Squire Humperdinck and the Devil

Following my custom of many years, today I’m posting a lighter-hearted story for Christmas Eve. Today’s offering is a delightful fairy-tale like piece from 1913, called “Squire Humperdinck and the Devil.”

Christmas Bells with Ribbon svg

Greedy, grasping landowner Squire Humperdinck owns everything—and for all intents and purposes, everybody—in the village of Humperdunken. When the Squire’s mischevious employee Chuck discovers that the Squire is secretly the devil’s minion, it’s up to him and his faithful friend the crow to save the village. It all comes to a head on Christmas Day.

You can read “Squire Humperdincken and the Devil” here.

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Sister Johanna’s Story

I’m sharing two stories this week, as we lead up to Christmas Day. The first one is another Christmas-season tale by Egyptologist, world traveler, and author of both crime and supernatural fiction, Amelia Edwards. You may recall that last year I featured her ghostly crime story, “The Four-Fifteen Express.”

Woodcarver of obermmergau jpg Blog

This year’s story is set in the village of St. Ulrich (or Urtijëi), in the Grödner Thal (called today Val Gardena, or Gröden), located in the Dolomite Alps region of Northern Italy. Gröden is known even today for its woodworking, both statuary and wooden toys. In fact, Amelia Edwards herself referred to St. Ulrich as “the capitol of Toyland” in her book Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys (1873).

Sister Johanna’s Story” was also published in 1873, obviously inspired by Edwards’ travels through the region. Woodworking features prominently in this narrative of an artist blinded to what’s happening around him by his passion for his work.

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This Blog Post has Content

I’ve been thinking about the evolution of the word “content” as it relates to creative endeavors. “Content” used to be a quality of a creative work, especially a piece of writing: “this article has no content” means that it’s fluff, a puff piece, filler. Now we talk about an article as content—eliding the difference between a substantive, thoughtful piece of writing (or other creative act), and filler meant to keep the writer visible in their social media feeds. It’s disrespectful of both creators and the works that they produce.

So I now try to consciously avoid the word “content” as a synonym for a body of creative work. I try to use a specific word: “posts,” “articles,” “writing,” or even “creative work.”

I don’t want to get preachy about it, but I put this idea out there because I’d like to encourage other people who think like I do to do the same.

Addendum: Just as I was writing this post, Notion invited me to try their new “AI writing buddy.” Perhaps there is an application here for producing rote form letters or announcements. But the idea of having an AI to help someone write blog posts (a use case they promote) offends me to my very core. “Content,” indeed.

Originally posted to Short Thoughts.

The Ghost of Charlotte Cray

This week I’m featuring another Christmas-season ghost story by a woman author: “The Ghost of Charlotte Cray,” by Florence Marryat (1833-1899).

Florence Marryat
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sigsmund Braggett is a healthy, successful, newly married middle-aged man. To all appearances, his life should be going great; and yet he is troubled. Why, you ask?

Most of us have our little peccadilloes in this world-—awkward reminiscences that we would like to bury five fathoms deep, and never hear mentioned again, but that have an uncomfortable habit of cropping up at the most inconvenient moments; and no mortal is more likely to be troubled with them than a middle-aged bachelor who has taken to matrimony.

In certain aspects of his life, Mr. Braggett was not a very nice man. And now he’s afraid that it’s coming back to bite him.

You can read “The Ghost of Charlotte Cray” here.

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Number Two, Melrose Square

This week’s winter tale is a haunted house story by Theo Gift, the pen name of Dora Havers (1847-1923). I have a soft spot for a Victorian ghost story with an independent female lead character, and “Number Two, Melrose Square” happens conveniently at Christmas, so how could I resist?

"charcoal drawing of a haunted drawing room" - generated by Stable Diffusion

The protagonist, who seems to make her living as a translator and scholar, arrives to London to work on her latest project. A friend has found her a furnished house on Melrose Square, conveniently near the British Museum. Perhaps it’s a bit dreary, but for a furnished house, with housekeeper included, it’s quite a bargain!

Oops. Naturally, our heroine soon discovers that a bargain is never as good as it initially seems.

You can read “Number Two, Melrose Square” here.

Dorothy “Dora” Havers was the daughter of a colonial governor, and lived in the Falkland Islands and then Uruguay as a child and young woman. After her father died, she returned to England, working as a writer and journalist. She wrote novels, short stories, ghost stories, and children’s fiction, all published under the name Theo Gift. In 1879 she married botanist George Simonds Boulger, Professor of Natural History at the Royal Agricultural College. Hence, the name “Theo Gift” is sometimes listed as the pseudonym for Dora Boulger.

