Tag Archives: burglary

The Intruder: 1908

the intruder illustration

THE INTRUDER

Roland Ashford Phillips

Although I quietly, hopefully, tried the door, I found it, unfortunately, locked. Yet on second reflection I did not wonder at it, but tiptoed across the porch to where a window, half raised made me an excellent substitute for an entrance. I noiselessly stepped into the darkened interior and felt my way over the thick, sound-muffling rugs.

I walked the length of the wide, silent hall, heading for the dining-room. I wanted a good stiff drink of brandy, and knew I should find some there. The gloom was oppressive and velvet-like, and I was compelled to seek my way slowly and carefully, hand to the wall. However, I reached the room in question, after groping blindly about, recognizing the broad, heavy-curtained doorway. It was strange that the curtains were drawn; generally they were fastened back with huge gilt cords, tied in awkward knots.

As I slipped between them and carefully drew them together behind me, the big clock on the staircase chimed rhythmically, and I marveled at the lateness of the hour. I really should have come earlier; but one soon forgets so many things when at the club.

The carpet in the dining-room was even softer, kinder than the others, and for this I was indeed grateful, for it is very annoying to disturb one’s friends in the wee hours; even the dearest of them.

I kept near to the wall and groped blindly along, for the light buttons were somewhere at hand — a complete row of them, controlling every room in the house. I suppose I must have completed a half-circuit of the room before something unreal and fear-compelling came upon me.

Even when I had reached the row of ebony buttons, and my forefinger was upon the third — the one that would light this room—I hesitated, fearful. I did not immediately understand it; I had never before had a similar feeling, and by no means am I a weak and sensitive man. Yet this moment my nerves failed me; the muscles in my finger refused to obey — refused to press the button and command the room to light.

For a long, pregnant interval I stood there motionless and undecided. Then the realization came abruptly; the sensation was identical with a light, harmless shock of an electric battery. I have often gripped the brass receivers of one and felt the sharp, not unpleasant waves twitch and creep the length of my arms and tingle in every nerve.

This, then, was the impression it gave me. But gradually, bit by bit, I felt these invisible waves swerve my eyes to one impressive spot. I might turn my head at will, but always, always magnetic-like, they swung back again in obedience to this sensitive, compelling power. Dimly at first, and then more definable, I began to understand. Mosaic-like, my brain pieced the many continuous thrills; pieced them until, abruptly, it flashed over me: Someone else beside myself was in this room.

I took a deep breath after that. How near this particular someone was and in what position, remained for me to find out. Almost mechanically my finger sought the third button again, and I ran my finger-tip thoughtfully over the smooth surface. The passing of a moment brought me to the realization that the better thing for me to do was to press the button and face whatever the light might disclose; be it man, thing or devil.

No sooner had I decided than my finger obeyed almost instinctively. A sharp, sudden click, and then a blinding flood of wondrous yellow light, dazzling and overpowering. A dozen wall-brackets leaped into life. At first I was unable to see, but waited, expectant; then slowly and definitely the objects took form, like a city through a rising mist.

The man was seated calmly in a huge, comfortable Morris chair, legs crossed and fingers lightly tapping upon the broad arm. Like myself, he was in full evening dress. His overcoat was flung carelessly across a chair; his silk hat, crushed flat, lay upon it; and at his feet, near the serving table stood a well-labeled kit-bag.

I do not know how long we watched each other. His wide, black eyes betrayed no surprise at what the light had so abruptly disclosed; and they were not of a bad sort — his eyes—rather large for a man, and well-lashed; only his mouth, thin-lipped and drooping, weakened his otherwise boldly molded features.

I instinctively waited for him to speak; and I did not have long to wait.

“Well,” he began, in a remarkably soft, well-mannered tone, “this is rather a sudden and unexpected visit.”

My finger slipped from the button where it had rested unconsciously.

“Very!” I admitted bluntly. The tapping of his fingers ceased — long, white, well-manicured they were.

“My guests generally ring before entering,” he continued. “What is it you wish?”

I could not immediately frame an answer. He must have noted my embarrassment for he continued:

“I think I have the prior right to that question.”

“And why the prior?” I queried.

