It wanted a few nights to Christmas, a festival for which the
small market-town of Torchester was making extensive preparations. The
narrow streets which had been thronged with people were now almost
deserted; the cheap-jack from London, with the remnant of breath left
him after his evening's exertions, was making feeble attempts to blow
out his naphtha lamp, and the last shops open were rapidly closing for
In the comfortable coffee-room of the old "Boar's Head", half a
dozen guests, principally commercial travellers, sat talking by the
light of the fire. The talk had drifted from trade to politics, from
politics to religion and so by easy stages to the supernatural. Three
ghost stories, never known to fail before, had fallen flat; there was
too much noise outside, too much light within. The fourth story was
told by an old hand with more success; the streets were quiet, and he
had turned the gas out. In the flickering light of the fire, as it
shone on the glasses and danced with the shadows on the walls, the
story proved so enthralling that George, the waiter, whose presence
had been forgotten, created a very disagreeable sensation by suddenly
starting up from a dark corner and gliding silently from the room.
"That's what I call a good story," said one of the men, sipping his
hot whisky. "Of course it's an old idea that spirits like to get into
the company of human beings. A man told me once that he travelled down
the Great Western with a ghost, and hadn't the slightest suspicion of
it until the inspector came for tickets. My friend said the way that
ghost tried to keep up appearances by feeling for it in all its
pockets and looking on the floor was quite touching. Ultimately it gave
it up and with a faint groan vanished through the ventilator."
"That'll do, Hirst," said another man.
"It's not a subject for jesting," said a little old gentleman who
had been an attentive listener.
"I've never seen an apparition myself, but I know people who have,
and I consider that they form a very interesting link between us and
the after-life. There's a ghost story connected with this house, you
"Never heard of it," said another speaker, "and I've been here some
''It dates back a long time now," said the old gentleman. "You've
heard about Jerry Bundler, George?"
"Well, I've just 'eard odds and ends, sir," said the old waiter,
"but I never put much count to 'em. There was one chap 'ere what said
'e saw it, and the gov'ner sacked 'im prompt."
"My father was a native of this town," said the old gentleman, "and
knew the story well. He was a truthful man and a steady churchgoer,
but I've heard him declare that once in his life he saw the appearance
of Jerry Bundler in this house."
"And who was this Bundler?'' inquired a voice.
''A London thief; pickpocket, highwayman—anything he could turn
his dishonest hand to,'' replied the old gentleman; "and he was run to
earth in this house one Christmas week some eighty years ago. He took
his last supper in this very room, and after he had gone up to bed a
couple of Bow Street runners, who had followed him from London but
lost the scent a bit, went upstairs with the landlord and tried the
door. It was stout oak, and fast, so one went into the yard, and by
means of a short ladder got on to the window-sill, while the other
stayed outside the door.
Those below in the yard saw the man crouching on the sill, and then
there was a sudden smash of.glass, and with a cry he fell in a heap on
the stones at their feet. Then in the moonlight they saw the white
face of the pickpocket peeping over the sill, and while some stayed in
the yard, others ran into the house and helped the other man to break
the door in. It was difficult to obtain an entrance even then, for it
was barred with heavy furniture, but they got in at last, and the first
thing that met their eyes was the body of Jerry dangling from the top
of the bed by his own handkerchief."
"Which bedroom was it?" asked two or three voices together.
The narrator shook his head. "That I can't tell you; but the story
goes that Jerry still haunts this house, and my father used to declare
positively that the last time he slept here the ghost of Jerry Bundler
lowered itself from the top of his bed and tried to strangle him."
"That'll do," said an uneasy voice. "I wish you'd thought to ask
your father which bedroom it was."
"What for?" inquired the old gentleman.
"Well, I should take care not to sleep in it, that's all," said the
"There's nothing to fear," said the other. "I don't believe for a
moment that ghosts could really hurt one. In fact my father used to
confess that it was only the unpleasantness of the thing that upset
him, and that for all practical purposes, Jerry's fingers might have
been made of cotton-wool for all the harm they could do."
"That's all very fine," said the last speaker again; "a ghost story
is a ghost story, sir; but when a gentleman tells a tale of a ghost in
the house in which one is going to sleep, I call it most
"Pooh! nonsense!" said the old gentleman, rising; "ghosts can't
hurt you. For my own part, I should rather like to see one. Good
"Good night," said the others. "And I only hope Jerry'll pay you a
visit," added the nervous man as the door closed.
"Bring some more whisky, George," said a stout commercial; "I want
keeping up when the talk turns this way."
"Shall I light the gas, Mr. Malcolm?" said George.
"No; the fire's very comfortable," said the traveller. "Now,
gentlemen, any of you know any more?"
