Tuesday Terror! The Old Nurse’s Story by Elizabeth Gaskell

Revenge is a dish best served Gothic…

the-old-nurses-story-cover

I had no idea Mrs Gaskell had written ghost stories till I read about it on Helen’s great blog, She Reads Novels. Helen said “I love Gaskell’s writing and this is an excellent example of a Victorian ghost story.” So of course I had to seek it out, since it sounds perfect for these dark nights and for this week’s…

Tuesday Terror 2

The Old Nurse’s Story
by Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth Gaskell

The old nurse Hester is telling the children in her care a story about their own mother, whom she also nursed back when she herself was a young girl.

There never was such a baby before or since, though you’ve all of you been fine enough in your turns; but for sweet, winning ways, you’ve none of you come up to your mother. She took after her mother, who was a real lady born; a Miss Furnivall, a grand-daughter of Lord Furnivall’s, in Northumberland.

Sadly, little Miss Rosamond was orphaned when she only about four or five. On her death-bed, her mother made Hester promise never to leave the child, to which Hester willingly agreed since she was devoted to Rosamond. Now Rosamond’s guardians have arranged for them to go to live with an elderly relative of Rosamond’s mother, Miss Grace Furnivall, in a rambling old house in Northumberland…

…we saw a great and stately house, with many trees close around it, so close that in some places their branches dragged against the walls when the wind blew, and some hung broken down; for no one seemed to take much charge of the place; – to lop the wood, or to keep the moss-covered carriage-way in order. Only in front of the house all was clear. The great oval drive was without a weed; and neither tree nor creeper was allowed to grow over the long, many-windowed front; at both sides of which a wing projected, which were each the ends of other side fronts; for the house, although it was so desolate, was even grander than I expected.

the-old-nurses-story-house

At first, all is well. Miss Furnivall is old and rather grim and sad, as is her servant and life-long companion Mrs Stark, but they grow to love the child, and the servants of the house are warm and friendly, welcoming both Hester and Rosamond into their lives. But gradually strange things begin to happen…

As winter drew on, and the days grew shorter, I was sometimes almost certain that I heard a noise as if some one was playing on the great organ in the hall. I did not hear it every evening; but, certainly, I did very often, usually when I was sitting with Miss Rosamond, after I had put her to bed, and keeping quite still and silent in the bedroom. Then I used to hear it booming and swelling away in the distance. The first night, when I went down to my supper, I asked Dorothy who had been playing music, and James said very shortly that I was a gowk to take the wind soughing among the trees for music; but I saw Dorothy look at him very fearfully, and Bessy, the kitchen-maid, said something beneath her breath, and went quite white.

The servants keep up the pretence that nothing is wrong, and Hester is young and brave, so she doesn’t let it bother her. But then, one cold, snowy winter’s evening, Hester returns from church to discover that Rosamond is missing, the only clue to where she has gone her little footsteps in the snow.

the-old-nurses-story-snow

When Hester tells Miss Furnivall what has happened, she is shocked and terrified by the old lady’s reaction…

…she threw her arms up – her old and withered arms – and cried aloud, “Oh! Heaven forgive! Have mercy!”

Mrs. Stark took hold of her; roughly enough, I thought; but she was past Mrs. Stark’s management, and spoke to me, in a kind of wild warning and authority.

“Hester! keep her from that child! It will lure her to her death! That evil child! Tell her it is a wicked, naughty child.” Then, Mrs. Stark hurried me out of the room; where, indeed, I was glad enough to go; but Miss Furnivall kept shrieking out, “Oh, have mercy! Wilt Thou never forgive! It is many a long year ago”

Illustration by mgkellermeyer via Deviant Art
Illustration by mgkellermeyer via Deviant Art

* * * * * * *

Another great one this week! As soon as we get the description of the crumbling old mansion, dark and gloomy because of the crowding unkempt trees and with, of course, a wing sealed off, we know we’re in for a Gothic treat. The writing is excellent as you’d expect, perfectly suited to this style of storytelling. The story starts off slow, giving us time to grow to care about Hester and little Rosamond; and then Gaskell starts to build the tension, gradually at first with the mysterious organ playing, then bit by bit getting creepier and scarier till it reaches its dramatic climax. Along the way, it tells a dark story about pride, jealousy, sibling rivalry, guilt… and awful revenge! The moral of the story is clear…

“Alas! alas! what is done in youth can never be undone in age! What is done in youth can never be undone in age!”

So true! Thank goodness I was perfect in every way in my youth, but the rest of you must be so worried!

