The House on the Strand


By Daphne du Maurier

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The classic time travel novel from the legendary writer behind Rebecca and "The Birds." 

"The House on the Strand is prime du Maurier." —New York Times

Dick Young is lent a house in Cornwall by his friend Professor Magnus Lane. During his stay he agrees to serve as a guinea pig for a new drug that Magnus has discovered in his scientific research.

When Dick samples Magnus's potion, he finds himself doing the impossible: traveling through time while staying in place, thrown all the way back into Medieval Cornwall. The concoction wear off after several hours, but its effects are intoxicating and Dick cannot resist his newfound powers. As his journeys increase, Dick begins to resent the days he must spend in the modern world, longing ever more fervently to get back into his world of centuries before, and the home of the beautiful Lady Isolda…


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Part of Twyardreath parish. When Roger Kylmerth lived, the shaded area was estuary.


The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green color of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me that shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope. Nearer to me, too, each object had the same hard quality, the very grass turning to single blades, springing from a younger, harsher soil than the soil I knew.

I had expected—if I expected anything—a transformation of another kind: a tranquil sense of well-being, the blurred intoxication of a dream, with everything about me misty, ill-defined; not this tremendous impact, a reality more vivid than anything hitherto experienced, sleeping or awake. Now every impression was heightened, every part of me singularly aware: eyesight, hearing, sense of smell, all had been in some way sharpened.

All but the sense of touch: I could not feel the ground beneath my feet. Magnus had warned me of this. He had told me, "You won't be aware of your body coming into contact with inanimate objects. You will walk, stand, sit, brush against them, but will feel nothing. Don't worry. The very fact that you can move without sensation is half the wonder."

This, of course, I had taken as a joke, one of the many bribes to goad me to experiment. Now he was proved right. I started to go forward, and the sensation was exhilarating, for I seemed to move without effort, feeling no contact with the ground.

I was walking downhill towards the sea, across those fields of sharp-edged silver grass that glistened under the sun, for the sky—dull, a moment ago, to my ordinary eyes—was now cloudless, a blazing ecstatic blue. I remembered that the tide had been out, the stretches of flat sand exposed, the row of bathing-huts, lined like dentures in an open mouth, forming a solid background to the golden expanse. Now they had gone, and with them the rows of houses fronting the road, the docks, all of Par—chimneys, rooftops, buildings—and the sprawling tentacles of St. Austell enveloping the countryside beyond the bay. There was nothing left but grass and scrub, and the high distant hills that seemed so near; while before me the sea rolled into the bay, covering the whole stretch of sand as if a tidal wave had swept over the land, swallowing it in one rapacious draft. To the northwest, the cliffs came down to meet the sea, which, narrowing gradually, formed a wide estuary, the waters sweeping inward, following the curve of the land and so vanishing out of sight.

When I came to the edge of the cliff and looked beneath me, where the road should be, the inn, the café, the almshouses at the base of Polmear hill, I realized that the sea swept inland here as well, forming a creek that cut to the east, into the valley. Road and houses had gone, leaving only a dip between the land which rose on either side of the creek. Here the channel ran narrowly between banks of mud and sand, so that at low tide the water would surely seep away, leaving a marshy track that could be forded, if not on foot, at least by a horseman. I descended the hill and stood beside the creek, trying to pinpoint in my mind the exact course of the road I knew, but already the old sense of orientation had gone: there was nothing to serve as guide except the ground itself, the valley and the hills.

The waters of the narrow channel rippled swift and blue over the sand, leaving on either side a frothy scum. Bubbles formed, expanded and vanished, and all the ordinary timeless waste came drifting with the tide, tresses of dark seaweed, feathers, twigs, the aftermath of some autumnal gale. I knew, in my own time, it was high summer, however dull and overcast the day, but all about me now was the clearer light of approaching winter, surely an early afternoon when the bright sun, already flaming in the west, would turn the sky dark crimson before the night clouds came.

