The Demon Snuffers by Geo. Manville Fenn
I'm not at all given to parading my troubles—nothing of the
kind. I may be getting old, in fact, I am; and I may have
had disappointments such as have left me slightly irritable and
peevish; but I ask, as a man, who wouldn't be troubled in his
nerves if he had suffered from snuffers?
Snuffers? Yes—snuffers—a pair of cheap, black, iron snuffers,
that screech when they are opened, and creak when they are
shut; a pair that will not stay open, nor yet keep shut; a pair
that gape at you incessantly, and point at you a horrid sharp
iron beak, as a couple of leering eyes turn the finger and thumb
holes into a pair of spectacles, and squint and wink at you
maliciously. A word in your ear—this in a whisper—those
snuffers are haunted! their insignificant iron frame is the
habitation of a demon—an imp of darkness; and I've been
troubled till I've got snuffers on the brain, and I shall have
them till I'm snuffed out.
It has been going on now for a couple of years, ever since
my landlady sent the snuffers up to me first in my shiney
crockery-ware candlestick, where those snuffers glide about
like a snake in a tin pail. I remember the first night as well
as can be. It was in November—a weird, wet, foggy night,
when the river-side streets were wrapped in a yellow blanket
of fog—and I was going to bed, when, at my first touch of the
candlestick, those snuffers glided off with an angry snap, and
lay, open-mouthed, glaring at me from the floor.
I was somewhat startled, certainly, but far from alarmed;
and I seized the fugitives and replaced them in the candlestick,
opened the door, and ascended the stairs.
Mind, I am only recording facts untinged by the pen of
romance! Before I had ascended four steps, those hideous
snuffers darted off, and plunged, point downwards, on to my
left slippered foot, causing me an agonising pang, and the next
moment a bead of starting blood stained my stocking.
I will not declare this, but I believe it to be a fact: as I
said something oathish, I am nearly certain that I heard a
low, fiendish chuckle; and when I stooped to lift the snuffers,
there was a bright spark in the open mouth, and a pungent
blue smoke breathed out to annoy my nostrils!
I was too bold in those days to take much notice of the
incident, and I hurried upstairs—not, however, without seeing
that there was a foul, black patch left upon my holland stair-cloth;
and then I hurried into bed, and tried to sleep. But I
could not, try as I would. In the darkness I could just make
out the candlestick against the blind: and from that point
incessantly the demon snuffers gradually approached me, till
they sat spectacle-wise astride my nose, and a pair of burning
eyes gazed through them right into mine.
Need I say that I arose next morning feverish and unrefreshed
to go about my daily duties?
"I'll have no more of it to-night," I said to myself, as I rose
early to go to bed and make up for the past bad night; and I
smiled sardonically as I took up the highly-glazed candlestick
and tried to shake the black, straddling reptile out upon the
sideboard. I say tried; for, to my horror, the great eyeholes
leered at me as they hugged round the upright portion of the
stick and refused to be dislodged. I shook them again, and
one part went round the extinguisher support, which the reptile
dislodged, so that the extinguisher rattled upon the sideboard
top. But the snuffers were there still. I tried again, and
they, or it, dodged round and thrust a head through the handle,
where they stuck fast, grinning at me till I set the candlestick
down and stared.
"Pooh!—stuff!—ridiculous!" I exclaimed, quite angry at
my weak, imaginative folly; and, determined to act like a man,
I seized the candlestick with one hand, the snuffers with the
other, and, after a hard fight, succeeded in wriggling them out
of their stronghold, banged them down upon the table cloth,
seized them again, snuffed my candle viciously before replacing
them on the table, and then marched out of the room, proud of
my moral triumph, and rejoicing in having freed myself of the
demon. But, as I stood upon the stairs, I could see that my
hand was blackened; and the icy, galvanic feeling that assailed
my nerves when I first touched the snuffers still tingled right
to my elbow.
But I was free of my enemy; and marching with freely
playing lungs into my bedroom, I closed and locked the door,
set down my empty candlestick, changed my coat and vest for
a dressing-gown and began to brush my hair.
