STORY OF A WILL.
I recently asked an old lawyer’s opinion of ghosts. The result was as follows:
“Do I believe in spirits? Well, yes, when they are contained in bottles and come from a well-known firm. But ghosts! Why! Do you think I am a Spiritualist? Nonsense!”
“So you don’t believe in ghosts and spooks? You have never had any remarkable experience?”
“Hold on there! Now that you seem determined that I shall commit myself, and probably having heard that I have a ghost story to tell, I will satisfy you; but let me remark before commencing that the story I am about to tell is God’s truth and as such must be received. Scoff at it but once, and I shall stop in the middle of my story.
“Yes, I do believe in ghosts, or, at least, in some strange natural phenomena that the world has called ghostly for the last eighteen hundred years or more. Now, listen:
“It was in the latter part of 1876 that I undertook a case for a young woman. It was for a divorce.
“She was the daughter of my aged client, Dr. Baxter, a man who could have raised $500,000 in hard cash inside of twenty-four hours.
“The case was somewhat remarkable. Annie Baxter had married a stockbroker, named Thomas Thorne, against her father’s wishes.
“Her husband, she soon discovered, had married her chiefly for what he could get out of her father, who, he hoped, would soon get over his displeasure and forgive his daughter’s disobedience; but the old doctor was stubborn and did not relent. He refused to see Annie and forbade the mention of her name by any of his household.
“Thorne, on finding that he could not get hold of any of the doctor’s money, soon tired of Annie; and Annie, who had been a spoiled and petted child, brought up in the lap of luxury, became miserable and in want. But she stood her sorrows with heroism, and not a complaint escaped her till Thorne began to drink and gamble, at times not returning for weeks to his home, and then under the influence of liquor.
“She was obliged to earn her own living, and when her child was born she had to go to one of our large free hospitals for care and attention. It is doubtful if her father would have let her go had he known her condition, for he still loved his daughter; but she did not let him know, and one day while making his rounds in the maternity ward of the B. Hospital, to which he was a physician, his attention was called to a woman who had fainted. He went to her bedside. It was Annie, his daughter, who, not expecting to see him, had been greatly shocked. She did not know of his connection with the hospital.
“The doctor’s kind heart was softened at once. He was greatly moved. He had her carried in an ambulance to her old home under his roof. He had forgiven her.
“Just about this time Thorne was arrested in a bad house, where he was raising a row, and sent to prison for six weeks. Annie then placed her petition for divorce in my hands, and my connection with the case commenced.
“The divorce was obtained with ease, as Thorne made no answer to the complaint and the case was perfectly clear in our favor.
“Now begins the ghostly part. Dr. Baxter owned a small yacht, in which he was accustomed to make short excursions about New York Bay and Long Island Sound. On the last excursion of any kind he ever made the yacht capsized in a squall, and the doctor was drowned, everyone else being rescued alive.
“After the funeral the doctor’s will was looked for. It was known that he had made a will at the time of Annie’s marriage, leaving all his property to his sister on the condition that Annie could have $600 a year from the estate during her life.
“After father and daughter became reconciled he told me he intended to make a new will and leave his property chiefly to her, but the only will that could be found after his death was the former, and his sister, Mrs. J., refused to waive her rights under the will in the least. By my advice, Annie asked her to make her a proper compromise, but she refused to do anything more than stand by the will.
“Almost a year passed away, when one day I received a note from Annie asking me to call on her at the Gilsey House, where she was staying a few days, on business of the utmost importance. On going there she told me a strange story, so strange that I feared she had lost her mental balance, but I saw she was perfectly earnest about it.
“’A few nights ago,’ said she, ‘while I was sitting with my little boy by the fire in my room, at about 10 o’clock in the evening, there being no other light than that of the fire in the room, I heard a strange noise. Then the door opened—and closed. I looked around, much surprised at receiving such a late visitor, especially as he came without knocking. But my first surprise was lost in the terror and dismay that came over me as I saw enter and approach my chair—who do you think? My father! Or his ghost!
“’As I knew he had been dead over a year, you may imagine my feelings. He came direct towards me, casting his ulster overcoat off on a chair, as he used to do when he came home late.
