Tales of the occult and the supernatural
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I am glad that summer is gone - it's too hot and too loud. Autumn is a welcome pause, a space of half-light and silence, chill airs spiced with the bitter fragrances of mouldering vegetation and old books. It is causeway to long sunless days heated by logfires and mellow whiskey.
Like Ray Bradbury's October Country:
...where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.
As tomorrow is Hallowe'en and All Souls is a few days off, it seems an appropriate time to read and read about classic ghost stories: so to start off, essays on Arthur Machen and Lafcadio Hearn by one of my favorite reviewers, Michael Dirda:
THE FLYING WORM
JAN. 12. In the room next to me is an old poetess who was celebrated in the ‘nineties. As a child she used to collect names instead of sea-shells or stamps. I have twice been to tea with her. Out of courtesy, I walked across her bare floor as if I were sinking into a luxurious carpet. That pleased her, and the second time I went to tea she gave me sand¬wiches which she produced from a piece of oil-paper. At the top of the house lives an old Indian, who reads at the British Museum and looks at the moon by night. I have heard him ask Mrs. Crumbles, “Will you please give me half my breakfast at dinner, as I am not very hungry this morning?” Mrs. Crumbles humours him, and I think I know why. After he has gone to the Museum, she steals up to his room and uses his face-cream. Half an hour later, a young Japanese student, who inhabits the basement, also creeps upstairs for his stolen share of cream. I have watched them. I do not know any of the other people who reside at number thirteen, although I have once or twice heard the man who has the best rooms on the first floor. He comes home very drunk. I have not even glimpsed the other residents. They lead mysterious lives of their own. But I feel certain, from the people I have seen and from the fact that I have never seen the others, that there is no one I could go to with my trouble. In London I have no friends. Yet unless I do confide in someone, I believe my powers of resistance may snap. Perhaps the next best thing to do is to keep a diary, in which I can put down fears and, afterwards, attempt to analyse them away. I will try to make my diary some solace, and the effort to write may be a good discipline for me.
Jan. 15. I have dreamed the same dream for three nights. It is as if a spell has been cast on me since I came to London. My father was a country parson of the old school. As far as I know, he had no friends at the time of his death. He had driven them all far away from him by his conduct. It wasn’t exactly his fault, poor man. For years he had suffered, some¬times excruciatingly, from noises in his head. These had, intermittently, become so unbearable that he had taken the advice of a fossilised doctor--an old fogey of his--and had submitted to an operation to make him permanently deaf. Four hours after he had recovered from the anaesthetic, he heard hellish noises; they, of course, had been in his brain, and were in no way affected by the fact that he could no longer hear the speech of his fellow-men. It says a great deal for my father’s strength of character that he was able to carry on, to a ripe old age, outside the walls of an asylum. But I, his child, bore the brunt of his endurance; for my mother chose a wasting Victorian death, leaving Father to redouble his violent tempers and austerities. I used to pretend that I stayed with Father for two reasons: first be¬cause it was my duty, secondly because the country was so heavenly. I could step from our front-gate, cross the road, and pass into knee-high bracken and watch sunlight on birch trees; or see little Easter-egg ducks waddling along the bank of a pond, following their mother’s lazy ripples in the water. Well, for my sense of duty! I am now inclined to admit that it was a sense of cowardice. I knew, subconsciously, that I would not be able to face life on my own, to support myself. After Father died, the family solicitor told me that I would receive a pittance, and he bullied me to journey to London and to make a real attempt to secure a position for myself. I am finding that impossible. I have been too long under my father’s dominion. He ruled with such a stern hand that I have now scarcely any will of my own. This awful lethargy, which I am trying to overcome by writing my diary, I owe to my father’s insistent domineering. Instead of making a career, I am slowly becoming adapted to a squalid life on my wretched allowance. I came to Mrs. Crumbles merely by accident. She was the first landlady I discovered who would accept the little money I can afford to pay. Of course, if the dreams go on. .
Jan. 16. Life is becoming terrifying. I dreamed again last night: I was in an aeroplane; and I saw, far down, a great pit which seemed to be full of small white worms. As I looked at them and shuddered, the engine of the plane failed. The roaring ceased. With only the deadly swish of air in my ears, we plunged down. The terror came to me when I saw that we were going to crash into the pit. The night¬mare terror came when I realised, as we drew nearer and nearer, that the worms were in the fashion of, and the same size as, bloodless men without arms, churning and writhing in their loathsome pit.
Jan. 18. I am upon an evil turgid sea. But the boat moves forward, with me a corpse upon it. Spears of rock gesticulate like giant fingers between the currents. The bowels of the ship are torn apart, and the coffin I lie in splinters open. A dead thing, I am drawn to my feet. I walk across sand and then grass. And on the sand is the body of a man who is lying spread-eagled in the sun. Against my will, the heel of my foot crashes with sickening force on the man’s face. I walk on, but I seem to have eyes behind me. For I know that from the man’s broken skull are pouring white worms.
Jan. 19. There is a dog, barking at a hole. I try to soothe him, to draw him away; but he snaps at me. Suddenly, I know what is happening. By his very fear, the dog is creating things--things that will soon crawl out from the hole.
Jan. 21. What will they do to her? They went to find buried treasure. When the woman spoke of buried treasure, she meant the body of her husband. She was deceived, too. Instead of burying her hus¬band, they interred a tight bundle of white threads. Perhaps the white worms will settle them all?
Jan. 24. Thank God! I did not dream last night. I know that my dreams must have been making me strange. I went to call on the poetess, and she shut the door quickly on me, as if she were frightened of the confidence I might give her. Does it help to write out my dreams? With a slight smattering of modern psycho-analytic principles, I can argue with myself about the causes of my nightmare. But I cannot argue with myself about their effects. The dripping fear in the night does not disappear with any amount of arguing. What is the use of arguing with the phantom face that gibbers at you through the window, with the slimy arm that thrusts itself from behind the curtain? It would only be of use if one could argue with it. I haven’t the courage. I struggle and try to escape; and that is what puts me in the nightmare’s power.
Jan. 25. Just when I had thought of abandoning my diary, I spent another peaceful night. So, maybe, this record does help in some mysterious way. This morning I heard a pecking at my door, and when I heard wings I was prepared to swear that it was the Angel of Death. I fought with myself, and when I opened the door--there was a gaudy parrot. I never knew Mrs. Crumbles had a parrot. She is a grim being, with hollow cheeks and jealous eyes. But she told me that the bird had belonged to her husband. Perhaps it was because I captured the bird for her, that for once she was almost chatty. She told me a little about her husband, how he had been a photo¬grapher and how the parrot had never spoken since his death. The conquering of my fear, and then the finding of a natural explanation to the visitation of wings, has done me a lot of good. The weather is so much finer to-day, I think I will go for a walk and pretend that I am back in my beloved country.
Jan. 26. I feel depressed again. Walking in London was so different from walking in the country. I turned to the right after leaving the house, and found myself in a back-lane, with not a soul in sight. The lane passed between endless walls from behind which came the occasional chug of a hidden factory. And, when I found a turning from the lane, I came into a road lined with gasometers. When I got home, it was late. I found a note from the Indian in my room: “Beware the full moon on February 7.” What can he mean? I suppose an elderly Indian who uses face-cream doesn’t worry much about meaning. Yet we have never spoken to one another!
Jan. 28. Worse than the recurrence of the night¬mare! I did not see the worms last night, but I heard them. I heard them turning, slipping over moist ground, working their filthy way towards me.
Jan. 29. I have just thought what this may mean. Perhaps my father heard the worms.
Feb. 3. It’s revolting and ridiculous: the worms seem to have taken wings. I can hear them crawling, and then the flap of unnatural wings as the nightmare insects take to the air. Who ever heard of a flying worm? And why should I begin to associate Mrs. Crumbles with my haunting? Yet to-day, when I paid her the week’s rent in advance (as she insists on my doing), I could have sworn that I saw points of light darting from behind her spectacles--points of light that might have been worms, winged worms. I don’t know why, but some impulse then prompted me to ask her what manner of photographs her hus¬band took. She said, “Oh! just sitters.” Then I asked her where he had taken them. She said, “That room! that room was his studio. I’ve kept it locked since his death.” I asked her if I could go in. She said “No.”
Feb. 6. I met the drunk in the hall, last night. He seemed to be having a great deal of trouble in taking off his top hat; he stood plucking at it as if it were a slouch hat. He gave a sudden lurch, and clutched hold of the hat-stand. A drawer slipped out of the stand, and a bunch of keys crashed to the floor. The drunk, thinking that the keys were his (at least I suppose so), picked them up. He had forgotten about his hat, and took the keys upstairs with him, and I heard him cursing. This morning, when Mrs. Crumbles had gone out shopping, I went to the hat-stand and looked in the drawer. The keys had been returned. I took them out, furtively. Although I have never done such a thing before in my life (or imagined myself doing such a thing), I tried the keys in the studio door. My heart beat loudly with guilt, and I nearly abandoned my indiscretion before the key turned in the lock. The studio was a large room, lighted by an immense window. There were the usual paraphernalia of the trade--banks of lights, screens of silk, painted backgrounds. Everything was covered in dust. I wondered why Mrs. Crumbles had kept the room in this condition, and not tried to sell the tools of her late husband’s trade. Perhaps she was more sentimental than I had imagined. In the middle of the studio stood the camera. I realised that I could not walk about without leaving my foot¬prints in the dust. I turned to a great portfolio which stood near me, and I opened the wooden leaves. Inside, were hundreds of mounted photos of a very beautiful girl. Each one had “Nellie” written with a flourish on the mount in pencil, and then Mr. Crumbles’ signature.
