Tuesday Terror! Lot No. 249 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Beware the Mummy!!

As autumn nights grow darker, the fretful porpentine has poked his little nose out of his hibernation box and demanded new stories to get him through the winter months. Or old stories – like this one from the master storyteller Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Who better to kick off a new season of horror…?

Tuesday Terror 2Lot No. 249 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

…when we think how narrow and how devious this path of Nature is, how dimly we can trace it, for all our lamps of science, and how from the darkness which girds it round great and terrible possibilities loom ever shadowly upwards, it is a bold and confident man who will put a limit to the strange by-paths into which the human spirit may wander.

Three students live in a corner turret in Old College in Oxford. Our hero is Abercrombie Smith, a medical student studying hard for his final exams, and a man of both robust physical attributes and a steady, unimaginative mind. On the floor below is Edward Bellingham, a strange and rather repulsive man with a pasty complexion and rolls of loose skin as if he had lost a lot of weight at some time. He is a student of Eastern languages and has spent much time amongst the people of Egypt and the arab lands. Below him is William Monkhouse Lee – a friend of Bellingham, who is engaged to be married to Lee’s sister. They are connected by an ancient staircase…

Life has flowed like water down this winding stair, and, waterlike, has left these smooth-worn grooves behind it. From the long-gowned, pedantic scholars of Plantagenet days down to the young bloods of a later age, how full and strong has been that tide of young, English life. And what was left now of all those hopes, those strivings, those fiery energies, save here and there in some old-world churchyard a few scratches upon a stone, and perchance a handful of dust in a mouldering coffin? Yet here were the silent stair and the grey, old wall, with bend and saltire and many another heraldic device still to be read upon its surface, like grotesque shadows thrown back from the days that had passed.

Abercrombie Smith is warned by his friend James Hastie to steer clear of Bellingham. Hastie says Bellingham’s character is as unpleasant as his appearance, and gives an example to back up his claim…

“Well, you know the towpath along by the river. There were several fellows going along it, Bellingham in front, when they came on an old market-woman coming the other way. It had been raining–you know what those fields are like when it has rained – and the path ran between the river and a great puddle that was nearly as broad. Well, what does this swine do but keep the path, and push the old girl into the mud, where she and her marketings came to terrible grief. It was a blackguard thing to do…”

Despite this tale, Abercrombie Smith suspects that Hastie is in love with Bellingham’s fiancée and that it’s the green-eyed monster talking, so dismisses his warnings.

However, later that night, after Hastie has left, Abercrombie Smith hears a stange hissing noise from the room below. Then suddenly…

…there broke out in the silence of the night a hoarse cry, a positive scream – the call of a man who is moved and shaken beyond all control.

Lee bursts into his room asking for assistance – Bellingham has apparently been taken ill. Abercrombie Smith rushes down to find Bellingham in a dead faint. His room is more like a museum – filled with curiosities from the East and strange relics from the tombs of Egypt, and a stuffed crocodile suspended from the ceiling. But there’s one thing in particular that sends chills down Abercrombie Smith’s spine…

…a mummy case, which had been conveyed from the wall, as was evident from the gap there, and laid across the front of the table. The mummy itself, a horrid, black, withered thing, like a charred head on a gnarled bush, was lying half out of the case, with its claw-like hand and bony forearm resting upon the table. Propped up against the sarcophagus was an old, yellow scroll of papyrus, and in front of it, in a wooden armchair, sat the owner of the room, his head thrown back, his widely opened eyes directed in a horrified stare to the crocodile above him, and his blue, thick lips puffing loudly with every expiration.

Boris Karloff as The Mummy (1932)

Soon Abercrombie Smith will be locked in battle against an evil beyond his wildest imaginings…

* * * * * * *

Did you know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the first person to create a story about a mummy being brought back to life for evil purposes? No, neither did I. Isn’t that fascinating? So every time you watch a mummy movie, it was inspired either directly or indirectly by this story.

Sometimes the problem with these old originals is that each generation of descendants adds something to them until eventually the originals can seem a bit bland. I must say I think this story stands up very well for about 95% of it, and then has a rather anti-climactic ending in comparison to what we’d expect now. The old college and winding staircase give it all a nicely gothic feel and of course Conan Doyle’s writing is perfectly suited to that kind of style. There are some genuinely creepy moments, and a particularly scary scene when our hero is pursued through the night by the murderous mummy.

