An Episode of Cathedral History
by Montague Rhodes James
There was once a learned gentleman who
was deputed to examine and report upon
the archives of the Cathedral of Southminster.
The examination of these records
demanded a very considerable expenditure of
time: hence it became advisable for him to
engage lodgings in the city: for though the
Cathedral body were profuse in their offers of
hospitality, Mr. Lake felt that he would prefer
to be master of his day. This was recognized
as reasonable. The Dean eventually wrote
advising Mr. Lake, if he were not already suited,
to communicate with Mr. Worby, the principal
Verger, who occupied a house convenient to
the church and was prepared to take in a quiet
lodger for three or four weeks. Such an
arrangement was precisely what Mr. Lake
desired. Terms were easily agreed upon, and
early in December, like another Mr. Datchery
(as he remarked to himself), the investigator
found himself in the occupation of a very
comfortable room in an ancient and "cathedraly"
One so familiar with the customs of Cathedral
churches, and treated with such obvious consideration
by the Dean and Chapter of this
Cathedral in particular, could not fail to command
the respect of the Head Verger. Mr.
Worby even acquiesced in certain modifications
of statements he had been accustomed to offer
for years to parties of visitors. Mr. Lake, on
his part, found the Verger a very cheery companion,
and took advantage of any occasion
that presented itself for enjoying his conversation
when the day's work was over.
One evening, about nine o'clock, Mr. Worby
knocked at his lodger's door. "I've occasion,"
he said, "to go across to the Cathedral, Mr.
Lake, and I think I made you a promise when
I did so next I would give you the opportunity
to see what it looks like at night time. It is
quite fine and dry outside, if you care to come."
"To be sure I will; very much obliged to
you, Mr. Worby, for thinking of it, but let me
get my coat."
"Here it is, sir, and I've another lantern here
that you'll find advisable for the steps, as
there's no moon."
"Any one might think we were Jasper and
Durdles, over again, mightn't they," said Lake,
as they crossed the close, for he had ascertained
that the Verger had read Edwin Drood.
"Well, so they might," said Mr. Worby, with
a short laugh, "though I don't know whether
we ought to take it as a compliment. Odd ways,
I often think, they had at that Cathedral, don't
it seem so to you, sir? Full choral matins at
seven o'clock in the morning all the year round.
Wouldn't suit our boys' voices nowadays, and
I think there's one or two of the men would
be applying for a rise if the Chapter was to
bring it in—particular the alltoes."
They were now at the south-west door. As
Mr. Worby was unlocking it, Lake said, "Did you
ever find anybody locked in here by accident?"
"Twice I did. One was a drunk sailor;
however he got in I don't know. I s'pose he
went to sleep in the service, but by the time I
got to him he was praying fit to bring the roof
in. Lor'! what a noise that man did make!
said it was the first time he'd been inside a
church for ten years, and blest if ever he'd try
it again. The other was an old sheep: them
boys it was, up to their games. That was the
last time they tried it on, though. There, sir,
now you see what we look like; our late Dean
used now and again to bring parties in, but he
preferred a moonlight night, and there was a
piece of verse he'd coat to 'em, relating to a
Scotch cathedral, I understand; but I don't
know; I almost think the effect's better when
it's all dark-like. Seems to add to the size and
heighth. Now if you won't mind stopping somewhere
in the nave while I go up into the choir
where my business lays, you'll see what I mean."
Accordingly Lake waited, leaning against a
pillar, and watched the light wavering along the
length of the church, and up the steps into the
choir, until it was intercepted by some screen
or other furniture, which only allowed the
reflection to be seen on the piers and roof.
Not many minutes had passed before Worby reappeared
at the door of the choir and by waving
his lantern signalled to Lake to rejoin him.
"I suppose it is Worby, and not a substitute,"
thought Lake to himself, as he walked up the
nave. There was, in fact, nothing untoward.
Worby showed him the papers which he had
come to fetch out of the Dean's stall, and asked
him what he thought of the spectacle: Lake
agreed that it was well worth seeing. "I
suppose," he said, as they walked towards the
altar-steps together, "that you're too much
used to going about here at night to feel nervous—but
you must get a start every now and
then, don't you, when a book falls down or a
door swings to."