Feb. 7. The noises of the worms were with me all last night. When I lay back on the pillow, they commenced their creeping; and when I shut my eyes, they took wings as if they would reach me more swiftly; and, when I partly lost consciousness, I felt the phenomena inside my head--and that was even more awful. I almost cried with relief when Mrs. Crumbles brought up my breakfast. I asked her if I could buy any of her husband’s photographs. She said, “Why?” I said that I had heard that he had photographed a very beautiful model called “Nellie”; if any of the prints were still obtainable, I would like to buy some. She gasped. She looked so angry and malicious, I wondered at the lack of feminine pride that made her think it worth while to steal the Indian’s face-cream. The points of light seemed to dart behind her spectacles. Her voice trembled with anger. She said, “Who on earth told you such a story? Nellie was a slut; she was once our skivvey. I’m sure Mr. Crumbles would never have bothered to photograph her.” I mumbled some apology.
Feb. 8. Oh! God! last night. . . . Why do I think that the Indian may have guessed how terrible my dreams were last night? What can he know of my dreams?
Feb. 9. No dreams last night. No sounds.
Feb. 10. Again no dreams. I thought I would like to call on the poetess, as I was feeling so much better. I know that she likes to pretend to smoke a cigarette after tea; although she confessed to me that she can’t smoke when she tries to write. I went out and bought her a packet of ten Egyptian cigarettes. She accepted the cigarettes--but only, I believe, because she did not want to stand at her door talking to me; she did not ask me into her room. Can Mrs. Crumbles have been telling lies about me, because of the Nellie incident? Oh! if only I had my beloved country to walk in, that would be some consolation! But my last London walk was so sinister; I am frightened of walking in London.
Feb. 15. I woke up last night with the feeling that an enemy had two hands round my throat. I dread that I may dream again to-morrow.
Feb. 18. I am sitting in a train which is travelling very fast through a country I don’t know; I feel a vague apprehension. Then the train plunges into a tunnel, and I know fear. My travelling companions show no sign of panic. They are normal, everyday people. In the middle of the tunnel the train breaks down. People take it rather well. Maybe some of the ladies start to chatter a little too loudly; but theirs is a mild hysteria. By this time I am bathed in perspiration. Then the lights go out, and I begin to jabber like a puny coward. You see, I know what is going to happen; that horrible white worms are going to pour into the tunnel from either end, are going to crawl to the train, are going to enter the compartments. At first it will be possible for the passengers to tread on them, to squash the beastly bodies of white pulp between their fingers, to close the windows against the invaders. But it is all to be of no avail. Millions of worms arrive; a swarm more terrible than any band of avenging locusts. They flatten themselves, intrude under doorways, bore holes in the woodwork, drop from the roof, from the walls, insinuate themselves from under the floor. The carriage becomes full of them. As one fights to tear them from one’s face, they fasten on one’s legs and slowly begin to suck the blood, and afterwards to devour the flesh.
Feb. 20. The Japanese student bumped into me. He drew back with a little cry, as if he had touched something unclean. He made some sign which I did not understand. I was too frightened to ask him to explain.
Feb. 28. The noises have returned. I no longer feel equal to writing about the things I see and hear by night. It does not seem, after all, to be much of a cure. Again I have had a note from the Indian: “Beware full moon March 8.”
March 7. What made me do it? Once more, I waited until Mrs. Crumbles had left the house, with a capacious bag swinging on her arm. I went for the second time to the studio. The portfolio had been emptied. As I bent over it. the door began to creak. I was so terrified that I jumped back, and knocked into the camera. By rights, it should have fallen to the ground; but it stood firm, in spite of the blow my elbow gave it. I examined the floor, to see if the tripod was glued to it. I could discover no sign of glue or nail, or any indication that the tripod was fastened. Then, I thought, there must be something in the camera which is immensely heavy, something which was there and which should not be there. Having no knowledge of cameras, I did not dare to tinker with it. Mrs. Crumbles might return before I had had time to rearrange the camera, and attempt to obliterate my footprints. Besides, what might I
March 8. I have received my notice. I must go to-morrow. She told me when she brought my tray. She would give no reason, but I guessed that she had seen my footprints in the studio, in spite of my strategy in dusting them over. What made her look in the studio? Did I, in knocking the camera, disturb some delicate apparatus? If so, what? The poetess is coughing horribly in her room, as if she were anxious to speed my departure. There is a café near the road where the trains run. I think I will go there and have some hot milk. It mayhelp me to think. At last I am driven to make a new plan, notwithstanding my lethargy.
Later. The Same Day. I must write, in the hope that I can get it straight before the police come to question me. It’s so difficult, because now the noises have started by day. Perhaps it is just my fear, but I can feel the coiling worms twisting in my head. How shall I live if they come by day as well as by night?... I went to the café. While I sat sipping my milk, I heard a boy crying in the street, “‘Orrible Camera Mystery, ‘Orrible Camera Mystery.” At length I could bear it no longer. I went out on to the pave¬ment only to discover that I had been mistaken. There was a street hawker, calling out in unrecognisable accents, “For sile, pretty dolls for sile.” When I got back to my table, I found that a stranger was sitting at it. I tried not to notice him. But, suddenly, he leaned forward and whispered, “Excuse me, sir, I used to be a card tamer.” I didn’t want to make a row. I asked him what he meant, because he looked such an aggressive fellow. “Yes,” he said,” I could tear two packs of cards in half.” Something went click in my brain. He went on to tell me how he used to carry weights for long distances. He had felt, he said, when they took the great weights from him; not as if he would collapse on the ground, but as if he would float up in the air if they did not put the weights back. When he had finished talking, I told him I had a weight he could not lift. I made a bet with him. He did not seem to be unwilling to come to the house with me. In the hall, I paused. How glad I was that most of the lodgers kept to their rooms! I looked in the hall-stand, and found that the keys had been taken away. But some demon prompted me to try the key of my own room. It worked. I pointed to the camera. “Blimey!” he said, “the bet’s already won. What’s your little game, mister? Think I can’t lift that?” He tried to lift the camera, negli-gently. Then he put his arms around it and tugged. Sweat beaded his forehead. He pulled, and the veins stood out. “For Heaven’s sake, mister what have you put in it?” I thought he was becoming frightened. I taunted him. He redoubled his efforts ... then … there was a flash of white, as if wings had sped through the room, and the man was staggering back¬wards. “Blimey! it’s as light as a feather now.” Then . . . two piercing shrieks from Mrs. Crumbles’ room. Before I could stop him, he called out, “Is anyone hurt?” He pushed me aside, and was in the hall, and had jerked open Mrs. Crumbles’ door. She lay in her chair, and her eyes might have been pecked out by some bird, or . . . bored out by a white slug on wings. The cushions of the chair were covered with blood. “For Christ’s sake,” he said, “tell me what’s happened?”
“Don’t you see, she made it with her jealousy, made it exist by sitting in this room and cursing him. It was the weight of’ her jealousy. And it was white because it lived in the dark, inside the camera.”
He said, “Are you dotty? I don’t understand.” I said, “You would understand if you knew that he spent most of his day photographing Nellie, the kid who was their servant. And you’d be a fool if you’d imagine that an ordinary kind of bird would live in a camera.”
With a swirl of wings, a cracked voice spoke, “Look, Nellie, look at the lens and see the pretty dickey-bird.”
The man burst into peals of laughter; “S’truth, it’s only a parrot, a bloomin’ old parrot. But what made a parrot do such a thing to the old girl?”
It was my turn to laugh, “You fool! can’t you see the parrot’s chained and couldn’t get at her. He’s too old and sleepy to do--that. Why! this is the first time he’s spoken since his master died.”
There is a chamber in Jesus College the existence of which is probably known to few who are now resident, and fewer still have penetrated into it or even seen its interior. It is on the right hand of the landing on the top floor of the precipitous staircase which for some forgotten story connected with it is traditionally called "Cow Lane." The padlock which secures its massive oaken door is very rarely unfastened, for the room is bare and unfurnished. Once it served as a place of deposit for superfluous kitchen ware, but even that ignominious use has passed from it, and it is now left to undisturbed solitude and darkness. For I should say that it is entirely cut off from the light of the outer day by the walling up, some time in the eighteenth century, of its single window, and such light as ever reaches it comes from the door, when rare occasion causes it to be opened.
Yet at no extraordinarily remote day this chamber has evidently ben tenanted, and, before it was given up to the darkness, was comfortably fitted, according to the standard of comfort which was known in college in the days of George II. There is still a roomy fireplace before which legs have been stretched and wine and gossip have circulated in the days of wigs and brocade. For the room is spacious and, when it was lighted by the window looking eastward over the fields and common, it must have been a cheerful place for the sociable don.
