The Diary of Mr. Poynter
by Montague Rhodes James
The sale-room of an old and famous firm
of book auctioneers in London is, of course,
a great meeting-place for collectors, librarians,
dealers: not only when an auction is in
progress, but perhaps even more notably
when books that are coming on for sale are
upon view. It was in such a sale-room that the
remarkable series of events began which were
detailed to me not many months ago by the
person whom they principally affected, namely,
Mr. James Denton, M.A., F.S.A., etc., etc.,
some time of Trinity Hall, now, or lately, of
Rendcomb Manor in the county of Warwick.
He, on a certain spring day not many years
since, was in London for a few days upon business
connected principally with the furnishing
of the house which he had just finished building
at Rendcomb. It may be a disappointment to
you to learn that Rendcomb Manor was new;
that I cannot help. There had, no doubt, been
an old house; but it was not remarkable for
beauty or interest. Even had it been, neither
beauty nor interest would have enabled it to
resist the disastrous fire which about a couple
of years before the date of my story had razed
it to the ground. I am glad to say that all
that was most valuable in it had been saved,
and that it was fully insured. So that it was
with a comparatively light heart that Mr.
Denton was able to face the task of building
a new and considerably more convenient dwelling
for himself and his aunt who constituted
his whole ménage.
Being in London, with time on his hands, and
not far from the sale-room at which I have
obscurely hinted, Mr. Denton thought that he
would spend an hour there upon the chance of
finding, among that portion of the famous
Thomas collection of MSS., which he knew to
be then on view, something bearing upon the
history or topography of his part of Warwickshire.
He turned in accordingly, purchased a catalogue
and ascended to the sale-room, where,
as usual, the books were disposed in cases
and some laid out upon the long tables. At
the shelves, or sitting about at the tables, were
figures, many of whom were familiar to him.
He exchanged nods and greetings with several,
and then settled down to examine his catalogue
and note likely items. He had made good
progress through about two hundred of the
five hundred lots—every now and then rising
to take a volume from the shelf and give it a
cursory glance—when a hand was laid on his
shoulder, and he looked up. His interrupter
was one of those intelligent men with a pointed
beard and a flannel shirt, of whom the last
quarter of the nineteenth century was, it seems
to me, very prolific.
It is no part of my plan to repeat the whole
conversation which ensued between the two.
I must content myself with stating that it largely
referred to common acquaintances, e.g., to the
nephew of Mr. Denton's friend who had recently
married and settled in Chelsea, to the sister-in-law
of Mr. Denton's friend who had been
seriously indisposed, but was now better, and
to a piece of china which Mr. Denton's friend
had purchased some months before at a price
much below its true value. From which you will
rightly infer that the conversation was rather
in the nature of a monologue. In due time,
however, the friend bethought himself that
Mr. Denton was there for a purpose, and said
he, "What are you looking out for in particular?
I don't think there's much in this lot."
"Why, I thought there might be some Warwickshire
collections, but I don't see anything
under Warwick in the catalogue." "No, apparently
not," said the friend. "All the same,
I believe I noticed something like a Warwickshire
diary. What was the name again?
Drayton? Potter? Painter—either a P or a
D, I feel sure." He turned over the leaves
quickly. "Yes, here it is. Poynter. Lot 486.
That might interest you. There are the books,
I think: out on the table. Some one has been
looking at them. Well, I must be getting on.
Good-bye, you'll look us up, won't you?
Couldn't you come this afternoon? We've got
a little music about four. Well, then, when
you're next in town." He went off. Mr.
Denton looked at his watch and found to his
confusion that he could spare no more than a
moment before retrieving his luggage and going
for the train. The moment was just enough to
show him that there were four largish volumes
of the diary—that it concerned the years about
1710, and that there seemed to be a good many
insertions in it of various kinds. It seemed
quite worth while to leave a commission of
five and twenty pounds for it, and this he
was able to do, for his usual agent entered the
room as he was on the point of leaving it.
That evening he rejoined his aunt at their
temporary abode, which was a small dower-house
not many hundred yards from the Manor.
On the following morning the two resumed a
discussion that had now lasted for some weeks
as to the equipment of the new house. Mr.
