Volume two of a collection of supernatural and weird tales by a forgotten master of the gothic and occult
Although an American author, writer F(rancis) Marion Crawford was born in Northern Tuscany, the son of sculptor Thomas Crawford, he spent much of his life in the United States, living and working in Boston. His inherent sensitivity to Italy influenced much of his historical fiction. Indeed, in his novel ‘Corleone,’ Crawford became the first author to prominently feature the now very familiar theme of the Mafia in fiction. He also produced notable works of history concerned with the various ages of Italy. Travels in the East and the study of Sanskrit in India gave him a grounding in the oriental and an interest in the other worldly. Although the themes of supernatural and weird fiction are often believed to be expressed to best effect in the short story most of Crawford’s literary output consisted of novels. Fortunately, several of these include distinctly fantastical themes. His comparatively small oeuvre of short ghost and horror tales is so finely crafted that they have become some of the most highly regarded examples of the form in the English language. M. R James considered some of them to be among the best supernatural stories written, with the chilling and claustrophobic ‘The Upper Berth’ being especially singled out for merit. Crawford’s talent for this genre is so widely acknowledged that it has been rightly noted that the greatest shame was that he did not write more—praise indeed! This five volume Leonaur collection of Crawford’s strange novels, novellas and short stories provides a superb and substantial collection by one of Americas finest nineteenth century authors.
Volume two of this special Leonaur collection of F. Marion Crawford’s excursions into the literary world of the bizarre and ghostly begins with the novel ‘Cecilia;’ the second novel is ‘Kahled: A Tale of Arabia,’ a highly entertaining tale of a genie and rightly regarded as a classic of fantastic fiction. The book concludes with the incomparable ‘The Upper Berth,’ in which a passenger on a steamer is disappointed to discover he has has to share his cabin, but his feelings turn to horror as he begins to understand the true nature of his ‘travelling companion’—supernatural fiction at its most exceptional.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
She sat motionless in a high carved seat, just in the moonlight, one hand upon an arm of the chair, the other on her breast. She had gathered her hair into a knot, low at the back of her head, and the folds of a soft white robe just followed the outlines of her figure. The table on which the candles stood was a little behind her, and away from the window, and the still yellow light only touched her hair in one or two places, sending back dull golden reflections.<br>
The strange young face was very quiet, and even the lids rarely moved as she steadily stared into the shadow. There was no look of thought, nor any visible effort of concentration in her features; there was rather an air of patient waiting, of perfect readiness to receive whatever should come to her out of the depths. So, a beautiful marble face on a tomb gazes into the shadows of a dim church, and gazes on, and waits, neither growing nor changing, neither satisfied nor disappointed, but calm and enduring, as if expecting the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. But for the rare drooping of the lids, that rested her sight, the girl would have seemed to be in a trance; she was in a state of almost perfect contemplation that approached to perfect happiness, since she was hardly conscious that her strongest wishes were still unsatisfied.<br>
She had been in the same state before now—last week, last month, last year, and again and again, as it seemed to her, very long ago; so long, that the time seemed like ages, and the intervals like centuries, until it all disappeared altogether in the immeasurable, and the past, the present, and the future were around her at once, unbroken, always ending, yet always beginning again. In the midst floated the soul, the self, the undying individuality, a light that shot out long rays, like a star, towards the ever present moments in an ever recurring life of which she had been, and was, and was to be, most keenly conscious.<br>
So far, the truth, perhaps; the truth, guessed by the mystics of all ages, sometimes hidden in secret writings, sometimes proclaimed to the light in symbols too plain to be understood, now veiled in the reasoned propositions of philosophers, now sung in sublime verse by inspired seers; present, as truth always is, to the few, misunderstood, as all truths are, by the many.<br>
But beside the truth, and outshining it, came the illusion, clear and bright, and appealing to the heart with the music of all the changes that are illusion’s life. Sitting very still in the moonlight, Cecilia saw pictures in the shadow, and herself walking in the mazes of many dreams; and she watched them, till even her eyelids no longer drooped from time to time, and her breathing ceased to stir the folds of white upon her bosom.<br>
Even then, she knew that she herself was not dreaming, but was calling up dreams which she saw, which could be nothing but visions after all, and would end in a darkness beyond which she could see nothing, and in which she would feel real physical pain, that would be almost unbearable, though she knew that she would gladly bear it again and again, for the sake of again seeing the phantasms of herself drawn in mystic light upon the shadow.<br>
They came and followed one upon another, like days of life. There was the beautiful marble court with its deep portico, its pillars, and its overhanging upper story, all gleaming in the low morning sun; she could hear the water softly laughing its way through the square marble-edged basins, level with the ground, she could smell the spring violets that grew in the neatly trimmed borders, she knew the faces of the statues that stood between the columns, and smiled at her. She knew herself, young, golden-haired, all in white, a little pale from the night’s vigil before the eternal fire, just entering the court as she came back from the temple, and then standing quite still for a moment, facing the morning sun and drinking in long draughts of the sweet spring air. From far above, the matin song of birds came down out of the gardens of Cæsar’s palace, and high over the court the sounds of the Forum began to ring and echo, as they did all day and half the night.<br>
It was herself, her very self, that was there, resting one hand upon a fluted column and looking upwards, her eyes, her face, her figure, real and unchanged after ages, as they were hers now; and in her look there was the infinite longing, the readiness to receive, which she felt still and must feel always, to the end of time.