Crewe - Walter De la Mare.

Published by: mike on 11th Aug 2017 | View all blogs by mike

t is almost certain that ghosts do not  exist..


      This essay was in written in response to Gerry’s blog  on doubts and certainties.  Incidentally, Jenny Iglow and Richard Holmes have written extensively on the romantic period and the emerging science genres.   I can certainly recommend both writers and have read most of their books.  The religious doubts of the Regency period  seem somewhat similar to ours.  

     I would have liked to write about this subject from the point of view of a biographer.  This biographer is of the old school and tries to place his research in some sort of historical narrative which is somewhat opposed to the modern approach. He finds that facts and records can be wrong and lead to alternative histories.  This does happen.  Also, many years ago, I would have liked to research the histories of Shelley biographers, as each succeeding biographer wrote of an alternative life Shelley for his  own epoch.  

     But what about imagination?  Why consider ‘does God exist?’  Why not consider ‘why   does God exist?’   

      I am  reading  “The Best Stories of Walter De La Mare.”   The story ‘Crewe’ can be read on ‘Google‘   I think it is a successful  ghost story but an element of doubt is included.   

     I tend to read ghost stories in collections and they are not a particular interest of mine. 

     I notice that ‘Crewe’ had been read out on Radio 4 some years back.

      It was raining on Wednesday and I wrote this in  the afternoon.  In the morning, I saw the local silver screen presentation  which was ‘The Monster Calls.’  I would call this  film an adult fairy tale.  It deals with the supernatural too.  If you have not seen the film or read the book on which it is based, the story concerns a young boy coming to terms with the death of his mother who suffers from cancer.  The major role is an Elm tree

      I found the essay rather difficult to write  in that I had to contrast my prose style with  lines from Walter De La Mare.   I have tried to bring out the black humour in the story.  But the blog is rather long - 1000 words.  Your time might be better spent with the original story,  Does this essay make you interested in reading the tale?   I have done a spoiler at the end and, to make my point, I have had to precis  the plot.  I tried to imagine this story told in  Starbuck’s Cafe on the platform of Waterloo Station. it still might work but only because of the ambiguity of the resolution. Otherwise scarecrows, rambling rectories  - all the value added nature -  of a ghost story belongs to different era.   The prose style seems somewhat Edwardian too.



      Is there  a first class rest-room at Crewe railway station? Does it resemble a dusky lounge lit by a flickering gas mantle, with the  glowing embers of a coal fire slumbering in the hearth?   Is this lounge  inspected by the curious? Is it on the agenda of those  who wish to explore further than the buffet and tea room of Camforth Station, where a brief encounter occurred?

       The rest-room of Crewe Station is the setting of a ghost a story by Walter De La Mere,  the first line of which is redolent an earlier epoch: “When murky winter dusk begins to settle over the railway station at Crewe its first-class waiting-room grows steadily more stagnant.‘  The sentence is of a solid, reliable and sensible construction. 

     But, even to the narrator, the waiting room is old and oppressive.   Can you seat yourself - as the narrator does -   on grained, massive black-leathered furniture? Par for the course, you will be accosted by a stranger who does as the ancient mariner does.  He “stoppeth one of three’

        An overheard event,  told by some awaiting commuters in a far corner of the restroom - a  mystery at sea  -  imperils this stranger to accost the narrator and relate his own misgivings about the  waiting room: ‘Its  solid though ----,” he informs his unwilling audience.

        “Yes,” the narrator agrees, ‘It certainly looks solid?”

        “Ah, looks -- --, “ replies the stranger, ‘I thought so too.”  Then he pauses for second, “but now,” he adds, “I knows different.”


        It is almost certain that ghosts do not exist - something to which the stranger concurs, for he later  describes death:  “Yes, I’ve been told, sir that after this cremation, and all the moisture in us gone up in steam, what’s left would scarcely turn the scales by a singe bounce.”

      Naturally, our narrator comments on the ‘displaced aspirate’ and the strangers interminable monologue as he continues: “We amount no more than what you could put in a walnut.”

        They both consider the numinous - the supernatural. “My point is this,” says the stranger, ‘we would need much more than the substantial - just enough to be obnoxious, as the Reverend used to say, to the naked eye.”

