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

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

A double disaster: The Double Return by Arthur Machen

"The Double Return" by Arthur Machen 1890

Machen's use of ellipses and his contravention of the Jamesian unities of point of view make this story really starting and exciting. It starts out suggesting stalking, then doppleganger, then...?


A few excerpts:

....Halswell looked at his watch again and drummed his heels against the floor, wondering impatiently when they would be at Paddington, when, with a sudden whirl, a down train swept by them and the western express once more moved on. Halswell rubbed his eyes; he had looked up as the down train passed, and in one of the carriages he thought he had seen his own face. It was only for a second, and he could not be sure. “It must have been a reflection,” he kept on saying, “from the glass of one window to the other. Still, I fancied I saw a black coat, and mine is light. But of course it was a reflection.”

....Frank (he was a very popular artist in those days—a rising man, indeed) had been on a sketching tour in Devon and Cornwall: he had wandered along the deep sheltered lanes from hill to hill, by the orchards already red and gold, by moorland and lowland, by the rocky coast and combes sinking down to the wondrous sea. 

On the Cornish roads he had seen those many ancient crosses, with their weird interlacing carving, which sometimes stand upon a mound and mark where two ways meet; and as he put his portfolio beside him he could not help feeling a glow of pride at its contents. “I fancy I shall make a pretty good show by next spring,” he thought, Poor fellow! He was never to paint another picture; but he did not know it. Then, as the hansom verged westward, gliding with its ringing bells past the great mansions facing the park, Halswell’s thoughts went back to the hotel at Plymouth and the acquaintance he had made there. “Yes; Kerr was an amusing fellow,” he thought; “glad I gave him my card. Louie is sure to get on with him. Curious thing, too, he was wonderfully like me, if he had been only clean shaven and not ‘bearded like the pard,’ Dare say we shall see him before long; he said he was going to pay a short visit to London. I fancy he must be an actor; I never saw such a fellow to imitate a man’s voice and gestures. I wonder what made him go off in such a hurry yesterday. Hullo! Here we are; hi, cabman! There’s 153.”

Full story here:

http://www.e-reading.club/bookreader.php/88698/Machen_-_A_Double_Return.html

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The matter is of little consequence, the manner is everything: The Three Imposters by Arthur Machen

The Three Impostors by Arthur Machen (1895)



Arthur Machen's 1895 novel The Three Imposters is a stunning accomplishment for a thirty-two year old writer. It is subtitled "The Transformations," and the serpentine and effortlessly folded plot certainly demands transformations in the reader's attention. 

Characters encountered by Mr. Dyson and Mr. Phillipps move through a variety to disguises and masks to conceal their goal: reclaiming a valuable Roman coin. They tell our protagonists strange and often terrifying stories, one of the richest subterfuges in any work of modern fiction I can recall.

The Three Imposters is a hymn to the changing landscape of London and it's suburbs.  Dyson and Phillipps walk the city and outlying districts obsessively, changing course like dowsers.

It is also a celebration of coincidence. Indeed, the first and last chapters hang upon Machen's commanding use of absurd synchronicity.

The three imposters tell five magical and nightmarish stories:

Novel of the Dark Valley
Novel of the Black Seal
Novel of the Iron Maid
Novel of the White Powder
History of the Young Man with Spectacles

These self-contained bijou novels are false confections, but they are also great works of fiction. None are supernatural, but all contribute to building up an uncanny atmosphere.

The Three Imposters is not a detective story. There is no detecting beyond leveraging coincidence. It all succeeds on Machen's sublime skill as a writer:

....Dyson had persuaded the ingenious Mr. Phillipps to accompany him on one of those aimless walks to which he was himself so addicted. Starting from the very heart of London, they had made their way westward through the stony avenues, and were now just emerging from the red lines of an extreme suburb, and presently the half-finished road ended, a quiet lane began, and they were beneath the shade of elm-trees. The yellow autumn sunlight that had lit up the bare distance of the suburban street now filtered down through the boughs of the trees and shone on the glowing carpet of fallen leaves, and the pools of rain glittered and shot back the gleam of light. Over all the broad pastures there was peace and the happy rest of autumn before the great winds begin, and afar off, London lay all vague and immense amidst the veiling mist; here and there a distant window catching the sun and kindling with fire, and a spire gleaming high, and below the streets in shadow, and the turmoil of life. Dyson and Phillipps walked on in silence beneath the high hedges, till at a turn of the lane they saw a mouldering and ancient gate standing open, and the prospect of a house at the end of a moss-grown carriage drive.

“There is a survival for you,” said Dyson; “it has come to its last days, I imagine. Look how the laurels have grown gaunt, and weedy, and black, and bare, beneath; look at the house, covered with yellow wash and patched with green damp. Why, the very notice-board which informs all and singular that the place is to be let has cracked and half fallen.”

“Suppose we go in and see it,” said Phillipps. “I don’t think there is anybody about.”

They turned up the drive, and walked slowly, towards this remnant of old days. It was a large straggling house, with curved wings at either end, and behind a series of irregular roofs and projections, showing that the place had been added to at divers dates; the two wings were roofed in cupola fashion, and at one side, as they came nearer, they could see a stable-yard, and a clock turret with a bell, and the dark masses of gloomy cedars. Amidst all the lineaments of dissolution, there was but one note of contrast: the sun was setting beyond the elm-trees, and all the west and the south were in flames, and on the upper windows of the house the glow shone reflected, and it seemed as if blood and fire were mingled. Before the yellow front of the mansion, stained, as Dyson had remarked, with gangrenous patches, green and blackening, stretched what once had been, no doubt, a well-kept lawn, but it was now rough and ragged, and nettles and great docks, and all manner of coarse weeds, struggled in the places of the flower-beds. The urns had fallen from their pillars beside the walk, and lay broken in shards upon the ground, and everywhere from grass-plot and path a fungoid growth had sprung up and multiplied, and lay dank and slimy like a festering sore upon the earth. In the middle of the rank grass of the lawn was a desolate fountain; the rim of the basin was crumbling and pulverized with decay, and within, the water stood stagnant, with green scum for the lilies that had once bloomed there; and rust had eaten into the bronze flesh of the Triton that stood in the middle, and the conch-shell he held was broken.

“Here,” said Dyson, “one might moralize over decay and death. Here all the stage is decked out with the symbols of dissolution; the cedarn gloom and twilight hangs heavy around us, and everywhere within the pale dankness has found a harbor, and the very air is changed and brought to accord with the scene. To me, I confess, this deserted house is as moral as a graveyard, and I find something sublime in that lonely Triton, deserted in the midst of his water-pool. He is the last of the gods; they have left him and he remembers the sound of water falling on water, and the days that were sweet.”

“I like your reflections extremely,” said Phillipps, “but I may mention that the door of the house is open.”.

“Let us go in then.”

The door was just ajar, and they passed into the mouldy hall, and looked in at a room on one side. It was a large room, going far back, and the rich old red flock paper was peeling from the walls in long strips, and blackened with vague patches of rising damp; the ancient clay, the dank reeking earth rising up again, and subduing all the work of men’s hands after the conquest of many years. And the floor was thick with the dust of decay, and the painted ceiling fading from all gay colors and light fancies of cupids in a career, and disfigured with sores of dampness, seemed transmuted into other work. No longer the amorini chased one another pleasantly, with limbs that sought not to advance, and hands that merely simulated the act of grasping at the wreathed flowers, but it appeared some savage burlesque of the old careless world and of its cherished conventions, and the dance of the loves had become a dance of Death; black pustules and festering sores swelled and clustered on fair limbs, and smiling faces showed corruption, and the fairy blood had boiled with the germs of foul disease; it was a parable of the leaven working, and worms devouring for a banquet the heart of the rose.

Strangely, under the painted ceiling, against the decaying walls, two old chairs still stood alone, the sole furniture of the empty place. High-backed, with curving arms and twisted legs, covered with faded gold leaf, and upholstered in tattered damask, they too were a part of the symbolism, and struck Dyson with surprise. “What have we here?” he said. “Who has sat in these chairs? Who, clad in peach-bloom satin, with lace ruffles and diamond buckles, all golden, a conté fleurettes to his companion? Phillipps, we are in another age. I wish I had some snuff to offer you, but failing that, I beg to offer you a seat, and we will sit and smoke tobacco. A horrid practice, but I am no pedant.”

