Sept. 4. -
I have hunted all over London for rooms suited to my income - £120
a year - and have at last found them. Two rooms, without modern conveniences,
it is true, and in an old, ramshackle building, but within a stone's throw
of P - Place and in an eminently respectable street. The rent is only £25
a year. I had begun to despair when at last I found them by chance. The
chance was a mere chance, and unworthy of record. I had to sign a lease
for a year, and I did so willingly. The furniture from our old place in
Hampshire, which has been stored so long, will just suit them.
Oct. 1. - Here I am in my two rooms, in the centre of London, and not
far from the offices of the periodicals, where occasionally I dispose of
an article or two. The building is at the end of a cul-de-sac. The alley
is well paved and clean, and lined chiefly with the backs of sedate and
institutional-looking buildings. There is a stable in it. My own house
is dignified with the title of "Chambers ". I feel as if one day the honour
must prove too much for it, and it will swell with pride - and fall asunder.
It is very old. The floor of my sitting-room has valleys and low hills
on it, and the top of the door slants away from the ceiling with a glorious
disregard of what is usual. They must have quarrelled - fifty years ago
- and have been going apart ever since.
Oct. 2. - My landlady is old and thin, with a faded, dusty face. She
is uncommunicative. The few words she utters seem to cost her pain. Probably
her lungs are half choked with dust. She keeps my rooms as free from this
commodity as possible, and has the assistance of a strong girl who brings
up the breakfast and lights the fire. As I have said already, she is not
communicative. In reply to pleasant efforts on my part she informed me
briefly that I was the only occupant of the house at present. My rooms
had not been occupied for some years. There had been other gentlemen upstairs,
but they had left.
She never looks straight at me when she speaks, but fixes her dim eyes
on my middle waistcoat button, till I get nervous and begin to think it
isn't on straight, or is the wrong sort of button altogether.
Oct. 8. - My week's book is nicely kept, and so far is reasonable. Milk
and sugar 7d., bread 6d., butter 8d., marmalade 6d., eggs 1s. 8d., laundress
2s. 9d., oil 6d., attendance 5s.; total 12s. 2d.
The landlady has a son who, she told me, is "somethink on a homnibus".
He comes occasionally to see her. I think he drinks, for he talks very
loud, regardless of the hour of the day or night, and tumbles about over
the furniture downstairs.
All the morning I sit indoors writing - articles; verses for the comic
papers; a novel I've been "at" for three years, and concerning which I
have dreams; a children's book, in which the imagination has free rein;
and another book which is to last as long as myself, since it is an honest
record of my soul's advance or retreat in the struggle of life. Besides
these, I keep a book of poems which I use as a safety valve, and concerning
which I have no dreams whatsoever. Between the lot I am always occupied.
In the afternoons I generally try to take a walk for my health's sake,
through Regent's Park, into Kensington Gardens, or farther afield to Hampstead
Oct. 10. - Everything went wrong to-day. I have two eggs for breakfast.
This morning one of them was bad. I rang the bell for Emily. When she came
in I was reading the paper, and, without looking up, I said, "Egg's bad."
"Oh, is it, sir? " she said; "I'll get another one," and went out, taking
the egg with her. I waited my breakfast for her return, which was in five
minutes. She put the new egg on the table and went away. But, when I looked
down, I saw that she had taken away the good egg and left the bad one -
all green and yellow - in the slop basin. I rang again. "You've taken the
wrong egg," I said.
"Oh! " she exclaimed; "I thought the one I took down didn't smell so
very bad." In due time she returned with the good egg, and I resumed my
breakfast with two eggs, but less appetite. It was all very trivial, to
be sure, but so stupid that I felt annoyed. The character of that egg influenced
everything I did. I wrote a bad article, and tore it up. I got a bad headache.
I used bad words - to myself. Everything was bad, so I "chucked" work and
went for a long walk. I dined at a cheap chop-house on my way back, and
reached home about nine o'clock. Rain was just beginning to fall as I came
in, and the wind was rising. It promised an ugly night. The alley looked
dismal and dreary, and the hall of the house, as I passed through it, felt
chilly as a tomb. It was the first stormy night I had experienced in my
new quarters. The draughts were awful. They came criss-cross, met in the
middle of the room, and formed eddies and whirlpools and cold silent currents
that almost lifted the hair of my head. I stuffed up the sashes of the
windows with neckties and odd socks, and sat over the smoky fire to keep
warm. First I tried to write, but found it too cold. My hand turned to
ice on the paper.
What tricks the wind did play with the old place! It came rushing up
the forsaken alley with a sound like the feet of a hurrying crowd of people
who stopped suddenly at the door. I felt as if a lot of curious folk had
arranged themselves just outside and were staring up at my windows. Then
they took to their heels again and fled whispering and laughing down the
lane, only, however, to return with the next gust of wind and repeat their
impertinence. On the other side of my room a single square window opens
into a sort of shaft, or well, that measures about six feet across to the
back wall of another house. Down this funnel the wind dropped, and puffed
and shouted. Such noises I never heard before. Between these two entertainments
I sat over the fire in a great-coat, listening to the deep booming in the
chimney. It was like being in a ship at sea, and I almost looked for the
floor to rise in undulations and rock to and fro.
Oct. 12. - I wish I were not quite so lonely - and so poor. And yet
I love both my loneliness and my poverty. The former makes me appreciate
the companionship of the wind and rain, while the latter preserves my liver
and prevents me wasting time in dancing attendance upon women. Poor, ill-dressed
men are not acceptable "attendants".
My parents are dead, and my only sister is - no, not dead exactly, but
married to a very rich man. They travel most of the time, he to find his
health, she to lose herself. Through sheer neglect on her part she has
long passed out of my life. The door closed when, after an absolute silence
of five years, she sent me a cheque for £50 at Christmas. It was
signed by her husband! I returned it to her in a thousand pieces and in
an unstamped envelope. So at least I had the satisfaction of knowing that
it cost her something! She wrote back with a broad quill pen that covered
a whole page with three lines, "You are evidently as cracked as ever, and
rude and ungrateful into the bargain." It had always been my special terror
lest the insanity of my father's family should leap across the generations
and appear in me. This thought haunted me, and she knew it. So after this
little exchange of civilities the door slammed, never to open again. I
heard the crash it made, and, with it, the falling from the walls of my
heart of many little bits of china with their own peculiar value - rare
china, some of it, that only needed dusting. The same walls, too, carried
mirrors in which I used sometimes to see reflected the misty lawns of childhood,
the daisy chains, the wind-torn blossoms scattered through the orchard
by warm rains, the robbers' cave in the long walk, and the hidden store
of apples in the hayloft. She was my inseparable companion then - but,
when the door slammed, the mirrors cracked across their entire length,
and the visions they held vanished for ever. Now I am quite alone. At forty-one
cannot begin all over again to build up careful friendships, and all others
are comparatively worthless.