"No, Mr. Lake, I can't say I think much
about noises, not nowadays: I'm much more
afraid of finding an escape of gas or a burst
in the stove pipes than anything else. Still
there have been times, years ago. Did you
notice that plain altar-tomb there—fifteenth
century we say it is, I don't know if you agree
to that? Well, if you didn't look at it, just
come back and give it a glance, if you'd be so
good." It was on the north side of the choir,
and rather awkwardly placed: only about three
feet from the enclosing stone screen. Quite
plain, as the Verger had said, but for some
ordinary stone panelling. A metal cross of
some size on the northern side (that next to the
screen) was the solitary feature of any interest.
Lake agreed that it was not earlier than the
Perpendicular period: "but," he said, "unless
it's the tomb of some remarkable person, you'll
forgive me for saying that I don't think it's
"Well, I can't say as it is the tomb of anybody
noted in 'istory," said Worby, who had
a dry smile on his face, "for we don't own any
record whatsoever of who it was put up to.
For all that, if you've half an hour to spare,
sir, when we get back to the house, Mr. Lake,
I could tell you a tale about that tomb. I
won't begin on it now; it strikes cold here, and
we don't want to be dawdling about all night."
"Of course I should like to hear it immensely."
"Very well, sir, you shall. Now if I might
put a question to you," he went on, as they
passed down the choir aisle, "in our little local
guide—and not only there, but in the little
book on our Cathedral in the series—you'll
find it stated that this portion of the building
was erected previous to the twelfth century.
Now of course I should be glad enough to take
that view, but—mind the step, sir—but, I put
it to you—does the lay of the stone 'ere in
this portion of the wall (which he tapped with
his key) does it to your eye carry the flavour
of what you might call Saxon masonry? No?
I thought not; no more it does to me: now, if
you'll believe me, I've said as much to those
men—one's the librarian of our Free Libry
here, and the other came down from London
on purpose—fifty times, if I have once, but I
might just as well have talked to that bit of
stonework. But there it is, I suppose every
one's got their opinions."
The discussion of this peculiar trait of human
nature occupied Mr. Worby almost up to the
moment when he and Lake re-entered the
former's house. The condition of the fire in
Lake's sitting-room led to a suggestion from
Mr. Worby that they should finish the evening
in his own parlour. We find them accordingly
settled there some short time afterwards.
Mr. Worby made his story a long one, and I
will not undertake to tell it wholly in his own
words, or in his own order. Lake committed
the substance of it to paper immediately after
hearing it, together with some few passages of the
narrative which had fixed themselves verbatim
in his mind; I shall probably find it expedient
to condense Lake's record to some extent.
Mr. Worby was born, it appeared, about the
year 1828. His father before him had been
connected with the Cathedral, and likewise his
grandfather. One or both had been choristers,
and in later life both had done work as mason
and carpenter respectively about the fabric.
Worby himself, though possessed, as he frankly
acknowledged, of an indifferent voice, had been
drafted into the choir at about ten years of
It was in 1840 that the wave of the Gothic
revival smote the Cathedral of Southminster.
"There was a lot of lovely stuff went then, sir,"
said Worby, with a sigh. "My father couldn't
hardly believe it when he got his orders to clear
out the choir. There was a new dean just
come in—Dean Burscough it was—and my
father had been 'prenticed to a good firm of
joiners in the city, and knew what good work
was when he saw it. Crool it was, he used to
say: all that beautiful wainscot oak, as good as
the day it was put up, and garlands-like of
foliage and fruit, and lovely old gilding work on
the coats of arms and the organ pipes. All
went to the timber yard—every bit except some
little pieces worked up in the Lady Chapel,
and 'ere in this overmantel. Well—I may be
mistook, but I say our choir never looked as well
since. Still there was a lot found out about
the history of the church, and no doubt but what
it did stand in need of repair. There were very
few winters passed but what we'd lose a
pinnicle." Mr. Lake expressed his concurrence
with Worby's views of restoration, but owns to
a fear about this point lest the story proper
should never be reached. Possibly this was
perceptible in his manner.
Worby hastened to reassure him, "Not but
what I could carry on about that topic for hours
at a time, and do do when I see my opportunity.
But Dean Burscough he was very set on the
Gothic period, and nothing would serve him but
everything must be made agreeable to that.
