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The Stress of Her Regard

The Stress of Her Regard

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by Tim Powers
     
 

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World Fantasy Award Winner
Michael Crawford is forced to flee when discovers his bride brutally murdered in their wedding bed. Yet it is not the revengeful townspeople he fears but the deadly embrace of the malignant spirit that is claiming him as her bridegroom.
Crawford will not travel alone; soon he is aided by his fellow victims, the greatest

Overview


World Fantasy Award Winner
Michael Crawford is forced to flee when discovers his bride brutally murdered in their wedding bed. Yet it is not the revengeful townspeople he fears but the deadly embrace of the malignant spirit that is claiming him as her bridegroom.
Crawford will not travel alone; soon he is aided by his fellow victims, the greatest poets of his day—Byron, Keats, and Shelley. Together they embark upon a desperate journey, crisscrossing Europe and battling the vampiric fiend who seeks her ultimate pleasure in their ravaged bodies and imperiled souls.
Telling a secret history of passion and terror, Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates, Declare, Three Days to Never) masterfully recasts the tragic lives of the Romantics into a uniquely frightening tale. Back in print for the first time since 1994, this newly revised edition of The Stress of Her Regard will thrill both Powers fans and newcomers to this gripping Gothic tour de force.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set early in the 19th century, Powers's ( On Stranger Tides ) seventh novel is a horror story that wonderfully evokes the period. On the stormy night before his wedding, Dr. Michael Crawford, in an ill-advised moment while drinking and carousing with two of his friends, slips his intended's ring on the finger of a statue of a woman in the inn's courtyard. The next morning the statue has disappeared. Disturbed, Crawford purchases a new ring and goes to his wedding. The night's celebrations are followed by a morning infinitely more horrifying than the previous one--Crawford awakens to find his bride murdered. Doubting his own sanity, he flees England, becoming aware that he is pursued by a lamia --a malignant female spirit. He seeks help from his friends, the poets Byron and Shelley, who, it turns out, have experience with such a monster. Strewn with literary personages and allusions, the book is entertaining on several levels, but most particularly as a chilling horror-adventure. (Sept.)
Hellnotes
Through both innovation and preservation, Tachyon Publications has become one of the most respected publishing houses in speculative fiction.
pauljessep.com
Perfect . . . like listening to Chopin . . . the most beautiful thing in the world . . . immaculate . . . transubstantial.
Dead in the South
To read Powers is to become immersed in an alternate world that seems more real than our own.
Bookgasm
Well-written and overflowing with imagination.
From the Publisher

“Good serious fantasy doesn’t come much better than The Stress of Her Regard.”
Oxford Times

“Strewn with literary personages and allusions, the book is entertaining on several levels....”
Publishers Weekly

“Powers’s framing of a vast, mysterious conspiracy, with ancient supernatural powers, hidden riddles, and secret societies, rivals anything written by Umberto Eco....”
Blogcritics Magazine

“Intricately laced plots, theories of magick advanced and practical, and strange-but-true historical incidents.”
Green Man Review

“...well-written and overflowing with imagination....”
Bookgasm

"Tim Powers is a genius."
—Algis Budrys, author, The Death Machine

“Doing what Powers does best, by interspersing a dozen plot lines and characters with a bucket-load of paranormal and tying them up perfectly, he has conjured a tale that could be taken from the history books and taught as fact, and no one would even bother to challenge it. The unfortunate truth is that it’s not real, and that’s what it makes it all the more amazing.”
SF Crowsnest

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780441790975
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
06/01/1991
Pages:
480
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 5.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Stress of Her Regard


By Tim Powers

Tachyon Publications

Copyright © 1989 Tim Powers
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-892391-79-7


CHAPTER 1

... and the midnight sky Flares, a light more dread than obscurity.

—Percy Bysshe Shelley


"Lucy," the barmaid was saying in an emphatic whisper as she led the two men around the foot of the oak stairway, "which I'd think you could remember by now—and keep your damned voice down until we get outside."

The flickering lantern in her hand struck an upwardly diminishing stack of horizontal gleams from the stair edges rising away to their right, and Jack Boyd, who had just asked the barmaid her name for the fourth time that evening, apparently decided that taking her upstairs would be a good idea, now that he had at least momentarily got straight what to call her.

"God, there's no mistaking you're one of the Navy men," she hissed exasperatedly as she spun out of the big man's drunken embrace and strode on across the hall to the dark doorway of the reserve dining room.

The off-balance Boyd sat down heavily on the lowest stair while Michael Crawford, who'd been hanging back in order to be able to walk without any undignified reeling, frowned and sadly shook his head. The girl was a bigot, ascribing to all Navy men the faults of an admittedly conspicuous few.

