Another brilliant collection of tales from beyond the veil
Tales of ghosts and horror can be found in every age, country and culture on earth; they have been passed down orally for millennia and in written form have existed for almost as long as literature itself. Although there have been notable novels of spine chilling hauntings there can be little doubt that the ghost story is a form ideally suited to short stories or novellas. The story that frightens can be explicitly so, with screaming phantoms, a morality tale or humorous, it can be subtly menacing with creeping horror, and can be set almost anywhere. Such stories have never waned in their popularity with the reading public and it is for this reason that so many authors have applied their talents to creating them. Essentially we love to be thrilled and chilled simultaneously. Some of the finest exponents of the ghost story have been specialists who became masters of the genre, while others wrote scary stories to the same high standard as all their work. In the middle of the 19th century the appetite for tales of terror burgeoned and a golden age was born that lasted until the outbreak of Great War. It is probably fair to say that the finest works of the genre were created during this period and it is principally from those that the twenty-nine stories in this substantial anthology have been drawn. This bumper collection of some of the best stories of the ghostly and horrific has been gathered together by Eunice Hetherington.
In ‘The Second Leonaur Book of Great Ghost and Horror Stories are ‘The Yellow Cat’ by Wilbur Steele, ‘A Witches Den’ by Mme Helena Blavatsky, ‘The Box With Iron Clamps’ by Florence Marryat, ‘The Clavecin, Bruges’ by George Wharton Edwards, ‘The Lost Room’ by Fitz-James O’Brien, ‘The Sin Eater’ by Fiona MacLeod and many more fine tales of the chilling and weird.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
My companion cleared the rushes from the floor in our neighbourhood, and going down upon his hands and knees, described a half circle with chalk, which enclosed the fireplace and ourselves. Round the edge of this half circle he drew several hieroglyphics, not unlike the signs of the zodiac. He then stood up and uttered a long invocation, delivered so rapidly that it sounded like a single gigantic word in some uncouth guttural language. Having finished this prayer, if prayer it was, he pulled out the small bottle which he had produced before, and poured a couple of teaspoonfuls of clear transparent fluid into a phial, which he handed to me with an intimation that I should drink it.<br>
The liquid had a faintly sweet odour, not unlike the aroma of certain sorts of apples. I hesitated a moment before applying it to my lips, but an impatient gesture from my companion overcame my scruples, and I tossed it off. The taste was not unpleasant; and, as it gave rise to no immediate effects, I leaned back in my chair and composed myself for what was to come. Mr. Abrahams seated himself beside me, and I felt that he was watching my face from time to time while repeating some more of the invocations in which he had indulged before.<br>
A sense of delicious warmth and languor began gradually to steal over me, partly, perhaps, from the heat of the fire, and partly from some unexplained cause. An uncontrollable impulse to sleep weighed down my eyelids, while, at the same time, my brain worked actively, and a hundred beautiful and pleasing ideas flitted through it. So utterly lethargic did I feel that, though I was aware that my companion put his hand over the region of my heart, as if to feel how it were beating, I did not attempt to prevent him, nor did I even ask him for the reason of his action. Everything in the room appeared to be reeling slowly round in a drowsy dance, of which I was the centre. The great elk’s head at the far end wagged solemnly backward and forward, while the massive salvers on the tables performed cotillons with the claret cooler and the epergne. My head fell upon my breast from sheer heaviness, and I should have become unconscious had I not been recalled to myself by the opening of the door at the other end of the hall.<br>
This door led on to the raised dais, which, as I have mentioned, the heads of the house used to reserve for their own use. As it swung slowly back upon its hinges, I sat up in my chair, clutching at the arms, and staring with a horrified glare at the dark passage outside. Something was coming down it—something unformed and intangible, but still a something. Dim and shadowy, I saw it flit across the threshold, while a blast of ice-cold air swept down the room, which seemed to blow through me, chilling my very heart. I was aware of the mysterious presence, and then I heard it speak in a voice like the sighing of an east wind among pine-trees on the banks of a desolate sea.<br>
It said: “I am the invisible nonentity. I have affinities and am subtle. I am electric, magnetic, and spiritualistic. I am the great ethereal sigh-heaver. I kill dogs. Mortal, wilt thou choose me?”<br>
I was about to speak, but the words seemed to be choked in my throat; and, before I could get them out, the shadow flitted across the hall and vanished in the darkness at the other side, while a long-drawn melancholy sigh quivered through the apartment.<br>
I turned my eyes toward the door once more, and beheld, to my astonishment, a very small old woman, who hobbled along the corridor and into the hall. She passed backward and forward several times, and then, crouching down at the very edge of the circle upon the floor, she disclosed a face the horrible malignity of which shall never be banished from my recollection. Every foul passion appeared to have left its mark upon that hideous countenance.<br>
“Ha! ha!” she screamed, holding out her wizened hands like the talons of an unclean bird. “You see what I am. I am the fiendish old woman. I wear snuff-coloured silks. My curse descends on people. Sir Walter was partial to me. Shall I be thine, mortal?”<br>
I endeavoured to shake my head in horror; on which she aimed a blow at me with her crutch, and vanished with an eldritch scream.<br>
By this time my eyes turned naturally toward the open door, and I was hardly surprised to see a man walk in of tall and noble stature. His face was deadly pale, but was surmounted by a fringe of dark hair which fell in ringlets down his back. A short pointed beard covered his chin. He was dressed in loose-fitting clothes, made apparently of yellow satin, and a large white ruff surrounded his neck. He paced across the room with slow and majestic strides. Then turning, he addressed me in a sweet, exquisitely-modulated voice.<br>
“I am the cavalier,” he remarked. “I pierce and am pierced. Here is my rapier. I clink steel. This is a bloodstain over my heart. I can emit hollow groans. I am patronized by many old Conservative families. I am the original manor-house apparition. I work alone, or in company with shrieking damsels.”<br>
He bent his head courteously, as though awaiting my reply, but the same choking sensation prevented me from speaking; and, with a deep bow, he disappeared.<br>
He had hardly gone before a feeling of intense horror stole over me, and I was aware of the presence of a ghastly creature in the room of dim outlines and uncertain proportions. One moment it seemed to pervade the entire apartment, while at another it would become invisible, but always leaving behind it a distinct consciousness of its presence. Its voice, when it spoke, was quavering and gusty. It said, “I am the leaver of footsteps and the spiller of gouts of blood. I tramp upon corridors. Charles Dickens has alluded to me. I make strange and disagreeable noises. I snatch letters and place invisible hands on people’s wrists. I am cheerful. I burst into peals of hideous laughter. Shall I do one now?” I raised my hand in a deprecating way, but too late to prevent one discordant outbreak which echoed through the room. Before I could lower it the apparition was gone.