The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
The Story of the Glittering Plain (1890)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
“The Story of the Rippling Train” was written by Mary Louisa Molesworth and first appeared in Longman's Magazine (Oct. 1887). Molesworth (1839-1921) was a British author of children's stories and ghost stories best-known in her lifetime for her children’s stories.
"The Story of the Rippling Train" is about Paul Marischal, who is among the guests at a weekend retreat. The other guests are in need of entertainment, and when someone mentions the idea of telling ghost stories someone else scoffs, “You never see the person who saw or heard or felt the ghost. It is always somebody's sister or cousin, or friend's friend.”1 This prompts Paul’s niece Nina to ask him to tell his story. As a young man Paul was taken with his beautiful friend Maud Bertram, but she had many admirers, and he did not feel it right to press his suit. They were friends for a time, but then she married and went to India, and they drifted out of touch, and for several years he did not think of her. And then one night in the library of his town he saw a “wavy something...gliding, rippling in, gradually”2 assuming the hazy figure of a woman: Maud. Maud looked at him with a “terrible, unspeakable sadness in her face, which, even though I felt no fear, seemed to freeze me with a kind of unutterable pity.”3 After a moment the vision of Maud disappeared, and as Paul had no way to contact Maud—he couldn’t remember her married name—he could only jot down the date. He later discovered that she had died on that date after being caught in a fire which had disfigured the right side of her face. Paul said, "It was the left side of her face only that the wraith of my poor friend had allowed me to see."4
Mrs. Molesworth is generally well-regarded by connoisseurs of Victorian ghost stories, and "The Story of the Rippling Train" is told with undeniable skill, in the brisk, conversational style of the late Victorians, but the complete predictability of the plot may ruin most readers’ enjoyment of the story. The rippling effect is nicely visual, but "The Story of the Rippling Train" does not frighten—Mrs. Molesworth was too genteel for that—and does not stir emotion, except perhaps a vague sadness. Those looking to experience Mrs. Molesworth’s better work should try “The Shadow in the Moonlight” or The Tapestry Room instead.
Print: Michael Cox and R.A. Gilbert, eds., The Oxford Book of Ghost Stories. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
1 Mrs. Molesworth, “The Story of the Rippling Train,” in Four Ghost Stories (London: Macmillan and Co., 1888), 227.
2 Molesworth, “Rippling Train,” 242.
3 Molesworth, “Rippling Train,” 245.
4 Molesworth, “Rippling Train,” 252.