Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

Title: The Judge's House
Author: Bram Stoker
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0800771.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: August 2008
Date most recently updated: August 2008

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to


Title: The Judge's House
Author: Bram Stoker

(The Illustrated and Sporting Dramatic News, December 5, 1891.)

When the time for his examination drew near Malcolm Malcolmson made up
his mind to go somewhere to read by himself. He feared the attractions
of the seaside, and also he feared completely rural isolation, for of
old he knew its charms, and so he determined to find some unpretentious
little town where there would be nothing to distract him. He refrained
from asking suggestions from any of his friends, for he argued that each
would recommend some place of which he had knowledge, and where he had
already acquaintances. As Malcolmson wished to avoid friends he had no
wish to encumber himself with the attention of friends' friends and so
he determined to look out for a place for himself. He packed a
portmanteau with some clothes and all the books he required, and then
took ticket for the first name on the local time-table which he did not

When at the end of three hours' journey he alighted at Benchurch, he
felt satisfied that he had so far obliterated his tracks as to be sure
of having a peaceful opportunity of pursuing his studies. He went
straight to the one inn which the sleepy little place contained, and put
up for the night. Benchurch was a market town, and once in three weeks
was crowded to excess, but for the reminder of the twenty-one days it
was as attractive as a desert. Malcolmson looked around the day after
his arrival to try to find quarters more isolated than even so quiet an
inn as "The Good Traveller" afforded. There was only one place which
took his fancy, and it certainly satisfied his wildest ideas
regarding quiet; in fact, quiet was not the proper word to apply to
it--desolation was the only term conveying any suitable idea of its
isolation. It was an old, rambling, heavy-built house of the Jacobean
style, with heavy gables and windows, unusually small, and set higher
than was customary in such houses, and was surrounded with a high brick
wall massively built. Indeed, on examination, it looked more like a
fortified house than an ordinary dwelling. But all these things pleased
Malcolmson. "Here," he thought, "is the very spot I have been looking
for, and if I can only get opportunity of using it I shall be happy."
His joy was increased when he realized beyond doubt that it was not at
present inhabited.

From the post-office he got the name of the agent, who was rarely
surprised at the application to rent a part of the old house. Mr.
Carnford, the local lawyer and agent, was a genial old gentleman, and
frankly confessed his delight at anyone being willing to live in the

"To tell you the truth," said he, "I should be only too happy, on behalf
of the owners, to let anyone have the house rent free, for a term of
years if only to accustom the people here to see it inhabited. It has
been so long empty that some kind of absurd prejudice has grown up about
it, and this can be best put down by its occupation--if only," he added
with a sly glance at Malcolmson, "by a scholar like yourself, who wants
its quiet for a time."

Malcolmson thought it needless to ask the agent about the "absurd
prejudice"; he knew he would get more information, if he should require
it, on that subject from other quarters. He paid his three months' rent,
got a receipt, and the name of an old woman who would probably undertake
to "do" for him, and came away with the keys in his pocket. He then went
to the landlady of the inn, who was a cheerful and most kindly person,
and asked her advice as to such stores and provisions as he would be
likely to require. She threw up her hands in amazement when he told her
where he was going to settle himself.

"Not in the Judge's House!" she said, and grew pale as she spoke. He
explained the locality of the house, saying that he did not know its
name. When he had finished she answered:

"Aye, sure enough--sure enough the very place! It is the Judge's House
sure enough." He asked her to tell him about the place, why so called,
and what there was against it. She told him that it was so called
locally because it had been many years before--how long she could not
say, as she was herself from another part of the country, but she
thought it must have been a hundred years or more--the abode of a judge
who was held in great terror on account of his harsh sentences and his
hostility to prisoners at Assizes. As to what there was against the
house she could not tell. She had often asked, but no one could inform
her, but there was a general feeling that there was _something_, and for
her own part she would not take all the money in Drinkwater's Bank and
stay in the house an hour by herself. Then she apologized to Malcolmson
for her disturbing talk.

