The Listener by
Sept. 4.I have hunted all over London for rooms suited to my
income£120 a yearand have at last found them. Two rooms, without
modern conveniences, it is true, and in an old, ramshackle building,
but within a stone's throw of PPlace and in an eminently respectable
street. The rent is only £25 a year. I had begun to despair when at
last I found them by chance. The chance was a mere chance, and unworthy
of record. I had to sign a lease for a year, and I did so willingly.
The furniture from our old place in Hshire, which has been stored so
long, will just suit them.
* * * * *
Oct. 1.Here I am in my two rooms, in the centre of London, and not
far from the offices of the periodicals where occasionally I dispose of
an article or two. The building is at the end of a cul-de-sac.
The alley is well paved and clean, and lined chiefly with the backs of
sedate and institutional-looking buildings. There is a stable in it. My
own house is dignified with the title of Chambers. I feel as if one
day the honour must prove too much for it, and it will swell with
prideand fall asunder. It is very old. The floor of my sitting-room
has valleys and low hills on it, and the top of the door slants away
from the ceiling with a glorious disregard of what is usual. They must
have quarrelledfifty years agoand have been going apart ever since.
* * * * *
Oct. 2.My landlady is old and thin, with a faded, dusty face. She
is uncommunicative. The few words she utters seem to cost her pain.
Probably her lungs are half choked with dust. She keeps my rooms as
free from this commodity as possible, and has the assistance of a
strong girl who brings up the breakfast and lights the fire. As I have
said already, she is not communicative. In reply to pleasant efforts on
my part she informed me briefly that I was the only occupant of the
house at present. My rooms had not been occupied for some years. There
had been other gentlemen upstairs, but they had left.
She never looks straight at me when she speaks, but fixes her dim
eyes on my middle waistcoat button, till I get nervous and begin to
think it isn't on straight, or is the wrong sort of button altogether.
* * * * *
Oct. 8.My week's book is nicely kept, and so far is reasonable.
Milk and sugar 7d., bread 6d., butter 8d., marmalade 6d., eggs 1s. 8d.,
laundress 2s. 9d., oil 6d., attendance 5s.; total 12s. 2d.
The landlady has a son who, she told me, is somethink on a
homnibus. He comes occasionally to see her. I think he drinks, for he
talks very loud, regardless of the hour of the day or night, and
tumbles about over the furniture downstairs.
All the morning I sit indoors writingarticles; verses for the
comic papers; a novel I've been at for three years, and concerning
which I have dreams; a children's book, in which the imagination has
free rein; and another book which is to last as long as myself, since
it is an honest record of my soul's advance or retreat in the struggle
of life. Besides these, I keep a book of poems which I use as a safety
valve, and concerning which I have no dreams whatsoever. Between the
lot I am always occupied. In the afternoons I generally try to take a
walk for my health's sake, through Regent's Park, into Kensington
Gardens, or farther afield to Hampstead Heath.
* * * * *
Oct. 10.Everything went wrong to-day. I have two eggs for
breakfast. This morning one of them was bad. I rang the bell for Emily.
When she came in I was reading the paper, and, without looking up, I
said, Egg's bad. Oh, is it, sir? she said; I'll get another one,
and went out, taking the egg with her. I waited my breakfast for her
return, which was in five minutes. She put the new egg on the table and
went away. But, when I looked down, I saw that she had taken away the
good egg and left the bad oneall green and yellowin the slop basin.
I rang again.
You've taken the wrong egg, I said.
Oh! she exclaimed; I thought the one I took down didn't smell so
very bad. In due time she returned with the good egg, and I
resumed my breakfast with two eggs, but less appetite. It was all very
trivial, to be sure, but so stupid that I felt annoyed. The character
of that egg influenced everything I did. I wrote a bad article, and
tore it up. I got a bad headache. I used bad wordsto myself.
Everything was bad, so I chucked work and went for a long walk.
I dined at a cheap chop-house on my way back, and reached home about
Rain was just beginning to fall as I came in, and the wind was
rising. It promised an ugly night. The alley looked dismal and dreary,
and the hall of the house, as I passed through it, felt chilly as a
tomb. It was the first stormy night I had experienced in my new
quarters. The draughts were awful. They came criss-cross, met in the
middle of the room, and formed eddies and whirlpools and cold silent
currents that almost lifted the hair of my head. I stuffed up the
sashes of the windows with neckties and odd socks, and sat over the
smoky fire to keep warm. First I tried to write, but found it too cold.
My hand turned to ice on the paper.
What tricks the wind did play with the old place! It came rushing up
the forsaken alley with a sound like the feet of a hurrying crowd of
people who stopped suddenly at the door. I felt as if a lot of curious
folk had arranged themselves just outside and were staring up at my
windows. Then they took to their heels again and fled whispering and
laughing down the lane, only, however, to return with the next gust of
wind and repeat their impertinence. On the other side of my room, a
single square window opens into a sort of shaft, or well, that measures
about six feet across to the back wall of another house. Down this
funnel the wind dropped, and puffed and shouted. Such noises I never
heard before. Between these two entertainments I sat over the fire in a
great-coat, listening to the deep booming in the chimney. It was like
being in a ship at sea, and I almost looked for the floor to rise in
undulations and rock to and fro.
* * * * *
Oct. 12.I wish I were not quite so lonelyand so poor. And yet I
love both my loneliness and my poverty. The former makes me appreciate
the companionship of the wind and rain, while the latter preserves my
liver and prevents me wasting time in dancing attendance upon women.
Poor, ill-dressed men are not acceptable attendants.
My parents are dead, and my only sister isno, not dead exactly,
but married to a very rich man. They travel most of the time, he to
find his health, she to lose herself. Through sheer neglect on her part
she has long passed out of my life. The door closed when, after an
absolute silence of five years, she sent me a cheque for £50 at
Christmas. It was signed by her husband! I returned it to her in a
thousand pieces and in an unstamped envelope. So at least I had the
satisfaction of knowing that it cost her something! She wrote back with
a broad quill pen that covered a whole page with three lines, You are
evidently as cracked as ever, and rude and ungrateful into the
bargain. It had always been my special terror lest the insanity in my
father's family should leap across the generations and appear in me.
