Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 81 of 274

About three or four miles along the road a farmer hailed me–a kindly, drawling fellow of middle age and considerable native intelligence. I was glad to slow down and ask directions, though I knew I must present a strange enough aspect. The man readily told me the way to Cape Girardeau, and inquired where I had come from in such a state at such an early hour. Thinking it best to say little, I merely mentioned that I had been caught in the night’s rain and had taken shelter at a nearby farmhouse, afterward losing my way in the underbrush trying to find my car.

“At a farmhouse, eh? Wonder whose it could’a been. Ain’t nothin’ standin’ this side o’ Jim Ferris’ place acrost Barker’s Crick, an’ that’s all o’ twenty miles by the rud.”

I gave a start, and wondered what fresh mystery this portended. Then I asked my informant if he had overlooked the large ruined plantation house whose ancient gate bordered the road not far back.

“Funny ye sh’d recolleck that, stranger! Must a ben here afore some time. But that house ain’t here now. Burnt down five or six years ago–and they did tell some queer stories about it.”

I shuddered.

“You mean Riverside–ol’ man de Russy’s place. Queer goin’s on there fifteen or twenty years ago. Ol’ man’s boy married a gal from abroad, and some folks thought she was a mighty odd sort. Didn’t like the looks of her, then she and the boy went off sudden, and later on the ol’ man said he was kilt in the war. But some o’ the niggers hinted queer things. Got around at last that the ol’ fellow fell in love with the gal himself and kilt her and the boy. That place was sure enough haunted by a black snake, mean that what it may.

“Then five or six years ago the ol’ man disappeared and the house burned down. Some do say he was burnt up in it. It was a mornin’ after a rainy night just like this, when lots o’ folks heard an awful yellin’ across the fields in old de Russy’s voice. When they stopped and looked, they see the house goin’ up in smoke quick as a wink–that place was all like tinder anyhow, rain or no rain. Nobody never seen the ol’ man again, but onct in a while they tell of the ghost of that big black snake glidin’ aroun’.

“What d’ye make of it, anyhow? You seem to hev knowed the place. Didn’t ye ever hear tell of the de Russys? What d’ye reckon was the trouble with that gal young Denis married? She kinder made everybody shiver and feel hateful, though ye couldn’t never tell why.”

I was trying to think, but that process was almost beyond me now. The house burned down years ago? Then where, and under what conditions, had I passed the night? And why did I know what I knew of these things? Even as I pondered I saw a hair on my coat sleeve–the short, grey hair of an old man.

In the end I drove on without telling anything. But did I hint that gossip was wronging the poor old planter who had suffered so much. I made it clear–as if from distant but authentic reports wafted among friends–that if anyone was to blame for the trouble at Riverside it was the woman, Marceline. She was not suited to Missouri ways, I said, and it was too bad that Denis had ever married her.

More I did not intimate, for I felt that the de Russys, with their proudly cherished honour and high, sensitive spirits, would not wish me to say more. They had borne enough, God knows, without the countryside guessing what a daemon of the pit–what a gorgon of the elder blasphemies–had come to flaunt their ancient and stainless name.

Nor was it right that the neighbours should know that other horror which my strange host of the night could not bring himself to tell me–that horror which he must have learned, as I learned it, from details in the lost masterpiece of poor Frank Marsh.

It would be too hideous if they knew that the one-time heiress of Riverside–the accursed gorgon or lamia whose hateful crinkly coil of serpent-hair must even now be brooding and twining vampirically around an artist’s skeleton in a lime-packed grave beneath a charred foundation–was faintly, subtly, yet to the eyes of genius unmistakably the scion of Zimbabwe’s most primal grovellers. No wonder she owned a link with that old witch-woman–for, though in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a negress.


  1. ScottS-M Identiconcomment_author_IP, $comment->comment_author); }else{echo $gravatar_link;}}*/ ?>

    ScottS-M wrote:

    Wait let me get this straight, there’s a vampiric demon succubus from hell and Lovecraft’s worried she might be (slightly) black? Was this actually a scary twist for readers back in the 20’s? “Immortal zombie hair, how droll. But miscegenation, the horror.”?

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