Haunted Short Stories – 23 – ‘The Phantom Coach’ by Amelia B. Edwards (1864)

Courtesy of HauntedBay

The circumstances I am about to relate to you have truth to recommend them. They happened to myself, and my recollection of them is vivid as if they had taken place only yesterday. Twenty years, however, have gone by since that night. During those twenty years I have told the story to but one other person. I tell it now with a reluctance which I find it difficult to overcome. All I entreat, meanwhile, is that you will abstain from forcing your own conclusions upon me. I want nothing explained away. I desire no arguments. My mind on this subject is quite made up, and having the testimony of my own senses to rely upon, I prefer to abide by it.

Well! It was just twenty years ago, and within a day or two of the end of the grouse season. I had been out all day with my gun, and had had no sport to speak of. The wind was due east; the month, December; the place, a bleak wide moor in the far north of England. And I had lost my way. It was not a pleasant place in which to lose one’s way, with the first feathery flakes of a coming snowstorm just fluttering down upon the heather, and the leaden evening closing in all around. I shaded my eyes with my hand, and stared anxiously into the gathering darkness, where the purple moorland melted into a range of low hills, some ten or twelve miles distant. Not the faintest smoke-wreath, not the tiniest cultivated patch, or fence, or sheep-track, met my eyes in any direction. There was nothing for it but to walk on, and take my chance of finding what shelter I could, by the way. So I shouldered my gun again and pushed wearily forward, for I had been on foot since an hour after daybreak and had eaten nothing since breakfast.

Meanwhile, the snow began to come down with ominous steadiness, and the wind fell. After this, the cold became more intense, and the night came rapidly up. As for me, my prospects darkened with the darkening sky, and my heart grew heavy as I thought how my young wife was already watching for me through the window of our little inn parlour, and thought of all the suffering in store for her throughout this weary night. We had been married four months, and, having spent out autumn in the Highlands, were now lodging in a remote little village situated just on the verge of the great English moorlands. We were very much in love, and, of course, very happy. This morning, when we parted, she had implored me to return before dusk, and I had promised her that I would. What would I not have given to have kept my word!

Even now, weary as I was, I felt that with a supper, an hour’s rest, and a guide, I might still get back to her before midnight, if only guide and shelter could be found.

And all this time the snow fell and the night thickened. I stopped and shouted every now and then, but my shouts seemed only to make the silence deeper. Then a vague sense of uneasiness came upon me, and I began to remember stories of travelers who had walked on and on in the falling snow until, wearied out, they were fain to lie down and sleep their lives away. Would it be possible, I asked myself, to keep on thus through all the long dark night? Would there not come a time when my limbs must fail, and my resolution give way? When I, too, must sleep the sleep of death. Death! I shuddered. How hard to die just now, when life lay all so bright before me! How hard for my darling, whose whole loving heart-but that thought was not to be borne! to banish it, I shouted again, and again the echo followed. Then a wavering speck of light came suddenly out of the dark, shifting, disappearing, growing momentarily nearer and brighter. Running towards it at full speed, I found myself, to my great joy, face to face with an old man and a lantern.

“Thank God!” was the exclamation that burst involuntarily from my lips. Blinking and frowning, he lifted his lantern and peered into my face.

“What for?” growled he, sulkily.

“Well- for you. I began to fear I should be lost in the snow.”

“Eh, then, folks do get cast away hereabouts fra’ time to time, an’ what’s to hinder you from bein’ cast away likewise, if the Lord’s so minded?”

“If the Lord is so minded that you and I shall be lost together my friend, we must submit,” I replied; “but I don’t mean to be lost without you. How far am I now from Dwolding?”

“A gude twenty mile, more or less.”

“And the nearest village?”

“The nearest village is Wyke, an’ that’s twelve miles t’other side.”

“Where do you live, then?”

“Out yonder,” said he, with a vague jerk of the lantern.

“You’re going home, I presume?”

“Maybe I am.”

“Then I’m going with you.”

The old man shook his head, and rubbed his nose reflectively with the handle of the lantern.

“It ain’t no use,” growled he. “He ‘ont let you in-not he.”

“We’ll see about that,” I replied, briskly. “Who is he?”

“The master.”

“Who is the master?”

“That’s nowt to you,” was the unceremonious reply.

“Well, well; you lead the way, and I’ll engage that the master shall give me shelter and a supper tonight.”

“Eh, you can try him!” muttered my reluctant guide; and, still shaking his head, he hobbled, gnome-like, away through the falling snow. A large mass loomed up presently out of the darkness, and a huge dog rushed out barking furiously.

“Is this the house?” I asked.

“Ay, it’s the house. Down, Bey!” And he fumbled in his pocket for the key.

I drew up close behind him, prepared to lose no chance of entrance, and saw in the little circle of light shed by the lantern that the door was heavily studded with iron nails, like the door of a prison. In another minute he had turned the key and I had pushed past him into the house.

Once inside, I looked round with curiosity and found myself in a great raftered hall, which served, apparently, a variety of uses. One end was piled to the roof with corn, like a barn. The other was stored with four-sacks, agricultural implements, casks, and all kinds of miscellaneous lumber; while from the beams overhead hung rows of hams, flitches, and bunches of dried herbs for winter use. In the centre of the floor stood some huge object gauntly dressed in a dingy wrapping-doth, and reaching half way to the rafters. Lifting a comer of this cloth, I saw, to my surprise, a telescope of very considerable size, mounted on a rude movable platform, with four small wheels. The tube was made of painted wood bound round with bands of metal rudely fashioned; the speculum, so far as I could estimate its size in the dim light, measured at least fifteen inches in diameter. While I was yet examining the instrument, and asking myself whether it was not the work of some self-taught optician, a bell rang sharply.

“That’s for you,” said my guide, with a malicious grin. “Yonder’s his room.”

He pointed to a low black door at the opposite side of the hall. I crossed over, rapped somewhat loudly, and went in, without waiting for an invitation. A huge, white-haired old man rose from a table covered with books and papers, and confronted me sternly.

“Who are you?” said he. “How came you here? What do you want?”

“James Murray, barrister-at-law. On foot across the moor. Meat, drink, and sleep.”

He bent his bushy brows into a portentous frown.

“Mine is not a house of entertainment.” he said, haughtily. “Jacob, how dare you admit this stranger?”

“I didn’t admit him,” grumbled the old man. “He followed me over the muir, and shouldered his way in before me. I’m no match for six foot two.”

“And pray, sit, by what right have you forced an entrance into my house?”

“The same by which I should have clung to your boat, if I were drowning. The right of self- preservation.”

“Self-preservation?”

“There’s an inch of snow on the ground already,” I replied, briefly; “and it would be deep enough to cover my body before daybreak.”

He strode to the window, pulled aside a heavy black curtain, and looked out.

“It is true,” he said. “You can stay, if you choose, till morning. Jacob, serve the supper.”

With this he waved me to a seat, resumed his own, and became at once absorbed in the studies from which I had disturbed him.

I placed my gun in a comer, drew a chair to the hearth, and examined my quarters at leisure. Smaller and less incongruous in its arrangements than the hall, this room contained, nevertheless, much to awaken my curiosity. The floor was carpetless. The whitewashed walls were in parts scrawled over with strange diagrams, and in others covered with shelves crowded with philosophical instruments, the uses of many of which were unknown to me. On one side of the fireplace stood a bookcase filled with dingy folios; on the other, a small organ, fantastically decorated with painted carvings of medieval saints and devils. Through the half-opened door of a cupboard at the furtherer end of the room I saw a long array of geological specimens, surgical preparations, crucibles, retorts, and jars of chemicals; while on the mantelshelf beside me, amid a number of small objects stood a model of the solar system, a small galvanic battery, and a microscope. Every chair had its burden. Every comer was heaped high with books. The very floor was littered over with maps, casts, papers, tracings, and learned lumber of all conceivable kinds.

I stared about me with an amazement increased by every fresh object upon which my eyes chanced to rest. So strange a room I had never seen; yet seemed it stranger still, to find such a room in a lone farmhouse amid those wild and solitary moors! Over and over again I looked from my host to his surroundings, and from his surroundings back to my host, askdng myself who and what he could be? His head was singularly fine; but it was more the head of a poet than of a philosopher. Broad in the temples, prominent over the eyes, and clothed with a rough profusion of perfectly white hair, it had all the ideality and much of the ruggedness that characterizes the head of Louis von Beethoven. There were the same deep lines about the mouth, and the same stern furrows in the brow. There was the same concentration of expression. While I was yet observing him, the door opened and Jacob brought in the supper. His master then closed his book, rose, and with more courtesy of manner than he had yet shown, invited me to the table.

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October 23, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. 1 comment.

Haunted Short Stories – 22 – ‘The Body-Snatcher’ by Robert Louis Stevenson (1884)

Courtesy of Gaslight

EVERY night in the year, four of us sat in the small parlour of the George at Debenham–the undertaker, and the landlord, and Fettes, and myself. Sometimes there would be more; but blow high, blow low, come rain or snow or frost, we four would be each planted in his own particular arm-chair. Fettes was an old drunken Scotchman, a man of education obviously, and a man of some property, since he lived in idleness. He had come to Debenham years ago, while still young, and by a mere continuance of living had grown to be an adopted townsman. His blue camlet cloak was a local antiquity, like the church-spire. His place in the parlour at the George, his absence from church, his old, crapulous, disreputable vices, were all things of course in Debenham. He had some vague Radical opinions and some fleeting infidelities, which he would now and again set forth and emphasise with tottering slaps upon the table. He drank rum–five glasses regularly every evening; and for the greater portion of his nightly visit to the George sat, with his glass in his right hand, in a state of melancholy alcoholic saturation. We called him the Doctor, for he was supposed to have some special knowledge of medicine, and had been known, upon a pinch, to set a fracture or reduce a dislocation; but beyond these slight particulars, we had no knowledge of his character and antecedents.

One dark winter night–it had struck nine some time before the landlord joined us–there was a sick man in the George, a great neighbouring proprietor suddenly struck down with apoplexy on his way to Parliament; and the great man’s still greater London doctor had been telegraphed to his bedside. It was the first time that such a thing had happened in Debenham, for the railway was but newly open, and we were all proportionately moved by the occurrence.

“He’s come,” said the landlord, after he had filled and lighted his pipe.

“He?” said I. “Who?–not the doctor?”

“Himself,” replied our host.

“What is his name?”

“Dr. Macfarlane,” said the landlord.

Fettes was far through his third tumblers stupidly fuddled, now nodding over, now staring mazily around him; but at the last word he seemed to awaken, and repeated the name “Macfarlane” twice, quietly enough the first time, but with sudden emotion at the second.

“Yes,” said the landlord, “that’s his name, Doctor Wolfe Macfarlane.”

Fettes became instantly sober; his eyes awoke, his voice became clear, loud, and steady, his language forcible and earnest. We were all startled by the transformation, as if a man had risen from the dead.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “I am afraid I have not been paying much attention to your talk. Who is this Wolfe Macfarlane?” And then, when he had heard the landlord out, “It cannot be, it cannot be,” he added; “and yet I would like well to see him face to face.”

“Do you know him, Doctor?” asked the undertaker, with a gasp.

“God forbid!” was the reply. “And yet the name is a strange one; it were too much to fancy two. Tell me, landlord, is he old?”

“Well,” said the host, “he’s not a young man, to be sure, and his hair is white; but he looks younger than you.”

“He is older, though; years older. But,” with a slap upon the table, “it’s the rum you see in my face–rum and sin. This man, perhaps, may have an easy conscience and a good digestion. Conscience! Hear me speak. You would think I was some good, old, decent Christian, would you not? But no, not I; I never canted. Voltaire might have canted if he’d stood in my shoes; but the brains”–with a rattling fillip on his bald head–“the brains were clear and active, and I saw and made no deductions.”

“If you know this doctor,” I ventured to remark, after a somewhat awful pause, “I should gather that you do not share the landlord’s good opinion.”

Fettes paid no regard to me.

“Yes,” he said, with sudden decision, “I must see him face to face.”

There was another pause, and then a door was closed rather sharply on the first floor, and a step was heard upon the stair.

“That’s the doctor,” cried the landlord. “Look sharp, and you can catch him.”

It was but two steps from the small parlour to the door of the old George Inn; the wide oak staircase landed almost in the street; there was room for a Turkey rug and nothing more between the threshold and the last round of the descent; but this little space was every evening brilliantly lit up, not only by the light upon the stair and the great signal-lamp below the sign, but by the warm radiance of the barroom window. The George thus brightly advertised itself to passers-by in the cold street. Fettes walked steadily to the spot, and we, who were hanging behind, beheld the two men meet, as one of them had phrased it, face to face. Dr. Macfarlane was alert and vigorous. His white hair set off his pale and placid, although energetic, countenance. He was richly dressed in the finest of broadcloth and the whitest of linen, with a great gold watch-chain, and studs and spectacles of the same precious material. He wore a broad-folded tie, white and speckled with lilac, and he carried on his arm a comfortable driving-coat of fur. There was no doubt but he became his years, breathing, as he did, of wealth and consideration; and it was a surprising contrast to see our parlour sot–bald, dirty, pimpled, and robed in his old camlet cloak–confront him at the bottom of the stairs.

“Macfarlane!” he said somewhat loudly, more like a herald than a friend.

The great doctor pulled up short on the fourth step, as though the familiarity of the address surprised and somewhat shocked his dignity.

“Toddy Macfarlane!” repeated Fettes.

The London man almost staggered. He stared for the swiftest of seconds at the man before him, glanced behind him with a sort of scare, and then in a startled whisper “Fettes!” he said, “you!”

“Ay,” said the other, “me! Did you think I was dead too? We are not so easy shut of our acquaintance.”

“Hush, hush!” exclaimed the doctor. “Hush, hush! this meeting is so unexpected–I can see you are unmanned I hardly knew you, I confess, at first; but I am overjoyed–overjoyed to have this opportunity. For the present it must be how-d’ye-do and good-by in one, for my fly is waiting, and I must not fail the train; but you shall–let me see–yes–you shall give me your address, and you can count on early news of me. We must do something for you, Fettes. I fear you are out at elbows; but we must see to that for auld lang syne, as once we sang at suppers.”

“Money!” cried Fettes; “money from you! The money that I had from you is lying where I cast it in the rain.”

Dr. Macfarlane had talked himself into some measure of superiority and confidence, but the uncommon energy of this refusal cast him back into his first confusion.

A horrible, ugly look came and went across his almost venerable countenance. “My dear fellow,” he said, “be it as you please; my last thought is to offend you. I would intrude on none. I will leave you my address however—-”

“I do not wish it–I do not wish to know the roof that shelters you,” interrupted the other. “I heard your name; I feared it might be you; I wished to know if, after all, there were a God; I know now that there is none. Begone!”

He still stood in the middle of the rug, between the stair and doorway; and the great London physician, in order to escape, would be forced to step to one side. It was plain that he hesitated before the thought of this humiliation. White as he was, there was a dangerous glitter in his spectacles; but while he still paused uncertain, he became aware that the driver of his fly was peering in from the street at this unusual scene, and caught a glimpse at the same time of our little body from the parlour, huddled by the corner of the bar. The presence of so many witnesses decided him at once to flee. He crouched together, brushing on the wainscot, and made a dart like a serpent, striking for the door. But his tribulation was not yet entirely at an end, for even as he was passing Fettes clutched him by the arm and these words came in a whisper, and yet painfully distinct, “Have you seen it again?”

The great rich London doctor cried out aloud with a sharp, throttling cry; he dashed his questioner across the open space, and, with his hands over his head, fled out of the door like a detected thief. Before it had occurred to one of us to make a movement the fly was already rattling toward the station. The scene was over like a dream, but the dream had left proofs and traces of its passage. Next day the servant found the fine gold spectacles broken on the threshold, and that very night we were all standing breathless by the barroom window, and Fettes at our side, sober, pale and resolute in look.

“God protect us, Mr. Fettes!” said the landlord, coming first into possession of his customary senses. “What in the universe is all this? These are strange things you have been saying.”

Fettes turned toward us; he looked us each in succession in the face. “See if you can hold your tongues,” said he. “That man Macfarlane is not safe to cross; those that have done so already have repented it too late.”

And then, without so much as finishing his third glass, far less waiting for the other two, he bade us good-by and went forth, under the lamp of the hotel, into the black night.

We three turned to our places in the parlour, with the big red fire and four clear candles; and as we recapitulated what had passed the first chill of our surprise soon changed into a glow of curiosity. We sat late; it was the latest session I have known in the old George. Each man, before we parted, had his theory that he was bound to prove; and none of us had any nearer business in this world than to track out the past of our condemned companion, and surprise the secret that he shared with the great London doctor. It is no great boast, but I believe I was a better hand at worming out a story than either of my fellows at the George; and perhaps there is now no other man alive who could narrate to you the following foul and unnatural events.

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October 23, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories – 21 – ‘The Damned Thing’ by Ambrose G. Bierce

Courtesy of Madhouse Manor the page of Debra Doyle & James D. MacDonald

CHAPTER I

ONE DOES NOT ALWAYS EAT WHAT IS ON THE TABLE

By the light of a tallow candle which had been placed on one end of a rough table a man was reading something written in a book. It was an old account book, greatly worn; and the writing was not, apparently, very legible, for the man sometimes held the page close to the flame of the candle to get a stronger light on it. The shadow of the book would then throw into obscurity a half of the rooms, darkening a number of faces and figures; for besides the reader, eight other men were present. Seven of them sat against the rough log walls, silent, motionless, and the room being small, not very far from the table. By extending an arm any one of them could have touched the eighth man, who lay on the table, face upward, partly covered by a sheet, his arms at his sides. He was dead.

The man with the book was not reading aloud, and no one spoke; all seemed to be waiting for something to occur; the dead man only was without expectation. From the bland darkness outside came in, through the aperture that served for a window, all the ever unfamiliar noises of night in the wilderness — the long nameless note of a distant coyote; the drone of great blundering beetles, and all that mysterious chorus of small sounds that seem always to have been but half heard when they have suddenly ceased, as if conscious of an indiscretion. But nothing of all this was noted in that company; its members were not overmuch addicted to idle interest in matters of no practical importance; that was obvious in every line of their rugged faces — obvious even in the dim light of the single candle. They were evidently men of the vicinity — farmers and woodsmen.

The person reading was a trifle different; one would have said of him that he was of the world, worldly, albeit there was that in his attire which attested a certain fellowship with the organisms of his environment. His coat would hardly have passed muster in San Francisco; his foot-gear was not of urban origin, and the hat that lay by him on the floor (he was the only one uncovered) was such that if one had considered it as an article of mere personal adornment he would have missed its meaning. In countenance the man was rather prepossessing, with just a hint of sternness; though that he may have assumed or cultivated, as appropriate to one in authority. For he was a coroner. It was by virtue of his office that he had possession of the book in which he was reading; it had been found among the dead man’s effects — in his cabin, where the inquest was now taking place.

When the coroner had finished reading he put the book into his breast pocket. At that moment the door was pushed open and a young man entered. He, clearly, was not of mountain birth and breeding: he was clad as those who dwell in cities. His clothing was dusty, however, as from travel. He had, in fact, been riding hard to attend the inquest.

The coroner nodded; no one else greeted him.

“We have waited for you,” said the coroner. “It is necessary to have done with this business to-night.”

The young man smiled. “I am sorry to have kept you,” he said. “I went away, not to evade your summons, but to post to my newspaper an account of what I suppose I am called back to relate.”

The coroner smiled.

“The account that you posted to your newspaper,” he said, “differs, probably, from that which you will give here under oath.”

“That,” replied the other, rather hotly and with a visible flush, “is as you please. I used manifold paper and have a copy of what I sent. It was not written as news, for it is incredible, but as fiction. It may go as part of my testimony under oath.”

“But you say it is incredible.”

“That is nothing to you, sir, if I also swear that it is true.”

The coroner was silent for a time, his eyes upon the floor.

The men about the sides of the cabin talked in whispers, but seldom withdrew their gaze from the face of the corpse. Presently the coroner lifted his eyes and said: “We will resume the inquest.”

The men removed their hats. The witness was sworn.

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October 21, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories – 20 – ‘An Apparition’ by Guy de Maupassant (1883)

Courtesy of About.com: Classic Literature

The subject of sequestration of the person came up in speaking of a recent lawsuit, and each of us had a story to tell–a true story, he said. We had been spending the evening together at an old family mansion in the Rue de Grenelle, just a party of intimate friends. The old Marquis de la Tour-Samuel, who was eighty-two, rose,and, leaning his elbow on the mantelpiece, said in his somewhat shaky voice:

“I also know of something strange, so strange that it has haunted me all my life. It is now fifty-six years since the incident occurred, and yet not a month passes that I do not see it again in a dream, so great is the impression of fear it has left on my mind. For ten minutes I experienced such horrible fright that ever since then a sort of constant terror has remained with me. Sudden noises startle me violently, and objects imperfectly distinguished at night inspire me with a mad desire to flee from them. In short, I am afraid of the dark!

“But I would not have acknowledged that before I reached my present age. Now I can say anything. I have never receded before real danger, ladies. It is, therefore, permissible, at eighty-two years of age, not to be brave in presence of imaginary danger.

“That affair so completely upset me, caused me such deep and mysterious and terrible distress, that I never spoke of it to any one. I will now tell it to you exactly as it happened, without any attempt at explanation.

“In July, 1827, I was stationed at Rouen. One day as I was walking along the quay I met a man whom I thought I recognized without being able to recall exactly who he was. Instinctively I made a movement to stop. The stranger perceived it and at once extended his hand.

“He was a friend to whom I had been deeply attached as a youth. For five years I had not seen him; he seemed to have aged half a century. His hair was quite white and he walked bent over as though completely exhausted. He apparently understood my surprise, and he told me of the misfortune which had shattered his life.

“Having fallen madly in love with a young girl, he had married her, but after a year of more than earthly happiness she died suddenly of an affection of the heart. He left his country home on the very day of her burial and came to his town house in Rouen, where he lived, alone and unhappy, so sad and wretched that he thought constantly of suicide.

“‘Since I have found you again in this manner,’ he said, ‘I will ask you to render me an important service. It is to go and get me out of the desk in my bedroom–our bedroom–some papers of which I have urgent need. I cannot send a servant or a business clerk, as discretion and absolute silence are necessary. As for myself, nothing on earth would induce me to reenter that house. I will give you the key of the room, which I myself locked on leaving, and the key of my desk, also a few words for my gardener, telling him to open the chateau for you. But come and breakfast with me tomorrow and we will arrange all that.’

“I promised to do him the slight favor he asked. It was, for that matter, only a ride which I could make in an hour on horseback, his property being but a few miles distant from Rouen.

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October 20, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories – 19 – ‘The Tapestried Chamber’ by Sir Walter Scott (1829)

Alternatively titled, ‘The Lady in the Square’

Courtesy of Mitsu Matsuoka, Nagoya University

About the end of the American war, when the officers of Lord Cornwallis’s army which surrendered at Yorktown, and others, who had been made prisoners during the impolitic and ill-fated controversy, were returning to their own country, to relate their adventures and repose themselves after their fatigues, there was amongst them a general officer, to whom Miss S. gave the name of Browne, but merely, as I understood, to save the inconvenience of introducing a nameless agent in the narrative. He was an officer of merit, as well as a gentleman of high consideration for family and attainments.

Some business had carried General Browne upon a tour through the western counties, when, in the conclusion of a morning stage, he found himself in the vicinity of a small country town, which presented a scene of uncommon beauty and of a character peculiarly English.

The little town, with its stately old church whose tower bore testimony to the devotion of ages long past, lay amidst pasture and corn-fields of small extent, but bounded and divided with hedgerow timber of great age and size. There were few marks of modern improvement. The environs of the place intimated neither the solitude of decay, nor the bustle of novelty; the houses were old, but in good repair; and the beautiful little river murmured freely on its way to the left of the town, neither restrained by a dam, nor bordered by a towing-path.

Upon a gentle eminence, nearly a mile to the southward of the town, were seen amongst many venerable oaks and tangled thickets the turrets of a castle, as old as the wars of York and Lancaster, but which seemed to have received important alterations during the age of Elizabeth and her successors. It had not been a place of great size; but whatever accommodation it formerly afforded, was, it must be supposed, still to be obtained within its walls; at least, such was the inference which General Browne drew from observing the smoke arise merrily from several of the ancient wreathed and carved chimney-stalks.

The wall of the park ran alongside of the highway for two or three hundred yards, and, through the different points by which the eye found glimpses into the woodland scenery, it seemed to be well stocked. Other points of view opened in succession; now a full one, of the front of the old castle, and now a side glimpse at its particular towers; the former rich in all the bizarrerie of the Elizabethan school, while the simple and solid strength of other parts of the building seemed to show that they had been raised more for defence than ostentation.

Delighted with the partial glimpses which he obtained of the castle through the woods and glades by which this ancient feudal fortress was surrounded, our military traveller was determined to inquire whether it might not deserve a nearer view, and whether it contained family pictures or other objects of curiosity worthy of a stranger’s visit, when, leaving the vicinity of the park, he rolled through a clean and well-paved street, and stopped at the door of a well-frequented inn.

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October 20, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories – 18 – “Guests From Gibbet Island” by Washington Irving

Courtesy of ReadPrint.com

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Whoever has visited the ancient and renowned village of Communipaw, may have noticed an old stone building, of most ruinous and sinister appearance. The doors and window-shutters are ready to drop from their hinges; old clothes are stuffed in the broken panes of glass, while legions of half-starved dogs prowl about the premises, and rush out and bark at every passer-by; for your beggarly house in a village is most apt to swarm with profligate and ill-conditioned dogs. What adds to the sinister appearance of this mansion, is a tall frame in front, not a little resembling a gallows, and which looks as if waiting to accommodate some of the inhabitants with a well-merited airing. It is not a gallows, however, but an ancient sign-post; for this dwelling, in the golden days of Communipaw, was one of the most orderly and peaceful of village taverns, where all the public affairs of Communipaw were talked and smoked over. In fact, it was in this very building that Oloffe the Dreamer, and his companions, concerted that great voyage of discovery and colonization, in which they explored Buttermilk Channel, were nearly shipwrecked in the strait of Hell-gate, and finally landed on the Island of Manhattan, and founded the great city of New-Amsterdam.

Even after the province had been cruelly wrested from the sway of their High Mightinesses, by the combined forces of the British and Yankees, this tavern continued its ancient loyalty. It is true, the head of the Prince of Orange disappeared from the sign; a strange bird being painted over it, with the explanatory legend of “DIE WILDE GANS,” or The Wild Goose; but this all the world knew to be a sly riddle of the landlord, the worthy Teunis Van Gieson, a knowing man in a small way, who laid his finger beside his nose and winked, when any one studied the signification of his sign, and observed that his goose was hatching, but would join the flock whenever they flew over the water; an enigma which was the perpetual recreation and delight of the loyal but fat-headed burghers of Communipaw.

Under the sway of this patriotic, though discreet and quiet publican, the tavern continued to flourish in primeval tranquillity, and was the resort of all true-hearted Nederlanders, from all parts of Pavonia; who met here quietly and secretly, to smoke and drink the downfall of Briton and Yankee, and success to Admiral Van Tromp.

The only drawback on the comfort of the establishment, was a nephew of mine host, a sister’s son, Yan Yost Vanderscamp by name, and a real scamp by nature. This unlucky whipster showed an early propensity to mischief, which he gratified in a small way, by playing tricks upon the frequenters of the Wild Goose; putting gunpowder in their pipes, or squibs in their pockets, and astonishing them with an explosion, while they sat nodding round the fire-place in the bar-room; and if perchance a worthy burgher from some distant part of Pavonia had lingered until dark over his potation, it was odds but that young Vanderscamp would slip a briar under his horse’s tail, as he mounted, and send him clattering along the road, in neck-or-nothing style, to his infinite astonishment and discomfiture.

It may be wondered at, that mine host of the Wild Goose did not turn such a graceless varlet out of doors; but Teunis Van Gieson was an easy-tempered man, and, having no child of his own, looked upon his nephew with almost parental indulgence. His patience and good-nature were doomed to be tried by another inmate of his mansion. This was a cross-grained curmudgeon of a negro, named Pluto, who was a kind of enigma in Communipaw. Where he came from, nobody knew. He was found one morning, after a storm, cast like a sea-monster on the strand, in front of the Wild Goose, and lay there, more dead than alive. The neighbors gathered round, and speculated on this production of the deep; whether it were fish or flesh, or a compound of both, commonly yclept a merman. The kind-hearted Teunis Van Gieson, seeing that he wore the human form, took him into his house, and warmed him into life. By degrees, he showed signs of intelligence, and even uttered sounds very much like language, but which no one in Communipaw could understand. Some thought him a negro just from Guinea, who had either fallen overboard, or escaped from a slave-ship. Nothing, however, could ever draw from him any account of his origin. When questioned on the subject, he merely pointed to Gibbet-Island, a small rocky islet, which lies in the open bay, just opposite to Communipaw, as if that were his native place, though every body knew it had never been inhabited.

In the process of time, he acquired something of the Dutch language, that is to say, he learnt all its vocabulary of oaths and maledictions, with just words sufficient to string them together. “Donder en blicksen!” (thunder and lightning,) was the gentlest of his ejaculations. For years he kept about the Wild Goose, more like one of those familiar spirits, or household goblins, that we read of, than like a human being. He acknowledged allegiance to no one, but performed various domestic offices, when it suited his humor; waiting occasionally on the guests; grooming the horses, cutting wood, drawing water; and all this without being ordered. Lay any command on him, and the stubborn sea-urchin was sure to rebel. He was never so much at home, however, as when on the water, plying about in skiff or canoe, entirely alone, fishing, crabbing, or grabbing for oysters, and would bring home quantities for the larder of the Wild Goose, which he would throw down at the kitchen door, with a growl. No wind nor weather deterred him from launching forth on his favorite element: indeed, the wilder the weather, the more he seemed to enjoy it. If a storm was brewing, he was sure to put off from shore; and would be seen far out in the bay, his light skiff dancing like a feather on the waves, when sea and sky were all in a turmoil, and the stoutest ships were fain to lower their sails. Sometimes, on such occasions, he would be absent for days together. How he weathered the tempest, and how and where he subsisted, no one could divine, nor did any one venture to ask, for all had an almost superstitious awe of him. Some of the Communipaw oystermen declared that they had more than once seen him suddenly disappear, canoe and all, as if they plunged beneath the waves, and after a while come up again, in quite a different part of the bay; whence they concluded that he could live under water like that notable species of wild duck, commonly called the Hell-diver. All began to consider him in the light of a foul-weather bird, like the Mother Carey’s Chicken, or Stormy Petrel; and whenever they saw him putting far out in his skiff, in cloudy weather, made up their minds for a storm.

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October 19, 2010. Tags: , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories – 17 – ‘The Furnished Room’ by O. Henry (

Courtesy of ENotes

RESTLESS, SHIFTING, FUGACIOUS as time itself is a certain vast bulk of the population of the red brick district of the lower West Side. Homeless, they have a hundred homes. They flit from furnished room to furnished room, transients forever—transients in abode, transients in heart and mind. They sing “Home, Sweet Home” in ragtime; they carry their lares et penates in a bandbox; their vine is entwined about a picture hat; a rubber plant is their fig tree.

Hence the houses of this district, having had a thousand dwellers, should have a thousand tales to tell, mostly dull ones, no doubt; but it would be strange if there could not be found a ghost or two in the wake of all these vagrant guests.

One evening after dark a young man prowled among these crumbling red mansions, ringing their bells. At the twelfth he rested his lean hand-baggage upon the step and wiped the dust from his hatband and forehead. The bell sounded faint and far away in some remote, hollow depths.

To the door of this, the twelfth house whose bell he had rung, came a housekeeper who made him think of an unwholesome, surfeited worm that had eaten its nut to a hollow shell and now sought to fill the vacancy with edible lodgers.

He asked if there was a room to let.

“Come in,” said the housekeeper. Her voice came from her throat; hert throat seemed lined with fur. “I have the third-floor back, vacant since a week back. Should you wish to look at it?”

The young man followed her up the stairs. A faint light from no particular source mitigated the shadows of the halls. They trod noiselessly upon a stair carpet that its own loom would have forsworn. It seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in that rank, sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to the staircase and was viscid under the foot like organic matter. At each turn of the stairs were vacant niches in the wall. Perhaps plants had once been set within them. If so they had died in that foul and tainted air. It may be that statues of the saints had stood there, but it was not difficult to conceive that imps and devils had dragged them forth in the darkness and down to the unholy depths of some furnished pit below.

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October 19, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Film, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories – 15 – ‘An Eddy on the Floor’ by Bernard Capes (1899)

Courtesy of TheLiteraryGothic

I had the pleasure of an invitation to one of those reunions or séances at the house, in a fashionable quarter, of my distant connection, Lady Barbara Grille, whereat it was my hostess’s humour to gather together those many birds of alien feather and incongruous habit that will flock from the hedgerows to the least little flattering crumb of attention. And scarce one of them but thinks the simple feast is spread for him alone. And with so cheap a bait may a title lure.

That reference to so charming a personality should be in this place is a digression. She affects my narrative only inasmuch as I happened to meet at her house a gentleman who for a time exerted a considerable influence over my fortunes.

The next morning after the séance, my landlady entered with a card, which she presented to my consideration:

Major James Shrike,
H. M. Prison, D——

All astonishment, I bade my visitor up.

He entered briskly, fur-collared, hat in hand, and bowed as he stood on the threshold. He was a very short man—snub-nosed; rusty-whiskered; indubitably and unimpressively a cockney in appearance. He might have walked out of a Cruikshank etching.

I was beginning, ‘May I enquire—’ when the other took me up with a vehement frankness that I found engaging at once.

‘This is a great intrusion. Will you pardon me? I heard some remarks of yours last night that deeply interested me. I obtained your name and address from our hostess, and took the liberty of—’

‘Oh! pray be seated. Say no more. My kinswoman’s introduction is all-sufficient. I am happy in having caught your attention in so motley a crowd.’

‘She doesn’t—forgive the impertinence—take herself seriously enough.’

‘Lady Barbara? Then you’ve found her out?’

‘Ah!—you’re not offended?’

‘Not in the least.’

‘Good. It was a motley assemblage, as you say. Yet I’m inclined to think I found my pearl in the oyster. I’m afraid I interrupted—eh?’

‘No, no, not at all. Only some idle scribbling. I’d finished.’

‘You are a poet?’

‘Only a lunatic. I haven’t taken my degree.’

‘Ah! it’s a noble gift—the gift of song; precious through its rarity.’

I caught a note of emotion in my visitor’s voice, and glanced at him curiously.

‘Surely,’ I thought, ‘that vulgar, ruddy little face is transfigured.’

‘But,’ said the stranger, coming to earth, ‘I am lingering beside the mark. I must try to justify my solecism in manners by a straight reference to the object of my visit. That is, in the first instance, a matter of business.’

‘Business!’

‘I am a man with a purpose, seeking the hopefullest means to an end. Plainly: if I could procure you the post of resident doctor at D— gaol, would you be disposed to accept it?’

I looked my utter astonishment.

‘I can affect no surprise at yours, said the visitor. ‘It is perfectly natural. Let me forestall some unnecessary expression of it. My offer seems unaccountable to you, seeing that we never met until last night. But I don’t move entirely in the dark. I have ventured in the interval to inform myself as to the details of your career. I was entirely one with much of your expression of opinion as to the treatment of criminals, in which you controverted the crude and unpleasant scepticism of the lady you talked with. Combining the two, I come to the immediate conclusion that you are the man for my purpose.’

‘You have dumbfounded me. I don’t know what to answer. You have views, I know, as to prison treatment. Will you sketch them? Will you talk on, while I try to bring my scattered wits to a focus?’

‘Certainly I will. Let me, in the first instance, recall to you a few words of your own. They ran somewhat in this fashion: Is not the man of praetical genius the man who is most apt at solving the little problems of resourcefulness in life? Do you remember them?’

‘Perhaps I do, in a cruder form.’

‘They attracted me at once. It is upon such a postulate I base my practice. Their moral is this:

To know the antidote the moment the snake bites. That is to have the intuition of divinity. We shall rise to it some day, no doubt, and climb the hither side of the new Olympus. Who knows?

Over the crest the spirit of creation may be ours.’

I nodded, still at sea, and the other went on with a smile:

‘I once knew a world-famous engineer with whom I used to breakfast occasionally. He had a patent egg-boiler on the table, with a little double-sided ladle underneath to hold the spirit. He complained that his egg was always undercooked. I said, “Why not reverse the ladle so as to bring the deeper cut uppermost?” He was charmed with my perspicacity. The solution had never occurred to him. You remember, too, no doubt, the story of Coleridge and the horse collar. We aim too much at great developments. If we cultivate resourcefulness, the rest will follow. Shall I state my system in nuce? It is to encourage this spirit of resourcefulness.’

‘Surely the habitual criminal has it in a marked degree?’

‘Yes; but abnormally developed in a single direction. His one object is to out-manoeuvre in a game of desperate and immoral chances. The tactical spirit in him has none of the higher ambition. It has felt itself in the degree only that stops at defiance.’

‘That is perfectly true.’

‘It is half self-conscious of an individuality that instinctively assumes the hopelessness of a recognition by duller intellects. Leaning to resentment through misguided vanity, it falls “all oblique”. What is the cure for this? I answer, the teaching of a divine egotism. The subject must be led to a pure devotion to self What he wishes to respect he must be taught to make beautiful and interesting. The policy of sacrifice to others has so long stunted his moral nature because it is a hypocritical policy. We are responsible to ourselves in the first instance; and to argue an eternal system of blind self-sacrifice is to undervalue the fine gift of individuality. In such he sees but an indefensible policy of force applied to the advantage of the community. He is told to be good— not that he may morally profit, but that others may not suffer inconvenience.’

I was beginning to grasp, through my confusion, a certain clue of meaning in my visitor’s rapid utterance. The stranger spoke fluently, but in the dry, positive voice that characterizes men of will.

‘Pray go on,’ I said; ‘I am digesting in silence.’

‘We must endeavour to lead him to respect of self by showing him what his mind is capable of.

I argue on no sectarian, no religious grounds even. Is it possible to make a man’s self his most precious possession? Anyhow, I work to that end. A doctor purges before building up with a tonic. I eliminate cant and hypocrisy, and then introduce self-respect. It isn’t enough to employ a man’s hands only. Initiation in some labour that should prove wholesome and remunerative is a redeeming factor, but it isn’t all. His mind must work also, and awaken to its capacities. If it rusts, the body reverts to inhuman instincts.’

‘May I ask how you—?’

‘By intercourse—in my own person or through my officials. I wish to have only those about me who are willing to contribute to my designs, and with whom I can work in absolute harmony.

All my officers are chosen to that end. No doubt a dash of constitutional sentimentalism gives colour to my theories. I get it from a human trait in me that circumstances have obliged me to put a hoarding round.’

‘I begin to gather daylight.’

‘Quite so. My patients are invited to exchange views with their guardians in a spirit of perfect friendliness; to solve little problems of practical moment; to acquire the pride of self-reliance.

We have competitions, such as certain newspapers open to their readers in a simple form. I draw up the questions myself. The answers give me insight into the mental conditions of the competitors. Upon insight I proceed. I am fortunate in private means, and I am in a position to offer modest prizes to the winners, Whenever such a one is discharged, he finds awaiting him the tools most handy to his vocation. I bid him go forth in no pharisaical spirit, and invite him to communicate with me. I wish the shadow of the gaol to extend no further than the road whereon it lies. Henceforth, we are acquaintances with a common interest at heart. Isn’t it monstrous that a state-fixed degree of misconduct should earn a man social ostracism? Parents are generally inclined to rule extra tenderness towards a child whose peccadilloes have brought him a whipping. For myself have no faith in police supervision. Give a culprit his term and have done with it. I find the majority who come back to me are ticket-of-leave men, ‘Have I said enough? I offer you the reversion of the post. The present holder of it leaves in a month’s time. Please to determine here and at once.’

‘Very good. I have decided,’

‘You will accept?’

‘Yes.’

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October 15, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

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