Sunday, October 4, 2015
Years before the black raven was engrained into the minds of Americans as a reminder of lost love, another sable animal gained Poe fame. “The Black Cat” ranks as one of Poe’s best tales. He actually owned a black cat in 1840 when he published a short article entitled “Instinct vs. Reason.” Here is a snippet: The writer of this article is the owner of one of the most remarkable black cats in the world – and this is saying much; for it will be remembered that black cats are all of them witches. The one in question has not a white hair about her, and is of a demure and sanctified demeanor.1 Poe was a lover of cats to be sure. Besides his black cat, he owned a tabby cat with his wife, Virginia, named Catterina. Like many of his tales, there are other autobiographical elements here. As a child Poe killed a pet bird owned by his foster mother, Frances Allan, and later felt guilt and remorse. Here is a photo of Poe's house in Philadelphia where he penned "The Black Cat."
For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not —and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified —have tortured —have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little but Horror —to many they will seem less terrible than barroques.2 Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the common-place —some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.
From my infancy I was noted for the docility3 and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them. This peculiar of character grew with my growth, and in my manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. To those who have cherished an affection for a faithful and sagacious4 dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining the nature or the intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer5 fidelity of mere Man.
I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial6 with my own. Observing my partiality for domestic pets, she lost no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable kind. We had birds, gold fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat.
This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise. Not that she was ever serious upon this point —and I mention the matter at all for no better reason than that it happens, just now, to be remembered.
Pluto7 —this was the cat’s name —was my favorite pet and playmate. I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets.
Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which my general temperament and character —through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance —had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical alteration for the worse. I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my At length, I even offered her personal violence. My pets, of course, were made to feel the change in my disposition. I not only neglected, but ill-used them. For Pluto, however, I still retained sufficient regard to restrain me from maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog, when by accident, or through affection, they came in my way. But my disease grew upon me —for what disease is like Alcohol! —and at length even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and consequently somewhat peevish —even Pluto began to experience the effects of my ill temper.
One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence,8 gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.
When reason returned with the morning —when I had slept off the fumes of the night’s debauch —I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it was, at best, a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched. I again plunged into excess, and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed.
In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost eye presented, it is true, a frightful appearance, but he no longer appeared to suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but, as might be expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach. I had so much of my old heart left, as to be at first grieved by this evident dislike on the part of a creature which had once so loved me. But this feeling soon gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of perversness. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart —one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself —to offer violence to its own nature —to do wrong for the wrong’s sake only —that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute. One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree; —hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart; —hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason of offence; —hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin —a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it —if such a thing were possible —even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.
On the night of the day on which this cruel deed was done, I was aroused from sleep by the cry of fire. The curtains of my bed were in flames. The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my wife, a servant, and myself, made our escape from the conflagration.9 The destruction was complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and I resigned myself thenceforward to despair.
I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity. But I am detailing a chain of facts —and wish not to leave even a possible link imperfect. On the day succeeding the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls, with one exception, had fallen in. This exception was found in a compartment wall, not very thick, which stood about the middle of the house, and against which had rested the head of my bed. The plastering had here, in great measure, resisted the action of the fire —a fact which I attributed to its having been recently spread. About this wall a dense crowd were collected, and many persons seemed to be examining a particular portion of it with every minute and eager attention. The words “strange!” “singular!” and other similar expressions, excited my curiosity. I approached and saw, as if graven in bas relief10 upon the white surface, the figure of a gigantic cat. The impression was given with an accuracy truly marvellous. There was a rope about the animal’s neck.
When I first beheld this apparition —for I could scarcely regard it as less —my wonder and my terror were extreme. But at length reflection came to my aid. The cat, I remembered, had been hung in a garden adjacent to the house. Upon the alarm of fire, this garden had been immediately filled by the crowd —by some one of whom the animal must have been cut from the tree and thrown, through an open window, into my chamber. This had probably been done with the view of arousing me from sleep. The falling of other walls had compressed the victim of my cruelty into the substance of the freshly-spread plaster; the lime of which, had then with the flames, and the ammonia from the carcass, accomplished the portraiture as I saw it.
Although I thus readily accounted to my reason, if not altogether to my conscience, for the startling fact ‘just detailed, it did not the less fall to make a deep impression upon my fancy. For months I could not rid myself of the phantasm of the cat; and, during this period, there came back into my spirit a half-sentiment that seemed, but was not, remorse. I went so far as to regret the loss of the animal, and to look about me, among the vile haunts which I now habitually frequented, for another pet of the same species, and of somewhat similar appearance, with which to supply its place.
One night as I sat, half stupefied, in a den of more than infamy, my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing11 upon the head of one of the immense hogsheads12 of Gin, or of Rum, which constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the object thereupon. I approached it, and touched it with my hand. It was a black cat —a very large one —fully as large as Pluto, and closely resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a white hair upon any portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast.
Upon my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then, was the very creature of which I was in search. I at once offered to purchase it of the landlord; but this person made no claim to it —knew nothing of it —had never seen it before.
I continued my caresses, and, when I prepared to go home, the animal evinced a disposition to accompany me. I permitted it to do so; occasionally stooping and patting it as I proceeded. When it reached the house it domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great favorite with my wife.