"It is too bad of me, sir, and you--and a young gentleman, too--if you
will pardon me saying it, going to live there all alone. If you were my
boy--and you'll excuse me for saying it--you wouldn't sleep there a
night, not if I had to go there myself and pull the big alarm bell
that's on the roof!" The good creature was so manifestly in earnest, and
was so kindly in her intentions, that Malcolmson, although amused, was
touched. He told her kindly how much he appreciated her interest in him,
and added:

"But, my dear Mrs. Witham, indeed you need not be concerned about me! A
man who is reading for the Mathematical Tripos has too much to think of
to be disturbed by any of these mysterious 'somethings,' and his work is
of too exact and prosaic a kind to allow of his having any order in his
mind for mysteries of any kind. Harmonical Progression, Permutations and
Combinations, and Elliptic Functions have sufficient mysteries for me!"
Mrs. Witham kindly undertook to see after his commissions, and he went
himself to look for the old woman who had been recommended to him. When
he turned to the Judge's House with her, after an interval of a couple
of hours, he found Mrs. Witham herself waiting with several men and boys
carrying parcels, and an upholsterer's man with a bed in a cart, for she
said, though table and chairs might be all very well, a bed that hadn't
been aired for maybe fifty years was not proper for young ones to lie
on. She was evidently curious to see the inside of the house, and though
manifestly so afraid of the 'somethings' that at the slightest sound she
clutched on to Malcolmson, whom she never left for a moment, went over
the whole place.

After his examination of the house, Malcolmson decided to take up his
abode in the great dining-room, which was big enough to serve for all
his requirements, and Mrs. Witham, with the aid of the charwoman, Mrs.
Dempster, proceeded to arrange matters. When the hampers were brought in
and unpacked, Malcolmson saw that with much kind forethought she had
sent from her own kitchen sufficient provisions to last for a few days.
Before going she expressed all sorts of kind wishes, and at the door
turned and said:

"And perhaps, sir, as the room is big and draughty it might be well to
have one of those big screens put round your bed at night--though truth
to tell, I would die myself if I were to be so shut in with all kinds
of--of 'things,' that put their heads round the sides or over the top, and
look on me!" The image which she had called up was too much for her
nerves and she fled incontinently.

Mrs. Dempster sniffed in a superior manner as the landlady disappeared,
and remarked that for her own part she wasn't afraid of all the bogies
in the kingdom.

"I'll tell you what it is, sir," she said, "bogies is all kinds and
sorts of things--except bogies! Rats and mice, and beetles and creaky
doors, and loose slates, and broken panes, and stiff drawer handles,
that stay out when you pull them and then fall down in the middle of the
night. Look at the wainscot of the room! It is old--hundreds of years
old! Do you think there's no rats and beetles there? And do you imagine,
sir, that you won't see none of them? Rats is bogies, I tell you, and
bogies is rats, and don't you get to think anything else!"

"Mrs. Dempster," said Malcolmson gravely, making her a polite bow, "you
know more than a Senior Wrangler! And let me say that, as a mark of
esteem for your indubitable soundness of head and heart, I shall, when I
go, give you possession of this house, and let you stay here by yourself
for the last two months of my tenancy, for four weeks will serve my

"Thank you kindly, sir!" she answered, "but I couldn't sleep away from
home a night. I am in Greenhow's Charity, and if I slept a night away
from my rooms I should lose all I have got to live on. The rules is very
strict, and there's too many watching for a vacancy for me to run any
risks in the matter. Only for that, sir, I'd gladly come here and attend
on you altogether during your stay."

"My good woman," said Malcolmson hastily, "I have come here on a purpose
to obtain solitude, and believe me that I am grateful to the late
Greenhow for having organized his admirable charity--whatever it is--that
I am perforce denied the opportunity of suffering from such a form
of temptation! Saint Anthony himself could not be more rigid on the

The old woman laughed harshly. "Ah, you young gentlemen," she said, "you
don't fear for nought, and belike you'll get all the solitude you want
here." She set to work with her cleaning, and by nightfall, when
Malcolmson returned from his walk--he always had one of his books to
study as he walked--he found the room swept and tidied, a fire burning
on the old hearth, the lamp lit, and the table spread for supper with
Mrs. Witham's excellent fare. "This is comfort indeed," he said, and
rubbed his hands.

When he had finished his supper, and lifted the tray to the other end of
the great oak dining-table, he got out his books again, put fresh wood
on the fire, trimmed his lamp, and set himself down to a spell of real
hard work. He went on without a pause till about eleven o'clock, when he
knocked off for a bit to fix his fire and lamp, and to make himself a
cup of tea. He had always been a tea-drinker, and during his college
life had sat late at work and had taken tea late. The rest was a great
luxury to him, and he enjoyed it with a sense of delicious voluptuous
ease. The renewed fire leaped and sparkled, and threw quaint shadows
through the great old room, and as he sipped his hot tea he revelled in
the sense of isolation from his kind. Then it was that he began to
notice for the first time what a noise the rats were making.

