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

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

Monday, June 8, 2020

A not disagreeable shudder: Six Ghost Stories by Sir Thomas Graham Jackson (1919)

by Sir Thomas Graham Jackson
(1919)

Jackson's brief collection of stories, like those of James, is compelling reading; they are in a direct style of almost classical simplicity. There are few villains here, but plenty of thoughtful relatives, friends and wards who make wrong choices, double-down on those choices, and come to realize that they must face the consequences.


The Lady of Rosemount 

The lady (Countess Alianora) in question is a marble sculpture of surpassing beauty hidden in undergrowth on the grounds of an old R.C. abbey chapel owned by relatives of the protagonist, Harry Charlton. Harry and his younger female cousins clean the overgrowth away, and Harry immediately falls in love with the woman. Alas, it turns out she did not have a savory reputation, nor does the site.

....The girls were in the garden where they found old Donald the gardener, whose life had been spent at Rosemount, and in whose eyes the garden was as much his as his master's, and perhaps more so.

'Yes, missy,' he was saying, 'the weeds do grow terrible this fine weather, and as you was saying it is time we cleaned up a bit in the old Abbey. But I see the young gentlemen has been doing a bit theirselves, chucking all them briars and rubbish out on the grass just as I had mown and tidied it.'

'Why Donald,' said Cissy, 'you ought to have thanked them, for that chapel was in an awful mess, and they have saved you some trouble.'

'Well, miss, I suppose they pleased theirselves, but that's not where I should have meddled, no, no!' and so saying he moved away.

'But why not there,' said Kate, 'why not there of all places?'

'Oh! I say nothing about it,' said Donald. 'Only folk do say that there's them there as don't like to be disturbed.'

'Indeed; what do they say in the village about it?'

'Oh! ayl I say nothing. I don't meddle with things above me. And I shan't tell ye any more, miss, it's not good for young women to know.'

'But do you know, Donald,' said Cissy, 'what we found there?' 'What did you find, miss? Not her? Oh, Lord! She was found once before, and no good come of it. There, don't ask me any more about it. It's not good for young women to know.' So saying Donald wheeled his barrow away into another part of the garden...o.

***

The Ring 

"The Ring" is one of the finest antiquarian horror stories I have read. It begins, as many of my favorite stories do, with UK antiquarians in Italy:

....As they sat and sipped their coffee in the gathering dusk, their minds were full of what they had seen; of the mystery of that strange people who came to Italy from nobody knows where, whose written language nobody had ever interpreted, whose gloomy religion coloured the whole ritual of the Romans, and of whom the best record is to be found in their graves. 

"I can imagine nothing more delightful," said the younger man at last, "than to penetrate into an untouched Etruscan tomb, another Regulini-Galassi discovery; where, though the body may have turned to dust—though, for the matter of that, glimpses have been seen of one before it fell to pieces—the ornaments that had fallen off show how the man lay amid the votive offerings to his gods, with his cherished possessions and trinkets all standing around him or hanging on the walls just as they had been left by his relatives three thousand years ago. But I fear there is no chance of such a piece of luck nowadays. The tombs everywhere seem either to have been rifled in bygone ages, or stripped in modern times, to enrich museums and collections...."

"....So far from having forgotten them," said Morton, "many of the old peasants, though they are Catholics outwardly, have much more real faith in la vecchia religione, the outworn creed, as you would think it, of Etruscan mythology. There are still many women streghe, witches, who know and practise incantations, but of course all that is under the ban of the Church, and though luckily the Holy Office can no longer burn them, they are very timid and afraid of attracting notice. However, I have managed to get into the confidence of some of them, and have learned a good deal that would surprise you, as it certainly did me. It is even said that it is usual for a family to have one of their number brought up in the old religion, in order that they may have friends in all quarters."

They find a local woman who still worships the old religion. Her daughter takes them into the hills above Corneto to visit an undisturbed Etruscan tomb. "They then found themselves in a vaulted chamber, cut in the rock, with a square pier left in the middle to support the roof. On this pillar, as Chiarina held her lamp high above her head, they saw a huge figure of Typhon, with twisted serpents for legs, and outstretched wings, grasping a thunderbolt as if to hurl it at an intruder."

