Monday, October 21, 2013

"An Episode of Cathedral History"

"An Episode of Cathedral History"
from A Thin Ghost and Others
by M. R. James 

This short collection of ghost stories was published in 1919.   I'm blogging about them "as I go". 


During the renovation of a cathedral, an unusual discovery is made beneath the altar.

My Reaction:
Pretty good!

Specific Notes:
--  Part of the renovation called for the removal of... I don't know... a wall or screen or something.  (I couldn't picture some of the architectural details/elements referenced in this story, since I grew up going to a plain, not-very-old, American, Protestant building we simply called a "church"-- not a fancy-schmancy European "cathedral". (g))  Anyway, they were going to remove something, and not everyone was thrilled at the prospect:  "Some were of opinion that they should catch their deaths of cold in the return-stalls, unprotected by a screen from the draughts in the nave:  others objected to being exposed to the view of persons in the choir aisles, especially, they said, during the sermons, when they found it helpful to listen in a posture which was liable to misconstruction."

--  The incident of the woman sitting on the altar-tomb and later discovering that a portion of her skirt has (mysteriously) been torn away?  That time when the workers can't fill the hole in the tomb cover, because it keeps getting blown out?  How about when the kid sticks a thin roll of paper into the crack in the tomb and suddenly finds that it's either caught on something or being held by someone in the tomb?  And then when he manages to pull it out, finds the other end torn, wet, and blackened?    Creepy, all of 'em. 

--  The dog!  'It was about this time, Worby thought, that his little dog began to wear an anxious expression when the hour for it to be put out into the shed in the back yard approached.  (For his mother had ordained that it must not sleep in the house.)  One evening, he said, when he was just going to pick it up and carry it out, it looked at him "like a Christian, and waved its 'and, I was going to say-- well, you know 'ow they do carry on sometimes, and the end of it was I put it under my coat, and 'uddled it upstairs-- and I'm afraid I as good as deceived my poor mother on the subject.  After that the dog acted very artful with 'iding itself under the bed for half-an-hour or more before bed-time came, and we worked it so as my mother never found out what we'd done."  ...And then when there are eerie sounds in the night, "'that dog seemed to know it was coming; he'd creep out, he would, and snuggled into the bed and cuddle right up to me shivering, and when the crying come he'd be like a wild thing, shoving his head under my arm...'"  Poor little doggy... Bless that fictional character for sneaking the (fictional) dog into his room for the night!

--  Worby calls the mysterious night-time sound "the crying".  ~shiver~  The adults try to explain it away as cats, but Worby describes it as being "'ungry-like, as if it was calling after some one that wouldn't come.'"

-- Worby makes a point of mentioning that, though a particular spot is especially conducive to echos, the creepy, otherworldly "crying never made no sign of an echo at all".  This seems to stir up some vague memory of a legend that the sounds/voices of certain evil beings (demons? witches?) cannot echo, because nature, being the work of God, shuns them.  (Or did I just imagine hearing or reading that?)  Anyway, James must've had some reason for mentioning the lack of an echo...

--  The Latin engraving-- "IBI CUBAVIT LAMIA"-- apparently means "There shall be the lair of the night monster".