Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The sound of enormous wings - Homefront Horrors: Frights Away from the Front Lines, 1914-1918 Edited by Jess Nevins





Homefront Horrors: Frights Away from the Front Lines, 1914-1918
Edited by Jess Nevins

________


Editor Jess Nevins' anthology of stories written and published in wartime, but not speaking to the war itself.

Homefront Horrors gives us the spectrum of working class atomization and middle class insularity. The stories move back and forth between London and the East.

(Hard to fathom the logic of a WW1 homefront anthology sans Machen's brilliant homefront tales.)

___________



The Wings of Horus  (1917) short story by Algernon Blackwood
My dissent on Blackwood probably mimics Joshi's absurd criticism about Machen: he wrote too much. Far be it from me, though, to criticize a jobbing writer's need to make ends meet. But Blackwood's stories of lands southeast of the Danube, much less "east of Suez," leave me cold. It's not the Orientalism of his generation. It's the preciousness and overpowering pong of inconsequential contrivance.


Laura  (1914) short story by Saki
One of Munro's perfect jewels, perfectly set. His lack of sentiment includes the reader in the joke. Death is only the droll beginning of authorial cleverness, after all.


The Place of Pain  (1914) short story by M. P. Shiel
Perhaps the perfect tale of cosmic horror? In which the horror ( turning a man of God into a homeless social dropout) is forbidden to narrator and reader by the concatenation of narrative events. The sublimity of the undisclosed.


The Three Sisters (1914) short story by W. W. Jacobs
Jacobs perfectly organized his fictional material. It was a skill he must have mastered over years of hard work and serious revision. "The Three Sisters" is a loving depiction of avarice and "the biter bit."


An Episode of Cathedral History (1914)  short story by M. R. James
Perhaps this us my favorite M.R. James story because of its social scope. We spend time with the high and low of a great cathedral. The heroes are a boy and his little dog. The boy comes close to understanding the mysteries and horror that visit his community, but misses the final revelation. It was only an episode.


The Pavilion (1915) short story by E. Nesbit
....The doctor made an examination and gave a death-certificate. "Heart failure," was his original and brilliant diagnosis. The certificate said nothing, and Frederick said nothing, of the creeper that was wound about the dead man's neck, nor of the little white wounds, like little bloodless lips half-open, that they found about the dead man's neck.


Not on the Passenger List short story by Barry Pain
....There is a curious mixture of conscience and temperament which is sometimes mistaken for cowardice and is often accompanied by extraordinary courage.


The Liqueur Glass(1915) short story by Phyllis Bottome
....It is true he had no motive for suicide, but there was still less motive for murder. Nobody wished ardently that Henry might live, but, on the other hand, nobody benefitted by his interesting and mysterious death—that is to say, nobody but Henry's family; and it is not considered probable that well-dressed, respectable people benefit by a parent's death.


The Pin-Prick (1915) short story by May Sinclair
....I couldn't have believed it possible for a woman to be so effacing and effaced. It was super-feminine; it was, as Frances said, hardly human.


Thirteen at Table (1916) short story by Lord Dunsany
....he burst into tears and took me by the hand. 'How can I ever thank you?' he said to me then. 'We have been thirteen at table for thirty years and I never dared to insult them because I had wronged them all, and now you have done it and I know they will never dine here again.'


The Bird (1916) short story by Thomas Burke
Burke is a pure product of London, sui generis. "The Bird" is the kind of conte cruel puzzle only a colonial power's cauldron of social contradictions could upthrust.



Enoch Soames (1916) novelette by Max Beerbohm
....Throughout, in fact, there was a great variety of form, and the forms had evidently been wrought with much care. It was rather the substance that eluded me. Was there, I wondered, any substance at all? It did now occur to me: suppose Enoch Soames was a fool! Up cropped a rival hypothesis: suppose I was!


The Ghoul (1916) short story by Sir Hugh Clifford
Colonialism's contradiction: surrender versus mastery.


Powers of the Air (1917) short story by J. D. Beresford
"The little birds are prey to the powers of the air when the darkness comes," I said; "and their only chance of life is to come within the beam of the protecting light. And when they could find no place to rest, they hovered and fluttered until they were weak with the ache of flight, and fell a little into the darkness; then in panic and despair they fled back and overshot their mark."

Old Fags (1917) novelette by Stacy Aumonier
Four shillings a week for two people means ceaseless, gnawing hunger. The widow and her daughter lost pride and hope, and further messages to Mr. Meads failed to elicit any response. The widow became so desperate that she even asked "Old Fags" one night if he could spare a little stew for her daughter who was starving. The pungent odour of the hot food was too much for her.