For my own part, I soon found a dislike to it arising within me. This was just the reverse of what I had anticipated; but I know not how or why it was —its evident fondness for myself rather disgusted and annoyed. By slow degrees, these feelings of disgust and annoyance rose into the bitterness of hatred. I avoided the creature; a certain sense of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty, preventing me from physically abusing it. I did not, for some weeks, strike, or otherwise violently ill use it; but gradually —very gradually —I came to look upon it with unutterable loathing, and to flee silently from its odious13 presence, as from the breath of a pestilence.14
What added, no doubt, to my hatred of the beast, was the discovery, on the morning after I brought it home, that, like Pluto, it also had been deprived of one of its eyes. This circumstance, however, only endeared it to my wife, who, as I have already said, possessed, in a high degree, that humanity of feeling which had once been my distinguishing trait, and the source of many of my simplest and purest pleasures.
With my aversion to this cat, however, its partiality for myself seemed to increase. It followed my footsteps with a pertinacity15 which it would be difficult to make the reader comprehend. Whenever I sat, it would crouch beneath my chair, or spring upon my knees, covering me with its loathsome caresses. If I arose to walk it would get between my feet and thus nearly throw me down, or, fastening its long and sharp claws in my dress, clamber, in this manner, to my breast. At such times, although I longed to destroy it with a blow, I was yet withheld from so doing, partly it at by a memory of my former crime, but chiefly —let me confess it at once —by absolute dread of the beast.
This dread was not exactly a dread of physical evil-and yet I should be at a loss how otherwise to define it. I am almost ashamed to own —yes, even in this felon’s cell, I am almost ashamed to own —that the terror and horror with which the animal inspired me, had been heightened by one of the merest chimaeras16 it would be possible to conceive. My wife had called my attention, more than once, to the character of the mark of white hair, of which I have spoken, and which constituted the sole visible difference between the strange beast and the one I had destroyed. The reader will remember that this mark, although large, had been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees —degrees nearly imperceptible, and which for a long time my Reason struggled to reject as fanciful —it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinctness of outline. It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to name —and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared —it was now, I say, the image of a hideous —of a ghastly thing —of the GALLOWS! —oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime —of Agony and of Death!
And now was I indeed wretched beyond the wretchedness of mere Humanity. And a brute beast —whose fellow I had contemptuously destroyed —a brute beast to work out for me —for me a man, fashioned in the image of the High God —so much of insufferable wo! Alas! neither by day nor by night knew I the blessing of Rest any more! During the former the creature left me no moment alone; and, in the latter, I started, hourly, from dreams of unutterable fear, to find the hot breath of the thing upon my face, and its vast weight —an incarnate Night-Mare that I had no power to shake off —incumbent eternally upon my heart!
Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant of the good within me succumbed. Evil thoughts became my sole intimates —the darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while, from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas! was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers.
One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit. The cat followed me down the steep stairs, and, nearly throwing me headlong, exasperated me to madness. Uplifting an axe, and forgetting, in my wrath, the childish dread which had hitherto stayed my hand, I aimed a blow at the animal which, of course, would have proved instantly fatal had it descended as I wished. But this blow was arrested by the hand of my wife. Goaded,17 by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot, without a groan.
This hideous murder accomplished, I set myself forthwith, and with entire deliberation, to the task of concealing the body. I knew that I could not remove it from the house, either by day or by night, without the risk of being observed by the neighbors. Many projects entered my mind. At one period I thought of cutting the corpse into minute fragments, and destroying them by fire. At another, I resolved to dig a grave for it in the floor of the cellar. Again, I deliberated about casting it in the well in the yard —about packing it in a box, as if merchandize, with the usual arrangements, and so getting a porter to take it from the house. Finally I hit upon what I considered a far better expedient than either of these. I determined to wall it up in the cellar —as the monks of the middle ages are recorded to have walled up their victims.
For a purpose such as this the cellar was well adapted. Its walls were loosely constructed, and had lately been plastered throughout with a rough plaster, which the dampness of the atmosphere had prevented from hardening. Moreover, in one of the walls was a projection, caused by a false chimney, or fireplace, that had been filled up, and made to resemble the rest of the cellar. I made no doubt that I could readily displace the at this point, insert the corpse, and wall the whole up as before, so that no eye could detect anything suspicious.
And in this calculation I was not deceived. By means of a crow-bar I easily dislodged the bricks, and, having carefully deposited the body against the inner wall, I propped it in that position, while, with little trouble, I re-laid the whole structure as it originally stood. Having procured mortar, sand, and hair, with every possible precaution, I prepared a plaster could not every poss be distinguished from the old, and with this I very carefully went over the new brick-work. When I had finished, I felt satisfied that all was right. The wall did not present the slightest appearance of having been disturbed. The rubbish on the floor was picked up with the minutest care. I looked around triumphantly, and said to myself — “Here at least, then, my labor has not been in vain.”
My next step was to look for the beast which had been the cause of so much wretchedness; for I had, at length, firmly resolved to put it to death. Had I been able to meet with it, at the moment, there could have been no doubt of its fate; but it appeared that the crafty animal had been alarmed at the violence of my previous anger, and forebore to present itself in my present mood. It is impossible to describe, or to imagine, the deep, the blissful sense of relief which the absence of the detested creature occasioned in my bosom. It did not make its appearance during the night —and thus for one night at least, since its introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept even with the burden of murder upon my soul!
