Tuesday Terror! Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad by MR James

…or alternatively – run, run, RUN!!!

 

I haven’t read a lot of MR James, mainly because any time I do I come away thinking that they are well written but not very scary. However, the last time I mentioned that, my old mate Lady Fancifull declared that this story made her ‘clammy spined’ – a wondrous expression, I feel, and one that should be investigated further. So here goes – another chance for Mr James to redeem himself on this week’s…

Tuesday Terror

Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad

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by MR James

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MR James
MR James

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Professor Parkins proposes to spend his holiday playing golf in the seaside town of Burnstow on the East Coast. An archaeological colleague asks him if, while there, he would mind having a look at the site of an ancient Templar preceptory with a view to determining whether it would be worth having a dig there. The Professor agrees, since he will be staying very near to the ruins, in the Globe Inn. Another colleague jokes that he hopes there will be no ghosts in the Inn, which sets Parkins off on what appears to be a well worn lecture…

“ – I hold that any semblance, any appearance of concession to the view that such things might exist is equivalent to a renunciation of all that I hold most sacred.”

(You just know he’s going to have to eat those words, don’t you?) Off he goes, and finds on arrival at the Inn that the room he has been given has two beds in it, no singles being available, and the three windows face out to the shore.

John Hurt as Professor Parkins in the 2010 BBC dramatisation
John Hurt as Professor Parkins in the 2010 BBC dramatisation

The following day Parkins spends the morning playing golf with a fellow guest, Colonel Wilson, and in the afternoon toddles off to look at the Templar site. Digging around, he finds a recess in the structure and when he feels inside he discovers a little metal cylinder, which he promptly pockets (this being the Englishman’s normal behaviour whenever coming across anything of archaeological interest).

Bleak and solemn was the view on which he took a last look before starting homeward. A faint yellow light in the west showed the links, on which a few figures moving towards the club-house were still visible, the squat martello tower, the lights of Aldsey village, the pale ribbon of sands intersected at intervals by black wooden groynes, the dim and murmuring sea.

As he looks behind him, he sees a strange figure apparently trying to catch up to him, but he hurries on to the Inn.

Illustration ©2012-2015 PhilipHarvey
Illustration ©2012-2015 PhilipHarvey

Late that evening, he finds the metal cylinder in his pocket and, by the light of his candles, he discovers it’s a whistle, inscribed in Latin. Part of the inscription is Quis est iste qui venitWho is this who is coming? But he can’t work out the other part, FLA FUR BIS FLE (nor me, but Google can!), which is a pity since it might have stopped him blowing it. But blow it he does…

It was a sound…that seemed to have the power…of forming pictures in the brain. He saw quite clearly for a moment a vision of a wide, dark expanse at night, with a fresh wind blowing and in the midst a lonely figure – how employed, he could not tell. Perhaps he would have seen more had not the picture been broken by the sudden surge of a gust of wind against his casement, so sudden that it made him look up, just in time to see the white glint of a sea-bird’s wing somewhere outside the dark panes.

The wind grows stronger, blowing open his window and blowing out the candles! Finally wrestling the window shut again, he tries to compose himself to sleep. But each time he closes his eyes, the same pictures appear to him – a long stretch of shore like the one outside his window, and a man running, running in fear – but of what? And then Parkins sees what is chasing the man…

Oh-Whistle-and-Ill-come-to-you-my-lad-Jonathan Barry

…a figure in pale, fluttering draperies, ill-defined. There was something about its motion which made Parkins very unwilling to see it at close quarters. It would stop, raise arms, bow itself toward the sand, then run stooping across the beach to the water-edge and back again; and then, rising upright, once more continue its course forward at a speed that was startling and terrifying.

Eventually Parkins falls asleep, but not before hearing some strange sounds, he thinks rats perhaps, scuttling across the room towards the other, empty bed…

 

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Hurrah! An MR James story that is actually creepy! It’s also well written and has a lot of humour in it – especially around Parkins trying to maintain his disbelief in the supernatural despite the mysterious goings on in the other bed. Personally I’d have been out of that room sharpish, before evening fell, but he always manages to find a ‘rational’ explanation, however unlikely. At the point where a young boy is seen running away from the hotel shrieking about a horrible figure in the window – yes, of course, Parkins’ window – even the grouchy Colonel is beginning to have doubts, but not Parkins! Of course, if people did the sensible thing and ran away there wouldn’t be so many good horror stories – and this is a good one! It’s not too long – about 8,000 words – so here’s a link if you’d like to read it and find out what happens the next night…

ohwhistle-mcbride

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PS The title is taken from a poem by Robert Burns – James was clearly a man of impeccable taste! Needless to say, Burns’ poem is about love rather than ghosties…

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Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀

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porpentine

58 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad by MR James

  1. This does sound creepy, FictionFan! And I do love that setting – just perfect for the story. I have to say I am in admiration of anyone who can motivate a reader to stay engaged in a story even knowing what’s likely going to happen. That famous ‘There’s a rational explanation for everything and I don’t believe in the supernatural’ attitude just begs to be proved wrong…

    • Surprisingly it was! But I liked the humour just as much – especially poor old Parkins having to eat his words in the end. Unless of course it was all in his mind… *spooky music*

  2. I’m surprised you don’t generally find M.R. James scary.

    When I was a kid I was in bed with a cold one day I read, despite strict instructions from my mum (huh! what does she know?), The Collected Stories of M.R. James from cover to cover. By the time I’d finished I was in a hell of state, and was actually hallucinating half-seen monstrosities scuttling across my bedroom.