They sat down on the queer old chairs, and looked out of the dim and grimy panes to the ruined lawn, and the fallen urns, and the deserted Triton.

Presently Dyson ceased his imitation of eighteenth century airs; he no longer pulled forward imaginary ruffles, or tapped a ghostly snuff-box.

“It’s a foolish fancy,” he said at last, “but I keep thinking I hear a noise like some one groaning. Listen; no, I can’t hear it now. There it is again! Did you notice it, Phillipps?

“No, I can’t say I heard anything. But I believe that old places like this are like shells from the shore, ever echoing with noises. The old beams, mouldering piecemeal, yield a little and groan, and such a house as this I can fancy all resonant at night with voices, the voices of matter so slowly and so surely transformed into other shapes; the voice of the worm that gnaws at last the very heart of the oak; the voice of stone grinding on stone, and the voice of the conquest of time.”

They sat still in the old armchairs and grew graver in the musty ancient air — the air of a hundred years ago.

“I don’t like the place,” said Phillipps, after a long pause. “To me it seems, as if there were a sickly, unwholesome smell about it, a smell of something burning.”

“You are right; there is an evil odor here. I wonder what it is! Hark! Did you hear that?”

A hollow sound, a noise of infinite sadness and infinite pain broke in upon the silence; and the two men looked fearfully at one another, horror and the sense of unknown things glimmering in their eyes.

“Come,” said Dyson, “we must see into this,” and they went into the hall and listened in the silence....




Jay


28 September 2017






Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The lonesome death of Charlie Rhodes: Salem's Lot by Stephen King

A favorite scene from Stephen King's 1975 novel Salem's Lot. The demise of smalltown Maine school bus driver Charlie Rhodes.

*

   In the Lot the dark held hard.

    At ten minutes to twelve, Charlie Rhodes was awakened by a long, steady honking. He came awake in his bed and sat bolt upright.

    His bus!

    And on the heels of that:

    The little bastards! The children had tried things like this before. He knew them, the miserable little sneaks. They had let the air out of his tires with matchsticks once. He hadn’t seen who did it, but he had a damned good idea. He had gone to that damned wet-ass principal and reported Mike Philbrook and Audie James. He had known it was them-who had to see?

    Are you sure it was them, Rhodes?

    I told you, didn’t I?

    And there was nothing that fucking Mollycoddle could do; he had to suspend them. Then the bastard had called him to the office a week later.

    Rhodes, we suspended Andy Garvey today.

    Yeah? Not surprised. What was he up to?

    Bob Thomas caught him letting the air out of his bus tires. And he had given Charlie Rhodes a long, cold, measuring look.

    Well, so what if it had been Garvey instead of Philbrook and James? They all hung around together, they were all creeps, they all deserved to have their nuts in the grinder.

    Now, from outside, the maddening sound of his horn, running down the battery, really laying on it:

    WHONK, WHONNK, WHOONNNNNNNNK -

    ‘You sons of whores,’ he whispered, and slid out of bed. He dragged his pants on without using the light. The light would scare the little scumbags away, and he didn’t want that.

    Another time, someone had left a cow pie on his driver’s seat, and he had a pretty good idea of who had done that, too. You could read it in their eyes. He had learned that standing guard at the repple depple in the war. He had taken care of the cow-pie business in his own way. Kicked the little son of a whore off the bus three days’ running, four miles from home. The kid finally came to him crying.

    I ain’t done nothin’, Mr Rhodes. Why you keep kickin’ me off.?

    You call puttin’ a cow flop on my seat nothin’?

    No, that wasn’t me. Honest to God it wasn’t.

    Well, you had to hand it to them. They could lie to their own mothers with a clear and smiling face, and they probably did it, too. He had kicked the kid off two more nights and then he had confessed, by the Jesus. Charlie kicked him off once more-one to grow on, you might say-and then Dave Felsen down at the motor pool told him he better cool it for a while.

    WHONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNK-

    He grabbed his shirt and then got the old tennis racket standing in the corner. By Christ, he was going to whip some ass tonight!

    He went out the back door and around the house to where he kept the big yellow bus parked. He felt tough and coldly competent. This was infiltration, just like the Army.

    He paused behind the oleander bush and looked at the bus. Yes, he could see them, a whole bunch of them, darker shapes behind the night-darkened glass. He felt the old red rage, the hate of them like hot ice, and his grip on the tennis racket tightened until it trembled in his hand like a tuning fork. They had busted out-six, seven, eight-eight windows on his bus!

    He slipped behind it and then crept up the long yellow side to the passenger door. It was folded open. He tensed, and suddenly sprang up the steps.

    ‘All right! Stay where you are! Kid, lay off that goddamn horn or I’ll-’

    The kid sitting in the driver’s seat with both hands plastered on the horn ring turned to him and smiled crazily. Charlie felt a sickening drop in his gut. It was Richie Boddin. He was white-just as white as a sheet-except for the black chips of coal that were his eyes, and his lips, which were ruby red.

    And his teeth -

    Charlie Rhodes looked down the aisle.

    Was that Mike Philbrook? Audie James? God Almighty, the Griffen boys were down there! Hal and Jack, sitting near the back with hay in their hair. But they don’t ride on my bus! Mary Kate Greigson and Brent Tenney, sitting side by side. She was in a nightgown, he in blue jeans and a flannel shirt that was on backward and inside out, as if he had forgotten how to dress himself.

    And Danny Glick. But-oh, Christ-he was dead; dead for weeks!

    ‘You,’ he said through numb lips. ‘You kids-’

    The tennis racket slid from his hand. There was a wheeze and a thump as Richie Boddin, still smiling that crazy smile, worked the chrome lever that shut the folding door. They were getting out of their seats now, all of them.

    ‘No,’ he said, trying to smile. ‘You kids… you don’t understand. It’s me. It’s Charlie Rhodes. You… you…’ He grinned at them without meaning, shook his head, held out his hands to show them they were just ole Charlie Rhodes’s hands, blameless, and backed up until his back was jammed against the wide tinted glass of the windshield.

    ‘Don’t,’ he whispered.

    They came on, grinning. ‘Please don’t.’

    And fell on him.



https://www.amazon.com/Salems-Lot-Stephen-King/dp/0307743675

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Two lines converging: The Red Hand by Arthur Machen

Machen wrote "The Red Hand" in 1895. It features Dyson and Phillipps, whom Machen features as pseudo-detectives in several stories.

In "The Red Hand" they unravel the murder (or sacrifice, as Dyson prefers to call it) of eminent medico Sir Thomas Vivian. Dyson uncovers the truth and finds his man with patience and an encyclopedic knowledge of the byways of London.

The plot itself, if organized chronologically, bears the hallmarks of an uncanny ritual. Even coincidence appears lawful.

"The Red Hand" also recalls stories by Stevenson and Conan Doyle about men conspiring together to find a lost treasure hoard.

This being Machen, the modern world rests upon an older one thought extinct, but actually just unnoticed, and in that world lies the treasure.

The man Dyson seeks, Mr. Selby, comes to tell his story:

‘Your conclusions are admirable,’ said Mr. Selby. ‘I may tell you that I had my stroll down Oxford Street the night Sir Thomas Vivian died. And I think that is all I have to say.’

‘Scarcely,’ said Dyson. ‘How about the treasure?’

‘I had rather we did not speak of that,’ said Mr. Selby, with a whitening of the skin about the temples.

‘Oh, nonsense, sir, we are not blackmailers. Besides, you know you are in our power.’

‘Then, as you put it like that, Mr. Dyson, I must tell you I returned to the place. I went on a little farther than before.’

The man stopped short; his mouth began to twitch, his lips moved apart, and he drew in quick breaths, sobbing.

‘Well, well,’ said Dyson, ‘I dare say you have done comfortably.’

