18 thoughts on “MIST – ghost stories by Richmal Crompton


    “She stopped in front of the temple and dropped suddenly on to her knees, throwing back her head and holding out her arms.”

    Marian is attracted to a bronze statuette brought to the large house by Lord Cranborn, a house with its piecemeal Apollonian temple built at the end of the garden; she becomes obsessed with it, and sexually submits herself to it during a thunderstorm by the temple, as watched by her crestfallen boyfriend. I thought of an older Violet Elizabeth screaming: “I shall thcream and thcream and thcream until I….”


    “You may be sure that everyone you meet at Tallis Court has ‘people’. They may be as poor as the proverbial church mouse, but they are the somebodies of somewhere.”

    A striking story that resembles but excels the previous story. A genius loci …

    “Inside the drawing-room the late afternoon sunlight filtered in a golden mist through drawn net curtains onto the rich dimness of faded tapestry, faded carpet, the faded brocade of old Jacobean love seats, on to the old gleaming silver and egg-shell china of the low tea-table.”

    Fatuous fussification, to refer associatively to the relationship of the young lady with her fiancé who is the fustian narrator of this story about another enrapturing of young innocence, where the house is beset by the Greek-like charms of an unknown man named Strange inadvertently invited to the house for a week… and he casts a spell on all the house guests and residents, especially with the music from his syrinx. The interest of the story is the sexual version of his spell he throws on BOTH fiancé and fiancée….
    Haunting and memorable story, with the dark naïve charm of its times.
    And there is also the fascinating concept of a moment in one’s life where one is at simultaneously both the most unhappy and the most happy that one has ever been or ever likely to be.


    “… the happiness of it all seemed for one moment almost too great to be endured. …”

    Starts with the tinge of a Just William story with Moira’s children playing Highwaymen with her husband and the Governess. But a story, too, like the previous ones, of perceived sexual dominion, here encroaching in her mind as radiating from the Governess upon her husband, perhaps, we feel, induced by the comb…?
    A disarmingly simple story of haunted jealousy that my favourite writer Elizabeth Bowen would have made more complex, but the simple fact that I am comparing Bowen with Crompton is an enormous compliment from me. The Crompton indeed is generous with some many evocative passages which please me…
    ….Including a reference to this book’s eponymous ‘mist’ before Moira’s eyes, that I take to be a red mist … later neatly echoed by the Governess “getting a bunch of that Love-in-a-Mist stuff that grows there that you like, you know, to decorate the breakfast table for a surprise for you…” with ‘you’ being Moira.


    “She was small and graceful—not so much fairy-like as elfin-like. …”

    Some strikingly fey descriptions of Rosalind firstly as a 17 year old painter’s model to an old grizzled artist, observed by a male narrator who witnesses their interaction, the narrator’s friend who falls for Rosalind after the artist’s death, but intends as a Viscount to marry a woman more suited to his social status, all these representing a skein of relationships, threaded with intense feyness, if feyness can be described as intense? An eventual tragic tenor involving sex’s direct outcome as well as emotional tussles. And glimpses of an eventual fleeting ghost in browns and golds that, despite (or because of?) some tenuously naïve shortcomings in the texture of the plot, I think might be classic glimpses in ghost story literature, should you ever glimpse them here in such an obscurely erstwhile text as this one?

    “He could do things so easily that he generally seemed to put off doing them altogether.”


    “It was a little American lady who told me this story. She wasn’t obtrusively American.”

    An engaging story with a remarkably ‘felt’ house, a house that feels it hates you and you feel it hates you, too, until it sees you atoning for such hate’s cause. I shuddered at this mutual feeling – especially with a house waiting at its own door for you is surely one of the most original haunting conceits in the ghost story canon: “and—it was there waiting for us. It met us at the door.”
    Meanwhile –
    “They looked upon England and English people as the supreme joke of the universe.”


    “‘Beastly muddy, isn’t it?’ said Frank at last.
    ‘Yes, sir,’ said the old man in his curiously faint voice. ‘The wood’s always muddy—always. It never gets any air or sun. It’s too thick—too thick.’”

    This is both a great ghost story and something less than that, but the former, for me, outweighs the latter.
    Plain-spoken and with too much of an info-dump of an ending as explanation of the haunting, it is otherwise a compelling traditional tale of three people in a break-down of a car in the middle of nowhere, a married couple and the narrator who is the husband’s best male friend. Shaking down in the emptyish house behind the wood occupied by a wizened old caretaker man…
    A sudden unexpected surge of sexual attraction between the friend and the wife ensues, believable and quietly erotic. Building upon – “There was about it a suggestion of the Quaker that accorded well with her pale cheeks and demurely parted hair.”
    Disturbing and provoking.
    Or should we put it all down to a later one word sentence in the story? Not Aickman’s ‘Stains’ but Crompton’s…


    “Though unmistakably Harry, there was something in him now that made him seem a stranger.”

