James Hume Nisbet (August 8, 1849 – June 4, 1923) was Scottish born Australian author and artist. (Unfortunately there a not many images of him available). Nisbet found more fame as an author, despite striving for the same success as an artist, he was not as successful in that particular area.
The story takes place during a time when it was considered both socially acceptable and part of the party entertainment to invite the spirits in to amuse the living.
‘about the time when spiritualism was all the craze in England, and no party was reckoned complete without a spirit-rapping seance’
Our narrator is a non-believer, and yet at that time found himself in ill health, thus perhaps more susceptible to the convincing world of the inexplicable and unexplained.
I did not believe in the return of spirits, yet, thinking to be amused, consented to attend at the hour appointed. At that time I had just returned from a long sojourn abroad, and was in a very delicate state of health, easily impressed by outward influences, and nervous to a most extraordinary extent.
When he arrived he found himself surrounded by both strangers and also seance alumni. As they waited for the medium to arrive they all sat down for the seance and sang a little hymn.
Soon after the medium walked in and took a seat next to our storyteller. Although he wasn’t usually convinced by the theatrics of such events, there was just something about this particular medium.
here was something in the silence and the dim light, for the gas had been turned low down, and the room seemed filled with shadows; something about the fragile figure at my side, with her drooping head, which thrilled me with a curious sense of fear and icy horror such as I had never felt before.
Only when he looked upon the medium did he feel soothed. It was as if all his senses had become hypersensitive to his surroundings.
I am not by nature imaginative or inclined to superstition, but, from the moment that young girl had entered the room, I felt as if a hand had been laid upon my heart, a cold iron hand, that was compressing it, and causing it to stop throbbing. My sense of hearing also had grown more acute and sensitive, so that the beating of the watch in my vest pocket sounded like the thumping of a quartz-crushing machine, and the measured breathing of those about me as loud and nerve-disturbing as the snorting of a steam engine.
As they sat, the table moved several times and loud knocking ensued.
‘She is possessed,’ whispered my host.I shivered as her hand touched mine, but had not strength to withdraw it from her light, soft grasp
The woman started to speak, her voice filled the room like a wisp of smoke rising to the ceiling.
‘I am what you would call a lost soul; that is, I am in the lowest sphere. Last week I was in the body, but met my death down Whitechapel way. I was what you call an unfortunate, aye, unfortunate enough. Shall I tell you how it happened?’
It might have been an illusion or perhaps just the lighting, but she suddenly appeared older and more haggard with each word she spoke.
‘I was dragging my wearied body along through the slush and mud for it had been wet all day, and I was drenched to the skin. I had importuned several passers by as I went along that night, but none of them spoke to me, only once a man answered me, a dark-faced, middle-sized man. He asked me where I was going, and then left me, putting a coin into my hand, for which I thanked him.
She took the coin to the nearest public-house, but found that the coin was a foreign one, which meant she couldn’t buy any food. She decided to go home to her lodgings instead. Tired, hungry and disappointed.
I felt something touch me softly from behind like as if someone had caught hold of my shawl; then I stopped and turned about to see who it was.’I was alone, and with no one near me, nothing but fog and the half light from the court lamp.’I tried to scream out, but could not, as this unseen grasp closed upon my throat and choked me, and then I fell down and for a moment forgot everything.’Next moment I woke up, outside my own poor mutilated body, and stood watching the fell work going on—as you see it now.’
And so she told the story of her own murder by some ghoulish pock-marked being.
Yes I saw it all as the medium ceased speaking, a mangled corpse lying on a muddy pavement, and a demoniac, dark, pock-marked face bending over it, with the lean claws outspread, and the dense fog instead of a body, like the half formed incarnation of muscles.
The medium had no recollection of her visions or of the words she had spoken. She suddenly returned to being the young seemingly innocent girl again. Our narrator returns to his home, but feels as if he has taken the whole horror of the seance with him.
I felt as if the room was filled with ghosts, as if this pair of ghastly spectres, the murderer and his victim, had accompanied me home, and were at that moment disputing the possession of me,
suddenly, I seemed to hear a far off echo cry ‘Come to me.’ At the same time the bedclothes were slowly pulled from the bed, and left in a confused mass on the floor. ‘Is that you, Polly?’ I cried, remembering the spirit seance, and the name by which the spirit had announced herself
The ghost ‘Polly’ told him he needed to save the young medium. The same ghoul who had killed the visiting spirit was intent on making her his next victim.
I saw it all at a glance, her half-naked form, with the disarranged bedclothes, as the unformed demon of muscles clutched that delicate throat, and then I was at it like a fury with my Kandian dagger, slashing crossways at those cruel claws and that evil face, while blood streaks followed the course of my knife, making ugly stains, until at last it ceased struggling and disappeared like a horrid nightmare, as the half-strangled girl, now released from that fell grip, woke up the house with her screams, while from her releasing hand dropped a strange coin, which I took possession of.
I’m just not sure having the foreign coin in his possession is the safest possible scenario for him. Who knows what it might do to someone else in the future.
Nisbet had a penchant for the gothic tales. He liked to concentrate on the supernatural element and didn’t feel the need to always furnish off or embellish his tales with any kind of moral of the story. That in itself is unusual for the era. It’s a good read, I hope you enjoy it.
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