The second and the third day passed, and still my tormentor came not. Once again I breathed as a free-man. The monster, in terror, had fled the premises forever! I should behold it no more! My happiness was supreme! The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little. Some few inquiries had been made, but these had been readily answered. Even a search had been instituted —but of course nothing was to be discovered. I looked upon my future felicity18 as secured.
Upon the fourth day of the assassination, a party of the police came, very unexpectedly, into the house, and proceeded again to make rigorous investigation of the premises. Secure, however, in the inscrutability of my place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment whatever. The officers bade me accompany them in their search. They left no nook or corner unexplored. At length, for the third or fourth time, they descended into the cellar. I quivered not in a muscle. My heart beat calmly as that of one who slumbers in innocence. I walked the cellar from end to end. I folded my arms upon my bosom, and roamed easily to and fro. The police were thoroughly satisfied and prepared to depart. The glee at my heart was too strong to be restrained. I burned to say if but one word, by way of triumph, and to render doubly sure their assurance of my guiltlessness.
“Gentlemen,” I said at last, as the party ascended the steps, “I delight to have allayed your suspicions. I wish you all health, and a little more courtesy. By the bye, gentlemen, this —this is a very well constructed house.” (In the rabid desire to say something easily, I scarcely knew what I uttered at all.) —”I may say an excellently well constructed house. These walls —are you going, gentlemen? —these walls are solidly put together”; and here, through the mere phrenzy of bravado,19 I rapped heavily, with a cane which I held in my hand, upon that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the corpse of the wife of my bosom.
But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend! No sooner had the reverberation of my blows sunk into silence than I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! —by a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous20 and inhuman —a howl —a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the damned in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation.Of my own thoughts it is folly to speak. Swooning, I staggered to the opposite wall. For one instant the party upon the stairs remained motionless, through extremity of terror and of awe. In the next, a dozen stout arms were tolling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb!
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Above is a heat map showing where my books sell in the United States, with a few caveats. The first is that it is where my physical books sell, not ebooks. I sell about 20% more ebooks that physical books. The second is that it is only sales via Amazon.com, which is where I got the heat map. As a free service to its authors, Amazon publishes sales data through its Digital Text Platform.
It is surprising to me that Boston does not rank higher on the list. Boston does, after all, claim Edgar Allan Poe as it own. I have edited a number of Poe books and his annotated scary stories appear in 6a66le: The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1849.
To the fine (and intelligent) Andrew Barger readers in Los Angeles--thank you very much. The same goes for New York and D.C. and Chicago. You are a good-looking bunch of intellectuals!
#BookHeatMap #AmazonDTP #AndrewBarger
Saturday, July 11, 2015
Thomas Moore (1779-1852)
On a rainy day last weekend I was sitting around with nothing much to do and I started thinking about the origins of a now common term--hell's bells--thanks to a ringtone I heard go off. I began wondering from whence it came. And having the sometimes curse of a quizzical nature, and much time on my hands, I set about to find out.
For the risk of sounding like the title of an Ayn Rand novel, we the living have heard the popular AC/DC rock tune "Hell's Bells." Surely AC/DC was not the first to use the phrase. Like many classic terms and phraseologies, I knew it had to come from literature. But when?
The Bible tells us hell is a place of eternal damnation where the worm does not die and the fire is never quenched. That doesn't sound like a place that has chiming bells. I also knew that I did not uncover the first use in my research on Dante's The Divine Comedy for The Divine Dantes trilogy.
My guess was that it came out of nineteenth century literature; perhaps by Edgar Allan Poe. I reread his poem "The Bells" and it was nowhere to be found. I finally found it used in an unexpected place. I was right about it being in the nineteenth century, but I expected it from a horror author, perhaps in a scary short story.
Instead, I found it used by Thomas Moore (a very un-horror writer) in his "Tom Crib's Memorial to Congress," published in March 1819. Tom Crib was a well-known pseudonym of Thomas Moore, who was an Irish entertainer and poet. His memorial poked fun at an inept congress and included the following great lines:
Seeing as how, I say, these Swells
Are soon to meet, by special summons,
To chime together like “hell's bells"
And there you have it. The first use of "hell's bells" in literature was not by Edgar Allan Poe or H.P. Lovecraft. It was by an Irish poet named Thomas Moore.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
Saturday, May 2, 2015
There has been amazing news in the book publishing world in 2015. It seems that every month we learn of another new book by a famous author, which has been discovered and will be published for all the world to read. First we heard about the great J.D. Salinger and his rumored five novels that he wrote for so many decades in obscurity at his modest home in Cornish, New Hampshire.
Next, a prequel of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird titled Go Set a Watchman was announced. How the book was found and whether Lee wanted it to be published are the source of a Southern-fried controversy. Then it was announced that a new book by none other than the long deceased Dr. Seuss is on its way to children everywhere. It’s being called What Pet Should I Get. “But wait, there’s more!” the chintzy infomercial’s tell us.
If these announcements weren’t enough to titillate the interest of bibliophiles everywhere, we find out that more than 100 years after Queen Victoria’s death that stories she wrote as a child will be published. There is no end to the literary surprises popping up in 2015.
What’s next, a new scary short story from Edgar Allan Poe? A forgotten werewolf story by Alexander Dumas? A lost fantasy story by Mary Shelley? Well . . . in a way, yes!
