A Note About the Author and His Stories Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) was a scholar who wrote many books on history and languages. He also wrote many famous ghost stories. He read these stories to his friends at King's College, Cambridge University. Many of the people in the stories have plenty of money and do not need to work. They live in large houses and have servants to look after them. Many of them like to travel. All of them are interested in books.
These people lived in the same way that M. R. James lived. But life for ordinary people was very different. As you read these stories, think about M. R. James. He read these stories at Christmas. He sat in a room lit by candles. Outside it was dark and cold. The gentlemen listened to James reading. They smoked cigars and drank brandy.
After you have read the story, it will be time to go to bed. But don't turn out the light straight away. Something may be waiting for you, in the dark!
Mr Wilson was a very rich man but he had no children. When he died, he left his house and his money to his nephew, Mr Humphreys. Mr Humphreys was surprised because he had never met his uncle, Mr Wilson.
Mr Humphreys left his job in an office. He went to live in his new house in the country. Mr Humphreys was shown round the house by Mr Cooper. Mr Cooper was the estate manager. His job was to look after the house and gardens.
'It's a fine house, Mr Humphreys,' said Cooper. 'We all hope you'll be very happy here. The gardens are beautiful. I hope you like gardens, Mr Humphreys?'
'Yes, I do,' said Humphreys, 'very much.'
'Mr Wilson's grandfather started the gardens in 1780,' Cooper said. 'The old gentleman went to Italy and came back with some strange ideas.'
Humphreys looked across the garden. 'I see there is a Roman temple,' he said. 'Yes, sir, there is,' said Cooper. 'Shall we go and look at it?'
The two men walked through the beautiful, large gardens. There were many paths with trees and bushes on either side. The Roman temple was on top of a small hill. There was a pile of stone blocks inside the temple.
'What are these stone blocks for?' Humphreys asked. 'I don't know, sir,' said Cooper. 'They came out of the maze.'
'The maze?' said Humphreys. 'I didn't know there was a maze in the gardens. 'Did Mr Wilson make it?'
'No, he didn't, sir,' said Cooper. 'Mr Wilson's grandfather planted the trees for the maze. Mr Wilson never went in there. He didn't let anyone else go in either. Twenty years ago, Mr Wilson gave orders for these stones to be taken out of the maze. Then the gate to the maze was locked. No one has been in there since.'
Mr Humphreys looked at the stone blocks. Each one had a letter cut into it. 'How interesting,' he said. 'I want to look at this maze.'
'It's over there, sir,' said Cooper, pointing to a small wood. 'There's a wall around it and the gate's locked. I'll go to the house and get the key.'
Cooper went back to the house. Humphreys walked to the small wood. He found a wall with a gate. The gate was locked with an old padlock. Above the gate
was some writing in Latin - SECRETUM MEUM MIHI ET FILIIS DOMUS MEAE.
'Let me see,' Humphreys said. 'That means something like - "My secret is for me and for the sons of my house." Well, I'm a son of the house. The secret is mine too!'
He kicked the old padlock. It broke and fell to the ground. He opened the gate and went into the maze. A dark path led into the maze. Inside, paths ran between thick hedges of tall yew trees. It was difficult to walk along the paths. The branches of the trees had grown across the paths. They almost blocked the way. Humphreys was the first person to walk in the maze for twenty years. He walked to the centre of the maze without getting lost.
'This is too easy', he said to himself. 'A maze is a puzzle. People always get lost in a maze. '
A stone column stood in the centre of the maze. It was about four feet high. On top of the column, there was a metal globe. There were drawings and writing on the globe. A stone column stood in the centre of the maze. It was dark and hot in the maze. There was no wind.
There was a strange silence. Humphreys noticed that the birds had stopped singing. He turned to go. Then he heard something moving in the maze behind him. He looked round. He was suddenly afraid. He thought that someone was watching him.
'Ah, there you are,' said Cooper, coming round a comer. 'I followed your footprints in the dead leaves. I see you didn't need the key.'
