The Ghost’s Touch by Fergus Humeshort story from a collection, The Dancer in Red, published 1906
[A house party has gathered in a Hampshire country house to celebrate Xmas together]
On Christmas Eve all our company were gathered round a huge wood fire in the library. Outside, the snow lay thick on the ground, and the gaunt trees stood up black and leafless out of the white expanse. The sky was of a frosty blue with sharply twinkling stars, and a hard-looking moon. On the snow, the shadows of interlacing boughs were traced blackly as in Indian ink, and the cold was of Arctic severity.
But seated in the holly-decked apartment before a noble fire which roared bravely up the wide chimney we cared nothing for the frozen world out of doors. We laughed and talked, sang songs and recalled adventures, until somewhere about 10 o’clock we fell into a ghostly vein quite in keeping with the goblin-haunted season. It what then that Frank Ringan was called upon to chill our blood with his local legend. This he did without much pressing.
comments: This is an uber-ghost story, an ur-text. Fergus Hume was an early crime writer, famed for his best-selling The Mystery of a Hansom Cab of 1886. He had a vivid style and could summon up a good picture, which is useful if you write a ghost story. As the narrator says:
I did not think to pass a dull Christmas but – God help me – I did not anticipate so tragic a Yuletide as I spent.This one has everything: an ancient curse, a ghostly lady, and – best of all – a haunted room that brings death to those who sleep there.
‘The Blue Room!’ we all cried. ‘What! The haunted chamber!’… so on that Christmas Eve the Blue Room had an unexpected tenant.It is short and to the point, and contains, as must be apparent, many a ghost story cliché – but remember this is an early example, it may well have been quite original at the time of first publication. Are there really ghosts or is something else going on? Ah, that would be telling…
An excellent Christmas Eve read: turn the lights down, sit in front of the fire, and shudder along with the narrator.
The picture, from the Athenaeum website, is Ghosts by Viktor Elpidiforovich Borisov-Musatov from 1903.