And one morning after service he appointed for
my father to meet him in the choir, and he came
back after he'd taken off his robes in the vestry,
and he'd got a roll of paper with him, and the
verger that was then brought in a table, and
they begun spreading it out on the table with
prayer books to keep it down, and my father
helped 'em, and he saw it was a picture of the
inside of a choir in a Cathedral; and the Dean—he
was a quick spoken gentleman—he says,
'Well, Worby, what do you think of that?'
'Why', says my father, 'I don't think I 'ave
the pleasure of knowing that view. Would that
be Hereford Cathedral, Mr. Dean?' 'No,
Worby,' says the Dean, 'that's Southminster
Cathedral as we hope to see it before many
years.' 'In-deed, sir,' says my father, and that
was all he did say—leastways to the Dean—but
he used to tell me he felt really faint in
himself when he looked round our choir as I
can remember it, all comfortable and furnished-like,
and then see this nasty little dry picter,
as he called it, drawn out by some London
architect. Well, there I am again. But you'll
see what I mean if you look at this old view."
Worby reached down a framed print from
the wall. "Well, the long and the short of it
was that the Dean he handed over to my father
a copy of an order of the Chapter that he was
to clear out every bit of the choir—make a clean
sweep—ready for the new work that was being
designed up in town, and he was to put it in
hand as soon as ever he could get the breakers
together. Now then, sir, if you look at that
view, you'll see where the pulpit used to stand:
that's what I want you to notice, if you please."
It was, indeed, easily seen; an unusually
large structure of timber with a domed sounding-board,
standing at the east end of the stalls on
the north side of the choir, facing the bishop's
throne. Worby proceeded to explain that during
the alterations, services were held in the
nave, the members of the choir being thereby
disappointed of an anticipated holiday, and the
organist in particular incurring the suspicion
of having wilfully damaged the mechanism of
the temporary organ that was hired at considerable
expense from London.
The work of demolition began with the choir
screen and organ loft, and proceeded gradually
eastwards, disclosing, as Worby said, many
interesting features of older work. While this
was going on, the members of the Chapter were,
naturally, in and about the choir a great deal,
and it soon became apparent to the elder Worby—who
could not help overhearing some of their talk—that,
on the part of the senior Canons
especially, there must have been a good deal
of disagreement before the policy now being
carried out had been adopted. Some were of
opinion that they should catch their deaths of
cold in the return-stalls, unprotected by a
screen from the draughts in the nave: others
objected to being exposed to the view of persons
in the choir aisles, especially, they said, during
the sermons, when they found it helpful to
listen in a posture which was liable to misconstruction.
The strongest opposition, however,
came from the oldest of the body, who up
to the last moment objected to the removal of
the pulpit. "You ought not to touch it, Mr.
Dean," he said with great emphasis one morning,
when the two were standing before it: "you
don't know what mischief you may do."
"Mischief? it's not a work of any particular
merit, Canon." "Don't call me Canon," said
the old man with great asperity, "that is,
for thirty years I've been known as Dr. Ayloff,
and I shall be obliged, Mr. Dean, if you would
kindly humour me in that matter. And as to
the pulpit (which I've preached from for thirty
years, though I don't insist on that) all I'll say
is, I know you're doing wrong in moving it."
"But what sense could there be, my dear
Doctor, in leaving it where it is, when we're
fitting up the rest of the choir in a totally
different style? What reason could be given—apart
from the look of the thing?" "Reason!
reason!" said old Dr. Ayloff; "if you
young men—if I may say so without any disrespect,
Mr. Dean—if you'd only listen to reason
a little, and not be always asking for it, we should
get on better. But there, I've said my say."
The old gentleman hobbled off, and as it proved,
never entered the Cathedral again. The season—it
was a hot summer—turned sickly on a
sudden. Dr. Ayloff was one of the first to go,
with some affection of the muscles of the thorax,
which took him painfully at night. And at
many services the number of choirmen and
boys was very thin.
Meanwhile the pulpit had been done away
with. In fact, the sounding-board (part of
which still exists as a table in a summer-house
in the palace garden) was taken down within
an hour or two of Dr. Ayloff's protest. The
removal of the base—not effected without
considerable trouble—disclosed to view, greatly
to the exultation of the restoring party, an altar-tomb—the
tomb, of course, to which Worby
had attracted Lake's attention that same evening.