Appleton and the other barmaid were ahead of them, already in the dark dining room, and now Crawford heard a door being unbolted and pulled open, and the sudden cold draft in his face smelled of rain on trees and clay.

Lucy looked back over her shoulder at the drunken pair, and she hefted the bottle she had in her left hand. "An extra hour or two of bar service is what you paid for," she whispered, "and Louise's got the glasses, so unless you two want to toddle off to bed, trot yourselves along here—and don't make no noise, the landlord's asleep only two doors down this hall." She disappeared through the dining room doorway.

Crawford leaned down unsteadily and shook Boyd's shoulder. "Come on," he said, "you're disgracing me as well as yourself."

" 'Disgracing'?" mumbled the big man as he wobbled to his feet. "On the contrary—I intend to marry ..." He paused and frowned ponderously. "To marry that young lady. Her name was what?"

Crawford propelled him into the dining room, toward the open door in the far wall and the night beyond it. Lucy was waiting for them impatiently in the far doorway, and by the wavering glow of her lamp Crawford noticed the lath and plaster panelling on the walls, and he remembered the ornate double chimney-stacks he'd glimpsed over the roof when the stagecoach had turned off the Horsham road this afternoon; evidently the inn's Georgian front had been added onto an old Tudor structure. He wouldn't be surprised if the kitchen had a stone floor.

"We'll make it a double wedding tomorrow," Boyd went on over his shoulder as he bumped against chairs in the dark. "You wouldn't object to sharing the glory, would you? Of course this means I won't be able to be your groomsman—but hell, I'm sure Appleton would be groomsman for both of us."

The pattering hiss of the rain was much louder when they were out on the roofed porch, and the chilly air sluiced some of the wine fumes from Crawford's head. The porch, he saw, began at the door they'd come out of and extended south, away from the landlord's room, almost all the way to the stables. Appleton and Louise had already sat down in two of the weather-beaten chairs that stood randomly along the deck, and Lucy was pouring wine into their glasses.

Crawford stepped to the edge of the porch so that the curtain of rain tumbled past only inches in front of his nose. Out in the dark yard he could dimly make out patches of grass and the shaggy, waving blackness of trees beyond.

He was about to turn back to the porch when the sky was split with a dazzling glare of white, and an instant later he was rocked back on his heels by a thunderclap that he was momentarily certain must have stripped half the shingles from the inn's roof. Thinly over the crash he could hear a woman scream.

"Damn me!" he gasped, taking an involuntary step backward as the tremendous echoes rolled away east across the Weald to frighten children in distant Kent. "Did you see that?" His ears were ringing and he was speaking too loudly.

After a few seconds he exhaled sharply, and grinned. "I guess that's a stupid question, isn't it? But truly, Boyd, if that had struck any closer, it's a different sort of church ceremony you'd be bringing me to tomorrow."

It was an effort to speak jocularly—his face was beaded with sudden sweat as if he'd stepped out into the rain, and the air was sharp with a smell like the essence of fright, and for a moment it had seemed to him that he was participating in the earth's own shudder of shock. He turned and blinked behind him—his eyes had readjusted to the darkness enough for him to see that his companions hadn't moved, though the two women looked scared.

"No chance," Boyd called, sitting down and filling his glass. "I remember seeing Corbie's Aunt clinging round your head in a storm off Vigo. The stuff likes you."

"And who," spoke up Appleton, his voice expressing only amusement, "is Corbie's aunt?"

Crawford sat down himself and took a glass with fingers he willed not to tremble. "Not who," he said. "What. It's Italian, really, supposed to be Corposanto or Capra Saltante or something like that. St. Elmo's Fire, the English call it—ghostly lights that cling to the masts and yardarms of ships. Some people," he added, pouring wine into his glass and waving it toward Boyd before taking a deep gulp, "believe the phenomenon's related to lightning."

Boyd was on his feet again, pointing toward the south end of the yard. "And what are those buildings down there?"

Lucy wearily assured him that there weren't any buildings at that end of the yard and told him to keep his voice down.

"I saw 'em," Boyd insisted. "In that flash of lightning. Little low places with windows."

"He means them old coaches," said Louise. She shook her head at Boyd. "It's just a couple of old berlines that belonged to Blunden's father that haven't been moved in thirty or forty years—the upholstery's probably shot, not to mention the axles."

"Axles—who needs 'em? Mike, whistle up Corbie's Aunt again, will you? She'll motivate the hulks." Already Boyd was off the porch and striding jerkily across the muddy yard toward the old coaches.

