Christmas time or in any event in the deepest days of the winter, when the nights are longest, darkest and coldest has traditionally been the time for the telling of ghostly and thrillingly scary stories. This is the time when we can huddle together, preferably warmed by the reassuring flicker and glow of a fire, thick curtains tight shut against the gloom, in the security of familiar places where the frisson of fear can be laughed away in good company, food and drink. So ‘The Witching Time—Tales for the Years End’ could not be more aptly titled. It is a well known anthology of eleven tales and verses originally published in 1886 and its contents admirably demonstrate that little has changed in the last hundred years or more. The high regard for this book compiled by Henry Norman—who also penned a piece in the book himself—as an Unwin’s Christmas Annual is of course derived from the substantial talents of its contributors. F. Marion Crawford, Von Degen, Vernon Lee and others have been brought together in this delightful collection—’Tis now the very Witching Time’ as the Bard said in Hamlet. Indeed it is! Highly recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
We had been watching Detaille intently. He was lying with closed eyes, and had been very restless. Suddenly he became quite still, and then began to tremble, exactly as Soeur Claudius had described. It was a curious, uniform trembling, apparently in every fibre, and his iron bedstead shook as though strong hands were at its head and foot. Then came the absolute rigidity she had also described, and I do not exaggerate when I say that not only did his short-cropped hair seem to stand erect, but that it literally did so. A lamp cast the shadow of his profile against the wall to the left of his bed, and as I looked at the immovable outline which seemed painted on the wall, I saw the hair slowly rise until the line where it joined the forehead was quite a different one—abrupt instead of a smooth sweep. His eyes opened wide and were frightfully fixed, then as frightfully strained, but they certainly did not see us.<br>
We waited breathlessly for what might follow. The little Sister was standing close to him, her lips pressed together and a little pale, but very calm. “Do not be frightened, ma soeur,” whispered Magnin; and she answered in a business-like tone, “No, monsieur,” and drew still nearer to her patient, and took his hands, which were stiff as those of a corpse, between her own to warm them. I laid mine upon his heart; it was beating so imperceptibly that I almost thought it had stopped, and as I leaned my face to his lips I could feel no breath issue from them. It seemed as though the rigor would last forever.<br>
Suddenly, without any transition, he hurled himself with enormous force, and literally at one bound, almost into the middle of the room, scattering us aside like leaves in the wind. I was upon him in a moment, grappling with him with all my strength, to prevent him from reaching the door. Magnin had been thrown backward against the table, and I heard the medicine bottles crash with his fall. He had flung back his hand to save himself, and rushed to help me with the blood dropping from a cut in his wrist. The little Sister sprang to us. Detaille had thrown her violently back upon her knees, and now, with a nurse’s instinct, she tried to throw a shawl over his bare breast. We four must have made a strange group!<br>
Four? We were five! Marcello Souvestre stood before us, just within the door! We all saw him, for he was there. His bloodless face was turned toward us unmoved; his hands hung by his side as white as his face; only his eyes had life in them; they were fixed on Detaille.<br>
“Thank God, you have come at last!” I cried. “Don’t stand there like a fool! Help us, can’t you?” But he never moved. I was furiously angry, and, leaving my hold, sprang upon him to drag him forward. My outstretched hands struck hard against the door, and I felt a thing like a spider’s web envelop me. It seemed to draw itself over my mouth and eyes, and to blind and choke me, and then to flutter and tear and float from me.<br>
Marcello was gone!