There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Five finger exorcize: The Adventure of Lady Wishaw’s Hand by Richard Marsh

….He put the hand in a coffin and buried it, coffin and all. Lady Wishaw’s hand returned to him from the grave.’

‘Oh, Brasher, come!’

‘So I am told. He took it with him across the Atlantic. In mid-ocean he dropped it into the sea. When he reached his hotel in New York he found it at his bedside in the morning. He cast it into a smelter’s furnace. It was waiting for him when he got home. I am credibly assured that he cooked it and ate it, only to find it on his pillow when he went to bed.’

‘Brasher, your story begins to remind me of a poem which I read in my childhood days, which, if I remember rightly, was called, and appropriately, called, “A Horrible Tale”.’*

Reading The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories has really sent my bibliographical gland (or organ, or symbiot, or whatever it is) surging. I thought I would polish off a few stories each day this weekend while sitting here on the patio in particularly clement late July weather.  

But each story, and its editorial note, sends me off to the Web in search of the other works Jenkins and Cagle suggest.

Reading Richard Marsh's ferocious revenge tale "A Psychological Experiment" is a case in point. The editorial note heading the story states:

....Marsh may have been at his best in the field of short fiction: he excelled both in tales of horror and the supernatural and in blackly comic stories, with the two sometimes merging, as in the collection Curios (1898), in which rival antique dealers pursue strange artifacts.

I found a story from Curios in my copy of Horror Stories: Classic Tales from Hoffman to Hodgson (Oxford, 2014).

"The Adventure of Lady Wishaw’s Hand" can be read in the book here.

In the story, Mr. Pugh inherits a 12th century lady's hand with a mind of its own.  Marsh does not skimp in sweating the comedy/hysteria borderland for all it's worth, especially when the hand accompanies Mr. Pugh to his club.

‘Did you touch me, sir?’

‘Touch you? What do you mean?’

‘I really must ask you to excuse me, sir,’—Perkins is an educated man—‘but I certainly was under the impression, sir, that you pulled my coat-tails.’

I pulled his coat-tails! A waiter’s! I had, after all, over-estimated Perkins’ intellectual powers, if he could suppose that I could be capable of such an action as that....

It only gets funnier and more horrifying after that.

‘Good God!’ he exclaimed.

Everybody looked at him. All the room was in a stir.

‘What is up, Pranklyn?’ asked Sir Gerald Carr.

‘Who was that caught hold of my hand?’

‘Caught hold of your hand? What do you mean?’

‘Hanged if I know what I do mean.’ Pranklyn looked to me as if he were on the verge of an apoplectic fit. ‘I know that some one caught hold of my hand and twisted it right round.’

A man whom I don’t know spoke next:—

‘That’s odd. A moment before some one, or something, did exactly the same thing to me.’

‘Be George!’ cried old Jack Brett. ‘But there’s the devil in the room. I’ll swear that some one nearly pulled me hand clean off me wrist.’

‘And mine!’ ‘And mine!’

Nearly every person present claimed to have undergone a similar experience. There were a score of men turning the smoking-room into a Bedlam. I don’t know what the committee would have said. I, for my part, sat as if I were glued to my chair. For, directly Pranklyn sprang from his seat, I felt a hand steal into mine, and fingers and a thumb clasp it about.

‘Holloa,’ said Carr, ‘what’s gone wrong with you? You don’t look well.’

I rose from my seat with a palsied start. As I did so, the hand let go.

‘I’m not feeling well. I—I think that I’ll go home.’ I went home, there and then. As I moved across the room, every man jack of them followed me with his eyes. I don’t know if they thought that I had bewitched them, or played some hanky-panky trick. They looked as if they did....

Pugh's second night with the hand is a the last.

‘Shall I leave the light burning, sir?’

It is a peculiarity of mine that I never can sleep where there is a light in the room. On that occasion my choice seemed to lie between the devil and the deep sea. The idea of being left in the dark filled me with a paralysis of horror. On the other hand, what might I not be destined to witness, if the room was light. I chose, mechanically, what I could only hope would turn out to be the less evil of the two.

....What woke me I do not know, even to this hour. I know that I did wake, to find myself in a cold sweat of agony. Quivering under the overwhelming burden of some unknown horror. For some moments I was only conscious that the room was still lighted. At first, I seemed to have to gasp for breath. But, by degrees, the curtain of unconsciousness was partly lifted, and I became aware that something was with me in the room. What it was, I cannot say. It was something which touched me on the brow. With a light touch, such as we might use to waken a sleeper out of sleep. Only that touch was like the touch of death. I believe that it was the touch of death. Light though it was, under it I could not move. While it remained, I doubt if I breathed. I lay, as I have said, in a cold sweat of agony. When the touch was removed, I closed my eyes. I was afraid of what it was I might see. For what was a period of a few moments I suppose, nothing happened; though I never for an instant lost consciousness of the presence which was with me in the room. As I lay with my eyes fast closed, in agony, something—something tangible—fell on my cheek from above. It had something of the effect of an electric shock. With what I apprehend was an involuntary tension of the muscles of my body, I leaped out of bed on to the floor. I believe that, as I stood on the floor, I cried. Then I stretched out my arms on either side of me, as a blind man might do. Then, and only then, I opened my eyes and looked and saw. Leaning over the bed, I saw that on the pillow on which my head had just been lying was a ring.

I never had a moment’s doubt as to the ring’s identity. Having seen it once, it was one which I never could forget. It was the ring which had been on the forefinger of the hand which, according to David Wishaw, his brother Colin had bequeathed me as a legacy. The ring which the dead hand had seemed to resent my attempting to remove from its place by clenching itself into a fist. Was it possible that it was offered me as a present after all? Then, by whom? As the scriptural writers have it, my heart melted within me* as I realised that it was an offering from the presence which was with me in the room.

I shrunk away. I extended my arms as if to prevent the ring from coming to close quarters. As I did so I saw a hand advancing across the pillows from the opposite side of the bed. It was the hand which, having once been seen under such circumstances as I had seen it, was no more to be mistaken than the ring. It was, indeed, the hand to which it belonged. The hand of which Brasher had told such a horrible tale. The hand which according to him had urged to murder through the centuries, and then, when its urging had failed, had murdered on its own account....

I'll leave the rest of the story for You to finish.

29 July 2017

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