The first live things swam into vision, gulls following the tide, small waders skimming the surface of the stream, while high on the opposite hill, sharply defined against the skyline, a team of oxen plowed their steady course. I closed my eyes, then opened them again. The team had vanished behind the rise of the field they worked, but the cloud of gulls, screaming in their wake, told me they had been a living presence, no figment of a dream.

I drank deep of the cold air, filling my lungs. Just to breathe was a joy never yet experienced for its own sake, having some quality of magic that I had not sensed before. Impossible to analyze thought, impossible to let my reason play on what I saw: in this new world of perception and delight there was nothing but intensity of feeling to serve as guide.

I might have stood forever, entranced, content to hover between earth and sky, remote from any life I knew or cared to know; but then I turned my head and saw that I was not alone. The hoofs had made no sound—the pony must have traveled as I had done, across the fields—and now that it trod upon the shingle the clink of stone against metal came to my ears with a sudden shock, and I could smell the warm horse-flesh, sweaty and strong.

Instinct made me back away, startled, for the rider came straight towards me, unconscious of my presence. He checked his pony at the water's edge and looked seaward, measuring the tide. Now, for the first time, I experienced not only excitement but fear as well, for this was no phantom figure but solid, real, the shape of foot in stirrup, hand on rein, all too perilously close for my comfort. I did not fear being ridden down: what jolted me to a sudden sense of panic was the encounter itself, this bridging of centuries between his time and mine. He shifted his gaze from the sea and looked straight at me. Surely he saw me, surely I read, in those deep-set eyes, a signal of recognition? He smiled, patted his pony's neck, then, with a swift kick of heel to flank, urged the beast across the ford, straight through the narrow channel, and so to the other side.

He had not seen me, he could not see me; he lived in another time. Why, then, the sudden shift in the saddle, the swing round to look back over his shoulder to where I stood? It was a challenge. "Follow if you dare!"—compelling, strange. I measured the depth of water across the ford, and, though it had reached the pony's hocks, plunged after him, careless of a wetting, realizing when I reached the other side that I had walked dry-shod, without sensation.

The horseman rode uphill, I following, the track he took muddied and very steep, swinging abruptly to the left when it traversed the higher ground. This, I remembered, pleased with the recognition, was the same course that the lane took today—I had driven up it only that morning. Here resemblance ended, for no hedges banked the track as they did in my own time. Plow-lands lay to right and left, bare to the winds, and patches of scrubby moor with clumps of furze. We came abreast the team of oxen, and for the first time I could see the man who drove them, a small, hooded figure humped over a heavy wooden plow. He raised a hand in greeting to my horseman, shouted something, then plodded on, the gulls crying and wheeling above his head.

This greeting of one man to another seemed natural, and the sense of shock that had been part of me since I first saw the horseman at the ford gave place to wonder, then acceptance. I was reminded of my first journey as a child in France, traveling by sleeper overnight, throwing open the carriage window in the morning to see foreign fields fly by, villages, towns, figures laboring the land humped like the plowman now, and thinking, with childish wonder, "Are they alive like me, or just pretending?"

My excuse for wonder was greater now than then. I looked at my horseman and his pony, and moved within touching, smelling distance. Both exhaled a pungency so strong that they seemed of the essence of life itself. The sweat-streaks on the pony's flanks, the shaggy mane, the fleck of froth at the bit's edge; and that broad knee in the stockinged leg, the leather jerkin laced across the tunic, that movement in the saddle, those hands upon the reins, that face itself, lantern-jawed and ruddy, framed in black hair which fell below his ears—this was reality, I the alien presence.

I longed to stretch out my hand and lay it on the pony's flank, but I remembered Magnus's warning. "If you meet a figure from the past, don't for heaven's sake touch him. Inanimate objects don't matter, but if you try to make contact with living flesh the link breaks, and you'll come to with a very unpleasant jerk. I tried it: I know."

