"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Women’s Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890–1940 edited by Melissa Edmundson

Women's Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890–1940 edited by Melissa Edmundson

(Handheld Press 2019)

Readers of James Machin's fine 2018 monograph Weird Fiction in Britain 1880–1939 (my notes here

will appreciate the collections published recently by Handheld Press: British Weird: Selected Short Fiction, 1893–1937 edited by James Machin, Women's Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890–1940 edited by Melissa Edmundson; and Women's Weird 2: More Strange Stories by Women, 1891-1937, also edited by Melissa Edmundson.

Women's Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890–1940 also features a long, detailed, and careful introduction by Edmundson. In itself, this also comments on and complement's Machin's Weird Fiction in Britain 1880–1939.

Jay R.

24 January 2021

*   *   *

Introduction by Melissa Edmundson 

....More recently, scholars have debated over what Weird fiction actually is and which writers should be credited with writing it. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, in their collection The Weird (2011), continue in the tradition of Lovecraft, Scott, and Butts, remarking, 'The Weird acknowledges that our search for understanding about worlds beyond our own cannot always be found in science or religion and thus becomes an alternative path for exploration of the numinous' (VanderMeer & VanderMeer 2011, xvii). It represents 'the impulse to remind readers of the strangeness of the world and the limits of our understanding of it' (xvii). The VanderMeers provide one of best summations of the Weird, precisely by focusing on the indefinability of the term: 'The Weird is as much a sensation as it is a mode of writing, the most keenly attuned amongst us will say 'I know it when I see it', by which they mean 'I know it when I feel it' (xvi). Every fan of the Weird does indeed know this feeling – the feeling of something being 'off', not quite right. Roger Luckhurst and James Machin prefer the term 'mode' rather than 'genre', with both citing previous work by Veronica Hollinger, who has discussed these classificatory terms in relation to science fiction (Hollinger 2014). Machin also acknowledges the difficulties inherent in trying to define the Weird, a type of fiction that 'is intrinsically problematic for critical discourse' (Machin 2018, 13). 

(My emphasis.)

*   *   *

The Weird of the Walfords by Louisa Baldwin 

You can get rid of the cursed ancestral bed out the back door, but should still keep watch over what your new bride brings in through the front door.

....We thought ourselves the happiest creatures in the world when our little son Heneage was born. The gloom that brooded over the house from the death of many generations was lessened by the joy of birth, and my young son's life was like the sprouting acorn that sends up its vigorous shoot through the earth, fed by the fallen leaves of a hundred autumns. On the third day of our happiness my wife sent for me, and told me she had a very pretty surprise for me. 

     'I can tell you all about the big mysterious package now. It was a beautiful old-fashioned cradle that I bought in Carlyon from a man called Gillam, who keeps an old furniture shop here. I fell in love with it at once, for I knew how well it would suit this house with its old oak. Gillam said he could swear it was old work; in fact, he said it was originally part of a fine old bedstead a poor mad gentleman in the neighbourhood actually destroyed in a fit of frenzy, but he was lucky enough to secure a portion of the wreck, and made it up into that cradle, and baby looks lovely in it. I'm afraid I gave a great deal of money for it, but one does not meet with such a beautiful thing every day,' and the nurse removed a screen from before the cradle, that its beauties might burst upon me suddenly and with the more effect. 

     Cold drops stood on my brow as I recognised, in the high sides and head of the cradle, the carving of ivy branches and berries I had so madly given Gillam when I destroyed the old bed. 

     'I thought you would have been so pleased,' said Grace, disappointed by my silence as I stood spell-bound, my eyes following every line of the hated carving. 'I thought you would have been so pleased to see baby in a cradle really worthy of him.' 

     But I could not speak; I was oppressed by a sense of coming doom. 

     'It is very unkind of you,' said Grace. 'I had prepared a pretty surprise for you, and instead of being pleased, you stand and sigh and look as if you saw a ghost. Nurse, take baby out of his lovely cradle; we must get him a common wicker thing to lie in instead!' And the nurse did as her mistress bade her, and lifted little Heneage from his cradle of death, for while we talked the child had slept his feeble life away....

