It’s this week’s weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing
Review: “The Nameless Offspring”, Clark Ashton Smith, 1932.
Coincidentally, Arthur Machen, subject of several recent posts, has a connection to this story. Smith had read his “The Great God Pan” and decided he would like write a story with a woman impregnated by something inhuman.
It’s an effective story though it does rely on the great coincidence of the narrator, Henry Chaldane, accidentally ending up, while on a motorcycle trip through England, at the isolated house of Sir John Tremoth. He just happens to be a friend of Henry’s deceased father.
Henry vaguely remember the story of what happened to Lady Agatha Tremoth, Sir John’s wife. She went cataleptic and was mistakenly buried alive.
The day after she was interred in the family vault, Sir John doubted that Agatha was dead. He went to the crypt and found Agatha sitting upright. Somehow, she got her nailed coffin lid off. She was shattered in brain and body and remembered only a hideous, unhuman face looming over her. Its limbs were semi-human, and the figure seemed to go about sometimes like an animal.
Nine months later, she gave birth to a monstrous child and died. The child was locked away from the world.
Smith underplays the oddness of all this.
Henry stays the night, and he and the sickly Sir John have a chat though Henry notes that Sir John seems in pain and distress. Sir John, in fact, expects heart disease to kill him anytime now.
While being shown to his room by Sir John, Henry hears a hideous cry from the room next to Sir John’s, a room barred with iron. Sir John seems nonplussed and doesn’t explain the noise, but Henry remembers the story his father told him about Sir John’s monstrous child.
That night, Henry hears groans and strange noises and realizes they are coming from the barred room on the other side of Sir John’s room. That night Sir John dies.
His one and only servant, the faithful Harper, requests Henry’s help in fulfilling Sir John’s last request which he also shared with Henry: burning Sir John’s body as quickly as possible. He also wants Henry’s help in guarding the body, fearing the inhabitant of the barred room will mutilate it.
And so it does at the story’s climax when the monster breaks through the wall it has been scratching at.
It attacks Sir John’s body and disappears – just as the beast that attacked Lady Agatha did all those years ago.
As Harper says, there are mysteries which will never be fathomed.
Part of that mystery is why the monster attacks Sir John. For that matter, why did it attack Lady Agatha? Is rape how ghouls have to reproduce? Instinctive viciousness? Resentment at being locked up for 28 years?
It’s a Cthulhu Mythos tale only by virtue of an opening epigraph from the Necronomicon.