Thursday, December 22, 2011

Vintage Tale: The Abbot's Ghost, a Christmas Story

Before Louisa May Alcott became known for Little Women and other works of the kind, she wrote several Gothic novellas under the pseudonym AM Barnard.  This long short story, or short novel, is one of those.  If you are looking for something light and fast-paced and somewhat seasonal to read, this might be a good pick.

The story centers around Maurice Traherne, a young man badly injured in a tragic accident, who was mysteriously disinherited by his uncle just before the latter died.   No one knows why, and everyone pities him for his fall from rich eligible bachelor to poverty-stricken cripple.

In a Christmas gathering at his aunt's house, several key people come together, both from his past and present, and the story goes from there with several revelations and interesting events, and in the style of romance, resolves fortuitously in the end.

This is basically a romance with some elements of gothic mystery (the ghost from the title, and a lady with a mysterious and not entirely savory past) and was a fun read.   If ancient curses and unquiet spirits and hints of disreputable pasts aren't a problem, the story might be enjoyable for a teenager.   The main characters are properly noble, and the people with shadier backgrounds end up properly repentant.  It probably wouldn't be too interesting to boys or younger children since the plot mostly concerns romance and mysteries of past days.

There is a mild religious flavor -- and as previously mentioned, virtue and sacrifice triumph over selfishness and temptation in the end.  

The Abbot's Ghost (free on Amazon for Kindle)
The Abbot's Ghost (Librivox -- links to audio version and other versions)

An excerpt from the story:  

"You know it was supposed that old Sir Jasper, being a bachelor, would leave his fortune to his two nephews. But he was an oddity, and as the title must go to young Jasper by right, the old man said Maurice should have the money. He was poor, young Jasper rich, and it seemed but just, though Madame Mère was very angry when she learned how the will was made."

"But Maurice didn't get the fortune. How was that?"
"There was some mystery there which I shall discover in time. All went smoothly till that unlucky yachting trip, when the cousins were wrecked. Maurice saved Jasper's life, and almost lost his own in so doing. I fancy he wishes he had, rather than remain the poor cripple he is. Exposure, exertion, and neglect afterward brought on paralysis of the lower limbs, and there he is—a fine, talented, spirited fellow tied to that cursed chair like a decrepit old man."
"The old man must have been demented. What in heaven's name did he mean by leaving Maurice helpless and penniless after all his devotion to Jasper? Had he done anything to offend the old party?"

"No one knows; Maurice hasn't the least idea of the cause of this sudden whim, and the old man would give no reason for it. He died soon after, and the instant Jasper came to the title and estate he brought his cousin home, and treats him like a brother. Jasper is a noble fellow, with all his faults, and this act of justice increases my respect for him," said the major heartily.

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