Montague Rhodes James: An Episode of Cathedral History

from The col­lect­ed ghost sto­ries of M.R. James (1931), Lon­don, Ed­ward Arnold & Co.


HERE was once a learned gen­tle­man who was de­put­ed to ex­am­ine and re­port upon the archives of the Cathe­dral of South­min­ster. The ex­am­i­na­tion of these records de­mand­ed a very con­sid­er­able ex­pen­di­ture of time: hence it be­came ad­vis­able for him to en­gage lodg­ings in the city: for though the Cathe­dral body were pro­fuse in their of­fers of hos­pi­tal­i­ty, Mr. Lake felt that he would pre­fer to be mas­ter of his day. This was rec­og­nized as rea­son­able. The Dean even­tu­al­ly wrote ad­vis­ing Mr. Lake, if he were not al­ready suit­ed, to com­mu­ni­cate with Mr. Worby, the prin­ci­pal Verg­er, who oc­cu­pied a house con­ve­nient to the church and was pre­pared to take in a quiet lodger for three or four weeks. Such an ar­range­ment was pre­cise­ly what Mr. Lake de­sired. Terms were eas­i­ly agreed upon, and early in De­cem­ber, like an­oth­er Mr. Datch­ery (as he re­marked to him­self), the in­ves­ti­ga­tor found him­self in the oc­cu­pa­tion of a very com­fort­able room in an an­cient and "cathe­draly" house.

One so fa­mil­iar with the cus­toms of Cathe­dral church­es, and treat­ed with such ob­vi­ous con­sid­er­a­tion by the Dean and Chap­ter of this Cathe­dral in par­tic­u­lar, could not fail to com­mand the re­spect of the Head Verg­er. Mr. Worby even ac­qui­esced in cer­tain mod­i­fi­ca­tions of state­ments he had been ac­cus­tomed to offer for years to par­ties of vis­i­tors. Mr. Lake, on his part, found the Verg­er a very cheery com­pan­ion, and took ad­van­tage of any oc­ca­sion that pre­sent­ed it­self for en­joy­ing his con­ver­sa­tion when the day's work was over.

One evening, about nine o'clock, Mr. Worby knocked at his lodger's door. "I've oc­ca­sion," he said, "to go across to the Cathe­dral, Mr. Lake, and I think I made you a promise when I did so next I would give you the op­por­tu­ni­ty to see what it looks like at night time. It's quite fine and dry out­side, if you care to come."

"To be sure I will; very much obliged to you, Mr. Worby, for think­ing of it, but let me get my coat."

"Here it is, Sir, and I've an­oth­er lantern here that you'll find ad­vis­able for the steps, as there's no moon."

"Any­one might think we were Jasper and Dur­dles, over again, mightn't they?" said Lake, as they crossed the close, for he had as­cer­tained that the Verg­er had read Edwin Drood.

"Well, so they might," said Mr. Worby, with a short laugh, "though I don t know whether we ought to take it as a com­pli­ment. Odd ways, I often think, they had at that Cathe­dral, don't it seem so to you, sit? Full choral matins at seven o'clock in the morn­ing all the year round. Wouldn't suit our boys' voic­es nowa­days, and I think there's one of two of the men would be ap­ply­ing for a rise if the Chap­ter was to bring it in — par­tic­u­lar the all­toes."

They were now at the south-west door. As Mr. Worby was un­lock­ing it, Lake said, "Did you ever find any­body locked in here by ac­ci­dent?"

"Twice I did. One was a drunk sailor; how­ev­er he got in I don't know. I s'pose he went to sleep in the ser­vice, but by the time I got to him he was pray­ing fit to bring the roof in. Lor'! what a noise that man did make! said it was the first time he'd been in­side a church for ten years, and blest if ever he'd try it again. The other was an old sheep: them boys it was, up to their games. That was the last time they tried it on, though. There, sit, now you see what we look like; our late Dean used now and again to bring par­ties in, but he pre­ferred a moon­light night, and there was a piece of verse he'd coat to 'em, re­lat­ing to a Scotch cathe­dral, I un­der­stand; but I don't know; I al­most think the ef­fect's bet­ter when it's all dark-like. Seems to add to the size and heighth. Now if you won't mind stop­ping some­where in the nave while I go up into the choir where my busi­ness lays, you'll see what I mean."

Ac­cord­ing­ly Lake wait­ed, lean­ing against a pil­lar, and watched the light wa­ver­ing along the length of the church, and up the steps into the choir, until it was in­ter­cept­ed by some screen or other fur­ni­ture, which only al­lowed the re­flec­tion to be seen on the piers and roof. Not many min­utes had passed be­fore Worby reap­peared at the door of the choir and by wav­ing his lantern sig­nalled to Lake to re­join him.

