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Sunday, July 27, 2014


Text Courtesy of

Editor’s Note: When looking to blog another work from the public
 Domain for this particular date; the following M.R. James
work was selected at random from among hundreds of choices. 
You’ll notice the coincidence as you finish reading this story.

By Montague Rhodes James
Two men in a smoking-room were talking of their private-school days.
"At our school," said A., "we had a ghost's footmark on the staircase."
" What was it like?"
"Oh, very unconvincing. Just the shape of a shoe, with a square toe,
if I remember right. The staircase was a stone one. I never heard any
story aboutthe thing. That seems odd, when you come to think of it. 
Why didn't somebody invent one, I wonder?"
"You never can tell with little boys. They have a mythology of their own.
There's a subject for you, by the way - "The Folklore of Private Schools."

AUTHOR: Montague Rhodes James OM, MA, FBA, 
who used the publication name M. R. James, was an 
English author, medieval scholar and provost of 
King's College, Cambridge, and of Eton College.

"Yes; the crop is rather scanty, though. I imagine, 
if you were to investigate the cycle of ghost stories, 
for instance, which the boys at private schools tell 
each other, they would all turn out to be highly-
compressed versions of stories out of books."
"Nowadays the Strand and Pearson's, and so on, would be periodicals 
extensively drawn upon."
"No doubt: they weren't born or thought of in my time. Let's see. I
wonder if I can remember the staple ones that I was told. First, there was
the house with a room in which a series of people insisted on passing a
night; and each of them in the morning was found kneeling in a corner, 
andhad just time to say, 'I've seen it,' and died."
"Wasn't that the house in Berkeley Square?"
"Yes. Then there was the man who heard a noise in the
passage at night, opened his door, and saw someone crawling towards 
him on all fours with his eye hanging out on his cheek. There was 
besides, let me think - Yes! the room where a man was found dead in 
bed with a horseshoe mark on his forehead, and the floor under the 
bed was covered with marks of horseshoes also; I don't know why. 
Also there was the lady who, on locking her bedroom door in a 
strange house, heard a thin voice among the bed-curtains say, 'Now 
we're shut in for the night.' None of those had any
explanation or sequel. I wonder if they go on still, those stories."
"Oh, likely enough - with additions from the magazines, as I said. You
never heard, did you, of a real ghost at a private school? I thought not,
nobody has that ever I came across."
"From the way in which you said that, I gather that you have."
"I really don't know, but this is what was in my mind. It happened at 
my private school 30 odd years ago, and I haven't any explanation of it.
"The school I mean was near London. It was established in a large 
and fairly old house - a great white building with very fine grounds 
about it;
there were large cedars in the garden, as there are in so many of the 
older gardens in the Thames valley, and ancient elms in the three or 
four fields which we used for our games. I think probably it was 
quite an attractive place, but boys seldom allow that their schools 
possess any tolerable features.
"I came to the school in a September, soon after the year 1870; and 
among the boys who arrived on the same day was one whom I took 
to: a Highland boy, McLeod. I needn't spend time in describing him: 
the mainthing is that I got to know him very well. He was not an 
exceptional boy in any way - not particularly good at books or games,
but he suited me.
"The school was a large one: there must have been from 120 to 130 
boys there as a rule, and so a considerable staff of masters was 
required, and there were rather frequent changes among them.
"One term, perhaps it was my third or fourth, a new master made 
hisappearance. His name was Sampson. He was a tallish, stoutish, 
pale, black-bearded man. I think we liked him: he had travelled a 
good deal, and had stories which amused us on our school walks, 
so that there was somecompetition among us to get within earshot 
of him. I have hardly thought of it since that he had a charm on his
