Carnacki the Ghost Finder
William Hope Hodgson
Author of "The Boats of the 'Glen Carrig,'" "The House on
the Borderland," "The Ghost Pirates," etc.
THE SEARCHER OF THE END HOUSE
From The Idler, June, 1910
(Thomas Carnacki, the famous investigator of "real" ghost
stories, tells here the details of a peculiarly frightening
It was still evening, as I remember, and the four of
us, Jessop, Arkwright, Taylor and I, looked disappointedly at
Carnacki, where he sat silent in his great chair.
We had come in response to the usual card of
invitation, which as you know we have come to consider as a sure
prelude to a good story; and now, after telling us the short
incident of the Three Straw Platters, he had lapsed into a
contented silence, and the night not half gone, as I have hinted.
However, as it chanced, some pitying fate jogged
Carnacki's elbow, or his memory, and he began again, in his queer
"The 'Straw Platters' business reminds me of
the 'Searcher' Case, which I have sometimes thought might interest
you. It was some time ago, in fact a deuce of a long time ago,
that the thing happened; and my experience of what I might term
'curious' things was very small at that time.
"I was living with my mother, when it occurred,
in a small house just outside of Appledorn, on the South Coast. The
house was the last of a row of detached cottage-villas, each house
standing in its own garden; and very dainty little places they
were, very old, and most of them smothered in roses; and all with
those quaint old leaded windows, and doors of genuine oak. You
must try to picture them for the sake of their complete niceness.
"Now I must remind you at the beginning, that
my mother and I had lived in that little house for two years; and
in the whole of that time there had not been a single peculiar
happening to worry us.
"And then, something happened.
"It was about two o'clock one morning, as I was
finishing some letters, that I heard the door of my mother's
bedroom open, and she came to the top of the stairs, and knocked on
" 'All right, dear,' I called; for I suppose
she was merely reminding me that I should have been in bed long
ago; then I heard her go back to her room, and I hurried my work,
for fear she should lie awake, until she heard me safe up to my
"When I was finished, I lit my candle, put out
the lamp, and went upstairs. As I came opposite the door of my
mother's room, I saw that it was open, called good-night to her,
very softly, and asked whether I should close the door. As there
was no answer, I knew that she had dropped off to sleep again, and
I closed the door very gently, and turned into my room, just across
the passage. As I did so, I experienced a momentary, half-aware
sense of a faint, peculiar, disagreeable odour in the passage; but
it was not until the following night that I realised I had
noticed a smell that offended me. You follow me? It is so often
like that one suddenly knows a thing that really recorded
itself on one's consciousness, perhaps a year before.
"The next morning at breakfast, I mentioned
casually to my mother that she had 'dropped-off,' and I had shut
the door for her. To my surprise, she assured me she had never
been out of her room. I reminded her about the two raps she had
given upon the banister; but she still was certain I must be
mistaken; and in the end I teased her, saying she had grown so
accustomed to my bad habit of sitting up late, that she had come to
call me in her sleep. Of course, she denied this, and I let the
matter drop; but I was more than a little puzzled, and did not know
whether to believe my own explanation, or to take the mater's,
which was to put the noises down to the mice, and the open door to
the fact that she couldn't have properly latched it, when she went
to bed. I suppose, away in the subconscious part of me, I had a
stirring of less reasonable thoughts; but certainly, I had no real
uneasiness at that time.
"The next night there came a further
development. About two-thirty a.m., I heard my mother's door open,
just as on the previous night, and immediately afterward she rapped
sharply, on the banister, as it seemed to me. I stopped my work
and called up that I would not be long. As she made no reply, and
I did not hear her go back to bed, I had a quick sense of wonder
whether she might not be doing it in her sleep, after all, just as
I had said.
"With the thought, I stood up, and taking the
lamp from the table, began to go towards the door, which was open
into the passage. It was then I got a sudden nasty sort of thrill;
for it came to me, all at once, that my mother never knocked, when
I sat up too late; she always called. You will understand I was
not really frightened in any way; only vaguely uneasy, and pretty
sure she must really be doing the thing in her sleep.
"I went quickly up the stairs, and when I came
to the top, my mother was not there; but her door was open. I had
a bewildered sense though believing she must have gone quietly back
to bed, without my hearing her. I entered her room and found her
sleeping quietly and naturally; for the vague sense of trouble in
me was sufficiently strong to make me go over to look at her.
"When I was sure that she was perfectly right
in every way, I was still a little bothered; but much more inclined
to think my suspicion correct and that she had gone quietly back to
bed in her sleep, without knowing what she had been doing. This
was the most reasonable thing to think, as you must see.
"And then it came to me, suddenly, that vague,
queer, mildewy smell in the room; and it was in that instant I
became aware I had smelt the same strange, uncertain smell the
night before in the passage.
"I was definitely uneasy now, and began to
search my mother's room; though with no aim or clear thought of
anything, except to assure myself that there was nothing in the
room. All the time, you know, I never expected really to find
anything; only my uneasiness had to be assured.
"In the middle of my search my mother woke up,
and of course I had to explain. I told her about her door opening,
and the knocks on the banister, and that I had come up and found
her asleep. I said nothing about the smell, which was not very
distinct; but told her that the thing happening twice had made me
a bit nervous, and possibly fanciful, and I thought I would take a
look round, just to feel satisfied.
"I have thought since that the reason I made no
mention of the smell, was not only that I did not want to frighten
my mother, for I was scarcely that myself; but because I had only
a vague half-knowledge that I associated the smell with fancies too
indefinite and peculiar to bear talking about. You will understand
that I am able now to analyse and put the thing into words; but
then I did not even know my chief reason for saying nothing; let
alone appreciate its possible significance.