His eyes narrowed; they were most unpleasant to look upon at such a time! It was plain he did not care to argue further.

“Because,” he answered cynically, “this is my house and you are an intruder.”

I tried hard, very hard, not to show my amazement; yet he must have noticed it with those piercing eyes of his, in spite of my attempted control, for he waved a hand toward a chair that stood near.

“Sit down!” he commanded, and I did not hesitate. After I had slipped into the chair and crossed my legs, we were scarcely six feet distant from each other.

“I repeat my question,” he went on coldly.

“You — you are Mr. Charles Fisher?” I asked, dry-lipped.

“Yes,” curtly, “I am the owner here.” I put my hands to the chair-arms, perhaps unconsciously following his position.

“I have heard of you — often; you are very well known — I did not expect — so sudden a meeting.” I was surprised at my own boldness.

“Evidently you had no idea of an immediate introduction, eh?” and he laughed dryly.

“To tell the truth,” I admitted undaunted, “I was unprepared.”

“I have seen you frequently at the clubs,” he went on, “yet I have never learned your name, nor the nature of your business.” This latter remark appeared to amuse him, and he chuckled to himself. After this outburst he studied my face narrowly.

“I suppose,” he began, and waved a hand vaguely about the room —“I suppose this glass and silverware interests you a great deal more than — than an introduction.”

“Possibly,” I admitted.

“But it is clumsy stuff to handle. Surely you could not have made away with much of it, eh?” He appeared interested.

“If a man knew his business,” I reflected, after a pause.

“Ah!” brightening, “then you admit that the object of your visit is robbery.”

“You are free to choose your own opinion,” I returned quickly. Again he narrowed his eyes upon me, admiring, so I imagined, my self-repose. He cleared his throat quietly.

“You seem to be very familiar with my house and its contents,” he ventured.

I smiled grimly. “And why should I not? I have been here a great, great many times. I have been to every reception save the one given to-night. Let’s see — there were house-warmings, suppers, club-breakfasts, bridge, and even, even if I remember correctly, a wedding.”

The other’s face remained perfectly immovable. I fancied he was mentally studying his lists, took the occasion to laugh outright.

“Why — why I know Mrs. Fisher well very well indeed. I have dined with her — gone to the opera and–”

“Sh-h-h-h!” he arrested, lifting a warning forefinger. “She is asleep upstairs.”

“I’ll wager she is in the blue room, eh?” I ventured boldly; yet the next moment I regretted that I had spoken so. The man’s hands tightened upon the chair-arms; his face hardened.

“See here,” he snapped, “you know too much about my family affairs. Altogether too much for — for —

“For an intruder, eh?” I finished.

“Yes, for an intruder, a thief, a common, contemptible sneak-thief. A man who will worm his way into the best society and then gloat, openly, sneeringly. Come, now, what is it you were after — cut glass, silver?”

“But,” I remonstrated, “you admitted a moment ago they were too bulky; besides, I brought nothing to carry it in. . . . And don’t you know,” I added slowly, so that my words might sting, “that Mrs. Fisher’s jewels in the small bronze box on her dressing-table would prove the more valuable to me?”

The man’s face went colorless. He slipped a hand to his inner pocket and brought out a neat, shining revolver, which he calmly put upon the chair-arm. I watched him fascinated. There was something grim and ugly about that death-dealing thing between us; and more so now, for the muzzle pointed straight for my breast. The man very deliberately placed his hand over it.

“I have resolved to turn you over to the police,” he began sternly. “I have had enough of your remarks – quite enough. I might have been lenient with you heretofore, but you have grown insulting. Meanwhile I am going to ask that you refrain from any disturbances. This beneath my hand is a late model — an automatic; and it will shoot seven times in less than seven seconds. I hope you will not be venturesome.”

His words rang sharp and chilling to my ears. There was that indefinite something about them that lent me fear; a certain tone that bespoke an utter dependence. I was conscious that he meant exactly what he said.

I rapidly conjured my brain for a possible, plausible method of escape. Could I not somehow, someway, appeal to his weakness? If so, what was it? Here was a man who, by his own admission, was a club member— a man about town. A brilliant idea flashed to me. I had caught a glimpse of a backgammon board and a dice cup on a side table. Would he agree to the proposition ? Would it appeal to him? I lost no time in finding out.

