The Girl Who Came Back as a Partridge: 1900



Bird’s Queer Action Excites Awe in All.

New York Journal

The sleepy old town of Strafford, lying far back in the New Hampshire hills, remote from railroads and rarely visited by the stranger from the outside world except in summer time, when the vacationist seeks the tonic of its wind-swept hills, has a sensation in a supposed spirit manifestation of the strangest kind that ever disturbed the peace of superstitious man.

A simple bird, a wood partridge, by its phenomenal actions has led half the people for miles around to believe that it is ruled by the spirit of the dead and the other half to shake their heads in wonder at that which they cannot understand.

The bird appears only in the vicinity of a lonely burying ground, the tiny private cemetery of the family on whose ancestral farm it is located and where a beautiful girl was laid to rest a few months ago. Those of the neighbors who speak their thoughts openly declare that her soul has been transmigrated to the humble body of the bird that she may come back to earth and be near her loved ones.

Vina Garland, the young woman whose sad death is so much talked about to-day, was of a character distinctly apart from that of the ordinary country girl. She was the daughter of Charles Garland, a well-to-do farmer, and though she was physically somewhat frail, she developed a tender beauty that increased as she advanced in years toward womanhood.

But it was her intellectual attainments that made her most remarkable. From the days when a little tot, she followed her father to his work in the fields, she showed a tendency to observation and study that surprised her elders, and when, later on, she took her books to the little country school of her district, she early made such progress, as to set her far ahead of her schoolmates.

At the age when other girls were plodding through the intermediate grades she was teaching, and at the age of 18 she was made an assistant in the staid old Northwood Seminary, of which Professor Loren G. Williams is principal.

Alas, the career that began with such promise was but short. The duties of the position so far beyond her years proved too arduous for the young teacher, and her health, never robust, gradually declined. She was taken ill and was brought back to the old home, never to leave it again in life.

All the countryside turned out to her funeral, and many eyes were wet with tears as they looked for the last time on the sweet face that rested so peacefully in the flower-lined casket. She was buried, as her fathers had been before her for generations, back in the little walled-in yard that lay with its mossy headstones and overhanging trees on the hill above her childhood’s home.

Several weeks had passed after the young teacher’s death when the mysterious bird made its appearance. Farmer Garland was at work one day plying with his team between the farmhouse and a field that lay a short distance above the cemetery, when he was astonished, as he was passing the spot where his daughter was buried, to see a full-grown partridge suddenly appear in front of his horses.

At first Mr. Garland thought it was a mother bird defending her young and, remembering how fond his lost daughter was of the wild birds that lived about her home he tried to scare it away from its dangerous proximity to the horses’ hoofs. But the partridge seemed utterly devoid of fear and when the driver sprang to the ground it stopped with a strangely appealing air, as if waiting for him to come to it. It even allowed him to push it bodily from the path.

Wondering at its strange actions, of which the farmer, in his long experience in woodcraft and in country life, had never heard the like, he mounted his cart and proceeded on to the field. The bird followed along beside his team like a dog, and when he started to return it still kept beside his horses. But when it arrived back near the burying ground it left him as suddenly as it had first appeared.

Mr. Garland returned shortly with a second load and again the bird appeared and accompanied him to the field and back as before. All day it followed him to and fro, and when night came the farmer, who had been impressed to the point of nervousness by the bird’s strange actions, went back alone to the spot where it had shown itself.

Instantly it appeared and the farmer, seating himself on the grass, called softly to it. As readily as if it had always known his voice, the bird responded, and walking to his side, hopped to his knee.

On the instant the man felt a strange thrill shoot over him—a peculiar feeling such as he had never known before. It was not a faintness, but it seemed as if some mystical influence was holding him in a spell. He threw out one hand to support himself, and had just strength to raise the other and say “Come.”

Unhesitatingly the bird stepped on his hand, and brushing its beak softly on his wrist uttered a low note that sounded to his strained senses like a wail of suffering.

Putting the bird from him with trembling hands the farmer hastily arose and returned to his home.

The strange story soon spread about the neighborhood and created a profound sensation. In this section the partridge is one of the shyest of birds, and a tame partridge was before unheard of. No one would believe the facts until they had seen the partridge for themselves and had seen Mr. Garland fondle it as he would a kitten.

Ever since the day when it first appeared the bird has been a part of the farmer’s daily life. He has visited it constantly and has never tired of showing it to visitors. No matter how busy he may be, when a stranger calls and asks about the mysterious bird he will lay everything else aside and lead the viewer to the spot where it is always found.

The presence of strangers never seems to have any effect on the partridge. It regards them with apparent indifference, but with any member of the Garland family it displays an affection that is unmistakable.

The theory of a supernatural agency spread rapidly from the first. While many of the staid country folk were reluctant to admit their own belief, they whispered the suggestion to others, and it needed but a touch of confidence for many to express their downright conviction. It was the more readily accepted because the cemetery on the Garland place had once before been reputed to be haunted.

 That Vina Garland’s spirit is striving to communicate with the loved ones left behind is believed by many. They say that the young teacher had some message for her parents before she died, but was taken away so quickly that she did not deliver it and is endeavoring through the bird, in some way not understood, to make it known.

Many believe that her spirit actually inhabits the bird and with superstitious fear refuse to touch it or approach it closely.

“It is Vina Garland,” they say, “and it brings no good to meddle with the dead.”

St. Louis [MO] Republic 7 November 1900: p. 6 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One scarcely knows where to start. Mrs Daffodil is sceptical about the notion of the transmigration of souls in rural 1900 New Hampshire, (or, indeed, anywhere.) although apparently Mr Ralph Waldo Emerson and some of his fellow Transcendentalists were enthusiasts for the idea. However, gamekeepers of her acquaintance assure Mrs Daffodil that the habits of this particular partridge are queer indeed. The creatures can be tamed, but it takes vast patience and a large stock of birdseed.  Possibly the bird was orphaned and imprinted upon Mr. Garland as newly hatched goslings are said to do with the first thing they see. The most charitable interpretation is that this bereaved father grasped at any straw of comfort in the wake of his great loss. 

For her part, if we have a choice in these matters, Mrs Daffodil would prefer to return as something higher up in the natural order of things: a sea eagle or peregrine or perhaps a wolverine. Something that does not find itself in a game pie.

This story, along with many other strange supernatural tales, is found in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past by Chris Woodyard, also available in a Kindle edition.

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.




1 thought on “The Girl Who Came Back as a Partridge: 1900

  1. Pingback: Reincarnated as an Otter: “Laura” by Saki: 1914 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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