"It was my mother, after all, who put part of
my vague sensations into words:
" 'What a disagreeable smell!' she exclaimed,
and was silent a moment, looking at me. Then: 'You feel there's
something wrong?' still looking at me, very quietly but with a
little, nervous note of questioning expectancy.
" 'I don't know,' I said. 'I can't understand
it, unless you've really been walking about in your sleep.'
" 'The smell,' she said.
" 'Yes,' I replied. 'That's what puzzles me
too. I'll take a walk through the house; but I don't suppose it's
"I lit her candle, and taking the lamp, I went
through the other bedrooms, and afterwards all over the house,
including the three underground cellars, which was a little trying
to the nerves, seeing that I was more nervous than I would admit.
"Then I went back to my mother, and told her
there was really nothing to bother about; and, you know, in the
end, we talked ourselves into believing it was nothing. My mother
would not agree that she might have been sleep-walking; but she was
ready to put the door opening down to the fault of the latch, which
certainly snicked very lightly. As for the knocks, they might be
the old warped woodwork of the house cracking a bit, or a mouse
rattling a piece of loose plaster. The smell was more difficult to
explain; but finally we agreed that it might easily be the queer
night-smell of the moist earth, coming in through the open window
of my mother's room, from the back garden, or for that
matter from the little churchyard beyond the big wall at the
bottom of the garden.
"And so we quietened down, and finally I went
to bed, and to sleep.
"I think this is certainly a lesson on the way
we humans can delude ourselves; for there was not one of these
explanations that my reason could really accept. Try to imagine
yourself in the same circumstances, and you will see how absurd our
attempts to explain the happenings really were.
"In the morning, when I came down to breakfast,
we talked it all over again, and whilst we agreed that it was
strange, we also agreed that we had begun to imagine funny things
in the backs of our minds, which now we felt half ashamed to admit.
This is very strange when you come to look into it; but very human.
"And then that night again my mother's door was
slammed once more just after midnight. I caught up the lamp, and
when I reached her door, I found it shut. I opened it quickly, and
went in, to find my mother lying with her eyes open, and rather
nervous; having been waked by the bang of the door. But what upset
me more than anything, was the fact that there was a disgusting
smell in the passage and in her room.
"Whilst I was asking her whether she was all
right, a door slammed twice downstairs; and you can imagine how it
made me feel. My mother and I looked at one another; and then I
lit her candle, and taking the poker from the fender, went
downstairs with the lamp, beginning to feel really nervous. The
culminative effect of so many queer happenings was getting hold of
me; and all the apparently reasonable explanations seemed futile.
"The horrible smell seemed to be very strong in
the downstairs passage; also in the front room and the cellars; but
chiefly in the passage. I made a very thorough search of the
house, and when I had finished, I knew that all the lower windows
and doors were properly shut and fastened, and that there was no
living thing in the house, beyond our two selves. Then I went up
to my mother's room again, and we talked the thing over for an hour
or more, and in the end came to the conclusion that we might, after
all, be reading too much into a number of little things; but, you
know, inside of us, we did not believe this.
"Later, when we had talked ourselves into a
more comfortable state of mind, I said good night, and went off to
bed; and presently managed to get to sleep.
"In the early hours of the morning, whilst it
was still dark, I was waked by a loud noise. I sat up in bed, and
listened. And from downstairs, I heard: bang, bang, bang, one
door after another being slammed; at least, that is the impression
the sounds gave to me.
"I jumped out of bed, with the tingle and
shiver of sudden fright on me; and at the same moment, as I lit my
candle, my door was pushed slowly open; I had left it unlatched, so
as not to feel that my mother was quite shut off from me.
" 'Who's there?' I shouted out, in a voice
twice as deep as my natural one, and with a queer breathlessness,
that sudden fright so often gives one. 'Who's there?'
"Then I heard my mother saying:
" 'It's me, Thomas. Whatever is happening
"She was in the room by this, and I saw she had
her bedroom poker in one hand, and her candle in the other. I
could have smiled at her, had it not been for the extraordinary
"I got into my slippers, and reached down an
old sword-bayonet from the wall; then I picked up my candle, and
begged my mother not to come; but I knew it would be little use, if
she had made up her mind; and she had, with the result that she
acted as a sort of rearguard for me, during our search. I know, in
some ways, I was very glad to have her with me, as you will
"By this time, the door-slamming had ceased,
and there seemed, probably because of the contrast, to be an
appalling silence in the house. However, I led the way, holding my
candle high, and keeping the sword-bayonet very handy. Downstairs
we found all the doors wide open; although the outer doors and the
windows were closed all right. I began to wonder whether the
noises had been made by the doors after all. Of one thing only
were we sure, and that was, there was no living thing in the house,
beside ourselves, while everywhere throughout the house, there was
the taint of that disgusting odour.
"Of course it was absurb to try to make-believe
any longer. There was something strange about the house; and as
soon as it was daylight, I set my mother to packing; and soon after
breakfast, I saw her off by train.
"Then I set to work to try to clear up the
mystery. I went first to the landlord, and told him all the
circumstances. From him, I found that twelve or fifteen years
back, the house had got rather a curious name from three or four
tenants; with the result that it had remained empty a long while;
in the end he had let it at a low rent to a Captain Tobias, on the
one condition that he should hold his tongue, if he saw anything
peculiar. The landlord's idea as he told me frankly was to free
the house from these tales of 'something queer,' by keeping a
tenant in it, and then to sell it for the best price he could get.
