The Haunted Bed: 1859

doll's tester bed

The Haunted Bed

Mark Lemon

‘Why, Betty, if there isn’t Mr. Ponsonby at the door with his baggage, I’ll be whipped!’ cried the head waiter at the ___ hotel, on the evening  preceding the regatta.

‘Mr. Ponsonby, you don’t say so! and I’d given him up, and just put that weak-minded gent as come at ten o’clock in Forty-two–Mr. Ponsonby’s room as I call it; and there’s not a bed to be had in Cowes for love or money.’

‘What’s that, you say, Betty?’ said the newcomer; ‘not another bed but mine,’

‘That it, sir,’ replied Betty; ‘I kept it for you till the last train; now as that has been in a hour, I gave you up, sir. What will you do?’

‘Awkward,’ exclaimed Ponsonby; ‘the old clock in the room will break its heart; but I must sleep on a sofa.’

‘Not one disengaged, sir,’ said the waiter.

‘No sir,’ added Betty, ‘not one sir. There are four small children put to bed in a chest of drawers now in Twenty-four. We let everything before we would let Forty-two.’

‘That’s the gent that’s got your room,’ whispered John, as he ushered Mr. Ponsonby into the coffee-room.

The person alluded to was a very mild, milky-looking young gentleman of twenty-one. His present position was evidently a new one, for he was constantly employed in pulling up his shirt collar and using his toothpick.

‘John,’ said Ponsonby, ‘I must have a bed. Bring me a broiled bone and a glass of brandy and water, and put them on the table next to the young gentleman, whilst I speak to Betty.’

What the nature of Mr Ponsonby’s communication to Betty was I don’t mean to reveal; but she laughed consumedly and was shortly afterwards seen entering No. Forty-two with a warming-pan, and then returning without it. The bone and brandy and water were duly served, and Mr. Ponsonby took his place at the table. The mild gentleman pulled his collar more frequently and plied the toothpick with increased, energy.   ‘Waiter,’ cried Ponsonby, ‘here–take this thing away.’

‘Capital bone sir,’ said John; somewhat astonished.

‘Don’t tell me a capital bone!’ exclaimed Ponsonby. ‘The ‘bus driver was complaining of the mortality among his horses. Take it away.’

The mild gentleman looking alarmed, and paused in the act of pulling up his left collar.

‘Wretched house, this, sir,’ said Ponsonby, confidentially; ‘never come here if I can avoid it; but at regatta time glad to get in anywhere!’

‘Yes, sir,’ said the mild one.

‘They served me a rascally trick once, and I shall never forget it. I wonder who sleeps in that room to-night–poor devil!’

‘May I inquire what the trick was, sir?’

‘Oh! Certainly,’ said Ponsonby, ‘though I hardly like to tell the story, in case you should doubt my veracity.’

‘Oh! Sir—‘

‘Well, it seems absurd to talk of haunted chambers in the nineteenth century;’ and Ponsonby paused.

‘Not at all, sir,’ said the mild one, encouragingly.

‘But that there is one in this house I am ready to swear,’ exclaimed Ponsonby; ‘a room with a large, old-fashioned clock in it.’

‘No. Forty-two!’ gasped the mild one; ‘that’s my room!’

‘Hush, for heaven’s sake!’ said Ponsonby; ‘had I know that, I wouldn’t have said a word for the world.’

‘My dear sir, don’t say that; pray go on sir. I’m not superstitious, neither am I foolishly incredulous,’ and the mild one wiped his forehead, and emptied his tumbler at a gulp.

‘Well, as you desire it, I will narrate my story,’ said Ponsonby. ‘It was exactly three years ago, this very day, that I and my luggage found ourselves in No. Forty-two, the last room, (so the chambermaid told me,) unlet in the house.’

‘Exactly what she told me—a cockatrice!’ interrupted the mild one.

‘I was tired by my day’s journey, and went to bed exactly as the clock struck twelve. Though fatigued, I felt no disposition to sleep, so I placed my candle on the bed-steps, and began to read. I had read about five minutes, when suddenly I received a most violent blow in the stomach, and the clock struck a quarter. I started up; there was no one—nothing to account for the phenomenon. At last I concluded it must have been fancy. I read on for another quarter of an hour, when I received two blows of greater violence than the former one! The clock chimed the half-hour.’

‘Another glass of brandy and water!’ cried the mild one.

