Volume three of a collection of supernatural and weird tales by a forgotten master of the gothic and occult
Although an American author, writer F(rancis) Marion Crawford was born in Northern Tuscany, the son of sculptor Thomas Crawford, he spent much of his life in the United States, living and working in Boston. His inherent sensitivity to Italy influenced much of his historical fiction. Indeed, in his novel ‘Corleone,’ Crawford became the first author to prominently feature the now very familiar theme of the Mafia in fiction. He also produced notable works of history concerned with the various ages of Italy. Travels in the East and the study of Sanskrit in India gave him a grounding in the oriental and an interest in the other worldly. Although the themes of supernatural and weird fiction are often believed to be expressed to best effect in the short story most of Crawford’s literary output consisted of novels. Fortunately, several of these include distinctly fantastical themes. His comparatively small oeuvre of short ghost and horror tales is so finely crafted that they have become some of the most highly regarded examples of the form in the English language. M. R James considered some of them to be among the best supernatural stories written, with the chilling and claustrophobic ‘The Upper Berth’ being especially singled out for merit. Crawford’s talent for this genre is so widely acknowledged that it has been rightly noted that the greatest shame was that he did not write more—praise indeed! This five volume Leonaur collection of Crawford’s strange novels, novellas and short stories provides a superb and substantial collection by one of Americas finest nineteenth century authors.
This third volume includes ‘With the Immortals’ a bizarre novel of the resurrection of the famous long dead, a second novel ‘The Heart of Rome’ and ‘The Dead Smile,’ a highly regarded tale, full of gothic vice and forbidden obsession, of vengeance taken from the grave!
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
As they looked, faint clouds of rosy haze moved between them and the lamps, pausing suddenly and then shooting on like wild figures with streaming drapery of impalpable fineness, tinged with unearthly hues, that left a luminous track in the dark air between. And the figures, or clouds, multiplied till there were myriads of rosy streamers, chasing each other like fireflies in a wood, intertwining and mingling and shooting away again, but rising higher and higher still, as they soared and leaped into a broad arch through the night sky, emitting a radiance of their own; and the rose colour deepened to red, and the red to purple, and again from time to time a great golden flash flew higher than the rest and trembled in the perfection of a faultless curve and fell again into the night beyond.<br>
Then again the thunder crashed and pealed and echoed as though a Supreme Power were shaking the mountains like pebbles in the hollow of a bowl, and the hot wind puffed like the fierce blast of a furnace from the face of the bare rocks.<br>
The four stood close together, pale and trembling. The ground shook beneath their feet as though it would give way and dissolve in the convulsion of the elements. The far-springing arches of streaming light blazed higher and higher, and struck wide circles in the black air, eclipsing in their matchless radiance the bright lamps below, and piercing the sky with scimitars and spears of light, symmetrical, terrible, and glorious, leaping from a sea of rosy and golden flame which thickened and surged about the castle and down to the shore, hiding everything in its fiery waves.<br>
A blinding white flash, an explosion as of a thousand cannon bursting together—the four fell back against the face of the cliff, half stunned, unconscious with horror and fear. The thunderbolt had struck the rocks not fifty yards below them and in the din of the elements they could hear the great masses of stone bounding down the precipice to plunge into the sea below.<br>
Augustus was no coward, neither were the three women of the timid kind who tremble in ordinary danger. But it was clear that to stay where they were was death, certain and sudden.<br>
“Unless I can reach the hut, we are lost,” said Chard.<br>
“Go,” said Gwendoline, firmly. “We will wait here.” But as she spoke a third peal of thunder broke with deafening crash upon the hills above.<br>
“I cannot leave you here,” said Augustus. “You will be safe on the other side of the cliff upon the sandy shore—if anywhere.”<br>
And so, under the awful light of the wild streamers, amidst the howling of the dry and scorching wind and the pealing of the thunder, the four began their descent, not knowing at what step they should meet death nor which of them should reach the shore alive. And when they were on the sand Augustus left them and fled up the height again through the very midst of the flaming air, where indeed there was no heat to burn, but such whirlpools of hot wind as made him stagger in his race; and ever and again the dreadful thunder cracked and burst and roared, so that his senses reeled and, but for the loved ones below, he must have lost all consciousness and fallen a victim to the convulsion of the elements he had roused.<br>
For he knew that it was his work now, as he sprang up the rocks towards the hut; he had roused the mainsprings of nature and disturbed her rest so that he doubted whether any effort of his could lull the storm. The hut itself was in a blaze of purple and rosy light; but he rushed boldly in and groped for his instruments in the luminous hot mist. He could not find it, and his heart sank, but he searched still and at last felt the cold enamelled key of the switch beneath his hand. In convulsive triumph he grasped the lever and gathering his senses of remembrance by an effort, he turned it half round.<br>
At first there was no change. His heart beat fast with terror, as he stood holding the tiny thing by which he hoped to direct and subdue such mighty forces. But gradually the colour faded from the room, the mist disappeared and the light of the lantern which he had left there an hour before shone out quietly and illuminated the scene. He took it and then he went to the door. All was changed. The sea of flame had disappeared, leaving but a phosphorescent suggestion of light behind. In the sky above the wild streamers flashed convulsively and died away, one after another. The lamps were extinguished, and in the clear sky the stars shone brightly. But far to the south-east a soft light was in the sky, and as he looked he saw that the moon was rising. The low and distant rumblings of the thunder grew fainter and ceased. Augustus began his descent, reflecting on the awful peril from which he had escaped.<br>
As he reached the shore the scene was inexpressibly beautiful. The May moon, but a day past the full, rose softly over the low range of the Basilicata. The placid sea lapped the dusky shingle and caught the reflection of the moonbeams as one might toss handfuls of diamonds upon a mantle of dark velvet.<br>
The three women stood together on the shore, their lithe and graceful figures just outlined in the moonlight. All was peace and calm, the storm was ended, and Nature, like a tired child, drooped and slept, soothed by the lullaby of the rippling moonlit sea.<br>
“It is all over,” said Augustus, quietly. But he took his wife in his arms and kissed her.<br>
As they all turned together they were aware of a man in grey clothes who sat upon a worn boulder at the water’s edge, his head supported in his hand, gazing to seaward.<br>