M. R. James

14 Jul, 2014 08:21 PM

Among the towns of Jutland, Viborg justly holds a high place. It is the
seat of a bishopric; it has a handsome but almost entirely new cathedral, a
charming garden, a lake of great beauty, and many storks. Near it is Hald,
accounted one of the prettiest things in Denmark; and hard by is Finderup,
where Marsk Stig murdered King Erik Glipping on St Cecilia's Day, in the
year 1286. Fifty-six blows of square-headed iron maces were traced on Erik's
skull when his tomb was opened in the seventeenth century. But I am not
writing a guide-book.

There are good hotels in Viborg - Preisler's and the Phoenix are all that
can be desired. But my cousin, whose experiences I have to tell you now,
went to the Golden Lion the first time that he visited Viborg. He has not
been there since, and the following pages will perhaps explain the reason of
his abstention.

The Golden Lion is one of the very few houses in the town that were not
destroyed in the great fire of 1726, which practically demolished the
cathedral, the Sognekirke, the Raadhuus, and so much else that was old and
interesting. It is a great red-brick house - that is, the front is of brick,
with corbie steps on the gables and a text over the door; but the courtyard
into which the omnibus drives is of black and white 'cage-work' in wood and

The sun was declining in the heavens when my cousin walked up to the
door, and the light smote full upon the imposing fa¬ćade of the house. He was
delighted with the old-fashioned aspect of the place, and promised himself a
thoroughly satisfactory and amusing stay in an inn so typical of old

It was not business in the ordinary sense of the word that had brought Mr
Anderson to Viborg. He was engaged upon some researches into the Church
history of Denmark, and it had come to his knowledge that in the Rigsarkiv
of Viborg there were papers, saved from the fire, relating to the last days
of Roman Catholicism in the country. He proposed, therefore, to spend a
considerable time - perhaps as much as a fortnight or three weeks - in
examining and copying these, and he hoped that the Golden Lion would be able
to give him a room of sufficient size to serve alike as a bedroom and a
study. His wishes were explained to the landlord, and, after a certain
amount of thought, the latter suggested that perhaps it might be the best
way for the gentleman to look at one or two of the larger rooms and pick one
for himself. It seemed a good idea.

The top floor was soon rejected as entailing too much getting upstairs
after the day's work; the second floor contained no room of exactly the
dimensions required; but on the first floor there was a choice of two or
three rooms which would, so far as size went, suit admirably.

The landlord was strongly in favour of Number 17, but Mr Anderson pointed
out that its windows commanded only the blank wall of the next house, and
that it would be very dark in the afternoon. Either Number 12 or Number 14
would be better, for both of them looked on the street, and the bright
evening light and the pretty view would more than compensate him for the
additional amount of noise.

Eventually Number 12 was selected. Like its neighbours, it had three
windows, all on one side of the room; it was fairly high and unusually long.
There was, of course, no fireplace, but the stove was handsome and rather
old - a cast-iron erection, on the side of which was a representation of
Abraham sacrificing Isaac, and the inscription, '1 Bog Mose, Cap. 22',
above. Nothing else in the room was remarkable; the only interesting picture
was an old coloured print of the town, date about 1820.

Supper-time was approaching, but when Anderson, refreshed by the ordinary
ablutions, descended the staircase, there were still a few minutes before
the bell rang. He devoted them to examining the list of his fellow-lodgers.
As is usual in Denmark, their names were displayed on a large blackboard,
divided into columns and lines, the numbers of the rooms being painted in at
the beginning of each line. The list was not exciting. There was an
advocate, or Sagfšrer, a German, and some bagmen from Copenhagen. The one
and only point which suggested any food for thought was the absence of any
Number 13 from the tale of the rooms, and even this was a thing which
Anderson had already noticed half a dozen times in his experience of Danish
hotels. He could not help wondering whether the objection to that particular
number, common as it is, was so widespread and so strong as to make it
difficult to let a room so ticketed, and he resolved to ask the landlord if
he and his colleagues in the profession had actually met with many clients
who refused to be accommodated in the thirteenth room,

He had nothing to tell me (I am giving the story as I heard it from him)
about what passed at supper, and the evening, which was spent in unpacking
and arranging his clothes, books, and papers, was not more eventful. Towards
eleven o'clock he resolved to go to bed, but with him, as with a good many
other people nowadays, an almost necessary preliminary to bed, if he meant
to sleep, was the reading of a few pages of print, and he now remembered
that the particular book which he had been reading in the train, and which
alone would satisfy him at that present moment, was in the pocket of his
greatcoat, then hanging on a peg outside the dining-room.

