A Spray of Lily-of-the-Valley: A French Ghost Story: c. 1907

 

A Faberge spray of lily-of-the-valley http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21517/lot/93/

A Faberge spray of lily-of-the-valley http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21517/lot/93/

A well-known American financier told me the following. He is regarded as a man of iron will and resolution, physically a giant, without nerves or imagination. This is his story:

“I came over to France seven years ago for the first time—I wasn’t in a happy frame of mind. No, guess not—my daughter, my only child, had cabled me she was marrying a man who proposed to keep her on what you call five hundred a year. He was a Britisher—as the saying goes. Yes, of course, there was the title; but if he had been engaged in the scavenger business she would have taken him just the same; and if she had been a nurse girl, wheeling a pram he would have married her. However, I was in France to break it off. He might marry her, I thought, but not my money—I wanted more for it than he could give. That’s the way we are made, you know—if we give a lot, we want a lot for it. Anyhow, I landed at Cherbourg, and went to bed for a couple of hours’ sleep—I was dead beat, we had taken five hours to get in from the Oceanic, and I had been wet to the skin with spray—I overslept myself, and as I couldn’t get a cab to the station I walked, and missed the train.

“Well, I wasn’t going to stay in that old place longer than I could help, so I took some sort of a local that landed me at a junction where I could catch a Paris mail. I can’t tell you the name—something slithery it was—you couldn’t remember a name like that. Well, the local put me there with four hours to get rid of—and nothing to do. I had a villainous lunch, and set out to walk the town. It was the queerest old place you ever saw, hardly a house in it hadn’t been put up somewhere between 1012 and 1077—those were the predominant dates. The Church might have been the first one in France, and the porch was a wonder.

“I was standing in the porch when I saw a funeral coming out of the house directly opposite. It was a huge stone affair, with a door made of carved oak, that might have served a citadel. The door was surmounted by a great coat of arms, and a crest with motto. The date was 1090. There was some music going on behind me, and the side look I gave at the funeral made me sorry for the corpse. ‘Poor devil!’ thought I, ‘if he had any friends alive, he didn’t have any dead’—there wasn’t a soul behind the coffin. Well, we all have our fancies—I took off my hat and followed on as chief mourner, and all the mourners. Thought I, ‘Well, I hope somebody will do as much for me.’

“It was a pretty brief service—guess the defunct hadn’t left much to the Church. The procession trotted to the graveyard and I went into the street again. The door of the house opposite was open, and a man in a faded livery with a linen apron on beckoned to me. I went across. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘the lady will receive you,’ and he asked me to walk right in.

“I went in. It was a big wide hall for stone, with stone walls and polished furniture; right across it facing me was a big sunny room, filled with all kinds of rare and lovely old things—and in the window with her back to the light saw a woman of about thirty-five in a straight white dress—a very beautiful woman, tall and slender, with very lovely eyes. But as she rose and turned to me, I saw she was blind.

“’Sit down,’ she said, putting her hand palm outwards to me. I sat. I had to.

“’Sir,’ she began—she had the queerest far-away little voice you ever  heard. ‘Sir, you are unhappy, and that is because you are making once more a mistake. The first mistake you made good; but if you make this one, there will be no one to follow your coffin, and to wish you well. You must forgive your daughter—and keep her love.’ Well, I was flabbergasted, some, I tell you.

“’Well,’ I said, ‘if her mother lived, she would think as I do.’

She bent her head to me, the way a bird listens. She had a long white neck.

“’Have you the courage to see her mother?’ she asked. I said I surely had.

“’Then do not stir. Whatever happens, do not move.’ Ad she pointed a finger at the open French window. As I looked there came a sort of bright mist into the window—like an opal you would say—it was whirling slowly round. I looked for a minute perhaps, when all at once I remembered my train, and whipped out my watch. It was ten minutes to eleven, the third day of June 19. I looked up off the dial, and there in the door stood my dead wife, looking a she did when I first saw her. She was leaning over towards me, smiling and holding out a spray of lily-of-the-valley in her fingers. ‘Bobbin,’ she said—that’s the name she always called me, nobody knew it but ourselves—‘Bobbin, I married you for love, and you married me for love.’ She held the flower a little nearer and smiled again. ‘Bobbin,’ she said very seriously, ‘let Anne be happy—thirteen don’t count over here.’

“I made one bound at her, and snatched the flower out of her fingers. I had the feeling of having run my head against something cold and clammy, and the next instant I was out in the street, studying the date on the big door. A man came along and stopped. ‘That’s an old house, sir,’ he said. ‘A witch once lived there—she was burnt in the market place, the last of her family was buried to-day, and there was not one who went to her funeral. A great house once!’ and he went on. Now what happened to me? Can you tell? But I knew what my wife meant—for it was her right enough. She was a rich woman when I married her, and I had very little, and when she lay in my arms dying, she had taken a spray of lily-of-the-valley out of the bunch I had brought her, and I saw it had thirteen bells. I was very superstitious about thirteen, and when I saw it, I pinched off a bloom and dropped it on the counterpane. I thought she didn’t see—she died ten minutes afterwards. Well, I’m  no believer in ghosts nor in witchcraft, but can you explain that—eh? Was it the dead woman I followed to the grave? It surely was my wife.”

The Occult Review, May 1914.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One wonders what the children of America eat for breakfast that they all grow up with iron wills and without nerves or imagination, to become Captains of Industry. And just why a lack of nerves and imagination are supposed to render one ghost-proof, Mrs Daffodil hasn’t an earthly.  It has been Mrs Daffodil’s experience that nerves and imagination dispose one, rather, to—well—imagine things as opposed to examining the inexplicable in any real sceptical or meaningful way. Still, to play Devil’s Advocate, it is possible that the gentleman’s exhaustion and “villainous lunch” played havoc with his optic nerves and that he only imagined the funeral and its interesting sequel.

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.

 

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2 thoughts on “A Spray of Lily-of-the-Valley: A French Ghost Story: c. 1907

  1. SallyCampbell & Ike Renfield

    You can say “Told you so.” Captains of industry and of, possibly, Crunch cereal for an American breakfast, are no match for slithery junctions and the queerest far-away little voice. Thank you for the shudders.

    Like

    Reply

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