Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Suspicious Gift, by Algernon Blackwood 1906

A Suspicious Gift, by Algernon Blackwood 1906

Blake had been in very low water for months—almost under water part of the time—due to circumstances he was fond of saying were no fault of his own; and as he sat writing in his room on "third floor back" of a New York boarding-house, part of his mind was busily occupied in wondering when his luck was going to turn again.

It was his room only in the sense that he paid the rent. Two friends, one a little Frenchman and the other a big Dane, shared it with him, both hoping eventually to contribute something towards expenses, but so far not having accomplished this result. They had two beds only, the third being a mattress they slept upon in turns, a week at a time. A good deal of their irregular "feeding" consisted of oatmeal, potatoes, and sometimes eggs, all of which they cooked on a strange utensil they had contrived to fix into the gas jet. Occasionally, when dinner failed them altogether, they swallowed a little raw rice and drank hot water from the bathroom on the top of it, and then made a wild race for bed so as to get to sleep while the sensation of false repletion was still there. For sleep and hunger are slight acquaintances as they well knew. Fortunately all New York houses are supplied with hot air, and they only had to open a grating in the wall to get a plentiful, if not a wholesome amount of heat.

Though loneliness in a big city is a real punishment, as they had severally learnt to their cost, their experiences, three in a small room for several months, had revealed to them horrors of quite another kind, and their nerves had suffered according to the temperament of each. But, on this particular evening, as Blake sat scribbling by the only window that was not cracked, the Dane and the Frenchman, his companions in adversity, were in wonderful luck. They had both been asked out to a restaurant to dine with a friend who also held out to one of them a chance of work and remuneration. They would not be back till late, and when they did come they were pretty sure to bring in supplies of one kind or another. For the Frenchman never could resist the offer of a glass of absinthe, and this meant that he would be able to help himself plentifully from the free-lunch counters, with which all New York bars are furnished, and to which any purchaser of a drink is entitled to help himself and devour on the spot or carry away casually in his hand for consumption elsewhere. Thousands of unfortunate men get their sole subsistence in this way in New York, and experience soon teaches where, for the price of a single drink, a man can take away almost a meal of chip potatoes, sausage, bits of bread, and even eggs. The Frenchman and the Dane knew their way about, and Blake looked forward to a supper more or less substantial before pulling his mattress out of the cupboard and turning in upon the floor for the night.

Meanwhile he could enjoy a quiet and lonely evening with the room all to himself.

In the daytime he was a reporter on an evening newspaper of sensational and lying habits. His work was chiefly in the police courts; and in his spare hours at night, when not too tired or too empty, he wrote sketches and stories for the magazines that very rarely saw the light of day on their printed and paid-for sentences. On this particular occasion he was deep in a most involved tale of a psychological character, and had just worked his way into a sentence, or set of sentences, that completely baffled and muddled him.

He was fairly out of his depth, and his brain was too poorly supplied with blood to invent a way out again. The story would have been interesting had he written it simply, keeping to facts and feelings, and not diving into difficult analysis of motive and character which was quite beyond him. For it was largely autobiographical, and was meant to describe the adventures of a young Englishman who had come to grief in the usual manner on a Canadian farm, had then subsequently become bar-keeper, sub-editor on a Methodist magazine, a teacher of French and German to clerks at twenty-five cents per hour, a model for artists, a super on the stage, and, finally, a wanderer to the goldfields.

Blake scratched his head, and dipped the pen in the inkpot, stared out through the blindless windows, and sighed deeply. His thoughts kept wandering to food, beefsteak and steaming vegetables. The smell of cooking that came from a lower floor through the broken windows was a constant torment to him. He pulled himself together and again attacked the problem.

" . . . for with some people," he wrote, "the imagination is so vivid as to be almost an extension of consciousness. . . ." But here he stuck absolutely. He was not quite sure what he meant by the words, and how to finish the sentence puzzled him into blank inaction. It was a difficult point to decide, for it seemed to come in appropriately at this point in his story, and he did not know whether to leave it as it stood, change it round a bit, or take it out altogether. It might just spoil its chances of being accepted: editors were such clever men. But, to rewrite the sentence was a grind, and he was so tired and sleepy. After all, what did it matter? People who were clever would force a meaning into it; people who were not clever would pretend—he knew of no other classes of readers. He would let it stay, and go on with the action of the story. He put his head in his hands and began to think hard.

His mind soon passed from thought to reverie. He fell to wondering when his friends would find work and relieve him of the burden—he acknowledged it as such—of keeping them, and of letting another man wear his best clothes on alternate Sundays. He wondered when his "luck" would turn. There were one or two influential people in New York whom he could go and see if he had a dress suit and the other conventional uniforms. His thoughts ran on far ahead, and at the same time, by a sort of double process, far behind as well. His home in the "old country" rose up before him; he saw the lawn and the cedars in sunshine; he looked through the familiar windows and saw the clean, swept rooms. His story began to suffer; the psychological masterpiece would not make much progress unless he pulled up and dragged his thoughts back to the treadmill. But he no longer cared; once he had got as far as that cedar with the sunshine on it, he never could get back again. For all he cared, the troublesome sentence might run away and get into someone else's pages, or be snuffed out altogether.

There came a gentle knock at the door, and Blake started. The knock was repeated louder. Who in the world could it be at this late hour of the night? On the floor above, he remembered, there lived another Englishman, a foolish, second-rate creature, who sometimes came in and made himself objectionable with endless and silly chatter. But he was an Englishman for all that, and Blake always tried to treat him with politeness, realising that he was lonely in a strange land. But to-night, of all people in the world, he did not want to be bored with Perry's cackle, as he called it, and the "Come in" he gave in answer to the second knock had no very cordial sound of welcome in it.

However, the door opened in response, and the man came in. Blake did not turn round at once, and the other advanced to the centre of the room, but without speaking. Then Blake knew it was not his enemy, Perry, and turned round.

He saw a man of about forty standing in the middle of the carpet, but standing sideways so that he did not present a full face. He wore an overcoat buttoned up to the neck, and on the felt hat which he held in front of him fresh rain-drops glistened. In his other hand he carried a small black bag. Blake gave him a good look, and came to the conclusion that he might be a secretary, or a chief clerk, or a confidential man of sorts. He was a shabby-respectable-looking person. This was the sum-total of the first impression, gained the moment his eyes took in that it was not Perry; the second impression was less pleasant, and reported at once that something was wrong.

