Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Blue Room and Other Ghost Stories ~ Lettice Galbraith

Lettice Galbraith seems to have appeared out of nowhere in 1892, when her story The Spin of the Coin appeared as the lead story for the 33rd Beeton’s Christmas Annual. In 1893, New Ghost Stories was published by Ward Lock and Bowden Ltd. as a ‘Popular Sixpenny’ paperback. It was one of the most popular ghost story collections of the last decade of the nineteenth century, and three editions appeared in the space of five years. The tales included were: The Case of Lady Lukestan, The Trainer's Ghost, The Ghost in the Chair, In the Séance Room, The Missing Model, The Ghost's Revenge.

In 1999, Sarob Press issued The Blue Room and Other Stories, which included all of the tales from New Ghost Stories and added 'The Blue Room', which was originally published in Macmillan’s Magazine in October 1897.

'The Case of Lady Lukestan' is a clever story about the revenge of a jilted lover. Comely Pamela Ardilaun attempts to secretly marry young Lord Lukestan in the parish church of Slumber-le-Wold, but the officiating priest, Reverend Martyn, isn't about to let the couple wed without a hitch.

In 'The Trainer's Ghost', a publican and a tout attempt to drug a rival's horse the night before a big race, but they don't bargain on coming up against old Alick Coulson, a trainer who's been dead and buried for fifteen years, and Blue Ruin, the horse who trampled the old trainer to death.

In 'The Ghost in the Chair', Curtis Yorke suffers a sudden bout of automatic writing at the end of an extraordinary board meeting. On examining the product of his scribbling, he is horrified to discover that he has penned a contract with the devil. To save his compay, the San Sacrada Mining Company, from financial ruin, Yorke has agreed to surrender his soul 'at such time and for such purpose' as may be determined.

The protagonist of 'In the Séance Room', Dr Valentine Burke, is a physician and a powerful magnetiser, not opposed to giving semi-private exhibitions of his powers. He is ambitious, but he doesn't care much for work. So, to secure a large fortune for himself, he sets his sights on marrying the wealthy Miss Elma Lang, and he won't let anything get in his way. A medium of extraordinary power is in town, and Burke is head of the test committe that is formed to find fraud, but he soon learns that a séance room is the last place a man with something to hide should be.

In 'The Missing Model', the artist Gordon Mayne is in need of a new model, as his usual sitter has gone and got herself married to a shop-walker. A young woman turns up at his studio in St John's Wood and offers herself as his new model, and he takes her on immediately, but she is not quite what she seems.

In 'The Ghost's Revenge', Katharine Deverel has put a curse upon Ravenshill hall, and no man, whether good or evil, can survive the New Year within its walls. Each is doomed to die in the same way that she and her son did: by drowning in the pond. With only hours to go before the stroke of midnight and the end of another year, Gerald Harrison must make his way back to the hall, before Katharine Deverel can claim another victim.

The housekeeper of Mertoun Towers tells the story of 'The Blue Room'. One Christmas morning in the 1840s, Miss Wood, companion of Lady Grayburn, is found dead in the blue tapestry room, which is said to be haunted. Fifty years later, Miss Edith Erristoun, a learned young woman who doesn't believe in ghosts, is dared to sleep in the same room, and in so doing helps to unravel the dark secret of Lady Barbara Mertoun, a former mistress of the house who also died there.

Lettice Galbraith certainly did know how to tell a story; I enjoyed every one of her tales. In fact, this is one of my favourite nineteenth century collections. At this moment in time, my favourite story is 'In the Séance Room', though 'The Trainer's Ghost' comes a close second. It's a terrible shame that she didn't write more. I shall have to make do with revisiting the ones she did write. If you like stylish, well-written traditional ghost stories, then you'll enjoy this book.

The first edition of New Ghost Stories is virtually impossible to find. The Blue Room and Other Ghost Stories was issued as a limited edition hardback (the first volume in Richard Dalby's Mistresses of the Macabre series), and a fine copy will cost around £150 upwards (that's about $240), though it can be a bit hard to find. Wordsworth Editions issued a paperback in 2007 entitled The Shadow on the Blind and Other Stories, which includes all of the tales from the Sarob Press volume, along with the tales of Louisa Baldwin. That costs only £2.99 at the moment. I've been unable to find any kindle edition of Galbraith's tales.

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