Six years before she wrote Little Women, and in financial straits, Louisa May Alcott entered "Pauline's Passion and Punishment, " a novelette, in a newspaper contest. Not only did it win the $100 prize, but, published anonymously, it marked the first of the series of "blood & thunder tales" that would provide her livelihood for years. For as she said, "They are easy to 'compoze' & are better paid than moral...works." The gruesome, passionate stories reveal a darker side of Alcott. Published anonymously or under the pseudonym of A. M. Barnard, they appeared in weeklies over a century ago. In their mastery of suspense and psychological drama, and in their embodiment of a startlingly intense - if oblique - feminism, they attest to the multifaceted genius of their creator. "Pauline's Passion and Punishment" features a woman who is scorned by her lover and left with her fury and her desire for revenge. The male hero of "The Mysterious Key" must unearth secrets hidden away in a family tomb if he is to realize true love. Mysterious pasts and all-too-present jealousies conflict for some surprising effects on the holiday mood in "The Abbot's Ghost." And "Behind a Mask" tells the chilling story of a woman thwarted by love, whose main motivation becomes her desire to dominate an entire family.