Friday, October 30, 2009

"There is hardly any person of quality but what knows it to be true."

The blustery, essence-of-October night outside makes me want a simple, straightforward ghost story. So I turn back to John Aubrey, who shares, in the second edition of his Miscellanies on Various Subjects, a tale he originally encountered in the Athenian Mercury of Tuesday, June 25, 1695:
Two persons (Ladies) of quality, (both not being long since deceased,) were intimate acquaintance, and loved each other entirely : it so fell out, that one of them fell sick of the small-pox, and desired mightily to see the other, who would not come, fearing the catching of them. The afflicted at last dies of them, and had not been buried very long, but appears at the other's house, in the dress of a widow, and asks for her friend, who was then at cards, but sends down her woman to know her business, who, in short, told her, "she must impart it to none but her " Lady," who, after she had received this answer, bid her woman have her in a room, and desired her to stay while the game was done, and she would wait on her. The game being done, down stairs she came to the apparition, to know her business ; "madam," says the ghost, (turning up her veil, and her face appearing full of the small-pox) " You know very well, that you and I, loved entirely; "and your not coming to see me, I took it so ill at your " hands, that I could not rest till I had seen you, and " now I am come to tell you, that you have not long to " live, therefore prepare to die ; and when you are at a "feast, and make the thirteenth person in number, then "remember my words;" and so the apparition vanished.

To conclude, she was at a feast, where she made the thirteenth person in number, and was afterwards asked by the deceased's brother, "whether his sister did appear to her as was reported?" she made him no answer, but fell a weeping, and died in a little time after. The gentleman that told this story, says, that there is hardly any person of quality but what knows it to be true.
The veil, the oracular number, the provocative question, the closing assurance that everyone who's anyone knows this story--what more could a brief ghost story need?

And as the wind outdoes itself, scattering sweeps of leaves before it, I'll close with a reminder from Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), collected in The Oxford Book of the Supernatural:
If all the divels in hell were dead, and all the witches in England burnt or hanged, I warrant you we should not faile to have raine, haile, and tempests, as now we have : according to the appointment and will of God, and according to the constitution of the elements, and the course of the planets, wherein God hat set a perfect and perpetuall order.
Though Scot displays a faith in God's "perfect and perpetuall order" that I can't share, I nonetheless take some comfort in the reminder that the night's unwelcoming weather is the work of "the constitution of the elements" and "the course of the planets" rather than a focused malignancy--and that therefore it shall, someday, pass.

Unless, that is, a disgruntled reader out there has some powers I don't know about?

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