"Surely," he thought, "they cannot have been at it all the time I was
reading. Had they been, I must have noticed it!" Presently, when the
noise increased, he satisfied himself that it was really new. It was
evident that at first the rats had been frightened at the presence of a
stranger, and the light of fire and lamp, but that as the time went on
they had grown bolder and were now disporting themselves as was their

How busy they were--and hark to the strange noises! Up and down the old
wainscot, over the ceiling and under the floor they raced, and gnawed,
and scratched! Malcolmson smiled to himself as he recalled to mind the
saying of Mrs. Dempster, "Bogies is rats, and rats is bogies!" The tea
began to have its effect of intellectual and nervous stimulus, he saw
with joy another long spell of work to be done before the night was
past, and in the sense of security which it gave him, he allowed himself
the luxury of a good look round the room. He took his lamp in one hand,
and went all round, wondering that so quaint and beautiful an old house
had been so long neglected. The carving of the oak on the panels of the
wainscot was fine, and on and round the doors and windows it was
beautiful and of rare merit. There were some old pictures on the walls,
but they were coated so thick with dust and dirt that he could not
distinguish any detail of them, though he held his lamp as high as he
could over his head. Here and there as he went round he saw some crack
or hole blocked for a moment by the face of a rat with its bright eyes
glittering in the light, but in an instant it was gone, and a squeak and
a scamper followed. The thing that most struck him, however, was the
rope of the great alarm bell on the roof, which hung down in a corner of
the room on the right-hand side of the fireplace. He pulled up close to
the hearth a great high-backed carved oak chair, and sat down to his
last cup of tea. When this was done he made up the fire, and went back
to his work, sitting at the corner of the table, having the fire to his
left. For a little while the rats disturbed him somewhat with their
perpetual scampering, but he got accustomed to the noise as one does to
the ticking of the clock or to the roar of moving water, and he became
so immersed in his work that everything in the world, except the problem
which he was trying to solve, passed away from him.

He suddenly looked up, his problem was still unsolved, and there was in
the air that sense of the hour before the dawn, which is so dread to
doubtful life. The noise of the rats had ceased. Indeed it seemed to him
that it must have ceased but lately and that it was the sudden cessation
which had disturbed him. The fire had fallen low, but still it threw out
a deep red glow. As he looked he started in spite of his _sang froid_.

There, on the great high-backed carved oak chair by the right side of
the fire-place sat an enormous rat, steadily glaring at him with baleful
eyes. He made a motion to it as though to hunt it away, but it did not
stir. Then he made the motion of throwing something. Still it did not
stir, but showed its great white teeth angrily, and its cruel eyes shone
in the lamplight with an added vindictiveness.

Malcolmson felt amazed, and seizing the poker from the hearth ran at it
to kill it. Before, however, he could strike it the rat, with a squeak
that sounded like the concentration of hate, jumped upon the floor, and,
running up the rope of the alarm bell, disappeared in the darkness
beyond the range of the green-shaded lamp. Instantly, strange to say,
the noisy scampering of the rats in the wainscot began again.

By this time Malcolmson's mind was quite off the problem, and as a
shrill cock-crow outside told him of the approach of morning, he went to
bed and to sleep.

He slept so sound that he was not even waked by Mrs. Dempster coming in
to make up his room. It was only when she had tided up the place and got
his breakfast ready and tapped on the screen which closed in his bed
that he woke. He was a little tired still after his night's hard work,
but a strong cup of tea soon freshened him up and, taking his book, he
went out for his morning walk, bringing with him a few sandwiches lest
he should not care to return till dinner-time. He found a quiet walk
between high elms some way outside the town, and here he spent the
greater part of the day studying his Laplace. On his return he looked in
to see Mrs. Witham and to thank her for her kindness. When she saw him
coming through the diamond-paned bay window of her sanctum she came out
to meet him and asked him in. She looked at him searchingly and shook
her head as she said:

"You must not overdo it, sir. You are paler this morning than you should
be. Too late hours and too hard work on the brains isn't good for any
man! But tell me, sir, how did you pass the night? Well, I hope? But, my
heart! sir, I was glad when Mrs. Dempster told me this morning that you
were all right and sleeping sound when she went in." "Oh, I was all
right," he answered smiling, "The 'somethings' didn't worry me, as yet.
Only the rats, and they had a circus, I tell you, all over the place.
There was one wicked-looking old devil that sat up on my own chair by
the fire, and wouldn't go till I took the poker to him, and then he ran
up the rope of the alarm bell and got to somewhere up the wall or the
ceiling--I couldn't see where, it was so dark."