Legion are the people who have read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but few have read her short stories. I have opined that they fall (ahem) short of storyline and characters of her most famous novel, but she did pen an excellent fantasy story called the “Transformation.” It is just one of the Top 10 fantasy short stories I uncovered from the first half of the nineteenth century:
2015 Middle Unearthed, an Introduction — Andrew Barger
1836 “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton” — Charles Dickens
1839 “The Kelpie Rock” — Joseph Holt Ingraham
1831 “Transformation” — Mary Shelley
1819 “Rip Van Winkle” — Washington Irving
1824 “Lilian of the Vale” — George Darley
1835 “The Doom of Soulis” — John MacKay Wilson
1827 “The Dwarf Nose” — Wilhelm Hauff
1829 “Seddik Ben Saad the Magician” — D.C.
1845 “The Witch Caprusche” — Elizabeth F. Ellet
1837 “The Pale Lady” — George Soane
They are included in my new classic anthology, Middle Unearthed: The Best Fantasy Short Stories 1800-1849. Before there were lovable ogres named Shrek and a quizzical boy wizard named Harry Potter, there were these groundbreaking fantasy stories that laid the foundation of so many great works to come. This annotated collection is on sale now at $12.99 for the book and $3.99 for the ebook. Read these stories from Middle Earth of fantasy writing today.
Buy the Book
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Waterstones
Buy the E-book
Apple iBookstore | Kindle | Google Books | Nook
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Recently, James Patterson announced the sale of his new book that would self-destruct within 24 hours. The details were scant as to how, exactly, it would destroy itself, but the joke remains: "Don't we wish all James Patterson's books would self-destruct?"
The real issue here is the permanency of art. How long should it be around? How many times should the public be able to enjoy it before it returns to dust? If a sculptor creates a bronze bust of scary short story writer Edgar Allan Poe, they want the sculpture to last as long as possible and be enjoyed by everyone. If a sculptor enters a sandcastle competition on Siesta Key Beach, they know the public will only enjoy it for a weekend, tops. The same goes for sidewalk chalk artists. They have a few days or until the next hard rain or flock of loose-boweled birds fly overhead to have the world enjoy their art. No one could reasonably argue that the sculptor of bronze is more of an artist than the sandcastle sculptor or sidewalk chalk artists just because her art is more permanent.
Being a fiction writer and editor, I feel that books should be less permanent. Somewhere between 24 hour, self-destructing books and those we have with us from 2000 years ago, books should vanish back into dust. The ideas in the books and their characters should not go on living in the minds of readers, but the physical copy of the book should vanish sooner than later.
Of course many people see a painting or a bronze sculpture. But what about live art; performance art from playwrights and ballerinas? The consumers of this art buy a ticket, see the play and the art lives on only in the consumers' minds.
The businessperson inside me doesn't like selling one copy of a book that can be passed around for the next decade or two, falling in and out of the hands of hundreds of readers who have never paid me a penny for the entertainment they are about to enjoy. The money, these days, goes to Amazon and Ebay and a host of other online etailers that resell books--not the artist.
I wish (selfishly) that books were the same. If only an ebook could erase after one read and a physical book should self-destruct after one read, too. James Patterson should get to work on that issue. Meanwhile, I will keep slugging away at the keyboard.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
Baron Friedrich Heinrich Karl De la Motte Fouquâe (1777-1843)
In 1827 the German author Baron Friedrich la Motte Fouquae published a fantasy story called "The Goblin of the Field" or "The Field of Terror." It is an excellent scary story for the first half of the nineteenth century, but failed to reach the level of the tales I picked for 6a66le: The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1850. Enjoy!
IN A FERTILE district of Silesia [European region located primarily in Poland] situated at the foot of the Ogre mountains, [Eiger Mountain ofBernese Alps] a party of relations were collected together, a short time before the peace of Westphalia, [Series of Geman peace treaties that ended the Thrity Year War in 1648] for the purpose of dividing the property of a wealthy farmer, who had died without children, and whose large estates lay scattered about in the neighboring country. In furtherance of this object, the several claimants were assembled in the principal inn of the village, and the adjustment of their respective shares would soon have been brought to a conclusion, but for a small estate, which common report had endowed with singular qualities, and which was called the “Field of Terror.”
It lay amid the surrounding fields, covered with flowers, and an abundance of rank and luxuriant shrubs, which, while they bore ample testimony to the vigour and fertility of the soil, were equally indicative of the neglect, and desolation, to which it was abandoned. For a long seriesof years, no ploughshare had penetrated its surface, no seed had been cast on its furrows; or, if at intervals the attempt was made, the cattle had been invariably seized with phrenzy, had wildly broken from the yoke and the plough-men and hinds, had rushed from the spot in fright and alarm, affirming, that it was haunted by the most terrific phantoms, who followed the laborer in his duties with a kind of awful familiarity, looking over his shoulders in a manner which no human understanding could bear, and which nothing could prevent from producing delirium and madness.
The question now in dispute was, who should receive this more than suspicious field, as a part of his inheritance. Every man seemed to think, as is the common course of the world, that this self-same spot, which would be useless and of no possible value in his own care, might be extremely applicable, and even advantageous, to his neighbor; and thus the contest, for its right appropriation continued till a late hour of the evening. At length, one of the party proposed a remedy, which, though not directly benefitting any one present, seemed to promise a settlement ofthe dispute.
