Two works of collected ghost stories from two remarkable ladies
Among the many authors who practised the craft of the ghost story during the Golden Age of the genre during the nineteenth century several of its finest exponents were women. Ironically, some of those writers who most successfully brought their fictional horrors shrieking into the drawing rooms of their readers were gentlewomen, whose names appeared on their works using the reserved and formal appellation, ‘Mrs’. This special Leonaur edition contains the collected works of two of these talented authors, Mrs. G. Linnaeus Banks and Mrs Alfred Baldwin. Isabella Banks was a prolific author as well as a wife and a mother to eight children. Her most notable work was ‘The Manchester Man’, a highly regarded social commentary concerning the northern working classes of England. Her excellent supernatural tales collected here include ‘Wraith-Haunted’, ‘Pipers Ghost’, ‘A Dour Weird’ and many others. This substantial volume of the other worldly also includes the collected works of Louisa Baldwin. An invalid, Louisa Baldwin, mother of the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, loathed idleness and was a prodigious author. ‘The Shadow on the Blind’ included here, is, perhaps, her most highly regarded short story, though the nine other tales in this book equally demonstrate her fine literary skills.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Presently she heard light footsteps once more, and opening the door saw the dim figures of her cousin and her maid returning to their room. They had made a complete circuit of the house, and regained the gallery by means of a disused staircase, the door leading to which was kept locked. When all was once more silent, Miss Swinford crossed the gallery, candle in hand, to examine for herself if the lock had been tampered with. But the door was fastened as it had been for many years, and the paper pasted round it to prevent draughts was undisturbed. Yet there was no other means of reaching the side of the gallery by which Joceline Hammersley and Mistress Galt had returned to their rooms, except by this staircase.
Miss Swinford slept no more that night, and when she closed her eyes, it was only to open them and assure herself that the pale-faced Joceline was not standing by her side.
At length when morning light filled the room, she drew aside the curtain and looked into the garden. She was startled to see Joceline and Mistress Galt standing together under the window. Neither of them wore hood or kerchief in the keen morning air, and Joceline’s bare neck looked white and cold as marble. ‘She is as like the old portrait as though she were the original Joceline come back from the dead!’ exclaimed Miss Swinford.
Mistress and maid were looking fixedly at a spot in the garden, towards which first one pointed and then another, and in the silence of the early morning Miss Swinford could hear every word.
‘And I say, Mistress Joceline, that the bowling green lay yonder!’
‘Nay, be not so confident. You were here but for a few months when all was sorrow and confusion, while I dwelt here for three-and-twenty years, and till the cruel wars came had great joy and pleasure in my home. The bowling green was by the sundial, and lay to the north of the maze. But that is gone too. All is changed, the very flowers wear strange faces.’
‘Shall you not rest, Mistress, since you have seen that which you prayed to see once more?’
‘Yes, I shall rest. I shall sleep till we all wake together.’
‘Mad! Stark mad!’ ejaculated her cousin as she dropped the curtain and turned from the window.
The day proved wet and stormy, and Miss Swinford had to pass the heavy hours indoors with her uncanny guest. She was now so fully convinced of her cousin’s insanity that she felt nervous in her presence, and unable to question her about her mysterious conduct. Joceline was, if possible, quieter and more reserved than ever. She looked fearfully ill, at times scarcely conscious, and as though her dark eyes moved with difficulty from one object to another.
‘I am afraid you did not rest well last night, you seem so tired,’ Miss Swinford ventured to say.
‘I have not slept of late, but soon I shall rest again.’ And she seemed almost to fall asleep as she spoke. Only once did she show spontaneous interest in anything, when turning over the leaves of a book, she came upon an engraving of the celebrated portrait of Strafford. Then her pale face seemed to radiate light. ‘My Lord Strafford!’ she exclaimed, ‘and yet how unlike, for no picture can give the dark fire of his eye! O noble soul, that gave thy life for thy king, and yet wast powerless to avert his doom!’
At length the tedious day drew to an end. The two ladies were sitting in silence in the drawing-room, Miss Swinford wondering when her strange cousin would depart. She was resolved that she would write to Sir Piers to say that the change back to the bracing air of the north would be beneficial to his daughter’s health, when Joceline rose noiselessly and left the room. ‘How shall I get through another night with that unaccountable being wandering about the house, asleep or insane!’ she thought, looking after her with a troubled expression. ‘I cannot bear the strain of her company! It will be long indeed before I invite a stranger again to pay me a visit!’ when the door opened and her cousin stood before her pale as a lily, dressed in her black travelling cloak and hood. Miss Swinford rose in amazement. ‘My dear, what is the meaning of this! You came unannounced, you cannot surely be leaving me as abruptly as you arrived!’
‘I must go, I am wanted,’ she said. And as she spoke the sound of heavy wheels was heard approaching the house. An inexplicable fear fell upon Miss Swinford.
‘But how shall you travel? You are too late for any train tonight.’
‘I go as I came. I shall soon be at my journey’s end. Farewell, cousin Katherine, and be of good cheer, the portrait of Joceline Swinford will be restored to you!’ Miss Swinford mechanically followed her downstairs, where Mistress Galt was already waiting, and the servants peering over the banisters to watch the departure. Miss Swinford stepped into the porch with her guest, and there stood waiting a huge coach, drawn by four black horses. By the light of the moon, issuing from beneath a cloud, she saw that the coachman was dressed in as antique a style as his mistress, and that his face like hers was deadly pale.
‘Farewell, cousin, farewell!’ said Joceline, touching Miss Swinford’s cheek with her cold lips, ‘the missing picture will be restored to its place.’ And followed by Mistress Galt she stepped into the coach, in which six persons could have seated themselves with ease. She leaned out of the window, and bowed to her hostess with solemn formality. Then the horses moving at a heavy trot drew the lumbering vehicle down the avenue towards the high road. Miss Swinford, Bennet, Dapper, and a couple of grooms attracted by the extraordinary sound of the heavy carriage approaching the house, stood awestruck watching it depart. Not one of them could have expressed his fear in words, and the terror each felt was the greater for being unspoken. The huge coach rumbled along the avenue, when it turned into the high road, and still they could hear the heavy waggon-like sound of its wheels.
‘They have taken the turning to the left!’ cried Miss Swinford, the first to break the silence. ‘That great carriage and four horses can never cross the Brook Bridge. They should have turned to the right. See if you can overtake them before the road is too narrow for them to turn!’ and the grooms ran down a side path that was used as a short cut to the road. The heavy sound of wheels grew duller and more distant, and suddenly ceased. ‘Thank goodness they are stopped in time, they will turn now!’ said Miss Swinford. But still no sound was heard. Presently the grooms came back breathless with running, the younger of them looking ready to faint.
‘You stopped them in time, Landon, I hope?’ asked Miss Swinford of the elder of the two men.
‘Oh Lord, Oh Lord, ma’am, there’s no coach nor nothing to stop! As I’m a living sinner there’s nothing but a three mile stretch o’road clear as day in the moonlight, and not so much as a wheelbarrow on it, and neither man nor beast to be seen! That big coach and four’s clean gone, same as if it had sunk into the ground!’