Malcolm is soon to take an exam, and wants to study for it somewhere free from distraction. So he travels to Benchurch, stays a night in the inn, and the next day finds the perfect place, an abandoned house. He asked the agent about renting a part of it; he said that it being inhabited for a while should quell some of the rumors going around about the place.
He asked the landlady Mrs. Wintham about it, and she is startled to hear about his staying in "the Judge's house." She has heard that there was something about that house since a strict judge lived there generations ago.
After inspecting the house, Malcolm decided he would take up residence in the great dining room.
Malcolm settles in to study, and after a while realizes the noises the rats are making. He gets up and inspects the room; his eyes meet with those of one rat who squeaks and scampers away. He studies for a couple more hours, having gotten accustomed to the sound.
Soon he realizes that the noise has stopped. He looks around, and sees an enormous rat, baring its teeth in apparent hatred. He tries to shoo it with a poker, and the rat scurries up the bell rope, then the noise immediately begins again.
The next evening the rats bother him more than before, but he still thinks they are just being playful. But soon he sees the huge rat sitting on his chair. Again, he went after it with a poker, it scurried up the rope, the scampering stopped.
He then begins to wonder in more earnest about these rats. He moves the light so that in shines better in the nether regions of the room, stacks some books to throw at them if necessary, and takes the end of the rope and lays it on the table, weighted by the lantern. He notices the rope is surprisingly pliable.
He gets immersed in his math again when suddenly the rat comes down and assumes his position again. Malcolm threw books at him, at which time the rat ran into a hole in the wall.
He resolves to investigate where the rat went to in the morning, and then collects the books that he'd thrown. He realized that the one that hit the rat was the Bible that his aunt had given him. He slept fitfully and the next morning asked Mrs. Dempster to wash the pictures on the wall so that he could see what they are.
After another successful day studying he pays a visit to Mrs. Witham. She has invited a Dr. Thornhill to come check on Malcolm. Malcolm says he will back off on the tea and not keep such late hours, then tells Thornhill in detail everything that had happened at the house. Thornhill tells him that the bell rope was the rope used to hang the judge's victims, and predicts that the bell would ring that night.
Later while studying, Malcolm actually feels some companionship from the noise of the rats. He wonders though why the noise comes and goes with the coming and going of the huge rat with the baleful eyes.
He draws his attention to the rope, noticing that the wind seems to be strong enough to move the bell, and thus move the rope up and down. He wonders why the judge would want such a deadly relic in his house. Just then he sees the huge rat coming down the rope staring at him. Malcolm yells at it and it goes back up, and the noise of the rats began again.
He decides to look at the picture on the wall as he'd intended before. It is the portrait of a judge, and he thinks he sees a resemblance to the baleful eyes of the rat. In the background of the picture, he realizes the scene is the same as the room in where he is standing. He turns around and again finds the rat sitting there staring at him.
He regains his composure and studies for an hour. He then looks up and sees the rat gnawing through the rope, right before it falls to the floor. Frightened that his connection to the outside world has just been cut off, Malcolm hurls the book at the rat but fails to hit it. Then, he sees the Judge sitting in the chair.
The Judge stares at Malcolm, picks up the rope and fashions it into a noose. He begins throwing the rope at Malcolm, trying to entangle him. Numerous times he tries but fails to hit him. Malcolm notices the rats covering the bell rope until their weight causes the bell to ding.
The Judge now moves toward Malcolm himself, whose figure has frozen by now and the Judge is able to put the noose around his neck and pick him up and put him on the chair. He then ties the ropes back together, and kicks the chair away.
The ensuing bell sound brought the townspeople out to investigate. In the house they see Malcolm hanging, and an evil grin on the judge in the portrait.