"Oh hell," sighed Appleton, pushing back his chair. "I suppose we have to catch him and put him to bed. You didn't think to bring any laudanum, of course?"

"No—I'm supposed to be on holiday, remember? I didn't even bring a lancet or forceps." Crawford stood up, and was a little surprised to discover that he wasn't annoyed at the prospect of having to go out into the rain. Even the idea of going for an imaginary ride in a ruined coach seemed to have a certain charm.

He had left his hat in the taproom, but the rain was pleasantly cool on his face and the back of his neck, and he strode cheerfully across the dark yard, trusting to luck to keep his boots out of any deep puddles. Behind him he could hear Appleton and the women following.

He saw Boyd stumble and flailingly recover his balance a few yards short of the vague rectangular blackness that was the coaches, and when Crawford got to that spot he saw why—the coaches sat on an irregular patch of ancient pavement that stood a few inches higher than the mud.

A yellow light waxed behind him, bright enough to reflect gold glints from the wet greenery and to let him see Boyd clambering up the side of one of the coaches—Appleton and the women were following, and Lucy still had the lantern. Crawford stopped to let them catch up.

"Gallop, my cloudy steeds!" yelled Boyd from inside one of the coaches. "And why don't you sit a little closer, Auntie?"

"I suppose if he's got to go mad, this is the best place for it," remarked Lucy nervously, holding up the steaming lantern and peering ahead through the downpour. "These old carriages are just junk, and Blunden's not likely to hear his ravings out this far from the buildings." She trembled and the light wavered.

"I'm going back inside, though."

Crawford didn't want the party to end—it was the last one he'd ever have as a bachelor. "Wait just a minute," he said, "I can get him out of there." He started forward, then paused, squinting down at the pavement. It was hard to be sure, with the rain agitating the muddy water pooled on it, but it seemed to him that there were bas-relief carvings in the paving stones.

"What was this, originally?" he asked. "Did there used to be a building here?"

Appleton cursed impatiently.

"Back in the olden days there was," said Louise, who was clinging to Appleton's arm and absently spilling wine down the front of his shirt. "Romans or somebody built it. We're always finding bits of statues and things when the rains fatten the creeks in the spring."

Crawford remembered his speculations on the age of this establishment, and he realized that he'd misguessed by a thousand years or so.

Boyd yelled something indistinct and thrashed around noisily in the old coach.

Lucy shivered again. "It's awful cold out here."

"Oh, don't go in just yet," Crawford protested. He handed his wine glass to Appleton and then awkwardly struggled out of his coat. "Here," he said, crossing to Lucy and draping it over her shoulders. "That'll keep you warm. We'll only be a minute or two out here, and I did pay you to keep serving us for a couple of hours past closing time."

"Not for out in the damned rain you didn't. But all right, a couple of minutes."

Appleton glanced around suddenly, as if he'd heard something over the gravelly hiss of the rain. "I—I'm going in myself," he said, and for the first time that evening his voice lacked its usual sarcastically confident edge.

"Who are you?" Boyd yelled, all at once sounding frightened. A furious banging began inside the coach, and in the lamplight it could be seen to rock jerkily on its ancient springs; but the racket seemed dwarfed by the night, and disappeared without any echo among the dark ranks of trees.

"Good night," said Appleton. He turned and began leading Louise hurriedly back toward the inn buildings.

"Get away from me!" screamed Boyd.

"My God, wait up," muttered Lucy, starting after Appleton and Louise. The rain was suddenly coming down more heavily than ever, rattling on the inn roof and the road out front and on lonely hilltops miles away in the night, and over the noise of it Crawford thought for a moment he heard a chorus of high, harsh voices singing in the sky.

Instantly he was sprinting back after the other three, and only after he caught up with Lucy did he realize that he'd been about to abandon Boyd. As always happened in moments of crisis, a couple of unwelcome pictures sprang into his mind—an overturned boat in choppy surf, and a pub across the street from a burning house—and he didn't want to take the chance of adding the back yard of this inn to that torturing catalogue; and so when Lucy turned to him he quickly thought of some other reason than fright for having run after her.

"My ring," he gasped. "The wedding ring I've—got to give to my bride tomorrow—it's in the pocket of the coat. Excuse me." He reached into the pocket, groped around for a moment, and then came up with it between his thumb and forefinger. "That's all."

By the light of the lamp she was carrying he could see her face tighten with offense at the implied insult, but he turned away and started resolutely back through the rain to where Boyd was screaming in the darkness.

"I'm coming, you great idiot," he called, trying to influence the night with his confident tone.

He noticed that he was carrying the wedding ring in his hand, holding it as tightly as a sailor undergoing surgery bites a bullet. That wasn't smart—if he dropped it out here in all this mud it wouldn't be found for years.