"However, when Captain Tobias left, after a ten
years' tenancy, there was no longer any talk about the house; so
when I offered to take it on a five years' lease, he had jumped at
the offer. This was the whole story; so he gave me to understand.
When I pressed him for details of the supposed peculiar happenings
in the house, all those years back, he said the tenants had talked
about a woman who always moved about the house at night. Some
tenants never saw anything; but others would not stay out the first
"One thing the landlord was particular to point
out, that no tenant had ever complained about knockings, or door
slamming. As for the smell, he seemed positively indignant about
it; but why, I don't suppose he knew himself, except that he
probably had some vague feeling that it was an indirect accusation
on my part that the drains were not right.
"In the end, I suggested that he should come
down and spend the night with me. He agreed at once, especially as
I told him I intended to keep the whole business quiet, and try to
get to the bottom of the curious affair; for he was anxious to keep
the rumour of the haunting from getting about.
"About three o'clock that afternoon, he came
down, and we made a thorough search of the house, which, however,
revealed nothing unusual. Afterwards, the landlord made one or two
tests, which showed him the drainage was in perfect order; after
that we made our preparations for sitting up all night.
"First, we borrowed two policemen's dark
lanterns from the station near by, and where the superintendent and
I were friendly; and as soon as it was really dusk, the landlord
went up to his house for his gun. I had the sword-bayonet I have
told you about; and when the landlord got back, we sat talking in
my study until nearly midnight.
"Then we lit the lanterns and went upstairs.
We placed the lanterns, gun and bayonet handy on the table; then I
shut and sealed the bedroom doors; afterwards we took our seats,
and turned off the lights.
"From then, until two o'clock, nothing
happened; but a little after two, as I found by holding my watch
near the faint glow of the closed lanterns, I had a time of
extraordinary nervousness; and I bent towards the landlord, and
whispered to him that I had a queer feeling something was about to
happen, and to be ready with his lantern; at the same time I
reached out towards mine. In the very instant I made this
movement, the darkness which filled the passage seemed to become
suddenly of a dull violet colour; not, as if a light had been
shone; but as if the natural blackness of the night had changed
colour. And then, coming through this violet night, through this
violet-coloured gloom, came a little naked Child, running. In an
extraordinary way, the Child seemed not to be distinct from the
surrounding gloom; but almost as if it were a concentration of that
extraordinary atmosphere; as if that gloomy colour which had
changed the night, came from the Child. It seems impossible to
make clear to you; but try to understand it.
"The Child went past me, running, with the
natural movement of the legs of a chubby human child, but in an
absolute and inconceivable silence. It was a very small Child, and
must have passed under the table; but I saw the Child through the
table, as if it had been only a slightly darker shadow than the
coloured gloom. In the same instant, I saw that a fluctuating
glimmer of violet light outlined the metal of the gun-barrels and
the blade of the sword-bayonet, making them seem like faint shapes
of glimmering light, floating unsupported where the table-top
should have shown solid.
"Now, curiously, as I saw these things, I was
subconsciously aware that I heard the anxious breathing of the
landlord, quite clear and laboured, close to my elbow, where he
waited nervously with his hands on the lantern. I realised in that
moment that he saw nothing; but waited in the darkness, for my
warning to come true.
"Even as I took heed of these minor things, I
saw the Child jump to one side, and hide behind some half-seen
object, that was certainly nothing belonging to the passage. I
stared, intently, with a most extraordinary thrill of expectant
wonder, with fright making goose-flesh of my back. And even as I
stared, I solved for myself the less important problem of what the
two black clouds were that hung over a part of the table. I think
it very curious and interesting, the double working of the mind,
often so much more apparent during times of stress. The two clouds
came from two faintly shining shapes, which I knew must be the
metal of the lanterns; and the things that looked black to the
sight with which I was then seeing, could be nothing else but what
to normal human sight is known as light. This phenomenon I have
always remembered. I have twice seen a somewhat similar thing; in
the Dark Light Case and in that trouble of Maaetheson's, which you
"Even as I understood this matter of the
lights, I was looking to my left, to understand why the Child was
hiding. And suddenly, I heard the landlord shout out: 'The
Woman!' But I saw nothing. I had a disagreeable sense that
something repugnant was near to me, and I was aware in the same
moment that the landlord was gripping my arm in a hard, frightened
grip. Then I was looking back to where the Child had hidden. I
saw the Child peeping out from behind its hiding-place, seeming to
be looking up the passage; but whether in fear I could not tell.
Then it came out, and ran headlong away, through the place where
should have been the wall of my mother's bedroom; but the Sense
with which I was seeing these things, showed me the wall only as a
vague, upright shadow, unsubstantial. And immediately the child
was lost to me, in the dull violet gloom. At the same time, I felt
the landlord press back against me, as if something had passed
close to him; and he called out again, a hoarse sort of cry: 'The
Woman! The Woman!' and turned the shade clumsily from off his
lantern. But I had seen no Woman; and the passage showed empty, as
he shone the beam of his light jerkily to and fro; but chiefly in
the direction of the doorway of my mother's room.
"He was still clutching my arm, and had risen
to his feet; and now, mechanically and almost slowly, I picked up
my lantern and turned on the light. I shone it, a little dazedly,
at the seals upon the doors; but none were broken; then I sent the
light to and fro, up and down the passage; but there was nothing;
and I turned to the landlord, who was saying something in a rather
incoherent fashion. As my light passed over his face, I noted, in
a dull sort of way, that he was drenched with sweat.
