Peril of the Short Story: Instalment the First.

For this year's R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge I have a list of eighteen short stories to read over the next six weeks. This is the first instalment:
  • The Ghost of Dorothy Dingley by Daniel Defoe (1720).
  • Mary Burnet by James Hogg (1828).
  • The Tapestried Chamber by Walter Scott (1828).

𝔗𝔥𝔢 𝔊𝔥𝔬𝔰𝔱 𝔬𝔣 𝔇𝔬𝔯𝔬𝔱𝔥𝔶 𝔇𝔦𝔫𝔤𝔩𝔢𝔶 𝔟𝔶 𝔇𝔞𝔫𝔦𝔢𝔩 𝔇𝔢𝔣𝔬𝔢.

The Ghost of Dorothy Dingley is also known as A Remarkable Passage of an Apparition, related by the Rev. Dr. Ruddle, of Launceston, in Cornwall, in the year 1665. Quite where it first appeared I do not know.

It begins,
In the beginning of this year, a disease happened in this town of Launceston, and some of my scholars died of it. Among others who fell under the malignity then triumphing, was John Elliot, the eldest son of Edward Elliot of Treherse, Esq., a stripling of about sixteen years of age, but of more than common parts and ingenuity. At his own particular request I preached at the funeral, which happened on the 20th day of June 1665. In my discourse (ut mos reique locique postulabat), I spoke some words in commendation of the young gentleman; such as might endear his memory to those that knew him. An ancient gentleman, who was then in the church, was much affected with the discourse, and was often heard to repeat, the same evening, an expression I then used out of Virgil:
Et puer ipse fuit cantari dignus.
The reason why this grave gentleman was so concerned at the character, was a reflection he made upon a son of his own, who being about the same age, and but a few months before, not unworthy of the like character I gave of the young Mr. Elliot, was now, by a strange accident, quite lost as to his parents' hopes and all expectation of any further comfort by him.
Defoe continues to tell of the ghost who first appeared to Mr. Elliot:
"This woman which appears to me," saith he, "lived a neighbour here to my father, and died about eight years since; her name, Dorothy Dingley, of such a stature, such age, and such complexion. She never speaks to me, but passeth by hastily, and always leaves the footpath to me, and she commonly meets me twice or three times in the breadth of a field."
He then offers to prove to our narrator the existence of Dorothy Dingley and our narrator agrees to accompany him, and the story is proved to be true: the narrator sees her with his own eyes... It's a very atmospheric tale, I just wish I knew where it came from!

Rating: 👻👻👻

𝔐𝔞𝔯𝔶 𝔅𝔲𝔯𝔫𝔢𝔱 𝔟𝔶 𝔍𝔞𝔪𝔢𝔰 ℌ𝔬𝔤𝔤.

Mary Burnett is a tale by the Scottish author James Hogg. It begins,
The following incidents are related as having occurred at a shepherd's house, not a hundred miles from St. Mary's Loch: but, as the descendants of one of the families still reside in the vicinity, I deem it requisite to use names which cannot be recognised, save by those who have heard the story.
Hogg starts by describing John Allanson, the handsome and "incautious" man who is courting Mary Burnet. She was "an innocent and beautiful maiden" who did not feel completely comfortable with being alone with him. One day, though, he summons her, but on seeing him she is afraid and runs away. He chases her, and -
Mary would not stop; but ran on, till, coming to a little cliff that jutted out into the lake, round which there was no passage, and, perceiving her lover would there overtake her, she uttered another shriek, and plunged into the lake. The loud sound of her fall into the still water rung in the young man's ears like the knell of death; and if before he was crazed with love, he was now as much so with despair. He saw her floating but, in a short time, she began to sink, and gradually disappeared without uttering a throb or a cry.
Allanson dives in after her but is unable to find her. This is not, however, the last we see of Mary Burnet. A wonderful tale of ghosts, sprites, and magical creatures.

Rating: 👻👻👻👻

𝔗𝔥𝔢 𝔗𝔞𝔭𝔢𝔰𝔱𝔯𝔦𝔢𝔡 ℭ𝔥𝔞𝔪𝔟𝔢𝔯 𝔟𝔶 𝔚𝔞𝔩𝔱𝔢𝔯 𝔖𝔠𝔬𝔱𝔱.

The Tapestried Chamber first appeared in The Keepsake Stories for 1829, published for Christmas in 1828. It begins,
About the end of the American war, when the officers of Lord Cornwallis's army, which surrendered at Yorktown, and others, who had been made prisoners during the impolitic and ill-fated controversy, were returning to their own country to relate their adventures and repose themselves after their fatigues, there was amongst them a general officer, of the name of Browne - an officer of merit, as well as a gentleman of high consideration for family and attachments.
Whilst travelling Browne sees an old castle and learns his old friend is its owner. He goes to stay there, sleeping in the tapestried chamber. The next morning Browne appears terrified and dishevelled, and he tells his horrifying tale of what passed the night before. Here's an excerpt: 
I thought the intrusion singular enough, but never harboured for a moment the idea that what I saw was anything more than the mortal frame of some old woman about the establishment, who had a fancy to dress like her grandmother, and who, having perhaps as your lordship mentioned that you were rather straitened for room, been dislodged from her chamber for my accommodation, had forgotten the circumstance and returned by twelve to her old haunt. Under this persuasion I moved myself in bed and coughed a little, to make the intruder sensible of my being in possession of the premises. She turned slowly round, but, gracious Heaven! my lord, was a countenance did she display to me! There was no longer any question what she was, or any thought of her being a living being. Upon a face which wore the fixed features of a corpse were imprinted the traces of the vilest and most hideous passions which had animated her while she lived. The body of some atrocious criminal seemed to have been given up from the grave, and the soul restored from the penal fire, in order to form, for a space, an union with the ancient accomplice of its guilt...
A truly frightening tale. My rating: 👻👻👻👻👻

Next week, three more tales: The Mysterious Mansion by Honoré de Balzac (1832), The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin (1833), and Edward Randolph's Portrait by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1837).


  1. early ghost tales have their own ambience: like being precipitated into another world, which in a way, i guess is true... Stevenson wrote a lot of them; one i remember in particular is "Thrawn Janet"; it's sort of like the ones cited above...

    1. I'll check it out, it might actually be in the collection I have. And yes, the early ones do indeed have their own ambience, all the more spooky I think :)


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