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

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

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A few Poe notes

MS. FOUND IN A BOTTLE

....He who has but a moment to live has no longer anything to dissemble.


THE ASSIGNATION

"....some things are so completely ludicrous that a man must laugh or die. To die laughing must be the most glorious of all glorious deaths! Sir Thomas More—a very fine man was Sir Thomas More—Sir Thomas More died laughing, you remember. Also in the Absurdities of Ravisius Textor, there is a long list of characters who came to the same magnificent end. Do you know, however," continued he musingly, "that at Sparta (which is now Palaeochori,) at Sparta, I say, to the west of the citadel, among a chaos of scarcely visible ruins, is a kind of socle, upon which are still legible the letters 'LASM'. They are undoubtedly part of 'GELASMA'. Now at Sparta were a thousand temples and shrines to a thousand different divinities. How exceedingly strange that the altar of Laughter should have survived all the others!...."


BERENICE

....my own disease—for I have been told that I should call it by no other appell a tion—my own disease, then, grew rapidly upon me, and assumed finally a monomaniac character of a novel and extraordinary form—hourly and m o ment ly gaining vigour—and at length obtaining over me the most incomprehensible ascendancy. This monomania, if I must so term it, consisted in a morbid irritability of those properties of the mind in metaphysical science termed the attentive . It is more than probable that I am not understood; but I fear, i n deed, that it is in no manner possible to convey to the mind of the merely general reader, an adequate idea of that nervous intensity of interest with which, in my case, the powers of meditation (not to speak technically) busied and bu r ied them selves, in the contemplation of even the most ordinary objects of the universe.

     To muse for long unwearied hours, with my attention riveted to some friv o lous device on the margin, or in the typography of a book; to become absorbed, for the better part of a summer's day, in a quaint shadow falling aslant upon the tapestry or upon the floor; to lose myself, for an entire night, in watching the steady flame of a lamp, or the embers of a fire; to dream away whole days over the perfume of a flower; to repeat, monotonously, some common word, until the sound, by dint of frequent repetition, ceased to convey any idea whatever to the mind....




From:

THE MACABRE TALES of Edgar Allan Poe

Illustrated by Harry Clarke

Published by Tartarus Press, 2018

Friday, September 27, 2019

Celebrating William Fryer Harvey

The Double Eye by William Fryer Harvey [Tartarus Press, 2009] 


In retrospect, some short stories seem like manifestoes of their author's aesthetic and thematic preoccupations. 


This thought struck me while reading William Fryer Harvey's tale "The Double Eye" in the collection of the same name (Tartarus, 2009). Harvey, whom I have never read before, seems to fit in with no "school" or "gang" of horror writers. Like the strongest work of Wakefield, Metcalfe, Aickman, and Ramsey Campbell, his is sui generis.


Elements of folk, fey, and antiquarian horror appear in many stories; others rely on psychological probing. All are beautifully balanced and acutely expressed. 


Among these, "The Double Eye" most acutely expresses concerns over sensory perceptions of reality.


The narrator visits an old school friend, Dan Hartigan, and his aunt, at their isolated coastal house. Hartigan is an illustrator and a tyro story writer. (He suffered "shell shock" in World War One).


'....I'm very much attached to my aunt,' he said as he filled his pipe, 'but she is just a little too bright for me at times. When my spirits get dull and tarnished she is convinced that it is her duty to rub them up. I hate being rubbed up.


'You said something at dinner,' he went on after a pause, 'about humour being a recognition of incongruity. I forget your actual words, but you were thinking of an outward incongruity. There's more to it than that. It depends on an inward incongruity as well. The single-minded man may laugh and be cheerful but it's not often that he has a sense of humour. He lacks stereoscopic vision. Both eyes see from the same angle instead of from a slightly different angle. Probably the first time that Adam laughed was when he sat munching the apple and was conscious of good and evil at the same time.


'Now I'm not wasting your time talking like this. I know very well why my aunt urged you to come down. She is rather alarmed about me and wants an unprejudiced opinion. She is quite right. I am alarmed about myself. There is something radically wrong with my left eye.'


He looked at me half furtively as he spoke and then quickly turned away his head.


'You don't mean to say that you are losing your sight?' I asked.


'I almost wish I were. No, the trouble is that my left eye sees too much, or rather what it sees is different from what the right eye sees. I have literally bad-sight in my left eye...."


Which eye, Hartigan wants to know, sees the world as it is? Which "side" of his perceptions is accurate?


At bedtime, Hartigan gives the narrator a sheaf of his fiction.


....I had a virgin candle to burn and in my hand was the typescript of Dan's stories. They were, as he had given me to understand, a mixed lot. One or two might have found their way into the pages of a magazine, but I fancied that most would be difficult to place. They were too elusive for the ordinary reader—left too much to his imagination—and for the others their form was against them; they had no affinity to the fashionable conte. Nor did I see any chance of a publisher taking them up in volume form unless Dan illustrated them. They lacked the same unity that their author lacked. Yet reading them I realised that the tales had some things in common. There was a curious obsession with the idea of death. In some it was no more than a vague background—the gathering of dark clouds at sunset. In others the clouds were banked high and hung menacing. In more than one or two the lightning broke and struck with a sudden and blinding flash. Then again the stories were alike in showing little interest in women. Dan was obviously not at home with them unless they were over fifty. I thought he showed an understanding of elderly people and strangely enough of little children. There was more than a streak of Hartigan's cynical humour, and he sometimes succeeded in conveying the old impression of being able to look round corners....


