Tuesday Terror! The Judge’s House by Bram Stoker

Asking for trouble…

The fretful porpentine and I were full of good intentions to read an Irish horror story every week during March as part of Cathy’s Reading Ireland Month. But then we were attacked by plagueophobia and you know what they say about the best laid plans! However, here we are, sneaking one in on the very last day of the event, and just as the porpy goes off into hibernation for the summer…

The Judge’s House
by Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker

Student Malcolm Malcolmson is looking for somewhere where he can study in peace without the distraction of friends or family, so he heads randomly for the little town of Benchurch. Putting up for the night at the only inn, the next day he looks around for a house that he can rent for a few weeks…

There was only one place which took his fancy, and it certainly satisfied his wildest ideas regarding quiet; in fact, quiet was not the proper word to apply to it – desolation was the only term conveying any suitable idea of its isolation.

Oh dear! When will people learn that isolated houses are never a good idea? You’d think the words of the house agent would have warned Malcolm…

“To tell you the truth,” said he, “I should be only too happy, on behalf of the owners, to let anyone have the house rent free for a term of years if only to accustom the people here to see it inhabited. It has been so long empty that some kind of absurd prejudice has grown up about it, and this can be best put down by its occupation – if only,” he added with a sly glance at Malcolmson, “by a scholar like yourself, who wants its quiet for a time.”

The good landlady of the inn seems to share that “absurd prejudice”…

“Not in the Judge’s House!” she said, and grew pale as she spoke.

This would be quite enough for normal people, but Malcolm pressed for more information…

She told him that it was so called locally because it had been many years before – how long she could not say, as she was herself from another part of the country, but she thought it must have been a hundred years or more – the abode of a judge who was held in great terror on account of his harsh sentences and his hostility to prisoners at Assizes. As to what there was against the house, itself she could not tell. She had often asked, but no one could inform her; but there was a general feeling that there was something, and for her own part she would not take all the money in Drinkwater’s Bank and stay in the house an hour by herself.

Naturally, this decides Malcolm, and paying the rent for three months in advance, he prepares to move in, reassuring the landlady he’ll be fine…

“… my dear Mrs. Witham, indeed you need not be concerned about me! A man who is reading for the Mathematical Tripos has too much to think of to be disturbed by any of these mysterious ‘somethings,’ and his work is of too exact and prosaic a kind to allow of his having any corner in his mind for mysteries of any kind.”

Yeah. Well. We’ll see.

Malcolm hires Mrs Dempster to “do” for him and she’s of a more prosaic turn of mind about the horrors of the house…

“I’ll tell you what it is, sir,” she said; “bogies is all kinds and sorts of things – except bogies! Rats and mice, and beetles, and creaky doors, and loose slates, and broken panes, and stiff drawer handles, that stay out when you pull them and then fall down in the middle of the night. Look at the wainscot of the room! It is old – hundreds of years old! Do you think there’s no rats and beetles there! And do you imagine, sir, that you won’t see none of them? Rats is bogies, I tell you, and bogies is rats; and don’t you get to think anything else!”

Hmm, personally I’m not sure Malcolm wouldn’t be better off with bogies than rats and beetles! Especially when it’s late at night and he’s all alone in the dark, and suddenly all the noise of scampering rats behind the wainscot ceases and in the sudden silence he looks up from his books…

There on the great high-backed carved oak chair by the right side of the fireplace sat an enormous rat, steadily glaring at him with baleful eyes. He made a motion to it as though to hunt it away, but it did not stir. Then he made the motion of throwing something. Still it did not stir, but showed its great white teeth angrily, and its cruel eyes shone in the lamplight with an added vindictiveness.

Ooh, I say! But is the rat simply a rat? Or is it something more malevolent, something to do with the picture of the old judge hanging on the wall? And why does the rat always run up the rope that hangs down from the alarm bell in the roof?

“It is,” said the doctor slowly, “the very rope which the hangman used for all the victims of the Judge’s judicial rancour!”

