In the Dark by Edith Nesbit

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Railway Children

Edith Nesbit (1858 – 1924) was an English author and poet. You may know her books The Railway Children, Five Children and It or The Phoenix and the Magic Carpet. All of those have also been made into films and/or television series.

In the Dark is a short dark gothic horror tale by Nesbit. It lets the reader ponder on the why and how of the story. Is it mere coincidence and the result of a deranged mind or is there something more sinister at hand.

It tells the story of two friends and their acquaintance Visger. Visger seems to have an unusual knack of knowing everything. Almost uncanny how he knows the deepest darkest secrets of every man, woman and child.Is it magic, is it supernatural or is it just someone with a strange inexplicable ability?

What first brought us together was our common hatred of Visger. He was the most intolerable person, boy and man, that I have ever known. He would not tell a lie. But what he believed was always right.

We grew up to be men. At least Haldane and I did. Visger grew up to be a prig.

No love lost there then, clearly.

He was a vegetarian and a teetotaller, and an all-wooler and Christian Scientist, and all the things that prigs are-but he wasn’t a common prig

I readily admit to not knowing what an all-wooler is. Possibly someone who wears nothing but wool? Hopefully not someone who only does sheep.

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Psammead and The Phoenix

He knew all sorts of things that he oughtn’t to have known, that he couldn’t have known in any ordinary decent way. It wasn’t that he found things out. He just knew them.

He also knew things about the narrator of the story, things Visger shouldn’t have known, which is why the narrator ends up going to India.

I was away over a year. Coming back, I thought a lot about how jolly it would be to see old Haldane again. If I thought about Visger at all, I wished he was dead

He does really want to see Haldane. The narrator has missed his old friend and the laughs they had together. He longs to see ‘the smile in his jolly blue eyes’ and hear his loud joyful laugh.

I found him cold, pale, anaemic, with dull eyes and a limp hand, and pale lips that smiled without mirth, and uttered a welcome without gladness

He found Haldane surrounded by moving boxes, anxious to get away from his rooms. He spoke of them being devilish, oppressive even, and yet he didn’t even want to leave his rooms to get any dinner.

Why, my dear chap, you’re a wreck.’Something’s gone wrong and you’ve taken to something. Morphia, perhaps? And you’ve brooded over the thing till you’ve lost all sense of proportion. Out with it, old chap.

Haldane refused to spill a word of his troubles. So his friend leaves him depressed and subdued, but intends to return the next morning. Although he felt uncomfortable leaving him in such a bad state.

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Five Children and It

When he went back the next morning, Haldane was gone. It was a whole year later when the narrator saw his friend again.

if he looked ghastly before, he now looked almost ghostly. His face looked as though it had worn thin, like an oyster shell that has for years been cast up twice a day by the sea on a shore all pebbly. His hands were thin as bird’s claws, and they trembled like caught butterflies.

Haldane seems almost incoherent as he mumbles to himself. He appears quite distraught and on the brink of desperation.

‘I am going,’ he said, ‘to kill myself-oh, don’t be alarmed,’-I suppose I had said or looked something-‘I shan’t do it here, or now. I shall do it when I have to-when I can’t bear it any longer. And I want someone to know why.

Haldane asks his friend to promise not to tell anyone the reason why until he has killed himself.

‘The fact is-you know that beast, George Visger. In point of fact, he’s dead.’ ‘it’s not generally known, but he is.’

The Phoenix and the Magic Carpet

Haldane told his friend how Visger had too it upon himself to tell his girlfriend a few home truths about. Some so worrying that she cut off all contact to Haldane. Visger knew of madness in Haldane’s family for instance.

“There wasn’t any madness in my family before, but there is now,” and I got hold of his throat. I am not sure whether I meant to kill him; I ought to have meant to kill him. Anyhow, I did kill him.”

In an almost nonchalant way Haldane describes getting rid of the evidence and making sure all the loose ends are tied up.

He’d said goodbye to everyone. He’d told me that. There was no blood to get rid of. There was nothing to get rid of, but the man. No weapon, no blood-and I got rid of him all right.

His friend asks him where the body is. Naturally it’s on the top of the list of things to find out when your friend has become a murderer. Haldane smiles in a disturbing way and refuses to tell him.

