“The Haunted Orchard” – a Sweet Spectral Romance for Your Valentine

A lot of people don’t realize that the occult and gothically inclined are a very romantic bunch.  We are lovers of love, bound (tightly) in a big black bow. We are fond of devastating passions and suicide pacts, full moons and unearthly seducers.  And although we are more likely to rent The Hunger than The Notebook for a hot and heavy date, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t apt to weep big, blue, girly tears at the end. In fact, the argument could be made that we are more romantic than our mainstream counterparts – after all, we believe in love that transcends life, death, gender, even species!

One of the great things about the Weiser Digital Books Collection  is that our curators (specifically the Queen of the Macabre, Varla Ventura) have unearthed, among the many tales of the creepy and grotesque, several lovely romances… well, what passes for romance at Chez Weiser – and in the spirit of doomed love we offer you a Valentine’s Day Gift of The Haunted Orchard  (click on the title for a link to the free pdf or just enjoy in its entirety below):

The Haunted Orchard
Richard Le Gallienne
Varla Ventura
Paranormal Parlor
A Weiser Books Collection

I was raised in the shadow of a place that once was. The old miner’s cabins had fallen down, leaving behind a footprint of square nails and rusty gold pans. The legendary hotel that once hosted the workers and their families en route to the mines that thrummed a day’s ride up the mountain had long-since burned to the ground. A bubbling trough where thirsty horses, drawing wagons of prospectors and their heavy picks, still remains though the spring has mostly gone dry.

What also remains there, on the piece of land I knew as my childhood home, is the handful of ancient apple trees left over from what was once a thriving orchard. We played in these trees as children, and even named them. Oblivious to the black widows’ nests and rotting branches that have since fallen down, we spent hours imagining we were wood nymphs and dryads or princesses wandering beneath the poisonous apple tree, and we grew full on the endless pies and tarts and Golden Delicious galettes my mother so craftily baked. So it was quite dear to my heart when I came upon The Haunted Orchard, a lovely little ghost story by Le Gallienne.

I will be the first to admit, and perhaps to warn those of you used to my usual tastes for the darker side of things, that this story—though unmistakably a ghost tale—is not particularly scary. It will not send you running swiftly up the stairs or pulling the bedclothes up over your head. In fact, it is in its own way quite sweet. This is hardly surprising, as it is written by English author and poet Richard Le Gallienne, who was probably most famous for his romantic sonnets and love poems. He was a prolific writer who had a rather tender penchant for folklore, mythology, and to a lesser degree, the supernatural. Born in Liverpool in 1866, Le Gallienne lost his first wife in 1894 after a few brief years of marriage. He married again in 1897 and shortly thereafter immigrated to the United States. This marriage ended in divorce. So it is not entirely shocking that the specter that haunts the orchard is a young bride. Perhaps Le Gallienne was resurrecting the spirit of his first wife, his true love?

I’ve admitted to you there is truly nothing to be scared of. I won’t say much more. This is a short story, and I have probably already given away too much. Of course, should you find yourself walking through an orchard in the early evening and you hear a mournful song in something that sounds like French, do take heed. There may be someone waiting there for you.

SUPERNATURALLY YOURS,
VARLA VENTURA
SAN FRANCISCO, 2011

****

The Haunted Orchard
FROM HARPER’S MAGAZINE, JANUARY, 1912. BY PERMISSION OF HARPER AND BROTHERS
AND RICHARD LE GALLIENNE.

Spring was once more in the world. As she sang to herself in the faraway woodlands her voice reached even the ears of the city, weary with the long winter. Daffodils flowered at the entrances to the Subway, furniture removing vans blocked the side streets, children clustered like blossoms on the doorsteps, the open cars were running, and the cry of the “cash clo'” man was once more heard in the land.

Yes, it was the spring, and the city dreamed wistfully of lilacs and the dewy piping of birds in gnarled old apple-trees, of dogwood lighting up with sudden silver the thickening woods, of water-plants unfolding their glossy scrolls in pools of morning freshness.

