The first volume of a unique collection of bizarre tales from a master of the genre
Richard Marsh was the pseudonym of British born author Richard Bernard Heldman (1857-1916). His most famous work of supernatural fiction, The Beetle, was published in 1897, the same year as Bram Stoker’s tale of the vampire Count Dracula, and it is believed that initially Marsh’s book, which also features a bizarre and sinister figure capable of ‘shape shifting,’ was even more popular with readers than Stoker’s. Today Marsh’s book is still widely regarded as a classic of its genre. Although a prolific author who wrote in a number of genres including adventure fiction under his real name, Marsh is principally remembered as a writer of supernatural thrillers and his output in this field was prodigious. Most aficionados of the genre have heard of The Beetle, but this special Leonaur collection of the author’s excursions into the other worldly and strange extends to six satisfyingly substantial volumes containing many tales that will be unfamiliar to modern readers.
Volume one includes two novels, The Beetle: a Mystery and The Joss: a Reversion, and one short story, ‘The Haunted Chair,’ of the strange and unusual.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
My eyes were fixed upon the door. For a moment, now and then, I moved them, with a flicker, to the right or to the left. Only for a moment. Back they went to the door. Once I saw it tremble. I started. It was motionless again. Then I heard a pattering. The rats were audible everywhere—under the floor at my feet, in the walls about me, above the ceiling over my head. The house was full of their clamour, But the pattering I heard was distinct from all the other sounds. It approached the room from without, pausing over the threshold as if in doubt. The door gave a little jerk, ever such a little one, but I saw it. A rat came in. So it was a rat after all.<br>
It stopped, just inside the door, peering round, as if surprised at the illumination which the candle gave. As if satisfied by what it saw it came in a little further. Close behind it was a second. This was of a more impatient breed; as soon as it appeared, with a little spring it ranged itself beside the other. Immediately there came two more The four indulged themselves with a feast of observation, as though they were smelling out the land. After a while their eyes seemed to concentrate themselves on me, as if they could not make me out. Perhaps they thought that I was dead, or sleeping. I did not move, because I could not.<br>
On a sudden the four gave a little forward scamper, as if they had been hustled from behind. The door was opened another half-dozen inches. More than a score came in. All at once became conscious that rats were peeping at me from all about the room; out of holes and crannies of whose existence had not been aware; above, below, on every side. And I knew that an army waited on the landing, as if waiting for a signal to make a rush. On whom? On me? Or on Pollie, asleep upon the bed? I was paralysed. I wanted to shriek and warn Pollie of what was coming; to let her know that in a second’s time the room would be a pandemonium of rats, all of them in search of food.<br>
My tongue was tied. I could not speak. I could only wait and watch. The house was not yet still. Not all had gathered without the door, many were observing me, with teeth sharp set, from hidden cavities. There was continually the clamour of their scurrying to and fro. But some instinct told me that their numbers increased upon the landing. I could hear their squeals, as if they snapped at each other in the press. Another score had harried the first score farther forward. They were so close that where they stood they hid the floor. It seemed so strange to see so many, all with their eyes on me.<br>
Yet what were they to those who were without? Something told me that those who watched me in the room had come further out of their holes! that in another instant they would spring down; and that then the rush would come. I think that my heart had nearly ceased to beat; that the blood had turned to water in my veins. I was cold; a chill sweat was on my face. The hand of death had come quite close.<br>
I but waited for its actual touch; for whose approach the rushing of the rats should be the signal; when—what was it fell upon my ear? What sound, coming from below? Not rats? No, not rats. Mechanically I drew breath; I verily believe it was the first time I had breathed for I know not how long. The inflation of my lungs roused me. I listened with keener ears. I knew that what I had heard the rats had also heard; that it was because of it that the rush had not begun; that they attended what was next to come with a sense of expectancy; of doubt; of hesitation.<br>
Moments passed; the sound was not repeated. Had it been a trick of our imagination; mine and the rats’? All was still, even the scurrying of their friends below. If I heard nothing, they did; they retreated. There were fewer within the room; I had not noticed their going, but they had gone. I felt that their unseen comrades, who were about me, had drawn back again into their holes. What was it caused that noise? There was a board that creaked. No rat’s foot had caused that. Again. Was that a step upon the stairs?<br>
Someone, something, was ascending from below? Who—what—could it be? An inmate of the Bluebeard’s Chamber? What shape of horror would it take? Why did Pollie sleep so soundly? In my awful helplessness inwardly I raged. The rats heard; already they were flying for their lives. Why did she not hear? Would nothing rouse her from her slumbers? Danger, the danger she had herself foretold, was stealing on us. She had boasted of her courage. Why did she not come out of sleep to prove she was no braggart? What was it bound my limbs with chains, and kept me from stretching out my arm to touch her where she lay? What was the choking in my throat, so that when I tried to speak I seemed to strangle?<br>
Silence again. This seemed to be a jest that someone played: the sound, then silence; still silence, long drawn out, then again the sound. If something came, why did it not come quickly? I should not be so fearful of a thing I saw as of a thing that I did not; I could not be.<br>
The steps had reached the staircase which led directly to our room. There were fewer intervals of silence; though, yet, between each, there was a pause, as if to listen. They were very soft; as if someone walked velvet footed, being most unwilling to be heard. If I had sprung to my feet, roused Pollie, rushed to the door, defying all comers to come on, I wondered what would happen; and should have dearly liked to see.<br>
But I was a craven through and through.<br>
The footsteps gained the landing: moved towards the door; stayed without, while their owner listened. It might have been my fancy, but, so acutely was I listening, that I could have declared that I heard a hand placed gently against the panel. An interval. Pollie remained quiet on the bed. She had not moved since first she had lain down. What kind of sleep was this of hers? Did no warning come to her in dreams to tell her that there was something strange without? It was not fair that she should be so utterly at peace, while I had to bear the burden all alone. She was stronger than I. Why did she not wake up?<br>
The door came a little forward; perhaps another half-dozen inches. Again a pause as if to ascertain if the movement had been observed. Whoever was without was cautious. Then—<br>
Then something appeared at the opening.