This thought haunted me, and she knew it. So after this little exchange
of civilities the door slammed, never to open again. I heard the crash
it made, and, with it, the falling from the walls of my heart of many
little bits of china with their own peculiar valuerare china, some of
it, that only needed dusting. The same walls, too, carried mirrors in
which I used sometimes to see reflected the misty lawns of childhood,
the daisy chains, the wind-torn blossoms scattered through the orchard
by warm rains, the robbers' cave in the long walk, and the hidden store
of apples in the hay-loft. She was my inseparable companion thenbut,
when the door slammed, the mirrors cracked across their entire length,
and the visions they held vanished for ever. Now I am quite alone. At
forty one cannot begin all over again to build up careful friendships,
and all others are comparatively worthless.
* * * * *
Oct. 14.My bedroom is 10 by 10. It is below the level of the front
room, and a step leads down into it. Both rooms are very quiet on calm
nights, for there is no traffic down this forsaken alley-way. In spite
of the occasional larks of the wind, it is a most sheltered strip. At
its upper end, below my windows, all the cats of the neighbourhood
congregate as soon as darkness gathers. They lie undisturbed on the
long ledge of a blind window of the opposite building, for after the
postman has come and gone at 9:30, no footsteps ever dare to interrupt
their sinister conclave, no step but my own, or sometimes the unsteady
footfall of the son who is somethink on a homnibus.
* * * * *
Oct. 15.I dined at an A. B. C. shop on poached eggs and coffee,
and then went for a stroll round the outer edge of Regent's Park. It
was ten o'clock when I got home. I counted no less than thirteen cats,
all of a dark colour, crouching under the lee side of the alley walls.
It was a cold night, and the stars shone like points of ice in a
blue-black sky. The cats turned their heads and stared at me in silence
as I passed. An odd sensation of shyness took possession of me under
the glare of so many pairs of unblinking eyes. As I fumbled with the
latch-key they jumped noiselessly down and pressed against my legs, as
if anxious to be let in. But I slammed the door in their faces and ran
quickly upstairs. The front room, as I entered to grope for the
matches, felt as cold as a stone vault, and the air held an unusual
* * * * *
Oct. 17.For several days I have been working on a ponderous
article that allows no play for the fancy. My imagination requires a
judicious rein; I am afraid to let it loose, for it carries me
sometimes into appalling places beyond the stars and beneath the world.
No one realizes the danger more than I do. But what a foolish thing to
write herefor there is no one to know, no one to realize! My mind of
late has held unusual thoughts, thoughts I have never had before, about
medicines and drugs and the treatment of strange illnesses. I cannot
imagine their source. At no time in my life have I dwelt upon such
ideas as now constantly throng my brain. I have had no exercise lately,
for the weather has been shocking; and all my afternoons have been
spent in the reading-room of the British Museum, where I have a
I have made an unpleasant discovery: there are rats in the house. At
night from my bed I have heard them scampering across the hills and
valleys of the front room, and my sleep has been a good deal disturbed
* * * * *
Oct. 24.Last night the son who is somethink on a homnibus came
in. He had evidently been drinking, for I heard loud and angry voices
below in the kitchen long after I had gone to bed. Once, too, I caught
the singular words rising up to me through the floor, Burning from top
to bottom is the only thing that'll ever make this 'ouse right. I
knocked on the floor, and the voices ceased suddenly, though later I
again heard their clamour in my dreams.
These rooms are very quiet, almost too quiet sometimes. On windless
nights they are silent as the grave, and the house might be miles in
the country. The roar of London's traffic reaches me only in heavy,
distant vibrations. It holds an ominous note sometimes, like that of an
approaching army, or an immense tidal-wave very far away thundering in
* * * * *
Oct. 27.Mrs. Monson, though admirably silent, is a foolish, fussy
woman. She does such stupid things. In dusting the room she puts all my
things in the wrong places. The ash-trays, which should be on the
writing-table she sets in a silly row on the mantelpiece. The pen-tray,
which should be beside the inkstand, she hides away cleverly among the
books on my reading-desk. My gloves she arranges daily in idiotic array
upon a half-filled bookshelf, and I always have to rearrange them on
the low table by the door. She places my armchair at impossible angles
between the fire and the light, and the tablecloththe one with
Trinity Hall stainsshe puts on the table in such a fashion that when
I look at it I feel as if my tie and all my clothes were on crooked and
awry. She exasperates me. Her very silence and meekness are irritating.
Sometimes I feel inclined to throw the inkstand at her, just to bring
an expression into her watery eyes and a squeak from those colourless
lips. Dear me! What violent expressions I am making use of! How very
foolish of me! And yet it almost seems as if the words were not my own,
but had been spoken into my earI mean, I never make use of such terms
* * * * *
Oct. 30.I have been here a month. The place does not agree with
me, I think. My headaches are more frequent and violent, and my nerves
are a perpetual source of discomfort and annoyance.
I have conceived a great dislike for Mrs. Monson, a feeling I am
certain she reciprocates. Somehow, the impression comes frequently to
me that there are goings on in this house of which I know nothing, and
which she is careful to hide from me.
Last night her son slept in the house, and this morning as I was
standing at the window I saw him go out. He glanced up and caught my
eye. It was a loutish figure and a singularly repulsive face that I
saw, and he gave me the benefit of a very unpleasant leer. At least, so
* * * * *
Nov. 2.The utter stillness of this house is beginning to oppress
me. I wish there were other fellows living upstairs. No footsteps ever
sound overhead, and no tread ever passes my door to go up the next
flight of stairs. I am beginning to feel some curiosity to go up myself
and see what the upper rooms are like. I feel lonely here and isolated,
swept into a deserted corner of the world and forgotten.... Once I
actually caught myself gazing into the long, cracked mirrors, trying to
see the sunlight dancing beneath the trees in the orchard. But only
deep shadows seemed to congregate there now, and I soon desisted.
