The final volume of the collected strange fiction of a literary master
One Novel ‘Portrait of a Man with Red Hair’ and Fifteen Short Stories of the Strange and Unusual Including ‘The Clocks’, ‘The Silver Mask’, ‘Major Wilbrahim’, ‘Field with Five Trees’ and ‘Tarnhelm’
Sir Hugh Walpole was one of the most popular and prolific British authors of the first half of the 20th century. After the publication of his first novel, ‘The Wooden Horse’, in 1909 he produced one significant work each year including the acclaimed ‘Herries’ series. Born in New Zealand in 1884, the son of an Anglican clergyman, Walpole was committed to becoming a writer and encouraged in his ambition by Henry James and Arnold Bennett. A. C. Benson was also a mentor and early influence upon his writing. Despite his acknowledged talent as a storyteller, Walpole’s work has been largely ignored since his death in 1941, in part because he was savagely lampooned by Somerset Maugham’s fictional characterisation of him in ‘Cakes & Ale’. Walpole, in keeping with many of his contemporaries, wrote in several genres of fiction and among his thirty-six novels, five volumes of short stories and two plays are historical, juvenile and even detective stories. His associations with A. C. Benson, Henry James, H. G. Wells and the fact that Horace Walpole (author of the first gothic novel, ‘The Castle of Otranto’) and Richard Harris Barham (author of the ‘Ingoldsby Legends’) were both among his ancestors surely stimulated his taste for gothic and macabre fiction. In fact, during the 1930s Walpole edited two well received anthologies of ‘creepy stories’ in which some of his own material appeared. His own literary excursions into the world of the ghostly and bizarre, which remain highly regarded by aficionados of supernatural fiction, include several novels and a substantial number of short stories all of which are included in this three volume Leonaur collected edition.
Included in this final volume are the novel ‘Portrait of a Man with Red Hair’ and fifteen short stories of the strange and unusual including ‘The Clocks’, ‘The Silver Mask’, ‘Major Wilbrahim’, ‘Field with Five Trees’ and ‘Tarnhelm’.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
What Maradick had said occurred. As the days passed the impression faded. Harkness hoped that he would meet Maradick again. He did not do so. During the first days he watched for him in the streets and in the clubs. He devised plans that would give him an excuse to meet him once more; the simplest of all would have been to invite him to luncheon. He knew that Maradick would come. But his own distrust of himself now as always forbade him. Why should Maradick wish to see him again? He had been pleasant to him, yes, but he was of the type that would be agreeable to any one, kindly, genial, and forgetting you immediately.
But Maradick had not forgotten him. He had taken the trouble to write to him and send him a book. It had been a friendly letter too. Why not ask Westcott and Maradick to dinner? But Westcott was married. Harkness had met his wife, a charming and pretty English girl, younger a good deal than her husband. Yes, all right about Mrs. Westcott, but then Harkness must ask another woman. Maradick, he understood, was a widower. The thing was becoming a party. They would have to go somewhere, to a theatre or something. The thing was becoming elaborate, complicated, and he shrank from it. So, he always shrank from everything were he given time to think.
He paid all the gentle American’s courtesy and attention to fine details of conduct. Englishmen often shocked him by their casual inattention, especially to ladies. He must do social things elaborately did he do them at all. He was gathering around him already some of the fussy observances of the confirmed bachelor. And therefore, as Maradick became to him something of a problem, he put him out of his mind just as he had put so many other things and persons out of his mind because he was frightened of them.
Treliss too, as the days passed, lost some of the first magic of its name. He had felt a strange excitement when Maradick had first mentioned it, but soon it was the name of a beautiful but distant place, then a seaside resort, then nowhere at all. He did not read Lester’s book.
Then an odd thing occurred. It was the last day in July and he was still in London. Nearly everyone had gone away—every one whom he knew. There were still many millions of human beings on every side of him, but London was empty for himself and his kind. His club was closed for cleaning purposes, and the Reform Club was offering him and his fellow-clubmen temporary hospitality.
He had lunched alone, then had gone upstairs, sunk into an arm-chair and read a newspaper. Read it or seemed to read it. It was time that he went away. Where should he go? There was an uncle who had taken a shooting-box in Scotland. He did not like that uncle. He had an invitation from a kind lady who had a large house in Wiltshire. But the kind lady had asked him because she pitied him, not because she liked him. He knew that very well.
There were several men who would, if he had caught them sooner, have gone with him somewhere, but he had allowed things to drift and now they had made their own plans.
He felt terribly lonely, soused suddenly with that despicable self-pity to which he was rather too easily prone. He thought of Baker—Lord! how hot it must be there just now! He was half asleep. It was hot enough here. Only one other occupant of the room, and he was fast asleep in another arm-chair. Snoring. The room rocked with his snores. The papers laid neatly one upon another wilted under the heat. The subdued London roar came from behind the windows in rolling waves of heat. A faint iridescence hovered above the enormous chairs and sofas that lay like animals panting.
He looked across the long room. Almost opposite him was a square of wall that caught the subdued light like a pool of water. He stared at it as though it had demanded his attention. The water seemed to move, to shift. Something was stirring there. He looked more intently. Colours came, shapes shifted. It was a scene, some place. Yes, a place. Houses, sand, water. A bay. A curving bay. A long sea-line dark like the stroke of a pencil against faint egg-shell blue. Water. A bay bordered by a ring of saffron sand, and behind the sand, rising above it, a town. Tier on tier of houses, and behind them again in the farthest distance a fringe of dark wood.
He could even see now little figures, black spots, dotted upon the sand. The sea now was very clear, shimmering mother-of-pearl. A scattering of white upon the shore as the long wave-line broke and retreated. And the houses tier upon tier. He gazed, filled with an overwhelming breathless excitement. He was leaning forward, his hands pressing in upon the arms of the chair. It stayed, trembling with a kind of personal invitation before him. Then, as though it had nodded and smiled farewell to him, it vanished. Only the wall was there.
But the excitement remained, excitement quite unaccountable.
He got up, his knees trembling. He looked at the stout bellying occupant of the other chair, his mouth open, his snores reverberant.
He went out. Six days later he was in the train for Treliss.