The track led across the plowlands and then dipped, and now the whole altered landscape spread itself before my eyes. The village of Tywardreath, as I had seen it a few hours earlier, had utterly changed. The cottages and houses that had formed a jigsaw pattern, spreading north and west from the church, had vanished: there was a hamlet here now, boxed together by a child, like the toy farm I used to play with on my bedroom floor. Small dwellings, thatch-roofed, squat, clustered round a sprawling green on which were pigs, geese, chickens, two or three hobbled ponies, and the inevitable prowling dogs. Smoke rose from these humble dwellings, but not from any chimneys, from some hole in the thatch. Then grace and symmetry took charge again, for below the cluster was the church. But not the church that I had known a few hours earlier. This one was smaller and had no tower, and forming part of it, or so it seemed, ran a long, low building of stone, the whole encompassed by stone walls. Within this enclosure were orchards, gardens, outbuildings, a wooded copse, and beneath the copse the land sloped to a valley, and up that valley came the long arm of the sea.

I would have stood and stared, the setting had such beauty and simplicity, but my horseman traveled on, and compulsion to follow sent me after him. The track descended to the green, and now the village life was all about me; there were women by the well at the near corner of the green, their long skirts caught up round the waist, their heads bound with cloth covering them to the chin, so that nothing showed but eyes and nose. The arrival of my horseman created disturbance. Dogs started barking, more women appeared from the dwellings that now, on closer inspection, proved to be little more than hovels, and there was a calling to and fro across the green, the voices, despite the uncouth clash of consonants, ringing with the unmistakable Cornish burr.

The rider turned left, dismounted before the walled enclosure, flung his reins over a staple in the ground, and entered through a broad, brass-studded doorway. Above the arch there was a carving showing the robed figure of a saint, holding in his right hand the cross of St. Andrew. My Catholic training, long forgotten, even mocked, made me cross myself before that door, and as I did so a bell sounded from within, striking so profound a chord in my memory that I hesitated before entering, dreading the old power that might turn me back into the childhood mould.

I need not have worried. The scene that met my eyes was not that of orderly paths and quadrangles, quiet cloisters, the odor of sanctity, the silence born of prayer. The gate opened upon a muddied yard, round which two men were chasing a frightened boy, flicking at his bare thighs with flails. Both, from their dress and tonsure, were monks, and the boy a novice, his skirt secured above his waist to make their sport more piquant.

The horseman watched the pantomime unmoved, but when the boy at last fell, his habit about his ears, his skinny limbs and bare backside exposed, he called, "Don't bleed him yet. The Prior likes sucking-pig served without sauce. The garnish will come later when the piglet turns tough." Meanwhile the bell for prayer continued, without effect upon the sportsmen in the yard.

My horseman, his sally applauded, crossed the yard and entered the building that lay before us, turning into a passageway which seemed to divide kitchen from refectory, judging by the smell of rancid fowl, only partly sweetened by turf smoke from the fire. Ignoring the warmth and savor of the kitchen to the right, and the colder comfort of the refectory with its bare benches on his left, he pushed through a center door and up a flight of steps to a higher level, where the passage was barred by yet another door. He knocked upon it, and without waiting for an answer walked inside.

The room, with timbered roof and plastered walls, had some semblance of comfort, but the scrubbed and polished austerity, a vivid memory of my own childhood, was totally absent. This rush-strewn floor was littered with discarded bones half-chewed by dogs, and the bed in the far corner, with its musty hangings, appeared to serve as a general depository for dumped goods—a rug made from a sheep's coat, a pair of sandals, a rounded cheese on a tin plate, a fishing-rod, with a greyhound scratching itself in the midst of all.

"Greetings, Father Prior," said my horseman.

Something rose to a sitting posture in the bed, disturbing the greyhound, which leaped to the floor, and the something was an elderly, pink-cheeked monk, startled from his sleep.

"I left orders I was not to be disturbed," he said.

My horseman shrugged. "Not even for the Office?" he asked, and put out his hand to the dog, which crept beside him, wagging a bitten tail.

