First edition, first printing published in 1896 by Smith, Elder & Co, London
Condition; Vg, 6pp adverts bound in at the rear, publisher's original crimson fine weave cloth with blind-stamped borders and gilt-stamped titles to the upper board and spine, blind-stamped device to the upper board. Light rubbing and wear to the corners and edges, light scuffing to the spine tips, very light wear to the cloth which has retianed a rich colour, the titles are bright (lightly dulled to spine but still clearly visible.) Attractive, rough-cut text block. Original charcoal endpapers, the binding has cracked in a couple of places internally but the stitching is still holding tight. Printed on a thick quality paper stock, the pages are very clean, without markings or inscriptions.
* Supernatural Folk Horror novel set in 17th century England around the time of the Witch Trials. The plot follows the Witch Hunter John Badger as he travels the countryside villages around Oxfordshire Almost certainly based on Matthew Hopkins (Immortalised in The Witchfinder General), Badger is a sadistic murderer, paid per head his wealth grows quickly, with graphic scenes of torture including prickers and the scold's bridle, not to mention the burnings. The novel is infused with rich period details, imagery drawn from folklore and country ritual and is steeped in the superstitions and paranoia of the time, with sections of the novel taking place during the Great Plague, and culminating with the Battle of Edgehill.
What sets this novel apart are the strong supernatural scenes which feature the real witch known to locals as 'The White Woman of Broughton' who lives in a woodland cave known as 'Giant's Cave'. The scene in which the protagonist first sets eyes on her having got lost in the woods is truly chilling and one of the finest scenes I've read in weird fiction, as indeed is the unforgetable climax which features the only character one could describe as resembling 'good'. Awakening on a moonlit, silent night, on a field after surviving the Battle of Edgehill, the morning fog thick, offering glimpses of the dead soldiers all around. As he hears something moving through the fog he sees the witch by lantern light, and the glint of her curved knife, as she finishes off the wounded (numerous suggestions too of cannibalism), filling her sack which jangles with loot stolen from the dead soldiers..... She vowed revenge and has returned for him.
Incredibly easy to read, this is a remarkable and important supernatural novel which isn't listed in Blieler, Locke, Barron or any other specialist genre bibliographies.
A passage reads "Her face was long, and her eyes very dark and large; there was a deep scar upon her left cheek, beneath which, the flesh sinking inwards, was thrown a black shadow. Between her white teeth she held a quivering piece of flesh, that dripped dark stains upon her neck and bosom, and swung now this way now that, as she wagged her head from side to side, muttering a low dirge- like chant....As he watched , felt the fumes (from her cauldron) affect him in the most strange manner, the cave swam round him, and his head whirled. Yet he could not take his eyes off her as she continued to weave her charm. She dropped the collop of meat from her lips into the flame. Frank looked at her face but he dare not look again, it was the face of a mad woman. She was muttering some witch's spell, but he could not hear distinctly, for she frothed at the mouth, and whined and gibbered"