To run down and secure it was the work of a moment, and, as the passages
were by no means dark, it was not difficult for him to find his way back to
his own door. So, at least, he thought; but when he arrived there, and
turned the handle, the door entirely refused to open, and he caught the
sound of a hasty movement towards it from within. He had tried the wrong
door, of course. Was his own room to the right or to the left? He glanced at
the number: it was 13. His room would be on the left; and so it was. And not
before he had been in bed for some minutes, had read his wonted three or
four pages of his book, blown out his light, and turned over to go to sleep,
did it occur to him that, whereas on the blackboard of the hotel there had
been no Number 13, there was undoubtedly a room numbered 13 in the hotel. He
felt rather sorry he had not chosen it for his own. Perhaps he might have
done the landlord a little service by occupying it, and given him the chance
of saying that a well-born English gentleman had lived in it for three weeks
and liked it very much. But probably it was used as a servant's room or
something of the kind. After all, it was most likely not so large or good a
room as his own. And he looked drowsily about the room, which was fairly
perceptible in the half-light from the street-lamp. It was a curious effect,
he thought. Rooms usually look larger in a dim light than a full one, but
this seemed to have contracted in length and grown proportionately higher.
Well, well! sleep was more important than these vague ruminations - and to
sleep he went.

On the day after his arrival Anderson attacked the Rigsarkiv of Viborg.
He was, as one might expect in Denmark, kindly received, and access to all
that he wished to see was made as easy for him as possible. The documents
laid before him were far more numerous and interesting than he had at all
anticipated. Besides official papers, there was a large bundle of
correspondence relating to Bishop Jšrgen Friis, the last Roman Catholic who
held the see, and in these there cropped up many amusing and what are called
'intimate' details of private life and individual character. There was much
talk of a house owned by the Bishop, but not inhabited by him, in the town.
Its tenant was apparently somewhat of a scandal and a stumbling-block to the
reforming party. He was a disgrace, they wrote, to the city; he practised
secret and wicked arts, and had sold his soul to the enemy. It was of a
piece with the gross corruption and superstition of the Babylonish Church
that such a viper and blood-sucking Troldmand should be patronized and
harboured by the Bishop. The Bishop met these reproaches boldly; he
protested his own abhorrence of all such things as secret arts, and required
his antagonists to bring the matter before the proper court - of course, the
spiritual court - and sift it to the bottom. No one could be more ready and
willing than himself to condemn Mag. Nicolas Francken if the evidence showed
him to have been guilty of any of the crimes informally alleged against him.

Anderson had not time to do more than glance at the next letter of the
Protestant leader, Rasmus Nielsen, before the record office was closed for
the day, but he gathered its general tenor, which was to the effect that
Christian men were now no longer bound by the decisions of Bishops of Rome,
and that the Bishop's Court was not, and could not be, a fit or competent
tribunal to judge so grave and weighty a cause.

On leaving the office, Mr Anderson was accompanied by the old gentleman
who presided over it, and, as they walked, the conversation very naturally
turned to the papers of which I have just been speaking.

Herr Scavenius, the Archivist of Viborg, though very well informed as to
the general run of the documents under his charge, was not a specialist in
those of the Reformation period. He was much interested in what Anderson had
to tell him about them. He looked forward with great pleasure, he said, to
seeing the publication in which Mr Anderson spoke of embodying their
contents. 'this house of the Bishop Friis," he added, "it is a great puzzle
to me where it can have stood. I have studied carefully the topography of
old Viborg, but it is most unlucky - of the old terrier of the Bishop's
property which was made in 1560, and of which we have the greater part in
the Arkiv, just the piece which had the list of the town property is
missing. Never mind. Perhaps I shall some day succeed to find him."

