Monthly Archives: September 2012

Carnacki on the TV!


As we’ve stated before on this blog, Carnacki is arguably William Hope Hodgson’s most popular character.  Not only has he survived WHH’s death in comics and literature but he has been adapted on TV not once, but TWICE!

The first appearance by Carnacki on TV is a truly unusual one.  Produced as an episode of Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, this 1954 adaptation of “The Whistling Room” starred Alan Napier as Carnacki.  (Napier, as most students of pop culture can tell you, would go on to fame as Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, in the late 1960’s TV Batman show.)  This was the 42nd episode of the first season of the show (remember when shows had more than 5-13 episodes in a season?) and was directed by Alex Gruenberg who was a popular Television direction in the 1950’s.  Gruenberg was also a force in what we now know as “Old Time Radio” and an interview with him is included in the book, Five Directors: The Golden Age of Radio.

Sadly, this adaptation bears little resemblance to the original story and Napier’s Carnacki comes off as something of a buffoon.  Much of the suspense and terror of the tale is lost with Napier’s delivery of such lines as “there’s enough of my magic fluid there to disintegrate a whole army of ghosts!”  The clumsy introduction of technology, in the case of the “daylight gun” come off rather moronic and unintentionally hilarious.  Still, it remains an entertaining adaptation if only because it is one of a very small number!

Thanks to Hodgson fan Dan Ross, this show has been uploaded to YouTube and can be viewed here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zh9h0Js05KI

Carnacki, and the viewers, fare somewhat better with 1971’s adaptation of “The Horse of the Invisible” as the 5th episode in the BBC series, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.  Produced by Thames Television, this series presented the adventures of many of Holmes’ rivals who were virtually unknown to modern viewers.  The series was preceded by a book collection edited by Hugh Greene in 1970 and which also included “The Horse of the Invisible”.

In this adaptation, Carnacki is portrayed by veteran character actor Donald Pleasence who was some years away from his landmark genre role in Halloween (1978).  Although Pleasence brings the seriousness to the role that Napier lacked, his interpretation of the character is lackluster.  Carnacki, as written by Hodgson, is opinionated and energetic in his cases whereas Pleasence is wordy and rather dull.

The episode was directed by Alan Cooke who had a long career directing episodes of many and varied television shows.  The script was written by Philip Mackie who is perhaps best known for the screenplay to The Naked Civil Servant (1975).  The production values of the series are excellent and it looks exactly the way we have been taught to believe that Victorian England looked like but it does have the unmistakable air of a 1970’s show.

Obviously, the need exists for a proper adaptation of Carnacki!  Perhaps even an entire series!  Maybe one day these hopes will be answered but, until then, we have to satisfy ourselves with Napier and Pleasence which is still not a bad combination.

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THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND by Corben and Revelstroke


It is a source of constant amazement to me that more of William Hope Hodgson’s works have not been adapted into comic or graphic novel format.  It would seem that many of his stories would fit perfectly with such a visual medium.  Consider the sea creatures of WHH’s “Sargasso Sea” stories or the supernatural cases of Carnacki.  The amount of action in all of these would be perfect for such adaptations and far more so than Lovecraft has been, to my thinking.

And yet, to my knowledge, there has only been one comic format adaptation of Hodgson.  That is Vertigo Comics 2000 publication of The House on the Borderland adapted by Richard Corben and Simon Revelstroke.  Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics, has a long and illustrious history as a publisher of horror and cutting edge comics.  When I first heard of this book, I was quite excited!  I’d been a fan of Corben’s work since his days in the old Warren magazines of Creepy and Eerie so I knew that, artistically, he would be a good match for the material.

Unfortunately, what was eventually published bore little resemblance to the original novel by WHH.  If anything, I would not consider this to be an ‘adaptation’ in so much as it is a ‘re-interpretation’.  It takes WHH’s novel more as an inspiration than a literal script.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the inclusion of a ‘framing sequence’ meant to give the story more of a “contemporary vein”.  In it, two hikers discover the manuscript that forms Hodgson’s original novel while being chased by a group of irate Irishmen.  Later, at the end, Corben and Revelstroke use the framing sequence as a way of not only lending credence to the events detailed in the journal but also for their own speculations and attempts to ‘explain’ the meaning of the novel.  This is both unnecessary and pointless and adds little to the overall impact of the book.  I would have rather that they had spent more pages on the adaptation than indulge in this extraneous addition.

This is probably the weakest aspect of the book in that Corben and Revelstroke have excised large portions of the novel.  Most conspicuous is the section where the narrator’s mind travels across a plain of desolate loneliness into a valley of murderous gods in half-slumber.  Overall, this part seems to have fallen victim to Corben & Revelstroke’s concept of what is truly important in the novel: the swine-creatures.

Even in this aspect, there is little resemblance to Hodgson’s novel.  Where WHH had his narrator engage in an almost placid defense of his house and sister, Corben & Revelstroke re-imagine it into a multi-page siege sequence complete with rapidly fired guns and an attempt by the swine-creatures to rape the narrator’s sister.

Sexual themes in the novel have been suggested and examined before.  A most notable example is Iain Sinclair’s afterword to a later printing of the novel entitled “An Aberrant Afterword: Blowing Dust in the House of Incest”.  However, Corben & Revelstroke remove all pretense in their version with the narrator’s sister making an overt attempt to seduce him.  In this adaptation, this is representation of the sister’s descent into degeneration caused by the attack from the swine-creatures but it remains jarring nonetheless.

Such wild excesses are to be expected with Corben whose own adaptations of Poe stories have often contained naked women and inexplicable sex scenes.  But, on the whole, they do not ring true in a Hodgson story.

In many ways, this adaptation confuses me.  If it were meant to appeal to fans of Hodgson, those readers will be, at best, disappointed and, at worst, very angry.  If it was hoped to bring more fans to Hodgson’s own writings, this again is baffling as those who expect WHH’s work to be like this will inevitably be unsatisfied.

This book works best if you are able to completely separate it from the original novel.  If you can do this, it is actually a very enjoyable graphic novel with much to commend it.  Corben’s art is in fine display here and shows once again why he became such a popular and influential artist.  The worst aspect of this adaptation might be the incessant attempts to make sense of everything.  In Hodgson’s own novel, much is hinted at but rarely explained.  That, in my opinion, is one of the reasons it is so successful and so powerful.  The unknown is always more frightening than an explanation.

The book contains an introduction by comic book legend, Alan Moore.  Thankfully, he spends virtually no time talking about the adaptation that follows but instead about Hodgson and his work.  That Moore is a fan of Hodgson is well shown here and it is not surprising that Carnacki makes an appearance in Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The hoped-for explosion of Hodgson adaptations after this book never happened.  And, considering how little of the novel this book actually adapts, I’d say there is still need for a more faithful version.

This adaptation is apparently no longer in print but can be found through Amazon sellers (it is also available as a Kindle) and frequently shows up on ebay.

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HPL & WHH


It is well known that famed writer H. P. Lovecraft enjoyed the works of William Hope Hodgson.  After all, he included WHH in a later version of his groundbreaking essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature, as well as incorporating that section into an article published in The Reader and Collector (June, 1944).  We previously presented that article in an earlier entry on the blog at https://williamhopehodgson.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/the-weird-work-of-william-hope-hodgson-by-h-p-lovecraft/.

But did Lovecraft have anything more to say about Hodgson?

A review of Arkham House’s Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft shows that WHH is not mentioned much in HPL’s private letters.  Well, at least not in those selected for the Arkham House editions.  After being loaned copies of WHH’s novels and Carnacki by friend H. C. Koenig in 1934, HPL’s mentions of WHH tend to be very superficial.  In a letter to E. Hoffman Price on August 31, 1934, HPL states that “I am still reveling in the discovery of William Hope Hodgson—which, as I told you, I owe to the always-accommodating Koenig.” (SLV, pg 26)

The most revealing section occurs in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith dated September 30, 1934:

Well—as you see, I surely have become a premier Hodgson fan!  Do you know anything about W. H. H. and his career?  Koenig tells me he was killed in the war.  All told, I believe that nobody but Blackwood can equal or surpass him in capturing the exact shades of the cosmic horror mood in all their actual details.  But he was uneven—again like Blackwood.  Carnacki is very weak, artificial, and stereotyped as a whole despite the strong points which you justly point out—and the Glen Carrig certainly suffered a letdown halfway through.  As soon as the castaways have dwelt on the island long enough to become tangible realities employing obvious siege strategy, something of the story’s original tension and sense of malign expectancy is lost.  Also—the attempt to use 18th century English rings absurdly false to any sincere devotee of the 18th century.  I agree about The Ghost Pirates—and what a wealth of technical sea lore it contains!  I wonder if Hodgson was ever a sailor?  But the masterpiece, so far as I can see, is The House on the Borderland.  Boy—that dim, brooding air of menace!  And that stupefying cosmic sweep!  I am all on edge to read The Night Land . . . (SLV, pg 41)

In a letter to Duane Rimel dated September 28, 1935, HPL states:

It is well to avoid actually recognized myths such as vampirism, reincarnation, etc., and invent one’s own obscure violations of cosmic law.  What common myth, for example, does Blackwood use in The Willows?  Or Chambers in The Yellow Sign?  Or Hodgson in The House on the Borderland?  These writers create a sort of distinctive awe of their own and manage to say something fresh despite all that has been said before.  (SLV, pg 198)

The only other mention of WHH comes later when HPL once again takes Hodgson to task for his inferior imitation of 18th century English.  This mention is only a brief aside as HPL is complaining about other writers also having a similar problem.