Let me state in brief, prosaic outline the circumstances which account for the gloom and solitude in which this room has remained now for nearly a century and a half.
In the second quarter of the eighteenth century the University possessed a great variety of clubs of a social kind. There were clubs in college parlours and clubs in private rooms, or in inns and coffee-houses: clubs flavoured with politics, clubs clerical, clubs purporting to be learned and literary. Whatever their professed particularity, the aim of each was convivial. Some of them, which included undergraduates as well as seniors, were dissipated enough, and in their limited provincial way aped the profligacy of such clubs as the Hell Fire Club of London notoriety.
Among these last was one which was at once more select and of more evil fame than any of its fellows. By a singular accident, presently to be explained, the Minute Book of this Club, including the years from 1738 to 1766, came into the hands of the Master of Jesus College, and though, so far as I am aware, it is no longer extant, I have before me a transcript of it which, though it is in a recent handwriting, presents in a bald shape such a singular array of facts that I must ask you to accept them as veracious. The original book is described as a stout duodecimo volume bound in red leather and fastened with red silken strings. The writing in it occupied some 40 pages, and ended with the date November 2, 1766.
The Club in question was called the Everlasting Club -- a name sufficiently explained by its rules, set forth in the pocket- book. Its number was limited to seven, and it would seem that its members were all young men, between 22 and 30. One of them was a Fellow-Commoner of Trinity: three of them were Fellows of Colleges, among whom I should especially mention a Fellow of Jesus, named Charles Bellasis: another was a landed proprietor in the county, and the sixth was a young Cambridge physician. The Founder and President of the Club was the Honorable Alan Dermot, who, as the son of an Irish peer, had obtained a nobleman's degree in the University, and lived in idleness in the town. Very little is known of his life and character, but that little is highly in his disfavor. He was killed in a duel in Paris in the year 1743, under circumstances which I need not particularise, but which point to an exceptional degree of cruelty and wickedness in the slain man.
I will quote from the first page of the Minute Book some of the laws of the Club, which will explain its constitution: --
"1. This Society consisteth of seven Everlastings, who may be Corporeal or Incorporeal, as Destiny may determined.
2. The rules of the Society, as herein written, are immutable and Everlasting.
3. None shall hereafter be chosen into the Society and none shall cease to be members.
4. The Honorable Alan Dermot is the Everlasting President of the Society.
5. The Senior Corporeal Everlasting, not being President, shall be the Secretary of the Society, and in the Book of Minutes shall record its transactions, the date at which any Everlasting shall cease to be Corporeal, and all fines due to the Society. And when such Senior Everlasting shall cease to be Corporeal he shall, either in person or by some sure hand, deliver this Book of Minutes to him who shall be next Senior and at the time Corporeal, and he shall in like manner record the transactions therein and transmit it to the next Senior. The neglect of these provisions shall be visited by the President with fine or punishment according to his discretion.
6. On the Second day of November in every year, being the Feast of All Souls, at ten o'clock post meridiem, the Everlastings shall meet at supper in the place of residence of that Corporeal member of the Society to whom it shall fall in order of rotation to entertain them, and they shall all subscribe in this Book of Minutes their names and present place of abode.
7. It shall be the obligation of every Everlasting to be present at the yearly entertainment of the Society, and none shall allege for excuse that he has not been invited thereto. If any Everlasting shall fail to attend the yearly meeting, or in his turn shall fail to provide entertainment for the Society, he shall be mulcted at the discretion of the President.
8. Nevertheless, if in any year, in the month of October and not less than seven days before the Feast of All Souls, the major part of the Society, that is to say, four at least, shall meet and record in writing in these Minutes that it is their desire that no entertainment be given in that year, then, notwithstanding the two rules rehearsed, there shall be no entertainment in that year, and no Everlasting shall be mulcted on the ground of his absence."
The rest of the rules are either too profane or too puerile to be quoted here. They indicate the extraordinary levity with which the members entered on their preposterous obligations. In particular, to the omission of any regulation as to the transmission of the Minute Book after the last Everlasting ceased to be "Corporeal," we owe the accident that it fell into the hands of one who was not a member of the society, and the consequent preservation of its contents to the present day.
Low as was the standard of morals in all classes of the University in the first half of the eighteenth century, the flagrant defiance of public decorum by the members of the Everlasting Society brought upon it the stern censure of the authorities, and after a few years it was practically dissolved and its members banished from the University. Charles Bellasis, for instance, was obliged to leave the college, and, though he retained his fellowship, he remained absent from it for nearly twenty years. But the minutes of the society reveal a more terrible reason for its virtual extinction.
Between the years of 7138 and 1743 the minutes record many meetings of the Club, for it met on other occasions besides that of All Souls Day. Apart from a great deal of impious jocularity on the part of the writers, they are limited to the formal record of the attendance of the members, fines inflicted, and so forth, The meeting on November 2nd in the latter year is the first about which there is any departure from the stereotyped forms. The supper was given in the house of the physician. One member, Henry Davenport, the former Fellow-Commoner of Trinity, was absent from the entertainment, as he was then serving in Germany, in the Dettingen campaign. The minutes contain an entry, "Mulctatus propter absentiam per Presidentem, Hen. Davenport." An entry on the next page of the book runs, "Henry Davenport by a cannon-shot became an Incorporeal Member, November 3, 1743."
The minute give in their handwriting, under date November 2, the names and addresses of the six other members. First in the list, in a large bold hand, is the autograph of "Alan Dermot, President, at the Court of His Royal Highness." Now in October Dermot had certainly been in attendance on the Young Pretender at Paris, and doubtless the address which he gave was understood at the time by the other Everlastings to refer to the fact. But on October 28, five days before the meeting of the Club, he was killed, as I have already mentioned, in a duel. The news of his death cannot have reached Cambridge on November 2, for the Secretary's record of it is placed below that of Davenport, and with the date of November 10: "this day was reported that the president was become an Incorporeal by the hands of a french chevalier." And in a sudden ebullition, which is in glaring contrast with his previous profanities, he has dashed down, "The Good God shield us from ill."
The tidings of the President's death scattered the Everlastings like a thunderbolt. They left Cambridge and buried themselves in widely parted regions. But the Club did not cease to exist. The Secretary was still bound to his hateful records: the five survivors did not dare to neglect their fatal obligations. Horror of the presence of the President made the November gathering once and for ever impossible: but the horror, too, forbade them to neglect the meeting in October of every year to put in writing their objection to the celebration. For five years five names are appended to that entry in the minutes, and that is all the business of the Club. Then another member died, who was not the Secretary.
For eighteen more years four miserable men met once each year to deliver the same formal protest. During those years we gather from the signatures that Charles Bellasis returned to Cambridge, now, to appearance, chastened and decorous. He occupied the rooms which I have described on the staircase on the corner of the cloister.
Then in 1766 comes a new handwriting and an altered minute: "Jan. 27, on this day Francis Witherington, Secretary, became an incorporeal member. The same day this Book was delivered to me, James Harvey." Harvey lived only a month, and a similar entry on March 7 states that the book has descended, with the same mysterious celerity, to William Catherton. Then, on May 18, Charles Bellasis writes that on that day, being the day of Catherton's decease, the Minute Book has come to him as the last surviving Corporeal of the Club.
As it is my purpose to record fact only I shall not attempt to describe the feelings of the unhappy Secretary when he penned that fatal record. When Witherington died it must have come home to the three survivors that after twenty-three years' intermission the ghastly entertainment must be annually renewed, with the addition of fresh incorporeal guests, or that they must undergo the pitiless censure of the President. I think it likely that the terror of the alternative, coupled with the mysterious delivery of the Minute Book, was answerable for the speedy decease of the first two successors to the Secretaryship. Now that the alternative was offered to Bellasis alone, he was firmly resolved to bear the consequences, whatever they might be, of an infringement of the Club rules.
The graceless days of George II. had passed away from the University. They were succeeded by times of outward respectability, when religion and morals were no longer publicly challenged. With Bellasis, too, the petulance of youth had passed: he was discreet, perhaps exemplary. The scandal of his early conduct was unknown to most of the new generation, condoned by the few survivors who had witnessed it.
On the night of November 2nd, 1766, a terrible event revived in the older inhabitants of the College the memory of those evil days. From ten o'clock to midnight a hideous uproar went on in the chamber of Bellasis. Who were his companions none knew. Blasphemous outcries and ribald songs, such as had not been heard for twenty years past, aroused from sleep or study the occupants of the court; but among the voices was not that of Bellasis. At twelve a sudden silence fell upon the cloisters. But the Master lay awake all night, troubled at the relapse of a respected colleague and the horrible example of libertinism set to his pupils.
