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M. R. James’ Dark Choices: 4

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M. R. James’ Dark Choices: 4
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): M. R. James
Date Published: 2011/03
Page Count: 608
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-452-3
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-451-6

M. R. James is widely acknowledged as having been one of the finest exponents of the literary ghost story. Almost everyone who enjoys or has an interest in supernatural fiction will have read his outstanding stories, so those who are drawn to this anthology series will surely need no introduction to his work. Yet, James did not just write ghost fiction, he also wrote extensively about it. As one might expect, the combination of his academic background and his own mastery of the genre mean that his opinions and verdicts on the works of other writers of supernatural fiction are founded on considerable knowledge—if James declares a story to be good it is, in all probability, very, very good. James was not an easy reader to please and there are numerous tales that since his time have enjoyed wide public approbation that fared rather less well subjected to the incisive judgement of 'the master.' In the M. R. James’ Dark Choices anthology series, the Leonaur Editors have gathered together the ghostly novels, novellas, short stories and ballads that did earn M. R. James’—sometimes qualified—seal of approval. Together they form a satisfying and unique anthology of five substantial volumes. Although, predictably, James was in agreement as to the abiding quality of several tales which to this day remain universally recognised as classics, he also acknowledged other authors and stories—on occasion representing a writer’s only foray into the genre of supernatural fiction—which have rarely, if ever, been republished in the many anthologies of ghostly fiction which have appeared since the early years of the twentieth century. There can be no more M. R. James stories, but now we can read this remarkable author’s own 'dark choices’—that select group of tales he considered to be the finest ghost stories ever written. The Leonaur Editors have carefully researched James writings and have included an introduction in each volume which references his comments on the stories included. There have been many ghost story anthologies created under many pretexts, but rarely one with such impeccable credentials as M. R. James’ Dark Choices!
Included in volume four are the novel ‘Alice-For-Short’ and the short story ‘Madam Crowl’s Ghost.’
This collectable anthology series is available not only in paperback but also in hardcover with dustjacket. 