It is interesting to note that, in the published HPL letters, he does not speak about WHH very much despite an obvious respect for the work.  The fact that he compares Hodgson to Blackwood demonstrates the high regard Lovecraft felt for WHH.  Perhaps if he had discovered Hodgson earlier, as he did Dunsany or Machen, Lovecraft would have been influenced by Hodgson’s cosmicism which was so similar to his own.

Sources

Lovecraft, H. P. The Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft, Volume V: 1934-1937.  Arkham House. Sauk City: WI, 1976.  (Abbreviated as SLV)

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“The Derelict of Death” by Ford and Clark


As previously mentioned, not many people write Hodgsonian stories.  It seems that every week a new anthology of “Lovecraftian” tales appears but no tome of Hodgsonian yarns!  Thankfully, John B. Ford has attempted to right this horrible wrong and this is one of his most popular tales.  Written with noted British author Simon Clark (website: http://www.nailedbytheheart.com/home), “The Derelict of Death” was first published by Ford’s own BJM Press in 1998 and has since become scarce and collectible.  It is a tale worthy of WHH himself!

Many thanks to John B. Ford for allowing us to reprint that great story and I hope that it will lead to more Hodgsonian tales from his pen!

The Derelict of Death

by

Simon Clark and John B. Ford

 

Strange things happen at sea. Aye, and some are more sinister than the darkest imaginings of any man. Now my life draws towards its close, the remaining days I am to look upon are few — Death advances stealthily. Death has stifled my voice, and in so doing hopes to prevent the horrific memories of my brain being known by others. But still I have the ability to write down that which I witnessed in my youth, and may God give me the energy to deliver a warning — of what I have looked upon — of what is to come again. And so write I must, for there is a danger I must tell of before it is too late.

***

I remember the time clearly. I was eldest ‘prentice aboard the Jenny Rose, and with this I was pleased and very proud, for I had a penchant for the old windjammers, and here was one of the few still to see service. We were engaged in salvage work, picking this and that from the seabed — anything that would turn a sovereign or two: old canon, a bit of pewter, copper bottoms from sailing vessels that foundered a century or more before.

        Our diver was a wiry man by the name of Dodgson who seemed more at home in the water than out of it. Normally he worked alone but on occasions I was sent down in the second Siebe and Gorman suit when there was particularly heavy lifting to be done. I can’t say I liked the sensation of waves above me rather than below, but I was a dutiful sailor and obeyed orders. Still, what a diver sees on the seabed can rattle a man’s nerves. On one of the later dives we entered the hulk of a slaver lying ten fathoms deep. There in the hold were the bones of more than a hundred African men, women and children who’d gone to the bottom still chained to the timbers, poor devils.

        Well, I remember we were becalmed in the tropics, with all the lower sails up in the buntlines so as to harvest even the lightest of breezes. But there was something uncanny ’bout all that area of the ocean; something awful in the unnatural silence and stillness of the sea, and my full knowledge of all those men’s bones beneath our keel. Perhaps because of my youthful years and freshness of mind, I was more receptive than I should have been to my queer surroundings — for it seemed to me that everything about this place spoke only of Death.

         One day, just after I had joined the other ‘prentices swabbing decks, I noticed young Adams was staring hard at the surface of the sea.

         “What’s up, Tom?” I asked. You’ve not seen a mermaid, have you?”

         “Just have a look over there, Will,” he said, pointing.

        I looked in the direction he indicated, and just beneath the surface of the sea I saw a silver glistening. Then, even as I watched, I saw many small objects rising upward through the water. It looked like a mass slaughter, countless shoals of dead fish rising to the surface of the sea.

       “What do you suppose is causin’ it?” asked Adams.

      “I don’t know,” I replied, “maybe there’s some poison in the water or something.”

        After a while our inaction gained the wrath of the Second Mate, but in noticing the morbid spectacle we gazed upon, he joined our study in amazed silence. Soon the sight came to the attention of the whole crew, but not one man was there who’d seen the like before, or could give decent explanation of it. Soon the newly swabbed decks began to steam in the heat of the blazing sun, sweat trickling constantly from the faces of the toiling A.B.s. With this, there passed through my mind the bizarre idea that we had now sailed into the waters of Hell itself.

         Throughout all that day we sweltered in the terrible heat, and not one cloud was there to give us the slightest shelter. With the setting of the sun came sights of weirdness such as brought cries of exclamation from the look-out, for all the sky to Westward blazed with blood-red fire — and forming amongst it was a hideous vision. Those of us above decks stood in utter silence as the image developed. A deliberate blackness began to mix amongst the red, almost as though some invisible artist sought to corrupt the sky with evil design.

       In the following seconds came a thrill of intense fear in me, others of the crew falling to their knees in fearful prayer. For in the sky had formed a blackened image, a face of absolute evil, and suddenly the black voids of the eyes opened to display the redness beyond. With this, it seemed to me we were being gazed upon and studied by two orbs of fire and appalling hatred. The First Mate turned to me with a look of puzzlement and fear upon his face.

         “Will, go below and tell the Captain we have some curious atmospherics I’d like his opinion on, smart now!”

          When I returned with the ‘Old Man”, I was able to stand just behind him and the Mate, thus enabling me to hear the hushed conversation which passed between them.

         “What do you think it is, sir?” asked the Mate

        “I’m blamed if I know, ” replied the Captain, astounded, but I know what it looks like! It beats anythin’ I’ve seen in all my years.”

         “Perhaps it’s somethin’ to do with atmospherics?” suggested the Mate.

      “Ain’t no atmospherics could ever shape themselves into something like that, Mister! Though if I’m takin’ your drift at all we’ll have to pass it off as some freak kind of weather effect due to the heat, I see the crew are takin’ it pretty bad… and it’s no surprisin’ too.”

         Some short while later the Old Man stood in front of the crew, giving a short speech of reassurance. And though not one man was taken by his explanation, false front, or manufactured high spirits, still perhaps they allowed themselves a very partial belief, for Captain Reynolds was mighty respected by all, seeming like a father even to those greater in age than he.

          As any shellback will tell you, it’s a fact that down in the tropics the falling of night seems to come with a great rapidity. This being so, I completed my few remaining tasks and made to go to my bunk, thus meaning to snatch a few hours sleep before the time of my watch. That night it was our watch from midnight till four, and my stint as look-out for the first of those two hours. So it was that some time approaching twelve I was abruptly wakened by Collins. Having just completed his own stint on watch, he seemed in a state of great nervousness and excitement.

        “What the devil’s up with you?” I asked, quite angry at being shaken awake.

        “You’ve just mentioned what’s wrong with me,” he replied, then walked away in a peculiar hurry to return to his own bunk.

       As I came into full wakefulness, I noticed the temperature of the air seemed if anything, even hotter than it had been during the day. I pulled on my clothes and climbed the steps to the main-deck, once there freezing in a stance of total shock. For the redness of the sky to Westward had now defied the night, and within it, that demonic face still gazed with eyes of fire. But now a shocking change had taken place in that monstrous image, for the black void of the mouth had opened to reveal a cavern of fire.

        Straightway I noticed there was more activity on deck than usual; the Second Mate gazed upon the Thing with his night-glasses, while the bo’sun leant on the taffrail,  smoking and talking to Captain Reynolds in a low voice. And all of the sea remained calm and quiet, almost as though secretly listening to their words — and waiting.

       After making a circuit of the decks, I walked to the break of the fo’cas’le head. Here I paced slowly to and fore, ever listening to the quiet of the sea. Always there remained the dreadful image of that demonic face peering through the night, eyes blazing with unholiness and hatred, ever seeming to gaze inside my very soul. And my hope is that my words will bring home to you the true sense of strangeness and fear I felt when walking alone through the silence, with ever and anon that unholy vision being in my sight.

        Well, it would be perhaps one hour later, and as my eyes looked once more at that dreadful visage, there came to my notice a dark outline upon the surface of the sea. It was framed in contrast against that cavern of fire which, as I have just told, portrayed a mouth of flame. So I lifted the night-glasses to give further study, and with this I suddenly grew greatly afeared — for I made out the vague sight of a ship that sailed from the flames.

         Without hesitation I hailed the Captain.

         “Ship sighted on starboard, sir!”

         “Give me the position, lad!” he demanded urgently.

         “The face, sir,” I shouted excitedly, “it’s sailing from the flames of the mouth!”

         I watched as Captain Reynolds lifted his own glasses to his eyes, then saw his lips mutter an oath at the sight he looked upon. By now the Second Mate and some of the men had come to stand beside me. The Mate lifted his own glasses to his eyes and proceeded to study the progress of the vessel.

         “My God! she’s been dismasted by the look, no more than a derelict from what I can see. Yet she’s moving at speed. . .”

         “Perhaps she’s been caught in some kind of current, sir,” I offered.

         “No, she’s dead straight, lad. No current would ever carry her so straight, it’s almost as though she’s somehow set a course…”

         After a while, word spread below to the sleeping crew and men began to appear above decks; fearfully they watched in silence as the derelict somehow made its way across the stilled sea. Soon the Captain came to join us on the fo’cas’le head.

         “What do you make of her, sir?” asked the mate.