It is my custom to brush my hair with a pair of brushes for
ten minutes every night before retiring to rest. I find it
strengthening to the brain. Upon this occasion I had brushed
hard for five minutes, when there was a loud knock at my
"Can I speak to you a moment, sir?" said the voice of my
I rose and opened the door, and then started back in disgust,
as I was greeted with—
"Please, sir, you forgot your snuffers!"
My snuffers! It was too horrible; but there was more to
"And please, sir, I do hope you'll be more careful. It's a
mussy we warn't all burnt to death in our beds, for the snuffers
have made a great hole as big as your hand in the tablecloth,
and scorched the mahogany table; and it was a mussy I went
into your room before I went up to bed."
I couldn't speak, for I was drawn irresistibly on to obey, as
my landlady held the snuffers-handle towards me, and pointed
to the fungus snuff upon the common candle. I thrust in a
finger and thumb, closed the door in desperation—for I could
not refuse the snuffers—once more locked myself in, and stalked
to the dressing-table; and, as I heard my landlady's retreating
steps, I snuffed the candle, which started up instantly with a
brighter flame, as the snuffers' mouth closed upon the incandescent
"I'm slightly nervous," I said to myself, as I essayed to put
down my enemies. "I want tone—iron—iodine—tonic bitters—and—curse
the thing!" I ejaculated, shaking my hand and
trying to dislodge the snuffers. My efforts were but vain, for
the rings clung tightly to my finger and thumb, cut into my
flesh, and it was not until I had given them a frantic wrench,
which broke the rivet and separated the halves, that I was able
to tear out my bruised digits, and stand, panting, at the broken
There was relief, though, here. I felt as if I had crushed
out the reptile's life; and the two pieces—their living identity
gone—lay nerveless, and devoid of terrors, in the candle tray.
I slept excellently that night, and smiled as I dressed beside
the broken fragments. I had achieved a victory over self, as well
as over an enemy. I enjoyed my breakfast, after raising the
white cloth to look at the damage, which I knew would appear
as twenty shillings in the weekly bill; but I did not care,
though I shuddered slightly as I thought of the snuffers'
horrible designs. I dined that day with friends, played a few
games afterwards at pool, and then we had oysters.
I was in the best of spirits as I opened the door with my
latchkey, and I laughed heartily at what I called my folly of
the previous nights; but, as I entered my room, there was the
great black hole in the green cloth table cover, and the charred
wood beneath, while, upon the sideboard——
I groaned as I stood, half transfixed. I could have imagined
that I had on divers leaden-soled boots; for there, maliciously
grinning at me with half-opened mouth, were the demon
snuffers, joined together by a new, glistening rivet, which only
added to their weird appearance, as the beak cocked itself at
me, and the great eyes glared, as the black mouth seemed to
"You'll never get rid of me!"
Something seemed to draw me, and I went and took the
candlestick, my eyes being fixed the while upon the snuffers;
and I came in contact with several pieces of furniture as I
went into the passage, where I held the candlestick very much
on one side as I lit the candle at the little lamp. I hoped
that the snuffers would fall out; but they grinned maliciously,
and did not stir.
The next moment I was obliged to use them, for the candle
began to gutter; when, as nothing followed, I grew bolder,
and began to ascend the stairs. In a minute, though before I
was half way up the second flight, and though the candlestick
was carried perfectly straight—crash! the demon snuffers
darted out, and dashed themselves upon the floor.
I did not stay to look, but hurried to my bed-room, closing
and locking the door.
"Safe this time!" I thought; for it was late, and I knew
that my landlady must have been long in bed. Then I began
to think of how they had hopped out of the candlestick, and I
remembered what they had done on the previous night—how
they had tried to set fire to the house. Suppose they should do
so now? The cold perspiration trickled down my nose at the
very thought. I dared not leave the demon, or twin demons—the
horrid Siamese pair.
I would, though—I was safe here. But, fire! Suppose they
set the house on fire?
Down I went in the dark—very softly, too, lest I should alarm
the landlady and the other lodgers; but, though the odour was
strong, I went right to the bottom, and stood upon the door-mat
without finding my enemies.