‘Comfortably,’ Selby went on, constraining himself with an effort, ‘yes, so comfortably that hell burns hot within me for ever. I only brought one thing away from that awful house within the hills; it was lying just beyond the spot where I found the flint knife.’

‘Why did you not bring more?’

The whole bodily frame of the wretched man visibly shrank and wasted; his face grew yellow as tallow, and the sweat dropped from his brows. The spectacle was both revolting and terrible, and when the voice came it sounded like the hissing of a snake.

‘Because the keepers are still there, and I saw them, and because of this,’ and he pulled out a small piece of curious gold-work and held it up.

‘There,’ he said, ‘that is the Pain of the Goat.’

Phillipps and Dyson cried out together in horror at the revolting obscenity of the thing.

‘Put it away, man; hide it, for Heaven’s sake, hide it!’....

A light touch: The Stoneground Ghost Tales by E.G. Swain

A marvellous moment from E.G. Swain's collection:

....he heard the clocks strike the hour of midnight, and having now lost all hope of falling asleep, he rose from his bed, got into a large dressing gown which hung in readiness for such occasions, and passed into the library, with the intention of reading himself sleepy, if he could.

The moon, by this time, had passed out of the south, and the library seemed all the darker by contrast with the moonlit chamber he had left. He could see nothing but two blue-grey rectangles formed by the windows against the sky, the furniture of the room being altogether invisible. Groping along to where the table stood, Mr Batchel felt over its surface for the matches which usually lay there; he found, however, that the table was cleared of everything. He raised his right hand, therefore, in order to feel his way to a shelf where the matches were sometimes mislaid, and at that moment, whilst his hand was in mid-air, the matchbox was gently put into it!

The full collection is here:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/gothictexts.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/the-stoneground-ghost-tales-1912-by-e-g-swain/amp/

Spain, fascism, political atavism: The Croquet Player by H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells and his croquet player Georgie confront the social reality of 1936.

The novella begins well, and there are some genuinely uncanny moments. But Wells cannot overcome his bourgeois liberalism, which sees wrong-headed values, and not class relations, as driving the historic crisis of imperialism in the 1930s.

....I made my break-away from Norbert's flooding eloquence that morning with some considerable difficulty. I stood up. "I must be going," I said. "I have to play croquet with my aunt at half-past twelve."

"But what does croquet matter," he cried in that intolerable voice of his, "if your world is falling in ruins about you?"

He made a move almost as though he would impede my retreat. He just wanted to go on being apocalyptic. But I had had enough of this apocalyptic stuff.

I looked him in the face, firmly but politely. I said, "I don't care. The world MAY be going to pieces. The Stone Age may be returning. This may, as you say, be the sunset of civilization. I'm sorry, but I can't help it this morning. I have other engagements. All the same—laws of the Medes and Persians—I am going to play croquet with my aunt at half-past twelve today."

The Croquet Player


Monday, September 25, 2017

And all the world to wonder turns: A Fragment of Life By Arthur Machen






A Fragment of Life / Arthur Machen

Machen ends his sublime 1904 novel A Fragment of Life with this note of striking omniscience:

It would be impossible to carry on the history of Edward Darnell and of Mary his wife to a greater length, since from this point their legend is full of impossible events, and seems to put on the semblance of the stories of the Graal. It is certain, indeed, that in this world they changed their lives....

A Fragment of Life begins with Edward and Mary living in London. Edward is from "the west," and treasures memories of a strange and idyllic childhood. But now he is a clerk. Money is always tight, and the couple discuss every expenditure at length. A windfall from Mary's family pulls them into disagreement: Edward wants to furnish their second bedroom, Mary wants a new range for the kitchen.

The humor of these scenes, and the ease of telling, is masterful, as when Darnell goes to consult his friend Wilson on the matter:

....‘I wanted to consult you about some furniture,’ Darnell said at last. ‘You know we’ve got a spare room, and I’m thinking of putting a few things into it. I haven’t exactly made up my mind, but I thought you might advise me.’

‘Come into my den,’ said Wilson. ‘No; this way, by the back’; and he showed Darnell another ingenious arrangement at the side door whereby a violent high-toned bell was set pealing in the house if one did but touch the latch. Indeed, Wilson handled it so briskly that the bell rang a wild alarm, and the servant, who was trying on her mistress’s things in the bedroom, jumped madly to the window and then danced a hysteric dance. There was plaster found on the drawing-room table on Sunday afternoon, and Wilson wrote a letter to the ‘Fulham Chronicle,’ ascribing the phenomenon ‘to some disturbance of a seismic nature.’

For the moment he knew nothing of the great results of his contrivance, and solemnly led the way towards the back of the house. Here there was a patch of turf, beginning to look a little brown, with a background of shrubs. In the middle of the turf, a boy of nine or ten was standing all alone, with something of an air.

‘The eldest,’ said Wilson. ‘Havelock. Well, Lockie, what are ye doing now? And where are your brother and sister?’

The boy was not at all shy. Indeed, he seemed eager to explain the course of events.

‘I’m playing at being Gawd,’ he said, with an engaging frankness. ‘And I’ve sent Fergus and Janet to the bad place. That’s in the shrubbery. And they’re never to come out any more. And they’re burning for ever and ever.’

‘What d’you think of that?’ said Wilson admiringly. ‘Not bad for a youngster of nine, is it? They think a lot of him at the Sunday-school...."

In another humorous passage, reminiscent of the aspirations of Mr. Pooter, Edward recalls his spendthrift younger days in London:

....Over the breakfast they discussed the question of the spare room all over again. Mrs. Darnell still admitted that the plan of furnishing it attracted her, but she could not see how it could be done for the ten pounds, and as they were prudent people they did not care to encroach on their savings. Edward was highly paid, having (with allowances for extra work in busy weeks) a hundred and forty pounds a year, and Mary had inherited from an old uncle, her godfather, three hundred pounds, which had been judiciously laid out in mortgage at 4–1/2 per cent. Their total income, then, counting in Aunt Marian’s present, was a hundred and fifty-eight pounds a year, and they were clear of debt, since Darnell had bought the furniture for the house out of money which he had saved for five or six years before.

In the first few years of his life in the City his income had, of course, been smaller, and at first he had lived very freely, without a thought of laying by. The theatres and music-halls had attracted him, and scarcely a week passed without his going (in the pit) to one or the other; and he had occasionally bought photographs of actresses who pleased him. These he had solemnly burnt when he became engaged to Mary; he remembered the evening well; his heart had been so full of joy and wonder, and the landlady had complained bitterly of the mess in the grate when he came home from the City the next night. Still, the money was lost, as far as he could recollect, ten or twelve shillings; and it annoyed him all the more to reflect that if he had put it by, it would have gone far towards the purchase of an ‘Orient’ carpet in brilliant colours. Then there had been other expenses of his youth: he had purchased threepenny and even fourpenny cigars, the latter rarely, but the former frequently, sometimes singly, and sometimes in bundles of twelve for half-a-crown.

Once a meerschaum pipe had haunted him for six weeks; the tobacconist had drawn it out of a drawer with some air of secrecy as he was buying a packet of ‘Lone Star.’ Here was another useless expense, these American-manufactured tobaccos; his ‘Lone Star,’ ‘Long Judge,’ ‘Old Hank,’ ‘Sultry Clime,’ and the rest of them cost from a shilling to one and six the two-ounce packet; whereas now he got excellent loose honeydew for threepence halfpenny an ounce. But the crafty tradesman, who had marked him down as a buyer of expensive fancy goods, nodded with his air of mystery, and, snapping open the case, displayed the meerschaum before the dazzled eyes of Darnell. The bowl was carved in the likeness of a female figure, showing the head and torso, and the mouthpiece was of the very best amber — only twelve and six, the man said, and the amber alone, he declared, was worth more than that. He explained that he felt some delicacy about showing the pipe to any but a regular customer, and was willing to take a little under cost price and ‘cut the loss.’ Darnell resisted for the time, but the pipe troubled him, and at last he bought it. He was pleased to show it to the younger men in the office for a while, but it never smoked very well, and he gave it away just before his marriage, as from the nature of the carving it would have been impossible to use it in his wife’s presence. Once, while he was taking his holidays at Hastings, he had purchased a malacca cane — a useless thing that had cost seven shillings — and he reflected with sorrow on the innumerable evenings on which he had rejected his landlady’s plain fried chop, and had gone out to flaner among the Italian restaurants in Upper Street, Islington (he lodged in Holloway), pampering himself with expensive delicacies: cutlets and green peas, braised beef with tomato sauce, fillet steak and chipped potatoes, ending the banquet very often with a small wedge of Gruyère, which cost twopence.

