The collected Mrs. Gaskell—a cornucopia of Victorian horror and spectral visitations
Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (or as she was known ‘Mrs. Gaskell’) was born as Elizabeth Stevenson in Chelsea, London in 1810. Gaskell was a prolific author, writing short stories, novels and non-fiction of social history as well as a notable biography of Charlotte Bronte. It would have been unusual had she not also written ghostly tales, because she lived at a time when chilling tales were highly popular. Indeed she was persuaded to do so by Charles Dickens, an enthusiast for the form who had also encouraged several other writers to make forays into the genre. Perhaps inevitably Gaskell’s scary, gothic fiction appeared in Dickens’ magazine ‘Household Words,’ a showcase also for several of her contemporaries. Gaskell’s stories not only ‘ticked all the boxes’ commercially, but her ability ensured that her stories, well regarded in her own time, have endured as among the best examples of Victorian supernatural fiction. Apart from her supernatural writings Mrs. Gaskell is especially remembered today for her novels, ‘Cranford’ and ‘North and South.’
Volume two of Mrs. Gaskells gothic chillers includes the novel ‘A Dark Night’s Work,’ four novelettes ‘Crowley Castle,’ ‘Lizzie Leigh,’ ‘Morton Hall,’ and ‘Half a Lifetime Ago,’ and five short stories.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Now, while they went to find this worthy chaplain, the poor lady was left alone in her bedchamber, and looked about for means of escape. There was none, except jumping from the window into the great enclosed courtyard, twenty feet below, and all paved with flags; but that risk was better than remaining where she was; so she took courage, and was on the point of throwing herself out, when Perrette, the chaplain, came in with the viaticum. He ran to the window, and tried to pluck her back; but the petticoat which he caught hold of gave way, and only a fragment of it remained in his hand. She was down below, pushing her long black hair down her throat, and thus, with wonderful presence of mind, trying to make herself sick; in which attempt she succeeded.<br>
Then she went round the courtyard, trying all the doors with trembling haste: but they were all locked; and that wicked chaplain in the château above was hastening to find the relentless brothers-in-law and to tell them of her escape. She ran round and round the enclosure, beating and striving at the doors; and at length a groom came out of the stables which were at one end of the yard, whom she implored to let her out by the stable-door into the street or road; saying she had swallowed some poison by mistake, and must find an antidote without loss of time.<br>
When she was once out of the accursed premises, she went to the house of the Sieur des Prats, who lived in the village. He was absent; but many of the good women of the place were assembled there on a visit to his wife. We may judge of the rank of the company by the fact that, in the depositions, all the married women are called “Mademoiselle” e.g., “Mademoiselle Brunei, wife of the Huguenot minister,” &c.; and in the Traité sur la manière d’Ecrire des Lettres, par Grimarest, 1667, the rules for the addresses to letters are these:—If a letter is to a lady of quality, she is to be called “Madame” in the address, and the letter is to be tied up with silk, and sealed with three seals; if the correspondent is only la femme d’un gentilhome, her titles on the superscription must be “Mademoiselle Mademoiselle” so and so; but if she is merely the wife of a bourgeois, simple “Mademoiselle” is all that is to be accorded to her.<br>
Now all the ladies assembled at the Sieur des Prats were Mademoiselles; but they were brave women, as we shall see. In amongst this peaceful company, enjoying an afternoon’s gossip, burst the lady of the Château de Gange; her dress (that which she had worn in bed) torn and disordered; her hair hanging about her; her face in all probability livid with mortal terror and the effects of the fierce poison. She had hardly had time to give any explanation of her appearance, when the Chevalier de Gange rushed into the room in search of his half-killed victim; the abbé remained below, guarding the door of the house. The chevalier walked up and down the room, saying that Madame was mad; that she must return with him, and uttering angry menaces.<br>
While his back was turned. Mademoiselle Brunei, wife of the Huguenot minister of the village, gave Madame de Gange small pieces of orvietan out of a box which she carried in her pocket. Orvietan, be it remembered, was considered a sovereign remedy against all kinds of poisons; and the fact of the minister’s wife carrying this antidote about in her pocket, wherever she went, tells a good deal as to the insecurity of life at that period. Madame de Gange managed to swallow a number of pieces of orvietan, unperceived by the chevalier; but when one of the ladies, pitying her burning thirst, went and brought her a glass of water, he perceived the kindness, and broke out afresh, dashing the glass from Madame’s mouth, and bidding all present to leave the room instantly, as he did not like witnesses to his sister-in-law’s madness.<br>
He drove them out, indeed, but they only went as far as the next room, where they huddled together in affright, wondering what they could do for the poor lady. She, meanwhile, begged for mercy in the most touching manner; she promised that she would forgive all, if he would but spare her life: but at these words he ran at her with his sword; holding it short, so that it could serve him as a dagger and give the surer stabs. She ran to the door, and clung to it, crying out afresh for pity, for mercy, for help. He stabbed her five times before his weapon broke in her shoulder.
Then the ladies burst in to the assistant of Madame, who was lying on the floor bathed in blood. Some ran to her help; others called through the window to the passers-by to fetch the surgeon quickly. Hearing their cry through the window, the abbé came up; and, finding his sister-in-law not yet dead, he began to hit her with the butt-end of his pistol, till brave Mademoiselle Brunei caught hold of his arm, and hung all her weight upon it. He struck her over and over again, to make her let go; but she would not; and all the women flew upon him “like lionesses,” and dragged him by main force out of the house, and turned him into the village-street. <br>
One of the ladies, who was skilled in surgery, returned to the room where Madame de Gange lay; and at her desire she put her knee against the wounded shoulder of Madame, and pulled out the broken point of the sword by main force. Then she staunched the blood, and bound up the wounds. The chevalier had been in too blind a passion, apparently, to think of stabbing any vital part; and, in spite of poison, and the heavy fall on the paved courtyard, and the five stabs, there seemed yet a chance for Madame de Gange’s life. That long and terrible May afternoon was now drawing to a close; and the abbé and the chevalier thought it well to take advantage of the coming darkness to ride off to Auberas, an estate of their brother’s, about a league from La Gange.