The little red book is entitled, To Be Read By Candlelight. It was given to me several years ago as a Christmas gift and it contains just two ghost stories by Edith Wharton - The Triumph of Night and The Eyes. A thoroughly lovely little gift, imo.
The story I chose to read was The Triumph of Night. This one begins at a railway station, in a snow storm, in the depths of New Hampshire. George Faxon has just arrived to take up a post as secretary come assistant to an elderly woman in one the local big houses. But it seems she has forgotten to arrange for him to be met and when a young man turns up to meet two other arrivals and offers him a lift and a bed for the night, Faxon gratefully accepts. He is thus transported to another big house. The young man is Frank Rainer, nephew and heir to the wealthy John Lavington, and ill with TB. Faxon is welcomed to the house but the uncle is cold and a bit strange... as is the atmosphere in the house. Mistaking it for the dining room, Faxon comes upon Frank, his uncle, and the two other visitors at a will signing and is asked to be a witness. But there is another man present that none of the others seem to notice. Why is he regarding the sick Frank Rainer with an expression of pure evil?
Nicely written this one. Good sense of place and atmosphere but maybe slightly lacking in the 'scary' department, and the twist rather predictable. But overall not at all bad - nothing by Edith Wharton could be really bad after all.
The other book is The Wordsworth book of Classic Horror Stories and, bearing in mind that I own quite a few thick volumes along the same lines, it seems odd that I should buy this slim little book. The reason was that it contained one of my favourite ghost stories ever and that is, Tarnhelm by Hugh Walpole.
An eleven year old boy (I don't think we're ever told his name as it's written in the first person) whose parents are in India has to spend his school holidays in England with various relatives. None of them want him for Christmas so for the first time he is sent north to his two uncles, Robert and Constance, who live in Faildyke Hall in the Lake District. The area is bleak but beautiful and the young boy, bookish and a bit delicate, is immediately smitten. He makes friends with an adult employee, Bob Armstrong, and gets along fine with Uncle Constance, but Uncle Robert is another matter entirely. The man is quite frightening and lives alone in a building in the garden called The Tower. What goes on there is something that alarms the staff who never seem to stay very long. The boy is full of curiosity and is dying to see inside this building - until the day he is actually invited in...
I first read this story in a library book many years ago. I liked it so much I wanted to own a copy and spent many years searching for it until I found it in this little book. Back then I remember being completely creeped out by it; this time I was much more struck by the sense of place Walpole creates. I've been to the part of the Lake District where it's set and he has the scenery and atmosphere spot on. It's still one of my favourite supernatural stories ever, but now I appreciate the writing and the atmosphere as much as the story itself.
Aylmer Vance and the Vampire by A. and C. Askew, also in this volume of stories, is a traditional sort of vampire yarn. Vance and his assistant, Dexter, who investigate the supernatural, are visited by Paul Devenant, a man well known in society as a keen polo player, very fit and athletic. The two men are shocked to find him a shadow of his former self. It seems he has recently married Jessica, a woman whose family have a rather strange history, the men in particular who marry wives who die young. Davenant was recently persuaded by his wife to go and live in Blackwick Castle, in Scotland, her family's seat. And it is here that Paul's problems of ill health seem to have begun. Vance and Dexter travel north to investigate.
It will come as no surprise that this reminded me quite strongly of a Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson mystery. I've no idea who authors, A. and C. Askew, were; they're not mentioned in the introduction and I've not come across them before. But the story was well told, nicely written and nicely atmospheric in its setting. That I found it slightly ordinary is probably more to do with the amount of vampire yarns I've read. A better and more unusual story, imo, is Mrs. Amworth by E.F. Benson.
ETA: I googled 'Aylmer Vance' and found this short article on the ghost-seer and the authors, here.
Dartmoor. October 2008 taken by me.