Two classic books of supernatural tales by masters of the genre
These two collections of supernatural short stories have been brought together in this special Leonaur edition because of their relatively small sizes and because each, in its way, has links to that great master of the academically inspired literature of the other worldly, M. R James. Swain’s connection is quite straightforward—he knew and was a friend of James. They came from similar backgrounds, were academics and shared common interests—particularly concerning the church and its history. There can be little doubt that Swain was an ardent admirer of James’ writing and while it is true that his own literary efforts are not in the class of the grand-master of the genre, to criticise him for that would be to forget that very few writers of supernatural tales have consistently risen to James’ standard. Nonetheless, Swain’s ‘Stoneground Stories’ are wonderfully charming. The principal character of these tales is, of course, based on Swain himself; he is a cleric whose benefice—like Swain’s own at Stanground—sat close by the railway city of Peterborough in the English East Midlands. Those who relish a good ghost story will find much to enjoy in Swain’s tales and little to regret. Cram was a renowned American architect by profession. He too was no stranger to the world of academia, since among many other important commissions of an ecclesiastical and collegiate nature he worked on the design for the military academy at West Point. Both these books are rare in their original editions and Leonaur has brought them together in this good value form so that enthusiasts may enjoy them.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
He had not gazed into the mirror for many minutes before he learned that there was to be a second act. Quite suddenly, a woman was at the sideboard. She had darted to it, and the time taken in passing over half the length of the mirror had been altogether too brief to show what she was like. She now stood with her face to the sideboard, entirely concealing the box from view, and all Mr. Batchel could determine was that she was tall of stature, and that her hair was raven-black, and not in very good order. In his anxiety to see her face, he called aloud, “Turn round.”<br>
Of course, he understood, when he saw that his cry had been absolutely without effect, that it had been a ridiculous thing to do. He turned his head again for a moment to assure himself that the room was empty, and to remind himself that the curtain had fallen, perhaps a century before, upon the drama—he began to think of it as a tragedy—that he was witnessing. The opportunity, however, of seeing the woman’s features was not denied him. She turned her face full upon the mirror—this is to speak as if we described the object rather than the image—so that Mr. Batchel saw it plainly before him; it was a handsome, cruel-looking face, of waxen paleness, with fine, distended, lustrous, eyes. The woman looked hurriedly round the room, looked twice towards the door, and then opened the box.<br>
“Our respectable friend was evidently observed,” said Mr. Batchel. “If he has annexed anything belonging to this magnificent female, he is in for a bad quarter of an hour.” He would have given a great deal, for once, to have had a sideboard backed by a looking glass, and lamented that the taste of the day had been too good to tolerate such a thing. He would have then been able to see what was going on at the oaken box. As it was, the operations were concealed by the figure of the woman. She was evidently busy with her fingers; her elbows, which shewed plainly enough, were vibrating with activity.<br>
In a few minutes there was a final movement of the elbows simultaneously away from her sides, and it shewed, as plainly as if the hands had been visible, that something had been plucked asunder. It was just such a movement as accompanies the removal, after a struggle, of the close-fitting lid of a canister.<br>
“What next?” said Mr. Batchel, as he observed the movement, and interpreted it as the end of the operation at the box. “Is this the end of the second act?”<br>
He was soon to learn that it was not the end, and that the drama of the mirror was indeed assuming the nature of tragedy. The woman closed the box and looked towards the door, as she had done before; then she made as if she would dart out of the room, and found her movement suddenly arrested. She stopped dead, and, in a moment, fell loosely to the ground. Obviously she had swooned away.<br>
Mr. Batchel could then see nothing, except that the box remained in its place on the sideboard, so that he arose and stood close up to the mirror in order to obtain a view of the whole stage, as he called it. It showed him, in the wider view he now obtained, the woman lying in a heap upon the carpet, and a grey-wigged clergyman standing in the doorway of the room.<br>
“The Vicar of Stoneground, without a doubt,” said Mr. Batchel. “The household of my reverend predecessor is not doing well by him; to judge from the effect of his appearance upon this female, there’s something serious afoot. Poor old man,” he added, as the clergyman walked into the room.<br>
This expression of pity was evoked by the vicar’s face. The marks of tears were upon his cheeks, and he looked weary and ill. He stood for a while looking down upon the woman who had swooned away, and then stooped down, and gently opened her hand.<br>
Mr. Batchel would have given a great deal to know what the vicar found there. He took something from her, stood erect for a moment with an expression of consternation upon his face; then his chin dropped, his eyes showed that he had lost consciousness, and he fell to the ground, very much as the woman had fallen.