Allendale: A Shunned House Part 10

Much like the daffodils that grew and yet never seemed to thrive at Allendale, Elias never saw the same success or prominence as his brothers. While Allenwood–by the time John Allen was hosting grand engagement parties for his daughter and Sam Houston–was a lavish house on 800 acres with ninety slaves to work it all and Elias’s other brothers had moved out to Smith County and set themselves up in similar situations just outside of Carthage, Allendale sat on just 200 acres and was tended by twenty slaves.

Elias married a local girl, Rebecca Lewis, when he was twenty and they had three children—George, Lewis, and Eliza. Neither Rebecca nor their fourth child, a girl, survived childbirth and they were buried in the cemetery across the lane. Eliza appears to be the last child born in that house to survive, even up until modern times.

Which is not to say that there weren’t more Allen children.  Even among my father’s generation, when you’d leave a door open on your tear through the house to tattle on a brother and someone would ask if you were born in a barn, all the Allens would laugh and say, “Yes,” so well-known was the long-standing tradition of moving the Allen wives to the an outbuilding when the time came.

Elias remarried after a short time and his second wife, Amy, also gave him three children—John, James, and Robert. In 1838, she died of what the farm ledger records as “wasting.” Letters sent to family in Smith County seem to suggest that she was suffering from what we might be tempted to call post-partum depression, describing her as listless and tired, unable to be made to care even about the well-being of her small children. Except that soon James and Robert also became listless and sleepy and, before long, they, too, were in the cemetery across the lane. Infants and toddlers don’t, by definition, suffer from post-partum depression.

The remaining children were sent to Allenwood to live with their uncle John. Elias did not remarry. Still, trouble plagued the farm. In 1843, he wrote to his brother, William, that he could not keep a dog or cat on the property and that the slave women begged him not to use the children for minor household tasks, like firetending, which meant he had to devote an adult to it, a waste, he thought, of labor better used for more difficult tasks.

“They have superstitions about the place,” he wrote, “that no amount of reason or whippings can take out of them.”


3 thoughts on “Allendale: A Shunned House Part 10

  1. To me, this is the real moment when I have to solve a narrative problem that Lovecraft gets to punt because he’s a racist. (Future people, when you look back and are like “Holy shit, Betsy Phillips thought she wasn’t racist? Did she not read this story,” yes, ha ha. That’s how it goes.)

    Lovecraft’s evil tends to leak in through contamination–you can see that a lot in this story–and often that contamination comes from something some non-WASP has done to fuck things up, often literally. He’s very concerned about the degrading effects of miscegenation, but intimately and culturally.

    So, for him, the horror is something out there that the “lesser” folks can’t stay away from and that they lack the good sense to not worship and that they contaminate “good” people with. In the original “The Shunned House” those lessers are most obviously the French and the servant class.

    I tried to walk a different tightrope that would get us to the same place. I wanted to suggest that the horror is something that takes root, without people even noticing, in people who believe they are good, that gets carried with them and perpetuated in ways that hurt the people who come in contact with them.

    Which brings me to the problem of this part of the story. If the family of the narrator is well-to-do, they obviously owned slaves before the Civil War. I wanted to present that slave ownership in a way that suggested that the realities of slave owning were not only a horror in and of themselves (I just believe that that’s the obligation of anyone writing about slavery. You owe it to the people who lived through it to not hide that it was a nightmare.) but that it allowed the people perpetrating it a way to lie to themselves about their own troubles.

    So, here we have a couple of Allens who we’ve heard about in the context of slavery. We know that, when Allendale was first built, one slave disappeared from record and another slave was sold off without any body to replace him. I hope this is both obviously horrible and obviously strange. Something happened, we don’t know what and it resulted in a guy probably losing his life and another guy losing his place in a community he knew (and possibly his family). And the fact that it went down that way suggests that, at first, the Allens blamed whatever happened in the house on the slaves. Get rid of them; get rid of the problem.

    Except the slaves aren’t to blame.

    And here today we learn that whatever was going on in the house a generation later was so terrifying that slave mothers were willing to stand against the whip to keep their children out of the house. That should be a huge red warning flag that the Allens just need to burn that cursed building to the ground and salt the earth. But they can’t see it. They can’t recognize the good information they’re getting about the magnitude of their problem, because they cannot recognize the source of that information as valid.

    So, the horror itself isn’t their fault. It just comes with the land. But their own bad behavior–even if they don’t recognize it as such–compounds the problem.

    Anyway, I hope it worked.

  2. This comment, standing as a sidebar to the story, is lovely. I did notice when slavery made its matter-of-fact entrance into the world of the story, and i did wonder, as I was supposed to :) at the loss of one man and the inexplicable “disappearing” of the other. Your commentary on it is showing me that I’m running the maze you’ve built, and it’s working as you intended. So, um, good show!

  3. Hurray! You know, I had a great time doing this and I learned a shit ton about writing a good ghost story. I mean, I can tell a good ghost story already, but I was in the “normal” ghost story class and doing this gave me a real hint of what the kids in the advanced class are doing and how.

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