Tuesday Terror! No. 3 Branch Line, The Compensation House by Charles Collins



Penny Dreadful 3Since I started this little journey into horror, my recommendations from Amazon have taken a somewhat sinister turn. Last week they drew my attention to a new series of Kindle collections – the Penny Dreadful Multipacks. Each volume contains two or three stories and a little bonus or two. I selected Volume 3, which includes a bonus essay explaining the origins of the Penny Dreadful…

The term Penny Dreadful came to be applied to any sensational literature that came from the cheap Victorian printing presses rather than the more respected publishing houses. Or, indeed, to any kind of lurid matter from the time, including and not limited to… Dracula, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Wagner the Wehr Wolf, Varney the Vampire, The String of Pearls [in which Sweeney Todd made his first appearance]…

So while a lot of the stories were apparently really dreadful, there were some future classics hiding in there too. Volume 3 contains The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Mysteries of Paris Vols. I – III by Eugene Sue (which is about the same length as War and Peace, so may never be read by this reader!), and the story I’ve selected for this week’s…


“Sir, he was Strange by name, and Strange by nature, and Strange to look at into the bargain.”

No. 3 Branch Line, The Compensation House was first published in Charles Dickens’ periodical All the Year Round, which I don’t think would have ever fallen into the Penny Dreadful category, so I guess it counts as one of the bonuses. And I suspect it intrigued the editors for the same reason as it did me – namely, the author Charles Collins was the brother of the infinitely more famous William Wilkie Collins, not to mention husband of Dickens’ daughter Kate.

What a vision of horror that was, in the great dark empty room, in a silence that was something more than negative, that ghastly figure frozen into stone by some unexplained terror! And the silence and the stillness! The very thunder had ceased now. My heart stood still with fear…

Mr Strange is a still a young man but is dying of an incurable lung disease. For years though, he has been tortured by a weird hatred of mirrors and will not allow one in his house. If he catches sight of his face in a mirror, he sometimes goes into a wild rage, destroying the mirror, while at other times he goes into a kind of catatonic trance, standing staring at his own reflection for hours with the utmost sadness and horror. Now that his death is approaching he has decided to tell his doctor and faithful servant what it is he sees when he looks in a mirror…and why…

‘Why, look there!’ he said, in a low, indistinct voice, pointing to his own image in the glass. ‘Whose face do you see there?’

‘Why, yours, of course.’ And then, after a moment, I added, ‘Whose do you see?’

He answered, like one in a trance, ‘His – only his – always his!’ He stood still a moment, and then, with a loud and terrific scream, repeated those words, ‘ALWAYS HIS, ALWAYS HIS,’…

Charles Allston Collins by Millais
Charles Allston Collins
by Millais

This is quite a good little tale, not totally horrifying but certainly a bit chilling. Collins writes very well and builds a nice atmosphere of rather unsettling mystery. For much of the story, we don’t know whether there’s something supernatural going on or whether Mr Strange’s affliction is a product of his own mind. As the story progresses we discover that guilt has a part to play and that the story is one of a search for ultimate forgiveness and redemption. Since this was printed in the Christmas edition of a Dickens’ publication, I’m sure you can guess how that works out!

An enjoyable story – and the Penny Dreadful Multipacks look very interesting for anyone who has a taste for Victorian sensation stories (and a Kindle). The formatting is fine, there is an easy-to-navigate table of contents and there’s a good sprinkling of the original illustrations. I suspect I’ll be downloading a few more of these…

Fretful porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:         🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

27 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! No. 3 Branch Line, The Compensation House by Charles Collins

  1. It certainly sounds like a solid story, FictionFan. And those Victorian ‘shockers’ can be great to read. Thanks for pointing us in this direction. Now you’ve got me wanting to know what’s in that mirror and why…

    • Perceptive…very perceptive! Have you been attending Miss Marple classes??

      Hehe, I know – I did wonder if the story might be awful and only got into the mag via the family connections, so was pleasantly surprised to find it was quite good.

    • I hadn’t realised how many classics had started out in that format – now that I know that, I might look a bit more closely…though some of them look horrendously long.

        • A-ha! That explains it! I wasn’t joking about the length of Mysteries of Paris – there must be 800 pages of it in this one, and I believe there’s another one still to come out containing volumes 4-6! It would have to be the most wonderful book ever written to tempt me at that length…

  2. If his haircut was anything like that sported in the author’s picture it was a classic ‘bad hair day’ reaction. And, following on from Jilanne’s comment – was it the face of his barber, whom he killed in rage, following the dreadfully unflattering cut – a mix of pudding bowl on the head and bald combover

    Mind you, I may go investigating that recc!

    • Oh, I hope you like it! I doubt if I’ll ever read the big long story – The Mystery of Paris – but I still think it’s a great deal even just for this story and Jekyll and Hyde…

  3. This theme was used in “A House Without Mirrors” on the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. from November 1979. It is free to listen to on the internet.

    • Oh, thank you for that! I shall take a listen!

      Thanks for popping in and commenting, and sorry about the delay in replying – too much sunshine and tennis at the moment… 🙂

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