Much fruitless research was expended in
attempts to identify the occupant; from that
day to this he has never had a name put to him.
The structure had been most carefully boxed
in under the pulpit-base, so that such slight
ornament as it possessed was not defaced; only
on the north side of it there was what looked
like an injury; a gap between two of the slabs
composing the side. It might be two or three
inches across. Palmer, the mason, was directed
to fill it up in a week's time, when he came to do
some other small jobs near that part of the choir.
The season was undoubtedly a very trying
one. Whether the church was built on a site
that had once been a marsh, as was suggested,
or for whatever reason, the residents in its
immediate neighbourhood had, many of them,
but little enjoyment of the exquisite sunny
days and the calm nights of August and September.
To several of the older people—Dr.
Ayloff, among others, as we have seen—the
summer proved downright fatal, but even among
the younger, few escaped either a sojourn in
bed for a matter of weeks, or at the least, a
brooding sense of oppression, accompanied by
hateful nightmares. Gradually there formulated
itself a suspicion—which grew into a conviction—that
the alterations in the Cathedral
had something to say in the matter. The widow
of a former old verger, a pensioner of the
Chapter of Southminster, was visited by dreams,
which she retailed to her friends, of a shape
that slipped out of the little door of the south
transept as the dark fell in, and flitted—taking
a fresh direction every night—about the close,
disappearing for a while in house after house,
and finally emerging again when the night sky
was paling. She could see nothing of it, she
said, but that it was a moving form: only she
had an impression that when it returned to
the church, as it seemed to do in the end of
the dream, it turned its head: and then, she
could not tell why, but she thought it had red
eyes. Worby remembered hearing the old lady
tell this dream at a tea-party in the house of the
chapter clerk. Its recurrence might, perhaps,
he said, be taken as a symptom of approaching
illness; at any rate before the end of September
the old lady was in her grave.
The interest excited by the restoration of this
great church was not confined to its own county.
One day that summer an F.S.A., of some
celebrity, visited the place. His business was
to write an account of the discoveries that had
been made, for the Society of Antiquaries, and
his wife, who accompanied him, was to make
a series of illustrative drawings for his report.
In the morning she employed herself in making
a general sketch of the choir; in the afternoon
she devoted herself to details. She first drew
the newly exposed altar-tomb, and when that
was finished, she called her husband's attention
to a beautiful piece of diaper-ornament on the
screen just behind it, which had, like the tomb
itself, been completely concealed by the pulpit.
Of course, he said, an illustration of that must
be made; so she seated herself on the tomb
and began a careful drawing which occupied
her till dusk.
Her husband had by this time finished his
work of measuring and description, and they
agreed that it was time to be getting back to
their hotel. "You may as well brush my
skirt, Frank," said the lady, "it must have got
covered with dust, I'm sure." He obeyed
dutifully; but, after a moment, he said, "I
don't know whether you value this dress particularly,
my dear, but I'm inclined to think it's
seen its best days. There's a great bit of it
gone." "Gone? Where?" said she. "I
don't know where it's gone, but it's off at the
bottom edge behind here." She pulled it
hastily into sight, and was horrified to find a
jagged tear extending some way into the substance
of the stuff; very much, she said, as
if a dog had rent it away. The dress was, in
any case, hopelessly spoilt, to her great vexation,
and though they looked everywhere, the missing
piece could not be found. There were many
ways, they concluded, in which the injury might
have come about, for the choir was full of old
bits of woodwork with nails sticking out of
them. Finally, they could only suppose that
one of these had caused the mischief, and that
the workmen, who had been about all day,
had carried off the particular piece with the
fragment of dress still attached to it.
It was about this time, Worby thought, that
his little dog began to wear an anxious expression
when the hour for it to be put into the shed in
the back yard approached. (For his mother
had ordained that it must not sleep in the
house.) One evening, he said, when he was
just going to pick it up and carry it out, it
looked at him "like a Christian, and waved its
'and, I was going to say—well, you know 'ow
they do carry on sometimes, and the end of it
was I put it under my coat, and 'uddled it
upstairs—and I'm afraid I as good as deceived
my poor mother on the subject. After that
the dog acted very artful with 'iding itself under
the bed for half-an-hour or more before bed-time
came, and we worked it so as my mother
never found out what we'd done." Of course
Worby was glad of its company anyhow, but
more particularly when the nuisance that is
still remembered in Southminster as "the
crying" set in.