And yet still our brave but foolish hero is determined to stay in the house…

* * * * *

Goodness, this is a good one! The porpy and I were proper scared, both by the rats and by the… other stuff! It has touches of humour in the early stages but it gradually descends into something very dark indeed. A warning to us all not to rent a house that’s full of rats… or the ghosts of hanging judges…

If you’re brave enough to want to read it, here’s a link…

NB The two great illustrations are by Walt Sturrock.

It’s a fretful porpentine!

Fretful porpentine rating:   😱 😱 😱 😱 😱

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Tuesday Terror! The Secret of the Growing Gold by Bram Stoker

Wages of sin…

 

Having been kept awake all winter, the fretful porpentine is now off for a relaxing summer break in a spa hole-in-a-tree.

sleepy porpentine

But before he goes, one last chance for his quills to stand on end, with another Irish entry for this week’s…

Tuesday Terror

The Secret of the Growing Gold

 

by Bram Stoker

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Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker

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Two families live side by side, each once proud but now fallen, both in wealth and honour. The Brents are of high stock, while the Delandres are of yeoman class. When Margaret Delandre suddenly goes to live at Brent’s Rock, now home to Geoffrey, the last direct descendant of the family line, the scandal is great, for it is unclear if they have married. Margaret is a wild, evil woman and frankly Geoffrey is no great prize either.

He was almost a type of a worn-out race, manifesting in some ways its most brilliant qualities, and in others its utter degradation. He might be fairly compared with some of those antique Italian nobles whom the painters have preserved to us with their courage, their unscrupulousness, their refinement of lust and cruelty – the voluptuary actual with the fiend potential. He was certainly handsome, with that dark, aquiline, commanding beauty which women so generally recognise as dominant.

We do?? I mean, yes, of course, we do!

 

Well, such a combination is always likely to lead to the occasional tiff…

One thing would lead to another, and wine flowed freely at Brent’s Rock. Now and again the quarrels would assume a bitter aspect, and threats would be exchanged in uncompromising language that fairly awed the listening servants.

But during a trip abroad, Margaret meets with an accident when her carriage, conveniently being led by the exceedingly trustworthy Geoffrey, falls over a cliff. Her body is never recovered.

Some time later, Geoffrey meets a nice young Spanish lady and this time falls genuinely in love. They marry and he brings her to Brent’s Rock, and for a time all seems well. Until one day, Margaret’s brother Wykham Delandre…

…suddenly awoke to see standing before him some one or something like a battered, ghostly edition of his sister. For a few moments there came upon him a sort of fear. The woman before him, with distorted features and burning eyes seemed hardly human, and the only thing that seemed a reality of his sister, as she had been, was her wealth of golden hair…

begorrathon 2016

This vision tells him that she has come for revenge, not against Wykham (even though they had a severe case of sibling rivalry taken to extremes) but against ANOTHER! Later that night, Geoffrey’s bride is awakened as if by the sound of a latch opening. She does what any sensible woman would do in such circumstances – sends her husband down to investigate while she stays in bed…

…trembling, too frightened to cry, and listened to every sound. There was a long pause of silence, and then the sound of some iron implement striking muffled blows! Then there came a clang of a heavy stone falling, followed by a muffled curse.

Suffice to say, things are never quite the same again in the happy household…

* * * * *

This is a good little story, full of nasty people who deserve all they get – well, except for the new bride, who should probably have resisted feeling dominated by those dark, aquiline good looks. (Let that be a warning to us all, ladies! From now on, we should only go for blonds).

It’s in the gothic tradition of walled-up bodies and corpses that simply will not stay dead! But it has an original scare factor, which I must admit I found genuinely creepy. The moral of the story is that you should never argue with a man while he’s guiding your carriage along a cliff-path – or possibly that you should never go down to investigate strange noises in the middle of the night – or maybe that, when burying a body, you should take special care to do it thoroughly…

If you’d like to read it, here’s a link…

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀

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Wondering who the gorgeous mystery man is in the top gallery? Prepare to be even more scared…

Tuesday Terror! The Burial of the Rats by Bram Stoker

Oh, rats!!