"I sup­pose it is Worby, and not a sub­sti­tute," thought Lake to him­self, as he walked up the nave. There was, in fact, noth­ing un­to­ward. Worby showed him the pa­pers which he had come to fetch out of the Dean's stall, and asked him what he thought of the spec­ta­cle: Lake agreed that it was well worth see­ing. "I sup­pose," he said, as they walked to­wards the al­tar-steps to­geth­er, "that you're too much used to going about here at night to feel ner­vous — but you must get a start every now and then, don't you, when a book falls down or a door swings to?"

"No, Mr. Lake, I can't say I think much about nois­es, not nowa­days: I'm much more afraid of find­ing an es­cape of gas or a burst in the stove pipes than any­thing else. Still there have been times, years ago. Did you no­tice that plain al­tar-tomb there — fif­teenth cen­tu­ry we say it is, I don't know if you agree to that? Well, if you didn't look at it, just come back and give it a glance, if you'd be so good." It was on the north side of the choir, and rather awk­ward­ly placed: only about three feet from the en­clos­ing stone screen. Quite plain, as the Verg­er had said, but for some or­di­nary stone pan­elling. A metal cross of some size on the north­ern side (that next to the screen) was the soli­tary fea­ture of any in­ter­est.

Lake agreed that it was not ear­li­er than the Per­pen­dic­u­lar pe­ri­od: "but," he said, "un­less it's the tomb of some re­mark­able per­son, you'll for­give me for say­ing that. I don't think it's par­tic­u­lar­ly note­wor­thy."

"Well, I can't say as it is the tomb of any­body noted in 'is­to­ry," said Worby, who had a dry smile on his face, "for we don't own any record what­so­ev­er of who it was put up to. For all that, if you've half in hour to spare, Sir, when we get back to the house, Mr. Lake, I could tell you a tale about that tomb. I won't begin on it now; it strikes cold here, and we don't want to be dawdling about all night."

"Of course I should like to hear it im­mense­ly."

"Very well, Sir, you shall. Now if I might put a ques­tion to you," he went on, as they passed down the choir aisle, "in our lit­tle local guide — and not only there, but in the lit­tle book on our Cathe­dral in the se­ries — you'll find it stat­ed that this por­tion of the build­ing was erect­ed pre­vi­ous to the twelfth cen­tu­ry. Now of course I should be glad enough to take that view, but — mind the step, sir — but, I put it to you — does the lay of the stone 'ere in this por­tion of the wall (which he tapped with his key), does it to your eye carry the flavour of what you might call Saxon ma­son­ry? No, I thought not; no more it does to me: now, if you'll be­lieve me, I've said as much to those men — one's the li­brar­i­an of our Free Libry here, and the other came down from Lon­don on pur­pose — fifty times, if I have once, but I might just as well have talked to that bit of stonework. But there it is, I sup­pose every one's got their opin­ions."

The dis­cus­sion of this pe­cu­liar trait of human na­ture oc­cu­pied Mr. Worby al­most up to the mo­ment when he and Lake re-en­tered the for­mer's house. The con­di­tion of the fire in Lake's sit­ting-room led to a sug­ges­tion from Mr. Worby that they should fin­ish the evening in his own par­lour. We find them ac­cord­ing­ly set­tled there some short time af­ter­wards.

Mr. Worby made his story a long one, and I will not un­der­take to tell it whol­ly in his own words, or in his own order. Lake com­mit­ted the sub­stance of it to paper im­me­di­ate­ly after hear­ing it, to­geth­er with some few pas­sages of the nar­ra­tive which had fixed them­selves ver­ba­tim in his mind; I shall prob­a­bly find it ex­pe­di­ent to con­dense Lake's record to some ex­tent.

Mr. Worby was born, it ap­peared, about the year 1929. His fa­ther be­fore him had been con­nect­ed with the Cathe­dral, and like­wise his grand­fa­ther. One or both had been cho­ris­ters, and in later life both had done work as mason and car­pen­ter re­spec­tive­ly about the fab­ric. Worby him­self, though pos­sessed, as he frankly ac­knowl­edged, of an in­dif­fer­ent voice, had been draft­ed into the choir at about ten years of age.

It was in 1840 that the wave of the Goth­ic re­vival smote the Cathe­dral of South­min­ster. "There was a lot of love­ly stuff went then, Sir," said Worby, with a sigh. "My fa­ther couldn't hard­ly be­lieve it when he got his or­ders to clear out the choir. There was a new dean just come in — Dean Burscough it was — and my fa­ther had been 'pren­ticed to a good firm of join­ers in the city, and knew what good work was when he saw it. Crool it was, he used to say: all that beau­ti­ful wain­scot oak, as good as the day it was put up, and gar­lands-like of fo­liage and fruit, and love­ly old gild­ing work on the coats of arms and the organ pipes. All went to the tim­ber yard — every bit ex­cept some lit­tle pieces worked up in the Lady Chapel, and 'ere in this over­man­tel. Well — I may be mis­took, but I say our choir never looked as well since. Still there was a lot found out about the his­to­ry of the church, and no doubt but what it did stand in need of re­pair. There was very few win­ters passed but what we'd lose a pin­ni­cle." Mr. Lake ex­pressed his con­cur­rence with Worby's views of restora­tion, but owns to a fear about this point lest the story prop­er should never be reached. Pos­si­bly this was per­cep­ti­ble in his man­ner.

