I always say, you really can't beat ghosts when it comes to administering cautionary tales. The following Welsh tale of love gone very, very wrong was told by one John Humphreys in the "North Wales Express" for December 24th, 1886. As I have said before, Wales has some of the best ghost stories anywhere, and this one's a particular corker.
Behold, the mother-in-law story to beat them all:
There is today in Carnarvon, a woman who has lived nearly a hundred years. She was pointed out to me some time ago as distinctly remembering the execution, on the Morfa, of a murderer. He was taken to a place of execution in an open cart seized for the occasion by the sheriff's officers, and from the cart he was swung into eternity. As far as I can ascertain this occurred about eighty years ago.Always listen to your mother, girls!
At that time the good folk living in and about Carnarvon were densely, intensely, and ignorantly superstitions--to a great extent they are too much so still--and belief in ghosts and their supernatural appearance was an unexceptional rule. How any work requiring to be done in the dark after sunset was done at all I can hardly imagine, insasmuch as the most hair-raising and ghastly sights were commonly believed to have been seen by belated travelers in all parts of the county. The Morfa, for example, near the present Workhouse was reported and believed to be the scene of ghostly and even demoniacal revels, if revels be the proper word to use to describe the nightly diablerie of perturbed spirits and unholy spirits. One story relates how a countryman, residing near, on looking through his window at midnight, saw the whole expanse of country in front of his home covered with wheels of fire, careening madly hither and thither, interspersed with which were ghostly forms in white robes, with outstretched arms, which floated in an aimless fashion in and out among the fiery wheels. On the sill of every house window, at other times, burned, pale and blue, the terrible "corpse candle" (canwyll corph) prognosticating disaster to all beholders.
To minds inured and accustomed to these things, a belief in such a story as I am about to relate would be the most natural thing in the world, and I, for one, am not surprised that my informant implicitly believes in its truth at the present day, in spite of all the revelations of knowledge. I do not of course, commit myself to the story, but, as related to me, I place the incidents of it before my readers.
In the year 1810, then, John Jones and his wife, Jinney, lived in a substantial farm house near Caeathraw. They were comparatively well to do, and had an only daughter, named, after her mother, Jinney. At the time this story opens, Jinney's mother had just died, and her body lay in a room in the old farm, awaiting interment. Her grave may now be seen at Llanbeblig.
Near Mr. Jones' farm stood the "big house" of Rhys Rhys, whose eldest son, an enigmatical sort of person, morose and taciturn, had fallen in love with Jinney Jones, and had obtained Mr. Jones' consent to a marriage. Mrs. Jones, however, disliked the idea of a match between her pretty daughter and the sour heir of the adjoining estate, and she had, up to her death, steadfastly refused to withdraw her opposition, and in this frame of mind had died, denouncing maledictions on the union if it were consummated after her death. As for Jinney herself, she appears to have been of an aspiring if somewhat flighty character, and, as far as she dared, ignored her mother's injunctions against keeping young Rhys' company. Many a sweet kiss was indulged in during the frequent lonely walks of the young couple around the lanes of what is now called Glangwna and Caeathraw, and they vowed that come what might, as soon as propriety would admit after her mother's interment they would be married.
The day of the funeral arrived, wet, and gloomy with fog, and what was regarded as a supernatural darkness prevailed during the procession to Llanbeblig. The horrified mourners were also startled at intervals by the apparition of the deceased lady, which appeared frequently during the march to the church, gleaming spectrally among the trees or the road side, and in such a form as impressed them with the conviction that the wraith was denouncing doom on those who had so secretly determined to ignore her dying wishes.
But the interment itself past off quietly, and all returned home, drenched to the skin by the sleet which fell all the morning, changing in the afternoon to a heavy fall of snow, which covered the whole countryside with a vast white mantle.
In Mr. Jones' homestead only three persons remained, and one of them sat alone in the kitchen. In a smaller room, where a great wood fire burned, Jinney and Rhys sat together conversing in low tones on the events of the day, Rhys encouraging Jinney in her decision to marry him as soon as decency would permit.
"The firelight flickered, glancing
To and fro,
Raising by its weird enchantment
Ghostly shadows, flitting
To and fro."
The night closed, and Mr. Jones pressed Rhys to stay rather than face midnight terrors on his homeward journey. This the lover consented to do, and a new subject of conversation was started in the ghostly appearance of Mrs. Jones during the funeral procession. But while they conversed, they became aware of a Presence in the room, and their hearts almost stopped from fear. There was nothing to be seen; not a sound broke the deathly stillness of the night; yet they felt that, somewhere near them, all about them, an antagonistic supernatural influence prevailed, and choked their utterance. The fire waned and died; the watchers sat still in their places, staring dreadfully into the gloom; clutching each other's hands in an agony of terror. Every moment they expected some horrible vision to manifest itself; every moment they expected some ghastly outbreak of noise to affright their ears; but neither sound nor vision had they.
The long hours of the night passed, and the day broke, and the three watchers, hand-in-hand, woke from their trance with a shuddering cry of relief, and separated.
Three months passed, and Jinney Jones became Mrs. Rhys.
A large wedding party gathered in the Rhys Mansion, and dance and song rang through the old house. About eleven o'clock the party broke up, old John Jones being the last to leave. Rhys and his wife went with him to his lonely house, and bade him good night on the door steps. They then slowly traced their steps homeward. Arrived there, Jinney turned round to give a last glance at her old home, and immediately fell screaming to the ground. Rhys, who had turned to open the door, swung round to ascertain the cause of his bride's sudden terror. To his unspeakable horror, on the sill of his father-in-law's bedroom window, burned the dim flame of the corpse candle, while all about him in the night air the deadly fear of the funeral night began to assert itself. Gradually the Presence became manifest. Dimly outlined on the door of his house stood the wraith of Jinney's mother, menacing but silent. Rhys stood paralysed with fear. Not a movement could he make, either to pass into the house or to assist his bride. The eyes of the apparition regarded him with terrible persistence, but there was no voice or sound. And so the time passed--in reality but a few minutes, it seemed to Rhys endless.
The spell was for a moment broken by the recovery of his wife from the swoon into which she had fallen.
Rhys stooped to raise her. But the moment she turned her eyes to the hall door, a more terrible cry than before rang through the night, and she dropped lifeless to the ground.
Lights now appeared, and servants ran up on all sides. Rhys regarded them wildly for a moment, then threw up his arms and fell heavily beside his dead wife.
When they carried the bodies into the house, life had passed from the bride. Rhys himself still lived, and for many years after, but his hair had turned completely grey.
In the morning John Jones was found dead in his bed.
When questioned as to the motive of these ghostly appearances on the part of Mrs. Jones, my informant stated that Mrs. Jones in her younger days had been jilted by the elder Rhys, hence her antipathy to the marriage. It was not supposed that her posthumous appearances were intended to result so tragically as they actually did, but were made merely as a kind of protest against the marriage; from which we may deduce the moral that ghosts, no more than frail humanity, can foresee the effects of terror on ignorant minds, and that they ought to be particularly careful how they "turn up" at inconvenient hours to affright pale mortals; with which caution to ghosts in general, and those of mothers-in-law in particular, I close.