Denton laid before his relative a statement of
the results of his visit to town—particulars of
carpets, of chairs, of wardrobes, and of bedroom
china. "Yes, dear," said his aunt, "but I
don't see any chintzes here. Did you go to
----?" Mr. Denton stamped on the floor (where
else, indeed, could he have stamped?). "Oh
dear, oh dear," he said, "the one thing I missed.
I am sorry. The fact is I was on my way there
and I happened to be passing Robins's." His
aunt threw up her hands. "Robins's! Then
the next thing will be another parcel of horrible
old books at some outrageous price. I do
think, James, when I am taking all this trouble
for you, you might contrive to remember the
one or two things which I specially begged
you to see after. It's not as if I was asking it
for myself. I don't know whether you think
I get any pleasure out of it, but if so I can
assure you it's very much the reverse. The
thought and worry and trouble I have over it
you have no idea of, and you have simply to
go to the shops and order the things." Mr.
Denton interposed a moan of penitence. "Oh,
aunt——" "Yes, that's all very well, dear,
and I don't want to speak sharply, but you
must know how very annoying it is: particularly
as it delays the whole of our business for
I can't tell how long: here is Wednesday—the
Simpsons come to-morrow, and you can't
leave them. Then on Saturday we have friends,
as you know, coming for tennis. Yes, indeed,
you spoke of asking them yourself, but, of
course, I had to write the notes, and it is ridiculous,
James, to look like that. We must
occasionally be civil to our neighbours: you
wouldn't like to have it said we were perfect
bears. What was I saying? Well, anyhow
it comes to this, that it must be Thursday in
next week at least, before you can go to town
again, and until we have decided upon the
chintzes it is impossible to settle upon one
single other thing."
Mr. Denton ventured to suggest that as the
paint and wallpapers had been dealt with,
this was too severe a view: but this his aunt
was not prepared to admit at the moment.
Nor, indeed, was there any proposition he could
have advanced which she would have found
herself able to accept. However, as the day
went on, she receded a little from this position:
examined with lessening disfavour the samples
and price lists submitted by her nephew, and
even in some cases gave a qualified approval
to his choice.
As for him, he was naturally somewhat
dashed by the consciousness of duty unfulfilled,
but more so by the prospect of a lawn-tennis
party, which, though an inevitable evil in
August, he had thought there was no occasion
to fear in May. But he was to some extent
cheered by the arrival on the Friday morning
of an intimation that he had secured at the
price of £12 10s. the four volumes of Poynter's
manuscript diary, and still more by the arrival
on the next morning of the diary itself.
The necessity of taking Mr. and Mrs. Simpson
for a drive in the car on Saturday morning
and of attending to his neighbours and guests
that afternoon prevented him from doing more
than open the parcel until the party had retired
to bed on the Saturday night. It was then
that he made certain of the fact, which he had
before only suspected, that he had indeed
acquired the diary of Mr. William Poynter,
Squire of Acrington (about four miles from his
own parish)—that same Poynter who was for
a time a member of the circle of Oxford antiquaries,
the centre of which was Thomas Hearne,
and with whom Hearne seems ultimately to
have quarrelled—a not uncommon episode in
the career of that excellent man. As is the
case with Hearne's own collections, the diary of
Poynter contained a good many notes from
printed books, descriptions of coins and other
antiquities that had been brought to his notice,
and drafts of letters on these subjects,
besides the chronicle of everyday events. The
description in the sale-catalogue had given Mr.
Denton no idea of the amount of interest which
seemed to lie in the book, and he sat up reading
in the first of the four volumes until a reprehensibly
On the Sunday morning, after church, his
aunt came into the study and was diverted
from what she had been going to say to him
by the sight of the four brown leather quartos
on the table. "What are these?" she said
suspiciously. "New, aren't they? Oh! are
these the things that made you forget my
chintzes? I thought so. Disgusting. What
did you give for them, I should like to know?
Over Ten Pounds? James, it is really sinful.
Well, if you have money to throw away on
this kind of thing, there can be no reason why
you should not subscribe—and subscribe handsomely—to
my anti-Vivisection League. There
is not, indeed, James, and I shall be very
seriously annoyed if——. Who did you say
wrote them? Old Mr. Poynter, of Acrington?
Well, of course, there is some interest in getting
together old papers about this neighbourhood.
