The Bowmen

The Bowmen

by Arthur Machen

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It was during the Retreat of the Eighty Thousand, and the authority of the Censorship is sufficient excuse for not being more explicit. But it was on the most awful day of that awful time, on the day when ruin and disaster came so near that their shadow fell over London far away; and, without any certain news, the hearts of men failed within them and grew faint; as if the agony of the army in the battlefield had entered into their souls.

On this dreadful day, then, when three hundred thousand men in arms with all their artillery swelled like a flood against the little English company, there was one point above all other points in our battle line that was for a time in awful danger, not merely of defeat, but of utter annihilation. With the permission of the Censorship and of the military expert, this corner may, perhaps, be described as a salient, and if this angle were crushed and broken, then the English force as a whole would be shattered, the Allied left would be turned, and Sedan would inevitably follow.

All the morning the German guns had thundered and shrieked against this corner, and against the thousand or so of men who held it. The men joked at the shells, and found funny names for them, and had bets about them, and greeted them with scraps of music-hall songs. But the shells came on and burst, and tore good Englishmen limb from limb, and tore brother from brother, and as the heat of the day increased so did the fury of that terrific cannonade. There was no help, it seemed. The English artillery was good, but there was not nearly enough of it; it was being steadily battered into scrap iron.

There comes a moment in a storm at sea when people say to one another, “It is at its worst; it can blow no harder,” and then there is a blast ten times more fierce than any before it. So it was in these British trenches.

There were no stouter hearts in the whole world than the hearts of these men; but even they were appalled as this seven-times-heated hell of the German cannonade fell upon them and overwhelmed them and destroyed them. And at this very moment they saw from their trenches that a tremendous host was moving against their lines. Five hundred of the thousand remained, and as far as they could see the German infantry was pressing on against them, column upon column, a grey world of men, ten thousand of them, as it appeared afterwards.

There was no hope at all. They shook hands, some of them. One man improvised a new version of the battlesong, “Good-bye, good-bye to Tipperary,” ending with “And we shan’t get there”. And they all went on firing steadily. The officers pointed out that such an opportunity for high-class, fancy shooting might never occur again; the Germans dropped line after line; the Tipperary humorist asked, “What price Sidney Street?” And the few machine guns did their best. But everybody knew it was of no use. The dead grey bodies lay in companies and battalions, as others came on and on and on, and they swarmed and stirred and advanced from beyond and beyond.

“World without end. Amen,” said one of the British soldiers with some irrelevance as he took aim and fired. And then he remembered—he says he cannot think why or wherefore—a queer vegetarian restaurant in London where he had once or twice eaten eccentric dishes of cutlets made of lentils and nuts that pretended to be steak. On all the plates in this restaurant there was printed a figure of St. George in blue, with the motto, Adsit Anglis Sanctus Geogius—May St. George be a present help to the English. This soldier happened to know Latin and other useless things, and now, as he fired at his man in the grey advancing mass—300 yards away—he uttered the pious vegetarian motto. He went on firing to the end, and at last Bill on his right had to clout him cheerfully over the head to make him stop, pointing out as he did so that the King’s ammunition cost money and was not lightly to be wasted in drilling funny patterns into dead Germans.

For as the Latin scholar uttered his invocation he felt something between a shudder and an electric shock pass through his body. The roar of the battle died down in his ears to a gentle murmur; instead of it, he says, he heard a great voice and a shout louder than a thunder-peal crying, “Array, array, array!”

His heart grew hot as a burning coal, it grew cold as ice within him,
as it seemed to him that a tumult of voices answered to his summons.
He heard, or seemed to hear, thousands shouting: “St. George! St.
George!”

“Ha! messire; ha! sweet Saint, grant us good deliverance!”

“St. George for merry England!”

“Harow! Harow! Monseigneur St. George, succour us.”

“Ha! St. George! Ha! St. George! a long bow and a strong bow.”

“Heaven’s Knight, aid us!”

And as the soldier heard these voices he saw before him, beyond the trench, a long line of shapes, with a shining about them. They were like men who drew the bow, and with another shout their cloud of arrows flew singing and tingling through the air towards the German hosts.

The other men in the trench were firing all the while. They had no hope; but they aimed just as if they had been shooting at Bisley. Suddenly one of them lifted up his voice in the plainest English, “Gawd help us!” he bellowed to the man next to him, “but we’re blooming marvels! Look at those grey… gentlemen, look at them! D’ye see them? They’re not going down in dozens, nor in ‘undreds; it’s thousands, it is. Look! look! there’s a regiment gone while I’m talking to ye.”

“Shut it!” the other soldier bellowed, taking aim, “what are ye gassing about!”

But he gulped with astonishment even as he spoke, for, indeed, the grey men were falling by the thousands. The English could hear the guttural scream of the German officers, the crackle of their revolvers as they shot the reluctant; and still line after line crashed to the earth.

All the while the Latin-bred soldier heard the cry: “Harow! Harow!
Monseigneur, dear saint, quick to our aid! St. George help us!”

“High Chevalier, defend us!”

The singing arrows fled so swift and thick that they darkened the air; the heathen horde melted from before them.

“More machine guns!” Bill yelled to Tom.

“Don’t hear them,” Tom yelled back. “But, thank God, anyway; they’ve got it in the neck.”

In fact, there were ten thousand dead German soldiers left before that salient of the English army, and consequently there was no Sedan. In Germany, a country ruled by scientific principles, the Great General Staff decided that the contemptible English must have employed shells containing an unknown gas of a poisonous nature, as no wounds were discernible on the bodies of the dead German soldiers. But the man who knew what nuts tasted like when they called themselves steak knew also that St. George had brought his Agincourt Bowmen to help the English.


-Arthur Machen

Montague Rhodes James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary with More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. Two Volumes in One.

Montague Rhodes James by Sir Gerald Kelly oil on canvas, circa 1936

M.R. James (b. 1862) is perhaps one of the most understated writers of odd ghost stories of all time. Many of his stories take place at Oxbridge and other places with a very English feel, reflecting the life of the author himself. James also catalogued medieval manuscripts (see below), for which he was well-respected during his lifetime.

I’ve collected some excellent articles and put them together here – I hope you enjoy them!

Montague Rhodes James was born in 1862 in Goodnestone Parsonage, Kent, where his father was the curate, and died in 1936. He developed a taste for old books from a precocious age and was fonder of reading dusty volumes in the library than playing with the other children. He studied at Eton and then at King’s College, Cambridge, where he became assistant in Classical archaeology at the Fitzwilliam museumHe was elected a Fellow of King’s after writing his dissertation The Apocalypse of St. Peter, and after that, he lectured in divinity, eventually becoming dean of the college in 1889. He was a distinguished medievalist and wrote a large amount of reviews, translations, monographs, articles and works on bibliography, palaeography, antiquarian issues, and often edited volumes for specialized bibliographical and historical societies. He was a brilliant linguist and biblical scholar, and he was exceptionally gifted, which, along with his unusually keen memory and hard work, enabled him to write many pioneering studies. – Walk Awhile 

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James’s incredible detail finds a balance in those ambiguous ghouls to which the reader is invited to apply their own dreadful colour. Many of M.R. James’s ghost stories were written to be read aloud as Christmas Eve entertainment to select gatherings of friends at Cambridge. They were subsequently published as: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, A Thin Ghost and Others, and A Warning to the CuriousA Thin Ghost

Sacha Dhawan plays Garrett in Gatiss's adaptation of The Tractate Middoth
Sacha Dhawan plays Garrett in Gatiss’s adaptation of The Tractate Middoth

Earlier this year, I published a post about one of my favourite James stories, The Mezzotint; a classic story of a picture of a house which has within it the souls of the once living! It reminds me of the story of the girl who gets trapped in a painting, grows old and dies in Roald Dahl’s The Witches. That’s always been my favourite part of the book (and wonderful film).

