The Judge’s House by Bram Stoker (1891)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror August 27, 2013
You’ve heard the old saying, At the darkest hour comes the light. In Bram Stoker’s The Judge’s House, that blackest hour has all the power. I want you to meet Malcolm Malcolmson. Say it aloud, low and throaty. Malcolm Malcolmson. Even the name has a haunting tone. He is a scholar, young, strong, a bit unsociable but determined to find a “quiet” place to dive into his beloved studies. Quiet is probably putting it mildly; he really wants isolation, a desolate location to learn the mysteries of Mathematical Tripos, Harmonical Progression, Permutations and Combinations, and Elliptic Functions.
Most of us can’t identify what these studies are exactly, but it sounds very ambitious. While we can admire Malcolm, we are also immediately intrigued when he comes upon an unoccupied old rambling, heavy-built house of the Jacobean style, with heavy gables and windows in the small town of Benchurch.
Thinking haunted house, are you? Not quite. This is a story about the power of darkness, a darkness so diabolical that I doubt you’ll be able to stop reading until you reach the conclusion.
Our young Malcolm settles into the house with all his textbooks. Mrs. Dempster, the charwoman, provides meals and housekeeping. But Mrs. Dempster has her own reluctance about the house and especially the screens in the dining room … ‘things,’ that put their heads round the sides, or over the top, and look on me!
Do rats, mice, and beetles offend you? Would a grisly rope attached to the roof’s alarm bell hanging down in the corner of the dining room make you feel uneasy—especially if it creaks? What about portraits on the wall covered so thickly with dust you can’t see the faces … yet.
Close to the hearth is a great high-backed carved oak chair, with a mysterious something seated upon it … with baleful eyes. In the evenings, while Malcolm is buried within the pages of his mathematical rationalizations (and this is important because we all know that mathematical thinking does not have any power to battle the supernatural), the scampering and little screeches begin.
Stoker keeps his narrative moving by bringing the lens in closer and closer to build a foreboding tension. However, I found The Judge’s House to be extra mysterious when I stretched out on my sofa, turned the lights low, and listened this short story by LibriVox Recordings. There’s a magnetic quality in Stoker’s prose—the pacing and descriptions are truly evocative for a suspenseful read-aloud.
Read the short story at Gaslight (45-minute read) http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/judghous.htm
Listen to the LibriVox Recording at YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUHbPrpsO48
More of Bram Stoker short stories are at Bram Stoker.org
Other Reading Web Sites to Visit