The Separate Room (1917)  by Ethel Colburn Mayne
Magnificent. The story's great ambitions are fully achieved. A mother and daughter are buried alive in a cheap hotel in a condition of what used to be called "genteel poverty." The daughter comes close to escaping when she gets a job.

The King Waits (1918)  by Clemence Dane
"The deed is done!" cried Henry. "Uncouple the hounds and away!"



Friday, July 20, 2018

“It’s the wind in the rocks. Try and go to sleep again.” Charles Birkin's collection Devil's Spawn reviewed.

DEVILS' SPAWN by Charles Birkin

1936. Reissued by Valancourt 2015


______



OLD MRS. STRATHERS

A stroke-muted mother tries to save her son from the murderous plans of his spouse. The story powerfully conveys physical helplessness.


SHELTER

Caught in a torrential rain storm in the wilds of Brazil, Michael Christie takes shelter for the night with a peasant family. The casual and almost throw-away style in which Birkin conveys the man's doom is a beautiful assault on the reader.


THE COCKROACH

Never visit Paris. In Paris, never stop at The Blue Lizard. If at The Blue Lizard, never order the stew. And if you must complain about the stew, do not enter the kitchen to do so.


THE TERROR ON TOBIT

Birkin almost matches the intensity of L.P. Hartley's sublime tale "Podolo."

The setting and the characters are perfectly conveyed.  


THE LAST NIGHT

What can a patient do when the doctor is sick?


AN EYE FOR AN EYE

Birkin gives us the vigilante "dish best served cold." But Birkin is never on the side of the self-righteous avenger. Nor the side of the punished evil-doer.  Birkin seems to be on the side of an unblinking parade that simply passes by the consequences of ghastly retribution.


HENRI LARNE

Never visit France.  Never buy cast-off property of a village murderer hung the day before.   And stay out of ruins.


HAVELOCK'S FARM

Rivals "The Harlem Horror" as the masterpiece of this collection.  Another writer might have telescoped this pathological family romance into the retrospective and cozy reminiscence of some old Chowder Society member. Not Birkin. No, not Birkin.


THE HARLEM HORROR

Birkin's genius for stylistic economy is perfectly displayed in this devastating story.  I can only comment that when it was over, I wanted to scream.


A POEM AND A BUNCH OF ROSES

Recalls Poe's "Cask of Amontillado," but absent the likable characters and the happy ending.


OBSESSION

When Marx referred to "the idiocy of rural life" he meant intellectual stultification and social atomization. In "Obsession" we are given the rural idiocy of a Nature that laughs at lovers and slaps-down hard.


THE HAPPY DANCERS

The Russian Revolution of 1917 does-in another happy couple.


THE ACTOR'S STORY

Not quite spring-loaded spikes in a pair of binoculars.


SPECIAL DIET

I think if Robert Bloch read Charles Birkin, he would have given this one the slow-clap of applause. I would call the mode pitiless.


PREMIÈRE

A nicely observed tale of supernatural intervention in a movie.  Widely publicized premiere ballyhoo collapses into a brooding conundrum.


ANGELA

Sibling rivalry. Between sisters. One has a blind fiancé. And dark room well-stocked with acid.





Jay

20 July 2018





Saturday, June 9, 2018

The time was 5:04 P.M.





The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel


I first heard about Keel's book twenty-five years ago. On an autistically facilitated holiday from Marxism and the communist movement, I was hiding from hunger, joblessness, and recent marital cataclysm in a duplex near the OSU campus in Columbus, Ohio. Each day I escaped by reading library paperbacks of "true" unexplained events and phenomena: Loch Ness, Bigfoot, flying saucers.

Five years later, employed and on my own, I found an old library copy of Keel's book at a used bookstore. The effect was powerful. John Keel was an emotionally honest reporter who put his own incredulity and astonishment at the heart of his book. At every turn he was greeted by the unbelievable, and always there was something more unbelievable around the next corner.

This was a far cry from Whitley Strieber, Donald Keyhoe, and Colin Wilson, all of whom I judged to be, in the end, so open-minded their brains fell out.

Keel never kidded himself: he knew something uncanny was trying to make a fool out of him and a lot of other people: opening and closing veils of revelation that amounted, at the level of cosmic importance, to the same useless banalities repeated for millenia by Earth's own religions.

When Keel gets down to the local level, his gravitas and sense of solidarity in unsurpassed.