Though otherwise young and inexperienced, Blake—thanks, or curses, to the police court training—knew more about common criminal blackguardism than most men of fifty, and he recognised that there was somewhere a suggestion of this undesirable world about the man. But there was more than this. There was something singular about him, something far out of the common, though for the life of him Blake could not say wherein it lay. The fellow was out of the ordinary, and in some very undesirable manner.

All this, that takes so long to describe, Blake saw with the first and second glance. The man at once began to speak in a quiet and respectful voice.

"Are you Mr. Blake?" he asked.

"I am."

"Mr. Arthur Blake?"


"Mr. Arthur Herbert Blake?" persisted the other, with emphasis on the middle name.

"That is my full name," Blake answered simply, adding, as he remembered his manners; "but won't you sit down, first, please?"

The man advanced with a curious sideways motion like a crab and took a seat on the edge of the sofa. He put his hat on the floor at his feet, but still kept the bag in his hand.

"I come to you from a well-wisher," he went on in oily tones, without lifting his eyes. Blake, in his mind, ran quickly over all the people he knew in New York who might possibly have sent such a man, while waiting for him to supply the name. But the man had come to a full stop and was waiting too.

"A well-wisher of mine?" repeated Blake, not knowing quite what else to say.

"Just so," replied the other, still with his eyes on the floor. "A well-wisher of yours."

"A man or—" he felt himself blushing, "or a woman?"

"That," said the man shortly, "I cannot tell you."

"You can't tell me!" exclaimed the other, wondering what was coming next, and who in the world this mysterious well-wisher could be who sent so discreet and mysterious a messenger.

"I cannot tell you the name," replied the man firmly. "Those are my instructions. But I bring you something from this person, and I am to give it to you, to take a receipt for it, and then to go away without answering any questions."

Blake stared very hard. The man, however, never raised his eyes above the level of the second china knob on the chest of drawers opposite. The giving of a receipt sounded like money. Could it be that some of his influential friends had heard of his plight? There were possibilities that made his heart beat. At length, however, he found his tongue, for this strange creature was determined apparently to say nothing more until he had heard from him.

"Then, what have you got for me, please?" he asked bluntly.

By way of answer the man proceeded to open the bag. He took out a parcel wrapped loosely in brown paper, and about the size of a large book. It was tied with string, and the man seemed unnecessarily long untying the knot. When at last the string was off and the paper unfolded, there appeared a series of smaller packages inside. The man took them out very carefully, almost as if they had been alive, Blake thought, and set them in a row upon his knees. They were dollar bills. Blake, all in a flutter, craned his neck forward a little to try and make out their denomination. He read plainly the figures 100.

"There are ten thousand dollars here," said the man quietly.

The other could not suppress a little cry.

"And they are for you."

Blake simply gasped. "Ten thousand dollars!" he repeated, a queer feeling growing up in his throat. "Ten thousand. Are you sure? I mean—you mean they are for me?" he stammered. He felt quite silly with excitement, and grew more so with every minute, as the man maintained a perfect silence. Was it not a dream? Wouldn't the man put them back in the bag presently and say it was a mistake, and they were meant for somebody else? He could not believe his eyes or his ears. Yet, in a sense, it was possible. He had read of such things in books, and even come across them in his experience of the courts—the erratic and generous philanthropist who is determined to do his good deed and to get no thanks or acknowledgment for it. Still, it seemed almost incredible. His troubles began to melt away like bubbles in the sun; he thought of the other fellows when they came in, and what he would have to tell them; he thought of the German landlady and the arrears of rent, of regular food and clean linen, and books and music, of the chance of getting into some respectable business, of—well, of as many things as it is possible to think of when excitement and surprise fling wide open the gates of the imagination.

The man, meanwhile, began quietly to count over the packages aloud from one to ten, and then to count the bills in each separate packet, also from one to ten. Yes, there were ten little heaps, each containing ten bills of a hundred-dollar denomination. That made ten thousand dollars. Blake had never seen so much money in a single lump in his life before; and for many months of privation and discomfort he had not known the "feel" of a twenty-dollar note, much less of a hundred-dollar one. He heard them crackle under the man's fingers, and it was like crisp laughter in his ears. The bills were evidently new and unused.

But, side by side with the excitement caused by the shock of such an event, Blake's caution, acquired by a year of vivid New York experience, was meanwhile beginning to assert itself. It all seemed just a little too much out of the likely order of things to be quite right. The police courts had taught him the amazing ingenuity of the criminal mind, as well as something of the plots and devices by which the unwary are beguiled into the dark places where blackmail may be levied with impunity. New York, as a matter of fact, just at that time was literally undermined with the secret ways of the blackmailers, the green-goods men, and other police-protected abominations; and the only weak point in the supposition that this was part of some such proceeding was the selection of himself—a poor newspaper reporter—as a victim. It did seem absurd, but then the whole thing was so out of the ordinary, and the thought once having entered his mind, was not so easily got rid of. Blake resolved to be very cautious.

The man meanwhile, though he never appeared to raise his eyes from the carpet, had been watching him closely all the time.

"If you will give me a receipt I'll leave the money at once," he said, with just a vestige of impatience in his tone, as if he were anxious to bring the matter to a conclusion as soon as possible.

"But you say it is quite impossible for you to tell me the name of my well-wisher, or why she sends me such a large sum of money in this extraordinary way?"

"The money is sent to you because you are in need of it," returned the other; "and it is a present without conditions of any sort attached. You have to give me a receipt only to satisfy the sender that it has reached your hands. The money will never be asked of you again."

Blake noticed two things from this answer: first, that the man was not to be caught into betraying the sex of the well-wisher; and secondly, that he was in some hurry to complete the transaction. For he was now giving reasons, attractive reasons, why he should accept the money and make out the receipt.

Suddenly it flashed across his mind that if he took the money and gave the receipt before a witness, nothing very disastrous could come of the affair. It would protect him against blackmail, if this was, after all, a plot of some sort with blackmail in it; whereas, if the man were a madman, or a criminal who was getting rid of a portion of his ill-gotten gains to divert suspicion, or if any other improbable explanation turned out to be the true one, there was no great harm done, and he could hold the money till it was claimed, or advertised for in the newspapers. His mind rapidly ran over these possibilities, though, of course, under the stress of excitement, he was unable to weigh any of them properly; then he turned to his strange visitor again and said quietly—

"I will take the money, although I must say it seems to me a very unusual transaction, and I will give you for it such a receipt as I think proper under the circumstances."

"A proper receipt is all I want," was the answer.

"I mean by that a receipt before a proper witness—"

"Perfectly satisfactory," interrupted the man, his eyes still on the carpet. "Only, it must be dated, and headed with your address here in the correct way."