It was brought, and Ponsonby proceeded:

‘I seized the bell-rope, but a sense of shame would not let me proceed. I therefore resolved to keep watch for a short time. As I set up in bed, my eyes fell upon the face of the old clock in the corner. I could not help thinking that was connected with the annoyance I had suffered. As I looked, the minute-hand gradually approached the IX on the dial, and the moment it arrived there I received three distinct and particularly sharp raps on the crown of my head. The clock struck the three-quarters. I was now convinced that there was something wrong. What was I to do? If I disturbed the house and told this story, I should be laughed at, and set down either as drunk or dreaming. I resolved to brave the worse. I got out of bed, and, gently opening the clock-case, stopped the vibration of the pendulum.

‘Come, that must prevent the striking,’ thought I and laid myself down with something like a chuckle at my own brilliancy.’

‘A chuckle!’ murmured the mild one.

‘I had not been in bed above five minutes,’ resumed Ponsonby, ‘when I heard the door of the block-case open slowly. I felt, I confess, a tremor—‘

‘I should think so!’

‘And I saw the pendulum throw a somersault on the floor, and deliberately hop—hop—hop towards the bed. It paused for a moment, and bending it round brazen face full upon me, said—‘

‘Spoke?’ gasped the mild one.

‘Said,’ continued Ponsonby: (not heeding the interruption,) “Sir, I am very much obliged to you for stopping my labors. People think I never want any rest, but that I can stand being perpetually wound up and kept on the go. With your permission, I’ll get into bed;’ and without waiting for an answer, into bed it got.

‘I suppose,’ continued the pendulum, you are not aware that this is our room.’

‘Our room!’ said I.

‘Yes; mine and the rest of the works. The man who made us, died in this bed, and left it to us as a legacy. You found something rather unpleasant, didn’t you?’

‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘very unpleasant.’

‘Ah! That was the striking weight; he always serves intruders that way when we are going. When we are not, and I come to bed, he is quiet enough. But as I am likely to be set going again in the morning, and it’s now nearly half past nine, I’ll wish you a good night.

‘Good night, sir,’ I replied, quaking from heat to foot. ‘So,’ thought I, ‘who ever sleeps in this bed must either submit to be thumped black and blue by the striking weight, or accept of this horrible monster for a bed-fellow. At this moment the pendulum, I suppose, fell asleep, for it commenced an innocent ‘tick-tick,’ ‘tick-tick,’ that rendered all attempts at forgetfulness of my part impossible.’

‘Another glass of brandy and water!’ cried the mild one.

‘No, no,’ said Ponsonby, ‘I would advise you not. Have your chamber candle and go to bed.’

‘Go to bed in No. 42!’ exclaimed the mild one. ‘Never!’

‘My dear fellow, matters may have changed since the period I have been talking of. Go to your room, and if anything occurs it is easy to ring the bell. Come, I’ll see you to the door.’

And, taking their candles, the pair proceeded to No. 42.

‘Here we are,’ said Ponsonby, ‘good night.’

The mild gentleman could only wave his head in valediction as he entered the haunted chamber. In a minute he uttered a shrill cry, and rushed into the lobby, his hair literally on end with terror.

‘What’s the matter, now?’ said Ponsonby.

‘It’s there!—in bed—fast asleep—I’ve seen it—the pendulum! I’d not sleep there for a thousand pounds!’

‘Good gracious! What will you do?’

‘Sleep on the stairs—if I but had my carpet-bag out of the room!’

‘I’ll fetch it for you. I don’t mind the pendulum; he’s an old friend of mine.’

And in another minute, the mild one was travelling down to the coffee-room, bumping his carpet bag from stair to stair, to the probable disturbance of the whole house.

‘Betty! Betty!’ said Ponsonby, in an undertone, ‘tell the porter to bring my baggage to No. 42. Ha! Ha! Capital, Betty!’ roared Ponsonby as he saw the cause of the mild one’s terror.

It was the brazen warming pan comfortably put to bed in No. 42, and which the M.G. in his terror had taken for a pendulum.

In the morning the mild gentleman did not show himself. He had drank three bottles of soda water, paid his bill, and gone off by the first train.

The Democratic Pioneer [Elizabeth City NC] 17 May 1859: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mark Lemon was the genial co-founder and long-time editor and writer for the comic magazine Punch.  He has a freshness and a modern strain to his writing that makes it amusing, even to-day, while a good deal of Victorian humour is lost on modern readers.

warming pan

Brass warming pan

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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