Spooky: an illustration for MR James's 'O Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad' by Jonathan Barry Photo: Bridgeman Art
Spooky: an illustration for MR James’s ‘O Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ by Jonathan Barry Photo: Bridgeman Art

It is no coincidence that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol features more ghosts than carols, or that the 1963 Andy Williams song It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year promises “scary ghost stories”. Christmas was once the time for sharing tales of the spooks we now usually associate with Halloween. Our traditional festive celebrations owe much to the Victorians’ plundering of pagan symbolism – whether the still-fertile appearance of evergreens and holly, the bearded god Odin’s habit of climbing down chimneys, or spectres at the fireside. As the Winter Solstice approached and daylight died away, the ancients thought that the barrier between the living and the dead became slender, so supernatural tales abounded. (James) became a noted medieval scholar before returning to Eton to serve as Provost. He was a devout Anglican, and a profoundly conservative individual, much as one might expect of a man who went from parsonage to school, university then back to school. BBC Arts

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Something feels right about pushing things off kilter, beside a warm fire, for the safe thrill of having your flesh creep. James wanted his creatures to be ghastly. I think he’d have had no truck with sad, longing ghosts yet to be released to heaven. There is something implacably horrible about his monsters, with their black matted hair, teeth and nails. The recent trend for more human vampires is an interesting one, but for me it’s exciting enough that they just want to drink your blood and watch you die for the fun of it. – Mark Gatiss

Montague Rhodes James. 1862-1936
Montague Rhodes James. 1862-1936

Every year I’m drawn back to Montague Rhodes James – his quietly creepy prose hints so effectively at what lurks just beyond the light of the hearth. A fellow whom I have never met but whose work continues to exert a heavy influence upon me. The Guardian

Every reader of M R James’s peerlessly unpleasant ghost stories will have his or her favourite moment of that paradoxical, delighted, wriggling horror that their author sought to instil. For some, it is the scene in “O Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” (1904), in which a sceptical don on a golfing holiday is stalked through his dreams by a blind, shuffling figure in white that eventually rises from the spare bed in his room and thrusts into his face “a horrible, an intensely horrible face of crumpled linen”. For others, it is the episode in “The Diary of Mr Poynter” (1919), where the protagonist rests his hand absently on what he takes to be the head of his pet spaniel and finds that “what he had been touching” — not the dog, but a man-shaped figure on all fours covered with hair — “rose to meet him”. And perhaps the most intimate of these shivers comes in “Casting the Runes” (1911), in which the unlucky protagonist, woken in the night, reaches under his pillow for his watch, only for his questing hand to encounter “a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being”. That readers in the iPad age should still be so horrified by these tales of haunted Edwardian bibliophiles, antebellum Oxbridge dons and ghoulish local revenants would doubtless have come as a surprise to their author… His ghost stories were designed as pleasant trifles, and mostly composed at lightning speed on Christmas evenings between 1892 and 1935 for a coterie of colleagues, friends and choirboys at King’s. Their author quoted with approval the comment of the fat boy in The Pickwick Papers, who ghoulishly advertised that “I wants to make your flesh creep.” Although they share densely imagined roots in local and national history and geography, the stories did not, as James wrote in the introduction to his first collection, “make any very exalted claim. If any of them succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable while walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours, my purpose in writing them will have been attained.” The Telegraph

I hope you have a supernatural festive period, full of shrieks of laughter and terror!

The Rose Prince

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Here’s a classic short story for you – Bram Stoker‘s The Rose Prince.

Under the Sunset is a collection of short stories by Bram Stoker (the author of Dracula), first published in 1881. Its significance in the development of fantasy literature was recognized by its republication by the Newcastle Publishing Company as the seventeenth volume of the celebrated Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library series in October, 1978. The stories in the collection are: Under the Sunset, The Rose Prince, The Invisible Giant, The Shadow Builder, How 7 Went Mad, Lies and Lilies, The Castle of the King and The Wondrous Child. “The Shadow Builder” was adapted to film in 1998 as Shadow BuilderWikipedia

Bram Stoker recently made it on to my list of 101 free short stories and is mentioned in H.P Lovecraft’s essay on Supernatural Horror in Literature.

The Rose Prince
By Bram Stoker

This document is in the Public Domain

A long, long time ago – so long ago that if one tries to think ever so far back, it is farther than that again – King Mago reigned in the Country Under the Sunset.

He was an old king, and his white beard had grown so long that it almost touched the ground; and all his reign had been passed in trying to make his people happy.

He had one son, of whom he was very fond. This son, Prince Zaphir, was well worthy of all his father’s fondness, for he was as good as can be.

He was still only a boy, and he had never seen his beautiful sweet-faced mother, who had died when he was only a baby. It often made him very sad that he had no mother, when he thought other boys had tender mothers, at whose knees they learned to pray, and who came and kissed them in their beds at night. He felt that it was strange that many of the poor people in his father’s dominions had mothers, whilst he, the prince, had none. When he thought thus it made him very humble; for he knew that neither power, nor riches, nor youth, nor beauty will save any one from the doom of all mortals, and that the only beautiful thing in the world whose beauty lasts for ever is a pure, fair soul. He always remembered, however, that if he had no mother he had a father who loved him very dearly, and so was comforted and content.

He used to muse much on many things; and often even in the bright rest-time, when all the people slept, he would go out into the wood, close to the palace, and think and think on all that was beautiful and true, whilst his faithful dog Gomus would crouch at his feet and sometimes wag his tail, as much as to say –

“Here I am, prince; I am not asleep either.”

Prince Zaphir was so good and so kind that he never hurt any living thing. If he saw a worm crawling over the road before him he would step over it carefully lest it should be injured. If he saw a fly fallen in the water he would lift it tenderly out and send it forth again, free of wing, into the glorious bright air: so kind was he that all the animals that had once seen him knew him again, and when he went to his favourite seat in the wood there would arise a glad hum from all the living things. Those bright insects, whose colours change hour by hour, would put on their brightest colours, and bask about in the gleams of sunlight that came slanting down between the benches of the trees. The noisy insects put on their mufflers so that they would not disturb him; and the little birds resting on the trees would open their round bright eyes, and come out and blink and wink in the light, and pipe little joyous songs of welcome with all their sweetest notes.

So is it ever with tender, loving people; the living things that have voices as sweet as man’s or woman’s, and who have languages of their own, although we cannot understand them, all talk to them in joyous notes and bid them welcome in their own pretty ways.

King Mago was proud of his brave, good, handsome boy, and liked him to dress beautifully; and all the people loved to see his bright face and his gay clothing. The King made the great merchants search far and near till they got the largest and finest feather that had ever been seen. This feather he had put in the front of a beautiful cap, the colour of a ruby, and fastened with a brooch made of a great diamond. He gave this cap to Zaphir on his birthday.

As Prince Zaphir walked through the streets, the people saw the great white plume nodding from far away. All were glad when they saw it, and ran to their windows and doors and stood bowing and smiling and waving their hands as their beautiful prince went by. Zaphir always bowed and smiled in return; and he loved his people and gloried in the love that they had for him.