 

Not a supernatural story this week – sometimes man, or in this case woman, can be a scarier proposition than any ghoul. Especially when they have found a way to make use of rats…

the burial of the rats

So join me in the Paris of 1850, for this week’s excursion into…

Tuesday Terror

The Burial of the Rats

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by Bram Stoker

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Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker

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Leaving Paris by the Orleans road, cross the Enceinte, and, turning to the right, you find yourself in a somewhat wild and not at all savoury district. Right and left, before and behind, on every side rise great heaps of dust and waste accumulated by the process of time.

Our narrator is a young Englishman, who has been asked by the parents of the young girl he loves to stay away for a period of a year. He is spending his time in Paris and, having seen all the usual sights, has widened his walks into some of the parts of the city not usually seen by tourists. One day, his wanderings take him to an area close to Montrouge, a place where the chiffoniers of the city live and work – the rag-pickers, who go through the waste of the city looking for any discarded items of value. It is a poor place, a shanty town, and the accumulated waste is piled in heaps on the streets.

Musard_Chiffonniers_de_Paris

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In the midst of these huts was one of the strangest adaptations – I cannot say habitations – I had ever seen. An immense old wardrobe, the colossal remnant of some boudoir of Charles VII or Henry II, had been converted into a dwelling-house. The double doors lay open, so that the entire ménage was open to public view. In the open half of the wardrobe was a common sitting-room of some four feet by six, in which sat, smoking their pipes round a charcoal brazier, no fewer than six old soldiers of the First Republic, with their uniforms torn and worn threadbare.

The old men look at him curiously and then put their head together in a whispered conference. He feels a little uneasy but sees no real cause for fear. However as he continues on his walk, he occasionally comes across an old soldier and each time wonders if it is one of these old men. The men seem to be watching him.

As it is getting late in the afternoon, our narrator decides to turn back, but finds he has lost his way. He continues on hoping to find someone from whom he can ask directions, and eventually comes upon an old woman in a shanty with three walls and open at the front. At first the old woman seems friendly and, in answer to his questions, regales him with tales of her life. She had been alive at the time of the French Revolution and had been one of those who sat daily at the Guillotine. But as they talk, he first notices the rats…

Rats 1

In one corner was a heap of rags which seemed to move from the number of vermin it contained, and in the other a heap of bones whose odour was something shocking. Every now and then, glancing at the heaps, I could see the gleaming eyes of some of the rats which infested the place. These loathsome objects were bad enough, but what looked even more dreadful was an old butcher’s axe with an iron handle stained with clots of blood leaning up against the wall on the right hand side.

Now darkness is falling. The old woman has noticed the golden and bejewelled rings on his fingers, and an avaricious gleam has come into her eyes. He is not yet afraid, for he is young and strong and she is old and frail-looking. But in the darkness he sees the gleam of the eyes of the rats, and then through the rickety walls of the shanty, he sees other eyes gleaming too… human eyes. It is then that he suspects the old men have surrounded the shanty waiting only for the woman’s signal to attack. But meantime the old woman continues with her stories… she tells him of a time she had gone down into the city’s sewers to look for a lost ring and while there had come upon the corpse of a dead man…

Rats 2

There was but little water, and the bottom of the drain was raised with brick, rubbish, and much matter of the kind. He had made a fight for it, even when his torch had gone out. But they were too many for him! They had not been long about it! The bones were still warm; but they were picked clean. They had even eaten their own dead ones and there were bones of rats as well as of the man.

Our narrator realises that she is telling him of his own future – once they have murdered and robbed him, the rats will perform the task of disposing of his body, so that he will vanish without trace. His only hope is to flee…

Rat 4

 

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This is an awfully jolly little story, full of filth and sucking mud, silent pursuers and, above all, the ever-present threat of the rats. The old woman is beautifully evil and the relentlessness of the pursuit is excellently done. The descriptive writing is great, in that old-fashioned style that works so well for gothic horror, and Stoker creates a wonderful feeling of tension. There are tiny touches of humour, mainly around the idea of the pride of the Englishman abroad, but mostly this is just a straight tale of a terrifying adventure. Though the porpentine and I didn’t have to worry about ghostly apparitions for once, we checked carefully under the bed for rats before we went to sleep…

It’s slightly longer than I usually pick for this slot at about 10,000 words, but if you’d like to read it, here’s a link. You may want to set some traps first though…

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Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀

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Sleep well!
Sleep well!

