The Girl Parachute Jumpers of Paris: 1925

Fraulein Kathe Paulus preparing to descend in her parachute, c. 1908

Fraulein Kathe Paulus preparing to descend in her parachute, c. 1908

Girl Parachute Jumpers Risk Lives For Small Fee

Paris, Jan. 25. Spirited protests have been made here against parachute performances at aviation meetings, as they usually end in disaster.

The parachutists are frequently totally inexperienced girls recruited from the ranks of typist, milliners or chorus girls. The bait held out is $25 and “all the girls have to do is to jump out of the aeroplane when they are told, and the parachute will do the rest.”

Of course, there is a catch in it. When the impresario pays up the promised $25 has more often than not been whittled down to $5. The girls, who provide their own clothes, must be young and pretty.

One of the latest victims was a girl named Therese le Correc, who took the name of Liane d’Arcy. She had never been in an aeroplane before. She wore a pretty pink dress, a neat little hat, Louis XV heels, and silk stockings. The parachute never opened, but fell like a stone. Liane only lived a few minutes, after they picked her up. If she had lived she would have been paid $5.

Many girls have come forward to tell of their adventures in the air. One said that she was promised $25 for each performance, but she had to give the first performance free. The second time she had to drop into the sea, and the next time on land. She received $25 for the two performances, but was informed that for all subsequent performances she would be paid $5 each. The money is handed over as compensation, and thus the promoters escape the responsibility of the Employers’ Liability Act. Some months ago in the provinces a parachute act was advertised, but instead of a girl a lay figure was used, and the crowd protested vigorously, and demanded their money back.

One of these days the parachute will doubtless become a valuable asset to aviation, but in the meantime it is difficult to see what useful purpose these parachute performances serve.

Altoona [PA] Tribune 26 January 1925: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Such stories make Mrs Daffodil long to be one of those intrepid lady-pioneers of aviation. It would be eminently satisfying to soar above the clouds of Paris, happily jettisoning a cargo of impresarios supplied with rotten, inadequate, or, indeed, no parachutes at all.

The newspapers were full of stories of fatal parachute jumps and yet the brave and the foolhardy continued to hurl themselves out of aeroplanes and balloons to please the public, who were not to be fobbed off with a lay figure instead of a real girl. It must have been a good deal like to-day’s “stock-car” races, where much of the appeal lies in the potential for witnessing fiery crashes.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries were also the hey-day of ladies like the intrepid Frau Paulus, pictured above, who, as the caption to the photo-gravure says, “has made sixty-five descents without serious injury,” and Miss Phoebe Fairgrave, aged 18, who set a world-record for altitude in 1921, jumping from 15,200 feet and landing unhurt in a “soft swamp.” However, Miss Fairgrave had the proper protective clothing and had chosen the profession of stunt parachutist and “wing-walker” for herself, not at the bullying behest of some despicable exploiter of young women.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


An Officer and an Embroiderer: 1883

Berlin Wool-work slippers, c. 1860

Berlin Wool-work slippers, c. 1860


Who Frequents Fancy Stores and Discourses with Authority upon Feminine Handiwork.

“Have you any lighter shades of arrasene?” The deep manly tones of the speaker rose above the hum of female voices that filled a little store in this city devoted exclusively to the sale of materials for fancy work. Fashionably attired in garments of the latest design, but betraying in his appearance none of the follies of the dude, the speaker stood leaning carelessly against the counter, handling the mysteries of flosses and skeins opened out before him with all the familiarity of a lady customer. He had none of the awkwardness of the ordinary husband, brother or lover who finds himself in such a place and was apparently making purchases for himself and not merely acting as an errand boy for his sister or lady friend. The lady who was waiting on him happened to be the proprietor of the store, and in spite of the fact that he was a man apparently treated him as an equal. She had none of that manner of pitying condescension for helpless and dense ignorance with which the average man is greeted when an unkind fate or bad weather compels his unwilling steps into such a store.

“I am sorry that we are out of the lighter shades just at present,” she replied in her most gracious manner. “But don’t you think that this would do,” she continued, taking up a skein and holding it up to show it off to the best advantage. It was an appeal to his judgment and not a dogmatic assertion.

