It appeared suddenly and out of nowhere
February 4, 2013
It was sometime in the last half of the 1800s. On a moonlit night in the wilds of the Ozark Mountains, a lone rider set aback a loping mount. She was a good animal, always getting him where he needed to go without fail. There was no hurry now. The rider’s job was finished for the night. There was nothing more he could do. He had delivered a healthy baby, a breech, tended to the mother, placed a couple of sutures, and while there, another night rider had pounded on the door of the log cabin—frantic bangings—a gunshot wound, several miles down the dirt road.
He had mounted up and followed the messenger at a hard gallop. He had cleaned the wound, removed the bullet, cleaned the wound again, checked for internal bleeding, sprinkled the wound with sulfa powder and bound it tightly with clean cloth and strips of linen.
The victim of the shooting accident would probably survive. His pierced side was free of noticeable organ damage, but it would be a waiting game—a wait for spiking body temperature, a wait for tissue blackening, or bubbles and the sickening, gassy smell of gangrene.
The rider, attired in a three piece wool suit, scanned his surroundings in the moonlight. There were occasional hungry panthers (painters) on the prowl. His horse would let him know if and when and where. He carried a rifle and a handgun. The sounds of owls hooting and leaves brushing gently in the treetops, on a slight wind were comforting.
He would soon be home, soon have fresh coffee in his belly, maybe, most probably, his young, beautiful wife (his second, as his first had died) would have a dinner being kept warm in the oven. It would be good to see her. He coughed gently. His skin begin to prickle as he began to make the cross of Murky Mills Bottom. Will she make an appearance this evening, or is she drifting about elsewhere?
On more than one occasion he had been accompanied by an apparition through this gloomy depression in the topography. He had been startled the first time he saw her. There were many tales of ghosts he had heard from the time of his childhood. He had never heard of them hurting or killing anyone. He had heard of people being frightened to death, not just by ghosts but by other events of these hills.
He had a logical, scientific mind, and it was not prone to belief in such things. Still, he could not deny that the form of a woman, a bride maybe, dressed all in white and suspended, floating, accompanied him sometimes on his midnight journeys. On this night, she made her appearance, once again.
This man, this rider, was Dr. Henry Edward McBride, and he was my paternal, great-grandfather. I have often found myself lost in conjecture, or
even losing sleep about what his medical practice would have been like: snakebites, animal maulings, gunshot wounds, injuries by horses or in horse-drawn conveyances, injuries from knives, hatchets, axes, saws, bows and arrows, early machinery, baby birthings, poisonings (accidental or on purpose), impalings, heat strokes, regular strokes, syncope/apoplexy, childhood diseases, or any of the other horrible diseases, including smallpox and diphtheria that swept through the countryside. Sadly, he died himself as a fairly young man of TB, or consumption as it was called at the time. Consumption rounded up and carted off a goodly number of my ancestors before they had had a chance to really live a life.
I have also tried to visualize the contents of his medical bag, or grip, as they referred to them: forceps, pliers, probes, needles, catgut, hammers, elevators, clean cloths, string, alcohol, both medicinal and drinkable, Laudanum, sulfa powder, iodine. Gloves? No, there were no gloves.
A twist: for some reason, he got his medical education at the University of Edinburgh. I have often wondered about this. Other medicos in my family went to Washington University in St. Louis. Going to Scotland seems like an expensive trip to take for an education, especially since his family was already established in America, first settling in South Carolina before traveling further west. In fact, one of his ancestors was supposedly an army spy who disguised himself as, and traveled with Native Americans for a time during one of the young country’s wars. So goes the oral history.
A turn: when I was in my late twenties, living in a Victorian fixer-upper in a different and far away state–that home was visited by a floating woman, dressed in filmy white. I saw her on three occasions and they were spine-tingling nighttime events. I would chalk it up to low oxygen levels in my brain, but I was not the only one who had seen her in that house.
It has given me reason to ponder. There are restless, unsettled spirits about, to be sure. Are there hundreds of floating women dressed in white? Dressed as brides? Or, is it one same spirit, trying to pester people of the same bloodline? A … MC-bride? Why? Or is it an inherited medical condition of the eyes? We “see” dead people.
Another twist: there is the short story, written by James Hogg (1770-1835), the Ettrick Shepherd, Scottish poet, “The Mysterious Bride.” Though he is from a non-McBride branch of the family tree, I claim to have some of that Hogg blood in my veins, also. It is a fiction piece, but is it based on an actual “encounter?” Perhaps it is an encounter Hogg had himself in the border country of Scotland while tending his sheep at night, or, maybe it was a tale told to him by others which he embellished and recorded.
Another turn: I recently had the opportunity to take an online course from the University of Edinburgh, Great-Grandfather McBride’s alma mater. It is not a course about ghosts, but the subject matter is of a very mysterious and ethereal nature. Naturally, I couldn’t pass it up and I will let you know if I learn anything out of this world.
Sara Marie Hogg is the author of The Scavenger’s Song. Chapters in the chilling serial appear on Caleb and Linda Pirtle every Saturday and Sunday. Don’t miss a one. In fact, go to the left side of this page and click The Scavenger’s Song beneath VG Serials to catch up up.