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Authors: Amelia B. Edwards

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THE PHANTOM COACH

 

Collected Ghost Stories

 

 

Amelia B. Edwards

 

 

 

THE PHANTOM COACH

 

ISBN: 9781553102007 (Kindle edition)

ISBN: 9781553102014 (ePub edition)

 

Published by Christopher Roden

for Ash-Tree Press

P.O. Box 1360, Ashcroft, British Columbia

Canada V0K 1A0

http://www.ash-tree.bc.ca/eBooks.htm

 

First electronic edition 2012

First Ash-Tree Press edition 1999

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over, and does not assume responsibility for, third-party websites or their content.

 

This edition © Ash-Tree Press 2012

Introduction © Richard Dalby

Cover artwork © Paul Lowe

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent publisher.

 

Produced in Canada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PHANTOM COACH

 

 

 

Introduction

 

 

Did you ever feel a creeping,

That awoke you from your sleeping,

That made your pulses flutter and bristled all your hair;

While a horrid stealthy crawling

Prevented you from calling,

And something seemed to tell you that a ghost was coming there?

From Amelia B. Edward’s

‘The Cross of St Nicholas—a legend of Brighton’, 1880

 

 

AMELIA B. EDWARDS, Mary E. Braddon, Charlotte Riddell, and Rhoda Broughton have always been held in high regard as the four greatest women writers of ghost stories during the mid-Victorian era. Whereas Riddell and Broughton had most of their best ‘weird’ and ‘twilight’ stories collected into single volumes during their lifetimes, the supernatural tales of Edwards and Braddon were never gathered into genre collections; they were only spread loosely among other genres, mainly romance and crime, normally in three-decker format,
and later in cheaper reprints. Most of the short stories of Amelia B. Edwards are contained in two bumper collections,
Miss Carew
(1865, 3 vols.) and
Monsieur Maurice
(1873, 3 vols.), now both extremely rare in any edition. The present volume represents the first-ever complete collection of all of Edwards’s supernatural tales within one volume.

Amelia B. Edwards was one of the most remarkable women of the Victorian age. Besides being a popular novelist, poet, journalist, historian, and writer of ghost stories, she was also one of the greatest travellers of the nineteenth century, and an archaeologist of world renown. Acclaimed as the ‘Queen of Egyptologists’, she probably did more than any other person to save the priceless antiquities and heritage of ancient Egypt from destruction.

She was born Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards
*
 in London on 7 June 1831, the daughter of a banker who had previously served under Wellington in the Peninsular War. Like most girls of her era, she was educated at home by her mother (with additional help from tutors), and at an early age she showed a great flair for drawing, writing, and music.

Amelia was always a great reader, favourite writers being Harrison Ainsworth, Walter Scott, and the Brontës, though in later life she much preferred Dickens, Trollope, and Thackeray. In her essay ‘The Art of the Novelist’ (
Contemporary Review
, August 1894), she praised these three writers as superior to all others with their realistic depiction of human nature.

She was a published poet by the age of seven, when her poem ‘The Knights of Old’ was printed in a penny weekly; she sold her first story, ‘The Secret of a Clock’, five years later. A manuscript she sent to George Cruikshank for his
Omnibus
magazine had such mature and impressive drawings on the reverse of the story that he immediately visited the author, and was amazed to find these caricatures were really the work of a fourteen-year-old girl. Cruikshank offered to take Amelia as an apprentice but her parents refused, believing oil paints could prove disastrous to her ‘delicate’ health. Many of her later stories concerned (or were narrated by) artists. In the 1870s she was a close friend of Cruikshank’s greatest successor in satirical art, Gustave Doré (as recorded in Joanna Richardson’s biography of the artist).

Amelia learnt to play the guitar and piano, but a promising career as a singer was cut short due to regular troublesome colds and sore throats.
(‘The Autobiography of Alice Hoffmann’, the longest story in
Miss Carew
, features a heroine who suddenly loses her voice while on the verge of a brilliant singing career.) At the age of nineteen, she became the organist of St Michael’s Chapel in Wood Green, where her cousin Matilda Betham-Edwards fondly recalled (in
Mid-Victorian Memoirs
, 1919) her extempore variations on a theme by Bach which held the listeners enthralled at the end of every service.