In the Court of King Mago was a companion for Zaphir whom he loved very much. This was the Princess Bluebell. She was the daughter of another king who had been wrongfully deprived of his dominion by a cruel and treacherous enemy, and who had come to King Mago to ask for help and had died in his Court after living there for many, many years. But King Mago had taken his little orphan daughter and had her brought up as his own child.

A great vengeance had come upon the wicked usurper. The Giants had come upon his dominions and had slain him and all his family, and had killed all the people in the land, and had even destroyed all the animals, except those wild ones that were like the Giants themselves. Then the houses began to tumble down from age and decay, and the beautiful gardens to become wild and neglected; and so when after many long years the Giants grew tired and went back to their home in the wilderness, the country that Princess Bluebell owned was such a vast desolation that no one going into it would know that people had ever dwelt there.

Princess Bluebell was very young and very, very beautiful. She, like Prince Zaphir, had never known a mother’s love, for her mother, too, had died whilst she was young.

She loved King Mago very much, but she loved Prince Zaphir more than all the rest of the world. They had always been companions, and there was not a thought of his heart that she did not know almost before it came there. Prince Zaphir loved her too, more dearly than words can tell, and for her sake he would have done anything, no matter how full of danger. He hoped when he was a man and she a woman that she would marry him, and that they would help King Mago to rule his kingdom justly and wisely, and that there would be no pain or want in the whole country, if they could help it.

King Mago had two little thrones made, and when he sat in state on his great throne the two children sat one on each side of him, and learned how to be King and Queen.

Princess Bluebell had a robe of ermine like a Queen’s, and a little sceptre and a little crown, and Prince Zaphir had a sword as bright as a flash of lightning, and it hung in a golden scabbard.

Behind the King’s throne the courtiers used to gather; and there were many of these who were great and good, and there were others who were only vain and self-seeking.

There was Phlosbos, the Prime Minister, an old, old man with a long beard like white silk, and he carried a white wand with a gold ring on it.

There was Janisar, the Captain of the Guard, with fierce moustachios and a suit of heavy armour.

Then there was Tufto, an old courtier, a silly old man who did nothing but hang about the great nobles and pay them deference, and every one, high and low, despised him much. He was fat, and had no hair on all his face or head, not even eyebrows, and he looked – oh! so funny, with his big bald head quite white and smooth.

There was Sartorius, a foolish young courtier, who thought that dress was the most important thing in the world; and who accordingly dressed in the finest clothes he could possibly get. But people only smiled at him and sometimes laughed, for there is no honour due to fine clothes, but only to what is in the man himself who wears them. Sartorius always tried to push himself into the front place everywhere, in order to show off his fine clothes; and he thought that because the other courtiers did not try to push him aside in the same way, they acknowledged his right to be first. It was not so, however; they only despised him and would not do what he did.

There was also Skarkrou, who was just the opposite to Sartorius, and who thought – or pretended to think – that untidiness was a good thing; and was as proud or prouder of his rags than Sartorius was of his fine clothes. He too was despised, for he was vain, and his vanity made him ridiculous.

Then there was Gabbleander, who did nothing but talk from morning till night; and who would have talked from night till morning if he could have got any one to listen to him. He too was laughed at, for people cannot always talk sense if they talk much. The foolish things are remembered, but the wise ones are forgotten; and so these talkers of too many things come to be considered foolish.

But no one must think that all the Court of the good King Mago were like these people. No! there were many, many good, and great, and noble, and brave men; but such is life in every country, even the Country Under the Sunset, that there are fools as well as wise men, and cowards as well as brave men, and mean men as well as good men.

Children who wish to become good and great men or good and noble women, should try to know well all the people whom they meet. Thus they will find that there is no one who has not much of good; and when they see some great folly, or some meanness, or some cowardice, or some fault or weakness in another person, they should examine themselves carefully. Then they will see that, perhaps, they too have some of the same fault in themselves – although perhaps it does not come out in the same way – and then they must try to conquer that fault. So they will become more and more good as they grow up; and others will examine them, and when these find they have not the faults, they will love and honour them.

Well, one day King Mago sat on his throne in his robes and his crown, and holding his sceptre in his hand.

At his right hand sat Princess Bluebell, with her robe and crown and sceptre, and with her little dog Smg beside her.

This dog was a great favourite. At first it was called Sumog, because Zaphir’s dog was Gomus, and this was the name spelled backwards. But then it was called Smg because this was a name that could not he shouted out, but could only be spoken in a whisper. Bluebell had no need for more than this, for Smg was never far away, but always stayed close to his mistress and watched her.

At the King’s left sat Prince Zaphir, on his little throne, with his bright sword and his mighty feather.

Mago was making laws for the good of his people. Round him were gathered all the courtiers, and many people stood in the hall and many more in the street without.

Suddenly there was a loud sound heard – the cracking of a whip and the blowing of a horn – and it came nearer and nearer, and the people in the street began to murmur.

Loud cries arose, the King stopped to listen, and the people turned their heads to see who was coming. The crowd opened, and a messenger booted and spurred and covered with dust, rushed into the hall and knelt on one knee before the King, and held out a paper which King Mago took and read eagerly. The people waited in silence to hear the news.

The King was deeply moved, but he knew his people were anxious, so he spoke to them, standing up as he did so: –

“My people, a grievous peril has come upon our Land. We learn from this despatch from the province of Sub-Tegmine, that a terrible Giant has come out of the marshes beyond No-Man’s-Land, and is devastating the country. But be not in fear, my people, for to-night many soldiers shall go forth with their arms, and by sunset to-morrow the Giant will have fallen, we trust.”

The people bowed their heads with murmured thanks, and all went quietly away to their homes.

That night a body of picked soldiers went out with brave hearts to fight the Giant, and the people cheered them on their way.

All next day and next night the people as well as the King were very anxious; and the second morning they expected news that the Giant was overthrown.

But no news came till nightfall; and then one weary man, covered with dust and blood, and wounded unto death, crawled into the town.

The people made way for him, and he came before the throne and bent low and said –

“Alas! King, I have to tell you that your soldiers have been slain – all save myself. The Giant triumphs and advances towards the city.”

Having said so, the pain of his wounds grew so great that he cried out several times and fell down; and when they lifted him up he was dead.

At the sad news which he told a low wail arose from the people. The widows of the slain soldiers cried loudly a little cry, and came and threw themselves before the King’s throne, and raised their hands on high and said –

“Oh, King! Oh, King!” and they could say no more with weeping.

Then the King’s heart was very, very sore, and he tried to comfort them, but his best comfort was in his tears – for the tears of friends help to make trouble light; and he spoke to the people and said –

“Alas! our soldiers were too few. To-night we will send an army, and perchance the Giant will fall.”

That night a gallant army, with many great engines of war and with flags flying and bands playing, went forth against the Giant.

At the head of the army rode Janisar, the captain, with his armour of steel inlaid with gold shining in the glow of the sunset. The scarlet and white trappings of his great black charger looked splendid. At his side, for some distance on his way, rode Prince Zaphir on his white palfrey.

The people all gathered to wish the army success on their departure; and a lot of foolish people who believed in luck threw old shoes after them. One of these shoes struck Sartorius, who was as usual pushing into the front to show himself off, and blackened his eye, and the black of the shoe came off on his new dress and spoiled it. Another shoe – a heavy one with an iron heel – struck Tufto, who was talking to Janisar – on the top of his bald head, and cut it, and then all the people laughed.

