"The Old Nurse's Story" is the first tale in Elizabeth Gaskell's collection of short stories and novellas titled Tales of Mystery & the Macabre. Many of the nine Victorian Gothic tales in this book were originally published in Charles Dickens' weekly Household Words. Gaskell wrote "The Old Nurse's Story" at the request of Dickens for a ghost story to be published in the special 1852 Christmas issue of his publication.
It is a tale that immediately grabbed me as the type that would be told around a campfire at night with all the attendant flickering shadows and night noises that go with such a setting. "The Old Nurse's Story" features a young orphan girl left in the care of her nanny and an old Aunt and the Aunt's small staff of servants. The story starts out normally enough, but with each passing page it becomes clear that there are dark secrets and strange goings-on in the old manor. The East wing is closed off and must not be entered; someone plays the old organ in the great hall on stormy nights, but it is no one currently residing at the manor; ghostly beckoning figures appear outside windows and doors. "The Old Nurse's Story" is a Victorian ghost story of the first order.
Mrs. Gaskell is better known for her social novels than she is for tales of the macabre. Her novels capture the injustices of society, the poverty stricken, and the vulnerable positions of many women and children and I did not anticipate that these themes would appear in her supernatural tales. I'm not sure why I thought this, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that she did integrate a bit of social commentary into "The Old Nurse's Story."
I encourage you to read "The Old Nurse's Story" ... preferably on a dark and stormy night!
This reading counts toward the Short Story Peril for the R.I.P. V Challenge.