"Mercy on us," said Mrs. Witham, "an old devil, and sitting on a chair
by the fireside! Take care, sir! take care! There's many a true word
spoken in jest."

"How do you mean? 'Pon my word, I don't understand."

"An old devil! The old devil, perhaps. There! sir, you needn't laugh,"
for Malcolmson had broken into a hearty peal. "You young folks think it
easy to laugh at things that makes older ones shudder. Never mind, sir!
never mind! Please God, you'll laugh all the time. It's what I wish you
myself!" and the good lady beamed all over in sympathy with his
enjoyment, her fears gone for a moment.

"Oh, forgive me," said Malcolmson presently. "Don't think me rude, but
the idea was too much for me--that the old devil himself was on the
chair last night!" And at the thought he laughed again. Then he went
home to dinner.

This evening the scampering of the rats began earlier, indeed it had
been going on before his arrival, and only ceased whilst his presence by
its freshness disturbed them. After dinner he sat by the fire for a
while and had a smoke, and then, having cleared his table, began to work
as before. To-night the rats disturbed him more than they had done on
the previous night.

How they scampered up and down and under and over! How they squeaked and
scratched and gnawed! How they, getting bolder by degrees, came to the
mouths of their holes and to the chinks and cracks and crannies in the
wainscoting till their eyes shone like tiny lamps as the firelight rose
and fell. But to him, now doubtless accustomed to them, their eyes were
not wicked, only their playfulness touched him. Sometimes the boldest of
them made sallies out on the floor or along the mouldings of the
wainscot. Now and again as they disturbed him Malcolmson made a sound to
frighten them, smiting the table with his hand or giving a fierce "Hsh,
hsh," so that they fled straightway to their holes.

And so the early part of the night wore on, and despite the noise
Malcolmson got more and more immersed in his work.

All at once he stopped, as on the previous night, being overcome by a
sudden silence. There was not the faintest sound of gnaw, or scratch, or
squeak. The silence was as of the grave.

He remembered the odd occurrence of the previous night, and
instinctively he looked at the chair standing close by the fireside. And
then a very odd sensation thrilled through him.

There, on the great old high-backed carved oak chair beside the
fireplace sat the same enormous rat, steadily glaring at him with
baleful eyes.

Instinctively he took the nearest thing to his hand, a book of
logarithms, and flung it at it. The book was badly aimed and the rat did
not stir, so again the poker performance of the previous night was
repeated, and again the rat, being closely pursued, fled up the rope of
the alarm bell. Strangely, too, the departure of this rat was instantly
followed by the renewal of the noise made by the general rat community.
On this occasion, as on the previous one, Malcolmson could not see at
what part of the room the rat disappeared, for the green shade of his
lamp left the upper part of the room in darkness and the fire had burned

On looking at his watch he found it was close on midnight, and, not
sorry for the _divertissement_, he made up his fire and made himself his
nightly pot of tea. He had got through a good spell of work, and thought
himself entitled to a cigarette, and so he sat on the great carved oak
chair before the fire and enjoyed it. Whilst smoking he began to think
that he would like to know where the rat disappeared to, for he had
certain ideas for the morrow not entirely disconnected with a rat-trap.
Accordingly he lit another lamp and placed it so that it would shine
well into the right-hand corner of the wall by the fireplace. Then he
got all the books he had with him, and placed them handy to throw at the
vermin. Finally he lifted the rope of the alarm bell and placed the end
of it on the table, fixing the extreme end under the lamp. As he handled
it he could not help noticing how pliable it was, especially for so
strong a rope and one not in use. "You could hang a man with it," he
thought to himself. When his preparations were made he looked around,
and said complacently:

"There now, my friend, I think we shall learn something of you this
time!" He began his work again, and though, as before, somewhat
disturbed at first by the noise of the rats, soon lost himself in his
proposition and problems.

