This week’s subject of discussion by the Deep Ones group over at LibraryThing.
Review: “The Phantom Farmhouse”, Seabury Quinn, 1923.
This 1923 story is odd in its combination of supernatural elements.
Our narrator is Weatherby, a clergyman staying at the New Briarcliff Sanitarium in Maine. What he’s recovering from is not clear. He certainly seems well enough, by story’s end, to be running through the countryside.
The hero is at the sanitarium for three weeks before he imagines a farmhouse on the other side of the trees around the sanitarium. He also imagines its inhabitants: a man, a woman and a beautiful girl.
One September night, he walks down the road and past the trees and sees a house very much like he imagined. He asks one of the locals who lives there. The man regards it as a crazy question. Not only does no one live there, there isn’t even a house there. When the narrator says he saw one, the local becomes frightened and leaves immediately.
Later that night at the sanitarium, another person asks him about the house and for Weatherby to describe it. After Weatherby does, this man is frightened too and tells Weatherby to stay inside at night and stay away from the trees where Weatherby saw the house.
After a few days in which his unspecified illness returns, Weatherby goes back to the house and sees a girl there, very much like he imagined. She has a couple peculiarities – red colored fingernails with her forefinger being the longest finger on her hand and slightly upturned eyes.
To spend more time with her, Weatherby asks for a drink from the well. She invites him inside but, nearing the house, he hears growling noises and the girl whisper, inside the door,
This one is mine, I tell you; mine. I’ll brook no interference. Go to your own hunting.
She explains this remark with the claim that all her family are great hunters, and they were discussing some animals in the woods. She introduces Weatherby to her parents who are, just as his imaginary people were, named Squires.
Weatherby visits with them a couple of hours and has such a good time that he says he will return. They say that’s fine but to do if after dark.
Quinn doesn’t really do much to keep his hand secret at this point. Mildred reminds Weatherby of a wolf and the legend of the werewolf springs to mind, but he knows no mythology of “dog-people”.
Weatherby begins to spend every night at the farmhouse, and he knows he is the subject of gossip at the sanitarium. What is he up to each night?
A young woman, Sara Leahy, forces herself on Weatherby on one evening walk. She, however, won’t go near the woods because of a tale that a local, Pierre Gerone, told her. He told her a story about an isolated house nearby where people visited but didn’t come out of. Some farmers burned the house down years ago with its inhabitants inside. Many bodies of victims were found in the cellar and buried in the barnyard of the house with no prayer said for them.
Then Weatherby and Lehy see some strange dog-like creatures running through a field. They are tailless, and one has a limp. They aren’t dogs, insists Leahy, and she forces Weatherby to return to the sanitarium.
Angry about what Gerone told Leahy, Weatherby looks the man up. Gerone is insinuating when questioned. Weatherby is told he wouldn’t understand and should stay indoors at night, particularly “at the dark of the moon”, a reversal of the usual full moon werewolf motif.
Weatherby, thinking about Gerone’s story and the “sheep-killers” he saw in the night, concludes they may be the origin of the loup-garou legend. He again seeks out Gerone. The man says he’s never seen the loup-garou, but his cousin has. He tracked a loup-garou to a house once and it was confronted by a clergyman. It disappeared, but, three weeks earlier, a man was drowned and buried without prayers. His grave was opened and his fingernails were found to be red. (The Squires pass their red nails off as the product of berry picking.) The tracks he left showed a long fore-finger. A service was read over the disinterred body, and its soul was laid to rest. Thus, here, the loup-garou seems to return from the dead like a vampire.
Weatherby realizes he loves Mildred. One night, when her parents are away, he meets her. Towards midnight, Mildred tells him suddenly he must leave. Mildred is at the gate to the yard, and Weatherby thinks he hears the snarls of the sheep-killing “dogs”, but, when he looks, it’s only Mildred’s parents. Mildred seems even more nervous, so Weatherby leaves.
At the sanitarium, he hears that one of its mastiffs has been killed, its throat ripped out. Theories, offered by everyone except Geronte, abound as to the type of animal that did this. He tells Weatherby a pair of loup-garou were at the sanitarium last night and points out the distinctive tracks and insinuatingly asks “has M’sieur seen hands like that before?” Weatherby is disquieted and defensively says loup-garou are just a legend. Geronte brings his mastiff over. Sniffing Weatherby’s clothes, the dog fearfully whines. Geronte tells Weatherby he has “the odor of hell” upon his clothes. Weatherby is angry, but Geronte just says “M’sieur knows that he knows.”
The next evening, Weatherby meets Mildred and asks her to marry him. He notes her hands are cold, her nose long like a dog’s. When he tries to kiss her, she tells him, voice shaking, to never do that: “You don’t know how near to a horror worse than death you were.”
Mildred tells Weatherby she loves him “better than life. Better than death” and that she has overcome much for him, but he has to leave now and return tomorrow morning. He is given very specific instructions to come at dawn of the next morning with a bible and read a burial service over three mounds by the house. If he loves her, he will do this for her and bring peace to her.
Returning to the sanitarium, Weatherby is chased by two of the sheep-killers. (One has a limp like Mr. Squires.) Another shows up to prevent them attacking Weatherby (that would be, of course, Mildred).
The next night, towards dawn, Weatherby returns. The once inviting farmhouse seems malevolent. He finds three mounds in the dirt by the crib. Reading the service, he hears howls behind him. But he has been told by Mildred not to look back when he does the reading. When he finishes, the growls stop. A fog comes up, and the buildings of the farm seem to disappear in it.
Geronte shows up having followed Weatherby. The latter notices the house is now gone. Geronte says there hasn’t been a house there in years. Geronte, a good Catholic, looks dubiously at Weatherby’s Protestant prayer book.
Love and sorrow are the purchase price of peace. Yes. Did not le bon Dieu so buy the peace of the world.?
This is an odd story because it mixes several supernatural motifs together.
My big question is if the Squires were victims of the original werewolves of the farm or themselves those werewolves? If the former, were they transformed into wolves by virtue of how they died and then not having a service read over them?
The werewolf or loup-garou legend (at least here) seems like the vampire legend in the sympathy expressed for mortals who have gone bad and need to be destroyed and their souls put to rest.
Still, there is the whole other addition of the ghost farmhouse. Was Weatherby’s imagining of it influenced by some special psychic contact with Mildred? Did she send a vision to him to effect the salvation of the Squires? If so, it only seems to be Mildred in on that project. Or, because he was a clergyman, is this to be thought a sort of miracle with a clergyman being in the right place at the right time to effect the Squires’ final death? However, while an evil legend seems to hang about the place, we don’t hear of any recent evils until Weatherby sees the house. Then sheep start dying. Are the Squires some weird combination of ghost and loup-garou, only manifesting themselves occasionally but in a very physical way?