About the Book

About the Author

Also by Leon Garfield


Title Page

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22


About the Book

‘My father, that stern and upright man, was nothing but a swindler and a thief!’

What is the matter with old Mr Jones? Endless footsteps and low groans can be heard from his room in the dead of night. Only his son William knows the a terrible secret: his father betrayed his business partner Mr Diamond, and swindled him out of a great fortune. William resolves to go to London, find Mr Diamond and make amends. But the murky big city, with its sinister characters and treacherous back streets, is no place for a boy of twelve. And Mr Diamond’s own son is not the sort of person to forgive and forget. Danger and deceit lie waiting...

Includes exclusive material: In the Backstory you can find out more about the wonderful author and learn some Cockney rhyming slang!

Vintage Children’s Classics is a twenty-first century classics list aimed at 8-12 year olds and the adults in their lives. Discover timeless favourites from The Jungle Book and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to modern classics such as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

About the Author

Leon Garfield was born in Brighton in 1921. He was the acclaimed author of more than thirty novels for children and adults including Devil in the Fog, winner of the inaugural Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 1967, The God Beneath the Sea, winner of the 1970 Carnegie Medal, and John Diamond, winner of the 1980 Whitbread literary award. He was also elected a member of the Royal Society of Literature. He died in 1996.


Jack Holborn

Devil in the Fog


Black Jack

Mr Corbett’s Ghost

The Boy and the Monkey

The Drummer Boy

The God Beneath the Sea

The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris

The Ghost Downstairs

The Golden Shadow

The Sound of Coaches

The Prisoners of September

The Pleasure Garden

The Confidence Man

The Apprentices

Bostock and Harris

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The House of Cards

Guilt and Gingerbread

Shakespeare Stories

The December Rose

The Empty Sleeve

Blewcoat Boy

The Saracen Maid

Shakespeare Stories II

Sabre Tooth Sandwich


To Vivien



I OUGHT TO begin with the footsteps; but first of all I must tell you that my name is William Jones and that I was twelve years old when I began to hear them.

I have two older sisters, Cissy and Rebecca, and a mother who was born a Turner, and I have an Uncle Turner to prove it.

But the story is about my father, chiefly.

He was a tall, handsome man, with his own hair, his own teeth, and, in fact, with nothing false about him.

I think he was rather proud of his appearance, and not a little ashamed to have a son who wore his clothes like a footpad and tied a cravat as if he’d been badly hanged. Those, by the way, were his words; but not in public as I was, after all, his son.

I was born in Woodbury, a village about two miles from the town of Hertford, where I went to school. We lived in a fine old house with a great many passages and winding stairs and surprising windows; and we kept our own coach. Although my Uncle Turner would not allow that we were rich, we were certainly in easy circumstances.

My father made his fortune in London. He’d been in coffee—not like a spoon, but in the way of buying and selling it, in barrels and sacks. He never talked about his years in trade, which consequently gave them an air of mystery and romance, with a strong sensation of ships.

He never really talked much at all; or at least, not to me, except to remark on my dirty fingernails and to ask me if I intended to grow up to be a sorrow to my mother and a disgrace to my sisters, who always nodded as if they fully expected that to be the case.

Yet, like everybody else, I couldn’t help liking and admiring him, and would have done anything to earn his praise. I would lie awake at nights, dreaming of distinguishing myself in every possible way—except, of course, the one that would have pleased him most, which was to be clean, neat and studious, to follow in his footsteps and be a pillar of the community.

His footsteps! Now I’ve come to them. I hated and dreaded them. Every night I heard them, back and forth, back and forth across his room, which was directly under mine.

They started when the house was quiet, at about midnight, and went on and on until I fell asleep. Sometimes I tried to count them, like sheep, and then to work out how far they would have reached if they’d been laid end to end. I think it was to Edinburgh; but later I discovered that his journey was a good deal longer.

At first I thought he might have had the toothache; but, as his face was never swollen, and he had no trouble with eating, it was plain that the reason lay deeper than that.

I knew he was unwell. Dr Fisher from Hertford had called to see him several times, and had gone away looking glum; so it occurred to me that, just as some people have the sleeping sickness, some the falling sickness, my father had the walking sickness, and that was the cause of it.

If so, it was a very strange malady, for it only attacked him by night and drove him from his bed, to walk and walk, as if he would wear out a grave in the floorboards with his feet.

