More disturbing stories from one of America’s greatest authors
Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the earliest admired American novelists and short story writers. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, his origins ever influenced his work. His tales were invariably set in New England, were darkly romantic and were often concerned with the occult and witches and their works in particular. Indeed, one of Hawthorne’s ancestors actually sat as a judge during the famous Salem Witch Trials, so the author’s inspiration could barely have stronger foundations. Predictably Hawthorne’s stories contain puritanical messages on the themes of sin, guilt and fundamental evil which go well with stories that contain uncanny and, sometimes, almost surreal elements. Although Hawthorne was decidedly popular with readers opinions about his work was sharply divided among his peers. Poe was a particularly harsh critic. Nevertheless, more recent analysis has suggested that he remains—possibly—America’s greatest novelist, challenged only by Henry James and William Faulkner. This Leonaur collection of four volumes has gathered together Hawthorne’s tales which contain elements of the weird and bizarre. It contains very well known works and those that may be less familiar.
The final volume of this special Leonaur collection of the strange fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne contains the novel ‘Septimus Felton,’ two novelettes, ‘Legends of the Province-House’ and ‘The Golden Fleece’ and twenty two short stories including, ‘The Gorgon’s Head,’ ‘Graves and Goblins,’ ‘The Gray Champion,’ ‘The Hollow of the Three Hills,’ ‘The Shaker Bridal,’ ‘The Wives of the Dead,’ ‘Mrs Hutchinson’ and others.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
A figure had come into view as if descending the stairs; although, so dusky was the region whence it emerged, some of the spectators fancied that they had seen this human shape suddenly moulding itself amid the gloom. Downward the figure came, with a stately and martial tread, and reaching the lowest stair was observed to be a tall man, booted and wrapped in a military cloak, which was drawn up around the face so as to meet the flapped brim of a laced hat. The features, therefore, were completely hidden.<br>
But the British officers deemed that they had seen that military cloak before, and even recognized the frayed embroidery on the collar, as well as the gilded scabbard of a sword which protruded from the folds of the cloak and glittered in a vivid gleam of light. Apart from these trifling particulars there were characteristics of gait and bearing which impelled the wondering guests to glance from the shrouded figure to Sir William Howe, as if to satisfy themselves that their host had not suddenly vanished from the midst of them.<br>
With a dark flush of wrath upon his brow, they saw the general draw his sword and advance to meet the figure in the cloak before the latter had stepped one pace upon the floor. “Villain, unmuffle yourself!” cried he. “You pass no further!”<br>
The figure, without blenching a hair’s-breadth from the sword which was pointed at his breast, made a solemn pause and lowered the cape of the cloak from about his face, yet not sufficiently for the spectators to catch a glimpse of it. But Sir William Howe had evidently seen enough. The sternness of his countenance gave place to a look of wild amazement, if not horror, while he recoiled several steps from the figure and let fall his sword upon the floor.<br>
The martial shape again drew the cloak about his features and passed on; but reaching the threshold, with his back towards the spectators, he was seen to stamp his foot and shake his clenched hands in the air. It was afterwards affirmed that Sir William Howe had repeated that self-same gesture of rage and sorrow, when, for the last time, and as the last royal governor, he passed through the portal of the Province-House.<br>
“Hark!—the procession moves,” said Miss Joliffe.<br>
The music was dying away along the street, and its dismal strains were mingled with the knell of midnight from the steeple of the Old South, and with the roar of artillery, which announced that the beleaguering army of Washington had intrenched itself upon a nearer height than before. As the deep boom of the cannon smote upon his ear, Colonel Joliffe raised himself to the full height of his aged form and smiled sternly on the British general.<br>
“Would your Excellency inquire further into the mystery of the pageant?” said he.<br>
“Take care of your gray head!” cried Sir William Howe, fiercely, though with a quivering lip. “It has stood too long on a traitor’s shoulders!”<br>
“You must make haste to chop it off, then,” calmly replied the colonel, “for, a few hours longer, and not all the power of Sir William Howe, nor of his master, shall cause one of these gray hairs to fall. The empire of Britain, in this ancient province, is at its last gasp to night;—almost while I speak, it is a dead corpse;—and, methinks shadows of the old governors are fit mourners at its funeral!”<br>
With these words Colonel Joliffe threw on his cloak, and drawing his grand-daughter’s arm within his own, retired from the last festival that a British ruler ever held in the old province of Massachusetts Bay. It was supposed that the colonel and the young lady possessed some secret intelligence in regard to the mysterious pageant of that night. However this might be, such knowledge has never become general. The actors in the scene have vanished into deeper obscurity than even that wild Indian band who scattered the cargoes of the tea ships on the waves, and gained a place in history, yet left no names.<br>
But superstition, among other legends of this mansion, repeats the wondrous tale that, on the anniversary night of Britain’s discomfiture, the ghosts of the ancient governors of Massachusetts still glide through the portal of the Province-House. And, last of all, comes a figure shrouded in a military cloak, tossing his clenched hands into the air, and stamping his iron-shod boots upon the broad free-stone steps with a semblance of feverish despair, but without the sound of a foot-tramp.