The Dweller in the Darkness: A Play of the Unknown
The scene is set in the card-room of a country house, rented furnished,
where the family have gathered for a quiet game of bridge after dinner.
A MATURE FEMININE CONTRALTO VOICE (MRS. VYNER'S). Is it my call?
A MAN'S VOICE, TENOR (HENRY'S). You dealt—so I suppose we can't very well
prevent you—[In sudden astonishment] What the dickens — ?
A GIRL'S SOPRANO VOICE. (PHILLIS'S). [Much exasperated] The lights again! Oh,
mother, why did we take this house?
THE CONTRALTO VOICE. Because you and your father went mad over the view; and
never gave a moment's thought to the arrangements inside.
THE GIRL'S VOICE. Well—but fancy anyone being so half-witted as to have
shilling-in-the-slot meters for the electric light, in a huge place like this.
One really couldn't be expected to foresee that.
A BASS VOICE (MORTIMER'S). I expect the feller that did it had got tired of
selling out his investments to pay the quarterly electric-light bill.
THE GIRL'S VOICE. Well, I hope when he was reading he enjoyed the light's
suddenly vanishing in the middle of a sentence —
THE TENOR VOICE. — giving the additional charm of obscurity to the literature
of his choice.
THE GIRL'S VOICE. Shut up, Henry.
THE CONTRALTO VOICE. Phillis, it's no good turning round on Henry and Mr.
Mortimer. You'd better go and put a shilling in the slot; and let us get on
with the game. The servants are evidently doing nothing.
PHILLIS. Don't suppose they know where the wretched things are yet. There's
one on each floor—Give me a shilling someone.
MORTIMER. Here you are.
HENRY. [Mockingly] Have one of mine as well — and make sure of enough light to
finish the rubber.
PHILLIS [As she goes] You keep any little mental efforts you're capable of for
following suit and returning my leads, Henry. You'll save your shilling then,
and a good bit more besides.
[Her footsteps are heard on the parquet floor, and the door is opened and
MRS. VYNER. She won't be a minute. I'm sorry for the interruption.
THE MEN. [Together] Doesn't matter a bit.
MRS. VYNER. After all, one mustn't look a gift house in the meter.
MORTIMER. I thought you took it furnished.
MRS. VYNER. Yes. But the rent's so low that it's almost a gift. The owner's a
friend of my husband's.
[A little pause.]
HENRY. [Suddenly] Don't, Mortimer.
MORTIMER. Don't what, old boy?
HENRY. You touched my cards, didn't you?
HENRY. Sorry. I thought you did. What a rum thing darkness is— Ah, the light!
MRS. VYNER. One gets fanciful in the dark. I almost thought— Well, never mind.
[The opening and the shutting of the door, and PHILLIS'S footsteps.]
PHILLIS. There we are. Now, Henry, we're after their money, remember — It's
your call, mother.
MRS. VYNER. [Promptly] No bid — I've not held a card this evening.
HENRY. Nothing like telling your partner all about your hand — One diamond.
MORTIMER. [Dismally] No—Why one plays this game I can't think.
PHILLIS. [With suppressed triumph] Two No-Trumps!
MRS. VYNER. [Sighing] There she is again! It's the rubber game, partner — No!
HENRY. All right. Three No-Trumps.
MORTIMER. [Disgusted] Oh, I say, really—Why not put them on the table and be
done with it—No! I can't do anything.
PHILLIS. I'll put 'em on the table if you like. [She does so.] There! Put
yours down, too, Henry. I'll play it from the table.
MORTIMER. They get a grand slam. They can't help it. Look! Every picture card
in the pack.
MRS. VYNER. Surely I make my ace of spades.
PHILLIS. You might if you had it, mother dear.
MRS. VYNER. [Indignantly] What do you mean — if I had it? Of course I've got—
[Puzzled] Well, that's very strange!
PHILLIS. It'd be very much stranger if you had it, mummy darling — seeing that
Henry 's just put it down with _his_ hand.
MRS. VYNER. [Incredulously] Where?
HENRY. [Flippantly] 'Ere y'are mum, spot the laidy — or I should rather say in
these circumstances, observe the ace-piece!
PHILLIS. Look, mummy.
MRS. VYNER. [Crossly] It's all very well for you children to get above
yourselves; but I distinctly saw the ace of spades in my hand just before the
light went out.
HENRY. [With a touch of seriousness in his tone] Really?
PHILLIS. [Still chaffing] I expect there's a bogy behind your chair, mother.