Excerpt:


….Thirteen months to the day (November 15, 1966–December 15, 1967) the year of the Garuda came to an end. Like some evil specter of death, Mothman and the UFOs had focused national attention on quiet little Point Pleasant and lured scores of reporters and investigators like myself to the Ohio River valley. When the Silver Bridge died of old age many of these same reporters returned once again to the village to revisit old friends and to share the pain of that tragic Christmas. Wherever you were, you watched the agonized aftermath on national television and read about Point Pleasant on the front pages of your local newspapers.


The Silver Bridge was constructed in 1928 and was an engineering marvel in its day. It became a main artery from West Virginia to Ohio, but had not been designed for the heavy traffic of the 1960s. Huge trucks lumbered across it continuously. People on both sides of the river crossed it daily to shop, go to work, visit friends. The next nearest bridge was almost fifty miles upriver.


On the Ohio side of the river, at the little cluster of shops and dwellings called Kanauga, the stoplight at the mouth of the bridge was malfunctioning that afternoon. It was stuck on green and the rush-hour traffic along Route 7 was creeping past in confusion. Traffic was backing up in both directions and at 5 P.M. the bridge was laden with slow-moving lines of cars and trucks in both directions. The light on the Point Pleasant side had always been recalcitrant, remaining red for so long that many regular bridge users had learned to ignore it. Running the light was a common practice.


Frank Wamsley, a twenty-eight-year-old truck driver, was on his way home to Point Pleasant, riding in a gravel truck with a friend. They found the traffic backed up on the Ohio side. It was to be a black day for the Wamsley family.


On the West Virginia side, Frank's cousin Barbara and her husband, Paul Hayman, were starting across the bridge in their 1955 Pontiac. And his uncle, Marvin Wamsley, was also on the bridge with two friends in a 1956 Ford convertible.


Bill Needham, twenty-seven, of Ashboro, North Carolina, was muttering under his breath because he had been caught in the 5 o'clock rush hour. He inched his loaded tractor-trailer forward in a low gear. His partner, R. E. Towe, sat beside him in patient silence.


"The old bridge is sure bouncing around today," Howard Boggs, twenty-four, commented to his wife, Marjorie, nineteen. She was holding their eighteen-month-old daughter, Christie. There were several small children on the bridge, riding with their Christmas-shopping mothers.


"The bridge was shaking, but then it always shook," William Edmondson, thirty-eight, of King, North Carolina, said later. His partner, Harold Cundiff, was sound asleep in their tractor-trailer.


The traffic jam worsened. The streams of cars and trucks ground to a halt. The old bridge shuddered and squirmed under the weight.


Frank Wamsley spotted his cousin Barbara and her husband and waved to them. Just ahead, he saw Marvin and his two friends. Suddenly the whole bridge convulsed.


The time was 5:04 P.M.


Steel screamed. The seven hundred-foot suspension bridge twisted and the main span split from its moorings at either end. Electric cables strung across the bridge snapped in a blaze of sparks. Fifty vehicles crashed into the black waters of the Ohio, tons of steel smashing down on top of them.


"It sounded like someone moving furniture upstairs, and then the lights went out," State Trooper R. E. O'Dell said. He was in an insurance office a block from the bridge. "When the lights went out, I guess they really just flickered for a minute, I knew something was wrong. I thought maybe it was a wreck, so I ran outside."


Mrs. Mary Hyre was in a drugstore on the Main Street, waiting for the traffic to ease so she could cross the bridge and pick up the daily notes from the Gallipolis Hospital.


"There was a sound like a jet plane or a plane going through the sound barrier," she said afterward. "A rumbling roar that hurt your eardrums. Then the lights flickered. My first thought was that something had blown up. I thought, 'My God, John was right! Something is exploding!' I ran outside and someone yelled, 'The bridge went down!'"


A Christmas tree salesman in Kanauga, H. L. Whobrey, dropped the tree he was holding. "The bridge just keeled over, starting slowly on the Ohio side, then following like a deck of cards to the West Virginia side. It was fantastic. There was a big flash and a puff of smoke when the last of the bridge caved in, I guess the power line snapped.


"I saw three or four people swimming around in the water screaming. I couldn't do anything. I just stood there and watched. Then I saw a City Ice and Fuel boat come and pick them up."


Frank Wamsley saw the bridge in front of him tilt sharply and suddenly there was water all around him. "I went all the way to the bottom with the truck. For a minute I didn't think I was going to get out. Finally I got out and came to the surface and I caught hold of something and held on and was soon picked up." When a boat pulled alongside he found he could not move his legs and had to be helped aboard. His back was fractured.


