Gruesome Cargoes

Horror fiction 1925-1937: ‘Not At Nights’ & ‘Creeps’


Posted by demonik on August 15, 2007

Charles Lloyd (Birkin) – Nightmares (Philip Allan, 1933)


Many thanks to Raymond Russell and Rosalie Parker of Tartarus Press and the excellent Supernatural Fiction Database for kindly granting me permission to use this cover scan.

Numbered among the sensations are: “High Tide”, a grisly and extremely ingenious story; “The Headless Leper”, which sounds, shall we say … promising; “The Whimpus” that lured men to their death; the dancer who was crucified with her lover on a golden door; a haunted bungalow set among the sinister forests of the Far East; and other tales of the eerie and terrible.

Hester Holland Gaskell – High Tide
John Ratho – The Escape
Aldwyn Tibbett – “Binkie”
Philip Murray – Hangman’s Cottage
Frederick Cowles – The Headless Leper
Charles Lloyd – “The Happy Dancers”
B. Lumsden Milne – The Haunted Bungalow
V.A. Chappell – The End of the Holiday
Sonya Converse – “Is It True?”
Ronald Aggett – The Curse
Tod Robbins – The Whimpus
Paul Erroll – The Woolen Helmet

To me, this is one of the weaker “Creeps” with too many second-stringers that wouldn’t have got anywhere near the first three books. Notable exceptions are “Hangman’s Cottage” wherin the narrators father learns the hard way that it’s not a good idea to build your home on the site of a former gallows, Cowles’ East Anglian ghost story (M. R. James meets, well, “Creeps”) and – best of all – Birkin’s “The Happy Dancers”. Mention should also be made of Paul Errol’s “the Woolen Helmet.” David G. Rowland once wrote of Rosalie ‘Jasper John’ Muspratt story:

“.. if one wants real excitement, try “The Hound From Hell” in which a black boar-hound comes into a cottage parlour and then goes out again”

Some people, they just don’t know when they’re well off. I’ve not read Ms Muspratt’s action packed adventure myself, but I reckon it will have to go some to be less exhilarating than the balaclava horrors of Errol’s tortured creation …


Charles Birkin – “The Happy Dancers”: Russia on the eve of the revolution. Serge, son of the Grand Duke, marries Louba, a peasant girl whose father is Boris Kerensky, a political agitator. The Duke has recently had him whipped and has threatened him with Siberia if he continues to stir up dissent.

Come 1917 and Serge is a soldier, while Louba has blossomed. As ‘Nikakova’ she is a celebrated cabaret performer at “The Happy Dancers”. She is also pregnant with the couples’ first child and is awaiting Serges return from duty to break the good news to him. The only blot on the landscape is that her father has discovered her whereabouts and his mob are fighting with the infantry on the outskirts of town. Their arrival at “The Happy Dancers” coincides with Serge’s …

Writing in The Penguin Encyclopedia Of Horror & The Supernatural, T. E. D. Klein describes Birkin’s stories as “genteely tricked up sadism” and he’s not wrong.

Philip Murray – Hangman’s Cottage: Ashton House stands on the site of a gallows. The narrator’s father, Mr. Weir, buys it as his retirement home. Before long he becomes aware that he is not alone in the house and he gradually declines into a drink-fueled depression. Come the day when his son pays a visit and finds him swinging from a beam.

Hester Holland Gaskell – High Tide: Barr has the effrontery to die in Jorland’s car as the latter is driving them to the coast where he had planned to bury him up to the neck in sand and watch him drown. In life Barr would boast that he could will himself to do anything, even kill himself to deny his bitter rival the pleasure. With the tide moving steadily in, Jorland digs the hole and, in his frustration, makes the mistake of commanding Barr “in the name of the giver of life” to be alive.

Frederick Cowles – The Headless Leper: The Leper Hospital Of St. Mary Of Pity, East Anglia. The narrator, an archaeologist, is accosted by a ghastly smell as he inspects the ruined Norman chapel and realises that, far from being alone, there are a number of men in yellow robes standing at the altar. Unbeknown to him, in 1298, a stranger from Yorkshire arrived at the sanctuary and, the disease having eaten away his mind, launched an unprovoked attack on one of the brethren, Raymond of Low, lopping his head off with a sickle before the horrified onlookers could intervene. The gruesome murder is re-enacted before the archaeologist’s eyes.