It has been very dark all day, and no wind stirring. The fogs have
begun. I had to use a reading-lamp all this morning. There was no cart
to be heard to-day. I actually missed it. This morning, in the gloom
and silence, I think I could almost have welcomed it. After all, the
sound is a very human one, and this empty house at the end of the alley
holds other noises that are not quite so satisfactory.
I have never once seen a policeman in the lane, and the postmen
always hurry out with no evidence of a desire to loiter.
10 P.M.As I write this I hear no sound but the deep murmur of the
distant traffic and the low sighing of the wind. The two sounds melt
into one another. Now and again a cat raises its shrill, uncanny cry
upon the darkness. The cats are always there under my windows when the
darkness falls. The wind is dropping into the funnel with a noise like
the sudden sweeping of immense distant wings. It is a dreary night. I
feel lost and forgotten.
* * * * *
Nov. 3.From my windows I can see arrivals. When anyone comes to
the door I can just see the hat and shoulders and the hand on the bell.
Only two fellows have been to see me since I came here two months ago.
Both of them I saw from the window before they came up, and heard their
voices asking if I was in. Neither of them ever came back.
I have finished the ponderous article. On reading it through,
however, I was dissatisfied with it, and drew my pencil through almost
every page. There were strange expressions and ideas in it that I could
not explain, and viewed with amazement, not to say alarm. They did not
sound like my very own, and I could not remember having written
them. Can it be that my memory is beginning to be affected?
My pens are never to be found. That stupid old woman puts them in a
different place each day. I must give her due credit for finding so
many new hiding places; such ingenuity is wonderful. I have told her
repeatedly, but she always says, I'll speak to Emily, sir. Emily
always says, I'll tell Mrs. Monson, sir. Their foolishness makes me
irritable and scatters all my thoughts. I should like to stick the lost
pens into them and turn them out, blind-eyed, to be scratched and
mauled by those thousand hungry cats. Whew! What a ghastly thought!
Where in the world did it come from? Such an idea is no more my own
than it is the policeman's. Yet I felt I had to write it. It was
like a voice singing in my head, and my pen wouldn't stop till the last
word was finished. What ridiculous nonsense! I must and will restrain
myself. I must take more regular exercise; my nerves and liver plague
* * * * *
Nov. 4.I attended a curious lecture in the French quarter on
Death, but the room was so hot and I was so weary that I fell asleep.
The only part I heard, however, touched my imagination vividly.
Speaking of suicides, the lecturer said that self-murder was no escape
from the miseries of the present, but only a preparation of greater
sorrow for the future. Suicides, he declared, cannot shirk their
responsibilities so easily. They must return to take up life exactly
where they laid it so violently down, but with the added pain and
punishment of their weakness. Many of them wander the earth in
unspeakable misery till they can reclothe themselves in the body
of some one elsegenerally a lunatic or weak-minded person, who cannot
resist the hideous obsession. This is their only means of escape.
Surely a weird and horrible idea! I wish I had slept all the time and
not heard it at all. My mind is morbid enough without such ghastly
fancies. Such mischievous propaganda should be stopped by the police.
I'll write to the Times and suggest it. Good idea!
I walked home through Greek Street, Soho, and imagined that a
hundred years had slipped back into place and De Quincey was still
there, haunting the night with invocations to his just, subtle, and
mighty drug. His vast dreams seemed to hover not very far away. Once
started in my brain, the pictures refused to go away; and I saw him
sleeping in that cold, tenantless mansion with the strange little waif
who was afraid of its ghosts, both together in the shadows under a
single horseman's cloak; or wandering in the companionship of the
spectral Anne; or, later still, on his way to the eternal rendezvous
she never was able to keep. What an unutterable gloom, what an untold
horror of sorrow and suffering comes over me as I try to realize
something of what that manboy he then wasmust have taken into his
As I came up the alley I saw a light in the top window, and a head
and shoulders thrown in an exaggerated shadow upon the blind. I
wondered what the son could be doing up there at such an hour.
* * * * *
Nov. 5.This morning, while writing, some one came up the creaking
stairs and knocked cautiously at my door. Thinking it was the landlady,
I said, Come in! The knock was repeated, and I cried louder, Come
in, come in! But no one turned the handle, and I continued my writing
with a vexed Well, stay out, then! under my breath. Went on writing.
I tried to, but my thoughts had suddenly dried up at their source. I
could not set down a single word. It was a dark, yellow-fog morning,
and there was little enough inspiration in the air as it was, but that
stupid woman standing just outside my door waiting to be told again to
come in roused a spirit of vexation that filled my head to the
exclusion of all else. At last I jumped up and opened the door myself.
What do you want, and why in the world don't you come in? I cried
out. But the words dropped into empty air. There was no one there. The
fog poured up the dingy staircase in deep yellow coils, but there was
no sign of a human being anywhere.
I slammed the door, with imprecations upon the house and its noises,
and went back to my work. A few minutes later Emily came in with a
Were you or Mrs. Monson outside a few minutes ago knocking at my
Are you sure?
Mrs. Monson's gone to market, and there's no one but me and the
child in the 'ole 'ouse, and I've been washing the dishes for the last
I fancied the girl's face turned a shade paler. She fidgeted toward
the door with a glance over her shoulder.
Wait, Emily, I said, and then told her what I had heard. She
stared stupidly at me, though her eyes shifted now and then over the
articles in the room.
Who was it? I asked when I had come to the end.
Mrs. Monson says it's honly mice, she said, as if repeating a
Mice! I exclaimed; it's nothing of the sort. Someone was feeling
about outside my door. Who was it? Is the son in the house?
Her whole manner changed suddenly, and she became earnest instead of
evasive. She seemed anxious to tell the truth.
Oh, no, sir; there's no one in the house at all but you and me and
the child, and there couldn't have been nobody at your door. As for
them knocks She stopped abruptly, as though she had said too much.
