LEAVES and other short tales of dread

tales of dread

The Clockmaker

Last week a man came into my shop. He was elderly, and very proud of the object he brought with him: a beautiful striking clock of the finest order. He had picked it up for a song at an auction in Cornwall, and it had stood in his library for many years, keeping perfect time.

One day it began to lose, so he called on me, a clockmaker, to fix it. I took it to the back of my workshop and began to tinker with it whilst the gentleman waited. I returned shortly after, and doubtless I had upon me a strange expression for the old man had already begun to draw a hand over his mouth, his eyes flashing concern. There must, I suggested, have been some mistake; for the clock which I had just been sent in to examine had no works.

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Leaves

There is a story told of a place haunted by a ghost which could only be seen by children. It was the figure of a woman, who raked the dead leaves, and when she looked up at them the children said they only saw a skull in place of a face. I went there once, with my son, who could know nothing of the legend, and went with him to the locality which the ghost was reported to haunt. Arriving there, I said to him, “What a lonely place! There is nobody here but ourselves.”‘ “Yes, there is,” he said. “There is a woman there raking the leaves,” pointing in a certain direction. “Let us go near her,” I said, and we walked that way, when my boy stopped and said he did not want to go nearer, for the woman looked up at him and he said that she had no eyes in her head, “only holes.” It was then that I looked down, having felt his little hand leave mine, and there I saw that he had gone, leaving me to join the dead things, his red shoes disappearing beneath the sleeping leaves.

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Benchdale Park

Having had a day’s leave, I was going to Benchdale Park. During a drive of some 14 miles I crossed a bridge and saw a man leaning over the parapet looking down into the stream. He had a bag by his side, and I offered him a lift. It had obviously been raining for his clothes smelt of damp. I opened the passenger door for him but he shook his head and without a word he headed to the back of the open van, and jumped in. I drove on steadily for a considerable distance when, reaching a village, I pulled up at the inn. The stranger thereupon got down and went straight into the inn without one word of thanks.

I said to the stableman, “Who is that man who has just got down?”

He said, “I never saw any man.”

I said, somewhat impatiently, “I mean the man I drove up with.”

He looked at me in considerable surprise. “But,” he remonstrated, “you came up alone, sir.”

I felt very uncomfortable, and seeing the landlord I described the stranger very precisely, at which he looked very serious, and finally said, “Come in here sir, and follow me.”

I went upstairs with him and there on a bed lay the man I had given the lift to ——dead.

An inquest had just been held upon his body. He had been found drowned in the stream close to where I saw him.

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