Howard Boggs found himself on the bottom of the river, outside his car. "I don't know how I got out of the car, or how I got to the surface. But all at once I was on top and caught hold of something, like a big cotton ball."


His wife and child didn't make it.


Bill Needham's truck also sank to the bottom but he somehow managed to force a window and reach the surface.


"You could see and hear people screaming for help," Mary Hyre described the scene. "I saw a tractor-trailer that floated a little before it sank, and a car and merchandise floating on the water. People on the West Virginia side of the river were so upset they could hardly realize what was going on.


"You could hear people saying, This can't be true … you read about things like this in the papers, but it can't be happening here…'"


Like Howard Boggs, William Edmundson suddenly found himself on the surface of the water, clinging to a truck seat. He had no idea how he'd escaped from his vehicle. His partner didn't surface.


"When I got there I could see this truck floating in the water," Trooper O'Dell explained "There was a fellow hanging on the side of it. Then they sank. I don't know if he got out."


People came running from all directions, silent, ashened-faced, knowing their friends and relatives could be out there in the icy water now covered with debris and soggy, gaily wrapped Christmas packages. Boats of all kinds crisscrossed the river picking up survivors.


On both sides of the river people who had been waiting in the lines to drive over the bridge were crying. Some had to be treated for shock.


Night was closing in quickly. Boats with searchlights turned their beams onto the bridge and the surrounding water. A horrible silence fell over Point Pleasant. Sheriff Johnson's tall, spare figure stood on the water's edge.


"Put out a general call for rescue units," he told a deputy softly. "And get everyone here. Block all the roads. Don't let anyone but rescue units into town."


Mary Hyre pulled her coat around her pudgy frame and walked slowly to her office, tears running down her face, her years of experience overriding her emotions. She pushed open the door and walked to her phones. They were dead. She switched on the Teletype machine and started to peck away with two fingers.


"At 5:04 P.M. this afternoon…"



_____


Jay

9 June 2018





Rich and Strange: John Keel and Machenean Perichoresis?







From the article Some Thoughts on 'N' By Thomas Kent Miller (Copyright © 2012-2018 All Rights Reserved):


….in 1936 Machen declared (albeit through a character's conviction at the end of one of his last stories, 'N'):

I believe that there is a perichoresis, an interpenetration. —which is a state of being, not a state of mind. However, in the same story, he has another character reflect: Has it ever been your fortune . . . to rise in the earliest dawning of a summer day, ere yet the radiant beams of the sun have done more than touch with light the domes and spires of the great city? . . . If this has been your lot, have you not observed that magic powers have apparently been at work? The accustomed scene has lost its familiar appearance. The houses which you have passed daily . . . now seem as if you beheld them for the first time. They have suffered a mysterious change, into something rich and strange [and] now 'stand in glory, shine like stars, apparelled in a light serene.'


They have become magical habitations, supernal dwellings, more desirable to the eye than the fabled pleasure dome of the Eastern potentate, or the bejewelled hall built by the Genie for Aladdin in the Arabian tale.


This latter passage, in my view, is an example of that subtle and transitory enhancement in perception that many of us have experienced, and which can be precipitated by anything from various kinds of intoxicants and hallucinogens to being vouchsafed exceedingly good news.


In other words, over the decades Machen's mystical pronouncements seemed to vacillate between cheerful metaphors on the one hand and virtual acceptance of rips in the universe on the other—though the language and vocabulary were sufficiently similar to obviate the differences without especial scrutiny. Was this conscious obfuscation or was he himself unsure? How does the reader decide which had more validity for Machen—the 'belief in a world' or the 'pattern in the carpet'?


I am of the opinion that Arthur Machen gravitated more to the belief in the reality of connected . . . well . . . dimensions, insofar as it seemed to be, over a 50-year literary period, his predominant theme ('the intermingling of this world and another of far vaster significance', per Machen biographer Mark Valentine.) From first to last he succeeded in imbuing nearly all his fiction (and much nonfiction) with successive variations of that one theme—a belief that he in all likelihood absorbed by virtue of his youth and upbringing in the folklore and myth-immersed border region of Gwent. Howard says (paraphrasing critic Joseph Wood Krutch) that 'Machen had only one main plot in his fiction, that of "rending the veil"'.