But Ten Pounds!" She picked up one of
the volumes—not that which her nephew had
been reading—and opened it at random, dashing
it to the floor the next instant with a cry of
disgust as a earwig fell from between the pages.
Mr. Denton picked it up with a smothered
expletive and said, "Poor book! I think you're
rather hard on Mr. Poynter." "Was I, my
dear? I beg his pardon, but you know I cannot
abide those horrid creatures. Let me see if I've
done any mischief." "No, I think all's well:
but look here what you've opened him on."
"Dear me, yes, to be sure! how very interesting.
Do unpin it, James, and let me look at it."
It was a piece of patterned stuff about the
size of the quarto page, to which it was fastened
by an old-fashioned pin. James detached it
and handed it to his aunt, carefully replacing
the pin in the paper.
Now, I do not know exactly what the fabric
was; but it had a design printed upon it,
which completely fascinated Miss Denton. She
went into raptures over it, held it against the
wall, made James do the same, that she might
retire to contemplate it from a distance: then
pored over it at close quarters, and ended her
examination by expressing in the warmest
terms her appreciation of the taste of the
ancient Mr. Poynter who had had the happy
idea of preserving this sample in his diary.
"It is a most charming pattern," she said,
"and remarkable too. Look, James, how delightfully
the lines ripple. It reminds one of
hair, very much, doesn't it. And then these
knots of ribbon at intervals. They give just
the relief of colour that is wanted. I wonder——"
"I was going to say," said James with deference,
"I wonder if it would cost much to have it
copied for our curtains." "Copied? how could
you have it copied, James?" "Well, I don't
know the details, but I suppose that is a printed
pattern, and that you could have a block cut
from it in wood or metal." "Now, really,
that is a capital idea, James. I am almost
inclined to be glad that you were so—that you
forgot the chintzes on Monday. At any rate,
I'll promise to forgive and forget if you get this
lovely old thing copied. No one will have
anything in the least like it, and mind, James,
we won't allow it to be sold. Now I must go,
and I've totally forgotten what it was I came
in to say: never mind, it'll keep."
After his aunt had gone James Denton devoted
a few minutes to examining the pattern more
closely than he had yet had a chance of doing.
He was puzzled to think why it should have
struck Miss Benton so forcibly. It seemed to
him not specially remarkable or pretty. No
doubt it was suitable enough for a curtain
pattern: it ran in vertical bands, and there
was some indication that these were intended
to converge at the top. She was right, too, in
thinking that these main bands resembled
rippling—almost curling—tresses of hair. Well,
the main thing was to find out by means of
trade directories, or otherwise, what firm would
undertake the reproduction of an old pattern
of this kind. Not to delay the reader over
this portion of the story, a list of likely names
was made out, and Mr. Denton fixed a day for
calling on them, or some of them, with his
The first two visits which he paid were unsuccessful:
but there is luck in odd numbers.
The firm in Bermondsey which was third on
his list was accustomed to handling this line.
The evidence they were able to produce justified
their being entrusted with the job. "Our
Mr. Cattell" took a fervent personal interest in
it. "It's 'eartrending, isn't it, sir," he said,
"to picture the quantity of reelly lovely
medeevial stuff of this kind that lays well-nigh
unnoticed in many of our residential
country 'ouses: much of it in peril, I take
it, of being cast aside as so much rubbish.
What is it Shakespeare says—unconsidered
trifles. Ah, I often say he 'as a word for us
all, sir. I say Shakespeare, but I'm well aware
all don't 'old with me there—I 'ad something
of an upset the other day when a gentleman
came in—a titled man, too, he was, and I
think he told me he'd wrote on the topic, and
I 'appened to cite out something about 'Ercules
and the painted cloth. Dear me, you never
see such a pother. But as to this, what you've
kindly confided to us, it's a piece of work
we shall take a reel enthusiasm in achieving it
out to the very best of our ability. What man
'as done, as I was observing only a few weeks
back to another esteemed client, man can do,
and in three to four weeks' time, all being well,
we shall 'ope to lay before you evidence to that
effect, sir. Take the address, Mr. 'Iggins, if
Such was the general drift of Mr. Cattell's
observations on the occasion of his first interview
with Mr. Denton. About a month later,
being advised that some samples were ready
for his inspection, Mr. Denton met him again,
and had, it seems, reason to be satisfied with
the faithfulness of the reproduction of the
design. It had been finished off at the top in
accordance with the indication I mentioned, so
that the vertical bands joined. But something
still needed to be done in the way of matching
the colour of the original. Mr. Cattell had
suggestions of a technical kind to offer, with
which I need not trouble you. He had also
views as to the general desirability of the pattern
which were vaguely adverse. "You say
you don't wish this to be supplied excepting
to personal friends equipped with a authorization
from yourself, sir. It shall be done. I
quite understand your wish to keep it exclusive:
lends it a catchit, does it not, to the suite?