*   *   *

 Let Loose by Mary Cholmondeley 

The oft-anthologized "Let Loose" is a story - one of the few - that rewards a rereading. The death of the dog, like that of the puppy in Cram's "The Dead Valley," is a particularly poignant uncanny marker. 

     ....I do not apologise for the excessively morbid tenor of these reflections, as I hold that they were caused by the lunar effects which I have endeavoured to transcribe. The moon in its various quarterings has always exerted a marked influence on what I may call the sub-dominant, namely, the poetic side of my nature.

     I roused myself at last, when the moon came to look ill upon me where I sat, and, leaving the window open, I pulled myself together and went to bed.

     I fell asleep almost immediately, but I do not fancy I could have been asleep very long when I was wakened by Brian. He was growling in a low, muffled tone, as he sometimes did in his sleep, when his nose was buried in his rug. I called out to him to shut up; and as he did not do so, turned in bed to find my match box or something to throw at him. The moonlight was still in the room, and as I looked at him I saw him raise his head and evidently wake up. I admonished him, and was just on the point of falling asleep when he began to growl again in a low, savage manner that waked me most effectually. Presently he shook himself and got up, and began prowling about the room. I sat up in bed and called to him, but he paid no attention. Suddenly I saw him stop short in the moonlight; he showed his teeth, and crouched down, his eyes following something in the air. I looked at him in horror. Was he going mad? His eyes were glaring, and his head moved slightly as if he were following the rapid movements of an enemy. Then, with a furious snarl, he suddenly sprang from the ground, and rushed in great leaps across the room towards me, dashing himself against the furniture, his eyes rolling, snatching and tearing wildly in the air with his teeth. I saw he had gone mad. I leaped out of bed, and rushing at him, caught him by the throat. The moon had gone behind a cloud; but in the darkness I felt him turn upon me, felt him rise up, and his teeth close in my throat. I was being strangled. With all the strength of despair, I kept my grip of his neck, and, dragging him across the room, tried to crush in his head against the iron rail of my bedstead. It was my only chance. I felt the blood running down my neck. I was suffocating. After one moment of frightful struggle, I beat his head against the bar and heard his skull give way. I felt him give one strong shudder, a groan, and then I fainted away.

     When I came to myself I was lying on the floor, surrounded by the people of the house, my reddened hands still clutching Brian's throat. Someone was holding a candle towards me, and the draught from the window made it flare and waver. I looked at Brian. He was stone dead. The blood from his battered head was trickling slowly over my hands. His great jaw was fixed in something that--in the uncertain light--I could not see.

     They turned the light a little.

     'Oh, God!' I shrieked. 'There! Look! Look!'

     'He's off his head,' said some one, and I fainted again.

     I was ill for about a fortnight without regaining consciousness, a waste of time of which even now I cannot think without poignant regret. When I did recover consciousness, I found I was being carefully nursed by the old clergyman and the people of the house. I have often heard the unkindness of the world in general inveighed against, but for my part I can honestly say that I have received many more kindnesses than I have time to repay. Country people especially are remarkably attentive to strangers in illness....

*   *   *

The Giant Wistaria by Charlotte Perkins Gilman 

I have written previously about a solid anthology that could be assembled of supernatural stories about wells. 

....'It's all very well to lie in bed and see ghosts, or hear them,' he went on. 'But the young householder suspecteth burglars, even though as a medical man he knoweth nerves, and after Jenny dropped off I started on a voyage of discovery. I never will again, I promise you!' 

     'Why, what was it?' 

     'Oh, George!' 

     'I got a candle –' 

     'Good mark³⁴ for the burglars,' murmured Jack. 

     'And went all over the house, gradually working down to the cellar and the well.' 

     'Well?' said Jack. 

