"Green Tea" is a famous short horror story by the Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu. It was originally serialized in four parts between October and November 1869 in All the Year Round, the weekly literary magazine owned and edited by Charles Dickens. The story was first published in book form in the 1872 anthology In a Glass Darkly.
In the story, Dr. Martin Hesselius, a physician with an interest in metaphysics, meets the Reverend Mr. Jennings at a friend's house. Mr. Jennings, who suffers from a mysterious illness, asks for a consultation with Dr. Hesselius. He is, however, strangely reluctant to discuss his complaint. Without knowing anything about the condition, Dr. Hesselius offers his services. It is not until many weeks later that he finally learns the disturbing nature of Mr. Jennings' affliction.
The character of Dr. Hesselius, who also appears in other stories collected in In a Glass Darkly, is generally considered to be the first literary occult investigator.
The story is presented as a translation of a series of letters written by Dr. Martin Hesselius, the late German physician, during his stay in England some sixty-four years ago.
Dr. Hesselius meets the Reverend Mr. Jennings at Lady Mary Heyduke's house. Mr. Jennings is a courteous and reserved gentleman, and Dr. Hesselius finds him agreeable and interesting. According to Lady Mary, Mr. Jennings is in London away from his vicarage in Warwickshire recovering from a mysterious illness. Lady Mary says Mr. Jennings has on multiple occasions suffered strange breakdowns, sometimes in front of his congregation, but his health always improves away from the vicarage.
Mr. Jennings tells Dr. Hesselius that he has been trying to obtain a copy of Dr. Hesselius' book on Metaphysical Medicine which he read many years ago. Having noticed some anxiety in Mr. Jennings, Dr. Hesselius offers to give him a copy of the now out-of-print book. Later, Dr. Hesselius speaks with Lady Mary and confirms some facts he has deduced about Mr. Jennings: he is a bachelor, he was writing a book until a few years ago, he used to drink a good deal of green tea, and his father saw a ghost.
The next morning, Dr. Hesselius sends his book to Mr. Jennings before going out for the day. When he returns home in the evening, he discovers that Mr. Jennings called on him during his absence. Suspecting that Mr. Jennings wants to consult him professionally, Dr. Hesselius decides to pay him a visit.
While waiting for Mr. Jennings in his study which is filled with books, Dr. Hesselius finds a complete set of Swedenborg's theological work Arcana Celestia. He opens the volumes to pages which are marked by pieces of paper. The pages speak of man's internal sight which, when opened, allows one to see "things of another life." They also speak of evil spirits that dwell in the world between heaven and hell. The author states that evil spirits hate man and strive to destroy not only his body but especially his soul unless he is protected by the Lord. Dr. Hesselius sees a note written in Mr. Jennings' hand at the bottom of the page. It begins with the phrase "Deus misereatur mei" (May God compassionate me). He closes the book and puts it away without reading the rest of the obviously private notes. In another volume, he finds Swedenborg's description of the bestial forms the evil spirits take. Dr. Hesselius is so absorbed that he does not hear Mr. Jennings enter the room. He is startled to find him leaning over his shoulder reading the page.
Although Mr. Jennings laughs and acts cheerfully, Dr. Hesselius can see that he is perturbed. Mr. Jennings thanks Dr. Hesselius for the book then asks if he knows Dr. Harley, the most eminent physician in England. Mr. Jennings reveals that he has consulted Dr. Harley and found him quite unsatisfactory. He calls the famous doctor a fool and a mere materialist who is half blind and intellectually half dead. He then asks if he can consult Dr. Hesselius the next time he feels an attack coming on. He refuses for the moment to elaborate on his condition. Dr. Hesselius agrees to make his services available.
Two or three days later, Dr. Hesselius receives a cheerful note from Mr. Jennings. Mr. Jennings is feeling so well that he has decided to return to his parish. Only a few days later, however, another note arrives. In the new note, Mr. Jennings says that he is feeling too low to see Dr. Hesselius. He is instead leaving for the country to see his family.
Nearly six weeks later, a note from Mr. Jennings arrives asking Dr. Hesselius to come to his house in Richmond. Dr. Hesselius leaves the same evening. It is dark by the time he reaches the quiet, gloomy house. He is shown into the drawing room where he is soon joined by Mr. Jennings. Mr. Jennings sits down next to him and begins to tell his story.
