Lady Cynthia Asquith (ed.) – The Second Ghost Book (Pan, 1956 originally J. M. Barrie, 1952. This edition is the 9th Pan reprinting, 1964)
Introduction by Elizabeth Bowen
Laurence Whistler – Captain Dalgety Returns
Rosemary Timperley – Christmas Meeting
L. A. G. Strong – Danse Macabre
G. W. Stonier – The Memoirs of a Ghost
Nancy Spain – The Bewilderment of Snake McKoy
V. S. Pritchett – A Story of Don Juan
Walter de la Mare – The Guardian
Rose MacAulay – Whitewash
C. H. B. Kitchin – The Chelsea Cat
L. P. Hartley – W. S.
Mary Fitt – The Amethyst Cross
Evelyn Fabyan – Bombers’ Night
Eleanor Farjeon – Spooner
Lord Dunsany – Autumn Cricket
Jonathan Curling – The Restless Rest-house
John Connell – Back to the Beginning
Collin Brooks – Possession On Completion
Elizabeth Bowen – Hand in Glove
Eileen Bigland – The Lass With The Delicate Air
Cynthia Asquith – One Grave Too Few
Robert Aickman dedicated the first Fontana Book Of Great Ghost Stories thus: “In Memory of LADY CYNTHIA ASQUITH Friend and Patron of Ghosts and their Creators” and a number of his selections originally appeared in her own excellent collections. As you’d expect, these stories are LITERATURE as opposed to PULP and many of them are delicate, polite and unfussy. And I’m still enjoying it?
Eileen Bigland – The Girl With The Delicate Air: Cawder Village, Scottish Highlands. A bachelor war veteran, convalescing in the mountains, falls in love with a young vision of beauty in a shabby blue dress who appears in the forest every new moon. He realises from the first that she’s dead but that can’t dissuade him. Why does she look so forlorn? And who is responsible for the melancholy whistling he hears in the night? A deathbed confession reveals the sad story of Elspeth Munro and the fate of the penniless tinker she loved, shot dead by the man who was to be her husband by an arranged marriage. Not usually my thing but I loved this.
V. S. Pritchett – A Story of Don Juan: Quintero, heartly sick of his legendary guest bragging of his conquests, decides to give him the room haunted by his dead wife’s ghost to teach him a lesson. He reckons without Don Juan’s indifference to whether or not his lovers possess a pulse.
Rosemary Timperley – Christmas Meeting: A schoolma’am is spending her first Christmas alone. A young man, flamboyantly dressed, enters her lodging room thinking it’s his own. He apologises for his mistake, makes mention of the fact that he’s a poet and and she persuades him to take tea with her. Before she can bring in the cups he’s gone. She finds one of his books on the shelf with a note from the publisher that he died on Christmas day 1851. The last entry in his diary records how he encountered the ghost of a middle aged woman in his study. Roald Dahl, E. F. Bleiler and Richard Dalby are ardent admirers of this three pager but it doesn’t do much for me.
G. W. Stonier – The Memoirs of a Ghost: The narrator talks us through his death by collision with a bus and subsequent experience as a ghost. He doesn’t much enjoy it. Constantly bored but terrified that he’ll dissolve to nothing at any moment. He offers his thoughts on traditional ghost stories – at least you can still read in the afterlife it seems – and moans that all who write on the subject have got it all wrong. And that’s about the strength of it. *shrug*
Lord Dunsany – Autumn Cricket : Old Modgers, retired groundsman, spends two hours a night at the once-famous Long Barrow cricket field, watching a game only he can see. His friends are so concerned for his health that they try to get him certified. On his ninetieth birthday, W. C. Grace and fellow ghostly players make him an honorary member of the club and invite him to play for them. From what his wife – watching from the window – understands of the game, he hit a century before dropping down dead. Definitely the way he would have wanted it.
L. P. Hartley – W. S. : Author William Streeter is the recipient of serial, increasingly hostile postcards from a mystery man who shares his initials. From the postmarks it is evident that the sender is travelling ever closer to where he lives, and Streeter requests police protection. The bobby stationed outside his home is the embittered ‘W.S.’, a creation of Streeter’s own pen who has assumed flesh and blood existence and wants to know why the author always portrayed him as a wretched character, devoid of any redeeming features whatsoever.
Elizabeth Bowen – Hand In Glove: Jasmine Lodge, somewhere in the South of Ireland. Orphans Elsie and Ethel Trevor are taken grudgingly in by their widowed, invalid aunt Elysia, a belle in her own day even as the spoilt, insufferably vain little madams are in theirs. The old girl being bedridden is a bonus as this allows the girls to ransack her trunks for the finest gowns and customise them to their own needs. Annoyingly they still haven’t managed to get at the key to unlock the box containing her prize baubles and all-important ballroom gloves and this becomes a matter of some urgency. Lord Fred, on whom Ethel has designs, is allergic to benzine and both young ladies’ worn-out gloves reek of the stuff! Ethel decides its time her aunt did the decent thing and took leave of the world and does her bit to hasten Elysia on her way. Then it’s off to unlock that treasure trove ….
Great, great stuff. The three women are thoroughly ghastly!
L. A. G. Strong – Danse Macabre: Flanagan, “the most indefatigable sower of wild oats in ten parishes”, comes to grief when, true to form, he picks up a pretty girl at the Red Cross dance and offers her a lift home. The girl, Maud Gille, gives him an address in Finstown, but as they drive past the cemetery she insists he let her out of the car. He follows her through the graves but she just seems to vanish. The following day he enquires after her in Finstown. Her mother attacks him as a nasty piece of work. Maud is long dead, killed in a drunken car accident after a night of gallivanting. An ancient plot – it’s even been used on such timeless pop classics as The Sweater – but that just doesn’t seem to matter. As good in its way as the other recommendations.