From John Keel's The Mothman Prophecies:



….On May 20, 1967, Steve Michalak was out prospecting near Falcon Lake, Manitoba, Canada, when he saw a large circular object land. It seemed to be made of glittering metal "like stainless steel." He approached it and thought he could hear voices mumbling inside. He called out but received no answer. Instead, the object spewed out some kind of gas or flame which caught him full in the chest and sent him reeling backward as it took off. Both his shirt and the skin underneath were burned with an odd checkerboard pattern.


Mr. Michalak became extremely ill, suffering a week of blackouts, nausea, headaches, and a weight loss of twenty-two pounds. It took him many weeks to return to normal. Then, on September 21, 1967, 124 days after the initial incident, the burns on his chest returned and his body began to swell. He was hospitalized and again returned to normal. But the malady returned every 109 to 124 days. In August 1968, after a year of recurring illnesses, he visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota at his own expense. Doctors there told him they had treated another UFO victim from California who suffered from the same thing. His problems stemmed from "a foreign substance" in his blood, he was told.


When scientists from the air force-financed UFO study conducted by Colorado University visited Michalak, they asked to see the place where the saucer had landed. He admitted that he had been searching for the spot himself, without success. He was puzzled by his inability to locate it. Despite his inexplicable injury, the scientists viewed this inability as proof that his story was a hoax. In their final report they implied he was not telling the truth.


Actually there are a great many cases in which the witnesses found they could not relocate the site of their experience. Buildings and landmarks clearly seen at the time seem to vanish. Roads and highways disappear. This bewildering phenomenon is well-known in psychic lore also, probably because many psychic experiences are hallucinatory, too. There are innumerable stories about restaurants that seemed to dissolve after the witnesses stopped there. Tales of disappearing houses are common. A weary traveler stops at an old abandoned house for the night, just like in the movies, and later learns the house he stayed in does not exist … or had burned down years ago.


True to the reflective factor, as I was writing this I received a letter from F. W. Holiday, the British investigator, in which he tells the following:


A family in the south of England still spend their weekends driving around woods looking for a mysterious lake they encountered some fifteen years ago. Out in the middle they saw a huge rock with a sword driven into it. Later they went back to do some research but there was no trace of such a lake. No one had heard of it and it isn't on the maps.


One could fill a book with such incidents, and, indeed, some authors have. Long ago I classified such episodes as distortions of reality. Throughout history people have been straying through Alice's looking glass, seeing things that don't exist, visiting places that spill off the maps into some hallucinatory other dimension. Fifteen years ago there was a lake in England with a sword jutting out of a stone, waiting for some king to come along and pull it out, shouting, "Excalibur!"


__


Jay

9 June 2018


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Rereading: "N" by Arthur Machen




"N" by Arthur Machen

Three men in London spend several evenings debating strange recollections about a part of town they knew - or thought they knew - when young. What weird landscape did one see out a lodging house window?

A great late tale.

Read it here:

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/machen/arthur/n/


Excerpt:


"....After that night at the King of Jamaica," he began, "I went home and thought it all over. There seemed no more to be done. Still, I felt as if I would like to have another look at this singular park, and I went up there one dark afternoon. And then and there I came upon the young man who had lost his way, and had lost — as he said — the one who lived in the white house on the hill. And I am not going to tell you about her, or her house, or her enchanted gardens. But I am sure that the young man was lost also — and for ever."

And after a pause, he added: "I believe that there is a perichoresis, an interpenetration. It is possible, indeed, that we three are now sitting among desolate rocks, by bitter streams...And with what companions?"



*



Jay

2 June 2018

Rereading: The Great Return by Arthur Machen

Art:

https://mgkellermeyer.deviantart.com/art/Arthur-Machen-s-The-Great-Return-717555889







Excerpt:

....So, to be brief, it appeared that there had been a long feud at Llantrisant between a local solicitor, Lewis Prothero (we will say), and a farmer named James. There had been a quarrel about some trifle, which had grown more and more bitter as the two parties forgot the merits of the original dispute, and by some means or other, which I could not well understand, the lawyer had got the small freeholder "under his thumb." James, I think, had given a bill of sale in a bad season, and Prothero had bought it up; and the end was that the farmer was turned out of the old house, and was lodging in a cottage. People said he would have to take a place on his own farm as a labourer; he went about in dreadful misery, piteous to see. It was thought by some that he might very well murder the lawyer, if he met him.

They did meet, in the middle of the market-place at Llantrisant one Saturday in June. The farmer was a little black man, and he gave a shout of rage, and the people were rushing at him to keep him off Prothero.