“No, I don’t think that it will,” was the prompt and decided response, and the saleswoman yielding without further parley began to restore the scattered silks to the box.

“How did you succeed with your last piece?” she inquired with a pleasant smile as the young man began to draw on his gloves.

“Splendidly,” was the enthusiastic response. “It was perfectly lovely.”

Other customers demanding her attention put an end to this interesting fancy work gossip, and deprived the world of further information as to the achievements of this remarkable young man. He is, however, well known in society circles in this city, and his lady friends have had frequent occasions to admire specimens of his handiwork. When macramé became the fashionable craze he worked a number of elaborate pieces and contributed them to fairs for charity objects. He is a young naval officer, and employs his spare moments in cultivating his gifts in this direction, but in other respects he is not effeminate and is very popular with his associates in the service.

Evening Star [Washington DC] 29 December 1883: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Obviously the embroidering gentleman was a novelty and the author feels the need to defend his subject against charges of “dude-ism” or effeminacy. Yet during the golden age of embroidery, when Queen Elizabeth was on the throne, there was a class of professional male embroiderers who may have outnumbered the females in that profession.

Many men in high places, such as the Duke of Windsor, who learnt the art from his mother Queen Mary, enjoyed relaxing over their needlepoint. Mrs Daffodil believes that Sir Winston Churchill also stitched, but she has not been able to verify that assertion. Canvas stitchery enjoyed a resurgence during the 1960s when an American football player, Mr Roosevelt Grier helped to popularise it in the States, even writing a book on the subject: Needlepoint for Men. Its appeal lay in offering something to do with the hands that required little thought. One expects that to-day, that function is fulfilled by “smart phones.”

Arrasene was a silk or wool, chenille-like embroidery cord. See this page for details and photo-gravures.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



A Flash of Fire: A Ghost Story: 1863


little girl with candle

There was something very agreeable to me, in my boyhood, in lingering among its simple denizens and listening to their traditions and passing experiences—none of which, however, were more interesting to a psychologist than what I am now about to relate, as happening to a person still living there in Philip Spencer’s cottage.

Philip and his first wife, Martha, who was a cousin of mine, having no children of their own, adopted the little daughter of a young woman who went to live at Derby. The child called them father and mother as soon as she could speak, not remembering her own parents—not even her mother. While yet very young, she one day began to cry out that there was a young woman looking at her, and wanting to come to her; and according to her description of the person it must have been her mother. As no one else saw the apparition, and the child continued for more than half an hour to be very excited, Philip took her out of the house to that of a neighbour; but the apparition kept them company, talking by the way. They then went to another house, where it accompanied them still, and seemed as though it wanted to embrace the child; but at last vanished in the direction of Derby—as the little girl, now a young woman, describes it—in a flash of fire. Derby is about fourteen miles distant from Holloway, and as in that day there was neither railway nor telegraph, communication between them was much slower than at present. As soon, however, as it was possible for intelligence to come, the news arrived that the poor child’s mother had been burnt to death; that it happened about the time when it saw her apparition; and, in short, that she was sorrowing and crying to be taken to the child during the whole of the time between being burnt and her expiration. This is no “idle ghost story,” but a simple matter of fact, to which not only Philip, but all his old neighbours can testify; and the young woman has not only related it more than once to me, but she told it in the same artless and earnest manner to my friend, the late Dr. Samuel Brown, of Edinburgh, who once called at the cottage with me,—repeating it still more clearly to Messrs. Fowler and Wells on our recent visit. Those people who ridicule all psychical phenomena they may not themselves have seen, will possibly be disposed to explain away this fact; but all we need say to such is what Shakespeare said long ago—” There are more things between heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Nor could I well quit Holloway on this occasion without recording the story.