I stood and thought for a few minutes, and then began slowly
to ascend, feeling carefully all over every step as I went up to
my bed-room, where I arrived, without ever my hand coming
in contact with that which I sought.
"I'll go to bed and leave them!" I ejaculated, and I turned
upon my heel; but, at that moment, the pungent burning odour
came up stronger than ever, and I was compelled to descend, to
find that the demon twins had been lying in ambush half-way
down, so that I trod upon them, tripped, in my terror my foot
glided, over them, and I fell with a crash into the umbrella stand,
which I upset with a hideous noise upon the oilcloth—not so loud,
though, but that I could hear the little black imps take three
or four grasshopper leaps along the passage, ending by sticking
the pointed beak into the street door.
Before I could gather myself up, I heard doors opening
upstairs, and screaming from the girls below who slept in the
kitchen; and the next minute old Major O'Brien's voice came
"An' if ye shtir a shtep I'll blow out yer brains!"
Of course I had to explain; and I had the horrible knowledge
that they gave me the credit of being intoxicated—the Major
saying he would not stop in a house where people went prowling
about at all hours, ending by himself, at the landlady's request,
examining the door to see if it was latched securely, and then
seeing me safely to my room.
"An' if I did me duty, sor, I should lock you in," he said by
way of good night. "And now get into bed, sor, and at once;
and—here are your snuffers!"
I could fill volumes with the tortures inflicted upon me by
those haunted snuffers, for they clung to me, and in spite of
every effort never left me free. It was in vain that I came
home early and shifted them into the Major's candlestick: they
only came back. I threw them out of the bedroom window once,
and they were found by the maid in the area. I threw them out
again, and they were picked up by the policeman, and they
made him bring them back. Then I tried it at midday; but
an old woman brought them in, and made a row because they
went through her parasol, so that I had to pay ten shillings,
besides being looked upon by my landlady as a lunatic.
I thrust them into the fire one night, and held them there
with the tongs, lest they should leap out; but they would not
burn, and my landlady, finding them in the ashes, had them
japanned, and they were in their old place next day. I had no
better luck when I thrust them—buried them—deep in a scuttle
of ashes; they only turned up out of the dusthole when Mary
sifted the cinders.
They always came off black on to my hands when they did
not anoint my fingers with soft tallow. If they fell out of the
candlestick, it was always on to oilcloth or paint, where they
could make a noise jumping about like a grasshopper, till they
ended by standing upon the sharp beak, with the spectacle-like
holes in the air. If I went up to dress, they would shoot into
my collar-box, or amongst my clean shirts, smutting them all
over. If I tried to kill a wasp with them upon an autumn
evening, when the insect crept out of a plum at dessert, the
wretches only snipped him in two, as if rejoicing at the inflicted
torture. In short, they have worn me out—those snuffers;
and, if it was not from fear, I should take and drop them from
the parapet of a bridge.
But, there! it would be in vain; they would be certain to
turn up; and they are not mortal, so what can you expect?
Let this communication be a secret, for it is written wholly by
day, when the snuffers lie in the lower regions.
A bright thought has occurred to me—the Major leaves this
morning for Berlin.
I have done it—his carpet bag stood in the hall, waiting
for the cab. The Major was in the drawing-room paying his
bill. The maids were upstairs making the beds. I stole down,
like a thief, into the kitchen. The snuffers were in my dirty
candlestick upon the dresser. I seized the grinning, tallow-anointed
demons, flew up the stairs, and, as I heard the drawing-room
door open, tore the bag a little apart, and thrust them in.
The next minute they were on the roof of a cab, and on their
way to Berlin, where they will haunt the Major.
A month of uninterrupted joy has passed. On the day of
the Major's departure I seemed to wed pleasure; and this has
been the honeymoon. This morning, when I paid my bill, the
landlady announced the coming back of the Major to his old
apartments. I have been in dread ever since. But this is
folly. I will be hopeful: my worst fears may not be confirmed.
It's all over—he has brought them back!
They grin at me as I write.