Worby has­tened to re­as­sure him, "Not but what I could carry on about that topic for hours at a time, and do do when I see my op­por­tu­ni­ty. But Dean Burscough he was very set on the Goth­ic pe­ri­od, and noth­ing would serve him but ev­ery­thing must be made agree­able to that. And one morn­ing after ser­vice he ap­point­ed for my fa­ther to meet him in the choir, and he came back after he'd taken off his robes in the vestry, and he'd got a roll of paper with him, and the verg­er that was then brought in a table, and they begun spread­ing it out on the table with prayer books to keep it down, and my fa­ther helped 'em, and he saw it was a pic­ture of the in­side of a choir in a Cathe­dral; and the Dean — he was a quick-spo­ken gen­tle­man — he says, 'Well, Worby, what do you think of that?' 'Why,' says my fa­ther, 'I don't think I 'ave the plea­sure of know­ing that view. Would that be Here­ford Cathe­dral, Mr. Dean?' 'No, Worby,' says the Dean, 'that's South­min­ster Cathe­dral as we hope to see it be­fore many years.' 'In-deed, Sir,' says my fa­ther' and that was all he did say — least­ways to the Dean — but he used to tell me he felt re­al­ly faint in him­self when he looked round our choir as I can re­mem­ber it, com­fort­able, and fur­nished-like, and then see this nasty lit­tle dry picter, as he called it, drawn out by some Lon­don ar­chi­tect. Well, there I am again. But you'll see what I mean if you look at this old view."

Worby reached down a framed print from the wall. "Well, the long and the short of it was that the Dean he hand­ed over to my fa­ther a copy of an order of the Chap­ter that he was to clear out every bit of the choir — make a clean sweep — ready for the new work that was being de­signed up in town, and he was to put it in hand as soon as ever he could get the break­ers to­geth­er. Now then, Sir, if you look at that view, You'll see where the pul­pit used to stand — that's what I want you to no­tice, if you please." It was, in­deed, eas­i­ly seen; an un­usu­al­ly large struc­ture of tim­ber with a domed sound­ing-board, stand­ing at the east end of the stalls on the north side of the choir, fac­ing the bish­op's throne. Worby pro­ceed­ed to ex­plain that dur­ing the al­ter­ations, ser­vices were held in the nave, the mem­ber of the choir being there­by dis­ap­point­ed of an an­tic­i­pat­ed hol­i­day, and the or­gan­ist in par­tic­u­lar in­cur­ring the sus­pi­cion of hav­ing wil­ful­ly dam­aged the mech­a­nism of the tem­po­rary organ that was hired at con­sid­er­able ex­pense from Lon­don.

The work of de­mo­li­tion began with the choir screen and organ loft, and pro­ceed­ed grad­u­al­ly east-wards, dis­clos­ing, as Worby said, many in­ter­est­ing fea­tures of older work. While this was going on, the mem­bers of the Chap­ter were, nat­u­ral­ly, in and about the choir a great deal, and it soon be­came ap­par­ent to the elder Worby — who could not help over­hear­ing some of their talk — that, on the part of the se­nior Canons es­pe­cial­ly, there must have been a good deal of dis­agree­ment be­fore the pol­i­cy now being car­ried out had been adopt­ed. Some were of opin­ion that they should catch their deaths of cold in the re­turn-stalls, un­pro­tect­ed by a screen from the draughts in the nave: oth­ers ob­ject­ed to being ex­posed to the view of per­sons in the choir aisles, es­pe­cial­ly, they said, dur­ing the ser­mons, when they found it help­ful to lis­ten in a pos­ture which was li­able to mis­con­struc­tion. The strongest op­po­si­tion, how­ev­er, came from the old­est of the body, who up to the last mo­ment ob­ject­ed to the re­moval of the pul­pit. "You ought not to touch it, Mr. Dean," he said with great em­pha­sis one morn­ing, when the two were stand­ing be­fore it: "you don't know what mis­chief you may do." "Mis­chief? it's not a work of any par­tic­u­lar merit, Canon." "Don't call me Canon," said the old man with great as­per­i­ty, that is, for thir­ty years I've been known as Dr. Ayloff, and I shall be obliged, Mr. Dean, if you would kind­ly hu­mour me in that mat­ter. And as to the pul­pit (which I've preached from for thir­ty years, though I don't in­sist on that), all I'll say is, I know you're doing wrong in mov­ing it." "But what sense could there be, my dear Doc­tor, in leav­ing it where it is, when we're fit­ting up the rest of the choir in a to­tal­ly dif­fer­ent style? What rea­son could be given — apart from the look of the thing?" "Rea­son! Rea­son!" said old Dr. Ayloff; "if you young men — if I may say so with­out any dis­re­spect, Mr. Dean — if you'd only lis­ten to rea­son a lit­tle, and not be al­ways ask­ing for it, we should get on bet­ter. But there, I've said my say." The old gen­tle­man hob­bled off, and as it proved, never en­tered the Cathe­dral again. The sea­son — it was a hot sum­mer — turned sick­ly on a sud­den, Dr. Ayloff was one of the first to go, with some af­fec­tion of the mus­cles of the tho­rax, which took him painful­ly at night. And at many ser­vices the num­ber of choir-men and boys was very thin.