Humphreys was pleased to see Cooper. He thought he was going to see someone or something else.
The two men walked back to the house. 'Can you ask the gardeners to clear the paths,' said Humphreys. 'Tell me, why did Mr Wilson close the maze?'
'I'm not sure, sir,' Cooper replied. 'Mr Wilson didn't like his grandfather - old Mr Wilson - the one who planted the maze. He burnt all his grandfather's books. Perhaps that is why he closed the maze.'
'What do you know about old Mr Wilson?' Humphreys asked.
'Not much, sir,' said Cooper. 'He's been dead for fifty years. No one knows where he's buried. He had an Italian servant. The Italian servant buried his master at night. He was buried somewhere here in the gardens. But the grave has never been found.'
'How very strange!' said Humphreys. Mr Humphreys went back to the house. A letter was waiting for him.
Mr Humphreys immediately replied to Lady Wardrop's letter. He invited her to visit the gardens the next day. He promised to give her a plan of the maze.
'I shall draw a plan tomorrow morning', he said to himself. He spent the evening in the library. There were thousands of books. He saw a very thin book on a high shelf. It was called The Secret of the Maze. He took the book to his bedroom. He wanted to read it before he fell asleep. He looked out of the bedroom window. There was a bright moon in the sky. The gardens were beautiful in the
moonlight. White moonlight shone on the Roman temple.
There was a red light in the maze. Something was burning. 'Of course', Humphreys said to himself. 'The gardeners cleared leaves from the paths of the maze this afternoon. They lit a fire to burn all the dead wood and leaves. The fire
is still burning'.
There was one strange thing Mr Humphreys did not like about the gardens. There was one yew tree growing alone. It stood half-way between the maze and the house.
'I haven't seen that tree before,' Humphreys said. 'It's in a strange place. I will tell the gardeners to cut it down.' Then he started to read the small book called The Secret of the Maze.
There was a story in the book about a maze. The story happened many, many years ago. The maze was in a strange land. At the centre of the maze, there was a red jewel. The jewel was very valuable.
Many men tried to find the jewel. Many men went into the maze, but no one ever came out again. One day, a traveller went into the maze. He saw the pathways
clearly. The sun was shining. The traveller found the centre of the maze by the end of the day. The red jewel was at the centre of the maze. The jewel was the colour of fire. A voice spoke to the traveller, 'You have learnt the secret of the maze.'
A doorway opened to a beautiful garden. The voice said, 'This is the Garden of Peace. You may go in, but you may never leave the Garden again. Choose between the Garden and the jewel. You cannot have both.'
The traveller wanted to be a rich man. So he took the jewel and the garden disappeared. The traveller tried to find the path out of the maze. But he got lost.
Night fell. The creatures of the night came out of the ground. They had no
eyes, but they could smell the traveller. They had sharp teeth and claws. They were hungry for flesh and blood!
The traveller ran along the dark pathways. The night creatures followed him. All night, the traveller ran through the maze. All night, the creatures followed him. In the morning, the night creatures disappeared back into the ground. Daylight came, but no sun. A thick, white mist covered the maze.
The tired traveller walked round the maze. At last he came to the gate. The gate was locked. Above the gate, there was a sign - "No man may go out of this gate unless another man comes in".
The traveller called through the gate to the people outside, 'Come in and let me out! I know the secret of the maze. I have the jewel. Come in here and I will make you rich!' But no one came.
Humphreys put the book down and fell asleep. He started to dream. He was afraid. He was not in his bed. He was standing inside a gate. He was holding something in his hand. It was hot and red. It shone with a red light. There was a white mist all around him. He was calling out loudly, 'Help me! Help me! Open the gate!'
A face appeared at the gate. He thought he knew the person's face. The person smiled. He was opening the gate. Humphreys felt happy.
'Free! ' he thought, 'free at last! '
Then he looked at the man who was opening the gate. He knew the man's face. It was himself!