Again he was called to his immediate surroundings suddenly. This time it
might not have been the sudden silence only which took his attention;
there was a slight movement of the rope, and the lamp moved. Without
stirring, he looked to see if his pile of books was within range, and
then cast his eye along the rope. As he looked he saw the great rat drop
from the rope on the oak arm-chair and sit there glaring at him. He
raised a book in his right hand, and taking careful aim, flung it at the
rat. The latter, with a quick movement, sprang aside and dodged the
missile. Then he took another book, and a third, and flung them one
after the other at the rat, but each time unsuccessfully. At last, as he
stood with a book poised in his hand to throw, the rat squeaked and
seemed afraid. This made Malcolmson more than ever eager to strike, and
the book flew and struck the rat a resounding blow. It gave a terrified
squeak, and turning on his pursuer a look of terrible malevolence, ran
up the chair-back and made a great jump to the rope of the alarm bell
and ran up it like lightning. The lamp rocked under the sudden strain,
but it was a heavy one and did not topple over. Malcolmson kept his eyes
on the rat, and saw it by the light of the second lamp leap to a
moulding of the wainscot and disappear through a hole in one of the
great pictures which hung on the wall, obscured and invisible through
its coating of dirt and dust.

"I shall look up my friend's habitation in the morning," said the
student, as he went over to collect his books. "The third picture from
the fireplace, I shall not forget." He picked up the books one by one,
commenting on them as he lifted them. _Conic Sections_ he does not mind,
nor _Cycloid Oscillations_, nor the Principia, nor _Quaternions_, nor
_Thermodynamics_. Now for a look at the book that fetched him!"
Malcolmson took it up and looked at it. As he did so he started, and a
sudden pallor overspread his face. He looked round uneasily and shivered
slightly, as he murmured to himself:

"The Bible my mother gave me! What an odd coincidence." He sat down to
work again, and the rats in the wainscot renewed their gambols. They did
not disturb him, however; somehow their presence gave him a sense of
companionship. But he could not attend to his work, and after striving
to master the subject on which he was engaged gave it up in despair, and
went to bed as the first streak of dawn stole in through the eastern

He slept heavily but uneasily, and dreamed much, and when Mrs. Dempster
woke him late in the morning he seemed ill at ease, and for a few
minutes did not seem to realize exactly where he was. His first request
rather surprised the servant.

"Mrs. Dempster, when I am out to-day I wish you would get the steps and
dust or wash those pictures--specially that one the third from the
fireplace--I want to see what they are."

Late in the afternoon Malcolmson worked at his books in the shaded walk,
and the cheerfulness of the previous day came back to him as the day
wore on, and he found that his reading was progressing well. He had
worked out to a satisfactory conclusion all the problems which had as
yet baffled him, and it was in a state of jubilation that he paid a
visit to Mrs. Witham at "The Good Traveller." He found a stranger in the
cosy sitting-room with the landlady, who was introduced to him as Dr.
Thornhill. She was not quite at ease, and this, combined with the
doctor's plunging at once into a series of questions, made Malcolmson
come to the conclusion that his presence was not an accident, so without
preliminary he said:

"Dr. Thornhill, I shall with pleasure answer you any question you may
choose to ask me if you will answer me one question first."

The doctor seemed surprised, but he smiled and answered at once, "Done!
What is it?"

"Did Mrs. Witham ask you to come here and see me and advise me?"

Dr. Thornhill for a moment was taken aback, and Mrs. Witham got fiery
red and turned away, but the doctor was a frank and ready man, and he
answered at once and openly:

"She did, but she didn't intend you to know it. I suppose it was my
clumsy haste that made you suspect. She told me that she did not like
the idea of your being in that house all by yourself, and that she
thought you took too much strong tea. In fact, she wants me to advise
you, if possible, to give up the tea and the very late hours. I was a
keen student in my time, so I suppose I may take the liberty of a
college man, and without offence, advise you not quite as a stranger."

Malcolmson with a bright smile held out his hand. "Shake--as they say
in America," he said. "I must thank you for your kindness, and Mrs.
Witham too, and your kindness deserves a return on my part. I promise to
take no more strong tea--no tea at all till you let me--and I shall go
to bed to-night at one o'clock at latest. Will that do?"

"Capital," said the doctor. "Now tell us all that you noticed in the old
house," and so Malcolmson then and there told in minute detail all that
had happened in the last two nights. He was interrupted every now and
then by some exclamation from Mrs. Witham, till finally when he told of
the episode of the Bible the landlady's pent-up emotions found vent in a
shriek, and it was not till a stiff glass of brandy and water had been
administered that she grew composed again. Dr. Thornhill listened with a
face of growing gravity, and when the narrative was complete and Mrs.
Witham had been restored he asked:

"The rat always went up the rope of the alarm bell?"


