The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts by H. D. Everett

In odd moments I have read a number of weird & almost weird books—including the “Romance of the Forest” & “Italian” of your friend Mrs. Radcliffer. Others are Arthur Ransome’s “Elixir of Life”, Mrs. H. D. Everett’s “The Death Mask”, H. R. Wakefield’s “They Return at Evening”, Buchan’s “Runagates Club”, (in which 3 out of the 12 tales are weird) & the French & Asquith ghost anthologies.

H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 30 Sep 1928, Letters with Donald and Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja 220

Henrietta Dorothy Everett (1851-1923) was a popular British author of novels and short stories from the 1890s to 1910s, most of which were published under the alias “Theo. Douglas,” several of them with supernatural themes. By 1920 she was a widow, had survived the end of the Victorian and Edwardian eras and the Great War, and her final publication was a collection of rather traditional British ghost stories under her own name: The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts (1920).

For Lovecraft, Everett’s book was new: he had not read it during his initial body of research that resulted in Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927), and as such did not mention it in the first published version of that essay. Reading it now, in the midst of a splurge of weird fiction, Lovecraft was in a good place to judge her works compared to her contemporaries. When the time came to revise his essay, Lovecraft wrote:

Since the appearance of this article in 1927 I’ve jotted down other important weird items which ought to be cited in any second edition—some that I’d overlooked, & others that have appeared subsequently to the article.

H. P. Lovecraft to Robert Bloch, 1 Jun 1933, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 33

Lovecraft included The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts in a list of “Books to mention in a new edition of weird article” (Collected Essays 5.234), noting that it was “post-war” (many of the stories being set during or slightly after World War I), and in his revised article (1935) added in “The Weird Tradition of the British Isles”:

Mrs. H. D. Everett, though adhering to very old and conventional models, occasionally reaches singular heights of spiritual terror in her collection of short stories.

H. P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature

Nor was Lovecraft the only one to take note of Everett’s book of ghost stories. M. R. James, whom Lovecraft acknowledged as the master of the traditional British ghost story, wrote in “Some Remarks on Ghost Stories” (1929) on recent collections:

Going back a few years I light on Mrs Everett’s The Death Mask, of a rather quieter tone on the whole, but with some excellently conceived stories.

Despite this contemporary (if posthumous praise), The Death-Mask had a long fallow period between reprintings, with few of the stories inside reappearing in anthologies. Everett F. Bleiler noted in his encyclopedic The Guide to Supernatural Fiction (1983) that the book consists of “Undistinguished stories of literal horror” (180), and Neil Wilson in The Shadow in the Attic: A Guide to British Supernatural Fiction 1820-1950 (2000) wrote: “Whilst most of the author’s works have not aged particularly well, they are of interest as typical examples of late Victorian pulp fiction.” and added that:

[H. D. Everett’s] work has been rediscovered by a new generation of readers and collectors interested in classic ghost fiction who have found her unusual blend of horror and the supernatural to be well worth their attention. (194)

Which is a very brief way to say that the public domain has probably saved The Death-Mask from being completely forgotten by almost everyone except the most devoted collectors of old ghost stories. Standard critical works such as Night Visitors: The Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story (1977), Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from le Fanu to Blackwood (1978), The Ghost Story 1840-1920: A Cultural History (2010), and The Victorian Ghost Story and Theology: From Le Fanu to James (2016) all omit Everett and her collection completely…although Melissa Edmundson, a scholar who specializes in women writers of that period and genre, has not neglected Everett. I suspect part of the reason for the general lack of critical appreciation and scholarly interest is that the stories in The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts are both very middling when compared to stories by M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Oliver Onions, or Lady Cynthia Asquith.

This is not to diminish Everett’s ability: she does more than just repeat the same plot with the same ghosts fourteen times and call it a book. However, many of her literary hauntings were familiar in outline long before she put them to paper, like tropes from popular horror movies may get recycled today, and her execution of those familiar literary lines is almost excruciatingly geared toward a British middle-class Edwardian-era sensibility clinging on after the disruptions of the Great War. Unlike writers like M. P. Dare, Dion Fortune, Elliott O’Donnell, or William Hope Hodgson, Everett doesn’t have occult investigators or technical explanations for paranormal phenomenon—indeed, one of the strengths of the book is that many of the stories end with no explanation whatsoever, leaving the imaginative reader to decide for themselves the cause and the effect of the business.

