A Wreath of Orange Blossoms Bathed in Blood: 1860s

STRANGE NIGHT OF HORROR

What I Saw in the Old Upper Chamber.

The Wreath of Orange Blossoms That Was Bathed in Blood

I received an invitation from an old friend of mine, Colonel Armitage, to run down to his house in Berkshire, for some hunting and a couple of balls.

In those days I was some years younger than I am now, and, having but lately returned from India, very keen on all sorts of amusements. I wrote off a hurried note of acceptance, and speedily followed it.

I knew Mrs. Armitage slightly, and was well acquainted with the Colonel’s taste in champagne, besides which I had met, not long before, an uncommonly pretty sister of his, whom I thought it would be by no means unpleasant to meet again; so I started off in the best of spirits.

I calculated a run of two hours would give me ample time for the three miles drive from the station and to dress for dinner at 8. However, vain were my hopes. There was a break down on the line, and we only reached the station at 7 o’clock. I dashed into the carriage sent to meet me, and, arriving at the Grange, found my host alone, awaiting me in the hall, with outstretched hand and genial welcome.

I knew he was a regular martinet for punctuality, so was not surprised when he hurried me up directly to my room. It was a large and well-appointed room, with bright fire and candles.

“All right, old chap, I’ll send Reggie up to show you the way down in a quarter of an hour,” were the Colonel’s last words as he left me to my toilet. Suddenly the gong thundered through the house, and I, thinking I was forgotten, put out my candles and turned to the door—when it was softly opened and a young man appeared who beckoned to me.

I followed him into the passage, which was rather dark, and began to say something expressive of my obligation to him, but he silenced me with a wave of the hand and preceded me, with noiseless steps and averted face, along the passage. I thought this was odd, but my surprise was increased when he took an abrupt turn to the left which I did not remember, and we found ourselves in a long, low, oak-paneled corridor, dimly lighted by a hanging lamp.

I began to feel a curious sensation stealing over me and endeavored to speak, but was withheld by an undefined feeling, so followed my guide in perfect silence to the end of the corridor. He then passed through a green baize door, up a flight of corkscrew stairs and through another passage, still feeling myself impelled to follow till he stopped, opened a door and stood back for me to pass before him.

I had not seen his face before, but had observed he was above the middle height, with a good figure and rather military gait. Now, however, I saw his face; it was ashy white, with such an expression of horror and fear in his widely opened eyes as froze my blood. I again made an ineffectual attempt to speak to him, but he motioned me imperiously to enter, and I felt constrained to obey.

I found myself in an oddly-shaped room. It was evidently an unused apartment, for there was no carpet, and my footsteps sounded hollow on the boards. Between the windows, half in shadow, half in moonlight, stood a large bed. As I gazed upon it my eyes became gradually accustomed to the somewhat dim light, and I observed with a shudder that it was draped with black and decorated with tall black plumes like those on a hearse, and that there was a motionless form extended upon it.

I glance round for my guide—he was gone and the door was shut, though I had heard no sound. A thrill of horror ran through my veins, I felt an almost irresistible desire for flight, but again the inexplicable force urged me on, and I approached the bed with slow and trembling steps.

There lay a young, and, as far as I could see, beautiful girl, dressed as a bride, in white satin and lace, a wreath of orange blossoms on her head and the long white veil covering, though not obscuring her features, but oh! Horror! The front of her dress and vail were all dabbled and soaked in blood which I could see flowed from a deep open gash in her white throat.

My head swam, and I remembered no more.

Suddenly I felt a cold shock in my face, and opened my eyes to find myself on the floor, with my head supported by my kind host. As my bewildered senses reasserted themselves I remembered what I had seen, and, with an exclamation, sprang to my feet. There was the same bed, but in the bright light I saw that it was without the ghastly appendages I had seen before and was totally untenanted. Colonel Armitage began asking me questions, but, seeing that I was too much dazed to answer, he took me by the arm and half led me, half supported me, back to my own room. When there he put me into an arm-chair, gave me a glass of water and exclaimed:

“My dear fellow! What on earth is the matter with you? We sent Reggie up to you, but he came down saying you had gone. We waited ten minutes—then, thinking you had lost your way, instituted a regular search, and I found you in the old chamber, in a dead faint on the floor.