About four years ago, Mr. Jennings began studying the religious metaphysics of ancient pagans. He found the subject fascinating and spent a lot of time at his quiet Richmond house writing on the subject. He used to work late into the night, and it was his habit to drink tea as he wrote. He started with black tea but eventually switched to green tea which seemed to help clear and intensify the power of thought. In spite of the late nights, he still went into town everyday to visit friends and to do research at the library. One evening, unable to find a cab, he got on an omnibus toward home. It was late and he was the only passenger left when he noticed two small circular red reflections, two inches apart and each about the size of a small button, in the dark corner of the bus. His curiosity was roused when the reflections began to move. He approached them and discovered, to his surprise, they were the eyes of a small black monkey. Suspecting it was a pet forgotten by a passenger, he extended his umbrella toward it to see if it was tame. He was horrified when the umbrella went through it with no resistance. He stared at the illusion then, when it moved, he got off the bus in a panic. As he walked the rest of the way to his house, he saw the monkey on top of the brick wall along the path. It followed him closely, keeping pace with him. He tried to convince himself that is was a simple case of spectral illusions, a well-known medical condition. The monkey followed him into his house.
Mr. Jennings tells Dr. Hesselius that the monkey is small and completely black in daylight. In darkness, it is accompanied by a red halo. During the first year, it looked sullen and sick, and it watched him with intense malice. It is always with him except on certain occasions when, in an apparent rage, it springs up the chimney and disappears. When it disappears, it always stays away for more than two weeks. Mr. Jennings says the monkey has been gone for fifteen days now so that it may return at any time. He then continues his story.
The first time the monkey disappeared, it was gone for a full month. Then it returned with an increased, aggressive malice. Two years ago, it followed Mr. Jennings to his parish and began to interfere with his duties. On more than one occasion, while he was reading to the congregation, it leapt up and sat on the book to block him. He left the parish and consulted Dr. Harley. The treatment appeared to work, and he was free from the monkey for three months. Believing himself cured, he decided to return to the parish. On the way to the church, however, the monkey appeared in the corner of the carriage. In despair, Mr. Jennings got off and prayed to God for mercy. The monkey followed him into the vicarage, and soon forced him to leave the parish again. Prayers, and even the thought of prayer, appeared to make it more furious. Mr. Jennings was driven to desperation.
Mr. Jennings has become quite agitated. He tells Dr. Hesselius that the monkey began to speak to him about a year ago. He says that it speaks with perfect articulation, and he hears its inhuman voice singing through his head. It interrupts his prayers with horrible blasphemies. And now, Mr. Jennings tells Dr. Hesselius, the monkey is ordering him about – urging him to harm others and himself. It nearly succeeded in making him throw himself down a mineshaft when he was in the country a few weeks ago. Fortunately, his niece insisted on staying by his side, and he was prevented from carrying out the dreadful act.
Dr. Hesselius tells Mr. Jennings that it was the act of God that preserved him. He explains that the niece's insistence to stay and Mr. Jennings' reluctance to expose her to the horror both prove that Mr. Jennings is under God's care. Dr. Hesselius argues that Mr. Jennings should therefore not fear for the future. Comforted by the thought, Mr. Jennings weeps and promises to send for Dr. Hesselius immediately if the monkey returns. Dr. Hesselius instructs Mr. Jennings' manservant to check on his master frequently. He then leaves the house and goes to a quiet inn in order to give some thought to the case without being interrupted.
Dr. Hesselius returns home the following afternoon and finds a letter from Mr. Jennings waiting for him. It had been delivered by a servant around 11:00pm. In the letter, Mr. Jennings says that the monkey returned shortly after Dr. Hesselius left, and it knows about the consultation. Mr. Jennings is confused and terribly disturbed. Dr. Hesselius leaves immediately, eager to examine him while the manifestation is present.
At Mr. Jennings' Richmond house, a woman in black opens the door. Dr. Hesselius sees Jones, Mr. Jennings' manservant, wiping his hands in a blood-soaked handkerchief. Jones informs him that Mr. Jennings killed himself. He then takes Dr. Hesselius upstairs to the bedroom. The body has been moved to the bed, but there is a large pool of blood on the floor where Mr. Jennings cut his throat with a razor.
Jones says he checked on his master often as he was instructed. Mr. Jennings stayed up late talking to himself. Jones helped him undress around three o'clock, and Mr. Jennings was in bed a half hour later. Around five o'clock, however, Jones found his master dressed and sitting in the chair in the dark. Jones tells Dr. Hesselius that Mr. Jennings thought he had come in response to hearing someone cursing. Less than an hour later, Jones returned and found the door locked. Mr. Jennings heard him and told him not to disturb him again. Jones says he went upstairs again between six and seven and found the door still locked. There was no answer, so he assumed his master was asleep. He tapped on the door again at nine, and still got no answer. By eleven, he had become so concerned that he called for help to force the door.
Dr. Hesselius leaves the house dejected. Having treated many similar cases successfully, he is certain that he could have cured Mr. Jennings. He believes that the habitual use of green tea affected and disturbed the fluid circulating in the nervous system of the brain, causing the internal sight to open. It is also his belief that Mr. Jennings' case was complicated by a hereditary suicidal mania.
- Sound files of public domain audiobook of "Green Tea" from LibriVox:
- "Schalken the Painter"