"I suppose you know," said the Doctor after a pause, "what that rope is?"


"It is," said the Doctor slowly, "the very rope which the hangman used
for all the victims of the Judge's judicial rancour!" Here he was
interrupted by another scream from Mrs. Witham, and steps had to be
taken for her recovery. Malcolmson having looked at his watch, and found
that it was close to his dinner-hour, had gone home before her complete

When Mrs. Witham was herself again she almost assailed the Doctor with
angry questions as to what he meant by putting such horrible ideas into
the poor young man's mind. "He has quite enough there already to upset
him," she added.

Dr. Thornhill replied:

"My dear madam, I had a distinct purpose in it! I wanted to draw his
attention to the bell-rope, and to fix it there. It may be that he is in
a highly over-wrought state, and has been studying too much, although I
am bound to say that he seems as sound and healthy a young man, mentally
and bodily, as ever I saw--but then the rats--and that suggestion of
the devil." The doctor shook his head and went on. "I would have offered
to go and stay the first night with him but that I felt sure it would
have been a cause of offence. He may get in the night some strange
fright or hallucination, and if he does I want him to pull that rope.
All alone as he is it will give us warning, and we may reach him in time
to be of service. I shall be sitting up pretty late to-night and shall
keep my ears open. Do not be alarmed if Benchurch gets a surprise before

"Oh, Doctor, what do you mean? What do you mean?"

"I mean this, that possibly--nay, more probably--we shall hear the
great alarm-bell from the Judge's House to-night," and the Doctor made
about an effective an exit as could be thought of.

When Malcolmson arrived home he found that it was a little after his
usual time, and Mrs. Dempster had gone away--the rules of Greenhow's
Charity were not to be neglected. He was glad to see that the place was
bright and tidy with a cheerful fire and a well-trimmed lamp. The
evening was colder than might have been expected in April, and a heavy
wind was blowing with such rapidly-increasing strength that there was
every promise of a storm during the night. For a few minutes after his
entrance the noise of the rats ceased, but so soon as they became
accustomed to his presence they began again. He was glad to hear them,
for he felt once more the feeling of companionship in their noise, and
his mind ran back to the strange fact that they only ceased to manifest
themselves when the other--the great rat with the baleful eyes--came
upon the scene. The reading-lamp only was lit and its green shade kept
the ceiling and the upper part of the room in darkness so that the
cheerful light from the hearth spreading over the floor and shining on
the white cloth laid over the end of the table was warm and cheery.
Malcolmson sat down to his dinner with a good appetite and a buoyant
spirit. After his dinner and a cigarette he sat steadily down to work,
determined not to let anything disturb him, for he remembered his
promise to the doctor, and made up his mind to make the best of the time
at his disposal.

For an hour or so he worked all right, and then his thoughts began to
wander from his books. The actual circumstances around him, and the
calls on his physical attention, and his nervous susceptibility were not
to be denied. By this time the wind had become a gale, and the gale a
storm. The old house, solid though it was, seemed to shake to its
foundation, and the storm roared and raged through its many chimneys and
its queer old gables, producing strange, unearthly sounds in the empty
rooms and corridors. Even the great alarm-bell on the roof must have
felt the force of the wind, for the rope rose and fell slightly, as
though the bell were moved a little from time to time, and the limber
rope fell on the oak floor with a hard and hollow sound.

As Malcolmson listened to it he bethought himself of the doctor's words,
"It is the rope which the hangman used for the victims of the Judge's
judicial rancour," and he went over to the corner of the fireplace and
took it in his hand to look at it. There seemed a sort of deadly
interest in it, and as he stood there he lost himself for a moment in
speculation as to who these victims were, and the grim wish of the Judge
to have such a ghastly relic ever under his eyes. As he stood there the
swaying of the bell on the roof still lifted the rope now and again, but
presently there came a new sensation--a sort of tremor in the rope, as
though something was moving along it.