        “She’s not right, Mister, ” he replied, looking uneasy, “not right by a long chalk.”

         As we continued in our observations, it became obvious to each one of us that the derelict was on a course directly towards us. Suddenly a light flickered to life aboard her, and instinctively I trained the glasses on it. What I then looked upon chilled me to the core, for standing at the ship’s wheel was a black-shrouded figure with death-white face.

      “There’s a figure at the wheel, sir!” I shouted loudly, and with my words a murmur of fear spread throughout the watching crew. But as the Captain and Mate made an effort to focus on the light, the derelict instantly filled once more with darkness. At this, the fear in me grew stronger and seemed to almost contain a personal terror, for to my mind came the thought that the ‘man’ at the wheel had somehow sensed my prying eyes, and also the open mind of youth. Thus he had purposely revealed only to me an example of the dread forms aboard the derelict.

         With the passing of time the derelict grew ever nearer, and though I scanned the night-glasses over her decks constantly, still there was not another sign that the vessel was inhabited. It would be at the first sign of daybreak that she first came to be stilled in her movement. Soon after this I was ordered by Captain Reynolds to return to my bunk, for I had remained on watch longer than I should, and maybe he was somehow aware of how my nerves had become jangled at the awful vision of the face and of what I had witnessed behind the wheel of the derelict.

***

I slept for perhaps three hours before awakening, my skin saturated with the sweat of nightmare. When I went above decks I began to wonder if indeed half my experiences had been nightmare, for the Satanic face of flame and blackness had now been replaced by the vivid blue sky we had grown so accustom to. But looking perhaps one mile to starboard, I saw there a dark monument to the reality of the previous night’s sinister happenings. The derelict repelled the very sun; like a black blotch on the sea she seemed representative of the greatest evil. Large parts of the hull appeared to be covered with thick fungi, a testimony to the years of neglect.

         As I stared at that queer ship standing on a sea of glassy calm, I was startled by what seemed a tremendous bellow in my ear.

         “Mr. Dodgson! Clear the starboard lifeboat!” It was the skipper hollering orders. For a solid seafaring man not given to the horrors, I heard a tremor in his voice. And I reckon he shouted louder than he ought because he heard it himself, and was acutely aware it was plainly a tremor of fear.

          Now he buried it in more hollering.

       “Bo’sun, pick out a dozen men! We’re going to take a little boat ride across to that damn wreck and treat ourselves to a closer look.” He gave a grim smile through his whiskered visage. “You never know, there might be some salvage to be had from her even though she’s a queer-looking beast of a thing.”

         The bo’sun pointed at me. “Jessop, lad, help Mr. Dodgson get the cover off the boat and start bailing her out.”

         “Aye-aye, sir.”

         “Oh, and Jessop?”

         “Sir?”

         “You man enough to take one of the oars?”

         “Yessir.”

         “Good man.”

         He turned to the crew on the main-deck.

        “Men, you know I’m a damn b—–, and I don’t have a polite bone in my body, but this time instead of orderin’ I’m askin’. Hoist those hands up if you volunteer to man the lifeboat so as to take the Skipper to that devil-ship over yonder.”

         He looked gravely at the faces of the men.

         “There’ll be no come-backs or dirt chores for those not fancyin’ boarding her.”

          The men weren’t eager, nevertheless, there was a good crop of hands.

       As I hauled the canvas bib from the lifeboat and began emptying her of the flotsam and jetsam the shellbacks tossed into her when they couldn’t find cupboard space below, I let my gaze rove across to where the derelict rested like a leper’s sore on an otherwise smooth sea.

      Despite that tropical heat, hotter and more humid than any Turkish bath, I shivered to the roots of my bones; for she was an evil-looking vessel all right. Let me tell you, a calm sea mid-ocean can be taxing on the nerves in its own right, stretching out greasy and flat and lifeless as some queer plain of death. But that terrible derelict was a dozen times worse. I can only describe her oblong shape, bereft of mast and rigging, as a floating coffin. There was no wheelhouse, the deck was pretty much flat with the exception of the ship’s wheel. Whatever manner of man had stood there the night before had vanished below.

          But somehow I couldn’t picture that dark cowled figure with the white as death face tucking into a plate of hot grub. I didn’t doubt for a moment that he had much darker appetites to satisfy.

        In no time at all we were in their lifeboat and pulling on the oars in the direction of the derelict which seemed to fair hum with a sinister mystery all of its own.

        “Pull away there, men,” sang out the Skipper as he worked the tiller. “Nice and easy does it. See any life on her, bo’sun?”

          The bo’sun, sitting with his hands on the prow, shook his head.

         “Not a living soul, Skipper.”

         “The only souls aboard  that thing will be  those already damned to hell,” murmured Tom beside me.

       “Pipe down at the oars there,”  said the Skipper. “Hark. . .  does anyone hear that?”

         I heard nothing above the rattle of the oars in the rowlocks and the splash of the blades in the water.

         “Vast pulling, all,” sang out the Skipper.

          At his order we all stopped rowing.

         “Now then, does any man here that?”

          We listened. From the direction of the derelict there came faint sound.

          “It sounds like hogs?” the bo’sun replied in a low voice. “It’s damn queer, sir.”

          “Damn queer indeed,” the ‘Old Man’ agreed. “You’d not credit any livestock would remain alive on a wreck like that.”

          “Shall we go on, sir?”

          “That we shall, bo’sun. We’ll bottom out the mystery of that evil-looking packet once and for all.”

***

It took only a few moments to cover the intervening space of ocean to the black derelict. Above us the sky was a dazzling blue. And away to our stern lay the Jenny Rose with the remainder of her crew on deck taking a keen interest in our progress.

        Now the bo’sun looked back at the Skipper.

        “There’s a fearful stink coming from that b—– hulk.”

      And truly, the smell was powerful enough to have me swallowing more than once; for it had caught the back of my throat and now clung there.

       “Perhaps it’s coming from the slime?” The bo’sun nodded up at the flanks of the ship which were lathered in something I’d have described closer to fungi than slime. For it was black and silkily smooth, only bulging and curving here and there as if it had overgrown the portals and the like.

        “Back-water, all,” the Skipper ordered. “Let’s have a look at her stern. Her name should at least give us some indication which port she hails from.”

        We reversed our stroke, taking the lifeboat stern-ward. All the time the Captain’s big grey whiskered head looked this way and that, examining the black-coated flanks of the derelict. I glanced at the faces of the men as they now lightly feathered the oars. Their faces were strained and I saw fear writ large in their eyes. They had all smelt the stink emanating from the ship. It smelt more of the pigsty than any ship I’d ever been near before! The overpowering malty odours of swill overlaying the sharper porcine stench of swine. A hateful smell. And somehow, suffusing it all, the sweet, almost syrupy smell of human cadavers exposed to the heat of the sun.

        One man pressed the palm of his hand across his mouth and screwed his eyes shut.

        “Let it go man. You should never strive to keep it in.” The Skipper’s voice was kindly. My stomach heaved, too, but I wasn’t given to being ill in such a fashion, so reckoned I’d be all right.

        “By Gum!” the Skipper exclaimed as he looked at the black skin of the fungi. “Have you ever seen such a thing? It’s covered the ship’s name plate. Here, Mr. Holden, pass me your oar.”

       The Second Mate hauled his oar from the lock and passed it to the Skipper. Water dripped from the blade and down the shaft to wet the Old Man’s hands as he stood in the stern and scraped at the fungi. The blade of the oar made a slithery sound as he worked at the timber, loosening the black substance that had formed a skin over the ship’s name.

         “It’s working loose,” he said at length. “It’s coming away in sheets. . . you know, If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this ship’s hull had been sheathed in pigskin. By Gum! look at the stuff.” He paused a moment to scratch his forehead as he stared at the sheets of black material hanging down from the timbers. “there’s even hairs growing from it. Pigskin, I say again. Although if I wrote that in the ship’s log-book I’d lose my master’s ticket with no shadow of a doubt.”

         He returned to scraping the ‘hog skin’ with the oar.

        “Ah…. I can see a name. It’s the. . . Oh, dear God in Heaven…”

        He stopped scraping and stared hard at the name exposed beneath the black flaps of that horrible fungoid skin. I looked, too, reading the name there, and the shivers ran over my entire body. And as I read that name — once, twice, thrice — a hog-like squealing seemed to emanate from the bowels of the derelict, but far away, like, as if echoing from the depths of a cave that ran to the portals of Hell itself.

         The name of the ship was Death.

          At length the Skipper broke the silence.

         “Rum name for a ship, eh boys?”

          We nodded, mute.

         “Perhaps she was a pirate ship,” Tom ventured.

        “Pray that she was, lad, then she might be full to the scuppers with rubies and gold.”

          There was another pause. No one, it seemed, could slip their eyes away from that painted name, which seemed to beat with such a vivid red it occurred to me that blood might run through it, just as blood runs through a vein.

        “Well, bo’sun,” said the Skipper. “We won’t get rich just by ogling this little beauty, will we? He laughed. But it was a forced laugh, I judged. Forced to cover up the fear that was sweeping like a cold tide through his body.

          “Asher,” he said to Tom. “You’re the nimblest. If you’ve no strong opposition to my request, will you accept the opportunity to be first on deck?”

