“Rats in the Walls, The.” Short story (7,940 words); written late August or early September 1923. First published in WT (March 1924); rpt. WT (June 1930); first collected in O; corrected text in DH; annotated version in An1 and CC.
A Virginian of British ancestry, a man named Delapore (his first name is not given), decides to spend his latter years in refurbishing and occupying his ancestral estate in southern England, Exham Priory, whose foundations extend to a period even before the Roman conquest of the first century C.E. Delapore spares no expense in the restoration and proudly moves into his estate on July 16, 1923. He has reverted to the ancestral spelling of his name, de la Poer, despite the fact that the family has a very unsavory reputation with the local population for murder, kidnapping, witchcraft, and other anomalies extending to the time of the first Baron Exham in 1261. Associated with the house or the family is the “dramatic epic of the rats—the lean, filthy, ravenous army which had swept all before it and devoured fowl, cats, dogs, hogs, sheep, and even two hapless human beings before its fury was spent.”
All this seems merely conventional ghostly legendry, and de la Poer pays no attention to it. But shortly after his occupancy of Exham Priory, odd things begin to happen; in particular, he and his several cats seem to detect the scurrying of rats in the walls of the structure, even though such a thing is absurd in light of the centuries-long desertion of the place. The scurrying seems to descend to the basement of the edifice, and one night de la Poer and his friend, Capt. Edward Norrys, spend a night there to see if they can discern the mystery. De la Poer wakes to hear the scurrying of the rats continuing “still downward, far underneath this deepest of sub-cellars,” but Norrys hears nothing. When they come upon a trapdoor leading to a cavern beneath the basement, they decide to call in scientific specialists to investigate the matter. As the explorers descend into the nighted crypt, they come upon an awesome and horrific sight—an enormous expanse of bones: “Like a foamy sea they stretched, some fallen apart, but others wholly or