Days in Derbyshire, Dr. Spencer T. Hall, 1863

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Another queer tale of “second-sight,” made all the more striking by the child having never known her own mother, yet seeing an apparition of her description. Such a vision was often a token of the seer’s own death and one would very much like to know whether the child survived. These apparitions are a common theme in the literature of the supernatural: ghostly loved ones are seen by the dying and their attendants, even though they have not been told of the loved one’s death. Here is another example:


Sudden Demise of Woman After “Seeing Ghost.”

New York, Dec. 2. The death of Mrs. Margaret Smith while she was visiting friends in this city has all the uncanny surroundings of a real ghost story. Friends believe that she expired after seeing an apparition for a moment before she fell to the floor the woman raised her eyes to the ceiling and exclaimed: “Why, Frank, where did you come from?”

Only a few hours previous Mrs. Smith’s favorite grandson, Frank Kane, had died at his residence in West Sixteenth street, but Mrs. Smith had not been advised of it.

Physicians who examined the body pronounced her death as due to heart failure, but those who witnessed the dramatic scene think otherwise despite their non-belief in spirits or ghosts. Mrs. Smith was a well to do widow and lived at Seaford, N.J. Little Falls [MN] Herald 4 December 1908: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

For more stories in a funereal vein, see The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard, a look at the popular culture of Victorian mourning.



Archery Fashions for Ladies: 1831-1841

An Archery Lesson, 19th c English

An Archery Lesson, 19th c English

Mrs Daffodil does not often dwell on the past, but this is the anniversary of the Battle of Crecy, when our English long bowmen so decisively dispatched the French.  Naturally, one’s thoughts turn to the sport of archery, much enjoyed by the English ladies, and requiring a special costume.

We hear first from Mr Hansard, the author of The Book of Archery, on the appropriate garb for a “fair toxophilite.” (Mrs Daffodil cannot hear the latter word without thinking of some useful poison.)

The presence of woman is now regarded as indispensable to the perfect enjoyment of these genuine fêtes champêtres; for the trim shaft, launched from the hand of some fair toxophilite, faultless in face and figure, inspires us with an enthusiasm which belongs not to the most adroit display of archery in the other sex.

Appropriate costume—

“To sport the gay sash of Toxophilite green”—

is indispensable in both sexes; indeed, the verdant livery of the woods should, of course, be the predominant hue throughout…

In reference to the ladies, I may observe that all such vital matters are arranged by the lady patroness, assisted by a committee of her own sex. On them, also, devolves the weighty responsibility of selecting a characteristic full dress costume where the pleasures of the ball-room succeed those of the target.

Although to hazard anything original on the subject of female attire is an act of presumption at which even the boldest of us might justly feel a trembling, I am resolved on omitting nothing essential to the general interest of my book. Three specimens of archery costume are therefore, with diffidence, presented to the fair reader’s criticism, certainly distinguished by that simplex mundities [simple neatness] which I regard, as well as Horace, as the basis of whatever is elegant in female attire. One of them was proposed to the ladies of the Royal Surrey Archers, by their patroness, as a ball dress, about five and forty years since.

White muslin round gown, with green and buff sash: white chip hat, bound with narrow green riband. Riband of the same colour as the sash encircled the crown, on which were two bows, rising one above the other. A magnificent snow-white ostrich plume waved over this tasteful head-gear, and a sprig of box was so arranged beneath, as to appear just above the wearer’s left eyebrow.

The second was worn by the fair members of a very happy, well-conducted, hospitable little band, who, about the year 1792, assembled among those scenes of rare beauty, the Piercefield domain, in the vicinity of Chepstow, and were called, “Bowmen of the Wye.” Their dress, then, like the former, consisted of plain white muslin, bound with green satin riband; a green and white sash; small green satin hat, with a white feather tipped with green, and having a motto inscribed on the bandeau.

“Oh, the horrid frights! Is this your simplex mundities?” some fair reader may possibly exclaim. Even so, lady; according to my poor judgment. Naithless, chacun à son gout; and the third, perhaps, may be destined to the honour of your patronage. It belongs to the present age, being that of a numerous and distinguished society, who style themselves the Harley Bush Bowmen.

Robe, a judicious arrangement of white and green; white hat and feathers; shoes of grass green. The bow and quiver slung gracefully over their shoulders.