          “Aye-aye, sir.” Tom looked scared to death. But he was a game sailor, never to refuse climbing the rigging in even the foulest of seas. He seized a chain, or a cable, it wasn’t possible to tell which; for it was sheathed in that same ‘hog skin’ bristling here and there with silver hairs. Then in a trice he’d climbed up onto the deck. I thought he might have paused fearfully before climbing over the rail, but he bravely slithered over in a moment, kicking his sea boots hard.

         “We held our breath. The wait wracked the strongest of nerves. My imagination had him being confronted by that thing with the white face and deathly black cowl.

         “What’s keeping him?” murmured the bo’sun. He should — wait!”

          Tom’s head popped over the rail. He waved.

         “Anyone on board?” called out Captain Reynolds.

         “Looks deserted, sir.”

          The Captain rubbed his hairy jaw before looking at us.

        “Well, my boyos, shall we indulge ourselves in a spot of exploring?”

***

I was left behind in the boat with the Second Mate. One after another, the Captain, bo’sun, followed by the rest clambered up the sheathed chain and onto the deck. Shielding my eyes against the glare of the sun, I stared upward. Their was precious little to see. A head of our crew, now and then, would pop over the rail. I heard the voices of the men, but couldn’t make out what was being said; save that by the tone of the voice there I could deduce there were wonderful — or terrible — things to see.

        “What do you think’s up there?” I asked the Second Mate.

        “He swore. “How the blast should I know? I don’t have a twenty foot long b—– neck, do I?”

      I nearly forgot my rank and swore back. The tension of waiting as the others explored that strange and terrible ship was all but overpowering. As it was, a sudden scream made me forget the man’s sarcastic wit entirely.

      Both our heads tilted up. Of course we saw nothing. But now screams shimmered on the air in a series of dreadful peals. This time it was the Second Mate that shot me a startled look and asked, By heaven, what’s happening up there?”

       I reached out to the sheathed chain ready to scramble up and join in the fight, but the Second Mate stopped me with a trembling hand.

       “No Jessop! There’s murder going on up there!”

       “But we–“

       “The Captain’ll handle it… the Captain will handle it, lad”

        The way he repeated the statement suggested to me that the man didn’t believe what he himself had said. We stood in the lifeboat and listened to the screams. It was only a moment or so before the commotion faded, trailing off as men succumbed one by one. For what seemed a long while we waited there, our little boat resting on the greasy surface of the ocean. The shadow cast by the black derelict was strangely cool, almost icy.

     Presently, the Second Mate called to the Captain; then to the others by name. There was no answering reply. The ship was silent again; a deathly quiet that didn’t brook any kind of noise; for there was a sense that anyone making a sound would be pounced on, as a cat pounces upon a mouse. Soon, even the Second Mate, famed for his cat o’ nine tails tongue, fell silent.

      He dipped his hand into the sea and wiped water across his face as if to refresh his jangled nerves. Then taking a deep breath he looked at me and said in a whisper, “They’ve gone, lad.”

      “But we could–“

     “No, Jessop. Listen to me. If whatever’s on board can snuff out ten hearty sea dogs in less than two minutes, what chance do just the two of us stand? Take your oar, Jessop, we’re going back to our own ship.”

      He silenced my protest before it even began with a fierce glare. I took my place at the oar. Without another word between us we rowed back to the ship, and I wondered  what fate had befallen the Captain and nine men of the Jenny Rose. 

***

On the orders of the First Mate we were all doled out a tot of rum to help darn the fibres of our ragged nerves. I was relieved of my watch duty and ordered to rest in my bunk. Naturally, I could not sleep and lay there listening to the creak of the ship’s timber’s. I knew that with the disappearance of the Captain the First Mate had taken charge and he and the Second were chewing the fat over what should be done next.

        I, for one, wished our old packet possessed a big enough deck gun to blow the death ship out of the water. As it was, I reckoned they’d soon hoist every inch of sail and try to get away with all possible speed, which wouldn’t have been much; for there was still hardly a breath of wind beneath those sultry, tropical skies.

       I lay there in my bunk, feeling the trickle of sweat on my forehead. In my mind’s eye I saw the Skipper and the rest of the boarding party on the deck of that grimly named ship, Death, and how they struggled with whatever slithered from the hatches below… And I was drifting into an uneasy doze when I felt a hand on my arm. Turning my head, I saw a death’s head swathed in black cloth, the hand was mere bones, a spider scuttled from the thing’s eye-socket. I opened my mouth to scream out to sweet Jesus in His mercy to–

        “Jessop. . . Jessop? Easy there, lad. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

         I opened my eyes, my heart pounded.

         It was the First Mate shaking me free of my nightmare.

        “What’s wrong?” I asked, scared.

        “Don’t worry yourself, lad. Are you fully awake?”

        “Yessir.”

        “We need your help, Jessop.”

        “Need me? Why, sir?”

        “Now then, I’m told you’ve used the diving-suit before, is that right?”

        “Yessir.”

        “Good.”

        “Why, what’s wrong?”

       “You know the diver, Mr. Dodgson, boarded the derelict with the Captain and we have to consider him lost, too. Now, lad, if you’re willing.” He looked at me levelly.  I need you to take a look under our keel, because something seems to have a hold of the ship. Something that seems to have no intention of letting us go.”

***

Within the hour I was being winched overboard in the heavy diving-suit. It was a heavy brute of a thing to wear; for it had lead boots, lead weights on the belt and more lead weights against my breast and back. And on my head was the great brass collar on which was screwed the ball of the diving-helmet, also wrought from brass.

     It was all I could do to stand on my own two feet on the little timber frame swaying this way and that above the deck. Now, peering through the glass view plate I could see the men of the Jenny Rose standing on deck looking up at me. The Second Mate gave me a thumbs up sign, which is the kindliest gesture I’ve ever seen him make. And there was old Butterbuck and Frenchie working the bellows. Right away, I could hear the hiss of air coming through the valve somewhere just behind my head. A couple of men pushed the platform as it swung on its cable and then I was over the ship’s rail.

     The platform turned a point or two and I could see the black derelict that was the well-spring of all our troubles. It just sat there on the sea, looking as if it could draw all that is bright and good out of the world and into its foul heart. And at this time I thought of the Captain and my mates, and I wondered again about the beastly end they’d met there.

     The men on the derrick pulleys let me down toward the sea. Now, it is a truth that many sailors can’t swim; for they have a real dread of the sea, knowing not only it can stifle the life out of you in the twinkling of an eye, but every shellback has heard tales of what manner of things swim through deep waters, and most have seen them with their own eyes — man devourin’ sharks, eels with teeth like bandsaws, squid with tentacles as long as a steamer and possessin’ a beak that can nip a man in half.

     As that greasy water swirled over the platform and around my boots, I felt that same wave of horror that I always did on a dive. I hated the press of the water against the vulcanised rubber suit. It was like a hundred hands gripping around my legs. Instinctively, I always held my breath as the water swirled up and up; for I was certain that it would gush in and drown me.

     Well, the sea slapped against the glass face plate of the helmet, and suddenly the afternoon sunlight had vanished to be replaced by the dappling light plays of sunbeams filtering down through the waves. And there I was in the submarine world. The air whistled through the valve with all the laboured sounds of an asthmatic old man. With the ocean surface just a foot or so above my helmet, and looking like a wrinkled silver sheet, I peered round. There was nothing much to see in the ocean; for it just shaded off into a turquoise mist. Feeling lighter now as the buoyancy supported the weight of the suit, I made a half turn on my platform so I could see the keel of the ship and maybe discern what held her in place. I waited a moment for a gush of bubbles to pass so I could get the whole picture.

     What I saw sent sheets of ice through me. I pushed my face forward against the glass plate, my eyes bulging, my heart thudding. For there, gripping the bottom of the ship like a massive sucker was an amorphous piece of flesh. Pulpy and white it was; almost the shape of a wine glass, with the wide mouth clamped onto the keel as if the creature sucked at the timbers. Beneath it, it became fluted, growing narrower and narrower until a stem little thicker than my own waist ran down into the deeps to be lost in the misty haze.

     What manner of creature was it? It reminded me of a lamprey eel that can batten onto a man’s chest and suck him dry. But this creature ran the full length of the keel. And there were no eyes, nor any other features that were discernible. I took a moment or so to check if the axe was still in place in my belt, then I gave the line three sharp tugs. That was the signal to lower me deeper still. It occurred to me if I could perhaps find where the root of this creature bonded itself to the ocean bed, then perhaps I could hack it through and so free the ship.

     The platform descended.

     Now the water darkened. The ship with the strange growth suckered to the bottom seemed far, far away. Down, down I went. My ears ached as the pressure increased, and repeatedly I had to tug the line to signal the need for more air. On the deck the bellowsmen would be working like navvies to feed the suit.

     At twenty fathoms I saw the seabed. The stem of the thing that had battened itself  to the Jenny Rose ran down into what I took to be an area of weed maybe seventy by thirty feet. A second stem ran into it also. Although I could not determine exactly where it went, I guessed it was connected somehow to the derelict named Death. This is where the horrors got there teeth into me and wouldn’t let go. Because that’s when I really saw what that shape was on the seabed. I cried out to be saved though I knew no-one could really hear me. I was alone at the bottom of the ocean, and what terrors I encountered there I would have to face alone.