“I believe,” I began, earnestly, hopefully, “that you are a square man; and that you are willing to give me a fair, square chance to help myself.”

“Go on,” he urged.

“We shall throw the dice between us — three times. If you win, I will calmly submit to arrest; I shall say nothing about this affair. But — if I win, you are to release me. You will allow me to leave the house as a guest, by the front door, under the lights. Is it a bargain?” Twice he wet his lips; and twice he started to speak.

“I agree,” he said at last.

Upon the broad arm of the chair I threw first. The rattle of the ivory dice was the only sound. The man opposite me underwent a complete change. Life came to his eyes and cheeks; his breath quickened. I realized that the love of chance was his weakness. The revolver lay neglected upon the chair-arm. As the dice fell clicking on the wood we both bent forward, expectant.

“Eight!” he broke out impetuously, and reached for the cubes. Calmly he shook the dice cup and toppled the squares to the chair-arm.”

“Twelve!” he laughed, and brushed the dice back with a tremulous hand. “I win.” Again I shook while he watched with flushed cheeks. “Ten!” I announced quietly. He nodded quickly and gathered up the dice.

“Not so hard to beat,” he returned, as the bits of ivory rattled to the wood. A pause.

“You win!” he faltered hoarsely, as eight spots alone showed. “Your last throw— careful.”

Once more and for the last time my hand flirted the dice to the polished chair-arm. A bit of silence followed the rattle.

“Twelve!” I broke out. “You still have a chance.”

He took the dice from my hand, shook them quickly and set them hard to the wood, yet kept the cup over the result, as if fearful of the disclosure.

“The hoodoo is still with me,” he announced graciously, after he had uncovered them. “I have but eleven.”

I swept the dice away and rose slowly from the chair. Now that the night was mine I intended to make good use of it. My brain raged with half-formed ideas. One of them alone seemed feasible.

“You may go!” the man spoke up abruptly from his chair.

“And —and the lights?” I reminded.

He looked at me in surprise.

“The hall and porch are rather dark,” I explained.

“I was of an opinion that men of your profession generally preferred the dark,” he offered coolly. I was minded as he sat there, sneeringly, his thin-lipped mouth drooping, to attempt to strike him to the floor before he could shoot, but happily my better judgment prevailed, and with an effort I controlled my temper.

“Suppose — Suppose someone should see me leaving — through the window?” I argued. “It wouldn’t look just right.”

He eyed me a moment in silence, evidently weighing my words, then shrugged his shoulders. “Well,” he deliberated, “now that you are so familiar with my house and the occupants and have bested me at dice, you may switch on your own lights.”

I swayed for a second, only half believing my ears; that he should so easily, readily play into my plan at the opportune moment seemed hardly possible.

“Thank you,” I said, with assumed calmness; and with this I strode over to the row of ebony buttons and without hesitation pressed the fourth and sixth ones. The former led to the upstairs chamber and the latter to the hall.

When I turned the man was laughing. “Not so very wise as you thought, eh? The lower hall isn’t lighted.”

Although aware of this I betrayed surprise. “You’re right,” I confessed, “I have pressed the wrong button. If you will allow me–”

“Never mind!” he snapped decisively. “You’ve tampered enough for one night. I should turn you over to the police; but I have given my word — I want you to go out ahead. I’m going to follow close behind — and no foolishness; remember, I’ve the revolver and I shall not hesitate to use it.”

Still I waited. I prayed for time as a dying man might for life. “Do you know,” I hedged, “that when I came into this room I had my mind made up for something to drink — some brandy. It’s damp outside; it was a rather tiresome journey here and will be a lengthy one back.”

“Well,” he wavered, nodding finally toward the sideboard, “help yourself, but be quick about it.” I took my time moving across the room; picked up and carefully examined a number of bottles, chose one and from it filled a thin glass half to the brim.

“To the intruder!” I exclaimed, and raised the glass to the level of my eyes.