Just fancy how a man is despised when people laugh when he is hurt. Old Tufto danced about and got quite angry, and then the people laughed all the more; for nothing is funnier than when a person is so angry that he loses all self-control.

All the people cheered as the army went off. Even the poor widows of the slain soldiers cheered; and the men going away looked at them and resolved that they would conquer or die, like brave soldiers doing their duty.

Princess Bluebell went with King Mago to the top of the tower of the palace, and together they watched the soldiers as they marched away. The king went in soon, but Bluebell stayed on, looking at the helmets glittering and flashing in the sunset till the sun sank down over the horizon.

Just then Prince Zaphir, who had returned, joined her. Then in the twilight on the top of the tower, with many thousand eager, anxious hearts beating in the city below them, and with the beautiful sky overhead, the two children knelt down and prayed for the success of the army on the morrow.

There was no sleep in the city that night.

Next day the people were filled with anxiety; and as the day wore on and there was no news they grew more anxious still.

Towards the evening they heard the sound of a great tumult far away. They knew that a battle was on; and so they waited and waited for news.

They did not go to bed that night at all; but all through the city watch-fires were lighted and everyone stayed awake waiting for the news.

But no news came.

Then the fear became so great that the faces of men and women grew as white as snow, and their hearts as cold. For a long, long time they were silent, for no man dared to speak.

At last one of the widows of the slain soldiers rose up and said –

“I shall arise and go down to the battle-field, and see how fares it there; and shall bring back the news to quiet your poor beating hearts.”

Then many men rose and said –

“No! it must not be.

We shall go. It were shame to our City if a woman went where men could not. We shall go.”

But she answered them with a sad smile –

“Alas! I have no fear of death since my brave husband was killed. I do not wish to live. You must defend the city, I shall go.”

Straightway she walked out of the city in the chill grey dawn towards the battle-field. As she moved away and faded in the distance, she seemed to the anxious people like a phantom of Hope passing away from them.

The sun rose and grew bright in the heavens till the rest time came; but men heeded it not, watching and waiting ever.

Presently they saw afar off the figure of a woman running. They ran to meet her and found it was the widow. She came amongst them and cried –

“Woe! woe! Alas! for our army is scattered; our mighty ones are fallen in the pride of their strength. The Giant triumphs, and I fear me all is lost.”

There came a great wail from the people; and a hush fell on them, so great was their fear.

Then the King assembled all his Court and people, and took counsel what was best to be done. Many seemed to think that a new army should go forth of all those who were willing to die, if need be, for the good of the Country; but there was much perplexity.

Whilst they were discussing, Prince Zaphir sat silent on his little throne; and his eyes more than once filled with tears at the thought of the sufferings of his beloved people. Now he arose and stood before the throne.

There was silence till he should speak.

As the Prince stood, cap in hand, before the King, there was in his face a look of such high resolve that those who saw it could not help having a new hope. The Prince spoke –

“Oh, King, Father, before you decide further, hear me. It is right that if there be danger in the Land, the first to meet it is the Prince whom the people trust. If there is pain to be felt, who should feel it before him? If death is to come to any, surely it should first strike over his corpse. King, Father, pause but one day. Let me go to-morrow against the Giant. This widow hath told you that now he sleeps after his combat. Tomorrow I shall meet him in fight. If I fall, then will be time to risk the lives of your people; and if it should be that he falls, then all is well.”

King Mago knew that the Prince had spoken well; and although it grieved him to see his beloved son running into such danger, he did not try to stop him, but said:

“Oh, son, worthy to be a king, thou hast well spoken! Be it even as thou wilt.”

Then the people left the Hall, and King Mago and Bluebell kissed Zaphir. Bluebell said to him:

“Zaphir, you have done right,” and she looked at him proudly.

Presently the prince went to bed, that he might sleep, and so be strong for the morrow.

All that night the smiths and armourers and the craftsmen of jewels worked hard and fast. Till daylight the furnaces glowed and the anvils rang; and all hands cunning at artifice plied hard.

In the morning they brought into the Hall, and laid before the throne as a present for Prince Zaphir, a suit of armour such as never before had been seen.

It was wrought of steel and gold, and was all in scales. Each scale was like a different leaf; and it was all burnished and bright as the sun. Between the leaves were jewels, and many more jewels were fastened on them like drops of dew. Thus the armour shone in the light till it dazzled the eyes of whosoever saw it – for the cunning armourers meant that when the Prince fought, his enemy might be half blinded with the glare and so miss his blows.

The helmet was like to a flower, and the Prince’s crest was wrought upon it, and the feather and the big diamond in his cap were fastened in front.

When the Prince was equipped, he looked so noble and brave that the people cried out with shouts that he must conquer; and they had new and great hopes.

Then his father, the King, blessed him, and Princess Bluebell kissed him and cried a few tears and gave him a lovely rose, which he fastened on his helmet.

Amid shouting of the people, Prince Zaphir went out to fight the Giant.

His dog, Gomus, wanted to go, but he could not be taken. So Gomus was shut up and howled, for he knew that his dear master was in danger and wanted to be with him.

When Prince Zaphir was gone, Princess Bluebell went to the top of the tower and looked after him till he got so far away that she could no longer see the flashing of his beautiful armour in the sunlight. At first, when she was saying good bye to Zaphir – and she knew that it might be good bye for ever – she did not shed a tear, lest she should pain her beloved Prince, for she knew that he was going into battle, and would need all his bravery and all his firmness. So the last look Zaphir saw on his Bluebell’s face was a loving, hopeful, trustful smile. Thus he went into the battle strengthened by the thought that her heart went with him, and that, although her body was far away, her spirit was close to him.

When he was gone, really gone, far away out of sight, and she stood on the top of the tower alone, Bluebell shed many tears; and the great fear of her heart that Zaphir might be killed made her sad unto death. She thought that it might be that he would be killed by the wicked Giant who had already slain two armies, and that then she would never see him again – never see the love in his dear, true eyes – never hear the tones of his tender, sweet voice – never feel the beating of his great, generous heart again.

And so she wept, oh! so bitterly. But as she wept the thought came to her that life does not lie in the power of men, or even of giants; and so she dried her tears, and knelt down and prayed with an humble heart, and rose up comforted, as people always do when they pray earnestly.

Then she went down to the great hall; but King Mago was not there. She looked for him to comfort him, for she knew that his heart must be bleeding for his son in danger.

She found him in his chamber, and he, too, was praying. She knelt beside him, and they put their arms round each other – the old King and the orphan child – and they prayed together; and so they both got comfort.

Together they waited, and waited patiently, for the return of their beloved one. All the city waited too; and neither by day nor night was there sleep in the Country Under the Sunset, for all were waiting for the return of the Prince.

When Zaphir left the city, he went on and on in the direction of the Giant, till the sun grew bright in the heavens, so bright that his golden armour glowed like fire; and then he walked under the shelter of the trees, and he did not pause even in the rest-time, but went ever onward.

Towards evening he heard and saw strange things.

Far off the ground seemed to shake, and a dull rumbling arose of rocks being levelled, and forests being broken down. These were the sounds of the Giant’s footsteps, as he came onwards to the city. But Prince Zaphir, although the sounds were very terrible, had no fear, and went bravely onward. Then he began to meet many living things, which swept by him at full speed – for they were the swiftest of their kind, and so had run from the Giant faster than the rest.