In the morning all remained quiet about Bellasis' chamber. When his door was opened, soon after daybreak, the early light creeping through the drawn curtains revealed a strange scene. About the table were drawn seven chairs, but some of them had been overthrown, and the furniture was in chaotic disorder, as after some wild orgy. In the chair at the foot of the table sat the lifeless figure of the Secretary, his head bent over his folded arms, as though he would shield his eyes from some horrible sight. Before him on the table lay pen, ink and the red Minute Book. On the last inscribed page, under the date of November 2nd, were written, for the first time since 1742, the autographs of the seven members of the Everlasting Club, but without address. In the same strong hand in which the President's name was written there was appended below the signatures the note "Mulctus per Presidentem propter neglectum obsonii, Car. Bellasis."
The Minute Book was secured by the Master of the College and I believe that he alone was acquainted with the nature of its contents. The scandal reflected on the College by the circumstances revealed in it caused him to keep the knowledge rigidly to himself. But some suspicion of the nature of the occurrences must have percolated to students and servants, for there was a long-abiding belief in the College that annually on the night of November 2 sounds of unholy revelry were heard to issue from the chamber of Charles Bellasis. I cannot learn that the occupants of the adjoining rooms have ever been disturbed by them. Indeed, it is plain from the minutes that owing to their improvident drafting no provision was made for the perpetuation of the All Souls entertainment after the last Everlasting ceased to Corporeal. Such superstitious belief must be treated with contemptuous incredulity. But whether for that cause of another the rooms were shut up, and have remained tenantless from that day to this.
For more: http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/gaslight/
- Baron Corvo
Life is a grotesque series of magic-lantern pictures: at least, mine is. I am among a heavily-breathing intense mob, in the dark. Suddenly, the Showman flashes before me a brilliant disc of a picture quite unrelated to its surroundings. It stays, during a moment-I don’t know how. It means-I can’t think what. It vanishes-I don’t know where. And life is obscurely uninteresting as before-I haven’t a notion why.
For example: I saw three blazingly clear pictures at Oxford in Eights Week. I make a point of being up during Eights Week, because (as a physical epicure) I like to see how England’s most recent flesh is coming on. It (as you know) is on view daily, at 16.30 and 18 p.m., on the towing-path between the Osteria Iside and the barges.
On the first morning, Thursday, I went out for a dawdle before my coffee. I prowled, for no earthly reason, a little way up the Via Woodstochiana. Few people are abroad in Oxford at 7 o’clock of the morn, excepting on the paths which lead to Il Piacere de’ Parocchi. Anyhow, Campo Sant’ Egidio and that little bit of Via Woodstochiana were deserted at that particular moment. As the first of my three pictures was exhibited in this neighbourhood, it will be well to precise the spot.
On the left of the Via Woodstochiana, the shops ended with a sort of emporium. Then, there was an alley; and, on the other side of the alley, a fairly-sizeable plain house. The alley seemed quite an ordinary stone-paved little slipe. On its south side, was the side-wall of the dwelling pertaining to the emporium. On its north side, was the side-wall of the plain house. The front-doors of these two buildings were not in Via Woodstochiana but in the alley, one facing the other. In squinting up the alley, I fancied that it led to a third (but rather more embellished) building. I hope that this is all clear.
As I turned into the alley from motives of inquisitiveness, I saw a man approaching me. I did not particularly note him at the time, beyond the fact that his face wore the positively indescribable (but saliently recognisable) expression of one who has just prayed well. But he certainly did strike me as being as grey a man as I could wish to see. I don’t mean his hair: he was bare-headed, closely-clipped, and slightly bald on the tonsure. And I don’t mean his face: that was tanned and healthy enough, and quite in keeping with his slight (but rather broadbreasted) figure and his quietly agile gait. But I mean his perfect poise, and his sedate gravity, which were simply as grey as grey can be. And I mean his clothes. They seemed a symphony of dark-grey tones. Even his watch-chain and key-chain and scarf-pin and sleeve-links had the dark-grey gleam of platinum; and his neat slippers were of dark-grey suede. The white of his collar, the white of the silk-handkerchief in his sleeve and the black of his neck-tie, were just what was wanted to bind his colour-scheme beautifully together. I never in my life have seen a man looking so simply and calmly staid. Indeed, after passing him,-we met midway between the embellished edifice and the two side front-doors which I have mentioned,-I could not help looking back at him. And the, without the very slightest warning, the picture was flashed upon my brain.
This was it. I was well up the alley and looking down it toward Via Woodstochiana. The Grey Man was in the alley between the door of the plain house and the door of the emporium. All of a sudden, both doors slid open inwardly and silently. A thick-set gentleman in glossy black oozed out of the plain house-door; and said something affably to the Grey Man. It seemed also to be civil: but the distance, of course, rendered it inaudible by me. It could not have been more than six words. The Grey Man, without halting, gave a courteously-negative gesture with his head. A burly red-bearded fellow slipped out of the open emporium-door; and began (with the glossy black gentleman) to butt and hustle the Grey Man toward the open door of the plain house. The Grey Man sprang, like a kitten, once pace backward; and instantly rebounded forward, launching a lightning-like right-and-left double-knock-ping-pang, pong-pung-across the two foreheads. Blood splashed out in the most extraordinary manner. I never before saw such gushings. I heard two swiftly-sucked-in breaths and a couple of stifled groans. The assailants, carrying their heads, staggered into their respective houses. The doors shut as noiselessly as they had opened. The Grey Man quite quietly went on his unruffled way.
All this happened while one could count nine. It blazed into vision for nine seconds; and, then, was not. It, indeed, was so amazing, that (for an instant) I believed myself to be the subject of an hallucination. So I stepped back to the mouth of the alley. There were puddles of fresh gore, on the pavement between the doorways. I looked out into the Via Woodstochiana. There, was the Grey Man demurely crossing Campo Sant’ Egidio by the cabmen’s shelter, and going in the direction of the Collegio di San Zanbatista. He went with easy swiftness, his hands in his trousers’ pockets. If I had not already noticed him, I certainly should have failed to do so, so accurately did he come with the landscape.
It was excessively queer. I won’t deny that I stood and pondered the event, perhaps for a couple of minutes. For the life of me I couldn’t understand what I had seen. Still, it obviously was no affair of mine. I thought, however, that I might well postpone exploration of that alley and go home and have my coffee. So I did.
The fourth day after that was Sunday. In the evening I dined with old Sniffles at his house on Muro Lungo. That man’s collection of intagliate alexandroliths ought to fetch quite a quarter of a million when he turns up his toes. We spent the whole evening in pawing the gems.
As I mounted my bicycle at his door, at last, a clock announced the half past 23; and all the other timepieces in the city corroborated the statement. Several spoke together, very discordantly: of course there were the usual laggards: but the gist of the testimony was fairly unanimous. As it was a fine night, I resolved to ride a little way before tucking up. The dark darkness of night suits my thinking apparatus better than the light darkness of day-the fat dismal unwieldly ordinary uneventful day. So I went up Via del Santo Pozzo into Via Larga; and turned the corner, intending to ride up Via Banburiana as far as Città Destate and back. Be it always and everywhere and by everyone remembered that I had no reason whatever for this choice of route. It just occurred to me to go that way; and I as simply went.
I suppose that, if the Oxford policemen read this, they will feel bound to lay a trap and run me in. The fact is that, instead of going by road round the fore-court of Collegio di San Zanbatista, I pedalled lazily through the posts and all along the pavement in front of the old college-buildings, just like an ordinary undergraduate at 10 a.m. Not a soul breathed near. Even after I had got through the second set of posts, I did not trouble to leave the pavement immediately, but rode along the façade of the new college-buildings, passing the first lamp-post, and only gliding into the road on reaching the second before the administrator’s office. And it was here that the second picture unexpectedly glared me in the face.
You understand that I had the Uffiizio Amministrativo del Collegio di San Zanbatista on my right hand, and was about to pass the adjoining entry which leads to the college. Beyond this entry was a new-faced Casa Iacopesca joined to a pub which (in turn) attached itself to the row of houses before you come to the Allogio dei Giudici. On my left, stretched the great dim open width and length of Campo Sant’ Egidio with its leafy avenues. Before me, the pavement lay like a grey ribbon. There was a fair light on the foreground of it, a light shed by a third lamp-post which stood at the juncture of the Casa Iacopesca and the pub: but, beyond that, the middle distance faded gradually into the night.
Just when I was crawling by the Uffizio Amministrativo of the college, I recognized the Grey Man. He came toward me from the direction of Via Banburiana; and I spotted him as he came into the light of the third lamp-post. Quite instantaneously the double door of the Casa Iacopesca opened like a dumb mouth. Two small ghostly gentlemen pranced out. They both sported black trousers and peculiarly long black jackets agreeably slit up the rear. One was long-bodied and stumpy-legged: the other was grotesquely verdant-greeny: both wore snubbed noses and spectacles. And they, also, set themselves silently to butt and hustle the Grey Man into the blackness of their open door. Then followed the same two hideous crashes of fists upon foreheads, the same two spouting sheets of blood, the same suppressed squeals and unhesitating evanishments, the same slammed speechless door, and the same impassive invulnerable solitary figure pursuing its mysterious way.
