The Beast with Five Fingers
W. F. Harvey
William Fryer Harvey, better known as W. F. Harvey, was born in England in 1885. His family was wealthy due to a large inheritance from his father's brother and his parents spent much time with the family and also following many philanthropic pursuits, some of which were influenced by their membership in the Society of Friends. At an early age, Harvey was exposed to the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and it was Poe's psychological horror that influenced Harvey's writing in later years.
After obtaining a medical degree from Leeds, Harvey was forced to take a break from his medical training due to ill health. He recuperated by taking a voyage around the world and spent a couple of months in Australia resting and writing. The time spent writing was not wasted and, upon his return to England in 1910, Harvey's first book of short stories, Midnight House, was published.
The rest of Harvey's life was spent following projects in which he had a personal interest and in writing. His Quaker heritage led him to join a Friends' Ambulance Unit during WWI and he later worked as a surgeon-lieutenant in the navy and received the Albert Medal for Gallantry after rescuing an officer during from a boiler room. Unfortunately, Harvey's lungs were badly injured from oil fumes during the rescue and he was plagued by health problems for the rest of his life. During these bouts of illness, however, Harvey spent the time writing and continued to produce not only short stories, but also an autobiographical memoir, We Were Seven: a book full of light and cheer and the polar opposite of many of Harvey's stories.
Harvey eventually sucumbed to his many illnesses and died in 1937 at the age of 52. Sadly, worldwide interest in his work did not surface until nearly 10 years after his death, when Warner Brothers released The Beast With Five Fingers in 1946.
"The Beast With Five Fingers" reportedly first appeared in a volume of The New Decameron and is quite different from the film, but I will leave it to you to discover these differences on your own.
Introduction © 2004 by Bob Gay
The story, I suppose, begins with Adrian
Borlsover, whom I met when I was a little boy and he an old man. My
father had called to appeal for a subscription, and before he left,
Mr. Borlsover laid his right hand in blessing on my head. I shall
never forget the awe in which I gazed up at his face and realized for
the first time that eyes might be dark and beautiful and shining and
yet not able to see.
For Adrian Borlsover was blind.
He was an extraordinary man, who came of
an eccentric stock. Borlsover sons for some reason always seemed to
marry very ordinary women, which perhaps accounted for the fact that
no Borlsover had been a genius and only one Borlsover had been mad.
But they were great champions of little causes, generous patrons of
odd sciences, founders of querulous sects, trustworthy guides to the
bypath meadows of erudition.
Adrian was an authority on the
fertilization of orchids. He had held at one time the family living
at Borlsover Conyers, until a congenital weakness of the lungs
obliged him to seek a less rigorous climate in the sunny south-west
watering-place where I had seen him. Occasionally he would relieve
one or other of the local clergy. My father described him as a fine
preacher, who gave long and inspiring sermons from what many men
would have considered unprofitable texts. "An excellent proof,"
he would add, "of the truth of the doctrine of direct verbal
Adrian Borlsover was exceedingly clever
with his hands. His penmanship was exquisite. He illustrated all his
scientific papers, made his own woodcuts, and carved the reredos that
is at present the chief feature of interest in the church at
Borlsover Gonyers. He had an exceedingly clever knack in cutting
silhouettes for young ladies and paper pigs and cows for little
children, and made more than one complicated wind instrument of his
When he was fifty years old Adrian
Borlsover lost his sight. In a wonderfully short time he adapted
himself to the new conditions of life. He quickly learn to read
Braille. So marvellous indeed was his sense of touch, that he was
still able to maintain his interest in botany. The mere passing of
his long supple fingers over a flower was sufficient means for its
identification, though occasionally he would use his lips. I have
found several letters of his among my father's correspondence; in no
case was there anything to-show that he was afflicted with blindness,
and this in spite of the fact that he exercised undue economy in the
spacing of lines. Towards the close of his life Adrian Borlsover was
credited with powers of touch that seemed almost uncanny. It has been
said that he could tell at once the colour of a ribbon placed between
his fingers. My father would neither confirm nor deny the story.
Adrian Borlsover was a bachelor. His
elder brother, Charles, had married late in life, leaving one son,
Eustace, who lived in the gloomy Georgian mansion at Borlsover
Gonyers, where he could work undisturbed in collecting material for
his great book on heredity.
Like his uncle, he was a remarkable man.
The Borlsovers had always been born naturalists, but Eustace
possessed in a special degree the power of systematizing his
knowledge. He had received his university education in Germany; and
then, after post-graduate work in Vienna and Naples, had travelled
for four years in South America, and the East, getting together a
huge store of material for a new study into the processes of
He lived alone at Borlsover Gonyers with
Saunders, his secretary, a man who bore a somewhat dubious reputation
in the district, but whose powers as a mathematician, combined with
his business abilities, were invaluable to Eustace.
Uncle and nephew saw little of each
other. The visits of Eustace were confined to a week in the summer or
autumn—tedious weeks, that dragged almost as slowly as the
bathchair in which the old man was drawn along the sunny seafront. In
their way the two men were fond of each other) though their intimacy
would, doubtless, have been greater had they shared the same
religious views. Adrian held to the old-fashioned evangelical dogmas
of his early manhood; his nephew for many years had been thinking of
embracing Buddhism. Both men possessed, too, the reticence the
Borlsovers had always shown, and which their enemies sometimes called
hypocrisy. With Adrian it was a reticence as to the things he had
left undone; but with Eustace it seemed that the curtain which he was
so careful to leave undrawn hid something more than a half-empty
Two years before his death Adrian
Borlsover developed, unknown to himself, the not uncommon power of
automatic writing. Eustace made the discovery by accident, Adrian was
sitting reading in bed, the forefinger of his left hand tracing the
Braille characters, when his nephew noticed that a pencil the old man
held in his right hand was moving slowly along the opposite page. He
left his seat in the window and sat down beside the bed. The right
had continued to move and now he could see plainly that they were
letters and words which it was forming.
wrote the hand, "Eustace Borlsover, Charles Borlsover, Francis
Borlsover, Sigismund Borlsover, Adrian Borlsover, Eustace Borlsover,
Saville Borlsover. B for Borlsover. Honesty is the Best Policy.
Beautiful Belinda Borlsover."