The stories in The Death-Mask are typical Not At Night thrillers, there is no encompassing mythology, the reader follows no single investigator a la John Silence or Thomas Carnacki. The stories are fundamentally grounded in a middle-class existence with its focus on marriage, domestic relationships, and money; there are no castles or titled nobility, and only in one story do any non-white characters appear. It is a collection may seem almost too narrowly focused, old-fashioned ghost stories set in an interwar period, yet I feel they represent a good example of what Edmundson called the woman’s ghost story. To give a better idea of the contents, and an idea of what Lovecraft and James saw in Everett, let’s look at each story in turn.

The Death Mask

“Of course its a delicate matter to urge upon a widower. But you have paid the utmost ceremonial respect. Four years, you know. The greatest stickler for propriety would deem it ample.”

“It isn’t that. Dick, I—I’ve a great mind to tell you a rather queer story.” He puffedhard at his smoke, and stare into the red coals in the pauses. “But I don’t know what you’d think of it. Or think of me.”

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 4

In this way, the widower Enderby recounts the strange way he is haunted by the ghost of his dead wife—a haunting that takes the form of nearby cloth assuming the form of the death mask of her features whenever he gets close to other women. The idea has vague parallels with M. R. James’ “The Diary of Mr. Poynter” (1919), but is distinct. The action is entirely domestic, and the haunting never rises to the level of a violent threat. The unnerving sight of the dead wife’s countenance being reproduced in whatever fabric was at hand was sufficient to force the end of Enderby’s engagement to another woman, and to forestall his further romantic efforts. Nor is it ever resolved; the story ends as Enderby finishes his story, without hearing any reply from his friend Dick.

The story thus has an unfinished feel; the characters in limbo. No explanation is given, beyond the intuitively obvious that the dead Mrs. Enderby is forcing her husband to have no other wife, and no means of resolving the issue is suggested. In that ambiguous tension lies most of the charm of the story, because it could have easily gone for a dramatic supernatural confrontation and an easy romantic ending, but instead opts for the more disquieting possibility that the haunting will never resolve, leaving Enderby lonely and harrassed from beyond the grave. So too, the method of the haunting is, if not entirely novel, at least an unusual variation on the classic of the old burial shroud.

Parson Clench

“The Lord have mercy upon us!” Aldridge was staring with his jaw dropped. “It was Parson Clench himself, and you not knowing! And him buried a fortnight come Wednesday! Lord save us: what is to be done?”

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 25-26

The Church of England includes benefices, positions which can be assigned to specific priests to serve specific churches or districts, and carry with them certain properties and revenues, some of which are quite generous relative to the duties required—and which made them attractive slots for second sons and other family members who would not stand to inherit the majority of a wealthy or titled family’s monies and lands. For this cause, certain families who has subsidized such positions had the right to recommend who would fill them, effectively reserving certain choice positions for sons, nephews, etc.

This is necessary preliminary because the crux of the story is that in the small parish of Stokes-St. Edith, the Reverend August Clench has died, and Mrs. Emmeline Albury wants to move her nephew Rev. Basil Deane into the now vacated benefice. The only problem being, the shade of the deceased has no desire to go anywhere. Deane is thus stuck between a rock (the ghost) and a hard place (his well-meaning but insistent aunt). Again, there is nothing of violence in this haunting: the presence alone of the unquiet spirit—which only Deane can see—is enough to put him off of accepting the benefice, even though his aunt had been particularly generous about it.

As with “The Death Mask,” there is no reason nor resolution given to the haunting itself. The idea of a spirit of a priest lingering is not particularly unusual in terms of the British ghost story, as the Church was the primary interaction between the people and the supernatural, and the cleric could be an imposing figure. Readers might recall M. R. James’ “The Residence of Whitminster” (1919) and Lovecraft’s “The Evil Clergyman” (written 1933). While readers today might ask why Deane didn’t perform an exorcism, it should be recalled that this was not a common procedure in the early 20th century, and more strongly associated with Roman Catholicism during the period. The practice would receive more widespread popularity following the success of The Exorcist (1973), but was fairly untypical of British ghost stories.