     For that shape on the seabed was not a crop of kelp — but a face. A Satanic face.  It was all a blend of flame reds and blacks that were deeper than any black I’ve ever clapped eyes on ‘afore. Fear paralysed me. I couldn’t tug the line to order the winch men to stop lowering me. So down I went. Right down into the midst of that Satanic face. The mouth was a cavern of fire; the eyes blazing with unholiness and hatred; the forehead a slab of leprous growths. And all around it, haloing that unholy head were the silvery bodies of dead fish killed by whatever foul poisons emanated from its accursed form.

      At last I reached out my gloved hand to reach at the communication line. I intended to signal to the winch man to stop and haul me up with all God-speed. Instead my hand found the supporting cable of the platform and I yanked uselessly at that. I only noticed my mistake when it was far, far too late. For, in less space than it takes for a man doomed to the gallows to cry out, I was plunged into the orbit of the demonic eye.

      Strange though it may seem to read this description of mine. But that eye consumed me. Though there was no eyeball in the face, some pulpy, bulked thing opened and admitted me therein. I was like a morsel being swallowed by a hungry dog…. In a welter of  water and dead fish and weed, I found myself dropping into a chute that carried me yet further downward with dizzying speed.

      Then came darkness; my head being flung against the inside of the helmet scattered my senses. So it was something I took to be a dream when I at last opened my eyes to find myself sitting in a cavern lit by blood-red light.

      I was not alone, I saw. Captain Reynolds was helping me to my feet. I saw the concern writ large in his eyes. His bellowing voice made it to my ears through the bronze globe of my diver’s helmet.

       “Jessop! Is that you in there?”

       Still dazed I nodded.

       He slapped me on the arm, pleased to see me. Immediately, I reached up to unscrew the helmet from the metal collar, but the Captain shook his head, alarmed I should try such a thing, as if it was shot through with folly and danger.

       “No! No, Jessop. Keep the helmet in place.”

       But by now the air felt stifling in the helmet; for I saw that my air hose had become broken during my passage into this demonic face. Clumsily I clutched at the glass face plate and unscrewed it, not thinking for a moment whether the air would be bad in that blood-red cavern.

       At last the glass face plate came away in my hand. I breathed deeply and gratefully;  for the air, though warm, humid, and cloying with swinish stink, seemed breathable.

       “Skipper,” I panted. “I was sure you were dead. Are the others–“

       “The others, boy. They’re right behind me.”

       I looked over his shoulder. In a line stood the rest of the men who’d boarded the derelict that morning, including the bo’sun and Tom. Their faces were grave, but there was  no panic; for these were brave men; men of iron.

       “Skipper, how did you find yourself down here? You do know that you’re beneath twenty fathoms of water?”

       “Aye, lad, we guessed something of the like.”

       My heart swelled with pride. I was overjoyed to see the skipper and his men safe, and to know that the Skipper had mastered himself and was no longer afraid.

       “What we must do now, lad,” said the Skipper in that same low voice, “is get you away from this devil and back to safety.”

       “No, surely, skipper. We must all escape. Look, I have my axe.”

       “No, lad. We will be staying here.”

       “Here?” Puzzled, I looked from face to face. “Why?”

       The Skipper gave a grim smile. “Because I reckon we are beyond saving.”

       “Skipper . . .”

       “Take a closer look, boy. We aren’t quite what we seem.”

       I looked from his face to his body. I saw the same barrel-chested man. Nothing was  amiss. I looked down at his legs; from his legs to his booted–

       Then I saw what he meant.

      “Skipper . . . My good lord!” I cried with horror. “What has it done to you?”

      For, there, I saw that the Skipper’s feet — and all the men’s feet! — were sunk nearly to the knees into a material that was as red as the inside of a mouth. A skin-like substance that appeared to be flushed with blood not only encircled their legs, but had become one with their flesh.

      “We are part of it now, lad,” said the Skipper in a way that was not panicked or terrified.

      He explained what had happened. How they’d climbed on board the derelict and how they’d been rushed by black-shrouded figures with faces of death. Only these figures hadn’t moved like men, they’d budded from the decks in the way that sea anemone tentacles spring from the body. The fight had been brief, for these unholy forms were attached by black, flesh-like stems to the deck of the ship, and had simply seized hold of the Skipper and his men. In an instant they had melted and flowed over the men as press-gangs might slip their victim into a sack.

      There the men had found themselves drawn down through a slippery membrane-like tube, down into the ship, then down into unknown depths. At last they had come to find themselves here, their legs rooted sickeningly into the vivid red floor.

      “Take a look round at this place,” said the Skipper. “This has happened many times before.”

      I did as he asked.

      I saw no figures rooted as far as their knees like these men. But I saw heads lying on the floor. In parts they covered it like the cobbles of a street. And each head I looked upon was alive!  Sad and frightened eyes gazed on me and seemed to silently plead for help, while others sobbed quietly to themselves, with tears of blood slowly trickling from eyes of endless suffering. Occasionally pale lips would open and give rise to a moan of awful torment, this triggering the same response from every other head. And with this I feared for my very sanity, for the whole thing was like some terrible vision from the darkest nightmare realm.

       It seemed to me that men had melted there and flowed, then set firm once more, so that heads, faces, eyes protruded from the floor. I saw ears with gold rings, bearded  faces, bald heads, some still wearing bandanas, even one old gentleman in spectacles, though only the top half of the head protruded from the red mass.

       “You see,” the Skipper told me. “We are being slowly consumed.”

       “But you can’t stay here to be eaten alive!”

       “This is our fate now, boy.” He gave a grim smile. “Now leave us be so we can make our peace with the Lord.”

       “But I can’t leave, sir.”

       “Yes, you can. Until your bare skin touches this red stuff, it can’t get a hold of you.”

       “No, sir, I meant–“

     “And no, you cannot help us either. Now, go while you still have the opportunity.”

       “But sir–“

       “Replace the face plate, Jessop. That’s an order.”

       Grudgingly, I monotoned, “Aye-aye, sir.”

       The skipper watched me gravely as I screwed the face plate back into the helmet, then he mouthed the word: Go.

       Now, it came to me that I would have to obey the Skipper’s order, not only from obedience to him, but also from a need to tell the others what had befallen the boarding party. And in doing so I had hopes that they would find a way to smash into this submarine cavern and free the men of the Jenny Rose.

       At that moment I felt the Skipper tug my sleeve. His eyes shot me a warning look and he said something I failed to hear through the thick helmet. Nevertheless, one glance back painted a clear enough picture of the danger. Moving quickly, yet smooth as ice-skaters, were those damned figures in black with skull faces. Whether they moved independently of that red floor surface or were in fact part of it, I cannot say. Save for one certain truth: they were coming to lay their hands on me.

       I shot one look back to the Skipper. He nodded at me; for I reckon he was grateful to me for comin’ this far and strivin’ for a way to save him and his men. Then I was off. I moved as quickly as I could in those lead boots. The weight made it impossible to run at  speed. And more than that, I had to run across those slippery cobbles that were composed of human heads. How many I trod on and broke in my lead boots I do not know.

       As I loped forward into the cavern I pulled free my axe; for ahead my way was sealed by a membrane of white. I slashed at it with the axe, breaching a hole through which I could wade. Everywhere, faces peered from the floor and even from the walls: their rolling eyes, big and round, watched me stumbling past. These were once men such as I, or had been once. But they, too, had been sucked down to the devil face on the seabed.

      When I walked on the areas of red floor that were free of the doomed men’s heads, I felt it clutch at me as if I was stepping into molasses. Once I brushed a wall with my elbow and it rippled and sucked onto me. Pulling myself free was no real difficulty but I knew if my bare skin had touched it, it would have sucked onto me hard and never let go. A black garbed figure loomed out from a side chamber and grabbed at me. The hands looked as if they were mittened in white skin, showing no splay of fingers. I felt the  palms suck onto my chest; the death’s head face stared into mine; its dark eyes hog-like and glaring pure evil. With a swipe of my axe I cut the monster down. Then I ran on.

       Ahead lay another membrane like a tautly stretched curtain. With a great downward sweep I cut it from top to bottom, and this time a wall of water rushed in at me. I’d breached the outer skin of that demonic Thing. Instantly the water swirled up to my helmet and I was beneath the sea again. At that moment I remembered my air supply hose and been severed. In the space of five seconds I dropped the axe then pulled off my lead boots, my weight belt, my breast and back weight.

       With the suit inflated with air, albeit foul air, it was as light as a cork. In a geyser of bubbles I rocketed upward. The speed was dizzying. That demonic face receded…. I looked up to see the under-surface of the ocean hurtling toward me. Then a great series of pains spiked me through from head to heels and I plunged into unconsciousness.

***

       There my yarn comes to its final rest.

       Aye, I reached the surface — half suffocated, yet alive. And when I had no help from the men of the Jenny Rose I managed somehow to swim to her and haul myself onto the deck. But what of the crew?

       Gone. Every man jack of them.

      Although in a terrible state, with the bends boiling the blood in my veins, I realised the entire ship’s company must have been drawn through the fleshy stem which battened itself to the keel of the Jenny Rose, and thereafter sucked them down to the devil face on the seabed, as an ant-eater sucks ants from their nest.

       In a thousand agonies I managed to wriggle out of the suit. It was a miracle the bends didn’t kill me there and then on the deck; for I had rocketed to the surface far too rapidly. Deep sea divers should be raised to the surface slowly, with the necessary regulatory halts, so as to work the compressed gas from their bloodstream. I felt the joints of my arms and legs lock up; my torso became as twisted as the trunk of an olive tree; the bends even found the part of my brain which services human speech and cruelly busted it. I never spoke a word from that day to this.

