Monday, October 22, 2012

Mysterious Mondays: "The Wind in the Rose-Bush" by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman

"What makes that rose-bush blow so when there isn't any wind?"
(from The Literary Gothic)

"The Wind in the Rose-Bush" is an odd little ghost story from Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman.  The ghost is really not of primary importance in this tale -- instead it is the interaction of the two principal female characters that provides the eeriness.  Rebecca Flint is a Michigan spinster who has travelled to the distant town of Ford Village to retrieve her deceased sister's daughter from her brother-in-law's second wife.  Although the man died three years previously, Rebecca was only recently able to make this trip to collect her niece Agnes.  Upon meeting the second Mrs. Dent, Rebecca states her purpose, and is alarmed when the other woman has a violent reaction.  However, Emeline Dent recovers herself, claims that she is subject to spells, and invites Rebecca into the house.  On their way in, Rebecca notices a rose-bush with one perfect red rose on it, but is startled when the bush begins to shake violently, even though there is no wind.  Mrs. Dent brushes the odd incident off, and the two women enter the house.

Finding that Agnes is not home, Rebecca asks if she will be returning soon, to which Mrs. Dent calmly replies that the girl is visiting a dear friend and neighbor, Addie Slocum, and it would be hard to say when she will return.  Mrs. Dent invites Rebecca to stay for as long as she likes until Agnes is ready to travel.   The two women wait for the girl, but she does not return, and an exhausted Rebecca finally goes to her room without seeing her niece.  The next morning Mrs. Dent informs her that Agnes spent the night with the Slocums, and later Rebecca is told that the girl went on an out-of-town trip with Addie.

Again and again the return of Agnes is delayed, for various reasons according to Emeline Dent.  Rebecca is flabbergasted by these excuses, but also puzzled by a series of mysterious occurrences at the house, such as the appearance of unusual objects, music in the middle of the night, and the sudden scent of roses in rooms, not to mention the continued inexplicable quaking of the rose-bush by the front door.  Mrs. Dent's reaction to all of these things is odd, but she continues to act as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening, which confuses Rebecca even more.

Then Rebecca receives notice that the cousin who is staying at her house while she is away has injured herself, and Rebecca must return immediately.  Still young Agnes is not home, and she is forced to leave without her niece.  The exasperated woman tells Mrs. Dent in no uncertain terms to send the girl on alone to join her in Michigan, but leaves not at all reassured that this enigmatic woman will follow her instructions.  Sure enough, Agnes does not arrive, and more unusual still, she finds her cousin quite healthy and at a loss to explain the urgent summons added on to her letter.  Rebecca, who has fallen ill upon her return home, cannot travel, so she writes to Mrs. Dent, the Slocums, and the postmaster of Ford Village requesting information about Agnes.  The only reply she receives is a short note from the postmaster, but the revelations in this letter reveal dark secrets that until now have only been suspected by Rebecca Flint.

This ghost story is unusual in that the ghost plays only a very minor role, and one that is not especially scary.  More frightening than the specter is the second Mrs. Dent, a strange and unsettling woman who deliberately plays a cruel and unnecessary cat and mouse game with the unsuspecting Rebecca Flint, but who ultimately seems doomed to suffer in slow but relentless degrees from the consequences of her own actions. In this tale, what is not revealed is more horrifying that what does come to light, a technique which the talented writer is quite adept at employing.

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