That he was as ill as that—to bring graves to mind, I mean—I first learned from Mrs Alice one Saturday afternoon in September, when the rain had kept me in.

Mrs Alice was our cook and housekeeper rolled tightly into one, and secured by an enormous white apron and a crusty white cap, so that she looked like a wrinkled old baby who had been left waiting at the font.

I was in the scullery, helping myself to raisin wine, which was kept in a stone jug covered with a bit of beaded muslin to prevent the flies.

She came in so suddenly that I had no chance to escape and could only stand, with the jug up to my face and the muslin veil on my head, waiting for her to shout loud enough for my father to hear.

Instead, she gazed at me mournfully and said it was high time I stopped thinking only about myself and began to think of being a support to my mother and sisters as my father could not live forever.

Much relieved that she hadn’t lost her temper, I put down the jug and attempted to depart. She stood in my way and said, even more mournfully, that she hoped I prayed for my father every night as I’d never forgive myself if I was to wake up one morning and find that it was too late.

‘Too late for what, Mrs Alice?’

‘Never you mind,’ said she. ‘It’s not my place to tell you. But soon enough you’ll have to know.’

As she said this, she looked up at the scullery ceiling very meaningfully, as if we had angels in the house, like bailiffs, and she didn’t want them to hear.

She wouldn’t say any more; and, in response to my plaguing her, only shook her head and repeated:

‘Never you mind.’

But I did mind. In fact I was deeply frightened and somehow got the idea that I was to blame and that my father was dying of a worthless son, and sooner or later it would be diagnosed as such by Dr Fisher.

I lay awake at night, listening to the footsteps below in utter terror, and wondering what I would do if they were to stop suddenly and that I alone, in all the house, would know that my father was dead and that I had done it.

In a perfect agony of remorse, I prayed for him and did everything I could, in the way of cleanliness and behaviour, to improve myself and undo the harm that, apparently, I had done. But the walking went on and on; and, worse than ever, began to be accompanied by deep, unearthly sighs.

I said nothing about it to anyone, partly because I thought I might have been to blame, and partly because it was something between him and me—a secret that we shared.

Some time in November, my father took a turn for the worse. He began to go downhill so rapidly that it was as if he himself had been taken by surprise, and had slipped, and left a good part of his substance behind. Overnight, it seemed, he became horribly thin and bloodless, so that even his fingernails were as white as paper.

He didn’t go outside anymore, chiefly, I think, because his clothes looked so ill upon him, and he was ashamed to be a scarecrow. Dr Fisher came to see him almost every day, and there sprang up, on the table by his bed, a whole forest of green glass medicine bottles that jingled, when you went in, like tiny frantic bells.

Once Dr Fisher brought a nurse with him, a Mrs Small. She was a gaunt-looking widow from Hertford who had buried three husbands (her own, I think), ‘on account of the aggravation of leaves.’

I’m sure she said ‘leaves,’ but I never discovered how it had come about—whether by the leaves dropping into their beer and poisoning it, or by straight suffocation—as Mrs Alice looked up, and, seeing me agog at the kitchen door, said:

‘Ssh! Mrs Small! Little pitchers, little pitchers!’

At once Mrs Small stared at me with great hostility, and, compressing her lips, refused to utter another word until I had gone.

Soon after, I saw her bustling down the drive in the wake of Dr Fisher, and pausing to make little darts and flurries at her arch-enemies, as they floated down from the trees near the house.

Dr Fisher had wanted her to stay behind and look after my father, and my mother had been in agreement; but my father wouldn’t hear of it. I suspected it was because he was frightened that Mrs Small would spy on him and find out about his walking by night.

Dr Fisher brought her back for a second time, but by then—it was nearly at the end of November—my father had worked himself into such a state of secrecy, that he could hardly bear to have anybody at all in the room with him.

‘You mustn’t take it personal, Mrs Small,’ said Mrs Alice comfortingly. ‘He’s the same with all of us. You see, he’s that fallen in on himself, and that feeble in his movements, that he’s ashamed to have people see it, after being the fine gentleman that he was. He don’t even like to have Mrs Jones herself going in there to be with him.’

‘Nurses is different,’ said Mrs Small firmly. ‘We got no time for modesty, Mrs Alice. We scorn it. You see, we ain’t exactly strangers to the ’uman body. Male and female is all the same to us, professionally speaking, of course. We look on flesh, ma’am, as you might look on a leg of mutton. Or a nice side of beef,’ she added as an afterthought. ‘Why, I can remember when Mr Small, setting aside the aggravation of leaves, was—’

‘Ssh!’ said Mrs Alice, catching sight of me again. ‘Little pitchers, Mrs Small! Little pitchers!’