Mind you-this time, I was not a couple of yards distant from the collision. The whole thing was begun and finished by the time I had pedalled four times. Nothing could have been smarter. I had not even time to dismount-much less to say something equivalent do ‘Ciò!’
I gazed at the Casa Iacopesca. All the windows were blind. There was a glimmer in the bar of the pub beyond: but not a movement anywhere. I looked all round. No one was in sight, excepting the moth-grey figure passing through the posts of San Zanbatista. I very much wanted to run after him. But of course that was out of the question.
And, then, you must know something else. I really was seized (at the moment) with grave doubt concerning my quality of visibility. None of these gladiators seemed to have noticed me at all. They popped out, and did their trick, and scuttled back into their burrow (so to speak), just as though they were quite alone. It was most puzzling, not to say annoying.
The only things which I could think of, to say, in this emergency were ‘Mariavergine!’ and ‘Ostreghette!’ I said them alternately to myself half-a-dozen times, observing uncanonical intervals, as I rode up Via Banburiana toward Città Destate; and derived immense relief. Furthermore, just by the Giardini di Norham, a motor-car blasphemed me for riding on the wrong side of the road. This was a vast consolation: for it certified me that I could still be seen.
Some people cannot look at pictures without worrying themselves about the artist’s meaning, and rot of that sort. (They are the kind of people who begin their criticisms with the formula ‘Ow! I down’t lyke the fyce.’) Now I always try to look at pictures with a sole purpose of taking my pleasure. But, I admit that the two last exhibitions tried me severely. It was irritating to feel, on the inaccessible back of one’s mind, the nipping flea of curiosity. However, I just blundered on toward my grave, through my normal state of mist, till the following Wednesday.
It was the last day of the Eights. The afternoon had been muggy, dully threatening rain. At 17.30 p.m. I took advantage of the interval between the two races to stroll down the towing-path. My idea was to find a place where I might observe the men-not the crews, but the men who run along the bank. I am not aware of any spot on this planet, excepting Venice, which offers a more exhaustive and instructive exhibition of vigorous physique, than this particular bit of Oxford at this particular moment. The show comprises several hundred specimens; and I solemnly aver that one in twenty is quite worth looking at twice. Why not? Athletam in ingenuum nasci tam facile est quam accedere huc.
The point, of getting below Ponti Lunghi for the purpose, is this. Shortly before 18 o’clock, the men come down, from the barges and elsewhere, to (say) the Osteria Iside whereby the boats are moored. When the starting-gun fires, they run back (along the towing-path) by the sides of their respective boats. To stand on the towing-path during the process, amounts to competing for being bunted (by roaring gladiators) into a fussy river. But, just below the Ponti Lunghi, the towing-path winds round the Budello; and there is a short cut across the grass from Ponti Lunghi to the point where the path follows the straightened course of the river. And it is possible to preserve one’s equilibrium on this grass, while taking leisured observations of the turmoil of the towing-path close by.
So, I strolled down quite early, intending to study the human current coming and going. I was rather too early. There were but few people about as yet. Punts and steamers and motor-boats were edging-in backward: and there were the usual clots of screeching little boys messing about the river-brink. Now and then, a racing-crew paddled (or bucketed) down to its station. But athletes occurred only in scanty sprinklings. I walked on to the end of the grass.
Suddenly, men began to swarm down in crowds. I turned back; and made for the unoccupied middle of the grass-patch. There was quite a lot of flesh on view, not (perhaps) of the quality of ten years ago, when the okhlotesacy had not yet been permitted to forget its place, and before the Dylymyle had made the nation a chronic self-conscious hysteric. But still it was by no means sickening; and, here and there, Nature proved that she had not entirely lost the knack of modelling shrines for character.
The gun went off; and the race began. Up came the crowd again, firing revolvers, whirling plangent wooden rattles, bellowing through mastodonic megaphones. As I had been moving slowly toward Ponti Lunghi to see the faces of the gymnasts going down, I was now sauntering back toward Iffleja to see them coming up. In a few minutes they had passed me, and were rampaging far up stream, leaving me almost alone again. I did not turn to follow, knowing jolly well what a block there would be on the towing-path above the boat-house, and the utter impossibility of crossing to the Prato della Casa di Cristo till all the boats had reached their proper barges, and the perennial puntful of performers had been tipped-over for the diversion of the leek-shaped virgins who concealed their right eyes with tubs made of the pelts of sea-green lions decorated with the residuum of a massacre of condors and albatrosses on the barge-tops.
I hope it is quite plain that I was not really seeing all these things which I describe-seeing them (I mean,) not with the two common or filmy eyes with which we keep our pipes alight and wink at the auctioneers and use for not avoiding temptation, but with that third transcendental esoteric clear-seeing eye hidden in the brain which gives the only vision worth while. Of course I saw the moving show, as heaps of other people saw it, as something all-of-a-sudden fuskily epileptic in a fog, something ephemeral, essentially irreproducible, obliterated utterly, gone and done with. But I don’t call that Seeing, simply because it is not Hearing.
But, when I came to the end of the grass, and stepped on to the towing-path, that third eye of mine promptly etched the last of my three pictures on my mind. Coming toward me from Iffleja and about fifty yards away, was the slight Grey Man. It was a clear vision of him, face to face, which I set myself intensely to study.
I find it nearly impossible to interpret his personality in words: it was so vivid, so serene, so supremely non-curant, so exclusively aloof and distinct from every other living thing on this orb of earth. This time, he was in white, bare-legged, bare-headed. His white jacket and socks were patterned with a fine grey line: but his shorts and his zephyr were plain. His shoes and belt were of grey suede. A dark-grey chain, slipped through the jacket buttonhole, held a watch in the left breast pocket. His key-chain and belt-buckle were of the same dull-gleaming platinum-coloured metal. A white silk-handkerchief hid in his left sleeve, round which a towel was twisted; and the last item (taken in conjunction with the quality of his skin and the direction of his approach) led me to conceive that he had been swimming all by himself in the Cataratta di Guadodisabbia. There was not a single discord-there was not even a harsh or feeble note, about him anywhere. He was noticeable simply and solely because he was so exquisitely simple and sole-so singularly and so pellucidly complete in himself, and apart. I suppose that he was about five feet seven inches high; and I surmised that he would strip at about ten stone. Whoever made him, evidently understood the business: but I suspect that he himself had a hand in the job.
In judging a work of this sort, I always try to avoid the vulgar mobile’s error of over-estimating details. Of course, I note them, carefully, but only as the components of a unity. The well-shaped capable feet, the well-turned legs, the supple knees, the lithe reins, the generous breast, the delightful arms and shoulder and neck, the lively uniform tan of silky skin, were (I could see in a flash) the reason, the causa causans, the integral elements, of this perfectly-poised personality. His gait (which, as the Preacher says, shews what a man is,) was truly marvelous in the strength and delicacy of its inevitably inerrant equilibrium. Have you ever seen one of those slim young Nipponese acrobats pacing an almost invisible wire stretched over abysmal precipices? That was the mien of the Grey Man. Only, I was sensible that he went in no danger of falling and that he could keep up eternally. Ostreghete! How consummately artistic it was!
I fear that I am keeping you waiting. My excuse is the cumbrous inadequacy of language to describe what I saw while I strolled perhaps ten steps forward.
As he came nearer and nearer, I looked for his individuality in his face. It was a pale smooth oval face, tanned to the colour of honey. It had the very high broad brow of a student and thinker, crowned by short hair of a reddish chestnut slightly silvered. The nose was daring-straight, with sensitive nostrils. The mouth also was straight-thin and firm and recondite as to the upper lip, with a tinge of gentle tenderness lurking in the slightly fuller modelling of the lower. The eyes were dark-brown and rather long, limpidly bright in the pupils, and the white of a most wonderfully pure candour. A platinum-stepped monocle belonged in the left one. The eyebrows were darker brown, authoritatively drawn across the brow from temple to temple. The chin was the chin of a jesuitical machiavellian autocrat, like (say) Caesar Augustus, cloven and fine and compact. As for the expression-I hardly know what to say. It was the most amazingly distinct and unapproachable thing which I have yet seen. There was vivid serenity, gentleness and ruthless ferocity, quiet fastidious disdain, immense knowledge of good and of evil, fancy, wistfulness, extreme sensibility and ineffable indifference, indomitable tenacity, reserve, courage, enormous and inexhaustible force, all deliberately matured and mastered and governed by grave simple self-control. In short, it was the face of a man who has attained what Aristoteles quite luminously (and quite untranslateably) calls the Kyria Arete.
When he was about twenty paces away from me, his hands came out of his pockets, producing a tiny tobacco-pouch and a book of huge papers; and he began to roll a cigarette. They were well-formed hands, strong and brown and fine. There was a corn on the inner top joint of the right middle finger, caused (no doubt) by the habitual use of a pen. There were corns, also, on both thumb-joints, caused (no doubt) by use of the oar of a gondola-which was most strange, you know. And, finally, the hands were armed-there is no other suitable verb-armed, with four monstrous platinum-coloured rings.