Harvey's stories share a certain allusive power with Hartigan's tales. Protagonists often confront a pivotal realization that they have grossly misunderstood the situations they are in. At the start of stories the reader may assume they are in a right-eye narrative, but we assume it at our peril.


And that is what makes William Fryer Harvey an irreplaceable figure. 


Some excerpts from the collection:


Introduction (The Double Eye) • essay by Richard Dalby

....After 1910 Harvey became keenly interested in the adult education movement and went to Selly Oak, Birmingham, to assist Tom Bryan with the Working Men's College at Fircroft. At the outbreak of World War One he was one of the first to join the Quaker training camp at Jordans, and went with the first detachment of the Friends' Ambulance Unit to Flanders. Later he undertook much vital work as surgeon-lieutenant in the navy.


Shortly before the end of the war, Harvey was awarded the Albert Medal for Gallantry by King George V. The official account of his heroism (recorded in The Times on 30th October 1918) runs as follows:


'On 28th June 1918, two of His Majesty's torpedo-boat destroyers were in collision, and Surgeon-Lieutenant Harvey was sent to board the more seriously damaged destroyer in order to render assistance to the injured. On hearing that a stoker petty officer was pinned by the arm in a damaged compartment, Surgeon-Lieutenant Harvey immediately went down and amputated the arm, this being the only means of freeing the petty officer. The boiler room at the time was flooded, and full of fumes from the escaping oil. This alone constituted a great danger to anyone in the compartment, and Surgeon-Lieutenant Harvey collapsed from this cause after performing the operation, and had to be hauled out of the compartment. . . . Surgeon-Lieutenant Harvey displayed the greatest gallantry and disregard of his personal safety in descending into the damaged compartment, and continuing to work there amidst the oil fumes at a time when the ship was liable to sink.'


Only when Harvey was awarded the Albert Medal did his family and friends learn how he had risked his life to save the engineer. His lungs were badly damaged by the poisonous oil fumes, and he never fully recovered from the experience.


Midnight House • (1910)

....It would be hard to picture a more desolate scene—bare hills rising on every side to the dull, lead sky above; at one's feet heather, burnt black after last spring's firing, broken in places by patches of vivid emerald that marked the bogs.


The Star • (1910) 

....He wanted to confirm one or two facts about the star on which Mortimer had reported in the Review. It would be a splendid thing if he could explode yet another of his rival's theories; and he chuckled as he remembered the comet of last June.


Across the Moors • (1910)

....'Well, miss,' said the cook, when Miss Craig went into the kitchen to get her boots, which had been drying by the fire; 'of course she knows best, but I don't think it's right after all that's happened for the mistress to send you across the moors on a night like this. It's not as if the doctor could do anything for Miss Margaret if you do bring him. Every child is like that once in a while. He'll only say put her to bed, and she's there already.'


August Heat • (1910)

     'And it was only the day before yesterday,' he said, 'that I told Maria there were no such things as ghosts!'

     Neither of us had seen a ghost, but I knew what he meant.


Sambo • (1910)

....Janey was disappointed, and I do not wonder at it. She had been looking forward to the arrival of this new member of her family, all the more eagerly because Cicely White had been unbearably conceited about a doll her godmother had sent from Paris. The little African, instead of having a neatly painted trunk containing an elaborate wardrobe, appeared on the removal of his paper covering in a state of absolute nudity. I think Janey could have forgiven his lack of clothes if he had been less ugly. Without doubt he was hideous. His nose was a shapeless, protruding lump; his lips were thick, and his hair was represented by a collection of knobs. The one redeeming feature was his size; he measured just two feet and a half, and could stand unsupported in the bath of Condy's fluid to which he was subjected. But I thought my sister wrong in punishing Janey for her tears; the contrast between Sambo and Cicely White's gay Parisienne was too great.


Unwinding • (1910)

....' "It's useless," I remember him saying, "to think that violence can suppress violence. In most cases I think that even the compulsory detention of criminals in prisons and reformatories defeats its own object. A man's conscience, though it may permit a crime, may be trusted to cause him more discomfort than all your dark cells and strait waistcoats. But, of course, I may be prejudiced."


Sarah Bennet's Possession • (1910) 

      Suddenly Frank started up.

     'Who in the world is that?' he said.

     He held in his hand the piece of paper that had been in Mrs Bennet's lap. On it was a drawing, as cleverly executed a sketch as I have ever seen of a man, a young man, dressed in an officer's uniform of half a century ago. He was kneeling with his hands clasped in the attitude of supplication. His features, coarse and ugly as they were, were cast into an expression that seemed to demand pity. It was not entirely a black-and-white drawing; for on the side of his coat was a little patch of red, put in with coloured chalk. There was a little pool of red on the ground on which he knelt.