       Like I said, my yarn is done, but my agonies were not. Suffice to say, I saw the black derelict retreat into the fiery face that came once more to briefly rest upon the sea. I then lay comatose in my bunk until a passing steamer put a party on board and found me. I have nought to relate how a man such as I — a human derelict, you might say — has survived these last forty years; save that it was by virtue of the Christian charity of the good Parson Willis.

       I’ve posted various accounts of the loss of the crew of the Jenny Rose to the Admiralty House and Lloyds’ of London, quoting exact longitude and latitude, and fair begging them to warn ships away from the area. I’ve received no reply and conclude they dismiss my words as some old shellback with a tot or two too much rum in his belly. But  this morning Parson Willis read to me from the Times, as is his good and honourable custom, whiling away half an hour with a crippled mute such as I. He read to me of ships reported missing in a part of the tropics I know only too well.

       Good men have gone down.

       And now, I daresay, they are satisfying the appetites of that one Thing which was made by neither man nor God, but which beats with a hell-fire heart all of its own, somewhere deep on the ocean floor.

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Carnacki Gallery


Carnacki is arguably William Hope Hodgson’s most popular creation.  He is the only one of WHH’s characters to live beyond him with appearances on television, comics and works by other writers.

Since the collection of Carnacki stories first appeared in 1913, there have been 26 English editions of the book and it is a frequent favorite of print-on-demand publishers.  Not only that but it has been translated into German, Italian, Japanese, Romanian, Spanish, Dutch and French.

Today we present a gallery of CARNACKI book covers!  Enjoy!

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Hodgson Memorial


William Hope Hodgson died on a battlefield of World War I at Ypres, France, on April 19th, 1918.

WHH had been serving as an observer at a forward post when it was hit by a German artillery shell.  Later reports indicate that he had been killed immediately upon impact with nothing remaining for burial.  This meant that his family was unable to lay his body to rest.  At the present time,  I have not been able to find any family plot for Hodgson which might have had his name engraved.

But this situation was not uncommon.  Many WII soldiers died in foreign lands with nothing left to send back home.  As a remembrance, there are many memorials around Europe to these fallen soldiers.

In Belgium, there is a large memorial cemetery dedicated to the many men who lost their lives during WWI.  There, at Tyne Cot Cemetary, William Hope Hodgson’s name is engraved.

Here is the website for the Tyne Cot Cemetary:

http://www.ww1cemeteries.com/ww1cemeteries/tynecotcemetery.htm

This is the listing for WHH on the CWGC:

http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/836846/HODGSON,%20WILLIAM%20HOPE

I was able to have a picture of the plaque with WHH’s name send to me which I now share:

WHH is the fifth name in the Lieutenant section.

Here is a photo showing the area of the cemetery:

While WHH’s actual remains are not here, it is nice to know that he is remembered along with his other comrades who lost their lives during “The Great War”.

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Kernahan Letters, Part Five


Today we present the last of the letters written by William Hope Hodgson to his writer friend, Coulson Kernahan.  Although not as packed with information as the previous letters, they still present a good view of WHH’s character and personality.

In these letters, we see WHH still concerned over his streak of “refusals” despite seeing some success with the publication of “The Valley of Lost Children” in CORNHILL MAGAZINE (February, 1906).  WHH also briefly discusses his interest in physical culture as well as giving some specifics as to how strong he ‘used’ to be!  Apparently he had suffered a bad case of the flu the year previously and also blames writing for making him ‘weaker’.

Due to the space of time between Letter #8 and #9 (March 2 to November 2), it is very likely that we are missing letters.  I’d like to say that they might reappear someday but history is not in our favor.  I hope that everyone has enjoyed reading these letters and getting to know a little bit about the man behind the stories!

Letter #7

December 1st—05

Dear Mr. Kernahan,

Every morning for a fortnight have I pondered weak and weary

O’er letters still unanswered that are scattered round your floor.

While I’ve pondered, nearly napping, sometimes there has come a tapping,

As of someone gently rapping, rapping on my outer door;

“’Tis the Postman,” I have muttered, “dropping MSS through the door—–

                Only that and nothing more.”

Then my soul has leapt up stronger, and I’ve stayed in bed no longer,

For a glad idea has whispered that the Post is at the door.

And that all that gentle tapping which has stirred me in my napping

Is the postman dropping billet doux from C.K. on the floor.

And at the thought (loud cheering) have I galloped to the door——-

“REFUSALS”—-nothing more.

See, Man, I know you’re kept horribly busy, but the Monument of Despair is rising higher week by week, and I would check the building of it before it has blotted out every bullock of the Sky of Hope.  Do you think that my idea of printing one volume of my verse, and sending it round to a lot of the big papers and critics (I’m afraid you would be included) would be likely to attract the notice of one of ‘em, and in such case do you think that the lift he could give me would be sufficiently powerful enough to yanke me out of this damned mud of “refusals”?  You see, if I could but gain some little literary reputation, then would the Editors be less afraid of my stuff, and I might be able to sell some of my stories, and so be saved from everlasting damnation in this accursed pit of disappointment.

As I mentioned in my two last letters, the book could be produced only in a cheap fashion—matter o’ funds, ye see–: but that is no reason why it should be anything but tasteful.  I would have it bound quite simply in brown paper.  It’s the stuff inside upon which I am reckoning!!!  If it were put in hand now, I’m afraid it would be too late for Christmas.  I should like to have had it out for then . . . People buy verse books for presents, and that might have helped to cover the cost of production; but it isn’t on the sale that I’m depending, it’s on its proving an advertisement for me.  What thenk ye?

S’long, O Mountaineer.  I am yet in the valley!

Thine,

[Signed “William Hope Hodgson”’]

Letter #8

March 2nd—06

Dear Mr. Kernahan,

How funny!  And so you also are interested in strength, as I can tell from that one little line in your letter regarding your height and muscularity.

My dear Sir, let us shake hands on this further matter; for strength has been, and is still—spite of indifferent health–, a thing of tremendous interest to me.

From your remark, I gather that the gods have given you a length of seventy two inches, while they have given this child something under sixty six.  With such length I refused to be content, so make it up in breadth and muscularity.

Sometime, if you would really care to have one, I must send you a decent photograph of myself, showing development.  In the meanwhile I have snipped you out a couple of weeny ones from some old postcards of mine.  They may interest you.

Of course, I’m nothing like as strong as I used to be before the flue bowled me over last year, and left my heart a wee bitte weak.  Also I think that writing has taken off a lot of muscle—confound it!  But I suppose one mustn’t be greedy.

Before I was ill, I could take two fifty-six pound weights in one hand, and put them at arm’s length over my head, and, in fact, lift a good deal more than that with more convenient weights.  Now, I very much doubt if I could lift more than eighty of ninety pounds over my head with one hand.  Another thing, I could lift considerable more than a quarter of a ton off the ground, using my bare hands— no straps around hand and wrist.  And that takes a bit of doing.  And now— well, if I go easy, I daresay I shall come back to my old form in time—let but the editors smile on me a bit.

And you— what form of sport most appeals to you?  With your length you will be a fine reach in cricket . . . It’s useful too, in boxing, that is if your arms match the rest of you—eh?  And you ought to be able to cover ground at a tremendous rate.  Tell me when you write.

Dear me, I’m almost to the end of my paper.  Yes, I’m hoping you will prove right about the editors.  Ever so many thanks for your kindly congratulations re story in “Cornhill”, and for all the other nice things you have been saying to people.  I’m tremendously pleased to hear that your health is A.1. at Lloyd’s.  Health’s a great thing.  Weel, weel, the gods be with you.

And give you all good things,

Thine,

[Signed “William Hope Hodgson”’]

Letter #9

November 2nd—06

Friday

Mr Dear Mr Kernahan,

Thanks muchly for your kind little note.  I shall be in Town from the 7th to the 14th, and a card addressed to 516, King’s Road, Chelsea, S.W., will find me during that period.  If your lecturing engagements took you up to Town, then it might be possible (did you fire a preliminary card at me) for me to meet you somewhere and look upon my “humble” (devilishly so!) “admirer”.  Eh! But it bites! It bites!

This is a strange world.  The gods wobble their hands, and we do funny tricks.  I’m on the lecturing war-path.  I’ve a splendid subject, and some ripping slides—absolutely original—with which to back it up.  I wonder whether I shall be able to “deliver” the blessed thing.  I shall have to do my best, as already I’m booked, and the guineas are very blessed things also.  I suppose I ought to have an agent; but don’t know where to go for one; at least, I mean I’m “kinder shy like”.  Know the feeling?  Not you!  And yet, it is very possible.  “Narves, Me B’y,” as the Oirishman said.

The gods keep guard over this “fretful midge”.

[Signed “William Hope Hodgson”’]

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Kernahan Letters, Part Four


Today we present two more of William Hope Hodgson’s letters to his writer friend, Coulson Kernahan.  The main point of these two letters is the amount of rejections that WHH has received for his writing.  Not only is the number of rejections amazing, so too is the amount of work that it represents.  No one can say that WHH was not trying hard to become a published author.

