The Rogues Gallery: RATS!!!!
The Rogues Gallery
This year’s edition of The Rogues Gallery will feature images from one of the tabloids of the late 1800s: The Illustrated Police News
A newspaper vendor in the nineteenth century could always ensure sales with the gruesome cry “Murder! ‘Orrible Murder!” Published around 1870, the Victorian tabloid The Illustrated Police News took this business angle to heart. It had the largest circulation of any periodical of that time and fed the public on a weekly diet of real-life horrors calculated to chill the strongest stomach and boost the next issue’s sales. Each month we will feature a drawing or woodcutting from this tabloid of horrors!
Our submissions for May are in and we’re drowning in rats! We have two gruesome stories for our web site feature to give you a taste of what is to come!
The Best Laid Plans of Rats and Women
Miss Liftchild stirred another spoonful of sugar into her tea and drew a large red “X” through the square on her Lady’s Day Planner. It was finally time! Fourteen long days since she had last seen her beloved; fourteen long days of counting every hour—every minute!—waiting for this day to arrive. Now they could be together the way she’d always known they were meant to be.
Never mind that he had forgotten that fact and been led astray by that evil Lucy Haviland. Her beloved always had been a bit, shall we say, impulsive. Some might even call him downright irresponsible; which had actually come in rather handy when he’d just up and disappeared one day. And only weeks before his wedding, no less! He always was the hot-blooded, restless type; must have gotten cold feet. Poor Lucy Haviland.
Of course those pesky policemen had come poking around Chastain House. They checked every nook and cranny of every room. Why, one of the ambitious younger ones had even braved the rickety steps and foul, unwholesome air of the old root cellar.
“Mind yourself down there,” Miss Liftchild warned. “We’ve a terrible problem with the rats here at Chastain House. They’ve been here even longer than the Liftchilds, and try as we might, we just can’t seem to get rid of them!”
She’d smiled and offered them tea and graciously allowed them in rooms they had no business being in. No one could say she’d been anything but perfectly cooperative. And if any of them took notice of the odd thumps in the walls or the scurrying sounds coming from overhead, she’d shake her head and say, “Such a terrible, terrible problem with the rats.”
Rats aside, they found nothing amiss. Luckily they knew nothing of the old attic room hidden in the far west wing of the house and accessible only by a pull-down ladder. Make no mistake—one of those sharp-eyed policemen would certainly have spotted the hideaway door in the ceiling, which is why, after marching her bound and gagged lover up the pull-down ladder at the end of her father’s old bird hunting rifle, Miss Liftchild had carefully sealed and plastered over the entrance as if it had never been there at all.
For fourteen long days she’d smiled whenever she thought of him up there, bound to the old bed post by a chain fastened tightly round his neck and wearing nothing more than his nightshirt! Of course she’d had to let his hands loose; how else was he expected to reach the food and water she had placed on the chair next to him? She had measured it out to last exactly fourteen days—that is, if rationed carefully enough. She preferred not to imagine how he’d managed the by now no doubt rather unpleasant chamber pot she’d set out for him. No, he wouldn’t be very comfortable chained upright in that drafty, dirty attic. But then again, what was a little discomfort compared to the torment he’d caused her?
She clattered the spoon around in her now empty tea cup to scatter away such thoughts. None of that unpleasantness mattered now! She’d calculated that fourteen days would be enough time for the police to lose interest in her beloved whereabouts. Even more important, it would give him enough time to realize the mistakenness of his ways. How glad he would be when she came for him! What plans they could make to flee this awful town and never return!
It took almost an hour to chip away the plaster and break the seal. When she climbed into the attic room, she at first thought that he had tricked her—that he had escaped and left some rotted doll in his place to mock her—for how else to explain the once strong, supple body shrunken to skin and bones? How else to explain the glossy hair always so neatly tied back, now as dry and disheveled as a pile of straw? How else to explain the black, empty holes where his eyes should have been?
