As promised, this month's Short Story Monday posts will come from The Virago Book Of Ghost Stories. The book is arranged chronologically so, if the stories are read in order, the reader can see how ghost stories have changed and developed over the years. "The Old Nurse's Story" is the second in this nearly 500 page edition. Next week, I'll fast-forward fifty years and see if I can spot some changes.
My experience with ghost stories is limited, but "The Old Nurse's Story" by Elizabeth Gaskell is now among my favorites. It contains all the ingredients for a good tale (orphans, family secrets, sibling rivalry, love, jealousy, tyrannical father-figures), but Gaskell also adds in a few Gothic features (an old manor house with a locked-up wing shrouded in branches, some bad weather, over-wrought emotions, and a child-ghost) and creates real winner!
"...it was a very strange noise, and she had heard it many a time, but most of all on winter nights, and before storms; and folks did say, it was the old lord playing on the great organ in the hall, just as he used to when he was alive; but who the old lord was or why he played, and why he played on stormy winter evenings in particular, she either could not or would not tell me."
"...would I leave the child that I was so fond of, just for sounds and sights that could do me no harm; and that they had all had to get used to in their turns? I was all in a hot, trembling passion; and I said it was very well for her to talk, that knew what these sights and noises betokened, and that had, perhaps, had something to so with the Spectre-Child while it was alive. And I taunted her so, that she told me all she knew, at last; and then I wished I had never been told, for it only made me afraid more than ever."
The story is not horrifying (as I found "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson), but rather a good, chilling, suspenseful ghost story.
"The Old Nurse's Story" was published anonymously in the 1852 Christmas issue of Charles Dickens' magazine, Household Words. You may read the entire 23-page story here.
This story served as my introduction to Elizabeth Gaskell. I'm looking forward to reading Cranford within the next couple of months and, hopefully, Wives and Daughters sometime next year.
For other Short Story Monday posts, click over to The Book Mine Set.