"And then," said my informant, "I will tell you what happened. This lawyer, as they tell me, he is a great big brawny fellow, with a big jaw and a wide mouth, and a red face and red whiskers. And there he was in his black coat and his high hard hat, and all his money at his back, as you may say. And, indeed, he did fall down on his knees in the dust there in the street in front of Philip James, and every one could see that terror was upon him. And he did beg Philip James's pardon, and beg of him to have mercy, and he did implore him by God and man and the saints of paradise. And my cousin, John Jenkins, Penmawr, he do tell me that the tears were falling from Lewis Prothero's eyes like the rain. And he put his hand into his pocket and drew out the deed of Pantyreos, Philip James's old farm that was, and did give him the farm back and a hundred pounds for the stock that was on it, and two hundred pounds, all in notes of the bank, for amendment and consolation.

"And then, from what they do tell me, all the people did go mad, crying and weeping and calling out all manner of things at the top of their voices. And at last nothing would do but they must all go up to the churchyard, and there Philip James and Lewis Prothero they swear friendship to one another for a long age before the old cross, and everyone sings praises. And my cousin he do declare to me that there were men standing in that crowd that he did never see before in Llantrisant in all his life, and his heart was shaken within him as if it had been in a whirl-wind."

I had listened to all this in silence. I said then:

"What does your cousin mean by that? Men that he had never seen in Llantrisant? What men?"

"The people," he said very slowly, "call them the Fishermen."

And suddenly there came into my mind the "Rich Fisherman" who in the old legend guards the holy mystery of the Graal.

____


Rereading: The Terror by Arthur Machen




Machen does a beautiful job handling all the weird and uncanny anecdotes he accumulates through the first half of the novel. It is 1915, and press discussion in general of the "terror" taking place is forbidden by censorship, so that characters are slow to realize the scope of the inexplicable crisis.

This is my third read of The Terror. It is the first time all the disparate pieces of narrative evidence arrayed by Machen have hit me full-force. Brilliant depiction of uncertainty, anxiety, panic, and of course "terror" in wartime. It achieves levels of emotional poignancy unsurpassed in Machen's longer works.

I think my favorite Machen stories are the ones where the narrator is a journalist like Machen, sent to investigate a strange situation and struggling to make sense of queer events and astonishing hearsay.:

"The Great Return."
"The Terror."
"Out of the Earth"
"Opening the Door"
Et cetera.




Excerpts:


***

N.B. What then was the Terror?

....In my opinion, and it is only an opinion, the source of the great revolt of the beasts is to be sought in a much subtler region of inquiry. I believe that the subjects revolted because the king abdicated. Man has dominated the beasts throughout the ages, the spiritual has reigned over the rational through the peculiar quality and grace of spirituality that men possess, that makes a man to be that which he is. And when he maintained this power and grace, I think it is pretty clear that between him and the animals there was a certain treaty and alliance. There was supremacy on the one hand, and submission on the other; but at the same time there was between the two that cordiality which exists between lords and subjects in a well-organized state. I know a socialist who maintains that Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" give a picture of true democracy. I do not know about that, but I see that knight and miller were able to get on quite pleasantly together, just because the knight knew that he was a knight and the miller knew that he was a miller. If the knight had had conscientious objections to his knightly grade, while the miller saw no reason why he should not be a knight, I am sure that their intercourse would have been difficult, unpleasant, and perhaps murderous.

So with man. I believe in the strength and truth of tradition. A learned man said to me a few weeks ago: "When I have to choose between the evidence of tradition and the evidence of a document, I always believe the evidence of tradition. Documents may be falsified, and often are falsified; tradition is never falsified." This is true; and, therefore, I think, one may put trust in the vast body of folklore which asserts that there was once a worthy and friendly alliance between man and the beasts. Our popular tale of Dick Whittington and his Cat no doubt represents the adaptation of a very ancient legend to a comparatively modern personage, but we may go back into the ages and find the popular tradition asserting that not only are the animals the subjects, but also the friends of man.

All that was in virtue of that singular spiritual element in man which the rational animals do not possess. Spiritual does not mean respectable, it does not even mean moral, it does not mean "good" in the ordinary acceptation of the word. It signifies the royal prerogative of man, differentiating him from the beasts.

For long ages he has been putting off this royal robe, he has been wiping the balm of consecration from his own breast. He has declared, again and again, that he is not spiritual, but rational, that is, the equal of the beasts over whom he was once sovereign. He has vowed that he is not Orpheus but Caliban.

But the beasts also have within them something which corresponds to the spiritual quality in men — we are content to call it instinct. They perceived that the throne was vacant — not even friendship was possible between them and the self-deposed monarch. If he were not king he was a sham, an imposter, a thing to be destroyed.