"What curious nonsense!"
said Eustace to himself.
"King George ascended the throne in
1760," wrote the hand. "Crowd, a noun of multitude; a
collection of individuals. Adrian Borlsover, Eustace Borlsover."
"It seems to me," said his uncle, closing the book, "that
you had much better make the most of the afternoon sunshine and take
your walk now."
"I think perhaps I will,"
Eustace answered as he picked up the volume. "I won't go far,
and when I come back I can read to you those articles in Nature
about which we were speaking."
He went along the promenade, but stopped
at the first shelter and, seating himself in the corner best
protected from the wind, he examined the book at leisure. Nearly
every page was scored with a meaningless jumble of pencil-marks; rows
of capital letters, short words, long words, complete sentences,
copy-book tags. The whole thing, in fact, had the appearance of a
copy-book, and, on a more careful scrutiny, Eustace thought that
there was ample evidence to show that the handwriting at the
beginning of the book, good though it was, was not nearly so good as
the handwriting at the end.
He left his uncle at the end of October
with a promise to return early in December. It seemed to him quite
clear that the old man's power of automatic writing was developing
rapidly, and for the first time he looked forward to a visit that
would combine duty with interest.
But on his return he was at first
disappointed. His uncle, he thought, looked older. He was listless,
too, preferring others to read to him and dictating nearly all his
letters. Not until the day before he left had Eustace an opportunity
of observing Adrian Borlsover's new-found faculty.
The old man, propped up in bed with
pillows, had sunk into a light sleep. His two hands lay on the
coverlet, his left hand tightly clasping his right. Eustace took an
empty manuscript-book and placed a pencil within reach of the fingers
of the right hand. They snatched at it eagerly, then dropped the
pencil to loose the left hand from its restraining grasp.
"Perhaps to prevent interference I
had better hold that hand," said Eustace to himself, as he
watched the pencil. Almost immediately it began to write :
unnecessarily unnatural, extraordinarily eccentric, culpably
"Who are you?" asked Eustace
in a low voice.
"Never you mind," wrote the hand of Adrian.
"Is it my uncle who is writing?"
"O my prophetic soul,
"Is it anyone I know?"
Eustace, you'll see me very soon."
"When shall I see you?"
poor old Adrian's dead."
"Where shall I see you?"
"Where shall you not?"
Instead of speaking his next question,
Eustace wrote it: "What is the time?"
The fingers dropped the pencil and moved
three or four times across the paper. Then, picking up the pencil,
they wrote: "Ten minutes before four. Put your book away,
Eustace. Adrian mustn't find us working at this sort of thing. He
doesn't know what to make of it, and I won't have poor old Adrian
disturbed. Au revoir! Adrian Borlsover awoke with a start.
"I've been dreaming again," he
said; "such queer dreams of leaguered cities and forgotten
towns. You were mixed up in this one, Eustace, though I can't
remember how. Eustace, I want to warn you. Don't walk in doubtful
paths. Choose your friends well. Your poor grandfather. . ."
A fit of coughing put an end to what he
was saying, but Eustace saw that the hand was still writing. He
managed unnoticed to draw the book away."I'll light the gas,"
he said, "and ring for tea."
On the other side of the
bed-curtain he saw the last sentences that had been written.
"It's too late, Adrian," he
read. "We're friends already, aren't we, Eustace Borlsover?"
On the following day Eustace left. He
thought his uncle looked ill when he said goodbye, and the old man
spoke despondently of the failure his life had been.
"Nonsense, uncle," said his
nephew. "You have got over your difficulties in a way not one in
a hundred thousand would have done. Everyone marvels at your splendid
perseverance in teaching your hands to take the place of your lost
sight. To me it's been a revelation of the possibilities of
"Education," said his uncle
dreamily, as if the word had started a new train of thought.
"Education is good so long as you know to whom and for what purpose
you give it. But with the lower orders of men, the baser and more
sordid spirits, I have grave doubts as to its results. Well, goodbye,
Eustace; I may not see you again. You are a true Borlsover, with all
the Borlsover faults. Marry, Eustace. Marry some good, sensible girl.
And if by any chance I don't see you again, my will is at my
solicitor's. I've not left you any legacy, because I know you're well
provided for; but I thought you might like to have my books. Oh, and
there's just one other thing. You know, before the end people often
lose control over themselves and make absurd requests. Don't pay any
attention to them, Eustace. Goodbye!" and he held out his hand.
Eustace took it. It remained in his a fraction of a second longer
than he had expected and gripped him with a virility that was
surprising. There was, too, in its touch a subtle sense of intimacy.
"Why, uncle," he said, "I
shall see you alive and well for many long years to come."
Two months later Adrian Borlsover died.
Eustace Borlsover was in Naples at the
time. He read the obituary-notice in the Morning Post on the
day announced for the funeral.
"Poor old fellow! " he said.
"I wonder whether I shall find room for all his books."
The question occurred to him again with
greater force when, three days later, he found himself standing in
the library at Borlsover Gonyers, a huge room built for use and not
for beauty in the year of Waterloo by a Borlsover who was an ardent
admirer of the great Napoleon. It was arranged on the plan of many
college libraries, with tall projecting bookcases forming deep
recesses of dusty silence, fit graves for the old hates of forgotten
controversy, the dead passions of forgotten lives. At the end of the
room, behind the bust of some unknown eighteenth-century divine, an
ugly iron corkscrew stair led to a shelf-lined gallery. Nearly every
shelf was full.
"I must talk to Saunders about it,"
said Eustace. "I suppose that we shall have to have the
billiard-room fitted up with bookcases."
The two men met for the first time after
many weeks in the dining-room that evening.
"Hallo! " said Eustace,
standing before the fire with his hands in his pockets. "How
goes the world, Saunders? Why these dress togs?"
He himself was
wearing an old shooting-jacket. He did not believe in mourning, as he
had told his uncle on his last visit; and, though he usually went in
for quiet-coloured ties, he wore this evening one of an ugly red, in
order to shock Morton, the butler, and to make them thrash out the
whole question of mourning for themselves in the servants' hall.
Eustace was a true Borlsover.
"The world," said Saunders,
"goes the same as usual, confoundedly slow. The dress togs are
accounted for by an invitation from Captain Lockwood to bridge."
