M. R. James is widely acknowledged as having been one of the finest exponents of the literary ghost story. Almost everyone who enjoys or has an interest in supernatural fiction will have read his outstanding stories, so those who are drawn to this anthology series will surely need no introduction to his work. Yet, James did not just write ghost fiction, he also wrote extensively about it. As one might expect, the combination of his academic background and his own mastery of the genre mean that his opinions and verdicts on the works of other writers of supernatural fiction are founded on considerable knowledge—if James declares a story to be good it is, in all probability, very, very good. James was not an easy reader to please and there are numerous tales that since his time have enjoyed wide public approbation that fared rather less well subjected to the incisive judgement of 'the master.' In the M. R. James’ Dark Choices anthology series, the Leonaur Editors have gathered together the ghostly novels, novellas, short stories and ballads that did earn M. R. James’—sometimes qualified—seal of approval. Together they form a satisfying and unique anthology of five substantial volumes. Although, predictably, James was in agreement as to the abiding quality of several tales which to this day remain universally recognised as classics, he also acknowledged other authors and stories—on occasion representing a writer’s only foray into the genre of supernatural fiction—which have rarely, if ever, been republished in the many anthologies of ghostly fiction which have appeared since the early years of the twentieth century. There can be no more M. R. James stories, but now we can read this remarkable author’s own 'dark choices’—that select group of tales he considered to be the finest ghost stories ever written. The Leonaur Editors have carefully researched James writings and have included an introduction in each volume which references his comments on the stories included. There have been many ghost story anthologies created under many pretexts, but rarely one with such impeccable credentials as M. R. James’ Dark Choices!
Included in volume two are three novellas ‘A Beleaguered City,’ ‘The Turn of the Screw,’ and ‘The Man-Wolf,’ two novelettes ‘Mr. Justice Harbottle’ and ‘Squire Toby’s Will,’ six short stories, and one ballad.
This collectable anthology series is available not only in paperback but also in hardcover with dustjacket.
“If I find it open in the night, Robert, I will give you a sovereign. It is not possible. You may go.”<br>
“Soverin’ did you say, sir? Very good, sir. Thank ye, sir. Goodnight, sir. Pleasant reepose, sir, and all manner of hinchantin’ dreams, sir.”<br>
Robert scuttled away, delighted at being released. Of course, I thought he was trying to account for his negligence by a silly story, intended to frighten me, and I disbelieved him. The consequence was that he got his sovereign, and I spent a very peculiarly unpleasant night.<br>
I went to bed, and five minutes after I had rolled myself up in my blankets the inexorable Robert extinguished the light that burned steadily behind the ground-glass pane near the door. I lay quite still in the dark trying to go to sleep, but I soon found that impossible. It had been some satisfaction to be angry with the steward, and the diversion had banished that unpleasant sensation I had at first experienced when I thought of the drowned man who had been my chum; but I was no longer sleepy, and I lay awake for some time, occasionally glancing at the porthole, which I could just see from where I lay, and which, in the darkness, looked like a faintly-luminous soup-plate suspended in blackness. I believe I must have lain there for an hour, and, as I remember, I was just dozing into sleep when I was roused by a draught of cold air, and by distinctly feeling the spray of the sea blown upon my face. I started to my feet, and not having allowed in the dark for the motion of the ship, I was instantly thrown violently across the state-room upon the couch which was placed beneath the port-hole. I recovered myself immediately, however, and climbed upon my knees. The port-hole was again wide open and fastened back!<br>
Now these things are facts. I was wide awake when I got up, and I should certainly have been waked by the fall had I still been dozing. Moreover, I bruised my elbows and knees badly, and the bruises were there on the following morning to testify to the fact, if I myself had doubted it. The porthole was wide open and fastened back—a thing so unaccountable that I remember very well feeling astonishment rather that fear when I discovered it. I at once closed the plate again, and screwed down the loop nut with all my strength. It was very dark in the state-room. I reflected that the port had certainly been opened within an hour after Robert had at first shut it in my presence, and I determined to watch it, and see whether it would open again. Those brass fittings are very heavy and by no means easy to move; I could not believe that the clamp had been turned by the shaking of the screw. I stood peering out through the thick glass at the alternate white and grey streaks of the sea that foamed beneath the ship’s side. I must have remained there a quarter of an hour.<br>
Suddenly, as I stood, I distinctly heard something moving behind me in one of the berths, and a moment afterwards, just as I turned instinctively to look—though I could, of course, see nothing in the darkness—I heard a very faint groan. I sprang across the state-room, and tore the curtains of the upper berth aside, thrusting in my hands to discover if there were any one there. There was someone.<br>
I remember that the sensation as I put my hands forward was as though I were plunging them into the air of a damp cellar, and from behind the curtains came a gust of wind that smelled horribly of stagnant sea-water. I laid hold of something that had the shape of a man’s arm, but was smooth, and wet, and icy cold. But suddenly, as I pulled, the creature sprang violently forward against me, a clammy oozy mass, as it seemed to me, heavy and wet, yet endowed with a sort of supernatural strength. I reeled across the state-room, and in an instant the door opened and the thing rushed out. I had not had time to be frightened, and quickly recovering myself, I sprang through the door and gave chase at the top of my speed, but I was too late. Ten yards before me I could see—I am sure I saw it—a dark shadow moving in the dimly lighted passage, quickly as the shadow of a fast horse thrown before a dog-cart by the lamp on a dark night. But in a moment it had disappeared, and I found myself holding on to the polished rail that ran along the bulkhead where the passage turned towards the companion. My hair stood on end, and the cold perspiration rolled down my face. I am not ashamed of it in the least: I was very badly frightened.