Right glad am I to make my escape from the subject; for in treating it, one feels like a man treading among eggs in a taperless room, or the wretch who, unable to swim, finds the current every moment hurrying him beyond his depth. Once more on terra firma, let us next examine in what manner the dexterity of our fair toxophilites is rewarded at these archery fetes. The Hertfordshire archers, who met at Hatfield House, gave, as the principal ladies’ prize, a gold heart, enriched with a bow and shaft set in diamonds, a costly stake, first won by the Marchioness of Salisbury.

The book of archery, George Agar Hansard, 1841

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is surprised that Mr Hansard even dared to broach the subject.  One fancies that any lady “votaresses of the shaft and bow,” as he so unctuously calls the practitioners of this deadly art, would have the gentleman in their sights for his presumption. The best one can say is that it is useful to the historian to have descriptions of the sporting garments of earlier days.

Here are descriptions of two other archery costumes, from a decade earlier. Much archery clothing seems to have a deliberately archaic, seventeenth-century-fancy-dress appearance. Invoking Robin Hood, the colour green was de rigueur. The hat  plumes seem problematic, but perhaps they are useful for gauging the direction of the wind so that one can compensate with one’s aim.

The two archery dresses described below. 1831

The two archery dresses described below. 1831

First Archery Dress.

A Dress composed of changeable gros de Naples, green shot with white. The corsage, made nearly, but not quite, up to the throat, fastens in front by a row of gold buttons, which are continued at regular distances from the waist to the bottom of the skirt. The corsage sits close to the shape. The upper part of the sleeve forms a double bouffant, but much smaller than is usually worn. This is a matter of necessity, as the fair archer would otherwise cut it in pieces in drawing her bow. The remainder of the sleeve sits close to the arm. The brace, placed upon the right arm, is of primrose kid to correspond with the gloves. The belt fastens with a gold buckle; on the right side, is a green worsted tassel used to wipe the arrow; a green watered ribbon sustains the petite poche, which holds the arrows on the left side. A lace collar, of the pelerine shape, falls over the upper part of the bust. White gros des Index hat, with a round and rather large brim, edged with a green rouleau, and turned up by a gold button and loop. A plume of white ostrich feathers is attached by a knot of green ribbon to the front of the crown. The feathers droop in different directions over the brim. The half-boots are of green reps silk, tipped with black.

Second Archery Dress.

A Dress composed of white chaly, with a canezou of blue gros de Naples. The front of the bust is ornamented in the hussar style, with white silk braiding and fancy silk buttons; plain tight back. Long sleeve sitting close to the arm, with a half sleeve, a l’Espagnol, slashed with white figured gros de Naples. A row of rich white silk fringe is brought from the point of each shoulder in front round the back. Collerette of white tulle, of a novel form, fastened in front by a gold and pearl brooch. The belt fastens with a silver buckle curiously wrought; the accessories correspond in colour with the canezou. White gros de Naples hat, ornamented with white ostrich feathers, and a gold button and loop. Half boots of blue kid.

Belle Assemblée: Or, Court and Fashionable Magazine; Containing Interesting and Original Literature, and Records of the Beau-Monde, 1831

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


Jack: A Presidential Pet: 1902

Jack, Presidential Pet

Jack, Presidential Pet


Although Without Pedigree, the President’s Dog Has Won Favor by His Almost Human Traits

President Roosevelt’s dog Jack is not a fine dog, but he has by some almost human traits won a place in the President’s affections second to no other of the numerous pets of the White House. Jack would be its master’s constant attendant if permitted, and every afternoon as the President and Mrs. Roosevelt start out for their horse-back ride Jack begins to sniff the air, and if possible steals out to lie in wait for the departure and accompany them. The exertion is so great for the old fellow, as the President rides both far and fast, that this is forbidden, but it is not unusual to see Jack run into the White House ahead of the President and Mrs. Roosevelt on their alighting at the door after dark in the evening, his tail tucked between his legs and a decidedly tired but triumphant air about him. Jack does not count much on his pedigree, and even as the President’s pet would not take a booby prize at a bench show, but he is well fed, fat, and hearty, and so nicely groomed by the constant petting of the President and Mrs. Roosevelt, all the children, and the servants, that his jet black coat shines with wondrous brightness.

