"He Cometh and He Passeth By!"
from They Return at Evening
by H.R. Wakefield
They Return at Evening is a collection of ghost stories by H.R.
Wakefield. It's his first such collection, published in 1928. I'll be
posting reactions to stories individually.
A canny, clever lawyer (or something of the sort) seeks vengeance for the supernatural murder of a friend.
Interesting, though not really a ghost story. It was very clearly inspired by M.R. James' "Casting the Runes". Clinton is certainly a horrifying character. I'm not really finding these very scary, though... No doubt they'd be more effective at night, in a quiet, empty house.
-- Describing the main character's face: "No woman had etched lines upon it..." Gee, how nice. Tell me, do men etch lines upon women's faces, too? Or is that just a one-way street?
-- As suggested above, the antagonist in this story is a 60-something (?) man named Oscar Clinton. He is usually referred to by last name alone. I don't know about you, but when I see "Clinton", there is only one man who comes immediately to mind, which makes for some rather funny reading, considering that Clinton is a womanizing, completely scummy "dirty old man" who dabbles in the dark arts:
-- "...Clinton was in a class by himself. He was-- and no doubt still is-- an accomplished corrupter, and he took, and no doubt still takes, a jocund delight in his hobby." (...Yep, sounds about right.)
-- "Clinton is highly psychic, with great natural hypnotic power." (Explains soooo much!)
-- "[Clinton] then joined an esoteric and little-known sect-- Satanists-- of which he eventually became high priest. And then he returned to what we call civilisation, and has since been 'moved on' by the Civil Powers of many countries, for his forte is the extraction of money from credulous and timid individuals-- usually female-- by methods highly ingenious and peculiarly his own." (No comment.)
-- After Clinton impregnated two maids in his "friend's" home, the scandalized "friend" discovered that "he considered it was his duty to disseminate his unique genius as widely as possible, and that it should be considered the highest privilege for anyone to bear his child. He had to his knowledge seventy-four offspring alive, and probably many more-- the more the better for the future of humanity." *gag*
-- Of course, as usual, Wakefield's treatment of the women in the story is disgusting. The owner of the home (Clinton's "friend") makes it clear to the pregnant maids that they will not lose their jobs and that he will even provide for the illegitimate children (since he takes responsibility for the whole mess). The two pregnant maids are very satisfied with this arrangement-- happy, even-- and the maid who reported the incident after Clinton repeatedly-- but unsuccessfully-- tried her door, also? "...I had the discreditable impression that the Immaculate Third would have shown less lachrymose integrity had the consequences of surrender been revealed ante factum." ...Yeah, I'm sure that's likely. Because most young women would jump at the chance of sleeping with some random, creepy old man. Their chances of marriage are so much better after they've had a child out of wedlock-- and women of their time and station had so many other options open to them. Ugh.
-- As you may have surmised from these tidbits, this story is much seamier than "Casting the Runes". It seems to be a trend in Wakefield's tales.
-- The bit about the pupils of the victim having drawn up into catlike half-moons? Yes, that is creepy...
-- I had to laugh that one of Solan's areas of expertise was the short stories of P.G. Wodehouse-- and Austin Freeman, who was evidently an American basketball player.
-- Of the lawyer's clerk: "Not one of the devious and manifold tricks of his trade was unpracticed by him, and his income was £1,250 per annum, a fact which the Inland Revenue Authorities strongly suspected but were quite unable to establish." Ha!
-- "...an ornate and gaudy cellar decorated with violence and indiscretion-- the work, he discovered later, of a neglected genius who had died of neglected cirrhosis of the liver."
-- Casual mention of The Wallet of Kai-Lung. Also W.W. Jacobs and "Night-Watchman".
-- Clinton's speeches remind me rather forcefully of Dorian Grey and his mentor, whatever his name was. Things like this: "All my life I have been a law unto myself, and that is probably why the Law has always shown so much interest in me."
-- "The man of superior power-- there are no such women..." How sweet.
-- The snuffbox-- "an exquisite little masterpiece with an inexpressibly vile design enamelled on the lid" (and filled with "white powder") also takes me back to The Picture of Dorian Grey. And makes me happy I'm no longer reading that rubbishy novel. Not to my tastes.