I pulled myself together, and, as collectedly as I could, told him what had happened. He listened with incredulity, and then said:
“My dear Bruce, you have been dreaming.”

“Why,” I said, rather nettled. “how do you suppose I could have dreamed myself into that room? I tell you, Armitage, that I was as wide awake as you are, and am perfectly certain that what I saw was no dream.”

“Look here,” said Armitage seriously, “don’t you go talking about this to anybody but me; of course there are stories about this house, but nobody has ever seen or imagined anything uncanny before, and it will frighten Mrs. Armitage to death if you tell her; she is awfully delicate, and I don’t want to alarm her.”

“All right,” I said, “but I wish it hadn’t happened to me. I feel frightfully shaky still.”

“Oh, nonsense! Come down to dinner; a good glass of champagne will set you to rights,” said he.

Accordingly I made an effort to shake off the depression on my spirits, and went down with him.  The bright lights, cheerful talk and clattering of plates seemed terribly incongruous, and I am afraid pretty Mrs. Armitage must have thought me quite off my head, for I could eat nothing, drank feverishly and replied at random to all her remarks, and condolences, while the dead face of the murdered girl floated before my eyes and nearly distracted me.

“I’m afraid you don’t feel at all well, Captain Bruce,” she said at last.

“Please don’t think me dreadfully rude,” I replied, “but if I could slip out unobserved, I should be most grateful.”

She signaled to Reggie, a bright-faced boy whom I begged to show me upstairs. I literally dared not attempt to find my way up alone for fear of meeting my mysterious guardian.

I went to the glass—and recoiled; I hardly knew myself. My hair lay damply on my forehead, my face as very pale, and there was the haunted look in my eyes I had seen in his.  Very soon the door opened—I started nervously; but it was only the Colonel with a steaming tumbler. “Look here,” he said, “drink this off and get into bed; you’ll be all right in the morning.” I did so, and the punch did send me off into a heavy, dreamless sleep, which lasted till my blinds were drawn up by the servant in the morning letting in fresh sunshine.

A whole day in the saddle and a splendid run, followed by a cozy game of billiards with Miss Mabel Armitage before dinner, decided me, ghosts or no ghosts, not to show myself ungrateful to my kind hosts by cutting short my visit as I had thought of doing.

The next day we spent in the covers, the ladies came out to give us our luncheon, and I came home to dress for dinner in a most jubilant frame of mind, much inclined to put my fate to the touch with Miss Mabel: hoping that, be my deserts as small as they might, I should win, not “lose it all.” Some country neighbors were expected to dinner, and I was standing in a deep window-seat with Mabel and listening to her merry descriptions of them as they were ushered into the room by the stately butler when Sir George and Miss Hildyard” were announced, and there entered—dressed in white—the girl I had seen in my dream!

I stood transfixed, and Mabel exclaimed: “Oh, Captain Bruce, what is the matter?” But I could not answer. Before my eyes rose again that darkened room, that funeral bed, and the lifeless form of her who now advanced toward me, led by Mrs. Armitage.

“Miss Hildyard, Captain Bruce.” I bowed as in a dream, but saw a look of surprise cross her face, and she glanced inquiringly at Mabel, who replied by a reassuring nod.

As soon as I could get an opportunity, I took Colonel Armitage aside, and whispered to him—“For heaven’s sake, Armitage, am I mad? That is the girl.” He shook me impatiently by the shoulder and said, “’Pon my word, Bruce, I begin to think you are. That is one of the nicest girls I know. She’s engaged to Lovett, and they are to be married soon after Easter. For goodness’ sake don’t go, and frighten her by staring like a death’s head.”

After dinner I even ventured to accost Miss Hildyard, whom I found very agreeable, with nothing in the least supernatural about her; so once more I made up my mind that I was the victim of some extraordinary hallucination, and resolved to think of it no more. Well—time passed; I was obliged to say good-by to my kind friends with much regret and returned to my duties.

One day, soon after my return, I was driving down the street with my young brother, when I discerned a figure in the distance walking before us which seemed familiar. The back only was visible, but somehow I knew that tall figure, those broad shoulders, that alert, regular stride.

