Seth, the cartoonist best known for Palookaville, has, once again. beautifully illustrated three Christmas Ghost Stories, published by Biblioasis.
Take a look at the covers of previous years' editions:
This year, Seth illustrated Edith Wharton's Mr. Jones, F. Marion Crawford's The Doll's Ghost, and Bernard Cape's An Eddy on the Floor.
Everyone, of course, knows about Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, but what is less well-known is that it is only the most famous example of a long-running Victorian Christmas tradition of telling ghost stories during the holidays. Seven years ago Biblioasis partnered with world-renowned cartoonist Seth, who is passionate about this Victorian tradition, to try and bring it back into vogue: over this time it's become a series beloved by booksellers and readers everywhere.
Who knew there were so many Christmas ghost stories?
Biblioasis kindly gave us permission to run an excerpt from Edith Wharton's Mr. Jones along with some of Seth's illustrations.
Synopsis: When Lady Jane Lynke unexpectedly inherits Bells, a beautiful country estate, she declares she'll never leave the peaceful grounds and sets about making the house her home. But she hasn't reckoned on the obstinate Mr Jones, the caretaker she's told dislikes her changes, yet never seems able to be found.
Lady Jane Lynke was unlike other people: when she heard that she had inherited Bells, the beautiful old place which had belonged to the Lynkes of Thudeney for something like six hundred years, the fancy took her to go and see it unan- nounced. She was staying at a friend's near
by, in Kent, and the next morning she bor- rowed a motor and slipped away alone to Thudeney-Blazes, the adjacent village. It was a lustrous motionless day. Autumn bloom lay on the Sussex downs, on the heavy trees of the weald, on streams moving indolently, far off across the marshes. Farther still, Dungeness, a fitful streak, floated on an immaterial sky which was perhaps, after all, only sky. In the softness Thudeney-Blazes slept: a few aged houses bowed about a duck- pond, a silvery spire, orchards thick with dew. Did Thudeney-Blazes ever wake? Lady Jane left the motor to the care of the geese on a miniature common, pushed open a white gate into a field (the griffoned portals being padlocked), and struck across the park toward a group of carved chim- ney-stacks. No one seemed aware of her.
In a dip of the land, the long low house, its ripe brick masonry overhanging a moat deeply sunk about its roots, resem- bled an aged cedar spreading immemorial red branches. Lady Jane held her breath and gazed. A silence distilled from years of soli- tude lay on lawns and gardens. No one had lived at Bells since the last Lord Thudeney, then a penniless younger son, had forsaken it sixty years before to seek his fortune in Canada. And before that, he and his wid- owed mother, distant poor relations, were housed in one of the lodges, and the great place, even in their day, had been as mute and solitary as the family vault. Lady Jane, daughter of another branch, to which an earldom and considerable possessions had accrued, had never seen Bells, hardly heard its name. A succession
of deaths, and the whim of an old man she had never known, now made her heir to all this beauty; and as she stood and looked she was glad she had come to it from so far, from impressions so remote and different. "It would be dreadful to be used to it–to be thinking already about the state of the roof, or the cost of a heating system." Till this her thirty-fifth year, Lady Jane had led an active, independent and decided life. One of several daughters, moderately but sufficiently provided for, she had gone early from home, lived in London lodg- ings, travelled in tropic lands, spent studious summers in Spain and Italy, and written two or three brisk business-like little books about cities usually dealt with sentimentally. And now, just back from a summer in the south of France, she stood ankle deep in wet bracken, and gazed at Bells lying there under a September sun that looked like moonlight.
"I shall never leave it!" she ejaculated, her heart swelling as if she had taken the vow to a lover. She ran down the last slope of the park and entered the faded formality of gardens with clipped yews as ornate as architec- ture, and holly hedges as solid as walls. Adjoining the house rose a low deep-but- tressed chapel. Its door was ajar, and she thought this of good augury: her forebears were waiting for her. In the porch she remarked fly-blown notices of services, an umbrella stand, a dishevelled door-mat: no doubt the chapel served as the village church. The thought gave her a sense of warmth and neighbourliness. Across the damp flags of the chancel, monuments and brasses showed through a traceried screen. She examined them curiously. Some hailed her with vocal memories, others whispered out of the remote and the unknown: it was a shame to know so little about her own family. But neither Crofts nor Lynkes had ever greatly distinguished themselves; they had gathered substance simply by holding on to what they had, and slowly accumu- lating privileges and acres. "Mostly by clever marriages," Lady Jane thought with a faint contempt. At that moment her eyes lit on one of the less ornate monuments: a plain sar- cophagus of gray marble niched in the wall and surmounted by the bust of a young man with a fine arrogant head, a Byronic throat and tossed-back curls. "Peregrine Vincent Theobald Lynke, Baron Clouds, fifteenth Viscount Thudeney of Bells, Lord of the Manors of Thudeney, Thudeney-Blazes, Upper Lynke, Lynke-Linnet–" so it ran, with the usual tedious enumeration of honours,
titles, court and county offices, ending with: "Born on May 1st, 1790, perished of the plague at Aleppo in 1828." And underneath, in small cramped characters, as if crowded as an afterthought into an insufficient space: "Also His Wife." That was all. No name, dates, honours, epithets, for the Viscountess Thudeney. Did she too die of the plague at Aleppo? Or did the "also" imply her actual presence in the sarcophagus which her husband's pride had no doubt prepared for his own last sleep, little guessing that some Syrian drain was to receive him? Lady Jane racked her memory in vain. All she knew was that the death with- out issue of this Lord Thudeney had caused the property to revert to the Croft-Lynkes, and so, in the end, brought her to the chancel step where, shyly, she knelt a moment, vow- ing to the dead to carry on their trust.