Over the noise of the rain he could hear Boyd roaring.

Crawford's tight breeches didn't have any pockets, and he was afraid the undersized ring would fall off his own finger if he wound up having to struggle with Boyd; in desperation he looked around for a narrow upright tree branch or something to hang the ring on, and then he noticed the white statue standing by the back wall of the stable.

It was a life-sized sculpture of a nude woman with the left hand raised in a beckoning gesture, and as Boyd roared again Crawford splashed across the mud to the statue, slipped the ring onto the ring finger of the upraised stone hand, and then ran on to the derelict coaches.

It was easy to see which one the crazed Navy lieutenant was in—the carriage was shaking to pieces as if it had a magically sympathetic twin that was rolling down a mountain ravine somewhere. Hurrying around to the side of it, Crawford managed to get hold of the door handle and wrench the door open.

Two hands shot out of the darkness and grabbed the collar of his shirt, and he yelled in alarm as Boyd pulled him inside; the big man threw him onto one of the mildew- reeking seats and lunged past him toward the doorway, and though a web of rotted upholstery had got tangled around Boyd's feet and now sent him sprawling, the big man had managed to get at least the top half of his body outside.

For a moment Crawford seemed to hear the distant singing again, and when something brushed gently against his cheek he let out a roar as wild as any of Boyd's and jackknifed up onto his feet; but before he could vault over the other man, he braced himself against the wall—and then he relaxed a little, for he could feel that all the loose threads of the upholstery were bristlingly erect like the fur on the back of an angry dog, and he realized that the same phenomenon must have been what made the shreds of the seat upholstery stand up and brush his face a moment ago.

Very well, he told himself firmly, I admit it's strange, but it's nothing to lose your wits over. Just some electrical effect caused by the storm and the odd physical properties of decaying leather and horsehair. Right now your job is to get poor Boyd back to the inn.

Boyd had by this time freed himself and crawled out onto the puddled pavement, and as Crawford climbed down from the coach he was getting shakily to his feet. He squinted around suspiciously at the trees and the ruined carriages.

Crawford took his arm, but the bigger man shook it off and plodded away through the rain toward the inn.

Crawford caught up with him and then matched his plodding stride. "Big beetles under your shirt, were there?" he asked casually after a few paces. "Would have sworn rats were scrambling up your pant legs? I'll bet you wet your pants, in fact, though as rain-soaked as you are nobody'll notice. Delirium tremens, we doctors call this show. It's how you know when to back off on the drink."

Ordinarily he wouldn't have been as blunt as this, even with someone he knew as well as he knew Jack Boyd, but tonight it almost seemed to be the most tactful approach—after all, no one could be blamed for suffering a case of the galloping horrors if the cause was simply a profound excess of alcohol.

Actually he was afraid Boyd had not been quite that drunk.


* * *


The party was clearly over. Lucy and Louise were complaining about having to go to bed with wet hair, and Appleton was evasively irritable and, as if to confirm the soured mood, the landlord muttered angrily in his room and caused either his knees or the floorboards to creak threateningly. The women abandoned the lantern and fled to their rooms, and Appleton shook his head disgustedly and stalked upstairs to go to bed himself. Crawford and Boyd appropriated the lantern and tiptoed to the closed door of the taproom and tried the lock.

It wouldn't yield.

"Probably just as well," sighed Crawford.

Boyd shook his head heavily, then turned

Boyd shook his head heavily, then turned and started toward the stairs; halfway there he paused and without looking back said, "Uh ... thanks for getting me ... out of that, Mike."

Crawford waved, and then realized that Boyd couldn't see the gesture. "No trouble," he called softly instead. "I'll probably need something similar myself sooner or later."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers. Copyright © 1989 Tim Powers. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

J.A. Clemens
Dark, decadent, romantic fantasy . . . utterly fantastic. (J.A. Clemens, author, Orlando and Geoffrey)

Meet the Author


Tim Powers has been compared to Michael Crichton, Neal Stephenson, and Clive Barker and was lauded by Kirkus as “the reigning king of adult historical fantasy.” His novel Declare, a supernatural secret history of post-WWII espionage, won the 2001 World Fantasy and the International Horror Guild awards. He is the two-time recipient of the Philip K. Dick Award for The Anubis Gates and Dinner at Deviant’s Palace and a three-time Locus Award winner for Last Call, Expiration Date, and Earthquake Weather. His latest novel, Hide Me Among the Graves, is a sequel to his classic supernatural thriller, The Stress of Her Regard. Powers has taught at the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop and has co-taught the Writers of the Future Workshop with Algis Budrys.

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