The Tenth Commandment begins with four simple words: thou shalt not covet. . .. This story, from North Carolina’s Outer Banks, puts a ghostly spin on the consequences should you, indeed, break that commandment.
Like other ghost stories, it begins with two sisters in love with the same man.
Mary and Kate were orphans from their teens, and shared a cottage not far inland from the shore. The men of their tiny village all made their livings from the sea, and the women worked and waited for the sea to send them home.
Mary was vivacious, forward and somewhat of a brat. Kate, the younger of the two, was quiet, shy and kindhearted.
They were both in love with a young man named David Blount, and he loved one of them in return: gentle Kate. When his preference became apparent, Mary, in a pet, affected to hate him.
With some of his earnings from his work as captain of a crew that rescued survivors of wrecked ships, David bought Kate a lovely diamond ring. It never left her finger from the time he placed it there, and she was often heard to remark, when storms crashed on the beach, that the ring was a comfort and a promise that he would return to her, no matter how foul the weather.
That comfort failed one night when his little boat was crushed by a mountainous wave, and David and his entire crew were lost.
Kate accepted the news in silence, but soon it became apparent that her outward acquiescence to fate and the sea hid a grief that was slowly killing her. Only on occasion, when she looked at the diamond David would never replace with a wedding band, did a glow of happiness return to her face.
She was waiting for Death.
For that matter, so was Mary, who seemed to become more feverishly vivacious as her sister faded.
Finally, one morning, Mary ran to a neighbor’s house and pounded on the door. When the neighbor answered, she fell into the house, babbling and weeping Kate is dead. . .oh my God, Kate is dead. . .
Mary refused to have anyone come sit with her that night as she kept watch over Kate’s dead body. She gave out a story that her grief was simply too great to share with anyone.
The truth was somewhat more complex.
From the time of Kate’s engagement, Mary had coveted the lovely diamond ring that David Blount had placed on her sister’s finger. As Kate lay a corpse in their small front room, Mary covered all the windows and lit a single candle. At the midnight hour, with rain rattling on the roof and the long sigh of the waves for background music, she pried the diamond off Kate’s cold finger and placed it on her own.
No one suspected that Mary had added theft to her other sin. When they saw her wearing the ring at Kate’s funeral, they assumed Kate had bestowed it upon her as she lay dying.
Some little time passed, and Mary was enjoying her ill-gotten treasure when, on a night of storm and wind, she heard a a wailing, weeping voice at the door: Mary, let me in. . .let me in. . .it’s so cold, Mary. . .let me in. . .I’m cold. . .so cold. . . and knew it for Kate’s voice.
From then on Mary knew no peace. She tried to ignore her sister’s voice, but Kate came back night after night after night, always crying let me in. . .I’m so cold. . .
Finally, a sleepless and terrified Mary confided in a neighbor woman about the voice that haunted her. With Celtic assurance the woman advised her to invite the visitor–Mary did not confide that she knew it for dead Kate–to come in and warm herself by the fire.
That night, when the wailing began, Mary called Come in! COME IN, I say!
The door blew open on a chill breeze, and with it blew in a shadowy, womanly form. The form stopped just short of where Mary stood by the fireplace.
Yes; the form was Kate. Kate was dead, and Mary was alive, and Mary had the ring. . .
and, rather stupidly, she began to taunt her sister:
Oh, Kate, she tittered, where are your beautiful white hands that David loved so?
In the ground, Kate replied dismally.
And your ring? Mary could not resist lifting her hand and flaunting the ring, its facets brilliant in the firelight.
The taunt ended in a shriek of horror as the shade rushed her.
It was mid-morning before the neighbor came over to see if Mary had taken her advice. She found Mary sitting on the hearth before a dead fire, in a state of deep shock, staring down at her left hand. The ring finger of that hand was black with bruises, and the great diamond gone.
The Outer Banks tale of Kate’s ring comes from Nancy Roberts’ 1962 book Ghosts of the Carolinas.