The Tomb
by H.P. Lovecraft

      In relating the circumstances
which have led to my confinement within this
refuge for the demented, I am aware that my present position will create a
natural doubt of the authenticity of my narrative. It is an unfortunate fact
that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with
patience and intelligence those isolated phenomena, seen and felt only by a
psychologically sensitive few, which lie outside its common experience. Men of
broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and
the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate
individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of
them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the
flashes of supersight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism.
      My name is Jervas Dudley, and from earliest childhood I have been a dreamer
and a visionary. Wealthy beyond the necessity of a commercial life, and
temperamentally unfitted for the formal studies and social recreation of my
acquaintances, I have dwelt ever in realms apart from the visible world;
spending my youth and adolescence in ancient and little known books, and in
roaming the fields and groves of the region near my ancestral home. I do not
think that what I read in these books or saw in these fields and groves was
exactly what other boys read and saw there; but of this I must say little, since
detailed speech would but confirm those cruel slanders upon my intellect which I
sometimes overhear from the whispers of the stealthy attendants around me. It is
sufficient for me to relate events without analyzing causes.
      I have said that I dwelt apart from the visible world, but I have not said
that I dwelt alone. This no human creature may do; for lacking the fellowship of
the living, he inevitably draws upon the companionship of things that are not,
or are no longer, living. Close by my home there lies a singular wooded hollow,
in whose twilight deeps I spent most of my time; reading, thinking, and
dreaming. Down its moss-covered slopes my first steps of infancy were taken, and
around its grotesquely gnarled oak trees my first fancies of boyhood were woven.
Well did I come to know the presiding dryads of those trees, and often have I
watched their wild dances in the struggling beams of a waning moon but of these
things I must not now speak. I will tell only of the lone tomb in the darkest of
the hillside thickets; the deserted tomb of the Hydes, an old and exalted family
whose last direct descendant had been laid within its black recesses many
decades before my birth.
      The vault to which I refer is of ancient granite, weathered and discolored
by the mists and dampness of generations. Excavated back into the hillside, the
structure is visible only at the entrance. The door, a ponderous and forbidding
slab of stone, hangs upon rusted iron hinges, and is fastened ajar in a queerly
sinister way by means of heavy iron chains and padlocks, according to a gruesome
fashion of half a century ago. The abode of the race whose scions are here
inurned had once crowned the declivity which holds the tomb, but had long since
fallen victim to the flames which sprang up from a stroke of lightning. Of the
midnight storm which destroyed this gloomy mansion, the older inhabitants of the
region sometimes speak in hushed and uneasy voices; alluding to what they call
`divine wrath' in a manner that in later years vaguely increased the always
strong fascination which I had felt for the forest-darkened sepulcher. One man
only had perished in the fire. When the last of the Hydes was buried in this
place of shade and stillness, the sad urnful of ashes had come from a distant
land, to which the family had repaired when the mansion burned down. No one
remains to lay flowers before the granite portal, and few care to brave the
depressing shadows which seem to linger strangely about the water-worn stones.
      I shall never forget the afternoon when first I stumbled upon the
half-hidden house of death. It was in midsummer, when the alchemy of nature
transmutes the sylvan landscape to one vivid and almost homogeneous mass of
green; when the senses are well-nigh intoxicated with the surging seas of moist
verdure and the subtly indefinable odors of the soil and the vegetation. In such
surroundings the mind loses its perspective; time and space become trivial and
unreal, and echoes of a forgotten prehistoric past beat insistently upon the
enthralled consciousness.
      All day I had been wandering through the mystic groves of the hollow;
thinking thoughts I need not discuss, and conversing with things I need not
name. In years a child of ten, I had seen and heard many wonders unknown to the
throng; and was oddly aged in certain respects. When, upon forcing my way
between two savage clumps of briars, I suddenly encountered the entrance of the
vault, I had no knowledge of what I had discovered. The dark blocks of granite,
the door so curiously ajar, and the funeral carvings above the arch, aroused in
me no associations of mournful or terrible character. Of graves and tombs I knew
and imagined much, but had on account of my peculiar temperament been kept from
all personal contact with churchyards and cemeteries. The strange stone house on
the woodland slope was to me only a source of interest and speculation; and its
cold, damp interior, into which I vainly peered through the aperture so
tantalizingly left, contained for me no hint of death or decay. But in that
instant of curiosity was born the madly unreasoning desire which has brought me
to this hell of confinement. Spurred on by a voice which must have come from the
hideous soul of the forest, I resolved to enter the beckoning gloom in spite of
the ponderous chains which barred my passage. In the waning light of day I
alternately rattled the rusty impediments with a view to throwing wide the stone
door, and essayed to squeeze my slight form through the space already provided;
but neither plan met with success. At first curious, I was now frantic; and when
in the thickening twilight I returned to my home, I had sworn to the hundred
gods of the grove that at any cost I would some day force an entrance to the
black, chilly depths that seemed calling out to me. The physician with the
iron-grey beard who comes each day to my room, once told a visitor that this
decision marked the beginning of a pitiful monomania; but I will leave final
judgment to my readers when they shall have learnt all.