The Wind of Dunowe

“It is the solitary point on which we touch. A sympathetic interest in ghosts is better than no fellow-interest at all. I’ve given myself out as psychical–save the mark!”–and here the lady laughed. “I might personate the ghost, and get at the boxes that way. But the clue of how to make up is still to seek. We do not know what sort of figure is seen.”

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 41

Reginald and Flossie Noyes are a husband-and-wife team of thieves and grifters, who wrangled an invitation to Dunowe in order to either fleece the MacIvors or steal their jewelry, an antique necklace of pink pearls. To this end, they concoct a scheme relying on the legend of a ghost in the old house, which manifests as a gale of wind blowing through the halls while the weather is still. Flossie plans the caper, inspiring the lady of the house to wear the pearls for a ball, and then having Reginald distract her by telling a made-up story of the ghost while Flossie steals them. Except things do not go entirely to plan, as Flossie later explains:

“The wind came: it was more than wind—it was anger, fury. It seems, when I look back, there was a face with it; or I dreamed the face after. A face that was terrible. I was so near safety when it came: a few more steps: and I was full of triumph. The wind struck me down. I knew no more till I found myself in here, and the women with me. Do you think the pearls—were taken—when I fell?”

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 65

The pearls reappear inside the locked safe where they were withdrawn from the evening, though placed there by no mortal hand. The story has the familiar outlines of family legends like the Luck of Edenhall or the Fairy Flag of Clan MacLeod; the heist only serves to test the old legend, which being a ghost story turns out to be true. Like the other stories, no particular explanation is given for the wind of Dunowe, or the connection to the pink pearls; Lovecraft or James would probably have at least hinted at whatever cryptic legend lay behind both, but Everett’s story is relatively brief—and once again, a supernatural force overcomes mere materialistic greed or desire.

Nevill Nugent’s Legacy

It seemed to have come to use straight from heaven, Cousin Nevill’s bequest. For you must know we were at the time very hard up’ almost, as the saying is, “stony-broke.” Kenneth giving up his profession to join the army made a great change in our circumstances. We could not keep on our pretty house, of which I used to be so proud; and, as soon as I was alone, I moved into a tiny flat in town, and got work to do. But when Ken came out of hospital last January so ill and broken, my work had to stop, for I was so needed to nurse him. Ever since then the money has been flowing out, with only a little—so little—trickling in: I cried over it only the night before, of course when Ken did not see. For it seemed as if even the wretched flat was mor ethan we could afford, and I did not know where Tom’s school-fees were to come for another term—all important as his education is, the chance of life for such a clever boy.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 68

Ken and Maggie, in dire economic straits, inherit the house of Muir Grange and its surrounding properties from a cousin. The Grange (or Chapel House) is currently untenated, and the small family move in until they can get a tenant, meeting Mrs. Wilding and her invalid husband Bassett, to whom she is estranged. Shortly thereafter, they discover the house is haunted—or at least the chapel attached to it—and this has made it impossible to rent out. As luck would have it, someone wishes to buy the chapel and remove it for war purposes, and in the deconstruction they found human remains beneath the floor; Bassett had killed his stepson and hidden the body there, which began the haunting, and the proper disposal of the remains lifts it.

The inheritance is a classic ghost story plot device, one made rather infamous in Cthulhu Mythos circles for the many times it has been used, a trend rather more attributable to August Derleth and stories like “The Murky Glass” (1957) than Lovecraft himself, but it was also a device which M. R. James used, notably in “Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance” (1911), and many others have followed on that use of the unexpected death of an uncle, cousin, or other relation leaving a suprising supernatural windfall in the inheritor’s lap. The build-up and resolution of the mystery in this particular haunting could have been handled with more skill; the removal of the chapel for the war-effort is a bit deus ex machina, and the identity of the ghost was fairly telegraphed. What is interesting is the treatment of the characters. When Mrs. Wilding says:

Ma’am, they say that marriage is an honourable estate, and a married woman is respectable. I thought it would be good for me to be married; but I say now that the worst day’s work that ever I did, and the wickedest, was when I married Bassett. To give him power over myself, body and soul, was bad enough, he being what he was; but the sin was to give him power over my child.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 83

That is rare territory for a ghost story, and the setting shows that Everett was familiar with some of the trials and tribulations that families faced during the war and afterwards, trying to put their lives back together. It might not be much of a ghost story, but it does show that insight into the human condition which is convincing.