watch-chain that attracted my attention one day, and he let me 
examine it.
It was, I now suppose, a gold Byzantine coin; there was an effigy of 
Some absurd emperor on one side; the other side had been worn 
practically smooth, and he had had cut on it--rather barbarously--his 
own initials, G.W.S., and a date, 27 July, 1865. Yes, I can see it now: 
he told me he had picked it up in Constantinople: it was about the 
size of a florin, perhaps rather smaller.  [Florin is 30mm or 1.17 inches 
"Well, the first odd thing that happened was this. Sampson was 
doing Latin grammar with us. One of his favourite methods--perhaps 
it is rather a good one--was to make us construct sentences out of our 
own heads to illustrate the rules he was trying to make us learn. 
Of course that is athing which gives a silly boy a chance of being 
impertinent: there are lots of school stories in which that happens--or 
anyhow there might be. But Sampson was too good a disciplinarian 
for us to think of trying that on with him. 
Now, on this occasion he was telling us how to express remembering 
in Latin: and he ordered us each to make a sentence bringing in the 
verb memini, 'I remember.' Well, most of us made up some ordinary 
sentence such as 'I remember my father,' or 'He remembers his book,' 
or something equally uninteresting: and many put down memino 
librum meum, and so forth: but the boy I mentioned - McLeod - was 
evidently thinking of something more elaborate than that. 
The rest of us wanted to have our sentences passed, and get on to 
something else, so some kicked him under the desk, and I, who was 
next to him, poked him and whispered to him to look sharp. But he 
didn't seem to attend. I looked at his paper and saw he had put down 
nothing at all. So I jogged him again harder than before and
upbraided him sharply for keeping us all waiting. That did have some 
effect. He started and seemed to wake up, and then very quickly he 
scribbled about a couple of lines on his paper, and showed it up 
with the rest. 
As it was the last, or nearly the last, to come in, and as Sampson had 
a good deal to say to the boys who had written meminiscimus patri meo 
and the rest of it, it turned out that the clock struck twelve before he 
had got to McLeod, and McLeod had to wait afterwards to have his 
sentence corrected. 
There was nothing much going on outside when I got out, so I waited 
for him to come.
He came very slowly when he did arrive, and I guessed there had been 
somesort of trouble. 'Well,' I said, 'what did you get?' 
'Oh, I don't know,' said McLeod, 'nothing much: but I think Sampson's 
rather sick with me.'
Why, did you show him up some rot?' 
'No fear,' he said. 'It was all right as far as I could see: it was like this: 
Memento - that's right enough for remember, and it takes a genitive, 
memento putei inter quatuor taxos.'
'What silly rot!' I said. 'What made you shove that down? What does it
mean?' 'That's the funny part,' said McLeod. 'I'm not quite sure what it
does mean. All I know is, it just came into my head and I corked it down. 
I know what I think it means, because just before I wrote it down I had 
a sort of picture of it in my head: I believe it means "Remember the well 
among the four"... what are those dark sort of trees that have red berries 
on them?'
'Mountain ashes, I s'pose you mean.' 
'I never heard of them,' said McLeod; 'probably, I meant - yews.' 
'Well, and what did Sampson say?' 'Why, he was jolly odd about it. 
When he read it he got up and went to the mantel-piece and stopped 
quite a long time without saying anything, with his back to me.
And then he said, without turning round, and rather quiet, "What do 
You suppose that means?" I told him what I thought; only I couldn't 
remember the name of the silly tree: and then he wanted to know why 
I put it down, and I had to say something or other. And after that he 
left off talking about it, and asked me how long I'd been here, and 
where my people lived, and things like that: and then I left the room: 
but he wasn't looking good.'
"I don't remember any more that was said by either of us about this. 
Next day McLeod took to his bed with a chill or something of the kind, 
and it was a week or more before he was in school again. And as much 
as a month went by without anything happening that was noticeable. 