***

...."A young fellow I know," he said, "was on short leave the other day from the front, and he spent it with his people at Belmont — that's about four miles out of Midlingham, you know. 'Thank God,' he said to me, 'I am going back to-morrow. It's no good saying that the Wipers salient is nice, because it isn't. But it's a damned sight better than this. At the front you know what you're up against anyhow.' At Midlingham everybody has the feeling that we're up against something awful and we don't know what; it's that that makes people inclined to whisper. There's terror in the air."

Merritt made a sort of picture of the great town cowering in its fear of an unknown danger.

"People are afraid to go about alone at nights in the outskirts. They make up parties at the stations to go home together if it's anything like dark, or if there are any lonely bits on their way."

"But why? I don't understand. What are they afraid of?"

"Well, I told you about my being awakened up the other night with the machine-guns at the motor works rattling away, and the bombs exploding and making the most terrible noise. That sort of thing alarms one, you know. It's only natural."

"Indeed, it must be very terrifying. You mean, then, there is a general nervousness about, a vague sort of apprehension that makes people inclined to herd together?"

"There's that, and there's more. People have gone out that have never come back. There were a couple of men in the train to Holme, arguing about the quickest way to get to Northend, a sort of outlying part of Holme where they both lived. They argued all the way out of Midlingham, one saying that the high road was the quickest though it was the longest way. 'It's the quickest going because it's the cleanest going,' he said."

"The other chap fancied a short cut across the fields, by the canal. 'It's half the distance,' he kept on. 'Yes, if you don't lose your way,' said the other. Well, it appears they put an even half-crown on it, and each was to try his own way when they got out of the train. It was arranged that they were to meet at the 'Wagon' in Northend. 'I shall be at the "Wagon" first,' said the man who believed in the short cut, and with that he climbed over the stile and made off across the fields. It wasn't late enough to be really dark, and a lot of them thought he might win the stakes. But he never turned up at the Wagon — or anywhere else for the matter of that."

"What happened to him?"

"He was found lying on his back in the middle of a field — some way from the path. He was dead. The doctors said he'd-been suffocated. Nobody knows how. Then there have been other cases. We whisper about them at Midlingham, but we're afraid to speak out."

Lewis was ruminating all this profoundly. Terror in Meirion and terror far away in the heart of England; but at Midlingham, so far as he could gather from these stories of soldiers on guard, of crackling machine-guns, it was a case of an organized attack on the munitioning of the army. He felt that he did not know enough to warrant his deciding that the terror of Meirion and of Stratfordshire were one.

Then Merritt began again:

"There's a queer story going about, when the door's shut and the curtain's drawn, that is, as to a place right out in the country over the other side of Midlingham; on the opposite side to Dunwich. They've built one of the new factories out there, a great red brick town of sheds they tell me it is, with a tremendous chimney. It's not been finished more than a month or six weeks. They plumped it down right in the middle of the fields, by the line, and they're building huts for the workers as fast as they can but up to the present the men are billeted all about, up and down the line.

"About two hundred yards from this place there's an old footpath, leading from the station and the main road up to a small hamlet on the hillside. Part of the way this path goes by a pretty large wood, most of it thick undergrowth. I should think there must be twenty acres of wood, more or less. As it happens, I used this path once long ago; and I can tell you it's a black place of nights.

"A man had to go this way one night. He got along all right till he came to the wood. And then he said his heart dropped out of his body. It was awful to hear the noises in that wood. Thousands of men were in it, he swears that. It was full of rustling, and pattering of feet trying to go dainty, and the crack of dead boughs lying on the ground as some one trod on them, and swishing of the grass, and some sort of chattering speech going on, that sounded, so he said, as if the dead sat in their bones and talked! He ran for his life, anyhow; across fields, over hedges, through brooks. He must have run, by his tale, ten miles out of his way before he got home to his wife, and beat at the door, and broke in, and bolted it behind him...

***


...."'Ask no questions, Ned,' he says to me, 'but I tell yow a' was in Bairnigan t'other day, and a' met a pal who'd seen three hundred coffins going out of a works not far from there.'"

And then the ship that hovered outside the mouth of the Thames with all sails set and beat to and fro in the wind, and never answered any hail, and showed no light! The forts shot at her and brought down one of the masts, but she went suddenly about with a change of wind under what sail still stood, and then veered down Channel, and drove ashore at last on the sandbanks and pinewoods of Arcachon, and not a man alive on her, but only rattling heaps of bones! That last voyage of the Semiramis would be something horribly worth telling; but I only heard it at a distance as a yarn, and only believed it because it squared with other things that I knew for certain….


