The Experiment by M. R. James

The Experiment by M. R. James

Mr. Hall was a priest from a small village. One day he was working in the office when his servant entered. The woman was alarmed. She said that the squire died. Mr. Hall was surprised, because he had seen this man the day before. But soon the church bell rang, notifying the village of someone’s death. It was true. People said that the squire suddenly got some terrible unusual disease. He passed away very quickly and they decided to bury him as soon as possible. The priest took his clothes and left the office to learn all the details. As it turned out, the squire said he did not want to be buried in the family crypt. He wished to be buried in an ordinary grave in a cemetery. The priest thought that the man was too ill to realize what he was talking about. But the last desire must be fulfilled.

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The Experiment by M. R. James

In the last days of December, Dr Hall, the village priest, was working in his study when his servant entered the room, in great alarm.

‘Oh, Dr Hall, sir,’ she cried. ‘What do you think? The poor Squire’s dead!’

‘What? Squire Bowles? What are you saying, woman?’ replied the priest. ‘I saw him only yesterday-‘

‘Yes, sir, I know,’ said the servant, ‘but it’s true. Mr Wickem, the clerk, has just brought the news on his way to ring the church bell. You’ll hear it yourself in a moment. Listen! There it is.’ And sure enough, the bell then began to ring, long and slow, telling the people of the village that someone had died.

Dr Hall stood up. ‘This is terrible,’ he said. ‘I must go up to the Hall at once. The Squire was so much better yesterday. It seems so sudden.’

‘Yes, sir,’ agreed the servant. ‘Mr Wickem said that the poor Squire was taken ill very suddenly with a terrible pain. He died very quickly, and Wickem said they want him buried quickly too.’

‘Yes, yes; well, I must ask Mrs Bowles herself or Mr Joseph,’ said the priest. ‘Bring me my coat and hat, please. Oh, and tell Mr Wickem that I would like to see him when he has finished ringing the bell.’ And he hurried off to the Hall.

When he returned an hour later, he found the clerk waiting for him.

The Experiment by M. R. James

‘There’s a lot of work for you to do, Wickem,’ he said, ‘and not much time to do it.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Wickem. ‘You’ll want the family tomb opened, of course…’

‘No, no, not at all,’ replied Dr Hall. ‘The poor Squire said before he died that he did not want to be buried in the family tomb. It is to be an earth grave in the churchyard.’

‘Excuse me, sir,’ said Wickem, very surprised. ‘Do I understand you right? No tomb, you said, and just an earth grave? The poor Squire was too ill to know what he was saying, surely?’

‘Yes, Wickem, it seems strange to me too,’ said the priest. ‘But Mr Joseph tells me that his father or I should say his stepfather, made his wishes very clear when he was in good health. Clean earth and open air. You know, of course, the Squire had some strange ideas, though he never told me of this one. And there’s another thing, Wickem. No coffin.’…

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