It appears that WHH never followed through on his idea to have a volume of poems privately published.  The only two collections of his poetry were published by his widow after his death.  Even though WHH may have privately published a few of his “condensed” versions of his stories (in THE GHOST PIRATES, A CHAUNTY, AND ANOTHER STORY [1909], CARNACKI, THE GHOST-FINDER AND A POEM [1910], and CARGUNKA AND POEMS AND ANECDOTES [1913]).  It’s possible that “POEMS” AND “THE DREAM OF X” may qualify but that was not published until 1912.

Likewise, do we have no information on the article “The Public Palate” might have been.  It is possible this could have been an alternate title for another article but there is no evidence of this.  The mention of a story called “The Land of the Voice” could be another title for “The Voice in the Night” but, again, this is purely supposition.  “The Voice in the Night” was first published in 1907 so it would certainly fit time-wise.

These are the types of tantalizing questions that WHH’s letters bring up.  Perhaps someday we will have the answers.

Letter #5

November 14—05

Dear Mr. Kernahan,

Herewith my usual grunt of disapproval of the world in general and Publishers in particular.  You may be interested to know that my new book has already been refused twice.  I have now had 424 REFUSALS of all kinds of stuff!  Exciting, is it not?

I say, I’m beastly sorry to hear about your eyes.  I do trust that the rest and change has done you good.  I’m glad you’ve stopped Reading; for I had always a feeling that the Producers had no business doing the work of the Non-Producers.  You can produce; well then—produce; then let the jackals come in.  So you’ve been Reading for twenty years.  Jove!  I’d be only eight when you started.  Yet, though I want you to do nothing but write, I am the loser thereby; for do I not lose a most kindly Critic?  Well!  Well!

Say, Man Who Knows, what the devil would you do in my place?  “Hope deferred—“  You know the rest.  Well, I’m damned sick!  When a fellow’s been refused Four Hundred and Twenty-Four times, it takes a bit of pluck to keep his chin up, and go ahead.  Though I’ve got the necessary pluck, I think, yet two, three, or four Refusals a week mean no cash, and no cash means no grub, and no grub means an insulted belly.

See, I’ve got an idea that may, if carried out, make the Editors notice me and so persuade ‘em to give me the only help of which I may avail myself.  A friend of mine has a printing outfit, and I might persuade him to print one of my books of verse (I’ve got four), bind it in paper covers, and send it round to various Reviews, etc.  I shouldn’t, of course, make anything, or scarcely anything; though tha never Knaws; yet I should get the advertisement, and, you know, I must do something to make the Editors etc. notice me soon.  Do you think it would do me any good?  You see, some well-known chap might be struck by my verse, and give me a notice that would do the trick, and after that I wouldn’t need to funk the future.  Do you think it worth trying?

I say, Man, I wonder if you have any idea of what I’ve gone through in the last three years.  The deadly and disheartening monotony of an average of nearly three Refusals a week for three years, must be borne to be appreciated.  It’s enough to kill the desire to do good work!

Weel, weel, Mon, I’m no juist deid yet a while; but I’ll sune be if yon damned publishin’ fellers don’t be lettin’ up on me!

Think of it—424 REFUSALS.

S’long, Ye Lucky Divvel,

Nay, but I’ll no gev way ter ther bitterness o’ me ‘art,

Therefore will I say:–

S’longa, White Man—Ye’ve ‘arned yer luck,

Thine in the love of good work

[Signed “William Hope Hodgson”]

Letter #6

November 17th—05

Dear Mr. Kernahan,

424 REFUSALS

425 Refusals

426 Refusals

427 Refusals,

And so they go on practically week in and week out.  If I write to you this time next week, I shall be able to tell you—

427 Refusals

428 Refusals

429 Refusals

430 Refusals

The regularity is so certain, so mechanically certain, that I dare bet on the number.  NOW, do you understand a bittock what I am standing up against?  And the variety of the stuff which is refused!  One of this lot was an artice—“THE PUBLIC PALATE”, refused by the ACADEMY.  Another was a short story—“THE LAND OF THE VOICE”–, refused by the CORNHILL.  Another was sort of a detective story—“THE TERROR OF THE WATER TANK”, refused by LLOYD’S WEEKLY NEWS.  And so it goes on.  Damn it, man, am I to go on forever piling up this monument of despair!  Don’t you feel like weakening on your opinion of my work?  Man, think of it; your opinion against 427 other opinions!  Ain’t you tur’ble feared!  I’ve ceased to write for nearly two whole days, and now sit before my machine, coining new and perilous curses.—May every man who has refused my stuff be boiled in the Devil’s bowels forever and forever, with his big intestine round his neck for a comforter!  I have become, in imagination, a New God.  I plan a new Universe.  I see Editors and Publishers whirled away into space, striking meteors to travel forever in the eternal night.  I see Literary Pirates buried to their neck in pits filled with the MSS from which they have pirated their ideas, and each MS. has teeth—sharp ones!  I see Publishers’ Readers at the mercy of their victims.  It is good!  Hey, Man, it isn’t blood that flows, it’s soul-juice!  I see Critics, and each one is having to explain to a tribunal of Authors, just why he said THAT and THAT!  And they seem to find it a damned difficult thing to do.  And when they cease to explain, which is very soon, an Author comes forward and leads the poor creature out, and after that, outside, I hear a sound of chopping, and I realize that even Critics have human feelings, though, hitherto, I have doubted it!  And the Reviewers are not forgotten, poor divvels!  But they ain’t responsible, and so enough is left of ‘em to go to hell.  And as for the rest of that world, it is one great publishing house, and the clouds are accepted MSS., and the sun that lights that world, is formed of one pure flamed of genius, and it shrills up the devils that swing on the tail of Art and try to draw it down into the mud with their impossible attempts to cling.  Bah——.  For the rest, I am there, and I have drunk the blood of mine enemies, which are a multititude, and so the vision passes, and there comes the reality—a poor wretch rejected of men!

See, Man, I begin to realize what it is urges men to do desperate things.  In one of the late numbers of SKETCHY BITS (ye gods!) a friend of mine called my attention to a story, entitled “THE RAFT”, signed only by the initials, “C. L.”  The thing bears internal evidence that the writer has read at least one of my “weed” stories, and here, in such piffle as this, am I to be robbed of the original element, which is my birthright.  If the story had been merely about the Sargasso Sea, I should have thought nothing, but they have embodied in it at least two of my ideas.  That the story is not evolved from the brain of C. L., I have proof, for the writer betrays ignorance of his subject in every other paragraph.  The story is, of course, different from mine, that is, superficially, but the deeper thing—the conception is mine.  Damn him!  The Sargasso, of my stories, is mine own happy hunting ground.  I have invented it, and have a right to hunt in it.  It is true that there have been other “weed” yarns, but there has been nothing at all before like to the weed world which I have created.  If only I could at least have the chance, in a better man, which this rotter has in his poorer, but, no!  I must be a dumb pen, whilst he, or she,  (wonder who it is) takes all the freshness and newness and sense of originality out of my yarns.  Then, when mine come out, they will say that the stories owe their conceptions to an “unknown writer who wrote up the subject in SKETCHY BITS”.

I say, Man, do you think there is anything in my idea of trying to get out a cheap, paper covered, edition of one of my books of verse, and sending it round to be reviewed?  You see, it might strike some famous chap, and then—well then I might get off with a flying start.  Do you think the idea is any good?

Another thought has occurred to me.  I am an associate of the Society of Authors, and I have been wondering whether they do ever give any help to a young author, I mean help towards recognition.  I’m afraid if I wrote on the subject, it would seem obvious to them that I am but getting my deserts when I am refused.  They will suggest in a delicate way that perhaps I have mistaken my vocation.  And if I tell ‘em I’ve been refused 427 times they’ll think it does but prove the more how I could be better employed at road mending!

Say, Man, I’m ‘fraid I’ve wearied you; but, lord! I don’t know any one else to whom to write: so what the deuce am I to do?

S’long.  The gods knees are bony.

[Signed “William Hope Hodgson”’]

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Kernahan Letters, Part Three


Today we present just ONE letter from William Hope Hodgson to his friend, Coulson Kernahan, but I’m sure you’ll agree that it is an important one.

In this letter, WHH confirms that he has finished his FOURTH book.  This proves that all four of his novels were written by the end of September, 1905.  This is a monumental feat.  Consider also that he would not write another novel in his lifetime.  It is difficult not to speculate why he did not do so.

WHH identifies this fourth book as THE BOATS OF THE “GLEN CARRIG”.  He also names THE GHOST PIRATES and THE HOUSE OF MYSTERIES as two more of his completed books which he has been shopping around to publishers.  It is my contention that THE HOUSE OF MYSTERIES is merely an early name for THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND.  The one missing novel which he does not mention is THE NIGHT LAND but I feel that it is a logical deduction that it is the ‘fourth’ book which is not identified in the letter.

I have no idea who the writer of WARES OF FATE was or anything about the book WHH mentions.  Perhaps someone can enlighten us?

It is likely that the story which WHH mentions as being accepted by CORNHILL MAGAZINE is “The Valley of Lost Children”.  This story was published for the first time anywhere in the February, 1906, issue of that magazine and was the first of WHH’s appearance in that title.

Stranger, however, is the mention of WINDSOR MAGAZINE.  WHH states that they have accepted one of his stories but are taking a long time to do anything with it.  The only work by WHH to appear in the WINDSOR MAGAZINE is “The Shamraken Homeward-Bounder”.  If this is the story that WHH refers to then they did indeed take their time with it as the story did not appear until their November, 1912, issue.  That would be SEVEN YEARS after the writing of this letter.  A long time indeed.

