R. Chetwynd-Hayes (ed.) - Gaslight Tales Of Terror (Fontana, 1976)
Blurb: By the eerie flickering of the gas-lamps, in the dim shadows cast by guttering candles, dark creatures lurk in the menacing gloom ... and wait to pounce ...
The sculptor who sold his soul to the Devil. The wax-work murderess who came to life. Grim death in a Victorian orphanage. Maggoty corpses fresh from the grave. The ghost with the gaping wound.
Introduction - R. Chetwynd-Hayes
Roger Malisson - The Last Victim Anon - A Tale Of A Gaslight Ghost Sydney J. Bounds - The Pauper's Feast M. R. James - Number 13 Dorothy K. Haynes - Up, Like A Good Girl J. S. Le Fanu - An Authentic Narrative Of A Haunted House R. Thurston Hopkins - The Glass Staircase Rosemary Timperley - The Maid, The Madman And The Knife Fitz-James O'Brien - What Was It? James Jauncey - The Veritable Verasco Harold Lawlor - The Silver Highway Lady Eleanor Smith - Mrs. Raeburn's Waxwork Edmund Mitchell M. A. - The Phantom Of The Lake R. Chetwynd-Hayes - Keep The Gaslight Burning
Roger Malisson - The Last Victim: Kensington & Chelsea, late nineteenth century. Sculptor Shrigley Briars is dying of consumption just as his career is taking off when he meets Satanist Amelia Crawthorn at a party (not a bad one: Oscar Wilde shows up). She persuades him to sell his soul in exchange for his health and success. All he has to do is sacrifice one sinful soul to the Devil per annum, which isn't especially arduous considering the circles he moves in. But how does he dispose of the bodies?
Lady Eleanor Smith - Mrs. Raeburn's Waxwork: Patrick Lamb, out of work actor, takes the job of attendant at Mugivan's Waxwork Exhibition. From the start he's morbidly fascinated by the image of a beautiful poisoner. Comes the day when a veiled woman requests a guided tour of the chamber of horrors ...
Sydney J. Bounds - The Pauper's Feast: "In his nightmare he had seen the old burial ground at Shoreditch and the dead rising from their graves, the corpses of children who had died of starvation. He visualised his picture. The cemetery by moonlight, the open graves shrouded by curling mist, the young cadavers rising to feast on the living."
Artist Joseph Vernon Laycock decides to attempt the painting of his bad dreams. He pays some ragged children to masquerade as the living dead, then drives his model out to the graveyard where, unbeknown to her, she is to play their "victim". I love Syd's work, and this is among my all-time favourites of his.
There is trowelling on the misery and there is Dorothy K. Haynes - Up, Like A Good Girl, which begins with a funeral at an Orphanage (the kids look upon the occasion as though it were almost a treat) and works back through the grim series of events that led to it.
Angela-Marie is ostracised by the other girls on account of her nightly bed-wetting, so when the consumptive Barbara arrives she corrals her into being her "best friend." But Barbara proves to be of inquisitive disposition - why does she allow Ma'am to strap her every morning? Why does she accept her daily dose of castor oil without a fight? - until Angela is completely unnerved by her. When Barbara is admitted to the infirmary, her friend rather wishes she'd die. When this doesn't look likely, she speeds up the process. But it doesn't end there ...
James Jauncey - The Veritable Verasco: The veteran magician is playing his annual monthly stint at the Empire Variety Theatre, the only time of the year the venue packs out and makes some money. Of the chorus girls competing to be his assistant, only two are in with a realistic shout - the beautiful, fiery Liza and cute, good-natured Rose. So you've guessed who wins and you've guessed who skulks off nursing a grudge.
Verasco's latest prop is his Turkish box, an iron maiden by any other name except, of course, perfectly harmless. Unless somebody with revenge in their heart were to tamper with the safety mechanism ...
Anon - The Tale Of A Gas-light Ghost: Gregory Barnstake comes to live in the little farming village at Mappleton and is soon the subject of local gossip due to his refusal to talk to anyone bar the doctor, with whom he trades the occasional insult. Finally he's forced into socialising with the herd when the village is scheduled for demolition to make way for a railway line. He surprises everyone at Seven Stars by bringing along a guest - a very odd chap with two fingers missing who professes to read the future. The strangest thing - nobody saw him enter the room! The discovery of a skeleton in a local lake at approximately the moment Barnstake dies of fright sheds some light on the mystery.
Rosemary Timperley - The Maid, The Madman And The Knife: An evil dwarf kidnaps little Victoria knowing full well that Sanders, the maidservant, will be sent to find her. The dwarf fancies Sanders and, once he's lured her to his bolt-hole, he ties her to a chair and threatens to slit the child's throat unless she promises to be his sweetheart and obedient slave. The plucky maid saves the day, but at a terrible personal price. The dwarf was ghastly enough alive, but dead ....
Fitz-James O'Brien - What Was It?: 26th Street, New York. Following a night of opium smoking and conversation about the supernatural, narrator Harry is attacked in his bed by an invisible being. After a fierce struggle he eventually manages to subdue the unseen assailant with the help of friend Hammond. They bind "the enigma" but have no idea what to do next; they can't keep it in the house indefinitely, but to let it loose on the world is unthinkable.
Fortunate for them then, that the being dies through lack of sustenance and, after taking a plaster cast, they bury it in the back garden. The passages concerning the assault on Harry identity the type of food it needed to remain alive.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.