     Frank looked puzzled. 'I never dreamed you could draw as well as that, auntie. But it was to be someone present in the room!'

     Mrs Bennet was still gazing out into the night.


The Tortoise • (1910) 

....'Do you remember Oppenheim's Forensic Medicine, and how we used to laugh over the way they always bungled these jobs? There was no bungling here, and consequently no use for the luck that attended the hero. (I still think of him as hero, you see; each man is a hero to himself.)


The Beast with Five Fingers 

....Adrian was an authority on the fertilisation of orchids. He had held at one time the family living at Borlsover Conyers, until a congenital weakness of the lungs obliged him to seek a less rigorous climate in the sunny south coast watering-place where I had seen him. Occasionally he would relieve one or other of the local clergy. My father described him as a fine preacher, who gave long and inspiring sermons from what many men would have considered unprofitable texts. 'An excellent proof,' he would add, 'of the truth of the doctrine of direct verbal inspiration.'


Six to Six-Thirty • (1928) 

'....What's that you say? A telephone message has been sent on to you from your surgery in Dunswick to Carnaby Vicarage? The original message came from me? I said I was dying —had been shot, two men, one tall and the other—But I'm speaking! Yes, Leslie Gideon. I've only just come in from a stroll. Fit as a fiddle. Only got down here yesterday with Mrs Gideon. You were asked to come immediately? Well, come, by all means. You'll be here in a quarter of an hour, if you are speaking from the Vicarage. I suppose it's some confounded hoax.....'


Blinds • (1932)

....It was not a case of love at first sight, for Lizzie Scott was not a particularly attractive girl. Tall and angular, with plain features, she had little to recommend her except a good-natured smile, that seemed the quiet echo of Tom's hearty laugh. But Tom was not looking for pretty girls. He wanted a wife who could cook and sew, who would find enough in the little shanty by the beach to keep herself and him from getting lonely, and who would lend him a hand in looking after Phil, the wild young fellow of seventeen, fast earning for himself the dubious reputation of being a hard case.


Miss Cornelius • (1928)

....The manifestations had been going on over a period of three weeks. They consisted apparently of rappings, noises like those made by the dropping of very heavy weights, unaccountable movements of tables and articles of furniture, the mysterious locking and unlocking of doors, and, perhaps strangest of all, the throwing about, apart from any observed human agency, of all sorts of miscellaneous objects, ranging from chessmen and gramophone needles to lumps of coal and metal candlesticks.


The Heart of the Fire • (1928)

While on this hearthe of stone a fire you see, 

Kinde Fortune smiles upone ye house of Aislabie.


Peter Levisham • (1928)

....' "I don't know your name," I said, "but I have met you twice before, once in the traffic of Bishopsgate, and once on a winter night when I spoke to you at the Driffield cross-roads. I beseech you to listen to this warning before it is too late and see to your ways."


The Clock • (1928)

....The clock had no business to be ticking. The house had been shut up for twelve days. No one had come in to air it or to light fires. I remembered how Mrs Caleb had told my aunt that if she left the keys with a neighbour, she was never sure who might get hold of them. And yet the clock was going.


Ghosts and Jossers • (1928)

....'The jossers are the ones who are still alive. They forfeit a life each time they speak to a ghost, since it is unlawful to hold communion with the dead. I think that's about all. Proper names are allowed. You'll soon get into the game, once we have started.'


The Sleeping Major • (1932)

....He held a key position, and not only had he to maintain his ground, he had to make plans for a possible evacuation under cover of night. 'Foolish fellow,' said the German opposite, 'how perfectly absurd you are! What can you expect to do when you are keyed to such a pitch? Sit down and think over the position quietly.' In a fit of anger he fired at the face again, and again missed. The German removed his eyeglasses from his fat, white face and wiped them carefully. 'How absurdly obstinate you are!' said his enemy. 'As obstinate as a mule! Don't you remember how you had to ship those mules on the transport at the last moment, and the trouble they gave you on the quay?'


The Ankardyne Pew • (1928) 

....I have been inside the church. Anything less like dear old Garvington it would be impossible to find. Architecturally, it has its points, but the unity of design, on which everything here depends, is broken by the Ankardyne pew. Its privacy is an abomination. Even from the pulpit it is impossible to see inside, and I can well believe the stories of the dicing squires and their Sunday play. Miss Ankardyne refuses to use it. The glass is crude and uninteresting; but there is an uncommon chancel screen of Spanish workmanship, which somehow seems in keeping with the place. I wish it didn't.


The Tool • (1928) 

....Every man has experienced at some period of his life that strange intuition of danger which compels us, if only it be strong enough, to alter some course of action, substituting for a reasonable motive the blind force of fear. I was walking straight towards the mound, when I came to a standstill. Something seemed to repel me from the spot, while at the same time I became conscious of my intense isolation, alone on the moor miles away from any fellow creature. I stopped for half a minute, half in doubt as to whether to proceed. Then I told myself that fear is always strongest when in pursuit and, smiling at my folly, I went on.