After taking some exercise - I forget exactly how or where - Anderson
went back to the Golden Lion, his supper, his game of patience, and his bed.
On the way to his room it occurred to him that he had forgotten to talk to
the landlord about the omission of Number 13 from the hotel, and also that
he might as well make sure that Number 13 did actually exist before he made
any reference to the matter.

The decision was not difficult to arrive at. There was the door with its
number as plain as could be, and work of some kind was evidently going on
inside it, for as he neared the door he could hear footsteps and voices, or
a voice, within. During the few seconds in which he halted to make sure of
the number, the footsteps ceased, seemingly very near the door, and he was a
little startled at hearing a quick hissing breathing as of a person in
strong excitement. He went on to his own room, and again he was surprised to
find how much smaller it seemed now than it had when he selected it. It was
a slight disappointment, but only slight. If he found it really not large
enough, he could very easily shift to another. In the meantime he wanted
something - as far as I remember it was a pocket-handkerchief - out of his
portmanteau, which had been placed by the porter on a very inadequate
trestle or stool against the wall at the farthest end of the room from his
bed. Here was a very curious thing: the portmanteau was not to be seen. It
had been moved by officious servants; doubtless the contents had been put in
the wardrobe. No, none of them were there. This was vexatious. The idea of a
theft he dismissed at once. Such things rarely happen in Denmark, but some
piece of stupidity had certainly been performed (which is not so uncommon),
and the stuepige must be severely spoken to. Whatever it was that he wanted,
it was not so necessary to his comfort that he could not wait till the
morning for it, and he therefore settled not to ring the bell and disturb
the servants. He went to the window - the right-hand window it was - and
looked out on the quiet street. There was a tall building opposite, with
large spaces of dead wall; no passers-by; a dark night; and very little to
be seen of any kind.

The light was behind him, and he could see his own shadow clearly cast on
the wall opposite. Also the shadow of the bearded man in Number 11 on the
left, who passed to and fro in shirtsleeves once or twice, and was seen
first brushing his hair, and later on in a nightgown. Also the shadow of the
occupant of Number 13 on the right. This might be more interesting. Number
13 was, like himself, leaning on his elbows on the window-sill looking out
into the street. He seemed to be a tall thin man - or was it by any chance a
woman? - at least, it was someone who covered his or her head with some kind
of drapery before going to bed, and, he thought, must be possessed of a red
lamp-shade - and the lamp must be flickering very much. There was a distinct
playing up and down of a dull red light on the opposite wall. He craned out
a little to see if he could make any more of the figure, but beyond a fold
of some light, perhaps white, material on the window-sill he could see

Now came a distant step in the street, and its approach seemed to recall
Number 13 to a sense of his exposed position, for very swiftly and suddenly
he swept aside from the window, and his red light went out. Anderson, who
had been smoking a cigarette, laid the end of it on the window-sill and went
to bed.

Next morning he was woke by the stuepige with hot water, etc. He roused
himself, and after thinking out the correct Danish words, said as distinctly
as he could:

"You must not move my portmanteau. Where is it?"

As is not uncommon, the maid laughed, and went away without making any
distinct answer.

Anderson, rather irritated, sat up in bed, intending to call her back,
but he remained sitting up, staring straight in front of him. There was his
portmanteau on its trestle, exactly where he had seen the porter put it when
he first arrived. This was a rude shock for a man who prided himself on his
accuracy of observation. How it could possibly have escaped him the night
before he did not pretend to understand; at any rate, there it was now.

The daylight showed more than the portmanteau; it let the true
proportions of the room with its three windows appear, and satisfied its
tenant that his choice after all had not been a bad one. When he was almost
dressed he walked to the middle one of the three windows to look out at the
weather. Another shock awaited him. Strangely unobservant he must have been
last night. He could have sworn ten times over that he had been smoking at
the right-hand window the last thing before he went to bed, and here was his
cigarette-end on the sill of the middle window.