Blake could see no possible objection to this, and he at once proceeded to obtain his witness. The person he had in his mind was a Mr. Barclay, who occupied the room above his own; an old gentleman who had retired from business and who, the landlady always said, was a miser, and kept large sums secreted in his room. He was, at any rate, a perfectly respectable man and would make an admirable witness to a transaction of this sort. Blake made an apology and rose to fetch him, crossing the room in front of the sofa where the man sat, in order to reach the door. As he did so, he saw for the first time the other side of his visitor's face, the side that had been always so carefully turned away from him.

There was a broad smear of blood down the skin from the ear to the neck. It glistened in the gaslight.

Blake never knew how he managed to smother the cry that sprang to his lips, but smother it he did. In a second he was at the door, his knees trembling, his mind in a sudden and dreadful turmoil.

His main object, so far as he could recollect afterwards, was to escape from the room as if he had noticed nothing, so as not to arouse the other's suspicions. The man's eyes were always on the carpet, and probably, Blake hoped, he had not noticed the consternation that must have been written plainly on his face. At any rate he had uttered no cry.

In another second he would have been in the passage, when suddenly he met a pair of wicked, staring eyes fixed intently and with a cunning smile upon his own. It was the other's face in the mirror calmly watching his every movement.

Instantly, all his powers of reflection flew to the winds, and he thought only upon the desirability of getting help at once. He tore upstairs, his heart in his mouth. Barclay must come to his aid. This matter was serious—perhaps horribly serious. Taking the money, or giving a receipt, or having anything at all to do with it became an impossibility. Here was crime. He felt certain of it.

In three bounds he reached the next landing and began to hammer at the old miser's door as if his very life depended on it. For a long time he could get no answer. His fists seemed to make no noise. He might have been knocking on cotton wool, and the thought dashed through his brain that it was all just like the terror of a nightmare.

Barclay, evidently, was still out, or else sound asleep. But the other simply could not wait a minute longer in suspense. He turned the handle and walked into the room. At first he saw nothing for the darkness, and made sure the owner of the room was out; but the moment the light from the passage began a little to disperse the gloom, he saw the old man, to his immense relief, lying asleep on the bed.

Blake opened the door to its widest to get more light and then walked quickly up to the bed. He now saw the figure more plainly, and noted that it was dressed and lay only upon the outside of the bed. It struck him, too, that he was sleeping in a very odd, almost an unnatural, position.

Something clutched at his heart as he looked closer. He stumbled over a chair and found the matches. Calling upon Barclay the whole time to wake up and come downstairs with him, he blundered across the floor, a dreadful thought in his mind, and lit the gas over the table. It seemed strange that there was no movement or reply to his shouting. But it no longer seemed strange when at length he turned, in the full glare of the gas, and saw the old man lying huddled up into a ghastly heap on the bed, his throat cut across from ear to ear.

And all over the carpet lay new dollar bills, crisp and clean like those he had left downstairs, and strewn about in little heaps.

For a moment Blake stood stock-still, bereft of all power of movement. The next, his courage returned, and he fled from the room and dashed downstairs, taking five steps at a time. He reached the bottom and tore along the passage to his room, determined at any rate to seize the man and prevent his escape till help came.

But when he got to the end of the little landing he found that his door had been closed. He seized the handle, fumbling with it in his violence. It felt slippery and kept turning under his fingers without opening the door, and fully half a minute passed before it yielded and let him in headlong.

At the first glance he saw the room was empty, and the man gone!

Scattered upon the carpet lay a number of the bills, and beside them, half hidden under the sofa where the man had sat, he saw a pair of gloves—thick, leathern gloves—and a butcher's knife. Even from the distance where he stood the blood-stains on both were easily visible.

Dazed and confused by the terrible discoveries of the last few minutes, Blake stood in the middle of the room, overwhelmed and unable to think or move. Unconsciously he must have passed his hand over his forehead in the natural gesture of perplexity, for he noticed that the skin felt wet and sticky. His hand was covered with blood! And when he rushed in terror to the looking-glass, he saw that there was a broad red smear across his face and forehead. Then he remembered the slippery handle of the door and knew that it had been carefully moistened!

In an instant the whole plot became clear as daylight, and he was so spellbound with horror that a sort of numbness came over him and he came very near to fainting. He was in a condition of utter helplessness, and had anyone come into the room at that minute and called him by name he would simply have dropped to the floor in a heap.

"If the police were to come in now!" The thought crashed through his brain like thunder, and at the same moment, almost before he had time to appreciate a quarter of its significance, there came a loud knocking at the front door below. The bell rang with a dreadful clamour; men's voices were heard talking excitedly, and presently heavy steps began to come up the stairs in the direction of his room.

It was the police!

And all Blake could do was to laugh foolishly to himself—and wait till they were upon him. He could not move nor speak. He stood face to face with the evidence of his horrid crime, his hands and face smeared with the blood of his victim, and there he was standing when the police burst open the door and came noisily into the room.

"Here it is!" cried a voice he knew. "Third floor back! And the fellow caught red-handed!"

It was the man with the bag leading in the two policemen.

Hardly knowing what he was doing in the fearful stress of conflicting emotions, he made a step forward. But before he had time to make a second one, he felt the heavy hand of the law descend upon both shoulders at once as the two policemen moved up to seize him. At the same moment a voice of thunder cried in his ear—

"Wake up, man! Wake up! Here's the supper, and good news too!"

Blake turned with a start in his chair and saw the Dane, very red in the face, standing beside him, a hand on each shoulder, and a little further back he saw the Frenchman leering happily at him over the end of the bed, a bottle of beer in one hand and a paper package in the other.

He rubbed his eyes, glancing from one to the other, and then got up sleepily to fix the wire arrangement on the gas jet to boil water for cooking the eggs which the Frenchman was in momentary danger of letting drop upon the floor.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Decay of the Ghost Story by Olivia Dunbar 1905

The Decay of the Ghost in Fiction by Olivia Howard Dunbar 1905

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“For one, I cannot purge my maind of that forlorn faith."-ANDREW LANG.

For approximately a generation, the ghost has been missing from fiction; after a disappearance so sudden and of such far-reaching implications that it is a matter of some amazement that those who profess to concern themselves with the phenomena of imaginative literature should have paid so little attention to it. It is a commonplace that ever since literature began, as well as considerably before that interesting period, what we call ‘the supernatural’ has been a staple material of the tellers of tales. As there has always been a literature of love, so there has always been a literature of fear; and until the development of the present narrow and timorous popular taste, one had perhaps as strong an appeal as the other. Ghosts in their most literal acceptation — not as the more or less impersonal shades we have sometimes indifferently pictured them — have always been held an essential complement of tangible everyday life, inextricably bound up with religion, with love for the dead, with hunger for the unknown, with many of the most intimate and profound emotions; and their literary use has seemed, to the greater public, not only no less, but even more. "realistic," than the modern exploitation of the commonplace.

