Tuesday Terror! The Wonderful Tune by Jessie Douglas Kerruish

Shall we dance?

Most of the best known writers of horror and weird tales are men, but in the collection Queens of the Abyss, Mike Ashley sets out to show that many women were writing in these genres too around the late 19th/early 20th century period. This one is deliciously horrid, from the pen of a Manx writer entirely unknown to me…

The Wonderful Tune
by Jessie Douglas Kerruish

“What is the Huldra King’s Tune?” asked Iris.
“It is the crowning piece of Huldra music; and there is a spell attached to it,” said Larssen.

Our narrator, Cyril Lambton, is a young man escorting his new fiancée, Iris, and her mother across the Rhaetic Alps, when an accident causes the three to seek refuge in a Swiss inn. Cyril has been hurt and the people in the inn help Iris to treat his wounded arm and shoulder. When he comes to, he is introduced to one of his fellow guests…

“And my name – I have no card on my person – is Einar Larssen.”
We three started in unison – “The violinist?” exclaimed Iris, and he bowed and pushed back a straggling lock self-consciously.

The inn is a welcoming place but there is a hidden horror. When the women go off to check out the accommodation, the innkeeper and Larssen tell Cyril what is concealed behind the closed door off the parlour…

“Three corpses.”

Cyril is not unnaturally a little discombobulated by this information. The innkeeper tells him the three men were lost in an avalanche some weeks earlier, and earlier that day their remains had been found…

“Caspar Ragotli is entire,’’ said mine host, with a nod at the door; “Melchoir Fischer—” He told us, detailedly, how this Melchoir was in pieces, most of them there, while of the third, Hans Buol, only one hand had been discovered, “But we know it for Buol’s, by the open knife grasped in it,’’ our entertainer proceeded, gloatingly. “A fine new knife from your Sheffield, Monsieur Lambton.”

The three men agree that the women should not be told about the corpses, since their delicate minds obviously couldn’t cope with the thought. So they all have a merry supper, and afterwards Madame Larssen persuades her husband to play his violin. He begins to play some folk tunes…

“You will not hear these at a paid-for concert—God forbid! ” he observed, his dreamy voice filling a pause between two melodies. “You are hearing, my friends, what few but children of Norway ever hear, scraps of the Huldrasleet. The melodies of the Elf-Kind—the Huldra Folk we name them— no less. Snatches that bygone musicians overheard on chancey nights out in the loneliness of fiords and fells, and passed on down the ages.”

Hulderfolk by August Schneider 1842-1873
Spot the tails peeping out from below the women’s skirts

Then he tells them of how he himself once heard the Huldra, one snowy night much like this night. He tells how their music made him dance…

“It got into my fingers and toes; I began to dance to it. There in the snow I danced, and my senses flowed out of my body in sheer ecstasy, while my emptied heart and head were filled with the tune.”

He plays a little snatch of the tune, and his wife cries out…

“Einar, can it be you heard the Huldra King’s Tune? Then thank Heaven you cannot play it!”

Larssen tells them the legend of the tune, that when it is played all who hear it must dance whether they will or no, and the player must repeat the tune again and again…

“He can only stop if—let me consider—yes, if he plays it backward or, failing that, if the strings of his violin are cut for him.”

The other guests laugh, of course, and beg him to play the tune. Before he begins, he relates one last piece of the legend…

“There was one more detail,” he went on. “Ah, it is that if the tune is played often enough, inanimate things must dance, too.”

What could possibly go wrong?

* * * * *

This seems to be based on an old Irish folk tale about a wonderful tune that makes all who hear it dance, but Kerruish has taken that basic idea, mixed it in with Scandinavian folklore, and added more than a touch of the macabre to create a horridly chilling little tale. It’s very well told, starting off slow and building to a crescendo as the guests all begin to dance… and then as the tune continues find they cannot stop… and then we remember what is in the other room behind the closed door…

As with so much horror writing of times gone by, it’s all in the art of understatement. Most of the horrors are in the mind of the reader. Kerruish gives us just enough hints so that our imagination is filled with dread – so much more effective than laying out every detail on the page.

If you’d like to find out what happens, here’s a link. I’m afraid it’s not very well formatted but it’s the only online version I can find – you need to scroll down to page 157 to find the beginning of this story. Otherwise, you can of course find it in Queens of the Abyss – I’ve only read a couple of the stories so far, but it’s shaping up to be an interesting collection.

(The porpy is exhausted from all that dancing…)

Fretful Porpentine rating:   😮 😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:            😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

47 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Wonderful Tune by Jessie Douglas Kerruish

    • I liked the straightforward telling too and the way she slowly built it up to a climax. And I loved the way she left most of the horrors behind the closed door – just enough room for our imaginations to work… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Ooh, this does sound deliciously eerie, FictionFan! I’d actually heard of the old Irish legend before, but never this story. It sounds as though the suspense builds in just the right way and without melodrama (always a plus for me).