The Crimson Blind

Spooks were under discussion, and it was discovered–a source of fiendish glee to the allied brothers—that Ronald believed in ghosts, as he preferred more respectfully to term them, and also in such marvels as death-warnings, wraiths, and second-sight.

“That comes of being a Highlander,” said Jack the elder. “Superstition is a taint that gets in the blood, and so is born with you. But I’ll wager anything you have no valid reason for believing. The best evidence is only second-hand; most of it third or fourth hand, if as near. You have never seen a ghost yourself?”

“No,” acknowledged Ronald somewaht sourly, for he had been more than sufficiently badgered. “But I’ve spoken with those that have.”

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 93

Sixteen-year-old Ronald McEwan is down to visit his cousins for a summer holiday, and being teenaged boys they dare themselves to go visit the local haunted house. They wait for the specter, with Ronald more than half-convinced his cousins are playing a trick on him, when a strange sight does appear: a light through a crimson blind at a certain window, then a figure appears who opens that window and appears to crash through—which none of them can explain.

The second part of the story was twenty years later, when now an adult Ronald returns to the village to find his friend Parkinson and the friend’s new bride Cecilia occupying the haunted house, with Ronald unwittingly given the haunted room he had last seen from the outside. During his stay, his nights are haunted by incidents of paralysis and visions of flames, the crimson blind, and the haggard man breaking through the window…only to awake none the worse for wear. The supposed source of the haunting is finally described in a letter at the end of the story, as a kind of denouement:

The house was built by a doctor who took in lunatic patients—harmless ones they were supposed to be, and he was properly certified and all that: there was no humbug about it that I know. One man who was thought quite a mild case suddenly became violent. He locked himself into his room and set it on fire, and then smashed a window—I beliee it was that window—and jumped out. It was only from the first floor, but he was so badly injured that he died: a good riddance of bad rubbish, I should say.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 114

What cannot be easily expressed in a mere synopsis of the story is the extreme prosaicness of it. Parkinson and his wife are concerned principally about property values, the difficulty of finding renters, the post-war housing market in Britain, and keeping up appearances; McEwan, for all that he is the prime voyeur for these nightly hauntings, is thinking of the bridesmaid Lillian whom he wishes to court (and they are engaged at the end). There is not a whit of empathy for whatever tortured soul may be trapped replaying their death, or the psychic echo of such a terrible death, nor does anybody try to resolve the supernatural issue—which is, as might be noticed, something of a continuing theme.

Fingers of a Hand

Some blank sheets of paper were lying about, besides the one pinned to her board with the half-finished sketch; and on one of these I noticed some large scrawled writing. Not Sara’s writing, which is particularly small and neat ; not the writing of any one I knew. The words were quite legible, but they were very odd. GO—by itself at the top of the sheet; and the same word repeated twice below, followed by GET OUT AT ONCE.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 118

While their brother and his wife are in India, the unmarried aunts are taking care of the children, and decide on a brief and economical seaside holiday at Cove, renting a cottage for the purpose. Rain puts a damper on the vacation, and quickly thereafter mysterious messages appear, urging the family to vacate. On the surface, this looks like such a stereotypical haunting as to be almost quaint—but there is a little charm in it, as the messages progress to underlining specific bible passages to reinforce the general idea.

The volume was lying open at the nineteenth chapter of Genesis, and these words in the twenty-second verse were scored under blackly in pencil—Haste the: escape.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 120

At last, they catch sight of fingers materializing to scrawl out a message, and getting the point at last, one of them leaves with the kids. Shortly thereafter a landslip undermines the foundations of the house, and the children were evacuated just in time. Others were not so lucky.

There’s not much to this story, where the phenomonon is the crux of the thing and the disbelief falls flat and there is no real build-up of tension beyond the increasingly stringent but short messages. The idea of the manifesting hand recalls the writing on the wall, a bit of divine providence rather than any kind of “typical” haunting. However, there is one passage near the beginning which might have caught Lovecraft’s eye:

That is one great use of unmarried aunts—to shoulder other people’s responsibilities; and I, for one, think people’s responsibilities; and I, for one, think the world would be a poorer place if the “million of unwanted women” were, by some convulsion of nature, to be swept away.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 115

By this time, Lovecraft was back in Providence, caring for his aunt Lillian and keeping in regular communication with his aunt Annie; he could certainly appreciate these “spinsters” (although technically widowed), and the sentiment that they were far from being “unwanted.”