One night, after receiving a rise in his salary, he had actually drunk a quarter-flask of Chianti and had added the enormities of Benedictine, coffee, and cigarettes to an expenditure already disgraceful, and sixpence to the waiter made the bill amount to four shillings instead of the shilling that would have provided him with a wholesome and sufficient repast at home. Oh, there were many other items in this account of extravagance, and Darnell had often regretted his way of life, thinking that if he had been more careful, five or six pounds a year might have been added to their income.

Edward and Mary decide they cannot afford to furnish the bedroom. Then a crisis seems imminent: that they might have to take in Mary's aunt. But the aunt is committed to an asylum before this can happen.

....now he was free to consider his life without reference to the grotesque intrusion that he had feared. He sighed for joy, and as he paced to and fro he savoured the scent of the night, which, though it came faintly to him in that brick-bound suburb, summoned to his mind across many years the odour of the world at night as he had known it in that short sojourn of his boyhood; the odour that rose from the earth when the flame of the sun had gone down beyond the mountain, and the afterglow had paled in the sky and on the fields. And as he recovered as best he could these lost dreams of an enchanted land, there came to him other images of his childhood, forgotten and yet not forgotten, dwelling unheeded in dark places of the memory, but ready to be summoned forth. He remembered one fantasy that had long haunted him. As he lay half asleep in the forest on one hot afternoon of that memorable visit to the country, he had ‘made believe’ that a little companion had come to him out of the blue mists and the green light beneath the leaves — a white girl with long black hair, who had played with him and whispered her secrets in his ear, as his father lay sleeping under a tree; and from that summer afternoon, day by day, she had been beside him; she had visited him in the wilderness of London, and even in recent years there had come to him now and again the sense of her presence, in the midst of the heat and turmoil of the City. The last visit he remembered well; it was a few weeks before he married, and from the depths of some futile task he had looked up with puzzled eyes, wondering why the close air suddenly grew scented with green leaves, why the murmur of the trees and the wash of the river on the reeds came to his ears; and then that sudden rapture to which he had given a name and an individuality possessed him utterly. He knew then how the dull flesh of man can be like fire; and now, looking back from a new standpoint on this and other experiences, he realized how all that was real in his life had been unwelcomed, uncherished by him, had come to him, perhaps, in virtue of merely negative qualities on his part. And yet, as he reflected, he saw that there had been a chain of witnesses all through his life: again and again voices had whispered in his ear words in a strange language that he now recognized as his native tongue; the common street had not been lacking in visions of the true land of his birth; and in all the passing and repassing of the world he saw that there had been emissaries ready to guide his feet on the way of the great journey.

Mary noticed that every evening he spent at least an hour in the box-room; she was rather sorry at the waste of time involved in reading old papers about dead people. And one afternoon, as they were out together on a somewhat dreary walk towards Acton, Darnell stopped at a hopeless second-hand bookshop, and after scanning the rows of shabby books in the window, went in and purchased two volumes. They proved to be a Latin dictionary and grammar, and she was surprised to hear her husband declare his intention of acquiring the Latin language.

Edward pores over old family papers after work each night, and the heightened "ancestral" consciousness of his youth unfolds into life again. Mary, far from being alienated, is reassured that there will be more to their lives than endless kibitzing over the household budget.

....all his conduct impressed her as indefinably altered; and she began to be a little alarmed, though she could scarcely have formed her fears in words. But she knew that in some way that was all indefined and beyond the grasp of her thought their lives had altered since the summer, and no single thing wore quite the same aspect as before. If she looked out into the dull street with its rare loiterers, it was the same and yet it had altered, and if she opened the window in the early morning the wind that entered came with a changed breath that spoke some message that she could not understand. And day by day passed by in the old course, and not even the four walls were altogether familiar, and the voices of men and women sounded with strange notes, with the echo, rather, of a music that came over unknown hills. And day by day as she went about her household work, passing from shop to shop in those dull streets that were a network, a fatal labyrinth of grey desolation on every side, there came to her sense half-seen images of some other world, as if she walked in a dream, and every moment must bring her to light and to awakening, when the grey should fade, and regions long desired should appear in glory. Again and again it seemed as if that which was hidden would be shown even to the sluggish testimony of sense; and as she went to and fro from street to street of that dim and weary suburb, and looked on those grey material walls, they seemed as if a light glowed behind them, and again and again the mystic fragrance of incense was blown to her nostrils from across the verge of that world which is not so much impenetrable as ineffable, and to her ears came the dream of a chant that spoke of hidden choirs about all her ways. She struggled against these impressions, refusing her assent to the testimony of them, since all the pressure of credited opinion for three hundred years has been directed towards stamping out real knowledge, and so effectually has this been accomplished that we can only recover the truth through much anguish. And so Mary passed the days in a strange perturbation, clinging to common things and common thoughts, as if she feared that one morning she would wake up in an unknown world to a changed life. And Edward Darnell went day by day to his labour and returned in the evening, always with that shining of light within his eyes and upon his face, with the gaze of wonder that was greater day by day, as if for him the veil grew thin and soon would disappear.

From these great matters both in herself and in her husband Mary shrank back, afraid, perhaps, that if she began the question the answer might be too wonderful. She rather taught herself to be troubled over little things; she asked herself what attraction there could be in the old records over which she supposed Edward to be poring night after night in the cold room upstairs. She had glanced over the papers at Darnell’s invitation, and could see but little interest in them; there were one or two sketches, roughly done in pen and ink, of the old house in the west: it looked a shapeless and fantastic place, furnished with strange pillars and stranger ornaments on the projecting porch; and on one side a roof dipped down almost to the earth, and in the centre there was something that might almost be a tower rising above the rest of the building. Then there were documents that seemed all names and dates, with here and there a coat of arms done in the margin, and she came upon a string of uncouth Welsh names linked together by the word ‘ap’ in a chain that looked endless. There was a paper covered with signs and figures that meant nothing to her, and then there were the pocket-books, full of old-fashioned writing, and much of it in Latin, as her husband told her — it was a collection as void of significance as a treatise on conic sections, so far as Mary was concerned. But night after night Darnell shut himself up with the musty rolls, and more than ever when he rejoined her he bore upon his face the blazonry of some great adventure. And one night she asked him what interested him so much in the papers he had shown her.
He was delighted with the question. Somehow they had not talked much together for the last few weeks, and he began to tell her of the records of the old race from which he came, of the old strange house of grey stone between the forest and the river. The family went back and back, he said, far into the dim past, beyond the Normans, beyond the Saxons, far into the Roman days, and for many hundred years they had been petty kings, with a strong fortress high up on the hill, in the heart of the forest; and even now the great mounds remained, whence one could look through the trees towards the mountain on one side and across the yellow sea on the other. The real name of the family was not Darnell; that was assumed by one Iolo ap Taliesin ap Iorwerth in the sixteenth century — why, Darnell did not seem to understand. And then he told her how the race had dwindled in prosperity, century by century, till at last there was nothing left but the grey house and a few acres of land bordering the river.

‘And do you know, Mary,’ he said, ‘I suppose we shall go and live there some day or other. My great-uncle, who has the place now, made money in business when he was a young man, and I believe he will leave it all to me. I know I am the only relation he has. How strange it would be. What a change from the life here.’
‘You never told me that. Don’t you think your great-uncle might leave his house and his money to somebody he knows really well? You haven’t seen him since you were a little boy, have you?’

