A Spectral Shadow–The Nurse’s Story: 1880s

 

ghost in bedchamber british library 1895 cut

A Spectral Shadow.

Sir,—The following incident was related to me by a nurse whose veracity I have no reason to doubt; on the contrary, I am justified in believing anything she might tell me, knowing what I do of her character and truthfulness. The statement was as follows:—

Some years ago, I was sent for to nurse a woman, who had been engaged to attend on a lady who was slightly mentally deranged, and lived with a sister. The ladies were elderly and well off. The attendant, a powerful and rather coarse- featured woman, was very ill when I was called to her, and not expected to live, and her illness had been brought about in the following way:—

The attendant had been some three months in the house and had managed to give every satisfaction to the sister and to the doctor, but was greatly feared and disliked by the patient, who complained bitterly of the harsh and cruel treatment to which this woman had subjected her; but the sister and doctor merely put this complaint down to the patient’s state of mind, and pooh-poohed it as a delusion—the attendant strenuously denying the accusation, in which the poor lady persisted. My informant, however, gave it as her opinion that the poor lady’s complaints were justified and ought to have received the attention which, as after events proved, they did not receive and which would have averted the terrible consequences that followed.

One morning, early in June, there had been a scene in the bedroom; the lady had cried out for help and complained of her attendant’s harshness and cruelty, but the attendant said that her patient had been very violent, and must be left to her, as she was responsible, and she forbade everyone to enter the room, saying that she would soon quiet the patient if allowed to manage her in her own way. As the lady ceased her cries the attendant descended to the kitchen for her patient’s breakfast, and, taking advantage of her absence, the poor lady threw herself from her bedroom window and was picked up dead. The fright of the death simply paralysed the attendant, and as she was unable to do anything she was put to bed. She became worse, could not attend the inquest or be removed, and I was sent for to nurse her at night, another nurse remaining with her by day, we being paid by the lady’s sister.

On the sixth night, as the weather was close, I opened the windows and fastened back the door, which opened into a narrow passage about twenty feet long. My patient had been very restless and was lying in an uneasy sleep, muttering as she lay. I placed myself at a small table, where I could see down the passage I have named, then lowered the gas on account of the heat, and was reading by the dim light of a candle, when I became conscious of a sudden fall in the temperature of the room. It seemed to me that an icy, deathlike cold, such as I had never before imagined could exist, a tangible cold, had suddenly surrounded me. I rose from my chair to account, if I could, for this strange occurrence, when, as I looked down the passage, I saw a moving shadow. Unable to stir, I watched, and soon defined something in human shape, but a shadow only, approaching me. Slowly it moved, bringing with it a still colder atmosphere, and before I could utter a sound the shadow, with its unseeing eyes, walked to the bed and stood there, leaning over the foot. I then saw that it was an elderly woman, with streaming hair and features drawn with pain. She was solemnly gazing at the other woman in the bed, who, however, did not see the ghostly shadow, but continued her mutterings and restless movements.

It seemed to me that the shadow stood thus for an hour, looking intently at the sick woman, and then slowly, with a backward glance at the bed, it left the room and was lost in the shadows of the passage. As it departed the atmosphere of the room recovered its normal temperature as quickly as it had lost it.

On looking at my watch, I found the incident had lasted about eight or nine minutes. I was so terrified I went at once to the servants’ room, and one returned with me, who assured me that she had often seen the shadow, which she believed to be that of her late mistress, but she was not afraid. I found, on inquiry, that two nurses had left on account of the shadow’s visit, and as I had no wish to see it again I was relieved of night duty, at my request, and the servant took my place. The woman eventually recovered, and then the remaining sister gave up the house and left the town, and whether the present occupants of the house have ever seen the ghostly shadow that so completely upset my nerves I do not know_

Yours, &c.,

Dora de Bike.

Light 7 August 1909: p. 382

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The ghost who returns to take revenge on its murderer is a well-known figure in supernatural literature. This case raises questions about the efficacy of such revenge-bound revenants—were this a fictional story, the paralysed nurse would have fallen back dead, a look of stark, staring horror on her face, when confronted with the spectre of the elderly lady at the foot of the bed. Alternately she would have contracted a fatal chill from the icy, deathlike cold permeating the room.  A sadly ineffectual spectre, one fears—possibly so enfeebled by her own illness she could not successfully frighten her tormentor to death.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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