Oct. 14. - My bedroom is 10 by 10. It is below the level of the front
room, and a step leads down into it. Both rooms are very quiet on calm
nights, for there is no traffic down this forsaken alley-way. In spite
of the occasional larks of the wind, it is a most sheltered strip. At its
upper end, below my windows, all the cats of the neighbourhood congregate
as soon as darkness gathers. They lie undisturbed on the long ledge of
a blind window of the opposite building, for after the postman has come
and gone at 9.30, no footsteps ever dare to interrupt their sinister conclave,
no step but my own, or sometimes the unsteady footfall of the son who "is
something on a homnibus".
Oct. 15. - I dined at an "A.B.C." shop on poached eggs and coffee, and
then went for a stroll round the outer edge of Regent's Park. It was ten
o'clock when I got home. I counted no less than thirteen cats, all of a
dark colour, crouching under the lee side of the alley walls. It was a
cold night, and the stars shone like points of ice in a blue-black sky.
The cats turned their heads and stared at me in silence as I passed. An
odd sensation of shyness took possession of me under the glare of so many
pairs of unblinking eyes. As I fumbled with the latch-key they jumped noiselessly
down and pressed against my legs, as if anxious to be let in. But I slammed
the door in their faces and ran quickly upstairs. The front room, as I
entered to grope for the matches, felt as cold as a stone vault, and the
air held an unusual dampness.
Oct. 17. - For several days I have been working on a ponderous article
that allows no play for the fancy. My imagination requires a judicious
rein; I am afraid to let it loose, for it carries me sometimes into appalling
places beyond the stars and beneath the world. No one realises the danger
more than I do. But what a foolish thing to write here - for there is no
one to know, no one to realize! My mind of late has held unusual thoughts,
thoughts I have never had before, about medicines and drugs and the treatment
of strange illnesses. I cannot imagine their source. At no time in my life
have I dwelt upon such ideas now constantly throng my brain. I have had
no exercise lately, for the weather has been shocking; and all my afternoons
have been spent in the reading-room of the British Museum, where I have
a reader's ticket.
I have made an unpleasant discovery: there are rats in the house. At
night from my bed I have heard them scampering across the hills and valleys
of the front room, and my sleep has been a good deal disturbed in consequence.
Oct. 19. - The landlady, I find, has a little boy with her, probably
her son's child. In fine weather he plays in the alley, and draws a wooden
cart over the cobbles. One of the wheels is off, and it makes a most distracting
noise. After putting up with it as long as possible, I found it was getting
on my nerves, and I could not write. So I rang the bell. Emily answered
"Emily, will you ask the little fellow to make less noise? It's impossible
The girl went downstairs, and soon afterwards the child was called in
by the kitchen door. I felt rather a brute for spoiling his play. In a
few minutes, however, the noise began again, and I felt that he was the
brute. He dragged the broken toy with a string over the stones till the
rattling noise jarred every nerve in my body. It became unbearable, and
I rang the bell a second time.
"That noise must be put a stop to!" I said to the girl, with decision.
"Yes, sir," she grinned, "I know; but one of the wheels is off. The
men in the stable offered to mend it for 'im, but he wouldn't let them.
He says he likes it that way."
"I can't help what he likes. The noise must stop. I can't write."
"Yes, sir; I'll tell Mrs. Monson."
The noise stopped for the day then.
Oct. 23. - Every day for the past week that cart has rattled over the
stones, till I have come to think of it as a huge carrier's van with four
wheels and two horses; and every morning I have been obliged to ring the
bell and have it stopped. The last time Mrs. Monson herself came up, and
said she was sorry I had been annoyed; the sounds should not occur again.
With rare discursiveness she went on to ask if I was comfortable, and how
I liked the rooms. I replied cautiously. I mentioned the rats. She said
they were mice. I spoke of the draughts. She said, "Yes, it were a draughty
'ouse." I referred to the cats, and she said they had been as long as she
could remember. By way of conclusion, she informed me that the house was
over two hundred years old, and that the last gentleman who had occupied
my rooms was a painter who "'ad real Jimmy Bueys and Raffles 'anging all
hover the walls". It took me some moments to discern that Cimabue and Raphael
were in the woman's mind.
Oct. 24. - Last night the son who is "something on a homnibus" came
in. He had evidently been drinking, for I heard loud and angry voices below
in the kitchen long after I had gone to bed. Once, too, I caught the singular
words rising up to me through the floor, "Burning from top to bottom is
the only thing that'll ever make this 'ouse right." I knocked on the floor,
and the voices ceased suddenly, though later I again heard their clamour
in my dreams.
These rooms are very quiet, almost too quiet sometimes. On windless
nights they are silent as the grave, and the house might be miles in the
country. The roar of London's traffic reaches me only in heavy, distant
vibrations. It holds an ominous note sometimes, like that of an approaching
army, or an immense tidal-wave very far away thundering in the night.
Oct. 27. - Mrs. Monson, though admirably silent, is a foolish, fussy
woman. She does such stupid things. In dusting the room she puts all my
things in the wrong places. The ash-trays, which should be on the writing-table,
she sets in a silly row on the mantelpiece. The pen-tray, which should
be beside the inkstand, she hides away cleverly among the books on my reading-desk.
My gloves she arranges daily in idiotic array upon a half-filled bookshelf,
and I always have to rearrange them on the low table by the door. She places
my armchair at impossible angles between the fire and the light, and the
tablecloth - the one with Trinity Hall stains - she puts on the table in
such a fashion that when I look at it I feel as if my tie and all my clothes
were on crooked and awry. She exasperates me. Her very silence and meekness
are irritating. Sometimes I feel inclined to throw the inkstand at her,
just to bring an expression into her watery eyes and a squeak from those
colourless lips. Dear me! What violent expressions I am making use of!