As she lifted the candle higher to throw more light upon the room, the truth scurried and scampered in the flickering shadows—the rats! The ravenous devils had first devoured her beloved’s food; once it was gone, they had moved on to larger, more satisfying fare.
Ah, such a terrible, terrible problem with the rats
While the Cat’s Away
Gasper came forth at dawn to begin his daily devotion. His prayers were solemn as was the way of his faith, and thus he bowed his head in stern silence. His meditations were light this early morn, however, as the gloom of a forest path that rarely saw daylight fought for his attention. What was it about this narrow path that disturbed him so? The town spoke only hushed whispers of the ramshackle hut at its end. Barren and void of the Lord, the gnarled woman and her Devil’s familiar were its only inhabitants. All warmth was concealed by the thick foliage overhead; all sound was stolen by the dense trunks and boughs reaching out to snatch an unwary soul. In spite of the heat from the fire, Gasper shuddered.
“She is a witch. She must burn. Satan lives within her bosom and she will bring the Horned One upon our very souls,” the women of the town clucked over their sewing. None clucked louder than Abigail Parris. Priding herself on her piety, Mrs. Parris, wife of the most wealthy farmer in all of the region, wielded her Bible as the weapon of the righteous against sin. She had the indescribable air of someone who basked in the light of the Lord and the perfection of a spotless life.
One afternoon, the gnarled one known only as Tabitha hobbled down the shaded lane toward the village. She rounded the crook in the road with her black cat not far from her watchful eye. Several town children lit upon her figure. They began mocking and taunting her. The chanting attracted the attention of several older boys, and thus the atmosphere of the moment quickly shifted. Rocks appeared and the small black cat suffered under a hail of projectiles. Tabitha cried out as her most treasured friend darted for the safety of the woods. The younger boys scattered and in an unfortunate twist of fate, one child met his end with a careless trip over a root and a small boulder.
The clucking became a crescendo of vitriol. The town elders hastily gathered in the meeting-hall and the fate of the serpent in skirts was quickly decided. The hanging tree just out of town had not seen use in some years. Its limbs groaned as the rope was secured and properly tested on an unsuspecting goat. She that made covenants with Satan would follow the little brown creature to the noose. Try as they might, no one could capture the demonic black beast which resided so comfortably by her fire. The cat was seen at the hanging, but when men were dispatched to end its infernal life, it had vanished.
“Back to hell with its mistress,” the men muttered under their breath as they plowed the fields. Talk of the witch was limited to innuendos and veiled references for fear she would dispatch the Devil himself in vengeance.
The norms in the routines and patterns of the small village returned, but it was the children who first noticed the difference. Little Anne’s beloved tabby walked from the porch one evening just before supper and never returned. Gasper’s favorite Tom, his prized rat hunter, failed to appear one morning when the barn doors swung open. One by one, the cats of the village simply disappeared. Mrs. Parris took this as a sign from the Lord that all evil was at last eradicated from their pious town. Cats were minions of He With the Cloven Hooves as Tabitha’s most loyal companion had proven, and their presence was a lingering remnant of vile taint.
Gasper was the first to see the glittering red eyes lurking on the highest beams above his cow stalls. Tiny droplets of blood stained the hay crimson and the cows shifted uncomfortably from the tiny gnaw marks near their hooves. The women began complaining of the black piles of droppings in their cupboards. Precious grain supplies dwindled as long, hairless tails weaved their way through the walls. The creatures who might have destroyed the red-eyed devils were long since gone from the sanctity of the blessed village.
One night Mrs. Parris knelt on the cold floor of her bedroom and prayed for salvation, confident that her communion with the Lord would bring an end to the suffering. Indeed, her prayers were soon answered.
When Mrs. Parris’ body was discovered, the good people of the village trembled in horror at the mutilated face of their own soon-to-be fate—for Mrs. Parris had been eaten alive by what would prove to be only the beginning of the unstoppable, unquenchable rats.