Tales of Terror and Mystery
The Japanned Box
It WAS a curious thing, said the private tutor; one of those grotesque and whimsical
incidents which occur to one as one goes through life. I lost the best situation which I am
ever likely to have through it. But I am glad that I went to Thorpe Place, for I gained--
well, as I tell you the story you will learn what I gained.
I don't know whether you are familiar with that part of the Midlands which is drained by
the Avon. It is the most English part of England. Shakespeare, the flower of the whole
race, was born right in the middle of it. It is a land of rolling pastures, rising in higher
folds to the westwards, until they swell into the Malvern Hills. There are no towns, but
numerous villages, each with its grey Norman church. You have left the brick of the
southern and eastern counties behind you, and everything is stone-- stone for the walls,
and lichened slabs of stone for the roofs. It is all grim and solid and massive, as befits the
heart of a great nation.
It was in the middle of this country, not very far from Evesham, that Sir John Bollamore
lived in the old ancestral home of Thorpe Place, and thither it was that I came to teach his
two little sons. Sir John was a widower--his wife had died three years before--and he had
been left with these two lads aged eight and ten, and one dear little girl of seven. Miss
Witherton, who is now my wife, was governess to this little girl. I was tutor to the two
boys. Could there be a more obvious prelude to an engagement? She governs me now,
and I tutor two little boys of our own. But, there--I have already revealed what it was
which I gained in Thorpe Place!
It was a very, very old house, incredibly old--pre-Norman, some of it--and the
Bollamores claimed to have lived in that situation since long before the Conquest. It
struck a chill to my heart when first I came there, those enormously thick grey walls, the
rude crumbling stones, the smell as from a sick animal which exhaled from the rotting
plaster of the aged building. But the modern wing was bright and the garden was well
kept. No house could be dismal which had a pretty girl inside it and such a show of roses
Apart from a very complete staff of servants there were only four of us in the household.
These were Miss Witherton, who was at that time four-and-twenty and as pretty--well, as
pretty as Mrs. Colmore is now--myself, Frank Colmore, aged thirty, Mrs. Stevens, the
housekeeper, a dry, silent woman, and Mr. Richards, a tall military-looking man, who
acted as steward to the Bollamore estates. We four always had our meals together, but Sir
John had his usually alone in the library. Sometimes he joined us at dinner, but on the
whole we were just as glad when he did not.
For he was a very formidable person. Imagine a man six feet three inches in height,
majestically built, with a high-nosed, aristocratic face, brindled hair, shaggy eyebrows, a
small, pointed Mephistophelian beard, and lines upon his brow and round his eyes as