The Power of Darkness by Edith Nesbit

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Edith Nesbit (1858 – 1924) tends to be remembered for her fantastical ventures into imaginary worlds and for creating memorable mythical creatures. Occasionally she also came over to the dark side (please pop over any time – we have cookies) and wrote tales with a more murky and gloomy essence. Grim Tales and The Power of Darkness are perfect examples of that.

The tale is one of love, fixation and jealousy. It is also a torrid story of conquering fear and overcoming things one feels anxiety about.  It’s also possible that there is a nefarious undercurrent of self preservation involved.

Rose has broken many hearts and intends to break many more as she takes her leave from her crowd (yes, literally a whole crowd of young men) of admirers. She leaves a trail of tears in her wake.

She held her court like a queen, leaning out of the carriage window and receiving bouquets, books, journals, long last words, and last longing looks. All eyes were on her.

She looked at everyone except Edward. But just before she left, their eyes met and the unspoken words between them remained just that, unspoken. The two lovers must have felt as if their secret had gone unnoticed, and yet there was one who paid careful attention to their interactions.

Edward-tall, lean, gaunt, with big eyes, straight nose, and the mouth somewhat too small, too beautiful-seemed to grow thinner and paler before one’s eyes.

Vincent, also one of her many admirers, saw the look between the two of them. He understood what Edward didn’t, the nuance of the look and the importance of her avoiding his gaze until the very last minute.

“The beautiful Rose!” said Vincent.”of course, we’re all in love with her-and all hopelessly.”

Vincent and Edward had known each other since their school days. Vincent knew a lot about Edward, more importantly he knew that Edward was deathly afraid of the dark and had been since he was a young child. He also knew why he was so afraid. A bunch of lads had spent a night in an old country house where the mistress beguiled them with tales of a ghost.

“I hope the ghost won’t worry you. She’s an old lady in a figured satin dress. Comes and breathes softly on the back of your neck when you’re shaving. Then you see her in the glass, and as often as not you cut your throat.”

Edward admitted to being scared and was unwillingly to spend the night alone. He asked Vincent if the two of them could share a room instead. It was on that occasion that he shared his fears with Vincent.

“I feel a crawling hound. But it is so. I had a scare when I was a kid, and it seems to have left a sort of brand on me. I’m branded “coward”, old man, and the feel of it’s not nice.”

Edward told Vincent of the fright he had had as a child. How he had encountered a frightening pale figure with long hands reaching out towards him in the middle of the night, whilst he was wandering around looking for a snack to still the rumbling in his young tummy.

a white figure had suddenly faced him—leaned towards him, it seemed, pointed lead-white hands at his heart.

Vincent decides the best way to rid himself of his rival is by using the information he has on him. Where could he take him to instil or awaken his inner fears once more?

The Musée Grévin contains the work of artists for a nation of artists. Wax-modelled and retouched till it seems as near life as death is: this is what one sees at the Musée Grévin. The things were so convincing, so very nearly alive. Given the right angle, their glass eyes met one’s own, and seemed to exchange with one meaning glances.

I’m sure Vincent’s intent was to frighten Edward. Leading him through passageways with doorways opening up onto scenes of the greatest torture and distress from the French Revolution. Severed heads and all.

“Galerie de la Révolution. The spectators did not move in a public place among waxwork figures. Little light strayed to the narrow passage where the two men walked, and the darkness seemed to press, tangible as a bodily presence, against Edward’s shoulder. He glanced backward. “Come,” he said; “I’ve had enough.”There’s something uncanny about those wax things. They’re like life-but they’re much more like death.

The two of them take their leave to partake in a few cups of absinthe and to discuss the differences between wax figures and dead people, and which of the two happen to conjure up the greatest fear in man or either of them. As young men tend to do, they start to rile and challenge each other.

The contempt in the other’s tone stung him. “I bet you wouldn’t spend a night alone in that place.” I say, does Rose know you’re a coward?” I bet you wouldn’t spend a night in the Musée Grévin and keep your senses.””What’s the stake?””Anything you like.” “Make it that if I do you’ll never speak to Rose again, and, what’s more, that you’ll never speak to me,” said Edward,

Vincent decides to scare Edward in ten days time when he has decided to fulfil his part of the dare. In the meantime Vincent decides to get his own part of the dare over with. I mean there isn’t really anything to be afraid of, they are just wax figures, right?

“Suppose, as Edward had said, when all the lights were out these things did move. He felt for his matches and lighted a cigarette. The gleam of the match fell on the face of the corpse in front of him. Then, suddenly, the silence was shattered. In the dark something moved, and, after those sounds that the silence teemed with, the noise seemed to him thunder-loud. Yet it was only a very, very little sound, just the rustling of drapery, as though something had turned in its sleep. And there was a sigh-not far off.”

Not being funny, but the last thing anyone wants to hear when they are sat in the dark with a bunch of scary wax figures is any kind of noise. Regardless of whether it is the mice having a party or the roaches setting up a fight club. Wax should be dead quiet.

And, as he touched it, it raised its head and looked vacantly at him, and its eyes were bright and alive. In the new darkness he heard the crouching figure move towards him.

Not long after that Rose and Edward are sat staring at the blue of the Mediterranean, whilst on their honeymoon. They are discussing Vincent’s mental state of health, which has gone downhill rather rapidly since his encounter in the Galerie de la Révolution.

“What was it exactly that sent poor Vincent mad-you’ve never told me?” Rose asked the question. So, I hid there, too. And I put on my big black capuchon, I expect he thought I was one of them even then, poor chap , now he thinks everyone in the asylum is made of wax, and he screams if they come near him.”

Regardless of whether Edward set out to conquer his own fear or perhaps show Vincent how fear can take over a person completely. Either way the result is a positive outcome for Edward. He no longer has Vincent as a rival, and because of that he is now sat with his wife Rose. Unfortunately the future isn’t as bright for young Vincent.

Nesbit certainly shows shades of Poe in her darker stories. A little Gothic horror in the midst of her usual bright and creative stories.

Download The Power of Darkness, The Dragon Tamers, Eight Stories of Dragons, In The Dark, The Book of Dragons, Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and Wet Magic on the blog and at Feedbooks. The Wonderful Garden, Man Sized in Marble and The Rainbow and the Rose at the Internet Archive. Alternatively you can listen to The Book of Dragons, The Enchanted Castle, Grim Tales or The Magic City at Librivox.

Read and download Sharp Fanged Blood Sucking Death, Prelinger Part 2: Healthy Habits, The Last Man, Prelinger Archives Pt.1 Teen Feelings, Wuthering Heights, The $30000 BequestClassical Music and the Public DomainAdventure on the High SeasHilarious Halloween HauntsExploring the Heart of DarknessFather’s Little DividendDecadence without DifficultyRoads of DestinyThe Capture of a Slaver, The Ghost TrainHow it Feels to Die, by One Who has Tried ItMysticism and LogicThe Scarecrow of Oz, Dressed to KillThe Silence, the Solitude and the Shame of Oscar Wilde or Twelve Stories and a Dream right here on the blog.

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