The Next Heir

If the present Mr. Quinton, your second cousin, makes no will, the Quinton property goes to the heir-male of your mutual great-grandfather.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 130

Canadian soldier Richard Quinton answers an advertisement for an heir, and connects with the British side of the family left behind. However, the cousin Clement Quinton is an invalid antiquarian, worshipper of the pagan god Pan, experiences stigmata (bleeding of the palms) due to a mother’s curse at the death of his elder twin brother, an occultist with a scrying-stone, and wants somebody to carry on his work…hence his advertisement. Richard goes to his cousin’s house, where he is installed in a haunted room. Clement tries to get Richard to agree to certain conditions to become heir to the estate, but after some disquieting experiences and visions, Richard refuses and leaves. Clement dies without a will, so Richard gets the estate anyway, without conditions—making a point to burn the haunted house, and then bringing his fiance to the UK to live in the old family manse on the property.

The synopsis hardly does it justice, but “The Next Heir” is novella-length, and yet feels almost abridged. This is the most ambitious of the stories in The Death-Mask in terms of how many weird elements Everett had thrown into the mix: a pagan cult, hauntings, bloody hands, a curse, a seeing stone, etc. If the story had developed more slowly and the tension and atmosphere built up carefully to some strange and terrible ultimate revelation, it might have been properly Jamesian or Lovecraftian in tone. As it is, Richard’s fleeing from his cousin’s designs is more anticlimactic than not, and the feel-good ending is rather conventional instead of powerful. There are hints of a terrific imagination and a deeper, more terrible fantasy here but the story as developed is neither subtle nor explicit enough to really be the classic it could have been.

While there is a fair degree of hokeyness to how everything opens with the legalities of inheritance and ends with a happily-ever-after wedding, it’s not hard to look at this story and see clear parallels with “Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance” (1911). One might even compare it with H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls” (1924), with the prodigal heir returning to Britain and finding some darker aspects to the family history tied up with the house, the physical location metaphysically tied with the bloodline. Lovecraft and James would both have seen familiar themes in this story, even if it was developed differently than they would handle similar subjects.

Anne’s Little Ghost

“People must have been here with children,” she said presently in an interval of filling my cup. “The attic over our bedroom has evidently been used as a nursery, for there are coloured pictures pasted on the wall, and a child’s bed is pushed into one corner. Mrs. Stokes said she would take it out if it was in our way.

There was just the slightest sigh with this communication, and the least possible droop at the corners of Anne’s sensitive mouth, but enough to give me a clue to what was in her mind. […] We have been married rather more than eight years, and in our second yer together we possessed, for a brief space of only weeks, a baby daughter.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 191

After his discharge, British soldier Godfrey and his wife Anne go on a cheap holiday (all they can afford) to Deepdene. The childlessness of their marriage weighs on them both, and Anne begins to hear a child sobbing in the night. It isn’t long before Anne can see and touch the child, a little girl about six years old, as well. As the vacation goes on, Anne spends more and more time caring for the child only she can see and touch, and she seems to be wasting away…and there is nothing Godfrey can do about it…except he did see the child, just once. Inquiries turn up nothing; according to everyone, the house is not, and has never been haunted. At last, their vacation comes to an end, and that is where the story ends.

There are two parts of this story that are interesting. The first is that this is not presented as a typical haunting; it is in fact presented as most untypical, and until Godfrey confirms that he too has seen the child, it might be wondered if this isn’t something more psychological with Anne, echoing “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, some expression of misplaced maternal energies manifesting. I almost wish the revelation that he had seen the child too had been left for the end, just to carry the illusion on a little further. The second interesting part is a statement that occurs during Godfrey’s research, where a friend who believes in ghosts states:

I always know how to distinguish a true ghost-story from a faked one. The true ghost-story never has any point, and the faked one dare not leave it out.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 206

This is interesting because it may be as close as Everett comes to explaining her own lack of a point in her ghost stories. By refusing to tie things up neatly, she is adding a degree of verisimilitude to her stories by making them as inexplicable as real-life accounts. Or at least, that is a possibility worth considering, given that we have none of her other thoughts on ghost stories.