‘No; but we write once a year. And from what I have heard my father say, I am sure the old man would never leave the house out of the family. Do you think you would like it?’

‘I don’t know. Isn’t it very lonely?’

‘I suppose it is. I forget whether there are any other houses in sight, but I don’t think there are any at all near. But what a change! No City, no streets, no people passing to and fro; only the sound of the wind and the sight of the green leaves and the green hills, and the song of the voices of the earth.’ . . . He checked himself suddenly, as if he feared that he was about to tell some secret that must not yet be uttered; and indeed, as he spoke of the change from the little street in Shepherd’s Bush to that ancient house in the woods of the far west, a change seemed already to possess himself, and his voice put on the modulation of an antique chant. Mary looked at him steadily and touched his arm, and he drew a long breath before he spoke again.

‘It is the old blood calling to the old land,’ he said. ‘I was forgetting that I am a clerk in the City.’

It was, doubtless, the old blood that had suddenly stirred in him; the resurrection of the old spirit that for many centuries had been faithful to secrets that are now disregarded by most of us, that now day by day was quickened more and more in his heart, and grew so strong that it was hard to conceal. He was indeed almost in the position of the man in the tale, who, by a sudden electric shock, lost the vision of the things about him in the London streets, and gazed instead upon the sea and shore of an island in the Antipodes; for Darnell only clung with an effort to the interests and the atmosphere which, till lately, had seemed all the world to him; and the grey house and the wood and the river, symbols of the other sphere, intruded as it were into the landscape of the London suburb.

On the last page of a book of poems, Edward writes:

‘So I awoke from a dream of a London suburb, of daily labour, of weary, useless little things; and as my eyes were opened I saw that I was in an ancient wood, where a clear well rose into grey film and vapour beneath a misty, glimmering heat. And a form came towards me from the hidden places of the wood, and my love and I were united by the well.’

***

Jay
25 September 2017

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A hushed and haunted air: Tales of Horror and the Supernatural by Arthur Machen



Tales of Horror and the Supernatural by Arthur Machen


Arthur Machen (1863-1947) has always been prized in the field of weird fiction. His style, and craftsman’s genius for structure and organization of material, stuns and delights me.

S.T. Joshi writes: "Arthur Machen produced some of the most evocative weird fiction in all literary history. Written with impeccably mellifluous prose, infused with a powerful mystical vision, and imbued with a wonder and terror that their author felt with every fibre of his being, his novels and tales will survive when works of far greater technical accomplishment fall by the wayside."  [Unutterable Horror, ebook, p. 519.]

H.P. Lovecraft wrote: "Of living creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch, few if any can hope to equal the versatile Arthur Machen; author of some dozen tales long and short, in which the elements of hidden horror and brooding fright attain an almost incomparable substance and realistic acuteness."
[Supernatural Horror in Literature.]

A wider sampling of critical opinion can be found in Bloom's Modern Horror Writers.

Why did it take until my fifty-second year before I took the plunge and read Arthur Machen consistently?

I was aware of him from the early 80s, thanks to Ted Klein's Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine. In the 1990s I read and re-read "The Novel of the White Powder" several times in various anthologies. But that was it.

This week came the great rectification. To think I hesitated!

Jay
24 September 2017


***

From “The Great God Pan” [1894]

….Villiers was pacing up and down the room, and the beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. Austin sat silent for a while, but Villiers saw him make a sign upon his breast.

"I say again, Villiers, you will surely never enter such a house as that? You would never pass out alive."

"Yes, Austin, I shall go out alive—I, and Clarke with me"

"What do you mean? You cannot, you would not
dare."

"Wait a moment. The air was very pleasant and fresh this morning; there was a breeze blowing, even through this dull street, and I thought I would take a walk. Piccadilly stretched before me a clear, bright vista, and the sun flashed on the carriages and on the quivering leaves in the park. It was a joyous morning, and men and women looked at the sky and smiled as they went about their work or their pleasure, and the wind blew as blithely as upon the meadows and the scented gorse. But somehow or other I got out of the bustle and the gaiety, and found myself walking slowly along a quiet, dull street, where there seemed to be no sunshine and no air, and where the few foot-passengers loitered as they walked, and hung indecisively about corners and archways. I walked along, hardly knowing where I was going or what I did there, but feeling impelled, as one sometimes is, to explore still further, with a vague idea of reaching some unknown goal. Thus I forged up the street, noting the small traffic of the milk-shop, and wondering at the incongruous medley of penny pipes, black tobacco, sweets, newspapers, and comic songs which here and there jostled one another in the short compass of a single window. I think it was a cold shudder that suddenly passed through me that first told me that I had found what I wanted. I looked up from the pavement and stopped before a dusty shop, above which the lettering had faded, where the red bricks of two hundred years ago had grimed to black; where the windows had gathered to themselves the dust of winters innumerable. I saw what I required; but I think it was five minutes before I had steadied myself and could walk in and ask for it in a cool voice and with a calm face. I think there must even then have been a tremor in my words, for the old man who came out of the back parlour, and fumbled slowly amongst his goods, looked oddly at me as he tied the parcel. I paid what he asked, and stood leaning by the counter, with a strange reluctance to take up my goods and go. I asked about the business, and learnt that trade was bad and the profits cut down sadly; but then the street was not what it was before traffic had been diverted, but that was done forty years ago, 'just before my father died,' he said. I got away at last, and walked along sharply; it was a dismal street indeed, and I was glad to return to the bustle and the noise. Would you like to see my purchase?"

Austin said nothing, but nodded his head slightly; he still looked white and sick. Villiers pulled out a drawer in the bamboo table, and showed Austin a long coil of cord, hard and new; and at one end was a running noose.

"It is the best hempen cord," said Villiers, "just as it used to be made for the old trade, the man told me. Not an inch of jute from end to end."

Austin set his teeth hard, and stared at Villiers, growing whiter as he looked.

"You would not do it," he murmured at last. "You would not have blood on your hands. My God!" he exclaimed, with sudden vehemence, "you cannot mean this, Villiers, that you will make yourself a hangman?"

"No. I shall offer a choice, and leave Helen Vaughan alone with this cord in a locked room for fifteen minutes. If when we go in it is not done, I shall call the nearest policeman. That is all."

"I must go now. I cannot stay here any longer; I cannot bear this. Good-night."

"Good-night, Austin."

The door shut, but in a moment it was open again, and Austin stood, white and ghastly, in the entrance.
"I was forgetting," he said, "that I too have something to tell. I have received a letter from Dr. Harding of Buenos Ayres. He says that he attended Meyrick for three weeks before his death."

"And does he say what carried him off in the prime of life? It was not fever?"

"No, it was not fever. According to the doctor, it was an utter collapse of the whole system, probably caused by some severe shock. But he states that the patient would tell him nothing, and that he was consequently at some disadvantage in treating the case."

"Is there anything more?"

"Yes. Dr. Harding ends his letter by saying: 'I think this is all the information I can give you about your poor friend. He had not been long in Buenos Ayres, and knew scarcely any one, with the exception of a person who did not bear the best of characters, and has since left—a Mrs. Vaughan.'"



*

From "The Shining Pyramid" [1895]

....Across the stream, just below the house, rose a grey stone bridge, vaulted and buttressed, a fragment of the Middle Ages, and then beyond the bridge the hills rose again, vast and rounded like bastions, covered here and there with dark woods and thickets of undergrowth, but the heights were all bare of trees, showing only grey turf and patches of bracken, touched here and there with the gold of fading fronds; Dyson looked to the north and south, and still he saw the wall of the hills, and the ancient woods, and the stream drawn in and out between them; all grey and dim with morning mist beneath a grey sky in a hushed and haunted air.

Mr. Vaughan’s voice broke in upon the silence.
“I thought you would be too tired to be about so early,” he said. “I see you are admiring the view. It is very pretty, isn’t it, though I suppose old Meyrick Vaughan didn’t think much about the scenery when he built the house. A queer grey, old place, isn’t it?”

“Yes, and how it fits into the surroundings; it seems of a piece with the grey hills and the grey bridge below.”