He started to go down to breakfast. Rather late, but Number 13 was later:
here were his boots still outside his door - a gentleman's boots. So then
Number 13 was a man, not a woman. Just then he caught sight of the number on
the door. It was 14. He thought he must have passed Number 13 without
noticing it. Three stupid mistakes in twelve hours were too much for a
methodical, accurate-minded man, so he turned back to make sure. The next
number to 14 was number 12, his own room. There was no Number 13 at all.

After some minutes devoted to a careful consideration of everything he
had had to eat and drink during the last twenty-four hours, Anderson decided
to give the question up. If his sight or his brain were giving way he would
have plenty of opportunities for ascertaining that fact; if not, then he was
evidently being treated to a very interesting experience. In either case the
development of events would certainly be worth watching.

During the day he continued his examination of the episcopal
correspondence which I have already summarized. To his disappointment, it
was incomplete. Only one other letter could be found which referred to the
affair of Mag. Nicolas Francken. It was from the Bishop Jšrgen Friis to
Rasmus Nielsen. He said:

"Although we are not in the least degree inclined to assent to your
judgement concerning our court, and shall be prepared if need be to
withstand you to the uttermost in that behalf, yet forasmuch as our trusty
and well-beloved Mag. Nicolas Francken, against whom you have dared to
allege certain false and malicious charges, hath been suddenly removed from
among us, it is apparent that the question for this time falls. But
forasmuch as you further allege that the Apostle and Evangelist St John in
his heavenly Apocalypse describes the Holy Roman Church under the guise and
symbol of the Scarlet Woman, be it known to you," etc.

Search as he might, Anderson could find no sequel to this letter nor any
clue to the cause or manner of the "removal" of the casus belli. He could
only suppose that Francken had died suddenly; and as there were only two
days between the date of Nielsen's last letter - when Francken was evidently
still in being - and that of the Bishop's letter, the death must have been
completely unexpected.

In the afternoon he paid a short visit to Hald, and took his tea at
Baekkelund; nor could he notice, though he was in a somewhat nervous frame
of mind, that there was any indication of such a failure of eye or brain as
his experiences of the morning had led him to fear.

At supper he found himself next to the landlord.

"What," he asked him, after some indifferent conversation, "is the reason
why in most of the hotels one visits in this country the number thirteen is
left out of the list of rooms? I see you have none here."

The landlord seemed amused.

'to think that you should have noticed a thing like that! I've thought
about it once or twice myself, to tell the truth. An educated man, I've
said, has no business with these superstitious notions. I was brought up
myself here in the High School of Viborg, and our old master was always a
man to set his face against anything of that kind. He's been dead now this
many years - a fine upstanding man he was, and ready with his hands as well
as his head. I recollect us boys, one snowy day - "

Here he plunged into reminiscence.

'then you don't think there is any particular objection to having a
Number 13?" said Anderson.

"Ah! to be sure. Well, you understand, I was brought up to the business
by my poor old father. He kept an hotel in Aarhuus first, and then, when we
were born, he moved to Viborg here, which was his native place, and had the
Phoenix here until he died. That was in 1876. Then I started business in
Silkeborg, and only the year before last I moved into this house."

Then followed more details as to the state of the house and business when
first taken over.

"And when you came here, was there a Number 13?"

"No, no. I was going to tell you about that. You see, in a place like
this, the commercial class - the travellers - are what we have to provide
for in general. And put them in Number 13? Why, they"d as soon sleep in the
street, or sooner. As far as I'm concerned myself, it wouldn't make a penny
difference to me what the number of my room was, and so I've often said to
them; but they stick to it that it brings them bad luck. Quantities of
stories they have among them of men that have slept in a Number 13 and never
been the same again, or lost their best customers, or - one thing and
another," said the landlord, after searching for a more graphic phrase.

'then, what do you use your Number 13 for?" said Anderson, conscious as
he said the words of a curious anxiety quite disproportionate to the
importance of the question.