Mrs Small glared at me and I retreated in a condition of bafflement. Like the mystery of the leaves, I was fated never to discover what fearful indignity Mrs Small had perpetrated on Mr Small when he’d been too far gone to defend himself against his wife’s nursing.

At all events, I was thankful my father had been spared, for I was convinced that his extreme secrecy had nothing to do with modesty, but was somehow connected with the dreadful sounds I heard by night.

Then I wished that little pitchers had no ears at all, and I would retreat under the bedclothes so as not to hear.

The walking was much slower now, and was more of a dragging shuffle across the room. Often there were quite long pauses, during which I trembled in case the footsteps didn’t start again. But they did; and the sighs would seem to drift up through the floorboards and hover in the darkness all round me, like reproachful ghosts.

Sometimes, as I lay there, I wondered if it was really my thin father who was pacing the room underneath, or whether it was some mysterious visitor who had crept in at his window, and was walking and walking, and sighing horribly, while my father looked on with bulging eyes.

But this, like everything else, remained hidden from me; and I felt that, even if I went downstairs and into my father’s room, and caught that visitor in the very act of walking, he would turn and whisper:

‘Ssh! Little pitchers! Little pitchers have big ears!’

My Uncle Turner had come to stay with us. He was a large, bulky man with a bullying face and a strong smell of peppermint. He was a stern, God-fearing man, and I think the feeling must have been mutual—God, I mean, being frightened of him.

He arrived one Saturday morning in a hired coach and with a great deal of baggage in order to be a support to my mother in her time of worry and trial. It was only natural, said Mrs Alice, as my mother was his younger sister and he had always kept a soft spot for her. I don’t know where he kept it but I suspect it was in a bank.

I detested him; partly because he sat at the head of the table, which, in my father’s absence, I felt was my place, and partly because he never brought me a present in his life, always saying that ‘the boy’ was well enough provided for.

He had a horrible way of greeting me by pinching my cheek between his knuckles—as if he was extracting nails—and, when the water sprang to my eyes, he would laugh loudly and declare that I was soft, which, in a boy, was apparently a very undesirable thing to be.

‘Give him to me for six months, Rose,’ he offered my mother, ‘and I’ll make a man of him! You won’t know him, my dear!’

It was a constant nightmare of mine that, one day, I really would be sent to my Uncle Turner in order to be rendered unrecognizable to those who loved me best.

Almost the first thing he did was to take charge of Dr Fisher, as if to show that, at last, there was somebody of importance in the house in whom the doctor might really confide.

He had long, private conversations with Dr Fisher outside my father’s room and sometimes even followed him out of the front door. Then he would pass on whatever he thought was proper for us to know, at dinner.

‘I’m sorry to say that your father is a little worse, girls,’ he would say to my sisters; and then to me, sternly: ‘You must bear up, my boy. You must be a man!’

Once my father’s lawyer called, and my uncle fairly pounced.

‘Is everything in order? The will, I mean. Properly witnessed, eh?’

‘Everything is in order, Mr Turner. You may set your mind at rest, sir.’

‘Nothing unusual, eh? Nothing out of the way?’

‘Really, Mr Turner!’

At that moment, my uncle saw that I was still hanging about. He frowned and raised a finger to his lips.

‘Little pitchers,’ I said; and went away.

That evening, my uncle was more particular than usual with his news, and he looked very solemn.

‘I’m afraid, girls,’ he said to my sisters, ‘that you must prepare yourselves for the worst. Dr Fisher has told me that your father is sinking fast.’

I saw my mother reach out and hold Cissy’s hand. My uncle watched glassily; then he turned to me. I think he meant to be kind; but as he believed in the need to be cruel first, we never seemed to get around to the better part of the arrangement.

‘Now then! No snivelling, my boy! We must put on a good show. Nothing unmanly, eh? Really, Rose, it’s a great pity you never sent him to me for six months! You wouldn’t have known him! There wouldn’t have been any softness, I can tell you! You must stop that childish blubbing, my boy! Stop it, I say!’

I admit that there had been tears in my eyes. But they weren’t tears of sadness. I was practically crying with rage. My uncle was the most abominable man I knew.