Well, what about the knocks? I said more gently.
Of course, she stammered, the knocks isn't mice, nor the
footsteps neither, but then Again she came to a full halt.
Anything wrong with the house?
Lor', no, sir; the drains is splendid.
I don't mean drains, girl. I mean, did anythinganything bad ever
She flushed up to the roots of her hair, and then turned suddenly
pale again. She was obviously in considerable distress, and there was
something she was anxious, yet afraid to tellsome forbidden thing she
was not allowed to mention.
I don't mind what it was, only I should like to know, I said
Raising her frightened eyes to my face, she began to blurt out
something about that which 'appened once to a gentleman that lived
hupstairs, when a shrill voice calling her name sounded below.
Emily, Emily! It was the returning landlady, and the girl tumbled
downstairs as if pulled backward by a rope, leaving me full of
conjectures as to what in the world could have happened to a gentleman
upstairs that could in so curious a manner affect my ears
* * * * *
Nov. 10.I have done capital work; have finished the ponderous
article and had it accepted for the Review, and another one
ordered. I feel well and cheerful, and have had regular exercise and
good sleep; no headaches, no nerves, no liver! Those pills the chemist
recommended are wonderful. Even the gray-faced landlady rouses pity in
me; I am sorry for her: so worn, so weary, so oddly put together, just
like the building. She looks as if she had once suffered some shock of
terror, and was momentarily dreading another. When I spoke to her
to-day very gently about not putting the pens in the ash-tray and the
gloves on the book-shelf she raised her faint eyes to mine for the
first time, and said with the ghost of a smile, I'll try and remember,
sir, I felt inclined to pat her on the back and say, Come, cheer up
and be jolly. Life's not so bad after all. Oh! I am much better.
There's nothing like open air and success and good sleep. They build up
as if by magic the portions of the heart eaten down by despair and
unsatisfied yearnings. Even to the cats I feel friendly. When I came in
at eleven o'clock to-night they followed me to the door in a stream,
and I stooped down to stroke the one nearest to me. Bah! The brute
hissed and spat, and struck at me with her paws. The claw caught my
hand and drew blood in a thin line. The others danced sideways into the
darkness, screeching, as though I had done them an injury. I believe
these cats really hate me. Perhaps they are only waiting to be
reinforced. Then they will attack me. Ha, ha! In spite of the momentary
annoyance, this fancy sent me laughing upstairs to my room.
The fire was out, and the room seemed unusually cold. As I groped my
way over to the mantelpiece to find the matches I realized all at once
that there was another person standing beside me in the darkness. I
could, of course, see nothing, but my fingers, feeling along the ledge,
came into forcible contact with something that was at once withdrawn.
It was cold and moist. I could have sworn it was somebody's hand. My
flesh began to creep instantly.
Who's that? I exclaimed in a loud voice.
My voice dropped into the silence like a pebble into a deep well.
There was no answer, but at the same moment I heard someone moving away
from me across the room in the direction of the door. It was a confused
sort of footstep, and the sound of garments brushing the furniture on
the way. The same second my hand stumbled upon the matchbox, and I
struck a light. I expected to see Mrs. Monson, or Emily, or perhaps the
son who is something on an omnibus. But the flare of the gas jet
illumined an empty room; there was not a sign of a person anywhere. I
felt the hair stir upon my head, and instinctively I backed up against
the wall, lest something should approach me from behind. I was
distinctly alarmed. But the next minute I recovered myself. The door
was open on to the landing, and I crossed the room, not without some
inward trepidation, and went out. The light from the room fell upon the
stairs, but there was no one to be seen anywhere, nor was there any
sound on the creaking wooden staircase to indicate a departing
I was in the act of turning to go in again when a sound overhead
caught my ear. It was a very faint sound, not unlike the sigh of wind;
yet it could not have been the wind, for the night was still as the
grave. Though it was not repeated, I resolved to go upstairs and see
for myself what it all meant. Two senses had been affectedtouch and
hearingand I could not believe that I had been deceived. So, with a
lighted candle, I went stealthily forth on my unpleasant journey into
the upper regions of this queer little old house.
On the first landing there was only one door, and it was locked. On
the second there was also only one door, but when I turned the handle
it opened. There came forth to meet me the chill musty air that is
characteristic of a long unoccupied room. With it there came an
indescribable odour. I use the adjective advisedly. Though very faint,
diluted as it were, it was nevertheless an odour that made my gorge
rise. I had never smelt anything like it before, and I cannot describe
The room was small and square, close under the roof, with a sloping
ceiling and two tiny windows. It was cold as the grave, without a shred
of carpet or a stick of furniture. The icy atmosphere and the nameless
odour combined to make the room abominable to me, and, after lingering
a moment to see that it contained no cupboards or corners into which a
person might have crept for concealment, I made haste to shut the door,
and went downstairs again to bed. Evidently I had been deceived after
all as to the noise.
In the night I had a foolish but very vivid dream. I dreamed that
the landlady and another person, dark and not properly visible, entered
my room on all fours, followed by a horde of immense cats. They
attacked me as I lay in bed, and murdered me, and then dragged my body
upstairs and deposited it on the floor of that cold little square room
under the roof.
* * * * *
Nov. 11.Since my talk with Emilythe unfinished talkI have
hardly once set eyes on her. Mrs. Monson now attends wholly to my
wants. As usual, she does everything exactly as I don't like it done.
It is all too utterly trivial to mention, but it is exceedingly
irritating. Like small doses of morphine often repeated she has finally
a cumulative effect.
* * * * *
Nov. 12.This morning I woke early, and came into the front room to
get a book, meaning to read in bed till it was time to get up. Emily
was laying the fire.
Good morning! I said cheerfully. Mind you make a good fire. It's
The girl turned and showed me a startled face. It was not Emily at
Where's Emily? I exclaimed.
You mean the girl as was 'ere before me?
Has Emily left?
