Alice Hartley, a lady's maid recently recovered from a bout of typhoid, has trouble finding a new position until an old friend sends her to Mrs. Brympton. The new employer, herself youngish and somewhat of an invalid, lives year round in the country and is in need of a maid/companion following the death of her long-time maid Emma Saxon. Hartley is told that it will be a dull, gloomy job, but she will be fine as long as she stays clear of Mr. Brympton, who is rarely at home anyway.
Upon arriving at the house, we get the first hint that all may not be well. Hartley is shown to her room upstairs and notices another woman, also dressed as a maid, standing in the hallway. However, the housemaid leading the way doesn't seem to see her at all and is instead concerned that a door, meant to be locked, has been left open. We also learn that since the death of the beloved maid Emma, the Brymptons have had trouble keeping a lady's maid for more than a few days.
One night, the bells rings in Hartley's room (odd since Mrs. Brympton has said she does not use the bell). Unusual footsteps are heard in the hall and Hartley rushes to her mistress's side. Mrs. Brympton calls out for Emma and then claims to have been dreaming. She tells Hartley that the bell was not rung and instructs her to return to her room. Before she leaves, Mr. Brympton asks, "How many of you are there, in God's name?"
Soon afterwards, a photograph of Emma Saxon is found. She is the same woman Hartley saw in the hall, but nobody in the household seems willing to talk about her.
I won't say much more about the plot, except that some of the events seem to make little sense. Nonetheless, this was a very compelling Gothic style story. I have my idea of what happened and would love to hear yours if you decide to read this story.
During my reading, I was reminded of Henry James' The Turn of The Screw (1898). Of course, Wharton and James were great friends. The Lady's Maid's Bell was published in 1902, the same year Edith Wharton moved into her 'first real home', The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts. James spent a great deal of time there, even having his own guest suite, and it's fun to imagine the two of them strolling through the gardens discussing ghost stories!
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