On they came, in hundreds and thousands, their numbers getting more and more as the time wore on, and as the Prince and the Giant drew nearer.

There were all the beasts of the field, and all the fowls of the air, and all the insects that fly and crawl. Lions and tigers, and horses and sheep, and mice and cats and rats, and cocks and hens, and foxes and geese and turkeys, all were mixed together, big and little, and all were so frightened at the Giant that they forgot to be afraid of one another. Thus there ran together, cats and mice, wolves and lambs, foxes and geese; and the weak ones did not fear, nor did the strong ones wish to harm.

As they came on, however, all the living things seemed to know that Prince Zaphir was braver than they were, and made room for him to pass. The weakest things, and those most afraid, did not go further in their flight, but tried to get as near the Prince as possible; and many followed him back towards the Giant rather than not be near him.

Further on, in a little while, he met all the old animals that could not come so fast as the rest, and all the poor wounded living things, and all those that were slow of pace. These, too, did not try to go further, for they knew that they were safer near a brave man than in helpless flight.

Then Prince Zaphir saw something, still far off, that looked like a mighty mountain.

It was moving towards him, and his heart beat high, partly with the thought of his coming battle, and partly with hope.

The Giant came closer and closer. His footsteps crushed the rocks, and with his mighty club he swept the forests from his path.

The living things behind Prince Zaphir quailed with fear, and hid their faces in the dust. Some animals, like some foolish people, think that if they do not see anything that they do not want to see, that therefore it ceases to exist.

It is very silly of them.

Then, as the Giant drew near, Prince Zaphir felt that the hour of battle had come.

When he was face to face with a foe more mighty than aught he had ever seen, Zaphir felt as he never felt before. It was not that he was afraid of the Giant, for he felt so brave that, for the good of his people, he could gladly have died then the most painful death. It was that he realized how small a thing he was in the great world.

He saw more clearly than he had ever seen that he was only a speck – a mere atom – in the great living world; and in one moment he knew that if the victory came to him it was not because his arm was strong or his heart brave, but that because it was willed by the One that rules the universe.

Then, in his humility, Prince Zaphir prayed for strength. He doffed his splendid armour, which shone like a sun on earth, he took off the splendid helmet, and he laid by the flashing sword; and they lay in a lifeless heap beside him.

It was a fair sight, that young boy kneeling by the discarded armour. The glittering heap lay all beautiful, glowing in the bright sunset with millions of coloured flashes, till it looked like even unto a living thing. Yet it was sad, and poor, and pitiful beside the boy. There he knelt paying humbly, with his deep earnest eyes lit by the truth and trust that lay in his clean heart and pure soul.

The glittering armour looked like the work of man’s hands – as it was, and the work of the hands of good true men; but the beautiful boy kneeling in trust and faith was the work of the hands of God.

As he prayed, Prince Zaphir saw all his life in the past, from the day he could first remember till even then as he was, face to face with the Giant. There was not an unworthy thought that he had ever had, not a cross word he had ever spoken, not an angry look that had ever given another pain, that did not come back to his mind. It grieved him much that there were so many; for they crowded on so thick and fast that he was amazed at their very number.

It is ever thus that the things which we do wrong – although they may seem little at the time, and though from the hardness of our hearts we pass them lightly by – come back to us with bitterness, when danger makes us think how little we have done to deserve help, and how much to deserve punishment.

Prince Zaphir’s heart was purified by repentance for all wrongs done in the past, and by high resolves to be good in the future; and when his humble prayer was finished, he rose up, and he felt in his arms a strength that he wot not of. He knew that it was not his own strength, but that he was the humble instrument of saving his beloved people; and in his heart he was very thankful.

The Giant saw presently the glitter of the golden armour, and knew that another enemy had come anigh him.

He gave a great roar of rage and anger, that sounded like the echo of a thunder-clap. On the distant hills it echoed, and it rolled through the far-off valleys, and sunk into mutterings and low growlings, as of wild beasts, in the caves and the mountain fastnesses.

With such sound the Giant ever began his fighting, that so he might terrify his enemies; but the brave heart of the Prince shook not with fear. He became braver than ever as he heard the sound; for he knew that there was the more need for courage, lest his people, and even the King his father, and Bluebell, should fall into the power of the Giant.

Whilst amongst the rocks and forests the footsteps of the Giant crashed, and whilst there uprose around his feet the dust of the desolation which he made, Prince Zaphir gathered from the brook some round pebbles.

He fitted one in the sling which he carried.

As he lifted his arm to whirl the sling round his head, the Giant saw him, and laughed, and pointed in scorn at him with his great hands, which were more savage than tiger’s claws. The laugh which the Giant thundered forth was so terrible – so harsh and grim and dreadful, that the living things that had raised their timid eyes to watch the fray buried their heads in the dust again, and quaked with fear.

But even as he laughed his enemy to scorn, the Giant’s doom was spoken.

Round Prince Zaphir’s head swung the sling, and the whistling pebble flew. It struck the Giant fair in the temple; and even with the scornful laughter on his lips, and with his outstretched hand pointing in derision, he fell prone.

As he fell he gave a single cry, but a cry so loud that it rolled away over the hills and valleys like a peal of thunder. At the sound the living things cowered again, and sagged with fear.

Afar off the people in the City heard the mighty sound; but they knew not what it meant.

As the Giant’s great body fell prone, the earth trembled with the shock for many a mile around; and as his great club dropped from his hand, it laid many tall trees of the forest low.

Then Prince Zaphir fell on his knees and prayed with fervent thankfulness for his victory.

Quickly he arose, and, as he knew of the bitter anxiety of the King and people, he never stopped to gather up his armour, but fled fast to the City to bring the joyful tidings.

The night had now fallen and the way was dark; but Prince Zaphir had trust, and he went onward into the darkness with a brave and hopeful heart.

Soon the living things that were noble came around him in their gratitude; and all they that could followed him closely. Many noble animals there were, – lions and tigers and bears, as well as tamer beasts; and their great fiery eyes seemed like lamps, and helped him on his way.

However, as they drew near to the City the wild animals began to stop, for though they trusted Zaphir they feared other men. They growled a low growl of regret and stopped; and Prince Zaphir went on alone.

All night long the city had been awake. In the court King Mago and Princess Bluebell waited and watched together hand in hand. The people in the streets sat around their watch-fires, and they only dared to talk in whispers.

So the long night wore away.

At last the eastern sky began to pale; and then a streak of red fire shot up over the horizon; and the sun rose in his glory; and it was day. The people, when they saw the light and heard the fresh singing of the birds, had hope; and they looked anxiously for the coming of the Prince.

Neither King Mago nor Princess Bluebell dared to go aloft to the tower, but waited patiently in the hall; and their faces were pale as death.

The watchmen of the city and those who joined them looked down the long roadway, expecting ever and anon to see Prince Zaphir’s golden armour shining in the bright morning light, and his great white plume, that they knew so well, nodding in the breeze. They knew that they could see it afar off, and so they only glanced now and again into the distance.

Suddenly there was a shout from all the people – and then a sudden stillness.

They rose to their feet, and with one accord waited for the news.

For oh, joy! there among them – shorn of his bright armour and his nodding plume, but hale – stood their beloved Prince.

VICTORY was in his look.

He smiled on them, raising his hands as if blessing; and pointed to the King’s palace, as though to say:

“Our king! his is the right to hear the earliest tidings.”

He passed into the hall, all the people following him.

When King Mago and Princess Bluebell heard the shout and felt the stillness that followed, their hearts began to beat, and they waited in great dread.