     'Now you can laugh; but that cellar is no joke by daylight, and a candle there at night is about as inspiring as a lightning-bug in the Mammoth Cave. I went along with the light, trying not to fall into the well prematurely; got to it all at once; held the light down and then I saw, right under my feet – (I nearly fell over her, or walked through her, perhaps) – a woman, hunched up under a shawl! She had hold of the chain, and the candle shone on her hands – white, thin hands – on a little red cross that hung from her neck – vide³⁵ Jack! I'm no believer in ghosts, and I firmly object to unknown parties in the house at night; so I spoke to her rather fiercely. She didn't seem to notice that, and I reached down to take hold of her – then I came upstairs!' 

     'What for?' 

     'What happened?' 

     'What was the matter?' 

     'Well, nothing happened. Only she wasn't there! May have been indigestion, of course, but as a physician I don't advise any one to court indigestion alone at midnight in a cellar!' 

     'This is the most interesting and peripatetic and evasive ghost I ever heard of!' said Jack. 'It's my belief she has no end of silver tankards, and jewels galore, at the bottom of that well, and I move we go and see!' 

     'To the bottom of the well, Jack?' 

     'To the bottom of the mystery. Come on!' 

     There was unanimous assent, and the fresh cambrics and pretty boots were gallantly escorted below by gentlemen whose jokes were so frequent that many of them were a little forced. 

     The deep old cellar was so dark that they had to bring lights, and the well so gloomy in its blackness that the ladies recoiled. 

     'That well is enough to scare even a ghost. It's my opinion you'd better let well enough alone!' quoth Jim. 

     'Truth lies hid in a well, and we must get her out,' said George. 'Bear a hand with the chain?' 

     Jim pulled away on the chain, George turned the creaking windlass, and Jack was chorus. 

     'A wet sheet for this ghost, if not a flowing sea,' said he. 'Seems to be hard work raising spirits! I suppose he kicked the bucket when he went down!' 

     As the chain lightened and shortened there grew a strained silence among them; and when at length the bucket appeared, rising slowly through the dark water, there was an eager, half reluctant peering, and a natural drawing back. They poked the gloomy contents. 'Only water.' 

     'Nothing but mud.' 

     'Something –' 

     They emptied the bucket up on the dark earth, and then the girls all went out into the air, into the bright warm sunshine in front of the house, where was the sound of saw and hammer, and the smell of new wood. There was nothing said until the men joined them, and then Jenny timidly asked: 

     'How old should you think it was, George?' 

     'All of a century,' he answered. 'That water is a preservative – lime in it. Oh! – you mean? – Not more than a month; a very little baby!' 

     There was another silence at this, broken by a cry from the workmen. They had removed the floor and the side walls of the old porch, so that the sunshine poured down to the dark stones of the cellar bottom. And there, in the strangling grasp of the roots of the great wistaria, lay the bones of a woman, from whose neck still hung a tiny scarlet cross on a thin chain of gold. 

*   *   *


The Shadow by Edith Nesbit 

A beautifully observed social milieu is depicted at the beginning of the story, and the supernatural anecdote that opens within it spreads fine crosscurrents throughout. Nesbit is a flawless writer, and that fact is nowhere better displayed than in "The Shadow." The reader is eating out of her hand from the first.

....Now,' the youngest went on eagerly, 'you shall have the very biggest, nicest chair, and the cocoa-pot's here on the hob as hot as hot – and we've all been telling ghost stories, only we don't believe in them a bit; and when you get warm you ought to tell one too.' 

     Miss Eastwich – that model of decorum and decently done duties, tell a ghost story! 

     'You're sure I'm not in your way,' Miss Eastwich said, stretching her hands to the blaze. I wondered whether housekeepers have fires in their rooms even at Christmas time. 'Not a bit' – I said it, and I hope I said it as warmly as I felt it. 'I – Miss Eastwich – I'd have asked you to come in other times – only I didn't think you'd care for girls' chatter.' 