"How are you getting there?"
"There's something the matter with
the car, so I've told Jackson to drive me round in the dogcart. Any
"Oh, dear me, no! We've had all
things in common for far too many years for me to raise objections at
this hour of the day."
"You'll find your correspondence in
the library," went on Saunders. "Most of it I've seen to.
There are a few private letters I haven't opened. There's also a box
with a rat or something inside it that came by the evening post. Very
likely it's the six-toed beast Terry was sending us to cross with the
four-toed albino. I didn't look because I didn't want to mess up my
things' but I should gather from the way it's jumping about that it's
"Oh, I'll see to it," said
Eustace, "while you and the captain earn an honest penny."
Dinner over and Saunders gone, Eustace
went into the library. Though the fire had been lit, the room was by
no means cheerful.
"We'll have all the lights on, at
any rate," he said, as he turned the switches. "And,
Morton," he added, when the butler brought the coffee, "get
me a screwdriver or something to undo this box. Whatever the animal
is, he's kicking up the deuce of a row. What is it? Why are you
"If you please, sir, when the
postman brought it, he told me that they'd bored the holes in the lid
at the post office. There were no breathing holes in the lid, sir,
and they didn't want the animal to die. That is all, sir."
"It's culpably careless of the man,
whoever he was," said Eustace, as he removed the screws,
"packing an animal like this in a wooden box with no means of
getting air. Confound it all! I meant to ask Morton to bring me a
cage to put it in. Now I suppose I shall have to get one myself."
He placed a heavy book on the lid from
which the screws had been removed, and went into the billiard-room.
As he came back into the library with an empty cage in his hand, he
heard the sound of something falling, and then of something scuttling
along the floor.
"Bother it! The beast's got out.
How in the world am I to find it again in this library?"
To search for it did indeed seem
hopeless. He tried to follow the sound of the scuttling in one of the
recesses, where the animal seemed to be running behind the books in
the shelves; but it was impossible to locate it. Eustace resolved to
go on quietly reading.
Very likely the animal might gain
confidence and show itself. Saunders seemed to have dealt in his
usual methodical manner with most of the correspondence. There were
still the private letters.
What was that? Two sharp clicks and the
lights in the hideous candelabras that hung from the ceiling suddenly
"I wonder if something has gone
wrong with the fuse," said Eustace, as he went to the switches
by the door. Then he stopped. There was a noise at the other end of
the room, as if something was crawling up the iron corkscrew stair.
"If it's gone into the gallery," he said, "well and
good." He hastily turned on the lights, crossed the room, and
climbed up the stair. But he could see nothing. His grandfather had
placed a little gate at the top of the stair, so that children could
run and romp in the gallery without fear of accident. This Eustace
closed, and, having considerably narrowed the circle of his search,
returned to his desk by the fire.
How gloomy the library was! There was no
sense of intimacy about the room. The few busts that an
.eighteenth-century Borlsover had brought back from the grand tour
might have been in keeping in the old library. Here they seemed out
of place. They made the room feel cold in spite of the heavy red
damask curtain and great gilt cornices.
With a crash two heavy books fell from.
the gallery to the floor; then, as Borlsover looked, another, and yet
"Very well. You'll starve for this,
my beauty!" he said. "We'll do some little experiments on
the metabolism of rats deprived of water. Go on! Chuck them down! I
think I've got the upper hand."
He turned once more to his
correspondence. The letter was from the family solicitor. It spoke of
his uncle's death, and of the valuable collection of books that had
been left to him in the will.
There was one request [he read] which
certainly came as a surprise to me. As you know, Mr. Adrian Borlsover
had left instructions that his body was to be buried in as simple a
manner as possible at Eastbourne. He expressed a desire that there
should be neither wreaths nor flowers of any kind, and hoped that his
friends and relatives would not consider it necessary to wear
mourning. The day before his death we received a letter cancelling
these instructions. He wished the body to be embalmed (he gave us the
address of the man we were to employ—Pennifer, Ludgate Hill),
with orders that his right hand should be sent to you stating that it
was at your special request. The other arrangements about the funeral
"Good Lord," said Eustace,
"what in the world was the old boy driving at? And what in the
name of all that's holy is that?"
Someone was in the gallery. Someone had
pulled the cord attached to one of the blinds, and it had rolled up
with a snap. Someone must be in the gallery, for a second blind did
the same. Someone must be walking round the gallery, for one after
the other the blinds sprang up, letting in the moonlight.
"I haven't got to the bottom of
this yet," said Eustace, "but I will do, before the night
is very much older"; and he hurried up the corkscrew stair. He
had just got to the top, when the lights went out a second time, and
he heard again the scuttling along the floor. Quickly he stole on
tiptoe in the dim moonshine in the direction of the noise, feeling,
as he went, for one of the switches. His fingers touched the metal
knob at last. He turned on the electric light.
About ten yards in front of him,
crawling along the floor, was a man's hand. Eustace stared at it in
utter amazement. It was moving quickly in the manner of a geometer
caterpillar, the fingers humped up one moment, flattened out the
next; the thumb appeared to give a crablike motion to the whole.
While he was looking, too surprised to stir, the hand disappeared
round the corner. Eustace ran forward. He no longer saw it, but he
could hear it, as it squeezed its way behind the books on one of the
shelves. A heavy volume had been displaced. There was a gap in the
row of books, where it had got in. In his fear lest it should escape
him again, he seized the first book that came to his hand and plugged
it into the hole. Then, emptying two shelves of their contents, he
took the wooden boards and propped them up in front to make his
barrier doubly sure.
"I wish Saunders was back," he
said; "one can't tackle this sort of thing alone."
after eleven, and there seemed little likelihood of Saunders
returning before twelve. He did not dare to leave the shelf
unwatched, even to run downstairs to ring the bell. Morton, the
butler, often used to come round about eleven to see that the windows
were fastened, but he might not come. Eustace was thoroughly
unstrung. At last he heard steps down below.
"Has Mr. Saunders got back yet?"
"Not yet, sir."
"Well, bring me some brandy, and
hurry up about it. I'm up in the gallery, you duffer."
"Thanks," said Eustace, as he
emptied the glass. "Don't go to bed yet, Morton. There are a lot
of books that have fallen down by accident. Bring them up and put
them back in their shelves."