How very foolish of me! And yet it almost seems as if the words were not
my own, but had been spoken into my ear - I mean, I never make use of such
Oct. 30. - I have been here a month. The place does not agree with me,
I think. My headaches are more frequent and violent, and my nerves are
a perpetual source of discomfort and annoyance.
I have conceived a great dislike for Mrs. Monson, a feeling I am certain
she reciprocates. Somehow, the impression comes frequently to me that there
are goings on in this house of which I know nothing, and which she is careful
to hide from me.
Last night her son slept in the house, and this morning as I was standing
at the window I saw him go out. He glanced up and caught my eye. It was
a loutish figure and a singularly repulsive face that I saw, and he gave
me the benefit of a very unpleasant leer. At least, so I imagined. Evidently
I am getting absurdly sensitive to trifles, and I suppose it is my disordered
nerves making themselves felt. In the British Museum this afternoon I noticed
several people at the readers' table staring at me and watching every movement
I made. Whenever I looked up from my books I found their eyes upon me.
It seemed to me unnecessary and unpleasant, and I left earlier than was
my custom. When I reached the door I threw back a last look into the room,
and saw every head at the table turned in my direction. It annoyed me very
much, and yet I know it is foolish to take note of such things. When I
am well they pass me by. I must get more regular exercise. Of late I have
had next to none.
Nov. 2. - The utter stillness of this house is beginning to oppress
me. I wish there were other fellows living upstairs. No footsteps ever
sound overhead, and no tread ever passes my door to go up the next flight
of stairs. I am beginning to feel some curiosity to go up myself and see
what the upper rooms are like. I feel lonely here and isolated, swept into
a deserted corner of the world and forgotten... Once I actually caught
myself gazing into the long, cracked mirrors, trying to see the sunlight
dancing beneath the trees in the orchard. But only deep shadows seemed
to congregate there now, and I soon desisted.
It has been very dark all day, and no wind stirring. The fogs have begun.
I had to use a reading-lamp all this morning. There was no cart to be heard
to-day. I actually missed it. This morning, in the gloom and silence, I
think I could almost have welcomed it. After all, the sound is a very human
one, and this empty house at the end of the alley holds other noises that
are not quite so satisfactory.
I have never once seen a policeman in the lane, and the postmen always
hurry out with no evidence of a desire to loiter.
10 p.m. - As I write this I hear no sound but the deep murmur of the
distant traffic and the low sighing of the wind. The two sounds melt into
one another. Now and again a cat raises its shrill, uncanny cry upon the
darkness. The cats are always there under my windows when the darkness
falls. The wind is dropping into the funnel with a noise like the sudden
sweeping of immense distant wings. It is a dreary night. I feel lost and
Nov. 3 - From my windows I can see arrivals. When anyone comes to the
door I can just see the hat and shoulders and the hand on the bell. Only
two fellows have been to see me since I came here two months ago. Both
of them I saw from the window before they came tip, and heard their voices
asking if I was in. Neither of them ever came back.
I have finished the ponderous article. On reading it through, however,
I was dissatisfied with it, and drew my pencil through almost every page.
There were strange expressions and ideas in it that I could not explain,
and viewed with amazement, not to say alarm. They did not sound like my
very own, and I could not remember having written them. Can it be that
my memory is beginning to be affected?
My pens are never to be found. That stupid old woman puts them in a
different place each day. I must give her due credit for finding so many
new hiding places; such ingenuity is wonderful. I have told her repeatedly,
but she always says, "I'll speak to Emily, sir." Emily always says, "I'll
tell Mrs. Monson, sir." Their foolishness makes me irritable and scatters
all my thoughts. I should like to stick the lost pens into them and turn
them out, blind-eyed, to be scratched and mauled by those thousand hungry
cats. Whew! What a ghastly thought! Where in the world did it come from?
Such an idea is no more my own than it is the policeman's. Yet I felt I
had to write it. It was like a voice singing in my head, and my pen wouldn't
stop till the last word was finished. What ridiculous nonsense! I must
and will restrain myself. I must take more regular exercise; my nerves
and liver plague me horribly.
Nov. 4. - I attended a curious lecture in the French quarter on "Death",
but the room was so hot and I was so weary that I fell asleep. The only
part I heard, however, touched my imagination vividly. Speaking of suicides,
the lecturer said that self-murder was no escape from the miseries of the
present, but only a preparation of greater sorrow for the future. Suicides,
he declared, cannot shirk their responsibilities so easily. They must return
to take up life exactly where they laid it so violently down, but with
the added pain and punishment of their weakness. Many of them wander the
earth in unspeakable misery till they can reclothe themselves in the body
of someone else - generally a lunatic, or weak-minded person, who cannot
resist the hideous obsession. This is their only means of escape. Surely
a weird and horrible idea! I wish I had slept all the time and not heard
it at all. My mind is morbid enough without such ghastly fancies. Such
mischievous propaganda should be stopped by the police. I'll write to the
Times and suggest it. Good idea!
I walked home through Greek Street, Soho, and imagined that a hundred
years had slipped back into place and De Quincey was still there, haunting
the night with invocations to his "just, subtle, and mighty" drug. His
vast dreams seemed to hover not very far away. Once started in my brain,
the pictures refused to go away; and I saw him sleeping in that cold, tenantless
mansion with the strange little waif who was afraid of its ghosts, both
together in the shadows under a single horseman's cloak; or wandering in
the companionship of the spectral Anne; or, later still, on his way to
the eternal rendezvous at the foot of Great Titchfield Street, the rendezvous
she never was able to keep. What an unutterable gloom, what an untold horror
of sorrow and suffering comes over me as I try to realise something of
what that man - boy he then was - must have taken into his lonely heart.
As I came up the alley I saw a light in the top window, and a head and
shoulders thrown in an exaggerated shadow upon the blind. I wondered what
the son could be doing up there at such an hour.
Nov. 5. - This morning, while writing, someone came up the creaking
stairs and knocked cautiously at my door. Thinking it was the landlady,
I said, "Come in!" The knock was repeated, and I cried louder, "Come in,
come in!" But no one turned the handle, and I continued my writing with
a vexed "Well, stay out, then!" under my breath. Went on writing? I tried
to, but my thoughts had suddenly dried up at their source. I could not
set down a single word. It was a dark, yellow-fog morning, and there was
little enough inspiration in the air as it was, but that stupid woman standing
just outside my door waiting to be told again to come in roused a spirit
of vexation that filled my head to the exclusion of all else. At last I
jumped up and opened the door myself.