MRS. VYNER. [Suspiciously] Phillis, have you and Henry been up to some
mischievous prank — ?
HENRY. [Swiftly] No, really, Mrs. Vyner!
MORTIMER. [Suddenly and quietly] Henry — just count your cards, will you?
HENRY. Of course. [Counting] One. Two. Three—
[They all take up the strain and it becomes a kind of chant.]
MORTIMER. You've got fourteen, old boy.
[The chant is resumed.]
ALL. Ten — eleven — twelve — thirteen — _fourteen_!
HENRY. By George, I have though!
PHILLIS. Mummy, you dealt. Didn't you notice whether the cards ended wrong?
MRS. VYNER. Yes. They didn't. They came round to me — [Ingratiatingly] Henry,
did you take one of my cards for a lark — when the lights were out?
HENRY. [Quietly and absolutely convincingly] No, Mrs. Vyner. Of course I
MRS. VYNER. [Apologetically] Because, as a matter of fact, I felt a little
tiny tug — but I thought it was imagination.
MORTIMER. [Breezily] So it was. Misdeal. Whose turn is it?
HENRY. Do you mind if we don't play any more?
MRS. VYNER. Not a bit. Only it leaves the rubber unfinished.
HENRY. It doesn't matter.
PHILLIS. [Astonished] Why, what's up, Henry?
HENRY. [Almost defiantly] Well, since you've begun talking about tugs — I
thought I felt someone leaning over me when it was dark. Honestly. And then I
thought Mortimer touched my cards. And I don't remember the ace in my hand
when I first sorted it.
[A little pause.]
MORTIMER. [Derisively] Spooks, Henry, what? That's better fun than bridge.
PHILLIS. [Protesting] Thanks so much! We live here remember!
MORTIMER. [Bluffly] But my dear Miss Vyner, you don't believe rot like that,
PHILLIS. [Uneasily] Well, I dunno — what's that? [The door is opened.] Oh,
father, come in — you gave me such a fright.
[His steps are heard.]
MRS. VYNER. Nonsense, Phillis. How could your father give anyone a fright?
MR. VYNER. [A mature voice, drily] I've certainly never succeeded in doing so
to you, my dear—Urquhart is here. [Over his shoulder] Come in, Urquhart —
[Their steps are audible.] Well! Finished your game?
MRS. VYNER. We haven't finished, as a matter of fact. We've given up playing.
MR. VYNER. Tired?
PHILLIS. No. Henry felt spooky.
MR. VYNER. Felt spooky? That 's curious, Urquhart, isn't it?
URQUHART. [A thin, refined voice] Very.
MORTIMER. Why is it curious?
MR. VYNER. [Jauntily] Because of the ghost.
PHILLIS. Ghost, father — what ghost? Is the house haunted?
MR. VYNER. Only by rats, I should think. But there's a legend about this room.
HENRY. This room?
MR. VYNER. This very room — it's only a legend, you know. The man who lived
here in the days of the Regency is the ghost. He was caught cheating at cards.
There was a dreadful scandal —
MORTIMER. [Interrupting] And when his friends had one by one cast him off and
stalked out of the room, he shot himself in an agony of remorse, and now
returns punctually every Friday night to maunder over the scene of his tragedy
and expiate his offense. I know. The usual story. The house agents make 'em up
MR. VYNER. [Politely] Oh dear, no. It's nothing so simple as that. He was a
very alarming customer. Immensely powerful. Over six feet high with a curious
round-shouldered, stooping walk almost like a hunchback, — if you can imagine
such a thing on a six-foot man. He had a very wicked reputation in the
neighborhood. Used to go about armed with some horrible thing like a knuckle-
duster. He'd hit out with it on the slightest provocation.
HENRY. What's that to do with cheating at cards?
MR. VYNER. I'm coming to that. He had uncanny luck at gambling, and used to
give parties regularly. Here in this room. I dare say at that very table — it
looks old enough.
PHILLIS. [Sharply pushing back her chair] Thanks awfully.
MR. VYNER. Well, it's nothing to worry about now, Phillis — One night a
comparative stranger was playing — someone who didn't perhaps realize his
host's reputation, and was unwise enough to query the fairness of the play.
The host took one leap at him, and hit him in the face — with the knuckle-
duster. You can imagine the effect. It plowed up the man's features as though
they'd been peeled off — wiped out — obliterated. It killed him.
HENRY. [Sharply] And then he killed himself?
MR. VYNER. No. Fell down dead. Apoplectic seizure.
MORTIMER. [Skeptically] How do you know all this about a furnished house?
