Sunday, 13 December 2015

Curfew & Other Eerie Tales ~ Lucy M. Boston

Lucy Maria Boston (1892~1990) is best known today for her series of children's novels set in Green Knowe, an ancient house based on Boston's own home, Hemingford Grey Manor near Huntingdon, Cambridge, which was built in the 1130s. Her first two books, Yew Hall (a novel for adults) and the first of the Green Knowe series, The Children of Green Knowe, were published in 1954. At the time, Boston was already in her sixties. She won the Carnegie Medal for A Stranger of Green Knowe, the fourth book in the series, in 1961.

Curfew & Other Eerie Tales was published by Swan River Press as a limited edition hardback in 2011. It contains six tales and a play: Curfew, Pollution, Blind Man's Buff, Many Coloured Glass, The Italian Desk, The Tiger-Skin Rug, The Horned Man.

As their parents are abroad, the narrator of 'Curfew' and his two brothers are staying with their Uncle Tom and Aunt Catherine, at the cottage they have bought in the outlaying land of a fifteenth century manor house. In the process of doing up the garden, after rolling away a boulder atop a hillock, Aunt Catherine and Uncle Tom discover a stone coffer, the lid of which carries the inscription 'Deliver us O Lord from the Evil One'. Well, as we all know, digging up ancient hillocks is never a good thing to do, any more than discovering old coffers is.

The narrator of 'Pollution', Mr Gable, has taken a post as holiday tutor to a delicate boy at St. Mark's Abbey Lodge. Gable and his charge share an interest in entomology, but when revolting insects begin dropping out of taps in households throughout the area they soon lose all enthusiasm for their hobby.

In 'Blind Man's Buff', Captain Fernley, at an early stage in his career in the diplomatic service, is sent out to Venezuela, where he takes the opportunity to do some climbing on the Sierra Nevada. He takes with him a native guide, Quibar. But events take a tragic turn, the consequences of which poison the rest of the Captain's life.

In 'Many Coloured Glass', Sir Joshua Waters is hosting a ball in the Costume wing of the Museum to celebrate his son's coming of age, and his return with an Olympic medal. All invitees are instructed to turn up as characters from Jane Austen's books. But Sir Joshua's ball doesn't go quite according to plan when an uninvited guest sweeps the Olympic medallist's girlfriend off her feet. This story starts out quite light hearted, but turns sinister with the introduction of mechanical toys.

In 'The Italian Desk', Francis Caxton, a doctor on the staff of a mental hospital, is recovering from appendicitis and has been advised to take a kong holiday in the country, so he takes a furnished house in Cumberland. When he moves in, the housekeeper suggests he keep his papers in an Italian ivory-inlaid desk... the desk of Miss Stephanie who, once a refined and educated young woman, is now a raving lunatic.

The narrator of 'The Tiger-Skin Rug' and his wife buy a Chinese tiger-skin rug at an estate sale, despite warnings from the previous owner's butler that no good can come of it. Following the arrival of the rug, and the disappearance of an itinerant organ-grinder's monkey, a stranger called Dr. Sathanos appears at the narrator's home late at night, and strange happenings follow.

'The Horned Man' is a play about a witch-hunt. The action takes place during the reign of King James I, in the home of Sir Martin Westbury. Mr Simon Upjohn, the King's Agent, is down from London to lead the hunt and, as he intends to whip up a frenzy, and the frightened locals will undoubtedly believe 'the very fact that there is an investigation of witchcraft proves that there are witches to be examined', no old woman in the district is safe.

I greatly enjoyed reading this collection, especially 'Curfew' and 'The Horned Man'. I know reading plays isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I've always liked reading them (incidentally, the first one I ever read was The Crucible). There isn't a poor tale amongst these, and it's a collection I shall definitely keep on returning to. I highly recommend it.

As with all the books published by Swan River Press, Curfew & Other Eerie Tales is a beautifully produced volume. After the first printing in 2011, there was a second printing in 2014, but at the moment I can't find a single copy of either printing for sale on the Internet or anywhere else. I can only assume that, like me, nobody is willing to part with their copy. 

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