Jack is a finely educated dog, and understands when spoken to in several languages. Moreover, at the President’s command, he will say his prayers, beg for a morsel, sit up like a gentleman, walk about as upright as a person, lie dead until commanded to arise, roll over and over, speak when appealed to, and when shut out politely stands, and, though a trifle boisterous about it, asks for admittance.

He knows every door leading into and out of the White House, and when he fails to gain admittance by the stained glass door through which the family make their entrance and exit to and from the White House, steals up the public stairway. The dog is sly enough about it, lies down, with the rest of the waiting ones in “Anxiety chamber,” and when the opportunity presents itself steals in to the presence of his master. One of Jack’s greatest longings when he first came to the White House was to take a bath in the great basin about the fountain on the south front lawn. The dog would no sooner get his nose over the brim of the basin when up would come myriads of frightened goldfish, whereupon Jack would bark furiously for a time, and then abandon his bath and trot off to the house.— The World Review.

The Minneapolis [MN] Journal 4 January 1902: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Jack’s master was United States President Theodore Roosevelt, he of “Teddy Bear” fame, rather than Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose equally famous Scottish Terrier, Fala, captured the heart of the nation. The Theodore Roosevelt White House menagerie was immense: guinea pigs, cats, multiple dogs, a pig, a rabbit, a rat, a one-legged rooster, a hen, a macaw, several ponies, a lizard, a bear named Jonathan Edwards, and a snake called Emily Spinach. The image of great packs of ravening gold-fish frightening Jack away from the fountain is a diverting one.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



The Young Widow: 1870

Weeds for a Young Widow, 1896

Weeds for a Young Widow, 1896

The Young Widow.

A census-taker, going his round, stopped at an elegant brick dwelling-house, the exact locality of which is no business of ours.

He was received by a stiff, well-dressed lady, who could well be recognized as a widow of some years’ standing.

On learning the mission of her visitor, the lady invited him to take a seat in the hall. Having arranged himself in a working position, he began his unpleasant task by inquiring the number of persons in the lady’s family.

“Eight, sir,” replied the lady, “including myself.”

“Very well—your age, madam?”

“My age, sir,” replied the lady, with a piercing, dignified look. “I conceive it’s none of your business what my age might be; you are very inquisitive, sir.”

“The law compels me, madam, to take the age of every person in the ward; it’s my duty to make the inquiry.”

“Well, if the law compels you to ask, I presume it compels me to answer. I am between thirty and forty.”

“I presume that means thirty-five?”

“No, sir, it means no such thing—I am only thirty three years of age.”

“Very well, madam,” putting down the figures, “just as you say. Now for the ages of children, commencing with the youngest, if you please.”

“Josephine, my youngest, is ten years of age.”

“Josephine-—pretty name—ten.”

“Minerva was twelve last week.”

“Minerva—captivating— twelve.”

“Cleopatra Elvira has turned fifteen.”

“Cleopatra Elvira—charming — fifteen.”

“Angelina is eighteen, sir; just eighteen.”

“Angelina—favorite name—eighteen.”

“My oldest and only married daughter, sir, Anna Sophia, is a little over twenty-five.”

“Twenty-five, did you say?”

“Yes, sir. Is there anything remarkable in her being of that age?”

“Well, no, l can’t say that there is; but is it not remarkable that you should be her mother when you were only eight years of age?”

About that time the census-taker was observed running out of the house, why, we cannot say. It was the last time he pressed a lady to give her exact age.

The “Hokey Pokey” Joke Book, 1870

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This delicacy on the part of census takers may explain some of the discrepancies found in the rolls. Ladies’ sensitivity to telling their age is, of course, proverbial and forms the bedrock of many vintage jokes or “old chestnuts,” such as this “thigh-slapper.”

But What Was Her Age.

Toward the close of a lawsuit in Massachusetts the wife of a Harvard professor arose and, with a flaming face, timidly addressed the Court.

