Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Present at Hanging and other ghost Stories by Ambrose Bierce

Rating: 2.5/5
Book was read between March 12,2017 and April 1, 2017
And Re-read between  10th May 2017 and June 7th 2017

Edition Details:
Format : E-book
First Published: 1913
ASIN:B0082YRRCA






Present at Hanging and other ghost stories, as the title makes it pretty clear, is collection of stories by Ambrose Bierce. They are very short reads and all deal with the encounter with supernatural phenomenon. The stories collected here fall into three categories.
1. Experiences of Ghosts by normal people collected under title 'The way of Ghosts'
2. Experience of Ghosts by Soldiers collected under title 'Soldier Folk'
3. Experiences of Haunted houses collected under 'Some Haunted Houses'
4. Mysterious Disappearances, collects stories in which, as the name itself suggests, the characters have disappeared in mysterious circumstances.

Most of these stories are told in a simple narrative form and can be read in under five minutes. I read this collection over a period of a month reading a story every now and then. I think it's an okay collection.

The stories in the collection are :

The way of Ghosts


1. Present at a Hanging 2.5/5

First Sentence:
An old man named Daniel Baker, living near Lebanon,Iwowa, was suspected by his neighbours of having murdered a peddler who had obtained permission to pass the night at his house.

Danile Baker was supposed to have killed a peddler that had once stayed in his house. Now seven years after the incident Rev Mr Cummings while driving by Bakers's farm encountered a person who looked like a peddler.  Mr Cummings saw it was late at night and  invited the guy for a ride. Hearing it the traveller just pointed downwards.  Mr Cummings looked towards where the man pointed and finding nothing when tried to look towards the man, he found to his surprise that the traveller was no longer there. He had just disappeared.

Where did the traveller go? What did Mr Cummings do next ? What was the traveller doing there?

It's a simple story of supernatural encounter which can be read in five minutes. I liked it.


2. A cold Greeting 2.5/5

First Sentence:
This is a story told by the late Benson Faley of San Francisco:
"In the summer of 1881 i met a man named James H Conway, a resident of Franklin, Tennessee."

In the summer of 1881 Benson Foley of San Francisco had met James H Conway of Tennessee. He had come to Foley with a letter of introduction from one Mr Lawrence Barting. But after few weeks when James met Benson, his manners were cold and Benson thought James was avoiding him. Benson didn't know what he had done so he decided to ask him about the odd behaviour.

Was James really avoiding him? If so what was the reason?

It's a good story but it couldn't build up suspense. It's told in a simple way.

3. A Wireless Message 2.5/5

First Sentence
In the summer of 1896 Mr William Holt, a wealthy manufacturer of Chicago, was living temporarily in a little town of central New York, the name of which the writer's memory had not retained.

In the summer of 1896 William Holt was living in a small town of central New York. He was separated from his wife since the previous year.
One evening when he had left his brother's house for a stroll in the country, he had a peculiar experience. After walking some distance he found himself to be lost. And then the place he was in started to grow more distinct like it was brightening.He tried to find the source of this light but failed. And then he so something really weird. He saw an image of his wife holding their child to her breast. Holt naturally was dumbfounded and scared.

What was the reason behind the sudden brightening? What happened to Holt after that ?

4. An Arrest 3.5/5

First Sentence:
Having murdered his brother-in-law, Orin Brower of Kentucky was a fugitive from justice.

Orin Brower managed to escape from the prison where he was being held for trial. But escaping is one thing and remaining free is another thing.Would he be able to retain his freedom?

I liked this story. It has an element of surprise in it which was not in most of the stories collected here.





Soldier Folk


5. A Man with two lives 3/5
First Sentence:
Here is the queer story of David William Duck, related by himself.

David William Duck most popularly known as 'Dead Duck' was an old man living in Aurora Illinois. He had once been a soldier but that was a very long time ago. But during that stint he had experienced some thing which could only be classified as strange and had earned him his name. What was he experience?

An entertaining story.

6.Three and One are One 3/5
First Sentence:
In the year 1861 Barr Lassiter, a young man of twenty two, lived with his parents and an elder sister near Carthage, Tennessee.

Barr Lassiter had been living with his parents when the war broke out. It not only divided the country but Barr's family too. Barr was loyal to the Union while the others of his family were hostile to it. So Barr decided to join the war and leave his home. Now after two years in the war, Barr is returning back home.
Will his family accept him back?

I liked the story.

7. A Baffled Ambuscade 2.5/5
First Sentence:
Connecting Readyville and Woodbury was a good, hard turnpike nine or ten miles long.

Major Seidel was out on  an expedition that required utmost caution and secrecy from him. His man Dunning was riding forward to see if it was safe to go.  Now moving forward major Seidel was looking forward to meet Dunning and see what he has to report. What did Dunning found? How did it help Seidel?
A simple readable story.

8. Two Military Executions
First Sentence:
In the spring of the year 1862 General Buell's big army lay in camp, licking itself into shape for the campaign, which resulted in the victory at Shiloh.

Bennett Greene had struck his officer and had been ordered to be shot. Will Dudley, the officer in question, felt guilty that it had come to this but he knew that nothing could be done now. But Bennett had different idea. He was not going to forgive him so easily.
This story is a one time read. There is not much surprise or mystery here.