“By a codicil in the will,” he said, “we are enjoined to show some mark of kindness, to a poor relation of the testator, who lives hard by in the village. It is true, the girl is very distantly related to us; and there can be no doubt that portionless as she is, she will yet procure a warm man for her husband, for she is a clever, frugal lass, and the people call her the pretty Sabina. Suppose, we give up this Field of Terror to her. We will at once get rid of the testator’s injunction; and to say the truth, it is no inconsiderable gift, provided she gets a husband who knows how to go the right way to work with it.”
The others immediately consented to this proposal, and one of the relatives was dispatched to announce the gracious benefaction.
In the meantime, as the twilight began to descend, somebody had knocked at Sabina’s door, and to her question of “Who’s there?” a reply was given, which had the instant effect of withdrawing the bolt of her little bedroom window. It was a voice long and anxiously sighed for, the voice ofher faithful Constantine; who, poor as herself, had two years before joined a regiment on foreign service, in the hope of facilitating a union with his beloved Sabina, whose heart filled with the purest affection, was entirely devoted to him.
It was a beautiful sight to see the joy which lighted up the lovely countenance of Sabina, as her eyes diffused in tears, her face covered with smiles, appeared through the winding branches of columbine which grew before her cottage, and, as the erect and youthful soldier gazed upon her in modest silent bliss, and extended towards her his faithful hand.
“Oh! Constantine,” she exclaimed, in a low and bashful tone of voice, “heaven be praised, that it has sent you once more home again, and living. This has been the burden of all my evening and morning prayers, even when you may not have succeeded in obtaining the hoped for fortune.”
“As for fortune,” replied Constantine, as he shook his head and smiled, “that indeed wears but a very indifferent aspect. Still, it is better than when I went away, and if you but feel courage enough for the undertaking, I fancy we may yet be married, and manage to get through the world in tolerable decency.”
“Faithful Constantine!” ejaculated Sabina, “thus to connect your happiness, with the fortunes of a poor deserted orphan!”
“Come!” my love, said the ardent soldier, “if you can but trust me, say so. Give me at once your consent to our union. I assure you, things will not run so badly with us; we shall be happy in each other, and, with such a foundation, we may yet live like princes.”
“And have you obtained your discharge? Are you really no longer a soldier? Is the war at an end?”
“Why as for that,” rejoined her lover, “the matter, at present, is hardly decided in either way. The peace is not in fact concluded, but then, the war is quite at a stand; and on this account, my colonel has thought it right to disband his regiment.”
Sabina now extended her hand to her eager lover, in all the joy of youthful, ardent affection, and permitted her future bridegroom to enter the cottage. The youthful pair were speedily seated, and Constantine informed his mistress, that he had obtained his small stock of wealth from an Italian prisoner, whom he had captured on the field of battle, and who had paid this, as the price of his liberty and his life. Sabina, as she turned her wheel, listened with deep attention to her lover’s recital, bestowing, from time to time, a smile of fond approbation upon his conduct; and inwardly rejoicing, that no reproach could hereafter be thrown upon their slender means, thus honorably acquired.
Their conversation was now interrupted by the appearance of the messenger, dispatched by Sabina’s relations. Covered with blushes, and in a faltering voice, the modest girl presented her destined bridegroom to the stranger; and the latter replied:
“Why then, it would seem, as if I had been sent most opportunely; for if your betrothed lover has brought no very considerable share of wealth with him from the wars, the addition which I am commissioned to offer, in the name of the collected heirs to your relation’s property, cannot but be a welcome gift; and it was indeed enjoined us, by the testator’s will, that we should remember you in a handsome way.”
There was something too much of arrogance in the manner in which this piece of good fortune was tendered, to please the lofty spirit ofConstantine. But the humble Sabina, wholly ignorant of the mode in which her relatives had evinced their generosity, received the communication as a special interposition of Providence, and could only hold down her head, while her face was covered with a smile of heartfelt, grateful joy. But, as soon as she heard that the Field of Terror was the promised boon, with which her claim was to be liquidated, the base injustice of her relations pressed to her heart, with a painful sickening coldness; and she felt it impossible to restrain the overflowing tears of disappointed hope. Her relation, with a smile of half-suppressed contempt, expressed his regret, that she should have allowed herself to expect more than her friends had thought right to allot her.
“And indeed,” he observed, “this is a much larger proportion of the inheritance, than you could fairly hope to receive.”
With this speech, he was about to retire, but Constantine threw himself in his way; and with that intrepid coolness, which so frequently attends a mind conscious of its own superiority, he said: “Sir! I perceive, that you and your fellows, have been pleased to convert the benevolent intentions of the deceased, into mere derision and mockery; and that it is your joint resolve to withhold a single shilling of his property, from the worthy girl who is now my bride elect. We will still accept your proffered boon, in the full confidence, that, under the guidance of Heaven, this dreaded Field of Terror, may be productive of more advantages in the hands of an honest soldier, than can enter the imaginations of such a groveling, selfish set of poltroons.”
The messenger, who felt rather uneasy at the tone and manner assumed by the young soldier, did not hazard a reply; and with an altered countenance, hurried out of the cottage.