Looking up instinctively Malcolmson saw the great rat coming slowly down
towards him, glaring at him steadily. He dropped the rope and started
back with a muttered curse, and the rat turning ran up the slope again
and disappeared, and at the same instant Malcolmson became conscious
that the noise of the other rats, which had ceased for a while, began

All this set him thinking, and it occurred to him that he had not
investigated the lair of the rat or looked at the pictures, as he had
intended. He lit the other lamp without the shade, and, holding it up
went and stood opposite the third picture from the fireplace on the
right-hand side where he had seen the rat disappear on the previous

At the first glance he started back so suddenly that he almost dropped
the lamp, and a deadly pallor overspread his face.

His knees shook, and heavy drops of sweat came on his forehead, and he
trembled like an aspen. But he was young and plucky, and pulled himself
together, and after the pause of a few seconds stepped forward again,
raised the lamp, and examined the picture which had been dusted and
washed, and now stood out clearly.

It was of a judge dressed in his robes of scarlet and ermine. His face
was strong and merciless, evil, crafty and vindictive, with a sensual
mouth, hooked nose of ruddy colour, and shaped like the beak of a bird
of prey. The rest of the face was of a cadaverous colour. The eyes were
of peculiar brilliance and with a terribly malignant expression. As he
looked at them, Malcolmson grew cold, for he saw there the very
counterpart of the eyes of the great rat. The lamp almost fell from his
hand, he saw the rat with its baleful eyes peering out through the hole
in the corner of the picture, and noted the sudden cessation of the
noise of the other rats. However, he pulled himself together, and went
on with his examination of the picture.

The Judge was seated in a great high-backed carved oak chair, on the
right-hand side of a great stone fireplace where, in the corner, a rope
hung down from the ceiling, its end lying coiled on the floor. With a
feeling of something like horror, Malcolmson recognized the scene of the
room as it stood, and gazed around him in an awestruck manner as though
he expected to find some strange presence behind him. Then he looked
over to the corner of the fireplace--and with a loud cry he let the
lamp fall from his hand.

There, in the judge's arm-chair, with the rope hanging behind, sat the
rat with the Judge's baleful eyes, now intensified as with a fiendish
leer. Save for the howling of the storm without there was silence.

The fallen lamp recalled Malcolmson to himself. Fortunately it was of
metal, and so the oil was not spilt. However, the practical need of
attending to it settled at once his nervous apprehensions. When he had
turned it out, he wiped his brow and thought for a moment.

"This will not do," he said to himself. "If I go on like this I shall
become a crazy fool. This must stop! I promised the doctor I would not
take tea. Faith, he was pretty right! My nerves must have been getting
into a queer state. Funny I did not notice it. I never felt better in my
life. However, it is all right now, and I shall not be such a fool

Then he mixed himself a good stiff glass of brandy and water and
resolutely sat down to his work.

It was nearly an hour when he looked up from his book, disturbed by the
sudden stillness. Without, the wind howled and roared louder then ever,
and the rain drove in sheets against the windows, beating like hail on
the glass, but within there was no sound whatever save the echo of the
wind as it roared in the great chimney, and now and then a hiss as a few
raindrops found their way down the chimney in a lull of the storm. The
fire had fallen low and had ceased to flame, though it threw out a red
glow. Malcolmson listened attentively, and presently heard a thin,
squeaking noise, very faint. It came from the corner of the room where
the rope hung down, and he thought it was the creaking of the rope on
the floor as the swaying of the bell raised and lowered it. Looking up,
however, he saw in the dim light the great rat clinging to the rope and
gnawing it. The rope was already nearly gnawed through--he could see
the lighter colour where the strands were laid bare. As he looked the
job was completed, and the severed end of the rope fell clattering on
the oaken floor, whilst for an instant the great rat remained like a
knob or tassel at the end of the rope, which now began to sway to and
fro. Malcolmson felt for a moment another pang of terror as he thought
that now the possibility of calling the outer world to his assistance
was cut off, but an intense anger took its place, and seizing the book
he was reading he hurled it at the rat. The blow was well-aimed, but
before the missile could reach him the rat dropped off and struck the
floor with a soft thud. Malcolmson instantly rushed over towards him,
but it darted away and disappeared in the darkness of the shadows of the
room. Malcolmson felt that his work was over for the night, and
determined then and there to vary the monotony of the proceedings by a
hunt for the rat, and took off the green shade of the lamp so as to
insure a wider spreading light. As he did so the gloom of the upper part
of the room was relieved, and in the new flood of light, great by
comparison with the previous darkness, the pictures on the wall stood
out boldly.

From where he stood, Malcolmson saw right opposite to him the third
picture on the wall from the right of the fireplace. He rubbed his eyes
in surprise, and then a great fear began to come upon him.