Edwards abandoned her musical career a year later, after a visit to Paris with her cousin inspired a story (involving a mysterious disappearance) which was published in
Chambers’s Journal
in 1853. The payment for this story determined her resolve to be a full-time writer.

In the 1850s she became a journalist—then a rare profession for a woman—working on the staff of the
Saturday Review
and the
Morning Review
, for which she wrote mainly music, art, and literary criticism, as well as leading articles. Her first novel,
My Brother’s Wife
, was published in 1855, and several more followed in quick succession, notably
The Young Marquis
(1857), a beautiful volume containing many fine illustrations by Birket Foster and Edmund Evans.

Following her frequent visits to France and the Low Countries, it was  perhaps inevitable that Edwards should turn to travel writing. Her first work in this genre was
Sights and Sounds
, a children’s picture book describing a holiday tour through northern Belgium. This was published in 1862 by Emily Victoria at the Victoria Press, a unique enterprise, with all the employees being women. The book featured a number of Amelia’s own illustrations.

During the 1860s Amelia Edwards was a frequent contributor to
All the Year Round
, and became a member of the select band—alongside Mrs Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, and Hesba Stretton—who provided ghost stories for Charles Dickens’s Christmas Numbers. Her four best-known ghost
stories are ‘My Brother’s Ghost Story’ (1860), ‘Number Three’ (1863; aka ‘How the Third-Floor Knew the Potteries’), ‘The Phantom Coach’ (originally published under the title ‘Another Past Lodger Relates His Own Ghost Story’ as part of ‘Mrs Lirriper’s Legacy’, which appeared in the 1864 Christmas Number of
All the Year Round
), and ‘The Engineer’ (1866; aka ‘The Engineer’s Story’). All these were especially admired by Montague Summers, who included them in his
Supernatural Omnibus
(1931). Among her other Christmas stories for
All the Year Round
were ‘A Terrible Company’ (1861) and ‘The Professor’s Story’ (1862).

It seems likely that she originally wrote one of her best ghost stories, ‘The Four-fifteen Express’, specifically for Dickens’s
Mugby Junction
special railway Christmas number in December 1866, alongside his own immortal classic ‘The Signal-Man’. However, as ‘The Four-fifteen Express’ far exceeded the required length, Dickens probably insisted on too many cuts or alterations which Amelia found unacceptable, and the story quickly went instead into the rival
Routledge’s Christmas Annual
that same month. After 1866, Amelia sent no more stories to Dickens (dealing mainly with Routledge and Tinsley’s Magazines instead), but was later wooed back to
All the Year Round
by his son and editorial successor Charles Dickens Junior with ‘In the Confessional’ (1871) and ‘Sister Johanna’s Story’ (1872).

The majority of her ghost stories were originally published anonymously, and even Montague Summers could not identify the author of ‘The Story of Salome’ which he reprinted in
The Grimoire and other supernatural stories
(1936). Summers loved the ‘exquisite quality’ of this tale: ‘Here the author creates atmosphere by the deftest of touches, with soft tender strokes that are almost imperceptible in the lightness of their fall . . . The picture is drawn with a perfect accomplishment.’

While retaining her initial anonymity, Amelia preferred to use male narrators in the great majority of her ghost stories (with only two exceptions), and frequently endorsed male camaraderie in stories such as ‘A Service of Danger’ and ‘An Engineer’s Story’. E.F. Bleiler has justifiably commented (in
Five Victorian Ghost Novels
, Dover 1971, which included ‘Monsieur Maurice’) on the wonderful atmosphere of Amelia’s stories which ‘usually reflect her delight in strange climes and landscapes, alien cultural personalities and modes of life. No other Victorian author of ghost stories surpassed her in conveying in brief form the colour and romantic atmosphere of the mountains of Italy, the ancient monasteries of Central Europe, or the hidden secrets of the forests of Germany.’

‘The Phantom Coach’ (sometimes reprinted under the title ‘The North Mail’) is one of the most anthologised and familiar of all Victorian ghost stories, and the theme of this tale was regularly copied by many later writers. ‘My Brother’s Ghost Story’ and the bulk of her later tales from 1867 to 1873 were set on the Continent, chiefly in Germany, Italy, and France, which she toured annually.