The sarcasm brought no reply. The Prior dragged his coverings closer, humping his knees beneath him. "I need rest," he said, "all the rest possible, to be in a fit state to receive the Bishop. You have heard the news?"

"There are always rumors," answered the horseman.

"This was not rumor. Sir John sent the message yesterday. The Bishop has already set out from Exeter and will be here on Monday, expecting hospitality and shelter for the night with us, after leaving Launceston."

The horseman smiled. "The Bishop times his visit well. Martinmas, and fresh meat killed for his dinner. He'll sleep with his belly full, you've no cause for worry."

"No cause for worry?" The Prior's petulant voice touched a higher key. "You think I can control my unruly mob? What kind of impression will they make upon that new broom of a Bishop, primed as he is to sweep the whole Diocese clean?"

"They'll come to heel if you promise them reward for seemly behavior. Keep in the good graces of Sir John Carminowe, that's all that matters."

The Prior moved restlessly beneath his covers. "Sir John is not easily fooled, and he has his own way to make, with a foot in every camp. Our patron he may be, but he won't stand by me if it doesn't suit his ends."

The horseman picked up a bone from the rushes, and gave it to the dog. "Sir Henry, as lord of the manor, will take precedence over Sir John on this occasion," he said. "He'll not disgrace you, garbed like a penitent. I warrant he is on his knees in the chapel now."

The Prior was not amused. "As the lord's steward you should show more respect for him," he observed, then added thoughtfully, "Henry de Champernoune is a more faithful man of God than I."

The horseman laughed. "The spirit is willing, Father Prior, but the flesh?" He fondled the greyhound's ear. "Best not talk about the flesh before the Bishop's visit." Then he straightened himself and walked towards the bed. "The French ship is lying off Kylmerth. She'll be there for two more tides if you want to give me letters for her."

The Prior thrust off his covers and scrambled from the bed. "Why in the name of blessed Antony did you not say so at once?" he cried, and began to rummage among the litter of assorted papers on the bench beside him. He presented a sorry sight in his shift, with spindle legs mottled with varicose veins, and hammer-toed, singularly dirty feet. "I can find nothing in this jumble," he complained. "Why are my papers never in order? Why is Brother Jean never here when I require him?"

He seized a bell from the bench and rang it, exclaiming in protest at the horseman, who was laughing again. Almost at once a monk entered: from his prompt response he must have been listening at the door. He was young and dark, and possessed a pair of remarkably brilliant eyes.

"At your service, Father," he said in French, and before he crossed the room to the Prior's side exchanged a wink with the horseman.

"Come, then, don't dally," fretted the Prior, turning back to the bench.

As the monk passed the horseman he murmured in his ear, "I'll bring the letters later tonight, and instruct you further in the arts you wish to learn."

The horseman bowed in mock acknowledgment, and moved towards the door. "Good-night, Father Prior. Lose no sleep over the Bishop's visit."

"Good-night, Roger, good-night. God be with you."

As we left the room together the horseman sniffed the air with a grimace. The mustiness of the Prior's chamber had now an additional spice, a whiff of perfume from the French monk's habit.

We descended the stairs, but before returning through the passageway the horseman paused a moment, then opened another door and glanced inside. The door gave entrance to the chapel, and the monks who had been playing pantomime with the novice were now at prayer. Or, to describe it more justly, making motion of prayer. Their eyes were downcast, and their lips moved. There were four others present whom I had not seen in the yard, and of these two were fast asleep in their stalls. The novice himself was huddled on his knees, crying silently but bitterly. The only figure with any dignity was that of a middle-aged man, dressed in a long mantle, his gray locks framing a kindly, gracious face. With hands clasped reverently before him, he kept his eyes steadfast on the altar. This, I thought, must be Sir Henry de Champernoune, lord of the manor and my horseman's master, of whose piety the Prior had spoken.

