Tuesday Terror! The Well by WW Jacobs

Ding, dong, bell…

 

murder at the manorWW Jacobs is best known for the truly terrifying tale of The Monkey’s Paw. When his name cropped up in Murder at the Manor, another of the British Library’s anthologies of classic crime, I assumed he must also have written detective stories. However the collection’s editor, Martin Edwards, explains that, though Jacobs is primarily a writer of macabre stories, this story has been included because it is a study of the consequences of crime.

Macabre indeed! A perfect story for this week’s…

 

Tuesday Terror

The Well by WW Jacobs

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WW Jacobs
WW Jacobs

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Two men stood in the billiard-room of an old country house, talking. Play, which had been of a half-hearted nature, was over, and they sat at the open window, looking out over the park stretching away beneath them, conversing idly.

Jem Benson is soon to marry the woman he loves – Olive, a sweet young girl who idolises him. His friend Wilfred Carr is, as usual, short of money and as they chat in the billiard room he asks Jem to give him a loan, as he done often before. But Jem has had enough…

“Seriously, Jem, will you let me have the fifteen hundred?”
“No,” said the other, simply.
Carr went white. “It’s to save me from ruin,” he said, thickly.
“I’ve helped you till I’m tired,” said Benson, turning and regarding him, “and it is all to no good. If you’ve got into a mess, get out of it.”

But Carr won’t give up so easily. He knows something about Jem’s past, something that would make the idealistic Olive see him a new and unflattering light… and he can prove it…

His cousin reached forward suddenly, and catching him by the collar of his coat pinned him down on the table.
“Give me those letters,” he breathed, sticking his face close to Carr’s.
“They’re not here,” said Carr, struggling. “I’m not a fool. Let me go, or I’ll raise the price.”

And Carr walks out into the garden… and disappears. When his absence is noticed, Jem explains by saying they had a row over money and Jem sent him off…

“I don’t think we shall see him again.”

the well 2

* * * * *

The well, which had long ago fallen into disuse, was almost hidden by the thick tangle of undergrowth which ran riot at that corner of the old park. It was partly covered by the shrunken half of a lid, above which a rusty windlass creaked in company with the music of the pines when the wind blew strongly. The full light of the sun never reached it, and the ground surrounding it was moist and green when other parts of the park were gaping with the heat.

The following evening, Jem and Olive are strolling in the grounds when Olive takes it into her head to wander towards the old well. Jem does his best to dissuade her, but she likes to sit there on the edge of the well surveying the wilderness around it…

“I like this place,” said she, breaking a long silence, “it is so dismal –so uncanny. Do you know I wouldn’t dare to sit here alone, Jem. I should imagine that all sorts of dreadful things were hidden behind the bushes and trees, waiting to spring out on me. Ugh!”

(Isn’t she just so sweet and innocent?) As they sit there, canoodling, not to put too fine a point on it, Olive wonders when they will next hear from Wilfred, asking Jem to help him out as usual. She is startled by the bitter way Jem responds…

“You don’t know much about him,” said the other, sharply. “He was not above blackmail; not above ruining the life of a friend to do himself a benefit. A loafer, a cur, and a liar!”

the well 3

At this moment, Olive suddenly leaps up with a cry! Jem asks her what the matter is…

“I was startled,” she said, slowly, putting her hands on his shoulder. “I suppose the words I used just now are ringing in my ears, but I fancied that somebody behind us whispered ‘Jem, help me out.'”

Shivering, Jem pleads with her to come away from the well, but she’s an obstinate little thing. Not content with making Jem stay near the well, she then girlishly proceeds to drop her valuable and irreplaceable bracelet down it…

“The one that was my mother’s,” said Olive. “Oh, we can get it back surely. We must have the water drained off.”
“Your bracelet!” repeated Benson, stupidly.
“Jem,” said the girl in terrified tones, “dear Jem, what is the matter?”
For the man she loved was standing regarding her with horror. The moon which touched it was not responsible for all the whiteness of the distorted face, and she shrank back in fear to the edge of the well.

Desperate, Jem promises he will retrieve the bracelet himself the next day. And sure enough, the next day he has himself lowered into the well…

The_Scream

* * * * *

This is a brilliant little story that had the porpentine and me fairly shrieking with terror! Jacobs knows exactly how to build up atmosphere and tension, and while there’s never any doubt about what happened to Wilfred, he still manages to produce a truly shocking ending! Admittedly, had I been Jem I’d have solved the issue by lending Wilf the money and tossing Olive down the well, but that wouldn’t have made for nearly such a fun story. It’s quite short – only about 4,000 words. Go on, you’re brave enough! If your hair turns white, you can always dye it! Here’s a link…

 

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

 

It's a fretful porpentine!!
It’s a fretful porpentine!!

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41 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Well by WW Jacobs

  1. Can’t you just tell me if he drowned or was eaten by rats? Great review, FEF! Olive is a bit innocent. Maybe needs a beating or something–from her mother. Imagine dropping such things in a well. The nerve.

    Do you suppose he got his white hair from reading his own stuff?

  2. Oh, I can see where this is going… it’s only 4000 words I can surely sneak that into my reading schedule. I loved The Monkey’s Paw so definitely going to give this one a peek…

    • Oh yes, you can read this in less time than it takes to tickle Terry’s tummy! But then you might have to lie down and do deep breathing exercises for a few hours to recover…

  3. Well, hello, Porpentine! I’m not surprised at all that you found this story both absorbing and, well, fret-inducing. Jacobs really was good at those macabre kinds of stories. And Edwards is an excellent editor, so I’m not surprised he chose well for this collection.

    • The poor porpy hasn’t properly recovered yet, and is so afraid I might make him read more! I do think I’ll have to investigate WW Jacobs further – his stories are way above most of the horror stories I’ve read for sheer scariness. Yes, there’s a couple in this collection that are definitely more horror than conventional crime, which is a good way of mixing it up a bit. 🙂

  4. Ha ha! I was just hoping Olive fell down the well or something scary sprang out at her and carried her off through the trees! I need to read this story. I’m intrigued by the excerpts you included. But I’ll be disappointed if Olive remains to whine about that old scary well.

    • Isn’t she annoying? One quick shove and Jem could have done the whole world a favour… 😉

      If you get time to read it, I hope you enjoy it – it scared the porpentine into fits!

    • These are the only two of his stories I’ve read and they’ve both had the porpy quivering! I might get an entire collection just to see how high his spikes can go… 😉

  5. The Monkey’s Paw is such a scary story, I wish I hadn’t read it! The Well wasn’t much better… The only good thing about it is that Benson didn’t have to worry about the horror after the honeymoon!

    • Haha! Yes, I should imagine marriage to Olive would be way worse than what was in the well! I’ve never forgotten the Monkey’s Paw since the first time I read it way back when – he’s great at truly disturbing endings…

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