        He then recounts his tale, to which our narrator listens with growing unease - a tale that he consequently relates to us.  But there seems to be an element of self justification, if not self-denial in the stranger’s voice.


        The stranger has a nice occupation.  He lives in a Rectory with sufficient timber to satisfy the most critical connoisseur of the supernatural.  “Old houses,”  he explains  - I’m used to them; the timblers crinkle like a beehive.”   Walter De La Mere is a poet of considerable respect and uses his abilities with discretion.

     The stranger sets the scene. There is a somewhat dimwitted household help called  George;  outside help is given by a girl from the village, and  there is a gardener who lives with his widowed daughter and grandson.  This family lives in an outbuilding on the rectory estate.

       Mr Blake, for we old told the stranger’s  name, is a general factotum and manservant to the kindly Reverend, who is so satisfied with his household help that all have been remembered in his will.

      Mr Blake and George have rooms in the rectory,.

          The gardener drinks to excess  and begins to steal his liqueur from the pantry. Mr Blake is, at first, rather unconcerned  - unwilling to disturb what is a happy situation for them all.   But  the smashing of a  favourite decanter, and the clear theft of beverages, alters his frame of  mind.  He encourages the dim-witted George to inform on the gardener.  George does this and grasses to the Reverend.   The gardener becomes aware of this breach of faith, and beats  George up severely. His bruises are seen by the kindly priest the next morning.  The gardener is promptly sacked.

   The gardener is outraged and confronts our innocent George and  says, “Come what may, here or hereafter, I’d be even with you.”

    The next day the gardener is found hanged from the rafters of a barn.   

    ‘The midmost rafter, sir, and the drop that would have sufficed a giant Golioth,”  Mr Blake explains,

    Walter De la Mare recounts it all with consummate skill: the appearance of a phantom scarecrow, the disturbances in  the house, the creakings and the voices. All  these supernatural events occur while the poor Reverend, who received a stroke at  the news of the suicide, lies on his deathbed.  

     ‘Now,’ Mr Blake informs us: “who, think I to myself, is responsible for this jiggery-pokery.’ 

       One feels instinctively that Walter De La Mare must share  the blame. 

       The strain of it all effects George, as Mr Blake points out: “ He had noticed it and he’d hardly notice a black beetle on a pancake.”

      One fateful evening, the phantom scarecrow, the noises and creakings etc, are such that Mr Blake urges George to bravely search the outside premises, while he stays indoors. The care of the Reverend  is, naturally,  upmost on his mind.

    The next day, George is found dead in the outbuildings.  “And, I took it, of course that George had got back safe to his room, ” explains Mr Blake.

     The Reverend soon dies

      In the rest room at Crewe station,  the stranger,  whom we  now know to be Mr Blake,  informs the narrator that he no longer works.

   “Your share, I suppose, was quite a substantial one,” enquires our narrator  - meaning share of the Reverend’s bequest.

    “Share, he replies.

     “In the will...,’ qualifies our witness.   This is all that is said and ghosts almost certainly exist.   It is all so carefully done and so carefully orchestrated by Walter De La Mare. 

      But we are left in some doubt as to the nature of the stranger, for the narrator informs us, as he leaves the comfort of the first-class saloon, “He seemed to be deploring the withdrawal even of my tepid companionship,  But in that gaseous luminosity there was nothing, so far, as I could see, that any man could be afraid of, alive or or dead.”



  • mike
    by mike 10 months ago
    Don't give up the day job? Mind you, I have not got one! I could have written that essay with a different slant. By selecting different lines, a murder story would be suggested. I think Walter De La Mare could be called an Edwardian, but Mr Blake seems more Sam Weller than Jeeves.
  • mike
    by mike 10 months ago
    The setting of two other stories are churches. "All Hallows' and the 'Trumpet. Both deal with the subject of angels - the former with fallen angels, and the latter ones that blow trumpets. I would call them psychological tales and put Walter De La Mere in the same category as Poe and Stevenson. He is a romantic. One other story, 'The Picnic' reminded me of Alan Bennnet and 'The Nap' tells of a father's true feelings about his family.
    I had not come across Walter De La Mere before - at least I do not think so. I might have read'The Picnic' before and 'The Trumpet' seemed familiar. I will certainly look out for him in second hand bookshops.
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