He passed on my left; and so I could not quite make out the ring which was farthest away from me, on the third finger of his right hand. I only saw that it was a most massive band with a highly-projecting bezel in which a stone of sorts sparkled clearly from behind a grating. On his right first finger, however, was another rather-larger ring, the bezel of which seemed to be a section of a triangular cylinder pivoted to the points of a horse-shoe-shaped hoof. The base of the triangle clung to the finger: but its knife-edged apex projected outward; and the two visible sides appeared to be intagliate with inscriptions. It was the third and fourth fingers of the left hand which were similarly armed. This hand, of course, was quite near me; and I had no difficulty in making my inspection. The ring on the third finger had an oblong horizontal bezel quite an inch long: it was a signet, intagliate with what looked like an Eros Crucified. But the ring on the fourth finger was perhaps the most appallingly ferocious of the four. It was a plain heavy circle; and the bezel was the sharp-pointed revolving rowel of a spur.
When I say that none of these rings projected less than a quarter-of-an-inch anywhere, while the prominent portions of them jutted out a good half-inch from the fingers, you will realise what terrifically trenchant weapons they really were. Given freedom, close-quarters, physical force and skill and promptitude behind them, and their cusped spines and sharp edges and snaggy corners and blunt weight furnished a complete apparatus for inflicting the whole gamut of (not necessarily mortal) mutilations, from bruising and scratching to gashing and slicing.
And that is all.
We passed each other on the towing-path, the incarnate enigma going toward Ponti Lunghi, while I blundered on toward the Osteria Iside for a much-needed drink. And that is all. I don’t know who the Grey Man is, or why extreme measures are used to secure his company, or why he punches and gashes people and blinds them with their blood on sight, or anything at all about him beyond what I have told you. And, on the whole, I don’t think that I want to know any more. I have received three sharp and violently interesting impressions, I would rather not see them worked up and coloured. They are perfectly satisfactory to me in outline.
By the bye, lest I should be deemed guilty of the habit of staring, let me hasten to explain, first, that I carefully cultivate my senses of seeing and differentiating and selecting to help me in my mystery of painting, and, second, that (when out to observe) I wear black glasses and keep my head still to prevent objects from knowing how they are regarded.
"Concerning Corinna" by James Branch Cabell
I've gotten several used pbs for $6-7 w shipping. Amazing deals online.
And reviews of the stories in L.A. Lewis' Tales of the Grotesque by contemporary author of weird fiction (nemonymous, etc.), D.F. Lewis:
The Stories of William Sansom
The Man-wolf and other horrors, one of the best werewolf stories I've read, excellent collection
List of werewolf fiction
"The Man-Wolf" by Erckmann-Chatrian (1859): set in the Black Forest of Germany this story features a noble house afflicted by an ancestral lycanthropic curse.
I have recently discovered the American author William Sloane, who wrote two strange and highly regarded novels in the 1930s (To Walk the Night and The Edge of Running Water). Here's an article from the City Paper:
Sansom is new to me. Looks very interesting.
The 2015 release of a new edition of The King in Yellow with illustrations by Santiago Caruso has just been announced.
"Because the bookish Lovecraft had an antiquarian side, along with a taste for the esoteric and the arcane, the explanations—of prolate spheroids, sigillaria, calamites, the Archaeozoic era, Otaheite, the Pilbara region, the Clavis Majoris Sapientiae, and many, many other locales and phenomena—are helpful. But the effect is like having a friendly and obliging professor whispering learned asides all through a blood-spattered grind-house movie."
William Sansom is one among countless extravagant saints rightly venerated in the this reliquary chapel. The decadence was a good launching point, bu I think of the scope now as more along the lines of Henry James' "The Altar of the Dead". Bring 'em on.
"And little he knew of the things that ink may do, how it can mark a dead man's thoughts for the wonder of later years, and tell of happenings that are gone clean away, and be a voice for us out of the dark of time, and save many a fragile thing from the pounding of heavy ages; or carry to us, over the rolling centuries, even a song from lips long dead on forgotten hills."
- Lord Dunsany
Incidentally, the first Ripper novel, The Lodger, was based on Thompson according to the author, who was an acquaintance of his.
just picked up Masterpieces of terror and the supernatural : a treasury of spellbinding tales old & new,
Fiends and Creatures
Dracula's Guest - Bram Stoker
The Professor's Teddy Bear - Theodore Sturgeon
Bubnoff and the Devil - Ivan Turgenev, English adaptation - Marvin Kaye
The Quest for Blank Calveringi - Patricia Highsmith
The Erl-King - Johann Wolfgang Von Goëthe, English adaptation - Marvin Kaye
The Bottle Imp - Robert Louis Stevenson
A Malady of Magicks - Craig Shaw Gardner
Lan Lung - M. Lucie Chin
The Dragon Over Hackensack - Richard L. Wexelblat
The Transformation - Mary W. Shelley
The Faceless Thing - Edward D. Hoch
Lovers and Other Monsters
The Anchor - Jack Snow
When the Clock Strikes - Tanith Lee
Oshidori - Lafcadio Hearn
Carmilla - Sheriden LeFanu
Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory - Orson Scott Card
Lenore - Gottfried August Bürger, English adaptation - Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The Black Wedding - Isaac Bashevis Singer, translated - Martha Glicklich
Hop-Frog - Edgar Allan Poe
Sardonicus - Ray Russell
Graveyard Shift - Richard Matheson
Wake Not the Dead - Johann Ludwig Tieck
Night and Silence - Maurice Level
Acts of God and Other Horrors
Flies - Isaac Asimov
The Night Wire - H.F. Arnold
Last Respects - Dick Baldwin
The Pool of the Stone God - A. Merritt
A Tale of the Thirteenth Floor - Ogden Nash
The Tree - Dylan Thomas
Stroke of Mercy - Parke Godwin
Lazarus - Leonid Andreyev
The Beast Within
The Waxwork - A.M. Burrage
The Silent Couple - Pierre Courtois, translated and adapted - Faith Lancereau and Marvin Kaye
Moon-Face - Jack London
Death in the School-Room - Walt Whitman
The Upturned Face - Stephen Crane
One Summer Night - Ambrose Bierce
The Easter Egg - H.H. Munro ("Saki")
The House in Goblin Wood - John Dickson Carr
The Vengence of Nitocris - Tennessee Williams
The Informal Execution of Soupbone Pew - Damon Runyon
His Unconquerable Enemy - W.C. Morrow
Rizpah - Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The Question - Stanley Ellin
Ghosts and Miscellaneous Nightmares
The Flayed Hand - Guy de Maupassant
The Hospice - Robert Aickman
The Christmas Banquet - Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Hungry House - Robert Bloch
The Demon of the Gibbet - Fitz-James O'Brien
The Owl - Anatole Le Braz, translated - Faith lancereau
No. 252 Rue M. Le Prince - Ralph Adams Cram
The Music of Erich Zann - H.P. Lovecraft
Riddles in the Dark (Original Version, 1938) - J.R.R. Tolkien
This series is worth picking up. Here is the German volume:
The severed hand / by Wilhelm Hauff --
The elementary spirit / by E.T.W. sic Hoffmann --
The ghost-seer / by Frederick Schiller --
The fortunes of Martin Waldeck / by Sir Walter Scott --
The Klausenburg / by Ludwig Tieck --
The bracelet --
The evil conscience / by Göethe sic.
Wilhelm Hauff, like Tieck, isn't well represented in English translation. He is worth seeking out, if for no other reason than to discover his influence on the macabre tales of Jean Ray.
(It's hard to believe the editors couldn't have found a better representative of the German weird tale than Walter Scott...)
"The Nightmare of the Witch Babies" does take its place in "The Poems of Francis Thompson: A New Edition" ("The first complete edition from original manuscript and published sources"), ed. Brigid M. Boardman, Boston College 2001.
I'm fortunate to live a mile or so from Ushaw College, a marvellous complex of Victorian Gothic architecture where a bas-relief of Thompson hangs above the fireplace in a former common room now named in his honour and used for music events and a Saturday café. Lafcadio Hearn, another alumnus, is to be the subject of an exhibition and short lecture series at Ushaw later this month.
Probably a goldmine of others....
Richmal Crompton and William Hope Hodgson were both born on 15 November. A year or so back, Crompton's supernatural tales (one involving a second coming of Pan) were published by the UK's Sundial Press, in the collection Mist and Other Ghost Stories. Hodgson's The House on the Borderland remains one of my favorite novels of the weird/fantasy genre, and may have been the inspiration behind the film, Dead Birds (directed by Alex Turner). Back on the nightstand (next to the brandy, left of the revolver) is the collection November Night Tales, by Henry Mercer - beautifully packaged and illustrated, from the Swan River Press of Dublin. Happy reading!
P.S. I recently read Muladona by Eric Stener Carlson, published by Tartarus, and highly recommend it.
And speaking of Dead Birds, I am going to gamble on a rental of the director's follow-up, "Red Sands", this evening.
P.S. I am in it for the reading, but I do enjoy enshrining a fetish copy of a favorite book whenever I can. ;)
And there is this as well, Decad of Intelligence: https://fulgur.co.uk/ (under "Forthcoming")
A Woman Seldom Found
by William Sansom
ONCE a young man was on a visit to Rome.