Letter #4

September 25th—05

Dear Mr Kernahan,

I’ve just finished my fourth book—Hooray!!!!!!!  I’m puzzling now as to a publisher to whom to send it.  Blackwoods, when refusing THE HOUSE OF MYSTERIES, spoke very nicely of it, so I am tempted to try them again.  Yet, W.L., and C., have a man whose opinion I’m mightily anxious to have, so I think after all I’ll send them this book, and if they don’t accept it, may they go to hell.  There must be a mighty big fool somewhere clogging their machinery or they’d never have refused the writer of WARES OF FATE: dear lord! but they must feel sick, and the man’s next book gone into thirty editions.  I guess that’s like thirty punches in the wind-bag.

The title of this book is THE BOATS OF THE “GLEN CARRIG”, and I’ve tried hard to be commonplace in it; but, I’m afraid, with but poor success.  I cannot ride above that failing of mine which urges me to write original stuff.  However, “berrer luck ‘n fushure”.

You may be interested to know that THE HOUSE OF MYSTERIES has been refused twenty-one times, and THE GHOST PIRATES fourteen.  So I’ve put the naughty pirates to be in the house of mysteries, and there I’ll let ‘em rest until there’s a Publisher comes to me and begs to be plundered, then—

Now I’ve heered ye’ve writted a noo buke; but I’ve not getten at yon title O’ et (how’s that for a mixture).  However, I shall be going down town some day (you see, I live on a hill), and then I’ll make inquiries.  The man who told me about it, said it was a mighty fine book, and to that I answered one word; but you’ll have to guess what it was.

And now to a weeny confession.  I’ve sent THE VOICE IN THE NIGHT to the GRAND MAGAZINE, telling him your opinion of it; though I had the slight rag of decency left to do so under the secrecy of that magic “PRIVATE AND PERSONAL”.  And now I have a letter from the Editor, saying that he quite endorses your opinion; but is afraid that the story is too gruesome for the “Big” Public.  I suppose he means they like their horrors watered down, and sweetened with the sugar of Unreality—eh?  Still, he seems sufficiently struck with the yarn to be unable to decide all at once to send it back.  Wonder what the dear boy is thinking.  Perhaps he’s not recovered sufficiently to tell the office boy to send back the “   “ thing.

And now, my Father Confessor, I do feel that I have lightened a load from my breast (why not my back?); and so to another matter.  The yeaditor of the CORNHILL MAGAZINE has taken one of my stories, and said nice things of some of my others.  Bless him.  May he live to be ninety.  May the gods cease not to smile upon his kindly old head.  I wish I were a girl, I’d go up and insist on marrying him.

I say, Man, who’s the Editor of the WINDSOR?  We’ve written a pile to one another about a short story of mine, THE FINDING OF THE ‘GRAIKEN’, and he tells me that it’s unusual for a contributor to make “severe comment” upon the actions of the Almighty, sometimes known to the common herd (of which the said contributor is the basest) as the Editor.  I’m afraid I’ve imperiled chances of a happy hereafter.

And now let me confess in secrecy my opinion of the WINDSOR MAGAZINE and the manner in which it is carried on.  In the first place I’m sure the Editor wears mittens, reads his TIMES through every morning, and has a tabby cat; for a more damnably go-slow, behind-the-times, don’t-speak-to-me-I’m-the-EDITOR, sort of way of doing things I’ve never met.  It takes the WINDSOR THREE months to accept a story, and FIFTEEN to waken up sufficiently to send one the proofs.  They’ve had that story of mine since the First of July 1904.  And they’re still languishing over it.  As for their stories, dear lord!  I never read such muck, and this in spite of the fact that they’ve one of mine, which should make me think highly of ‘em.  They published a thing, I think in a Christmas number, about a journey through the center of the earth, that would have made a Yankee Editor blush for the sanity of his paper.  And now and again they try to climb back to their supposed standard of (popular) literary excellency, by publishing a diluted imitation of a kailyard story.  One final word, their rate of pay, 15’- bob per thou., has proved such an inducement to me, that they’re simply inundated with my stuff.

There!  There! did it then!  I feel much better.  Nothing like breaking your feeding bottle to show your damned indesanguinarypendence.  But, seriously, is it Mr. Lock’s aunt who edits the WINDSOR?

And now, My Dear Sir, if you have come through so far as this without weariness, then am I satisfied.  May the gods insure you an Edition de Luxe.

In peace,

  Faithfulness,

Good-will,

And the love of fine work,

This scribe,

[signed “William Hope Hodgson”]

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Kernahan Letters, Part Two


Today we present the next two letters which William Hope Hodgson sent to his writing friend, Coulson Kernahan.  These are shorter than the first letter and yet they still have much of interest.  In here, we learn that WHH began writing professionally in August of 1902.  This is likely to be soon after the closing of his “School of Physical Culture” in Blackburn.  By the time of these letters, he had been facing rough times with few acceptances.

In 1903, the only published work from Hodgson were three articles on physical culture.  1904 was not much better with only two items published: the story “The Goddess of Death” and another physical culture article.    So when WHH complains about the lack of acceptances, he is not being dramatic.

The story that WHH mentions as having been accepted by The Grand Magazine in Letter #3 was “A Tropical Horror” which has the distinction of being his first published sea-horror story.  It appears that WHH decided not to allow The Westminster Review to publish his article gratis as we there are no items listed as appearing in that publication.  WHH did publish several articles in another magazine called The Westminster Gazette in 1914 that dealt with WWI.

The poem that WHH refers to in Letter #2 and names in Letter #3 is “Little Garments” which appeared only during WHH’s lifetime in a copyright volume which he published in 1912 (“POEMS” AND “THE DREAM OF X”).  It would not appear again until 2005’s THE LOST POETRY OF WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON (edited by Jane Frank).  It is a minor and very sentimental poem.

As always, one of the most important aspects of these letters is how WHH himself comes through.  Even in these few letters, we can see that WHH talked very much in the same style in which he wrote.  Through these letters, we get to enjoy a look at WHH’s personality which, sadly, we still know little about.

Letter #2

April 28th—05

Look here, Mr. Kernahan,

Are you a father?  If you are, show this piece of verse to Mrs. Kernahan.  She may be able to supply the reason why the confounded fools of editors (they ain’t wuth a capital) won’t look at it.

I think my stuff must be bewitched.  I continue to have my two, three or four refusals weekly, and never an acceptance.  It is beginning to get on my nerves.  I try all sorts of papers and magazines with all sorts of ‘stuff’; but “they ain’t havin’ any”.

It’ll be three years in August since I commenced, and where am I?

There.  I’ve blown off steam.  Better to do that ‘n bust ther biler—eh?  Don’t bother to answer this; for I know you must be frightfully busy.  I shan’t apologise for writing thus.  I won’t have trouble you very terribly to run your eye through this, and there’s always the back of the fire—puff!  I suppose I ought to; but I feel too bad tempered.

This letter is something like a pistol shot—flash, bang!  Hard luck on the billet.

S’long, and again S’long

[Signed William Hope Hodgson]

Letter #3

May 5th—05

Dear Mr. Kernahan,

Please do not think that, (because you have on three occasions allowed your kindly nature to get the better of your judgement, and written me three epistles born of the milk of human kindness) I am going to bombard you forever with queries, regrets, growls, and all the other inanities—fine word that—which the young writer is prone to.

However, in this case—as in the last—I have thrown decency to the winds (hope it’ll make ‘em more modest), and decided to worry you in a matter which is worrying me.  I have to-day received a letter from the “WESTMINSTER” Review, telling me that they are willing to publish an article of mine—on the sea—if I will rise above the gross consideration of ‘remuneration’.  Now, would you advise me to do so?  Ought I, as a young, unknown writer, to be delighted of the chance of publicity in one of the big Reviews?—it is a big Review, is it not?— or ought I to ask ‘em what the devil I’m to fill my belly with if I am to work for nothing.  Would it be a better spec for me to let them have it for nothing, than to take a few guineas from a Magazine lower down in the scale of literary grandeur?  Am I lucid?

And now, to another matter, Mr. Kernahan, I am in a state of nervous collapse.  THE GRAND MAGAZINE—ever heard of it?—has justified its name and its claim to be the “most original magazine in the world”, by accepting one of my short stories.  I can assure you it is a most original action, and makes me inclined to believe that their claim is true.  Do you think the Editor drinks—bless him?  If he does, may he never be un-drunk.  A-m-e-n!  I trust that you are sympathizing with me.  I find it is rather an expensive thing having acceptances.  Took six pennoth of whiskey to pull me round.  I do hope they’ll be careful.

Well, and has Mrs. Kernahan discovered the reason why editors—with a little ‘e’—grow ‘regretful’ over stuff as ‘Little Garments’?  I cannot conceive of a Mother not realizing the true ring of the thing!

Damn the editor of the “GRAND”!  I don’t know what I shall do if he starts accepting my stories.  I’ve grown so used to sending ‘em outh, that I shall be lost if he insists on keeping the critters.

Well, man who knows,

S’long

I’m praying that your heart and the clock will permit you to answer this, e’en though it be the last time we twain e’er cross pens.

I beg no forgiveness.  I plead the weakness of the unnerved.

I am,

One who hath received a shock,

Thine,

[Signed William Hope Hodgson]

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