The horseman closed the door and went out into the passage, and so from the building and across the now empty yard to the gate. The green was deserted, for the women had left the well, and there were clouds in the sky, a sense of fading day. The horseman mounted his pony and turned for the track through the upper plowlands.

I had no idea of time, his time or mine. I was still without sense of touch, and could move beside him without effort. We descended the track to the ford, which he traversed now without wetting his pony's hocks, for the tide had ebbed, and struck upward across the further fields.

When we reached the top of the hill and the fields took on their familiar shape I realized, with growing excitement and surprise, that he was leading me home, for Kilmarth, the house which Magnus had lent me for the summer holidays, lay beyond the little wood ahead of us. Some six or seven ponies were grazing close by, and at sight of the horseman one of them lifted his head and whinnied; then with one accord they swerved, kicked up their heels, and scampered away. He rode on through a clearing in the wood, the track dipped, and there immediately below us in the hollow lay a dwelling, stone-built, thatched, encircled by a yard deep in mud. Piggery and byre formed part of the dwelling, and through a single aperture in the thatch the blue smoke curled. I recognized one thing only, the scoop of land in which the dwelling lay.

The horseman rode down into the yard, dismounted and called, and a boy came out of the adjoining cow-house to take the pony. He was younger, slighter than my horseman, but had the same deep-set eyes, and must have been his brother. He led the pony off, and the horseman passed through the open doorway into the house, which seemed at first sight to consist of one room only. Following close behind, I could distinguish little through the smoke, except that the walls were built of the mixture of clay and straw that they call cob, and the floor was plain earth, without even rushes upon it.

A ladder at the far end led to a loft, only a few feet above the living-space, and looking up I could see straw pallets laid upon the planking. The fire, stacked with turf and furze, lay in a recess let into the wall, and a stew-pot simmered above the smoke, slung between iron bars fixed to the earthen floor. A girl, her lank hair falling below her shoulders, was kneeling by the fire, and as the horseman called a greeting she looked up at him and smiled.

I was close upon his heels, and suddenly he turned, staring straight at me, shoulder to shoulder. I could feel his breath upon my cheek, and I put out one hand, instinctively, to fend him off. I felt a sudden sharp pain on my knuckles and saw that they were bleeding, and at the same time I heard a splintering of glass. He was not there any longer, neither he, nor the girl, nor the smoking fire, and I had driven my right hand through one of the windows of the disused kitchen in Kilmarth's basement, and was standing in the old sunken courtyard beyond.

I stumbled through the open door of the boiler-room, retching violently, not at the sight of blood but because I was seized with an intolerable nausea, rocking me from head to foot. Throbbing in every limb, I leaned against the stone wall of the boiler-room, the trickle of blood from my cut hand running down to my wrist.

In the library overhead the telephone began to ring, sounding, in its insistency, like a summons from a lost, unwanted world. I let it ring.


It must have taken the best part of ten minutes for the nausea to pass. I sat on a pile of logs in the boiler-room waiting. The worst thing about it was the vertigo: I dared not trust myself to stand. My hand was not badly cut, and I soon staunched the blood with my handkerchief. I could see the splintered window from where I sat, and the fragments of glass on the patio beyond. Later on I might be able to reconstruct the scene, judge where my horseman had been standing, measure the space of that long-vanished house where there were now patio and basement: but not now. Now I was too exhausted.

I wondered what sort of figure I must have cut, if anyone had seen me walking over the fields and across the road at the bottom of the hill, and climbing the lane to Tywardreath. That I had been there I was certain. The state of my shoes, the torn cloth of one trouser leg, and my shirt clammy cold with sweat—this had not come about from a lazy amble on the cliffs.

Presently, the nausea and vertigo having passed, I walked very slowly up the back stairs to the hall above. I went into the lobby where Magnus kept his oilskins and boots and all the rest of his junk, and stared at myself in the looking-glass above the washbasin. I looked normal enough. A bit white about the gills, nothing worse. I needed a stiff drink more than anything. Then I remembered that Magnus had said: "Don't touch alcohol for at least three hours after taking the drug, and then go slow." Tea would be a poor second-best, but it might help, and I went into the kitchen to make myself a cup.

