In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun never shines
And I shiver when the cold winds blow…
The first anthology of horror fiction that I ever read was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Monster Museum, published in 1965. There were other anthologies in this series, among them Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful, all carrying the famous director’s name. The Monster Museum was the best in my view. I must have read the book three or four times. It contained stories about giant alligator-dragons attacking the earth, mysterious subterranean beings with powerful weapons, an early version of The Blob, a shadow that eats evil stepmoms, and a business deal with “Gnoles” that goes horribly wrong. But one of my favorites in the anthology was The Desrick On Yandro, by Manly Wade Wellman.
The story is told by John, a wandering musician who entertains people in various Appalachian locations by singing and playing his “silver strung guitar”. He is a figure that often shows up in stories by Wellman. John is unpretentious and down to earth, but almost supernaturally wise and insightful.
While entertaining a gathering on a porch somewhere, John plays “the Yandro song” which attracts the attention of one of the guests. The stranger is a wealthy capitalist, known but distrusted by the local people. Mysteriously, his name is also Yandro, and in fact, the mountain and the song are both named after his family. He demands that John accompany him to a certain location on Yandro Mountain, to a ‘desrick’—a kind of primitive log cabin.
John obliges him and he and Mr. Yandro are soon driving along precarious mountain passes in an old used car, somewhere near Asheville, North Carolina. (Asheville is the site of the fabulous Biltmore Estate, a great place to visit if you ever desire to be awed and humbled by extravagant wealth.) Eventually the road dwindles away and they must travel by foot. The two enter a region of weird noises and things that move about just out of sight.
Their first stop is to “Miss Tully’s”. She is an ancient mountain woman who provides hospitality and local history. She notices Mr. Yandro’s similarity to his grandfather Joris Yandro. The elder Yandro had pretended to court Polly Wiltse, “the witch girl” in order to find gold up on the mountain. Polly helped him find this treasure, but as soon as he received it he left her. She built the desrick for herself on Yandro mountain, and waited inside for him to return, which he never did. She also sang the song that John had performed earlier in the story, the same song that drew the younger Mr. Yandro to this location. (The understanding is that the song has some power to do this, and that John has fulfilled an ordained role in bringing Mr. Yandro back to his family’s mountain.)
Like his grandfather, Mr. Yandro is also after gold. In case we are tempted to feel any sympathy for the man, we are reminded several times that he drinks whiskey, cusses a lot, and only cares about money. “Funny,” Miss Tully remarks upon their arrival, “You coming along as the seventy five years are up.” Besides bears and wildcats, Miss Tully helpfully describes many of the additional creatures one can find on Yandro Mountain that require extra caution. John is respectful of the mountain woman’s advice, but Mr. Yandro just snickers. He clearly is a perfect stand in for his grandfather, or will be.
John and Mr. Yandro hike up the mountain to the clearing where the desrick is located, and they begin to hear the song again. The tension mounts as some of the unusual creatures Miss Tully warned of begin to gather just out of sight. Justice of a kind is meted out, though much is left to the imagination. John at one point drolly comments “He gasped out something I’d never want written down for my last words…”
What is interesting about the story is that the evil done by the grandfather is repaid to his descendent, even though he was not the one who made Polly Wiltse fall in love with him nor was he the one who cruelly used her. John explains: “But he was the man’s grandson, of the same blood and the same common, low-down, sorry nature that wanted money and power, and didn’t care who he hurt…”
The source for this troubling notion is biblical. “…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me…”(Exodus 20: 5, among other places). It is an uncomfortable insight, especially in our so-called egalitarian, enlightened age. We want to believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity for ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We also believe that justice is delivered to the individual perpetrator, not to his or her kin.
But anyone who has ever worked in the human services or in the field of rehabilitation has encountered situations where evil appears to work itself out across generations, and not just in an individual life. Lovecraft, a Puritan, (but without a belief in salvation), certainly had this understanding. Many of his stories involve hereditary horrors that descendents do not escape.
About 10 years ago Night Shade Books published numerous volumes of the fiction of Manly Wade Wellman. Volume 5, Owls Hoot in the Daytime And Other Omens, contains several of his better known stories, among them The Desrick on Yandro, Vandy, Vandy and Shiver In The Pines. The latter should be read while listening to the old bluegrass standard In the Pines.