"My Number 13? Why, don't I tell you that there isn't such a thing in the
house? I thought you might have noticed that. If there was it would be next
door to your own room."

"Well, yes; only I happened to think - that is, I fancied last night that
I had seen a door numbered thirteen in that passage; and, really, I am
almost certain I must have been right, for I saw it the night before as

Of course, Herr Kristensen laughed this notion to scorn, as Anderson had
expected, and emphasized with much iteration the fact that no Number 13
existed or had existed before him in that hotel.

Anderson was in some ways relieved by his certainty but still puzzled,
and he began to think that the best way to make sure whether he had indeed
been subject to an illusion or not was to invite the landlord to his room to
smoke a cigar later on in the evening. Some photographs of English towns
which he had with him formed a sufficiently good excuse.

Herr Kristensen was flattered by the invitation, and most willingly
accepted it. At about ten o'clock he was to make his appearance, but before
that Anderson had some letters to write, and retired for the purpose of
writing them. He almost blushed to himself at confessing it, but he could
not deny that it was the fact that he was becoming quite nervous about the
question of the existence of Number 13; so much so that he approached his
room by way of Number 11, in order that he might not be obliged to pass the
door, or the place where the door ought to be. He looked quickly and
suspiciously about the room when he entered it, but there was nothing,
beyond that indefinable air of being smaller than usual, to warrant any
misgivings. There was no question of the presence or absence of his
portmanteau tonight. He had himself emptied it of its contents and lodged it
under his bed. With a certain effort he dismissed the thought of Number 13
from his mind, and sat down to his writing.

His neighbours were quiet enough. Occasionally a door opened in the
passage and a pair of boots was thrown out, or a bagman walked past humming
to himself, and outside, from time to time a cart thundered over the
atrocious cobble-stones, or a quick step hurried along the flags.

Anderson finished his letters, ordered in whisky and soda, and then went
to the window and studied the dead wall opposite and the shadows upon it.

As far as he could remember, Number 14 had been occupied by the lawyer, a
staid man, who said little at meals, being generally engaged in studying a
small bundle of papers beside his plate. Apparently, however, he was in the
habit of giving vent to his animal spirits when alone. Why else should he be
dancing? The shadow from the next room evidently showed that he was. Again
and again his thin form crossed the window, his arms waved, and a gaunt leg
was kicked up with surprising agility. He seemed to be barefooted, and the
floor must be well laid, for no sound betrayed his movements. Sagfšrer Herr
Anders Jensen, dancing at ten o'clock at night in a hotel bedroom, seemed a
fitting subject for a historical painting in the grand style; and Anderson's
thoughts, like those of Emily in the Mysteries of Udolpho, began to "arrange
themselves in the following lines":

When I return to my hotel,
At ten o'clock p.m.,
The waiters think I am unwell;
I do not care for them.
But when I've locked my chamber door,
And put my boots outside,
I dance all night upon the floor.
And even if my neighbours swore,
I'd go on dancing all the more,
For I'm acquainted with the law,
And in despite of all their jaw,
Their protests I deride.

Had not the landlord at this moment knocked at the door, it is probable
that quite a long poem might have been laid before the reader. To judge from
his look of surprise when he found himself in the room, Herr Kristensen was
struck, as Anderson had been, by something unusual in its aspect. But he
made no remark. Anderson's photographs interested him mightily, and formed
the text of many autobiographical discourses. Nor is it quite clear how the
conversation could have been diverted into the desired channel of Number 13,
had not the lawyer at this moment begun to sing, and to sing in a manner
which could leave no doubt in anyone's mind that he was either exceedingly
drunk or raving mad. It was a high, thin voice that they heard, and it
seemed dry, as if from long disuse. Of words or tune there was no question.
It went sailing up to a surprising height, and was carried down with a
despairing moan as of a winter wind in a hollow chimney, or an organ whose
wind fails suddenly. It was a really horrible sound, and Anderson felt that
if he had been alone he must have fled for refuge and society to some
neighbour bagman's room.

