Monday, October 29, 2012

Mysterious Mondays: "The Lost Ghost" by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman

"Then I saw a little white face with eyes so scared and wistful that they seemed as if they might eat a hole in anybody's heart."
(from The Literary Gothic)

I have mentioned in a previous post that some of the most heart-wrenching supernatural short stories are those that involve the ghosts of children.  Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman's "The Lost Ghost" is one of the most poignant of these tales, as well as being one of her best.  Two women, neighbors living in a New England village, spend an afternoon together doing needlework and gossiping, when the topic of ghosts is mentioned.  Mrs. Meserve confides to Mrs. Emerson that she once lived in a haunted house.  Intrigued, Mrs. Emerson presses her friend for more information, and after obtaining a promise that the story will not be repeated, Mrs. Meserve obliges.

In her youth, Mrs. Meserve, then Miss Arms, took a position as teacher in the town of East Wilmington.  She went to board with two sisters, Mrs. Dennison and Mrs. Bird, who had recently purchased and remodeled an old house and who were anxious to take in a boarder to help with expenses.  At first all went well and Miss Arms was quite content in her new home.  After about three weeks, however, the ghost made her first appearance to the young teacher.  The spirit was that of a very young girl, pitifully thin and apparently suffering from the cold.  The only words she spoke were "I can't find my mother."  The frightened Miss Arms confronted her landladies, who admitted to having seen the pathetic little ghost child as well, although they knew very little about her.  The only information they had concerned the former residents of the house, and the tragic events which befell them.  Apparently the mother of the child was a despicable woman, who abandoned her little girl in the house when her husband was out of town to run off with another man.  The poor child starved to death all alone in the house before the neighbors even realized what had happened.

The three women remained in the house in spite of the ghost, who was really not very terrifying, except for the fact that she was so pathetic.  Mrs. Bird in particular, a compassionate woman who had never had children of her own, grew to pity the ghostly girl, and fretted about not being able to help her.  The ending of the story is bittersweet, but hints dropped as the narrative progresses make the conclusion not unexpected.  Once again the writer presents a supernatural story as viewed through the eyes of practical New England women, who, even in the face of a tale as tragic as that of the child ghost, face events with stoic determination, this time tempered with compassion.

Visit The Literary Gothic to read the rest of Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman's ghost stories.  They are perfect for Halloween, or any other time you feel the need to read a well-written spooky tale!

From Ellen Moody's Website

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