'No! No!' Humphreys cried out and woke up. He was on the floor beside his bed. The book he had been reading was gone. It was never found again.
After breakfast, Humphreys took some paper and a pen. He went out into the garden. ' I will draw a plan of the maze', he said to himself. Once again, he walked straight to the centre of the maze. He did not get lost.
The gardeners had done their job well. The pathways were clear. The gardeners had also cleaned the metal globe. Humphreys looked at the globe carefully. A strange creature was drawn round the centre of the globe. The 'Help me! Help me! Open the gate!' words - UMBRA MORTIS - 'the shadow of death' were written below the creature.
The creature was eating its own tail. Above the creature was a man with wings. The man's head was hidden by a ring at the top of the globe. Around the ring was written - PRINCEPS TENEBRARUM - 'the Prince of Darkness'.
The globe was very strange. Perhaps old Mr Wilson had brought it back from Italy. Humphreys knocked on the metal globe with his hand. The metal did not seem very thick. The globe sounded hollow.
Humphreys was surprised. The globe was hot! It burnt his hand. Was something burning inside the metal globe? He walked away from the globe. He started to draw a plan of the maze. It was difficult and he made mistakes.
Then it started to rain. Humphreys stopped drawing and went back to the house. In the afternoon, the rain stopped. Soon after lunch, Lady Wardrop arrived.
'It is very kind of you to let me see your gardens,' Lady Wardrop said. 'Tell me, do you have a plan of your maze?'
'I started to draw one this morning,' Humphreys said.
'Oh good,' Lady Wardrop said. 'Could you let me have a copy for my book?'
Lady Wardrop talked about gardens. She had visited all the famous gardens in England. Humphreys listened politely and led her to the entrance of the maze.
'Do you know the way to the centre of the maze?' asked Lady Wardrop.
'Certainly,' said Humphreys. 'Please follow me.' They walked around inside the maze for a quarter of an hour. They walked round and round in circles. Mr Humphreys could not find the centre of the maze.
'I am very sorry, Lady Wardrop,' he said. 'I was sure I knew the way. I've walked to the centre twice before without making a mistake.'
Lady Wardrop was hot and red in the face. 'I've seen many mazes,' she said, 'but not one like this. It makes me feel strange.'
'Why?' Humphreys asked. 'Look,' said Lady Wardrop, pointing to a tree. 'Here's my handkerchief. We came along here five minutes ago. I put my handkerchief on a tree on the right-hand side of the path. Now we've come this way again. But my handkerchief is on the left-hand side.'
'That's because we've come from the other direction,' Humphreys said.
'I'm not so sure,' Lady Wardrop said. 'Also, have you noticed those holes in the ground? There is one on the lefthand side of each corner.'
'Those are probably where the stone blocks came from,' said Humphreys. 'We're near the gate. Shall we leave the maze and I'll show you the stone blocks?' He took Lady Wardrop to the Roman temple. He showed her the stone blocks.
'Mr Wilson took them out of the maze,' he said. 'Each block has a letter cut into it.'
'That is probably the answer to the puzzle of the maze,' said Lady Wardrop. 'Put the letters together and they will spell words. When the stones were in their holes, you followed the words to find the centre of the maze. But, of course, you had to know the words - that was the secret.'
'Ah, very simple!' said Humphreys as they walked back to the house. 'I will let you have a plan of the maze very soon.'
'Thank you very much,' said Lady Wardrop. 'Use string.'
'String? What do you mean?' Humphreys asked.
'Tie a ball of string to the gate,' said Lady Wardrop. 'Take the ball of string with you as you go through the maze. Then you can't get lost.'
'What a good idea,' said Humphreys.
Humphreys went to bed early, but did not read. He did not want any more bad dreams. He looked out of the window. He remembered the yew tree growing near the house. But he was mistaken. There was no yew tree. He looked all around. The only yew tree he could see was outside the library. He had not seen it before.