MR. VYNER. There's a book about it in the library. Picture of the man, too.
MORTIMER. I bet it was all faked up and put there by the house agents to catch
romantic tenants who enjoy living with legends of that kind. What? Feller dies
in a drunken brawl; and then spends the following century hovering about in a
drafty card-room —
MRS. VYNER. [A little frigidly] Sorry you feel the draft, Mr. Mortimer.
MORTIMER. [Heartily] I beg your pardon. That was only thrown in as a figure of
speech. But, really, one can't swallow that. I mean, a century's such a long
time, isn't it? What do you think, Professor Urquhart? You're a scientist.
URQUHART. I'm only a scientist because I refuse to form opinions without facts
to go upon — I don't think anything, Mr. Mortimer.
HENRY. Still it was funny tonight. Changing the cards, I mean.
MORTIMER. I tell you it was a misdeal. Wasn't it, Professor?
URQUHART. I should always accept a natural explanation in preference to the
HENRY. [Stubbornly] Well, I've told you what I felt.
URQUHART. [Interested] Oh, you felt something then?
HENRY. I thought so. Yes. I thought someone leaned over and touched my
cards—when the lights went out.
MR. VYNER. [Interrupting] Lights? When did the lights go out?
PHILLIS. [Swiftly] Only on this floor, daddy. The wretched slot meter again.
HENRY. Well! That's what I thought, anyhow.
URQUHART. Most interesting. We could test it if you like — fairly simply.
HENRY. Test it?
URQUHART. Not, of course, whether you felt a ghost or not. But whether what
the psychists call the "operating entities" are present in this room. The
forces that cause manifestations.
PHILLIS. Forces. What forces?
URQUHART. Ah! I wish I knew. Some people think a sort of undetermined animal
magnetism. Some think actually discarnate human beings.
MRS. VYNER. Discarnate human beings. Ghosts, in fact?
URQUHART. Well, I suppose they might be called ghosts. But very harmless and
practical-minded ghosts — that juggle with tea tables, and ring bells, and in
some circumstances talk through trumpets —
MORTIMER. Instead of talking through their hats — like a great many people who
believe in them.
URQUHART. [Placidly] Quite true.
PHILLIS. You don't sound a very convinced believer in these forces, Mr.
URQUHART. Believer is too strong a word. I think there's a case for
HENRY. Then let's investigate.
URQUHART. By all means — if Mrs. Vyner has no objection.
MRS. VYNER. None at all. It thrills me.
PHILLIS. But how? What are we to do?
URQUHART. It's perfectly simple — provided one of you has mediumistic power.
VYNER. But how can we tell that?
URQUHART. Most people have a certain latent potentiality. We shall know by our
results whether we've a real medium among us.
MORTIMER. [Cynically] Or a real humbug.
PHILLIS. No, Mr. Mortimer. You're not to spoil it.
MORTIMER. All right. Let's try.
URQUHART. Bring up chairs round the table. Mr. Mortimer, go between the two
ladies, will you? They mustn't sit side by side.
MORTIMER. Thought it was a seance, not a tea party. All right, I'll do it.
URQUHART. We must relax our minds. No tension. Just empty them as much as
PHILLIS. That fortunately doesn't take much effort in Henry's case.
URQUHART. S'sh! Don't be flippant. Mr. Mortimer may be as unconvinced as he
likes; but we must none of us be flippant.
MORTIMER. I'm the soul of gravity.
URQUHART. Hands on the table. Little fingers touching — Switch off the light,
[The click of the switch.]
MORTIMER. Thought so. Only in the dark.
URQUHART. Well, but after all, that 's the main reason why we know so little.
The forces can't work in daylight. It deadens them.
MORTIMER. Or exposes them.
URQUHART. Perhaps — Though the spectrum contains many equally curious
qualities. And it's a strange thing that from time immemorial there should
have been a tradition of the Powers of darkness. [A little pause.] Is everyone
allowing his mind to be at complete peace? — [Another little pause. Then
suddenly] There _is_ mediumistic power.
MRS. VYNER. How do you know?
URQUHART. Because of the chill on our fingers — like a cold wind. Can't you
HENRY. [Surprised] Yes. I can.
MORTIMER. I musn't talk about the draft again, I suppose; but there's a gale
blowing under that door enough to freeze a man to—
URQUHART. [Gently] Quiet, Mr. Mortimer. Give it a chance.
MORTIMER. Sorry. [A little pause.]
PHILLIS. [Suddenly] No!
