Saturday, October 13, 2012

James-A-Day: Martin's Close

I'm not sure I really get all of "Martin's Close."  I am a bit puzzled.  Maybe you all can help me.

The story centers around a historical murder case and haunting from 1684, and most of it is a transcription of the court case.   George Martin, the local young squire, is accused of murdering the girl Ann Clark and throwing her body into a pond.  Martin had made a habit of asking Ann to go out walking with him, which was kind of a strange thing for a handsome and wealthy young squire to do, because the court case describes Ann as a "natural" or an "innocent."  These are the old-fashioned terms; we would say that she had a mental disability.   Ann was not pretty or charming or young, but she was thrilled to go out walking with Mr. Martin and thought that he was her sweetheart.

Young Martin, however, got engaged to a girl who was the same age and rank as he.  The girl seems to have objected to the way locals teased Martin about Ann, and the engagement was broken (does this make sense to you?  I can't quite see it as a real reason, can you?).  Soon afterwards, Ann disappeared and was later found in the pond, apparently killed with Martin's own knife.  But between disappearing and being found, Ann evidently came back to haunt the town, possibly especially Mr. Martin.

But it's all kind of hard for me to figure out.  Did Martin kill Ann?  He certainly seems to have done so, but the whole thing is very strange.  Why did he pay attention to Ann in the first place?  I don't know if I missed something, or what.  Tell me what you think!

Job, maybe?
In the back of my collection of stories, there are a couple of short essay-type things that MRJ wrote.  I just read one that he is thought to have written pretty early on, perhaps as an undergraduate or in the early 1890's.  It's called "A Night in King's College Chapel," and it's not spooky--it's funny.  James says that he fell asleep in the chapel and woke up after it was all closed up for the night--and he saw the stained glass figures come alive, and start doing things.  They quarrel or go see their friends and so on. 

I don't know if you've ever seen what King's College Chapel looks like, but it is this enormous Gothic church with a tremendous amount of painted stained glass along the walls.  MRJ must have known the images very well indeed.  I tried to find the figures MRJ mentions in the story--they're nearly all Old Testament characters, although four St. Lukes try to treat a poor put-upon Enoch--but there is so much stained glass and it's pretty hard to identify any of them, so I failed.

You can read the whole thing here if you like.

King's College Chapel from the outside--note all those windows

1 comment:

Nancy Leek said...

I think MRJ just liked reading the trial reports of the notorious hanging judge, Lord Jeffreys, and thought he would try his hand at writing one of his ghost stories in that format. I like the way he captures the language and style of an 17th century courtroom under a severe and irascible judge.

I think he done it. I wondered a bit about the way Martin asks for the transcript of another trial, and complains about how his name is misspelled, but I think this is just MRJ throwing in some verisimilitude.

Why did the other girl break off the engagement? Either she thinks Martin's treatment of Ann shows a lack of moral character (which it does) or else the talk about his behavior has gotten back to her and she feels he is touched with scandal. Or maybe both. After all, he is leading this poor simple-minded young woman on, and that's not very nice. Then when he realizes that his little joke is having social and financial consequences to himself, he gets rid of her. And he probably thinks no one will notice or care. But in an MRJ story, there are always consequences.