She passed on to the entrance court, and stood at last at the door of her new home, a blunt tweed figure in heavy mud-stained shoes. She felt as intrusive as a tripper, and her hand hesitated on the door-bell. "I ought to have brought someone with me," she thought; an odd admission on the part of a young woman who, when she was doing her books of travel, had prided herself on forcing single-handed the most closely guarded doors. But those other places, as she looked back, seemed easy and accessible compared to Bells. She rang, and a tinkle answered, car- ried on by a flurried echo which seemed to ask what in the world was happening. Lady Jane, through the nearest window, caught the spectral vista of a long room with shrouded furniture. She could not see its farther end, but she had the feeling that
someone stationed there might very well be seeing her. "Just at first," she thought, "I shall have to invite people here–to take the chill off." She rang again, and the tinkle again prolonged itself; but no one came. At last she reflected that the care-tak- ers probably lived at the back of the house, and pushing open a door in the court-yard wall she worked her way around to what seemed a stable-yard. Against the purple brick sprawled a neglected magnolia, bear- ing one late flower as big as a planet. Lady Jane rang at a door marked "Service." This bell, though also languid, had a wakefuller sound, as if it were more used to being rung, and still knew what was likely to follow; and after a delay during which Lady Jane again had the sense of being peered at– from above, through a lowered blind–a
bolt shot, and a woman looked out. She was youngish, unhealthy, respectable, and frightened; and she blinked at Lady Jane like someone waking out of sleep. "Oh," said Lady Jane–"do you think I might visit the house?" "The house?" "I'm staying near here–I'm interested in old houses. Mightn't I take a look?" The young woman drew back. "The house isn't shown." "Oh, but not to–not to–" Jane weighed the case. "You see," she explained, "I know some of the family: the Northumberland branch." "You're related, madam?" "Well–distantly, yes." It was exactly what she had not meant to say; but there seemed no other way. The woman twisted her apron-strings in perplexity.
"Come, you know," Lady Jane urged, producing half-a-crown. The woman turned pale. "I couldn't, madam; not without asking." It was clear that she was sorely tempted. "Well, ask, won't you?" Lady Jane pressed the tip into a hesitating hand. The young woman shut the door and vanished. She was away so long that the visitor con- cluded her half-crown had been pocketed, and there was an end; and she began to be angry with herself, which was more often her habit than to be so with others. "Well, for a fool, Jane, you're a com- plete one," she grumbled. A returning footstep, listless, reluc- tant–the tread of one who was not going to let her in. It began to be rather comic. The door opened, and the young woman said in her dull sing-song: "Mr.
Jones says that no one is allowed to visit the house." She and Lady Jane looked at each other for a moment, and Lady Jane read the apprehension in the other's eyes. "Mr. Jones? Oh?–Yes; of course, keep it … " She waved away the woman's hand. "Thank you, madam." The door closed again, and Lady Jane stood and gazed up at the inexorable face of her old home.
"But you didn't get in? You actually came back without so much as a peep?" Her story was received, that evening at dinner, with mingled mirth and incredulity. "But, my dear! You mean to say you asked to see the house, and they wouldn't let you? WHO wouldn't?" Lady Jane's hostess insisted.
"Mr. Jones." "Mr. Jones?" "He said no one was allowed to visit it." "Who on earth is Mr. Jones?" "The care-taker, I suppose. I didn't see him." "Didn't see him either? But I never heard such nonsense! Why in the world didn't you insist?" "Yes; why didn't you?" they all chor- used; and she could only answer, a little lamely: "I think I was afraid." "Afraid? YOU, darling?" There was fresh hilarity. "Of Mr. Jones?" "I suppose so." She joined in the laugh, yet she knew it was true: she had been afraid. Edward Stramer, the novelist, an old friend of her family, had been listening with an air of abstraction, his eyes on his empty coffee-cup. Suddenly, as the mistress of the house pushed back her chair, he looked
across the table at Lady Jane. "It's odd: I've just remembered something. Once, when I was a youngster, I tried to see Bells; over thirty years ago it must have been." He glanced at his host. "Your mother drove me over. And we were not let in." There was a certain flatness in this con- clusion, and someone remarked that Bells had always been known as harder to get into than any house thereabouts. "Yes," said Stramer; "but the point is that we were refused in exactly the same words. Mr. Jones said no one was allowed to visit the house." "Ah–he was in possession already? Thirty years ago? Unsociable fellow, Jones. Well, Jane, you've got a good watch-dog." They moved to the drawing-room, and the talk drifted to other topics. But Stramer came and sat down beside Lady Jane. "It is queer, though, that at such a
distance of time we should have been given exactly the same answer." She glanced up at him curiously. "Yes; and you didn't try to force your way in either?" "Oh no: it was not possible." "So I felt," she agreed. "Well, next week, my dear, I hope we shall see it all, in spite of Mr. Jones," their hostess intervened, catching their last words as she moved toward the piano. "I wonder if we shall see Mr. Jones," said Stramer.