Bryant finds an ancient gold ring has fallen at his feet. He slips it on before they leave the tomb. He never knows another moment of peace, either in Corneto or back in London. Every plan, project, and a
action turns into a fiasco. Multiple attempts to get rid of the ring by donating it or throwing it away do not work: the ring unerringly returns. Bryant is driven near to breakdown, and returns to Corneto to return it.

***

A Romance of the Piccadilly Tube 

Via the long arm of coincidence, the heir to the family fortune comes into sole possession of a draft codicil to his father's will that virtually cuts him out in favor of his younger brother.

....Messrs. Harvey & Moor's letter announced the unfortunate death of the elder partner from an accident on the railway. They thought, as he was engaged in business for Mr. Markham at the time of his decease, they ought to lose no time in communicating the sad intelligence to Mr. Markham's representative.

George had not expected his father's death so suddenly, and was much affected. He wished he had been with him at the end. Their relations had not always been friendly, but he admitted the fault had been his own, though the punishment in time end was unfairly severe, he went home therefore with mixed feelings of sorrow and resentment.

He alighted at the same station on the tube railway which had been the scene of the catastrophe the night before, and he looked with horror at the fatal spot. As he made his way to the lift he had an uncomfortable feeling that he was being followed. To be sure a crowd was going with him, but it was not that; he saw no one especially noticing him, and could not account for the feeling. He had given up his ticket and entered the lift, when the attendant said "Ticket, please," to some one behind him. He turned but saw no one.

"Old gentleman with you, sir?" asked the attendant. "Why, what has become of him?" he continued, looking about him.

"No. There is no one with me," said George, much surprised.

"Well, I'm dashed," said the attendant, staring about. "He's gone, anyhow. That's rummy"; and then he attended to his duty and started the lift....

***

The Eve of St. John 

A couple read an old diary recounting family infamies 300 years previous. Amends must be made once the truth is determined, with supernatural assistance.

....Cecil resumed the reading:

"June 15.—A strange thing happened to-day. I was receiving rents from two or three tenants for their farms, and giving them receipts. It was the first time this had happened since the affair of Master Denis Cowley, and this time I resolved there should be no handle for my master's malice, and that in future the book in which he noted that I paid him the money should be kept in a more secure place under lock and key. So I put the money in a bag, and took down my notebook, and opened it, and a piece of paper flew out upon the floor. When I picked it up I saw it was the missing leaf, with my master's receipt on it. I was so taken aback that I sat down again to think it over, for I was fairly overcome. Then I bethought me of Madelon, and how I surprised her coming out of my room, and of her words at parting. and it was borne in upon me that she had cut the page out at her master's bidding, and had kept it for future service if needs should be, and had put it back when her master had offended her. I blessed the girl in my heart and forgave her for what she first did, and I rejoiced to feel that my master had no longer that hold over me. I saw plainly it had been a plot to get me into his power, so that I should not be able to stir hand or foot against him for fear of the gallows. But what had I against him? I bethought me of that I said to him about my ladye's loss when I found the glove, which might have made him think I suspected him of something wrong. But he had no reason, for I knew nothing then, and I know nothing now about my poore ladye's fate. And then it was borne in upon me that perhaps he knew more about it than he would have me suspect. I begin to fear that there has been some foul play, and I then remembered Madelon's last words. I must see her again."

"However, after a while I recovered myself and, taking my notebook and the money, I sought my master in the great library, where it was his pleasure to sit. I told him I had brought the rents and I laid them on the table that he might count them, and I spread the note-book open before him that he might enter his receipt. When he had signed his name, he said:

" 'This time you are right, Roger. Last time you made a little mistake, if I remember.'

" 'Sir Everard,' said I, 'I know not what you mean. If there were a mistake 'twas not I that made it.'

" 'A little mistake,' said he, smiling, 'that brought you within danger of the gallows, eh, Master Roger.'

" 'Nay, sir,' I replied, quite coolly, ' 'twas not I that was in danger of the gallows. I mind me there is a law to punish those that plot to ruin their fellows by false charges.'

"He turned furiously on me. I wonder I had the courage to threaten him as I did. But I was mad with anger.