I came on the 6th, she replied sullenly, and she'd gone then. I
got my book and went back to bed. Emily must have been sent away almost
immediately after our conversation. This reflection kept coming between
me and the printed page. I was glad when it was time to get up. Such
prompt energy, such merciless decision, seemed to argue something of
* * * * *
Nov. 13.The wound inflicted by the cat's claw has swollen, and
causes me annoyance and some pain. It throbs and itches. I'm afraid my
blood must be in poor condition, or it would have healed by now. I
opened it with a penknife soaked in an antiseptic solution, and cleaned
it thoroughly. I have heard unpleasant stories of the results of wounds
inflicted by cats.
* * * * *
Nov. 14.In spite of the curious effect this house certainly
exercises upon my nerves, I like it. It is lonely and deserted in the
very heart of London, but it is also for that reason quiet to work in.
I wonder why it is so cheap. Some people might be suspicious, but I did
not even ask the reason. No answer is better than a lie. If only I
could remove the cats from the outside and the rats from the inside. I
feel that I shall grow accustomed more and more to its peculiarities,
and shall die here. Ah, that expression reads queerly and gives a wrong
impression: I meant live and die here. I shall renew the lease
from year to year till one of us crumbles to pieces. From present
indications the building will be the first to go.
* * * * *
Nov. 16.This morning I woke to find my clothes scattered about the
room, and a cane chair overturned beside the bed. My coat and waistcoat
looked just as if they had been tried on by someone in the
night. I had horribly vivid dreams, too, in which someone covering his
face with his hands kept coming close up to me, crying out as if in
pain, Where can I find covering? Oh, who will clothe me? How silly,
and yet it frightened me a little. It was so dreadfully real. It is now
over a year since I last walked in my sleep and woke up with such a
shock on the cold pavement of Earl's Court Road, where I then lived. I
thought I was cured, but evidently not. This discovery has rather a
disquieting effect upon me. To-night I shall resort to the old trick of
tying my toe to the bed-post.
* * * * *
Nov. 17.Last night I was again troubled by most oppressive dreams.
Someone seemed to be moving in the night up and down my room, sometimes
passing into the front room, and then returning to stand beside the bed
and stare intently down upon me. I was being watched by this person all
night long. I never actually awoke, though I was often very near it. I
suppose it was a nightmare from indigestion, for this morning I have
one of my old vile headaches. Yet all my clothes lay about the floor
when I awoke, where they had evidently been flung (had I tossed them?)
during the dark hours, and my trousers trailed over the step into the
Worse than this, thoughI fancied I noticed about the room in the
morning that strange, fetid odour. Though very faint, its mere
suggestion is foul and nauseating. What in the world can it be, I
wonder?... In future I shall lock my door.
* * * * *
Nov. 26.I have accomplished a lot of good work during this past
week, and have also managed to get regular exercise. I have felt well
and in an equable state of mind. Only two things have occurred to
disturb my equanimity. The first is trivial in itself, and no doubt to
be easily explained. The upper window where I saw the light on the
night of November 4, with the shadow of a large head and shoulder upon
the blind, is one of the windows in the square room under the roof. In
reality it has no blind at all!
Here is the other thing. I was coming home last night in a fresh
fall of snow about eleven o'clock, my umbrella low down over my head.
Half-way up the alley, where the snow was wholly untrodden, I saw a
man's legs in front of me. The umbrella hid the rest of his figure, but
on raising it I saw that he was tall and broad and was walking, as I
was, towards the door of my house. He could not have been four feet
ahead of me. I had thought the alley was empty when I entered it, but
might of course been mistaken very easily.
A sudden gust of wind compelled me to lower the umbrella, and when I
raised it again, not half a minute later, there was no longer any man
to be seen. With a few more steps I reached the door. It was closed as
usual. I then noticed with a sudden sensation of dismay that the
surface of the freshly fallen snow was unbroken. My own
footmarks were the only ones to be seen anywhere, and though I retraced
my way to the point where I had first seen the man, I could find no
slightest impression of any other boots. Feeling creepy and
uncomfortable, I went upstairs, and was glad to get into bed.
* * * * *
Nov. 28.With the fastening of my bedroom door the disturbances
ceased. I am convinced that I walked in my sleep. Probably I untied my
toe and then tied it up again. The fancied security of the locked door
would alone have been enough to restore sleep to my troubled spirit and
enable me to rest quietly.
Last night, however, the annoyance was suddenly renewed in another
and more aggressive form. I woke in the darkness with the impression
that some one was standing outside my bedroom door listening. As
I became more awake the impression grew into positive knowledge. Though
there was no appreciable sound of moving or breathing, I was so
convinced of the propinquity of a listener that I crept out of bed and
approached the door. As I did so there came faintly from the next room
the unmistakable sound of someone retreating stealthily across the
floor. Yet, as I heard it, it was neither the tread of a man nor a
regular footstep, but rather, it seemed to me, a confused sort of
crawling, almost as of someone on his hands and knees.
I unlocked the door in less than a second, and passed quickly into
the front room, and I could feel, as by the subtlest imaginable
vibrations upon my nerves, that the spot I was standing in had just
that instant been vacated! The Listener had moved; he was now behind
the other door, standing in the passage. Yet this door was also closed.
I moved swiftly, and as silently as possible, across the floor, and
turned the handle. A cold rush of air met me from the passage and sent
shiver after shiver down my back. There was no one in the doorway;
there was no one on the little landing; there was no one moving down
the staircase. Yet I had been so quick that this midnight Listener
could not be very far away, and I felt that if I persevered I should
eventually come face to face with him. And the courage that came so
opportunely to overcome my nervousness and horror seemed born of the
unwilling conviction that it was somehow necessary for my safety as
well as my sanity that I should find this intruder and force his secret
from him. For was it not the intent action of his mind upon my own, in
concentrated listening, that had awakened me with such a vivid
realization of his presence?
Advancing across the narrow landing, I peered down into the well of
the little house. There was nothing to be seen; no one was moving in
the darkness. How cold the oilcloth was to my bare feet.