On Sunday mornings, the outbound trains were thronged with eager pilgrims, hastening out of the city, to behold once more the ancient marvel of the spring; and, on Sunday evenings, the railway termini were aflower with banners of blossom from rifled woodland and orchard carried in the hands of the returning pilgrims, whose eyes still shone with the spring magic, in whose ears still sang the fairy music.

And as I beheld these signs of the vernal equinox I knew that I, too, must follow the music, forsake awhile the beautiful siren we call the city, and in the green silences meet once more my sweetheart Solitude.

As the train drew out of the Grand Central, I hummed to myself,

“I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden, in a greener, cleaner land”  and so I said good-by to the city, and went forth with beating heart to meet the spring.

I had been told of an almost forgotten corner on the south coast of Connecticut, where the spring and I could live in an inviolate loneliness—a place uninhabited save by birds and blossoms, woods and thick grass, and an occasional silent farmer, and pervaded by the breath and shimmer of the Sound.

Nor had rumor lied, for when the train set me down at my destination I stepped out into the most wonderful green hush, a leafy Sabbath silence through which the very train, as it went farther on its way, seemed to steal as noiselessly as possible for fear of breaking the spell.

After a winter in the town, to be dropped thus suddenly into the intense quiet of the country-side makes an almost ghostly impression upon one, as of an enchanted silence, a silence that listens and watches but never speaks, finger on lip. There is a spectral quality about everything upon which the eye falls: the woods, like great green clouds, the wayside flowers, the still farm-houses half lost in orchard bloom—all seem to exist in a dream. Everything is so still, everything so supernaturally green. Nothing moves or talks, except the gentle susurrus of the spring wind swaying the young buds high up in the quiet sky, or a bird now and again, or a little brook singing softly to itself among the crowding rushes.

Though, from the houses one notes here and there, there are evidently human inhabitants of this green silence, none are to be seen. I have often wondered where the countryfolk hide themselves, as I have walked hour after hour, past farm and croft and lonely door-yards, and never caught sight of a human face. If you should want to ask the way, a farmer is as shy as a squirrel, and if you knock at a farm-house door, all is as silent as a rabbit-warren.

As I walked along in the enchanted stillness, I came at length to a quaint old farmhouse—”old Colonial” in its architecture—embowered in white lilacs, and surrounded by an orchard of ancient apple-trees which cast a rich shade on the deep spring grass. The orchard had the impressiveness of those old religious groves, dedicated to the strange worship of sylvan gods, gods to be found now only in Horace or Catullus, and in the hearts of young poets to whom the beautiful antique Latin is still dear.

The old house seemed already the abode of Solitude. As I lifted the latch of the white gate and walked across the forgotten grass, and up on to the veranda already festooned with wistaria, and looked into the window, I saw Solitude sitting by an old piano, on which no composer later than Bach had ever been played.

In other words, the house was empty; and going round to the back, where old barns and stables leaned together as if falling asleep, I found a broken pane, and so climbed in and walked through the echoing rooms. The house was very lonely. Evidently no one had lived in it for a long time. Yet it was all ready for some occupant, for whom it seemed to be waiting. Quaint old four-poster bedsteads stood in three rooms—dimity curtains and spotless linen—old oak chests and mahogany presses; and, opening drawers in Chippendale sideboards, I came upon beautiful frail old silver and exquisite china that set me thinking of a beautiful grandmother of mine, made out of old lace and laughing wrinkles and mischievous old blue eyes.

There was one little room that particularly interested me, a tiny bedroom all white, and at the window the red roses were already in bud. But what caught my eye with peculiar sympathy was a small bookcase, in which were some twenty or thirty volumes, wearing the same forgotten expression—forgotten and yet cared for—which lay like a kind of memorial charm upon everything in the old house. Yes, everything seemed forgotten and yet everything, curiously—even religiously—remembered. I took out book after book from the shelves, once or twice flowers fell out from the pages—and I caught sight of a delicate handwriting here and there and frail markings. It was evidently the little intimate library of a young girl. What surprised me most was to find that quite half the books were in French— French poets and French romancers: a charming, very rare edition of Ronsard, a beautifully printed edition of Alfred de Musset, and a copy of Théophile Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin. How did these exotic books come to be there alone in a deserted New England farm-house?

