I came across this story not too long ago, and really liked it. It’s not wintery enough to share for my annual Winter Tales series, but I thought I’d pass it along anyway.
It’s certainly a story of occult investigation, though I’m not sure the protagonist quite meets the definition of “occult detective,” at least by Tim Prasil’s definition. The story probably does meet Sage Leslie-McCarthy’s definition of “psychic detective fiction” — going by her definition as quoted by Tim in his essays. I didn’t read all of Leslie-McCarthy’s dissertation. Yet. I will.
A young man is on holiday in the town of Mintern Brevil, and notices a mysterious entry on a monument in the local church. He notices that someone else takes an interest in the monument, too. Someone only he can see.
[The Prayer-book] fell against her knees, but, instead of sliding down the slope of her skirt, passed straight through it to the floor, as a stone might fall through transparent water. I could see it lying upon the boards, although the grey folds of her dress and the outline of her limbs were between me and it.
The ghost sends him on a mission. Will he succeed?
The story first appeared in The Cornhill Magazine in 1921. Its author, Violet Jacob, was a Scottish writer best known for her historical novel Flemington, and for her poetry written in the Scottish vernacular. According to her Wikipedia entry, the influential poet and Scottish nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid called her “the most considerable of contemporary vernacular poets”.
Though she also wrote short stories, she wasn’t particularly a ghost story writer — I’ve found two so far, including this one, both of which I like. I plan to investigate her non-genre short fiction, too.
The story at heart is really about family: maternal love, or the lack of it, and about the depth of sacrifice some people will go to for its sake. For that reason I mentally group it with the ghost stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman, and perhaps of Margaret Oliphant. That’s just me, though. I won’t insist on the classification. And of course, I have to mention Dorothy Macardle’s wonderful novel The Uninvited (aka Uneasy Freehold), another (quite different) ghost story of maternal love and the lack of it. Great movie, too.
Featured Image: Wallpaper design, Jules-Edmond-Charles Lachaise, Eugène-Pierre Gourdet (1830-97). Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Imagined medieval interior, Gerum Church, Gotland, Sweden, A.T. Gellerstedt (1867). Photographer Lars Kennerstedt, 2013. Source: Swedish National Heritage Board.