The Screaming Skull :5
“Add together the altitude, the latitude, and the polar distance, divide by two and subtract the altitude from the half-sum; then add the logarithm of the secant of the latitude, the cosecant of the polar distance, the cosine of the half-sum and the sine of the half-sum minus the altitude”–there! Don’t say that I’m out of my senses, for my memory is all right, isn’t it?
Of course, you may say that it’s mechanical, and that we never forget the things we learned when we were boys and have used almost every day for a lifetime. But that’s the very point. When a man is going crazy, it’s the mechanical part of his mind that gets out of order and won’t work right; he remembers things that never happened, or he sees things that aren’t real, or he hears noises when there is perfect silence. That’s not what is the matter with either of us, is it?
Come, we’ll get the lantern and go round the house. It’s not raining–only blowing like old boots, as we used to say. The lantern is in the cupboard under the stairs in the hall, and I always keep it trimmed in case of a wreck.
No use to look for the thing? I don’t see how you can say that. It was nonsense to talk of burying it, of course, for it doesn’t want to be buried; it wants to go back into its bandbox and be taken upstairs, poor thing! Trehearn took it out, I know, and made the seal over again. Perhaps he took it to the churchyard, and he may have meant well. I dare say he thought that it would not scream any more if it were quietly laid in consecrated ground, near where it belongs. But it has come home. Yes, that’s it. He’s not half a bad fellow, Trehearn, and rather religiously inclined, I think. Does not that sound natural, and reasonable, and well meant? He supposed it screamed because it was not decently buried–with the rest. But he was wrong. How should he know that it screams at me because it hates me, and because it’s my fault that there was that little lump of lead in it?
No use to look for it, anyhow? Nonsense! I tell you it wants to be found–Hark! what’s that knocking? Do you hear it? Knock–knock–knock–three times, then a pause, and then again. It has a hollow sound, hasn’t it?
It has come home. I’ve heard that knock before. It wants to come in and be taken upstairs in its box. It’s at the front door.
Will you come with me? We’ll take it in. Yes, I own that I don’t like to go alone and open the door. The thing will roll in and stop against my foot, just as it did before, and the light will go out. I’m a good deal shaken by finding that bit of lead, and, besides, my heart isn’t quite right–too much strong tobacco, perhaps. Besides, I’m quite willing to own that I’m a bit nervous tonight, if I never was before in my life.
That’s right, come along! I’ll take the box with me, so as not to come back. Do you hear the knocking? It’s not like any other knocking I ever heard. If you will hold this door open, I can find the lantern under the stairs by the light from this room without bringing the lamp into the hall–it would only go out.
The thing knows we are coming–hark! It’s impatient to get in. Don’t shut the door till the lantern is ready, whatever you do. There will be the usual trouble with the matches, I suppose–no, the first one, by Jove! I tell you it wants to get in, so there’s no trouble. All right with that door now; shut it, please. Now come and hold the lantern, for it’s blowing so hard outside that I shall have to use both hands. That’s it, hold the light low. Do you hear the knocking still? Here goes–I’ll open just enough with my foot against the bottom of the door–now!
Catch it! it’s only the wind that blows it across the floor, that’s all–there s half a hurricane outside, I tell you! Have you got it? The bandbox is on the table. One minute, and I’ll have the bar up. There!
Why did you throw it into the box so roughly? It doesn’t like that, you know.
What do you say? Bitten your hand? Nonsense, man! You did just what I did. You pressed the jaws together with your other hand and pinched yourself. Let me see. You don’t mean to say you have drawn blood? You must have squeezed hard by Jove, for the skin is certainly torn. I’ll give you some carbolic solution for it before we go to bed, for they say a scratch from a skull’s tooth may go bad and give trouble.
Come inside again and let me see it by the lamp. I’ll bring the bandbox–never mind the lantern, it may just as well burn in the hall for I shall need it presently when I go up the stairs. Yes, shut the door if you will; it makes it more cheerful and bright. Is your finger still bleeding? I’ll get you the carbolic in an instant; just let me see the thing.
Ugh! There’s a drop of blood on the upper jaw. It’s on the eyetooth. Ghastly, isn’t it? When I saw it running along the floor of the hall, the strength almost went out of my hands, and I felt my knees bending, then I understood that it was the gale, driving it over the smooth boards. You don t blame me? No, I should think not! We were boys together, and we’ve seen a thing or two, and we may just as well own to each other that we were both in a beastly funk when it slid across the floor at you. No wonder you pinched your finger picking it up, after that, if I did the same thing out of sheer nervousness, in broad daylight, with the sun streaming in on me.
Strange that the jaw should stick to it so closely, isn’t it? I suppose it’s the dampness, for it shuts like a vice–I have wiped off the drop of blood, for it was not nice to look at. I’m not going to try to open the jaws, don’t be afraid! I shall not play any tricks with the poor thing, but I’ll just seal the box again, and we’ll take it upstairs and put it away where it wants to be. The wax is on the writing-table by the window. Thank you. It will be long before I leave my seal lying about again, for Trehearn to use, I can tell you. Explain? I don’t explain natural phenomena, but if you choose to think that Trehearn had hidden it somewhere in the bushes, and that the gale blew it to the house against the door, and made it knock, as if it wanted to be let in, you’re not thinking the impossible, and I’m quite ready to agree with you.
Do you see that? You can swear that you’ve actually seen me seal it this time, in case anything of the kind should occur again. The wax fastens the strings to the lid, which cannot possibly be lifted, even enough to get in one finger. You’re quite satisfied, aren’t you? Yes. Besides, I shall lock the cupboard and keep the key in my pocket hereafter.
Now we can take the lantern and go upstairs. Do you know? I’m very much inclined to agree with your theory that the wind blew it against the house. I’ll go ahead, for I know the stairs; just hold the lantern near my feet as we go up. How the wind howls and whistles! Did you feel the sand on the floor under your shoes as we crossed the hall?
Yes–this is the door of the best bedroom. Hold up the lantern, please. This side, by the head of the bed. I left the cupboard open when I got the box. Isn’t it queer how the faint odour of women’s dresses will hang about an old closet for years? This is the shelf. You’ve seen me set the box there, and now you see me turn the key and put