The second volume of Hugh Walpole’s collected strange fiction
One Novel ‘The Killer and the Slain’ and Thirteen Short Stories of the Strange and Unusual Including ‘Seashore Macabre. A Moment’s Experience’, ‘The Staircase’, ‘Miss Morganhurst’, ‘The Snow’ and ‘The Faithful Servant’
ir 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 second volume are the novel ‘The Killer and the Slain’ and thirteen short stories of the strange and unusual including ‘Seashore Macabre. A Moment’s Experience’, ‘The Staircase’, ‘Miss Morganhurst’, ‘The Snow’ and ‘The Faithful Servant’.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Bettany was looking at me, so I thanked him and paid him and went away. By this time, I was altogether accustomed to my hallucination of Tunstall’s continual presence. I took it that this was probably the experience of most murderers during the weeks immediately following the deed. But now, walking home through the rain from Bettany’s, I was aware of this new sense of fear. It was perhaps the rain. I had noticed already that I was more uncomfortable when it was raining than when it was fine, especially if the rain was thin and misty. I talked to myself inside myself. I had fallen into the habit of doing this and my anxiety was lest I should sometimes speak aloud.
‘You know that this is all nonsense. Tunstall is dead and no one in the world has the slightest suspicion of you. Even Cheeseman is sure that you have nothing to do with it. Clear your brain of all supposition. Think only of facts. There is nothing to be afraid of—nothing whatever. The fact that you feel obliged to wear this ring is simply because you wish to please Leila Tunstall, whom you like. After a while you can put it away. She will not notice that you are not wearing it.’
But there was something stranger still. I was not sure that I had killed Tunstall.
When I write that, it looks like complete nonsense. Of course, I knew that I had killed Tunstall. I knew that I had pushed Tunstall over the cliff and that his body had been found, there had been an inquest and the body had been buried. The proof that I had killed Tunstall was in this scarab ring that I was wearing.
Nevertheless, beneath these undoubted facts was another layer of consciousness, the consciousness that I had not killed him and that he was still alive. I was, indeed, now entering into that world known to many perfectly sane and normal people, that world in which material facts are no more facts than non-material facts. I could, for instance, finger my ring and know that it was a fact: I could also think about Tunstall and feel that he was not dead.
People live in one’s imagination. If they continue to live there after their physical death, then in a sense they are not dead. But I must write more of this later.
I was also now deeply concerned with three women—my wife, Leila Tunstall, and Bella Scorfield.
My wife’s attitude to me had changed. I could see, although she at present said nothing, that she was greatly puzzled by me. Puzzled rather than suspicious.
She seemed physically closer. I had seen myself that I was now more masterful with her—a thing that I had always wanted to be—and that she liked this. I was altogether more masterful at home. I had taken a strange and quite unreasoning dislike to her telling me that this morning, or this afternoon, I would not be needed in the shop.
‘You can keep away, John,’ she used to say. ‘I shan’t need you.’
And now I would say:
‘Who does the shop belong to? You or me or both of us?’
‘Both of us, of course.’
‘Well, then—we’ll both run it.’
‘But what about your writing?’
‘That’s my business.’
She was always good-tempered. She would look at me, smiling and puzzled.
‘I’m glad to see you’re putting on flesh, John.’
I looked at myself in the glass. It was true. My cheeks were fattening out. There was sometimes a new, almost audacious look in my eyes.
Another little thing was that I was taking a new, almost excited interest in Archie’s passion for drawing and painting. I sat beside him at the table, watching him and encouraging him. One day I pulled a piece of paper towards me and drew quite a little picture—some hills, a house, and some fields.
‘Why, Daddy can draw!’ Archie cried. I looked at my drawing rather sheepishly—the first of my life. It wasn’t very good, of course. But it wasn’t very bad either. Then I tried to draw Archie sitting at the table. I made something of it. It was recognisably Archie.
‘Well I’m damned!’ I cried and showed it to Eve.
‘You don’t mean to say you did that!’
‘I did,’ I said, laughing.
‘But I didn’t know you could draw.’
‘I didn’t myself. You never know what you can do till you try.’
Leila Tunstall had gone to London. Her house was up for sale. She was staying with relations in Surbiton. I found that I missed her quite absurdly. It wasn’t that I was in love with her. I had no physical feeling about her at all, but she seemed to me now the one really good human being, besides my mother, I had ever known. It was her goodness I wanted—near to me, so that I could realise it and feel reassured by it. I felt as though I could confess everything to her, pour everything out to her, my loneliness, unhappiness. I wanted to talk to her and say to myself: ‘You have gone far from goodness. If it weren’t for Leila you would doubt perhaps that there is any goodness in the world. But look at her, listen to her voice, touch her hand, and you will know that one good person in the world is enough to convince you that goodness exists.’
Yes, I missed her quite desperately.
I was aware that Bella Scorfield was very unhappy and found some strange companionship in me. I have said that I disliked her very much. So, on one side of my nature, I still did. The Puritan in me shrank violently from the sensuality in her. She couldn’t help it: she was animal in all her being. Tunstall had supplied her with what she needed and now that he was gone she was unsatisfied and lonely. On the other side I began to find that her physical presence had a kind of excitement for me. It was, I suppose, because I knew so intimately of her behaviour with Tunstall.
We had tea together one afternoon at the ‘Paradise,’ a tea-shop in the High Street.
‘It was nice of you to come,’ she said.
‘Why shouldn’t I?’
‘Because you dislike me and everything about me. But I don’t care. When I am with you Jimmie seems closer to me. Perhaps it’s that ring.’
‘Do you mind my wearing it? I only do because Leila Tunstall asked me to.’
‘No, of course I don’t. I like to see it. It reminds me of so many things. And I’ll tell you another thing. You may dislike me very much, but not so much as you did. Before Jimmie died you would never have dreamed of having tea with me. Now would you?’