Princess Bluebell shuddered and cried a little, and drew closer to the King, and leaned her face on his breast.

As she leaned with her face hidden, she felt the King start. She looked up quickly, and there – oh, joy of joys! – was her own beloved Zaphir entering the hall, with all the people following him.

The King stepped down from his throne and took him in his arms, and kissed him; and Bluebell, too, put her arms round him, and kissed him on the mouth.

Prince Zaphir spoke and said:

“Oh King my Father, and oh People! – God has been good to us, and His arm has given us the victory. Lo, the Giant has fallen in the pride of his strength!”

Then such a shout went up from the people that the roof rang again; and the noise went out over the City on the wings of the wind. The glad multitude shouted again and again, till the sound rolled in waves over the whole Dominion, and Under the Sunset that hour there was naught but joy. The King called Zaphir his Brave Son; and Princess Bluebell kissed him again, and called him her Hero.

At that very time, far away in the forest, the Giant lay fallen in the pride of his strength – the foulest thing in all the land – and over his dead body ran the foxes and the stoats. The snakes crawled around his body; and thither, too, crept all the meaner living things that had fled from him when he lived.

From afar off gathered the vultures for their prey.

Close to the slain Giant, shining in the light, lay the golden armour. The great white plume rose from the helmet and even now nodded in the breeze.

When the people came out to see the dead Giant, they found that rank weeds had grown up already where his blood had fallen, but that round the armour that the Prince had doffed had grown a ring of lovely flowers. Fairest of all was a rose tree in bloom, for the rose that Princess Bluebell had given him had taken root, and had blossomed afresh and made a crown of living roses round the helmet and lay against the stem of the plume.

Then the people took reverently home the golden armour; but Prince Zaphir said that not such armour, but a true heart was the best protection, and that he would not dare to put it on again.

So they hung it up in the Cathedral amongst the grand old flags and the helmets of the old knights, as a memorial of the victory over the Giant.

Prince Zaphir took from the helmet the feather that the King his father had given him of old and he wore it again in his cap. The rose that had blossomed was planted in the centre of the palace garden; and it grew so great that many people could sit under it, and be sheltered from the sun by its wealth of flowers.

When Prince Zaphir’s birthday came, the people had made in secret a great preparation.

When he rose in the morning to go to the Cathedral, the whole people had assembled and lined the way on every side. Each person, old and young, held one rose. Those who had many roses brought them for those who had none; and each person had only one that all might be equal in the sight of the Prince whom they loved. They had taken off all the thorns from the stems that the Prince’s feet might not be hurt. As he passed they threw their roses in the way, till all the long street was a mass of flowers.

As the Prince went by, they stooped and gathered up the roses that his feet had touched; and they treasured them very dearly.

At each birthday of the Prince they did the same for all their lives long. When Zaphir and Bluebell were married, they strewed their path with roses in the same way, for the people loved them much.

Long and happily lived THE ROSE PRINCE – for so they called him – and his beautiful wife Princess Bluebell.

When in the fulness of time King Mago died – as all men must – they ruled as King and Queen. They ruled well and unselfishly, ever denying themselves and striving to make others good and happy.

They were blessed with peace.

The Alchemist By H. P. Lovecraft

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High up, crowning the grassy summit of a swelling mound whose sides are wooded near the base with the gnarled trees of the primeval forest, stands the old chateau of my ancestors. For centuries its lofty battlements have frowned down upon the wild and rugged countryside about, serving as a home and stronghold for the proud house whose honoured line is older even than the moss-grown castle walls. These ancient turrets, stained by the storms of generations and crumbling under the slow yet mighty pressure of time, formed in the ages of feudalism one of the most dreaded and formidable fortresses in all France. From its machicolated parapets and mounted battlements Barons, Counts, and even Kings had been defied, yet never had its spacious halls resounded to the footsteps of the invader.
     But since those glorious years all is changed. A poverty but little above the level of dire want, together with a pride of name that forbids its alleviation by the pursuits of commercial life, have prevented the scions of our line from maintaining their estates in pristine splendour; and the falling stones of the walls, the overgrown vegetation in the parks, the dry and dusty moat, the ill-paved courtyards, and toppling towers without, as well as the sagging floors, the worm-eaten wainscots, and the faded tapestries within, all tell a gloomy tale of fallen grandeur. As the ages passed, first one, then another of the four great turrets were left to ruin, until at last but a single tower housed the sadly reduced descendants of the once mighty lords of the estate.
     It was in one of the vast and gloomy chambers of this remaining tower that I, Antoine, last of the unhappy and accursed Comtes de C——, first saw the light of day, ninety long years ago. Within these walls, and amongst the dark and shadowy forests, the wild ravines and grottoes of the hillside below, were spent the first years of my troubled life. My parents I never knew. My father had been killed at the age of thirty-two, a month before I was born, by the fall of a stone somehow dislodged from one of the deserted parapets of the castle; and my mother having died at my birth, my care and education devolved solely upon one remaining servitor, an old and trusted man of considerable intelligence, whose name I remember as Pierre. I was an only child, and the lack of companionship which this fact entailed upon me was augmented by the strange care exercised by my aged guardian in excluding me from the society of the peasant children whose abodes were scattered here and there upon the plains that surround the base of the hill. At the time, Pierre said that this restriction was imposed upon me because my noble birth placed me above association with such plebeian company. Now I know that its real object was to keep from my ears the idle tales of the dread curse upon our line, that were nightly told and magnified by the simple tenantry as they conversed in hushed accents in the glow of their cottage hearths.
     Thus isolated, and thrown upon my own resources, I spent the hours of my childhood in poring over the ancient tomes that filled the shadow-haunted library of the chateau, and in roaming without aim or purpose through the perpetual dusk of the spectral wood that clothes the side of the hill near its foot. It was perhaps an effect of such surroundings that my mind early acquired a shade of melancholy. Those studies and pursuits which partake of the dark and occult in Nature most strongly claimed my attention.
     Of my own race I was permitted to learn singularly little, yet what small knowledge of it I was able to gain, seemed to depress me much. Perhaps it was at first only the manifest reluctance of my old preceptor to discuss with me my paternal ancestry that gave rise to the terror which I ever felt at the mention of my great house; yet as I grew out of childhood, I was able to piece together disconnected fragments of discourse, let slip from the unwilling tongue which had begun to falter in approaching senility, that had a sort of relation to a certain circumstance which I had always deemed strange, but which now became dimly terrible. The circumstance to which I allude is the early age at which all the Comtes of my line had met their end. Whilst I had hitherto considered this but a natural attribute of a family of short-lived men, I afterward pondered long upon these premature deaths, and began to connect them with the wanderings of the old man, who often spoke of a curse which for centuries had prevented the lives of the holders of my title from much exceeding the span of thirty-two years. Upon my twenty-first birthday, the aged Pierre gave to me a family document which he said had for many generations been handed down from father to son, and continued by each possessor. Its contents were of the most startling nature, and its perusal confirmed the gravest of my apprehensions. At this time, my belief in the supernatural was firm and deep-seated, else I should have dismissed with scorn the incredible narrative unfolded before my eyes.
     The paper carried me back to the days of the thirteenth century, when the old castle in which I sat had been a feared and impregnable fortress. It told of a certain ancient man who had once dwelt on our estates, a person of no small accomplishments, though little above the rank of peasant; by name, Michel, usually designated by the surname of Mauvais, the Evil, on account of his sinister reputation. He had studied beyond the custom of his kind, seeking such things as the Philosopher’s Stone, or the Elixir of Eternal Life, and was reputed wise in the terrible secrets of Black Magic and Alchemy. Michel Mauvais had one son, named Charles, a youth as proficient as himself in the hidden arts, and who had therefore been called Le Sorcier, or the Wizard. This pair, shunned by all honest folk, were suspected of the most hideous practices. Old Michel was said to have burnt his wife alive as a sacrifice to the Devil, and the unaccountable disappearances of many small peasant children were laid at the dreaded door of these two. Yet through the dark natures of the father and the son ran one redeeming ray of humanity; the evil old man loved his offspring with fierce intensity, whilst the youth had for his parent a more than filial affection.
     One night the castle on the hill was thrown into the wildest confusion by the vanishment of young Godfrey, son to Henri the Comte. A searching party, headed by the frantic father, invaded the cottage of the sorcerers and there came upon old Michel Mauvais, busy over a huge and violently boiling cauldron. Without certain cause, in the ungoverned madness of fury and despair, the Comte laid hands on the aged wizard, and ere he released his murderous hold his victim was no more. Meanwhile joyful servants were proclaiming the finding of young Godfrey in a distant and unused chamber of the great edifice, telling too late that poor Michel had been killed in vain. As the Comte and his associates turned away from the lowly abode of the alchemists, the form of Charles Le Sorcier appeared through the trees. The excited chatter of the menials standing about told him what had occurred, yet he seemed at first unmoved at his father’s fate. Then, slowly advancing to meet the Comte, he pronounced in dull yet terrible accents the curse that ever afterward haunted the house of C——.