It was his first visit; he came from the country but he was neither on the one hand so young nor on the other so simple as to imagine that a great and beautiful capital should hold out finer promises than anywhere else. He already knew that life was largely illusion, that though wonderful things could happen, nevertheless as many disappointments came in compensation: and he knew, too, that life could offer a quality even worse — the probability that nothing would happen at all. This was always more possible in a great city intent on its own business.
Thinking in this way, he stood on the Spanish steps and surveyed the momentous panorama stretched before him. He listened to the swelling hum of the evening traffic and watched as the lights went up against Rome’s golden dusk. Shining automobiles slunk past the fountains and turned urgently into the bright Via Condotti, neon-red signs stabbed the shadows with invitation; the yellow windows of buses were packed with faces intent on going somewhere — everyone in the city seemed intent on the evening’s purpose. He alone had nothing to do.
He felt himself the only person alone of everyone in the city. But searching for adventure never brought it — rather kept it away. Such a mood promises nothing. So the young man turned back up the steps, passed the lovely church, and went on up the cobbled hill towards his hotel. Wine bars and food shops jostled with growing movement in those narrow streets. But out on the broad pavement of the Vittorio Veneto, under the trees mounting to the Borghese Gardens, the high world of Rome would be filling the most elegant cafes in Europe to enjoy with aperitifs the twilight. That would be the loneliest of all! So the young man kept to the quieter, older streets on his solitary errand home.
In one such street, a pavementless alley between old yellow houses, a street that in Rome might suddenly blossom into a secret piazza of fountain and baroque church, a grave secluded treasure-place — he noticed that he was alone but for the single figure of a woman walking down the hill toward him.
As she drew nearer, he saw that she was dressed with taste, that in her carriage was a soft Latin fire, that she walked for respect. He face was veiled, but it was impossible to imagine that she would not be beautiful. Isolated thus with her, passing so near to her, and she symbolizing the adventure of which the evening was so empty — a greater melancholy gripped him. He felt wretched as the gutter, small, sunk, pitiful. So that he rounded his shoulders and lowered his eyes – but not before casting one furtive glance into hers.
He was so shocked at what he saw that he paused, he stared, shocked, into her face. He had made no mistake. She was smiling. Also — she too had hesitated. He thought instantly: ‘Whore?’ But no — it was not that kind of smile, though as well it was not without affection.
And then amazingly she spoke.
"I — I know I shouldn’t ask you… but it is such a beautiful evening — and perhaps you are alone, as alone as I am…"
She was very beautiful. He could not speak. But a growing elation gave him the power to smile. So that she continued, still hesitant, in no sense soliciting.
"I thought… perhaps… we could take a walk, an aperitif…"
At last the young man achieved himself.
"Nothing, nothing would please me more. And the Veneto is only a minute up there."
She smiled again.
"My home is just here…"
They walked in silence a few paces down the street, to a turning the young woman had already passed. This she indicated. They walked to where the first humble houses ended in a kind of recess. In the recess was set the wall of a garden, and behind it stood a large and elegant mansion. The woman, about whose face shone a curious pale glitter — something fused of the transparent pallor of fine skin, of grey but brilliant eyes, of dark eyebrows and hair of lucent black – inserted her key in the garden gate.
They were greeted by a servant in velvet livery. In a large and exquisite salon, under chandeliers of fine glass and before a moist green courtyard where water played, they were served with frothy wine. They talked. The wine — iced in the warm Roman night — filled them with an inner warmth of exhilaration. But from time to time the young man looked at her curiously.
With her glances, with many subtle inflections of teeth and eyes she was inducing an intimacy that suggested much. He felt he must be careful. At length he thought the best thing might be to thank her – somehow thus to root out whatever obligation might be in store. But here she interrupted him, first with a smile, then with a look of some sadness. She begged him to spare himself any perturbation; she knew it was strange, that in such a situation he might suspect some second purpose; but the simple truth remained that she was lonely and — this with a certain deference — something perhaps in him, perhaps that moment of dust in the street, had proved to her inescapably attractive. She had not been able to helpherself. The possibility of a perfect encounter — a dream that years of disillusion will never quite kill — decided him. His elation rose beyond control. He believed her. And thereafter the perfections compounded.
At her invitation they dined. Servants brought food of great delicacy; shellfish, fat bird flesh, soft fruits. And afterward they sat on a sofa near the courtyard, where it was cool. Liqueurs were brought. The servants retired. A hush fell upon the house. They embraced. A little later, with no word, she took his arm and led them from the room. How deep a silence had fallen between them! The young man’s heart beat fearfully — it might be heard, he felt, echoing in the hall whose marble they now crossed, sensed through his arm to hers. But such excitement rose now from certainty. Certainty that at such a moment, on such a charmed evening — nothing could go wrong. There was no need to speak. Together they mounted the great staircase. In her bedroom, to the picture of her framed by the bed curtains and dimly naked in a silken shift, he poured out his love; a love that was to be eternal, to be always perfect, as fabulous as this their exquisite meeting. Softly she spoke the return of her love. Nothing would ever go amiss, nothing would ever come between them. And very gently she drew back the bedclothes for him.
But suddenly, at the moment when at last he lay beside her, when his lips were almost upon her — he hesitated.
Something was wrong. A flaw could be sensed. He listened, felt – and then saw the fault was his. Shaded, soft-shaded lights by the bed — but he had been so careless as to leave on the bright electric chandelier in the centre of the ceiling. He remembered the switch was by the door. For a fraction, then, he hesitated. She raised her eyelids — saw his glance at the chandelier, understood. Her eyes glittered. She murmured, "My beloved, don’t worry — don’t move …"
And she reached out her hand. Her hand grew larger, her arm grew longer and longer, it stretched out through the bed-curtains, across the long carpet, huge and overshadowing the whole of the long room, until at last its giant fingers were at the door.
With a terminal click, she switched out the light.
I was wondering which of Wakefield's books to read after They Return at Evening. Thank you for the tip. I will download Imagine a Man in a Box. Fortunately these a available in cheap kindle versions, since the books come pretty dear, although I really do prefer the corporeal format.
Otherwise, I'm slowly digesting Flaubert's The Temptation of Saint Anthony in the superb translation by Lafcadio Hearn. The book is dense with arcane references and grotesque hallucinatory imagery. I can tell he spent thirty years writing it. I'm taking breaks from it to read the Wakefield stories.
So effective! Could have been comical or melodramatic, and somehow was not.
And another forthcoming book, focused on the artwork:
(I cannot correct the Touchstone on my phone. A job for later.)
Not to the staring Day,
For all the importunate questionings he pursues
In his big, violent voice,
Shall those mild things of bulk and multitude,
The Trees—God’s sentinels
Over His gift of live, life-giving air,
Yield of their huge, unutterable selves.
Midsummer-manifold, each one
Voluminous, a labyrinth of life,
They keep their greenest musings, and the dim dreams
That haunt their leafier privacies,
Dissembled, baffling the random gapeseed still
With blank full-faces, or the innocent guile
Of laughter flickering back from shine to shade,
And disappearances of homing birds,
And frolicsome freaks
Of little boughs that frisk with little boughs.
But at the word
Of the ancient, sacerdotal Night,
Night of the many secrets, whose effect -
Transfiguring, hierophantic, dread -
Themselves alone may fully apprehend,
They tremble and are changed.
In each, the uncouth individual soul
Looms forth and glooms
Essential, and, their bodily presences
Touched with inordinate significance,
Wearing the darkness like the livery
Of some mysterious and tremendous guild,
They brood—they menace—they appal;
Or the anguish of prophecy tears them, and they wring
Wild hands of warning in the face
Of some inevitable advance of the doom;
Or, each to the other bending, beckoning, signing
As in some monstrous market-place,
They pass the news, these Gossips of the Prime,
In that old speech their forefathers
Learned on the lawns of Eden, ere they heard
The troubled voice of Eve
Naming the wondering folk of Paradise.
Your sense is sealed, or you should hear them tell
The tale of their dim life, with all
Its compost of experience: how the Sun
Spreads them their daily feast,
Sumptuous, of light, firing them as with wine;
Of the old Moon’s fitful solicitude
And those mild messages the Stars
Descend in silver silences and dews;
Or what the sweet-breathing West,
Wanton with wading in the swirl of the wheat,
Said, and their leafage laughed;
And how the wet-winged Angel of the Rain
Came whispering . . . whispering; and the gifts of the Year -
The sting of the stirring sap
Under the wizardry of the young-eyed Spring,
Their summer amplitudes of pomp,
Their rich autumnal melancholy, and the shrill,
Of the lean Winter: all such things,
And with them all the goodness of the Master,
Whose right hand blesses with increase and life,
Whose left hand honours with decay and death.
Thus under the constraint of Night
These gross and simple creatures,
Each in his scores of rings, which rings are years,
A servant of the Will!
And God, the Craftsman, as He walks
The floor of His workshop, hearkens, full of cheer
In thus accomplishing
The aims of His miraculous artistry.