I hadn’t even been thinking about my father; or at least, not as a person. I’d been thinking of what it would be like when I sat at the head of the table.

Although the prospect of my father’s death really did hang over me like a cloud, I simply couldn’t help noticing that it had a substantial silver lining. I had been dreaming of coming into money and what I would do with it. In fact, at that moment, I had been wondering how much it would cost to get rid of my uncle. I was seeing myself like King Richard, beckoning a sinister figure to my side and murmuring:

‘Dare you resolve to kill a friend of mine?’

After all, I thought, King Richard had disposed of his nephews, so it would be poetic justice for a nephew to dispose of his uncle.

‘Straighten up, my boy!’ said my uncle, banging on the table. ‘Don’t slouch like a hunchback!’

I went to bed in a state of great anger and loneliness, and feeling that I had not a friend in the world. Even the fire in my room burned badly, as if it wished itself somewhere else.

I lay awake with nothing to look forward to but my mysterious nightly companions, the footsteps from the room below.

At last I heard the sounds of good-nights, and all the other noises of the house settling down to sleep.

The fire burned low. It had dwindled into a single bleary eye that winked at me from its jail behind the bars of the grate. Each time it vanished, there was an ashy whisper, as if the fire was clearing its throat; then it shone out again, with a sudden sharpness, as if inviting me to guess what it had been going to say.

Everything was very still, and I strained my ears to hear the creaking of my father’s bed as he rose out of it for his nightly journey across the floor.

I remember lying on my side and clenching my fists as I was frightened that I’d fall asleep, or, that on this night of all nights, he wouldn’t walk at all.

Then they began: the footsteps, just as before. They were very slow and halting, back and forth, back and forth, from the window to the fireplace, I judged, though I could not be sure.

Shuffle—drag … shuffle—drag … shuffle—drag … accompanied, as always, by the thin, drifting sighs, and the faint jingling of medicine bottles.

‘A—a—ah! … A—a—ah! … A—a—ah!’ as if the walker himself was reckoning up how far he’d walked, and how much further he still had to go.

Although I’d longed to hear it, now it came I found it to be the most melancholy sound in the world.

‘A—a—ah! … A—a—ah! … A—’

They stopped! Suddenly, and without any warning, the sighing and the walking had come to an end.

I waited, thinking it was just a longer pause than usual. I listened fiercely and desperately for the footsteps to begin again. But there was nothing. The room underneath and its occupant stayed as quiet as the grave.

It had happened! Just as I’d always dreaded, it had happened in the middle of the night. My father was dead, and I was the only one who knew!

I sat up. The fire was out and the room was cold. I felt horribly frightened and thought of going to tell my mother. Then I remembered my Uncle Turner and thought of how he’d push everybody out of the way, and go inside my father’s room, and come out looking grim and say:

‘I don’t want any tears or snivelling. I want you to be a man, my boy. Your father is dead.’

I got out of bed. I couldn’t bear the thought of his taking this last discovery on himself and shutting me out altogether. I left my room and crept downstairs in a state of panting excitement.

I reached my father’s door. I stopped. I recollected that I had never seen a dead man before; and the prospect of being alone with one—and my own father into the bargain—filled me with a strong desire to be somewhere else. I pictured his dead eyes staring at me; and his freezing hand falling, suddenly and inexplicably, upon my back.

The firelight was shining under the door and streaming through the keyhole. I bent down and looked through, fully expecting another eye to be doing the same, from the other side.

I could make out only part of the window and most of the table with its loading of medicine bottles. I stood up, thinking how much better it would be to waken the household and let my mother go in first. Then my Uncle Turner came back to me, and the thought of his bullying face and shouting voice gave me courage. I’ve often noticed that the best in me is brought out by a strong dislike, and has nothing to do with virtue at all.

I opened the door and breathed:


I’d been ready to see him lying on the floor by the window, in a quiet heap; and was prepared for it. He was not there. I looked at his bed. It was empty.

I took a very cautious step into the room, and the warm, sweetish smell of illness engulfed me. As I moved, all the medicine bottles jingled, as if they’d seen something I hadn’t, and were knocking together in fright. I stopped, till they stopped. I could hear the rapid ticking of my father’s gold watch that was on a mahogany stand by his bed. It sounded frantic and uncanny, and I remember thinking that I ought to stop it somehow.

The fire was burning brightly, and my father’s chair, with its high back towards me, was drawn up close. I knew that he was sitting in it, dead.

