For a long time, many of the supernatural stories of author Francis Marion Crawford were out of print/not available. Thankfully, with the publication of The Witch of Prague & Other Stories, fans of well-written horror stories—the kind that fills you with dread and creeps up on you long after you have closed the book—can now enjoy the skill and talent of this amazing writer, who is known for the classic chillers: “The Screaming Skull”, based on a true horror legend; a vampire tale, “For Blood is the Life”; and, one of my very favorites ghost stories of all time, “The Upper Berth”, that features the restless apparition of a long-ago drowning victim that haunts the upper berth of cabin # 105 on-board a steamer ship.
Francis Marion Crawford (1854-1909), an American writer, was born at Bagni di Lucca, Italy. In 1879 he went to India, where he studied Sanskrit and edited the Allahabad Indian Herald. Returning to America he continued to study Sanskrit at Harvard University for a year, contributed to various periodicals, and in 1882 produced his first novel, Mr. Isaacs. The Witch of Prague is about a man who searches world for the woman he loves, gets to Prague and falls under the hypnotic spell of a witch. It is a fascinating story on the nature of magic and hypnotism, love and obsession, and the search for immortality.
“A great multitude of people filled the church, crowded together in the old black pews, standing closely thronged in the nave and aisles, pressing shoulder to shoulder even in the two chapels on the right and left of the apse, a vast gathering of pale men and women whose eyes were sad and in whose faces was written the history of their nation…
The mighty shafts and pilasters of the Gothic edifice rose like the stems of giant trees in a primeval forest from a dusky undergrowth, spreading out and uniting their stony branches far above in the upper gloom. From the clerestory windows of the nave an uncertain light descended halfway to the depths and seemed to float upon the darkness below as oil upon the water of a well. Over the western entrance the huge fantastic organ bristled with blackened pipes and dusty gilded ornaments of colossal size, like some enormous kingly crown long forgotten in the lumber room of the universe, tarnished and overlaid with the dust of ages….
Eastwards, before the rail which separated the high altar from the people, wax torches, so thick that a man might not span one of them with both his hands, were set up at irregular intervals, some taller, some shorter, burning with steady, golden flames, each one surrounded with heavy funeral wreaths, and each having a tablet below it, whereon were set forth in the Bohemian idiom, the names, titles, and qualities of him or her in whose memory it was lighted. Innumerable lamps and tapers before the side altars and under the strange canopied shrines at the bases of the pillars, struggled ineffectually with the gloom, shedding but a few sickly yellow rays upon the pallid faces of the persons nearest to their light….”
(Excerpt from Chapter 1, The Witch of Prague by F. Marion Crawford, Public Domain)