"What do you want, and why in the world don't you come in?" I cried
out. But the words dropped into empty air. There was no one there. The
fog poured up the dingy staircase in deep yellow coils, but there was no
sign of a human being anywhere.
I slammed the door, with imprecations upon the house and its noises,
and went back to my work. A few minutes later Emily came in with a letter.
"Were you or Mrs. Monson outside a few minutes ago knocking at my door?"
"Are you sure?"
"Mrs. Monson's gone to market, and there's no one but me and the child
in the 'ole 'ouse, and I've been washing the dishes for the last hour,
I fancied the girl's face turned a shade paler. She fidgeted towards
the door with a glance over her shoulder.
"Wait, Emily," I said, and then told her what I had heard. She stared
stupidly at me, though her eyes shifted now and then over the articles
in the room.
"Who was it?" I asked when I had come to the end.
"Mrs. Monson says it's honly mice," she said, as if repeating a learned
"Mice!" I exclaimed; "It's nothing of the sort. Someone was feeling
about outside my door. Who was it? Is the son in the house?"
Her whole manner changed suddenly, and she became earnest instead of
evasive. She seemed anxious to tell the truth.
"Oh no, sir; there's no one in the house at all but you and me and the
child, and there couldn't 'ave been nobody at your door. As for them knocks
- " She stopped abruptly, as though she had said too much.
"Well, what about the knocks?" I said more gently.
"Of course," she stammered, "the knocks isn't mice, nor the footsteps
neither, but then - " Again she came to a full halt.
"Anything wrong with the house?"
"Lor', no, sir; the drains is splendid!"
"I don't mean drains, girl. I mean, did anything - anything bad ever
happen here?" She flushed up to the roots of her hair, and then turned
suddenly pale again. She was obviously in considerable distress, and there
was something she was anxious, yet afraid to tell - some forbidden thing
she was not allowed to mention.
"I don't mind what it was, only I should like to know," I said encouragingly.
Raising her frightened eyes to my face, she began to blurt out something
about "that which 'appened once to a gentleman that lived hupstairs", when
a shrill voice calling her name sounded below.
"Emily, Emily!" It was the returning landlady, and the girl tumbled
downstairs as if pulled backwards by a rope, leaving me full of conjectures
as to what in the world could have happened to a gentleman upstairs that
could in so curious a manner affect my ears downstairs.
Nov. 10. - I have done capital work; have finished the ponderous article
and had it accepted for the Review, and another one ordered. I feel well
and cheerful, and have had regular exercise and good sleep; no headaches,
no nerves, no liver! Those pills the chemist recommended are wonderful.
I can watch the child playing with his cart and feel no annoyance; sometimes
I almost feel inclined to join him. Even the grey-faced landlady rouses
pity in me; I am sorry for her: so worn, so weary, so oddly put together,
just like the building. She looks as if she had once suffered some shock
of terror, and was momentarily dreading another. When I spoke to her today
very gently about not putting the pens in the ash-tray and the gloves on
the hook-shelf she raised her faint eyes to mine for the first time, and
said with the ghost of a smile, "I'll try and remember, sir." I felt inclined
to pat her on the back and say, "Come, cheer up and be jolly. Life's not
so bad after all." Oh! I am much better. There's nothing like open air
and success and good sleep. They build up as if by magic the portions of
the heart eaten down by despair and unsatisfied yearnings. Even to the
cats I feel friendly. When I came in at eleven o'clock to-night they followed
me to the door in a stream, and I stooped down to stroke the one nearest
to me. Bah! The brute hissed and spat, and struck at me with her paws.
The claw caught my hand and drew blood in a thin line. The others danced
sideways into the darkness, screeching, as though I had done them an injury.
I believe these cats really hate me. Perhaps they are only waiting to be
reinforced. Then they will attack me. Ha, ha! In spite of the momentary
annoyance, this fancy sent me laughing upstairs to my room.
The fire was out, and the room seemed unusually cold. As I groped my
way over to the mantelpiece to find the matches I realised all at once
that there was another person standing beside me in the darkness. I could,
of course, see nothing, but my fingers, feeling along the ledge, came into
forcible contact with something that was at once withdrawn. It was cold
and moist. I could have sworn it was somebody's hand. My flesh began to
creep instantly. "Who's that?" I exclaimed in a loud voice.
My voice dropped into the silence like a pebble into a deep well. There
was no answer, but at the same moment I heard someone moving away from
me across the room in the direction of the door. It was a confused sort
of footstep, and the sound of garments brushing the furniture on the way.
The same second my hand stumbled upon the match-box, and I struck a light.
I expected to see Mrs. Monson, or Emily, or perhaps the son who is something
on an omnibus. But the flare of the gas-jet illumined an empty room; there
was not a sign of a person anywhere. I felt the hair stir upon my head,
and instinctively I backed up against the wall, lest something should approach
me from behind. I was distinctly alarmed. But the next minute I recovered
myself. The door was open on to the landing, and I crossed the room, not
without some inward trepidation, and went out. The light from the room
fell upon the stairs, but there was no one to be seen anywhere, nor was
there any sound on the creaking wooden staircase to indicate a departing
creature. I was in the act of turning to go in again when a sound overhead
caught my ear. It was a very faint sound, not unlike the sigh of wind;
yet it could not have been the wind, for the night was still as the grave.
Though it was not repeated, I resolved to go upstairs and see for myself
what it all meant. Two senses had been affected - touch and hearing - and
I could not believe that I had been deceived. So, with a lighted candle,
I went stealthily forth on my unpleasant journey into the upper regions
of this queer little old house.
On the first landing there was only one door, and it was locked. On
the second there was also only one door, but when I turned the handle it
opened. There came forth to meet me the chill musty air that is characteristic
of a long unoccupied room. With it there came an indescribable odour. I
use the adjective advisedly. Though very faint, diluted as it were, it
was nevertheless an odour that made my gorge rise. I had never smelt anything
like it before, and I cannot describe it. The room was small and square,
close under the roof, with a sloping ceiling and two tiny windows. It was
cold as the grave, without a shred of carpet or a stick of furniture. The
icy atmosphere and the nameless odour combined to make the room abominable
to me, and, after lingering a moment to see that it contained no cupboards
or corners into which a person might have crept for concealment, I made
haste to shut the door, and went downstairs again to bed. Evidently I had
been deceived after all as to the noise.