This question was to be answered later in a strange way. Meanwhile I had fallen in love with the sad, old, silent place, and as I closed the white gate and was once more on the road, I looked about for someone who could tell me whether or not this house of ghosts might be rented for the summer by a comparatively living man.

I was referred to a fine old New England farm-house shining white through the trees a quarter of a mile away. There I met an ancient couple, a typical New England farmer and his wife; the old man, lean, chin-bearded, with keen gray eyes flickering occasionally with a shrewd humor, the old lady with a kindly old face of the withered-apple type and ruddy. They were evidently prosperous people, but their minds—for some reason I could not at the moment divine—seemed to be divided between their New England desire to drive a hard bargain and their disinclination to let the house at all.

Over and over again they spoke of the loneliness of the place. They feared I would find it very lonely. No one had lived in it for a long time, and so on. It seemed to me that afterwards I understood their curious hesitation, but at the moment only regarded it as a part of the circuitous New England method of bargaining. At all events, the rent I offered finally overcame their disinclination, whatever its cause, and so I came into possession—for four months—of that silent old house, with the white lilacs, and the drowsy barns, and the old piano, and the strange orchard; and, as the summer came on, and the year changed its name from May to June, I used to lie under the apple-trees in the afternoons, dreamily reading some old book, and through half-sleepy eyelids watching the silken shimmer of the Sound.

I had lived in the old house for about a month, when one afternoon a strange thing happened to me. I remember the date well. It was the afternoon of Tuesday, June 13th. I was reading, or rather dipping here and there, in Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. As I read, I remember that a little unripe apple, with a petal or two of blossom still clinging to it, fell upon the old yellow page. Then I suppose I must have fallen into a dream, though it seemed to me that both my eyes and my ears were wide open, for I suddenly became aware of a beautiful young voice singing very softly somewhere among the leaves. The singing was very frail, almost imperceptible, as though it came out of the air. It came and went fitfully, like the elusive fragrance of sweetbrier—as though a girl was walking to and fro, dreamily humming to herself in the still afternoon. Yet there was no one to be seen. The orchard had never seemed more lonely. And another fact that struck me as strange was that the words that floated to me out of the aerial music were French, half sad, half gay snatches of some long-dead singer of old France, I looked about for the origin of the sweet sounds, but in vain. Could it be the birds that were singing in French in this strange orchard? Presently the voice seemed to come quite close to me, so near that it might have been the voice of a dryad singing to me out of the tree against which I was leaning. And this time I distinctly caught the words of the sad little song:

“Chante, rossignol, chante,
Toi qui as le coeur gai;
Tu as le coeur à rire,
Moi, je l’ai-t-à pleurer.”

But, though the voice was at my shoulder, I could see no one, and then the singing stopped with what sounded like a sob; and a moment or two later I seemed to hear a sound of sobbing far down the orchard. Then there followed silence, and I was left to ponder on the strange occurrence. Naturally, I decided that it was just a day-dream between sleeping and waking over the pages of an old book; yet when next day and the day after the invisible singer was in the orchard again, I could not be satisfied with such mere matter-of-fact explanation.

“A la claire fontaine,”

went the voice to and fro through the thick orchard boughs,

“M’en allant promener,
J’ai trouvé l’eau si belle
Que je m’y suis baigné,
Lui y a longtemps que je t’aime,
Jamais je ne t’oubliai.”

It was certainly uncanny to hear that voice going to and fro the orchard, there somewhere amid the bright sun-dazzled boughs—yet not a human creature to be seen—not another house even within half a mile. The most materialistic mind could hardly but conclude that here was something “not dreamed of in our philosophy.” It seemed to me that the only reasonable explanation was the entirely irrational one—that my orchard was haunted: haunted by some beautiful young spirit, with some sorrow of lost joy that would not let her sleep quietly in her grave.

And next day I had a curious confirmation of my theory. Once more I was lying under my favorite apple-tree, half reading and half watching the Sound, lulled into a dream by the whir of insects and the spices called up from the earth by the hot sun. As I bent over the page, I suddenly had the startling impression that someone was leaning over my shoulder and reading with me, and that a girl’s long hair was falling over me down on to the page. The book was the Ronsard I had found in the little bedroom. I turned, but again there was nothing there. Yet this time I knew that I had not been dreaming, and I cried out:

“Poor child! tell me of your grief—that I may help your sorrowing heart to rest.”