      The months following my discovery were spent in futile attempts to force the
complicated padlock of the slightly open vault, and in carefully guarded
inquiries regarding the nature and history of the structure. With the
traditionally receptive ears of the small boy, I learned much; though an
habitual secretiveness caused me to tell no one of my information or my resolve.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that I was not at all surprised or terrified on
learning of the nature of the vault. My rather original ideas regarding life and
death had caused me to associate the cold clay with the breathing body in a
vague fashion; and I felt that the great and sinister family of the burned-down
mansion was in some way represented within the stone space I sought to explore.
Mumbled tales of the weird rites and godless revels of bygone years in the
ancient hall gave to me a new and potent interest in the tomb, before whose door
I would sit for hours at a time each day. Once I thrust a candie within the
nearly closed entrance, but could see nothing save a flight of damp stone steps
leading downward. The odor of the place repelled yet bewitched me. I felt I had
known it before, in a past remote beyond all recollection; beyond even my
tenancy of the body I now possess.
      The year after I first beheld the tomb, I stumbled upon a worm-eaten
translation of Plutarch's Lives in the book-filled attic of my home. Reading the
life of Theseus, I was much impressed by that passage telling of the great stone
beneath which the boyish hero was to find his tokens of destiny whenever he
should become old enough to lift its enormous weight. The legend had the effect
of dispelling my keenest impatience to enter the vault, for it made me feel that
the time was not yet ripe. Later, I told myself, I should grow to a strength and
ingenuity which might enable me to unfasten the heavily chained door with ease;
but until then I would do better by conforming to what seemed the will of Fate.
      Accordingly my watches by the dank portal became less persistent, and much
of my time was spent in other though equally strange pursuits. I would sometimes
rise very quietly in the night, stealing out to walk in those church-yards and
places of burial from which I had been kept by my parents. What I did there I
may not say, for I am not now sure of the reality of certain things; but I know
that on the day after such a nocturnal ramble I would often astonish those about
me with my knowledge of topics almost forgotten for many generations. It was
after a night like this that I shocked the community with a queer conceit about
the burial of the rich and celebrated Squire Brewster, a maker of local history
who was interred in 1711, and whose slate headstone, bearing a graven skull and
crossbones, was slowly crumbling to powder. In a moment of childish imagination
I vowed not only that the undertaker, Goodman Simpson, had stolen the
silver-buckled shoes, silken hose, and satin small-clothes of the deceased
before burial; but that the Squire himself, not fully inanimate, had turned
twice in his mound-covered coffin on the day after interment.
      But the idea of entering the tomb never left my thoughts; being indeed
stimulated by the unexpected genealogical discovery that my own maternal
ancestry possessed at least a slight link with the supposediy extinct family of
the Hydes. Last of my paternal race, I was likewise the last of this older and
more mysterious line. I began to feel that the tomb was mine, and to look
forward with hot eagerness to the time when I might pass within that stone door
and down those slimy stone steps in the dark. I now formed the habit of
listening very intently at the slightly open portal, choosing my favorite hours
of midnight stillness for the odd vigil. By the time I came of age, I had made a
small clearing in the thicket before the mold-stained facade of the hillside,
allowing the surrounding vegetation to encircle and overhang the space like the
walls and roof of a sylvan bower. This bower was my temple, the fastened door my
shrine, and here I would lie outstretched on the mossy ground, thinking strange
thoughts and dreaming strange dreams.
      The night of the first revelation was a sultry one. I must have fallen
asleep from fatigue, for it was with a distinct sense of awakening that I heard
the voices. Of these tones and accents I hesitate to speak; of their quality I
will not speak; but I may say that they presented certain uncanny differences in
vocabulary, pronunciation, and mode of utterance. Every shade of New England
dialect, from the uncouth syllables of the Puritan colonists to the precise
rhetoric of fifty years ago, seemed represented in that shadowy colloquy, though
it was only later that I noticed the fact. At the time, indeed, my attention was
distracted from this matter by another phenomenon; a phenomenon so fleeting that
I could not take oath upon its reality. I barely fancied that as I awoke, a
light had been hurriedly extinguished within the sunken sepulcher. I do not
think I was either astounded or panic-stricken, but I know that I was greatly
and permanently changed that night. Upon returning home I went with much
directness to a rotting chest in the attic, wherein I found the key which next
day unlocked with ease the barrier I had so long stormed in vain.