“Your Honor,” said she, “if I told you I made an error in my testimony would it vitiate all I have said?”

Instantly the lawyers for each side stirred themselves in excitement, while His Honor gravely regarded her.

“Well, madam,” said the court, after a pause, “that depends entirely on the nature of your error. What is it, please?”

“Why, you see,” answered the lady, more and more red and embarrassed, “I told the clerk I was thirty-eight. I was so flustered, you know, that when he asked my age I inadvertently gave him my bust measurement.”

National Lumberman, 1910

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Dead Lights: 1882

shipwreck 1848


“Towards the close of a dark cold evening,” he said, “the 23rd October, if I remember rightly, I found, much to my annoyance, that I had quitted the high road leading to Portree and was wandering about in the most helpless manner possible amidst innumerable bogs and morasses. What was to be done? To retrace my steps was simply impossible. There was nothing to indicate the proper route. The moon had not yet risen. Darkness enveloped me like a curtain, and I was alone. Once I paused and whistled, but no human voice made answer. The sole response was the beat of the wild sea surf on the distant shore.

Stumbling and falling till I was footsore and weary, I came at length within sight of the sea. I could distinguish its billows, foam-crested and angry, as they cleft the darkness; and O, joyful sight! I also perceived twinkling lights at some little distance off along the shore. I was then in the neighbourhood of cottages, in one of which I might pass the night.

The threshold of the nearest gained, I knocked at its door. After some little delay this was opened by a middle-aged and rather gaunt looking female. My request for shelter was listened to in silence. After a moment’s reflection, she went back a few paces, threw a hurried glance over her shoulder into the interior, and then beckoned me to enter. I did so.

The room or kitchen into which she ushered me was miserable in the extreme. The plenishing consisted of a wooden table, two straw pallets in one corner, and three chairs, on one of which, cowering over the embers that glowed on the hearth, sat an aged white-haired man. Raising his faded eyes for a moment on my entrance, he again lowered them to the hearth, moaning and muttering the while in the strangest fashion.

“The woman looked on him with an unmistakable expression of awe and fear on her face, then placed for me a chair on the opposite side of the hearth, while she herself took one some little distance off. Her knowledge of English was much too limited for us to indulge in anything like conversation; still she could both understand me when I asked questions and make herself understood when she replied, which was about as much as I expected.

“Her father, she said, pointing to the old man, could talk English well, for he had been gamekeeper in his youth to a south-country gentleman, and the little she knew she had learned from him.

“A few sentences exchanged, we lapsed into silence, which I was on the point of breaking with some trivial remark when the door opened and there entered a tall, handsome girl enveloped in a chequered plaid. Darting a hasty glance at me, she addressed the woman hurriedly in Gaelic, a language with which I was but slightly acquainted. What she did say, however, seemed in some way to have reference to the old man, for my hostess, while making answer, looked at him and shook her head.

“Much to my surprise, although he must have known he was the subject of their conversation, he never once looked up nor took the slightest notice of his visitor. His dim eyes still remained riveted on the fire, and he moaned and sighed and shivered as if with cold. I could see I also was being made the subject of remark, for once more the maidens fine dark eyes turned in my direction, as mine hostess replied to some questions of hers. Her curiosity in respect to my presence apparently satisfied, the girl, having previously refused with a smile the chair I offered her, seated herself on the floor beside the woman, and conversed with her in low, anxious tones, while her eyes frequently reverted to the clock with looks of anxiety.

“I was beginning to feel perplexed and curious as to the existing state of matters in this solitary household. Was the old man ill or out of his mind? Was the handsome stranger any relation of the couple, or was she merely a sympathising friend? Why did she look so repeatedly at the clock? Had she any—here an end was put to my mental soliloquy by the girl giving a sudden start, and seizing hold of her companion’s wrist, while she raised her forefinger as if enforcing silence. An ashen hue overspread the woman’s harsh features as her visitor did this, and she remained rigid and motionless as a statue in the attitude of listening. I, too, listened.