" 'Plot and punishment,' cried he. 'You dare to accuse and threaten me, gallows-bird; to jail you shall go this day and stay there till the hangman is ready for you.'

" 'You charge me with stealing the money, though you had it fairly from me, and gave me your receipt,' said I.

" 'Show me the receipt, then,' cried he savagely. 'You know you have not got one.'

"I took from my pocket the loose leaf I found in my book and held it before him.

" 'Give it me,' he cried.

" 'Nay,' said I, 'it shall not leave me again.'

"He sank back in his seat. The blood rushed to his face, and he sat staring at me with his mouth open for the space of a minute. At last he began to stammer out a word or two of excuse, but he could hardly speak for shame and mortification. I gathered up my books and papers, but as I turned to go I heard him mutter to himself, 'the jade—played me false.'

"I fear I have angered my master beyond sufferance, and that he may take some vengeance upon me, for he is one that never forgives, though he smooths his anger over with fair pretence. I bethink me of that shot in the wood, and doubt I am in some danger of my life. I pray God I may live to find my ladye, and to fulfil the promise to which I have sworn. 'Deliver me from mine enemies, O God, defend me from them that rise up against me.'

***

Pepina 

"Pepina" is a supernatural revenge story with its climax in a court room during a murder trial. Jackson handles the drama magnificently. 

Attorney-general Sir Edward is assigned to prosecute a case where he knows the defendant is innocent, and knows this for a very good reason.

....The clerk ran through a list of matters, small and great, which had to be attended to, and then produced an official letter that had just been handed in. 

"A brief for you, sir, from the Crown, for the prosecution, in the case of Rex. v. Abel Sanders. I think that was the murder down at North-borough. You will remember, sir, you had to attend the inquest. With you will be, let me see, Mr. Jones and Mr. Evans."

Sir Edward sank into his chair and said nothing. He dismissed his clerk and said he would call him when he wanted him later. For the moment the monstrous situation paralysed him. He felt that to hold his peace during the trial was bad enough, but it was impossible for him to stand up and prosecute an innocent man for the crime he himself had committed. He could not think of it without horror: at all events he must escape from that position, and he would, of course, decline the brief.

He wrote to that effect to the Home Secretary, returning the brief on the plea that his other engagements and his Parliamentary work, which just then was very arduous, obliged him, to his regret, to decline to act. He observed also that he had appeared as a witness in the case and might be called again.

The Secretary, however, was persistent. He said the matter was very important as complaints had come from that district of insufficient protection against the frequent robberies with violence that had been committed: that hitherto no criminals had been captured, and that should it prove that Abel Sanders was guilty the example of his punishment would be useful. For that reason it had been decided to employ the best talent at the bar, and to brief the Attorney-General.

Undaunted by this Sir Edward went to see the official, who received him rather coldly, and made light of the objection he raised on the ground that he had been called as a witness before the magistrates.

"Your evidence was not important, Sir Edward, and we can do without calling you at the trial very well."

***

The Red House

Set in the coaching days of Olde England, alive with wastrels and young highway men, "The Red House" is a perfect tale of murder, supernatural revenge, and redemption.

Young William Hetherington, raised by an aunt and uncle, is driven in his life choices by an "imp of the perverse" that ensures he always makes the wrong one. In "The Red House" he makes several, and in the end realizes how much he will have to pay for his actions.

....when Mr. Dawes arrived, in the evening of the day following that when the discussion we have reported between Sir Richard and his lady took place, his usual quiet humour was sadly upset. As he dismounted at the door, and gave his nag to the stableman, he was full of grunts and muttered growls, and when he shook hands with his host and hostess, his flushed face and perturbed expression made them both ask what was the matter.

"The matter!" quoth Mr. Dawes. "The matter is this, Sir Richard, that two rogues have waylaid me on your confounded common, and damme if they haven't robbed me of my purse, my watch, and whatever else they took a fancy to in my valise. What do you think of that my lady?"

They both exclaimed together that it was abominable, and that information should be sent at once to the magistrates, and men be set on the offenders' track.

"Much good will that do me," growled poor Mr. Dawes. "They may catch the thieves and hang them, but that won't give me my property back."