Morton had never seen Borlsover in so
talkative a mood as on that night.
"Here," said Eustace,
when the books had been put back and dusted, "you might hold up
these boards for me, Morton. That beast in the box got out, and I've
been chasing it all over the place."
"I think I can hear it clawing at
the books, sir. They're not valuable, I hope? I think that's the
carriage, sir; I'll go and call Mr. Saunders."
It seemed to Eustace that he was away
for five minutes, but it could hardly have been more than one, when
he returned with Saunders. "All right, Morton, you can go now.
I'm: up here, Saunders."
"What's all the row?" asked
Saunders, as he lounged forward with his hands in his pockets. The
luck had been with him all the evening. He was completely satisfied,
both with himself and with Captain Lockwood's taste in wines.
the matter? You look to me to be in an absolutely blue funk."
"That old devil of an uncle of
mine," began Eustace—"Oh, I can't explain it all.
It's his hand that's been playing Old Harry all the evening. But I've
got it cornered behind these books. You've got to help me to catch
"What's up with you, Eustace?
What's the game?"
"It's no game, you silly idiot! If you
don't believe me, take out one of those books and put your hand in
"All right," said Saunders;
"but wait till I've rolled up my sleeve. The accumulated dust of
centuries, eh?" He took off his coat, knelt down, and thrust his
arm along the shelf.
"There's something there right
enough," he said. "It's got a funny, stumpy end to it,
whatever it is, and nips like a crab. Ah! No, you don't!" He
pulled his hand out in a flash. "Shove in a book quickly. Now it
can't get out." "What was it?" asked Eustace.
"Something that wanted very much to
get hold of me. I felt what seemed like a thumb and forefinger. Give
me some brandy."
"How are we to get it out of there?"
"What about a landing-net?"
"No good. It would be too smart for
us. I tell you, Saunders, it can cover the ground far faster than I
can walk. But I think I see how we can manage it. The two books at
the ends of the shelf are big ones, that go right back against the
wall. The others are very thin. I'll take out one at a time, and you
slide the rest along) until we have it squashed between the end two."
It certainly seemed to be the best plan.
One by one as they took out the books, the space behind grew smaller
and smaller. There was something in it that was certainly very much
alive. Once they caught sight of fingers feeling for a way of escape.
At last they had it pressed between the two big books.
"There's muscle there, if there
isn't warm flesh and blood," said Saunders, as he held them
together. "It seems to be a hand right enough, too. I suppose
this is a sort of infectious hallucination. I've read about such
said Eustace, his face white with anger; "bring the thing
downstairs. We'll get it back into the box."
It was not altogether easy, but they
were successful at last.
"Drive in the screws," said
Eustace; "we won't run any risks. Put the box in this old desk
of mine. There's nothing in it that I want. Here's the key. Thank
goodness there's nothing wrong with the lock."
"Quite a lively evening," said
Saunders. "Now let's hear more about your uncle."
They sat up together until early
morning. Saunders had no desire for sleep. Eustace was trying to
explain and to forget; to conceal from himself a fear that he had
never felt before—the fear of walking alone down the long
corridor to his bedroom.
"Whatever it was," said
Eustace to Saunders on the following morning, "I propose that we
drop the subject. There's nothing to keep us here for the next ten
days. We'll motor up to the Lakes and get some climbing."
"And see nobody all day, and sit
bored to death with each other every night. Not for me, thanks. Why
not run up to town? Run's the exact word in this case, isn't it?
We're both in such a blessed funk. Pull yourself together, Eustace,
and let's have another look at the hand."
"As you like," said Eustace;
"there's the key."
They went into the library and opened
the desk. The box was as they had left it on the previous night.
"What are you waiting for?"
"I am waiting for you to volunteer to open the
lid. However, since you seem to funk it, allow me. There doesn't seem
to be the likelihood of any rumpus this morning at all events."
He opened the lid and picked out the hand. "Cold?" asked
"Tepid. A bit below blood heat by
the feel. Soft and supple too. If it's the embalming, it's a sort of
embalming I've never seen before. Is it your uncle's hand?"
"Oh yes, it's his all right,"
said Eustace. "I should know those long thin fingers anywhere.
Put it back in the box, Saunders. Never mind about the screws. I'll
lock the desk, so that there'll be no chance of its getting out.
We'll compromise by motoring up to town for a week. If we can get off
soon after lunch, we ought to be at Grantham or Stamford by night."
"Right," said Saunders, "and
tomorrow—oh, well, by tomorrow we shall have forgotten all
about this beastly thing."
If, when the morrow came, they had not
forgotten, it was certainly true that at the end of the week they
were able to tell a very vivid ghost story at the little supper
Eustace gave on Hallowe'en.
"You don't want us to believe that
it's true, Mr. Borlsover? How perfectly awful!"
"I'll take my oath on it, and so
would Saunders here; wouldn't you, old chap?"
"Any number of oaths," said
Saunders. "It was a long thin hand, you know, and it gripped me
just like that."
"Don't, Mr. Saunders! Don't! How
perfectly horrid! Now tell us another one, do! Only a really creepy
"Here's a pretty mess!" said
Eustace on the following day, as he threw a letter across the table
to Saunders. "It's your affair, though. Mrs. Merrit, if I
understand it, gives a month's notice."
"Oh, that's quite absurd on Mrs.
Merrit's part," replied Saunders. "She doesn't know what
she's talking about. Let's see what she says."
Dear Sir [he read].
This is to let you
know that I must give you a month's notice as from Tuesday, the 13th.
For a long time I've felt the place too big for me; but when Jane
Parfit and Emma Laidlaw go off with scarcely as much as an "If
you please", after frightening the wits out of the other girls,
so that they can't turn out a room by themselves or walk alone down
the stairs for fear of treading on half-frozen toads or hearing it
run along the passages at night, all I can say is that it's no place
for me. So I must ask you, Mr. Borlsover, sir, to find a new
housekeeper, that has no objection to large and lonely houses, which
some people do say, not that I believe them for a minute, my poor
mother always having been a Wesleyan, are haunted.
P.S.—I should be obliged if you
would give my respects to Mr. Saunders. I hope that he won't run any
risks with his cold.