Twenty-five years ago, even, the reader of magazine fiction was still able to shudder to his heart's content. Spectres glided with the precision of long-established custom through the pages of the more conventional compendiums of light literature. The familiar paraphernalia of supernatural incident,— draughty chambers, tempestuous nights, blood-stains, wan-faced women,- were still in constant and elaborate. requisition. And while there was a discreet dribbling of phantoms from week to week or from month to month, a magnificent convocation of the spectral tribe occurred annually. That is to say, a curious association of ideas connected the maximum of ghostly prevalence with Christmas, the season of popular rejoicing; and by way of making sure of these dismal but doubtless salutary companions, it was customary, as Mr. Anstey once remarked, ‘to commission a band of ingenious littérateurs to turn out batches of ready-made spectres for the Christmas annuals.’ The business of chilling the popular spine was taken with due seriousness and was all the more effectually brought about in that the ‘magazine ghost' as this source of popular refreshment was termed, was as stereotyped and conventional as the old-fashioned novel-heroine. Its looks, manner, haunts, companions, and alleged errands were those long since laid down by tradition; it evinced no sensational modern unexpectedness.

But suddenly, and it must surely have seemed mysteriously, the magazine ghost vanished; nor were its eerie footprints traced. Whether by a concerted action of magazine editors, or by a swift and complete paralysis of the contributors’ imaginations, or by a profound alteration of popular sentiment, or by the operation of a principle presently to be suggested, the literature of the supernatural ceased to be produced. Can this have happened without protest, without comment, even? The subject is rich in its possibilities of speculation. For if the acceptance and enjoyment of ghost-lore imply a childish quality of mind, as one sometimes hears superior persons assert, then our rejection of them would argue that we are the wisest generation that ever lived. If, again, the reading or writing of such tales demand a freshness of imagination that in our little day has become desiccated, then our plight is pitiable indeed.

There is at hand, of course, an easy but superficial explanation to the effect that a prevalence of ghost-stories must depend upon a stout popular belief in ghosts; and that having lost the one, we must forego the other. The slightest reflection shows that this position is untenable. Not believe in ghosts? We believe in them with all our hearts. Never before, since spectral feet first crossed a man-made threshold, have ghosts been so squarely, openly, and enthusiastically believed in, so assiduously cultivated, as now. We have raised ghost-lore to the dusty dignity of a science. The invocation of the spirits of the dead, far from having its former suggestion of vulgar mystery, is one of the most reputable of practices, which men of learning carry on publicly, with stenographers conveniently at hand. There even flourishes a 'Haunted House Committee,' appointed and maintained by the foremost society for the promotion of ghosts, and this for the express purpose of encouraging the presence of the shyer and less aggressive spectres in what seem their appropriate habitations,— of making them, as it were, feel at home. We believe in ghosts as sincerely as we believe in the very poor; and in similar fashion we endeavor to live among them, establish a cordial understanding, and write about them in our notebooks. Nor do we believe in them the less because, when on our learned behavior, we may refer to them as ‘phantasmogenetic agencies.' Not believe in ghosts? They are our fetish. Let it never be imagined that ghost-stories have suffered decline because of our indifference to their subject-matter, ‘material’ though our age is commonly held to be. By our very zest in their pursuit, we have possibly proved the reverse of Scott's mistaken theory that to see ghosts it is only necessary to believe in them,— to wish to see. Much truer is the proposition that the seer of ghosts commonly does not premeditate his vision; that spectres manifest themselves by preference to 'unimaginative people in perfect health.'

No small share of the fascination exerted by the ancient and outgrown ghost of fiction was due to its invariable and satisfactory conformity to type. However frequent its intrusion, or however familiar, it was never suffered to deviate from its character, so deeply rooted in human consciousness, as a source of dread. It was the function of the ghost to be consistently unpleasant, and that function was relentlessly fulfilled. No one personal characteristic of the ghost as we know it in song or story or as we learn from the unimpeachable testimony of our friends’ friends, can explain its unequalled power to arouse the emotion of fear. Distasteful as is the ghostly habit of reducing its unfleshly essence to a threadlike, infinitely ductile filament — like a bit of trans-substantial chewing-gum — in order sneakily to penetrate keyholes; disturbing as is its fashion of upsetting our gravely accepted ‘laws of nature’; intolerable as is its lack of vocal organs (for phantoms, with few exceptions, cannot or will not speak); — neither one nor all of these undesirable characteristics can completely solve the interesting riddle of its fear-compelling power. And it is undoubtedly almost as remarkable that having for centuries, in and out of fiction, maintained this consistent and extremely prevalent personality, the ghost should have dropped out of literature altogether. Now, how can this have been?

To go as far back as the early English folktales and ballads, when the wherefore of phantoms was even better understood than now, and when fiction more essentially took its origin from life, ghost-tales gained their grim effectiveness from the accuracy with which they reflected popular belief. The audiences of that simple day had not attained a sufficient refinement of imagination to delight in vague, casual, incoherent spectres; every ghost had a name and date. What is more important is that there was no ghost that had not a reason for being. The ingenious notion that the spirits of the dead return from an allegedly peaceful Elysium simply to make themselves disagreeable, by way of easing their minds, had not yet suggested itself. On the contrary, the animistic trend of popular thought, which of course greatly favored the appearance of ghosts in general, assigned them likewise adequate and intelligible motives, among the chief of which were: to reveal treasure, to reunite happy lovers, to avenge a crime, and to serve as ‘a primitive telegraphic service for the conveyance of bad news. Ghosts were therefore not only the recognizable shades of the familiarly known dead; they were sinister symbols of crime, remorse, vengeance. If you shuddered at sight of them, it was for a better reason than weak nerves. Horror was not piled on horror, in early ghost-tales, merely to satisfy the artist's own sense of cumulative effect. Each detail had a powerful conventional significance, and the consequent power to arouse a strong primitive emotion. This system not only lent an artistic strength and symmetry to the early literature; it was intensely satisfactory to the Anglo-Saxon mind.

