Montague Rhodes James
Early English Master of the Ghost Story
I have been having a lot of fun reading and posting on stories for Carl V's R I P reading event (Sept 1 to Oct 31-the easy rules are on his web page) devoted to paranormal and Gothic literature.
A lot of paranormal and Gothic stories have as one of their central characters a professor. He is often a bachelor (as one said in the old days "a confirmed bachelor"), very learned in some completely obscure topics such as Third century Anatolian ceramics, sheltered from the ways of the work a day world and off on a holiday or a trip somewhere as the story opens. This is no accident. Several of the authors that first made the ghost story a popular genre in England exactly fit this description.
The central character in "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" is Professor Parkin of Cambridge who is on a solitary holiday at a hotel somewhere on the east coast of England. Professor Perkins is given to long walks and as he is walking through an overgrown unkempt cemetery he notices something protruding from one of the graves. He assumes it is an old bone but when he uncovers it he finds a whistle. As he begins to walk back to the hotel he notices a dark figure way in the background that seems to be watching him.
Back in his room he looks the whistle over. It has an inscription, in Latin, that translates as "Who is this who is coming". That evening he cleans up the whistle and blows it. It produces a strange and unearthly sound. Later that evening he will be awoken by strange sounds. When he is at breakfast one of the other guests asks him if he believes in ghosts and Parkin basically says the whole notion is silly. He is, however, very disturbed when the chamber maid tells him that someone slept in the second bed in his room last night. He begins to wonder who the phantom that seemed to follow him from a long way off after he took the whistle was. (Spoiler alert) That night he awakes in terror as the sheets in the second bad begin to flap and he sees the shadowing figure that followed him after he took the whistle arise from the other bed.
"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" can be read online here. Many more of his ghost stories can also found online.
I really like his prose style. Here is a good sample:
The speech served to remind Parkins of his little discovery of that afternoon. It was with some considerable curiosity that he turned it over by the light of his candles. It was of bronze, he now saw, and was shaped very much after the manner of the modern dog-whistle; in fact it was - yes, certainly it was - actually no more nor less than a whistle. He put it to his lips, but it was quite full of a fine, caked-up sand or earth, which would not yield to knocking, but must be loosened with a knife.
I enjoyed reading this story and I think most other people will also. It is a gentle work meant to entertain, not terrify. I hope to read more of his stories in the future.
The next older paranormal writer I will post on will be James Buchan.