"Saunders," said Eustace,
"you've always had a wonderful way with you in dealing with
servants. You mustn't let poor old Merrit go."
"Of course she shan't go,"
said Saunders. "She's probably only angling for a rise in
salary. I'll write to her this morning."
"No. There's nothing like a
personal interview. We've had enough of town. We'll go back tomorrow,
and you must work your cold for all its worth. Don't forget that it's
got on to the chest, and will require weeks of feeding up and
"All right, I think I can manage Mrs. Merrit."
But Mrs. Merrit was more obstinate than he had thought. She was very
sorry to hear of Mr. Saunder's cold, and how he lay awake all night
in London coughing; very sorry indeed. She'd change his room for him
gladly and get the south room aired, and wouldn't he have a hot basin
of bread and milk last thing at night? But she was afraid that she
would have to leave at the end of the month. "Try her with an
increase of salary," was the advice of Eustace. It was no use.
Mrs. Merrit was obdurate, though she knew of a Mrs. Goddard, who had
been housekeeper to Lord Gargrave, who might be glad to come at the
"What's the matter with the
servants, Morton?" asked Eustace that evening, when he brought
the coffee into the library. "What's all this about Mrs. Merrit
wanting to leave?"
"If you please, sir, I was going to
mention it myself. I have a confession to make, sir. When I found
your note, asking me to open that desk and take out the box with the
rat, I broke the lock as you told me, and was glad to do it, because
I could hear the animal in the box making a great noise, and I
thought it wanted food. So I took out the box, sir, and got a cage,
and was going to transfer it, when the animal got away."
in the world are you talking about? I never wrote any such note."
"Excuse me, sir; it was the note I
picked up here on the floor on the day you and Mr. Saunders left. I
have it in my pocket now."
It certainly seemed to be in Eustace's
handwriting. It was written in pencil, and began somewhat abruptly.
Get a hammer, Morton, [he
read] or some other tool and break open the lock in the old
desk in the library. Take out the box that is inside. You need not do
anything else. The lid is already open.
you opened the desk?"
"Yes, sir; and, as I was getting
the cage ready, the animal hopped out."
"The animal inside the box, sir."
"What did it look like?"
"Well, sir, I couldn't tell you,"
said Morton, nervously. "My back was turned, and it was half-way
down the room when I looked up."
"What was its colour?"
asked Saunders. "Black?"
"Oh no, sir; a greyish white.
It crept along in a very funny way, sir. I don't think it had a
"What did you do then?"
"I tried to catch it; but it was no
use. So I set the rat-traps and kept the library shut. Then that
girl, Emma Laidlaw, left the door open when she was cleaning, and I
think it must have escaped."
"And you think it is the animal
that's been frightening the maids?"
"Well, no, sir, not quite. They
said it was—you'll excuse me, sir—a hand that they saw.
Emma trod on it once at the bottom of the stairs. She thought then it
was a half-frozen toad, only white. And then Parfit was washing up
the dishes in the scullery. She wasn't thinking about anything in
particular. It was close on dusk. She took her hands out of the water
and was drying them absent-minded like on the roller towel, when she
found she was drying someone else's hand as well, only colder than
"What nonsense!" exclaimed Saunders.
"Exactly, sir; that's what I told
her; but we couldn't get her to stop."
"You don't believe all this?"
said Eustace, turning suddenly towards the butler. "Me, sir? Oh
no, sir! I've not seen anything."
"Nor heard anything?"
"Well, sir, if you must know, the
bells do ring at odd times, and there's nobody there when we go; and
when we go round to draw the blinds of a night, as often as not
somebody's been there before us. But, as I says to Mrs. Merrit, a
young monkey might do wonderful things, and we all know that Mr.
Borlsover has had some strange animals about the place."
well, Morton, that will do."
"What do you make of it?"
asked Saunders, when they were alone. "I mean of the letter he
said you wrote."
"Oh, that's simple enough,"
said Eustace. "See the paper it's written on ? I stopped using
that paper years ago, but there were a few odd sheets and envelopes
left in the old desk. We never fastened up the lid of the box before
locking it in. The hand got out, found a pencil, wrote this note, and
shoved it through the crack on to the floor) where Morton found it.
That's plain as daylight."
"But the hand couldn't write!"
"Couldn't it? You've not seen it do
the things I've seen." And he told Saunders more of what had
happened at Eastbourne.
"Well," said Saunders, "in
that case we have at least an explanation of the legacy. It was the
hand which wrote, unknown to your uncle, that letter to your
solicitor bequeathing itself to you. Your uncle had no more to do
with that request than I. In fact, it would seem that he had some
idea of his automatic writing and feared it."
"Then if it's
not my uncle, what is it?"
"I suppose some people might say
that a disembodied spirit had got your uncle to educate and prepare a
little body for it. Now it's got into that little body and is off on
"Well, what are we to do?"
"We'll keep our eyes open,"
said Saunders, "and try to catch it. If we can't do that, we
shall have to wait till the bally clockwork runs down. After all, if
it's flesh and blood, it can't live for ever."
For two days nothing happened. Then
Saunders saw it sliding down the banister in the hall. He was taken
unawares and lost a full second before he started in pursuit, only to
find that the thing had escaped him. Three days later Eustace,
writing alone in the library at night, saw it sitting on an open book
at the other end of the room. The fingers crept over the page, as if
it were reading; but before he had time to get up from his seat, it
had taken the alarm., and was pulling itself up the curtains. Eustace
watched it grimly, as it hung on to the cornice with three fingers
and flicked thumb and forefinger at him in an expression of scornful
"I know what I'll do," he
said. "If I only get it into the open, I'll set the dogs on to
it." He spoke to Saunders of the suggestion.
"It's a jolly good idea," he
said; "only we won't wait till we find it out of doors. We'll
get the dogs. There are the two terriers and the under-keeper's Irish
mongrel, that's on to rats like a flash. Your spaniel has not got
spirit enough for this sort of game."
They brought the dogs into the house,
and the keeper's Irish mongrel chewed up the slippers, and the
terriers tripped up Morton, as he waited at table; but all three were
welcome. Even false security is better than no security at all.