"Night after night," said Worby, "that dog
seemed to know it was coming; he'd creep out,
he would, and snuggle into the bed and cuddle
right up to me shivering, and when the crying
come he'd be like a wild thing, shoving his head
under my arm, and I was fully near as bad.
Six or seven times we'd hear it, not more, and
when he'd dror out his 'ed again I'd know it
was over for that night. What was it like,
sir? Well, I never heard but one thing that
seemed to hit it off. I happened to be playing
about in the Close, and there was two of the
Canons met and said 'Good morning' one to
another. 'Sleep well last night?' says one—it
was Mr. Henslow that one, and Mr. Lyall was
the other—'Can't say I did,' says Mr. Lyall,
'rather too much of Isaiah 34. 14 for me.'
'34. 14,' says Mr. Henslow, 'what's that?'
'You call yourself a Bible reader!' says Mr.
Lyall. (Mr. Henslow, you must know, he was
one of what used to be termed Simeon's lot—pretty
much what we should call the Evangelical
party.) 'You go and look it up.' I wanted to
know what he was getting at myself, and so
off I ran home and got out my own Bible, and
there it was: 'the satyr shall cry to his fellow.'
Well, I thought, is that what we've been listening
to these past nights? and I tell you it
made me look over my shoulder a time or two.
Of course I'd asked my father and mother
about what it could be before that, but they
both said it was most likely cats: but they spoke
very short, and I could see they was troubled.
My word! that was a noise—'ungry-like, as
if it was calling after some one that wouldn't
come. If ever you felt you wanted company,
it would be when you was waiting for it to
begin again. I believe two or three nights there
was men put on to watch in different parts of
the Close; but they all used to get together in
one corner, the nearest they could to the High
Street, and nothing came of it.
"Well, the next thing was this. Me and
another of the boys—he's in business in the city
now as a grocer, like his father before him—we'd
gone up in the Close after morning service
was over, and we heard old Palmer the mason
bellowing to some of his men. So we went up
nearer, because we knew he was a rusty old
chap and there might be some fun going. It
appears Palmer'd told this man to stop up the
chink in that old tomb. Well, there was this
man keeping on saying he'd done it the best
he could, and there was Palmer carrying on like
all possessed about it. 'Call that making a job
of it?' he says. 'If you had your rights you'd
get the sack for this. What do you suppose I
pay you your wages for? What do you suppose
I'm going to say to the Dean and Chapter when
they come round, as come they may do any
time, and see where you've been bungling about
covering the 'ole place with mess and plaster
and Lord knows what?' 'Well, master, I
done the best I could,' says the man; 'I don't
know no more than what you do 'ow it come
to fall out this way. I tamped it right in the
'ole,' he says, 'and now it's fell out,' he says,
'I never see.'
"'Fell out?' says old Palmer, 'why it's
nowhere near the place. Blowed out, you
mean,' and he picked up a bit of plaster, and so
did I, that was laying up against the screen,
three or four feet off, and not dry yet; and old
Palmer he looked at it curious-like, and then
he turned round on me and he says, 'Now then,
you boys, have you been up to some of your
games here?' 'No,' I says, 'I haven't, Mr.
Palmer; there's none of us been about here
till just this minute,' and while I was talking
the other boy, Evans, he got looking in through
the chink, and I heard him draw in his breath,
and he came away sharp and up to us, and says
he, 'I believe there's something in there. I
saw something shiny.' 'What! I daresay,'
says old Palmer; 'Well, I ain't got time to stop
about there. You, William, you go off and get
some more stuff and make a job of it this time;
if not, there'll be trouble in my yard,' he says.
"So the man he went off, and Palmer too,
and us boys stopped behind, and I says to Evans,
'Did you really see anything in there?' 'Yes,'
he says, 'I did indeed.' So then I says, 'Let's
shove something in and stir it up.' And we
tried several of the bits of wood that was laying
about, but they were all too big. Then Evans
he had a sheet of music he'd brought with him,
an anthem or a service, I forget which it was
now, and he rolled it up small and shoved it
in the chink; two or three times he did it,
and nothing happened. 'Give it me, boy,'
I said, and I had a try. No, nothing happened.