But inevitably, when the motives and the language of literature became more complex, the rationale of ghost-lore became affected. Phantoms began to lose their original force, fell into the habit of haunting from motives relatively unworthy. Evidences multiplied of their degeneration into a morbid and meddlesome tribe, with a sadly diminished sense of the fitting and the picturesque. Their visits were even concerned with the payment of debts, of strictly mortal contraction; and they lamentably lost caste by exhibiting themselves as the victims, rather than as the scourge, of conscience. A ghost has been known to go to the trouble of haunting a house for the mere purpose of ensuring the payment of a shilling,—an episode that might well permanently compromise the dignity of the entire spectral tribe. Likewise when they acquired the intrusive habit of giving evidence in trials, the original and forceful idea that ghosts were agents of retribution became seriously coarsened. Legally, the fact that the issue of many an actual trial has hinged on ghostly testimony is of extraordinary interest. So far as imaginative terror-literature is concerned, however, the introduction of this matter serves as a mixed and weakened motive, only.

During the later years of the ghost's popularity in literature, it will readily be seen that the greater number of the earliest ghost-motives were outgrown. It is some time, for instance, since the motive of recovering buried treasure through supernatural aid has been able to 'carry' the custom of burying treasure having itself somewhat tamely died out. Far more incongruous, even, came to seem the supernatural reunion of lovers, as in the familiar case where the posthumous suitor reappears to bear his still living sweetheart back to the grave with him. Ghosts that are to be understood as the projections of the spirit at the moment of death have always been popular, it is true, but this motive is not in itself strong or picturesque enough to serve as the backbone of a corporate section of imaginative literature.

In short, the only ghost-motive that retained its strength, plausibility, and appeal to the Anglo-Saxon mind was the retribution-motive, — the idea that the ghost's function was to recall, expiate, or avenge a crime. This was impressive; it was terrifying; it had moral and religious significance; it was not subtle; it was susceptible of indefinitely repeated adjustment to time and place. It was the perfect, perhaps the only perfect, ghost-motive for English literature. So valorous is the Anglo-Saxon temper that it scorns or is ashamed to tremble at mere empty shadow-tales. It demands not only to be impressed; there must be an adequate basis for the impression. The clue to the whole matter is that the ghost must not be a wanton and irresponsible power. It must be a moral agent.

Unfortunately, the realization of this simple truth has never been complete. Only subconsciously has the public known what it wanted. As for the tellers of tales, they seem, in those latter days of the ghost's literary existence, to have remained in criminal ignorance of the vital principle of their business. The decay of the ghost in fiction occurred, not through any loss of human interest in the spectral world, but through an indolent misapprehension, on the part of the story-tellers, of the real character of the ghost as we Anglo-Saxons have conceived it. Thus it came about that the ghost, previous to its subsidence, was, as Mr. Lang truly observed, ‘a purposeless creature. He appears, nobody knows why; he has no message to deliver, no secret crime to conceal, no appointment to keep, no treasure to disclose, no commissions to be executed, and, as an almost invariable rule, he does not speak, even if you speak to him.’ And he adds that inquirers have therefore concluded that the ghost, generically, is 'not all there,' — a dreary result of scepticism, indeed! At the same time, what direct and utilitarian folk could put up with a confirmedly inconsequent ghost, even for the creepy fascination of shuddering at his phantom footfall? And could there be, on the whole, a more perfect example of the operation of natural selection in art than that, the ghost of fiction becoming unmoral, superficial, and flabby, it was its pitilessly appropriate penalty to be dropped and apparently forgotten?

A small group of kindred volumes, which have appeared during the past year or so, now for the first time indicate that a perception of the true nature of the literary ghost is returning to the absent-minded craft. Stevenson had, it is true, an admirable perception of the terror-inspiring, and he did not make the mistake of being vague; but his was not the temperament that produces the perfect ghost-story. Mr. Henry James, in that masterpiece, 'The Turn of the Screw,' has shown that he can convey a sense of mystery and terror more skilfully than any of his contemporaries; but his work is probably too esoteric to stand as typical, and it remains true that the pattern ghost-tale must be writ large and obvious. If, as now appears, a half-dozen of the ablest writers of the day are realizing this, there is hope for the renaissance of the literary ghost. It has already been proved that the problem of its readjustment to our literature is not insuperable,—that the chambers of our untenanted imaginations stand ready and waiting to be haunted by wraiths that our logic can approve. There may indeed develop with time a regenerated ghost-literature well worth acquaintance; for, as an essayist of other times has somewhat grandiloquently observed, 'Our inborn proneness to a love of the marvellous and unimaginable, which has originated in our imperfect acquaintance with the laws of nature and our own being, does not appear to suffer diminution as education and culture advance; for it is found to coexist with the highest intellectual development and the most refined critical temper.' OLIVIA HOWARD DUNBAR

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Poe, Gaboriau, Holmes & The Detective Story by JP Dunn 1908

Detective Stories by J.P. Dunn 1908

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Poe, Gaboriau, Green and Holmes stand in a class by themselves for merit, or at least for celebrity, in detective stories. Of the four, Holmes unquestionably stands first in popularity in this country. This is evident from the fact that we hear Sherlock Holmes mentioned ten times when we hear of Dupin, Lecoq and Gryce once, if not oftener. In fact, Sherlock Holmes has become the popular ideal of the great detective—the personification of detective skill—as Shylock is of greed or Uriah Heep of hypocrisy. If the newspapers speak of a police officer doing an unusual piece of detective work, they call him a Sherlock Holmes. Unquestionably the general reading public sings with Carolyn Wells

Sherlock, thy subtle powers I know,
Spirit of search, incarnate quest,
To thee the laurel wreath I throw—
I like detective stories best.
(Bookman, Vol. 15, p. 231.)

Next to Doyle, Anna Katherine Green is the most popular, especially with women readers. And yet this order does not hold good with competent judges of detective work. In fact, they incline to exclude her from the first class, and, as to the rest, to agree with their estimate of Arthur Bartlett Maurice:

"The name of Sherlock Holmes, with that of Dupin, will in the end be found very near the apex; but in the realm of material achievement, Lecoq must stand alone."—(Bookman, vol. 15, p. 236.)

There is reason for this. With possibly the exception of Poe, Gaboriau is the most plausible writer of them all. His stories have the Robinson Crusoe quality. When you read them you feel like you were reading true stories. I do not see how anyone can have that feeling in reading a story of Doyle or Green, and they do not bear calm reflection. There is too much of the accidental in them, too much of the weird and unnatural. Moreover, Gaboriau is the most logical, and in a science of which accurate logic is the very essence this quality is the highest test of literary art.

