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Title: The Thing In the Upper Room
Author: Arthur Morrison
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606141.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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The Thing In the Upper Room
Arthur Morrison

A shadow hung ever over the door, which stood black in the depth of
its arched recess, like an unfathomable eye under a frowning brow. The
landing was wide and panelled, and a heavy rail, supported by a carved
balustrade, stretched away in alternate slopes and levels down the
dark staircase, past other doors, and so to the courtyard and the
street. The other doors were dark also; but it was with a difference.
That top landing was lightest of all, because of the skylight; and
perhaps it was largely by reason of contrast that its one doorway
gloomed so black and forbidding The doors below opened and shut,
slammed, stood ajar. Men and women passed in and out, with talk and
human sounds--sometimes even with laughter or a snatch of song; but
the door on the top landing remained shut and silent through weeks and
months. For, in truth, the logement had an ill name, and had been
untenanted for years. Long even before the last tenant had occupied
it, the room had been regarded with fear and aversion, and the end of
that last tenant had in no way lightened the gloom that hung about the

The house was so old that its weather-washed face may well have
looked down on the bloodshed of St. Bartholomew's, and the haunted
room may even have earned its ill name on that same day of death. But
Paris is a city of cruel history, and since the old mansion rose proud
and new, the htel of some powerful noble, almost any year of the
centuries might have seen the blot fall on that upper room that had
left it a place of loathing and shadows. The occasion was long
forgotten, but the fact remained; whether or not some horror of the
ancien rgime or some enormity of the Terror was enacted in that room
was no longer to be discovered; but nobody would live there, nor stay
beyond that gloomy door one second longer than he could help. It might
be supposed that the fate of the solitary tenant within living memory
had something to do with the matter--and, indeed, his end was sinister
enough; but long before his time the room had stood shunned and empty.
He, greatly daring, had taken no more heed of the common terror of the
room than to use it to his advantage in abating the rent; and he had
shot himself a little later, while the police were beating at his door
to arrest him on a charge of murder. As I have said, his fate may have
added to the general aversion from the place, though it had no in no
way originated it; and now ten years had passed, and more, since his
few articles of furniture had been carried away and sold; and nothing
had been carried in to replace them.

When one is twenty-five, healthy, hungry and poor, one is less likely
to be frightened from a cheap lodging by mere headshakings than might
be expected in other circumstances. Attwater was twenty-five, commonly
healthy, often hungry, and always poor. He came to live in Paris
because, from his remembrance of his student days, he believed he
could live cheaper there than in London; while it was quite certain
that he would not sell fewer pictures, since he had never yet sold

It was the concierge of a neighbouring house who showed Attwater the
room. The house of the room itself maintained no such functionary,
though its main door stood open day and night. The man said little,
but his surprise at Attwater's application was plain to see. Monsieur
was English? Yes. The logement was convenient, though high, and
probably now a little dirty, since it had not been occupied recently.
Plainly, the man felt it to be no business of his to enlighten an
unsuspecting foreigner as to the reputation of the place; and if he
could let it there would be some small gratification from the
landlord, though, at such a rent, of course a very small one indeed.

But Attwater was better informed than the concierge supposed. He had
heard the tale of the haunted room, vaguely and incoherently, it is
true, from the little old engraver of watches on the floor below, by
whom he had been directed to the concierge. The old man had been
voluble and friendly, and reported that the room had a good light,
facing north-east--indeed, a much better light than he, engraver of
watches, enjoyed on the floor below. So much so that, considering this
advantage and the much lower rent, he himself would have taken the
room long ago, except--well, except for other things. Monsieur was a
stranger, and perhaps had no fear to inhabit a haunted chamber; but
that was its reputation, as everybody in the quarter knew; it would be
a misfortune, however, to a stranger to take the room without
suspicion, and to undergo unexpected experiences. Here, however, the
old man checked himself, possibly reflecting that too much information
to inquirers after the upper room might offend his landlord. He hinted
as much, in fact, hoping that his friendly warning would not be
allowed to travel farther. As to the precise nature of the
disagreeable manifestations in the room, who could say? Perhaps there
were really none at all. People said this and that. Certainly, the
place had been untenanted for many years, and he would not like to
stay in it himself. But it might be the good fortune of monsieur to
break the spell, and if monsieur was resolved to defy the revenant, he
wished monsieur the highest success and happiness.

