The Wrecked Major: 1882

knole long gallery 1902

 

THE WRECKED MAJOR.

“Our nearest neighbour in ___shire was a Major S., a man of good family, and possessed of ample means, yet one whose society was not courted in the county in which he had recently become a resident. Curious things were said of him, worse were hinted at, so that the surrounding gentry fought rather shy of him with the exception of a few who both visited him and received his visits. For this man my mother entertained the utmost aversion. She detested alike his appearance and manners; the former she considered diabolical, and the latter repulsive, as indeed they were. My father had frequent arguments with her on the subject of the major, and always took his part. But his defence of him in no ways softened my mother’s feelings towards him. She persisted in loathing the man, and said she was sure something dreadful would come out about him. Her dislike extended itself to his surroundings; and she would not even pass his house when out walking or driving. My father simply smiled at this feminine absurdity, as he termed it, and continued to think not so badly of the major.

It chanced that my mother passed him one day. He was riding; and she told us on her return that the expression of his face, as he looked down at her, was absolutely appalling in its wickedness; indeed, she could think or speak of nothing else. That very same night she awoke from sleep with a cry of terror. On my father asking her what the matter was, she said—‘Oh, William! I have had such a fearful dream, and I am sure it has to do with Major S.’

“‘Nonsense, nonsense;’ was the sleepy reply.

“‘But I tell you I am convinced of it,’ and she told him her dream. She described herself as going into a large gloomy looking room, full of quaintly carved furniture, arranged after a peculiar fashion, the ceiling of which was traversed by an oaken beam, and from this there dangled a rope having a noose at the end.

“‘What is going on here?’ I asked, although I cannot remember being conscious of seeing any one.

“‘Hush!’ exclaimed an awful voice. ‘A dreadful crime is being committed, part of which will be known now, and part at the day of judgment!’

“‘Aye, indeed; curious, very; but go to sleep, my dear, and forget all about the major.’ With this advice given in a drowsy tone, my father once more sought oblivion in sleep. But my mother did not allow him to remain in peace. Again she woke him up with an exclamation of horror at the repetition of her dream. No sooner had she fallen asleep than she found herself transported to the sombre room, with its beam traversed ceiling, and ghastly dangling rope. At sight of which, as on the former occasion, she cried, ‘What is going on here?’ and the same impressive voice responded with ‘Hush! a dreadful crime is being committed; part of which will be known now, and part at the day of judgment!’

‘I know we shall hear something about that horrid man,’ she kept repeating in spite of my father’s assurances to the contrary.

Their feelings, under these circumstances, may well be imagined when the next day the country was ringing with the news that Major S. had hanged himself during the night.

Hastening to the scene of the tragedy, my father, on being shown into the room, at once recognised it as the one my mother had seen in her dream.”

Psychological Review Vol. 4 May 1882: p. 311-12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is curious how many of these sorts of premonitory dreams were recorded in the annals of the past, and how one can still find similar stories on the “Internet” to-day. If the affair had gone according to the proper patterns of folk-lore, the lady would have seen the Major being carried off to his Doom by the Wild Hunt mounted on fire-breathing demon-horses. The story is a trifle ambiguous as to whether the Major she saw on her ride was a living man or the phantom of one already hanging in his chamber.

Mrs Daffodil is reminded of the chilling scene near the end of Mr Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby, where Ralph Nickleby comes to a bad end.

“He had torn a rope from one of the old trunks, and hanged himself on an iron hook immediately below the trap-door in the ceiling—in the very place to which the eyes of his son, a lonely desolate little creature, had so often been directed in childish terror, fourteen years before.”

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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