The Lawyer and the Ghost: 19th-century

secret drawer

A secret drawer in the desk. popularwoodworking.com

THE CASE OF MRS. ROGER BLACK.

A Mr. Roger Black, a plain man, living in Kentucky, had just paid for a small house, which he had hitherto rented, and, returning home, told his wife, showed her the receipt for the sum—two thousand dollars—though more regular papers were to be made out next day, and, as far as she knew, he then went at once to his stable, where, some hours later, he was found dead, having been kicked in the head by a horse.

When the first horror was over, and Mr. Black’s funeral had taken place, the widow naturally looked for the receipt, but could not find it. Having incautiously mentioned this fact, the person who had sold the property denied having received any money from Mr. Black, and insinuated that Mrs. Black uttered a falsehood when she declared that her husband had done more than talk about buying the place. In proof of this, he showed a document, only half completed, and declared that Black had said: “let it wait until I think it over “—and that, for his part, he had been very willing to wait.

The widow naturally fought for her rights, but had no case.

She had no witnesses, and the lawyer who had the interests of the other side in charge brought witnesses to prove that Mrs. Black was the victim of hallucinations—thought that her mother’s spirit sat at her bedside when she was ill, and had held spiritual circles at her house. Believing in an alleged medium, who was afterward exposed, and in warnings of Mr. Black’s death, in the shape of raps on her head-board.

People who could not believe Mrs. Black capable of trying to defraud anyone, readily leaned to the idea that she was the victim of delusion, and the poor woman, who could not prove the truth of her statement to anyone, was also aggrieved by being supposed insane.

The night before the decision took place, she gave up all hope and went early to bed, taking her two little ones with her.

She could not sleep, but lay there weeping, wondering how she could feed her children, from whom their hard-earned home was to be wrested. There was a public clock not far away, and she heard it strike, nine— ten—eleven—at last twelve—then, weary with her sorrowful vigil, her eyes closed.

She lay in a deep and heavy slumber, when she was aroused by heavy blows upon her outer door. As she was alone in the little house, she felt alarmed, and, pushing up the window, leaned out and asked who was there.

To her surprise, the voice of the lawyer who was working against her replied:

“It is I—come down, Mrs. Black; I must speak to you.”

Accordingly, she dressed and went to the door. In the cold, gray dawn, they stood there together, and she saw that something moved him strongly.

“Mrs. Black,” he said, at last, ” to-night, as I lay in bed, I thought that your late husband came into my room, and stood looking at me. I do not believe in such things as apparitions, you know; but I could not fancy it a delusion when he spoke—’you are helping that man to rob my wife,’ he said; ‘I did pay him the money. We were to have a lawyer make out papers next day. I showed wife the receipt and then put it in my mother’s old bureau, up garret, where I keep other papers, in the secret drawer—get it.’

“Then,” said the lawyer, “a light by which I saw him, faded—I got up and came to you.” The widow shook her head—” I am afraid you have been having hallucinations now,” she said; “poor Roger never would have put the receipt there. To be sure, there is a secret drawer—I will go and see—come up.”

She led the way up to the garret, in the corner of which stood a broken, old bureau. There was a so-called secret drawer between two manifest ones. She touched the spring—a number of yellow papers lay there and some Daguerreotypes. Amongst them was a large, white envelope.

“That is it!” Mrs. Black cried, drew it forth, opened it, and—behold! the receipt.

“Mrs. Black, you have but to bring that receipt to court to-morrow,” the lawyer said, slowly; “my client is a rascal.

“If I may ask you a favor—it is this—that you will keep the secret of my vision, it would greatly injure me to have it known. But I do not think that you are anxious for revenge?”

Mrs. Black held out her hand to him.

“You have done me a good turn by coming here,” she said, “and I promise.”

“I wonder my poor husband went to you—I should have thought he’d come to me instead—but you acted right, and I’ll never tell.”

She never did, while the lawyer lived. After he died, she no longer felt bound by the promise she had made him.

I do not vouch for this story. It was told me as a true one; but it resembles very closely a tale in an English periodical many years old. However, it is an illustration of my idea that lawyers are employed by spirits who have legal affairs to settle before they can forget the troubles of this world. 

The Freed Spirit, Mary Kyle Dallas, 1894: pp 183-186

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There is a popular idea that the legal profession is composed exclusively of vultures, sharks, and other unpleasant creatures, preying on the unfortunate. It is refreshing to find a lawyer happy to do a good turn, even if it is at the urging of a spectre. One does wonder why the ghost came to the lawyer, but perhaps he thought the lawyer’s disinterested position would offset the unpleasantness over Mrs Black’s unorthodox supernatural views.

We have previously read of a similar case where a lawyer witnesses a ghost’s return in the story of The Will and the Ghost. But if, as Miss Dallas suggests, spirits employ lawyers, where are the bills sent? Are said bills for “chill-able” hours? Or do such lawyers work “pro-boo-no”? [Mrs Daffodil must apologise. That person over at Haunted Ohio, so reprehensively fond of puns, must have crept into Mrs Daffodil’s rooms in a shocking invasion of privacy and added those last two sentences, as the manuscript sat in the type-writer.]

 

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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One thought on “The Lawyer and the Ghost: 19th-century

  1. Pingback: The Widow, the Shoemaker and the Will: 1850s | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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