As I was about to set back the glass, something so startling happened that the man whirled about toward the drawn curtains; and I, surprised likewise, stood mute and silent watching him,

“What was that?” he faltered.

“I could not say for certain,” I returned. “Though it sounded like a footfall on the stairs. Perhaps it is Mrs. Fisher.”

His eyes narrowed. “This will never do,” he burst out.

“Never mind,” I interrupted hastily; “just inform her that — that I am a friend of yours — a club-friend. She won’t suspect.”

The sound was repeated; there could be no mistaking; it was a footfall. The man acted like a lunatic.

“You fool!” he snarled, “turn out the lights — quick!” And then without further words he sprang across the room toward the row of buttons. It was a bold move and an abrupt one; but not altogether a thoughtful one, for within six feet of where I stood the revolver lay unguarded upon the chair-arm. Before he had reached the buttons I had possessed myself of the weapon.

He pressed the button, but not the right one. Not alone was the dining-room brilliantly lighted, but the lower hall suddenly shot into a glow.

Immediately the hall curtains parted and a woman, kimono-clad, stepped softly between them.

“Charlie,” she began, “did you just arrive home? Did you want me to come down? The lights were turned on, so I thought— ”

The man against the wall turned a blank, questioning face toward me; and, in spite of the intense situation, I smiled.

“This — this is a friend of mine, Milly,” I began abruptly. “A member of the club. By a strange coincidence his name is identical with ours. We have had a quiet chat— the two of us — and a little game; he was just leaving when you came in.”

I stepped over, gathered up his coat and hat and handed them to him. He smiled as he took them.

“Thanks!” he said; and I knew it had two meanings.

I snapped on the porch lights. “Mr. Fisher will leave his kit-bag,” I interrupted, as he moved toward it. “He has something in it that will interest us.”

Only a second did his brow cloud; then he was smiling and bowing pleasantly. I preceded him down the hall.

“Good night!” I said at the door.

“Good night!” he returned, and walked away into the gloom,

Metropolitan Magazine, Vol. 29, Issue 2 November 1908: pp. 206-210

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Despite the failure of  the faux-Mr Fisher’s scheme, one has to admire his ingenuity and his pluck.  But to be successful housebreaker one needs more than nerves of steel and bravura bravado; one needs a reasonable amount of good fortune. His unluckiness in encountering the genuine householder instead of a fellow sneak-thief must have dismayed and disheartened him.  Mrs Daffodil would not be surprised to learn that, after resigning his clubs, he either joined the Salvation Army or went to the devil in Monte Carlo.

One does wonder how the actual Mr Fisher explained the contents of the kit-bag to his wife.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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Saved by the Bell (Wire): A Thrilling Tale of a Gentleman’s Sang-Froid

bells

“There was once, within my memory, an old gentleman who lived in Kent, and whose name, for very obvious reasons, I cannot mention, but he lived in Kent. He was a very remarkable old man, and chiefly because in the whole course of his very, very long life—for he was extremely old—he had never been known on any single occasion to want presence of mind; he had always done exactly the right thing, and he had always said exactly the right word, at exactly the right moment. The old gentleman lived alone. That is to say, he had never married, and he had no brother or sister or other relation living with him, but he had a very old housekeeper, a very old butler, a very old gardener—in fact, all the old-fashioned retinue of a very old-fashioned household, and, bound together by mutual respect and affection, the household was a very harmonious one.

“Now I must describe what the old gentleman’s house was like. Upstairs, there was a very long passage, which ended in a blank wall. At the end of the passage, on the left, was a dressing-room, and on the right was a bedroom, the room in which the old gentleman himself slept. The bedroom was entered by a very heavy swing-door, which could only be opened from the inside—that is to say, the old gentleman carried the key upon his watch-chain, and let himself in and out. When he wished house-maids or other persons to go in or out, he left the door open; but when he was inside and shut the door, no one could come in unless he opened the door to them. People may say ‘it was very eccentric;’ it was very eccentric: but the old gentleman was very peculiar; it was the way he chose to live: at any rate, it was a fact. Through the bedroom, opposite the door into the passage, was another door which led into the plate-room. This was also a very heavy swing-door, which could only be opened from the outside, and very often in summer the old gentleman would set it open at night, because he thought it gave more air to the bedroom. Everything depends upon your attending to and understanding the geography of these rooms. You see they were all en suite cross-wise. If you stood in the plate-room, and all the doors were open, you would see the dressing-room, and vice versâ.

