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".
This is a tale of two doctors. (Given the title, I trust that this comes as no surprise.) One is a good, straightforward, God-fearing doctor. The other... is not.
Eh... I wasn't particularly impressed. This was another that could've used a little more tidying up in spots.
The basic plot is clear enough, I guess... Here's my interpretation: There are two doctors in one town, and it seems that they were getting along well enough until the long-faithful servant of one suddenly leaves his master (for reasons that are never fully explained, unless I missed something) and winds up in the service of the other doctor. The first doctor also begins losing some of his patients to the second doctor-- all because of his own peculiarities, it would seem, though of course he holds his "rival" responsible. Meanwhile, the first doctor has been dabbling in the spirit world and has apparently bartered his soul for unusual powers-- specifically, the ability to move objects without touching them (psychokinesis). After tormenting his "rival" with a recurring nightmare (the description of which is the best part of a lackluster story), the first doctor eventually (somehow) murders the man by cocooning him in sheets and suffocating him with his own pillow, using his psychokinetic abilities, presumably, since the bedroom was securely locked at the time.
I found this to be one of the weakest of the M.R. James stories I've read to date.
A Couple of Things:
-- "It is a very common thing, in my experience, to find papers shut up in old books; but one of the rarest things to come across any such that are at all interesting." So true! The most interesting such thing I've ever come across in a book was an old recipe for tomato ketchup-- and technically, that wasn't a paper shut up in a book, but a note on one of the flyleaves.
-- I confess that the last little bit of the story left me scratching my head. I thought I understood that it wasn't a body that was missing (since it wasn't a case of a "resurrection man"), but for whatever reason, I failed to make the connection between a ransacked mausoleum and the dead doctor's luxurious sheets. Listening to the appropriate episode of "A Podcast to the Curious" explains the inclusion of that tidbit-- but it also opens up a whole new can of worms. How did he make sure the other man bought those sheets? Why did he need to have those sheets on the bed... because... didn't he kill the other man by psychokinesis, which you'd think would work with any old sheets/pillow? Or was the man killed by some other means? ("Haunted sheets"! Ha!) It doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I see why this story is among the least favorite for so many M.R.J. fans.
-- This was the last of the stories in this collection. I seem to remember enjoying the other two M.R. James collections I've read (Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and Ghost Stories of an Antiquary: Part Two) more, over all, than this one-- but that could just be me looking at the past through rose-colored lenses. Still, since they're are available (digitally) for free online, there's no reason not to read them all, if you're interested.