Some Haunted Houses

9. The Isle of Pines 2/5
First Sentence:
For many years there lived near the town of Gallipolis, Ohio, an old man named Herman Deluse.

Herman Deluse liked to keep to himself and lived alone in his house. When he was found dead in his house, a public administrator took charge of his estate. A few days after his death, Henry Galbraith, who didn't knew about death of Herman, told his wife that he had seen the old man alive and had spent a night there. When Herman found out about Deluse he decided he would find out who was the guy that he had met in the  night.
What did Herman find?
A simple haunted house story. It ends abruptly and the reader is left none the wiser.


10. A Fruitless Assignment 2.5/5

First Sentence:
Henry Saylor, who was killed in Cavington, in a quarrel with Antonio Finch, was a reporter on  the Cincinnati Commercial.

Henry Saylor is dead. He was a reporter for Cincinnati Commercial. In 1859 when a house in Vine street called Roscoe got notorious because of the strange things that were seen and heard there, he was asked by his editor to spend a night there and write a column about it.

Although Saylor was afraid he had to obey his editor's command to spend a night at Roscoe house and write his experience there. What happened during the night? Are the rumours associated with house true? Who are those people whom various people claim to have seen in the house?

It's a decent story. There are no dramatics which give it a realistic feel.


11. A Vine on a House 2.5/5

First Sentence:
About three miles from the little town of  Norton, in Missouri, on the road leading to the MaysVille, Stands an old house that was last occupied by a family named Harding.

Hadring family had at one time lived in that ruin of a house. But now it was surrounded by a vine of an unknown species. This vine was once a cause of curiosity among the people living there. What was the cause of curiosity and how did they dealt with it forms the story.


12. At Old Man Eckerts's 2.5/5
First Sentence
Philip Eckert lived for many years in an old,weather-stained wooden house about three miles from the little town of Marion, in Vermont.

Philip Eckert was a known recluse and one day he suddenly disappeared. The neighbours searched for him but couldn't find any clue as to where he had gone and why. But soon after his disappearance the house he lived at started acquiring bad reputation. People thought it was haunted. Things were reported there which had no plausible explanation  and so a group of people decided to investigate this business.  What were the results of this investigation is what forms the story.

It's an okay story. There are parts of it that were creepy. I liked it.

13. The Spook House
First Sentence:
On the road leading north from Manchester, in eastern Kentucky, to Booneville, twenty miles away, stood, in 1862, a wooden plantation house of a somewhat better quality than most of the dwellings in that region.

It was known as the spook house and people avoided going near it during the night. It had been abandoned since the family that lived in it had suddenly disappeared. In June 1859 two persons from Frankfurt, Colonel McArdle and Judge Veigh, are forced to stay in the house. What happened to them forms the story.

It was an okay narrative. Nothing to give you nightmares. A quick read like the others.


14. The Other lodgers 2/5
First Sentence:
"In order to take that train", said Colonel Levering, sitting in the Waldorf Astoria hotel,"you will have to remain nearly all  night in Atlanta."

Colonel Levering had to spend a night at Atlanta. He decides to stay at Breathitt hotel. He shouldn't have done that.
An okay story but as it's being narrated and means it had happened in the past so it doesn't have that much impact on the reader. If instead of narration the writer could have written it as it had happened then it would have had more force in it.


15. The thing at Nolan 2/5
First Sentence:
To the south of where the road between Leesville and Hardy, in the state of Missouri, crosses the east fork of May Creek stands an abandoned house.

The abandoned house near May Creek is supposed to be haunted. But three years prior to the narration of this story, the house was liveable and Charles May used to live there with his family. Then one day Charles disappeared suddenly. And his son John May was taken into custody for murdering his father. Why was John taken into custody? Had he really killed him?

I don't think it's a haunted house tale. Otherwise, it was an okay read.

Mysterious Disappearances

16. The difficulty of crossing a field 2/5
First Sentence:
One morning in July 1854, a planter named Williamson, living six miles from Selma, Alabama, was sitting with his wife and  a child on the veranda of his dwelling.

Williamson was a farm owner who decides to visit his overseer Andrew about the horses. He starts from his home and then what happens forms the story.

An okay short read

17. An unfinished Race 2.5/5
First Sentence:
James Brune Worson was a shoemaker who lived in Lemmington, Warwickshire, England.

During a regular drinking session James decides to place a bet on his running prowess. He has to run more than 40 miles to win this bet. What will be the result of the bet?

It was also an okay story.

18. Charles Ashmore's trail 2/5
First Sentence:
The Family of Christian Ashmore consisted of his wife, his mother, two grown daughters, and a son of sixteen years.

Christian Ashmore had recently moved to Quincy Illinois. On the evening of 9th Novemeber 1878, at about 9 o'clock, Charles Ashmore, son of Christian Ashmore, decided to get some water from the spring. When he didn't return after some time, Christian with his eldest daughter Martha went to find him. Did they find him? Where  had Charles gone?

Told in a simple narrative style this is also an okay story. It feels you are reading a report and hence has not much impact.

You can read the book once. It's okay but nothing extra-ordinary. Most of the stories feel you are reading a report instead of a story.  The book is in public domain so you can get it's free e-book from various sites.
You can get the book from the following links:
Kindle
Paperback
Project Gutenberg

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