"Then my wits became more handleable, and I
began to catch the drift of his words: 'Did you see her? Did you
see her?' he was saying, over and over again; and then I found
myself telling him, in quite a level voice, that I had not seen any
Woman. He became more coherent then, and I found that he had seen
a Woman come from the end of the passage, and go past us; but he
could not describe her, except that she kept stopping and looking
about her, and had even peered at the wall, close beside him, as if
looking for something. But what seemed to trouble him most, was
that she had not seemed to see him at all. He repeated this so
often, that in the end I told him, in an absurb sort of way, that
he ought to be very glad she had not. What did it all mean? was
the question; somehow I was not so frightened, as utterly
bewildered. I had seen less then, than since; but what I had seen,
had made me feel adrift from my anchorage of Reason.
"What did it mean? He had seen a Woman,
searching for something. I had not seen this Woman. I
had seen a Child, running away, and hiding from Something or
Someone. He had not seen the Child, or the other
things only the Woman. And I had not seen her. What did
it all mean?
"I had said nothing to the landlord about the
Child. I had been too bewildered, and I realised that it would be
futile to attempt an explanation. He was already stupid with the
thing he had seen; and not the kind of man to understand. All this
went through my mind as we stood there, shining the lanterns to and
fro. All the time, intermingled with a streak of practical
reasoning, I was questioning myself, what did it all mean? What
was the Woman searching for; what was the Child running from?
"Suddenly, as I stood there, bewildered and
nervous, making random answers to the landlord, a door below was
violently slammed, and directly I caught the horrible reek of which
I have told you.
" 'There!' I said to the landlord, and caught
his arm, in my turn. 'The Smell! Do you smell it?'
"He looked at me so stupidly that in a sort of
nervous anger, I shook him.
" 'Yes,' he said, in a queer voice, trying to
shine the light from his shaking lantern at the stair-head.
" 'Come on!' I said, and picked up my bayonet;
and he came, carrying his gun awkwardly. I think he came, more
because he was afraid to be left alone, than because he had any
pluck left, poor beggar. I never sneer at that kind of funk, at
least very seldom; for when it takes hold of you, it makes rags of
"I led the way downstairs, shining my light
into the lower passage, and afterwards at the doors to see whether
they were shut; for I had closed and latched them, placing a corner
of a mat against each door, so I should know which had been opened.
"I saw at once that none of the doors had been
opened; then I threw the beam of my light down alongside the
stairway, in order to see the mat I had placed against the door at
the top of the cellar stairs. I got a horrid thrill; for the mat
was flat! I paused a couple of seconds, shining my light to and
fro in the passage, and holding fast to my courage, I went down the
"As I came to the bottom step, I saw patches of
wet all up and down the passage. I shone my lantern on them. It
was the imprint of a wet foot on the oilcloth of the passage; not
an ordinary footprint, but a queer, soft, flabby, spreading
imprint, that gave me a feeling of extraordinary horror.
"Backward and forward I flashed the light over
the impossible marks and saw them everwhere. Suddenly I noticed
that they led to each of the closed doors. I felt something touch
my back, and glanced round swiftly, to find the landlord had come
close to me, almost pressing against me, in his fear.
" 'It's all right,' I said, but in a rather
breathless whisper, meaning to put a little courage into him; for
I could feel that he was shaking through all his body. Even then
as I tried to get him steadied enough be of some use, his gun went
off with a tremendous bang. He jumped, and yelled with sheer
terror; and I swore because of the shock.
" 'Give it to me for God's sake!' I said, and
slipped the gun from his hand; and in the same instant there was a
sound of running steps up the garden path, and immediately the
flash of a bull's-eye lantern upon the fan-light over the front
door. Then the door was tried, and directly afterwards there came
a thunderous knocking, which told me a policeman had heard the
"I went to the door, and opened it.
Fortunately the constable knew me, and when I had beckoned him in,
I was able to explain matters in a very short time. While doing
this, Inspector Johnstone came up the path, having missed the
officer, and seeing lights and the open door. I told him as
briefly as possible what had occurred, and did not mention the
Child or the Woman; for it would have seem too fantastic for him to
notice. I showed him the queer, wet footprints and how they went
towards the closed doors. I explained quickly about the mats, and
how that the one against the cellar door was flat, which showed the
door had been opened.
"The inspector nodded, and told the constable
to guard the door at the top of the cellar stairs. He then asked
the hall lamp to be lit, after which he took the policeman's
lantern, and led the way into the front room. He paused with the
door wide open, and threw the light all round; then he jumped into
the room, and looked behind the door; there was no one there; but
all over the polished oak floor, between the scattered rugs, went
the marks of those horrible spreading footprints; and the room
permeated with the horrible odour.
"The inspector searched the room carefully, and
then went into the middle room, using the same precautions. There
was nothing in the middle room, or in the kitchen or pantry; but
everywhere went the wet footmarks through all the rooms, showing
plainly wherever there were woodwork or oilcloth; and always there
was the smell.
"The inspector ceased from his search of the
rooms, and spent a minute in trying whether the mats would really
fall flat when the doors were open, or merely ruckle up in a way as
to appear they had been untouched; but in each case, the mats fell
flat, and remained so.
" 'Extraordinary!' I heard Johnstone mutter to
himself. And then he went towards the cellar door. He had inquired
at first whether there were windows to the cellar, and when he
learned there was no way out, except by the door, he had left this
part of the search to the last.
"As Johnstone came up to the door, the
policeman made a motion of salute, and said something in a low
voice; and something in the tone made me flick my light across him.
I saw then that the man was very white, and he looked strange and
" 'What?' said Johnstone impatiently. 'Speak
" 'A woman come along 'ere, sir, and went
throught this 'ere door,' said the constable, clearly, but with a
curious monotonous intonation that is sometimes heard from an
" 'Speak up!' shouted the inspector.