The Devil's Bridge • (1928)

'Half green or not,' said his father, 'what good can come of an unblessed bridge? The Devil might have built it for all you cared.'

     'And he should have my thanks for one,' the charcoal-burner declared with an oath. 'He is a cunning craftsman, whatever men may say. In my mother's parish was a field with five of the Devil's arrows planted in the centre, each as big as a man. I never saw prettier target practice. Then there is the Devil's Wine Bowl over at La Roche. He placed it on the top of the highest hill, where his thirst would be likely to be the greatest. It is deep enough to hold a dozen churches. Your bishops and curés, once they fell in, would be no better than drowning flies, and if I were the Devil, no little finger of mine should help them to crawl out. Here's to the honest gentleman!' and he raised his glass.


Two and a Third • (1928)

....On the following Tuesday, Mrs Hobson, Mary Shepherd and I met at the little Camden Town studio. The séance was held in the back sitting-room. The windows were closed to shut out the noise, but through them filtered the deadened rhythm of street traffic and the golden haze of a still August afternoon. I suppose that both sound and light were of just sufficient intensity to create the right environment, for in a surprisingly short time the planchette began to write. At first the words were meaningless and scarcely decipherable, but gradually the character of the script changed. 'Helford River! Helford River!' wrote the planchette. 'Who's that a-calling so sweet?' Now the Helford River was the mine-sweeper in which Jim Hobson had served in the Mediterranean. Mrs Hobson began to ask questions. There was something incongruous, something pathetic, in the way in which this shrewd, commonplace woman believed without doubt that she was speaking to her dead or rather to her living son. But stranger still were the light-hearted gaiety of the replies. They were characteristic of one side of Jim's nature, but it was not the side that his mother had known. Her familiar landscape was of a dark-shouldered hill that faced the north, its hard outline softened only by rainstorm and cloud. She had never travelled far enough from home to watch the sunlight resting on the southern slopes. 'Jim,' she said at last, 'tell me that you love me, that you've forgiven me!'


Miss Avenal • (1928

....'I think of the church,' said Miss Avenal, 'as the last outpost of the new religion, standing sentinel over the passes that lead to the hills. And the stream I picture as the friend of the old spirits that were driven by the priests into the fastnesses of the moor. It carries their secrets still; but lest the old sentry should discover them, it has made for itself a way underground.'


The Double Eye • (1933) 

...At dinner that night the conversation more than once showed signs of flagging. Dan, I thought, resented Miss Hartigan's assumption that I was to be made to feel at home. After all there was no ice to break, no soundings to be taken. The channels were old and familiar, at least to him. But in the drawing-room as we sat round the fire—it was burning apple-wood logs, I remember—he came out of his curmudgeon's shell. He twitted his aunt who had been busy arranging stamps in an immense volume, on her hobby. He told her of a monarch who from innocent philandering with philately developed such a passion for Papal states and West Indian colonies that he imperilled both the Protestant succession and the peace of Europe. He sketched ribald designs for stamps of the Irish Free State. He defended their sanction of the lottery and parried Miss Hartigan's attacks by an ingenious argument in which he invoked the doctrine of Grace—the supreme gifts of life coming unearned to the unworthy. I forget how he worked out his ingenious theory, but it was obvious that Dan enjoyed teasing the little old lady and just as obvious that she appreciated the gentle shocks he gave her.



The Dabblers • (1928) 

A fascinating story with a pleasant patina of lore and antiquarianism. A 'school story.'

     ' "We were all of us frightened, horribly frightened. It was quite different from the ordinary schoolboy escapade. And yet there was fascination, too, in the fear. It was rather like," and here he laughed, "dragging a deep pool for the body of someone who had been drowned. You didn't know who it was, and you wondered what would turn up."


Mrs. Ormerod • (1933)

I have a theory of my own that good attracts evil. It shows it up of course and draws attention to it. The Inchpens always convinced me of selfishness—but it goes beyond that. Really good people, saint-like people, act as magnets to those who have more than a streak of the devil in them. That's why they have adventures and meet with folk that you or I seldom see. That's why Mrs Ormerod stays on with them, horrible parasite that she is.


The Follower • (1933)

....He drew up his chair to the fire and filled his pipe. If only he could hit on the idea for the story, something uncanny, something sinister. It was not yet ten o'clock on an April morning, but he was just in the mood to submit himself to an unknown fear. The story was in him or around him, in the air. He knew the effect he wanted to get, but what was the story itself? Why wouldn't it take shape, come out into the open so that he could see at least the dim outline, the skeleton rather, which later he could clothe at will?


The Man Who Hated Aspidistras • (1933)

....One, he slowly did to death with weed-killer; into another, following the example of the Good Samaritan, he would pour in oil and wine. A third he garrotted with rubber bands; a fourth, slowly succumbing to a solution of bath salts, filled his room for weeks with the faint perfume of lavender. A horticultural detective would, of course, have quickly got on the track of the Bloomsbury murders, but no suspicion ever fell upon Ferdinand. 

     He was so inoffensive, so subtle, so respectable, and in his own way so quietly ornamental. His requirements were so few and he needed little looking after. His landladies were always sorry when he went. The aspidistras never got over his departure.