“Number Two, Melrose Square” originally appeared in All the Year Round, vol 24, 1880. The version that I’m sharing today is from Theo Gift’s collection Not for the Night-Time, published 1889.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Featured image: “Dark and Winding Streets,” Charles-François Daubigny, illustration for Les mystères de Paris, vol 1 (1843). Source: Old Book Illustrations.

Post image generated by Stable Diffusion (prompt: “charcoal drawing haunted drawing room”)

Winter Tales Time! A Musical Mystery

It’s time for Winter Tales! To commemorate the old tradition of telling ghost stories around Christmastime, I’ll be sharing mostly winter-themed spooky stories here from the beginning of December through Epiphany. So grab a hot drink and curl up in your favorite armchair to savor some old-fashioned thrills and chills!

Graveyard Under Snow, Caspar David Friedrich (1826)

My first story this year is “A Musical Mystery,” an anonymous contribution to The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, for April 1875. It’s the tale of a creepy winter night visit to a mortuary, when a mysterious customer comes to purchase a coffin. For himself. A coffin shaped like a violoncello-case.

You can read “A Musical Mystery” here.

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Back to the Dilemna-verse

Earlier today, my husband, who knows he can’t spell, asked me how to spell “dilemma.” I spelled it to him out loud, the way I have always spelled the word: d-i-l-e-m-N-a. And I reflexively added, “Google it, to make sure.”

Woman in contemplation femme en contemplation 1901

“Here it is,” he replied. “Two Ms.”

“What?!? No, it’s ‘M-N’”, I said.

“Google says two Ms.”


I looked it up myself, positive that this was an instance of a mispelling/malapropism that had become more or less standard, or at least widely used, like people writing “for all intensive purposes” when they mean “for all intents and purposes,” or the surprisingly common “defiantly” in place of “definitely.”

And I learned that in fact, it is, and has always been, “dilemma.” A quick trip to our actual, physical Oxford Dictionary of American English confirmed this.

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Quick update on my Micro.blog experiment

(I’ve updated the original post, too). I’ve switched things up so that Micro.blog now syndicates a feed from my personal microblogging site, Short Thoughts.

I’m going to use Short Thoughts the way I used Twitter, to announce new posts from all my blogs, as well as random short musings. It won’t be much: at most one or two posts a day, and probably often less.

If you are interested in such a feed, there are two ways to follow it.

  • You can join Micro.blog, and follow me there. This approach allows you to reply to my posts, as well as to follow other people in the community who interest you. You can join for free, just to follow and converse with other people, or sign up for a monthly fee to get a hosted blog site of your own.
  • If you use an RSS reader, like Feedly, you can subscribe directly to Short Thoughts. If you do it this way, the posts will have weird numerical titles, but it should still be quite readable, and you won’t see all the chit-chat of conversations happening on my Micro.blog timeline.

Or you can just bookmark Short Thoughts on your brower, and check the page periodically. Whatever works best.

Before Kolchak V: A Darkness at Blaisedon

Part of my series on never-made occult detective TV shows.

What it was supposed to be: Dead of Night, a series about a trio of occult/paranormal investigators.
What we got: An extremely low-budget one hour pilot.
Investigator: Jonathan Fletcher (Kerwin Mathews) and Sanjiv Rao (Cal Bellini), joined by Angela Martin (Marj Dusay)
Why the axe: I don’t know the exact reasons, but the pilot did not impress.

Dead of Night: A Darkness at Blaisedon (1969)

A Darkness At Blaisedon (1969)
Source: letterboxd.com

A struggling secretary from San Francisco inherits a spooky old mansion, Blaisedon, on the Hudson. She can’t sell it, because strange phenomena in the house drive off potential buyers. She hires psychic investigators Jonathan Fletcher (Kerwin Mathews) and Sanjiv Rao (Cal Bellini) to find out whether the house is haunted, and by whom.

This plot of this supernatural gothic melodrama has potential. And the show is produced and written (though not directed) by Dan Curtis, who brought us Kolchak (The Night Stalker and Night Strangler TV movies), Dark Shadows, The Norliss Tapes, and that wonderful Karen Black anthology film, Trilogy of Terror. So it has a great supernatural and occult investigation pedigree. Unfortunately, it’s filmed (or to be precise, videotaped), set dressed, scored, and for the most part acted like a soap opera. Judging by the flubs that got left in the final print, I can’t imagine they did more than one or two takes of anything.

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