Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, December 15, 2020


 "Elisha" by Arthur Quiller-Couch (from his collection Old Fires and Profitable Ghosts, 1900)

A very brief story.  The prophet Elisha, now old, alone, and nearly totally blind, is painfully traveling the road from Samaria and reaches the Plain of Jezreel, where the path forks into two -- one leading to Nazareth, the other to Megiddo.  His way is slow as he carefully tests the ground ahead of him with his staff.   He hears a noise ahead of him -- Cling-cling-clink!  Cling-clink!  He makes the shape of a tall man ahead of him standing upright by a pile of stones on the edge of the path.

Elisha thanks the man for repairing the path before him, which what he assumes the noise was, and asks if the path is safe to travel.  He gets no reply.  He then wonders if Shumen or the house of Miriam of Shumen was near, for he travelled this way years before and remembered Miriam.  Again, he received no reply.

Elisha is getting vexed at the lack of response.  Then he hears a woman's voice greeting him by name as she appears from behind the large, silent figure.  It is Miriam of Shumen.  The silent man is her son.  She leads him to a moss-covered boulder to rest.  She recalls that it was here many years ago that Elisha had granted her a son.  Back in that time Elisha and his servant had travelled this way often and were always welcomed with food and shelter.  Elisha had said that she had been always careful for him, and asked what he could do for her.  Miriam had wanted nothing; she was content because there was no greener place on earth than Shumen.  Elisha's servant remarked that every place is greener when there is a child playing.  Thus Miriam was promised a child.

Some years later, the boy fell among the reapers and died.  Miriam then journeyed to Carmel, seeking Elisha in the hope that he could bring the boy back from the dead.  And the boy woke and lived.  Now, she thanks Elisha for was he has given her.  Elisha replies that it was not he, but it was God.  She answered that he was the who had given her the boy and had brought him back to life -- he was the one she asked, not God.

Miriam then leads Elisha to where her son is standing.  His head was caked with blood and he was tied erect to a post, bound by an iron ring around his neck and with stout rope about his waist.  He had been betrayed by his wife and set upon by Syrians, who had secured him to the post and stoned him.  Once again she turns to Elisha.  She picks up a rock and hammers feebly on the rivets that held her son's neck.  Elisha puts down his staff as he "stretched put two groping hands to help her."

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944) was a British novelist, poet, essayist and critic who often wrote under the pseudonym Q.  He was perhaps best known for his massive anthology Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (1900; later expanded to include works published up to 1918); it remained the premier anthology of English poetry until it was superseded by Helen Gardner's New Oxford Book of English Verse in 1976.  He was appointed King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at University of Cambridge in 1912, and retained that title until his death; it was during his initial lecture series (later published as On The Art of Writing, 1916) that he offered the immortal writers' maxim, "Murder your darlings."  A collected edition of his fiction ran to 30 volumes, including a novel that been left unfinished by Robert Louis Stevenson.  His own unfinished novel, Castle Dor, was completed by Daphne du Maurier at the request of Quiller-Couch's daughter; Dame Daphne took on the task "in memory of happy evenings long ago when 'Q' was host at Sunday supper."  

Perhaps Quiller-Couch's most famous story is the chilling "The Roll Call of the Reef."  Other stories of note are "Pair of Hands," "The Seventh Man," and "My Grandfather -- Henry Watty."  Most, if not all, of his novels, collections of short stories, books of poetry, works of literary criticism, and other nonfiction, including anthologies, are available to be read online.  There are certainly far worst ways to spend your time than to dip into his remarkable ouvre.


  1. And you leave me hanging like this??? (I kept seeing Elisha Cook, which mitigated the magic a tad) I had not known of Quiller-Couch. Thanks for the intro!

  2. I have read some Quiller-Couch, but it's been decades...thanks for this (a small typo in the last line, reaching out appears as put). Pursuing horror fiction as a kid in the '70s, before YA horror became a burgeoning market on its own, certainly could lead to some early exposure to some wonderful writing. (Not to disparage the current circumstances...since all the classics are mostly still available, if less in the foreground than they once were.)