" 'A woman come along and went through this
'ere door,' repeated the man, monotonously.
"The inspector caught the man by the shoulder,
and deliberately sniffed his breath.
" 'No!' he said. And then sarcastically: 'I
hope you held the door open politely for the lady.'
" 'The door weren't opened, sir,' said the man,
" 'Are you mad --' began Johnstone.
" 'No,' broke in the landlord's voice from the
back. Speaking steadily enough. 'I saw the Woman upstairs.' It
was evident that he had got back his control again.
" 'I'm afraid, Inspector Johnstone,' I said,
'that there's more in this than you think. I certainly saw some
very extraordinary things upstairs.'
"The inspector seemed about to say something;
but instead, he turned again to the door, and flashed his light
down and round about the mat. I saw then that the strange,
horrible footmarks came straight up to the cellar door; and the
last print showed under the door; yet the policeman said the door
had not been opened.
"And suddenly, without any intention, or
realisation of what I was saying, I asked the landlord:
" 'What were the feet like?'
"I received no answer; for the inspector was
ordering the constable to open the cellar door, and the man was not
obeying. Johnstone repeated the order, and at last, in a queer
automatic way, the man obeyed, and pushed the door open. The
loathsome smell beat up at us, in a great wave of horror, and the
inspector came backward a step.
" 'My God!' he said, and went forward again,
and shone his light down the steps; but there was nothing visible,
only that on each step showed the unnatural footprints.
"The inspector brought the beam of the light
vividly on the top step; and there, clear in the light, there was
something small, moving. The inspector bent to look, and the
policeman and I with him. I don't want to disgust you; but the
thing we looked at was a maggot. The policeman backed suddenly out
of the doorway:
" 'The churchyard,' he said, '. . . at the back
of the 'ouse.'
" 'Silence!' said Johnstone, with a queer break
in the word, and I knew that at last he was frightened. He put his
lantern into the doorway, and shone it from step to step, following
the footprints down into the darkness; then he stepped back from
the open doorway, and we all gave back with him. He looked round,
and I had a feeling that he was looking for a weapon of some kind.
" 'Your gun,' I said to the landlord, and he
brought it from the front hall, and passed it over to the
inspector, who took it and ejected the empty shell from the right
barrel. He held out his hand for a live cartridge, which the
landlord brought from his pocket. He loaded the gun and snapped
the breech. He turned to the constable:
" 'Come on,' he said, and moved towards the
" 'I ain't comin', sir,' said the policeman,
very white in the face.
"With a sudden blaze of passion, the inspector
took the man by the scruff and hove him bodily down into the
darkness, and he went downward, screaming. The inspector followed
him instantly, with his lantern and the gun; and I after the
inspector, with the bayonet ready. Behind me, I heard the
"At the bottom of the stairs, the inspector was
helping the policeman to his feet, where he stood swaying a moment,
in a bewildered fashion; then the inspector went into the front
cellar, and his man followed him in stupid fashion; but evidently
no longer with any thought of running away from the horror.
"We all crowded into the front cellar, flashing
our lights to and fro. Inspector Johnstone was examining the
floor, and I saw that the footmarks went all round the cellar, into
all the corners, and across the floor. I thought suddenly of the
Child that was running away from Something. Do you see the thing
that I was seeing vaguely?
"We went out of the cellar in a body, for there
was nothing to be found. In the next cellar, the footprints went
everywhere in that queer erratic fashion, as of someone searching
for something, or following some blind scent.
"In the third cellar the prints ended at the
shallow well that had been the old water-supply of the house. The
well was full to the brim, and the water so clear that the pebbly
bottom was plainly to be seen, as we shone the lights into the
water. The search came to an abrupt end, and we stood about the
well, looking at one another, in an absolute, horrible silence.
"Johnstone made another examination of the
footprints; then he shone his light again into the clear shallow
water, searching each inch of the plainly seen bottom; but there
was nothing there. The cellar was full of the dreadful smell; and
everyone stood silent, except for the constant turning of the lamps
to and fro around the cellar.
"The inspector looked up from his search of the
well, and nodded quietly across at me, with his sudden
acknowledgment that our belief was now his belief, the smell in the
cellar seemed to grow more dreadful, and to be, as it were, a
menace the material expression that some monstrous thing was there
with us, invisible.
" 'I think ' began the inspector, and shone
his light towards the stairway; and at this the constable's
restraint went utterly, and he ran for the stairs, making a queer
sound in his throat.
"The landlord followed, at a quick walk, and
then the inspector and I. He waited a single instant for me, and
we went up together, treading on the same steps, and with our
lights held backwards. At the top, I slammed and locked the stair
door, and wiped my forehead, and my hands were shaking.
"The inspector asked me to give his man a glass
of whisky, and then he sent him on his beat. He stayed a short
while with the landlord and me, and it was arranged that he would
join us again the following night and watch the Well with us from
midnight until daylight. Then he left us, just as the dawn was
coming in. The landlord and I locked up the house, and went over
to his place for a sleep.
"In the afternoon, the landlord and I returned
to the house, to make arrangements for the night. He was very
quiet, and I felt he was to be relied on, now that he had been
'salted,' as it were, with his fright of the previous night.
"We opened all the doors and windows, and blew
the house through very thoroughly; and in the meanwhile, we lit the
lamps in the house, and took them into the cellars, where we set
them all about, so as to have light everywhere. Then we carried
down three chairs and a table, and set them in the cellar where the
well was sunk. After that, we stretched thin piano wire across the
cellar, about nine inches from the floor, at such a height that it
should catch anything moving about in the dark.