Constantine now kissed away the tears from Sabina’s cheeks, and hastened on the wings of joy, to fix with the curate, an early day of marriage.
After a few weeks, Constantine and Sabina were married; and entered upon their humble mode of house-keeping. The money brought from the wars was chiefly expended in the purchase of a fine yoke of oxen; part of the remainder was invested in seed and necessary articles of household furniture; and the rest reserved for daily expenditure to be doled out in the most economical manner, till the harvest of the succeeding year should replenish their stores. But, as Constantine drove his cattle and plough to the field of labour, he looked back on Sabina with a smiling countenance, and assured her, he was now going to sow the real seed of gold, which another year would restore with two-fold bounty. Sabina could only follow him with her anxious looks, and wish, in her heart, that he were once safely returned from the detested Field of Terror.
It is true, he returned home, and that long before the vesper-bell [Bell rang by Catholic priests to summon the congregation to church for prayers in the early evening] had sounded; but far from being so joyful, as in the native confidence of his heart, he had promised himself in the morning. He dragged laboriously after him the fragments of his shattered plough; before him paced with difficulty, one of his oxen sorely maimed; and marks of blood were seen on his own head and shoulder. But he bore up under his numerous misfortunes, with a sound and even cheerful heart; and consoled with undiminished spirit, the grief of his weeping Sabina.
“Come,” he said, with a smile, “get your pickling tubs in order; for the goblin who reigns in the Field of Terror, has made us a present of a large quantity of beef. The beast I brought home with me has so injured himself in his phrenzy, that he will never more be fit for labour; and, as for the other, he darted off into the mountains, where I had the joy of seeing him cast himself into the torrent, from whence he will never again make his appearance.”
“Oh, my relations! My wicked relatives,” sobbed the disconsolate Sabina. “They have not only deprived you, by their pernicious donation of the little property for which you so sorely travailed; but they have also covered you with wounds, and crippled your strength.”
“That is an affair of but little consequence,” rejoined the intrepid Constantine. “The beasts managed to get me between them, just as their fury had reached its summit; and I was determined not to relinquish my hold. But, Heaven be praised! Things might have gone a great deal worse with me; and in the morning, I will be in the field again.”
Sabina used every means in her power, to dissuade her husband from his resolution; but he only replied, by saying; that so long as he could move an arm or a leg, the field should not lie idle.
“If we cannot plough it, we will dig it; and I am no timid beast of labor, but a tried and dauntless soldier, over whom a goblin can have no power.” He now slaughtered the wounded ox; cut it in pieces; and, on the following morning, while Sabina was busied in preparing it for pickle, pursued his road of the previous day, scarcely less alert and cheerful than then, though now obliged to handle the hoe and spade, instead ofguiding his oxen, and well mounted plough.
This time, he returned rather late in the evening, rather pale and exhausted; but full of spirits, and soon capable of tranquilizing his agitated wife.
This kind of labour makes one weary,” he said, with a smile; “for there is a sort of goblin fellow who stands constantly beside me; sometimes in one form and sometimes in another, and mocks me both with word and deed; but he seems to feel no little surprise, that I give no heed to his pranks; and, it is this which fills me with fresh courage. Besides, these kind of creatures have no power over an honest man, who is laboring in his vocation.”
This continued for many days together. The persevering Constantine, pursued, without interruption, his daily labour of digging, sowing, and eradicating the weeds and useless plants which had overspread the field. It is true, the slow process of the spade, only enabled him to cultivate a small portion of the estate; but this served to make him the more zealous and industrious in his occupation; and he, at length, saw a crop spring up, which promised, and eventually produced, a sufficient, if not an abundant harvest. Even the toil of reaping, and transporting it from the fieldto the barn, was thrown entirely upon his own shoulders; for the laborers in the vicinity would not have engaged, for any consideration, in spending a day upon the dreaded Field of Terror; and he would, on no account, permit Sabina to lend her assistance, since her advanced state ofpregnancy, led him to hope for that increase of his family, with which she shortly presented him.
The child was born, and in three years an addition was made of two more, without any change in the worldly circumstances of Constantine. By perseverance and undiminished zeal, he continued to force from the fearful Field of Terror an annual extension of produce, and thus redeemed his pledge to Sabina of bringing her through all her difficulties like an honest man.
One evening in autumn, as the shade of night began to set in, and Constantine was still busied with his spade, a tall robust man, of unusual size of limb, black and sooty as a charcoalburner, and holding a furnace poker in his hand, appeared suddenly before him, and said: “Are there no cattle to be had in this part of the country that you labor away with your two hands? One would suppose, by the extent of your landmarks, that you were a wealthy farmer.”
Constantine was perfectly aware of the stranger’s character, and treated him in the same cool way with which he usually received the goblin ofthe field. He remained silent, endeavoured to withdraw his attention from the figure before him to his work, and labored on with double application.
But the swarthy visitor, instead of disappearing as was the usual practice of the goblin to present himself again in a more frightful and alarming form, remained where he stood, and in a friendly tone continued: “My good fellow, you are doing both yourself and me injustice by this line of conduct. Give me an honest and candid answer. Perhaps I may know of a remedy for your ills.”
“Well then,” rejoined Constantine, “in Heaven’s name be it so. If you should but cajole me with these friendly words, the fault will be at your door and not at mine.”