Whether or not Mr. Sampson was really startled, as McLeod had 
thought, he didn't show it. I am pretty sure, of course, now, that 
there was something very curious in his past history, but I'm not 
going to pretend that we boys were sharp enough to guess any 
such thing.
"There was one other incident of the same kind as the last which 
I told you. Several times since that day we had had to make up 
examples in school to illustrate different rules, but there had never 
been any row except when we did them wrong. At last there came 
a day when we were going through those dismal things which people 
call Conditional Sentences, and we were told to make a conditional 
sentence, expressing a future consequence. 
We did it, right or wrong, and showed up our bits of paper, and 
Sampson began looking through them. All at once he got up, made 
some odd sort of noise in his throat, and rushed out by a door that 
was just by his desk. 
We sat there for a minute or two, and then--I suppose it was 
incorrect--but we went up, I and one or two others, to look at the 
papers on his desk. 
Of course I thought someone must have put down some nonsense 
or other, and Sampson hadgone off to report him. All the same, 
I noticed that he hadn't taken any of the papers with him when 
he ran out. 
Well, the top paper on the desk was written in red ink--which no 
one used--and it wasn't in anyone's hand who was in the class. 
They all looked at it--McLeod and all--and took their dying oaths that 
it wasn't theirs. Then I thought of counting the bits of paper. And of 
this I made quite certain: that there were 17 bits of paper on the desk, 
and 16 boys in the class. Well, I bagged the extra paper, and kept it, 
and I believe I have it now. And now you will want to know what 
was written on it. It was simple enough, and harmless enough, 
I should have said.
"'Si tu non veneris ad me, ego veniam ad te,' which means, 
I suppose, 'If you don't come to me, I'll come to you.'"
"Could you show me the paper?" interrupted the listener.
"Yes, I could: but there's another odd thing about it. That same
afternoon I took it out of my locker - I know for certain it was the 
samebit, for I made a finger-mark on it and no single trace of writing 
of any kind was there on it. I kept it, as I said, and since that time 
I have tried various experiments to see whether sympathetic ink had 
been used, but absolutely without result.
"So much for that. After about half an hour Sampson looked in 
again: said he had felt very unwell, and told us we might go. He came 
rather gingerly to his desk, and gave just one look at the uppermost 
paper: and I suppose he thought he must have been dreaming: 
anyhow, he asked no questions.
"That day was a half-holiday, and next day Sampson was in school 
again, much as usual. That night the third and last incident in my 
story happened.
"We--McLeod and I--slept in a dormitory at right angles to the main
building. Sampson slept in the main building on the first floor. 
There was a very bright full moon. At an hour which I can't tell exactly, 
but some time between one and two, I was woken up by somebody 
shaking me. 
It was McLeod, and a nice state of mind he seemed to be in. 'Come,' 
he said, - 'come there's a burglar getting in through Sampson's window.' 
As soon as I could speak, I said, 'Well, why not call out and wake 
everybody up? 
'No, no,' he said, 'I'm not sure who it is: don't make a row: come 
and look.' 
Naturally I came and looked, and naturally there was no one there. 
I was cross enough, and should have called McLeod plenty of names: 
only - I couldn't tell why - it seemed to me that there was something 
wrong - something that made me very glad I wasn't alone to face it. 
We were still at the window looking out, and as soon as I could, I 
asked him what he had heard or seen. 'I didn't hear anything at all,' 
he said, 'but about five minutes before I woke you, I found myself 
looking out of this window here, and there was a man sitting or
kneeling on Sampson's window-sill, and looking in, and I thought 
he was beckoning.' 'What sort of man?' McLeod wriggled. 'I don't 
know,' he said, 'but I can tell you one thing - he was beastly thin: 
and he looked as if he was wet all over: and,' he said, looking round 
and whispering as if he hardly liked to hear himself, 'I'm not at all 
sure that he was alive.'
"We went on talking in whispers some time longer, and eventually 
crept back to bed. No one else in the room woke or stirred the whole 
time. I believe we did sleep a bit afterwards, but we were very cheap 
next day.
"And next day Mr. Sampson was gone: not to be found: and I believe 
no trace of him has ever come to light since. In thinking it over, one 
of the oddest things about it all has seemed to me to be the fact that 
neither McLeod nor I ever mentioned what we had seen to anyone
Of course no questions were asked on the subject, and if they had 
been, I am inclined to believe that we could not have made any 
answer: we seemed unable to speak about it.
"That is my story," said the narrator. "The only approach to a ghost
story connected with a school that I know, but still, I think, an 
approach to such a thing."
*   *   *  *  *
The sequel to this may perhaps be reckoned highly conventional; 
but a sequel there is, and so it must be produced. There had been 
more than one listener to the story, and, in the latter part of that 
same year, or of the next, one such listener was staying at a country 
house in Ireland.
One evening his host was turning over a drawer full of odds and ends 
In the smoking-room. Suddenly he put his hand upon a little box. 
"Now," he said, "you know about old things; tell me what that is." 
My friend opened the little box, and found in it a thin gold chain 
with an object attached to it. He glanced at the object and then took 
off his spectacles to examine it more narrowly. "What's the history of 
this?" he asked. 
"Odd enough," was the answer. "You know the yew thicket in the 
shrubbery: well, a year or two back we were cleaning out the old 
well that used to be in the clearing here, and what do you suppose 
we found?"
"Is it possible that you found a body?" said the visitor, with an odd
feeling of nervousness.
"We did that: but what's more, in every sense of the word, we 
found two."
"Good Heavens! Two? Was there anything to show how they got 
there?  Was this thing found with them?"
"It was. It was among the clothes that had turned to rags on one of 
the bodies. A bad business, whatever the story of it may have been. 
One body had the arms tight round the other. They must have been 
there 30 years or more--long enough before we came to this place. 
You may judge we filled the well up fast enough. Do you make 
anything of what's cut on that gold coin you have there?"
"I think I can," said my friend, holding it to the light (but he read it
without much difficulty); "it seems to be G.W.S., 27 July, 1865."

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