“One morning when the old gentleman came down to breakfast, he found upon his plate a note. He opened it, and it contained these words—‘Beware, you are in the hands of thieves and robbers.’ He was very much surprised, but he had such presence of mind that he threw the note into the fire and went on buttering his toast, having his breakfast. Inwardly he kept a sharp look-out upon all that was going on. But there was nothing special going on whatever. It was very hot summer weather; the old gardener was mowing the lawn, the old housekeeper cooked the dinner, the old butler brought it in: no, there was nothing whatever especial going on.

“That night, when the old gentleman went to bed, he took particular care to examine his room, and to see that his heavy swing-door was well fastened, so that no one could come in to disturb him. And when he had done this, he went to bed and fell asleep, and slept very well till the next morning, for nothing happened, nothing whatever.

“When the next morning came, he rang his bell for his hot water as usual, but nobody came. He rang, and rang, and rang again, but still nobody came. At last he opened his bedroom door, and went out down the passage to the head of the staircase, and called to the butler over the banisters. The butler answered. ‘Why did you not attend to my bell?’ said the old gentleman. ‘Because no bell rang,’ answered the butler. ‘Oh, but I have rung very often,’ said the old gentleman; ‘go downstairs again, and I will pull the bell again; watch if it rings.’ So the butler went downstairs, and the old man pulled the bell, but no bell rang. ‘Then,’ said the old gentleman, ‘you must send for the bell-hanger at once; one cannot live with broken bells; that sort of thing cannot he allowed to go on in the house,’—and he dressed and went down to breakfast.

“While he was eating his breakfast, the old gentleman found he had forgotten his pocket-handkerchief; and went up to his room to get it. And such was the promptitude of that old-fashioned household, that the village being close to the house, and the bell-hanger living in the village, the master’s orders had already been obeyed, and the bell-hanger was already in the room, standing on a ladder, arranging the new wire of the bell. In old-fashioned houses, you know, the bell wires come through the wall and go round the top of the room, so that you can see them, and so it was in this house in Kent. You do not generally perhaps observe how many wires there are in your room, but it so happened that, as he lay in bed, the old gentleman had observed those in his, and there were three wires. Now he looked, and there were four wires. Yes, there was no doubt there were four wires going round his room. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘now I know exactly what is going to happen,’ but he gave no outward sign of having discovered anything, and he went down and finished his breakfast.

“All that day everything went on as usual. It was a dreadfully hot day in July—very sultry indeed. The old gentleman was subject to bad nervous headaches, and in the afternoon he pretended to be not quite so well. When dinner-time came, he was very suffering indeed. He spoke of it to the butler. He said, ‘It is only one of my usual attacks; I have no doubt it is the weather. I shall be better to-morrow; but I will go to bed early.’ And towards half-past nine he went upstairs. He left the door of the bedroom ajar, so that any one could come in; he set the door of the plate-room wide open, for the sake of more air to the bedroom, and he went to bed. When he was in bed, he rang the bell, the new bell that the bell-hanger had put up that morning. The butler came. The old gentleman gave some orders about horses for the next day, and then said, ‘Do not disturb me in the morning. I had better sleep off my headache; I will ring when I want to get up. You can draw the curtains round the bed, and then shut the door.’ So the butler drew the curtains round the bed, and went out, shutting the door after him.

“As soon as the old gentleman heard the footsteps of the butler die away down the passage, he dressed himself completely from head to foot; he took two loaded pistols and a blunderbuss, He stealthily opened the heavy swing-door of the bedroom. He let himself out into the dark passage. He shut to the bedroom door behind him. It fastened with a click; he could not go in himself any more, and he crossed the passage, and stood in the dark dressing-room with the door open.

“It was still very early, and eleven o’clock came, and nothing happened; and twelve came and nothing happened; and one o’clock came and nothing happened. And the old gentleman—for he was already very old—began to feel very much exhausted, and he began to say to himself; ‘Perhaps after all I was wrong! Perhaps after all it is a hallucination; but I will wait till two o’clock.’