The next morning, he took paper and pencils and a ball of string into the gardens. He walked straight to the centre of the maze. How did I get lost yesterday? he asked himself.
He tied the ball of string to the metal globe. Then he walked back to the gate carrying the ball of string. The string went from the centre of the maze to the entrance.
Now it was easy to draw a plan. But it took him all day. He finished in the late afternoon and went back to the house for tea. There was a note from Lady Wardrop.
Humphreys decided to look at the stone blocks again the next day. The evening was very hot. He opened all the windows. That yew tree outside the library window will have to be cut down, he thought. It shuts out the light. And the branches are growing everywhere. Some of them are coming into the room.
He sat down and started to draw the plan of the maze. He worked until nearly midnight. From time to time, he looked at the window. He thought that there was someone outside. He felt someone was waiting to come in. But there was no one there. It was only the yew tree.
He drew the last lines of his plan. As he finished, he saw a black mark on the paper in the centre of the plan. He looked at the mark. But it was not a mark on the
paper. It was a hole.
Humphreys saw the black hole becoming larger and larger. He looked down into the hole. There was something at the bottom of the hole. Something was coming up and up. Humphreys could not move.
He looked at the thing that was coming nearer and nearer. It was grey and black. It was a ball with two holes for eyes. It came nearer and Humphreys saw a face. It was a horribly burnt face!
The thing reached out two black arms to pull Humphreys down into the hole. Humphreys screamed. He threw himself backwards. He tried to get away from the burnt face and arms. He cried out as he hit his head on the wall. Then everything went black.
A doctor came to see Mr Humphreys. 'Mr Humphreys needs a long rest,' the doctor told Mr Cooper. 'He is speaking very strangely. He is talking about some stones in a Roman temple.' He wants you to go and look at them. He wants to know if there are numbers on them. Mr Humphreys wants to know if the letters on the blocks spell words. ' Also, he wants you to open the metal globe in the centre of the maze,' the doctor went on. 'After that, he wants you to cut down the maze and burn the trees.'
Lady Wardrop came to the house when she heard of Mr Humphreys' illness. The gardeners were busy cutting down the maze and burning the yew trees.
Cooper came up to her and said, 'Excuse me, Lady Wardrop, but we've got two strange things here. Shall I show them to Mr Humphreys?'
'Let me see them,' said Lady Wardrop.
The first thing was a broken metal globe. Inside the globe, was the burnt body of a man.
'We think it's the body of old Mr Wilson,' said Cooper. 'We never found out where he was buried.'
The second thing which Cooper showed Lady Wardrop was a row of stone blocks. They were lying outside the Roman temple.
'There was a number on the bottom of each block,' said Cooper. 'I put them in order. I'm afraid I don't know much Latin, Lady Wardrop. Can you tell us what it means?'
The words on the blocks said - PENETRANS AD INTERIORA MORTIS.
'I think it means — "The path to the centre of death",' said Lady Wardrop.
THE MAZE. COMPREHENSION
1 Why was Mr Humphreys able to leave work?
2 Who was Mr Cooper?
3 Who had started the gardens?
4 What did Mr Humphreys see in the Roman temple?
5 Who planted the trees for the maze?
6 Why was the gate to the maze always locked?
7 Mr Wilson had given orders about the stones in the maze. What were the orders?
8 What was written above the door of the maze?
9 Why did Mr Humphreys think the maze was too easy?
10 What was on top of the stone column in the centre of the maze?
11 Why did Mr Humphreys suddenly feel afraid?
12 Where was old Mr Wilson buried?
13 Who wanted to come and see the gardens?
14 What book did Mr Humphreys find in the library?
15 Mr Humphreys looked out of the window before he went to bed.
(a) What did he see in the maze?
(b) What did he think it was?
(c) What strange thing did Mr Humphreys see in the gardens?
16 Mr Humphreys read a story in the book called The Secret of the Maze. What was in the centre of the maze? Did the traveler find the centre of the maze?