"When this was done, I went through the house
with the landlord, and sealed every window and door in the place,
excepting only the front door and the door at the top of the cellar
"Meanwhile, a local wire-smith was making
something to my order; and when the landlord and I had finished tea
at his house, we went down to see how the smith was getting on. We
found the thing complete. It looked rather like a huge parrot's
cage, without any bottom, of very heavy gage wire, and stood about
seven feet high and was four feet in diameter. Fortunately, I
remembered to have it made longitudinally in two halves, or else we
should never have got it through the doorways and down the cellar
"I told the wire-smith to bring the cage up to
the house so he could fit the two halves rigidly together. As we
returned, I called in at an iron-monger's, where I bought some thin
hemp rope and an iron rack-pulley, like those used in Lancashire
for hauling up the ceiling clothes-racks, which you will find in
every cottage. I bought also a couple of pitchforks.
" 'We shan't want to touch it," I said to
the landlord; and he nodded, rather white all at once.
"As soon as the cage arrived and had been
fitted together in the cellar, I sent away the smith; and the
landlord and I suspended it over the well, into which it fitted
easily. After a lot of trouble, we managed to hang it so perfectly
central from the rope over the iron pulley, that when hoisted to
the ceiling and dropped, it went every time plunk into the well,
like a candle-extinguisher. When we had it finally arranged, I
hoisted it up once more, to the ready position, and made the rope
fast to a heavy wooden pillar, which stood in the middle of the
"By ten o'clock, I had everything arranged,
with the two pitchforks and the two police-lanterns; also some
whisky and sandwiches. Underneath the table I had several buckets
full of disinfectant.
"A little after eleven o'clock, there was a
knock at the front door, and when I went, I found Inspector
Johnstone had arrived, and brought with him one of his
plain-clothes men. You will understand how pleased I was to see
there would be this addition to our watch; for he looked a tough,
nerveless man, brainy and collected; and one I should have picked
to help us with the horrible job I felt pretty sure we should have
to do that night.
"When the inspector and the detective had
entered, I shut and locked the front door; then, while the
inspector held the light, I sealed the door carefully, with tape
and wax. At the head of the cellar stairs, I shut and locked that
door also, and sealed it in the same way.
"As we entered the cellar, I warned Johnstone
and his man to be careful not to fall over the wires; and then, as
I saw his surprise at my arrangements, I began to explain my ideas
and intentions, to all of which he listened with strong approval.
I was pleased to see also that the detective was nodding his head,
as I talked, in a way that showed he appreciated all my
"As he put his lantern down, the inspector
picked up one of the pitchforks, and balanced it in his hand; he
looked at me, and nodded.
" 'The best thing,' he said. 'I only wish
you'd got two more.'
"Then we all took our seats, the detective
getting a washing-stool from the corner of the cellar. From then,
until a quarter to twelve, we talked quietly, whilst we made a
light supper of whisky and sandwiches; after which, we cleared
everything off the table, excepting the lanterns and the
pitchforks. One of the latter, I handed to the inspector; the
other I took myself, and then, having set my chair so as to be
handy to the rope which lowered the cage into the well, I went
round the cellar and put out every lamp.
"I groped my way to my chair, and arranged the
pitchfork and the dark lantern ready to my hand; after which I
suggested that everyone should keep an absolute silence throughout
the watch. I asked, also, that no lantern should be turned on,
until I gave the word.
"I put my watch on the table, where a faint
glow from my lantern made me able to see the time. For an hour
nothing happened, and everyone kept an absolute silence, except for
an occasional uneasy movement.
"About half-past one, however, I was conscious
again of the same extraordinary and peculiar nervousness, which I
had felt on the previous night. I put my hand out quickly, and
eased the hitched rope from around the pillar. The inspector
seemed aware of the movement; for I saw the faint light from his
lantern, move a little, as if he had suddenly taken hold of it, in
"A minute later, I noticed there was a change
in the colour of the night in the cellar, and it grew slowly
violet-tinted upon my eyes. I glanced to and fro, quickly, in the
new darkness, and even as I looked, I was conscious that the violet
colour deepened. In the direction of the well, but seeming to be
at a great distance, there was, as it were, a nucleus to the
change; and the nucleus came swiftly toward us, appearing to come
from a great space, almost in a single moment. It came near, and
I saw again that it was a little naked Child, running, and seeming
to be of the violet night in which it ran.
"The Child came with a natural running
movement, exactly as I described it before; but in a silence so
peculiarly intense, that it was as if it brought the silence with
it. About half-way between the well and the table, the Child
turned swiftly, and looked back at something invisible to me; and
suddenly it went down into a crouching attitude, and seemed to be
hiding behind something that showed vaguely; but there was nothing
there, except the bare floor of the cellar; nothing, I mean, of our
"I could hear the breathing of the three other
men, with a wonderful distinctness; and also the tick of my watch
upon the table seemed to sound as loud and as slow as the tick of
an old grandfather's clock. Someway I knew that none of the others
saw what I was seeing.
"Abruptly, the landlord, who was next to me,
let out his breath with a little hissing sound; I knew then that
something was visible to him. There came a creak from the table,
and I had a feeling that the inspector was leaning forward, looking
at something that I could not see. The landlord reached out his
hand through the darkness, and fumbled a moment to catch my arm:
" 'The Woman!' he whispered, close to my ear.
'Over by the well.'
"I stared hard in that direction; but saw
nothing, except that the violet colour of the cellar seemed a
little duller just there.