As we passed he turned his face toward us, and—good heavens! It was he; my guide that terrible night at Medlicott. Was I awake or dreaming?

I stopped the cab, to my brother’s intense surprise, jumped out with what intention I hardly know, and rapidly followed him. He turned up King street and went into a house, opening the door with a latch-key and shutting it behind him. I remained hesitating—what should I do next? I decided on ringing the bell; it was answered by a decorous-looking man servant.

“What is the name of that gentleman who has just gone in here?”
“Mr. Lovett, sir,” was the reply.  I felt stunned. Surely this was more than a coincidence!

The servant looked doubtfully at me. “Want to see him sir?”

“N—no,” I stammered, quite unable to make up my mind.

A week or two passed. I had seen Mabel several times and at last had ventured on asking her that question on which all my happiness depended. I need not describe here my joy at receiving the reply I longed for from the sweetest lips that ever breathed. I implored for a short engagement, and her mother promised I should not have to wait long.

One morning I received a note from some friends asking me to come down for a ball at Ryde. As I had nothing particular to do, and Mabel was away on a visit, I accepted the invitation and went down the same day.

I found my friends had taken rooms in the hotel, and were a large and lively party. In the evening the waiter came to me and asked, apologetically, if I would mind changing my room, which was a large one, for another, as they had received a telegram from a young married couple, engaging a room for that night. Of course I consented to the change, and my things were moved.

After the ball I came to bed at about 3 o’clock in the morning, and was sitting in my open window smoking a cigar. My senses seemed preternaturally sharpened, and above the gentle rush of the waves I could hear somebody breathing in the next room. I listened intently, fearing I knew not what.

The breathing came short, almost in gasps, and I heard stealthy movements. The rest of the hotel was wrapped I sleep. I rose to my feet, feeling sure that something was wrong, when I heard a short struggle, a heavy fall, and a wild piercing scream in a woman’s voice that haunts me still. I rushed to the door, and was met on the threshold by—I knew it!—the man I had seen in my vision before. He was in evening dress, much disordered, his shirt front and right arm were stained with blood, and in his right hand he grasped a razor, from which some ghastly drops still trickled. The light of insanity shone in his eyes, and, with a demonical shriek of laughter, he flung himself upon me.

Now began a most fearful struggle for life. The maniac seemed to have the strength of ten men. However I was soon reinforced by a hurrying crowd of servants and visitors.

He was dragged from me by main force and held down by many hands, while I burst open the next door and entered. Ah! A flood of remorse came over me as I recognized the scene I had feared, nay, I knew I should see.

The moonlight pouring in at the window revealed to me the whole tragedy. There, half on, half off the bed lay that inanimate form, blood-stains all over the clothes and floor. The people who had crowded I after me stood dumb, as in a sort of stupor. I approached the bed and recognized the features of her whom I had known as Agnes Hildyard.

The rest of my story is soon told. I had to give evidence before the Magistrates as to what I had seen, and the unfortunate Lovett, who had sunk into a state of insensibility was removed to the nearest asylum pending the arrival of his friends.

I found that I had received in my struggle with him a severe wound in the shoulder, the loss of blood from which, acting upon a highly excited brain, ensued a severe illness which confined me to my room for many weeks, during much of which time I was delirious.

When at last I crept out into the sunshine I felt my youth had left me forever. I was ordered a long sea voyage, and my brave and loving Mabel insisted upon our immediate marriage. I can not enter into the vexed question of physics. All I know is that these events happened to me exactly as I have written them down, and if I did not act upon them, it was not because I had not been forewarned.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 18 July 1891: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Such psychic warnings pose a pretty problem to those who receive them: precisely how much weight should be given to portents of a dire nature? They are generally easy to dismiss as “hallucinations” or “imagination.” And, as Captain Bruce experienced, seers are often urged to refrain from describing visionary horrors for fear of upsetting the ladies. Mrs Daffodil has written before of a young lady who fortuitously broke off an engagement after her absent fiancee appeared three times in her photographs, standing behind her, holding a dagger in his upraised hand.  It was perhaps the mystic number three that decided her; a common numeral in heeded supernatural warnings. Captain Bruce, having been given only a single warning, (albeit an utterly grewsome one) could scarcely be blamed for not warning the young bride-to-be.

 

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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