HENRY and URQUHART. [Together] What is it!
PHILLIS. [Uneasily] There's a cobweb on my face. [Blowing] Pfoo! Pfoo! It
won't go away!
URQUHART. No? Leave it alone. That's one of the regular symptoms. Yes, the
influence is growing. One of us is a powerful medium. [A little pause.]
PHILLIS. [Suddenly] Mother. [No reply.] Mother.
HENRY. She's asleep, I think.
URQUHART. Then don't disturb her, whatever you do. She must be the medium.
VYNER. [With a shade of anxiety in his voice] It's all right I suppose,
Urquhart! URQUHART. Perfectly — [A little pause.]
MORTIMER. [Sharply] Don't be an ass, Henry.
HENRY. What d'you mean?
MORTIMER. You tilted the table. Don't.
HENRY. I didn't tilt the table — I will though — That's curious.
PHILLIS. What's curious, Henry?
HENRY. [Panting a little] I can't move it. Look. I'm trying as hard as I can.
MORTIMER. How can I look in the dark?
URQUHART. [Gently] Yes. But please, both of you, don't interfere with the
seance. We may get something really out of the way.
[The table is heard rocking to and fro.]
PHILLIS. What makes it rock like this?
URQUHART. Unless someone is cheating — psychic force.
MORTIMER. [Significantly] Unless —
URQUHART. That's what I said.
MORTIMER. [Skeptically] It's a remarkable thing that these things never happen
except when there's a loophole to fraud.
URQUHART. Let's try to reduce the possibility of fraud, then. We'll go a step
further. All take your hands off the table and join hands in a ring — Have you
URQUHART. [Firmly] Is anyone there?
[A sudden rap on the floor.]
MORTIMER. Henry, don't play the ass!
HENRY. [Crossly] I'm not, you fool.
URQUHART. Hush! — If there is a message, will you rap again? [Silence.]
MORTIMER. [Irrepressibly] Sorry you've been terroubbled! [A violent rap.] Sign
[A furious crescendo.]
URQUHART. Really, Mr. Mortimer, you are most unwise. It irritates them.
URQUHART. The unseen. The dwellers in the dark.
HENRY. Why do you assume the plural?
URQUHART. Them — or him — if there 's only one. Usually there are more than
one. But Mr. Mortimer makes it very difficult.
MORTIMER. I'm sorry. Go on.
URQUHART. [A little annoyed] There's very little use in going on. They won't
say anything now. [A sharp rap.] Wait, though. Perhaps we'll get something.
[Another rap.] Does that mean a message? [A rap.] How are we to read it? The
alphabet? [A rap.] Very well. From whom is the message? [Eight raps.] H —
[One rap.] A— [Eighteen raps.] R — [Four raps.] D — [A pause.] HARD. Does that
mean difficult? [A scurry of raps.] Oh, well, go on. [A little pause, then
five raps.] E — [Fourteen raps.] N — HARDEN. Is that a name? [A heavy rap.] It
is. Go on then. [Two raps.] B — [Twenty-five raps.] Y — [A pause.] HARDEN BY—
[A scurry of raps.]
MRS. VYNER. [In a curious unaccented voice] No, it's not that.
URQUHART. Hush. Wait— Is it HARDENBY? [A rap.] What Hardenby? J — [Fifteen
raps.] O— [Eight raps.] H— [Fourteen raps.] N— [A pause.] JOHN. JOHN HARDENBY.
Is that it? [A sharp rap.]
VYNER. [In an awestruck voice] John Hardenby. But that's the name of the man
who cheated at cards.
MORTIMER. [Scornfully] Yes. But Urquhart knew that, and so did you, and I dare
say Henry and Phillis, too. It's in the book in the library.
HENRY. [Gently] Mortimer old boy, you oughtn't to suggest that we're spoofing.
I'm not and I'm quite sure the others aren't.
MORTIMER. [Cynically] Well then, let's say that the habit of cheating appears
to cling to Mr. Hardenby.
[A sledge-hammer blow on the floor.]
URQUHART. [Gravely] You really shouldn't say a thing like that. These
manifestations are believed to materialize through the medium in the form of
physical substance. There are ungovernable forces unloosed. I do beg you not
to provoke the unseen.
MORTIMER. [Snorting] What absolute rot! I notice the manifestations take jolly
good care only to show themselves themselves under a pair of stout boots.
[A fearful crash on the wall, and a wailing like the wind. PHILLIS gives a
little yelp of dismay.
HENRY. [A little alarmed] That 's not under anyone's boots.