“I am afraid I have brought you down on false pretences, Dyson,” said Vaughan, as they began to walk up and down the terrace. “I have been to the place, and there is not a sign of anything this morning”

“Ah, indeed. Well, suppose we go round together.”

They walked across the lawn and went by a path through the ilex shrubbery to the back of the house. There Vaughan pointed out the track leading down to the valley and up to the heights above the wood, and presently they stood beneath the garden wall, by the door.

“Here, you see, it was,” said Vaughan, pointing to a spot on the turf. “I was standing just where you are now that morning I first saw the flints.”
“Yes, quite so. That morning it was the Army, as I call it; then the Bowl, then the Pyramid, and, yesterday, the Half moon. What a queer old stone that is,” he went on, pointing to a block of limestone rising out of the turf just beneath the wall. ‘It looks like a sort of dwarf pillar, but I suppose it is natural.”

“Oh, yes, I think so. I imagine it was brought here, though, as we stand on the red sandstone. No doubt it was used as a foundation stone for some older building.”

“Very likely,” Dyson was peering about him attentively, looking from the ground to the wall, and from the wall to the deep wood that hung almost over the garden and made the place dark even in the morning.

“Look here,” said Dyson at length, “it is certainly a case of children this time. Look at that.” He was bending down and staring at the dull red surface of the mellowed bricks of the wall.
Vaughan came up and looked hard where Dyson’s finger was pointing, and could scarcely distinguish a faint mark in deeper red.

“What is it?” he said. “I can make nothing of it.”

“Look a little more closely. Don’t you see it is an attempt to draw the human eye?”

“Ah, now I see what you mean. My sight is not very sharp. Yes, so it is, it is meant for an eye, no doubt, as you say. I thought the children learnt drawing at school.”

“Well, it is an odd eye enough. Do you notice the peculiar almond shape; almost like the eye of a Chinaman?”

Dyson looked meditatively at the work of the undeveloped artist, and scanned the wall again, going down on his knees in the minuteness of his inquisition.

“I should like very much,” he said at length, “to know how a child in this out of the way place could have any idea of the shape of the Mongolian eye. You see the average child has a very distinct impression of the subject; he draws a circle, or something like a circle, and put a dot in the centre. I don’t think any child imagines that the eye is really made like that; it’s just a convention of infantile art. But this almond-shaped thing puzzles me extremely. Perhaps it may be derived from a gilt Chinaman on a tea-canister in the grocer’s shop. Still that’s hardly likely.”

“But why are you so sure it was done by a child?”

“Why! Look at the height. These old-fashioned bricks are little more than two inches thick; there are twenty courses from the ground to the sketch if we call it so; that gives a height of three and a half feet. Now, just imagine you are going to draw something on this wall. Exactly; your pencil, if you had one, would touch the wall somewhere on the level with your eyes, that is, more than five feet from the ground. It seems, therefore, a very simple deduction to conclude that this eye on the wall was drawn by a child about ten years old.”

“Yes, I had not thought of that. Of course one of the children must have done it.”

“I suppose so; and yet as I said, there is something singularly unchildlike about those two lines, and the eyeball itself, you see, is almost an oval. To my mind, the thing has an odd, ancient air; and a touch that is not altogether pleasant. I cannot help fancying that if we could see a whole face from the same hand it would not be altogether agreeable. However, that is nonsense, after all, and we are not getting farther in our investigations....

....I remembered what people had said about Annie Trevor's disappearance, that she had been 'taken by the fairies.' I tell you, Vaughan, I am a sane man as you are, my brain is not, I trust, mere vacant space to let to any wild improbability, and I tried my best to thrust the fantasy away. And the hint came of the old name of fairies, 'the little people,' and the very probable belief that they represent a tradition of the prehistoric Turanian inhabitants of the country, who were cave dwellers: and then I realized with a shock that I was looking for a being under four feet in height, accustomed to live in darkness, possessing stone instruments, and familiar with the Mongolian cast of features! I say this, Vaughan, that I should be ashamed to hint at such visionary stuff to you, if it were not for that which you saw with your very eyes last night, and I say that I might doubt the evidence of my senses, if they were not confirmed by yours. But you and I cannot look each other in the face and pretend delusion; as you lay on the turf beside me I felt your flesh shrink and quiver, and I saw your eyes in the light of the flame. And so I tell you without any shame what was in my mind last night as we went through the wood and climbed the hill, and lay hidden beneath the rock.

The Shining Pyramid / Arthur Machen
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/machen/arthur/shining-pyramid/complete.html

*


From "The Inmost Light" (1894)

....I began by saying that part of his evidence at the Harlesden inquest struck me as very peculiar, and I gave him the printed report, with the sentences in question underlined. He just glanced at the slip, and gave me a queer look.

‘“It struck you as peculiar, did it?” said he. “Well, you must remember that the Harlesden case was very peculiar. In fact, I think I may safely say that in some features it was unique — quite unique.”

‘“Quite so,” I replied, “and that’s exactly why it interests me, and why I want to know more about it. And I thought that if anybody could give me any information it would be you. What is your opinion of the matter?”

‘It was a pretty downright sort of question, and my doctor looked rather taken aback.

‘“Well,” he said, “as I fancy your motive in inquiring into the question must be mere curiosity, I think I may tell you my opinion with tolerable freedom. So, Mr. Dyson, if you want to know my theory, it is this: I believe that Dr. Black killed his wife.”

‘“But the verdict,” I answered, “the verdict was given from your own evidence.”

‘“Quite so; the verdict was given in accordance with the evidence of my colleague and myself, and, under the circumstances, I think the jury acted very sensibly. In fact, I don’t see what else they could have done. But I stick to my opinion, mind you, and I say this also. I don’t wonder at Black’s doing what I firmly believe he did. I think he was justified.”

‘“Justified! How could that be?” I asked. I was astonished, as you may imagine, at the answer I had got. The doctor wheeled round his chair and looked steadily at me for a moment before he answered.

‘“I suppose you are not a man of science yourself? No; then it would be of no use my going into detail. I have always been firmly opposed myself to any partnership between physiology and psychology. I believe that both are bound to suffer. No one recognizes more decidedly than I do the impassable gulf, the fathomless abyss that separates the world of consciousness from the sphere of matter. We know that every change of consciousness is accompanied by a rearrangement of the molecules in the grey matter; and that is all. What the link between them is, or why they occur together, we do not know, and the most authorities believe that we never can know. Yet, I will tell you that as I did my work, the knife in my hand, I felt convinced, in spite of all theories, that what lay before me was not the brain of a dead woman — not the brain of a human being at all. Of course I saw the face; but it was quite placid, devoid of all expression. It must have been a beautiful face, no doubt, but I can honestly say that I would not have looked in that face when there was life behind it for a thousand guineas, no, nor for twice that sum.”’

‘“My dear sir,” I said, “you surprise me extremely. You say that it was not the brain of a human being. What was it, then?”

‘“The brain of a devil.” He spoke quite coolly, and never moved a muscle. “The brain of a devil,” he repeated, “and I have no doubt that Black found some way of putting an end to it. I don’t blame him if he did. Whatever Mrs. Black was, she was not fit to stay in this world. Will you have anything more? No? Good-night, good-night.”

‘It was a queer sort of opinion to get from a man of science, wasn’t it? When he was saying that he would not have looked on that face when alive for a thousand guineas, or two thousand guineas, I was thinking of the face I had seen, but I said nothing....

The Inmost Light / Arthur Machen
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/machen/arthur/inmost-light/complete.html

*


"The White People" (1904)

..... I think you are falling into the very general error of confining the spiritual world to the supremely good; but the supremely wicked, necessarily, have their portion in it.

....We think that a man who does evil to us and to his neighbours must be very evil. So he is, from a social standpoint; but can't you realize that Evil in its essence is a lonely thing, a passion of the solitary, individual soul? Really, the average murderer, quâ murderer, is not by any means a sinner in the true sense of the word. He is simply a wild beast that we have to get rid of to save our own necks from his knife. I should class him rather with tigers than with sinners.'