“Mingling with the dull roar of the billows, I distinctly heard a crashing sound as though some wooden substances were being crushed together; to this succeeded a noise like the dragging of chains. The women also hearing it, a look of terror swept over their faces, and my hostess uttered, half aloud, the pious ejaculation—‘Lord, have mercy on them!’ Then both rose to their feet. The younger one, eager and trembling, undid the bar that fastened the casement, opened it, and they gazed out in silence. My curiosity now intensely excited, I also arose, and, noiselessly treading the floor, took my station immediately behind them. The wild scene I then saw I shall never forget. The moon, struggling through a dense mass of storm cloud, threw broad streams of light on the heaving billows as they broke in rude shocks on the shore. Lying at anchor, out of reach of the waves, were several fishing-boats; and, strange to say, although there was a profound calm, these were being dashed up against each other in the most unaccountable manner, while the chains by which they were fastened, creaked and rattled as though they were being dragged about by powerful hands. Then a moaning sound seemed to pervade the air.

‘“There—there it’s again! O! isn’t it dreadful?’ whispered the girl.

“‘Did you tell them about this?’ said her companion.

“‘Yes; but they only laughed at me.’

“‘Then, they’ll go.’

“‘Sure and certain.’

“‘Poor things! then I doubt they’ll never come back. O, look there!’ Again the boats were dashed to and fro; the chains emitted the same harsh grating sound, but this time I could see several little blue twinkling lights moving along the shore.

“‘The dead lights!’ groaned the elder woman. The young one, shivering, buried her face in her hands.

‘“Aye, the dead lights!’ was shouted in frenzied tones behind us. I looked round in amaze; so did the women. The old man was standing bolt upright; his hair upon end; his eyes glaring wildly into space; his hands outstretched and quivering.

‘“Aye, the dead lights! and they’re not there for nought. Death! Death! nothing but death! I see it all! There they are! The boats! dancing merrily over the sea—there—there! Three in all! Away—away! No fear of danger. Stout hearts and strong arms. The bread winners for the wives and children. The wind rises—but what of that? There is no danger! The boats are stout—and the fishers brave, and stalwart, and young! Ha! ha! A sudden squall—Good God! Down goes the foremost—and another—and another— gone, all gone. Neil, Duncan—and—Farquhar—!’

“As the old man uttered this name, the girl, with a loud cry, sank senseless on the floor, at the same time that the speaker relapsed into his moaning shivering posture by the hearth.

“When we had succeeded in restoring her to consciousness, I inquired of the woman the meaning of all this.

“‘O, sir, he has had the “second sight,”’ she said, ‘he was telling us, as he has done for the last three nights, that our fisher lads will be drowned, and poor Mary’s (pointing to the now weeping girl) lover, Farquhar Macdougall, is among them—so he said to-night.’

“‘Surely they will not go when they hear of this,’ I said.

“‘They must, sir, or we should all starve,’ was her sad answer; ‘that is they will go, though we have done our best to prevent their going this week, for should they be drowned, we’ll starve all the same.’

“Painfully impressed with what I had seen, and unwilling any longer to intrude my company upon them in their distress, I placed some silver in the woman’s resisting hand, and told her the moon being now up, if she would kindly direct me how to get to Portree, I should wish to continue my journey.

“She did so, at the same time saying how sorry she was that her father should have been taken in my presence.

“With a few words expressive of hope that he would turn out to be a false prophet, I bade her good evening, and bestowing a farewell glance on the sorrowing maiden, I went my way pondering on what I had seen and heard.

“Not many days afterwards I read in the Inverness Courier of the melancholy loss of three boats with their fishers while fishing off Skye.

“Amongst the names of the drowned were those mentioned by the aged seer.”

Psychological Review, May 1882

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The grinding noise of the fishing boats is reminiscent of the so-called “Tolaeth before the Coffin,” or the sound of phantom carpenters sawing, planning, and hammering as they make a coffin for a person soon to die. You will find a post on this subject here and another on “corpse candles“–the death lights–which presaged death. “The Blood-stained Cap” is another exceptionally chilling post about a token of death in a fishing community.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.