I cannot say what it was that suddenly drew my eyes upward. I only
know that, without apparent reason, I looked up and saw a person about
half-way up the next turn of the stairs, leaning forward over the
balustrade and staring straight into my face. It was a man. He appeared
to be clinging to the rail rather than standing on the stairs. The
gloom made it impossible to see much beyond the general outline, but
the head and shoulders were seemingly enormous, and stood sharply
silhouetted against the skylight in the roof immediately above. The
idea flashed into my brain in a moment that I was looking into the
visage of something monstrous. The huge skull, the mane-like hair, the
wide-humped shoulders, suggested, in a way I did not pause to analyze,
that which was scarcely human; and for some seconds, fascinated by
horror, I returned the gaze and stared into the dark, inscrutable
countenance above me, without knowing exactly where I was or what I was
doing. Then I realized in quite a new way that I was face to face with
the secret midnight Listener, and I steeled myself as best I could for
what was about to come.
The source of the rash courage that came to me at this awful moment
will ever be to me an inexplicable mystery. Though shivering with fear,
and my forehead wet with an unholy dew, I resolved to advance. Twenty
questions leaped to my lips: What are you? What do you want? Why do you
listen and watch? Why do you come into my room? But none of them found
I began forthwith to climb the stairs, and with the first signs of
my advance he drew himself back into the shadows and began to
move too. He retreated as swiftly as I advanced. I heard the sound of
his crawling motion a few steps ahead of me, ever maintaining the same
distance. When I reached the landing he was half-way up the next
flight, and when I was half-way up the next flight he had already
arrived at the top landing. And then I heard him open the door of the
little square room under the roof and go in. Immediately, though the
door did not close after him, the sound of his moving entirely ceased.
At this moment I longed for a light, or a stick, or any weapon
whatsoever; but I had none of these things, and it was impossible to go
back. So I marched steadily up the rest of the stairs, and in less than
a minute found myself standing in the gloom face to face with the door
through which this creature had just entered.
For a moment I hesitated. The door was about half-way open, and the
Listener was standing evidently in his favourite attitude just behind
itlistening. To search through that dark room for him seemed
hopeless; to enter the same small space where he was seemed horrible.
The very idea filled me with loathing, and I almost decided to turn
It is strange at such times how trivial things impinge on the
consciousness with a shock as of something important and immense.
Somethingit might have been a beetle or a mousescuttled over the
bare boards behind me. The door moved a quarter of an inch, closing. My
decision came back with a sudden rush, as it were, and thrusting out a
foot, I kicked the door so that it swung sharply back to its full
extent, and permitted me to walk forward slowly into the aperture of
profound blackness beyond. What a queer soft sound my bare feet made on
the boards! How the blood sang and buzzed in my head!
I was inside. The darkness closed over me, hiding even the windows.
I groped my way round the walls in a thorough search; but in order to
prevent all possibility of the other's escape, I first of all closed
There we were, we two, shut in together between four walls, within a
few feet of one another. But with what, with whom, was I thus
momentarily imprisoned? A new light flashed suddenly over the affair
with a swift, illuminating brillianceand I knew I was a fool, an
utter fool! I was wide awake at last, and the horror was evaporating.
My cursed nerves again; a dream, a nightmare, and the old
resultwalking in my sleep. The figure was a dream-figure. Many a time
before had the actors in my dreams stood before me for some moments
after I was awake.... There was a chance match in my pajamas' pocket,
and I struck it on the wall. The room was utterly empty. It held not
even a shadow. I went quickly down to bed, cursing my wretched nerves
and my foolish, vivid dreams. But as soon as ever I was asleep again,
the same uncouth figure of a man crept back to my bedside, and bending
over me with his immense head close to my ear whispered repeatedly in
my dreams, I want your body; I want its covering. I'm waiting for it,
and listening always. Words scarcely less foolish than the dream.
But I wonder what that queer odour was up in the square room. I
noticed it again, and stronger than ever before and it seemed to be
also in my bedroom when I woke this morning.
* * * * *
Nov. 29.Slowly, as moonbeams rise over a misty sea in June, the
thought is entering my mind that my nerves and somnambulistic dreams do
not adequately account for the influence this house exercises upon me.
It holds me as with a fine, invisible net. I cannot escape if I would.
It draws me, and it means to keep me.
* * * * *
Nov. 30.The post this morning brought me a letter from Aden,
forwarded from my old rooms in Earl's Court. It was from Chapter, my
former Trinity chum, who is on his way home from the East, and asks for
my address. I sent it to him at the hotel he mentioned, to await
As I have already said, my windows command a view of the alley, and
I can see an arrival without difficulty. This morning, while I was busy
writing, the sound of footsteps coming up the alley filled me with a
sense of vague alarm that I could in no way account for. I went over to
the window, and saw a man standing below waiting for the door to be
opened. His shoulders were broad, his top-hat glossy, and his overcoat
fitted beautifully round the collar. All this I could see, but no more.
Presently the door opened, and the shock to my nerves was unmistakable
when I heard a man's voice ask, Is Mr. still here? mentioning my
name. I could not catch the answer, but it could only have been in the
affirmative, for the man entered the hall and the door shut to behind
him. But I waited in vain for the sound of his steps on the stairs.
There was no sound of any kind. It seemed to me so strange that I
opened my door and looked out. No one was anywhere to be seen. I walked
across the narrow landing, and looked through the window that commands
the whole length of the alley. There was no sign of a human being,
coming or going. The lane was deserted. Then I deliberately walked
downstairs into the kitchen, and asked the gray-faced landlady if a
gentleman had just that minute called for me.
The answer, given with an odd, weary sort of smile, was No!