With this he began to relate the whole story of his adventures since he had taken possession of the field. He gave an undisguised recital of his first distress, a faithful representation of his just and honest indignation against the goblin who haunted his property, and detailed the difficulty he found under such continual interruption and provocation, of supporting his family by the mere application of his hoe and spade.
The stranger gave an attentive ear to the narrative, seemed lost in thought for a few minutes, and then broke forth in the following address:
“I see, my good fellow, that you know who I am; and I look upon it as a proof of your frank and manly disposition, that you have made no concealment, that you have spoken out boldly of the displeasure you entertain towards me. To say the truth, you certainly have had sufficient cause; but in thus putting your mettle to the test, I will make a proposal which may indemnify you for a good deal of the past. It sometimes happens that, when I have fairly exhausted myself in wild and fantastic tricks, through wood, and field, and mountain, I begin to fancy I should like to attach myself to some quiet family, that I may live for half a year or so, a peaceful orderly life. What do you say to taking me for six months as your servant?”
“It is not right, from people of your sort,” said Constantine, “to pass your jokes on an honest man, who reposes confidence in you.”
“No! No!” replied the other, “there is no joke in it. It is my serious intention. You will find in me a sturdy, active servant; and, as long as I live with you, not a single spirit or spectre will venture to show himself on the Field of Terror, so that you may admit whole herds of cattle to brouse on it.”
“I should like the thing well enough,” rejoined Constantine, “if I were but sure that you would keep your word; and above all, that I were doing right in making the engagement.”
“That must be your own affair,” said the stranger; “but I have never broken my word since these Ogre mountains have stood, and a mere creature of evil and malice I certainly am not. A little merry and wild and mischievous sometimes I own—but that is all!”
“Why I almost believe,” said Constantine, “that you are the celebrated Number-nip.” [Spirit of the Eiger Mountain in Silesia]
“Harkee!” cried the stranger, with a frown, “if that be your opinion, I would also have you to know, that the mighty spirit of the mountains cannot endure that name; and that he calls himself the Lord of the Hills.”
“That would be an odd sort of a servant whom I must call my Lord of the Hills;” said Constantine, in a tone of raillery.
“You may call me Forester then,” rejoined his companion. Constantine looked awhile on the earth, pondering on the course he should adopt, and at length exclaimed:
“Well! Agreed! I can hardly do amiss in accepting your services. I have often seen a poor senseless brute drilled into domestic use, by carrying parcels, turning spits and other household duties—why not a goblin?”
His new servant burst into a hearty laugh at this observation, and said: “I must acknowledge such an estimate was never before made of one ofmy family. But I am not the less pleased with it, so give me your hand my honoured master.”
Constantine made a further condition, that his new servant was, on no account, to inform Sabina or the children of his connexion with theField of Terror, or rather of his descent from the caverns and shafts of the Ogre mountains; nor was he, on any occasion, to exhibit any of his fearful goblin tricks about the house or courtyard; and, as Forester promised all that was required of him with every token of good faith, the bargain was soon at an end, and they now proceeded home.
Sabina, after a time, wondered at the increasing prosperity of their domestic economy; and was not wholly free from feelings of secret dread at their swarthy gigantic assistant. At first the children never ventured outside the door, when they perceived him at work in the yard or garden; but, by degrees, his friendly industrious habits gained upon them all; and when he occasionally indulged in a fit of fantastic merriment, by chasing the dog or the poultry round the house, it was considered more amusing than surprising; and a single look from Constantine was, at any time, sufficient to bring him within the proper limits of order.
In full reliance on the promises of the mountain spirit, Constantine applied the slender savings of many years to the purchase of a fresh yokeof oxen; and with his newly amended plough drove to the field in the highest glee. Sabina looked after him with an anxious sorrowful countenance, and with an equally anxious mind awaited his return in the evening, fearing a renewal of the same disaster, the same disappointed hopes, or that his personal injuries, this time, might be more dangerous and alarming than before. But with the sound of the vesper-bell, Constantine came singing through the village, driving his sleek well fed yoke before him, kissed his wife and children in the fulness of his joy, and shook his servant cordially by the hand.
Forester now frequently went to the field alone, while Constantine remained behind working in the yard or garden. A considerable piece of theField of Terror was cleared for cultivation; and, to the great astonishment of the village neighbors, and the equal discontent and envy of Sabina’s selfish relations, everything assumed an air of prosperity and comfort. It is true, Constantine, when alone, often reflected that all this could be butof short duration, “and Heaven knows” he exclaimed, “how I will manage with the harvest; for Forester’s time will then be out, and the goblin of thefield may choose to appear with replenished spirits.”
But he considered that the gathering in of the crop was a labor which, of itself, gave additional vigour to the workman’s arm and heart; and it was possible that Forester, for old acquaintance sake, might keep the land free from guests; as in fact, at times of cheerful relaxation, the latter seemed to imply.
In the course of time, the needful labors of the field were completed. Winter arrived, and Constantine daily drove to the forest for a stock of fuel and wood. On one of these days it so chanced that Sabina was entreated to visit a poor widow in the village, who lay dangerously ill; and whom, as far as their increasing means admitted, Constantine and his wife, had been accustomed to relieve. She was at a loss at what to do with the children during her absence, but Forester offering his services, with whose stories the children were always delighted, and with whom they were ever pleased to remain, she proceeded on her charitable purpose without further hesitation.