    Many years later, spotting the book in my young daughter’s hand, I told her about this, and warned her not to commit the same error. Needless to say (huh! what does he know?) . . . Yep. That night she had to sleep in her parents’ bed.

    • Haha! The best way to get a child to read is to tell him not to! I don’t know – I’ve only read three or four stories so maybe I just picked the wrong ones – or maybe the effect builds cumulatively if you read them all at once. Hmm… perhaps I should try a marathon session…

  3. How, my dear friend, is your spine – tested it for droplets of clam, have you? I must say, even porpie’s nose looks swollen with anxiety. Or is it hayfever?

    And thanks for the link. And I have a right royal clammer coming on Friday

    • No, it’s actually very good, if a little more academically written than I generally prefer. But it’s a huge brick and requires proper attention, so I’m finding I’m only reading about 20 pages at a time – should finish it by the end of the month hopefully! Personally, I suspect ’twas the butler…

    • Well worth reading! Ha, yes! Fortunately I read it fairly early in the evening and was thinking ‘I’m glad I’m not reading this in bed just before lights out…’ 😉

  4. Brava! Probably not one I will read at bedtime. I remember when I was all about spooky stories I woke up in the middle of the night and saw a ghost in my bedroom. I knew better than raise a ruckus. Then, of course, with the nerves on the alert, I needed to make a trip down the hall. Finally, I picked up my pillow and prepared to swat whatever it was with high hopes. It turned out to be a slip that I had put up there earlier in the night.

  5. After the fright I got from Agatha Christie I was quite reluctant to read anything that could be described as horror, but I read James at Uni (one of my friends was a fan) and I remember this story quite clearly. it made me feel like the porpentine looks! 🙂

  6. Is that last picture an example of how it feels to be clammy spined? Fretful! I cannot tolerate my spine coming undone in such a manner! I shall be a coward and hide under my bed. Even though that’s where all monsters hide.

  7. It seems to be a law of fiction that any character who says they do not believe in the supernatural will see a ghost before the story ends. I love your horror story reviews – I’m too wimpy to read scary stories but I like hearing about them!

  8. Wow. M R James is new to me! I noticed a nice collection of his short stories online. 🙂 The one above sounds good. This is a great time of year for ghost stories.

    • I’ve only read a few and don’t always find him scary but I do always find the stories well written and fun. Yes, I like reading ghost stories on the run up to Hallowe’en – and then again for Christmas… those long dark nights with the wind howling round and trees creaking outside the windows…

  9. Huzzah Fiction Fan! Thanks for doing this classic justice with your well-rounded review (and I loved the images…always fascinating to see how others imagine fictional characters and spooks)! My mother and I both loved this tale and found it quiet disturbing…but then when we begged by sister to read it, promising much spine-tingling chills, she finished it and remarked ‘What? He’s being chased? By a sheet!?’ 😉

    • Haha! I must admit when I thought about it afterwards I also realised that basically it was a sheet! Very clever of him, actually…

      I love all the images available for these classic horror stories – and classic sci-fi. They inspire so much art – looking for them is one of my favourite parts of blogging… 😀

  10. First off, I like the name lots “Mr James”. Why bother with a first when you can do that?

    *taps foot* So, what’s the other part of the latin? You must tell me–at once.

    Oh, and I think he should’ve pulled the beds together, and stretched a sheet across them. And there you are: one bed.

    • It’s good isn’t it? I’m going to change by name to Melinda Isabella Susannah Seraphina FEF!

      Spoiler!! But… well, since it’s you… apparently it means “You will blow, you will go mad, you will weep”. Pity he didn’t know…

      But then the… thing… would have been right next to him!! No, he should have run…

      • *laughing lots and lots* Do you know…that really suits you? I like it lots, Seraphina.

        It is a pity. Still, I would’ve blown it. That message isn’t too, too scary, see.

        He should’ve…smashed it by laying on it, or something!

        • I do too, rather, Pierre Rudolf Ozymandias Federico!

          Yeah, you’re brave now! But late at night, with the wind howling and only a candle for light, and no-one within hearing range, and scrabbling noises under the other bed… *shudders*

          Well, that would certainly have made the story shorter…

          • *mouth drops* Is that my new name? Wow. It’ll take me a week to memorize it.

            But see, you must always ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen? If it was an invader, I’d kill them dead. If it was a ghost…I’d kill that dead, too. *feels proud*

            I’ve such a skill at making stories shorter.

            • It is, Pierre! Which means you’ll need to speak with a French accent now!

              The worst that could happen? Hmm! It might drive me so insane that I’d start voluntarily listening to Kenny G… *shudders*

              You should write crime novels then…

  11. That’s given me ideas for getting my children to read… forbid them… on no account must you read MR James or Edgar Allan Poe – too scary… See, I don’t care about the trauma to their little minds at all, as long as they read!

    • Oh, trauma is good for kids – it keeps them on their toes! And the psychology definitely works – which is why my entire class read The Exorcist when we were fourteen… 😉

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