     The third girl, who was really of no account, and that's why I have not said anything about her before, poured cocoa for our guest. I put my fleecy Madeira shawl round her shoulders. I could not think of anything else to do for her, and I found myself wishing desperately to do something. The smiles she gave us were quite pretty. People can smile prettily at forty or fifty, or even later, though girls don't realise this. It occurred to me, and this was another knife-thrust, that I had never seen Miss Eastwich smile – a real smile, before. The pale smiles of dutiful acquiescence were not of the same blood as this dimpling, happy, transfiguring look. 

     'This is very pleasant,' she said, and it seemed to me that I had never before heard her real voice. It did not please me to think that at the cost of cocoa, a fire, and my arm round her neck, I might have heard this new voice any time these six years. 

     'We've been telling ghost stories,' I said. 'The worst of it is, we don't believe in ghosts. No one one knows has ever seen one.' 

     'It's always what somebody told somebody who told somebody you know,' said the youngest of us, 'and you can't believe that, can you?' 

     'What the soldier said, is not evidence,' said Miss Eastwich. Will it be believed that the little Dickens quotation pierced one more keenly than the new smile or the new voice? 

     'And all the ghost stories are so beautifully rounded off – a murder committed on the spot – or a hidden treasure, or a warning … I think that makes them harder to believe. The most horrid ghost-story I ever heard was one that was quite silly.' 

     'Tell it.' 

     'I can't – it doesn't sound anything to tell. Miss Eastwich ought to tell one.' 

     'Oh do,' said the youngest of us, and her salt cellars³⁹ loomed dark, as she stretched her neck eagerly and laid an entreating arm on our guest's knee. 

     'The only thing that I ever knew of was – was hearsay,' she said slowly, 'till just the end.' 

*   *   *

Kerfol by Edith Wharton 

Like Wharton's "The Duchess at Prayer," a story revolving around adultery and retribution.

     'Yes—but those dogs?' I insisted.

     'Well, those dogs are the ghosts of Kerfol. At least, the peasants say there's one day in the year when a lot of dogs appear there; and that day the keeper and his daughter go off to Morlaix and get drunk. The women in Brittany drink dreadfully.' She stooped to match a silk; then she lifted her charming inquisitive Parisian face: 'Did you really see a lot of dogs? There isn't one at Kerfol,' she said.

*   *   *

Unseen – Unfeared by Francis Stevens

A brilliant conceit of scientific romance deflated by rationalized ending.

....the whole room was alive with other creatures than that. Everywhere I looked they were – centipedish things, with yard-long bodies, detestable, furry spiders that lurked in shadows, and sausage-shaped translucent horrors that moved – and floated through the air. They dived – here and there between me and the light, and I could see its bright greenness through their greenish bodies. 

*   *   *

Hodge by Elinor Mordaunt 

A brother and sister find a forest near their home, then cannot find it again.

....All that evening they talked of nothing else. 'It's been there for thousands and tens of thousands of years! It will be there to-morrow,' they said. 

     It was towards two o'clock in the morning that Hector, restless with excitement and fear, padded into his sister's room; found her sleeping – stupidly sleeping – with the moonlight full upon her, and shook her awake; unreasonably angry, as wakeful people always are with the sleepers. 

     'Suppose we never find it again! Oh, Rhoda, supposing we never find it again!' 

     'Find what?' 

     'The Forest, you idiot! – our Forest.' 

     'Hector, don't be silly. Go back to bed; you'll get cold. Of course we'll find it.' 

     'Why of course? I've been thinking and thinking and thinking. There wasn't a tree or bush or landmark of any sort: we had pottered about all over the shop: supposing we've lost it for ever? Oh, supposing, Rhoda, Rhoda! What sillies we were! Why didn't we stay there, camp opposite to it until the tide went out? I feel it in my bones we'll never find it again – never – never – never! There might have been skulls, all sorts of things – long teeth – tigers' teeth! And now we've lost it. It's no good talking – we've lost it; I know we've lost it – after all these years! After thousands and thousands and thousands of years of remembering!' 

