A comprehensive collection of the bizarre tales of Mrs Molesworth
The writer who was always known by her formal title Mrs Molesworth, was in fact born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands to English parents in 1839 and christened Mary Louisa Stewart. Her father was a successful Manchester businessman and Mary was educated both in England and Switzerland. In 1861 she married Major R. Molesworth, a nephew of Viscount Molesworth, an Irish aristocrat. Their marriage was ultimately unsuccessful and they were legally separated in 1879. Her first fiction—the 1869 novel ‘Lover and Husband’—was published under the pseudonym Ennis Graham. As was common among authors of the day she wrote in a number of genres but—curiously—she was most prolific as a writer of children’s’ fiction, particularly for girls who were too old for fairytales but to young for adult fiction. These tales were for those who would eventually become Victorian wives and mothers and so were rich with the sentiments of duty and morality. These may seem like dubious credentials to those interested in good supernatural fiction and especially to those who have not actually read any of Mrs Molesworth’s stories of ghosts and hauntings. However, this would be to do the author a great injustice for the only shortcoming concerning her strange tales is that she did not write more of them. Her talent for the genre will be immediately apparent to the reader and, indeed, several of the tales included here are recognised as classics and were highly regarded by the supernatural writer and academic M. R. James. Among the fifteen stories in this special Leonaur collection—which we believe (at the time of publication) is the only comprehensive gathering of Mary Molesworth’s tales of the other worldly available—are ‘The Story of the Rippling Train,’ ‘At the Dip of the Road,’ ‘The Man with the Cough,’ ‘Half way Between the Stiles’ and many others. Also included in this collection is a story by Mary Molesworth's son Bevil, ‘A Ghost of the Pampas.’ Bevil died on his Patagonian ranch when in his mid twenties.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
“Before setting to work I sat down for a moment or two in an easy-chair by the fire, for it was still cool enough weather to make a fire desirable, and began thinking over my letters. No thought, no shadow of a thought of my old friend Miss Bertram was present with me; of that I am perfectly certain. The door was on the same side of the room as the fireplace; as I sat there, half facing the fire, I also half faced the door. I had not shut it properly on coming in—I had only closed it without turning the handle—and I did not feel surprised when it slowly and noiselessly swung open, till it stood right out into the room, concealing the actual doorway from my view.<br>
“You will perhaps understand the position better if you think of the door as just then acting like a screen to the doorway. From where I sat I could not have seen anyone entering the room till he or she had got beyond the door itself. I glanced up, half expecting to see someone come in, but there was no one; the door had swung open of itself. For the moment I sat on, with only the vague thought passing through my mind, ‘I must shut it before I begin to write.’<br>
“But suddenly I found my eyes fixing themselves on the carpet; something had come within their range of vision, compelling their attention in a mechanical sort of way. What was it?<br>
“‘Smoke,’ was my first idea. ‘Can there be anything on fire?’ But I dismissed the notion almost as soon as it suggested itself. The something, faint and shadowy, that came slowly rippling itself in as it were beyond the dark wood of the open door, was yet too material for ‘smoke.’ My next idea was a curious one. ‘It looks like soapy water,’ I said to myself; ‘can one of the housemaids have been scrubbing, and upset a pail on the stairs?’ For the stair to the next floor almost faced the library door. But—no; I rubbed my eyes and looked again; the soapy water theory gave way.<br>
“The wavy something that kept gliding, rippling in, gradually assumed a more substantial appearance. It was—yes, I suddenly became convinced of it—it was ripples of soft silken stuff, creeping in as if in some mysterious way unfolded or unrolled, not jerkily or irregularly, but glidingly and smoothly, like little wavelets on the sea-shore.<br>
“And I sat there and gazed. ‘Why did you not jump up and look behind the door to see what it was?’ you may reasonably ask. That question I cannot answer. Why I sat still, as if bewitched, or under some irresistible influence, I cannot tell, but so it was.<br>
“And it—came always rippling in, till at last it began to rise as it still came on, and I saw that a figure—a tall, graceful woman’s figure—was slowly advancing, backwards of course, into the room, and that the waves of pale silk—a very delicate shade of pearly gray I think it must have been—were in fact the lower portion of a long court-train, the upper part of which hung in deep folds from the lady’s waist. She moved in—I cannot describe the motion, it was not like ordinary walking or stepping backwards—till the whole of her figure and the clear profile of her face and head were distinctly visible, and when at last she stopped and stood there full in my view just, but only just beyond the door, I saw—it came upon me like a flash—that she was no stranger to me, this mysterious visitant! I recognised, unchanged it seemed to me since the day, ten years ago, when I had last seen her, the beautiful features of Maud Bertram.”<br>
Mr. Marischal stopped a moment. Nobody spoke. Then he went on again.<br>
“I should not have said ‘unchanged.’ There was one great change in the sweet face. You remember my telling you that one of my girl-friend’s greatest charms was her bright sunny happiness—she never seemed gloomy or depressed or dissatisfied, seldom even pensive. But in this respect the face I sat there gazing at was utterly unlike Maud Bertram’s. Its expression, as she—or ‘it’—stood there looking, not towards me, but out beyond, as if at some one or something outside the doorway, was of the profoundest sadness. Anything so sad I had never seen in a human face, and I trust I never may. But I sat on, as motionless almost as she, gazing at her fixedly, with no desire, no power perhaps, to move or approach more nearly to the phantom.