....Then the essence of sin really is----'

'In the taking of heaven by storm, it seems to me,' said Ambrose. 'It appears to me that it is simply an attempt to penetrate into another and higher sphere in a forbidden manner.

....'There is something profoundly unnatural about Sin? Is that what you mean?'

'Exactly. Holiness requires as great, or almost as great, an effort; but holiness works on lines that were natural once; it is an effort to recover the ecstasy that was before the Fall. But sin is an effort to gain the ecstasy and the knowledge that pertain alone to angels and in making this effort man becomes a demon.

....So you see that while the good and the evil are unnatural to man as he now is--to man the social, civilized being--evil is unnatural in a much deeper sense than good. The saint endeavours to recover a gift which he has lost; the sinner tries to obtain something which was never his. In brief, he repeats the Fall.'

....So you see that while the good and the evil are unnatural to man as he now is--to man the social, civilized being--evil is unnatural in a much deeper sense than good. The saint endeavours to recover a gift which he has lost; the sinner tries to obtain something which was never his. In brief, he repeats the Fall.'

....true evil has nothing to do with social life or social laws, or if it has, only incidentally and accidentally. It is a lonely passion of the soul--or a passion of the lonely soul--whichever you like. If, by chance, we understand it, and grasp its full significance, then, indeed, it will fill us with horror and with awe.

....In a word--what is sin? You have given me, I know, an abstract definition, but I should like a concrete example.'

The White People / Arthur Machen
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/machen/arthur/white-people/complete.html

*

From "The Novel of the Black Seal"

....Professor Gregg left this house one morning in full health both in mind and body. He never returned, but his watch and chain, a purse containing three sovereigns in gold, and some loose silver, with a ring that he wore habitually, were found three days later on a wild and savage hillside, many miles from the river. These articles were placed beside a limestone rock of fantastic form; they had been wrapped into a parcel with a kind of rough parchment which was secured with gut. The parcel was opened, and the inner side of the parchment bore an inscription done with some red substance; the characters were undecipherable, but seemed to be a corrupt cuneiform.'

....I became convinced that much of the folk-lore of the world is but an exaggerated account of events that really happened, and I was especially drawn to consider the stories of the fairies, the good folk of the Celtic races. Here, I thought I could detect the fringe of embroidery and exaggeration, the fantastic guise, the little people dressed in green and gold sporting in the flowers, and I thought I saw a distinct analogy between the name given to this race (supposed to be imaginary) and the description of their appearance and manners. Just as our remote ancestors called the dreaded beings 'fair' and 'good' precisely because they dreaded them, so they had dressed them up in charming forms, knowing the truth to be the very reverse. Literature, too, had gone early to work, and had lent a powerful hand in the transformation, so that the playful elves of Shakespere are already far removed from the true original, and the real horror is disguised in a form of prankish mischief. But in the older tales, the stories that used to make men cross themselves as they sat around the burning logs, we tread a different stage; I saw a widely opposed spirit in certain histories of children and of men and women who vanished strangely from the earth.

....there are stories of mothers who have left a child quietly sleeping, with the cottage door rudely barred with a piece of wood, and have returned, not to find the plump and rosy little Saxon, but a thin and wizened creature, with sallow skin and black, piercing eyes, the child of another race. Then, again, there were myths darker still; the dread of witch and wizard, the lurid evil of the Sabbath, and the hint of demons who mingled with the daughters of men. And just as we have turned the terrible 'fair folk' into a company of benignant, if freakish elves, so we have hidden from us the black foulness of the witch and her companions under a popular diablerie of old women and broomsticks, and a comic cat with tail on end. So the Greeks called the hideous furies benevolent ladies, and thus the northern nations have followed their example.

....ancient scripts I was well equipped for the chase, as I always termed it to myself. I had correspondents amongst all the scientific men in Europe, and, indeed, in the world, and I could not believe that in these days any character, however ancient and however perplexed, could long resist the search-light I should bring to bear upon it. Yet in point of fact, it was fully fourteen years before I succeeded. With every year my professional duties increased and my leisure became smaller. This no doubt retarded me a good deal; and yet, when I look back on those years, I am astonished at the vast scope of my investigation of the Black Seal. I made my bureau a centre, and from all the world and from all the ages I gathered transcripts of ancient writing.

Nothing, I resolved, should pass me unawares, and the faintest hint should be welcomed and followed up. But as one covert after another was tried and proved empty of result, I began in the course of years to despair, and to wonder whether the Black Seal were the sole relic of some race....

There were two inscriptions; one in the regular cuneiform character, another in the character of the Black Seal, and I realized that my task was accomplished. I made an exact copy of the two inscriptions; and when I got to my London study, and had the seal before me, I was able seriously to grapple with the great problem. The interpreting inscription on the museum specimen, though in itself curious enough, did not bear on my quest, but the transliteration made me master of the secret of the Black Seal. That of course, had to enter into my calculations; there was here and there uncertainty about a particular ideograph, and one sign recurring again and again on the seal baffled me for many successive nights. But at last the secret stood open before me in plain English, and I read the key of the awful transmutation of the hills.

*

From the story "N."

....he chanced to light on a shabby brown book on his untidy shelves; a book gathered from a stall in Farringdon Street, where the manuscript of Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations had been found. So far, Arnold had scarcely glanced at it. It was called, A London Walk: Meditations in the Streets of the Metropolis. The author was the Reverend Thomas Hampole, and the book was dated 1853. It consisted for the most part of moral and obvious reflections, such as might be expected from a pious and amiable clergyman of the day. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the relish of moralizing which flourished so in the age of Addison and Pope and Johnson, which made the Rambler a popular book, and gave fortunes to the publishers of sermons, had still a great deal of vigour. People liked to be warned of the consequences of their actions, to have lessons in punctuality, to learn about the importance of little things, to hear sermons from stones, and to be taught that there were gloomy reflections to be drawn from almost everything. So then, the Reverend Thomas Hampole stalked the London streets with a moral and monitory glance in his eye: saw Regent Street in its early splendour and thought of the ruins of mighty Rome, preached on the text of solitude in a multitude as he viewed what he called the teeming myriads, and allowed a desolate, half-ruinous house “in Chancery” to suggest thoughts of the happy Christmas parties that had once thoughtlessly revelled behind the crumbling walls and broken windows.

But here and there, Mr. Hampole became less obvious, and perhaps more really profitable. For example, there is a passage—it has already been quoted, I think, by some modern author—which seems curious enough.

Has it ever been your fortune, courteous reader [Mr. Hampole inquired] 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, it may be for years, as you have issued forth on your business or on your pleasure, now seem as if you beheld them for the first time. They have suffered a mysterious change, into something rich and strange. Though they may have been designed with no extraordinary exertion of the art of architecture . . . yet you have been ready to admit that they 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.

N / Arthur Machen
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/machen/arthur/n/complete.html

*

From "The Bright Boy."

....The Lasts had once been very comfortably off. They had intermarried now and again with the gentry of the neighbourhood and did a good deal of the county business, managing estates, collecting rents, officiating as stewards for several manors, living generally in a world of quiet but snug prosperity, rising to their greatest height, perhaps, during the Napoleonic Wars and afterwards. And then they began to decline, not violently at all, but very gently, so that it was many years before they were aware of the process that was going on, slowly, surely. Economists, no doubt, understand very well how the country and the country town gradually became less important soon after the Battle of Waterloo; and the causes of the decay and change which vexed Cobbett so sadly, as he saw, or thought he saw, the life and strength of the land being sucked up to nourish the monstrous excrescence of London. Anyhow, even before the railways came, the assembly rooms of the country towns grew dusty and desolate, the county families ceased to come to their “town houses” for the winter season, and the little theatres, where Mrs. Siddons and Grimaldi had appeared in their divers parts, rarely opened their doors, and the skilled craftsmen, the clock-makers and the furniture makers and the like began to drift away to the big towns and to the capital city. So it was with Dunham. Naturally the fortunes of the Lasts sank with the fortunes of the town; and there had been speculations which had not turned out well, and people spoke of a heavy loss in foreign bonds. When Joseph’s father died, it was found that there was enough to educate the boy and keep him in strictly modest comfort and not much more....