Her earliest ghost stories, such as ‘The Eleventh of March’ (again with a Continental setting), seem rather antiquated and Gothic, but she quickly ‘modernised’ her ideas and style in tales like ‘Number Three’ and ‘The Discovery of the Treasure Isles’ (1864). This latter tale is a wonderfully bizarre yarn, ranking as the first ‘Bermuda Triangle’ story. It begins with an uncanny encounter with a ghost ship, and mixes in elements of Edgar Allan Poe, the Flying Dutchman, and Rip Van Winkle. The addition of a map showing the mythical Treasure Isles adds verisimilitude.

Amelia Edwards also experimented successfully with a number of other genres, notably crime and murder mysteries, all now completely forgotten, but well worth reviving in a separate collection. Among her best ‘whodunnits’ are the novella ‘All Saint’s’ Eve’, and the story ‘The Tragedy in the Palazzo Bardello’. The bulk of these stories were gathered together in
Miss Carew
and
Monsieur Maurice
, both published by Hurst & Blackett. The latter collection was divided into two separately titled books by Tauchnitz:
Monsieur Maurice
(1873) and
A Night on the Borders of the Black Forest
(1874).

Miss Carew
was misleadingly advertised by Hurst & Blackett as ‘a New Novel’, whereas the title story was merely a framework device built around nineteen independent short stories, of which only six are supernatural (all are included in the present volume).
Monsieur Maurice and other tales
was reviewed succinctly in
The Athenaeum
(30 August 1873): ‘To write short stories is more difficult than to write novels of the ordinary length, and Miss Edwards is one of our best writers of novelettes. The tales in this volume are as good as those in
Miss Carew
, which is high praise.’ The novella title-story was previously unpublished, and was accompanied by thirteen other tales, including seven ghost stories—all reprinted from magazines and Christmas annuals.

The Times
review praised the author’s subtle restraint and ‘the artistic manner in which Miss Edwards manages a whole troop of ghosts’ in
Monsieur Maurice.
‘Although each tale contains a mysterious and unsubstantial visitor, it is kept in its proper place throughout, and made subordinate to the real purpose and interest of the stories.’

 

In 1864 Amelia left London and moved to The Larches, a comfortable house in Westbury-on-Trym, near Bristol,
which she shared with her lifelong friend Ellen Braysher. The house remained her base for the rest of her life. In this peaceful spot, she was able to devote the next ten years to the writing of a series of longer novels, all of which were initially serialised in the leading magazines of the period.

The first of these books was
Barbara’s History
(1864; 3 vols.), which dealt with the experiences of a young English girl at a college in Germany. The book was heavily influenced by
David Copperfield
and, like that novel, was a great success with the public, establishing Amelia Edwards as a leading popular author. It was followed by
Half a Million of Money
(1866; 3 vols.),
Debenham’s Vow
(1869; 3 vols.), and
In the Days of My Youth
(1872; 3 vols.). All these novels are still extremely readable and timeless—like the novels of Anthony Trollope—with the female characters amongst the most lively and vividly drawn in Victorian literature. A typical comment at the time was made by the
Athenaeum
reviewer: ‘It’s a joy to be among them.’

Travel and exploration began to dominate Amelia’s life in 1872, when she made an extensive tour of the Dolomite mountains in the Southern Tyrol, which were then largely unexplored. With a woman companion (named ‘L’, i.e., Lucy Renshawe; the travelling companions in stories like ‘The New Pass’ and ‘The Story of Salome’ are male equivalents of Amelia Edwards and Lucy Renshawe (or Ellen Braysher) on their prolonged Continental tours), she visited a number of obscure villages by ways that were impassable except by foot or mule. She described this trek in
Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys
(1873), which she humorously subtitled ‘A Midsummer Ramble in the Dolomites’. Stylish and witty, and containing many humorous anecdotes, this book proved to be even more popular than her novels, and has since been reprinted many times—most recently by Virago as part of their Travellers series (which reproduced the folding map and all of the original illustrations).

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