“May ne’er a noble of thy murd’rous line
Survive to reach a greater age than thine!”

spake he, when, suddenly leaping backwards into the black wood, he drew from his tunic a phial of colourless liquid which he threw into the face of his father’s slayer as he disappeared behind the inky curtain of the night. The Comte died without utterance, and was buried the next day, but little more than two and thirty years from the hour of his birth. No trace of the assassin could be found, though relentless bands of peasants scoured the neighbouring woods and the meadow-land around the hill.
     Thus time and the want of a reminder dulled the memory of the curse in the minds of the late Comte’s family, so that when Godfrey, innocent cause of the whole tragedy and now bearing the title, was killed by an arrow whilst hunting, at the age of thirty-two, there were no thoughts save those of grief at his demise. But when, years afterward, the next young Comte, Robert by name, was found dead in a nearby field from no apparent cause, the peasants told in whispers that their seigneur had but lately passed his thirty-second birthday when surprised by early death. Louis, son to Robert, was found drowned in the moat at the same fateful age, and thus down through the centuries ran the ominous chronicle; Henris, Roberts, Antoines, and Armands snatched from happy and virtuous lives when little below the age of their unfortunate ancestor at his murder.
     That I had left at most but eleven years of further existence was made certain to me by the words which I read. My life, previously held at small value, now became dearer to me each day, as I delved deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the hidden world of black magic. Isolated as I was, modern science had produced no impression upon me, and I laboured as in the Middle Ages, as wrapt as had been old Michel and young Charles themselves in the acquisition of daemonological and alchemical learning. Yet read as I might, in no manner could I account for the strange curse upon my line. In unusually rational moments, I would even go so far as to seek a natural explanation, attributing the early deaths of my ancestors to the sinister Charles Le Sorcier and his heirs; yet having found upon careful inquiry that there were no known descendants of the alchemist, I would fall back to occult studies, and once more endeavour to find a spell that would release my house from its terrible burden. Upon one thing I was absolutely resolved. I should never wed, for since no other branches of my family were in existence, I might thus end the curse with myself.
     As I drew near the age of thirty, old Pierre was called to the land beyond. Alone I buried him beneath the stones of the courtyard about which he had loved to wander in life. Thus was I left to ponder on myself as the only human creature within the great fortress, and in my utter solitude my mind began to cease its vain protest against the impending doom, to become almost reconciled to the fate which so many of my ancestors had met. Much of my time was now occupied in the exploration of the ruined and abandoned halls and towers of the old chateau, which in youth fear had caused me to shun, and some of which, old Pierre had once told me, had not been trodden by human foot for over four centuries. Strange and awesome were many of the objects I encountered. Furniture, covered by the dust of ages and crumbling with the rot of long dampness, met my eyes. Cobwebs in a profusion never before seen by me were spun everywhere, and huge bats flapped their bony and uncanny wings on all sides of the otherwise untenanted gloom.
     Of my exact age, even down to days and hours, I kept a most careful record, for each movement of the pendulum of the massive clock in the library told off so much more of my doomed existence. At length I approached that time which I had so long viewed with apprehension. Since most of my ancestors had been seized some little while before they reached the exact age of Comte Henri at his end, I was every moment on the watch for the coming of the unknown death. In what strange form the curse should overtake me, I knew not; but I was resolved, at least, that it should not find me a cowardly or a passive victim. With new vigour I applied myself to my examination of the old chateau and its contents.
     It was upon one of the longest of all my excursions of discovery in the deserted portion of the castle, less than a week before that fatal hour which I felt must mark the utmost limit of my stay on earth, beyond which I could have not even the slightest hope of continuing to draw breath, that I came upon the culminating event of my whole life. I had spent the better part of the morning in climbing up and down half-ruined staircases in one of the most dilapidated of the ancient turrets. As the afternoon progressed, I sought the lower levels, descending into what appeared to be either a mediaeval place of confinement, or a more recently excavated storehouse for gunpowder. As I slowly traversed the nitre-encrusted passageway at the foot of the last staircase, the paving became very damp, and soon I saw by the light of my flickering torch that a blank, water-stained wall impeded my journey. Turning to retrace my steps, my eye fell upon a small trap-door with a ring, which lay directly beneath my feet. Pausing, I succeeded with difficulty in raising it, whereupon there was revealed a black aperture, exhaling noxious fumes which caused my torch to sputter, and disclosing in the unsteady glare the top of a flight of stone steps. As soon as the torch, which I lowered into the repellent depths, burned freely and steadily, I commenced my descent. The steps were many, and led to a narrow stone-flagged passage which I knew must be far underground. The passage proved of great length, and terminated in a massive oaken door, dripping with the moisture of the place, and stoutly resisting all my attempts to open it. Ceasing after a time my efforts in this direction, I had proceeded back some distance toward the steps, when there suddenly fell to my experience one of the most profound and maddening shocks capable of reception by the human mind. Without warning,I heard the heavy door behind me creak slowly open upon its rusted hinges. My immediate sensations are incapable of analysis. To be confronted in a place as thoroughly deserted as I had deemed the old castle with evidence of the presence of man or spirit, produced in my brain a horror of the most acute description. When at last I turned and faced the seat of the sound, my eyes must have started from their orbits at the sight that they beheld. There in the ancient Gothic doorway stood a human figure. It was that of a man clad in a skull-cap and long mediaeval tunic of dark colour. His long hair and flowing beard were of a terrible and intense black hue, and of incredible profusion. His forehead, high beyond the usual dimensions; his cheeks, deep-sunken and heavily lined with wrinkles; and his hands, long, claw-like, and gnarled, were of such a deathly, marble-like whiteness as I have never elsewhere seen in man. His figure, lean to the proportions of a skeleton, was strangely bent and almost lost within the voluminous folds of his peculiar garment. But strangest of all were his eyes; twin caves of abysmal blackness, profound in expression of understanding, yet inhuman in degree of wickedness. These were now fixed upon me, piercing my soul with their hatred, and rooting me to the spot whereon I stood. At last the figure spoke in a rumbling voice that chilled me through with its dull hollowness and latent malevolence. The language in which the discourse was clothed was that debased form of Latin in use amongst the more learned men of the Middle Ages, and made familiar to me by my prolonged researches into the works of the old alchemists and daemonologists. The apparition spoke of the curse which had hovered over my house, told me of my coming end, dwelt on the wrong perpetrated by my ancestor against old Michel Mauvais, and gloated over the revenge of Charles Le Sorcier. He told how the young Charles had escaped into the night, returning in after years to kill Godfrey the heir with an arrow just as he approached the age which had been his father’s at his assassination; how he had secretly returned to the estate and established himself, unknown, in the even then deserted subterranean chamber whose doorway now framed the hideous narrator; how he had seized Robert, son of Godfrey, in a field, forced poison down his throat, and left him to die at the age of thirty-two, thus maintaining the foul provisions of his vengeful curse. At this point I was left to imagine the solution of the greatest mystery of all, how the curse had been fulfilled since that time when Charles Le Sorcier must in the course of Nature have died, for the man digressed into an account of the deep alchemical studies of the two wizards, father and son, speaking most particularly of the researches of Charles Le Sorcier concerning the elixir which should grant to him who partook of it eternal life and youth.
     His enthusiasm had seemed for the moment to remove from his terrible eyes the hatred that had at first so haunted them, but suddenly the fiendish glare returned, and with a shocking sound like the hissing of a serpent, the stranger raised a glass phial with the evident intent of ending my life as had Charles Le Sorcier, six hundred years before, ended that of my ancestor. Prompted by some preserving instinct of self-defence, I broke through the spell that had hitherto held me immovable, and flung my now dying torch at the creature who menaced my existence. I heard the phial break harmlessly against the stones of the passage as the tunic of the strange man caught fire and lit the horrid scene with a ghastly radiance. The shriek of fright and impotent malice emitted by the would-be assassin proved too much for my already shaken nerves, and I fell prone upon the slimy floor in a total faint.
     When at last my senses returned, all was frightfully dark, and my mind remembering what had occurred, shrank from the idea of beholding more; yet curiosity overmastered all. Who, I asked myself, was this man of evil, and how came he within the castle walls? Why should he seek to avenge the death of poor Michel Mauvais, and how had the curse been carried on through all the long centuries since the time of Charles Le Sorcier? The dread of years was lifted from my shoulders, for I knew that he whom I had felled was the source of all my danger from the curse; and now that I was free, I burned with the desire to learn more of the sinister thing which had haunted my line for centuries, and made of my own youth one long-continued nightmare. Determined upon further exploration, I felt in my pockets for flint and steel, and lit the unused torch which I had with me. First of all, the new light revealed the distorted and blackened form of the mysterious stranger. The hideous eyes were now closed. Disliking the sight, I turned away and entered the chamber beyond the Gothic door. Here I found what seemed much like an alchemist’s laboratory. In one corner was an immense pile of a shining yellow metal that sparkled gorgeously in the light of the torch. It may have been gold, but I did not pause to examine it, for I was strangely affected by that which I had undergone. At the farther end of the apartment was an opening leading out into one of the many wild ravines of the dark hillside forest. Filled with wonder, yet now realising how the man had obtained access to the chateau, I proceeded to return. I had intended to pass by the remains of the stranger with averted face, but as I approached the body, I seemed to hear emanating from it a faint sound, as though life were not yet wholly extinct. Aghast, I turned to examine the charred and shrivelled figure on the floor. Then all at once the horrible eyes, blacker even than the seared face in which they were set, opened wide with an expression which I was unable to interpret. The cracked lips tried to frame words which I could not well understand. Once I caught the name of Charles Le Sorcier, and again I fancied that the words “years” and “curse” issued from the twisted mouth. Still I was at a loss to gather the purport of his disconnected speech. At my evident ignorance of his meaning, the pitchy eyes once more flashed malevolently at me, until, helpless as I saw my opponent to be, I trembled as I watched him.
     Suddenly the wretch, animated with his last burst of strength, raised his hideous head from the damp and sunken pavement. Then, as I remained, paralysed with fear, he found his voice and in his dying breath screamed forth those words which have ever afterward haunted my days and my nights. “Fool,” he shrieked, “can you not guess my secret? Have you no brain whereby you may recognise the will which has through six long centuries fulfilled the dreadful curse upon your house? Have I not told you of the great elixir of eternal life? Know you not how the secret of Alchemy was solved? I tell you, it is I! I! I! that have lived for six hundred years to maintain my revenge, FOR I AM CHARLES LE SORCIER!”