“ ‘”Annie,” said he, putting his hand on my head and stroking my hair, “I have come to see you righted. You are suffering from a most unnatural fraud and crime. You aunt stole my last will. As I had promised you, I made you my heir—and my only heir—and the will was drawn by my own hand, and executed three months before I died.
“'”Your aunt, in whom I firmly believed, was one of the witnesses. Dr. R., who went to China before my death, and is there still, was another. I am determined to see you have your rights, though I am no longer in the flesh, and be assured that I can see you through.
“'”The lost will is in your aunt’s bureau drawer in her bedroom, on the second floor of our old house. The ebony bureau. You will find the will under the paper on the bottom of the drawer. And this is the way for you to obtain it.
“'”Go to your lawyer and tell him what I have told you. Ask him to go with you to call on your aunt. As usual she will receive you kindly. She will be in the library. Go at about dusk on Wednesday evening, the 10th, and while she is talking to you I will appear and carry out the rest of the plan.”
“’Then the doctor put on his coat again and kissed my baby and myself in the most affectionate manner—quite as though he were alive—and started to go, but before he had reached the door his form melted into air and shadow. He had disappeared.’
“On hearing this strange ghost story I sat still for a few moments and reflected; then I resolved to see it through.
“Accordingly, on Wednesday, at the time indicated I found myself sitting with Annie Thorne in her aunt’s library. Her aunt was very kind and genial, but did not offer to have the gas lighted—perhaps she thought we would stay longer. We talked about having the $600 annuity cashed; such we pretended was the object of our visit. At last the old lady said:
“’We may as well have a light; don’t you think so?’
“’No, I don’t!’ said a solemn and familiar voice, and a dusky form crossed the room and stood before the grate fire; remarkable to say, the firelight shone sheer through his legs. I felt my hair raise. I was greatly frightened.
“As to the old lady, she gave a wild shriek and sank back in her chair. ‘Della,’ said the ghost, for such it surely was, ‘stop your nonsense! Are you not ashamed to treat my child as you have done? Here you have disturbed my rest in my grave by your dishonesty.’
“By this time the ghost had walked out into the middle of the room, where he could be seen pretty well by the firelight. The form and face were perfect. It was Dr. Baxter, beyond doubt.
“’Woman,’ said he, continuing his speech, and now, pointing his long, bony finger at the old lady, ‘had you not gold enough without taking Annie’s birthright? Get up and come with us!’
“So saying, he motioned me to open the door, which I did. Then leading, he made us all follow him upstairs; or, rather, he drew us along by some strange, magnetic force until we reached the door of the chamber occupied by the old lady.
“Here he stopped and, addressing her, said:
“’Della, open that door!’ She obeyed at once. We all entered.
“’Now, get that lost will of mine out of your drawer at once and give it to the lawyer, Mr. C.’
“Strange to say, she went at once to her bureau drawer, and, after raising things about a little, brought out the will and handed it to me.
“’Now, Mr. C.’ said the ghost, ‘make out an affidavit that this will, having been mislaid, has just by chance been found.’
“I did so as best I could in the semi-darkness.
“’Della, sign that paper,’ said the ghost, ‘and to-morrow you will swear before a notary that it is true, or I will go there with you and make you do so later on. That is all for the present,’ said the ghost, and we all returned to the library.
“When we reached there the ghost was gone, no one knew where. The old lady was so much horrified that she fainted, and we left her in the care of her servants. We had recovered the lost will.
“To establish the validity of the will was not difficult, and Mrs. Thorne was soon in possession of her rights.
“Such is my story and I again affirm that it is true. The names are changed to avoid offense to the persons who figured in the story, which is the only change made.
Evansville [IN] Courier and Press 25 December 1889: p. 3
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil does so enjoy a happy ending. Where there is a will, there is a way. And we are all grateful to the author for sharing this salutary example of the fundamental errors made by an amateur for whom the kindliest adjective would be “bungling.” The will should have been destroyed without delay; preferably burnt without a trace and the ashes beaten to pieces with the poker. If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. One really cannot fathom what Mrs J. was thinking to leave the will at the bottom of the drawer—and just beneath the lining paper where a child could have discovered it. Most discreditable. Mrs J. should carefully reconsider her ambitions for a criminal career.
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.