The Supernatural and Weird Fiction of Catherine Crowe
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The Collected Supernatural and Weird Fiction of Catherine Crowe: Thirty-Five Short Stories of the Strange and Unusual Including the ‘Evening Tales’, ‘The Swiss Lady’s Story’, The Dutch Officer’s Story’ and ‘My Friend’s Story’
Catherine Ann Stevens was born in Kent in 1803 and in common with many English young ladies of her day and class was home educated. She married a soldier, Major John Crowe but the marriage was an unhappy one and they separated in the 1830s. By this time Catherine was living in Edinburgh and moving in literary circles which brought her into contact with Thomas de Quincey. Harriet Martineau and William Makepeace Thackeray among others. Catherine Crowe began her writing career with the typical industry of her age and produced novels, short stories and plays on a number of themes including works for children. Short stories with sensational plots frequently featuring women abused by men were published in Charles Dicken’s, Household Words and in Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal. Her literary excursions into the supernatural world were not as frequent those of several of her peers, though two notable works were produced: a collection of short stories entitled Ghosts and Family Legends, and perhaps her most popular and enduring work, the evocatively titled The Night Side of Nature, which contained a combination of fictional and allegedly ‘true’ ghost stories. Montague Summers included two of Crowe’s stories in his well-regarded anthology Victorian Ghost Stories (1936). Catherine Crowe appears to have had more than a passing interest in the supernatural. In 1854 she was discovered naked in the street claiming that spirits had rendered her invisible. She was subsequently treated successfully for mental illness, dying in Folkestone in 1876. This Leonaur edition includes all Catherine Crowe’s supernatural fiction in a single volume.
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“During the first days of their residence in the castle, the two friends, living together in solitude, amused their long evenings with the works of Schiller, of whom they were both great admirers; and Hahn usually read aloud. Three days had thus passed quietly away, when, as they were sitting at the table, which stood in the middle of the room, about nine o’clock in the evening, their reading was interrupted by a small shower of lime which fell around them. They looked at the ceiling, concluding it must have come thence but could perceive no abraded parts; and while they were yet seeking to ascertain whence the lime had proceeded, there suddenly fell several larger pieces, which were quite cold, and appeared as if they had belonged to the external wall. At length, concluding the lime must have fallen from some part of the wall, giving up further inquiry, they went to bed, and slept quietly till morning, when, on awaking, they were somewhat surprised at the quantity which strewed the floor, more especially as they could still discover no part of the walls or ceiling from which it could have fallen. But they thought no more of the matter till evening, when, instead of the lime falling as before, it was thrown, and several pieces struck Hahn.
“At the same time they heard heavy blows, sometimes below, and sometimes over their heads, like the sound of distant guns; still, attributing these sounds to natural causes, they went to bed as usual, but the uproar prevented their sleeping, and each accused the other of occasioning it by kicking with his feet against the foot-board of his bed, till, finding that the noise continued when they both got out and stood together in the middle of the room, they were satisfied that this was not the case. On the following evening, a third noise was added, which resembled the faint and distant beating of a drum. Upon this, they requested the governess of the castle to send them the key of the apartments above and below, which was brought them by her son; and while he and Kern went to make their investigations, Hahn remained in their own room. Above, they found an empty room; below, a kitchen. They knocked, but the noise they made was very different to that which Hahn continued all the while to hear around him.
“When they returned, Hahn said, jestingly, ‘The place is haunted!’ On this night, when they went to bed, with a light burning, they heard what seemed like a person walking about the room with slippers on, and a stick, with which he struck the floor as he moved step by step. Hahn continued to jest, and Kern to laugh, at the oddness of these circumstances, for some time, when they both, as usual, fell asleep, neither in the slightest degree disturbed by these events, nor inclined to attribute them to any supernatural cause. But on the following evening the affair became more inexplicable: various articles in the room were thrown about; knives, forks, brushes, caps, slippers, padlocks, funnel, snuffers, soap—everything, in short, that was moveable; while lights darted from the corners, and everything was in confusion; at the same time, the lime fell and the blows continued.
“Upon this, the two friends called up the servants, Knittel, the castle watch, and whoever else was at hand, to be witnesses of these mysterious operations. In the morning all was quiet, and generally continued so till after midnight. One evening, Kern going into the chamber to fetch something, and hearing an uproar that almost drove him backward to the door, Hahn caught up the light, and both rushed into the room, where they found a large piece of wood lying close to the wainscot. But supposing this to be the cause of the noise, who had set it in motion? For Kern was sure the door was shut, even while the noise was making; neither had there been any wood in the room. Frequently, before their eyes, the knives and snuffers rose from the table, and fell, after some minutes, to the ground; and Hahn’s large shears were once lifted in this manner between him and one of the prince’s cooks, and falling to the ground, stuck into the floor.
“As some nights, however, passed quite quietly, Hahn was determined not to leave the rooms; but when, for three weeks, the disturbance was so constant that they could get no rest, they resolved on removing their beds into the large room above, in hopes of once more enjoying a little quiet sleep. Their hopes were vain—the thumping continued as before; and not only so, but articles flew about the room which they were quite sure they had left below. ‘They may fling as they will,’ cried Hahn, ‘sleep I must;’ while Kern began to undress, pondering on these matters as he walked up and down the room. Suddenly Hahn saw him stand, as if transfixed, before the looking-glass on which he had accidentally cast his eyes. He had so stood for some time, when he was seized with a violent trembling, and turned from the mirror with his face as white as death. Hahn, fancying the cold of an uninhabited room had seized him, hastened to throw a cloak over him, when Kern, who was naturally very courageous, recovered himself, and related, though with trembling lips, that as he had accidentally looked in the glass, he had seen a white female figure looking out of it; she was in front of his own image, which he distinctly saw behind her.
“At first, he could not believe his eyes; he thought it must be fancy, and for that reason he had stood so long; but when he saw that the eyes of the figure moved, and looked into his, a shudder had seized him, and he had turned away. Hahn, upon this, advanced with firm steps to the front of the mirror and called upon the apparition to show itself to him; but he saw nothing, although he remained a quarter of an hour before the glass, and frequently repeated his exhortation. Kern then related that the features of the apparition were very old, but not gloomy or morose; the expression was that of indifference; but the face was very pale, and the head was wrapped in a cloth which left only the features visible.