Then, I don't know why I thought of it, I'm
sure, but I stooped down just opposite the
chink and put my two fingers in my mouth and
whistled—you know the way—and at that I
seemed to think I heard something stirring,
and I says to Evans, 'Come away,' I says;
'I don't like this.' 'Oh, rot,' he says, 'Give
me that roll,' and he took it and shoved it in.
And I don't think ever I see any one go so pale
as he did. 'I say, Worby,' he says, 'it's
caught, or else some one's got hold of it.'
'Pull it out or leave it,' I says, 'Come and let's
get off.' So he gave a good pull, and it came
away. Leastways most of it did, but the end
was gone. Torn off it was, and Evans looked
at it for a second and then he gave a sort of a
croak and let it drop, and we both made off
out of there as quick as ever we could. When
we got outside Evans says to me, 'Did you
see the end of that paper.' 'No,' I says,
'only it was torn.' 'Yes, it was,' he says,
'but it was wet too, and black!' Well, partly
because of the fright we had, and partly because
that music was wanted in a day or two, and we
knew there'd be a set-out about it with the
organist, we didn't say nothing to any one else,
and I suppose the workmen they swept up the
bit that was left along with the rest of the rubbish.
But Evans, if you were to ask him this very
day about it, he'd stick to it he saw that paper
wet and black at the end where it was torn."
After that the boys gave the choir a wide
berth, so that Worby was not sure what was
the result of the mason's renewed mending of
the tomb. Only he made out from fragments
of conversation dropped by the workmen passing
through the choir that some difficulty had been
met with, and that the governor—Mr. Palmer
to wit—had tried his own hand at the job.
A little later, he happened to see Mr. Palmer
himself knocking at the door of the Deanery
and being admitted by the butler. A day or so
after that, he gathered from a remark his
father let fall at breakfast that something a
little out of the common was to be done in the
Cathedral after morning service on the morrow.
"And I'd just as soon it was to-day," his father
added, "I don't see the use of running risks."
"'Father,' I says, 'what are you going to do
in the Cathedral to-morrow?' and he turned on
me as savage as I ever see him—he was a wonderful
good-tempered man as a general thing,
my poor father was. 'My lad,' he says, 'I'll
trouble you not to go picking up your elders'
and betters' talk: it's not manners and it's not
straight. What I'm going to do or not going
to do in the Cathedral to-morrow is none of
your business: and if I catch sight of you
hanging about the place to-morrow after your
work's done, I'll send you home with a flea in
your ear. Now you mind that.' Of course I
said I was very sorry and that, and equally
of course I went off and laid my plans with
Evans. We knew there was a stair up in the
corner of the transept which you can get up to
the triforium, and in them days the door to it
was pretty well always open, and even if it
wasn't we knew the key usually laid under a
bit of matting hard by. So we made up our
minds we'd be putting away music and that, next
morning while the rest of the boys was clearing
off, and then slip up the stairs and watch from the
triforium if there was any signs of work going on.
"Well, that same night I dropped off asleep
as sound as a boy does, and all of a sudden the
dog woke me up, coming into the bed, and
thought I, now we're going to get it sharp, for
he seemed more frightened than usual. After
about five minutes sure enough came this cry.
I can't give you no idea what it was like; and
so near too—nearer than I'd heard it yet—and
a funny thing, Mr. Lake, you know what a
place this Close is for an echo, and particular
if you stand this side of it. Well, this crying
never made no sign of an echo at all. But, as
I said, it was dreadful near this night; and on
the top of the start I got with hearing it, I got
another fright; for I heard something rustling
outside in the passage. Now to be sure I
thought I was done; but I noticed the dog
seemed to perk up a bit, and next there was
some one whispered outside the door, and I
very near laughed out loud, for I knew it was
my father and mother that had got out of bed
with the noise. 'Whatever is it?' says my
mother. 'Hush! I don't know,' says my
father, excited-like, 'don't disturb the boy.
I hope he didn't hear nothing.'
