" reached the scene of his day's labours -- pleasure, solicitation, whatever it might be -- by some altogether uncanny means; that his every action, his whole life, indeed, was nefarious."
One February night she finds herself coming home from a tea party, "enveloped by a thick yellow fog," and becomes turned around, completely lost, when a stranger she can't see offers help; it's then that she hears the familiar "tap-tap" next to her. Let me just say that I thought I knew what was going to happen here, but as it turns out, I was not only wrong but I would never have guessed it in a million years. The bizarre, disorienting travels through foggy London streets add even more of a chill to this story, which would be a superb addition to any collection of weird tales.
|from photosample, by Kalin Kalpachev (if you go there, buy him a coffee)|
Two haunted house stories made my favorites list as well: "Four Wallpapers," from 1924, is set in Tenerife, where a couple who had bought a house sight unseen are discouraged by the lack of progress the local workers have made by the time they arrive, even though they'd been sending regular payments for the work. Mrs. Erskine decides that she'll have to buckle down and get things done herself; for Mr. Erskine it's all too much so he spends most of his time in the local hotel. He particularly hates the wallpaper, but his wife promises him it will all be gone shortly. But even as she's starting to strip it away, she becomes utterly fascinated as the house begins to spill its secrets, layer by layer. "The Fountain" (1922) features a house that becomes haunted over the course of the story, but what elevates this one is the author's incorporation of ancient nature beliefs into the story. "The Villa," the final story, is also not your typical haunted house -- here, as Edmundson notes in her introduction, Mordaunt describes this villa in Croatia as a "sentient being: hating, revenging, waiting." The original owner of a beautiful house in Croatia falls victim to a death wish, so that another owner might take possession of it. The house, however, isn't happy about the change in ownership and takes its revenge over the next few generations.
Although I've only offered a very brief sketch, all of the stories in this volume run psychologically deep and often hit at the very souls of her characters. The ones I didn't mention in this volume are also quite good, and I'm not at all surprised that Mordaunt's stories, as the editor notes, were "favourably compared" to those written by Algernon Blackwood and HG Wells. What is surprising is that Mordaunt is so underappreciated with her work rarely appearing in anthologies, because her stories lend themselves so nicely to any number of different facets of the supernatural and the weird. Save the excellent introduction for last but do not pass it by -- I'm always amazed at the depth and breadth of Edmundson's research and knowledge. From haunted houses to haunted people, Mordaunt's work is very well done, highly intelligent, and I'll go so far as to say a definitely must-read for readers of older supernatural tales, especially those written by women whose work has long been "very much underacknowledged." Highly recommended.