But, of course, there was no answer; yet that night I dreamed a strange dream. I thought I was in the orchard again in the afternoon and once again heard the strange singing—but this time, as I looked up, the singer was no longer invisible. Coming toward me was a young girl with wonderful blue eyes filled with tears and gold hair that fell to her waist. She wore a straight, white robe that might have been a shroud or a bridal dress. She appeared not to see me, though she came directly to the tree where I was sitting. And there she knelt and buried her face in the grass and sobbed as if her heart would break. Her long hair fell over her like a mantle, and in my dream I stroked it pityingly and murmured words of comfort for a sorrow I did not understand…. Then I woke suddenly as one does from dreams. The moon was shining brightly into the room. Rising from my bed, I looked out into the orchard. It was almost as bright as day. I could plainly see the tree of which I had been dreaming, and then a fantastic notion possessed me. Slipping on my clothes, I went out into one of the old barns and found a spade. Then I went to the tree where I had seen the girl weeping in my dream and dug down at its foot.

I had dug little more than a foot when my spade struck upon some hard substance, and in a few more moments I had uncovered and exhumed a small box, which, on examination, proved to be one of those pretty old-fashioned Chippendale work-boxes used by our grandmothers to keep their thimbles and needles in, their reels of cotton and skeins of silk. After smoothing down the little grave in which I had found it, I carried the box into the house, and under the lamplight examined its contents.

Then at once I understood why that sad young spirit went to and fro the orchard singing those little French songs—for the treasure-trove I had found under the apple-tree, the buried treasure of an unquiet, suffering soul, proved to be a number of love-letters written mostly in French in a very picturesque hand—letters, too, written but some five or six years before. Perhaps I should not have read them—yet I read them with such reverence for the beautiful, impassioned love that animated them, and literally made them “smell sweet and blossom in the dust,” that I felt I had the sanction of the dead to make myself the confidant of their story. Among the letters were little songs, two of which I had heard the strange young voice singing in the orchard, and, of course, there were many withered flowers and such like remembrances of bygone rapture.

Not that night could I make out all the story, though it was not difficult to define its essential tragedy, and later on a gossip in the neighborhood and a headstone in the churchyard told me the rest. The unquiet young soul that had sung so wistfully to and fro the orchard was my landlord’s daughter. She was the only child of her parents, a beautiful, willful girl, exotically unlike those from whom she was sprung and among whom she lived with a disdainful air of exile. She was, as a child, a little creature of fairy fancies, and as she grew up it was plain to her father and mother that she had come from another world than theirs. To them she seemed like a child in an old fairy-tale strangely found on his hearth by some shepherd as he returns from the fields at evening—a little fairy girl swaddled in fine linen, and dowered with a mysterious bag of gold.

Soon she developed delicate spiritual needs to which her simple parents were strangers. From long truancies in the woods she would come home laden with mysterious flowers, and soon she came to ask for books and pictures and music, of which the poor souls that had given her birth had never heard. Finally she had her way, and went to study at a certain fashionable college; and there the brief romance of her life began. There she met a romantic young Frenchman who had read Ronsard to her and written her those picturesque letters I had found in the old mahogany work-box. And after a while the young Frenchman had gone back to France, and the letters had ceased. Month by month went by, and at length one day, as she sat wistful at the window, looking out at the foolish sunlit road, a message came. He was dead. That headstone in the village churchyard tells the rest. She was very young to die—scarcely nineteen years; and the dead who have died young, with all their hopes and dreams still like unfolded buds within their hearts, do not rest so quietly in the grave as those who have gone through the long day from morning until evening and are only too glad to sleep.

Next day I took the little box to a quiet corner of the orchard, and made a little pyre of fragrant boughs—for so I interpreted the wish of that young, unquiet spirit—and the beautiful words are now safe, taken up again into the aerial spaces from which they came.

But since then the birds sing no more little French songs in my old orchard.

