“The Striding Place” by Gertrude Atherton – Selection 35 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♥J♥  Jack of Hearts.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2019, ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ is my Suit for “Stories by favorite authors” and, though I haven’t read much by Atherton, the story I have read was a home run.

The Author: Gertrude Atherton – perhaps most famous for her novel, Black Oxen, published in 1923, was a prolific American author in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Raised by a grandfather who “insisted she be well read” she was naturally (or nurture-aly!) well equipped for a literary career!

The Selection: “The Striding Place” which I don’t own, but is available to all of us online (see link below) is a truly frightening tale of a missing person and the unique way in which he is eventually found.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2019. At the bottom of that post will be the cards I’ve drawn and links to any posts I’ve written on the stories. Also, check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

What about you?

While walking, perhaps in the woods, have you ever came to the barrier formed by a stream and stopped, contemplating jumping across at its narrowest point? The banks might be muddy or slippery and yet you still take a chance and “go for it” because, after all, what’s the penalty if you fail to clear it? Some muddy clothes and maybe wounded pride? Both things may be quickly remedied or forgotten. What if, however, a more formidable waterway, due to quirk of topography, also narrowed at one point to a “jumpable” width. Might such a spot become a local legend, particularly in the guise of a proving ground for the young to test their courage? This is what the titular “Strid” of this story turns out to be…

The Striding Place

“Weigall was not a coward, but he recalled uncomfortably the tales of those that had been done to death in the Strid. Wordsworth’s Boy of Egremond had been disposed of by the practical Whitaker; but countless others, more venturesome than wise, had gone down into that narrow boiling course, never to appear in the still pool a few yards beyond. Below the great rocks which form the walls of the Strid was believed to be a natural vault, on to whose shelves the dead were drawn. The spot had an ugly fascination.”

Some spoilers follow, but by all means, do read the story. It’s not that long and is available online at: https://americanliterature.com/author/gertrude-atherton/short-story/the-striding-place

Mr. Weigall is our main character and is sojourning in Yorkshire, entertaining a guest at his “country estates” for the sport of grouse shooting (I mean, what else is one to do in England in August?). But casting a pall on the occasion is a report that a “chum of Weigall’s college days,” Wyatt Gifford, has mysteriously disappeared, leaving no trace. Some locals suggested it might be a suicide, but Weigall dismissed such nonsense, as they – along with other friends – had recently been together at a funeral of yet another acquaintance and all seemed normal with him (well, as normal as such an occasion might allow, I suppose).

Anyway, search parties have been unsuccessful in their attempts to find Gifford and we join Weigall walking near “the ‘Strid.” He muses about the danger of the place and becomes a bit mesmerized by the roar of the water and the visual motion of the rapids. Suddenly he sees a foreign object “describing a contrary motion to the rushing water, an upward backward motion” He realizes it’s a struggling hand and that “doubtless, but a moment before his arrival” a man had been swept into the current, and was now trying to resist the force of the water in order to free himself.

Weigall leaps into action in an attempt at rescue, at first mindful of his own safety – until he recognizes a french-cuffed shirt sleeve and lower arm – and cuff link – as one belonging to his very friend Wyatt. He renews his efforts at greater risk to himself and using a long stick finally frees the man from the awful current, leaving the man “liberated and flung outward” into the quieter pool downstream from the ‘Strid. Weigall believes the valiant rescue complete, knowing that “the danger from suction was over”  and that “Gifford was a fish in the water and could live under it longer than most men.”

Weigall scrambles down to the quiet pool below but doesn’t find quite what he was expecting..

This was a truly chilling story and I liked it a lot.

I found the picture above via google images. Apparently it’s a ‘strid on the “Bolton Abbey Estate”. It looks smaller and less formidable that what my imagination cooked up while reading the story, but is nonetheless a jump I wouldn’t attempt myself.

♫♫ Personal Notes:  I was surprised to find myself remembering a nearly fossilized memory from my youth when reading the story. I believe it was in 1978, and I was on a summer camping trip out west with my family and one of our stops was Zion National Park in southern Utah. We stayed in the campground, which is bordered by the Virgin River (which has sculpted the wondrous Zion Canyon over the eons). My little brother Gary and I liked to “swim” in the very shallow river which, at least at times, had a reasonably strong current. I remember one day we invented a game at a ‘strid-like narrowing of the river. One of us would man one of the miniature “Pillars of Hercules” on either side of the ‘strid, while the other would go upstream and pretend being caught in the current and sweeping downstream, thinking he would be saved by the other at the narrowing. The other would grab the floater’s arm, pretending he would rescue him, then suddenly let go and let him be swept away, cackling maniacally. Somehow we found this hilarious, and to kids our age, I guess it was!

