Aficionados of supernatural fiction are aware that its golden age was during the later Victorian and Edwardian eras. There was a huge public appetite for spine chilling tales and many magazines published their ideal form—the short story. This created opportunities for many writers to produce supernatural fiction. Among the huge number of stories published, some were exceptionally good and these came from the pens of those who became recognised masters of the form. Popular authors were often incredibly prolific and an individual writer’s canon of supernatural fiction could be substantial. Almost every commercially minded writer wrote some supernatural fiction and many of the finest exponents of the craft were women. While Mrs. J. H. Riddell had much in common with her peers, she was highly regarded by some of the genres severest critics including the ‘grand-master’ himself, M. R. James. Charlotte Cowan was born in Ireland in 1832, the daughter of the High Sheriff of Antrim. She moved to London in 1855 and shortly thereafter married the civil engineer Joseph Hadley Riddell. As was often the practice at the time she subsequently wrote under her formal married name. Besides her career as a writer she was also a publisher, being part owner of the highly regarded literary periodical ‘The St. Jame’s Magazine.’ This comprehensive Leonaur collection of Charlotte Riddell’s strange stories comprises three substantial volumes to captivate both enthusiasts and collectors.
This third and final volume of the Leonaur collected supernatural and weird fiction of Charlotte Riddell includes two novels ‘The Disappearance of Jeremiah Redworth’ and the well known ‘The Uninhabited House’ together with two novelettes, ‘Diarmid Chittock’s Story’ and ‘The Open Door.’ Also included are five short stories, ‘Walnut-Tree House,’ ‘The Last Squire of Ennismore,’ ‘Why Dr. Cray Left Southam,’ ‘The Old House in Vauxhall Walk’ and ‘Conn Kilrea.’
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Now, whether it was that I had thought too much of the ghostly narratives associated with River Hall, the storminess of the night, the fact of sleeping in a strange room, or the strength of a tumbler of brandy-and-water, in which brandy took an undue lead, I cannot tell; but during the morning hours I dreamed a dream which filled me with an unspeakable horror, from which I awoke struggling for breath, bathed in a cold perspiration, and with a dread upon me such as I never felt in any waking moment of my life.<br>
I dreamt I was lying asleep in the room I actually occupied, when I was aroused from a profound slumber by the noise produced by someone tapping at the window-pane. On rising to ascertain the cause of this summons, I saw Colonel Morris standing outside and beckoning me to join him. With that disregard of space, time, distance, and attire which obtains in dreams, I at once stepped out into the garden. It was a pitch-dark night, and bitterly cold, and I shivered, I know, as I heard the sullen flow of the river, and listened to the moaning of the wind among the trees.<br>
We walked on for some minutes in silence, then my companion asked me if I felt afraid, or if I would go on with him.<br>
“I will go where you go,” I answered.<br>
Then suddenly he disappeared, and Playfire, who had been his counsel at the time of the trial, took my hand and led me onwards.<br>
We passed through a doorway, and, still in darkness, utter darkness, began to descend some steps. We went down—down—hundreds of steps as it seemed to me, and in my sleep, I still remembered the old idea of its being unlucky to dream of going downstairs. But at length we came to the bottom, and then began winding along interminable passages, now so narrow only one could walk abreast, and again so low that we had to stoop our heads in order to avoid striking the roof.<br>
After we had been walking along these for hours, as time reckons in such cases, we commenced ascending flight after flight of steep stone-steps. I laboured after Playfire till my limbs ached and grew weary, till, scarcely able to drag my feet from stair to stair, I entreated him to stop; but he only laughed and held on his course the more rapidly, while I, hurrying after, often stumbled and recovered myself, then stumbled again and lay prone.<br>
The night air blew cold and chill upon me as I crawled out into an unaccustomed place and felt my way over heaps of uneven earth and stones that obstructed my progress in every direction. I called out for Playfire, but the wind alone answered me; I shouted for Colonel Morris; I entreated some ne to tell me where I was; and in answer there was a dead and terrible silence. The wind died away; not a breath of air disturbed the heavy stillness which had fallen so suddenly around me. Instead of the veil of merciful blackness which had hidden everything hitherto from view, a gray light spread slowly over the objects around, revealing a burial-ground, with an old church standing in the midst—a burial-ground where grew rank nettles and coarse, tall grass; where brambles trailed over the graves, and weeds and decay consorted with the dead.<br>
Moved by some impulse which I could not resist, I still held on my course, over mounds of earth, between rows of headstones, till I reached the other side of the church, under the shadow of which yawned an open pit. To the bottom of it I peered, and there beheld an empty coffin; the lid was laid against the side of the grave, and on a headstone, displaced from its upright position, sat the late occupant of the grave, looking at me with wistful, eager eyes. A stream of light from within the church fell across that one empty grave, that one dead watcher.<br>
“So you have come at last,” he said; and then the spell was broken, and I would have fled, but that, holding me with his left hand, he pointed with his right away to a shadowy distance, where the gray sky merged into deepest black.<br>
I strained my eyes to discover the object he strove to indicate, but I failed to do so. I could just discern something flitting away into the darkness, but I could give it no shape or substance.<br>
“Look—look!” the dead man said, rising, in his excitement, and clutching me more firmly with his clay-cold fingers.<br>
I tried to fly, but I could not; my feet were chained to the spot. I fought to rid myself of the clasp of the skeleton hand, and then we fell together over the edge of the pit, and I awoke.