Double Demon • (1933) 

....Very carefully he put out the cards and began his game of Double Demon. It would be a good omen if luck were with him tonight. Eleven o'clock struck, twelve o'clock. The cards would not come out. Half an hour after midnight he went to bed, and when the clock struck one he was sound asleep.


The Arm of Mrs. Egan • (1935)

....Mrs Egan was a wealthy widow with an only child on whom she doted. Ten days before she had rung Gilbert up about an eruption she had noticed on the nurse's hands. When he came over to see her he found a strapping wench who complained of nothing. She said she had a sensitive skin and had been using a new brand of soap. Two days later the little boy was violently sick. He had eaten several slices of a rich cake, and Gilbert, who was rushed off his feet with an influenza epidemic, assured the anxious Mrs Egan that it was nothing more than a slight digestive upset. The sickness, however, continued. Mrs Egan, unable to get in touch with Gilbert, called in another doctor who found that the boy had scarlet fever contracted from his nurse, an ambulant case, and that she had most likely picked up the infection at the home of the young man with whom she was walking out. 

     The boy died. Gilbert never saw him again, for the case was taken out of his hands, but on the day after the funeral Mrs Egan sent for him. It was then that she cursed him. She called him a licensed murderer, and said that as long as she lived Gilbert could count on one enemy who would not rest until she had got even with him.


Account Rendered • (1951)

'You took the anaesthetic splendidly. The only thing that surprised us was when an old man came up the stairs a little after twelve and looked into the room without knocking. I think he, too, was surprised to see us and said something about seeing you another time.' 

     Mr Tolson glanced at me in a curious way. I saw fear, dismay, and a suggestion of something else, of wily satisfaction that gave one the impression that he was well pleased to have escaped from a tiresome visitor.


The Flying Out of Mrs. Barnard Hollis • (1951)

....The Grange had been a house of refuge to many. In the early days of the war Mrs Barnard Hollis had offered hospitality to two families of Belgian refugees for a week. They had stayed for four years. There was a constant succession of guests, over-worked parsons and their wives from the East End, lonely deaconesses, governesses waiting for a job, decayed gentlefolk—how I loathe the expression!—who nobody wanted to entertain because they were so unentertaining.


The Habeas Corpus Club • (1951) 

....even the ordinary lay student of Pocock and those authors who laboriously follow his footsteps in the dark must have been struck by the fact that less than justice is done to the characters they murder at the end of the first or second chapter. A corpse has to be discovered in startling circumstances—on the farther side of the bunker that guards the thirteenth green, in a reserved sleeping berth on the Orient Express, in Sir Marmaduke's family pew at Widdecombe Basset, in a pantechnicon outside Number 10 Downing Street. The corpse is the important thing. It is the spring-board that projects frail clues and dark suspicions.




Jay

27 September 2019






Sunday, September 22, 2019

Two strong strange stories from In Ghostly Company by Amyas Northcote



The reader of strange stories in this day and age doesn't know how good they have it. There are enough classics in print that we can go a lifetime and never need to read a living writer. (James, Machen, and Blackwood each wrote at least a dozen masterpieces. So did Poe and Bierce.)


Of course not all dead writers in the genre are classic. Amyas Northcote is a good example. Most of the stories in his lone collection, In Ghostly Company, are pretty basic nurses' or travelers' tales; Matt Cowan does an outstanding job exploring them here.


But there are two outstanding exceptions which shine out as exceptional in Northcote's collection, "Brickett Bottom" and "The Late Mrs. Fowke".


"Brickett Bottom" is the story of a young lady's disappearance. All anyone knows is what she told them: that she found a house in Brickett Botton where a charming older couple live. 


...."But surely you must have seen it at some other time," said her father.


"That is the strangest part of the whole affair," answered Maggie. "We have often walked up the Bottom, but I never noticed the house, nor had Alice till that evening. I wonder," she went on after a short pause, "if it would not be well to ask Smith to harness the pony and drive over to bring her back. I am not happy about her—I am afraid—"


"Afraid of what?" said her father in the irritated voice of a man who is growing frightened. "What can have gone wrong in this quiet place? Still, I'll send Smith over for her."


So saying he rose from his chair and sought out Smith, the rather dull-witted gardener-groom attached to Mr. Roberts' service.


"Smith," he said, "I want you to harness the pony at once and go over to Colonel Paxton's in Brickett Bottom and bring Miss Maydew home."


The man stared at him.


"Go where, sir?" he said.


Mr. Maydew repeated the order and the man, still staring stupidly, answered: "I never heard of Colonel Paxton, sir. I don't know what house you mean." Mr. Maydew was now growing really anxious.


"Well, harness the pony at once," he said; and going back to Maggie he told her of what he called Smith's stupidity, and asked her if she felt that her ankle would be strong enough to permit her to go with him and Smith to the Bottom to point out the house.