"I think we've had enough," said the other man; "we shall be
thinking we see spirits next, and we're not all like the old gentleman
who's just gone."
"Old humbug!" said Hirst. "I should like to put him to the test.
Suppose I dress up as Jerry Bundler and go and give him a chance of
displaying his courage?"
"Bravo!" said Malcolm, huskily; drowning one or two faint "Noes."
"Just for the joke, gentlemen."
"No, no! Drop it, Hirst," said another man.
"Only for the joke," said Hirst, somewhat eagerly. "I've got some
things upstairs in which I am going to play in The
Rivals—knee-breeches, buckles, and all that sort of thing. It's a rare
chance. If you'll wait a bit I'll give you a full dress rehearsal,
entitled 'Jerry Bundler; or The Nocturnal Strangler.' "
"You won't frighten us," said the commercial, with a husky laugh.
"I don't know that," said Hirst sharply; "it's a question of
acting, that's all. I'm pretty good, ain't I, Somers?"
"Oh, you're alright—for an amateur," said his friend, with a
"I'll bet a level sov, you don't frighten me," said the stout
"Done!" said Hirst. "I'll take the bet to frighten you first and the
old gentleman afterwards.
"These gentlemen shall be the judges."
"You won't frighten us, sir," said another man, "because we're
prepared for you; but you'd better leave the old man alone. It's
"Well, I'll try you first," said Hirst, springing up. "No gas,
He ran lightly upstairs to his room, leaving the others, most of
whom had been drinking somewhat freely, to wrangle about his
proceedings. It ended in two of them going to bed.
"He's crazy on acting," said Somers, lighting his pipe. "Thinks
he's the equal of anybody almost. It doesn't matter with us, but I
won't let him go to the old man. And he won't mind so long as he gets
an opportunity of acting to us."
"Well, I hope he'll hurry up"' said Malcolm yawning; "it's nearly
Nearly half an hour passed. Malcolm drew his watch from his pocket
and was busy winding it, when George the waiter, who had been sent on
an errand to the bar, burst suddenly into the room and rushed towards
" 'E's comin', gentlemen,'' he said breathlessly.
"Why, you're frightened, George," said the stout commercial, with a
"It was the suddenness of it," said George, sheepishly; "and
besides, I didn't look for seein' 'im in the bar. There's only a
glimmer of light there, and 'e was sitting on the floor behind the
bar. I nearly trod on 'im."
"Oh, you'll never make a man, George," said Malcolm.
"Well, it took me unawares," said the waiter. "Not that I'd have
gone to the bar by myself if I'd known 'e was there, and I don't
believe you would, either, sir."
"Nonsense," said Malcolm. "I'll go and fetch him in."
"You don't know what it's like, sir," said George, catching him by
the sleeve. "It ain't fit to look at by yourself; it ain't, indeed.
It's got the—What's that?"
They all started at the sound of a smothered cry from the staircase
and the sound of somebody running hurriedly along the passage. Before
anybody could speak, the door flew open and a figure bursting into the
room flung itself gasping and shivering upon them.
"What is it? What's the matter?" demanded Malcolm. "Why, it's Mr.
Hirst." He shook him roughly and then held some spirit to his lips.
Hirst drank it greedily and with a sharp intake of his breath gripped
him by the arm.
"Light the gas, George," said Malcolm.
The waiter obeyed hastily. Hirst, a ludicrous but pitiable figure
in knee-breeches and coat, a large wig all awry, and his face a mess
of grease paint, clung to him, trembling.
"Now, what's the matter?" asked Malcolm.
"I've seen it," said Hirst, with a hysterical sob. "O Lord, I'll
never play the fool again, never!"
"Seen what?" said the others.
"Him—it—the ghost—anything!" said Hirst, wildly.
"Rot!" said Malcolm, uneasily.
"I was coming down the stairs," said Hirst, "just capering down—
as I thought—it ought to do.
I felt a tap—"
He broke off suddenly and peered nervously through the open door
into the passage.
"I thought I saw it again," he whispered. "Look—at the foot of the
stairs. Can you see anything?"
"No, there's nothing there," said Malcolm, whose own voice shook a
little. "Go on. You felt a tap on your shoulder—"
"I turned round and saw it—a little wicked head and a white dead
"That's what I saw in the bar," said George. " 'Orrid it was—
Hirst shuddered, and, still retaining his nervous grip of Malcolm's
sleeve, dropped into a chair.
"Well, it's a most unaccountable thing," said the dumbfounded
Malcolm, turning to the others.
"It's the last time I come to this house."
"I leave tomorrow," said George. "I wouldn't go down to that bar
again by myself; no, not for fifty pounds!"