    Liked by 1 person

    • The idea of being unable to stop dancing seems to recur in horror stories – I wonder why? I can think of several where the dance turns into something frightful! Mind you, I’ve been to dances like that myself… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • You know, I was thinking while I wrote this post that there are quite a few horror stories based on the idea of not being able to stop dancing. I think I’ve used at least three, maybe four, myself on the blog over the years. I wonder why it’s a horror theme…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wonder if it’s a holdover from a religious belief against dancing. The idea of dancing being dangerous for your soul translated to it becoming actually physically dangerous? It’s hard to imagine this being a real fear that someone might have.

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        • That’s an interesting thought and sounds quite likely now you say it! My old friend John Knox and his pals quite likely did a lot of preaching against dancing. In fact now that you’ve nudged my memory, one of his big criticisms of (Catholic) Mary, Queen of Scots, was that there was far too much dancing at court.

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          • Hahaha! I didn’t know that – her court sounds fun! The weird thing about all those religious zealots who preach(ed) against dancing is that there’s a fair amount of dancing in the Bible!

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            • I can imagine that the very concept of feminism would never have occurred to them. The freedoms that you and I can enjoy today is probably not something many women at that time could have even imagined to strive toward!

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            • I know Elizabeth I always used to refer to herself as a King rather than a Queen, so she clearly felt it was a man’s role even though she was doing the job – and doing it considerably better than most of the men! And of course that’s why she never married, since if she had, her husband would automatically have become King in her place. Mind you, it’s only about ten or twenty years ago that we finally changed the law to let a girl ascend to the throne if she was the eldest child…

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            • That law actually only changed when the Duchess of Cambridge was pregnant with George, I believe, so that’s less than ten years. I have had to awkwardly explain to my modern daughters why our Queen was married to a prince and not a king!

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            • Now you mention it, I think you’re right! And then all the old traditionalists were so relieved when she had a son. 😉 I think there’s going to be a bit of a hoohah when Charles inherits, since he feels Camilla should be Queen, but the Brits haven’t really forgiven her (or him) for making Diana unhappy. It’s like having our very own soap opera… haha, I’d still rather have a Queen or King than a President though!

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            • I have a soft spot for the monarchy; they’re so distanced from any actual power that it seems like a fairly harmless tradition. The Queen seems like a pretty formidable lady!

              Liked by 1 person

            • That’s why I like them too – we get all the trappings of a head of state without the megalomania that seems to inflict presidents! Plus I so enjoy mocking the hats at Royal events… 😉

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            • Even our PM might have difficulty naming all his kids – apparently there’s some mystery surrounding just how many he has… 😂 I think Kate and William are doing a great job of making the monarchy seem a bit more modern without throwing out all the tradition that we enjoy.

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            • Hahaha! Oh yes, I do recall some controversy around Boris’ children. I do expect that Justin knows his own kids’ names but the only one I can ever remember is Hadrian. I think there are 3 of them…

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            • Hadrian’s Wall is the only reason I remember that kid’s name! Although I caved and looked up Trudeau’s kids and apparently his name is spelled Hadrien so I assume it is maybe of French influence? Nevertheless, if the Trudeau dynasty continues and young Hadrien grows up to be PM, he would do well to stay out of Scotland.

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    • I’ve seen a few pics of them sleeping in trees, always with their wee legs hanging down on each side like that! 😀 I’m glad you enjoy the Tuesday Terrors – I always enjoy looking for good stories to do.

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  2. This may be the first time I’ve come across a Manx writer. The story sounds filled with foreboding – just the type of thing to scare me witless 😱 Poor Porpy – all that dancing. So tell me, were you dancing too? Tommy? Tuppence? What a party it must have been! 😉

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    • I can’t think of any other Manx writers either, but my two weeks’ experience of working on the Isle of Man makes it understandable why they would turn to horror-writing… ;)* We were – well, Tommy and I at least. Tuppence was looking on with her usual air of supercilious disdain… 😼

      *To be fair, this was because the company I was with put me up in a hotel that was only half built and between the workmen and the fact that nothing worked I may not have got the best impression of the place… 😉

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  3. Nice to see a female horror writer receiving some recognission, I’ll need to see if I can source this collection somewhere. I much prefer the more subtle, psychological horror with a degree of ambiguity as to the source of afliction, whether it be supernatural or something much more mundane. The more on the nose kind of horror doesn’t do much for me however, so I think I would like this as it seems to belong to the former catigory.

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    • That’s what I like about the older horror writers in general – they left far more to the readers’ imagination, and it’s rare for there to be lots of gore and stuff. Even the ones I mark as 5 Fretful Porpentines are pretty mild in comparison to a lot of modern horror. Some of the women writers that I’ve come across are very good, so I’m looking forward to seeing what other gems there might be in this collection. It’s available for Kindle, but sadly I don’t think there’s an audio version of it.

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    • There are usually a few women in all these anthologies but it’s nice to see a whole collection of them! I’m looking forward to discovering what other gems it may contain… 😀

      Like

  4. This is a super cute picture of the porpy sleeping. And I totally agree that the best kind of horror is understated, and relies more on the reader’s imagination, rather than the authors – us readers have imaginations that run from us! Then we are all picturing the scariest possible thing, which is usually way worse than what any author can anticipate…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I love when an author makes me imagine the horrors for myself – so much more horrifying than just splashing the gore around! I love pics of porpies sleeping on trees like that, with their wee legs dangling. 😀

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