Henley's most famous poem:
Invictus is not included in "Poems", but there are many other curious titles: Sucides; Antierotics; Space and Dread and the Dark; Trees and the Menace of the Night (like Not to the Staring Day, on the minatory quality of trees...).
I should perhaps clarify I'm not looking to read or purchase any Henley, but want to learn something about him and his work. These posts and their referents are precisely what I was after, thanks.
And that clarifies I've in fact heard of Henley before, yet didn't recall his name at all!
Bierce's prefatory notes are high praise, indeed. It is all that you say --original, intelligent, evocative of San Francisco-- and is plotted like other stories of its time. There is not so much a secret as to what is going on, as there is a compelling way of describing it.
That author is unknown to me, I appreciate the survey of story and biography in that review.
ETA touchstone for the book directs to the wrong LT work ....
I've noticed that I've got a soft spot for those older stories that use the figure of Pan (as either devil or liberator), or the concept of sublimity (mysterium tremendum etc), or that point to some kind of uncanny pagan survival, or find supernatural horror in Arcadia... there's a thread running through all that for me that I'm not sure I can articulate at the moment.
A few that come to mind:
- Forster's 'picnic panics' (e.g., "The Curate's Friend," "Story of a Panic")
- John Buchan's "Fullcircle"
- Benson's "The Man Who Went Too Far"
- Saki's "Music on the Hill"
- Machen's "The White People" and others
I think I'd also classify Charles Williams' "Et in Sempiternum Pereant" and Lovecraft's "From Beyond" along similar lines somehow.
Anyway, that's all said because I wanted to point to someone more contemporary who is perhaps less well-known (not sure!): if you like any of the above, Richard Gavin may be of interest --- particularly his Sylvan Dread, a collection of "tales of pastoral darkness" operating squarely along the lines described above.
Stumbled on it last year when looking for more stories along these lines; haven't read any of his other collections yet. Found it compelling; some of the stories made a big impact. Modern, but often winking at the decadents, with similar thematic concerns to many of the weird greats. (Or great weirds, as the case may be.) There's cosmic horror there, but the supernatural pastoral aspect is what drew me, and there's plenty of the 'panikon deima'.
I'm more familiar with Gavin's non-fiction stuff with the occult publisher Three Hands Press. He was also an editor for their collection Penumbrae - An Occult Fiction Anthology, which seems of interest here as well. I own it but haven't read it yet, so can't comment.
I suspect I have a similar affinity, and am curious to follow up the references you make which I've not already read. Those I recognise (Saki, Benson, Williams) certainly fit right in that wheelhouse.
Still need to pursue the Gavin recommendation, but in reading your Forster example, I came across another suggested title: Guy Davenport's "Mr Churchyard and the Troll".
Bede's pitch to Edmund of Northumbria for the adoption of the Christian legend:
"The present life of man upon earth, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the house wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your ealdormen and thegns, while the fire blazes in the midst, and the hall is warmed, but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad. The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry tempest; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter into winter again. So this life of man appears for a little while, but of what is to follow or what went before we know nothing at all. If, therefore, this new doctrine tells us something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed."
And a rhyme of William Stonard (ca. 1575-ca. 1631):
Ding, ding, ding dong bell, ding, ding, ding, ding dong bell.
Oh cruel death that stopped the breath of him I loved so well.
Alack and well away 'tis a heavy day that ever us befell.
Then for his sake some order let us take that we may ring his knell.
With reference to De La Mare's Ding Dong Bell, Theodore Chanler: Nine Epitaphs :
David Park Barnitz
I saw a dead corpse lying in a tomb,
Long buried and rotten to the core;
Behold this corpse shall know not evermore
Aught that may be outside its wormy room;
It lies uncover'd in the pesty gloom,
Eyeless and earless, on the charnel-floor,
While in its nameless corpse the wormlets hoar
Make in its suppurated brain their room.
And in that charnel that no lights illume,
It shriek'd of things that lay outside its door;
And while the still worms through its soft heart bore,
It lay and reason'd of the ways of doom,
And in its head thoughts mov'd as in a womb;
And in its heart the worms lie evermore.
I saw a dead corpse in a haughty car,
Whom in a high tomb phantom horses bore,
Aye to and fro upon the scatter'd floor;
His dead eyes star'd as though they look'd afar,
His gold wheels myriad perish'd souls did mar,
While through his flesh the ravenous wormlets tore;
He in whose eyes the worm was conqueror,
Held his high head unmoved like a star.
And as with loud sound and reverberant jar,
And as with splash of crusht flesh and dull roar,
The death-car thunder'd past the tomb-walls hoar,
Within those dead dominions the dead tsar
Receiv'd his plaudits where dead bodies are;
And in his heart the worms lie evermore.
I saw a dead corpse making a strange cry,
With dead feet planted on a high tomb's floor;
The dead stand round, with faces that implore;
His dead hands bless them, stretched forth on high.
—And art them God? and art them majesty?—
And art thou he whom all the dead adore?—
And art thou he that hath the skies in store?—
Nay, nay, dead dust, dead dust, and vanity.
And wouldst thou rise up to the lighted sky?—
Nay, nay, thy limbs are rotten on the floor;
Thou shalt not out from thy polluted sty;
Thou wouldst become divinity once more,
Thou dreamest of splendour that shall never die;
And in thy heart the worms lie evermore.
I saw a dead corpse lying on the floor
Of a tomb; worms were in its woman's head,
Its black flesh lay about it shred on shred,
And the dead things slept in its bosom hoar.
And evermore inside that loathed door,
It turn'd itself as one upon a bed,
It turn'd itself as one whom sleep hath fled,
As one that the sweet pangs of passion bore.
And from its passionate mouth's corrupted sore,
And from its lips that are no longer red,
Came forth love's accents; and it spake, and said.
—The Pleiades and night's noon-hours are o'er,
And I am left alone in wearyhead.
And in its heart the worms lie evermore.
An affecting story, and well told, and I shall have to read it a second time before deciding about it.
I remember seeing a decades-old documentary in which a staid BBC presenter had a panic attack on air. Cameras were following him as he walked through thick woods to reach a place that Friedrich had used as vantage point for one of his paintings. Increasing tension in presenter's voice until he turned around, said 'I'm sorry but I really must get out of here' & headed the other way. Rather breathless once in the clear; explained that he'd felt threatened & oppressed back there.
Shall see can I come up with a relevant short story.
Pan also turns up (in more churlish than terrific aspect) in Richmal Crompton's short story collection reprinted a few years by the Sun Dial Press (UK).
Does young William encounter Pan?! I assume the story was not part of the William collection, actually, it would appear not the right tone for those (though I've not read any myself).
I know it's been ages, but thought I'd give wee update on the "Panic" stories rabbit hole, because I've been continuing to explore this and a series of related motifs that all seem to ring my bell (atavistic survivals, weird fiction with a focus on the numinous/awe, pastoral/psychogeographic horrors). (Thank you to all who gave me additional recommendations for Pan stories!) I eventually decided that the microgenre I was homing in on at that time was best termed "sylvan dread" (stolen from the title of that Richard Gavin collection), since that term is more inclusive of stories that aren't explicitly part of the Edwardian vogue of Pan stories but share a broader theme. In 2019 I ended up collecting a few of my enduring faves together in a little printed zine as Halloween gifts for friends, and this was the final list:
Arthur Machen "The White People"
John Buchan "The Groves of Ashtaroth"
E.M. Forster "The Story of a Panic" & "The Curate's Friend"
Saki "Music on the Hill"
E.F. Benson "The Man Who Went Too Far"
T.E.D. Klein "The Events at Poroth Farm"
Recently, one of those friends pointed me at a new anthology that came out this year, and damn if it doesn't contain just about every one of these (all except the Klein and the second Forster), plus several more, some of which I wish I'd thought of and some of which I'm not familiar with. Had to pick it up, of course. It's called Wildwood: Tales of Terror & Transformation from the Forest. Regrettably the paperback is a print-on-demand affair that doesn't inspire much affection as a physical object, but it seems very well curated and there is a cheapo e-book version as well. I will pop the TOC here, excluding the stories mentioned above:
R.H. Benson "The Watcher"
Bessie Kyffin-Taylor "The Wind in the Woods"
H.B. Marriott Watson "The Brazen Cross"
Ralph Adams Cram "The Dead Valley"
Nathaniel Hawthorne "The Hollow of the Three Hills"
H. F. W. Tatham "The House in the Wood"
Algernon Blackwood "The Touch of Pan"
Frederick Marryat "The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains"
M.R. James "A View from a Hill"
Theo Douglas "The Next Heir"
Also, a novelty: it includes an essay from Elliott O'Donnell, who was a self-styled ghost hunter in the early 20th century who claimed he had extrasensory ghost-detecting abilities after a childhood encounter in which he was strangled by some kind of phantom.
Oh yes! Haven't read them all by a long shot, yet. I have a hangup when I find someone who is Really Very Exquisite and Important; I drag out the reading of their output with interminable slowness, as if I can't bear to be finished. I think I own just about all the stories in some form or another but so far have only read most of Cold Hand/Dark Entries. I would always be glad of recommendations/reminders.
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