Over the Wires

Only one item in Hay’s room demands description. There was a telephone installtion in one corner; and twice while Carrington’s dinner was being served, there came upon it a sharp summons […]

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 209

Ernest Carrington was on leave in England, staying with his friend Hay and searching for his fiance Isabeau Regnier among the refugees from Belgium. The search goes poorly, until a call comes on the telephone—and it is Isabeau, though she doesn’t remember her right name and cannot help him find her. They communicate only through the frantic calls—and at last, he does find her. Only to find that she was in a coma during the first two calls, and had died before the last call was made.

Telephones were invented in 1876, but the expansion of such service expanded slowly into the early 20th century as the technology was refined and standardized. There was still something a bit preternatural about the device, or at least there were still fantastic possibilities attached to it, as Lord Dunsany did in “The Three Infernal Jokes” (1916), and the usage here, getting a literal phonecall from the dead, is right in line with that kind of usage. A somewhat less-supernatural parallel might also be drawn with the ending of Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (1919).

It is somewhat surprising that more hasn’t been used of this story, since it seems ripe for adaptation to a small-scale play or comic book; the ending is right in line with EC Comics like Tales from the Crypt or shows like The Twilight Zone, since the final twist leaves the viewer with more questions than it answers, and the conversations themselves have plenty of drama.

A Water Witch

Everett F. Bleiler described this story as “A somewhat confused story of a white woman who drowns cattle.” and it’s difficult to argue with that summary. The narrator is Mary Larcomb, who is disappointed her brother married a woman named Frederica instead of something more prosaic (all the women in the family apparently being named either Susan, Anne, Mary, or Elizabeth exclusively). Frederica is a “weak sister”-in-law, and after the death of a child a few days after it is born, Robert takes her out to a country house to recuperate; when Robert needs to go into town, Mary comes in to help take care of Frederica.

What follows is…odd. The local animals in the district shy away from a certain crossroads where a suicide is buried; the ghost of the same, described as a white woman, is blamed on leading cows, sheep, and other animal to the nearby river to be drowned. Frederica is recovering slowly, but she is affected by hearing strange drops of water. The story of the white woman, as related by Dr. Vickers, a neighbor with an interest in folklore, slightly parallels that of Frederica:

She was unhappy, because her husband neglected her. He had—other things to attend to, and the charm she once possessed for him was lost and gone. he left her too much alone. She lost her health, they say, through fretting, and so fell into a melancholy way, spending her time in weeping, and in wandering up and down on the banks of Roscawen Water. She may have fallen in by accident, it was not exactly known; but her death was thought to be suicide, and she was buried at the cross-roads.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 238

The possible haunting of the white woman—she is never called a witch in the story itself—is counterpoised against what is strongly suspected to be Dr. Vicker’s unseemly interest in Frederica, though this is handled with all the tact of a Victorian confessional (“Any open scandal must be avoided; she must neither be shamed nor pained.”) An accident finally brings Robert back to care for sister and wife, and to take them away from Vickers and the white woman. Death came to Frederica a few months later, then war was declared and Robert volunteered, and his sisters hoped next time Robert chose a wife he’d be more practical about it.

It is another one of those stories where the prosaicness, the sheer Britishness of striving to keep up appearances totally overwhelms what might otherwise have been a really weird and unusual haunting. We get so little information about the white woman, who sounds similar to but distinct from the bean-nighe that it could have been a really effective piece of pseudo-folklore if expanded upon and made the central focus of the story.

The Lonely Road

“Why, Boris,” he exclaimed unthinking, and the creature came beside him with wagging tail : surely in the event of attack, here would be a formidable ally.

The dog was friendly, and appeared to answer to the name called. Margaret had had such a dog in her husband’s lifetime, a Russian wolf-hound of which she had been fond; Pulteney had often seen them together, the tall elegant woman followed by the noble hound. Surely this must be Boris; and yet he had a dim recollection of some mischance mentioned in a letter of Adelaide’s, an accident in which the dog had been injured, and he thought killed.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 257

In Ireland, Tom Pulteney is visiting his widowed cousin Margaret, with an eye toward asking her to marry him. Forced to walk eight miles at night, he is tracked by thieves—but her loyal hound Boris aids him, only to disappear. Naturally enough, the dog had been dead, and it was his ghost that helped Tom scare off his assailants.