“We shan’t break the saucer this time, Alice, shall we? Because this time there’s no lady with spots coming downstairs.”<br>
“There was, before” said Alice, with emphasis. She was rather up in arms to protect her story from doubts that might be cast on it; perhaps seeing through a certain amount of pretence in the general acceptance it had received, and suspecting, without putting the suspicion into words, that she was being treated like a child. Of course she really was a great, grownup girl of six.<br>
“And she came right through that door at the top of the stairs, that swings both ways?”—Peggy remembered perfectly that the contrary was stated, but thought this a good way of getting a repeat. She was right. Alice shook her head a long time, and then discharged a denial, like a gun.<br>
“I—thed—No! Becoth the door—becoth the door—becoth the door—”<br>
“Yes, dear, because the door what?”<br>
“Becoth the door thqueakth!”<br>
“I see! Of course it always squeaks when it’s opened. And this time it didn’t squeak, so it wasn’t opened?” Alice nodded a great many times to this, rather as approving its clearness of statement, as well as confirming its truth.<br>
‘Poothy didn’t hear it, neever,” said she. And Charley burst out laughing.—“What a funny little tot it is!” he cried. “As grave as a judge!”<br>
“Hush, Charley, don’t!” said his sister. “Do be discreet, or we shan’t get any more—”<br>
“She doesn’t understand—”<br>
“Oh—doesn’t she?—she’s as sharp as a razor—” And then addressing Alice—“Never mind him and his nonsense, poppet—he’s only laughing at us. You’ll tell me another time how the lady came downstairs, won’t you?” Alice nodded. “And how she went out into the area?” More nods. “And how she went right up the area steps and out into the street?”<br>
The vigour with which Alice shook her head threatened dislocation. She drew a tremendous breath to supply her denial with force.<br>
“I thed—the lidy went past the coal-thellar, and I thed—the lidy went to the grite iron gite acrost the airey and I thed—” here some confusion came in—“No! I didn’t thed—there wathn’t no lidy And Poothy theed there wathn’t no lidy And father came out—”<br>
The slight inflection of the child’s voice as she said “father” contained its tribute to his memory—and was more expressive than an epitaph. Had her brother not been there probably Peggy would have made her talk about father, and she could have had a good cry. But in such a connection the old “Two is company and three is none” is more than ever true. So it was best to turn the conversation. <br>
“Why, Alice, I thought you said the lady went up the area-steps—?” <br>
“There wath no lidy”—this very emphatically. “Poothy theed there wath no lidy—”<br>
“You mean she disappeared?” Alice wouldn’t commit herself to hard words, but was inclined to invest in this one on speculation. She sanctioned it with a short nod, and her two hearers glanced at each other.<br>
“Are there any area steps?” said Peggy. “I didn’t see any—”<br>
And this was true, only Peggy hadn’t looked. Alice’s blue eyes opened wide and indignant at the suggestion that there were no area steps. “Come out and thee them,” said she.<br>
“It’s horribly dirty out there,” said Charles.<br>
“This old rag of a thing won’t hurt,” said Peggy. “I put it on on purpose.” And Alice wondered about the “old rag.” She had been thinking how beautiful it was, all the way in the carriage. <br>
But the area outside was a grizzly and a filthy place, and we shuddered at its damp and drip and mouldy slime. The coterie of cats that exploded and fled as we emerged into their disagreeable perfume were uncanny and monstrous cats, unfit to live and almost incapable of death. Surely witches—the worst witches—had been changed into them a hundred years ago; and now, when Peggy in all her youth and beauty, and the old rag that wouldn’t hurt, stepped out into their preserve and sent them flying, may not one of them have said, as she flung a curse back at her—“I too was young and beautiful once, like you! But I gave myself to the Devil, and this is his gratitude!”<br>
You may feel inclined to exclaim: “This is an entirely unwarrantable speculation, based upon no data; a neotheosophical reincarnationism without so much as a single Himalayan Brother to back you up! Justify your absurd imagination by the production of adequate and substantial evidence, or proceed with your story without raising irrelevant issues, and giving your reader the trouble of finding out how much he may skip with safety”—that is to say, if you are in the habit of indulging in long exclamations. Should you do so our reply is:—if you think our surmise about London cats so very absurd, study them more, and note the effect on your opinion.<br>
However, it won’t do to leave Peggy standing in that grimy doorway, in that filthy area, while we sift this question to the bottom. She didn’t stand there more than just long enough for the cats to disperse; and then emerged guided by Alice, who kept tight hold of her hand. “The coalth ith in there,” said she, “and the dutht in there”—and pointed to two vaults in which only persons of iron constitution could have enjoyed a long imprisonment for life. “Theethe ith the area steps,” Alice explained, touching one to make quite sure.<br>
“Then,” said Peggy, “where is the great gate, or grite gite?”<br><br>
“That’s round the corner,” said Charley, who was following in the rear. “Miss Kavanagh must have seen the lidy through the window—”
“Froo my bedroom window,” says Miss Kavanagh. “And mother come out—and father come out. And there wathn’t no lidy—” and Alice goes on shaking her head with a wistful expression, dramatically indicative of fruitless search. They went round the corner to the great gate. Peggy and Charley looked at one another.
<br>“You go inside, Charley,” said she. “See if you can see me here from the passage—I’ll stop outside the window—” He went inside and presently returned. “Miss Kavanagh’s all right,” he said. “You can see quite plain from where Pussy was drinking the milk.”<br>
“And Poothy could thee too,” said Alice, who seemed to appreciate the testimonial to her accuracy.<br>
“Well—it’s a funny story!” said Peggy, and both gave it up as a bad job, and turned to go indoors.<br>
“But I did thee the lidy!” cries Alice, appealingly.<br>
“Of course you did, dear! By the bye, you’ve never told us what father and mother said. What did father say?”<br>
“Thaid I was deamin’. But I wasn’t deamin’. I was awike—”<br>
“And what did mother say?”<br>
“Thaid I wath a little liar!”<br>
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