'I 'ave 'eard,' he went on, drawing in his breath between his teeth and sucking an
invisible lollipop with ghastly relish, 'as 'ow the last gennleman as 'kept' in these 'ere rooms was so 'orrified by the 'orrible crew of ghosts as met 'ere one midnight, when he wasn't expectin' of
'em, that 'e bolted out of this 'ere door, went down them stairs three at a time, bashed his blessed
'ead on that there beam, stunned 'issed cold and rolled over and over to the bottom of the stairs
where 'e lay for dead. Pore gennleman! Never was right in the 'ead arter that lark.'
He whistled brightly, obviously delighted with his own story, dusted a few dozen plates
with lightning flicks of a napkin, balanced a monstrous pile of them on both hands, from his naval
to his chin, and asking me to lock the door behind him trotted gaily down the stairs like a circus
artiste. I slammed the door, turned the key in the padlock, descended those cliff-like stairs, taking
care not to 'bash my 'ead' and joined the little man in the cloister.
'Sir Arthur says I ought to spend a night in those rooms,' I remarked, conversationally.
'But as I'm not a member of this College, I suppose I'd better get the Master's permission.'
'Wot flowers would you like on your cawfin, sir?' the little man inquired brightly.
'Carnations, pinks, lilies or jest a bunch o' roses? I'd like to remember you, sir, when you passes
He suddenly became serious. 'I wouldn't sleep in that there room for all the tea in China,
all the suvvereigns in the Bank o' England. No, sir! And don't you do it neither. Anyway, the
Master wouldn't let yer.'
That little chat took place more than forty years ago. Today, I believe, the rooms at the
top of Cow Lane are occupied by an undergraduate, who, so far as I could find out on a visit to
the College in 1955, slept well at night. He had not, in the year of 1955 at any rate, bashed out his
brains in headlong midnight flight.
It was always thus. As you will have gathered from the 'gyp's' spirited description and
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's quizzical suggestions, the rooms at the top of Cow Lane have a certain cachet.
Cachets, however, like cliches, wear thin with the passing of time. What is a fad in one
decade is a bore in the next. Old gods are overthrown. New gods arise. Sometimes sheer
atheism takes their place. It may be, therefore, that the ghosts of Cow Lane have given up the
ghost. So let us unravel the tale before it is all forgotten.
It began in the days of George II, or of his successor, the third George; the days of brocade
and powdered wigs, knee breeches, silk stockings and buckled shoes, clouded canes and curious
Cambridge University, like that other place somewhere on the upper reaches of the
Thames, has always been a hot-bed of clubs. Literary Clubs, Debating Clubs-who remembers the
Magpie and Stump nowadays?-Political Clubs, Dilettante Clubs, Wine Bibbing Clubs, Dining
Clubs, Clubs for Fox-hunters and Beaglers, Clubs for Fossil Diggers and Bird Worriers, Cardplaying Clubs, Highbrow Clubs for Pale Ineffectuals-any, and every, excuse is good enough to found a club.