I do like my horror stories to include the old battle between good and evil thing, and this has that to perfection. So it’s not just interesting for its place in the history of horror, it’s also still a very enjoyable tale of terror in its own right. The porpentine and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

But the wisdom of men is small, and the ways of Nature are strange, and who shall put a bound to the dark things which may be found by those who seek for them?

Who indeed?

If you’d like to read it, here’s a link. It’s quite a long short story – maybe about an hour’s worth.

* * * * * * *

Fretful Porpentine rating:  😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:            😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

* * * * * * *

NB For the benefit of new readers since it’s the porpy’s first appearance for the season, the fretful porpentine reference comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine

So the Fretful Porpentine rating is for the scariness factor, whereas the Overall Rating is for the story’s quality.

* * * * * * *

46 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Lot No. 249 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  1. Every time you have a fretful porpentine rating, I start snickering because I automatically think of Bertie Wooster, of course – “Odd that [Hamlet’s ghost] should have said porpentine when he meant porcupine. Slip of the tongue, no doubt, as so often happens with ghosts.”

  2. Great to see our old friend the Porpentine up and about once more! What a charming tale this seems to be and set in Old College, too! One cannot go wrong with Conan Doyle. I will read this with all the lights on later this evening 🙂

  3. Oh, well, hello, Porpentine! Nice to see you again. And I’m glad you thought this story was a good ‘un, with a few frets, too. Conan Doyle did have the writing style for a good scare, didn’t he? And a mummy is always an excellent touch for a Gothic sort of story. Glad you liked it.

    • The porpentine and I always enjoy a bit of Conan Doyle. And while this one didn’t totally freeze our young blood, we felt our souls were harrowed a bit… especially when the hero was being pursued by the mummy through the darkness… Good stuff!

  4. How did I miss reading this one? Must make amends soon. Nothing like curling up with a good scary story on these nights when it’s been getting darker earlier! Nice to see Mr. Porpentine again, too!

    • Conan Doyle was so prolific – I don’t think I’ve read even half his stuff. But his short stories are always good and never rely on gore etc. Perfect autumn reading! The porpy is happy to be out and about again… 😀

  5. Even porpie’s schnozzle is bright pink with terror – the mummy (aided by your picture) had me whimpering plaintively and appreciatively. And its only mid afternoon. I might save the full story link for just before bedtime…………and just hope that MY schozzle doesn’t glow pink with petrification

    • It’s intriguing that ACD should have started the whole mummy thing – I’d never have guessed! You should be OK though – so long as you’ve been keeping in training. The secret is to start running as soon as you hear a noise behind you… it might be a cat… but it might not!!! I’m not so worried about your nose turning that colour, but I do hope it doesn’t become that shape…

  6. Yay! Glad to see Tuesday Terror and Porpentine! I never read this story, so thank you for calling it to our attention. I didn’t know he was the first to write this sort of story. Kudos to him!

    • The Porpy does a grateful bow! I hadn’t heard of it either, but I’m very impressed that he came up with the whole mummy idea – what an imagination! And it stands up well… 😀

  7. It’s good to see the Porpentine back again and I’m glad this story was a success with both of you! I’ll have to think about reading it myself – I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far of Conan Doyle’s non-Holmes stories.

    • The porpy thanks you! He’s glad to be out and about again. I love Conan Doyle – he’s a real master of the short story, whatever the genre. And this is definitely a good one… 😀

    • Haha – no! Well, at least, if we weren’t supposed to work out it’s the mummy early on, then he failed! 😉 No, the story is more about what Abercrombie Smith does…

  8. Oh dear Porpentine, how nice to see you 🙂 Though your fretfulness rating is a mere 3, I suspect this tale would be enough to terrify the quills off me. I’m always frightened by Mummys. And Zombies. And pretty much everything really. But it IS nice to see you again 🙂 🙂

  9. I certainly didn’t know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the first person to write about an evil mummy! I will remember that as I re-watch, one of favourites, The Mummy (1999) with Brendan Frasier and Rachel Weisz in 😀

  10. A Conan Doyle I had never heard about. Thank you! Though I must admit that despite your review, I’m afraid the book is a bit too creepy for me. I am still traumatised by Tintin and the 7 Crystal Balls to read or watch anything that has a mummy brought back to life. Yikes!

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