The Ghost in the Rosy-Posy Dress: c. 1880s

Jean-Etienne Liotard, Marie-Josephe von Sachsen, https://www.rijksmuseum.nl

Jean-Etienne Liotard, Marie-Josephe von Sachsen, https://www.rijksmuseum.nl

A friend of mine, Mrs. M–, a very charming, highly educated Scots lady, told me this experience.

“When we first came to Paris,” she began, “we took a little house at St. Cloud. It was quite a modem house, built I should think about 1885. I can tell you nothing of its history, you know what French people are, they will be frightfully affable and tell you everything but what you want to know.

“All we could discover was that the house had been converted from a private dwelling to a Pension for old ladies. Some twelve or fourteen of them had been living in the house, and it was apparently successful enough, but the owner had suddenly shut it up, and the doors had been locked till they were opened for us to inspect it. Altogether it was about as commonplace and everyday a dwelling as you would wish to see, four fairly large rooms below, with a little stone-flagged hall running between them. A short flight of stairs and on the landing a long narrow room we made into the drawing-room; above this landing the four bedrooms–all hopelessly banal and mediocre after the French fashion.

“At first I sat in the drawing-room to work, to write and to sew, and saw my cook there in the mornings. After the first few days she asked me to give her orders in the hall, where she would come to meet me, saying in excuse that the drawing room made her cold.

“For the first week I did not notice this coldness, because the weather was hot and coolness was grateful; but after that it became dull, and as I was sitting there sewing one Sunday morning, an icy wind blew suddenly across my face and sent my hair all out of its ribbon. There was a curious rushing noise along with the cold wind, and a feeling of dampness. I was so surprised that I could not call out, or run–I simply sat on, and almost instantly I was overwhelmed by a sensation of the bitterest misery. A feeling of wrong and oppression caught me and crushed me to the depths. I passed about ten minutes of the most unimaginable suffering. It was awful! Then suddenly I sprang to my feet and fled–I never sat in the drawing-room again. But whatever was there did not confine itself to its walls. It came out and walked about the house, preceded by that chill blast. One day, talking to the cook in the little stone hall, her muslin apron suddenly blew out in front of her, as if a whole gale were blowing through the house. ‘Oh, Madame!’ she cried, ‘you have left open the drawing-room window.’

“‘Go, then, and shut it, Marie,’ I said.

“‘She came back running. ‘Madame! Madame! The windows are all shut; but the door is open.’

“After that, no one of the maids would go near the drawing-room, and we ceased to use it.

“The house was always full of vague noises, sometimes a whispering sound would follow my husband at night, when he went his rounds at bedtime; sometimes a voice would call my name softly and insistently for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. There were always rustlings on the stairs and at the drawing-room door.

“One night I was standing beside my little girl’s cot, hearing her prayers, when she paused, and nodded smilingly several times, turning her head as she did so, as if following somebody’s movements. Her little cat, sitting on the bed beside her, did the same, its eyes flaming. I looked round, thinking my husband bad entered the room. There was no one.

“‘Jan,’ I asked, ‘who were you smiling at, then?’

“‘Oh, just the Little Old Lady,’ she answered;  ‘she always comes at tespasses (trespasses); she nods and smiles, an’ I nod an’ smile–that’s poli–isn’t it, mummie?’

“I agreed that it was, and went to find her father. After some consultation, we moved the cot to our room and put it next the bed. For three nights the child said her prayers without interruption, but the fourth she stopped and smiled and nodded over her finger-tips–the Little Old Lady had found her.

“‘What is she like, Jan?’ I asked. Jan looked critically into space, and replied,

“‘She’s little, with rosy-posy dress, an’ long curly hair, all white, an’ an awfuu hole in her breast—oh, awfuu! ‘ and she shook her head commiseratingly.

“I was horrified, but the child did not appear to be frightened. I lay down on the bed till she was asleep, and woke up very cold, to see what looked like a small woman in a long curled eighteenth century head-dress, just fading away from the rail of the child’s cot.

“I was so terrified by this, that I sent Jan to her grandmother, and did not have her again till we were in our present residence. We left that house three months before our lease terminated.”

“Some More French Ghost Stories,” Phil Campbell, The Occult Review April 1919

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: But why was a lady of the Ancien Régime haunting a house built c. 1885? Those expert in the study of the paranormal might say that perhaps there had been an earlier building on the site to which the ghost belonged.  The prettily-dressed ghost—a victim of the Terror?—may have been perfectly harmless, but one shudders to think of that awful hole in a ghostly bosom. It is all too reminiscent of that grewsome story, “Lost Hearts,” by M.R. James.

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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