*

"The Great Return"

(Arthur Machen's sublime 1915 story "The Great Return" is written from the point of view of an outsider who meets local people who have bumped up against the miraculous in their small Welsh community.)

Excerpt:

....Within these smoothed, green mounds, looking across the shining and changing of the waters in the happy sunlight, I took out the bread and cheese and beer that I had carried in a bag, and ate and drank, and lit my pipe, and set myself to think over the enigmas of Llantrisant. And I had scarcely done so when, a good deal to my annoyance, a man came climbing up over the green ridges, and took up his stand close by, and stared out to sea. He nodded to me, and began with "Fine weather for the harvest" in the approved manner, and so sat down and engaged me in a net of talk. He was of Wales, it seemed, but from a different part of the country, and was staying for a few days with relations--at the white farmhouse which I had passed on my way. His tale of nothing flowed on to his pleasure and my pain, till he fell suddenly on Llantrisant and its doings. I listened then with wonder, and here is his tale condensed. Though it must be clearly understood that the man's evidence was only second-hand; he had heard it from his cousin, the farmer.

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 whirlwind."

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....

The Great Return / Arthur Machen
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/machen/arthur/great-return/complete.html

*

(One of Machen's "war effort" stories. But there is still a glistering uncanniness about it reminiscent of the glorious revival depicted in "The Great Return.")

From "The Happy Children"

....I went out for a stroll before my supper. Banwick was now black, in thick darkness. For good reasons not a single lamp was lighted in the streets, hardly a gleam showed from behind the closely curtained windows. It was as if one walked a town of the Middle Ages, and with the ancient overhanging shapes of the houses dimly visible I was reminded of those strange, cavernous pictures of mediæval Paris and Tours that Doré drew.

Hardly anyone was abroad in the streets; but all the courts and alleys seemed alive with children. I could just see little white forms fluttering to and fro as they ran in and out. And I never heard such happy children’s voices. Some were singing, some were laughing; and peering into one black cavern, I made out a ring of children dancing round and round and chanting in clear voices a wonderful melody; some old tune of local tradition, as I supposed, for its modulations were such as I had never heard before.

I went back to my tavern and spoke to the landlord about the number of children who were playing about the dark streets and courts, and how delightfully happy they all seemed to be.

He looked at me steadily for a moment, and then said:

“Well, you see, sir, the children have got a bit out of hand of late; their fathers are out at the front, and their mothers can’t keep them in order. So they’re running a bit wild.”

There was something odd about his manner. I could not make out exactly what the oddity was, or what it meant. I could see that my remark had somehow made him uncomfortable; but I was at a loss to know what I had done. I had my supper, and then sat down for a couple of hours to settle “the Germans” of Malton Head.

I finished my account of the German myth, and instead of going to bed, I determined that I would have one more look at Banwick in its wonderful darkness. So I went out and crossed the bridge, and began to climb up the street on the other side, where there was that strange huddle of red roofs mounting one above the other that I had seen in the afterglow. And to my amazement I found that these extraordinary Banwick children were still about and abroad, still revelling and carolling, dancing and singing, standing, as I supposed, on the top of the flights of steps that climbed from the courts up the hillside, and so having the appearance of floating in mid-air. And their happy laughter rang out like bells on the night.

It was a quarter past eleven when I had left my inn, and I was just thinking that the Banwick mothers had indeed allowed indulgence to go too far, when the children began again to sing that old melody that I had heard in the evening. And now the sweet, clear voices swelled out into the night, and, I thought, must be numbered by hundreds. I was standing in a dark alley-way, and I saw with amazement that the children were passing me in a long procession that wound up the hill towards the abbey. Whether a faint moon now rose, or whether clouds passed from before the stars, I do not know; but the air lightened, and I could see the children plainly as they went by singing, with the rapture and exultation of them that sing in the woods in springtime.

They were all in white, but some of them had strange marks upon them which, I supposed, were of significance in this fragment of some traditional mystery-play that I was beholding. Many of them had wreaths of dripping seaweed about their brows; one showed a painted scar on her throat; a tiny boy held open his white robe, and pointed to a dreadful wound above his heart, from which the blood seemed to flow; another child held out his hands wide apart and the palms looked torn and bleeding, as if they had been pierced. One of the children held up a little baby in her arms, and even the infant showed the appearance of a wound on its face.

The procession passed me by, and I heard it still singing as if in the sky as it went on its steep way up the hill to the ancient church. I went back to my inn, and as I crossed the bridge it suddenly struck me that this was the eve of the Holy Innocents’. No doubt I had seen a confused relic of some mediæval observance, and when I got back to the inn I asked the landlord about it.

Then I understood the meaning of the strange expression I had seen on the man’s face. He was sick and shuddering with terror; he drew away from me as though I were a messenger from the dead.

Some weeks after this I was reading in a book called The Ancient Rites of Banwick. It was written in the reign of Queen Elizabeth by some anonymous person who had seen the glory of the old abbey, and then the desolation that had come to it. I found this passage:

“And on Childermas Day, at midnight, there was done there a marvellous solemn service. For when the monks had ended their singing of Te Deum at their Mattins, there came unto the altar the lord abbot, gloriously arrayed in a vestment of cloth of gold, so that it was a great marvel to behold him. And there came also into the church all the children that were of tender years of Banwick, and they were all clothed in white robes. And then began the lord abbot to sing the Mass of the Holy Innocents. And when the sacring of the Mass was ended, then there came up from the church into the quire the youngest child that there was present that might hold himself aright. And this child was borne up to the high altar, and the lord abbot set the little child upon a golden and glistering throne afore the high altar, and bowed down and worshipped him, singing, ‘Talium Regnum Coelorum, Alleluya. Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. Alleluya,’ and all the quire answered singing, ‘Amicti sunt stolis albis, Alleluya, Alleluya; They are clad in white robes, Alleluya, Alleluya.’ And then the prior and all the monks in their order did like worship and reverence to the little child that was upon the throne."


Arthur Machen : The Happy Children (1915)
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/machen/arthur/holy-terrors/chapter11.html

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"The Terror" (1917)

Excerpt:

“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.”.

“There is something rather alarming about any wood at night,” said Dr. Lewis.

Merritt shrugged his shoulders.

“People say that the Germans have landed, and that they are hiding in underground places all over the country.”

                                        /

....There was the great old fireplace, with the round Flemish chimney going high above the house. If I stood beneath it and shouted I thought perhaps the sound might be carried better than if I called out of the window; for all I knew the round chimney might act as a sort of megaphone. Night after night, then, I stood in the hearth and called for to call for help, but because I wanted to see more clearly what the dark growth over the barn really was. I saw in the depth of the dark of it points of fire, and colors in light, all glowing and moving, and the air trembled. I stared out into the night, and the dark tree lifted over the roof of the barn and rose up in the air and floated towards me. I did not move till at the last moment when it was close to the house; and then I saw what it was and banged the window down only just in time. I had to fight, and I saw the tree that was like a burning cloud rise up in the night and sink again and settle over the barn.

                                        /

....I could not see any thread that could bring all these incidents together; they seemed to me to be hopelessly disconnected. I could not make out any relation between the agency that beat out the brains of the Williamses and the agency that overturned the boat. I don't know, but I think it's very likely if nothing more had happened that I should have put the whole thing down as an unaccountable series of crimes and accidents which chanced to occur in Meirion in the summer of 1915. Well, of course, that would have been an impossible standpoint in view of certain incidents in Merritt's story. Still, if one is confronted by the insoluble, one lets it go at last. If the mystery is inexplicable, one pretends that there isn't any mystery. That is the justification for what is called free thinking.

....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 folk-lore 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....


“The Terror” [1917]


***

Postscriptum
“The Great God Pan” and Michael Arlen’s novel Hell! Said the Duchess share several points: a group of men in London hunt down a “loose” and deadly woman who has left a wake of corpses. Both women are “unnatural.”  -- J.R.