***

....The child who was lost came from a lonely cottage that stands on the slope of a steep hillside called the Allt, or the height. The land about it is wild and ragged; here the growth of gorse and bracken, here a marshy hollow of reeds and rushes, marking the course of the stream from some hidden well, here thickets of dense and tangled undergrowth, the outposts of the wood. Down through this broken and uneven ground a path leads to the lane at the bottom of the valley; then the land rises again and swells up to the cliffs over the sea, about a quarter of a mile away. The little girl, Gertrude Morgan, asked her mother if she might go down to the lane and pick the purple flowers — these were orchids — that grew there, and her mother gave her leave, telling her she must be sure to be back by tea-time, as there was apple-tart for tea.

She never came back. It was supposed that she must have crossed the road and gone to the cliff's edge, possibly in order to pick the sea-pinks that were then in full blossom. She must have slipped, they said, and fallen into the sea, two hundred feet below. And, it may be said at once, that there was no doubt some truth in this conjecture, though it stopped very far short of the whole truth. The child's body must have been carried out by the tide, for it was never found.

The conjecture of a false step or of a fatal slide on the slippery turf that slopes down to the rocks was accepted as being the only explanation possible. People thought the accident a strange one because, as a rule, country children living by the cliffs and the sea become wary at an early age, and Gertrude Morgan was almost ten years old. Still, as the neighbors said, "that's how it must have happened, and it's a great pity, to be sure." But this would not do when in a week's time a strong young laborer failed to come to his cottage after the day's work. His body was found on the rocks six or seven miles from the cliffs where the child was supposed to have fallen; he was going home by a path that he had used every night of his life for eight or nine years, that he used of dark nights in perfect security, knowing every inch of it. The police asked if he drank, but he was a teetotaler; if he were subject to fits, but he wasn't. And he was not murdered for his wealth, since agricultural laborers are not wealthy. It was only possible again to talk of slippery turf and a false step; but people began to be frightened. Then a woman was found with her neck broken at the bottom of a disused quarry near Llanfihangel, in the middle of the county. The "false step" theory was eliminated here, for the quarry was guarded with a natural hedge of gorse bushes. One would have to struggle and fight through sharp thorns to destruction in such a place as this; and indeed the gorse bushes were broken as if some one had rushed furiously through them, just above the place where the woman's body was found. And this was strange: there was a dead sheep lying beside her in the pit, as if the woman and the sheep together had been chased over the brim of the quarry. But chased by whom, or by what? And then there was a new form of terror.

This was in the region of the marshes under the mountain. A man and his son, a lad of fourteen or fifteen, set out early one morning to work and never reached the farm where they were bound. Their way skirted the marsh, but it was broad, firm and well metalled, and it had been raised about two feet above the bog. But when search was made in the evening of the same day Phillips and his son were found dead in the marsh, covered with black slime and pondweed. And they lay some ten yards from the path, which, it would seem, they must have left deliberately. It was useless of course, to look for tracks in the black ooze, for if one threw a big stone into it a few seconds removed all marks of the disturbance. The men who found the two bodies beat about the verges and purlieus of the marsh in hope of finding some trace of the murderers; they went to and fro over the rising ground where the black cattle were grazing, they searched the alder thickets by the brook; but they discovered nothing.

Most horrible of all these horrors, perhaps, was the affair of the Highway, a lonely and unfrequented by-road that winds for many miles on high and lonely land. Here, a mile from any other dwelling, stands a cottage on the edge of a dark wood. It was inhabited by a laborer named Williams, his wife, and their three children. One hot summer's evening, a man who had been doing a day's gardening at a rectory three or four miles away, passed the cottage, and stopped for a few minutes to chat with Williams, the laborer, who was pottering about his garden, while the children were playing on the path by the door. The two talked of their neighbors and of the potatoes till Mrs. Williams appeared at the doorway and said supper was ready, and Williams turned to go into the house. This was about eight o'clock, and in the ordinary course the family would have their supper and be in bed by nine, or by half-past nine at latest. At ten o'clock that night the local doctor was driving home along the Highway. His horse shied violently and then stopped dead just opposite the gate to the cottage. The doctor got down, frightened at what he saw; and there on the roadway lay Williams, his wife, and the three children, stone dead, all of them. Their skulls were battered in as if by some heavy iron instrument; their faces were beaten into a pulp.





____


Jay

2 June 2018