So much for the engraver of watches; and now the concierge of the
neighbouring house led the way up the stately old panelled staircase,
swinging his keys in his hand, and halted at last before the dark door
in the frowning recess. He turned the key with some difficulty, pushed
open the door, and stood back with an action of something not wholly
deference, to allow Attwater to enter first.

A sort of small lobby had been partitioned off at some time, though
except for this the logement was of one large room only. There was
something unpleasant in the air of the place--not a smell, when one
came to analyse one's sensations, though at first it might seem so.
Attwater walked across to the wide window and threw it open. The
chimneys and roofs of many houses of all ages straggled before him,
and out of the welter rose the twin towers of St. Sulpice, scarred and

Air the room as one might, it was unpleasant; a sickly, even a cowed,
feeling, invaded one through all the senses--or perhaps through none
of them. The feeling was there, though it was not easy to say by what
channel it penetrated. Attwater was resolved to admit none but a
common-sense explanation, and blamed the long closing of door and
window; and the concierge, standing uneasily near the door, agreed
that that must be it. For a moment Attwater wavered, despite himself.
But the rent was very low, and, low as it was, he could not afford a
sou more. The light was good, though it was not a top-light, and the
place was big enough for his simple requirements. Attwater reflected
that he should despise himself ever after if he shrank from the
opportunity; it would be one of those secret humiliations that will
rise again and again in a man's memory, and make him blush in
solitude. He told the concierge to leave door and window wide open for
the rest of the day, and he clinched the bargain.

It was with something of amused bravado that he reported to his few
friends in Paris his acquisition of a haunted room; for, once out of
the place, he readily convinced himself that his disgust and dislike
while in the room were the result of imagination and nothing more.
Certainly, there was no rational reason to account for the
unpleasantness; consequently, what could it be but a matter of fancy?
He resolved to face the matter from the beginning, and clear his mind
from any foolish prejudices that the hints of the old engraver might
have inspired, by forcing himself through whatever adventures he might
encounter. In fact, as he walked the streets about his business, and
arranged for the purchase and delivery of the few simple articles of
furniture that would be necessary, his enterprise assumed the guise of
a pleasing adventure. He remembered that he had made an attempt, only
a year or two ago, to spend a night in a house reputed haunted in
England, but had failed to find the landlord. Here was the adventure
to hand, with promise of a tale to tell in future times; and a welcome
idea struck him that he might look out the ancient history of the
room, and work the whole thing into a magazine article, which would
bring a little money.

So simple were his needs that by the afternoon of the day following
his first examination of the room it was ready for use.

He took his bag from the cheap hotel in a little street of
Montparnasse, where he had been lodging, and carried it to his new
home. The key was now in his pocket, and for the first time he entered
the place alone. The window remained wide open; but it was still
there--that depressing, choking something that entered the
consciousness he knew not by what gate. Again he accused his fancy. He
stamped and whistled, and set about unpacking a few canvases and a
case of old oriental weapons that were part of his professional
properties. But he could give no proper attention to the work, and
detected himself more than once yielding to a childish impulse to look
over his shoulder. He laughed at himself--with some effort--and sat
determinedly to smoke a pipe, and grow used to his surroundings. But
presently he found himself pushing his chair farther and farther back,
till it touched the wall. He would take the whole room into view, he
said to himself in excuse, and stare it out of countenance. So he sat
and smoked, and as he sat his eye fell on a Malay dagger that lay on
the table between him and the window. It was a murderous, twisted
thing, and its pommel was fashioned into the semblance of a bird's
head, with curved beak and an eye of some dull red stone. He found
himself gazing on this red eye with an odd, mindless fascination. The
dagger in its wicked curves seemed now a creature of some outlandish
fantasy--a snake with a beaked head, a thing of nightmare, in some new
way dominant, overruling the centre of his perceptions. The rest of
the room grew dim, but the red stone glowed with a fuller light;
nothing more was present to his consciousness. Then, with a sudden
clang, the heavy bell of St. Sulpice aroused him, and he started up in
some surprise.