“At half-past one o’clock there was a sound of stealthy footsteps down the passage, and three figures passed in front of him and stood opposite the bedroom door. They were so near that he could have shot them every one; but he said to himself; ‘No, I’ll wait, I’ll wait and see what is going to happen.’ And as he waited, the light from the dark lantern which the first man carried fell upon their faces, and he recognised them. And the first figure was the butler, and the second figure was the bell-hanger, and the third figure, from having been long a magistrate on a London bench, he recognised as the most notorious ruffian of a well-known London gang. He heard the ruffian say to the butler, ‘I say, it’s no use mincing this kind of thing: no use doing this kind of thing by halves: better put him out of the way at once, and go on to the plate afterwards.’—‘Oh no,’ said the butler, ‘he has been a good master to me; I’ll never consent to that. Take all he has; he’ll never wake, not he; but you can’t do him any harm; I’ll never consent to that.’ And they wrangled about it for some time, but at last the butler seemed to get the better, and the ruffian had to consent to his terms.

“Then exactly what the old gentleman had expected happened. The butler, standing on tiptoe, could just reach the four wires of the bells, which came through into the low passage above the bedroom door. As the butler reached the lowest of the wires, and by leaning his weight upon it, pulled it downwards, it was seen that the wire was connected with the bolt of the door on the inside; the bolt rolled up, and the heavy swing-door of the bedroom, of which the hinges were well oiled for the occasion, rolled open. ‘There,’ said the butler, as they passed into the room, ‘master always sleeps like that. Curtains drawn all round the bed. He’ll not hear anything, not he.’ And they all passed in through the open door of the plate-room. The old man waited till they were entirely occupied with the plate-chest, and then he slipped off his slippers, and, with a hop, skip, and a jump, he darted across the room, and—bang! they were all caught in a trap. He banged to the heavy swing-door of the plate-room, which could only be opened from the outside.

“Having done that—people may believe it or not, but I maintain that it is true—the old man had such presence of mind, that he undressed, went to bed, and slept soundly till the next morning. Even if this were not so, till the next morning he did not send for the police, and the consequence was that when he did send for the police, and the door was opened, the following horrible scene revealed itself: The ruffian had tried to make a way of escape through the roof, had stuck fast, and was dreadfully mangled in the attempt: the bell-hanger had hung himself from the ceiling: and the butler was a drivelling idiot in the corner, from the horror of the night he had gone through.”

The Story of My Life, Augustus Hare

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Augustus Hare tells us that he heard this story from Dr. Stephen Lushington, an eminent Judge and MP. Hare, a travel writer, gifted storyteller, and semi-professional invalid and complainer, had a life more interesting than the title of his book would suggest. As a child he was given away by his parents to be adopted by his aunt, as casually as one would hand over a parcel.  Here is how he describes the transaction:

“I was born–the youngest child of the family, and a most unwelcome addition to the population of this troublesome world, as both my father and Mrs. Hare were greatly annoyed at the birth of another child, and beyond measure disgusted that it was another son….It occurred to August Hare’s widow [Maria, aunt and Godmother to the writer] as just possible that my parents might be induced to give me up to her altogether, to live with her as her own child. In July she wrote her petition, and was almost surprised at the glad acceptance it met with. Mrs. Hare’s answer was very brief–‘My dear Maria, how very kind of you! Yes, certainly, the baby shall be sent as soon as it is weaned; and, if anone else would like one, would you kindly recollect that we have others.'”

Throughout his life he was neglected, browbeaten, and misunderstood by those from whom he had a right to expect kindness and consideration. For example, certain foods made him ill. He was told that he was being singular and forced to eat the offending articles. Then he was berated for being sick. Serious illnesses were met with starvation, tracts, and sermons about patient endurance of suffering instead of medical advice. Despite his delicate health and his selfish family, he travelled widely and became a writer with a superb ear for dialog, an eye for eccentricity, and a gift for telling the ghostly tale. We shall no doubt hear more from Mr Hare in the coming Hallowe’en season.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.