In Mrs. Zant and the Ghost, a novella from Wilkie Collins, a widower in his 40s becomes involved with a woman he meets in Kensington Gardens, and this casual meeting becomes a pivotal moment in both of these characters’ lives. The widower, Mr Rayburn, devotes his life to his small daughter, Lucy, but one day in the park, she slips out of his sight and returns frightened. The reason for her fright is, it turns out, due to the behaviour of a young woman who appears to be mad. Mr. Rayburn talks to the woman, Mrs Zant, and, concerned about her health, follows her to her lodgings. Eventually Mrs Zant tells her story of great love and loss. She was widowed shortly after her marriage.
Mr. Rayburn feels morally involved, and concerned with Mrs. Zant’s well being, he approaches her brother-in-law, John Zant.
His personal appearance was in harmony with his magnificent voice. He was a tall, finely made man, of dark complexion with big, brilliant black eyes, and a noble curling beard which hid the whole lower part of his face. Having bowed with a happy mingling of dignity and politeness, the conventional side of this gentleman’s character suddenly vanished and a crazy side, to all appearance, took its place.
Rayburn has a very unfavorable impression of Zant and he begins to suspect Zant’s motives towards his sister-in-law. Zant has a very polished exterior, yet there is something slimy about this man.
Mrs Zant and the Ghost is an excellent ghost story. It’s fleshed out by Rayburn’s gradual involvement in Mrs Zant’s affairs. Mrs Zant believes that her husband’s ghost meets her in Kensington Gardens, and that the ghost of her dead husband watches over her. Rayburn isn’t sure if Mrs. Zant is mad or just grieving, but either way, he feels a desire to protect her. I listened to this as an audio version, and it was beautifully read by Gillian Anderson.