‘As long as you don’t know where the body is, don’t you see, I’m all right. Even if you could prove that I’ve said all this-which you can’t—it’s only the wanderings of my poor unhinged brain. See?’

I saw. And I was sorry for him. And I did not believe that he had killed Visger. He was not the sort of man who kills people.

Instead the friends suggests the two of them leave together thereby giving Haldane the chance to clear his head and see straight again. He is convinced Haldane is not a killer, and is merely going through a rough patch.

When you’ve heard what’s been happening to me, you won’t be so keen to go travelling about with me. ‘Did I tell you what his last words were? He said, “Look out. You’ll never to able to get rid of the body-Besides, anger’s sinful.”

Haldane laughed at that. He had indeed managed to rid himself of the body. Why shouldn’t he have? It isn’t that difficult to dispose of a corpes, eh. Not that I am talking from experience, Not that I would admit to having any experience at disposing corpses, if indeed I was talking from experience. Sigh.

oh, nothing much-only that I glanced at the hearthrug-and there he was-the man I’d killed a year before. The door was shut. The windows were shut. He hadn’t been there a minute before.

The body he had gotten rid of a year before was now upon his rug once again. In the middle of his room. Haldane’s friend thought immediately of hallucinations. Clearly his friend was in the throes of some kind of mental illness.

So then I thought someone had got him out-the real him-and stuck him there to frighten me-while my back was turned, and I went to the place where I’d hidden him, and he was there-ah!-just as I’d left him. Only… it was a year ago. There are two of him there now.’

Not only had the body returned to the scene of the crime, now there were two bodies to contend with. So he got rid of that one too.

He knew, you see. He said I shouldn’t be able to get rid of the body. And I can’t get rid of it. I can’t. I can’t. He knew.

So he took Haldane on holiday. Somewhere where they could both forget about all their troubles and his friends strained mind could finally find some peace.

We never spoke of Visger. I thought he had forgotten all about him. I thought I understood how his mind, over-strained by sorrow and anger, had fixed on the man he hated, and woven a nightmare web of horror round that detestable personality.

Then one evening in Bruges after an entertaining dinner the two of them retired to their one bed one chair room. Haldane got the bed and his friend the armchair.

Just as they were settling to get some rest Haldane told him that he had left everything he owned to his friend in his will.

The friend told him to be quiet and get some sleep. Haldane requested some water, but refused to walk to the candle and light it. He seemed absolutely petrified of the dark, of what may lie hidden in the shadows.

‘No-you light it. I don’t want to get out of bed in the dark. I might-I might step on something, mightn’t I-or walk into something that wasn’t there when I got into bed.’

At this point is clear to his friend that Haldane is not cured at all. All the time and trouble had been wasted on trying to make him feel better and now they were back at step one. Haldane kept looking around him as if he half expected the body to be laying on the hearth rug in the room in Bruges.

For God’s sake, light the candle. Light it. Light it. Something horrible…’Winston, light the candle, for the love of God! I can’t die in the dark.”It’s Visger. ‘Here,’ he screamed sharply, as though he had torn the veil away, ‘here, beside me. In the bed.’

The friend rushed to find the matches and light the candle. Haldane appeared completely beside himself, screaming in panic and then suddenly a silence fell upon the room.

He was crushed in a heap at the edge of the bed. Stretched on the bed beyond him was a dead man, white and very cold. Haldane had died in the dark.

There was really a dead body beside Haldane in the dark.The two friends had accidentally entered the wrong room that night. A visitor had died there earlier in the evening. Coincidence? Haldane’s friend found out there really was body every time Haldane had claimed to see one. The strangest revelation was the contents of the box of furs Haldane had left for his friend.

The bodies of two men. One was identified, after some trouble, as that of a hawker of pens in city offices-subject to fits. He had died in one, it seemed. The other body was Visger’s,

So there you have it, a disturbing tale of paranoia and murder. Of visions and hallucinations that turn out to be reality. How did Haldane always happen to end up next to a corpse? Just how much power did Visger have?

Download and read The Railway Children, Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Magic Carpet, The Enchanted Castle, In the Dark, The Book of Dragons, The Magic City or Wet Magic for free or read about The House of Mystery, The Scarlet Plague, The Skull, A Bucket of Corman, The Happy Prince, or Perchance to Dream right here on the blog.

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