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

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

Sunday, December 26, 2021

4 stories from The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, Volume III (2018)

The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, Volume III


Edited by Simon Stern

* * *

The Ghost of the Cross-Roads (1893) by Frederick Manley

A traveller plays cards with another traveller at night at a crossroads.

      "I could hardly wait for him to finish, so eager was I to resume the play. Once more we seated ourselves on the milestone; again the cards were dealt out, and the strangest game that ever men played was begun. I won on the first hand. The cards came round a second time. He won. A game for each. Then I prepared myself for the last—the great struggle. Victory meant riches and freedom; defeat, I know not what. My brain was on fire; my hands trembled so that in picking up the cards he had placed near me—the cards which were to decide for or against me—they fell out of my shaking fingers and dropped on the snow at my feet." Here the speaker faltered and appeared reluctant to proceed. "My good people, when just as my fingers were about to fasten on the cards, my eye saw something that caused my blood to turn as cold as this snow on the ground—something that took from me the power to move, to speak, that petrified me and left me gazing at it like a statue. Think of being alone with that man out on the snow, away from all help, in a place seemingly deserted by its Maker, and shudder to dream of what I saw—of it!"

     He shuddered even then—even as he sat in the midst of Andy's guests—in Andy's cheerful parlour. But surely he is not to be termed a coward, when we know that the cottagers at this point of the recital turned their heads and cast many uneasy glances towards the door, drawing closer to the fire as they did so.

     "I was telling you I was rooted to my seat. No wonder! Before me, with the sickly light from the lantern shining right down upon it, was—a cloven hoof!"

* * *

19, Great Hanover Street (1889) by Lillie Harris

A young doctor setting up his own practice for the first time explains why his hair turned white overnight.

     I lifted her into the chair, and I was alarmed to see how ill she looked; her eyes were half closed, her whole figure dejected and helpless. "Forgive me, darling," I said, remorsefully, "I forgot myself."

     She opened her eyes wearily. "I am so cold," she said, "and so faint; undo this band for the love of heaven, for I choke and die."

     She half rose, with her hand to her throat, and then sank nervelessly back into the easy chair. I bent over her, and took the brooch from the band of black watered ribbon about her throat, and, great God, how can I write it, how can I steady my hand so as to pen the words; as I undid the ribbon, so did that lovely head drop off.

     Oh, the horror of it, there where but one moment before was a beautiful breathing woman, was now a headless trunk, and at my feet was the head, hideous and bloody, the eyes open and glassy, and with an awful expression of terror in their depths, the teeth biting through the lips with a dumb agony. I looked round madly, everywhere was blood; the rug was soaked with it, it fell from the easy chair to the ground with a hollow splash, a trail of it went to the door, the curtains where her hands had touched were stained scarlet. I looked down again at the head. I was frozen with horror, it was there, but oh, terrible sight, no longer the head of a young and beautiful woman, but a hideous skull, one mass of vile corruption.

* * *

Sir Hugo's Prayer (1897) by G. B. Burgin

Sir Hugo and Lady Follett give supernatural aid to their descendant, Clare, as she chooses between two suitors.

* * *

Walnut-Tree House (1882) by Mrs. J. H. Riddell

More real estate trouble for an inheritor.

     "I cannot say I have any great passion for hotels," remarked the new owner, as he took his seat in the cab.

     "Indeed, Sir."

     "No; either they don't suit me, or I don't suit them. I have led a wild sort of life; not much civilisation in the bush, or at the gold-fields, I can tell you. Then, I have not been well, and I can't stand noise and the trampling of feet. I had enough of that on board ship; and I used to lie awake at nights and think how pleasant it would be to have a big house all to myself, to do as I liked in."

     "Yes, Sir," agreed the clerk.

     "You see, I have been accustomed to roughing it, and I can get along very well for a night without servants."

     "No doubt, Sir."

     "I suppose the house is in substantial repair—roof tight, and all that sort of thing?"

     "I can't say, I am sure, Sir."

     "Well, if there is a dry corner where I can spread a rug, I shall sleep there to-night."

     The clerk coughed. He looked out of the window, and then he looked at Messrs. Timpson's client.

     "I do not think——" he began apologetically, and then stopped.

     "You don't think what?" asked the other.

     "You'll excuse me, Sir, but I don't think—I really do not think, if I were you, I'd stay in that house to-night."

     "Why not?"

     "Well, it has not been slept in for nearly seven years, and it must be blue mouldy with damp; and if you have been ill, that is all the more reason you should not run such a risk. And besides——"

     "Besides——" suggested Mr. Stainton; "Out with it! No doubt, that 'besides' holds the marrow of the argument."

     "The house has stood empty for years, Sir, because—there is no use in making any secret of it—the place has a bad name."

     "What sort of a bad name—unhealthy?"

     "Oh, no!"


     The clerk inclined his head. "You have hit it, Sir," he said.

* * *

That's about it for the Christmas anthology reading season. Perhaps next year I will follow my intention and begin over Thanksgiving weekend, or November first?


26 December 2021

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