     The boy's forehead was glistening with sweat; the tears were running down his face, white as bone in the moonlight. Rhoda drew him into her bed, comforted him as best she could, very sleepy, and unperturbed – for, of course, they would find it. How could they help finding it? And after a while he fell asleep, still moaning and crying, searching for a lost path through his dreams. 

     He was right in his foreboding. They did not find it. Perhaps the tide had been out further than usual: they had walked farther than they thought; they had dreamt the whole thing; the light had deceived them – impossible to say. 

     At first, in the broad light of day, even Hector was incredulous of their misfortune. Then, as the completeness of their loss grew upon them, they became desperate – possessed by that terrible restlessness of the searcher after lost things. Day after day they would come back from the sea worn out, utterly hopeless; declaring that here was the end of the whole thing; sick at the very thought of the secret mud, the long black shore. 

     They gave it up. They would never go near 'the rotten thing' again. 

     Then, a few hours later, the thought of the freshly-receding tide began to work like madness in their veins, and they would be out and away. 

     It was easier for Rhoda; for she was of those who 'sleep o' nights'; easier until she found that her brother slipped off on moonlight nights while she slumbered: coming back at all hours, haggard and worn to fainting-point. 

     He stooped more than ever: his brow was more overhung, furrowed with horizontal lines. Sometimes, furious with herself for her sleepiness, Rhoda would awake, jump out of bed and run to the window in the fresh dawn, to see the boy dragging himself home, old as the ages, his hands hanging loose to his knees. 

     At last the breaking-point came. He was very ill: after a long convalescence money was collected from numerous relations, family treasures were sold, and he was sent away to school. 

     He came back for his holidays a changed creature, talking of footer, then of cricket; of boys and masters; of school – school – school – nothing but school; blunt and practical. 

     But all this was at the front of him, deliberately displayed in the shop-windows. 

     At the back of him, buried out of sight, there was still the visionary rememberer. Rhoda, who loved him, realized this. 

     At first she did not dare to speak of the Forest. Then, trying to get at something of the old Hector, she pressed the point; pressed it and pressed it. It was she now who kept on with that eternal, 'Don't you remember?' 

     The worst of the whole thing was that he did not even pretend to forget. He did worse – he laughed. And in her own pain she now realized how often and how deeply she must have hurt him. 

     'Oh, that rot! What silly idiots we were! Such rot!' 

     And yet, at the back of him, at the back of his too-direct gaze, his laughter, there was something. Oh yes, there was something. She was certain of that.

*   *   *

There Their Fire Is Not Quenched by May Sinclair 

One moment of eternity, or the eternity of one moment? 

A mature life and afterlife fantasy observing tragedies, passions, and longueurs following upon the hangovers of early "true" love.

....To justify herself, she fixed her mind on his good qualities, his generosity, his strength, the way he had built up his engineering business. She made him take her over his works and show her his great dynamos. She made him lend her the books he read. But always, when she tried to talk to him, he let her see that that wasn't what she was there for. 

     'My dear girl, we haven't time,' he said. 'It's waste of our priceless moments.' 

     She persisted. 'There's something wrong about it all if we can't talk to each other.' 

     He was irritated. 'Women never seem to consider that a man can get all the talk he wants from other men. What's wrong is our meeting in this unsatisfactory way. We ought to live together. It's the only sane thing. I would, only I don't want to break up Muriel's home and make her miserable.' 

     'I thought you said she wouldn't care.' 

     'My dear, she cares for her home and her position and the children. You forget the children.' 

     Yes. She had forgotten the children. She had forgotten Muriel. She had left off thinking of Oscar as a man with a wife and children and a home. 

     He had a plan. His mother-in-law was coming to stay with Muriel in October and he would get away. He would go to Paris, and Harriott should come to him there. He could say he went on business. No need to lie about it; he had business in Paris. 