Mean­while the pul­pit had been done away with. In fact, the sound­ing-board (part of which still ex­ists as a table in a sum­mer-house in the palace gar­den) was taken down with­in an hour or two of Dr. Ayloff's protest. The re­moval of the base — not ef­fect­ed with­out con­sid­er­able trou­ble — dis­closed to view, great­ly to the ex­ul­ta­tion of the restor­ing party, an al­tar-tomb — the tomb, of course, to which Worby had at­tract­ed Lake's at­ten­tion that same evening. Much fruit­less re­search was ex­pend­ed in at­tempts to iden­ti­fy the oc­cu­pant; from that day to this he has never had a name put to him. 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. It might be two or three inch­es across. Palmer, the mason, was di­rect­ed to fill it up in a week's time, when he came to do some other small jobs near that part of the choir.

The sea­son was un­doubt­ed­ly a very try­ing one. Whether the church was built on a site that had once been a marsh, as was sug­gest­ed, or for what­ev­er rea­son, the res­i­dents in its im­me­di­ate neigh­bour­hood had, many of them, but lit­tle en­joy­ment of the exquisite sunny days and the calm nights of Au­gust and Septem­ber. To sev­er­al of the older peo­ple — Dr. Ayloff, among oth­ers, as we have seen — the sum­mer proved down­right fatal, but even among the younger, few es­caped ei­ther a so­journ in bed for a mat­ter of weeks, or at the least, a brood­ing sense of op­pres­sion, ac­com­pa­nied by hate­ful night­mares. Grad­u­al­ly there for­mu­lat­ed it­self a sus­pi­cion — which grew into a con­vic­tion — that the al­ter­ations in the Cathe­dral had some­thing to say in the mat­ter. The widow of a for­mer old verg­er, a pen­sion­er of the Chap­ter of South­min­ster, was vis­it­ed by dreams, which she re­tailed to her friends, of a shape that slipped out of the lit­tle door of the south transept as the dark fell in, and flit­ted — tak­ing a fresh di­rec­tion every night — about the Close, dis­ap­pear­ing for a while in house after house, and fi­nal­ly emerg­ing again when the night sky was pal­ing. She could see noth­ing of it, she said, but that it was a mov­ing form: only she had an im­pres­sion that when it re­turned to the church, as it seemed to do in the end of the dream, it turned its head: and then, she could not tell why, but she thought it had red eyes. Worby re­mem­bered hear­ing the old lady tell this dream at a tea-par­ty in the house of the chap­ter clerk. Its re­cur­rence might, per­haps, he said, be taken as a symp­tom of ap­proach­ing ill­ness; at any rate be­fore the end of Septem­ber the old lady was in her grave.

The in­ter­est ex­cit­ed by the restora­tion of this great church was not con­fined to its own coun­ty. One day that sum­mer an F.S.A., of some celebri­ty, vis­it­ed the place. His busi­ness was to write an ac­count of the dis­cov­er­ies that had been made, for the So­ci­ety of An­ti­quar­ies, and his wife, who ac­com­pa­nied him, was to make a se­ries of il­lus­tra­tive draw­ings for his re­port. In the morn­ing she em­ployed her­self in mak­ing a gen­er­al sketch of the choir; in the af­ter­noon she de­vot­ed her­self to de­tails. She first drew the new­ly-ex­posed al­tar-tomb, and when that was fin­ished, she called her hus­band's at­ten­tion to a beau­ti­ful piece of di­a­per-or­na­ment on the screen just be­hind it, which had, like the tomb it­self, been com­plete­ly con­cealed by the pul­pit. Of course, he said, an il­lus­tra­tion of that must be made; so she seat­ed her­self on the tomb and began a care­ful draw­ing which oc­cu­pied her till dusk.

Her hus­band had by this time fin­ished his work of mea­sur­ing and de­scrip­tion, and they agreed that it was time to be get­ting back to their hotel. "You may as well brush my skirt, Frank," said the, lady, "it must have got cov­ered with dust, I'm sure." He obeyed du­ti­ful­ly; but, after a mo­ment, he said, "I don't know whether you value this dress par­tic­u­lar­ly, my dear, but I'm in­clined to think it's seen its best days. There's a great bit of it gone." "Gone? Where? "said she. "I don't know where it's gone, but it's off at the bot­tom edge be­hind here." She pulled it hasti­ly into sight, and was hor­ri­fied to find a jagged tear ex­tend­ing some way into the sub­stance of the stuff; very much, she said, as if a dog had rent it away. The dress was, in any case, hope­less­ly spoilt, to her great vex­a­tion, and though they looked ev­ery­where, the miss­ing piece could not be found. There were many ways, they con­clud­ed, in which the in­jury might have come about, for the choir was full of old bits of wood­work with nails stick­ing out of them. Fi­nal­ly, they could only sup­pose that one of these had caused the mis­chief, and that the work­men, who had been about all day, had car­ried off the par­tic­u­lar piece with the frag­ment of dress still at­tached to it.