About an hour after her departure, Constantine returned from the forest; and having disposed of his waggon in the barn, and prepared the stall for his cattle; he proceeded towards the house to revive his numbed and frozen limbs by the blaze of a cheerful fire. On approaching the door, his ear was saluted by a cry of painful distress from his children. He darted into the house, and, on entering the sitting-room, found the children hidding behind the stove, and crying out for help, while Forester was wildly jumping about the room with shouts of violent laughter, making the most hideous and disgusting faces, and with a crown of sparks and fiery rays playing about his head.
“What is all this?” Constantine said, in a tone of indignant anger, and the supernatural decorations of Forester’s head disappeared; his fantastic merriment instantly ceased, and he began to excuse himself with great humility for thus trying to amuse the children. But the children ran towards their father, complaining that Forester had first of all told them a number of horrific stories, and then he assumed a variety of frightful disguises, sometimes appearing with the head of a ram, sometimes with that of a dog.
“Enough! Enough!” exclaimed Constantine. “Away, sir. Ah! You and I no longer remain under the same roof.” With this he seized Forester by the arm, and shoved him violently out of the house, desiring the children to remain quietly in the room, and to dismiss their fears.
Forester suffered all this without uttering a single word of expostulation; but, as soon as he found himself alone with Constantine in the open court, he said with a smiling countenance: “I hope, master, we will make the matter up. I know I have done a very foolish thing, but I assure you it will never happen again. Somehow or other the old mad fit came on me and I forgot myself.”
“For that very reason, because you can forget yourself,” rejoined Constantine, “we part. You might terrify my children into a frenzy, and, as I have said, our contract here terminates.”
“My time is not up,” said Forester, in a dogged tone. “I will go into the house.”
“Not a step further—at your peril!” cried Constantine. “You have broken the agreement by your cursed goblin tricks, and all that I can do is to pay you your full wages. Here, take it and pack yourself off.”
“My full wages?” said the mountain-spirit, with a sneer of bitter contempt. Have you never seen my stores of gold in the caverns of yonder hills?”
“I do this more on my own account than yours,” said Constantine. “No man will call me his debtor.” And so saying, he forced the money into his servant’s pocket.
“And what is to be done with the Field of Terror?” enquired Forester, in a solemn but almost ireful tone.
“That which it may please God,” rejoined Constantine. “Twenty fields of terror are of no importance to me in comparison with the safety of a single hair of my poor children’s heads. Take yourself away, or I will give you that, you will long have cause to remember!”
“Gently!” cried the mountain-spirit. “Gently! My friend. When any of my family condescend to assume a human form, they choose one of rather stern materials. You might chance to get an under birth in this same fray, and in that case Heaven be merciful unto you!”
“That it has ever been,” said Constantine, “and has also given me a frame of no slender power. Away to your mountains, disgusting monster! I now warn you for the last time.”
Excited by this reproach to a pitch of violent fury, Forester sprang on Constantine, and an obstinate fight ensued. They struggled about the yard for a considerable time, each using every means in his power to overthrow his adversary, without victory declaring herself upon either side; till at length Constantine, by his superior skill in wrestling, managed to bring his opponent to the earth, and having placed his knee on the chestof his fallen foe, began to pummel him most furiously, exclaiming: “I’ll teach you to attack your master, my precious Lord of the Hills.”
The Lord of the Hills, however, laughed so heartily at this address, that Constantine, conceiving his manly efforts to be the subject of derision, only laid on with redoubled vigour, till at length the former exclaimed: “For God’s sake, hold! I am not laughing at you, I am laughing at myself and I humbly beg your pardon!”
“That is another sort of affair,” said Constantine, as he rose up and assisted his conquered adversary to regain his legs.
“I have now learned what human life is, from the very foundation upwards,” said the latter, still continuing his noisy laughter. “I doubt if any ofmy kindred have ever pursued the study so profoundly. But harkee! My good fellow, you must admit that I carried on the war in an honorable way. For as you will see yourself, I might with ease have called in half a dozen mountain-spirits to my assistance, though amidst all this laughter, I know not how I should have set about it.”
Constantine with a serious air, now looked at the still laughing Number-nip, and said: “It is clear you must entertain a grudge against me, and this will not only be repaid me at the Field of Terror, but in many an evil chance elsewhere; still I cannot repent of what I have done. I have only exercised a paternal duty on behalf of my children, and were the thing to do over again, I should, on mature reflection, repeat it.”
“No, no!” said Number-nip laughingly, don’t make yourself uneasy. I have had quite enough for once. Cultivate the Field of Terror from year to year, at your own will and pleasure. I here pass my word that no fearful phantom will be seen on it from this day forwards, as long as the Ogre mountains stand. And so fare ye well, my honest, but rigid master!”With this he gave a friendly nod of adieu, and disappeared; nor was he ever more seen by Constantine. But Number-nip kept his word, and even more. An unusual degree of prosperity attended all the labours of his former employer, and Constantine soon became the richest farmer in the village. And when his children were permitted to play in the “Feld of Terror”—a spot which both they and Sabina now visited without the slightest dread, they sometimes related in the evening that Forester had come to see them, and told them some of his former amusing stories. On such occasions they generally found their pockets filled with either comfits, [Sugar-coated nuts and seeds] toys, or pieces of shiny money.