A two volume collection of outstanding stories by an award winning American author
The American author Edith Wharton (nee Jones), was born in New York during the American Civil War in 1862. She came from a prestigious family background which, incidentally though tellingly, inspired the perennially familiar phrase, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Perhaps predictably, she married into another prosperous family when she became the wife of Bostonian, ‘Teddy’ Wharton in 1883. Edith’s wealth opened the world to her and she became a prodigious traveller and lived for periods of time in Europe. Always creative, Edith became a proficient interior designer, garden designer and was a successful socialite becoming a style setter of her day. Her writing was, however, her most outstanding achievement. Wharton wrote novels, short stories, travel books and poetry. She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for literature for ‘Age of Innocence’ (1920) and was nominated for the Nobel prize for literature on three occasions. She became a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour for her work in support of the Allied cause during the First World War. Since Edith Wharton wrote at least 85 short stories and was a woman of her times it would be surprising if she had not contributed, frequently with an American twist, to the genre of supernatural and bizarre fiction. Indeed, her taste and talent for chilling tales and her readership’s enthusiastic appetite for them have ensured this Leonaur collection fills two satisfying volumes.
Stories in this volume include: ‘The Looking Glass’, ‘Kerfol’, ‘The Triumph of Night’, ‘Afterward’, ‘A Bottle of Perrier’ and twelve others.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Mr. Grisben’s pleasant grey eye sought corroboration of his host, and Faxon, in a cold anguish of suspense, continued to watch him as he turned his glance on Mr. Lavington. One could not look at Lavington without seeing the presence at his back, and it was clear that, the next minute, some change in Mr. Grisben’s expression must give his watcher a clue.
But Mr. Grisben’s expression did not change: the gaze he fixed on his host remained unperturbed, and the clue he gave was the startling one of not seeming to see the other figure.
Faxon’s first impulse was to look away, to look anywhere else, to resort again to the champagne glass the watchful butler had already brimmed; but some fatal attraction, at war in him with an overwhelming physical resistance, held his eyes upon the spot they feared.
The figure was still standing, more distinctly, and therefore more resemblingly, at Mr. Lavington’s back; and while the latter continued to gaze affectionately at his nephew, his counterpart, as before, fixed young Rainer with eyes of deadly menace.
Faxon, with what felt like an actual wrench of the muscles, dragged his own eyes from the sight to scan the other countenances about the table; but not one revealed the least consciousness of what he saw, and a sense of mortal isolation sank upon him.
“It’s worth considering, certainly—” he heard Mr. Lavington continue; and as Rainer’s face lit up, the face behind his uncle’s chair seemed to gather into its look all the fierce weariness of old unsatisfied hates. That was the thing that, as the minutes laboured by, Faxon was becoming most conscious of. The watcher behind the chair was no longer merely malevolent: he had grown suddenly, unutterably tired. His hatred seemed to well up out of the very depths of balked effort and thwarted hopes, and the fact made him more pitiable, and yet more dire.
Faxon’s look reverted to Mr. Lavington, as if to surprise in him a corresponding change. At first none was visible: his pinched smile was screwed to his blank face like a gas-light to a white-washed wall. Then the fixity of the smile became ominous: Faxon saw that its wearer was afraid to let it go. It was evident that Mr. Lavington was unutterably tired too, and the discovery sent a colder current through Faxon’s veins. Looking down at his untouched plate, he caught the soliciting twinkle of the champagne glass; but the sight of the wine turned him sick.
“Well, we’ll go into the details presently,” he heard Mr. Lavington say, still on the question of his nephew’s future. “Let’s have a cigar first. No—not here, Peters.” He turned his smile on Faxon. “When we’ve had coffee I want to show you my pictures.”
“Oh, by the way, Uncle Jack—Mr. Faxon wants to know if you’ve got a double?”
“A double?” Mr. Lavington, still smiling, continued to address himself to his guest. “Not that I know of. Have you seen one, Mr. Faxon?”
Faxon thought: “My God, if I look up now they’ll both be looking at me!” To avoid raising his eyes he made as though to lift the glass to his lips; but his hand sank inert, and he looked up. Mr. Lavington’s glance was politely bent on him, but with a loosening of the strain about his heart he saw that the figure behind the chair still kept its gaze on Rainer.
“Do you think you’ve seen my double, Mr. Faxon?”
Would the other face turn if he said yes? Faxon felt a dryness in his throat. “No,” he answered.
“Ah? It’s possible I’ve a dozen. I believe I’m extremely usual-looking,” Mr. Lavington went on conversationally; and still the other face watched Rainer.
“It was. . . . .a mistake. . . . a confusion of memory. . . . ” Faxon heard himself stammer. Mr. Lavington pushed back his chair, and as he did so Mr. Grisben suddenly leaned forward.
“Lavington! What have, we been thinking of? We haven’t drunk Frank’s health!”
Mr. Lavington reseated himself. “My dear boy! . . . . .Peters, another bottle. . . . .” He turned to his nephew. “After such a sin of omission I don’t presume to propose the toast myself... but Frank knows. . . . .Go ahead, Grisben!”
The boy shone on his uncle. “No, no, Uncle Jack! Mr. Grisben won’t mind. Nobody but you—today!”
The butler was replenishing the glasses. He filled Mr. Lavington’s last, and Mr. Lavington put out his small hand to raise it. . . . . As he did so, Faxon looked away.
“Well, then—All the good I’ve wished you in all the past years. . . . . I put it into the prayer that the coming ones may be healthy and happy and many. . . . . and many, dear boy!”
Faxon saw the hands about him reach out for their glasses. Automatically, he reached for his. His eyes were still on the table, and he repeated to himself with a trembling vehemence: “I won’t look up! I won’t. . . . . I won’t. . . . .”
His fingers clasped the glass and raised it to the level of his lips. He saw the other hands making the same motion. He heard Mr. Grisben’s genial “Hear! Hear!” and Mr. Batch’s hollow echo. He said to himself, as the rim of the glass touched his lips: “I won’t look up! I swear I won’t!—” and he looked.
The glass was so full that it required an extraordinary effort to hold it there, brimming and suspended, during the awful interval before he could trust his hand to lower it again, untouched, to the table. It was this merciful preoccupation which saved him, kept him from crying out, from losing his hold, from slipping down into the bottomless blackness that gaped for him. As long as the problem of the glass engaged him he felt able to keep his seat, manage his muscles, fit unnoticeably into the group; but as the glass touched the table his last link with safety snapped. He stood up and dashed out of the room.