****

This ebook edition first published in 2011 by Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
With offices at:
665 Third Street, Suite. 400
San Francisco, CA 94107
http://www.redwheelweiser.com
Copyright © 2011 by Red Wheel/Weiser LLC. All rights reserved.
Originally published as The Haunted Orchard by Richard Le Gallienne. Harper’s Magazine, January, 1912.
eISBN: 978-1-61940-018-4
Cover design by Jim Warner
An Apple a Day

*sniff*

*sniff*

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Critters of the Occult – A Fierce Familiar is a Witch’s Best Friend

We all know that Hecate is mighty fond of the pups, and Gillian Holroyd worked magic through her cat Pyewacket (show of hands – who here has, or has had a cat named Pyewacket?) – but what other magical critters can we call upon when a little extra animal something is required? Judika Illes has a few unusual suggestions in her historical compendium The Weiser Field Guide to Witches – some are animals that are witches, others are animals that help witches, either way the force is strong with these critters of the occult:

Foxes

Small, wild, and nocturnal, foxes are considered the most feline of canines because of their physical appearance and behavior. (Baby foxes are called “kits.”) They are profoundly identified with witches, especially in Japan, where they are the witchcraft animal supreme. Fox goddesses associated with magic and witches are native to China, India, Japan, and Tibet.

In Europe, foxes serve as witches’ familiars or as the form into which a witch transforms, but in Japan, some foxes are actually witches. The fox shape is the original form, but a powerful fox witch may be able to transform into the guise of a woman.

Not every Japanese fox is a witch. Most are merely mundane foxes. Lurking among these ordinary foxes are special, magical fox spirits. Fox spirits, known as kitsune in Japanese, are characterized by tremendous intelligence and magical prowess. Many fox spirits are gifted alchemists who strive for longevity and immortality. The older the magical fox, the more tails it may possess, although it may not be able to sprout any new tails until it attains 1,000 years of age. The most powerful fox spirit is the nine-tailed-fox.

Even without nine tails to identify her, the true identity of a fox witch may be ascertained with close observation. Although a fox witch may resemble a human, there will still be something vulpine about her. Usually her profile will appear snout-like, or she may make fox-like noises. Allegedly, a fox-witch in the form of a woman will cast no reflection in a mirror—or alternatively, her true fox form will appear.

Japanese fox spirits may also serve people as familiars and servants, offering protection and providing wealth. Japan never suffered witch hunts akin to those of Europe or its colonies, but families associated with fox spirits have historically met with discrimination, shunned and feared by their neighbors. (The wealth that fox spirits provide for their loved ones is believed stolen from others.) In Neil Gaiman’s 1999 novella, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, a fox spirit works her magic to save the man she loves.

Hyenas

The stereotypical African witch doesn’t wear a peaked hat or travel on a broomstick, but she’s still a night rider, out journeying to secret assignations with other witches. European witches were accused of riding wolves or bats; African witches ride galloping hyenas, the animals most closely identified with witches throughout Africa.

Hyenas are believed to be a tell-tale sign that will cause someone, usually but not exclusively a woman, to be branded a witch. Any evidence whatsoever, regardless of how flimsy or tangential, that links someone with hyenas may be considered proof of sorcery in African witchcraft trials. These associations are potentially dangerous, as suspected witches are still killed with relative frequency in many parts of Africa.

Folklorically speaking, any hyena may have some association with witches. Witches ride hyenas. Witches keep hyenas, known as “night cattle,” milking them daily. In some regions, it’s considered dangerous to harm a hyena as its witch will surely magically retaliate. Allegedly, these “hyena cattle” may be identified by the golden earrings they are said to sport.

Witches transform captive victims into hyenas. Witches are hyenas. A talented human witch can transform into the guise of a hyena, the better to creep around at night. Sometimes hyenas are witches. According to Bantu tradition, hyenas are capable of transforming into the guise of humans all by themselves, without the assistance of a human witch. Thus a human may really be a hyena-witch in disguise.

The West African spirit Ogun rides a hyena, indicating his power over witches and witchcraft. He is a great sorcerer—a master of transformational magic—but he can also break any spell or curse cast by a human or hyena witch.

Magpies

Magpies are corvids like their cousins crows, ravens, rooks, and jackdaws, but with their distinctive black and white plumage, they are clearly distinguishable from other corvids. Like their cousins, they are identified with witches, but their mythology is quite different.