If you’d like to read it, (about 10,000 words), here’s a link. And thanks, Helen, for pointing me in this direction!

* * * * * * *

Fretful Porpentine rating:  😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:            😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It's a fretful porpentine!
It’s a fretful porpentine!

46 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Old Nurse’s Story by Elizabeth Gaskell

  1. Oooh this sounds great! I will have a peek at it later on. I think I might have an inkling about where this is going but don’t tell me anything!! Also I had to laugh at Hester telling the children they were not as lovely as their mother. I bet that cheered them up no end. And then to be told a scary story – Hester sounds like she might enjoy upsetting her young charges!

    • Haha! I know – I thought that was funny too. But keep the horrid little kids in their place, I say – children get too much praise! 😉 I think you’ll enjoy this – it’s a bit longer than some of the ones I post, but that gives her time to develop the story more slowly and it gets nicely creepy…

  2. I’ll have to repeat the moral of that story to my children ‘The homework neglected in youth can never be made up for in old age…’ and such like… Thanks for the link!

  3. Oh, that is a great choice, FictionFan! Simply dripping with eeriness and atmosphere, and a deliciously Victorian sort of story-with-a-moral. Little wonder Mr. Porpentine came out for a visit.

    • Isn’t it a goodie? As soon as I got to the bit about the wing of the house being closed off, I knew I was onto a winner… there’s something about the Victorian style of writing that works so well for horror.

  4. Now, I don’t like horror or ghost stories. And you keep tempting me with tales I’m finding increasingly hard to resist. It is by Mrs Gaskell after all, and it’s not very long, and I needn’t read it just before I go to bed. As for that delightful little Porpentine, he is just gorgeous. I shall probably resemble him nicely if I risk following the link to this terrible tale…. 😮

    • To be honest, Sandra, nor do I. Or I should say, nor did I – I really started this feature a few years ago because I’d never managed to get into horror, but now I’ve grown to love especially the Victorian style. Creepiness and dread without excessive gore or ghastliness. The porpentine never comes out if a story is too horrible… just nicely spine-tingling, I promise!

  5. I love ghost stories, so I’ll have to come back and follow your link … after I get my work out of the way, of course! This one sounds delightful — perfect for a gloomy, gray day like today. And what a treat it is, seeing Mr. Porpentine again!!

    • This is a great one – nicely creepy but without excessive gore etc. It is a bit longer than my usual picks, but that gives her time to build a good atmosphere and let us get to care about the nurse and Rosamond… enjoy! 🙂

    • I haven’t read much of her stuff, but I was really taken by her writing in this one – it makes such a difference to horror when it’s really well written, especially in that Victorian style! Enjoy! 😀

  6. “Perfect in every way” – ahem!
    I didn’t know Mrs Gaskell wrote ghost stories either, but I’ve loved all her other books, so I’ll definitely read this one.

  7. Just read this one. I love a real ghost story – I’m tired of the modern fashion for a “scientific” explanation.

    • Glad you enjoyed it – it’s excellent, isn’t it? There’s something about the Victorian style that works so well for ghost stories, and yes, I agree – if I’m reading a ghost story, I’m quite happy for the ghost to just be a ghost…

  8. I’m going to read the full story for sure. That writing style is very appealing and I love the children being told basically that they are ok, but nowhere near as lovely as their mother!
    Slightly concerned about the moral – I have a feeling I should have been read this at my mothers knee – oh well if all is lost I may as well be really bad 😊

    • Haha! I know – she was a bit mean saying that, but children need to be kept in their place! You mean you weren’t perfect like me as a child? You surprise me… 😉 I think you’ll enjoy this one though – hope so anyway! It’s nicely scary… 🙂

    • Haha! Sorry, Anne – I always forget that not everyone was around when I started this feature. It’s a Shakespeare quote from Hamlet…

      I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
      Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
      Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
      Thy knotted and combined locks to part
      And each particular hair to stand on end,
      Like quills upon the fretful porpentine

      When I started Tuesday Terror! I decided to create a “Fretful porpentine” rating for the scariness element… and, yes, we call them porcupines these days too… 🙂

    • Who, BUS?? She is not an Indian! Not unless she was unfortunately swapped in the maternity hospital… *muses* Oh, 10,000 words is nothing… in comparison to, say, Northanger Abbey… *runs off, giggling*

    • I’ve tried her books a couple of times, but not been overly enthused by them However her style works great for this kind of gothic ghost story, and has maybe even tempted me to give her books another try…

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