      It was in the soft glow of late afternoon that I first entered the vault on
the abandoned slope. A spell was upon me, and my heart leaped with an exultation
I can but ill describe. As I closed the door behind me and descended the
dripping steps by the light of my lone candle, I seemed to know the way; and
though the candle sputtered with the stifling reek of the place, I felt
singularly at home in the musty, charnel-house air. Looking about me, I beheld
many marble slabs bearing coffins, or the remains of coffins. Some of these were
sealed and intact, but others had nearly vanished, leaving the silver handles
and plates isolated amidst certain curious heaps of whitish dust. Upon one plate
I read the name of Sir Geoffrey Hyde, who had come from Sussex in 1640 and died
here a few years later. In a conspicuous alcove was one fairly well preserved
and untenanted casket, adorned with a single name which brought me both a smile
and a shudder. An odd impulse caused me to climb upon the broad slab, extinguish
my candle, and lie down within the vacant box.
      In the gray light of dawn I staggered from the vault and locked the chain of
the door behind me. I was no longer a young man, though but twenty-one winters
had chilled my bodily frame. Early-rising villagers who observed my homeward
progress looked at me strangely, and marveled at the signs of ribald revelry
which they saw in one whose life was known to be sober and solitary. I did not
appear before my parents till after a long and refreshing sleep.
      Henceforward I haunted the tomb each night; seeing, hearing, and doing
things I must never recall. My speech, always susceptible to environmental
influences, was the first thing to succumb to the change; and my suddenly
acquired archaism of diction was soon remarked upon. Later a queer boldness and
recklessness came into my demeanor, till I unconsciously grew to possess the
bearing of a man of the world despite my lifelong seclusion. My formerly silent
tongue waxed voluble with the easy grace of a Chesterfield or the godless
cynicism of a Rochester. I displayed a peculiar erudition utterly unlike the
fantastic, monkish lore over which I had pored in youth; and covered the
fly-leaves of my books with facile impromptu epigrams which brought up
suggestions of Gay, Prior, and the sprightliest of the Augustan wits and
rimesters. One morning at breakfast I came close to disaster by declaiming in
palpably liquorish accents an effusion of Eighteenth Century bacchanalian mirth,
a bit of Georgian playfulness never recorded in a book, which ran something like

      Come hither, my lads, with your tankards of ale,
      And drink to the present before it shall fail;
      Pile each on your platter a mountain of beef,
      For `tis eating and drinking that bring us relief:
        So fill up your glass,
        For life will soon pass;
      When you're dead ye'll ne'er drink to your king or your lass!
      Anacreon had a red nose, so they say;
      But what's a red nose if ye're happy and gay?
      Gad split me! I'd rather be red whilst I'm here,
      Than white as a lily and dead half a year!
        So Betty, my miss,
        Come give me kiss;
      In hell there's no innkeeper's daughter like this!
      Young Harry, propp'd up just as straight as he's able,
      Will soon lose his wig and slip under the table,
      But fill up your goblets and pass `em around
      Better under the table than under the ground!
        So revel and chaff
        As ye thirstily quaff:
      Under six feet of dirt `tis less easy to laugh!
      The fiend strike me blue! l'm scarce able to walk,
      And damn me if I can stand upright or talk!
      Here, landlord, bid Betty to summon a chair;
      l'll try home for a while, for my wife is not there!
        So lend me a hand;
        I'm not able to stand,
      But I'm gay whilst I linger on top of the land!
      About this time I conceived my present fear of fire and thunderstorms.
Previously indifferent to such things, I had now an unspeakable horror of them;
and would retire to the innermost recesses of the house whenever the heavens
threatened an electrical display. A favorite haunt of mine during the day was
the ruined cellar of the mansion that had burned down, and in fancy I would
picture the structure as it had been in its prime. On one occasion I startled a
villager by leading him confidently to a shallow subcellar, of whose existence I
seemed to know in spite of the fact that it had been unseen and forgotten for
many generations.
      At last came that which I had long feared. My parents, alarmed at the
altered manner and appearance of their only son, commenced to exert over my
movements a kindly espionage which threatened to result in disaster. I had told
no one of my visits to the tomb, having guarded my secret purpose with religious
zeal since childhood; but now I was forced to exercise care in threading the
mazes of the wooded hollow, that I might throw off a possible pursuer. My key to
the vault I kept suspended from a cord about my neck, its presence known only to
me. I never carried out of the sepulcher any of the things I came upon whilst
within its walls.
      One morning as I emerged from the damp tomb and fastened the chain of the
portal with none too steady hand, I beheld in an adjacent thicket the dreaded
face of a watcher. Surely the end was near; for my bower was discovered, and the
objective of my nocturnal journeys revealed. The man did not accost me, so I
hastened home in an effort to overhear what he might report to my careworn
father. Were my sojourns beyond the chained door about to be proclaimed to the
world? Imagine my delighted astonishment on hearing the spy inform my parent in
a cautious whisper that I had spent the night in the bower outside the tomb; my
sleep-filmed eyes fixed upon the crevice where the padlocked portal stood ajar!