There are a number of writers not commonly thought of as writers of detective stories, who hare written very good ones. Dickens' "Bleak House" is a detective story, and Inspector Bucket is entitled to pretty high rank as a detective. Mark Twain's "Pudd'n Head Wilson" is a good detective story; and, of course, no list would be complete without his "Double-barreled detective story." Paul Leicester Ford's "Great K. & A. Train robbery" is another excellent sporadic detective story, but without a professional detective. Indeed, the tendency for some time has been to have the detective work done by the hero or heroine, or some other amateur. There are two good reasons for this. One is that they are more interesting characters to the average reader, and another is that not so much is expected from them. If an amateur makes a blunder the reader accepts it as a touch of nature, but if a professional detective does something stupid the reader takes it as poor work of the author. So in that wild but interesting yarn, "The kidnapped millionaires," by F. U. Adams, the detective work is done by a newspaper man. In "The Quincunx case," by W. D. Pitman, it is done by the hero. In that clever story "Long Arm," by Miss Wilkins, it is done by the sister of the victim. In this class may fairly be included such stories as Mr. Nicholson's "House of a thousand candles" and "The port of missing men," which are essentially stories of amateur detective work.. In Godfrey Benson's very excellent story, "Tracks in the snow," the detective work is done by a clergyman.

Several of Wilkie Collins' stories—notably "The moonstone" and "The woman in white"— may fairly be classed as detective stories. Thomas Bailey Aldricn contributes "The Stillwater tragedy" and The Duchess adds "Lady Valworth's diamonds." Several of Farjeon's best stories are detective stories, including "The betrayal of John Fordham" and "The great Porter Square mystery." Another novel that may be put in the detective class is "Anne," by Mrs. Woolson, and "Anne" is something that ought to be read in order to know about Mackinac, if for nothing else.

There are also a number of straight-toned detective stories of more or less merit. Among the French, Fortune De Bois Gobey has written "The Cruise of the Opera" and other fairly good stories. M. Goron presents some striking stories in "The truth about the case." In England we have Ernest W. Honung, whose work? are not classed as detective stories by some because the criminals are the heroes, but "Raffles" will interest any one who likes detective stories. In England we have also F. W. Hume's "Mystery of a hansom cab" and other volumes, and Arthur Morrison's "Chronicles of Martin Hewitt," "The green diamond," "The red triangle" and others. Some of the best of the recent American publications are decidedly English in tone, such as "Who killed Lady Poynder," by Richard Marsh, recently issued by P. Appleton & Co.; and "The revelations of Inspector Morgan," by Oswald Crawford, just issued by Dodd, Mead & Co. The latter is particularly interesting for its assault on the intuitive methods of Sherlock Holmes, and its theory that the most successful detective work is done through acquaintance with criminals and their methods. As a matter of fact the great bulk of all actual detective work is on the line of keeping track of criminals, both by common police agencies and by such agencies as the Pinkertons; and this is accomplished partly by maintaining allies among the criminal classes, and partly by maintaining relations with pawnbrokers, saloon-keepers and others on the borders who are commonly thrown in contact with criminals, and who are usually willing to "pipe them off' to secure the favor of the police. I feel confident that more criminals are caught through information from such sources than in any other way.

Closely allied to detective stories are cryptogram stories, and of these also Poe may be considered the pioneer writer. His story "The gold bug," published in 1848, in The Dollar Newspaper, has been largely a model for all that have been written since. A careful study of it will enable any intelligent person to decipher any cipher writing in which the words are separated, and each letter is represented by a different character. If you care for puzzle games you will find it a very interesting recreation for two or three people to make cryptograms and exchange them and try to detect one another's codes. De Mille's "Cryptogram" is an interesting story of this class. The best of the recent cryptogram stories is "The treasure of Peyre Gaillard," by John Bennett. It is practically an enlargement of the plot of "The gold bug," with a love story added, but it is well written and well worked out. No library will make a mistake in putting it on its shelves.

Personally, I regard detective stories as distinctly useful. Everybody takes more or less interest in crimes—especially in mysterious crimes, and cases where the accused claim to be innocent. Everybody finds some case in the newspapers now and then that calls forth speculation as to the solution of a mystery. But there are numbers of people who have to deal with these cases directly—officials, lawyers, newspapermen. Unquestionably a sort of education in detective work is valuable to them. I know that as a newspaper reporter Gaboriau's novels were of real value to me—that the one maxim, "Suspect what seems probable, investigate carefully what seems improbable or impossible," gave me many a good story. And if it be true that "the proper study of mankind is man," I do not see why a study of him in the criminal relations, with which anybody is liable to come in contact at some time, is not fairly valuable to anyone. Of course, one does not think of the educational value in reading an exciting story, but one who reads a really good detective story is apt to go back over it, and consider the probability and improbability of the various situations, to judge the reason or unreason of the various characters in the various circumstances, and in brief to get something of the education from it that he would get from experience in a real case. I believe it was old Mr. Horace who said: "Let me perform the office of a whetstone, which, while not itself of use for cutting, serves to sharpen others." When a detective story serves that function I think we may justly consider it not only entertaining, but practically beneficial.

J. P. DUNN, President Public Library Commission.

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The Strange Case of Ballechin House & Other Haunted Houses by Charles G Harper 1907

The Strange Case of Ballechin House & Other Haunted Houses by Charles George Harper 1907

The Tenant of Silverton Abbey—The Strange Case of Ballechin House—Bayhall Manor-house.

A Correspondent, writing to The Standard some years ago, complained of having discovered a genuine haunted house, much against his will, and greatly to his pecuniary loss. By his own showing, he was an Indian official, home on extended leave, and was offered, and took, a five-years' lease of a country mansion, "Silverton Abbey," at £200 a year. The place—-he tells us this was not the real name of it-—had been empty for some years, owing, it was reported, to the difficulty of coming to terms with the landlord; and it bore a look of long neglect. Weeds three feet high choked the garden; but they did not daunt the would-be tenant, who thought the placing of the garden in order would be a pleasant and interesting occupation. He, at any rate, experienced no difficulties with the landlord, and in due course came to terms and entered into possession. Neither he nor his staff of servants had any idea of the place being haunted; but the first suspicion of something being wrong was early coming, for they had not long been settled in the house before the maids were frightened one evening by a Something-—it is more terrible and mysterious when you print it with a capital S—-violently rattling the windows. Then the governess complained that as she lay awake one night a tall, dark lady, with heavy black eyebrows, came toward the bed and made as if to strangle her. The old Scotch housekeeper, with nerves of iron, had her blood almost turned to water and her iron-clad nerves severely wrung one night by a blood-curdling shriek; and the master of the house himself, lying awake, once distinctly saw the bedroom door-handle turned and the door pushed open, and nothing come in. This must have been the worst of all. I think, for my part, I would rather see the Something that had done it. Indeed, I have a very vivid recollection of seeing and hearing a door-handle turn without any visible agency; but it was a case of the handle being caught and suddenly releasing itself. All the same, it was in the meanwhile, before that explanation presented itself, a particularly hair-raising sight.