"And should you know the men again if you saw them?" asked my lady, while Sir Richard was gone to send messengers off at once to give the alarm.

"They were masked," replied he; "both were young men, the slighter of the two a mere lad, I fancy. I think I might know their voices if I heard them, for they were talking to one another while they rifled my unhappy valise."

"And whereabouts did it happen?

"About a mile from this house," said Mr. Dawes, "just where a cart-track turns off from the bridle-path to go to a windmill that stands in the waste. And when they had done they galloped off that way. The younger man guarded me with a pistol at my head, while the other plundered the valise that was strapped on to the saddle."

"How dreadful," said Lady Hetherington. "But it is well you came off with your life."

"I suppose, after all," said Mr. Dawes, "it is as well I was unarmed, for otherwise I could not have helped giving the rascals a shot, and then getting two back myself, for they were two to one, though one of them seemed only a lad."

"I suppose they knew you had no arms, said Lady Hetherington.

"I am not sure of that," said he, "for the younger man, as they galloped up and stopped me, cried, 'Hands up,' and with his confounded pistol at my head, I had to obey."

"They say Jerry Abershaw is at work here again," said my lady. "I doubt he was one of the two, but who could the other one be; a mere lad, you say?"

"Ay, ay, Jerry may have been the elder man very likely," said Mr. Dawes, "for they managed it cleverly enough, and he is a practised hand. As for the youngster, the sooner he comes to the gallows the better, for he has taken to the trade betimes, and should be scotched before he does more mischief."

"Yes, I suppose so," said my lady, "and yet it is sad to think of one so young coming to such an end."

They were at supper when William, Sir Richard's nephew came in. He had been riding, and said he had been over to the town to get his whip mended, and that made him late home.

Mr. Dawes had seen him before and did not like him, for he thought him ill-mannered and empty-headed, and wondered how Sir Richard and his lady could put up with his idle ways.

They supped in the hall, and then adjourned to the great chamber above, with its fine plaster ceiling and walls hung with tapestry, for it was Sir Richard's fancy to keep the old place unaltered as it had come to him, in the mode of the preceding century, before the invasion of continental fashions from France and Holland.

The sun shone brightly the next morning, and after breakfast they sauntered about the garden. Like the house itself, the garden, which lay behind it, was kept in the style in which it had been laid out by Robert Bell, the founder in the days of James I. There were the straight paths and formal parterres where Mrs. Alice Bell used to grow her gilliflowers and roses, divided by miniature hedges of box or privet; there was the sun-dial with its motto:

AS THESE HOURS DOTH PASSE AWAY
SO DOTH THE LIFE OF MEN DECAY,

and beyond the spacious grass-plot was the raised terrace walk with seats overlooking the meadows, where were the cows.

Lady Hetherington observed with some surprise the pleasure Mr. Dawes seemed to take in her nephew William's company. Putting his arm through that of the seemingly unwilling lad, Mr. Dawes tried to get him to talk, William, awkward and embarrassed, tried to escape, and only answered in monosyllables or short sentences to Mr Dawes's flow of conversation. He was giving William a full account of the disaster of the day before, and describing the persons of the two robbers as minutely as he could. But the story, far from interesting William, seemed to cause him much uneasiness. At last he was released, and, when he was out of earshot, Mr. Dawes, smiling to himself, muttered, "Very like. Very like. I think it will do."

From the flower garden they wandered into the kitchen gardens, where the fruit was ripening on the walls of mellow red brick. There were some tempting plums just out of reach of Lady Hetherington, and she called William to get them for her. He had both his arms ostretched above his head when a loud voice behind exclaimed, "Hands up! as that young villain said yesterday." William spun round, as pale as ashes, and faced Mr. Dawes, who was looking at him with a sarcastic smile.

"Why, William," said his aunt, "what's the matter? You look as if you had seen a ghost."

"Perhaps he has, my lady," said Dawes, with a short laugh, as he turned away, and followed Sir Richard to another part of the garden. "I think he was pretty nigh making one yesterday," he continued to himself, "What is to be done now? Poor Sir Richard! He ought to know; but how am I ever to tell him?"

"The Red House" also has a fine slingshot ending, giving a sense of wholeness and finality to the entire collection.


Jay
8 June 2020


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