MORTIMER. That is the wind blowing down a a picture.
URQUHART. Well, let's call it the wind. But do please refrain from calculated
PHILLIS. Please, Mr. Mortimer. Don't be foolhardy.
MORTIMER. To please you, Miss Vyner — anything. Carry on, Professor Urquhart!
URQUHART. I'm not sure that we haven't driven them — or him — away. Noise
distracts them so. We can only wait quite still for a few minutes; until there
is a manifestation.
VYNER. Manifestation? Do you mean until something shows itself?
URQUHART. I don't necessarily mean a materialization. That happens only very
rarely — when the dwellers in the darkness have something overmastering to
achieve. There have been apparitions, of course, but we mustn't expect one
tonight, after all the interruptions — unless —
MORTIMER. Well — unless what?
URQUHART. [Gravely] Unless they — or he — had some special purpose to serve.
MORTIMER. Such, for example, as — ?
URQUHART. Such, for example, as taking away doubt, Mr. Mortimer.
A WOMAN'S VOICE. [Apparently MRS. VYNER'S] Or punishing folly.
VYNER. [Sharply] Who said that?
MORTIMER. [Good-humoredly] Mrs. Vyner.
PHILLIS. Are you awake, mother? Mother — Is she still asleep?
PHILLIS. Then how can she speak? It didn't sound like her voice, either.
MORTIMER. It didn't sound like anyone else's — and so by elimination —
URQUHART. Quiet, Mortimer. You promised.
PHILLIS. But was it her voice, Mr. Urquhart?
URQUHART. The sounds were made by her vocal chords. But whether she was using
PHILLIS. [Nervously] Oh — you mean —
[A little uneasy pause.]
HENRY. [Quietly] Look here, I don't know what you others think, but I believe
there's something in the room.
PHILLIS. Don't, Henry. That frightens me.
URQUHART. Whatever you do, control your fear. You must never let the unseen
catch you afraid.
HENRY. There is something. Over there by the window, behind. Look!
MORTIMER. [Harshly] It's the sofa, of course.
PHILLIS. [Choking] It's not the sofa. It's some horrible rounded thing. It's
like a hunchback. It's blocking up all the lower part of the window — I'm
URQUHART. [Earnestly] Miss Vyner, you mustn't. You really mustn't. You put
yourself in their power if you show fear.
PHILLIS. But I can't help it. I'm afraid. It's moving. It's coming this way.
It's coming at _me_!
URQUHART. [Quietly] Someone turn the lights up, quickly. The light is
infallible in restoring control.
MORTIMER. Go on, Henry. Turn it up.
[HENRY is heard to leave his place.]
HENRY. [In a strange voice] I can't. The switch won't work.
VYNER. Won't work. I'll come.
PHILLIS. [Suddenly in a dreadful voice] Mr. Urquhart. There's something
standing just beside me — [With a little gasp] Oh, Oh, God. I've touched it.
MORTIMER. [Springing up] Here, let me do that light — Don't play the ass any
more, Henry — Get out of the way.
HENRY. [His voice some distance off] I'm not in the way.
MORTIMER. [Savagely] Then get out of the way, you, whoever you are. You in
front of me. [A note of restrained terror coming into his voice] Get out of
the way! [Shouting] Get out of the way! I'll lay you out if you play the fool
— All right, it's your own doing. Take it then.
[The sound of a hurried rush forward; a sudden terrible gasp. A fearful blow;
a dreadful crashing fall; and a horrible groan.]
EVERYONE. What's the matter? What's the matter?
[A pounding noise is still audible.]
URQUHART. [Anxiously] Mortimer. Are you all right? — Can't someone strike a
match? [A horrible laugh.] Who's that laughing?
VYNER. [Panting] I'll have this in a minute — Henry, there are matches in my
HENRY. [Striking them] Won't strike. [The laugh again.] There's a light on
the landing, isn't there? I'll open the door. [The sound of the door thrown
open.] Now you can see a bit — [Horrified] What's that crouching over
URQUHART. Don't be hysterical, man. There's nothing there.
[The click of the switch.]
VYNER. Got it.
HENRY. [Fervently] Thank God for the light at last —
MRS. VYNER. — I've been asleep. [Alarmed] What's he matter with everybody?
What is it?
HENRY. My God, look at Mortimer.
URQUHART. Turn him over quick.
VYNER. — Ah!
PHILLIS. [Screaming with terror] He hasn't got a face — He hasn't got a face —
Originally broadcast: 14 April 1925
and 16 April 1925 over the BBC