* * * * *
Dec. 1.I feel genuinely alarmed and uneasy over the state of my
nerves. Dreams are dreams, but never before have I had dreams in broad
I am looking forward very much to Chapter's arrival. He is a capital
fellow, vigorous, healthy, with no nerves, and even less imagination;
and he has £2000 a year into the bargain. Periodically he makes me
offersthe last was to travel round the world with him as secretary,
which was a delicate way of paying my expenses and giving me some
pocket-moneyoffers, however, which I invariably decline. I prefer to
keep his friendship. Women could not come between us; money
mighttherefore I give it no opportunity. Chapter always laughed at
what he called my fancies, being himself possessed only of that
thin-blooded quality of imagination which is ever associated with the
prosaic-minded man. Yet, if taunted with this obvious lack, his wrath
is deeply stirred. His psychology is that of the crass
materialistalways a rather funny article. It will afford me genuine
relief, none the less, to hear the cold judgment his mind will have to
pass upon the story of this house as I shall have it to tell.
* * * * *
Dec. 2.The strangest part of it all I have not referred to in this
brief diary. Truth to tell, I have been afraid to set it down in black
and white. I have kept it in the background of my thoughts, preventing
it as far as possible from taking shape. In spite of my efforts,
however, it has continued to grow stronger.
Now that I come to face the issue squarely, it is harder to express
than I imagined. Like a half-remembered melody that trips in the head
but vanishes the moment you try to sing it, these thoughts form a group
in the background of my mind, behind my mind, as it were, and
refuse to come forward. They are crouching ready to spring, but the
actual leap never takes place.
In these rooms, except when my mind is strongly concentrated on my
own work, I find myself suddenly dealing in thoughts and ideas that are
not my own! New, strange conceptions, wholly foreign to my temperament,
are forever cropping up in my head. What precisely they are is of no
particular importance. The point is that they are entirely apart from
the channel in which my thoughts have hitherto been accustomed to flow.
Especially they come when my mind is at rest, unoccupied; when I'm
dreaming over the fire, or sitting with a book which fails to hold my
attention. Then these thoughts which are not mine spring into life and
make me feel exceedingly uncomfortable. Sometimes they are so strong
that I almost feel as if someone were in the room beside me, thinking
Evidently my nerves and liver are shockingly out of order. I must
work harder and take more vigorous exercise. The horrid thoughts never
come when my mind is much occupied. But they are always therewaiting
and as it were alive.
What I have attempted to describe above came first upon me gradually
after I had been some days in the house, and then grew steadily in
strength. The other strange thing has come to me only twice in all
these weeks. It appals me. It is the consciousness of the
propinquity of some deadly and loathsome disease. It comes over me like
a wave of fever heat, and then passes off, leaving me cold and
trembling. The air seems for a few seconds to become tainted. So
penetrating and convincing is the thought of this sickness, that on
both occasions my brain has turned momentarily dizzy, and through my
mind, like flames of white heat, have flashed the ominous names of all
the dangerous illnesses I know. I can no more explain these visitations
than I can fly, yet I know there is no dreaming about the clammy skin
and palpitating heart which they always leave as witnesses of their
Most strongly of all was I aware of this nearness of a mortal
sickness when, on the night of the 28th, I went upstairs in pursuit of
the listening figure. When we were shut in together in that little
square room under the roof, I felt that I was face to face with the
actual essence of this invisible and malignant disease. Such a feeling
never entered my heart before, and I pray to God it never may again.
There! Now I have confessed. I have given some expression at least
to the feelings that so far I have been afraid to see in my own
writing. Forsince I can no longer deceive myselfthe experiences of
that night (28th) were no more a dream than my daily breakfast is a
dream; and the trivial entry in this diary by which I sought to explain
away an occurrence that caused me unutterable horror was due solely to
my desire not to acknowledge in words what I really felt and believed
to be true. The increase that would have accrued to my horror by so
doing might have been more than I could stand.
* * * * *
Dec. 3.I wish Chapter would come. My facts are all ready
marshalled, and I can see his cool, gray eyes fixed incredulously on my
face as I relate them: the knocking at my door, the well-dressed
caller, the light in the upper window and the shadow upon the blind,
the man who preceded me in the snow, the scattering of my clothes at
night, Emily's arrested confession, the landlady's suspicious
reticence, the midnight listener on the stairs, and those awful
subsequent words in my sleep; and above all, and hardest to tell, the
presence of the abominable sickness, and the stream of thoughts and
ideas that are not my own.
I can see Chapter's face, and I can almost hear his deliberate
words, You've been at the tea again, and underfeeding, I expect, as
usual. Better see my nerve doctor, and then come with me to the south
of France. For this fellow, who knows nothing of disordered liver or
high-strung nerves, goes regularly to a great nerve specialist with the
periodical belief that his nervous system is beginning to decay.
* * * * *
Dec. 5.Ever since the incident of the Listener, I have kept a
night-light burning in my bedroom, and my sleep has been undisturbed.
Last night, however, I was subjected to a far worse annoyance. I woke
suddenly, and saw a man in front of the dressing-table regarding
himself in the mirror. The door was locked, as usual. I knew at once it
was the Listener, and the blood turned to ice in my veins. Such a wave
of horror and dread swept over me that it seemed to turn me rigid in
the bed, and I could neither move nor speak. I noted, however, that the
odour I so abhorred was strong in the room.
The man seemed to be tall and broad. He was stooping forward over
the mirror. His back was turned to me, but in the glass I saw the
reflection of a huge head and face illumined fitfully by the flicker of
the night-light. The spectral gray of very early morning stealing in
round the edges of the curtains lent an additional horror to the
picture, for it fell upon the hair that was tawny and mane-like,
hanging about a face whose swollen, rugose features bore the once seen
never forgotten leonine expression ofI dare not write down that awful
word. But, by way of corroborative proof, I saw in the faint mingling
of the two lights that there were several bronze-coloured blotches on
the cheeks which the man was evidently examining with great care in the
glass. The lips were pale and very thick and large. One hand I could
not see, but the other rested on the ivory back of my hair-brush. Its
muscles were strangely contracted, the fingers thin to emaciation, the
back of the hand closely puckered up. It was like a big gray spider
crouching to spring, or the claw of a great bird.
