The Blood-stained Cap: 1850s

A lady's nightcap. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art Brooklyn Costume Collection.

A lady’s nightcap. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection.

A sad and chilling story of a strange death-omen.

The following letter was sent to me by Mr. T. J. A., whom I had asked to make personal inquiry into the story he had told me:—

“My Dear Sir, November 17.

The incident I mentioned to you the other evening occurred at Wivenhoe, near Colchester, in the cottage of a poor widow, who added to a very small annuity by letting two rooms, whilst her sons earned their subsistence by fishing. At the time of which I write, the widow’s rooms were inhabited by Captain and Mrs. B., a family connection of mine, and from whom I heard the tale. One morning the two young fishermen went out, telling their mother they should not be home all night as the tide would not serve them. Their mother gave them their provisions accordingly, telling them if they did get home, to knock very gently at the window, so as not to disturb the sick lady (meaning Mrs. B.) At night she went to bed as usual and as the weather was calm, felt no uneasiness about her sons. She slept till about three o’clock when she was roused by the usual signal at her window; jumping out of bed and quietly throwing open the sash, she looked into the darkness and saw the form of her eldest child. “Be still,” she said, “I will light the candle and let you in.” On opening the door she found no one there, nor could she obtain any answer to her calls though often repeated, and thinking she had been dreaming, she re-entered her room to return to bed. But again she heard the knocking at the window and a second time she put her head out the window and called her sons by name. No answer was given and feeling something drop on her forehead, which she supposed to be rain, she, almost angry at what she called a trick, put out the light and got into bed. Though not alarmed she could not sleep and at day break rose to dress herself. The first thing she saw was a slight stain of blood upon her fingers, and on going to the little glass hanging on the wall, she was frightened at seeing blood upon her temple, and on the border of her night cap. There was no scratch in either temple or finger, no clue to guide her as to the cause of the blood stain. In a moment the truth flashed upon her mind, and she felt sure her sons were dead. She went to the kitchen and there, sitting in a state of desolation, Captain B. found her, when, wondering at her non-appearance, he went to enquire about his wife’s breakfast. The tale was told, and the blood stains, displayed upon the night cap. Captain B. was startled, for he had heard (or fancied he had heard) the knocking, but he endeavoured to persuade the poor woman she had hit her head against the window. No, she was sure she had not, and what she had supposed to be rain was, in reality blood. She bade Captain B. examine the window, and to satisfy her he did so, but he could discover no projecting nail or anything by which his landlady could have hurt either head or finger, but on the small sill, he saw drops of blood similar to those on the night cap. Nothing could be otherwise than conjecture, and taking the afflicted woman to his wife, Captain B. set out to obtain tidings of the young men, but it was late in the day ere their suspense was ended and then the widow’s presentiment was confirmed. Her son’s boat had been swamped and both had perished. The body of one, the younger, was soon found and on his temple was a deep wound as if he had been struck by the mast of the boat as it turned over. The body of the other was never brought to shore.

Thus ends the tale of the Wivenhoe widow. I have seen her many times, but I never heard her mention the subject, for she never quite recovered her senses.

To my sister, who married Captain B’s son, she has frequently told her tale, and shown her the cap with the blood stains on it.”

The British Spiritual Telegraph, vol. 3-4, 1859, p. 57  

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Spiritualist literature of the period was full of stories of death-omens or “tokens of death,” as they were often known.  This post tells of some of the more usual portents. Mrs Daffodil, who is well-acquainted with post-mortem blood-stains and has a professional interest in knowing when people are going to die, finds that blood is an atypical omen of death. The belief that three drops of blood from the nose foretells death is found in Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Some say that the number of drops indicates the days to pass before the death. The anecdote at the end of this post tells of a blood-omen in connection with King Charles I.

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.

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