This kitchen had been the family dining-room when Magnus was a boy; he had converted it during recent years. While I waited for the kettle to boil I looked out of the window at the courtyard below. It was a paved enclosure, surrounded by old, moss-encrusted walls. Magnus, in a burst of enthusiasm at some time, had attempted to turn it into a patio, as he called it, where he could flop about nude if a heat wave ever materialized. His mother, he told me, had never done anything about the enclosure because it led out from what were then the kitchen quarters.

I looked upon it now with different eyes. Impossible to recapture what I had so lately seen—that muddied yard, with the cow-house adjoining, and the track leading to the wooded grove above. Myself following the horseman through the trees. Was the whole thing hallucination engendered by that hell-brew of a drug? As I wandered, mug in hand, through to the library, the telephone started to ring again. I suspected it might be Magnus, and it was. His voice, clipped and decisive as always, stood me in greater stead than the drink I could not have, or the mug of tea. I flung myself down in a chair and prepared for a session.

"I've been ringing you for hours," he said. "Had you forgotten you promised to put through a call at half-past three?"

"I had not forgotten," I told him. "The fact is, I was otherwise engaged."

"So I imagined. Well?"

The moment was one to savor. I wished I could keep him guessing. The thought gave me a pleasing sensation of power, but it was no use, I knew I had to tell him.

"It worked," I said. "Success one hundred percent."

I realized, from the silence at the other end of the line, that this piece of information was totally unexpected. He had visualized failure. His voice, when it came, was pitched in a lower key, almost as though he were talking to himself.

"I can hardly believe it," he said. "How absolutely splendid…" And then, taking charge, as always, "You did exactly as I told you, followed the instructions? Tell me everything, from the beginning… Wait, though, are you all right?"

"Yes," I said, "I think so, except that I feel bloody tired, and I've cut my hand, and I was nearly sick in the boiler-room."

"Minor matters, dear boy, minor matters. There's often a feeling of nausea afterwards, it soon passes. Go on."

His impatience fed my own excitement, and I wished he had been in the room beside me instead of three hundred miles away.

"First of all," I said, enjoying myself, "I've seldom seen anything more macabre than your so-called lab. Bluebeard's chamber would be an apter description for it. All those embryos in jars, and that revolting monkey's head…"

"Perfectly good specimens and extremely valuable," he interrupted, "but don't get side-tracked. I know what they are for: you don't. Tell me what happened."

I took a sip of my rapidly cooling tea, and put down the mug.

"I found the row of bottles," I continued, "all in the locked cupboard. Neatly labeled, A, B, C. I poured exactly three measures from A into the medicine-glass, and that was that. I swallowed it, replaced the bottle and glass, locked the cupboard, locked the lab, and waited for something to happen. Well, nothing did."

I paused, to let this information sink in. No comment from Magnus.

"So," I went on, "I went into the garden. Still no reaction. You told me the time factor varied, that it could be three minutes, five, ten, before anything happened. I expected to feel drowsy, although you hadn't specifically mentioned drowsiness, but as nothing seemed to be happening I thought I would go for a stroll. So I climbed over the wall by the summer-house into the field, and began to walk in the direction of the cliffs."


On Sale
Dec 17, 2013
Page Count
352 pages

Daphne du Maurier

About the Author

Daphne du Maurier (1907-89) was born in London, the daughter of the actor Sir Gerald du Maurier and granddaughter of the author and artist George du Maurier. Her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published in 1931, but it would be her fifth novel, Rebecca, that made her one of the most popular authors of her day.

Besides novels, du Maurier wrote plays, biographies, and several collections of short fiction. Many of her works were made into films, including Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, My Cousin Rachel, “Don’t Look Now,” and “The Birds.” She lived most of her life in Cornwall, and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1969.

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