For a fortnight nothing happened. Then
the hand was caught, not by the dogs, but by Mrs. Merrit's grey
parrot. The bird was in the habit of periodically removing the pins
that kept its seed- and water-tins in place, and of escaping through
the holes in the side of the cage. When once at liberty, Peter would
show no inclination to return, and would often be about the house for
days. Now, after six consecutive weeks of captivity, Peter had again
discovered a new way of unloosing his bolts and was at large,
exploring the tapestried forests of the curtains and singing songs in
praise of liberty from cornice and picture-rail.
"It's no use your trying to catch
him," said Eustace to Mrs. Merrit, as she came into the study
one afternoon towards dusk with a step-ladder. "You'd much
better leave Peter alone. Starve him into surrender, Mrs. Merrit; and
don't leave bananas and seed about for him to peck at when he fancies
he's hungry. You're far too soft-hearted."
"Well, sir, I see he's right out of
reach now on that picture-rail; so, if you wouldn't mind closing the
door, sir, when you leave the room, I'll bring his cage in tonight
and put some meat inside it. He's that fond of meat, though it does
make him pull out his feathers to suck the quills. They do say
that if you cook—"
"Never mind, Mrs. Merrit,"
said Eustace, who was busy writing; "that will do; I'll keep an
eye on the bird."
For a short time there was silence in the
"Scratch poor Peter," said the bird. "Scratch
poor old Peter!"
"Be quiet, you beastly bird!"
old Peter! Scratch poor Peter; do!"
"I'm more likely to
wring your neck, if I get hold of you." He looked up at the
picture-rail, and there was the hand, holding on to a hook with three
fingers, and slowly scratching the head of the parrot with the
fourth. Eustace ran to the bell and pressed it hard; then across to
the window, which he closed with a bang. Frightened by the noise, the
parrot shook its wings preparatory to flight, and, as it did so, the
fingers of the hand got hold of it by the throat. There was a shrill
scream, from Peter, as he fluttered across the room, wheeling round
in circles that ever descended, borne down under the weight that
clung to him. The bird dropped at last quite suddenly, and Eustace
saw fingers and feathers rolled into an inextricable mass on the
floor. The struggle abruptly ceased, as finger and thumb squeezed the
neck; the bird's eyes rolled up to show the whites, and there was a
faint, half-choked gurgle. But, before the fingers had time to loose
their hold, Eustace had them in his own.
"Send Mr, Saunders here at once,"
he said to the maid who came in answer to the bell. "Tell him I
want him immediately."
Then he went with the hand to the fire.
There was a ragged gash across the back, where the bird's beak had
torn it, but no blood oozed from the wound. He noted with disgust
that the nails had grown long and discoloured.
"I'll burn the beastly thing,"
he said. But he could not burn it. He tried to throw it into the
flames, but his own hands, as if impelled by some old primitive
feeling, would not let him. And so Saunders found him, pale and
irresolute, with the hand still clasped tightly in his fingers.
"I've got it at last," he
said, in a tone of triumph.
"Good, let's have a look at it."
"Not when it's loose. Get me some
nails and a hammer and a board of some sort."
"Can you hold it all right?"
"Yes, the thing's quite limp; tired
out with throttling poor old Peter, I should say."
"And now," said Saunders, when
he returned with the things, "what are we going to do?"
"Drive a nail through it first, so
that it can't get away. Then we can take our time over examining it."
"Do it yourself,"
said Saunders. "I don't mind helping you with guinea-pigs
occasionally, when there's something to be learned, partly because I
don't fear a guinea-pig's revenge. This thing's different."
my aunt!" he giggled hysterically, "look at it now."
For the hand was writhing in agonized contortions, squirming and
wriggling upon the nail like a worm upon the hook.
"Well," said Saunders, "you've
done it now. I'll leave you to examine it."
"Don't go, in heaven's name! Cover
it up, man; cover it up! Shove a cloth over it! Here! " and he
pulled off the antimacassar from the back of a chair and wrapped the
board in it. "Now get the keys from. my pocket and open the
safe. Chuck the other things out. Oh, Lord, it's getting itself into
frightful knots! Open it quick!" He threw the thing in and
banged the door.
"We'll keep it there till it dies,"
he said. "May I burn in hell, if I ever open the door of that
Mrs. Merrit departed at the end of the
month. Her successor, Mrs. Handyside, certainly was more successful
in the management of the servants. Early in her rule she declared
that she would stand no nonsense, and gossip soon withered and died.
"I shouldn't be surprised if
Eustace married one of these days," said Saunders. "Well,
I'm in no hurry for such an event. I know him far too well for the
future Mrs. Borlsover to like me. It will be the same old story
again; a long friendship slowly made—marriage—and a long
friendship quickly forgotten."
But Eustace did not follow the advice of
his uncle and marry. Old habits crept over and covered his new
experience. He was, if anything, less morose, and showed a greater
inclination to take his natural part in country society.
Then came the burglary. The men, it was
said, broke into the house by way of the conservatory. It was really
little more than an attempt, for they only succeeded in carrying away
a few pieces of plate from. the pantry. The safe in the study was
certainly found open and empty, but, as Mr. Borlsover informed the
police inspector, he had kept nothing of value in it during the last
"Then you're lucky in getting off so easily, sir," the man
replied. "By the way they have gone about their business I
should say they were experienced cracksmen. They must have caught the
alarm when they were just beginning their evening's work."
"Yes," said Eustace, "I suppose I am lucky."
"I've no doubt," said the inspector, "that we shall be
able to trace the men. I've said that they must have been old hands
at the game. The way they got in and opened the safe shows that. But
there's one little thing that puzzles me. One of them was careless
enough not to wear gloves, and I'm bothered if I know what he was
trying to do. I've traced his finger-marks on the new varnish on the
window-sashes in every one of the downstairs rooms. They are very
distinctive ones too."
"Right hand or left or both?"
"Oh, right every time. That's the funny thing. He
must have been a foolhardy fellow, and I rather think it was him that
wrote that." He took out a slip of paper from his pocket.
"That's what he wrote, sir: I've got out, Eustace Borlsover, but
I'll be back before long. Some jailbird just escaped, I suppose. It
will make it all the easier for us to trace him. Do you know the
"No," said Eustace. "It's not the
writing of any one I know."