"I looked back quickly to the vague place where
the Child was hiding. I saw it was peering back from its
hiding-place. Suddenly it rose and ran straight for the middle of
the table, which showed only as vague shadow half-way between my
eyes and the unseen floor. As the Child ran under the table, the
steel prongs of my pitchfork glimmered with a violet, fluctuating
light. A little way off, there showed high up in the gloom, the
vaguely shining outline of the other fork, so I knew the inspector
had it raised in his hand, ready. There was no doubt but that he
saw something. On the table, the metal of the five lanterns shone
with the same strange glow; and about each lantern there was a
little cloud of absolute blackness, where the phenomenon that is
light to our natural eyes, came through the fittings; and in this
complete darkness, the metal of each lantern showed plain, as might
a cat's-eye in a nest of black cotton wool.
"Just beyond the table, the Child paused again,
and stood, seeming to oscillate a little upon its feet, which gave
the impression that it was lighter and vaguer than a thistle-down;
and yet, in the same moment, another part of me seemed to know that
it was to me, as something that might be beyond thick, invisible
glass, and subject to conditions and forces that I was unable to
"The Child was looking back again, and my gaze
went the same way. I stared across the cellar, and saw the cage
hanging clear in the violet light, every wire and tie outlined with
its glimmering; above it there was a little space of gloom, and
then the dull shining of the iron pulley which I had screwed into
"I stared in a bewildered way round the cellar;
there were thin lines of vague fire crossing the floor in all
directions; and suddenly I remembered the piano wire that the
landlord and I had stretched. But there was nothing else to be
seen, except that near the table there were indistinct glimmerings
of light, and at the far end the ouline of a dull-glowing revolver,
evidently in the detective's pocket. I remember a sort of
subconscious satisfaction, as I settled the point in a queer
automatic fashion. On the table, near to me, there was a little
shapeless collection of the light; and this I knew, after an
instant's consideration, to be the steel portions of my watch.
"I had looked several times at the Child, and
round at the cellar, whilst I was decided these trifles; and had
found it still in that attitude of hiding from something. But now,
suddenly, it ran clear away into the distance, and was nothing more
than a slightly deeper coloured nucleus far away in the strange
"The landlord gave out a queer little cry, and
twisted over against me, as if to avoid something. From the
inspector there came a sharp breathing sound, as if he had been
suddenly drenched with cold water. Then suddenly the violet colour
went out of the night, and I was conscious of the nearness of
something monstrous and repugnant.
"There was a tense silence, and the blackness
of the cellar seemed absolute, with only the faint glow about each
of the lanterns on the table. Then, in the darkness and the
silence, there came a faint tinkle of water from the well, as if
something were rising noiselessly out of it, and the water running
back with a gentle tinkling. In the same instant, there came to me
a sudden waft of the awful smell.
"I gave a sharp cry of warning to the
inspector, and loosed the rope. There came instantly the sharp
splash of the cage entering the water; and then, with a stiff,
frightened movement, I opened the shutter of my lantern, and shone
the light at the cage, shouting to the others to do the same.
"As my light struck the cage, I saw that about
two feet of it projected from the top of the well, and there was
something protruding up out of the water, into the cage. I stared,
with a feeling that I recognised the thing; and then, as the other
lanterns were opened, I saw that it was a leg of mutton. The thing
was held by a brawny fist and arm, that rose out of the water. I
stood utterly bewildered, watching to see what was coming. In a
moment there rose into view a great bearded face, that I felt for
one quick instant was the face of a drowned man, long dead. Then
the face opened at the mouth part, and spluttered and coughed.
Another big hand came into view, and wiped the water from the eyes,
which blinked rapidly, and then fixed themselves into a stare at
"From the detective there came a sudden
" 'Captain Tobias!' he shouted, and the
inspector echoed him; and instantly burst into loud roars of
"The inspector and the detective ran across the
cellar to the cage; and I followed, still bewildered. The man in
the cage was holding the leg of mutton as far away from him, as
possible, and holding his nose.
" 'Lift thig dam trap, quig!' he shouted in a
stifled voice; but the inspector and the detective simply doubled
before him, and tried to hold their noses, whilst they laughed, and
the light from their lanterns went dancing all over the place.
" 'Quig! quig!' said the man in the cage, still
holding his nose, and trying to speak plainly.
"Then Johnstone and the detective stopped
laughing, and lifted the cage. The man in the well threw the leg
across the cellar, and turned swiftly to go down into the well; but
the officers were too quick for him, and had him out in a
twinkling. Whilst they held him, dripping upon the floor, the
inspector jerked his thumb in the direction of the offending leg,
and the landlord, having harpooned it with one of the pitchforks,
ran with it upstairs and so into the open air.
"Meanwhile, I had given the man from the well
a stiff tot of whisky; for which he thanked me with a cheerful nod,
and having emptied the glass at a draught, held his hand for the
bottle, which he finished, as if it had been so much water.
"As you will remember, it was a Captain Tobias
who had been the previous tenant; and this was the very man, who
had appeared from the well. In the course of the talk that
followed, I learned the reason for Captain Tobias leaving the
house; he had been wanted by the police for smuggling. He had
undergone imprisonment; and had been released only a couple of
"He had returned to find new tenants in his old
home. He had entered the house through the well, the walls of which
were not continued to the bottom (this I will deal with later); and
gone up by a little stairway in the cellar wall, which opened at
the top through a panel beside my mother's bedroom. This panel was
opened, by revolving the left doorpost of the bedroom door, with
the result that the bedroom door always became unlatched, in the
process of opening the panel.