There lay the dagger on the table, strange and murderous enough, but
merely as he had always known it. He observed with more surprise,
however, that his chair, which had been back against the wall, was now
some six feet forward, close by the table; clearly, he must have drawn
it forward in his abstraction, towards the dagger on which his eyes
had been fixed...The great bell of St. Sulpice went clanging on,
repeating its monotonous call to the Angelus.

He was cold, almost shivering. He flung the dagger into a drawer, and
turned to go out. He saw by his watch that it was later than he had
supposed; his fit of abstraction must have lasted some time. Perhaps
he had even been dozing.

He went slowly downstairs and out into the streets. As he went he
grew more and more ashamed of himself, for he had to confess that in
some inexplicable way he feared that room. He had seen nothing, heard
nothing of the kind that one might have expected, or had heard of in
any room reputed haunted; he could not help thinking that it would
have been some sort of relief if he had. But there was an all-
pervading, overpowering sense of another Presence--something
abhorrent, not human, something almost physically nauseous. Withal it
was something more than presence; it was power, domination--so he
seemed to remember it. And yet the remembrance grew weaker as he
walked in the gathering dusk; he thought of a story he had once read
of a haunted house wherein it was shown that the house actually was
haunted--by the spirit of fear, and nothing else. That, he persuaded
himself, was the case with his room; he felt angry at the growing
conviction that he had allowed himself to be overborne by fancy--by
the spirit of fear.

He returned that night with the resolve to allow himself no foolish
indulgence. He had heard nothing and had seen nothing; when something
palpable to the senses occurred, it would be time enough to deal with
it. He took off his clothes and got into bed deliberately, leaving
candle and matches at hand in case of need. He had expected to find
some difficulty in sleeping, or at least some delay, but he was scarce
well in bed ere he fell into a heavy sleep.

Dazzling sunlight through the window woke him in the morning, and he
sat up, staring sleepily about him. He must have slept like a log. But
he had been dreaming; the dreams were horrible. His head ached beyond
anything he had experienced before, and he was far more tired than
when he went to bed. He sank back on the pillow, but the mere contact
made his head ring with pain. He got out of bed, and found himself
staggering; it was all as though he had been drunk--unspeakably drunk
with bad liquor. His dreams--they had been horrid dreams; he could
remember that they had been bad, but what they actually were was now
gone from him entirely. He rubbed his eyes and stared amazedly down at
the table: where the crooked dagger lay, with its bird's head and red
stone eye. It lay just as it had lain when he sat gazing at it
yesterday, and yet he would have sworn that he had flung that same
dagger into a drawer. Perhaps he had dreamed it; at any rate, he put
the thing carefully into the drawer now, and, still with his ringing
headache, dressed himself and went out.

As he reached the next landing the old engraver greeted him from his
door with an inquiring good-day. "Monsieur has not slept well, I

In some doubt, Attwater protested that he had slept quite soundly.
"And as yet I have neither seen nor heard anything of the ghost," he

"Nothing?" replied the old man, with a lift of the eyebrows, "nothing
at all? It is fortunate. It seemed to me, here below, that monsieur
was moving about very restlessly in the night; but no doubt I was
mistaken. No doubt, also, I may felicitate monsieur on breaking the
evil tradition. We shall hear no more of it; monsieur has the good
fortune of a brave heart."

He smiled and bowed pleasantly, but it was with something of a
puzzled look that his eyes followed Attwater descending the staircase.