     He engaged rooms in an hotel in the rue de Rivoli. They spent two weeks there. 

     For three days Oscar was madly in love with Harriott and Harriott with him. As she lay awake she would turn on the light and look at him as he slept at her side. Sleep made him beautiful and innocent; it laid a fine, smooth tissue over his coarseness; it made his mouth gentle; it entirely hid his eyes. 

     In six days reaction had set in. At the end of the tenth day, Harriott, returning with Oscar from Montmartre, burst into a fit of crying. When questioned, she answered wildly that the Hotel Saint Pierre was too hideously ugly; it was getting on her nerves. Mercifully Oscar explained her state as fatigue following excitement. She tried hard to believe that she was miserable because her love was purer and more spiritual than Oscar's; but all the time she knew perfectly well she had cried from pure boredom. She was in love with Oscar, and Oscar bored her. Oscar was in love with her, and she bored him. At close quarters, day in and day out, each was revealed to the other as an incredible bore. 

     At the end of the second week she began to doubt whether she had ever been really in love with him. 

     Her passion returned for a little while after they got back to London. Freed from the unnatural strain which Paris had put on them, they persuaded themselves that their romantic temperaments were better fitted to the old life of casual adventure. 

     Then, gradually, the sense of danger began to wake in them. They lived in perpetual fear, face to face with all the chances of discovery. They tormented themselves and each other by imagining possibilities that they would never have considered in their first fine moments. It was as though they were beginning to ask themselves if it were, after all, worthwhile running such awful risks, for all they got out of it. Oscar still swore that if he had been free he would have married her. He pointed out that his intentions at any rate were regular. But she asked herself: Would I marry him? Marriage would be the Hotel Saint Pierre all over again, without any possibility of escape. But, if she wouldn't marry him, was she in love with him? That was the test. Perhaps it was a good thing he wasn't free. Then she told herself that these doubts were morbid, and that the question wouldn't arise. 

*   *   *

The Haunted Saucepan by Margery Lawrence 

"The Haunted Saucepan" wins the prize for most unpromising short story title. Still, Lawrence's skill as a writer carries the day.

 ....The open door made me jump for a second, but of course I said 'draughts' and thought so – I paused a second to light a cigarette – and the match dropped from my fingers and sputtered out upon the carpet. I held the unlighted cigarette between my fingers as I stared. As I am a living man, this is what I saw – or thought I saw. The saucepan – the little one on the stove, nearest the door – seemed to lift its lid a shade – it seemed to tilt, ever so slightly, cautiously, and from beneath its tilted lid, it looked at me! Yes, I suppose it doesn't sound as horrible as I want it to, but I swear to you that was the most eerie thing I ever saw, or want to see ... For a second I stood cold and dumb, my mouth sticky with fright – somehow the utter banality of the thing made it more terrifying – then I swore at myself, strode into the kitchen and seized the saucepan, holding it to the light.

     It was, of course, a mere trick of light – I remember noticing the previous night how brilliantly the moonlight streamed into the kitchen – but good heavens, it had shaken me for a minute, positively! That attack last night must have upset my nerves more than I knew – Lord, what a fool! I put the saucepan back, laughing heartily, and going into the hall, picked up my letters again, still grinning at my own folly. I glanced back at the kitchen as I went along to my room – I could still see the stove and the silent row of pans upon it. The lid of the little saucepan was still askew – it still had the absurd air of watching me stealthily from beneath it! There almost seemed a menace in its very stillness ...

*   *   *

The Twelve Apostles by Eleanor Scott

An outstanding antiquarian supernatural story: a rich magnate from the US gets his wish  when stating he wants to buy a haunted estate. Forbidden rooms and slime trails abound, as do "treasure" riddles.

....'They found Harcott. His body was lying in the passage that leads from the priest's room: he seemed to have been running away from the room down the passage. He was quite dead.' 