"The captain complained, without any
bitterness, that the panel had warped, and that each time he opened
it, it made a cracking noise. This had been evidently what I
mistook for raps. He would not give his reason for entering the
house; but it was pretty obvious that he had hidden something,
which he wanted to get. However, as he found it impossible to get
into the house, without the risk of being caught, he decided to try
to drive us out, relying on the bad reputation of the house, and
his own artistic efforts as a ghost. I must say he succeeded. He
intended then to rent the house again, as before; and would then,
of course have plenty of time to get whatever he had hidden. The
house suited him admirably; for there was a passage as he showed
me afterwards connecting the dummy well with the crypt of the
church beyond the garden wall; and these, in turn, were connected
with certain caves in the cliffs, which went down to the beach
beyond the church.
"In the course of his talk, Captain Tobias
offered to take the house off my hands; and as this suited me
perfectly, for I was about stalled with it, and the plan also
suited the landlord, it was decided that no steps should be taken
against him; and that the whole business should be hushed up.
"I asked the captain whether there was really
anything queer about the house; whether he had ever seen anything.
He said yes, that he had twice seen a Woman going about the house.
We all looked at one another, when the captain said that. He told
us she never bothered him, and that he had only seen her twice, and
on each occasion it had followed a narrow escape from the Revenue
"Captain Tobias was an observant man; he had
seen how I had placed the mats against the doors; and after
entering the rooms, and walking all about them, so as to leave the
foot-marks of an old pair of wet woollen slippers everywhere, he
had deliberately put the mats back as he found them.
"The maggot which had dropped from his
disgusting leg of mutton had been an accident, and beyond even his
horrible planning. He was hugely delighted to learn how it had
"The mouldy smell I had noticed was from the
little closed stairway, when the captain opened the panel. The
door slamming was also another of his contributions.
"I come now to the end of the captain's
ghost-play; and to the difficulty of trying to explain the other
peculiar things. In the first place, it was obvious there was
something genuinely strange in the house; which made itself
manifest as a Woman. Many different people had seen this Woman,
under differing circumstances, so it is impossible to put the thing
down to fancy; at the same time it must seem extraordinary that I
should have lived two years in the house, and seen nothing; whilst
the policeman saw the Woman, before he had been there twenty
minutes; the landlord, the detective, and the inspector all saw
"I can only surmise that fear was in every case
the key, as I might say, which opened the senses to the presence of
the Woman. The policeman was a highly-strung man, and when he
became frightened, was able to see the Woman. The same reasoning
applies all round. I saw nothing, until I became really
frightened; then I saw, not the Woman; but a Child, running away
from Something or Someone. However, I will touch on that later.
In short, until a very strong degree of fear was present, no one
was affected by the Force which made Itself evident, as a Woman.
My theory explains why some tenants were never aware of anything
strange in the house, whilst others left immediately. The more
sensitive they were, the less would be the degree of fear necessary
to make them aware of the Force present in the house.
"The peculiar shining of all the metal objects
in the cellar, had been visible only to me. The cause, naturally
I do not know; neither do I know why I, alone, was able to see the
"The Child," I asked. "Can you
explain that part at all? Why you didn't see the Woman, and why
they didn't see the Child. Was it merely the same Force, appearing
differently to different people?"
"No," said Carnacki, "I can't explain
that. But I am quite sure that the Woman and the Child were not
only two complete and different entities; but even they were each
not in quite the same planes of existence.
"To give you a root-idea, however, it is held
in the Sigsand MS. that a child 'still-born' is 'Snatyched back bye
thee Haggs.' This is crude; but may yet contain an elemental
truth. Yet, before I make this clearer, let me tell you a thought
that has often been made. It may be that physical birth is but a
secondary process; and that prior to the possibility, the
Mother-Spirit searches for, until it finds, the small Element the
primal Ego or child's soul. It may be that a certain waywardness
would cause such to strive to evade capture by the Mother-Spirit.
It may have been such a thing as this, that I saw. I have always
tried to think so; but it is impossible to ignore the sense of
repulsion that I felt when the unseen Woman went past me. This
repulsion carries forward the idea suggested in the Sigsand MS.,
that a still-born child is thus, because its ego or spirit has been
snatched back by the 'Hags.' In other words, by certain of the
Monstrosities of the Outer Circle. The thought is inconceivably
terrible, and probably the more so because it is so fragmentary.
It leaves us with the conception of a child's soul adrift half-way
between two lives, and running through Eternity from Something
incredible and inconceivable (because not understood) to our
"The thing is beyond further discussion; for it
is futile to attempt to discuss a thing, to any purpose, of which
one has a knowledge so fragmentary as this. There is one thought,
which is often mine. Perhaps there is a Mother Spirit "
"And the well?" said Arkwright. "How
did the captain get in from the other side?"
"As I said before," answered Carnacki.
"The side walls of the well did not reach to the bottom; so
that you had only to dip down into the water, and come up again on
the other side of the wall, under the cellar floor, and so climb
into the passage. Of course, the water was the same height on both
sides of the walls. Don't ask me who made the well-entrance or the
little stairway; for I don't know. The house was very old, as I
have told you; and that sort of thing was useful in the old
"And the Child," I said, coming back to
the thing which chiefly interested me. "You would say that
the birth must have occurred in that house; and in this way, one
might suppose that the house to have become en rapport, if
I can use the word in that way, with the Forces that produced the
"Yes," replied Carnacki. "This is,
supposing we take the suggestion of the Sigsand MS., to account for
"There may be other houses " I began.
"There are," said Carnacki; and stood up.
"Out you go," he said, genially, using the
recognised formula. And in five minutes we were on the Embankment,
going thoughtfully to our various homes.