    The narrator goes for fishing on the Frame but no fish, but stays on at the welcoming Inn. Meets an old friend from university after ten years – and his wife.
    A rather naïve tale of scion possession, involving evil and cruelty.
    Some traditional appealing descriptions of the wife’s appearance and the candlelight etc.
    Not much else to say about it but SPOILER it has a happy ending.


    “She hadn’t reached the age of eighty without having learnt to size people up.”

    An exquisitely poignant, if simple, tale. About death, eternal life and recompense.
    Told by an old lady about when she was a little girl and she played with another little girl in the garden of a large house…
    Mingles Crompton’s own flair with childhood stories with that of Sarban, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Elizabeth Bowen.

    “It’s strange how, when you’re old, the things that have happened to you sort themselves out into real and not real and seem quite different from what they seemed at the time.”


    “She was either a passionate friend or a passionate enemy, and I am not sure whether her friends or enemies suffered the more at her hands.”

    A longish ghost story, involving a foursome, the male narrator, Blanche (a scheming, beautiful woman, with more than just hints of madness), naïve but good-hearted Jenifer and Peter (the narrator’s friend who is originally in love with Jenifer before the arrival of Blanche.) The work is sometimes pedestrian and contrived in its narrative, but eventually effective, with chilling scenes when the ghost appears, combining some out-of-the-corner-of-the-eye frissons with cold-blooded up-front appearances to the narrator alone.
    SPOILER? – The main resonating and provocative attraction to me about this story is my own distrust of the male narrator, and the implications of that. Trust me when I say that factor takes this story to a deeper level.


    “There was a look of the Orient about him for which I was not prepared. His skin was yellow, his dark eyes startlingly bright and piercing when he raised his lids. He talked chiefly with lids half-lowered.”

    There is a bit of a GKC Father Brown type story (without a detective) about this. supernatural retributive tree, sleep-walking, a rambling house, another impeachment of a marriage for this book with sexual undercurrents, a naive and at first pretty and diaphanous wife, a once (falsely?) disgraced husband now trying to make good in the world, but subject to a Xeno-sinister force described by the above quote I have given, but SPOILER another happing ending….

  11. HANDS

    “White hands among the rose bushes, fluttering in and out, cutting and tidying. White hands among the fruit bushes. White hands on the hammock. White hands among the flowers of the old-fashioned border.”

    Another marital haunting: this time a widower marries and his new wife is haunted by the dead wife. A uniquely disguised ghost, one that has disguised itself, for purposes of fulfilling hatred’s impulse.
    An interesting pre-cursor of Wilkinson’s Hands and Samuels’ White Hands?


    “At Fairlands they were a byword for sisterly affection. Sisterly affection was not considered good form at Fairlands, but public opinion made an exception in favour of the Glovers. They were allowed to walk together in school ‘crocs’, and to sit together in a corner of the old schoolroom reading from the same book with their arms round each other,…”

    Two sisters in sisterly love with each other (one classically pretty, the other not so pretty but cleverer) and, later, a man begins to love the less pretty, while everyone thought he would love the pretty one. The pretty sister’s reaction is fraught with lies and tragedy, but eventual confession after death….
    All of this told to us via other parties, other women, friends and once fellow schoolgirls, none of whom I trust, of course. But I think the story’s authority as author intends you to trust them. But, for me, sometimes an auteur’s characters behave by autonymity…?

  13. MIST

    “I sat in the parlour reading a three-weeks-old newspaper all morning and afternoon,…”

    Arrived at a grey inn on the grey moorland, with cheerless and churlish locals, bunked up, this woman, or man, as narrator, bored by the same newspaper, explores and finds a grey house close by where she witnesses through its window a sexual accosting and a later murderous scene that the narrator remembers as one that, by a reported court case, was different from the events accepted by the court. But the work is memorable really only for the genius loci and its prehensile mist that imbues the action.

    There are a few worthy ghost stories in this book, especially The House Behind the Wood and the Little Girl. And two or three others. The rest are adequate but all have their charm and contextual interest.
    A sense of a sexuality beyond marriage both as threat and hidden promise. A working out of some self enticements for which one is somehow both ashamed and proud at the same time, for a woman writing in the early 20th century. With an eye for childhood, too, of course. And a sense of beyond-death crystallised by imagination put down in print. And what works through, works through, often justified, but a few times not.


  14. I think this is quite a find. Coincidentally I was re-reading some of the Just William stories recently. I find them a little inconsistent, but the best compare well with humorous writing intended for adult readers (Pratchett, Robert Rankin, Sharpe, etc.)

    I’ve never before heard of Richmal Crompton’s supernatural fiction. To put this in perspective, I’ve been obsessively cataloging my library for more than 50 years, not only novels but short stories, too. Nowhere in my database does Crompton’s name appear other than as the author of the William books. However was she missed by the numerous anthology editors? Judging by your her ghost stories are worth seeking out.



  15. Pingback: THE FALL OF THE IDOL: Richmal Crompton | Shadows & Elbows

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