In the night I had a foolish but very vivid dream. I dreamed that the
landlady and another person, dark and not properly visible, entered my
room on all fours, followed by a horde of immense cats. They attacked me
as I lay in bed, and murdered me, and then dragged my body upstairs and
deposited it on the floor of that cold little square room under the roof.
Nov. 11. - Since my talk with Emily - the unfinished talk - I have hardly
once set eyes on her. Mrs. Monson now attends wholly to my wants. As usual,
she does everything exactly as I don't like it done. It is all too utterly
trivial to mention, but it is exceedingly irritating. Like small doses
of morphine often repeated, she has finally a cumulative effect.
Nov. 12. - This morning I woke early, and came into the front room to
get a book, meaning to read in bed till it was time to get tip. Emily was
laying the fire.
"Good morning!" I said cheerfully. "Mind you make a good fire. It's
very cold." The girl turned and showed me a startled face. It was not Emily
"Where's Emily? " I exclaimed. "You mean the girl as was 'ere before
"Has Emily left?"
"I came on the 6th," she replied sullenly, "and she'd gone then."
I got my book and went back to bed. Emily must have been sent away almost
immediately after our conversation. This reflection kept coming between
me and the printed page. I was glad when it was time to get up. Such prompt
energy, such merciless decision, seemed to argue something of importance
- to somebody.
Nov. 13. - The wound inflicted by the cat's claw has swollen, and causes
me annoyance and some pain. It throbs and itches. I'm afraid my blood must
be in poor condition, or it would have healed by now. I opened it with
a penknife soaked in an antiseptic solution, and cleansed it thoroughly.
I have heard unpleasant stories of the results of wounds inflicted by cats.
Nov. 14. - In spite of the curious effect this house certainly exercises
upon my nerves, I like it. It is lonely and deserted in the very heart
of London, but it is also for that reason quiet to work in. I wonder why
it is so cheap. Some people might be suspicious, but I did not even ask
the reason. No answer is better than a lie. If only I could remove the
cats from the outside and the rats from the inside. I feel that I shall
grow accustomed more and more to its peculiarities, and shall die here.
Ah, that expression reads queerly and gives a wrong impression: I meant
live and die here. I shall renew the lease from year to year till one of
us crumbles to pieces. From present indications the building will be the
first to go.
Nov. 16. - It is abominable the way my nerves go up and down with me
- and rather discouraging. This morning I woke to find my clothes scattered
about the room, and a cane chair overturned beside the bed. My coat and
waistcoat looked just as if they had been tried on by someone in the night.
I had horribly vivid dreams, too, in which someone covering his face with
his hands kept coming close up to me, crying out as if in pain. "Where
can I find covering? Oh, who will clothe me?" How silly, and yet it frightened
me a little. It was so dreadfully real. It is now over a year since I last
walked in my sleep and woke up with such a shock on the cold pavement of
Earl's Court Road, where I then lived. I thought I was cured, but evidently
not. This discovery has rather a disquieting effect upon me. Tonight I
shall resort to the old trick of tying my toe to the bed-post.
Nov. 17. - Last night I was again troubled by most oppressive dreams.
Someone seemed to be moving in the night up and down my room, sometimes
passing into the front room, and then returning to stand beside the bed
and stare intently down upon me. I was being watched by this person all
night long. I never actually awoke, though I was often very near it. I
suppose it was a nightmare from indigestion, for this morning I have one
of my old vile headaches. Yet all my clothes lay about the floor when I
awoke, where they had evidently been flung (had I so tossed them?) during
the dark hours, and my trousers trailed over the step into the front room.
Worse than this, though - I fancied I noticed about the room in the morning
that strange, fetid odour. Though very faint, its mere suggestion is foul
and nauseating. What in the world can it be, I wonder?... In future I shall
lock my door.
Nov. 26. - I have accomplished a lot of good work during this past week,
and have also managed to get regular exercise. I have felt well and in
an equable state of mind. Only two things have occurred to disturb my equanimity.
The first is trivial in itself, and no doubt to be easily explained. The
upper window where I saw the light on the night of November 4, with the
shadow of a large head and shoulders upon the blind, is one of the windows
in the square room under the roof. In reality it has no blind at all!
Here is the other thing. I was coming home last night in a fresh fall
of snow about eleven o'clock, my umbrella low down over my head. Half-way
up the alley, where the snow was wholly untrodden, I saw a man's legs in
front of me. The umbrella hid the rest of his figure, but on raising it
I saw that he was tall and broad and was walking, as I was, towards the
door of my house. He could not have been four feet ahead of me. I had thought
the alley was empty when I entered it, but might of course have been mistaken
A sudden gust of wind compelled me to lower the umbrella, and when I
raised it again, not half a minute later, there was no longer any man to
be seen. With a few more steps I reached the door. It was closed as usual.
I then noticed with a sudden sensation of dismay that the surface of the
freshly fallen snow was unbroken. My own foot-marks were the only ones
to be seen anywhere, and though I retraced my way to tile point where I
had first seen the man, I could find no slightest impression of any other
boots. Feeling creepy and uncomfortable, I went upstairs, and was glad
to get into bed.
Nov. 28. - With the fastening of my bedroom door the disturbances ceased.
I am convinced that I walked in my sleep. Probably I untied my toe and
then tied it up again. The fancied security of the locked door would alone
have been enough to restore sleep to my troubled spirit and enable me to
Last night, however, the annoyance was suddenly renewed another and
more aggressive form. I woke in the darkness with the impression that someone
was standing outside my bedroom door listening. As I became more awake
the impression grew into positive knowledge. Though there was no appreciable
sound of moving or breathing, I was so convinced of the propinquity of
a listener that I crept out of bed and approached the door. As I did so
there came faintly from the next room the unmistakable sound of someone
retreating stealthily across the floor. Yet, as I heard it, it was neither
the tread of a man nor a regular footstep, but rather, it seemed to me,
a confused sort of crawling, almost as of someone on his hands and knees.