This is the slightest of the stories in The Death-Mask, in terms of length; and not badly told, for all that the plot is straightforward and the ending rather obvious, right down to Tom’s coded proposal of marriage in the final letter. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking or innovative about it, but it is the kind of story that could be slipped into almost any book of Irish ghost tales without a second thought. The only oddity is the insistence that the breed is a borzoi, or Russian wolfhound, rather than an Irish wolfhound; but the modern Irish wolfhound breed was bred in the late 19th century with some borzoi in the mix, so the appearance of a borzoi is not too unusual given the time and location.

A Girl In White

I write this, but add a query: perhaps one wiser than I will answer, and unravel the mystery which I merely present. I do not pretend to explain.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 261

A man rents a country cottage for his mother and sister in 1914. Going down to visit them for a weekend, he feels ill-at-ease in the house, and his nights are interrupted with visions of a girl in white (not the same as the white woman in “A Water Witch”). Without telling anyone of the strange appearance of the girl in white, he suffers through and returns to London; the girl in white does not follow him, nor do his mother or sister see her. Two weeks later he returns, and events occur again.

War broke out, the narrator did his military duty, inquiring about the cottage and finding no record of haunting or past tragedy. Wounded three times, he was out of action when his mother and sister brought him back to the same district, to an adjoining cottage to the one they originally rented, to recuperate. There his sister attempted to set him up with his neighbor Emily Tressidy, but he was instead interested in her sister Grace Tressidy—the spitting image, if a few years older, of the girl in white. During the period of his previous stay at the cottage, Grace had developed a habit of sleepwalking, and dreamed strange dreams. One early morning, he was out rowing, recalling a dream when he did so and the girl in white appeared. Suddenly, she did again, and he was not sure if he was seeing dream or ghost or real vision when a sleep-walking Grace fell into the water, and he leaped in to rescue her.

There was the implication at the end that they would be married. Which is rather a theme in these stories. As for the query:

Does this afford an explanation of the story I have told? It may, or it may not; but it is the only one I have to offer.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 277

On a rational level, readers are free to draw their own conclusions as to why the girl in white appeared there at that time in that place, and whether she was mental projection, dream-self, or something more obscure. Like a dream, rational logic is something applied in hindsight, there’s an emotional core to the story intended to tug at the heart strings.

A Perplexing Case

There a certain amount of vital fluid was in process of interchange, and two spirits wrongly housed in their tenements of flesh were brought into touch by a force only partially recognised, though of existence coeval with human life.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 295

Two soldiers in France have been wounded: the man who is identified as Henri de Hochepied Latour of France wakes to think of himself as Richard Adams of London; a circumstance that causes the gravest confusion to himself, his friends, and family. After several pages of increasing insistence that he is not who he is identified as, and not recognizing himself in a mirror, Latour is taken in for a blood transfusion with another shell shock case—Richard Adams—and when the two wake up, they are in their correct bodies once again.

This is practically a Fortean anecdote stretched out to short story length rather than a ghost story proper, but weird fiction has seen stranger exchanges of souls, and Lovecraft would revisit some similar ideas in stories like “The Thing on the Doorstep” and “The Shadow out of Time.”

Beyond the Pale

Joan began her married life with high ideals. She determined so to identify herself with her husband’s pursuits, that she might everywhere be his unfailing companion; and to this young wife the nursery interests, which frequently alter such a programme, had not been vouchsafed by Providence. So when Henniker laid his plans for a season’s shooting in the wilds of Western America, Joan, as amatter of course, expected to go too.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 298-299

In a nondescript part of the American West, the Hennikers had settled in for a hunting trip. As a maid, Joan was provided with “Nita, the half-bred Indian girl”—who spoke Spanish, her own Native American language, and a little English. The collision of different cultures and language barriers proved insurmountable when, returning to the ranch after a visit, Joan found Nita had broken into all of her boxes, stolen a few things, and run off. The local sheriff accosted Nita’s grandmother Rachel, who was reputed to be a witch, for knowledge of Nita’s whereabouts, which did not help matters. In retaliation, the Hennikers are bewitched. After tolerating various afflictions for some time, they resolve to hire a rival witch doctor, Hill-of-the-Raven, to deal with the witchcraft at their door.

The anti-witchcraft ritual now takes center stage, described in great detail, and ending with the sudden appearance of a woman’s severed hand. Hill-of-the-Raven gives the Hennikers instructions on what to do with this, and the English couple follow those instructions. Presently, Nita returns—with a bloody stump—to return the stolen articles in exchange for her hand back.