Maggie agreed readily and in a few minutes the party started off. Brickett Bottom, although not more than three-quarters of a mile away over the Downs, was at least three miles by road; and as it was nearly six o'clock before Mr. Maydew left the Vicarage, and the pony was old and slow, it was getting late before the entrance to Brickett Bottom was reached. Turning into the lane the cart proceeded slowly up the Bottom, Mr. Maydew and Maggie looking anxiously from side to side, whilst Smith drove stolidly on looking neither to the right nor left.


"Where is the house?" said Mr. Maydew presently.


"At the bend of the road," answered Maggie, her heart sickening as she looked out through the failing light to see the trees stretching their ranks in unbroken formation along it. The cart reached the bend. "It should be here," whispered Maggie.


They pulled up. Just in front of them the road bent to the right round a tongue of land, which, unlike the rest of the right hand side of the road, was free from trees and was covered only by rough grass and stray bushes. A closer inspection disclosed evident signs of terraces having once been formed on it, but of a house there was no trace.


"Is this the place?" said Mr. Maydew in a low voice.


Maggie nodded.


"But there is no house here," said her father. "What does it all mean? Are you sure of yourself, Maggie? Where is Alice?"


Before Maggie could answer a voice was heard calling "Father! Maggie!" The sound of the voice was thin and high and, paradoxically, it sounded both very near and yet as if it came from some infinite distance. The cry was thrice repeated and then silence fell. Mr. Maydew and Maggie stared at each other.


"That was Alice's voice," said Mr. Maydew huskily, "she is near and in trouble, and is calling us. Which way did you think it came from, Smith?" he added, turning to the gardener.


"I didn't hear anybody calling," said the man. "Nonsense!" answered Mr. Maydew.


And then he and Maggie both began to call "Alice. Alice. Where are you?" There was no reply and Mr. Maydew sprang from the cart, at the same time bidding Smith to hand the reins to Maggie and come and search for the missing girl. Smith obeyed him and both men, scrambling up the turfy bit of ground, began to search and call through the neighbouring wood. They heard and saw nothing, however, and after an agonised search Mr. Maydew ran down to the cart and begged Maggie to drive on to Blaise's Farm for help leaving himself and Smith to continue the search. Maggie followed her father's instructions and was fortunate enough to find Mr. Rumbold, the farmer, his two sons and a couple of labourers just returning from the harvest field. She explained what had happened, and the farmer and his men promptly volunteered to form a search party, though Maggie, in spite of her anxiety, noticed a queer expression on Mr. Rumbold's face as she told him her talc.


The party, provided with lanterns, now went down the Bottom, joined Mr. Maydew and Smith and made an exhaustive but absolutely fruitless search of the woods near the bend of the road. No trace of the missing girl was to be found, and after a long and anxious time the search was abandoned, one of the young Rumbolds volunteering to ride into the nearest town and notify the police.


Maggie, though with little hope in her own heart, endeavoured to cheer her father on their homeward way with the idea that Alice might have returned to Overbury over the Downs whilst they were going by road to the Bottom, and that she had seen them and called to them in jest when they were opposite the tongue of land.


However, when they reached home there was no Alice and, though the next day the search was resumed and full inquiries were instituted by the police, all was to no purpose. No trace of Alice was ever found, the last human being that saw her having been an old woman, who had met her going down the path into the Bottom on the afternoon of her disappearance, and who described her as smiling but looking "queerlike."


This is the end of the story, but the following may throw some light upon it....





The other story, "The Late Mrs. Fowke," will strike a chord with those who appreciate Arthur Machen.


Mr. Fowke, a gentle and passive Anglican minister, marries Stella Farnleigh.


....The young lady showed herself of an obliging disposition in the arrangements made prior to the wedding, her only stipulation being that Mr. Fowke should change his present living for one nearer the moors. In accordance with this Mr. Fowke negotiated an exchange with the Vicar of G., and after a short honeymoon took possession of his new cure. Here he settled down to what he anticipated would prove a peaceful and happy life. He was devoted to his new wife, and she, while less demonstratively happy, appeared to be contented both with her husband and her new surroundings.


The first flaw in their married life showed itself a few months after their arrival at G., when one day, Mr. Fowke, having occasion to speak to his wife, went upstairs to the room which she had selected as her private sitting-room and in which she had installed her voluminous library. On reaching it he heard from within a sound of low chanting in a language that he did not understand, and at the same time became aware of a singular smell as of the burning of some aromatic herb. He tried the door and, finding it locked, called to his wife. The chanting ceased immediately and his wife's voice told him to wait a few minutes and she would admit him. On the door being opened he found the room filled with a pungent smell emanating from some herbs, which were burning in a small brazier set upon the table.


"Whatever are you doing, my dear?" he asked.


Stella replied that she was suffering from a severe headache, which she was trying to cure by inhaling the smoke; it was an Hungarian remedy, she added, but she did not explain the singing. Mr. Fowke remained somewhat puzzled, and his astonishment was considerably increased when a little later his wife informed him that she intended to go to L.—a tiny hamlet far up on the Fells—that afternoon and would spend the night there, returning the following day. It was the first time that Mr. Fowke had heard of Stella's solitary visits to the moorland and he not unnaturally sought an explanation of them, which his wife refused to give in any greater detail than the mere statement that she had for long been accustomed to make these periodical trips into solitude. He asked to be allowed to accompany her, but she positively refused to permit this, and it was with a heavy and worried heart that he watched her leave the house later in the day.