I unlocked the door in less than a second, and passed quickly into the
front room, and I could feel, as by the subtlest imaginable vibrations
upon my nerves, that the spot I was standing in had just that instant been
vacated! The Listener had moved; he was now behind the other door, standing
in the passage. Yet this door was also closed. I moved swiftly, and as
silently as possible, across the floor, and turned the handle. A cold rush
of air met me from the passage and sent shiver after shiver down my back.
There was no one in the doorway; there was no one on the little landing;
there was no one moving down the staircase. Yet I had been so quick that
this midnight Listener could not be very far away, and I felt that if I
persevered I should eventually come face to face with him. And the courage
that came so opportunely to overcome my nervousness and horror seemed born
of the unwelcome conviction that it was somehow necessary for my safety
as well as my sanity that I should find this intruder and force his secret
from him. For was it not the intent action of his mind upon my own, in
concentrated listening, that had awakened me with such a vivid realisation
of his presence?
Advancing across the narrow landing, I peered down into the well of
the little house. There was nothing to be seen; no one was moving in the
darkness. How cold the oilcloth was to my bare feet.
I cannot say what it was that suddenly drew my eyes upwards. I only
know that, without apparent reason, I looked up and saw a person about
half-way up the next turn of the stairs, leaning forward over the balustrade
and staring straight into my face. It was a man. He appeared to be clinging
to the rail rather than standing on the stairs. The gloom made it impossible
to see much beyond the general outline, but the head and shoulders were
seemingly enormous, and stood sharply silhouetted against the skylight
in the roof immediately above. The idea flashed into my brain in a moment
that I was looking into the visage of something monstrous. The huge skull,
the mane-like hair, the wide-humped shoulders, suggested, in a way I did
not pause to analyse, that which was scarcely human; and for some seconds,
fascinated by horror, I returned the gaze and stared into the dark, inscrutable
countenance above me, without knowing exactly where I was or what I was
Then I realised in quite a new way that I was face to face with the
secret midnight Listener, and I steeled myself as best I could for what
was about to come.
The source of the rash courage that came to me at this awful moment
will ever be to me an inexplicable mystery. Though shivering with fear,
and my forehead wet with an unholy dew, I resolved to advance. Twenty questions
leaped to my lips: What are you? What do you want? Why do you listen and
watch? Why do you come into my room? But none of them found articulate
I began forthwith to climb the stairs, and with the first signs of my
advance he drew himself back into the shadows and began to move. He retreated
as swiftly as I advanced. I heard the sound of his crawling motion a few
steps ahead of me, ever maintaining the same distance. When I reached the
landing he was half-way up the next flight, and when I was half-way up
the next flight he had already arrived at the top landing. I then heard
him open the door of the little square room under the roof and go in. Immediately,
though the door did not close after him, the sound of his moving entirely
At this moment I longed for a light, or a stick, or any weapon whatsoever;
but I had none of these things, and it was impossible to go back. So I
marched steadily up the rest of the stairs, and in less than a minute found
myself standing in the gloom face to face with the door through which this
creature had just entered.
For a moment I hesitated. The door was about half-way open, and the
Listener was standing evidently in his favourite attitude just behind it
- listening. To search through that dark room for him seemed hopeless;
to enter the same small space where he was seemed horrible. The very idea
filled me with loathing, and I almost decided to turn back.
It is strange at such times how trivial things impinge on the consciousness
with a shock as of something important and immense. Something - it may
have been a beetle or a mouse - scuttled over the bare boards behind me.
The door moved a quarter of an inch, closing. My decision came back with
a sudden rush, as it were, and thrusting out a foot, I kicked the door
so that it swung sharply back to its full extent, and permitted me to walk
forward slowly into the aperture of profound blackness beyond. What a queer
soft sound my bare feet made on the boards! how the blood sang and buzzed
in my head!
I was inside. The darkness closed over me, hiding even the windows.
I began to grope my way round the walls in a thorough search; but in order
to prevent all possibility of the other's escape, I first of all closcd
There we were, we two, shut in together between four walls, within a
few feet of one another. But with what, with whom, was I thus momentarily
imprisoned? A new light flashed suddenly over the affair with a swift,
illuminating brilliance - and I knew I was a fool, an utter fool! I was
wide awake at last, and the horror was evaporating. My cursed nerves again;
a dream, a nightmare, and the old result - walking in my sleep. The figure
was a dream-figure. Many a time before had the actors in my dreams stood
before me for some moments after I was awake... There was a chance match
in my pyjamas' pocket, and I struck it on the wall. The room was utterly
empty. It held not even a shadow. I went quickly down to bed, cursing my
wretched nerves and my foolish, vivid dreams. But as soon as ever I was
asleep again, the same uncouth figure of a man crept back to my bedside,
and bending over me with his immense head close to my ear, whispered repeatedly
in my dreams, "I want your body; I want its covering. I'm waiting for it,
and listening always." Words scarcely less foolish than the dream.
But I wonder what that queer odour was up in the square room. I noticed
it again, and stronger than ever before, and it seemed to be also in my
bedroom when I woke this morning.
Nov. 29. - Slowly, as moonbeams rise over a misty sea in June, the thought
is entering my mind that my nerves and somnambulistic dreams do not adequately
account for the influence this house exercises upon me. It holds me as
with a fine, invisible net. I cannot escape if I would. It draws me, and
it means to keep me.
Nov. 30. - The post this morning brought me a letter from Aden, forwarded
from my old rooms in Earl's Court. It was from Chapter, my former Trinity
chum, who is on his way home from the East, and asks for my address. I
sent it to him at the hotel he mentioned, "to await arrival".
As I have already said, my windows command a view of the alley, and
I can see an arrival without difficulty. This morning, while I was busy
writing, the sound of footsteps coming up the alley filled me with a sense
of vague alarm that I could in no way account for. I went over to the window,
and saw a man standing below waiting for the door to be opened. His shoulders
were broad, his top-hat glossy, and his overcoat fitted beautifully round
the collar. All this I could see, but no more. Presently the door was opened,
and the shock to my nerves was unmistakable when I heard a man's voice
ask, "Is Mr. - still here?" mentioning my name. I could not catch the answer,
but it could only have been in the affirmative, for the man entered the
hall and the door shut to behind him. But I waited in vain for the sound
of his steps on the stairs. There was no sound of any kind. It seemed to
me so strange that I opened my door and looked out. No one was anywhere
to be seen. I walked across the narrow landing, and looked through the
window that commands the whole length of the alley. There was no sign of
a human being, coming or going. The lane was deserted. Then I deliberately
walked downstairs into the kitchen, and asked the grey-faced landlady if
a gentleman had just that minute called for me.
