The Thing From The Lake – Eleanor Marie Ingram (1921)
Roger Locke is a successful New York composer of stage musicals and popular sings who decides to buy himself a farm as an investment. The house is decrepit and stands beside a stagnant lake. He decides to spend the night in his new home but awakens to find a woman in his bed beside him who holds a knife to him in the darkness while he in turn grips a braid of her hair. She warns him to leave the house and he realises that she has used the knife to cut off the braid of hair he was holding, and has disappeared.
Meanwhile, his young cousin, (who has overbearing parents with impossibly high standards) has married Verne, a young cabaret entertainer. Roger is initially appalled but decides to reserve judgment. As Verne is originally from a farming family he offers the couple the chance to run his farm for him and supervise the renovation of the house while he is in New York.
When he returns to the farm a collapsed dam has been rebuilt and the lake has widened and deepened. However, from then on he is visited by both the mysterious woman and an evil presence who claims that the woman belongs to him and vows that Locke will be destroyed.
It’s a very readable book with some engaging and interesting characters. Ingram certainly manages to produce an atmosphere of dread and unearthly unease when the thing (from another dimension, it appears) manifests itself, while at the same time establishing a growing bond between Locke and his mysterious – possibly immaterial – female visitor, slotting this novel into the tradition of supernatural romances. Indeed, there is much in this that echoes with Anne Rice’s novels of Lasher and the Mayfair Witches.
It’s also an interesting window on the subject of class distinction in the US at the time. Locke’s family appear to be well-to-do, if not fabulously wealthy. Locke himself is described as being the wealthiest in his family, although his money is self made.
Locke’s reaction to his cousin marrying a vaudeville entertainer might seem a little puzzling today but it’s clear that entertainers, particularly those that perform in bars or clubs were thought to be disreputable folk. Maybe Ingram was making a conscious effort to disabuse her public of that notion.
Her unconscious may well have been doing other things, since at the denouement, the main characters aim to flee the house in a car and escape the malign creature’s reach. No provision appears to have been made for evacuation of the domestic staff who would presumably have been left to their fate.