"So, me knowing they were just outside, it
made me bolder, and I slipped out of bed across
to my little window—giving on the Close—but
the dog he bored right down to the bottom of
the bed—and I looked out. First go off I couldn't
see anything. Then right down in the shadow
under a buttress I made out what I shall always
say was two spots of red—a dull red it was—nothing
like a lamp or a fire, but just so as you
could pick 'em out of the black shadow. I
hadn't but just sighted 'em when it seemed we
wasn't the only people that had been disturbed,
because I see a window in a house on the left-hand
side become lighted up, and the light
moving. I just turned my head to make sure
of it, and then looked back into the shadow for
those two red things, and they were gone, and for
all I peered about and stared, there was not a
sign more of them. Then come my last fright
that night—something come against my bare
leg—but that was all right: that was my little
dog had come out of bed, and prancing about,
making a great to-do, only holding his tongue,
and me seeing he was quite in spirits again,
I took him back to bed and we slept the
"Next morning I made out to tell my mother
I'd had the dog in my room, and I was surprised,
after all she'd said about it before, how quiet
she took it. 'Did you?' she says. 'Well, by
good rights you ought to go without your
breakfast for doing such a thing behind my
back: but I don't know as there's any great
harm done, only another time you ask my
permission, do you hear?' A bit after that
I said something to my father about having
heard the cats again. 'Cats,' he says, and he
looked over at my poor mother, and she coughed
and he says, 'Oh! ah! yes, cats. I believe
I heard 'em myself.'
"That was a funny morning altogether:
nothing seemed to go right. The organist he
stopped in bed, and the minor Canon he forgot
it was the 19th day and waited for the Venite;
and after a bit the deputy he set off playing
the chant for evensong, which was a minor; and
then the Decani boys were laughing so much
they couldn't sing, and when it came to the
anthem the solo boy he got took with the giggles,
and made out his nose was bleeding, and shoved
the book at me what hadn't practised the verse
and wasn't much of a singer if I had known
it. Well, things was rougher, you see, fifty
years ago, and I got a nip from the counter-tenor
behind me that I remembered.
"So we got through somehow, and neither
the men nor the boys weren't by way of waiting
to see whether the Canon in residence—Mr.
Henslow it was—would come to the vestries
and fine 'em, but I don't believe he did: for
one thing I fancy he'd read the wrong lesson
for the first time in his life, and knew it. Anyhow
Evans and me didn't find no difficulty in
slipping up the stairs as I told you, and when
we got up we laid ourselves down flat on our
stomachs where we could just stretch our heads
out over the old tomb, and we hadn't but just
done so when we heard the verger that was then,
first shutting the iron porch-gates and locking
the south-west door, and then the transept
door, so we knew there was something up, and
they meant to keep the public out for a bit.
"Next thing was, the Dean and the Canon
come in by their door on the north, and then
I see my father, and old Palmer, and a couple
of their best men, and Palmer stood a talking
for a bit with the Dean in the middle of the
choir. He had a coil of rope and the men had
crows. All of 'em looked a bit nervous. So
there they stood talking, and at last I heard
the Dean say, 'Well, I've no time to waste,
Palmer. If you think this'll satisfy Southminster
people, I'll permit it to be done; but
I must say this, that never in the whole course
of my life have I heard such arrant nonsense
from a practical man as I have from you.
Don't you agree with me, Henslow?' As far
as I could hear Mr. Henslow said something
like 'Oh! well we're told, aren't we, Mr. Dean,
not to judge others?' and the Dean he gave
a kind of sniff, and walked straight up to the
tomb, and took his stand behind it with his
back to the screen, and the others they come
edging up rather gingerly. Henslow, he stopped
on the south side and scratched on his chin,
he did. Then the Dean spoke up: 'Palmer,'
he says, 'which can you do easiest, get the slab
off the top, or shift one of the side slabs?'
"Old Palmer and his men they pottered about
a bit looking round the edge of the top slab
and sounding the sides on the south and east
and west and everywhere but the north. Henslow
said something about it being better to
have a try at the south side, because there was
more light and more room to move about in.
Then my father, who'd been watching of them,
went round to the north side, and knelt down
and felt of the slab by the chink, and he got
up and dusted his knees and says to the Dean:
'Beg pardon, Mr. Dean, but I think if Mr.
Palmer'll try this here slab he'll find it'll come
out easy enough. Seems to me one of the men
could prize it out with his crow by means of
this chink.' 'Ah! thank you, Worby,' says
the Dean; 'that's a good suggestion. Palmer,
let one of your men do that, will you?'