It was about this time, Worby thought, that his lit­tle dog began to wear in anx­ious ex­pres­sion when the hour for it to be put into the shed in the back yard ap­proached. (For his moth­er had or­dained that it must not sleep in the house.) One evening, he said, when he was just going to pick it up and carry it out, it looked at him "like a Chris­tian, and waved its 'and, I was going to say — well, you know 'ow they do carry on some­times, and the end of it was I put it under my coat, and 'ud­dled it up­stairs — and I'm afraid I as good as de­ceived my poor moth­er on the sub­ject. After that the dog acted very art­ful with 'iding it­self under the bed for half an hour or more be­fore bed-time came, and we worked it so as my moth­er never found out what we'd done." Of course Worby was glad of its com­pa­ny any­how, but more par­tic­u­lar­ly when the nui­sance that is still re­mem­bered in South­min­ster as "the cry­ing" set in.

"Night after night," said Worby, "that dog seemed to know it was com­ing; he'd creep out, he would, and snug­gle into the bed and cud­dle right up to me shiv­er­ing, and when the cry­ing come he'd be like a wild thing, shov­ing his head under my arm, and I was fully near as bad. Six or seven times we'd hear it, not more, and when he'd dror out his 'ed again I'd know it was over for that night. What was it like, sir? Well, I never heard but one thing that seemed to hit it off. I hap­pened to be play­ing about in the Close, and there was two of the Canons met and said 'Good morn­ing' one to an­oth­er. 'Sleep well last night?' says one — it was Mr. Henslow that one, and Mr. Lyall was the other. 'Can't say I did,' says Mr. Lyall, 'rather too much of Isa­iah xxxiv. 14 for me.' 'xxxiv. 14,' says Mr. Henslow, 'what's that?' 'You call your­self a Bible read­er!' says Mr. Lyall. (Mr. Henslow, you must know, he was one of what used to be termed Sime­on's lot — pret­ty much what we should call the Evan­gel­i­cal party.) 'You go and look it up.' I want­ed to know what he was get­ting at my­self, and so off I ran home and got out my own Bible, and there it was: 'the satyr shall cry to his fel­low.' Well, I thought, is that what we've been lis­ten­ing to these past nights? and I tell you it made me look over my shoul­der a time or two. Of course I'd asked my fa­ther and moth­er about what it could be be­fore that, but they both said it was most like­ly cats: but they spoke very short, and I could see they was trou­bled. My word! that was a noise — 'un­gry-like, as if it was call­ing after some­one that wouldn't come. If ever you felt you want­ed com­pa­ny, it would be when you was wait­ing for it to begin again. I be­lieve two or three nights there was men put on to watch in dif­fer­ent parts of the Close; but they all used to get to­geth­er in one cor­ner, the near­est they could to the High Street, and noth­ing came of it.

"Well, the next thing was this. Me and an­oth­er of the boys — he's in busi­ness in the city now as a gro­cer, like his fa­ther be­fore him — we'd gone up in the choir after morn­ing ser­vice was over, and we heard old Palmer the mason bel­low­ing to some of his men. So we went up near­er, be­cause we knew he was a rusty old chap and there might be some fun going. It ap­pears Palmer 'd told this man to stop up the chink in that old tomb. Well, there was this man keep­ing on say­ing he'd done it the best he could, and there was Palmer car­ry­ing on like all pos­sessed about it. 'Call that mak­ing a job of it?' he says. 'If you had your rights you'd get the sack for this. What do you sup­pose I pay you your wages for? What do you sup­pose I'm going to say to the Dean and Chap­ter when they come round, as come they may do any time, and see where you've been bungling about cov­er­ing the 'ole place with mess and plas­ter and Lord knows what?' 'Well, mas­ter, I done the best I could,' says the man; 'I don't know no more than what you do 'ow it come to fall out this, way. I tamped it right in the 'ole,' he says, 'and now it's fell out,' he says, 'I never see.'

"'Fell out?' says old Palmer, 'why it's nowhere near the place. Blowed out, you mean'; and he picked up a bit of plas­ter, and so did I, that was lay­ing up against the screen, three or four feet off, and not dry yet; and old Palmer he looked at it cu­ri­ous-like, and then he turned round on me and he says, 'Now then, you boys, have you been up to some of your games here?' 'No,' I says, 'I haven't, Mr. Palmer; there's none of us been about here till just this minute'; and while I was talk­ing the other boy, Evans, he got look­ing in through the chink, and I heard him draw in his breath, and he came away sharp and up to us, and says he, 'I be­lieve there's some­thing in there. I saw some­thing shiny.' 'What! I dare say!' says old Palmer; 'well, I ain't got time to stop about there. You, William, you go off and get some more stuff and make a job of it this time; if not, there'll be trou­ble in my yard,' he says.