"I'm not going to stay here any
longer," said Eustace to Saunders at luncheon. "I've got on
far better during the last six months than I expected, but I'm not
going to run the risk of seeing that thing again. I shall go up to
town this afternoon. Get Morton to put my things together, and join
me with the car at Brighton on the day after tomorrow. And bring the
proofs of those two papers with you. We'll run over them together."
"How long are you going to be away?"
"I can't say for certain, but be
prepared to stay for some time. We've stuck to work pretty closely
through summer, and I for one need a holiday. I'll engage the rooms
at Brighton. You'll find it best to break the journey at Hitchin.
I'll wire to you there at the 'Crown' to tell you the Brighton
The house he chose at Brighton was in a
terrace. He had been there before. It was kept by his old college
gyp, a man of discreet silence, who was admirably partnered by an
excellent cook. The rooms were on the first floor. The two bedrooms
were at the back, and opened out of each other. "Mr. Saunders
can have the smaller one, though it is the only one with a
fireplace," he said. "I'll stick to the larger of the two,
since it's got a bathroom adjoining. I wonder what time he'll arrive
with the car."
Saunders came about seven, cold and
cross and dirty.
"We'll light the fire in the dining-room,"
said Eustace, "and get Prince to unpack some of the things while
we are at dinner. What were the roads like?"
"Rotten. Swimming with mud, and a
beastly cold wind against us all day. And this is July. Dear Old
England! " "Yes," said Eustace, "I think we might
do worse than leave Old England for a few months." They turned
in soon after twelve.
"You oughtn't to feel cold,
Saunders," said Eustace, "when you can afford to sport a
great fur-lined coat like this. You do yourself very well, all things
considered. Look at those gloves, for instance. Who could possibly
feel cold when wearing them?"
"They are far too clumsy, though,
for driving. Try them on and see"; and he tossed them through
the door on to Eustace's bed and went on with his unpacking. A minute
later he heard a shrill cry of terror.
"Oh, Lord," he
heard, "it's in the glove! Quick, Saunders, quick!" Then
came a smacking thud. Eustace had thrown it from him.
chucked it into the bathroom," he gasped; "it's hit the
wall and fallen into the bath. Come now, if you want to help."
Saunders, with a lighted candle in his hand, looked over the edge of
the bath. There it was, old and maimed, dumb and blind, with a ragged
hole in the middle, crawling, staggering, trying to creep up the
slippery sides, only to fall back helpless.
"Stay there," said Saunders,
"I'll empty a collar-box or something, and we'll jam it in. It
can't get out while I'm away."
"Yes, it can," shouted
Eustace. "It's getting out now; it's climbing up the
plug-chain.—No, you brute, you filthy brute, you don't!—
Come back, Saunders; it's getting away from me. I can't hold it; it's
all slippery. Curse its claws! Shut the window, you idiot! It's got
out!" There was the sound of something dropping on to the hard
flagstones below, and Eustace fell back fainting.
For a fortnight he was ill.
"I don't know what to make of it,"
the doctor said to Saunders. "I can only suppose that Mr.
Borlsover has suffered some great emotional shock. You had better let
me send someone to' help you nurse him. And by all means indulge that
whim of his never to be left alone in the dark. I would keep a light
burning all night, if I were you. But he must have more fresh
air. It's perfectly absurd, this hatred of open windows."
Eustace would have no one with him but
Saunders. "I don't want the other man," he said. "They'd
smuggle it in somehow. I know they would."
"Don't worry about it, old chap.
This sort of thing can't go on indefinitely. You know I saw it this
time as well as you. It wasn't half so active. It won't go on living
much longer, especially after that fall. I heard it hit the flags
myself. As soon as you're a bit stronger, we'll leave this place, not
bag and baggage, but with only the clothes on our back, so that it
won't be able to hide anywhere. We'll escape it that way. We won't
give any address, and we won't have any parcels sent after us. Cheer
up, Eustace! You'll be well enough to leave in a day or two. The
doctor says I can take you out in a chair tomorrow."
"What have I done?" asked
Eustace. "Why does it come after me? I'm no worse than other
men. I'm no worse than you, Saunders; you know I'm not. It was you
who was at the bottom of that dirty business in San Diego, and that
was fifteen years ago."
"It's not that, of course,"
said Saunders. "We are in the twentieth century, and even the
parsons have dropped the idea of your old sins finding you out.
Before you caught the hand in the library, it was filled with pure
malevolence—to you and all mankind. After you spiked it through
with that nail, it naturally forgot about other people and
concentrated its attention on you. It was shut up in that safe, you
know, for nearly six months. That gives plenty of time for thinking
Eustace Borlsover would not leave his
room, but he thought there might be something in Saunders's
suggestion of a sudden departure from Brighton. He began rapidly to
regain his strength. "We'll go on the 1st of September," he
The evening of August 31 was
oppressively warm. Though at midday the windows had been wide open,
they had been shut an hour or so before dusk. Mrs. Prince had long
since ceased to wonder at the strange habits of the gentlemen on the
first floor. Soon after their arrival she had been told to take down
the heavy window curtains in the two bedrooms, and day by day the
rooms had seemed to grow more bare. Nothing was left lying about.
"Mr. Borlsover doesn't like to have
any place where dirt can collect," Saunders had said as an
excuse. "He likes to see into all the corners of the room."
"Couldn't I open the window just a
little?" he said to Eustace that evening. "We're simply
roasting in here, you know."
"No, leave well alone. We're not a
couple of boarding-school misses fresh from a course of hygiene
lectures. Get the chess-board out." They sat down and played. At
ten o'clock Mrs. Prince came to the door with a note.
sorry I didn't bring it before," she said, "but it was left
in the letter-box."
"Open it, Saunders, and see if it wants
It was very brief. There was neither address nor
signature. "Will eleven o'clock tonight be suitable for our last
"Who is it from?" asked
"It was meant for me," said
Saunders. "There's no answer, Mrs. Prince," and he put the
paper into his pocket.
"A dunning letter from a tailor; I
suppose he must have got wind of our leaving."
It was a clever lie, and Eustace asked
no more questions. They went on with their game.
On the landing outside Saunders could
hear the grandfather's clock whispering the seconds, blurting out the
"Check," said Eustace. The
clock struck eleven. At the same time there was a gentle knocking on
the door; it seemed to come from the bottom panel.
there?" asked Eustace. There was no answer. "Mrs. Prince,
is that you?"