     There was a moment's silence, and then the Vicar continued: 'Sir, I am an old man. I have read many curious books and seen many curious things. I ask you with all the earnestness of which I am capable not to pry into this matter. Buy the house if you will – you will be doing a kindness to my old friend Godfrey Langtre and taking a step that you will not, I think, regret: but, as you value your life and your sanity, avoid that accursed room.' 

     He paused, flushed with the embarrassment of a shy man who interferes in another's affairs. 

     'Sir, I'm grateful, real grateful, to you,' said the American, 'and I'll bear in mind what you've said. You've impressed me. But I'm interested, and I'll buy that house right now, lock, stock and barrel. And I hope, sir, that you'll do me the great kindness to come and see me sometimes, I won't trespass on your time any more now. Goodbye, sir, and thank you.' 

     So Mr Matthews became the owner of Barton Cross Manor. 

     If the house was not quite as attractive seen in the dusk of a drizzling October afternoon as it had appeared in the mellow sunshine of September, certainly Mr Gibson could not be blamed for the fact. Nor could Mr Langtre. Yet Mr Matthews felt that he wanted to blame someone for the discomfort of the chill rooms with their stiff and unwelcoming air and suspicious atmosphere. Presently he put it down to the attitude of a couple, mother and son, who had been caretakers at the Manor, and who no doubt objected to having to do a little work, besides opening windows and airing rooms, in exchange for the wages the Langtre family allowed them. In fact, thought the American, sniffing the close air of the passages, they didn't seem really keen on doing even that.

*   *   *

The Book by Margaret Irwin 

....Authors must all be filthy-minded; they probably wrote what they dared not express in their lives. Stevenson had said that literature was a morbid secretion; he read Stevenson again to discover his peculiar morbidity, and detected in his essays a self-pity masquerading as courage, and in Treasure Island an invalid's sickly attraction to brutality.

*   *   *

Couching at the Door    by D K Broster 

A fast-darkening and clever tale: a survivor of the Yellow 90s, after occult practices, finds himself in the crosshairs of a force slowly turning the screws on him.

....when, as the 'nineties began to wane, he inherited Abbot's Medding from a distant cousin and came to live there, being then at the height of an almost international reputation, Wiltshire society at first tolerated him for his kinship with the late Lord Medding, and then, placated by the excellence of his dinners and further mollified by the patent staidness of his private life, decided that, in his personal conduct at any rate, he must have turned over a new leaf. Perhaps indeed he had never been as bad as he was painted, and if his writings continued to be no less scandalously free and free-thinking than before, and needed to be just as rigidly kept out of the hands of daughters, well, no country gentleman in the neighbourhood was obliged to read them! 

     And indeed Augustine Marchant in his fifty-first year was too keenly alive to the value of the good opinion of county society to risk shocking it by any overt doings of his. He kept his licence for his pen. When he went abroad, as he did at least twice a year – but that was another matter altogether. The nose of Mrs Grundy¹⁰⁴ was not sharp enough to smell out his occupations in Warsaw or Berlin or Naples, her eyes long-sighted enough to discern what kind of society he frequented even so near home as Paris. At Abbot's Medding his reputation for being 'wicked' was fast declining into just enough of a sensation to titillate a croquet party. He had charming manners, could be witty at moments (though he could not keep it up), still retained his hyacinthine locks (by means of hair restorers), wore his excellently cut velvet coats and flowing ties with just the right air – half poet, half man of the world – and really had, at Abbot's Medding, no dark secret to hide beyond the fact, sedulously concealed by him for five-and-twenty years, that he had never been christened Augustine. Between Augustus and Augustine, what a gulf! But he had crossed it, and his French poems (which had to be smuggled into his native land) were signed Augustin – Augustin Lemarchant. 

