All Soul’s Night - Hugh Walpole - ebook

All Soul’s Night ebook

Hugh Walpole

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Opis

This is a collection of short stories. These are rather atypical horror stories. After all, here the heroes are not afraid of ghosts or a monster. Namely, the behavior of the characters in the stories scares everyone. Some contain ghosts or another supernatural phenomenon, others are simply disturbing – they inspire the reader with a sense of anxiety, talking about coincidences that may not be quite like that. This is something unusual.

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Liczba stron: 425

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Contents

THE WHISTLE

THE SILVER MASK

THE STAIRCASE

A CARNATION FOR AN OLD MAN

TARNHELM or, the death of my uncle robert

MR. ODDY

SEASHORE MACABRE a moment’s experience

LILAC

THE OLDEST TALLAND

THE LITTLE GHOST

MRS. LUNT

SENTIMENTAL BUT TRUE

PORTRAIT IN SHADOW

THE SNOW

THE RUBY GLASS

SPANISH DUSK

THE WHISTLE

Mrs. Penwin gave one of her nervous little screams when she saw the dog.

“Oh, Charlie!’ she cried. “You surely haven’t bought it!’ and her little brow, that she tried so fiercely to keep smooth, puckered into its customary little gathering of wrinkles.

The dog, taking an instant dislike to her, sank his head between his shoulders. He was an Alsatian.

“Well...’ said Charlie, smiling nervously. He knew that his impulsiveness had led him once more astray. “Only the other evening you were saying that you’d like a dog.’

“Yes, but not an Alsatian! You know what Alsatians are. We read about them in the paper every day. They are simply not to be trusted. I’m sure he looks as vicious as anything. And what about Mopsa?’

“Oh, Mopsa...’ Charlie hesitated. “He’ll be all right. You see, Sibyl, it was charity really. The Sillons are going to London as you know. They simply can’t take him. It wouldn’t be fair. They’ve found it difficult enough in Edinburgh as it is.’

“I’m sure they are simply getting rid of him because he’s vicious.’

“No, Maude Sillon assured me. He’s like a lamb–’

“Oh, Maude! She’d say anything!’

“You know that you’ve been wanting a companion for Mopsa–’

“A companion for Mopsa! That’s good!’ Sibyl laughed her shrill little laugh that was always just out of tune.

“Well, we’ll try him. We can easily get rid of him. And Blake shall look after him.’

“Blake!’ She was scornful. She detested Blake, but he was too good a chauffeur to lose.

“And he’s most awfully handsome. You can’t deny it.’

She looked. Yes, he was most awfully handsome. He had lain down, his head on his paws, staring in front of him, quite motionless. He seemed to be waiting ironically until he should be given his next command. The power in those muscles, moulded under the skin, must be terrific. His long wolf ears lay flat. His colour was lovely, here silver-grey, there faintly amber. Yes, he was a magnificent dog. A little like Blake in his strength, silence, sulkiness.

She turned again to the note that she was writing.

“We’ll try him if you like. Anyway there are no children about. It’s Blake’s responsibility–and the moment he’s tiresome he goes.’

Charlie was relieved. It hadn’t been so bad after all.

“Oh, Blake says he doesn’t mind. In fact he seemed to take to the dog at once. I’ll call him.’

He went to the double windows that opened into the garden and called: “Blake! Blake!’

Blake came. He was still in his chauffeur’s uniform, having just driven his master and the dog in from Keswick. He was a very large man, very fair in colouring, plainly of great strength. His expression was absolutely English in its complete absence of curiosity, its certainty that it knew the best about everything, its suspicion, its determination not to be taken in by anybody, and its latent kindliness. He had very blue eyes and was clean-shaven; his cap was in his hand, and his hair, which was fair almost to whiteness, lay roughly across his forehead. He was not especially neat but of a quite shining cleanliness.

The dog got up and moved towards him. Both the Penwins were short and slight; they looked now rather absurdly small beside the man and the dog.

“Look here, Blake,’ said Charlie Penwin, speaking with much authority, “Mrs. Penwin is nervous about the dog. He’s your responsibility, mind, and if there’s the slightest bit of trouble, he goes. You understand that?’

“Yes, sir,’ said Blake, looking at the dog. “But there won’t be no trouble.’

“That’s a ridiculous thing to say,’ remarked Mrs. Penwin sharply, looking up from her note. “How can you be sure, Blake? You know how uncertain Alsatians are. I don’t know what Mr. Penwin was thinking about.’