After these several manifestations, the tenant of "Silverton Abbey" slept—-when he could sleep-—with a lighted lamp and a loaded revolver beside him. When he and his servants complained, the country-folk at length found their tongues, and owned to having long known the house to be, by repute, haunted. He naturally felt aggrieved that no one should have hinted anything of the kind before he was committed to £200 a year for five years, and in writing to the Press bewailed the fact that the law would not, on account of these supernatural occurrences, help him be rid of his unfortunate bargain. "The English law," his solicitor told him, "does not recognise ghosts."

Some sceptical friends pooh-poohed the idea of the uncanny, and ascribed the happenings to rats or draughts. "But," objected the writer of the letter, "whose footsteps sound in 'Silverton Abbey' at dead of night?' Rats,' say some. Rats do not turn door-handles. 'Draughts,' I am told. Rats and draughts do not raise unearthly yells in corridors."

This unfortunate tenant at last found the place unendurable, and could obtain no better offer for the house, including fourteen acres of paddock, than £50 a year.

This may fitly introduce the story of Ballechin House, that, owing to the close and patient investigations of the sounds heard and the shapes seen in and around it, bids fair to become the prime modern instance of alleged hauntings.

One of the most fully ascertained and abundantly witnessed modern instances of hauntings is that exemplified in the strange case of Ballechin House, Perthshire, duly set forth in a substantial
volume entitled, The Alleged Haunting of B--------- House, of which a second edition was published in 1900. Ballechin House does not look a romantic building, and has none of the stigmata of the abodes of ghosts. It is not deserted; the roof appears to be sound, the windows are in good repair, and there is no look of the uncanny anywhere about it. The house is not ancient, and does not even stand upon the site of the old manor-house, demolished when the present building was erected, less than a century ago.

The Stewart family, who own the estate, have been in possession since the sixteenth century. At the time when the present owner, Captain Stewart, let the mansion and the shooting for the season, in August 1896, to a wealthy family, the house already had the reputation of being haunted; but this repute had not been made known to the world at large, and was only a matter of local gossip. It, however, acquired a wider notoriety when, after a residence of some seven weeks, the tenants who had intended to remain for months were driven from the place by the supernatural sights and sounds that constantly disturbed them. When tenants flee from a house, and are even prepared to forfeit the considerable price (paid in advance) at which they hired it, there must obviously be something out of the common in connection with it.

These facts then came to the notice of the late Marquis of Bute, who was keenly interested in spiritualism, and was a member of the Psychical Research Society. He conceived the idea of the question being thoroughly examined, and to that end he, in conjunction with Major Le Mesurier Taylor and other members of the Society, hired Ballechin House for the express purpose of an inquiry being conducted on the spot. This appears to have had the approval of Captain Stewart himself. It should be stated at once that there is no indiscretion committed here in publishing these names and facts, because, although the names are withheld in the title and in the contents of the book already mentioned, they are, as a matter of fact, already public property, the names being freely divulged in the communications on the subject made to the Times in June 1897 by a correspondent, and in the somewhat heated correspondence that followed.

Some mention of the more modern portion of the Stewart family history must here be interpolated. Ballechin House had been the property, and the residence, of Major Stewart from 1834 to 1876, when he died, and was succeeded by the second son of his sister Mary, who on inheriting assumed the name of Stewart. "The old Major," as he is still known at Ballechin, appears to have been a very eccentric person. He had a profound belief in spirits, and spoke frequently of his own intention to return after death. He was very fond of dogs, and kept a large number of them in and about the house; and often declared his belief in the transmigration of souls, and his intention of making his post-mortem reappearance in the body of a particularly favourite black spaniel. These oft-repeated intentions so greatly impressed his relatives and heirs that when the Major died, in 1876, they took especial care that all his dogs, fourteen in number, not forgetting the black spaniel, should immediately be shot. This seems conclusive evidence that the Major's spiritual society was not desired.

But the mere execution of these unfortunate dogs does not seem to have been sufficient. Disembodied spirits would appear to have more resources at command than generally suspected, and would certainly seem (if we are to believe the evidence of the hauntings of Ballechin House) to be able, not only to inhabit animals, but to bring the ghosts of animals in evidence to the senses of sight, smell, and touch. The supernatural manifestations began not long after the Major's decease. The wife of his nephew was one day making up her household books in the room that had once been the old man's study, and was thinking of anything rather than of the past, when the old familiar doggy scent the room had once worn came overpoweringly back, and she felt herself distinctly pushed by some invisible force, resembling that of an animal.

Other incidents occurred from time to time: knockings, and sounds like explosions, or people quarrelling; but the great era of hauntings did not set in, as already stated, until 1896. But the death of the old Major's nephew and heir, in January 1895, was attended by some unusual circumstances. He was talking, on the morning of a departure for London, to his agent, in his business-room, when three raps were heard, loud enough to interrupt the conversation. He was no spiritualist, and, not seeking to interpret the raps, set off for London, where he was knocked down in the street by a cab, and killed. It appears to have been the opinion of the late Marquis of Bute that the raps were warnings, and that, had they been "interpreted" by the usual methods of spiritualistic seances, the street accident would in some way have been averted. The reasoning seems cloudy.

But to come to the tenancy of the experimentalists in spooks. Lord Bute, Major Taylor, and Miss Goodrich-Freer assembled thirty-five guests in this country house, most of whom knew nothing of its reputation, and considered themselves to be only an ordinary country-house party. The idea was, it will be perceived, to exclude any suspicion that the object in view was to declare a belief in the supernatural manifestations said to be constantly occurring. It was determined that there should be no suspicion of collusion or suggestion, the object of the inquiry being merely to observe and not to proclaim either a belief or a scepticism in the existence of ghosts. Thus, there is no attempt at fine writing in the book, nor any appearance of advocacy for or against; and mere readers of the ordinary "ghost-story" may feel disappointed in its pages; but they have some thrills and creepy passages, notwithstanding the cold, dispassionate language and the formal tabulated statements of the places, dates, and hours of the sounds and appearances recorded. We may pass over the daily and nightly dish of detonating sounds in the corridors, the shuffling of slippered feet, the voices of an invisible man and woman in dispute, in which the words were indistinguishable, the sound as of some one reading aloud, and the like, which although set down by stolid persons of phlegmatic temperament to owls, hotwater pipes, servants' tricks, and collusion among the guests themselves, were proved to have been caused by none of those agencies. Parties of gentlemen sitting up at night armed with sticks, pokers, and revolvers, would effectually have dissuaded practical jokers; and it is to be remarked that but one guest among so many refused to believe in supernatural forces and was disposed to suspect tricks on the part of unknown humourists.