"So the man he went off, and Palmer too, and us boys stopped be­hind, and I says to Evans, 'Did you re­al­ly see, any­thing in there?' 'Yes,' he says, 'I did in­deed.' So then I says, 'Let's shove some­thing in and stir it up.' And we tried sev­er­al of the bits of wood that was lay­ing about, but they were all too big. Then Evans he had a sheet of music he'd brought with him, an an­them or a ser­vice, I for­get which it was now, and he rolled it up small and shoved it in the chink; two or three times he did it, and noth­ing hap­pened. 'Give it me, boy,' I said, and I had a try. No, noth­ing hap­pened. Then, I don't know why I thought of it, I'm sure, but I stooped down just op­po­site the chink and put my two fin­gers in my mouth and whis­tled — you know the way — and at that I seemed to think I heard some­thing stir­ring, and I says to Evans, 'Come away,' I says; 'I don't like this.' 'Oh, rot,' he says, 'give me that roll,' and he took it and shoved it in. And I don't think ever I see any­one go so pale as he did. 'I say, Worby,' he says, 'it's caught, or else some­one's got hold of it.' 'Pull it out or leave it,' I says. 'Come and let's get off.' So he gave a good pull, and it came away. Least­ways most of it did, but the end was gone. Torn off it was, and Evans looked at it for a sec­ond and then he gave a sort of a croak and let it drop, and we both made off out of there as quick as ever we could. When we got out­side Evans says to me, 'Did you see the end of that paper?' 'No,' I says, 'only it was torn.' 'Yes, it was,' he says, 'but it was wet too, and black!' Well, part­ly be­cause of the fright we had, and part­ly be­cause that music was want­ed in a day or two, and we knew there'd be a set-out about it with the or­gan­ist, we didn't say noth­ing to any­one else, and I sup­pose the work­men they swept up the bit that was left along with the rest of the rub­bish. But Evans, if you were to ask him this very day about it, he'd stick to it he saw that paper wet and black at the end where it was torn."

After that the boys gave the choir a wide berth, so that Worby was not sure what was the re­sult of the mason's re­newed mend­ing of the tomb. Only he made out from frag­ments of con­ver­sa­tion dropped by the work­men pass­ing through the choir that some dif­fi­cul­ty had been met with, and that the gov­er­nor — Mr. Palmer to wit — had tried his own hand at the job. A lit­tle later, he hap­pened to see Mr. Palmer him­self knock­ing at the door of the Dean­ery and being ad­mit­ted by the but­ler. A day or so after that, he gath­ered from a re­mark his fa­ther let fall at break­fast that some­thing a lit­tle out of the com­mon was to be done in the Cathe­dral after morn­ing ser­vice on the mor­row. "And I'd just as soon it was to-day," his fa­ther added; "I don't see the use of run­ning risks" "'Fa­ther,' I says, 'what are you going to do in the Cathe­dral to-mor­row?' And he turned on me as sav­age as I ever see him — he was a won­der­ful good-tem­pered man as a gen­er­al thing, my poor fa­ther was. 'My lad,' he says, 'I'll trou­ble you not to go pick­ing up your el­ders' and bet­ters' talk: it's not man­ners and it's not straight. What I'm going to do or not going to do in the Cathe­dral to-mor­row is none of your busi­ness: and if I catch sight of you hang­ing about the place to-mor­row after your work's done, I'll send you home with a flea in your ear. Now you mind that.' Of course I said I was very sorry and that, and equal­ly of course I went off and laid my plans with Evans. We knew there was a stair up in the cor­ner of the transept which you can get up to the tri­fo­ri­um, and in them days the door to it was pret­ty well al­ways open, and even if it wasn't we knew the key usu­al­ly laid under a bit of mat­ting hard by. So we made up our minds we'd be putting away music and that, next morn­ing while the rest of the boys was clear­ing off, and then slip up the stairs and watch from the tri­fo­ri­um if there was any signs of work going on.

"Well, that same night I dropped off asleep as sound as a boy does, and all of a sud­den the dog woke me up, com­ing into the bed, and thought I, now we're going to get it sharp, for he seemed more fright­ened than usual. After about five min­utes sure enough came this cry. I can't give you no idea what it was like; and so near too — near­er than I'd heard it yet — and a funny thing, Mr. Lake, you know what a place this Close is for in echo, and par­tic­u­lar if you stand this side of it. Well, this cry­ing never made no sign of an echo at all. But, as I said, it was dread­ful near this night; and on the top of the start I got with hear­ing it, I got an­oth­er fright; for I heard some­thing rustling out­side in the pas­sage. Now to be sure I thought I was done; but I no­ticed the dog seemed to perk up a bit, and next there was some­one whis­pered out­side the door, and I very near laughed out loud, for I knew it was my fa­ther and moth­er that had got out of bed with the noise. 'What­ev­er is it?' says my moth­er. 'Hush! I don't know,' says my fa­ther, ex­cit­ed-like, 'don't dis­turb the boy. I hope he didn't hear noth­ing.'