17 In the story, the traveller heard a voice.
(a) What did the voice say?
(b) What did the traveller choose?
(c) Did the traveller ever get out of the maze?
18 Mr Humphreys had a dream. Where was he? Who came to help him in his dream?
19 Next morning, Mr Humphreys examined the globe carefully.
(a) What was drawn round the centre of the globe?
(b) What was written on the globe?
20 What happened when Mr Humphreys tried to take Lady Wardrop to the centre of the maze?
21 Why did Lady Wardrop want to know if the stones in the Roman temple were numbered?
22 What was growing outside the library window?
23 Mr Humphreys saw a black mark in the centre of the plan.
(a) What happened when he looked down at the mark?
(b) What was coming up out of the hole?
24 The doctor told Cooper that Mr Humphreys was speaking very strangely.
(a) What did Mr Humphreys want to know about the stones in the Roman temple?
(b) What did he want Cooper to do to the metal globe and the trees of the maze?
25 What did the gardeners find in the metal globe?
26 There were letters on the stones. The letters made a message in Latin. What did Lady Wardrop say the words meant?
THE LOST CROWNS OF ANGLIA
Seaburgh is a small town by the sea on the east coast of England. This part of England is called East Anglia. I went to Seaburgh for a holiday in 1919 with my friend, Henry Long.
There were few visitors in Seaburgh that year. There was only one other visitor in our hotel. His name was Paxton. Paxton was a tall, thin young man. He looked worried and unhappy.
One evening, when Henry and I were sitting in the hotel lounge, Paxton came up to us. 'Excuse me,' said Paxton, 'I must speak to somebody. Something strange has happened to me. I'd like to talk to someone about it. May I talk to you?'
'Of course,' I said. 'Please sit down and tell us about it.'
'A few days ago,' Paxton said, 'I went for a walk to Freston. Freston is a village about five miles from here. I took my camera with me. The church at Freston has an unusual door. I wanted to photograph it. There are three wooden crowns on the door. The village priest came out of the church. I asked him about the three crowns on the door. The priest told me a strange story.
'Many years ago,' said Paxton, 'Anglia was a kingdom. The last king of Anglia died over a thousand years ago. When he died, his three crowns disappeared. The people believed that the crowns were magic. They believed that
the crowns were buried in different places. The crowns guarded the coast against enemies from across the sea.
'About three hundred years ago, one of the crowns was found. It was secretly sold — no one knows what happened to it after that.'
'What about the other two crowns?' asked Henry. 'The second crown was washed into the sea. It was never found again.'
'What about the third crown?' I asked Paxton. 'Was it ever found?'
'I'll tell you about that,' answered Paxton. There was a family here called Ager. The people believed that the Agers were guardians of the third crown. The last Ager died a year ago, in 1918. He had no children. I found his grave in the churchyard - I wrote down what was written on the gravestone.
'Later, I went to the bookshop in Freston. By chance, I found an old book dated 1740. Inside it were some lines of poetry:
'Nathaniel Ager is my name,
I own the hill above the sand,
All Agers' duty is the same:
To guard the crown that guards the land.
When I am dead and in my grave,
And all my bones are rotten,
My sons shall keep my name alive:
It shall not be forgotten.'
'I bought the book and walked back towards Seaburgh. I found the house where William Ager had lived. The house is half-way between Freston and Seaburgh.
'Above the house is a small hill. There is a circle of trees on top. I knew that this was the place!'
'The place for what?' I asked. Henry and I were becoming tired of this long story.
'The place where the crown was buried,' said Paxton.
'And did you find this crown?' I asked in a tired voice. Paxton's answer surprised us both.
'I have it in my room,' he said. 'Come and see it, then you'll believe me.'
Henry and I did not believe him. We thought that Paxton was not telling the truth. But we stood up and followed him.
Paxton led us to his room. He opened a suitcase. Inside the suitcase was something wrapped in newspapers. He unwrapped the newspapers. There was a crown!