Magpies inhabit North America, Europe, Northwestern Africa, the Middle East, Central and East Asia. Despite this wide range, magpies are consistently associated with feminine power, romantic magic, and oracular prophesy. Virtually wherever they are found, magpies are associated with witches—either as their familiars or, more frequently, as the form into which witches transform.

Latvian, Russian, Scottish, and Swedish witches were believed to transform into magpies. Although Siberian witches allegedly possess the power to transform into any creature, folklore says magpies are their favorite choice. A Russian nickname for witch is soroka-veschchitsa, meaning “magpie-witch.” Various legends describe these magpie-witches. According to one, Ivan the Terrible gathered all the witches he could find in order to burn them, but before this could be accomplished, the witches transformed into magpies and escaped.

Another Russian legend suggests that murdered witches reincarnate as magpies. Although their bodies are those of birds, they retain their witch souls. Since you never know which magpie is a witch magpie, it’s crucial to be nice to all of them—otherwise they might cast a spell on you. Some even suggest that whenever encountering a magpie, one should always salute politely in greeting.

Rabbits

At one time, rabbits and hares were the animals most identified with Europe’s witches, playing the role now given to cats. Rabbits serve as witches’ familiars and messengers and were believed to be the form into which witches most frequently transform.

The association of rabbits with witches is bittersweet. On one hand, rabbits are the subject of powerful mythology, associated with magic, women’s power, and the moon. On the other hand, rabbits, like witches, are often hunted.

Rabbits are very low on the food chain; virtually all predators feast on them. Their survival as a species depends on their fecundity—their amazing ability to reproduce quickly—and on their brains. Rabbits are tricksters, able to hide in plain sight. Wild brown rabbits camouflage well, suddenly appearing and disappearing, as if by magic.

In 1662, Isobel Gowdie, a Scotswoman, apparently volunteered a detailed confession of witchcraft. She described how she and her fellow coven members transformed into hares via a magical chant. English singer Maddy Prior’s song “The Fabled Hare” incorporates excerpts from Gowdie’s witch trial testimony.

A Devon legend describes how witches congregated after dark on Dartmoor heath. Most people left them alone, but a hunter named Bowerman consistently disturbed them. Finally, enough was enough. One witch transformed into a rabbit. Not realizing her true identity, Bowerman gave chase as she lured him into a magical ambush. Her sister witches surrounded the hunter and his hounds and transformed them into large, granite rock formations that may still be seen on Dartmoor heath.

Witch goddess Hulda is accompanied by an entourage of torch-bearing rabbits. Rabbit witches serve as entertainment for children: in Katherine Pyle’s illustrated 1895 children’s book, The Rabbit Witch and Other Tales, a rabbit witch in a head scarf steals naughty children; in Walter De La Mare’s children’s poem, “The Hare”, “an old witch-hare” gets spooked herself.

The association of rabbits with witches is not limited to Europe. In China, rabbits are identified with witches, alchemy, and sorcery. Instead of a man in the moon, China has an alchemist rabbit in the moon, endlessly grinding the elixir of immortality with his mortar and pestle, a servant of witch goddess Hsi Wang Mu.

Raccoons

Native to the Western Hemisphere and ranging from Canada through South America, raccoons are considered witch animals in many Native American cultures. Solitary, nocturnal, omnivorous, medium-sized mammals, they have dexterous hands, like people.

The raccoon is unique among animals in that, given access to water, it washes its food before eating. Facial markings make raccoons appear as if they are wearing black masks. Their eyes glow at night. Raccoons creep around human habitations at night, searching for food, and although cautious, they display little fear of people. Raccoons are associated, folklorically, with transformation, stealth, and secrecy.

The English word raccoon derives from an Algonquin word arachun, meaning “the one who scratches himself,” but other words for “raccoon” in other Native American languages emphasize associations with witches and magic. In the Cheyenne language, the word for raccoon is macho-on, “the one who makes magic.” The word for raccoon in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, is cioatlamacasque, literally “she who talks with spirits.” The Yakima word tsa-ga-gla-tal may be translated as witch, spirit, or raccoon.