Tuesday Turmoil…

…or why there’s no short story review…

 

The thing is, I’d just like to say I tried – I really tried – to find a story for the Tuesday slot this week. But sometimes things just don’t work out.

the walk up nameless ridgeI started with Hugh Howey’s sci-fi story about people climbing a mountain on another, almost entirely undescribed, world – The Walk Up Nameless Ridge. Howey had one of these sudden self-publishing runaway successes a couple of years back with Wool – 576 5-star reviews on Amazon UK. This fooled me into thinking he could probably write. But the story is littered with basic grammatical errors that make it about as pleasurable as eating the silver paper instead of the chocolate bar…

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“It lent Hanson and I the illusion that our guess was far more refined than the others.”

The story is short… though not short enough. It does however have the distinction of containing the only sentence I have ever read that manages to be optionally grammatically incorrect or mathematically impossible…

“And of the several hundred who have reached the top – Hanson and I among them – thousands have perished.”

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So I moved swiftly on…

The Dover anthology of cat storiesThe Dover Anthology of Cat Stories (courtesy of NetGalley) promises that “Cat fanciers will want to curl up with this collection of tales about felines of many temperaments…” – just the thing!

Picking at random a story by Bram Stoker – The Watchers – I settled down to have my spine tingled. And it was good! A man lies in a stupor with mysterious scratches on his arm. He has left written instructions that if such a thing happened he is to be watched at all times. His room is filled with mummies from ancient Egypt and as his friends and family watch over him they become aware of a miasma that seems to be sending them into a sleep-like trance. There is a cat in the house and whenever it comes into the room it tries to attack a mummified cat that sits on a table. Our narrator is watching one night when he is overcome by the miasma. Suddenly aroused by a shriek and some pistol shots he awakes. The final line is…

“When my waking eyes regained their power, I could have shrieked with horror myself at what I saw before me.”

What? What did he see?? I have no idea! Turns out, after much research (‘cos the anthology doesn’t mention it), this is not a short story at all – it is chapter 3 of the novel The Jewel of Seven Stars! Bet it’s good…

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Never mind! Still sticking with the Dover Anthology, I turned to the first story in the book – Tobermory by Saki. This should be fun, I thought!

A group of people are gathered together at a house party. One of them announces that he has achieved the remarkable feat of teaching Tobermory, the household cat, to talk. At first the others don’t believe him, but it turns out to be true. And once Tobermory starts talking, he also starts revealing things the guests would rather he didn’t…

“When your inclusion in this house party was suggested, Sir Wilfred protested that you were the most brainless woman of his acquaintance, and that there was a wide distinction between hospitality and care of the feeble-minded.”

When the assembled company realise that the cat has been wandering around freely listening to their conversations and seeing what they get up to when they think they’re unobserved, panic sets in, lest he reveal their secrets to the world.

So far, so good – lots of fun! That is, until they decide to kill Tobermory and his friend, the stable cat.

Breakfast was, if anything, a more unpleasant function than dinner had been, but before its conclusion the situation was relieved. Tobermory’s corpse was brought in from the shrubbery…

“Cat fanciers will want to curl up with this collection of tales about felines of many temperaments…” – hmm! Yes! There’s nothing I enjoy more than stories about killing cats! If I’m really lucky, maybe one of the other stories will tell me how to skin them and make gloves…

(Stop Press – By the time I’d read five of the stories in this anthology, the feline death count had reached seven – Tommy and Tuppence insisted I abandon it before I got any ideas. I suggested in my feedback to the publisher that they may want to consider marketing it to dog fanciers instead… or dogs!)

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By that stage, I was frankly too traumatised to want to read any more short stories for a while. And that is why there’s no short story review this week. I am now off to lie in a darkened room for a while… have a great Tuesday! 😉