Sonya Converse – “Is It True?”: The celebrated cabaret singer, Corinne, is trapped in a loveless relationship with petty serial-failure Mark. One Christmas Eve, as she dines with her would-be suitor, Philip Haubert, at the Muscovite Club, Mark storms in and, in a fit of jealousy, grabs a ceremonial knife from the wall and plunges it into his rival, sending Corinne insane in the process. Haubert survives, but she is committed to a Sanitarium abroad, a drooling, gibbering lunatic.
For five long years the men await word of her and strike up an uneasy truce whereby they meet at the Muscovite Club on the anniversary of the incident to reminisce on Corinne’s former glory. When Mark has a chance meeting with her aboard a train, events move swiftly toward their inevitable grim conclusion.

John Ratho – The Escape: Sitting in the garden of her friend’s new home, Diana has a premonition in which she is throttled and buried alive in the shadow of a great tree. Years later it seems the vision will become reality when she marries a man who may or may not have murdered his first wife. Before the narrator can warn her, fate has intervened and she has escaped one horrendous doom for another.

V. A. Chappell – The End Of The Holiday: Deepdene, Sussex. Edward Simmons, lost in the mist, is beset by spectral Druids and sacrificed on the altar.

Aldwyn Tibbett – “Binkie”: Before they leave their St. John’s Wood home for India, somebody sends the narrator and his wife, Marie, a crate containing a mummified cat. Always having had an affinity with the creatures, Marie insists they keep it as ‘Binkie’ has been sent to protect her. So it proves when she is attacked by a cobra in their new residence.

B. Lumsden Milne – The Haunted Bungalow: Malay. When his engagement tp Evelyn, the girl back home, is broken off due to a misunderstanding, Darrell Waring begins an affair with a native girl, Rokeah, which scandalises the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, her intended, Hassan, doesn’t take kindly to this arrangement and comes at the white man with a knife. Rokeah throws herself in it’s path and is killed as, in the ensuing struggle, is Hassan who strikes his head on a decanter.
For some months afterward, Darrell endures nightmares in which he is involved in a death-struggle with an unseen opponent. His health suffers and his employers send him on a cruise to recuperate. Who should he meet aboard the ship but Evelyn, who has reconsidered his marriage proposal and is willing to accept? Darrell is delighted, until a series of circumstances lead them back to the bungalow he once shared with Rokeah. Night falls, and the bad dreams return with a vengeance …

Tod Robbins – The Whimpus: The whimpus are blue-eyed, golden haired half-fish, half-vampires who originate from an island off the China coast.When Cockney sailor Bill Farley demonstrates their treasure hunting abilities, Captain Ben, Mr. Wilkinson, his daughter Elizabeth and her fiance Jay immediately set off with him aboard the yacht Adventurer to seek their fortune. As they near Whimpus Island, Farley steals a lifeboat and goes ahead, failing to reappear. The men – who’ve now captured one of the creatures – go ashore and likewise disappear.
The plucky Elizabeth sets off on her own and eventually arrives at an underground cavern where she finds a mountain of gold and jewels and the skeletons of all those the whimpus’ have lured here down the centuries, lulling them into an endless sleep with their soft, dream-inducing humming. Fortunately, they have no power over women and are more terrified of Elizabeth than she is if them, and she is able to rouse the men and lead them to safety.
A likeable enough fantasy but, running to almost eighty pages, it’s too short on horror content to justify inclusion in a book called Nightmares.

Paul Errol – The Woollen Helmet: Mrs. Salter of Mill House is desperate to buy a balaclava, but the storekeeper in Upper Bolden is right out of them! The old lady requires it for her son, Mark, who she keeps hidden away from society because he was born with a cat’s head. Pulse-stopping horror.

Ronald Aggett – The Curse: Two hundred years earlier, a Baring stabbed a Clayton in his sleep after losing at cards, and the wounded man cursed him with his dying breath. In the present day, Clayton returns from the grave and, from their boarding school years in Dorchester onward, cultivates the friendship of Richard Baring with the sole objective of destroying him.


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