H. R. Wakefield's "The Triumph of Death"
commentary by rbadac
One must strive to be at the mercy of as few circumstances as possible. Vulnerability has a scent which attracts predators of all types. Should they ever join forces & work in collaboration, one may find oneself hopelessly outflanked, & miss the entertaining struggle over one's shredded remains.
Mrs Redvale, the Rector's wife, knows something is wrong at Carthwaite Place, where Amelia Lornon is paid companion to terrible Miss Prunella Pendleham. Amelia is wasting away, & something must be done before she ends up dead like three of the last five companions who preceded her, as she hasn't the fibre to flee like the other two.
The Pendleham family history is a long scroll of black stains, & the house is savagely haunted, a fact of which the agnostic Mrs Redvale is well aware. Now all she has to do is prop her husband up to the task of helping Amelia, & going to see Miss Pendleham.
Amelia is indeed in a bad way, for she also perceives the malignant ghosts at Carthwaite Place. Yet she keeps silent about them, thinking she must be going mad. Miss Pendleham doesn't seem to notice anything when Amelia sees murderous shadows or hears fearful shrieks, & she badgers Amelia constantly not to succumb to superstitious fancies like her predecessors did.
Miss Pendleham likes to be read to ("... get those stories by James..."), & selects unnerving reading matter: a biography of Gilles de Rais prompts her to remind Amelia that something of that sort was supposed to have happened at Carthwaite Place. She also likes to send Amelia up the dark stairs at night to fetch her wrap, because she knows Amelia had a fright up there once. For Miss Pendleham is as cruel & evil as her ancestors, & delights in the mental torture of Amelia. Meals in the dining room are presided over by "The Triumph Of Death":"... on the wall facing Amelia was a tattered seventeenth century tapestry. It depicted a company of knights & ladies riding in pairs along a sinister serpentine path. On the left of the path were three rotting corpses in open coffins. The air above them was thronged with vile flying things. Amelia's eyes flickered around the room trying not to see it. Miss Pendleham watched her covertly..."
Before the Rector can arrive, it will be seen that Miss Pendleham is all too successful in her wickedness, Amelia too complacent in her worst apprehensions, & the evil of the house more than a match for either.
"The Triumph of Death" can be found In Strayers from Sheol (both Arkham House & Ash-Tree Press editions), & the Richard Dalby-edited The Best Ghost Stories of H. Russell Wakield (Ln: J. Murray, 1978; Chicago: Academy Chicago; 1982).
copyright © 2001 , all rights reserved
There's almost always some Wakefield offered in the
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See also rbadac's essay on H. R. Wakefield's "First Sheaf"
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