Attwater took his coffee and roll after an hour's walk, and fell
asleep in his seat. Not for long, however, and presently he rose and
left the caf. He felt better, though still unaccountably fatigued. He
caught sight of his face in a mirror beside a shop window, and saw an
improvement since he had looked in his own glass. That indeed had
brought him a shock. Worn and drawn beyond what might have been
expected of so bad a night, there was even something more. What was
it? How should it remind him of that old legend--was it Japanese?--
which he had tried to recollect when he had wondered confusedly at the
haggard apparition that confronted him? Some tale of a demon-possessed
person who in any mirror, saw never his own face, but the face of the

Work he felt to be impossible, and he spent the day on garden seats,
at caf tables, and for a while in the Luxembourg. And in the evening
he met an English friend, who took him by the shoulders and looked
into his eyes, shook him, and declared that he had been overworking,
and needed, above all things, a good dinner, which he should have
instantly. "You'll dine with me," he said, "at La Perouse, and we'll
get a cab to take us there. I'm hungry."

As they stood and looked for a passing cab a man ran shouting with
newspapers. "We'll have a cab," Attwater's friend repeated, "and we'll
take the new murder with us for conversation's sake. Hi! Journal!"

He bought a paper, and followed Attwater into the cab. "I've a strong
idea I knew the poor old boy by sight," he said. "I believe he'd seen
better days."


"The old man who was murdered in the Rue Broca last night. The
description fits exactly. He used to hang about the cafs and run
messages. It isn't easy to read in this cab; but there's probably
nothing fresh in this edition. They haven't caught the murderer,

Attwater took the paper, and struggled to read it in the changing
light. A poor old man had been found dead on the footpath of the Rue
Broca, torn with a score of stabs. He had been identified--an old man
not known to have a friend in the world; also, because he was so old
and so poor, probably not an enemy. There was no robbery; the few sous
the old man possessed remained in his pocket. He must have been
attacked on his way home in the early hours of the morning, possibly
by a homicidal maniac, and stabbed again and again with inconceivable
fury. No arrest had been made.

Attwater pushed the paper way: "Pah!" he said; "I don't like it. I'm
a bit off colour, and I was dreaming horribly all last night; though
why this should remind me of it I can't guess. But it's no cure for
the blues, this!"

"No," replied his friend heartily; "we'll get that upstairs, for here
we are, on the quay. A bottle of the best Burgundy on the list and the
best dinner they can do--that's your physic. Come!"

It was a good prescription, indeed. Attwater's friend was cheerful
and assiduous, and nothing could have bettered the dinner. Attwater
found himself reflecting that indulgence in the blues was a poor
pastime, with no better excuse than a bad night's rest. And last
night's dinner in comparison with this! Well, it was enough to have
spoiled his sleep, that one-franc-fifty dinner.

Attwater left La Perouse as gay as his friend. They had sat late, and
now there was nothing to do but cross the water and walk a little in
the boulevards. This they did, and finished the evening at a caf
table with half a dozen acquaintances.

Attwater walked home with a light step, feeling less drowsy than at
any time during the day. He was well enough. He felt he should soon
get used to the room. He had been a little too much alone lately, and
that had got on his nerves. It was simply stupid.

Again he slept quickly and heavily and dreamed. But he had an
awakening of another sort. No bright sun blazed in at the open window
to lift his heavy lids, and no morning bell from St. Sulpice opened
his ears to the cheerful noise of the city. He awoke gasping and
staring in the dark, rolling face-downward on the floor, catching his
breath in agonized sobs; while through the window from the streets
came a clamour of hoarse cries: cries of pursuit and the noise of
running men: a shouting and clatter wherein here and there a voice was
clear among the rest--"A l'assassin! Arrtez!"

He dragged himself to his feet in the dark, gasping still. What was
this--all this? Again a dream? His legs trembled under him, and he
sweated with fear. He made for the window, panting and feeble; and
then, as he supported himself by the sill, he realized wonderingly
that he was fully dressed--that he wore even his hat. The running
crowd straggled through the outer street and away, the shouts growing
fainter. What had wakened him? Why had he dressed? He remembered his
matches, and turned to grope for them; but something was already in
his hand--something wet, sticky. He dropped it on the table, and even
as he struck the light, before he saw it, he knew. The match sputtered
and flared, and there on the table lay the crooked dagger, smeared and
dripping and horrible.

Blood was on his hands--the match stuck in his fingers. Caught at the
heart by the first grip of an awful surmise, he looked up and saw in
the mirror before him, in the last flare of the match, the face of the
Thing in the Room.


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