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

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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Uninhabited: The Terror on Tobit by Charles Birkin

Forsaken islands are a great theme in the genre.  I have noted the strengths of L.P. Hartley’s “Podolo” here. Clive Barker's “Scape-Goats” is another solid example.

This weekend The Valancourt Book Of Horror Stories has been  introducing me to a new constellation of writers, as can be seen in the recent posts below.

Charles Birkin’s 1933 “The Terror on Tobit” is a worthy compliment to Hartley’s masterful “Podolo.”

....Mrs Arraway laughed. She was a pleasant, full-­bosomed woman of the islands, where, with the exception of rare visits to Penzance, she had spent her whole life.

‘I shall be very sorry to lose you, missie. I hope as how you’ve been comfortable here?’

‘It’s been perfect,’ Daphne broke in. ‘But we’ve got a favour to ask you.’

Mrs Arraway raised her eyebrows, waiting for her to continue.

‘We wondered if Jean would row us over to Tobit to-­morrow evening. We want to camp there for the night. It would be such a marvellous ending to our holiday. He could come back for us the next morning. Do you think he would?’

‘Well, miss, what do two young ladies like you want to do a thing like that for?’ Mrs Arraway was doubtful.

‘Because we want to sleep under the stars – on an uninhabited island. Could anything be more romantic? Oh it would be such fun! Please persuade Jean to take us.’

Mrs Arraway frowned. It was clear that the idea was distasteful to her. But what could one do? Girls were so self-­willed nowadays.

‘Tobit isn’t healthy,’ she replied after a pause, ‘that is, not exactly. There’s no water on it anyway,’ she concluded triumphantly.

‘That’s all right. We can take what we want in a thermos. Please say yes, Mrs Arraway,’ Daphne implored.

....‘Oh, miss, do give up this mad idea of yours. Jean told me he’d tried to dissuade you. You don’t know these islands like we do. Indeed, how could you?’

‘But, Mrs Arraway, what is it exactly we have to fear – smugglers or such shady doings?’

‘No, miss – smugglers are flesh and blood – but the Thing on Tobit . . . well, no one knows rightly quite what it is, tho’ they do say that Tobit belongs to the sea; and that each year the sea demands a sacrifice – in return for all it gives to us.’

In spite of the brilliant sunshine and the cheerfulness of the bright island scenery, Daphne felt a chill of foreboding. After all, these islanders might be much nearer to the truth of things than she and Anne.

‘The sea missed its sacrifice last year – didn’t it? How about that?’ Anne teased.

‘Don’t joke about such a subject, miss – and don’t, I beg of you, go to Tobit to-­night.’

‘Nonsense, Mrs Arraway, we simply must go. We’ll be alright . . . don’t worry. Would you be very kind, and make us up a picnic basket? We’re starting about seven to give ourselves plenty of time to settle down before it’s dark’ – and the girls swung down the road, two gay figures in their coloured cotton dresses, their towels and bathing suits over their arms.

….Ten o’clock. The firelight flickered eerily, throwing into brief illumination the faces of the two girls, and causing dark shadows to dart momentarily to the very edge of the crackling, salt-­­saturated fire.

‘Don’t you think we should try to sleep?’ Daphne suggested. ‘It’s after ten.’

‘Yes. Daphne – I hate to admit it – but I’m frightened. Where’s Jean?’

‘Over there to the left – about a hundred yards.’

‘Is he asleep?’

‘No, he said he’d . . . watch.’

‘What for?’

‘Goodness only knows. The Bogey, perhaps!’ Anne snuggled down more comfortably into her blankets. It was so easy to imagine things, she told herself. ‘Good night.’

‘Good night.’

And the waves splashed softly on the shore. Two hours passed. Daphne stirred restlessly. Then she sat up. What was that? The air seemed to vibrate with a high singing sound – oddly penetrating, like the noise of a swarm of giant mosquitoes. It rose and fell in a monotonous cadence. Paralysed with foreboding she lay motionless. She knew she could not bear to listen to it alone for another moment….

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