     Removing his gaze from the objectionable evidence of domestic carelessness upon the floor, Mr Marchant now fixed it meditatively upon the ruby-set end of the gold pencil which he was using. Rossell & Ward, his publishers, were about to bring out an édition de luxe of Queen Theodora and Queen Marozia with illustrations by a hitherto unknown young artist – if they were not too daring. It would be a sumptuous affair in a limited edition. And, as he thought of this, the remembrance of his recent stay in Prague returned to the poet. He smiled to himself, as a man smiles when he looks at a rare wine, and thought: 'Yes, if these blunt-witted Pharisees round Abbott's Medding only knew!' It was a good thing that the upholders of British petty morality were seldom great travellers; a dispensation of … ahem, Providence! 

     Twiddling his gold pencil between plump fingers, Augustine Marchant returned to his ode, weighing one epithet against another. Except in summer he was no advocate of open windows, and even in summer he considered that to get the most out of that delicate and precious instrument, his brain, his feet must always be kept thoroughly warm; he had therefore cast over them, before settling into his semi-reclining position, a beautiful rose-coloured Indian sari of the purest and thickest silk, leaving the ends trailing on the floor. And he became aware, with surprise and annoyance, that the piece of brown fluff or whatever it was down there, travelling in the draught from the window, had reached the nearest end of the sari and was now, impelled by the same current, travelling up it. 

*   *   *

With and Without Buttons by Mary Butts

Two sisters think they are gaslighting a neighbor with uncanny rumors and manifestations. Ultimately they realize they have only primed a pump. (Not as macabre is Fritz Leiber's "The Glove," but not as strong, either.)

....'What is it to be?' I said, who can rarely attain to my sister's breadth of mind. 

     'That does not matter. Because before we begin we'll do something. Anything. A last year's leaf for a start, so long as it can go into a series – on his blotter or his pillow. We're always in and out. We'll put them there and get asked round for the evening and start when we see one, and that's where our village story begins. All that he has to get out of us is that there is a story, and that wet leaves or whatever it is we choose are found about. Signatures, you know. If he doesn't rise the first night, he'll find that leaf when he goes to bed. It depends on how well we do it –' 

     I recognized a master's direction, but it all seemed to depend on our choice of stimulants. Last year's leaves, delicate damp articulations; coloured pebbles, dead flies, scraps of torn paper with half a word decipherable … A mixture of these or a selection? 

     'Keep it tangible,' my sister said – 'that's the way. Our only difficulty is the planting of them.' 

     'Which,' I asked, 'are suitable to what?' 

     It seemed to be necessary in laying our train to determine the kind of unpleasantness for which they were ominous. But I could not get my sister to attend. 

     'It's not that way round,' she said at length – 'dead bees, feathers, drops of candle-grease? Old kid gloves? With and Without Buttons. That will do.' 

     I felt a trifle queer. 'Well,' I said, 'they're the sort of things a man never has in his house, so that's sound so far. But women do. Not the sort of things we wear, but he'd not know that. And how do we get hold of them?' 

     'There's a shoe-box in the loft full of them, by the door into his place when these houses were one.' (Our cottages were very old, side by side, with a common wall, our orchards divided by a hedge.) We had rented ours from a friend who had recently bought it as it stood from a local family which had died out, and of which very little seemed known. My sister said: 

     'Shiny black kid and brown, with little white glass buttons and cross stitching and braid. All one size, and I suppose for one pair of hands. Some have all the buttons and some have none and some have some –' I listened to this rune until I was not sure how many times my sister had said it. 

     'With and without buttons,' I repeated, and could not remember how often I had said that. 

     After that we said nothing more about it, and it was three days later that he asked us to supper, and we walked round through the gap in the hedge in the pure daylight, and sat in his little verandah, whose wooden pillars spread as they met the roof in fans of plaited green laths. Prim fantasy, with its French windows behind it, knocked out of walls of flint rubble three feet thick. Roses trailed up it. A tidy little home, with something behind it of monstrous old age one did as well to forget. 

     'By the way,' he said. (As I have said before, his name was Trenchard, and he had come back to his own part of England to rest, after a long time spent in looking after something in East Africa.) 'By the way, have either of you two lost a glove?' 

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