The landlord sat open-mouthed.

"I don't understand it," he said at last, wiping his forehead. "It is
dreadful. I have heard it once before, but I made sure it was a cat."

"Is he mad?" said Anderson.

"He must be; and what a sad thing! Such a good customer, too, and so
successful in his business, by what I hear, and a young family to bring up."

Just then came an impatient knock at the door, and the knocker entered,
without waiting to be asked. It was the lawyer, in deshabille and very
rough-haired; and very angry he looked.

"I beg pardon, sir," he said, "but I should be much obliged if you would
kindly desist - "

Here he stopped, for it was evident that neither of the persons before
him was responsible for the disturbance; and after a moment's lull it
swelled forth again more wildly than before.

"But what in the name of Heaven does it mean?" broke out the lawyer.
"Where is it? Who is it? Am I going out of my mind?"

"Surely, Herr Jensen, it comes from your room next door? Isn't there a
cat or something stuck in the chimney?"

This was the best that occurred to Anderson to say, and he realized its
futility as he spoke; but anything was better than to stand and listen to
that horrible voice, and look at the broad, white face of the landlord, all
perspiring and quivering as he clutched the arms of his chair.

"Impossible," said the lawyer, "impossible. There is no chimney. I came
here because I was convinced the noise was going on here. It was certainly
in the next room to mine."

"Was there no door between yours and mine?" said Anderson eagerly,

"No, sir," said Herr Jensen, rather sharply. "At least, not this

"Ah!" said Anderson. "Nor tonight?"

"I am not sure," said the lawyer with some hesitation.

Suddenly the crying or singing voice in the next room died away, and the
singer was heard seemingly to laugh to himself in a crooning manner. The
three men actually shivered at the sound. Then there was a silence.

"Come," said the lawyer, "what have you to say, Herr Kristensen? What
does this mean?"

"Good Heaven!" said Kristensen. "How should I tell! I know no more than
you, gentlemen. I pray I may never hear such a noise again."

'so do I," said Herr Jensen, and he added something under his breath.
Anderson thought it sounded like the last words of the Psalter, "omnis
spiritus laudet Dominum", but he could not be sure.

"But we must do something," said Anderson - 'the three of us. Shall we go
and investigate in the next room?"

"But that is Herr Jensen's room," wailed the landlord. "It is no use; he
has come from there himself."

"I am not so sure," said Jensen. "I think this gentleman is right: we
must go and see."

The only weapons of defence that could be mustered on the spot were a
stick and umbrella. The expedition went out into the passage, not without
quakings. There was a deadly quiet outside, but a light shone from under the
next door. Anderson and Jensen approached it. The latter turned the handle,
and gave a sudden vigorous push. No use. The door stood fast.

"Herr Kristensen," said Jensen, "will you go and fetch the strongest
servant you have in the place? We must see this through."

The landlord nodded, and hurried off, glad to be away from the scene of
action. Jensen and Anderson remained outside looking at the door.

"It is Number 13, you see," said the latter.

"Yes; there is your door, and there is mine," said Jensen.

"My room has three windows in the daytirne," said Anderson, with
difficulty suppressing a nervous laugh.

"By George, so has mine!" said the lawyer, turning and looking at
Anderson. His back was now to the door. In that moment the door opened, and
an arm came out and clawed at his shoulder. It was clad in ragged, yellowish
linen, and the bare skin, where it could be seen, had long grey hair upon
it. Anderson was just in time to pull Jensen out of its reach with a cry of
disgust and fright, when the door shut again, and a low laugh was heard.

Jensen had seen nothing, but when Anderson hurriedly told him what a risk
he had run, he fell into a great state of agitation, and suggested that they
should retire from the enterprise and lock themselves up in one or other of
their rooms.

However, while he was developing this plan, the landlord and two
able-bodied men arrived on the scene, all looking rather serious and
alarmed. Jensen met them with a torrent of description and explanation,
which did not at all tend to encourage them for the fray.

