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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Tuesday Terror! The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs

Bad things come in threes…

 

When I started this little jaunt into horror, I remarked that I rarely find the written word truly scary. Often that’s because the author goes over the top at the end with gore and gruesomeness and, unless the writing is brilliant, this tends to either repel me or make me chuckle. But sometimes an author leaves the worst bit to the imagination, and that’s when the horrors truly surface. This week’s story is one I read many, many years ago, and on re-reading it now, I realise that the horrific images that have stayed with me came mainly from my own head – the author plants the thought and the reader does the rest…

Since this is one of the best-known of all horror stories, there’s a good chance you have read it. The review is somewhat spoilerish, so if you haven’t, you may wish to read the story before (or instead of) the review… here it is…

 

TUESDAY TERROR!

The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs

 

monkeyspaw

 

Without, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlour of Laburnum Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly. Father and son were at chess, the former, who possessed ideas about the game involving radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the whitehaired old lady knitting placidly by the fire.

This charming scene of domesticity is soon to be disturbed by the visit of an old friend, a soldier who has travelled the world and has many strange stories to tell. Urged on by the little family, he produces a monkey’s paw, and tells of its mysterious power to grant three men three wishes each – but he warns that the granting of the wishes does not always bring the owner joy. The first man, he tells us, used his third wish to ask for death…and he, as the second man, having had his own wishes granted, is reluctant to pass the paw on.

“If you could have another three wishes,” said the old man, eyeing him keenly, “would you have them?”
“I don’t know,” said the other. “I don’t know.”
He took the paw, and dangling it between his front finger and thumb, suddenly threw it upon the fire. White, with a slight cry, stooped down and snatched it off.
“Better let it burn,” said the soldier solemnly.

After the soldier takes his leave, the family discuss the paw and lightheartedly, not really believing in it, the old man wishes for £200 to clear the remaining debt on their house. As he wishes he feels the paw twist in his hand ‘like a snake’. He is shocked, but his wife and son dismiss it as imagination, especially when no money suddenly appears. The next day is bright and sunny, and the atmosphere of the night before is quite gone – the family laugh about it and toss the paw aside. But later that day, the old couple receive a visitor from their son’s place of employment. He tells them that the son has died, the victim of a horrific accident when he got caught in machinery…

“I was to say that Maw and Meggins disclaim all responsibility,” continued the other. “They admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son’s services they wish to present you with a certain sum as compensation.”
Mr. White dropped his wife’s hand, and rising to his feet, gazed with a look of horror at his visitor. His dry lips shaped the words, “How much?”
“Two hundred pounds,” was the answer.

Bereft, the old couple bury their beloved son. A week or so later, in the midst of her grief, the mother remembers the monkey’s paw…

“The other two wishes,” she replied rapidly. “We’ve only had one.”
“Was not that enough?” he demanded fiercely.
“No,” she cried triumphantly; “we’ll have one more. Go down and get it quickly, and wish our boy alive again.”
The man sat up in bed and flung the bedclothes from his quaking limbs. “Good God, you are mad!” he cried, aghast.

But finally, against his better judgement the old man makes the wish. For some hours nothing happens, and then there is a knocking at the door – a knocking that is repeated three times…

the-monkeys-paw

* * * * * * *

The image of the resurrected, mangled and decaying corpse at the door has lived in my imagination for years – and I assure you my mental image is much more graphic than anything the story tells us. The author does the whole thing with hints and suspense, and leaves plenty of space for the reader to fill in the gaps. It’s not a particularly long story, but it’s brilliantly written. The constant reiterations of three – three in the family, three wishes, three knocks at the door etc – gives the whole thing a feeling of witchery or black magic. And in a very short space of time at the beginning of the story, the picture the author paints of this happy domestic group means we really grow to care what happens to these people. They are not greedy, grasping people – the first wish is done as a bit of fun more than anything else, so the horrific consequences bring a feeling of true evil at play.

A great story that deserves it status as a classic, this has been adapted over the years for both theatre and cinema – but none of the adaptations will match the horror in your head…

It’s a Fretful Porpentine!

 

porpentine

 

Fretful Porpentine Rating:      😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:                😀 😀 😀 😀 😀