The crown was made of silver. It was a circle of metal with four jewels. I put out my hand to touch it.
'Don't touch it!' Paxton cried and held the crown away from us.
'Why not?' I asked in surprise. 'We won't take it from you!"
'I'm sorry,' said Paxton. 'It's because . . .' He looked round the room in a strange way. 'Since I took the crown, I haven't been alone.'
'You haven't been alone?' Henry said. 'What do you mean?'
Then Paxton told us more of his story.
'After I'd been to Ager's house, I came back here. I got a spade and a lantern. When it was dark, I went back to the hill above the house. I started to dig a hole at the top of the hill, in the centre of the circle of trees'.
'As I was digging,' Paxton went on, 'I was sure someone was watching me. Once, I thought I saw someone. But I wasn't sure. The person was always behind me. '
'Once, 1 felt someone pulling my coat. But then I found the crown. At that moment, I heard a terrible cry behind me.'
'Who cried out?' I asked.
'I couldn't see anyone,' Paxton answered. 'But I think I know.' He pointed to a book on a table beside the bed. 'Every time I come back to my room the old book is open.'
I looked at the table. The old book was open at the first page. I saw the name — William Ager 1890.
'So you think that William Ager is following you?' I said.
'But William Ager is dead.'
'It's the ghost of William Ager,' said Paxton. 'He won't leave me alone. He wants the crown, but he isn't strong enough to take it from me.'
'And what will you do with the crown?' I asked.
'I'm going to put it back,' said Paxton.
'If you put it back, will William Ager's ghost leave you alone?' I asked.
'I don't know,' said Paxton. 'But I must try.'
I saw that Paxton was very, very frightened.
'Then we shall help you put it back tonight,' I said.
As I spoke, a shadow moved in the room. Paxton saw it and looked terrified.
That night, as we left the hotel together, I spoke to the hotel porter.
'It's a warm night,' I said. 'We're going for a walk. We may be back very late.'
'I'll wait for you, sir,' said the porter. 'I won't lock the front door until you return. The other gentleman isn't staying in the hotel, is he?' 'I heard a terrible, cry behind me.'
'What other gentleman?' I asked. 'The gentleman who's with Mr Paxton,' said the porter.
'No,' I replied quickly. I did not tell the others what the porter had said. But I had seen it too. When the three of us were together, I thought I saw another person in the room with us.
It took us half an hour to walk to William Ager's house. The road went along beside the beach. The beach was a lonely place at night.
We saw the hill above the beach. The sea was calm. The moon was shining behind the trees on the hill. We climbed to the top of the hill. We had forgotten to
bring a spade. Paxton did not care. He began to dig with his hands.
As soon as he had dug the hole, Paxton put the crown in it. He covered the crown with earth. 'It's back,' he said in a loud voice. 'Will you leave me in peace now, William Ager?'
We heard nothing. But Paxton turned to us and said, 'William Ager says - "Never!"' We took Paxton back to the hotel. He walked in silence, looking down at the ground.
'Don't worry,' I said. 'Everything will be all right tomorrow. We'll put you on a train to London. As soon as you are on the train you will forget all about this.'
'He'll never let me go,' Paxton said.
The next morning, Henry knocked on my door before seven o'clock.
'Let's go and have breakfast,' he said. 'Then we'll take Paxton to the railway station.'
I got dressed and went downstairs. Henry was waiting for me.
'Have you seen Paxton?' I asked Henry.
'He's not in his room,' he said. 'I thought he was with you!'
We went quickly to the porter.
'Have you seen Mr Paxton this morning?' I asked.
'Yes, sir,' said the porter. 'He went out a couple of minutes ago. In fact, I thought he was with you, sir.'
'With me?' I asked in surprise.
'Yes, sir,' the porter said. 'I thought you were outside the hotel, calling for him. It lookedlike you, sir. But I was reading the paper. '
'Something strange happened at Freston yesterday.'