THE SEVENTH MAN by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
“The cards were so thumbed and tattered that by the backs of them each player guessed pretty shrewdly what the other held. Yet they went on playing night after night;…”
“Whist!” And beware, this is a very chilling tale (literally and scarily), till — SPOILER — the sun comes out at the end, but comes out for whom? Paradise Lost – and Regained?
It’s always night because the stopped clock — in inexact tune with the clock in the AJA story above — ever thus says it is night in or out of this dream of madness dreamt or actually lived by a group of meticulously named men, shipwrecked upon a desolate Arctic shore, if there is such a shore to be had, and their sleeping in cupboard-bunks possibly with quills in their couches to keep them awake, within a possibly ready-made or self-made one-roomed hut with trap-doors in the roof to let out the smoke of the warming fire. The number of the men was once seven, I guess, but one has been buried outside under the snow. But their names and personal derivations confuse me and, no doubt, confuse them, too, and it is never certain who knocks on the door, who goes out a trap door to investigate, and who comes back frozen almost stiff. The counting — like the clock’s or that of the scheming playing-cards — is interminable and even lasts beyond the ending of this excellent ghostly work. Still lasts now as I write this — beyond any lost conceit of Paradise, I guess. [Not forgetting the “interloper” in this work’s inner ballet scenario reminiscent of Elena’s model in Aickman’s ‘The Model’ that I am now equally slowly and attritionally reviewing here!]