The full realization that I was alone in the room with this nameless
creature, almost within arm's reach of him, overcame me to such a
degree that, when he suddenly turned and regarded me with small beady
eyes, wholly out of proportion to the grandeur of their massive
setting, I sat bolt upright in bed, uttered a loud cry, and then fell
back in a dead swoon of terror upon the bed.
* * * * *
Dec. 6.... When I came to this morning, the first thing I noticed
was that my clothes were strewn all over the floor.... I find it
difficult to put my thoughts together, and have sudden accesses of
violent trembling. I determined that I would go at once to Chapter's
hotel and find out when he is expected. I cannot refer to what happened
in the night; it is too awful, and I have to keep my thoughts
rigorously away from it. I feel lightheaded and queer, couldn't eat any
breakfast, and have twice vomited with blood. While dressing to go out,
a hansom rattled up noisily over the cobbles, and a minute later the
door opened, and to my great joy in walked the very subject of my
The sight of his strong face and quiet eyes had an immediate effect
upon me, and I grew calmer again. His very handshake was a sort of
tonic. But, as I listened eagerly to the deep tones of his reassuring
voice, and the visions of the night time paled a little, I began to
realize how very hard it was going to be to tell him my wild,
intangible tale. Some men radiate an animal vigour that destroys the
delicate woof of a vision and effectually prevents its reconstruction.
Chapter was one of these men.
We talked of incidents that had filled the interval since we last
met, and he told me something of his travels. He talked and I listened.
But, so full was I of the horrid thing I had to tell that I made a poor
listener. I was forever watching my opportunity to leap in and explode
it all under his nose.
Before very long, however, it was borne in upon me that he too was
merely talking for time. He too held something of importance in the
background of his mind, something too weighty to let fall till the
right moment presented itself. So that during the whole of the first
half-hour we were both waiting for the psychological moment in which
properly to release our respective bombs; and the intensity of our
minds' action set up opposing forces that merely sufficed to hold one
another in checkand nothing more. As soon as I realized this,
therefore, I resolved to yield. I renounced for the time my purpose of
telling my story, and had the satisfaction of seeing that his mind,
released from the restraint of my own, at once began to make
preparations for the discharge of its momentous burden. The talk grew
less and less magnetic; the interest waned; the descriptions of his
travels became less alive. There were pauses between his sentences.
Presently he repeated himself. His words clothed no living thoughts.
The pauses grew longer. Then the interest dwindled altogether and went
out like a candle in the wind. His voice ceased, and he looked up
squarely into my face with serious and anxious eyes.
The psychological moment had come at last!
I say he began, and then stopped short.
I made an unconscious gesture of encouragement, but said no word. I
dreaded the impending disclosure exceedingly. A dark shadow seemed to
I say, he blurted out at last, what in the world made you ever
come to this placeto these rooms, I mean?
They're cheap, for one thing, I began, and central and
They're too cheap, he interrupted. Didn't you ask what made 'em
It never occurred to me at the time.
There was a pause in which he avoided my eyes.
For God's sake, go on, man, and tell it! I cried, for the suspense
was getting more than I could stand in my nervous condition.
This was where Blount lived so long, he said quietly, and where
hedied. You know, in the old days I often used to come here and see
him and do what I could to alleviate his He stuck fast again.
Well! I said with a great effort. Please go onfaster.
But, Chapter went on, turning his face to the window with a
perceptible shiver, he finally got so terrible I simply couldn't stand
it, though I always thought I could stand anything. It got on my nerves
and made me dream, and haunted me day and night.
I stared at him, and said nothing. I had never heard of Blount in my
life, and didn't know what he was talking about. But all the same, I
was trembling, and my mouth had become strangely dry.
This is the first time I've been back here since, he said almost
in a whisper, and, 'pon my word, it gives me the creeps. I swear it
isn't fit for a man to live in. I never saw you look so bad, old man.
I've got it for a year, I jerked out, with a forced laugh; signed
the lease and all. I thought it was rather a bargain.
Chapter shuddered, and buttoned his overcoat up to his neck. Then he
spoke in a low voice, looking occasionally behind him as though he
thought someone was listening. I too could have sworn someone else was
in the room with us.
He did it himself, you know, and no one blamed him a bit; his
sufferings were awful. For the last two years he used to wear a veil
when he went out, and even then it was always in a closed carriage.
Even the attendant who had nursed him for so long was at length obliged
to leave. The extremities of both the lower limbs were gone, dropped
off, and he moved about the ground on all fours with a sort of crawling
motion. The odour, too, was
I was obliged to interrupt him here. I could hear no more details of
that sort. My skin was moist, I felt hot and cold by turns, for at last
I was beginning to understand.
Poor devil, Chapter went on; I used to keep my eyes closed as
much as possible. He always begged to be allowed to take his veil off,
and asked if I minded very much. I used to stand by the open window. He
never touched me, though. He rented the whole house. Nothing would
induce him to leave it.
Did he occupythese very rooms?
No. He had the little room on the top floor, the square one just
under the roof. He preferred it because it was dark. These rooms were
too near the ground, and he was afraid people might see him through the
windows. A crowd had been known to follow him up to the very door, and
then stand below the windows in the hope of catching a glimpse of his
But there were hospitals.
He wouldn't go near one, and they didn't like to force him. You
know, they say it's not contagious, so there was nothing to
prevent his staying here if he wanted to. He spent all his time reading
medical books, about drugs and so on. His head and face were something
appalling, just like a lion's.
I held up my hand to arrest further description.
He was a burden to the world, and he knew it. One night I suppose
he realized it too keenly to wish to live. He had the free use of
drugsand in the morning he was found dead on the floor. Two years
ago, that was, and they said then he had still several years to live.
Then, in Heaven's name! I cried, unable to bear the suspense any
longer, tell me what it was he had, and be quick about it.
I thought you knew! he exclaimed, with genuine surprise. I
thought you knew!
He leaned forward and our eyes met. In a scarcely audible whisper I
caught the words his lip seemed almost afraid to utter:
He was a leper!