"So the man come round, and put his bar
in and bore on it, and just that minute when
they were all bending over, and we boys got
our heads well out over the edge of the triforium,
there come a most fearful crash down
at the west end of the choir, as if a whole stack
of big timber had fallen down a flight of stairs.
Well, you can't expect me to tell you everything
that happened all in a minute. Of course
there was a terrible commotion. I heard the
slab fall out, and the crowbar on the floor,
and I heard the Dean say 'Good God!'
"When I looked down again I saw the Dean
tumbled over on the floor, the men was making
off down the choir, Henslow was just going to
help the Dean up, Palmer was going to stop
the men, as he said afterwards, and my father
was sitting on the altar step with his face in
his hands. The Dean he was very cross. 'I
wish to goodness you'd look where you're
coming to, Henslow,' he says. 'Why you should
all take to your heels when a stick of wood
tumbles down I cannot imagine,' and all Henslow
could do, explaining he was right away on the
other side of the tomb, would not satisfy him.
"Then Palmer came back and reported there
was nothing to account for this noise and
nothing seemingly fallen down, and when the
Dean finished feeling of himself they gathered
round—except my father, he sat where he
was—and some one lighted up a bit of candle
and they looked into the tomb. 'Nothing
there,' says the Dean, 'what did I tell you?
Stay! here's something. What's this: a bit
of music paper, and a piece of torn stuff—part
of a dress it looks like. Both quite modern—no
interest whatever. Another time perhaps
you'll take the advice of an educated man'—or
something like that, and off he went, limping
a bit, and out through the north door, only as
he went he called back angry to Palmer for
leaving the door standing open. Palmer called
out 'Very sorry, sir,' but he shrugged his
shoulders, and Henslow says, 'I fancy Mr.
Dean's mistaken. I closed the door behind
me, but he's a little upset.' Then Palmer says,
'Why, where's Worby?' and they saw him
sitting on the step and went up to him. He
was recovering himself, it seemed, and wiping
his forehead, and Palmer helped him up on to
his legs, as I was glad to see.
"They were too far off for me to hear what
they said, but my father pointed to the north
door in the aisle, and Palmer and Henslow both
of them looked very surprised and scared.
After a bit, my father and Henslow went out
of the church, and the others made what haste
they could to put the slab back and plaster it
in. And about as the clock struck twelve the
Cathedral was opened again and us boys made
the best of our way home.
"I was in a great taking to know what it
was had given my poor father such a turn, and
when I got in and found him sitting in his chair
taking a glass of spirits, and my mother standing
looking anxious at him, I couldn't keep from
bursting out and making confession where I'd
been. But he didn't seem to take on, not in
the way of losing his temper. 'You was there,
was you? Well did you see it?' 'I see everything,
father,' I said, 'except when the noise
came.' 'Did you see what it was knocked the
Dean over?' he says, 'that what come out of
the monument? You didn't? Well, that's a
mercy.' 'Why, what was it, father?' I said.
'Come, you must have seen it,' he says.
'Didn't you see? A thing like a man, all over
hair, and two great eyes to it?'
"Well, that was all I could get out of him
that time, and later on he seemed as if he was
ashamed of being so frightened, and he used to
put me off when I asked him about it. But
years after, when I was got to be a grown man,
we had more talk now and again on the matter,
and he always said the same thing. 'Black it
was,' he'd say, 'and a mass of hair, and two
legs, and the light caught on its eyes.'
"Well, that's the tale of that tomb, Mr.
Lake; it's one we don't tell to our visitors,
and I should be obliged to you not to make any
use of it till I'm out of the way. I doubt Mr.
Evans'll feel the same as I do, if you ask him."
This proved to be the case. But over twenty
years have passed by, and the grass is growing
over both Worby and Evans; so Mr. Lake felt
no difficulty about communicating his notes—taken
in 1890—to me. He accompanied them
with a sketch of the tomb and a copy of the
short inscription on the metal cross which
was affixed at the expense of Dr. Lyall to the
centre of the northern side. It was from the
Vulgate of Isaiah xxxiv., and consisted merely
of the three words—
IBI CUBAVIT LAMIA.