Blake said nothing. Once again and for the hundred-thousandth time both the Penwins wished that they could pierce him with needles. It was quite terrible the way that Blake didn’t speak when expected to, but then he was so wonderful a chauffeur, so good a driver, so excellent a mechanic, so honest–and Clara, his wife, was an admirable cook.

“You’d better take the dog with you now, Blake. What’s his name?’

“Adam,’ said Charlie.

“Adam! What a foolish name for a dog! Now don’t disturb Clara with him, Blake. Clara hates to have her kitchen messed up.’

Blake, without a word, turned and went, the dog following closely at his heels.

Yes, Clara hated to have her kitchen messed up. She was standing now, her sleeves rolled up, her plump hands and wrists covered with dough. Mopsa, the Sealyham, sat at her side, his eyes, glistening with greed, raised to those doughy arms. But at sight of the Alsatian he turned instantly and flew at his throat. He was a dog who prided himself on fighting instantly every other dog. With human beings he was mild and indifferently amiable. Children could do what they would with him. He was exceedingly conceited, and cared for no one but himself.

He was clever, however, and hid this indifference from many sentimental human beings.

Blake with difficulty separated the two dogs. The Alsatian behaved quite admirably, simply restraining the Sealyham and looking up at Blake, saying, “I won’t let myself go here although I should like to. I know that you would rather I didn’t.’ The Sealyham, breathing deeply, bore the Alsatian no grudge. He was simply determined that he should have no foothold here.

Torrents of words poured from Clara. She had always as much to say as her husband had little. She said the same thing many times over as though she had an idiot to deal with. She knew that her husband was not an idiot–very far from it–but she had for many years been trying to make some impression on him. Defeated beyond hope, all she could now do was to resort to old and familiar tactics. What was this great savage dog? Where had he come from? Surely the mistress didn’t approve, and she wouldn’t have the kitchen messed up, not for anybody, and as Harry (Blake) very well knew nothing upset her like a dog-fight, and if they were going to be perpetual, which knowing Mopsa’s character they probably would be, she must just go to Mrs. Penwin and tell her that, sorry though she was after being with her all these years, she just couldn’t stand it and would have to go, for if there was one thing more than another that really upset her it was a dog-fight and as Harry knew having her kitchen messed up was a thing that she couldn’t stand. She paused and began vehemently to roll her dough. She was short and plump with fair hair and blue eyes like her husband’s. When excited, little glistening beads of sweat appeared on her forehead. No one in this world knew whether Blake was fond of her or no. Clara Blake least of all. She wondered perpetually; this uncertainty and her cooking were her two principal interests in life. There were times when Blake seemed very fond of her indeed, others when he appeared not to be aware that she existed.

All he said now was: “The dog won’t be no trouble,’ then went out, the dog at his heels. The Sealyham thought for a moment that he would follow him, then, with a little sniff of greed, settled himself down again at Clara Blake’s feet.

The two went out into the thin misty autumn sunshine, down through the garden into the garage. The Alsatian walked very closely beside Blake as though some invisible cord held them together. All his life, now two years in length, it had been his instant principle to attach himself to somebody. For, in this curious world where he was, not his natural world at all, every breath, every movement, rustle of wind, sound of voices, patter of rain, ringing of bells, filled him with nervous alarm. He went always on guard, keeping his secret soul to himself, surrendering nothing, a captive in the country of the enemy. There might exist a human being to whom he would surrender himself. Although he had been attached to several he had not, in his two years, yet found one to whom he could give himself. Now as he trod softly over the amber and rosy leaves he was not sure that this man beside whom he walked might not be the one.

In the garage Blake took off his coat, put on his blue overalls, and began to work. The dog stretched himself out on the stone floor, his head on his paws, and waited. Once and again he started, his pointed ears pricked, at some unexpected sound. A breeze blew the brown leaves up and down in the sun, and the white road beyond the garage pierced like a shining bone the cloudless sky.

Blake’s thoughts ran, as they always did, with slow assurance. This was a fine dog. He’d known the first moment that he set eyes on him that this was the dog for him. At that first glance something in his heart had been satisfied, something that had for years been unfulfilled. For they had had no children, he and Clara, and a motor-car was fine to drive and look after, but after all it couldn’t give you everything, and he wasn’t one to make friends (too damned cautious), and the people he worked for were all right but nothing extra, and he really didn’t know whether he cared for Clara or no. It was so difficult after so many years married to tell. There were lots of times when he couldn’t sort of see her at all.