What's every man's, it's been said, is no man's."
"Do you think it would be popular if it
were generally obtainable?" asked Mr. Denton.
"I 'ardly think it, sir," said Cattell, pensively
clasping his beard. "I 'ardly think it. Not
popular: it wasn't popular with the man that
cut the block, was it, Mr. 'Iggins?"
"Did he find it a difficult job?"
"He'd no call to do so, sir; but the fact is
that the artistic temperament—and our men
are artists, sir, every man of them—true artists
as much as many that the world styles by that
term—it's apt to take some strange 'ardly
accountable likes or dislikes, and here was
an example. The twice or thrice that I went
to inspect his progress: language I could
understand, for that's 'abitual to him, but reel
distaste for what I should call a dainty enough
thing, I did not, nor am I now able to fathom.
It seemed," said Mr. Cattell, looking narrowly
upon Mr. Denton, "as if the man scented
something almost Hevil in the design."
"Indeed? did he tell you so? I can't say
I see anything sinister in it myself."
"Neether can I, sir. In fact I said as much.
'Come, Gatwick,' I said, 'what's to do here?
What's the reason of your prejudice—for I
can call it no more than that?' But, no!
no explanation was forthcoming. And I was
merely reduced, as I am now, to a shrug of
the shoulders, and a cui bono. However, here
it is," and with that the technical side of the
question came to the front again.
The matching of the colours for the background,
the hem, and the knots of ribbon was
by far the longest part of the business, and
necessitated many sendings to and fro of the
original pattern and of new samples. During
part of August and September, too, the
Dentons were away from the Manor. So that
it was not until October was well in that a
sufficient quantity of the stuff had been manufactured
to furnish curtains for the three or four
bedrooms which were to be fitted up with it.
On the feast of Simon and Jude the aunt
and nephew returned from a short visit to find
all completed, and their satisfaction at the
general effect was great. The new curtains,
in particular, agreed to admiration with their
surroundings. When Mr. Denton was dressing
for dinner, and took stock of his room, in which
there was a large amount of the chintz displayed,
he congratulated himself over and over again
on the luck which had first made him forget his
aunt's commission and had then put into his
hands this extremely effective means of remedying
his mistake. The pattern was, as he said
at dinner, so restful and yet so far from being
dull. And Miss Denton—who, by the way, had
none of the stuff in her own room—was much
disposed to agree with him.
At breakfast next morning he was induced
to qualify his satisfaction to some extent—but
very slightly. "There is one thing I rather
regret," he said, "that we allowed them to
join up the vertical bands of the pattern at the
top. I think it would have been better to
leave that alone."
"Oh?" said his aunt interrogatively.
"Yes: as I was reading in bed last night
they kept catching my eye rather. That is, I
found myself looking across at them every now
and then. There was an effect as if some one
kept peeping out between the curtains in one
place or another, where there was no edge,
and I think that was due to the joining up of
the bands at the top. The only other thing
that troubled me was the wind."
"Why, I thought it was a perfectly still
"Perhaps it was only on my side of the
house, but there was enough to sway my
curtains and rustle them more than I wanted."
That night a bachelor friend of James Denton's
came to stay, and was lodged in a room
on the same floor as his host, but at the end of
a long passage, halfway down which was a red
baize door, put there to cut off the draught
and intercept noise.
The party of three had separated. Miss
Denton a good first, the two men at about
eleven. James Denton, not yet inclined for
bed, sat him down in an arm-chair and read for
a time. Then he dozed, and then he woke, and
bethought himself that his brown spaniel, which
ordinarily slept in his room, had not come
upstairs with him. Then he thought he was
mistaken: for happening to move his hand
which hung down over the arm of the chair
within a few inches of the floor, he felt on the
back of it just the slightest touch of a surface
of hair, and stretching it out in that direction
he stroked and patted a rounded something.