I moved towards it. The bottles set up their frightful jingling again and the watch ticked madly, as if everything in the room, like me, was consumed with terror.

I fixed my eyes on the arms of the chair, for his arms; and on the feet, for his feet.

He was not there. The chair was empty.

I felt sick with bewilderment and dread. I knew he was somewhere in the room; but where?

I turned round. My father was standing bolt-upright behind the door. He was fully dressed, as if to go out; and he was glaring at me!



I DID NOT utter a word. The breath had not so much been knocked out of me as sucked out, in one dreadful gulp, as if the whole room had suddenly been taken short in the article of air and was getting back what it could.

I stood, holding on to the back of the chair, feeling sick with fright and guilt.

I felt frightened and guilty because my father must have known why I was there, that I’d thought he was dead and had come down to see. I felt frightened and guilty because he must have been watching me creeping about his room and looking at his gold watch.

He put out his hand and shut the door.

‘What—do—you—want?’ he demanded harshly.

‘I—I thought I heard you, Pa,’ I said at length.

To my immense relief he seemed to accept this as sufficient reason for my presence, and came down a little from the gaunt height to which he’d ascended against the wall.

He was, as I’ve said, fully dressed; although emptily would have been nearer the mark, as his clothes hung on him in so huge and hopeless a fashion. I remember wondering if he’d actually been meaning to go outside, or whether he always dressed himself when he walked by night, as if he expected company.

‘I’ll go back now, Pa,’ I said.

He made no effort to stop me until my hand was actually on the doorknob; then he said:

‘Wait, wait. What—what was it that you heard?’

‘I heard you walking, Pa.’

He made a most curious noise, which I can only describe as being like the ashy whisper of my fire upstairs; it was as if he’d swallowed coals and they were shifting somewhere in the bottom of his throat. He put out his hand again.

‘Help me—help me to my chair.’

I gave him my shoulder and he laid his hand on it; and I was astonished by how light and frail he was, like a bird. I didn’t want to support him with my arm, as, to be honest, I was afraid to touch him.

We got to the chair and he sank down into it. Once more I said I’d go, and once more he said, wait, wait. I waited, while he rustled away somewhere in his chest. Then he said:

‘So … you heard me walking?’

‘Yes, Pa.’

‘Nothing else?’

‘I—I thought I heard you sighing, Pa.’

Again the ashy whisper, and he looked accusingly at the fire, as if that had done it.

‘So you came down … to see.’

I didn’t answer, and waited uneasily for him to get angry. Instead, however, he only asked if I’d told my mother or anyone else? I shook my head; and he asked me if I’d ever heard him before?

I said no, because I didn’t want him to think I’d been spying on him, and because I always find it easier and more natural to deny things rather than to admit them; but when he asked me again (as if he hadn’t heard me the first time), I thought it best to own up.

‘And you’ve told no one, no one at all?’

I swore I hadn’t; and he lapsed into such a gloomy silence that I wondered if I’d done the wrong thing by keeping quiet.

His watch seemed to have acquired a louder tick, as if it was anxious to draw attention to some peculiarity of itself. I looked and saw that the time was one o’clock; and I remember thinking how thin the dial looked to be telling so small an hour.

‘Give it to me,’ said my father.

‘What, Pa?’

‘The watch, the watch.’

I fetched it and he began to fiddle with the back, and then tried to insert the key.

‘Do you know how to wind a watch?’ he asked. ‘You must give it six turns, morning and night. Never more than that. You—you must be careful. It—it cost a great deal of money.’

My heart beat excitedly. Was he meaning to give it to me?

‘Here, take it,’ he said; and when I hesitated, he added, ‘William,’ as if to show there was no mistake, that he recollected me perfectly, and even knew my name.

I took it and thanked him as warmly as I could. He smiled faintly.

‘Sit down, William,’ he said. ‘Here, next to me, in front of the fire.’

I sat, staring into the fire and feeling awkward as I didn’t know what to say.

Nor, I think, did he. He began asking me questions about my school and what I was learning, as if I was a stranger. Then, before I could answer, he began to talk about my mother and sisters. He said he hoped they’d always be careful about their appearance as he didn’t like to think of their being shabby and careless after he was gone. I couldn’t see what business this was of mine, but I nodded understandingly and said, ‘Yes, Pa’; and he went on again about winding up the watch at the proper times. At last he came out with:

‘You’re sure, William, that you’ve told no one about … about what you’ve heard? The—the walking …’