Peek at a new Seth-illustrated ghost story: ‘The mystery of the darkness’ is always full of suggestions’
|Toronto Star 30 Oct 2020 at 15:30|
Ghost stories are synonymous with Hallowe’en. They were also, at one point, a Christmas tradition. Guelph-based graphic artist Seth has long been a collector of these stories, and each year he selects and illustrates three of them. His publisher, Biblioasis, puts out the series in time for the festive season — but as Hallowe’en’s the perfect time for a sneak peek between the covers, here’s an excerpt from “The Open Door” by Margaret Oliphant, a Scottish novelist, first published in 1885.
“It was getting dark by the time I went out, and nobody who knows the country will need to be told how black is the darkness of a November night under high laurel-bushes and yew-trees. I walked into the heart of the shrubberies two or three times, not seeing a step before me, till I came out upon the broader carriage-road, where the trees opened a little, and there was a faint gray glimmer of sky visible, under which the great limes and elms stood darkling like ghosts; but it grew black again as I approached the corner where the ruins lay. Both eyes and ears were on the alert, as may be supposed; but I could see nothing in the absolute gloom, and, so far as I can recollect, I heard nothing.
Nevertheless there came a strong impression upon me that somebody was there. It is a sensation which most people have felt. I have seen when it has been strong enough to wake me out of sleep, the sense of someone looking at me. I suppose my imagination had been affected by Roland’s story, and the mystery of the darkness is always full of suggestions. I stamped my feet violently on the gravel to rouse myself, and called out sharply, “Who’s there?” Nobody answered, nor did I expect anyone to answer, but the impression had been made. I was so foolish that I did not like to look back, but went sideways, keeping an eye on the gloom behind. It was with great relief that I spied the light in the stables, making a sort of oasis in the darkness. I walked very quickly into the midst of that lighted and cheerful place and thought the clank of the groom’s pail one of the pleasantest sounds I had ever heard. The coachman was the head of this little colony, and it was to his house I went to pursue my investigations. He was a native of the district and had taken care of the place in the absence of the family for years; it was impossible but that he must know everything that was going on, and all the traditions of the place. The men, I could see, eyed me anxiously when I thus appeared at such an hour among them, and followed me with their eyes to Jarvis’s house, where he lived alone with his old wife, their children being all married and out in the world. Mrs. Jarvis met me with anxious questions. How was the poor young gentleman? But the others knew, I could see by their faces, that not even this was the foremost thing in my mind.
It was ten o’clock when we set out. All was perfectly quiet indoors. My wife was with Roland, who had been quite calm, she said, and who (though, no doubt, the fever must run its course) had been better ever since I came. I told Bagley to put on a thick greatcoat over his evening coat, and did the same myself, with strong boots; for the soil was like a sponge, or worse. Talking to him, I almost forgot what we were going to do. It was darker even than it had been before, and Bagley kept very close to me as we went along. I had a small lantern in my hand, which gave us a partial guidance. We had come to the corner where the path turns. On one side was the bowling-green, which the girls had taken possession of for their croquet-ground — a wonderful enclosure surrounded by high hedges of holly, three hundred years old and more; on the other, the ruins. Both were black as night; but before we got so far, there was a little opening in which we could just discern the trees and the lighter line of the road. I thought it best to pause there and take breath. “Bagley,” I said, “there is something about these ruins I don’t understand. It is there I am going. Keep your eyes open and your wits about you. Be ready to pounce upon any stranger you see — anything, man or woman. Don’t hurt, but seize, anything you see.” “Colonel,” said Bagley, with a little tremor in his breath, “they do say there’s things there — as is neither man nor woman.” There was no time for words. “Are you game to follow me, my man? that’s the question,” I said. Bagley fell in without a word, and saluted. I knew then I had nothing to fear.
We went, so far as I could guess, exactly as I had come, when I heard that sigh. The darkness, however, was so complete that all marks, as of trees or paths, disappeared. One moment we felt our feet on the gravel, another sinking noiselessly into the slippery grass, that was all. I had shut up my lantern, not wishing to scare anyone, whoever it might be. Bagley followed, it seemed to me, exactly in my footsteps as I made my way, as I supposed, towards the mass of the ruined house. We seemed to take a long time groping along seeking this; the squash of the wet soil under our feet was the only thing that marked our progress. After a while I stood still to see, or rather feel, where we were. The darkness was very still, but no stiller than is usual in a winter’s night. The sounds I have mentioned — the crackling of twigs, the roll of a pebble, the sound of some rustle in the dead leaves, or creeping creature on the grass — were audible when you listened, all mysterious enough when your mind is disengaged, but to me cheering now as signs of the livingness of nature, even in the death of the frost.