THE STORY OF A WATCH.
The German family, who declare that this story is true, told it to one, who told it to me, twenty years ago.
The watch was then in their possession, and was a heavy, old-fashioned object, in a curiously engraved, double gold case. It had then recently been brought from Frankfort, and was worn by the oldest son of the gentleman of whom the incidents below are related.
This person, a physician of high standing and benevolent disposition, having discovered, in the poorest quarter of the town, an aged and well-educated old man, suffering from a disease that was inevitably mortal, caused him to be brought to his home, and there had him nursed and cared for as though he had been his own father.
The invalid was very grateful, and before he died, said to the physician: “When I am gone, I want you to keep and wear my watch; it is more valuable than it appears. It will stop with my last breath, and should it begin to tick again, you will know that I have once more begun to breathe. Watch it, therefore, for some space of time, that I may not be interred prematurely.
“When it has been silent for a month, put it into your own pocket. In a few hours it will begin to go again. From that moment no other must wear it. It will be a sort of guardian angel to you. While it ticks regularly, you need fear nothing. When it begins to tick very rapidly, danger threatens you. If you are about to take a journey, and are thus warned, remain at home; if while you are in the street, remain where you are until the sound is normal, or return home. Never take it to a watch-maker; it needs no regulation. It will not stop until your breath does.
“I cannot tell you why, but it has been so, and it will be so, and you will soon believe it.”
The physician naturally believed that there was nothing in all this. The superstition that a man’s watch often stops when he dies, without any perceptible reason, was familiar to him; but he listened gravely, promised to do as the invalid asked, and thanked him for the bequest.
However, the man lived many months longer, and died very quietly at last. He was found lying as though asleep, and the watch in the pocket of his night-robe had certainly stopped, though it had not run down.
The physician was, at least, sufficiently startled to respect the old gentleman’s wishes in regard to the watch; but it remained silent, and at the end of the month he placed it in his own pocket. Exactly as the donor had said, he had not worn it twenty-four hours before it began to tick again. From that moment it continued to keep perfect time.
About three years from the day on which he first became its owner, it had given three manifestations of its peculiar power.
I do not know the particulars, save that by stopping in the street while the wild ticking of the watch continued, the doctor was saved from passing an old wall which fell just at the time when he would have been beneath it had he continued his walk; that the same wild ticking caused him to return home in time to save the life of one of his family, who needed instant attention; and that, obeying its warning, he did not enter a railway train, in which, an hour after, many passengers met a fearful fate.
But, by this time, not even the original possessor of the watch felt a greater confidence in it as a sort of mechanical guardian angel. The doctor’s wife also believed in it implicitly, and would not, on any account, have allowed him to leave the house without it, had she been aware of the fact.
One day, however, the hasty change of a waistcoat caused this to happen. The fact was discovered by the lady, and shortly, to her horror, she heard the watch begin to tick madly; then, to stop suddenly, with a sort of crash. The terror that this caused her was so great that she was prepared for anything, and was not astonished when her husband was shortly after brought home unconscious—his horse having taken fright at something and overturned the carriage. He did not rally, and finally the physicians pronounced him dead.
The usual solemn preparations were made ; the funeral took place, and all seemed over, when, in the middle of the night, the seeming widow, who lay awake, with her eyes fixed upon the watch, which she had placed upon her pillow, heard it begin to tick again, and that with astonishing rapidity.
On the instant she felt sure that her husband was not dead, and, rising, summoned those who could aid her, proceeded to the burial place, unlocked the vault, where the coffin lay on a stone slab, and had the lid lifted.
The first glance showed a gleam of color in the doctor’s face.
Wrapped in blankets, which his wife had provided, he was borne home and laid upon his bed. There he was restored to full consciousness, regained his health and lived to extreme old age.
Certainly, if this was a coincidence—as is, of course, possible—it was a most fortunate one, and no one could blame those who saw all this happen for regarding the watch with reverence and affection, and believing all that its original possessor had told them to be solemnly true, forever afterward.
The Freed Spirit: or Glimpses Beyond the Border, Mary Kyle Dallas, 1894
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There is, of course, much folk-lore about clocks and watches stopping at the death of their owners–hence the old song, “My Grandfather’s Clock,” about the clock stopping short, never to go again, “when the old man died…” Clocks are also said to start up or chime mysteriously as an omen of death. Unlike such a “death watch,” this watch proves a very helpful life-saver indeed.
Let us give a few more specimens of this sort of horological haunting:
THE CLOCK STOPPED
New Castle Town Timepiece Stood Still After Old Attendant Died
New Castle, Del., Sept. 18. The town clock located in the tower of Immanuel P.E. Church has stopped. The man who has been the caretaker of the clock for the past fifteen years, James G. Bridgewater, died on Friday and within a few hours the clock came to a standstill.
An attempt has been made to start it, but it has refused to work. A son of the deceased will now care for it. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 19 September 1904: p. 1
Her Clock Stopped When She Died.
Miss Emma Hafscher of Corning, N.Y., aged 24, daughter of Frederick Hafscher, died recently from a lingering bronchial trouble. A clock which had been purchased as present by the young man to whom she was engaged to be married was in the room near the bed and had been running regularly until the moment the young lady died, when the clock stopped at the minute she drew her last breath. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 12 October 1895: p. 8
There is a 1906 story in The Ghost Wore Black about a young lady who apparently died. When her sister went to stop the clock in the death-bed room, as was appropriate in a house of mourning, it would not stop. Nor did the clock, which required to be wound every 24 hours, stop when it should have run down. The young lady’s sister, “half crazy with grief and superstitious fear,” over the clock’s behaviour, refused to have her sister buried. The clock ticked on for three days until the “corpse” revived. When she was out of danger, the clock stopped and never ran again.
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.