"So, me know­ing they were just out­side, it made me bold­er, and I slipped out of bed across to my lit­tle win­dow — giv­ing on the Close — but the dog he bored right down to the bot­tom of the bed — and I looked out. First go off I couldn't see any­thing. 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. I hadn't but just sight­ed 'em when it seemed we wasn't the only peo­ple that had been dis­turbed, be­cause I see a win­dow in a house on the left-hand side be­come light­ed up, and the light mov­ing. I just turned my head to make sure of it, and then looked back into the shad­ow for those two red things, and they were gone, and for all I peered about and stared, there was not a sign more of them. Then come my last fright that night — some­thing come against my bare leg — but that was all right: that was my lit­tle dog had come out of bed, and pranc­ing about mak­ing a great to-do, only hold­ing his tongue, and me see­ing he was quite in spir­its again, I took him back to bed and we slept the night out!

"Next morn­ing I made out to tell my moth­er I'd had the dog in my room, and I was sur­prised, after all she'd said about it be­fore, how quiet she took it. 'Did you?' she says. 'Well, by good rights you ought to go with­out your break­fast for doing such a thing be­hind my back: but I don't know as there's any great harm done, only an­oth­er time you ask my per­mis­sion, do you hear?' A bit after that I said some­thing to my fa­ther about hav­ing heard the cats again. 'Cats?' he says; and he looked over at my poor moth­er, and she coughed and he says, 'Oh! ah! yes, cats. I be­lieve I heard 'em my­self.'

"That was a funny morn­ing al­to­geth­er: noth­ing seemed to go right. The or­gan­ist he stopped in bed, and the minor Canon he for­got it was the 19th day and wait­ed for the Ven­ite; and after a bit the deputy he set off play­ing the chant for even­song, which was a minor; and then the De­cani boys were laugh­ing so much they couldn't sing, and when it came to the an­them the solo boy he got took with the gig­gles, and made out his nose was bleed­ing, and shoved the book at me what hadn't prac­tised the verse and wasn't much of a singer if I had known it. Well, things was rougher, you see, fifty years ago, and I got a nip from the counter-tenor be­hind me that I re­mem­bered.

"So we got through some­how, and nei­ther the men nor the boys weren't by way of wait­ing to see whether the Canon in res­i­dence — Mr. Henslow it was — would come to the vestries and fine 'em, but I don't be­lieve he did: for one thing I fancy he'd read the wrong les­son for the first time in his life, and knew it. Any­how, Evans and me didn't find no dif­fi­cul­ty in slip­ping up the stairs as I told you, and when we got up we laid our­selves down flat on our stom­achs where we could just stretch our heads out over the old tomb, and we hadn't but just done so when we heard the verg­er that was then, first shut­ting the iron porch-gates and lock­ing the south-west door, and then the transept door, so we knew there was some­thing up, and they meant to keep the pub­lic out for a bit.

"Next thing was, the Dean and the Canon come in by their door on the north, and then I see my fa­ther, and old Palmer, and a cou­ple of their best men, and Palmer stood a talk­ing for a bit with the Dean in the mid­dle of the choir. He had a coil of rope and the men had crows. All of 'em looked a bit ner­vous. So there they stood talk­ing, and at last I heard the Dean say, 'Well, I've no time to waste, Palmer. If you think this'll sat­is­fy South­min­ster peo­ple, I'll per­mit it to be done; but I must say this, that never in the whole course of my life have I heard such ar­rant non­sense from a prac­ti­cal man as I have from you. Don't you agree with me, Henslow?' As far as I could hear Mr. Henslow said some­thing like 'Oh well! we're told, aren't we, Mr. Dean, not to judge oth­ers?' And the Dean he gave a kind of sniff, and walked straight up to the tomb, and took his stand be­hind it with his back to the screen, and the oth­ers they come edg­ing up rather gin­ger­ly. Henslow, he stopped on the south side and scratched on his chin, he did. Then the Dean spoke up: 'Palmer,' he says, 'which can you do eas­i­est, get the slab off the top, or shift one of the side slabs?'

"Old Palmer and his men they pot­tered about a bit look­ing round the edge of the top slab and sound­ing the sides on the south and east and west and ev­ery­where but the north. Henslow said some­thing about it being bet­ter to have a try at the south side, be­cause there was more light and more room to move about in. Then my fa­ther who'd been watch­ing of them, went round to the north side, and knelt down and felt of the slab by the chink, and he got up and dust­ed his knees and says to the Dean: 'Beg par­don, Mr. Dean, but I think if Mr. Palmer'll try this here slab he'll find it'll come out easy enough. Seems to me one of the men could prise it out with his crow by means of this chink.' 'Ah! thank you, Worby,' says the Dean; 'that's a good sug­ges­tion. Palmer, let one of your men do that, will you?'