"She is up above," said
Saunders; "I can hear her walking about the room."
"Then lock the door; bolt it too.
Your move, Saunders." While Saunders sat with his eyes on the
chess-board, Eustace walked over to the window and examined the
fastenings. He did the same in Saunders's room, and the bathroom.
There were no doors between the three rooms, or he would have shut
and locked them. too.
"Now, Saunders," he said,
"don't stay all night over your move. I've had time to smoke one
cigarette already. It's bad to keep an invalid waiting. There's only
one possible thing for you to do. What was that?"
"The ivy blowing against the
window. There, it's your move now, Eustace."
"It wasn't the ivy, you idiot! It
was someone tapping at the window"; and he pulled up the blind.
On the outer side of the window, clinging to the sash, was the hand.
"What is it that it's holding?"
"It's a pocket-knife. It's going to
try to open the window by pushing back the fastener with the blade."
"Well, let it try," said
Eustace. "Those fasteners screw down; they can't be opened that
way. Anyhow, we'll close the shutters. It's your move, Saunders. I've
But Saunders found it impossible to fix
his attention on the game. He could not understand Eustace, who
seemed all at once to have lost his fear.
"What do you say to
some wine?" he asked. "You seem to be taking things coolly,
but I don't mind confessing that I'm in a blessed funk."
"You've no need to be. There's
nothing supernatural about that hand, Saunders. I mean, it seems to
be governed by the laws of time and space. It's not the sort of thing
that vanishes into thin air or slides through oaken doors. And since
that's so, I defy it to get in here. We'll leave the place in the
morning. I for one have bottomed the depths of fear. Fill your glass,
man! The windows are all shuttered; the door is locked and bolted.
Pledge me my Uncle Adrian! Drink, man! What are you waiting for?"
Saunders was standing with his glass
half raised. "It can get in," he said hoarsely; "it
can get in! We've forgotten. There's the fireplace in my bedroom. It
will come down the chimney."
"Quick!" said Eustace, as he
rushed into the other room; "we haven't a minute to lose. What
can we do ? Light the fire, Saunders. Give me a match, quick!"
"They must be all in the other
room. I'll get them."
"Hurry, man, for goodness' sake! Look
in the bookcase! Look in the bathroom! Here, come and stand here;
"Be quick!" shouted Saunders. "I can
"Then plug a sheet from your bed up the
chimney. No, here's a match!" He had found one at last, that had
slipped into a crack in the floor.
"Is the fire laid? Good, but it may
not burn. I know—the oil from that old reading-lamp and this
cotton wool. Now the match, quick! Pull the sheet away, you fool! We
don't want it now."
There was a great roar from the grate,
as the flames shot up. Saunders had been a fraction of a second too
late with the sheet. The oil had fallen on to it. It, too, was
"The whole place will be on fire!"
cried Eustace, as he tried to beat out the flames with a blanket.
"It's no good ! I can't manage it. You must open the door,
Saunders, and get help."
Saunders ran to the door and fumbled
with the bolts. The key was stiff in the lock.
shouted Eustace, "or the heat will be too much for me,"
key turned in the lock at last. For half a second Saunders stopped to
look back. Afterwards he could never be quite sure as to what he had
seen, but at the time he thought that something black and charred was
creeping slowly, very slowly, from the mass of flames towards Eustace
Borlsover. For a moment he thought of returning to his friend; but
the noise and the smell of the burning sent him running down the
passage, crying : "Fire! Fire! " He rushed to the telephone
to summon help, and then back to the bathroom—he should have
thought of that before—for water. As he burst into the bedroom
there came a scream of terror which ended suddenly, and then the
sound of a heavy fall.
This is the story which I heard on
successive Saturday evenings from the senior mathematical master at a
second-rate suburban school. For Saunders has had to earn a living in
a way which other men might reckon less congenial than his old manner
of life. I had mentioned by chance the name of Adrian Borlsover, and
wondered at the time why he changed the conversation with such
unusual abruptness. A week later Saunders began to tell me something
of his own history; sordid enough, though shielded with a reserve I
could well understand, for it had to cover not only his failings, but
those of a dead friend. Of the final tragedy he was at first
especially loath to speak; and it was only gradually that I was able
to piece together the narrative of the preceding pages. Saunders was
reluctant to draw any conclusions. At one time he thought that the
fingered beast had been animated by the spirit of Sigismund
Borlsover, a sinister eighteenth-century ancestor, who, according to
legend, built and worshipped in the ugly pagan temple that overlooked
the lake. At another time Saunders believed the spirit to belong to a
man whom Eustace had once employed as a laboratory assistant, "a
black-haired, spiteful little brute", he said, "who died
cursing his doctor, because the fellow couldn't help him to live to
settle some paltry score with Borlsover".
From the point of view of direct
contemporary evidence, Saunders's story is practically
uncorroborated. All the letters mentioned in the narrative were
destroyed, with the exception of the last note which Eustace
received, or rather which he would have received, had not Saunders
intercepted it. That I have seen myself. The handwriting was thin and
shaky, the handwriting of an old man. I remember the Greek "e"
was used in "appointment". A little thing that amused me at
the time was that Saunders seemed to keep the note pressed between
the pages of his Bible.
I had seen Adrian Borlsover once.
Saunders I learnt to know well. It was by chance, however, and not by
design, that I met a third person of the story, Morton, the butler.
Saunders and I were walking in the Zoological Gardens one Sunday
afternoon, when he called my attention to an old man who was standing
before the door of the Reptile House.
"Why, Morton," he said,
clapping him on the back, "how is the world treating you?"
"Poorly, Mr. Saunders," said
the old fellow, though his face lighted up at the greeting. "The
winters drag terribly nowadays. There don't seem no summers or
"You haven't found what you were looking for, I
"No, sir, not yet; but I shall some day. I always
told them that Mr. Borlsover kept some queer animals."
"And what is he looking for?"
I asked, when we had parted from him.
"A beast with five fingers,"
said Saunders. "This afternoon, since he has been in the Reptile
House, I suppose it will be a reptile with a hand. Next week it will
be a monkey with practically no body. The poor old chap is a born
A thorough search of copyright records finds that this story is now in the public domain.