The following afternoon she returned, tired and with muddy clothes, but seeming exhilarated by her expedition. She refused all information about it, save that during these trips she was in the habit of staying at the Three Magpies, a small inn at I. and making thence expeditions on the higher Fells. With this slender explanation Mr. Fowke had to be satisfied.


A few weeks passed, when again one day Mr. Fowke detected the odour of burning herbs and again learnt that his wife was on the point of starting for I. She again declined his proffered company and left the house as before.


Mr. Fowke had never been to I., which is a remote hamlet, not distant as far as mileage is concerned from G., but only approachable by a branch line of railway with an infrequent service of trains. He was, however, acquainted with its Vicar, to whom he presently wrote to inquire as to the standing of the Three Magpies, since he was not over-pleased that his wife, a foreigner ignorant of our ways, should elect to stay alone at an absolutely unknown inn. The reply he received was not at all reassuring, for the Vicar of I. wrote that the Three Magpies was a public house of poor repute, kept by an old couple of more than doubtful respectability.


This letter decided Mr. Fowke and, when for the third time his wife announced her intention of proceeding to I. and for the third time refused his company, he determined to follow her there secretly and observe her movements and surroundings. It was not difficult for him to arrange to do this, since he could easily reach I. on his motor-cycle long before her slow train could land her there, even if he did not start until after she had left the parsonage. He carried out his programme and in due course reached I. and made his way to the Three Magpies. Here he found that the old man was very nearly bedridden and quite senile, whilst his wife regarded her clerical visitor with almost open hostility. However, the gift of a sovereign and the promise of another effected a great change and unlocked the old woman's tongue, so that she poured forth volubly all she knew.


Yes, she knew the lady quite well. She had been in the habit of coming to I. once every few weeks for a long time. No; she always came alone and had never spoken to anyone except herself, to her knowledge.


"What does she do?"


"Oh, she always goes straight up to her room and shuts herself in, then she sings to herself something I cannot make out and burns something that smells sweet and strong about dark like, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, she comes down and goes out towards the Fells."


"Have you ever followed her?"


"No, never, nor anybody else as I know of. A shepherd once saw her walking all alone in a wild part of the moor but he did not follow her or speak to her."


"How long is she out?"


"Well, that depends, but generally till near morning. She takes the key of the house with her and lets herself in, but I hear her come in once in a while."


"What does she do then?"


"Why, goes up to her room and stays there quietly and has breakfast and then goes to the train."


This was about all that Mr. Fowke could find out, except the curious detail that his wife never wore a hat on her nocturnal rambles, but went draped in a hooded grey cloak.


By the time this catechism was finished it was nearly time for Mrs. Fowke to arrive, and the Reverend Barnabas accordingly ensconced himself in a room into which he was ushered by the old woman, which commanded the front door of the inn. In a short time he saw his wife arrive. After exchanging a few words with the old woman she went upstairs, and husband and wife remained in their respective seclusions till dusk fell.


Then Mr. Fowke heard Stella descending the stairs and in a few moments he saw her emerge from the house clad, as described, in a long hooded grey cloak, and walking swiftly and resolutely. Giving her a short start, he followed, and as he left the inn the well-known smell of burning, aromatic herbs was in his nostrils. His wife was by now a few hundred yards away and had nearly cleared the little hamlet, heading for the open moor. As she proceeded a singular episode occurred. Mr. Fowke thought little of it at the time, but much, later.


A sheep-dog was lying asleep by the roadside and as Mrs. Fowke drew near it suddenly started up and, with back upraised and tail depressed, uttered a melancholy howl and darted through the hedge.


Mrs. Fowke paid not the least attention to the dog, but pursued her way steadily through the rapidly falling dusk. Her husband followed as steadily, and thus for a long time they wound their way upwards towards the loneliest and wildest part of the Fells. It was by now night, but the moon had risen and flooded the landscape with her rays. The couple, one about two hundred yards behind the other, were now mounting the side of a steep hill, and hitherto Mr. Fowke had remained in the pleasant belief that his presence was unsuspected by his wife. He was to be undeceived. The lady passed round a corner of the hill, thereby disappearing from sight; Mr. Fowke hastened after her and on passing the corner in his turn found himself confronted by his wife, who stood watching for his appearance with a sarcastic smile. She greeted him:


"Well, Mr. Spy, are you very much puzzled?"


He remained silent, dumb with astonishment and chagrin, and she went on:


"I have been wondering what to do with you ever since you left home, but I have decided at last. You shall see all there is to see; I don't think you can do any harm and you may be useful by and by. Follow me." And she turned and went on again.