"So the man come round, and put his bar in and bore on it, and just that minute when they were all bend­ing over, and we boys got our heads well over the edge of the tri­fo­ri­um, there come a most fear­ful crash down at the west end of the choir, as if a whole stick of big tim­ber had fall­en down a flight of stairs. Well, you can't ex­pect me to tell you ev­ery­thing that hap­pened all in a minute. Of course there was a ter­ri­ble com­mo­tion. I heard the slab fall out, and the crow­bar on the floor, and I heard the Dean say, 'Good God!'

"When I looked down again I saw the Dean tum­bled over on the floor, the men was mak­ing off down the choir, Henslow was just going to help the Dean up, Palmer was going to stop the men (as he said af­ter­wards) and my fa­ther was sit­ting on the altar step with his face in his hands. The Dean he was very cross. 'I wish to good­ness you'd look where you're com­ing to, Henslow,' he says. 'Why you should all take to your heels when a stick of wood tum­bles down I can­not imag­ine'; and all Henslow could do, ex­plain­ing he was right away on the other side of the tomb, would not sat­is­fy him.

"Then Palmer came back and re­port­ed there was noth­ing to ac­count for this noise and noth­ing seem­ing­ly fall­en down, and when the Dean fin­ished feel­ing of him­self they gath­ered round — ex­cept my fa­ther, he sat where he was — and some­one light­ed up a bit of can­dle and they looked into the tomb. 'Noth­ing there,' says the Dean, 'what did I tell you? Stay! here's some­thing. What's this? a bit of music paper, and a piece of torn stuff — part of a dress it looks like. Both quite mod­ern — no in­ter­est what­ev­er. An­oth­er time per­haps you'll take the ad­vice of an ed­u­cat­ed man' — or some­thing like that, and off he went, limp­ing a bit, and out through the north door, only as he went he called back angry to Palmer for leav­ing the door stand­ing open. Palmer called out 'Very sorry, Sir,' but he shrugged his shoul­ders, and Henslow says, 'I fancy Mr. Dean's mis­tak­en. I closed the door be­hind me, but he's a lit­tle upset.' Then Palmer says, 'Why, where's Worby?' and they saw him sit­ting on the step and went up to him. He was re­cov­er­ing him­self, it seemed, and wip­ing his fore­head, and Palmer helped him up on to his legs, as I was glad to see.

"They were too far off for me to hear what they said, but my fa­ther point­ed to the north door in the aisle, and Palmer and Henslow both of them looked very sur­prised and scared. After a bit, my fa­ther and Henslow went out of the church, and the oth­ers made what haste they could to put the slab back and plas­ter it in. And about as the clock struck twelve the Cathe­dral was opened again and us boys made the best of our way home.

"I was in a great tak­ing to know what it was had given my poor fa­ther such a turn, and when I got in and found him sit­ting in his chair tak­ing a glass of spir­its, and my moth­er stand­ing look­ing anx­ious at him, I couldn't keep from burst­ing out and mak­ing con­fes­sion where I'd been. But he didn't seem to take on, not in the way of los­ing his tem­per. 'You was there, was you? Well, did you see it?' 'I see ev­ery­thing, fa­ther,' I said, 'ex­cept when the noise came.' 'Did you see what it was knocked the Dean over?' he says, 'that what come out of the mon­u­ment? You didn't? Well, that's a mercy.' 'Why, what was it, fa­ther?' I said. 'Come, you must have seen it,' he says. 'Didn't you see? A thing like a man, all over hair, and two great eyes to it?'

"Well, that was all I could get out of him that time, and later on he seemed as if he was ashamed of being so fright­ened, and he used to put me off when I asked him about it. But years after, when I was got to be a grown man, we had more talk now and again on the mat­ter, and he al­ways said the same thing. 'Black it was,' he'd say, 'and a mass of hair, and two legs, and the light caught on its eyes.'

"Well, that's the tale of that tomb, Mr. Lake; it's one we don't tell to our vis­i­tors, and I should be obliged to you not to make any use of it till I'm out of the way. I doubt Mr. Evans'll feel the same as I do, if you ask him."

This proved to be the case. But over twen­ty years have passed by, and the grass is grow­ing over both Worby and Evans; so Mr. Lake felt no dif­fi­cul­ty about com­mu­ni­cat­ing his notes — taken in 1890 — to me. He ac­com­pa­nied them with a sketch of the tomb and a copy of the short in­scrip­tion on the metal cross which was af­fixed at the ex­pense of Dr. Lyall to the cen­tre of the north­ern side. It was from the Vul­gate of Isa­iah xxxiv., and con­sist­ed mere­ly of the three words —