He then united the severed parts, and Joan used afterwards to aver that she heard the bones grate together as they met.

H. D. Everett, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts 320

In terms of cultural depictions, the story is very rough, even by the standards of 1920. The Native American characters are largely stereotyped, the attitudes are casually classist and racist, and approximately zero research was done on actual Native American traditions. Or, to put that in context, about the level of many popular depictions of Native Americans from the dime novels of the 1890s through to the pulp westerns, comic books, and motion pictures of the 1930s and beyond.

What is different about “Beyond the Pale” is how different it is from the rest of Everett’s stories in The Death-Mask. While “The Next Heir” had magic of a kind in the visions of the scrying-stone, there were no spells or incantations, no witchcraft or sorcery. In this story and only this story, magic is a fact of life, and the English couple, completely at a loss for how else to solve their problems, resort to local methods (“when in Rome, do as the Romans do”)—and that, more than anything, may be why this story is titled “Beyond the Pale.” It goes beyond the normal remit of a traditional British ghost story, just as they have gone far beyond the limits of the British Isles.

While not in any way lacking in imagination, “Beyond the Pale” is still not a particularly great story. Like most of the others in this book, it is relatively straightforward and linear in its telling, there are few characters and fewer kinks in the plot. It does not explain everything, but it also features a resolution lacking from the earlier stories. The supernatural manifestation can’t be ignored or left alone, doesn’t resolve itself, so it is actually confronted. It is the kind of story that, had it been submitted a few years later, might actually have been accepted for an early issue of Weird Tales.

Looking at the contents of The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts as a whole, it is possibly easier to see why Lovecraft and James had at least a small amount of praise for it. Everrett knew her business, she was working within an established tradition, and she could stretch that tradition to about the limit of what it could stand. She was not looking to the past, but working within a contemporary milieu, and writing to contemporary concerns with some degree of verisimilitude. She could write some evocative passages, and many of her subtler horrors are not the usual ones. By the standards of the 1920s, that was playing to the expectations of a specific audience that knew what they wanted from a British ghost story, and doing a very competent job of it.

Yet, they are very much tales of their time. There is no cohesion to the collection, no shared setting beyond Britain itself (and that often focused, somewhat oddly, on Scotland), no series character, and no uniformity of metaphysics. Each of the stories is independent of the other, nothing builds to any greater revelation, and so much of the stories’ wordcount is taken up by really mundane concerns like how much money the furniture is worth or what the income of the rental properties are, or whether the one male character will marry this sister or that sister…and these are the very human melodramas which subtract from what could be much more evocative stories. It’s almost like what Everett really wanted to write were Edwardian paranormal romances…and you can’t blame her for that, because that is still working within the tradition of the British ghost story. M. R. James in “The Tractate Middoth” (1911), to give just one example, has the hint of just such a relationship at the end.

That the stories focus relatively heavily on women and social issues that involve women is no accident. Ghost stories were a safe way to address such issues:

Melissa Edmundson: It’s fascinating to me how well the supernatural lends itself to the exploration of social issues and how it can tell us about the eras in which it was written. Many scholars still don’t take Gothic too seriously as a source for serious critical study – that’s changed in recent years, but the dismissive attitude is still there. So finding strong social elements in these stories, what I call the ‘social supernatural’ in Women’s Ghost Literature in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2013), makes these stories something more than just light entertainment. Yes, they were written to entertain but they also had an important purpose. When you think about it, there’s unsettlement on two levels: there’s the unsettled nature of the ghost who can’t be at peace and then there’s the social imbalance that the ghost in the story often reflects.

Peter Meinhertzhagen, “Melissa Edmundson, interview about Avenging Angels,” 24 Feb 2019

It is a humanistic element deliberately lacking from Lovecraft’s work, as Lovecraft disliked the distraction of romance in the setting and execution of his weird phenomena, and rarely addressed social issues, much less those that affected women. Yet he could no doubt appreciate some of what Everett did in these stories, and perhaps if for no other reason that might encourage more readers today to read and rediscover them—keeping an open mind about both what the stories are, and are not. If you go in expecting a female M. R. James or H. P. Lovecraft, you will be sorely disappointed. If you go in hoping to find the last interwar ghost stories of H. D. Everett—you will find them.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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