The men dropped the crowbars they had brought, and said flatly that they
were not going to risk their throats in that devil's den. The landlord was
miserably nervous and undecided, conscious that if the danger were not faced
his hotel was ruined, and very loth to face it himself. Luckily Anderson hit
upon a way of rallying the demoralized force.

"Is this," he said, 'the Danish courage I have heard so much of? It isn't
a German in there, and if it was, we are five to one."

The two servants and Jensen were stung into action by this, and made a
dash at the door.

'stop!" said Anderson. "Don't lose your heads. You stay out here with the
light, landlord, and one of you two men break in the door, and don't go in
when it gives way."

The men nodded, and the younger stepped forward, raised his crowbar, and
dealt a tremendous blow on the upper panel. The result was not in the least
what any of them anticipated. There was no cracking or rending of wood -
only a dull sound, as if the solid wall had been struck. The man dropped his
tool with a shout, and began rubbing his elbow. His cry drew their eyes upon
him for a moment; then Anderson looked at the door again. It was gone; the
plaster wall of the passage stared him in the face, with a considerable gash
in it where the crowbar had struck it. Number 13 had passed out of
existence. For a brief space they stood perfectly still, gazing at the blank
wall. An early cock in the yard beneath was heard to crow; and as Anderson
glanced in the direction of the sound, he saw through the window at the end
of the long passage that the eastern sky was paling to the dawn.

"Perhaps," said the landlord, with hesitation, "you gentlemen would like
another room for tonight - a double-bedded one?"

Neither Jensen nor Anderson was averse to the suggestion. They felt
inclined to hunt in couples after their late experience. It was found
convenient, when each of them went to his room to collect the articles he
wanted for the night, that the other should go with him and hold the candle.
They noticed that both Number 12 and Number 14 had three windows.

Next morning the same party reassembled in Number 12. The landlord was
naturally anxious to avoid engaging outside help, and yet it was imperative
that the mystery attaching to that part of the house should be cleared up.
Accordingly the two servants had been induced to take upon them the function
of carpenters. The furniture was cleared away, and, at the cost of a good
many irretrievably damaged planks, that portion of the floor was taken up
which lay nearest to Number 14.

You will naturally suppose that a skeleton - say that of Mag. Nicolas
Francken - was discovered. That was not so. What they did find lying between
the beams which supported the flooring was a small copper box. In it was a
neatly-folded vellum document, with about twenty lines of writing. Both
Anderson and Jensen (who proved to be something of a palaeographer) were
much excited by this discovery, which promised to afford the key to these
extraordinary phenomena.

I possess a copy of an astrological work which I have never read. It has,
by way of frontispiece, a woodcut by Hans Sebald Beham, representing a
number of sages seated round a table. This detail may enable connoisseurs to
identify the book. I cannot myself recollect its title, and it is not at
this moment within reach; but the fly-leaves of it are covered with writing,
and, during the ten years in which I have owned the volume, I have not been
able to determine which way up this writing ought to be read, much less in
what language it is. Not dissimilar was the position of Anderson and Jensen
after the protracted examination to which they submitted the document in the
copper box.

After two days" contemplation of it, Jensen, who was the bolder spirit of
the two, hazarded the conjecture that the language was either Latin or Old

Anderson ventured upon no surmises, and was very willing to surrender the
box and the parchment to the Historical Society of Viborg to be placed in
their museum.

I had the whole story from him a few months later, as we sat in a wood
near Upsala, after a visit to the library there, where we - or, rather, I -
had laughed over the contract by which Daniel Salthenius (in later life
Professor of Hebrew at Konigsberg) sold himself to Satan. Anderson was not
really amused.

"Young idiot!" he said, meaning Salthenius, who was only an undergraduate
when he committed that indiscretion, "how did he know what company he was

And when I suggested the usual considerations he only grunted. That same
afternoon he told me what you have read; but he refused to draw any
inferences from it, and to assent to any that I drew for him.

<< Previous Classic Story
Next Classic Story >>


Post a Comment
No comments yet! Be the first
Your Comment

Do not post other site's link, it will be considered as spam