In the centre of the picture was a great irregular patch of brown
canvas, as fresh as when it was stretched on the frame. The background
was as before, with chair and chimney-corner and rope, but the figure of
the Judge had disappeared.

Malcolmson, almost in a chill of horror, turned slowly round, and then
he began to shake and tremble like a man in a palsy. His strength seemed
to have left him, and he was incapable of action or movement, hardly
even of thought. He could only see and hear.

There, on the great high-backed carved oak chair sat the judge in his
robes of scarlet and ermine, with his baleful eyes glaring vindictively,
and a smile of triumph on the resolute cruel mouth, as he lifted with
his hands a _black cap_. Malcolmson felt as if the blood was running
from his heart, as one does in moments of prolonged suspense. There was
a singing in his ears. Without, he could hear the roar and howl of the
tempest, and through it, swept on the storm, came the striking of
midnight by the great chimes in the market-place. He stood for a space
of time that seemed to him endless still as a statue, and with
wide-open, horror-struck eyes, breathless. As the clock struck, so the
smile of triumph on the Judge's face intensified, and at the last stroke
of midnight he placed the black cap on his head.

Slowly and deliberately the Judge rose from his chair and picked up the
piece of rope of the alarm bell which lay on the floor, drew it through
his hands as if he enjoyed its touch and then deliberately began to knot
one end of it, fashioning it into a noose. This he tightened and tested
with his foot, pulling hard at it till he was satisfied and then making
a running noose of it, which he held in his hand. Then he began to move
along the table on the opposite side of Malcolmson keeping his eyes on
him until he had passed him, when with a quick movement he stood in
front of the door. Malcolmson then began to feel that he was trapped,
and tried to think of what he should do. There was some fascination in
the Judge's eyes, which he never took off him, and he had, perforce, to
look. He saw the Judge approach--still keeping between him and the
door--and raise the noose and throw it towards him as if to entangle him.
With a great effort he made a quick movement to one side, and saw the
rope fall beside him, and heard it strike the oaken floor. Again the
Judge raised the noose and tried to ensnare him, ever keeping his
baleful eyes fixed on him, and each time by a mighty effort the student
just managed to evade it. So this went on for many times, the Judge
seeming never discouraged nor discomposed at failure, but playing as a
cat does with a mouse. At last in despair, which had reached its climax,
Malcolmson cast a quick glance round him. The lamp seemed to have blazed
up, and there was a fairly good light in the room. At the many rat-holes
and in the chinks and crannies of the wainscot he saw the rats' eyes,
and this aspect, that was purely physical, gave him a gleam of comfort.
He looked round and saw that the rope of the great alarm bell was laden
with rats. Every inch of it was covered with them, and more and more
were pouring through the small circular hole in the ceiling whence it
emerged, so that with their weight the bell was beginning to sway.

Hark! it had swayed till the clapper had touched the bell. The sound was
but a tiny one, but the bell was only beginning to sway, and it would

At the sound the Judge, who had been keeping his eyes fixed on
Malcolmson, looked up, and a scowl of diabolical anger overspread his
face. His eyes fairly glowed like hot coals, and he stamped his foot
with a sound that seemed to make the house shake. A dreadful peal of
thunder broke overhead as he raised the rope again, whilst the rats kept
running up and down the rope as though working against time. This time,
instead of throwing it, he drew close to his victim, and held open the
noose as he approached. As he came closer there seemed something
paralyzing in his very presence, and Malcolmson stood rigid as a corpse.
He felt the Judge's icy fingers touch his throat as he adjusted the
rope. The noose tightened--tightened. Then the Judge, taking the rigid
form of the student in his arms, carried him over and placed him
standing in the oak chair, and stepping up beside him, put his hand up
and caught the end of the swaying rope of the alarm-bell. As he raised
his hand the rats fled squeaking and disappeared through the hole in the
ceiling. Taking the end of the noose which was round Malcolmson's neck
he tied it to the hanging bell-rope, and then descending pulled away the

When the alarm-bell of the Judge's House began to sound a crowd soon
assembled. Lights and torches of various kinds appeared, and soon a
silent crowd was hurrying to the spot. They knocked loudly at the door,
but there was no reply. Then they burst in the door, and poured into the
great dining-room, the doctor at the head.

There at the end of the rope of the great alarm-bell hung the body of
the student, and on the face of the Judge in the picture was a malignant


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia