Sunday, December 22, 2019

Christmas is a Time for Ghost Stories

Christmas is a Time for Ghost Stories

Horror author and humorist Jerome K. Jerome said in his 1891 introduction to an anthology of Christmas ghost stories “Told After Supper," "Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories." In 1963 Edward Pola and George Wyle wrote the popular Christmas song, "It's the Most Wonderful time of the Year," which told of "Scary ghost stories," that are told at Christmastime.
This Victorian tradition should be no different this year. Checkout "The Best Ghost Stories 1800-1849" and "The Best Ghost Stories 1850-1899" that I edited. The books include story backgrounds, annotations, author photos and a foreword titled "All Ghosts Are Gray." Buy PHANTASMAL: THE BEST GHOST STORIES 1800-1849 tonight and be ready to be scared. Boo!
The Tapestried Chamber (1827)
Sir Walter Scott was a leading proponent of supernatural tales in Europe. The Tapestried Chamber is the second oldest scary story in the anthology and contains moments of sheer terror.
Adventure of the German Student (1824)
Washington Irving is best known for "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," but the Adventure of the German Student" is as compact a fright as one will find in a little ghost story.
The Old Maid in the Winding Sheet (1837)
Nathaniel Hawthorne makes his only appearance with a horror tale that is superbly written. It was also an Edgar Allan Poe favorite.
The Spectral Ship (1828)
Wilhelm Hauff died in his mid-twenties, yet still showed early promise that he could have been one of the all time great supernatural writers. "TheSpectral Ship" leaves an indelible tang of horror.
A Night in a Haunted House (1848)
This anonymous ghost story will make a person think twice when they hear a thump coming up the stairs.
The Mask of the Red Death (1842)
"The Mask of the Red Death" is perhaps Edgar Allan Poe's finest ghost story. The writing and symbolism are unparalleled for this period in question.
A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family (1839)
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was the early king of the short ghost story. He would later publish "Green Tea," which is contained in BEST HORROR SHORT STORIES 1850-1899: A 6A66LE HORROR ANTHOLOGY.
The Deaf and Dumb Girl (1839)
This anonymous ghost story is collected for the first time in any anthology since its original publication in 1839.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1819)
Washington Irving's most popular ghost story--and perhaps the most popular ghost short story of all time (assuming Dickens's "A Christmas Carole" is a novella)--is "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Although typically disfavored in a scary ghost story, it is one of the first to do it without losing the element of terror and it is the oldest in the Top 10, which gives the story high marks for originality and creativity.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Squaw by Bram Stoker - A Classic Horror Story from a Horror Short Stories Anthology

Apart from Edgar Allan Poe, there was no bigger name in horror fiction during the nineteenth century than one Bram Stoker. He was born in Dublin, Ireland and the third of seven children. He suffered from an unknown illness and spent most his days bedridden until he recovered at the age of seven. Later he attended Trinity College, Dublin  where he studied mathematics. Stoker became the personal assistant to the popular stage actor Henry Irving. He is mentioned by one of the characters in “The Squaw.”
Bram Stoker started his literary career by writing short stories. “The Crystal Cup” was his first. It was published in 1872 when Stoker was twenty-five. Rats soon became his animal of choice in a number of his tales, including, of course, “The Burial of the Rats” (1896) and his best ghost story, “The Judge’s House” (1891).
He also used cats (black ones) to weave the most fiendish cat horror tale since Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” (1843) published 50 years earlier. “The Squaw” will never be mistaken for a warm holiday story, yet it was published in the December 2nd Christmas issue of The Illustrated Sporting of Dramatic News magazine, titled “Holly Leaves” on its cover.
In 1893, Stoker took a break from writing Dracula to publish “The Squaw.” He viewed the story as being that important. It includes an American with a thick Southern accent that can be overbearing at times.
“The Squaw” was first published in book form by Stoker’s wife, Florence, during 1914. This was two years after Stoker’s death. The anthology titled Dracula’s Guest and Other Stories further contained the first publication of “Dracula’s Guest,” a segment cut from the Dracula novel due to length.
Given the excellent writing, character generation and shocking ending, “The Squaw” is one of Bram Stoker’s greatest horror short stories.

The Squaw

URNBERG AT THE time was not so much exploited as it has been since then. Irving had not been playing Faust, and the very name of the old town was hardly known to the great bulk of the travelling public.
My wife and I being in the second week of our honeymoon, naturally wanted someone else to join our party, so that when the cheery stranger, Elias P. Hutcheson, hailing from Isthmian City, Bleeding Gulch, Maple Tree County, Neb. turned up at the station at Frankfort, and casually remarked that he was going on to see the most all-fired old Methuselah of a town in Yurrup, and that he guessed that so much travelling alone was enough to send an intelligent, active citizen into the melancholy ward of a daft house, we took the pretty broad hint and suggested that we should join forces.
We found, on comparing notes afterwards, that we had each intended to speak with some diffidence or hesitation so as not to appear too eager, such not being a good compliment to the success of our married life; but the effect was entirely marred by our both beginning to speak at the same instant—stopping simultaneously and then going on together again.
Anyhow, no matter how, it was done; and Elias P. Hutcheson became one of our party. Straightway Amelia and I found the pleasant benefit; instead of quarrelling, as we had been doing, we found that the restraining influence of a third party was such that we now took every opportunity of spooning in odd corners. Amelia declares that ever since she has, as the result of that experience, advised all her friends to take a friend on the honeymoon. Well, we “did” Nurnberg together, and much enjoyed the racy remarks of our Transatlantic friend, who, from his quaint speech and his wonderful stock of adventures, might have stepped out of a novel. We kept for the last object of interest in the city to be visited the Burg, and on the day appointed for the visit strolled round the outer wall of the city by the eastern side.
The Burg is seated on a rock dominating the town and an immensely deep fosse guards it on the northern side. Nurnberg has been happy in that it was never sacked; had it been it would certainly not be so spick and span perfect as it is at present. The ditch has not been used for centuries, and now its base is spread with teagardens and orchards, of which some of the trees are of quite respectable growth.
As we wandered round the wall, dawdling in the hot July sunshine, we often paused to admire the views spread before us, and in especial the great plain covered with towns and villages and bounded with a blue line of hills, like a landscape of Claude Lorraine.
From this we always turned with new delight to the city itself, with its myriad of quaint old gables and acre-wide red roofs dotted with dormer windows, tier upon tier. A little to our right rose the towers of the Burg, and nearer still, standing grim, the Torture Tower, which was, and is, perhaps, the most interesting place in the city. For centuries the tradition of the Iron Virgin of Nurnberg has been handed down as an instance of the horrors of cruelty of which man is capable; we had long looked forward to seeing it; and here at last was its home.
In one of our pauses we leaned over the wall of the moat and looked down. The garden seemed quite fifty or sixty feet below us, and the sun pouring into it with an intense, moveless heat like that of an oven. Beyond rose the grey, grim wall seemingly of endless height, and losing itself right and left in the angles of bastion and counterscarp. Trees and bushes crowned the wall, and above again towered the lofty houses on whose massive beauty Time has only set the hand of approval. The sun was hot and we were lazy; time was our own, and we lingered, leaning on the wall. Just below us was a pretty sight—a great black cat lying stretched in the sun, whilst round her gamboled prettily a tiny black kitten. The mother would wave her tail for the kitten to play with, or would raise her feet and push away the little one as an encouragement to further play. They were just at the foot of the wall, and Elias P. Hutcheson, in order to help the play, stooped and took from the walk a moderate sized pebble.
“See!” he said, “I will drop it near the kitten, and they will both wonder where it came from.”
“Oh, be careful,” said my wife; “you might hit the dear little thing!”
“Not me, ma’am,” said Elias P. “Why, I’m as tender as a Maine cherry-tree. Lor, bless ye. I wouldn’t hurt the poor pooty little critter more’n I’d scalp a baby. An’ you may bet your variegated socks on that! See, I’ll drop it fur away on the outside so’s not to go near her!”
Thus saying, he leaned over and held his arm out at full length and dropped the stone. It may be that there is some attractive force which draws lesser matters to greater; or more probably that the wall was not plump but sloped to its base—we not noticing the inclination from above; but the stone fell with a sickening thud that came up to us through the hot air, right on the kitten’s head, and shattered out its little brains then and there. The black cat cast a swift upward glance, and we saw her eyes like green fire fixed an instant on Elias P. Hutcheson; and then her attention was given to the kitten, which lay still with just a quiver of her tiny limbs, whilst a thin red stream trickled from a gaping wound.
With a muffled cry, such as a human being might give, she bent over the kitten licking its wounds and moaning. Suddenly she seemed to realize that it was dead, and again threw her eyes up at us. I shall never forget the sight, for she looked the perfect incarnation of hate. Her green eyes blazed with lurid fire, and the white, sharp teeth seemed to almost shine through the blood which dabbled her mouth and whiskers.
She gnashed her teeth, and her claws stood out stark and at full length on every paw. Then she made a wild rush up the wall as if to reach us, but when the momentum ended fell back, and further added to her horrible appearance for she fell on the kitten, and rose with her black fur smeared with its brains and blood. Amelia turned quite faint, and I had to lift her back from the wall.
There was a seat close by in shade of a spreading plane-tree, and here I placed her whilst she composed herself. Then I went back to Hutcheson, who stood without moving, looking down on the angry cat below.
As I joined him, he said:
“Wall, I guess that air the savagest beast I ever see—’cept once when an Apache squaw had an edge on a half-breed what they nicknamed ‘Splinters’ ‘cos of the way he fixed up her papoose which he stole on a raid just to show that he appreciated the way they had given his mother the fire torture. She got that kinder look so set on her face that it jest seemed to grow there. She followed Splinters mor’n three year till at last the braves got him and handed him over to her. They did say that no man, white or Injun, had ever been so long a-dying under the tortures of the Apaches. The only time I ever see her smile was when I wiped her out. I kem on the camp just in time to see Splinters pass in his checks, and he wasn’t sorry to go either. He was a hard citizen, and though I never could shake with him after that papoose business—for it was bitter bad, and he should have been a white man, for he looked like one—I see he had got paid out in full. Durn me, but I took a piece of his hide from one of his skinnin’ posts an’ had it made into a pocketbook. It’s here now!” and he slapped the breast pocket of his coat.
Whilst he was speaking the cat was continuing her frantic efforts to get up the wall. She would take a run back and then charge up, sometimes reaching an incredible height. She did not seem to mind the heavy fall which she got each time but started with renewed vigor; and at every tumble her appearance became more horrible. Hutcheson was a kind-hearted man—my wife and I had both noticed little acts of kindness to animals as well as to persons—and he seemed concerned at the state of fury to which the cat had wrought herself.
“Wall, now!” he said, “I du declare that that poor critter seems quite desperate. There! there! poor thing, it was all an accident—though that won’t bring back your little one to you. Say! I wouldn’t have had such a thing happen for a thousand! Just shows what a clumsy fool of a man can do when he tries to play! Seems I’m too darned slipper-handed to even play with a cat. Say Colonel!” it was a pleasant way he had to bestow titles freely—“I hope your wife don’t hold no grudge against me on account of this unpleasantness? Why, I wouldn’t have had it occur on no account.”
He came over to Amelia and apologized profusely, and she with her usual kindness of heart hastened to assure him that she quite understood that it was an accident. Then we all went again to the wall and looked over.
The cat missing Hutcheson’s face had drawn back across the moat, and was sitting on her haunches as though ready to spring. Indeed, the very instant she saw him she did spring, and with a blind unreasoning fury, which would have been grotesque, only that it was so frightfully real. She did not try to run up the wall, but simply launched herself at him as though hate and fury could lend her wings to pass straight through the great distance between them. Amelia, womanlike, got quite concerned, and said to Elias P. in a warning voice:
“Oh! you must be very careful. That animal would try to kill you if she were here; her eyes look like positive murder.”
He laughed out jovially. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he said, “but I can’t help laughin’. Fancy a man that has fought grizzlies an’ Injuns bein’ careful of bein’ murdered by a cat!”
When the cat heard him laugh, her whole demeanor seemed to change. She no longer tried to jump or run up the wall, but went quietly over, and sitting again beside the dead kitten began to lick and fondle it as though it were alive.
“See!” said I, “the effect of a really strong man. Even that animal in the midst of her fury recognizes the voice of a master, and bows to him!”
“Like a squaw!” was the only comment of Elias P. Hutcheson, as we moved on our way round the city fosse.
Every now and then we looked over the wall and each time saw the cat following us. At first she had kept going back to the dead kitten, and then as the distance grew greater took it in her mouth and so followed. After a while, however, she abandoned this, for we saw her following all alone; she had evidently hidden the body somewhere. Amelia’s alarm grew at the cat’s persistence, and more than once she repeated her warning; but the American always laughed with amusement, till finally, seeing that she was beginning to be worried, he said:
“I say, ma’am, you needn’t be skeered over that cat. I go heeled, I du!” Here he slapped his pistol pocket at the back of his lumbar region. “Why sooner’n have you worried, I’ll shoot the critter, right here, an’ risk the police interferin’ with a citizen of the United States for carryin’ arms contrairy to reg’lations!” As he spoke he looked over the wall, but the cat on seeing him, retreated, with a growl, into a bed of tall flowers, and was hidden. He went on: “Blest if that ar critter ain’t got more sense of what’s good for her than most Christians. I guess we’ve seen the last of her! You bet, she’ll go back now to that busted kitten and have a private funeral of it, all to herself!”
Amelia did not like to say more, lest he might, in mistaken kindness to her, fulfil his threat of shooting the cat: and so we went on and crossed the little wooden bridge leading to the gateway whence ran the steep paved roadway between the Burg and the pentagonal Torture Tower. As we crossed the bridge we saw the cat again down below us. When she saw us her fury seemed to return, and she made frantic efforts to get up the steep wall. Hutcheson laughed as he looked down at her, and said:
“Goodbye, old girl. Sorry I injured your feelin’s, but you’ll get over it in time! So long!” And then we passed through the long, dim archway and came to the gate of the Burg.
When we came out again after our survey of this most beautiful old place which not even the well-intentioned efforts of the Gothic restorers of forty years ago have been able to spoil—though their restoration was then glaring white—we seemed to have quite forgotten the unpleasant episode of the morning. The old lime tree with its great trunk gnarled with the passing of nearly nine centuries, the deep well cut through the heart of the rock by those captives of old, and the lovely view from the city wall whence we heard, spread over almost a full quarter of an hour, the multitudinous chimes of the city, had all helped to wipe out from our minds the incident of the slain kitten.
We were the only visitors who had entered the Torture Tower that morning—so at least said the old custodian—and as we had the place all to ourselves were able to make a minute and more satisfactory survey than would have otherwise been possible. The custodian, looking to us as the sole source of his gains for the day, was willing to meet our wishes in any way. The Torture Tower is truly a grim place, even now when many thousands of visitors have sent a stream of life, and the joy that follows life, into the place; but at the time I mention it wore its grimmest and most gruesome aspect. The dust of ages seemed to have settled on it, and the darkness and the horror of its memories seem to have become sentient in a way that would have satisfied the Pantheistic souls of Philo or Spinoza.
The lower chamber where we entered was seemingly, in its normal state, filled with incarnate darkness; even the hot sunlight streaming in through the door seemed to be lost in the vast thickness of the walls, and only showed the masonry rough as when the builder’s scaffolding had come down, but coated with dust and marked here and there with patches of dark stain which, if walls could speak, could have given their own dread memories of fear and pain. We were glad to pass up the dusty wooden staircase, the custodian leaving the outer door open to light us somewhat on our way; for to our eyes the one long-wick’d, evil-smelling candle stuck in a sconce on the wall gave an inadequate light.
When we came up through the open trap in the corner of the chamber overhead, Amelia held on to me so tightly that I could actually feel her heart beat. I must say for my own part that I was not surprised at her fear, for this room was even more gruesome than that below. Here there was certainly more light, but only just sufficient to realize the horrible surroundings of the place. The builders of the tower had evidently intended that only they who should gain the top should have any of the joys of light and prospect. There, as we had noticed from below, were ranges of windows, albeit of mediaeval smallness, but elsewhere in the tower were only a very few narrow slits such as were habitual in places of mediaeval defense.
A few of these only lit the chamber, and these so high up in the wall that from no part could the sky be seen through the thickness of the walls. In racks, and leaning in disorder against the walls, were a number of headsmen’s swords, great double-handed weapons with broad blade and keen edge. Hard by were several blocks whereon the necks of the victims had lain, with here and there deep notches where the steel had bitten through the guard of flesh and shored into the wood.
Round the chamber, placed in all sorts of irregular ways, were many implements of torture which made one’s heart ache to see—chairs full of spikes which gave instant and excruciating pain; chairs and couches with dull knobs whose torture was seemingly less, but which, though slower, were equally efficacious; racks, belts, boots, gloves, collars, all made for compressing at will; steel baskets in which the head could be slowly crushed into a pulp if necessary; watchmen’s hooks with long handle and knife that cut at resistance—this a specialty of the old Nurnberg police system; and many, many other devices for man’s injury to man.
Amelia grew quite pale with the horror of the things, but fortunately did not faint, for being a little overcome she sat down on a torture chair, but jumped up again with a shriek, all tendency to faint gone. We both pretended that it was the injury done to her dress by the dust of the chair, and the rusty spikes which had upset her, and Mr. Hutcheson acquiesced in accepting the explanation with a kind-hearted laugh.
But the central object in the whole of this chamber of horrors was the engine known as the Iron Virgin, which stood near the center of the room. It was a rudely-shaped figure of a woman, something of the bell order, or, to make a closer comparison, of the figure of Mrs. Noah in the children’s Ark, but without that slimness of waist and perfect rondeur of hip which marks the aesthetic type of the Noah family.[15] One would hardly have recognized it as intended for a human figure at all had not the founder shaped on the forehead a rude semblance of a woman’s face. This machine was coated with rust without, and covered with dust; a rope was fastened to a ring in the front of the figure, about where the waist should have been, and was drawn through a pulley, fastened on the wooden pillar which sustained the flooring above.
The custodian pulling this rope showed that a section of the front was hinged like a door at one side; we then saw that the engine was of considerable thickness, leaving just room enough inside for a man to be placed. The door was of equal thickness and of great weight, for it took the custodian all his strength, aided though he was by the contrivance of the pulley, to open it. This weight was partly due to the fact that the door was of manifest purpose hung so as to throw its weight downwards, so that it might shut of its own accord when the strain was released.
The inside was honeycombed with rust—nay more, the rust alone that comes through time would hardly have eaten so deep into the iron walls; the rust of the cruel stains was deep indeed! It was only, however, when we came to look at the inside of the door that the diabolical intention was manifest to the full. Here were several long spikes, square and massive, broad at the base and sharp at the points, placed in such a position that when the door should close the upper ones would pierce the eyes of the victim, and the lower ones his heart and vitals.
The sight was too much for poor Amelia, and this time she fainted dead off, and I had to carry her down the stairs, and place her on a bench outside till she recovered. That she felt it to the quick was afterwards shown by the fact that my eldest son bears to this day a rude birthmark on his breast, which has, by family consent, been accepted as representing the Nurnberg Virgin.
When we got back to the chamber we found Hutcheson still opposite the Iron Virgin; he had been evidently philosophizing, and now gave us the benefit of his thought in the shape of a sort of exordium.
“Wall, I guess I’ve been learnin’ somethin’ here while madam has been gettin’ over her faint. ‘Pears to me that we’re a long way behind the times on our side of the big drink. We uster think out on the plains that the Injun could give us points in tryin’ to make a man uncomfortable; but I guess your old mediaeval law-and-order party could raise him every time. Splinters was pretty good in his bluff on the squaw, but this here young miss held a straight flush all high on him. The points of them spikes air sharp enough still, though even the edges air eaten out by what uster be on them. It’d be a good thing for our Indian section to get some specimens of this here play-toy to send round to the Reservations jest to knock the stuffin’ out of the bucks, and the squaws too, by showing them as how old civilization lays over them at their best. Guess but I’ll get in that box a minute jest to see how it feels!”
“Oh no! no!” said Amelia. “It is too terrible!”
“Guess, ma’am, nothin’s too terrible to the explorin’ mind. I’ve been in some queer places in my time. Spent a night inside a dead horse while a prairie fire swept over me in Montana Territory—an’ another time slept inside a dead buffler when the Comanches] was on the war path an’ I didn’t keer to leave my kyard on them. I’ve been two days in a caved-in tunnel in the Billy Broncho gold mine in New Mexico, an’ was one of the four shut up for three parts of a day in the caisson what slid over on her side when we was settin’ the foundations of the Buffalo Bridge. I’ve not funked an odd experience yet, an’ I don’t propose to begin now!”
We saw that he was set on the experiment, so I said: “Well, hurry up, old man, and get through it quick!”
“All right, General,” said he, “but I calculate we ain’t quite ready yet. The gentlemen, my predecessors, what stood in that thar canister, didn’t volunteer for the office—not much! And I guess there was some ornamental tyin’ up before the big stroke was made. I want to go into this thing fair and square, so I must get fixed up proper first. I dare say this old galoot can rise some string and tie me up accordin’ to sample?”
This was said interrogatively to the old custodian, but the latter, who understood the drift of his speech, though perhaps not appreciating to the full the niceties of dialect and imagery, shook his head. His protest was, however, only formal and made to be overcome.
The American thrust a gold piece into his hand, saying: “Take it, pard! it’s your pot; and don’t be skeer’d. This ain’t no necktie party that you’re asked to assist in!”
He produced some thin frayed rope and proceeded to bind our companion with sufficient strictness for the purpose. When the upper part of his body was bound, Hutcheson said:
“Hold on a moment, Judge. Guess I’m too heavy for you to tote into the canister. You jest let me walk in, and then you can wash up regardin’ my legs!”
Whilst speaking he had backed himself into the opening which was just enough to hold him. It was a close fit and no mistake. Amelia looked on with fear in her eyes, but she evidently did not like to say anything. Then the custodian completed his task by tying the American’s feet together so that he was now absolutely helpless and fixed in his voluntary prison. He seemed to really enjoy it, and the incipient smile which was habitual to his face blossomed into actuality as he said:
“Guess this here Eve was made out of the rib of a dwarf! There ain’t much room for a full-grown citizen of the United States to hustle. We uster make our coffins more roomier in Idaho territory. Now, Judge, you jest begin to let this door down, slow, on to me. I want to feel the same pleasure as the other jays had when those spikes began to move toward their eyes!”
“Oh no! no! no!” broke in Amelia hysterically. “It is too terrible! I can’t bear to see it!—I can’t! I can’t!”
But the American was obdurate. “Say, Colonel,” said he, “why not take Madame for a little promenade? I wouldn’t hurt her feelin’s for the world; but now that I am here, havin’ kem eight thousand miles, wouldn’t it be too hard to give up the very experience I’ve been pinin’ an’ pantin’ fur? A man can’t get to feel like canned goods every time! Me and the Judge here’ll fix up this thing in no time, an’ then you’ll come back, an’ we’ll all laugh together!”
Once more the resolution that is born of curiosity triumphed, and Amelia stayed holding tight to my arm and shivering whilst the custodian began to slacken slowly inch by inch the rope that held back the iron door. Hutcheson’s face was positively radiant as his eyes followed the first movement of the spikes.
“Wall!” he said, “I guess I’ve not had enjoyment like this since I left Noo York. Bar a scrap with a French sailor at Wapping—an’ that warn’t much of a picnic neither—I’ve not had a show fur real pleasure in this dod-rotted Continent, where there ain’t no b’ars nor no Injuns, an’ wheer nary man goes heeled. Slow there, Judge! Don’t you rush this business! I want a show for my money this game—I du!”
The custodian must have had in him some of the blood of his predecessors in that ghastly tower, for he worked the engine with a deliberate and excruciating slowness which after five minutes, in which the outer edge of the door had not moved half as many inches, began to overcome Amelia.
I saw her lips whiten, and felt her hold upon my arm relax. I looked around an instant for a place whereon to lay her, and when I looked at her again found that her eye had become fixed on the side of the Virgin. Following its direction I saw the black cat crouching out of sight. Her green eyes shone like danger lamps in the gloom of the place, and their color was heightened by the blood which still smeared her coat and reddened her mouth.
I cried out: “The cat! look out for the cat!” for even then she sprang out before the engine. At this moment she looked like a triumphant demon. Her eyes blazed with ferocity, her hair bristled out till she seemed twice her normal size, and her tail lashed about as does a tiger’s when the quarry is before it.
Elias P. Hutcheson when he saw her was amused, and his eyes positively sparkled with fun as he said: “Darned if the squaw hain’t got on all her war paint! Jest give her a shove off if she comes any of her tricks on me, for I’m so fixed everlastingly by the boss, that durn my skin if I can keep my eyes from her if she wants them! Easy there, Judge! don’t you slack that ar rope or I’m euchered!”
At this moment Amelia completed her faint, and I had to clutch hold of her round the waist or she would have fallen to the floor. Whilst attending to her I saw the black cat crouching for a spring, and jumped up to turn the creature out.
But at that instant, with a sort of hellish scream, she hurled herself, not as we expected at Hutcheson, but straight at the face of the custodian. Her claws seemed to be tearing wildly as one sees in the Chinese drawings of the dragon rampant, and as I looked I saw one of them light on the poor man’s eye, and actually tear through it and down his cheek, leaving a wide band of red where the blood seemed to spurt from every vein.
With a yell of sheer terror which came quicker than even his sense of pain, the man leaped back, dropping as he did so the rope which held back the iron door. I jumped for it, but was too late, for the cord ran like lightning through the pulley-block, and the heavy mass fell forward from its own weight.
As the door closed I caught a glimpse of our poor companion’s face. He seemed frozen with terror. His eyes stared with a horrible anguish as if dazed, and no sound came from his lips.
And then the spikes did their work. Happily the end was quick, for when I wrenched open the door they had pierced so deep that they had locked in the bones of the skull through which they had crushed, and actually tore him—it—out of his iron prison till, bound as he was, he fell at full length with a sickly thud upon the floor, the face turning upward as he fell.
I rushed to my wife, lifted her up and carried her out, for I feared for her very reason if she should wake from her faint to such a scene. I laid her on the bench outside and ran back. Leaning against the wooden column was the custodian moaning in pain whilst he held his reddening handkerchief to his eyes. And sitting on the head of the poor American was the cat, purring loudly as she licked the blood which trickled through the gashed socket of his eyes.
I think no one will call me cruel because I seized one of the old executioner’s swords and shore her in two as she sat.

Read other great classic horror short stories in this anthology -

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Saturday, September 28, 2019

Lost Hearts - a Classic Ghost Short Story by M. R. James with Introduction and footnotes by Andrew Barger

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Lost Hearts
M. R. James

Similar to Ralph Adams Cram in America, M. R. James belonged to the Ivy League of England. He was provost of King’s College, Cambridge for thirteen years and then at Eaton College for eighteen years.
His tenure at those colleges didn’t come until many years after he penned “Lost Hearts” (1895), which is the best ghost story he wrote prior to the turn of the century given its especially fiendish ending and tight writing style. It would later be seem to set the recurring foundation of his later ghost stories.
In his professional life, James was referred to as a “medievalist,” which is a fancy way of saying his scholarly focus was on medieval history. For purposes of constructing a ghost story, his background was a welcome fit as he fashioned many of these stories with a four-legged foundation: (1) a moldering English village as the setting; (2) a protagonist who is a scholar of English history; (3) the protagonist comes across an ancient secret in an old manuscript or historical artifact; and (4) a ghostly creature is reanimated as a result.
The formula worked quiet well for James. Four collections of his popular ghost and supernatural stories were published during his lifetime: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), and A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925).
“Lost Hearts” was found in the earliest collection before the cares and reserve of the universities overtook him. It was first published in the December 1895 issue of the venerable Pall Mall Magazine, [“Lost Hearts,” M. R. James, Pall Mall Magazine, 1895, pgs. 639-47] which published original stories from luminaries such as Joseph Conrad, Jack London, and Rudyard Kipling.
Montague Summers called “Lost Hearts” one of James’s “best stories” while he deemed James to be “among the greatest . . . of modern exponents of the supernatural in fiction.” [The Supernatural Omnibus: Being a Collection of Stories of Apparitions, Witchcraft, Werewolves, Diabolism, Necromancy, Satanism, Divination, Sorcery, Goety, Voodo, Possession, Occult, Doom and Destiny, Montague Summers, 1931, pg. 1]


IT WAS, AS far as I can ascertain, in September of the year 1811 that a postchaise [An enclosed horse-drawn carriage having four wheels] drew up before the door of Aswarby Hall, [Large English country house demolished in 1951 due to military occupation after World War II and owned through the years by the Hervey, Carres, and Whichcote families, “Aswarby Hall,”, 2016] in the heart of Lincolnshire. [Rural farming county with Aswarby parish that had only 142 residents during 1891, which is 4 years before “Lost Hearts” was published, and three farms; Kelly’s Directory of Lincolnshire with the Port of Hull and Neighborhood, E. R. Kelly, 1885, pg. 674]
The little boy who was the only passenger in the chaise, and who jumped out as soon as it had stopped, looked about him with the keenest curiosity during the short interval that elapsed between the ringing of the bell and the opening of the hall door.
He saw a tall, square, red-brick house, built in the reign of Anne; [Queen Anne (1665-1714) ruled over Great Britain from 1707-1714] a stone-pillared porch had been added in the purer classical style of 1790; [Porch on a flat roof of the house] the windows of the house were many, tall and narrow, with small panes and thick white woodwork. A pediment, pierced with a round window, crowned the front. There were wings to right and left, connected by curious glazed galleries, supported by colonnades, with the central block. These wings plainly contained the stables and offices of the house. Each was surmounted by an ornamental cupola with a gilded vane. [Weather vane]
An evening light shone on the building, making the window-panes glow like so many fires. Away from the Hall in front stretched a flat park studded with oaks and fringed with firs, which stood out against the sky. The clock in the church-tower, buried in trees on the edge of the park, only its golden weathercock catching the light, was striking six, and the sound came gently beating down the wind. It was altogether a pleasant impression, though tinged with the sort of melancholy appropriate to an evening in early autumn, that was conveyed to the mind of the boy who was standing in the porch waiting for the door to open to him.

He had just come from Warwickshire, and some six months ago had been left an orphan. Now, owing to the generous and unexpected offer of his elderly cousin, Mr. Abney, he had come to live at Aswarby. The offer was unexpected, because all who knew anything of Mr. Abney looked upon him as a somewhat austere recluse, into whose steady-going household the advent of a small boy would import a new and, it seemed, incongruous element. The truth is that very little was known of Mr. Abney’s pursuits or temper.

The Professor of Greek at Cambridge had been heard to say that no one knew more of the religious beliefs of the later pagans than did the owner of Aswarby. Certainly his library contained all the then available books bearing on the Mysteries, [Likely a reference to the Eleusinian Mysteries, which consisted of secret religious rites performed by various cults] the Orphic poems, [In Greek mythology Orpheus traveled to Hell and returned with religious hymns and poems] the worship of Mithras, [Secret religions of the ancient Romans that focused on the deity Mithras] and the Neo-Platonists. [Formed a belief in using spiritualism to enhance the soul]
In the marble-paved hall stood a fine group of Mithras slaying a bull, which had been imported from the Levant [Vast area of Arabic, Greek and Turkish speaking countries in the eastern Mediterranean] at great expense by the owner. He had contributed a description of it to the Gentleman’s Magazine, [A London magazine founded in 1731 that published news and literary articles for nearly 200 years] and he had written a remarkable series of articles in the Critical Museum [A made-up magazine] on the superstitions of the Romans of the Lower Empire. He was looked upon, in fine, as a man wrapped up in his books, and it was a matter of great surprise among his neighbors that he should ever have heard of his orphan cousin, Stephen Elliott, much more that he should have volunteered to make him an inmate of Aswarby Hall.
Whatever may have been expected by his neighbors, it is certain that Mr. Abney—the tall, the thin, the austere—seemed inclined to give his young cousin a kindly reception. The moment the front-door was opened he darted out of his study, rubbing his hands with delight.
‘How are you, my boy?—how are you? How old are you?’ said he—‘that is, you are not too much tired, I hope, by your journey to eat your supper?’
‘No, thank you, sir,’ said Master Elliott; ‘I am pretty well.’
‘That’s a good lad,’ said Mr. Abney. ‘And how old are you, my boy?’
It seemed a little odd that he should have asked the question twice in the first two minutes of their acquaintance.
‘I’m twelve years old next birthday, sir,’ said Stephen.
‘And when is your birthday, my dear boy? Eleventh of September, eh? That’s well—that’s very well. Nearly a year hence, isn’t it? I like—ha, ha!—I like to get these things down in my book. Sure it’s twelve? Certain?’
‘Yes, quite sure, sir.’
‘Well, well! Take him to Mrs. Bunch’s room, Parkes, and let him have his tea—supper—whatever it is.’
‘Yes, sir,’ answered the staid Mr. Parkes; and conducted Stephen to the lower regions.
Mrs. Bunch was the most comfortable and human person whom Stephen had as yet met in Aswarby. She made him completely at home; they were great friends in a quarter of an hour: and great friends they remained. Mrs. Bunch had been born in the neighborhood some fifty-five years before the date of Stephen’s arrival, and her residence at the Hall was of twenty years’ standing. Consequently, if anyone knew the ins and outs of the house and the district, Mrs. Bunch knew them; and she was by no means disinclined to communicate her information.
Certainly there were plenty of things about the Hall and the Hall gardens which Stephen, who was of an adventurous and inquiring turn, was anxious to have explained to him. ‘Who built the temple at the end of the laurel walk? Who was the old man whose picture hung on the staircase, sitting at a table, with a skull under his hand?’
These and many similar points were cleared up by the resources of Mrs. Bunch’s powerful intellect. There were others, however, of which the explanations furnished were less satisfactory.
One November evening Stephen was sitting by the fire in the housekeeper’s room reflecting on his surroundings.

‘Is Mr. Abney a good man, and will he go to heaven?’ he suddenly asked, with the peculiar confidence which children possess in the ability of their elders to settle these questions, the decision of which is believed to be reserved for other tribunals.

‘Good?—bless the child!’ said Mrs. Bunch. ‘Master’s as kind a soul as ever I see! Didn’t I never tell you of the little boy as he took in out of the street, as you may say, this seven years back? and the little girl, two years after I first come here?’

‘No. Do tell me all about them, Mrs. Bunch—now this minute!’

‘Well,’ said Mrs. Bunch, ‘the little girl I don’t seem to recollect so much about. I know master brought her back with him from his walk one day, and give orders to Mrs. Ellis, as was housekeeper then, as she should be took every care with. And the pore child hadn’t no one belonging to her—she telled me so her own self—and here she lived with us a matter of three weeks it might be; and then, whether she were somethink of a gipsy in her blood or what not, but one morning she out of her bed afore any of us had opened a eye and neither track nor yet trace of her have I set eyes on since. Master was wonderful put about, and had all the ponds dragged; but it’s my belief she was had away by them gipsies, for there was singing round the house for as much as an hour the night she went, and Parkes, he declare as he heard them a-calling in the woods all that afternoon. Dear, dear! a hodd child she was, so silent in her ways and all, but I was wonderful taken up with her, so domesticated she was—surprising.’

‘And what about the little boy?’ said Stephen.

‘Ah, that pore boy!’ sighed Mrs. Bunch. ‘He were a foreigner—Jevanny he called hisself—and he come a-tweaking his ‘urdy-gurdy [Hurdy-gurdy is a small stringed folk instrument] round and about the drive one winter day, and master ‘ad him in that minute, and ast all about where he came from, and how old he was, and how he made his way, and where was his relatives, and all as kind as heart could wish. But it went the same way with him. They’re a hunruly lot, them foreign nations, I do suppose, and he was off one fine morning just the same as the girl. Why he went and what he done was our question for as much as a year after; for he never took his ‘urdy-gurdy, and there it lays on the shelf.’

The remainder of the evening was spent by Stephen in miscellaneous cross-examination of Mrs. Bunch and in efforts to extract a tune from the hurdy-gurdy.
That night he had a curious dream. At the end of the passage at the top of the house, in which his bedroom was situated, there was an old disused bathroom. It was kept locked, but the upper half of the door was glazed, and, since the muslin curtains which used to hang there had long been gone, you could look in and see the lead-lined bath affixed to the wall on the right hand, with its head towards the window.

On the night of which I am speaking, Stephen Elliott found himself, as he thought, looking through the glazed door. The moon was shining through the window, and he was gazing at a figure which lay in the bath.

His description of what he saw reminds me of what I once beheld myself in the famous vaults of St. Michan’s Church in Dublin, which possess the horrid property of preserving corpses from decay for centuries. [Gothic church in Ireland containing underground crypts with remains mummified by the natural limestone deposits in the earth, both M. R. James and Bram Stoker are believed to have visited the crypts] A figure inexpressibly thin and pathetic, of a dusty leaden color, enveloped in a shroud-like garment, the thin lips crooked into a faint and dreadful smile, the hands pressed tightly over the region of the heart.

As he looked upon it, a distant, almost inaudible moan seemed to issue from its lips, and the arms began to stir. The terror of the sight forced Stephen backwards, and he awoke to the fact that he was indeed standing on the cold boarded floor of the passage in the full light of the moon. With a courage which I do not think can be common among boys of his age, he went to the door of the bathroom to ascertain if the figure of his dream were really there. It was not, and he went back to bed.
Mrs. Bunch was much impressed next morning by his story, and went so far as to replace the muslin curtain over the glazed door of the bathroom. Mr. Abney, moreover, to whom he confided his experiences at breakfast, was greatly interested, and made notes of the matter in what he called ‘his book.’

The spring equinox was approaching, as Mr. Abney frequently reminded his cousin, adding that this had been always considered by the ancients to be a critical time for the young: that Stephen would do well to take care of himself, and to shut his bedroom window at night; and that Censorinus had some valuable remarks on the subject. [Censorinus was a Roman historian and grammarian whose text De Die Natale speaks of all durations of time] Two incidents that occurred about this time made an impression upon Stephen’s mind.

The first was after an unusually uneasy and oppressed night that he had passed—though he could not recall any particular dream that he had had.

The following evening Mrs. Bunch was occupying herself in mending his nightgown.
‘Gracious me, Master Stephen!’ she broke forth rather irritably, ‘how do you manage to tear your nightdress all to flinders this way? Look here, sir, what trouble you do give to poor servants that have to darn and mend after you!’

There was indeed a most destructive and apparently wanton series of slits or scorings in the garment, which would undoubtedly require a skillful needle to make good. They were confined to the left side of the chest—long, parallel slits, about six inches in length, some of them not quite piercing the texture of the linen. Stephen could only express his entire ignorance of their origin: he was sure they were not there the night before.

‘But,’ he said, ‘Mrs. Bunch, they are just the same as the scratches on the outside of my bedroom door; and I’m sure I never had anything to do with making them?’

Mrs. Bunch gazed at him open-mouthed, then snatched up a candle, departed hastily from the room, and was heard making her way upstairs. In a few minutes she came down.

‘Well,’ she said, ‘Master Stephen, it’s a funny thing to me how them marks and scratches can ‘a’ come there—too high up for any cat or dog to ‘ave made ‘em, much less a rat: for all the world like a Chinaman’s fingernails, as my uncle in the tea-trade used to tell us of when we was girls together. I wouldn’t say nothing to master, not if I was you, Master Stephen, my dear; and just turn the key of the door when you go to your bed.’

‘I always do, Mrs. Bunch, as soon as I’ve said my prayers.’

‘Ah, that’s a good child: always say your prayers, and then no one can’t hurt you.’

Herewith Mrs. Bunch addressed herself to mending the injured nightgown, with intervals of meditation, until bedtime. This was on a Friday night in March, 1812. [The second Friday in March of 1812 was Friday the 13th in the Gregorian calendar]

On the following evening the usual duet of Stephen and Mrs. Bunch was augmented by the sudden arrival of Mr. Parkes, the butler, who as a rule kept himself rather to himself in his own pantry. He did not see that Stephen was there: he was, moreover, flustered and less slow of speech than was his wont.

‘Master may get up his own wine, if he likes, of an evening,’ was his first remark. ‘Either I do it in the daytime or not at all, Mrs. Bunch. I don’t know what it may be: very like it’s the rats, or the wind got into the cellars; but I’m not so young as I was, and I can’t go through with it as I have done.’
‘Well, Mr. Parkes, you know it is a surprising place for the rats, is the Hall.’

‘I’m not denying that, Mrs. Bunch; and, to be sure, many a time I’ve heard the tale from the men in the shipyards about the rat that could speak. I never laid no confidence in that before; but tonight, if I’d demeaned myself to lay my ear to the door of the further bin, I could pretty much have heard what they was saying.’

‘Oh, there, Mr. Parkes, I’ve no patience with your fancies! Rats talking in the wine-cellar indeed!’
‘Well, Mrs. Bunch, I’ve no wish to argue with you: all I say is, if you choose to go to the far bin, and lay your ear to the door, you may prove my words this minute.’

‘What nonsense you do talk, Mr. Parkes —not fit for children to listen to! Why, you’ll be frightening Master Stephen there out of his wits.’

‘What! Master Stephen?’ said Parkes, awaking to the consciousness of the boy’s presence. ‘Master Stephen knows well enough when I’m a-playing a joke with you, Mrs. Bunch.’
In fact, Master Stephen knew much too well to suppose that Mr. Parkes had in the first instance intended a joke. He was interested, not altogether pleasantly, in the situation; but all his questions were unsuccessful in inducing the butler to give any more detailed account of his experiences in the wine-cellar.

We have now arrived at March 24, 1812. [Under the Julian calendar March 24th is the 365th and last day of the year, which was first adopted by England in the 12th century A.D. and was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1752] It was a day of curious experiences for Stephen: a windy, noisy day, which filled the house and the gardens with a restless impression. As Stephen stood by the fence of the grounds, and looked out into the park, he felt as if an endless procession of unseen people were sweeping past him on the wind, borne on resistlessly and aimlessly, vainly striving to stop themselves, to catch at something that might arrest their flight and bring them once again into contact with the living world of which they had formed a part. After luncheon that day Mr. Abney said:

‘Stephen, my boy, do you think you could manage to come to me tonight as late as eleven o’clock in my study? I shall be busy until that time, and I wish to show you something connected with your future life which it is most important that you should know. You are not to mention this matter to Mrs. Bunch nor to anyone else in the house; and you had better go to your room at the usual time.’
Here was a new excitement added to life: Stephen eagerly grasped at the opportunity of sitting up till eleven o’clock. He looked in at the library door on his way upstairs that evening, and saw a brazier, [Portable metallic heater in which lighted wood or coals were placed] which he had often noticed in the corner of the room, moved out before the fire; an old silver-gilt cup stood on the table, filled with red wine, and some written sheets of paper lay near it. Mr. Abney was sprinkling some incense on the brazier from a round silver box as Stephen passed, but did not seem to notice his step.

The wind had fallen, and there was a still night and a full moon. At about ten o’clock Stephen was standing at the open window of his bedroom, looking out over the country. Still as the night was, the mysterious population of the distant moonlit woods was not yet lulled to rest. From time to time strange cries as of lost and despairing wanderers sounded from across the mere. They might be the notes of owls or water-birds, yet they did not quite resemble either sound. Were not they coming nearer?

Now they sounded from the nearer side of the water, and in a few moments they seemed to be floating about among the shrubberies. Then they ceased; but just as Stephen was thinking of shutting the window and resuming his reading of Robinson Crusoe, he caught sight of two figures standing on the gravelled terrace that ran along the garden side of the Hall—the figures of a boy and girl, as it seemed; they stood side by side, looking up at the windows. Something in the form of the girl recalled irresistibly his dream of the figure in the bath. The boy inspired him with more acute fear.
Whilst the girl stood still, half smiling, with her hands clasped over her heart, the boy, a thin shape, with black hair and ragged clothing, raised his arms in the air with an appearance of menace and of unappeasable hunger and longing. The moon shone upon his almost transparent hands, and Stephen saw that the nails were fearfully long and that the light shone through them. As he stood with his arms thus raised, he disclosed a terrifying spectacle. On the left side of his chest there opened a black and gaping rent; and there fell upon Stephen’s brain, rather than upon his ear, the impression of one of those hungry and desolate cries that he had heard resounding over the woods of Aswarby all that evening. In another moment this dreadful pair had moved swiftly and noiselessly over the dry gravel, and he saw them no more.

Inexpressibly frightened as he was, he determined to take his candle and go down to Mr. Abney’s study, for the hour appointed for their meeting was near at hand. The study or library opened out of the front-hall on one side, and Stephen, urged on by his terrors, did not take long in getting there. To effect an entrance was not so easy. It was not locked, he felt sure, for the key was on the outside of the door as usual. His repeated knocks produced no answer. Mr. Abney was engaged: he was speaking. What! why did he try to cry out? and why was the cry choked in his throat? Had he, too, seen the mysterious children? But now everything was quiet, and the door yielded to Stephen’s terrified and frantic pushing.

On the table in Mr. Abney’s study certain papers were found which explained the situation to Stephen Elliott when he was of an age to understand them. The most important sentences were as follows:
‘It was a belief very strongly and generally held by the ancients—of whose wisdom in these matters I have had such experience as induces me to place confidence in their assertions—that by enacting certain processes, which to us moderns have something of a barbaric complexion, a very remarkable enlightenment of the spiritual faculties in man may be attained: that, for example, by absorbing the personalities of a certain number of his fellow-creatures, an individual may gain a complete ascendancy over those orders of spiritual beings which control the elemental forces of our universe.
‘It is recorded of Simon Magus [A Samaritan religious figure reported to have sorcerylike powers of levitation in the Acts of Peter and the Acts of Peter and Paul of the Biblical apocrypha] that he was able to fly in the air, to become invisible, or to assume any form he pleased, by the agency of the soul of a boy whom, to use the libelous phrase employed by the author of the Clementine Recognitions, he had “murdered.” [Reference to the anonymous author of the Clementine Recognitions and Homilies whose date of authorship is also unknown] I find it set down, moreover, with considerable detail in the writings of Hermes Trismegistus, [Fictitious Greek author of the Hermetic Corpus texts that tell of sorcery] that similar happy results may be produced by the absorption of the hearts of not less than three human beings below the age of twenty-one years. To the testing of the truth of this receipt I have devoted the greater part of the last twenty years, selecting as the corpora vilia [Person suitable only for experimentation or for the particular experiment] of my experiment such persons as could conveniently be removed without occasioning a sensible gap in society. The first step I effected by the removal of one Phoebe Stanley, a girl of gipsy extraction, on March 24, 1792. The second, by the removal of a wandering Italian lad, named Giovanni Paoli, on the night of March 23, 1805. [Night of full moon in old calendars] The final “victim”—to employ a word repugnant in the highest degree to my feelings—must be my cousin, Stephen Elliott. His day must be this March 24, 1812.

‘The best means of effecting the required absorption is to remove the heart from the living subject, to reduce it to ashes, and to mingle them with about a pint of some red wine, preferably port. The remains of the first two subjects, at least, it will be well to conceal: a disused bathroom or wine-cellar will be found convenient for such a purpose. Some annoyance may be experienced from the psychic portion of the subjects, which popular language dignifies with the name of ghosts. But the man of philosophic temperament—to whom alone the experiment is appropriate— will be little prone to attach importance to the feeble efforts of these beings to wreak their vengeance on him. I contemplate with the liveliest satisfaction the enlarged and emancipated existence which the experiment, if successful, will confer on me; not only placing me beyond the reach of human justice (so called), but eliminating to a great extent the prospect of death itself.’
Mr. Abney was found in his chair, his head thrown back, his face stamped with an expression of rage, fright, and mortal pain. In his left side was a terrible lacerated wound, exposing the heart. There was no blood on his hands, and a long knife that lay on the table was perfectly clean. A savage wild-cat might have inflicted the injuries. The window of the study was open, and it was the opinion of the coroner that Mr. Abney had met his death by the agency of some wild creature.
But Stephen Elliott’s study of the papers I have quoted led him to a very different conclusion.