Besides, as one of these investigators remarks, if these manifestations were part of a joke, a joke which persists for over a quarter of a century, as this by that time had done, would itself be a psychological phenomenon worthy of investigation.

But such incidents as resounding bangs against bedroom doors, "as if a very strong man was hitting the panels as hard as ever he could hit," were clearly proved to have been caused by some mysterious force exercised by other than human beings; for on those violently assaulted doors being opened nothing could ever be seen.

The bowed and bent figure of a spectral hunchback, gliding up-stairs, seen by two witnesses, was unnerving, but the most startling phenomenon was undoubtedly the frequent appearance of a spectral black spaniel, seen alike by those who had heard the story of the old Major and by many who had not. One of these last was a guest who, suffering one day from a severe headache, was trying to pass the time with setting up a camera in one of the rooms. He, strange to say, had a black spaniel of his own in the house, and thought he saw it run across the room. It looked larger, he thought, than his own dog; and then he saw his dog run into the room after it and wag his tail and seem pleased at the meeting. Casual mention of the incident elicited the fact that there was no other corporeal spaniel in or about the place.

For guests to be pushed and snuffled at by invisible dogs was a common occurrence, and sounds as of dogs' tails striking, in being waggled, on doors and wainscots, were continually heard; while real undoubted dogs, with no suspicion of anything ghostly about them, would frequently be observed watching the movements of persons or things invisible to merely human eyes. But one of the most unnerving experiences was that of one of two ladies who were sharing the same bedroom. She was wakened in the middle of the night by the frightened whimperings of a pet dog sleeping on the bed, and, looking round in the direction of the animal's gaze, she saw—-what think you?—-nothing but two black paws on a table beside the bed!

An equally disturbing experience was that of a gentleman who saw a detached hand in the air at the foot of his bed, holding a crucifix; but these were not all. With a board called by the author of the book "Ouija"—-which seems to have been a contrivance very similar to, if not identical with, the well-known "planchette"—-the company assembled at Ballechin House procured what is known to spiritualists as "automatic writing," in answer to questions. One of these questions propounded the name of a lady represented in an eighteenth-century oil-painting hanging in the hall. The written answer was "Ishbel" and "Margharaed": Gaelic forms of the names Isabel and Margaret.

Among the less frequent apparitions in human form were those of sometimes one, and on other occasions two, nuns in black, in the grounds or in the house. The first recorded of these was a solitary nun seen weeping in a snow-covered glen. On another occasion there were two, observed simultaneously (but independently of each other) by two ladies, and at the same time by a usually quiet dog with them, which ran up to the figures, barking violently. It is to be remarked here that a sister of Major Stewart's had died as a nun in 1880.

Ballechin House is to be found at Logierait, Perthshire, half a mile from Ballinluig station.

Great Bayhall Manor-house, long years ago become a farm, and now deserted, has in recent years been the scene of manifestations in the ghostly kind. These mystical sights and sounds were duly narrated in the newspapers, and it is quite probable that they lost no circumstances of the marvellous and horrible thereby. According to one account: "The old manor, with its moss-grown roof, its broken doors and windows and its old moat, can be traced back to the reign of King John. For several weeks past persons residing in the immediate neighbourhood have been startled by unearthly noises and groans, and many of the villagers have been heard to declare that they have seen ghostly figures walking about. Such has been the sensation caused in Tunbridge Wells that a number of well-known gentlemen have visited the house and heard what they believe to be 'true spirit noises.' The investigators were armed with heavy sticks, and for upwards of an hour awaited the first sound which was to signalise the presence of ghosts.

"According to the story told by one of them, they were straining eye and ear when suddenly a rumbling noise like the dragging of some heavy body across the floor broke the silence of night. One or two of the explorers were paralysed with fear, but the rest were sufficiently courageous to enter the house. In the cellar below there was a succession of thuds, followed by groans, and the result was that the party beat a hasty retreat. Visits have been paid by other parties, who have reported the groans as 'terrible.' Meanwhile, the village is besieged daily by visitors from all parts of the county, and several men have been posted round the ruins to prevent damage being done."

This interesting place is situated near Pembury Green, and is reached by three quarters of a mile of exceedingly steep and rough pathways leading through hop-gardens. When at last the spot is gained, the old manor-house, built of stone, in a heavy, gloomy classical style, about two hundred and fifty years ago, is seen to lie in a lonely hollow, neighboured only by two modern brick cottages. Melancholy pine-trees and a forbidding pond, eminently suitable for suicides, are fitting accompaniments of the scene of ruin.

The property belongs to Lord Camden, who was obliged to prosecute many of the rowdy and destructive people who made havoc here when the ghost-story was in full vogue eleven years ago.

The unquiet spirit supposed to haunt this spot and to bring a trail of mystery with it is locally said to be that of a lady whose tomb in Pembury old churchyard is the common talk of the neighbourhood. It stands by the porch, and is an altar-tomb bearing the epitaph:

To the Memory of
Mrs. Ann West, late of Bayhall,
In this Parish, who Died April 13th, 1803.
Aged 34 Years.

A large orifice is pointed out, and the story told is that the lady, having been once nearly buried alive, went in a not unnatural dread ever afterwards; and made special arrangements by which she was to be buried in a coffin without a lid, with a hole in the brickwork of the vault, so that, in case of her being really alive and recovering, she could call for assistance. An amplified version of this story declares that she willed her fortune to a man-servant on condition that he placed bread and water on her coffin for twelve months after her presumed decease.

Iron bars are fixed across the opening of the tomb, and it has long been a pastime with country lads to drop stones through, to hear them "drop onter ther cawfin, mister."

As sheer matter of fact, you cannot taste this fearful pleasure, because the vault is closed and the opening is only that of a small air-chamber. But there are many evidences, in the shape of half-burnt matches around the grille, and in the stones pushed through, and the plaster picked out of the church walls, that the story is well known and the place plentifully visited.

It should be added, for the guidance of intending pilgrims, that Great Bayhall Manor-house is quite three miles from Pembury old church, Pembury Green being a modern hamlet.