<below (from wikipedia): grouse shooters, of course>

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Deal Me In – Week 33 Wrap Up

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THIS WEEK’S DEAL ME IN POSTS:

Following are links to our group’s postings this week:

James reads Raymond Chandler’s “Trouble is My Business” and George Orwell’s essay “Marrakech” his post is at http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/08/13/george-orwell-vs-raymond-chandler-2/

Dale shares with us a lesser know story from the creator of Walter Mitty, posting about James Thurber’s “University Days” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/james-thurber-university-days/

Randall’s finally heads south, posting about Carson McCullers’ “Sucker” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/08/sucker-by-carson-mccullers.html

Katherine visits The Barnum Museum once more, sharing the penultimate remaining Steven Millhauser story in her deck, “Alice, Fallinghttp://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/deal-me-in-week-33-alice-falling/

I wrote about two stories, “Class of 1990″ by Rebecca Emin and “The Bell in the Fog” by Gertrude Atherton. I’m going to stop linking to my own posts since you can “just scroll down” and you’re already at my blog. 🙂

My use of the word “penultimate” above reminded me of one of my favorite cartoons, that I think first appeared in The New Yorker. Any excuse to share…

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IN OTHER SHORT STORY NEWS:

George R.R. Martin a short story writer? http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/game-of-thrones-author-george-rr-martin-reveals-hes-tempted-to-publish-neverbeforeseen-writing-9674262.html

Though not a Deal Me In post, regular DMI contributor James’s following entry is certainly worth a look: http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/08/15/a-short-story-review-anthology-hemingway-williams-babel-alexie-cunningham-paley-murakami-kinsella/

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe (now 25) stars in the series “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” – an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s short stories http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/television/gail-pennington/daniel-radcliffe-wizard-poet-doctor-actor/article_cd739684-53b3-5a52-b2d0-8eb2a895152a.html

P.S. I’ll be off-line almost all of next weekend (Indianapolis Open Chess Tournament – Nerd Alert!) so my week 34 wrap up post will certainly be delayed. 🙂

Gertrude Atherton’s “The Bell in the Fog”

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For week 31 of my Deal Me In short story challenge (yes, I’m playing a little catch-up), I selected the King of diamonds, which corresponded to this story. Atherton is one of several authors that I’ve learned of through Paula Cappa’s excellent blog and her weekly Tuesday’s Tale of Terror feature. I don’t think she’s covered this particular story, but Atherton has come up at least once that I remember Based on Paula’s preferred type of story, I was expecting my pick to be a supernatural delight. In that I was “disappointed” since there isn’t a major supernatural element in it. I also was left grumbling a little at its “unsatisfying” (to me, anyway) ending, but oh, the writing! Atherton is an author I’ll revisit time and again I’m sure.

(Below: Gertrude Atherton)

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***minor spoilers follow***
The Bell in the Fog is the story of Ralph Orth, an accomplished and much respected author, who inherits the English estate (Chillingsworth) of his great-aunt. He quickly becomes enamored of the newfound pleasures of life at this estate, and is particularly charmed by two old family portraits, a young boy and a young girl. The girl’s portrait enchanted him in particular:

“She was angelically fair, and, young as she was – she could not have been more than six years old – her dark-blue eyes had a beauty of mind which must have been remarkable twenty years later. Her pouting mouth was like a little scarlet serpent.”

He speculates about what must have become of the children. Of the girl, he muses:

“‘Did she live to grow up, I wonder?’ he thought. ‘She should have made a remarkable, even a famous woman, with those eyes and that brow, but – could the spirit within that ethereal frame stand the enlightenments of maturity? Would not that mind – purged, perhaps, in a long probation from the dross of other existences – flee in disgust from the commonplace problems of a woman’s life? Such perfect beings should die while they are still perfect.'”

His investigations into who the children were yield imperfect results, with one questioned sighing that “I’m afraid the painter was their only biographer.” It was upon Orth’s return from one of his investigations that I fell in love with Atherton’s writing:

“The next night, as his train travelled over the great wastes of Lancashire, a thousand chimneys were spouting forth columns of fire. Where the sky was not red it was black. The place looked like hell. Another time Orth’s imagination would have gathered immediate inspiration from this wildest region of England. The fair and peaceful counties of the south had nothing to compare in infernal grandeur with these acres of flaming columns. The chimneys were invisible in the lower darkness of the night; the fires might have leaped straight from the angry caldron of the earth.”

Surely this description was born of Atherton’s own experience during a nighttime rail trip in the region. I can almost picture her in my mind’s eye, gazing out the train window, observing and noting a scene that would find its way into her writing.

But, getting back to the story, Orth is also a writer, and a talented one might bring the children into existence again – in a way at least. He makes them the subject of a new novel, and finds new creative energy. He becomes rather obsessed with the portraits of the children and his imaginings of what they would be like. He begins to think of them as his own and occasionally it was only “with an effort that he sometimes humorously reminded himself that another man had fathered them,and that their little skeletons were under the choir of the chapel.”

After living “two months in his fool’s paradise” he begins to acknowledge to himself that he’s becoming a bit too obsessed, but then on one of his habitual, long daily walks (“England seems to cry out to be walked upon.”) he encounters a young girl who appears to be “the original of the portrait” with which he has become obsessed!

It turns out the girl he meets is no spirit, but a coincidentally similar-looking American girl, whose mother is visiting a local family. Orth’s obsession is transferred to the living girl for whom he wishes to provide “infinite opportunities” (thankfully his interest in her is seemingly platonic and not too “creepy” – “The paternal was all he had to give, but that was hers forever.”) and even wants to adopt her. Will he possibly be able to convince her mother to allow this?

Read this story online at: http://www.online-literature.com/gertrude-atherton/bell-in-the-fog/1/

Have you heard of or read anything by Gertrude Atherton? Do you care to share any recommendations? What great “tales of obsession” have you encountered in your literary travels? Do share…

Playing card image from playingcardcollector.net

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