He began to take out the sparking-plugs to clean them. That was the worst of these Heldsons, fine cars, as good as any going, but you had to be for ever cleaning the sparking-plugs. Yes, that dog was a beauty. He was going to take to that dog.

The dog looked at him, stared at him as though he were saying something. Blake looked at the dog. Then, with a deep sigh, as though some matter, for long uncertain, were at last completely settled, the dog rested again his head on his paws, staring in front of him, and so fell asleep. Blake, softly whistling, continued his work.

A very small factor, in itself quite unimportant, can bring into serious conflict urgent forces. So it was now when this dog Adam came into the life of the Penwins.

Mrs. Penwin, like so many English wives and unlike all American wives, had never known so much domestic power as she desired. Her husband was of course devoted to her, but he was for ever just escaping her, escaping her into that world of men that is so important in England, that is, even in these very modern days, still a world in the main apart from women.

Charlie Penwin had not very many opportunities to escape from his wife and he was glad that he had not, for when they came he took them. His ideal was the ideal of most English married men (and of very few American married men), namely, that he should be a perfect companion to his wife. He fulfilled this ideal; they were excellent companions, the two of them, so excellent that it was all the more interesting and invigorating when he could go away for a time and be a companion to someone else, to Willie Shaftoe for instance, with whom he sometimes stayed in his place near Carlisle, or even for a day’s golf with the Rev. Thomas Bird, rector of a church in Keswick.

Mrs. Penwin, in fact, had never quite, in spite of his profound devotion to her, never entirely captured the whole of her husband–a small fragment eternally escaped her, and this escape was a very real grievance to her. Like a wise woman she did not make scenes–no English husband can endure scenes–but she was always attempting to stop up this one little avenue of escape. But most provoking! So soon as one avenue was closed another would appear.

She realised very quickly (for she was not at all a fool) that this Alsatian was assisting her husband to escape from her because his presence in their household was bringing him into closer contact with Blake. Both the Penwins feared Blake and admired him; to friends and strangers they spoke of him with intense pride–”What we should do without Blake I can’t think!’–”But aren’t we lucky in these days to have a chauffeur whom we can completely trust?’

Nevertheless, behind these sentiments, there was this great difference, that Mrs. Penwin disliked Blake extremely (whenever he looked at her he made her feel a weak, helpless and idiotic woman), while Charlie Penwin, although he was afraid of him, in his heart liked him very much indeed.

If Blake only were human, little Charlie Penwin, who was a sentimentalist, used to think–and now, suddenly, Blake was human. He had gone “dotty’ about this dog, and the dog followed him like a shadow. So close were they the one to the other that you could almost imagine that they held conversations together.

Then Blake came in to his master’s room one day to ask whether Adam could sleep in his room. He had a small room next to Mrs. Blake’s, because he was often out late with the car at night and must rise very early in the morning. Clara Blake liked to have her sleep undisturbed.

“You see, sir,’ he said, “he won’t sort of settle down in the outhouse. He’s restless: I know he is.’

“How do you know he is?’ asked Charlie Penwin.

“I can sort of feel it, sir. He won’t be no sort of trouble in my room, and he’ll be a fine guard to the house at night.’

The two men looked at one another and were in that moment friends. They both smiled.

“Very well, Blake. I don’t think there’s anything against it.’

Of course there were things against it. Mrs. Penwin hated the idea of the dog sleeping in the house. She did not really hate it; what she hated was that Blake and her husband should settle this thing without a word to her. Nor, when she protested, would her husband falter. Blake wanted it. It would be a good protection for the house.

Blake discovered a very odd whistle with which he called the dog. Putting two fingers into his mouth he called forth this strange note that seemed to penetrate into endless distance and that had in it something mysterious, melancholy and dangerous. It was musical and inhuman; friends of the Penwins, comfortably at tea, would hear this thin whistling cry coming, it seemed, from far away beyond the Fells, having in it some part of the Lake and the distant sea tumbling on Drigg sands, and of the lonely places in Eskdale and Ennerdale.

“What’s that?’ they would say, looking up.

“Oh, it’s Blake calling his dog.’

“What a strange whistle!’

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