H.P. Lovecraft Covers through the Years

I thought it would be fun to find H.P. Lovecraft book covers that span the decades and put them in order here. Enjoy the terror!

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Astounding Stories – At the Mountains of Madness, 1936

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The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Livros do Brasil, 1941 (I think this is my favourite!)

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Weird Tales (featuring The Shadow Over Innsmouth), 1942

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The Weird Shadow Over Innsmouth, Bart House, 1944

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Best Supernatural Stories, The World Publishing Company, 1946

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The Survivor and Others, 1957

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Dreams and Fancies, Arkham House, 1962

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The Colour Out of Space – and Others, Lancer Books, 1964

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The Colour Out of Space and Others, Lancer Books 1969

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The Lurking Fear and Other Stories, 1970

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Dans L’abime du Temps, 1973 (or maybe this is my favourite…)

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Watchers Out of Time and Others, Arkham House, 1974

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The Colour Out of Space, Zebra Books, 1975

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El Caso de Charles Dexter Ward, Alianza/Biblioteca de Fantasia y Terror, 1998

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An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, Hippocampus Press, 2004

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Beyond the Wall of Sleep (Complete Works), CreateSpace Indie, 2013

 

10 Short Stories challenge – day 1

I’ve set myself a challenge – to read ten short stories over the next ten days and blog about them here.

 

All of the stories will be strange or odd (of course!) and all will be free to read online. I’ll post a link with each post so that you can read the story too (comments would be lovely so that I don’t get lonely on the challenge).

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So, the first story! Today I read Thomas Ligotti‘s The Night School.

To be honest, I nearly gave up after the first two paragraphs. I found it a bit clunky and it wasn’t holding my interest. Then (and I’m not sure when or how), I was sucked in. The school in the story is such a wonderfully scary building and I don’t know how the narrator managed to continue on his journey. One of my favourite things for a story to do is smell. That may sound weird if you don’t have the same opinion, but I find that with some books (Gormenghast springs to mind), I can smell the room, the person, the feeling. The Night School reeks!

Ligotti is easily one of the most respected horror/supernatural authors alive today, often compared to Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. I must admit, this is the first Ligotti story that I’ve read and I’m looking forward to more (suggestions and links very welcome). How I’ve not stumbled across him before (although I’ve heard his name dozens of times since the release of True Detective), I really don’t know.

If you prefer to be scared via audio, have a listen to this:

David Tibet of Current 93 is a friend of Ligotti and they have collaborated on numerous tracks. The one above features Tibet reading Ligotti‘s poem I Have A Special Plan For This World, set to eerie music and startling sound effects.

I read The Night School over on Weird Fiction Review. Go and have a read and come back to tell me your thoughts in the comments 🙂