Mr. Fowke followed silently and abashed. Presently he became aware of a rosy light shining in front of them, and after walking a few yards more he found himself standing by the side of his wife on the edge of a small, cup-shaped hollow in the hills. In the centre of this hollow a large fire was burning and near the fire Mr. Fowke could make out a pile of stones shaped like a rough altar. A group of about half a dozen people, all clad in the same grey, hooded cloaks, were sitting silently near the fire; and towards these his wife now began to descend, first telling him in a low, imperious voice to stay where he was. As Stella advanced down the declivity the group by the fire became aware of her approach and, rising, moved to meet her with gestures of greeting and respect. Stella passed through them, haughtily returning their salutations and slowly ascending the stone altar seated herself on a rock near its summit. As soon as she had taken up her position, she gave a signal, and the others forming round the fire commenced a slow and stately dance to the accompaniment of their own low chanting.


Mr. Fowke watched absorbed. Gradually the dance grew quicker and wilder and the chanting louder, the whirling forms flung themselves into grotesque attitudes and shrieked ejaculations, the meaning of which Mr. Fowke began dimly to divine though the words were strange. Suddenly they were silent and still and at the same moment Stella rose from her seat and, throwing back her hood and turning towards the summit of the altar, began in her turn to take up the chant. As she sang and bowed towards the topmost stone, her face and figure seemed transformed. In the flickering firelight and pale moonshine she seemed to grow weirdly and horribly beautiful and to grow statelier and taller in her person. Slowly, too, as the song progressed the horrified watcher saw another change. A grey cloud formed on the summit of the altar, diminishing, thickening and turning into a Shape, a Shape of evil and fear. The silent group by the fire once more broke forth into wild gesticulations and cries, Stella prostrated herself, the Form on the altar grew clearer and with a cry of horror Mr. Fowke turned away and rushed madly across the moor.


He never knew where he went or what he did. When he once more recovered his senses it was broad day and he was alone and lost on the moors. It was late afternoon before, broken and exhausted, he reached his own home, where the first person to greet him was his wife....


Fowke tries prayer to save Stella's soul.


"How dare you interfere with us," she began, "with your paltry little prayers and tears? You disturbed us last night. The Great One was angry—" She stopped and then went on, "I shall have to find a means of silencing you; it was a mistake to show you what I did."


He looked at her.


"So it is not too late, is it?" he said. "I can perhaps save you and drag you away from—" She interrupted him.


"Silence," she cried violently, "or I will take steps to quiet you; I will blast you; I will call upon the Powers of the Air. I will—" she was going on madly in her excitement when suddenly she became rigid, her face blanched and she fell senseless to the floor in a fit.


Mr. Fowke raised the prostrate body, laid it on a sofa and summoned help. The unfortunate woman was carried to her bedroom, still unconscious, and the doctor sent for. He was an ordinary country practitioner and the case seemed to be clearly beyond his powers to deal with, but he emphasized the need of a trained nurse; and, one being fortunately available in the village, she was presently duly installed at the Parsonage.


After having seen all done that was possible, Mr. Fowke, utterly worn out, retired to rest. Towards midnight he was awakened by a knocking at his door and opening it found the nurse pale and trembling on the threshold. She instantly assured him that she must throw up the case and leave the house at once. She could or would give no clear reasons for her action, but repeated again and again that she would sacrifice her whole professional career rather than remain in that sick room. Things had happened there, she said, things she could not tell of, but the place was accursed. In vain Mr. Fowke tried to reassure her; she would not remain and so, bidding her go to her room till morning without disturbing the household, Mr. Fowke went to his wife's room to take up the vigil himself.


When he entered the sick room all was still. Stella was lying motionless, breathing gently and at intervals murmuring a few words in her native tongue. Mr. Fowke settled himself down in an arm-chair and gradually fell into a doze.


He woke suddenly as the clock struck three and glanced around him. The lamp had burnt low and the room was very cold. His wife still lay quietly in her bed, muttering softly to herself, but as Mr. Fowke watched her, by the dim light, he fancied he noticed a horrible change in her. Gone were the full rounded outlines of a woman's form, the figure on the bed had become angular and misshaped. Her hand and arm, which lay outside the coverlet, were also changed and looked like a claw. Her face, too, was changing. As he watched, her beauty faded, the features altered, they ran together, became distorted, misplaced and, with a shudder, he found himself gazing on the lineaments of an unknown, hideous beast. Paralysed with horror he could not stir.


All at once there was a movement. The figure on the bed shivered violently, lifted itself up and sat gazing out beyond the foot of the bed. Mr. Fowke followed the direction of its eyes and saw growing up slowly at the end of the room a grey, shapeless form, of which the burning eyes alone were distinct.


The creature on the bed moved and slipping back the bedclothes stepped suddenly to the floor. Mr. Fowke saw that the lower limbs and, in fact, every part of it save the face that he could see were covered with a thick, grey fur. It moved again and passed swiftly across the room towards the grim shape in the corner; he heard its hoofs tap on the bare floor as it passed. It reached the motionless watcher, whose eyes seemed to blaze as it approached, and with a swift movement the two forms met, intermingled and—Mr. Fowke could bear no more; he fainted....


The dissolution of Stella recalls even more graphic collapses in Machen's "The Great God Pan" and Michael Arlen's novel Hell! Said the Duchess.


Jay

22 September 2019