"It's talking about the thing that's caused it, I expect," said one
of the men; "we've all been talking about this and having it in our
minds. Practically we've been forming a spiritualistic circle without
"Hang the old gentleman!" said Malcolm, heartily. "Upon my soul,
I'm half afraid to go to bed. It's odd they should both think they saw
"I saw it as plain as I see you, sir," said George, solemnly.
"P'raps if you keep your eyes turned up the passage you'll see it for
They followed the direction of his finger, but saw nothing,
although one of them fancied that a head peeped round the corner of
"Who'll come down to the bar?" said Malcolm, looking round.
"You can go, if you like," said one of the others, with a faint
laugh; "we'll wait here for you."
The stout traveller walked towards the door and took a few steps up
the passage. Then he stopped. All was quite silent, and he walked
slowly to the end and looked down fearfully towards the glass
partition which shut off the bar. Three times he made as though to go
to it; then he turned back, and, glancing over his shoulder, came
hurriedly back to the room.
"Did you see it, sir?" whispered George.
"Don't know," said Malcolm softly. "I fancied I saw something, but
it might have been fancy.
I'm in the mood to see anything just now. How are you feeling now,
"Oh, I feel a bit better now," said Hirst, somewhat brusquely, as
all eyes were turned upon him. "I dare say you think I'm easily
scared, but you didn't see it."
"Not at all," said Malcolm, smiling faintly despite himself.
"I'm going to bed," said Hirst, noticing the smile and resenting
it. "Will you share my room with me, Somers?"
"I will with pleasure," said his friend, "provided you don't mind
sleeping with the gas on full all night."
He rose from his seat, and bidding the company a friendly
good-night, left the room with his crestfallen friend. The others saw
them to the foot of the stairs, and having heard their door close,
returned to the coffee-room.
"Well, I suppose the bet's off?" said the stout commercial, poking
the fire and then standing with his legs apart on the hearthrug:
"though, as far as I can see, I won it. I never saw a man so scared in
all my life. Sort of poetic justice about it, isn't there?"
"Never mind about poetry or justice," said one of his listeners;
"who's going to sleep with me?"
"I will," said Malcolm affably.
"And I suppose we share a room together, Mr. Leek?" said the third
man, turning to the fourth.
"No, thank you," said the other, briskly; "I don't believe in
ghosts. If anything comes into my room I shall shoot it."
"That won't hurt a spirit, Leek," said Malcolm, decisively.
"Well, the noise'll be like company to me," said Leek, "and it'll
wake the house too. But if you're nervous, sir," he added, with a
grin, to the man who had suggested sharing his room, "George'll be
only too pleased to sleep on the doormat inside your room, I know."
"That I will, sir," said George fervently; "and if you gentlemen
would only come down with me to the bar to put the gas out, I could
never be sufficiently grateful."
They went out in a body, with the exception of Leek, peering
carefully before them as they went. George turned the light out in the
bar and they returned unmolested to the coffee-room, and, avoiding the
sardonic smile of Leek, prepared to separate for the night.
"Give me the candle while you put the gas out, George," said the
The waiter handed it to him and extinguished the gas, and at the
same moment all distinctly heard a step in the passage outside. It
stopped at the door, and as they watched with bated breath, the door
creaked and slowly opened. Malcolm fell back, open-mouthed, as a white,
leering face, with sunken eyeballs and close-cropped bullet head,
appeared at the opening.
For a few seconds the creature stood regarding them, blinking in a
strange fashion at the candle. Then, with a sidling movement, it came
a little way into the room and stood there as if bewildered.
Not a man spoke or moved, but all watched with a horrible
fascination as the creature removed its dirty neckcloth and its head
rolled on its shoulder. For a minute it paused, and then, holding the
rag before it, moved towards Malcolm.
The candle went out suddenly with a flash and a bang. There was a
smell of powder, and something writhing in the darkness on the floor.
A faint, choking cough, and then silence.
Malcolm was the first to speak. "Matches," he said, in a strange
voice. George struck one. Then he leapt at the gas and a burner flamed
from the match. Malcolm touched the thing on the floor with his foot
and found it soft. He looked at his companions. They mouthed inquiries
at him, but he shook his head. He lit the candle, and, kneeling down,
examined the silent thing on the floor.
Then he rose swiftly, and dipping his handkerchief in the
water-jug, bent down again and grimly wiped the white face. Then he
sprang back with a cry of incredulous horror, pointing at it. Leek's
pistol fell to the floor and he shut out the sight with his hands, but
the others crowding forward, gazed spellbound at the dead face of
Before a word was spoken the door opened and Somers hastily entered
the room. His eyes fell on the floor. "Good God!" he cried. "You
"I told him not to," he said, in a suffocating voice. "I told him
not to. I told him—"
He leaned against the wall, deathly sick, put his arms out feebly,
and fell fainting into the traveller's arms.