The Rats and the Wine-Cask

by W. H. G. Kingston

An old lady, wealthy and hospitable, lived in a large house, with several servants to attend on her. Although no terrific murder or other dark deed was ever known to have been perpetrated in the house, report said it was haunted. Undoubtedly, noises were heard in the lower part of the mansion. Night after night unearthly sounds arose after the domestics had retired to their chambers. At last the old lady, determined to resist this invasion of her domestic peace, told her servants to arm themselves with such weapons as they could obtain, she herself sitting up with a brace of loaded pistols before her. This proceeding had the desired effect. The ghostly visitants, if such they were, ceased from their nocturnal revels. All remained silent till cock-crow. Night after night the brave old dame heroically watched, but no ghosts came.

To celebrate her victory, she invited a number of guests, and determined to broach a cask of long-hoarded Madeira. With keys in hand, attended by the butler, she entered the cellar; the spill was pulled out from the cask, the cock duly inserted, but no wine came. The butler tapped; a hollow sound was the return. On applying a light, teeth-marks were visible at the very lowest part of the staves.

By rats alone could such marks have been made. What a band of thirsty topers must have been employed in the nefarious burglary! No doubt it was the rats, inebriated by such unusual potations, which had caused the mysterious uproar. Be that as it may, the lady lost her wine; and the cask was placed in the museum of Mr Buckland, who tells the tale, and there it stands to corroborate its truth.

It is said that rats will insert their tails into oil-flasks, and allow each other in turn to suck off the liquid thus obtained.