I shall never forget the afternoon when first I stumbled upon the half-hidden house of death. Ancient granite, weathered by the dampness of time. Excavated the a hillside, the only sign of it is the door, a ponderous and forbidding slab of stone, upon rusted hinges, and ajar in a strangely sinister way by means of heavy iron chains and padlocks... A natural doubt of the authenticity of my narrative is to be expected. It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence the rare phenomena, which lie outside common experience. From earliest childhood I, Jervas Dudley, have been called a dreamer and a visionary. Wealthy beyond the necessity, I have dwelt in realms apart from the visible world; spending my youth in ancient and little-known books, and in roaming the fields and groves near my 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. In twilight deeps of a wooden hollow I spent most of my time; reading, thinking, and dreaming. It is there that I found the tomb of The Hydes; an exalted family whose last descendant had been laid within its black recesses many years before my birth. Older inhabitants of the region may speak in uneasy voices of a "divine wrath" that sent the last of the Hydes to this dark internment; Of the midnight storm which destroyed his gloomy mansion, claimed victim to the flames which sprang from a disastrous stroke of lightning. It was in mid-summer, when the alchemy of Nature transmutes the landscape to one vivid and homogeneous mass of green; when the senses are intoxicated with the surging of moist verdure and the subtly indefinable odours of the soil and the vegetation. In such surroundings time and space become trivial and unreal, and echoes of a forgotten past. When, upon forcing my way between two savage clumps of briers, I suddenly encountered the entrance of the vault. 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 tantalisingly 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 here.
The months following my discovery were spent in futile attempts to force the complicated padlock of the slightly open 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 in the Hyde hall fuelled my interest in the tomb. I felt I had known it before, in a past remote beyond all recollection; beyond even my tenancy of the body I now possess. Years past as I awaited the time I would be permitted entrance, when the forces that be deemed me ready in strengh of body and mind. 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 supposedly 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 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 favourite hours of midnight stillness for the vigil. By the time I came of age, I had made a small clearing in the thicket before the mould-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. It was awaking from such a dream I first heard the voices, those tones and accents I hesitate to speak of, a myriad of dialects from across New England and across time; and with them a revelation. 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 fought in vain. I closed the door behind me and descended the dripping steps by the light of my lone candle, I seemed to know the way; I felt singularly at home in the musty, air. Looking about me, I beheld many marble slabs bearing 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. In a conspicuous alcove was one fairly well-preserved and untenanted casket, adorned with a single name which brought to 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 grey 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 frame. Early-rising villagers who observed my homeward progress looked at me strangely, and marvelled at the signs of ribald revelry which they saw in one whose life was known to be sober and solitary. Henceforward I haunted the tomb each night; seeing, hearing, and doing things I must never reveal. My speech, 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 demeanour, till I unconsciously grew to possess the bearing of a man of the world despite my lifelong seclusion. My formerly silent tongue waxed verbose. 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. One night; with the taint of thunder was in the clouds, and a hellish phosphorescence risen from the marsh at the hollow, the call of the dead, was different. As I entered the tomb I found a different familiarity - the celler of the mansion as I long expected, standing proud again, illuminated by candles. The Boston gentry filling it's ancient halls and 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 and I was the wildest and most abandoned amongst them! Several faces I recognised; though I should have known them better had they been shrivelled or eaten away by death and decomposition. Suddenly a peal of thunder, resonant even above the din of revelry, clave the very roof and laid a hush of fear upon the company. Red tongues of flame and searing gusts of heat engulfed the house; and the guests, struck with terror at the descent of a calamity, fled shrieking into the night. I alone remained, riveted to my seat by a grovelling 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 Hydes! 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! As the phantom of the burning house faded, I found myself screaming and struggling madly to again awake in the tomb, besides that vacant box. As I drew my hand across the tarnished plate I read but one name and knew I must claim my place among my heritage, my coffin, my tomb; My name upon the brass; Jervas.