The answer, given with an odd, weary sort of smile, was "No!"
Dec. 1. - I feel genuinely alarmed and uneasy over the state of my nerves.
Dreams are dreams, but never before have I had dreams in broad daylight.
I am looking forward very much to Chapter's arrival. He is a capital
fellow, vigorous, healthy, with no nerves, and even less imagination; and
he has £2,000 a year into the bargain. Periodically he makes me offers
- the last was to travel round the world with him as secretary, which was
a delicate way of paying my expenses and giving me some pocket-money -
offers, however, which I invariably decline. I prefer to keep his friendship.
Women could not come between us; money might - therefore I give it no opportunity.
Chapter always laughed at what he called my "fancies", being himself possessed
only of that thin-blooded quality of imagination which is ever associated
with the prosaic-minded man. Yet, if taunted with this obvious lack, his
wrath is deeply stirred. His psychology is that of the crass materialist
- always a rather funny article. It will afford me genuine relief, none
the less, to hear the cold judgment his mind will have to pass upon the
story of this house as I shall have it to tell.
Dec. 2. - The strangest part of it all I have not referred to in this
brief diary. Truth to tell, I have been afraid to set it down in black
and white. I have kept it in the background of my thoughts, preventing
it as far as possible from taking shape. In spite of my efforts, however,
it has continued to grow stronger.
Now that I come to face the issue squarely it is harder to express than
I imagined. Like a half-remembered melody that trips in the head but vanishes
the moment you try to sing it, these thoughts form a group in the background
of my mind, behind my mind, as it were, and refuse to come forward. They
are crouching ready to spring, but the actual leap never takes place. In
these rooms, except when my mind is strongly concentrated on my own work,
I find myself suddenly dealing in thoughts and ideas that are not my own!
New, strange conceptions, wholly foreign to my temperament, are for ever
cropping up in my head. What precisely they are is of no particular importance.
The point is that they are entirely apart from the channel in which my
thoughts have hitherto been accustomed to flow. Especially they come when
my mind is at rest, unoccupied; when I'm dreaming over the fire, or sitting
with a book which fails to hold my attention. Then these thoughts which
are not mine spring into life and make me feel exceedingly uncomfortable.
Sometimes they are so strong that I almost feel as if someone were in the
room beside me, thinking aloud.
Evidently my nerves and liver are shockingly out of order. I must work
harder and take more vigorous exercise. The horrid thoughts never come
when my mind is much occupied. But they are always there - waiting and
as it were alive.
What I have attempted to describe above came first upon me gradually
after I had been some days in the house, and then grew steadily in strength.
The other strange thing has come to me only twice in all these weeks. It
appals me. It is the consciousness of the propinquity of some deadly and
loathsome disease. It comes over me like a wave of fever heat, and then
passes off, leaving me cold and trembling. The air seems for a few seconds
to become tainted. So penetrating and convincing is the thought of this
sickness, that on both occasions my brain has turned momentarily dizzy,
and through my mind, like flames of white heat, have flashed the ominous
names of all the dangerous illnesses I know. I can no more explain these
visitations than I can fly, yet I know there is no dreaming about the clammy
skin and palpitating heart which they always leave as witnesses of their
Most strongly of all was I aware of this nearness of a mortal sickness
when, on the night of the 28th, I went upstairs in pursuit of the listening
figure. When we were shut in together in that little square room under
the roof, I felt that I was face to face with the actual essence of this
invisible and malignant disease. Such a feeling never entered my heart
before, and I pray to God it never may again.
There! Now I have confessed. I have given some expression at least to
the feelings that so far I have been afraid to see in my own writing. For
- since I can no longer deceive myself - the experiences of that night
(28th) were no more a dream than my daily breakfast is a dream; and the
trivial entry in this diary by which I sought to explain away an occurrence
that caused me unutterable horror was due solely to my desire not to acknowledge
in words what I really felt and believed to be true. The increase that
would have accrued to my horror by so doing might have been more than I
Dec. 3. - I wish Chapter would come. My facts are all ready marshalled,
and I can see his cool, grey eyes fixed incredulously on my face as I relate
them: the knocking at my door, the well-dressed caller, the light in the
upper window and the shadow upon the blind, the man who preceded me in
the snow, the scattering of my clothes at night, Emily's arrested confession,
the landlady's suspicious reticence, the midnight listener on the stairs,
and those awful subsequent words in my sleep; and above all, and hardest
to tell, the presence of the abominable sickness, and the stream of thoughts
and ideas that are not my own.
I can see Chapter's face, and I can almost hear his deliberate words,
"You've been at the tea again, and underfeeding, I expect, as usual. Better
see my nerve doctor, and then come with me to the south of France." For
this fellow, who knows nothing of disordered liver or high-strung nerves,
goes regularly to a great nerve specialist with the periodical belief that
his nervous system is beginning to decay.
Dec. 5. - Ever since the incident of the Listener, I have kept a night-light
burning in my bedroom, and my sleep has been undisturbed. Last night, however,
I was subjected to a far worse annoyance. I woke suddenly, and saw a man
in front of the dressing-table regarding himself in the mirror. The door
was locked, as usual. I knew at once it was the Listener, and the blood
turned to ice in my veins. Such a wave of horror and dread swept over me
that it seemed to turn me rigid in the bed, and I could neither move nor
speak. I noted, however, that the odour I so abhorred was strong in the
The man seemed to be tall and broad. He was stooping forward over the
mirror. His back was turned to me, but in the glass I saw the reflection
of a huge head and face illumined fitfully by the flicker of the night-light.
The spectral grey of very early morning stealing in round the edges of
the curtains lent an additional horror to the picture, for it fell upon
hair that was tawny and mane-like, hanging loosely about a face whose swollen,
rugose features bore the once seen never forgotten leonine expression of
- I dare not write down that awful word. But, by way of corroborative proof,
I saw in the faint mingling of the two lights that there were several bronze-coloured
blotches on the cheeks which the man was evidently examining with great
care in the glass. The lips were pale and very thick and large. One hand
I could not see, but the other rested on the ivory back of my hair-brush.
