The first volume of the works of a literary master of strange fiction
One Novel ‘The Old Ladies’ and Fifteen Short Stories of the Strange and Unusual Including ‘The White Cat’, ‘Lizzie Rand’, ‘Mrs. Porter and Miss Allen’, ‘The Tiger’ and ‘The Twisted Inn’
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 first volume are the novel ‘The Old Ladies’ and fifteen short stories of the strange and unusual including ‘The White Cat’, ‘Lizzie Rand’, ‘Mrs. Porter and Miss Allen’, ‘The Tiger’ and ‘The Twisted Inn’.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket; our hardbacks are cloth bound and feature gold foil lettering on their spines and fabric head and tail bands.
She fell asleep in her chair with the volume on her knees; she woke with a start to find the sun low, sinking behind the chimney-pots, and Agatha Payne in the room.
“Agatha!” she cried, starting up, the volume dropping to the floor. “I never heard you come in.”
Agatha Payne said nothing. She stood looking out of the window.
“What is it? Do you want anything?”
She slowly turned round. “Why didn’t you tell me that May Beringer was dead?” she asked.
Lucy Amorest answered, “Why should I have bothered you? There was nothing more to be done. We had the doctor. She died quietly in her sleep.”
“I knew,” said Agatha, coming up to the fire. “There was no need to tell me.”
“Yes. She came and told me herself.”
Mrs. Amorest said, “What do you mean—she told you?”
“She came this morning and told me. She’s never going to leave me again. She’s given me the amber, though. She says she doesn’t want it anymore.”
Terror seized Mrs. Amorest. She felt nothing save an urgent passionate desire to escape. She had had enough. She could endure no more.
“Oh, don’t tell me!” she cried. “You don’t know what you’re saying. She’s dead. She’s gone.”
“She hasn’t gone,” Agatha replied slowly and quietly. “She’s here in this house. I killed her body but I haven’t got rid of her. She is never going to leave me anymore. She says so.”
“You killed her?” Mrs. Amorest’s voice was a low whisper of horror.
“Yes. I went in last evening and killed her. I didn’t mean to, but I frightened her and she died. However, it doesn’t matter now, except that I don’t want to be left alone with her. She might do me some harm.”
Mrs. Amorest rose from her chair and faced her. “Stop that! I won’t have it. You don’t know what you’re saying. You’re mad. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“I know very well what I’m saying. It’s true. She came to me this morning as I was sitting in my chair. She stood as close to me as I’m standing to you. She said that I could have the amber and that she would never leave me. But I won’t be alone with her. I won’t. There’s her dog. He knows what I did.”
Mrs. Amorest said, “You’re ill, Agatha. You must get out of this house and I must too. You don’t know what you’re saying. Go and lie down in your room. You’ll sleep, and when you wake these fancies will have gone.”
Agatha moved back to the window. “You’re a fool, Lucy. You always were. It’s true what I’m telling you. And what’s the good of my leaving this house? She’ll come with me, I tell you. If I died she’d be with me just the same. But she won’t come while you’re there. You can keep her away. Well, I’ve tried you. I’ll go now, but I’ll come back.”
She moved slowly, with her old lurching movement, out of the room.
Is it madness? Is it delusion? Where does this thing begin and end? The transition is so slight and when you are weary, hungry, old, lonely you are fitting prey for any wandering spirit. Agatha Payne—May Beringer’s death—these things were real. Real, too, the isolation and the fear. Lucy Amorest had never before in all her life known what fear truly was. She knew it now. She knew it so that it held her where she was; she stood where Agatha Payne had left her as though a spell had been woven about her. Her head was up. She was listening. A tap was dripping in the hall. One—two—three—four and then a number together. She had not known that there was a tap in the hall, but now it was the only voice in all that listening, waiting world. Agatha Payne was mad, crazy, off her head. Was she imagining that she had gone into May Beringer’s room or had she in reality been there? Had some horrible scene occurred? Poor May Beringer! Oh, poor May Beringer! But if the woman had been there she had not taken the amber. Perhaps it was she who had placed it on the mantelpiece. She had been afraid, it might be, that she would be accused of theft or violence. Had she been sane enough to fear that?
Lucy Amorest’s knees were trembling. She sat down upon the bed, leaning forward, her hands clasped, holding herself together. Must she spend another night alone in that place with that woman? But where to go? To a hotel? To Mrs. Bloxam? She shrank from that. There was cowardice in it and especially it seemed to her, in some odd way, that she would be deserting May Beringer all alone there in that chill room. Moreover, she felt that she had no strength.
The room was so dark now and the fire so low that she could see nothing, but it needed an immense determination to move to the table and light the candles. When she had lit them, they seemed to illuminate the room only in patches. By the door there it was quite dark. It appeared to her now that it must be another woman who must dare to move to the fire, place coal on it, draw her chair to it, find a book. That was what she should do, but she was paralysed, standing in the circle of candle-light, listening and counting mechanically to herself the drippings of the tap in the hall. Poor May Beringer! Had she also heard that tap, lying there in bed and counting? Lucy had despised May’s fears, but now she herself had fears as terrible.
She had forgotten the dog. He stirred. He raised his head, then let it fall. That released her from her spell. She went forward and knelt down beside the cushion. She put her arms around him. She heard him sigh, a ghost of a little sigh. He shivered, then lay still.
She knelt for some time with him thus in her arms, then some suspicion flew to her brain. She stroked his head, felt his heart. There was no beat there. He was dead.