But the feel of it, and still more the fact that
instead of a responsive movement, absolute stillness
greeted his touch, made him look over the
arm. What he had been touching rose to meet
him. It was in the attitude of one that had
crept along the floor on its belly, and it was,
so far as could be collected, a human figure.
But of the face which was now rising to within
a few inches of his own no feature was discernible,
only hair. Shapeless as it was, there
was about it so horrible an air of menace that
as he bounded from his chair and rushed from
the room he heard himself moaning with fear:
and doubtless he did right to fly. As he
dashed into the baize door that cut the passage
in two, and—forgetting that it opened towards
him—beat against it with all the force in him,
he felt a soft ineffectual tearing at his back
which, all the same, seemed to be growing in
power, as if the hand, or whatever worse than
a hand was there, were becoming more material
as the pursuer's rage was more concentrated.
Then he remembered the trick of the door—he
got it open—he shut it behind him—he gained
his friend's room, and that is all we need know.
It seems curious that, during all the time that
had elapsed since the purchase of Poynter's
diary, James Denton should not have sought
an explanation of the presence of the pattern
that had been pinned into it. Well, he had
read the diary through without finding it mentioned,
and had concluded that there was
nothing to be said. But, on leaving Rendcomb
Manor (he did not know whether for good),
as he naturally insisted upon doing on the day
after experiencing the horror I have tried to
put into words, he took the diary with him.
And at his seaside lodgings he examined more
narrowly the portion whence the pattern had
been taken. What he remembered having
suspected about it turned out to be correct.
Two or three leaves were pasted together, but
written upon, as was patent when they were
held up to the light. They yielded easily to
steaming, for the paste had lost much of its
strength, and they contained something relevant
to the pattern.
The entry was made in 1707.
"Old Mr. Casbury, of Acrington, told me
this day much of young Sir Everard Charlett,
whom he remember'd Commoner of University
College, and thought was of the same Family
as Dr. Arthur Charlett, now master of ye
Coll. This Charlett was a personable young
gent., but a loose atheistical companion, and
a great Lifter, as they then call'd the hard
drinkers, and for what I know do so now. He
was noted, and subject to severall censures at
different times for his extravagancies: and if
the full history of his debaucheries had bin
known, no doubt would have been expell'd
Coll., supposing that no interest had been
imploy'd on his behalf, of which Mr. Casbury
had some suspicion. He was a very beautiful
person, and constantly wore his own Hair,
which was very abundant, from which, and his
loose way of living, the cant name for him was
Absalom, and he was accustom'd to say that
indeed he believ'd he had shortened old David's
days, meaning his father, Sir Job Charlett,
an old worthy cavalier.
"Note that Mr. Casbury said that he remembers
not the year of Sir Everard Charlett's
death, but it was 1692 or 3. He died suddenly
in October. [Several lines describing his unpleasant
habits and reputed delinquencies are
omitted.] Having seen him in such topping
spirits the night before, Mr. Casbury was amaz'd
when he learn'd the death. He was found in
the town ditch, the hair as was said pluck'd
clean off his head. Most bells in Oxford rung
out for him, being a nobleman, and he was
buried next night in St. Peter's in the East.
But two years after, being to be moved to his
country estate by his successor, it was said
the coffin, breaking by mischance, proved quite
full of Hair: which sounds fabulous, but yet
I believe precedents are upon record, as in
Dr. Plot's History of Staffordshire.
"His chambers being afterwards stripp'd,
Mr. Casbury came by part of the hangings of
it, which 'twas said this Charlett had design'd
expressly for a memorial of his Hair, giving
the Fellow that drew it a lock to work by,
and the piece which I have fasten'd in here
was parcel of the same, which Mr. Casbury
gave to me. He said he believ'd there was a
subtlety in the drawing, but had never discover'd
it himself, nor much liked to pore
The money spent upon the curtains might
as well have been thrown into the fire, as they
were. Mr. Cattell's comment upon what he
heard of the story took the form of a quotation
from Shakespeare. You may guess it without
difficulty. It began with the words "There
are more things."