Its muscles were strangely contracted, the fingers thin to emaciation,
the back of the hand closely puckered up. It was like a big grey spider
crouching to spring, or the claw of a great bird.
The full realisation that I was alone in the room with this nameless
creature, almost within arm's reach of him, overcame me to such a degree
that, when he suddenly turned and regarded me with small beady eyes, wholly
out of proportion to the grandeur of their massive setting, I sat bolt
upright in bed, uttered a loud cry, and then fell back in a dead swoon
of terror upon the bed.
Dec. 5. - When I came to this morning, the first thing I noticed was
that my clothes were strewn all over the floor... I find it difficult to
put my thoughts together, and have sudden accesses of violent trembling.
I determined that I would go at once to Chapter's hotel and find out when
he is expected. I cannot refer to what happened in the night; it is too
awful, and I have to keep my thoughts rigorously away from it. I feel light-headed
and queer, couldn't eat any breakfast, and have twice vomited with blood.
While dressing to go out, a hansom rattled up noisily over the cobbles,
and a minute later the door opened, and to my great joy in walked the very
subject of my thoughts.
The sight of his strong face and quiet eyes had an immediate effect
upon me, and I grew calmer again. His very handshake was a sort of tonic.
But, as I listened eagerly to the deep tones of his reassuring voice, and
the visions of the night-time paled a little, I began to realise how very
hard it was going to be to tell him my wild intangible tale. Some men radiate
an animal vigour that destroys the delicate woof of a vision and effectually
prevents its reconstruction. Chapter was one of these men.
We talked of incidents that had filled the interval since we last met,
and he told me something of his travels. He talked and I listened. But,
so full was I of the horrid thing I had to tell, that I made a poor listener.
I was for ever watching my opportunity to leap in and explode it all under
Before very long, however, it was borne in upon me that he too was merely
talking for time. He too held something of importance in the background
of his mind, something too weighty to let fall till the right moment presented
itself. So that during the whole of the first half-hour we were both waiting
for the psychological moment in which properly to release our respective
bombs; and the intensity of our minds' action set up opposing forces that
merely sufficed to hold one another in check - and nothing more. As soon
as I realised this, therefore, I resolved to yield. I renounced for the
time my purpose of telling my story, and had the satisfaction of seeing
that his mind, released from the restraint of my own, at once began to
make preparations for the discharge of its momentous burden. The talk grew
less and less magnetic; the interest waned; the descriptions of his travels
became less alive. There were pauses between his sentences. Presently he
repeated himself. His words clothed no living thoughts. The pauses grew
longer. Then the interest dwindled altogether and went out like a candle
in the wind. His voice ceased, and he looked up squarely into my face with
serious and anxious eyes.
The psychological moment had come at last! "I say - " he began, and
then stopped short.
I made an unconscious gesture of encouragement, but said no word. I
dreaded the impending disclosure exceedingly. A dark shadow seemed to precede
"I say," he blurted out at last, "what in the world made you ever come
to this place - to these rooms, I mean?"
"They're cheap, for one thing," I began, "and central and - "
"They're too cheap," he interrupted. "Didn't you ask what made 'em so
"It never occurred to me at the time." There was a pause in which he
avoided my eyes.
"For God's sake, go on, man, and tell it!" I cried, for the suspense
was getting more than I could stand in my nervous condition.
"This was where Blount lived so long," he said quietly, "and where he
- died. You know, in the old days I often used to come here and see him,
and do what I could to alleviate his - " He stuck fast again.
"Well!" I said with a great effort. "Please go on - faster."
"But," Chapter went on, turning his face to the window with a perceptible
shiver, "he finally got so terrible I simply couldn't stand it, though
I always thought I could stand anything. It got on my nerves and made me
dream, and haunted me day and night."
I stared at him, and said nothing. I had never heard of Blount in my
life, and didn't know what he was talking about. But, all the same, I was
trembling, and my mouth had become strangely dry.
"This is the first time I've been back here since," he said almost in
a whisper, "and, 'pon my word, it gives me the creeps. I swear it isn't
fit for a man to live in. I never saw you look so bad, old man."
"I've got it for a year," I jerked out, with a forced laugh; "signed
the lease and all. I thought it was rather a bargain."
Chapter shuddered, and buttoned his overcoat up to his neck. Then he
spoke in a low voice, looking occasionally behind him as though he thought
someone was listening. I too could have sworn someone else was in the room
"He did it himself, you know, and no one blamed him a bit; his sufferings
were awful. For the last two years he used to wear a veil when he went
out, and even then it was always in a closed carriage. Even the attendant
who had nursed him for so long was at length obliged to leave. The extremities
of both the lower limbs were gone, dropped off, and he moved about the
ground on all fours with a sort of crawling motion. The odour, too, was..."
I was obliged to interrupt him here. I could hear no more details of
that sort. My skin was moist, I felt hot and cold by turns, for at last
I was beginning to understand.
"Poor devil," Chapter went on; "I used to keep my eyes closed as much
as possible. He always begged to be allowed to take his veil off, and asked
if I minded very much. I used to stand by the open window. He never touched
me, though. He rented the whole house. Nothing would induce him to leave
"Did he occupy - these very rooms?"
"No. He had the little room on the top floor, the square one just under
the roof. He preferred it because it was dark. These rooms were too near
the ground, and he was afraid people might see him through the windows.
A crowd had been known to follow him up to the very door, and then stand
below the windows in the hope of catching a glimpse of his face."
"But there were hospitals."
"He wouldn't go near one, and they didn't like to force him. You know,
they say it's not contagious, so there was nothing to prevent his staying
here if he wanted to. He spent all his time reading medical books, about
drugs and so on. His head and face were something appalling, just like
I held up my hand to arrest further description. "He was a burden to
the world, and he knew it. One night I suppose he realised it too keenly
to wish to live. He had the free use of drugs - and in the morning he was
found dead on the floor. Two years ago, that was, and they said then he
had still several years to live."
"Then, in Heaven's name!" I cried, unable to bear the suspense any longer,
"tell me what it was he had, and be quick about it."
"I thought you knew!" he exclaimed, with genuine surprise. "I thought
you knew!" He leaned forward and our eyes met. In a scarcely audible whisper
I caught the words his lips seemed almost afraid to utter:
"He was a leper!"