By what miracle had the watcher been thus deluded? I was now convinced that a
supernatural agency protected me. Made bold by this heaven-sent circumstance, I
began to resume perfect openness in going to the vault; confident that no one
could witness my entrance. For a week I tasted to the full joys of that charnel
conviviality which I must not describe, when the thing happened, and I was borne
away to this accursed abode of sorrow and monotony.
      I should not have ventured out that night; for the taint of thunder was in
the clouds, and a hellish phosphoresence rose from the rank swamp at the bottom
of the hollow. The call of the dead, too, was different. Instead of the hillside
tomb, it was the charred cellar on the crest of the slope whose presiding demon
beckoned to me with unseen fingers. As I emerged from an intervening grove upon
the plain before the ruin. I beheld in the misty moonlight a thing I had always
vaguely expected. The mansion, gone for a century, once more reared its stately
height to the raptured vision; every window ablaze with the splendor of many
candles. Up the long drive rolled the coaches of the Boston gentry, whilst on
foot came a numerous assemblage of powdered exquisites from the neighboring
mansions. With this throng I mingled, though I knew I belonged with the hosts
rather than with the guests. Inside the hall were music, laughter, and wine on
every hand. Several faces I recognized; though I should have known them better
had they been shriveled or eaten away by death and decomposition. Amidst a wild
and reckless throng I was the wildest and most abandoned. Gay blasphemy poured
in torrents from my lips, and in shocking sallies I heeded no law of God, or
      Suddenly a peal of thunder, resonant even above the din of the swinish
revelry, clave the very roof and laid a hush of fear upon the boisterous
company. Red tongues of flame and searing gusts of heat engulfed the house; and
the roysterers, struck with terror at the descent of a calamity which seemed to
transcend the bounds of unguided nature, fled shrieking into the night. I alone
remained, riveted to my seat by a groveling fear which I had never felt before.
And then a second horror took possession of my soul. Burnt alive to ashes, my
body dispersed by the four winds, I might never lie in the tomb of the Hydesi
Was not my coffin prepared for me? Had I not a right to rest till eternity
amongst the descendants of Sir Geoffrey Hyde? Aye! I would claim my heritage of
death, even though my soul go seeking through the ages for another corporeal
tenement to represent it on that vacant slab in the alcove of the vault. Jervas
Hyde should never share the sad fate of Palinurus!
      As the phantom of the burning house faded, I found myself screaming and
struggling madly in the arms of two men, one of whom was the spy who had
followed me to the tomb. Rain was pouring down in torrents, and upon the
southern horizon were flashes of lightning that had so lately passed over our
heads. My father, his face lined with sorrow, stood by as I shouted my demands
to be laid within the tomb, frequently admonishing my captors to treat me as
gently as they could. A blackened circle on the floor of the ruined cellar told
of a violent stroke from the heavens; and from this spot a group of curious
villagers with lanterns were prying a small box of antique workmanship, which
the thunderbolt had brought to light.
      Ceasing my futile and now objectless writhing, I watched the spectators as
they viewed the treasure-trove, and was permitted to share in their discoveries.
The box, whose fastenings were broken by the stroke which had unearthed it,
contained many papers and objects of value, but I had eyes for one thing alone.
It was the porcelain miniature of a young man in a smartly curled bag-wig, and
bore the initials `J. H.' The face was such that as I gazed, I might well have
been studying my mirror.
      On the following day I was brought to this room with the barred windows, but
I have been kept informed of certain things through an aged and simple-minded
servitor, for whom I bore a fondness in infancy, and who, like me, loves the
churchyard. What I have dared relate of my experiences within the vault has
brought me only pitying smiles. My father, who visits me frequently, declares
that at no time did I pass the chained portal, and swears that the rusted
padlock had not been touched for fifty years when he examined it. He even says
that all the village knew of my journeys to the tomb, and that I was often
watched as I slept in the bower outside the grim facade, my half-open eyes fixed
on the crevice that leads to the interior. Against these assertions I have no
tangible proof to offer, since my key to the padlock was lost in the struggle on
that night of horrors. The strange things of the past which I have learned
during those nocturnal meetings with the dead he dismisses as the fruits of my
lifelong and omnivorous browsing amongst the ancient volumes of the family
library. Had it not been for my old servant Hiram, I should have by this time
become quite convinced of my madness.
      But Hiram, loyal to the last, has held faith in me, and has done that which
impels me to make public at least part of my story. A week ago he burst open the
lock which chains the door of the tomb perpetually ajar, and descended with a
lantern into the murky depths. On a slab in an alcove he found an old but empty
coffin whose tarnished plate bears the single word: Jervas. In that coffin and
in that vault they have promised me I shall be buried.

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