughnassy agreed.

“Nor I, either,” said Jephson.  “But I was thinking of something very different altogether.  Suppose a man died with the dearest wish of his heart unfulfilled, do you believe that his spirit might have power to return to earth and complete the interrupted work?”

“Well,” answered MacShaughnassy, “if one admits the possibility of spirits retaining any interest in the affairs of this world at all, it is certainly more reasonable to imagine them engaged upon a task such as you suggest, than to believe that they occupy themselves with the performance of mere drawing-room tricks.  But what are you leading up to?”

“Why, to this,” replied Jephson, seating himself straddle-legged across his chair, and leaning his arms upon the back.  “I was told a story this morning at the hospital by an old French doctor.  The actual facts are few and simple; all that is known can be read in the Paris police records of sixty-two years ago.

“The most important part of the case, however, is the part that is not known, and that never will be known.

“The story begins with a great wrong done by one man unto another man.  What the wrong was I do not know.  I am inclined to think, however, it was connected with a woman.  I think that, because he who had been wronged hated him who had wronged him with a hate such as does not often burn in a man’s brain, unless it be fanned by the memory of a woman’s breath.

“Still that is only conjecture, and the point is immaterial.  The man who had done the wrong fled, and the other man followed him.  It became a point-to-point race, the first man having the advantage of a day’s start.  The course was the whole world, and the stakes were the first man’s life.

“Travellers were few and far between in those days, and this made the trail easy to follow.  The first man, never knowing how far or how near the other was behind him, and hoping now and again that he might have baffled him, would rest for a while.  The second man, knowing always just how far the first one was before him, never paused, and thus each day the man who was spurred by Hate drew nearer to the man who was spurred by Fear.

“At this town the answer to the never-varied question would be: ­

“‘At seven o’clock last evening, M’sieur.’

“’Seven ­ah; eighteen hours.  Give me something to eat, quick, while the horses are being put to.’

“At the next the calculation would be sixteen hours.

“Passing a lonely chalet, Monsieur puts his head out of the window: ­

“’How long since a carriage passed this way, with a tall, fair man inside?’

“‘Such a one passed early this morning, M’sieur.’

“’Thanks, drive on, a hundred francs apiece if you are through the pass before daybreak.’

“‘And what for dead horses, M’sieur?’

“‘Twice their value when living.’

“One day the man who was ridden by Fear looked up, and saw before him the open door of a cathedral, and, passing in, knelt down and prayed.  He prayed long and fervently, for men, when they are in sore straits, clutch eagerly at the straws of faith.  He prayed that he might be forgiven his sin, and, more important still, that he might be pardoned the consequences of his sin, and be delivered from his adversary; and a few chairs from him, facing him, knelt his enemy, praying also.

“But the second man’s prayer, being a thanksgiving merely, was short, so that when the first man raised his eyes, he saw the face of his enemy gazing at him across the chair-tops, with a mocking smile upon it.

“He made no attempt to rise, but remained kneeling, fascinated by the look of joy that shone out of the other man’s eyes.  And the other man moved the high-backed chairs one by one, and came towards him softly.

“Then, just as the man who had been wronged stood beside the man who had wronged him, full of gladness that his opportunity had come, there burst from the cathedral tower a sudden clash of bells, and the man, whose opportunity had come, broke his heart and fell back dead, with that mocking smile still playing round his mouth.

“And so he lay there.

“Then the man who had done the wrong rose up and passed out, praising God.

“What became of the body of the other man is not known.  It was the body of a stranger who had died suddenly in the cathedral.  There was none to identify it, none to claim it.

“Years passed away, and the survivor in the tragedy became a worthy and useful citizen, and a noted man of science.

“In his laboratory were many objects necessary to him in his researches, and, prominent among them, stood in a certain corner a human skeleton.  It was a very old and much-mended skeleton, and one day the long-expected end arrived, and it tumbled to pieces.

“Thus it became necessary to purchase another.

“The man of science visited a dealer he well knew ­a little parchment-faced old man who kept a dingy shop, where nothing was ever sold, within the shadow of the towers of Notre Dame.

“The little parchment-faced old man had just the very thing that Monsieur wanted ­a singularly fine and well-proportioned ‘study.’  It should be sent round and set up in Monsieur’s laboratory that very afternoon.

“The dealer was as good as his word.  When Monsieur entered his laboratory that evening, the thing was in its place.

