A two volume collection of one of the finest female authors of Gothic ghost stories
Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (or as she was known ‘Mrs. Gaskell’) was born as Elizabeth Stevenson in Chelsea, London in 1810. Gaskell was a prolific author, writing short stories, novels and non-fiction of social history as well as a notable biography of Charlotte Bronte. It would have been unusual had she not also written ghostly tales, because she lived at a time when chilling tales were highly popular. Indeed she was persuaded to do so by Charles Dickens, an enthusiast for the form who had also encouraged several other writers to make forays into the genre. Perhaps inevitably Gaskell’s scary, gothic fiction appeared in Dickens’ magazine ‘Household Words,’ a showcase also for several of her contemporaries. Gaskell’s stories not only ‘ticked all the boxes’ commercially, but her ability ensured that her stories, well regarded in her own time, have endured as among the best examples of Victorian supernatural fiction. Apart from her supernatural writings Mrs. Gaskell is especially remembered today for her novels, ‘Cranford’ and ‘North and South.’
Volume one of Mrs. Gaskells gothic chillers includes the novellas ‘Lois the Witch,’ ‘The Grey Woman,’ and ‘The Poor Clare,’ two novelettes ‘The Doom of the Griffiths,’ and ‘The Crooked Branch’ plus seven short stories and a poem.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The instant we were seen, two or three people rushed to us.<br>
“Have you heard?—Do you know?—That poor young lady—oh, come and see!” and so we were hurried, almost in spite of ourselves, across the court, and up the great open stairs of the main building of the inn, into a bedchamber, where lay the beautiful young German lady, so full of graceful pride the night before, now white and still in death. By her stood the French maid, crying and gesticulating.<br>
“Oh, madame! if you had but suffered me to stay with you! Oh! the baron, what will he say?” and so she went on. Her state had but just been discovered; it had been supposed that she was fatigued, and was sleeping late, until a few minutes before. The surgeon of the town had been sent for, and the landlord of the inn was trying vainly to enforce order until he came, and, from time to time, drinking little cups of brandy, and offering them to the guests, who were all assembled there, pretty much as the servants were doing in the courtyard.<br>
At last the surgeon came. All fell back, and hung on the words that were to fall from his lips.<br>
“See!” said the landlord. “This lady came last night by the diligence with her maid. Doubtless a great lady, for she must have a private sitting-room——”<br>
“She was Madame the Baroness de Rœder,” said the French maid.<br>
—“And was difficult to please in the matter of supper, and a sleeping-room. She went to bed well, though fatigued. Her maid left her——”<br>
“I begged to be allowed to sleep in her room, as we were in a strange inn, of the character of which we knew nothing; but she would not let me, my mistress was such a great lady.”<br>
—“And slept with my servants,” continued the landlord. “This morning we thought madame was still slumbering; but when eight, nine, ten, and near eleven o’clock came, I bade her maid use my pass-key, and enter her room——”<br>
“The door was not locked, only closed. And here she was found—dead is she not, monsieur?—with her face down on her pillow, and her beautiful hair all scattered wild; she never would let me tie it up, saying it made her head ache. Such hair!” said the waiting-maid, lifting up a long golden tress, and letting it fall again.<br>
I remembered Amante’s words the night before, and crept close up to her.<br>
Meanwhile, the doctor was examining the body underneath the bedclothes, which the landlord, until now, had not allowed to be disarranged.<br> The surgeon drew out his hand, all bathed and stained with blood; and holding up a short, sharp knife, with a piece of paper fastened round it.<br>
“Here has been foul play,” he said. “The deceased lady has been murdered. This dagger was aimed straight at her heart.” Then, putting on his spectacles, he read the writing on the bloody paper, dimmed and horribly obscured as it was:—<br>
Ainsi les Chauffeurs se vengent.<br>
“Let us go!” said I to Amante. “Oh, let us leave this horrible place!”<br>
“Wait a little,” said she. “Only a few minutes more. It will be better.”<br>
Immediately the voices of all proclaimed their suspicions of the cavalier who had arrived last the night before. He had, they said, made so many inquiries about the young lady, whose supercilious conduct all in the salle-à-manger had been discussing on his entrance. They were talking about her as we left the room; he must have come in directly afterwards, and not until he had learnt all about her, had he spoken of the business which necessitated his departure at dawn of day, and made his arrangements with both landlord and ostler for the possession of the keys of the stable and porte-cochère. In short, there was no doubt as to the murderer, even before the arrival of the legal functionary who had been sent for by the surgeon; but the word on the paper chilled everyone with terror.<br>
Les Chauffeurs, who were they? No one knew, some of the gang might even then be in the room overhearing, and noting down fresh objects for vengeance. In Germany, I had heard little of this terrible gang, and I had paid no greater heed to the stories related once or twice about them in Carlsruhe than one does to tales about ogres. But here in their very haunts, I learnt the full amount of the terror they inspired. No one would be legally responsible for any evidence criminating the murderer. The public prosecutor shrank from the duties of his office. What do I say? Neither Amante nor I, knowing far more of the actual guilt of the man who had killed that poor sleeping young lady, durst breathe a word.<br>
We appeared to be wholly ignorant of everything: we, who might have told so much. But how could we? we were broken down with terrific anxiety and fatigue, with the knowledge that we, above all, were doomed victims; and that the blood, heavily dripping from the bedclothes on to the floor, was dripping thus out of the poor dead body, because, when living, she had been mistaken for me.