A stunning collection from a mistress of the chilling
Aficionados of supernatural fiction are aware that its golden age was during the later Victorian and Edwardian eras. There was a huge public appetite for spine chilling tales and many magazines published their ideal form—the short story. This created opportunities for many writers to produce supernatural fiction. Among the huge number of stories published, some were exceptionally good and these came from the pens of those who became recognised masters of the form. Popular authors were often incredibly prolific and an individual writer’s canon of supernatural fiction could be substantial. Almost every commercially minded writer wrote some supernatural fiction and many of the finest exponents of the craft were women. While Mrs. J. H. Riddell had much in common with her peers, she was highly regarded by some of the genres severest critics including the ‘grand-master’ himself, M. R. James. Charlotte Cowan was born in Ireland in 1832, the daughter of the High Sheriff of Antrim. She moved to London in 1855 and shortly thereafter married the civil engineer Joseph Hadley Riddell. As was often the practice at the time she subsequently wrote under her formal married name. Besides her career as a writer she was also a publisher, being part owner of the highly regarded literary periodical ‘The St. Jame’s Magazine.’ This comprehensive Leonaur collection of Charlotte Riddell’s strange stories comprises three substantial volumes to captivate both enthusiasts and collectors.
In volume one readers will discover two novels, the well known ‘The Haunted River’ and ‘The Haunted House at Latchford.’ Also included are three novelettes, ‘Nut Bush Farm,’ ‘A Terrible Vengeance’ and ‘Old Mrs. Jones’ plus two short stories, ‘Hertford O’Donnell’s Warning’ and ‘Forewarned, Forearmed.’
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
What folly! What nonsense! And into what an insane course of speculation had I not embarked. I would leave the eerie place and get once again into the full light of the moon’s bright beams.<br>
Hush! Hark! What was that? deep down amongst the underwood—a rustle, a rush, and a scurry—then silence—then a stealthy movement amongst the bushes—then whilst I was peering down into the abyss lined with waving green below, something passed by me swiftly, something which brought with it a cold chill as though the hand of one dead had been laid suddenly on my heart.<br>
Instantly I turned and looked around. There was not a living thing in sight—neither on the path, nor on the sward, nor on the hillside, nor skirting the horizon as I turned my eyes upward.<br>
For a moment I stood still in order to steady my nerves, then reassuring myself with the thought it must have been an animal of some kind, I completed the remainder of the ascent without further delay.<br>
‘The ghost, I suspect,’ I said to myself as I reached the long field and the path leading back to the farm, ‘will resolve itself into a hare or pheasant—is not the whirr of a cock pheasant rising, for instance, enough, when coming unexpectedly, to frighten any nervous person out of his wits? And might not a hare, or a cat, or better still, a stoat—yes, a stoat, with its gliding, almost noiseless, movements—mimic the footfall of a suppositious ghost?’<br>
By this time I had gained the summit of the incline, and slightly out of breath with breasting the ascent, stood for a moment contemplating the exquisite panorama stretched out beneath me. I linger on that moment because it was the last time I ever saw beauty in the moonlight. Now I cannot endure the silvery gleam of the queen of night—weird, mournful, fantastic if you like, but to be desired—no.<br>
Whenever possible, I draw the blinds and close the shutters, yet withal on moonlight nights I cannot sleep, the horror of darkness is to my mind nothing in comparison to the terror of a full moon. But I drivel; let me hasten on.<br>
From the crest of the hill I could see lying below a valley of dreamlike beauty—woods in the foreground—a champagne country spreading away into the indefinite distance—a stream winding in and out, dancing and glittering under the moon’s beams—a line of hills dimly seen against the horizon, and already a streak of light appearing above them, the first faint harbinger of dawn.<br>
‘It is morning, then, already,’ I said, and with the words turned my face homewards. As I did so I saw before me on the path—clearly—the figure of a man.<br>
He was walking rapidly and I hurried my pace in order to overtake him. Now to this part of the story I desire to draw particular attention. Let me hurry as I might I never seemed able to get afoot nearer to him.<br>
At intervals he paused, as if on purpose to assist my desire, but the moment I seemed gaining upon him the distance between us suddenly increased. I could not tell how he did it, the fact only remained—it was like pursuing some phantom in a dream.<br>
All at once when he reached the bridge he stood quite still. He did not move hand or limb as I drew near—the way was so narrow I knew I should have to touch him in passing; nevertheless, I pressed forward. My foot was on the bridge—I was close to him—I felt my breath coming thick and fast—I clasped a stick I had picked up in the plantation firmly in my hand—I stopped, intending to speak—I opened my mouth, intending to do so—and then—then—without any movement on his part—I was alone!<br>
Yes, as totally alone as though he had never stood on the bridge—never preceded me along the field-path—never loitered upon my footsteps—never paused for my coming.<br>
I was appalled.