“Monsieur seated himself in his high-backed chair, and tried to collect his thoughts.  But Monsieur’s thoughts were unruly, and inclined to wander, and to wander always in one direction.

“Monsieur opened a large volume and commenced to read.  He read of a man who had wronged another and fled from him, the other man following.  Finding himself reading this, he closed the book angrily, and went and stood by the window and looked out.  He saw before him the sun-pierced nave of a great cathedral, and on the stones lay a dead man with a mocking smile upon his face.

“Cursing himself for a fool, he turned away with a laugh.  But his laugh was short-lived, for it seemed to him that something else in the room was laughing also.  Struck suddenly still, with his feet glued to the ground, he stood listening for a while:  then sought with starting eyes the corner from where the sound had seemed to come.  But the white thing standing there was only grinning.

“Monsieur wiped the damp sweat from his head and hands, and stole out.

“For a couple of days he did not enter the room again.  On the third, telling himself that his fears were those of a hysterical girl, he opened the door and went in.  To shame himself, he took his lamp in his hand, and crossing over to the far corner where the skeleton stood, examined it.  A set of bones bought for three hundred francs.  Was he a child, to be scared by such a bogey!

“He held his lamp up in front of the thing’s grinning head.  The flame of the lamp flickered as though a faint breath had passed over it.

“The man explained this to himself by saying that the walls of the house were old and cracked, and that the wind might creep in anywhere.  He repeated this explanation to himself as he recrossed the room, walking backwards, with his eyes fixed on the thing.  When he reached his desk, he sat down and gripped the arms of his chair till his fingers turned white.

“He tried to work, but the empty sockets in that grinning head seemed to be drawing him towards them.  He rose and battled with his inclination to fly screaming from the room.  Glancing fearfully about him, his eye fell upon a high screen, standing before the door.  He dragged it forward, and placed it between himself and the thing, so that he could not see it ­nor it see him.  Then he sat down again to his work.  For a while he forced himself to look at the book in front of him, but at last, unable to control himself any longer, he suffered his eyes to follow their own bent.

“It may have been an hallucination.  He may have accidentally placed the screen so as to favour such an illusion.  But what he saw was a bony hand coming round the corner of the screen, and, with a cry, he fell to the floor in a swoon.

“The people of the house came running in, and lifting him up, carried him out, and laid him upon his bed.  As soon as he recovered, his first question was, where had they found the thing ­where was it when they entered the room? and when they told him they had seen it standing where it always stood, and had gone down into the room to look again, because of his frenzied entreaties, and returned trying to hide their smiles, he listened to their talk about overwork, and the necessity for change and rest, and said they might do with him as they would.

“So for many months the laboratory door remained locked.  Then there came a chill autumn evening when the man of science opened it again, and closed it behind him.

“He lighted his lamp, and gathered his instruments and books around him, and sat down before them in his high-backed chair.  And the old terror returned to him.

“But this time he meant to conquer himself.  His nerves were stronger now, and his brain clearer; he would fight his unreasoning fear.  He crossed to the door and locked himself in, and flung the key to the other end of the room, where it fell among jars and bottles with an echoing clatter.

“Later on, his old housekeeper, going her final round, tapped at his door and wished him good-night, as was her custom.  She received no response, at first, and, growing nervous, tapped louder and called again; and at length an answering ‘good-night’ came back to her.

“She thought little about it at the time, but afterwards she remembered that the voice that had replied to her had been strangely grating and mechanical.  Trying to describe it, she likened it to such a voice as she would imagine coming from a statue.

“Next morning his door remained still locked.  It was no unusual thing for him to work all night and far into the next day, so no one thought to be surprised.  When, however, evening came, and yet he did not appear, his servants gathered outside the room and whispered, remembering what had happened once before.

“They listened, but could hear no sound.  They shook the door and called to him, then beat with their fists upon the wooden panels.  But still no sound came from the room.

“Becoming alarmed, they decided to burst open the door, and, after many blows, it gave way, and they crowded in.

“He sat bolt upright in his high-backed chair.  They thought at first he had died in his sleep.  But when they drew nearer and the light fell upon him, they saw the livid marks of bony fingers round his throat; and in his eyes there was a terror such as is not often seen in human eyes.”

Brown was the first to break the silence that followed.  He asked me if I had any brandy on board.  He said he felt he should like just a nip of brandy before going to bed.  That is one of the chief charms of Jephson’s stories:  they always make you feel you want a little brandy.