The Critic’s Selection of Great Ghost Stories: Volume 1—Twenty Short Stories of the Strange and Unusual Including ‘The Spectre of Tappington’, ‘To Let’, ‘The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost’ and ‘The Crooked Branch
Twenty highly recommended creepy tales selected by critics of the genre
Anthologies of ghost stories are perennially popular. Sometimes the raison d’etre for a collection might be that the stories embrace a particular theme or that the fame or authority of the compiler imbues a special appeal or credibility. However, it occurred to the Leonaur editors that the principal concern of anyone buying such an anthology must surely be that the stories included will be of the highest order as examples of originally plotted fine writing, guaranteed to deliver the required thrills and chills. In consideration of how that outcome might best be achieved and offered to readers we decided to research as many lists of ‘the best ghost stories’ as we could find, compiled by critics, informed journalists and authorities of supernatural fiction, to determine which stories those people—based on as much consensus as possible—believed were, indeed, the finest ghostly tales written during the ‘golden age’ of the genre. Sometimes their lists included well-known stories that would be familiar to most ghost story enthusiasts, so these were removed from consideration. What remained were 42 stories which had received deservedly high praise and these we have divided between two Leonaur volumes. These collections are also available as Leonaur ‘Christmas Books’ since they make ideal gifts, but are here offered in the familiar Leonaur ‘Supernatural and Weird Fiction’ cover for both a general readership and series collectors.
In volume one can be found ‘Thurnley Abbey’ by Perceval Landon, ‘The Festival’ by H. P. Lovecraft, ‘The Spectre Bride’ by William Harrison Ainsworth, ‘The Last House in C-Street’ by Dinah Mulock and sixteen other creepy tales.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
IMPORTANT: THE CONTENTS OF THIS BOOK ARE IDENTICAL TO THE SECOND LEONAUR CHRISTMAS BOOK OF GREAT GHOST STORIES
Hardly had she spoken when the door again opened, and the stranger appeared—a small creature, whether girl or woman it would be hard to say—dressed in a scanty black silk dress, her narrow shoulders covered with a white muslin pelerine. Her hair was swept up to the crown of her head, all but a little fringe hanging over her low forehead within an inch of her brows. Her face was brown and thin, eyes black and long, with blacker settings, mouth large, sweet, and melancholy. She was all head, mouth, and eyes; her nose and chin were nothing.
This visitor crossed the floor hastily, dropped a courtesy in the middle of the room, and approached the table, saying abruptly, with a soft Italian accent:
“Sir and madam, I am here. I am come to play your organ.”
“The organ!” gasped Mistress Hurly.
“The organ!” stammered the squire.
“Yes, the organ,” said the little stranger lady, playing on the back of a chair with her fingers, as if she felt notes under them. “It was but last week that the handsome signor, your son, came to my little house, where I have lived teaching music since my English father and my Italian mother and brothers and sisters died and left me so lonely.”
Here the fingers left off drumming, and two great tears were brushed off, one from each eye with each hand, child’s fashion. But the next moment the fingers were at work again, as if only whilst they were moving the tongue could speak.
“The noble signor, your son,” said the little woman, looking trustfully from one to the other of the old couple, while a bright blush shone through her brown skin, “he often came to see me before that, always in the evening, when the sun was warm and yellow all through my little studio, and the music was swelling my heart, and I could play out grand with all my soul; then he used to come and say, ‘Hurry, little Lisa, and play better, better still. I have work for you to do by-and-by.’ Sometimes he said, ‘Brava!’ and sometimes he said ‘Eccellentissima!’ but one night last week he came to me and said, ‘It is enough. Will you swear to do my bidding, whatever it may be?’
“Here the black eyes fell. And I said, ‘Yes.’
“And he said, ‘Now you are my betrothed.’
“And I said, ‘Yes.’
“And he said, ‘Pack up your music, little Lisa, and go off to England to my English father and mother, who have an organ in their house which must be played upon. If they refuse to let you play, tell them I sent you, and they will give you leave. You must play all day, and you must get up in the night and play. You must never tire. You are my betrothed, and you have sworn to do my work.’ I said, ‘Shall I see you there, signor?’
“And he said, ‘Yes, you shall see me there.’
“I said, ‘I will keep my vow, signor.’ And so, sir and madam, I am come.”
The soft foreign voice left off talking, the fingers left off thrumming on the chair, and the little stranger gazed in dismay at her auditors, both pale with agitation.
“You are deceived. You make a mistake,” said they in one breath.
“Our son—” began Mistress Hurly, but her mouth twitched, her voice broke, and she looked piteously towards her husband.
“Our son,” said the squire, making an effort to conquer the quavering in his voice, “our son is long dead.”
“Nay, nay,” said the little foreigner. “If you have thought him dead have good cheer, dear sir and madam. He is alive; he is well, and strong, and handsome. But one, two, three, four, five (on the fingers) days ago he stood by my side.”
“It is some strange mistake, some wonderful coincidence!” said the mistress and master of Hurly Burly.
“Let us take her to the gallery,” murmured the mother of this son who was thus dead and alive. “There is yet light to see the pictures. She will not know his portrait.”
The bewildered wife and husband led their strange visitor away to a long gloomy room at the west side of the house, where the faint gleams from the darkening sky still lingered on the portraits of the Hurly family.
“Doubtless he is like this,” said the squire, pointing to a fair-haired young man with a mild face, a brother of his own who had been lost at sea.
But Lisa shook her head, and went softly on tiptoe from one picture to another, peering into the canvas, and still turning away troubled. But at last a shriek of delight startled the shadowy chamber.
“Ah, here he is! See, here he is, the noble signor, the beautiful signor, not half so handsome as he looked five days ago, when talking to poor little Lisa! Dear sir and madam, you are now content. Now take me to the organ, that I may commence to do his bidding at once.”
The mistress of Hurly Burly clung fast by her husband’s arm.
“How old are you, girl?” she said faintly.
“Eighteen,” said the visitor impatiently, moving towards the door.
“And my son has been dead for twenty years!” said his mother, and swooned on her husband’s breast.