Category Archives: Aristocracy

The Haunted Hat-Box: 1900

1880s leather top hat boxTHE HAUNTED HAT-BOX.

By MAY CROMMELIN, Author of ” A Jewel of a Girl,” “Goblin Gold,” “Dead Men’s Dollars,” “Half Round the World For a Husband,” &c..

“I’ll not bear it any longer!”

Springing to my feet I went to look in a mirror. A tear-stained face, just out of its teens, a rumpled head of auburn hair met my gaze. So sorry a spectacle was it that no wonder the scornful words escaped my lips aloud.

“Humph, my dear! A pretty bride of two months standing you are! Well, sooner or later things have got to come to a climax, and for my part the sooner the better. I’ll sit down and write to Uncle Billy. There!”

With lips firm-set, but trembling fingers, I accordingly sat myself down and scribbled thus to my late guardian:

“Riverside, Henley, Thursday, August 22nd.

“Dearest Uncle Bill, Do come down and see us for the week’s end. I wish to consult you on a special private matter.

“The fact is I am very unhappy about something, and unless it can be cleared up–soon! shall have to ask for the shelter of your roof once more.–Ever your affectionate niece, Gertrude Isabel Cranstoun.”

“That looks strong and decided. It’ll bring him ‘jumping,’ as he always says,” was my satisfied murmur.

Just then the door opened to admit my lord and master, who came in from a solitary afternoon’s punting, looking darkly handsome, so I phrased it to myself.

“Ah, tea is in, I see,”‘ he stiffly remarked.

“It is. I have had mine. Will you have some?” Rising with the new, simple dignity of a wife strictly resolved to do her household tasks, however morally ill-treated, so long as the situation, strained to tension, could be endured.

“Yes, please. No, no sugar. Thanks.”

Alas! One month ago he would not have been late, for we could not have dreamt of being parted all a summer’s day by a lover’s quarrel. I must have waited for him. Then he would have said: “No sugar, sweetest.” and we should have laughed like happy fools. Even last week, even yesterday itself, he always said “dear” in a tone growing daily more deprecatingly entreating, as who should imply: Let us drop that subject. Let us love each other and all be the same as before you found out–? And then he would smile rather piteously.

And I would smile back piteously, too. Oh, my heart was aching for my poor boy–never think otherwise. But I had found out, you see; found out there was a secret close by us–a thing that woke sometimes and wailed in the dark, small hours, chilling my blood. And Cuthbert, when first I wonderingly questioned him, looked embarrassed, and tried to laugh the matter off. These later days he turned pale; said indistinctly once it was an old story that had nothing to do with me, nor ever could. Lastly, he begged me to inquire no more, like a good girl, but to come home to Woodleigh Hall. There, he promised me on his honour, that there would be no more trouble.

The proposal turned me aghast. What! When he knew boating was the one thing we both adored, and we had taken Riverside for another three weeks! When the Hall was not ready, the tenants’ dinners, speechifying, arches, the house-parties, partridges, etc., were all to come in September! When never, never again in our lives were we likely to have another second month of honeymooning! The hot blood leaped to my face, quick words to my tongue. What matter? He cared no longer for my company alone on the river that was clear, oh, quite clear.

All I said, I don’t well know. But I refused, cried, “No!” He ought to speak out. I insisted on knowing; had a right as his wife. Then he grew angry, said he would not be dictated to, had more right to keep certain affairs secret–even from me. Then, oh, it was all a turmoil of mutual entreaties, refusals to tell–to forbear asking. And now, never, never could we two be loving and trustful again. Not unless this horrid, brooding mystery was cleared up.

What was it, do you ask? Well, as few care to hear a tale twice, please wait until Uncle Bill comes, for he will want to know, too.

My husband stared out of the window. I furtively sent search-light glances in his direction. Handsome, dark, when in thought, his features always tinged with melancholy. This was the same Cuthbert who had wooed and won me. But surely, there was more nowadays revealed to my anxious, jealously-loving eyes. He had a poise of the head as if always on the alert, listening to catch some distant sound he dreaded. His eyes, too, looked often into space inquiringly, fearfully. In a miniature of his father, yonder on the table, there was the same strained, apprehensive look. And a cold fear crept into my heart lest there might be a strain of madness—

Yet, no, no! My own ears had heard, and I was sane and prosaic enough. Rousing from this profitless reverie I broke the silence in a small voice: “Have you any objection to my asking Uncle Bill down for the week’s end?”

Cuthbert started, winced I thought, then coolly answered:

“Oh no. Write if you wish it.”

“Thanks. I have written.”

“O–h, you have,” icily. “Then why stand on the ceremony of asking my leave?”

“Because you might have refused. In which case I should have gone to stay with him.”

Crash! That was my lovely teacup set down half-full on the table. Bang! That was Cuthbert’s chair, pushed back so violently it almost knocked over the standard lamp. Slam! The door was closed behind him emphatically.

For two more days we neither of us spoke to each other, except before the servants, to keep up appearances–. Then, oh, thank goodness! on the evening of the Saturday Uncle Bill arrived, calmer, more tactful, kindlier than ever in manner and look, being the most diplomatic of old club-men.

Cuthbert met my uncle civilly, and during tea both were on easy, but guarded terms. Then, with a muttered excuse, my husband left the room, saying he would not be back till dinner-time. No sooner were we two alone than Uncle Bill came and sat down in front of me, saying quietly:

“Now then, what is all this about, eh? I’m so sorry if there has been some trouble between you two.”

“Has been! There is! And as to ‘some,’” here I began to cry softly. “I’ve tried for a fortnight and more to believe it was all my own imagination—that it was wrong to be suspicious. But the other night I had to tell Cuthbert that once for all, he must choose whether he wished to live with me or with__”

“Who with? With whom?” burst from Uncle Bill, quick and clear. Being the softest-voiced, most sleepy-going of men, this showed deep excitement.

“It’s not with who or with whom,” I testily answered, careless of grammar. It’s with what. And to make my story short, it’s with his hat-box! Oh,–don’t!”

Uncle Bill had thrown himself back in his chair, and his portly person was heaving with hearty, subdued laughter. I could have beaten him with infinite pleasure. As it was I stamped my foot, crying out in a passion:

“Uncle Bill, do you think me a fool? Is Cuthbert one, too? Why do you imagine we should have got to such a pass as this when—when—I—I—think of leaving him, unless there was more behind. I mean something dreadful inside it?”

Uncle Bill’s roar of mirth broke off suddenly, as if a trumpeter had withdrawn his lips from his instrument. He looked searchingly at my face, raising his brows, and breathed, “Drink?”

“No, oh no. Cuthbert is most abstemious. He takes even less than you. This is something on his conscience, I fear; otherwise”—bending forward to whisper—“why should he mutter in his sleep? Three night ago he woke me by crying out—but it seems a shame to betray what he said when sleep, doesn’t it?”

“Humph! Yes. What did he say?”

“He groaned and called out: ‘I must hide it somewhere else. Gertie! Gertie knows!’ But you don’t understand. Shall I begin from the beginning?”

“Yes, do. Go on, I’m listening.”

This meant serious business, for Uncle Bill’s favourite invitation to speak was: Fire away!

Accordingly, I began by telling how, when we first started abroad on our honeymoon trip to Switzerland, my maid offered to carry a hat-box amongst my husband’s luggage. He thanked her, but said so distinctly he always wished it to be left to himself that she and I joked about it. What could he want with a “topper” in the mountains? Ah! He replied as gaily, he never liked to go without it. Somewhat to my surprise Cuthbert next asked leave to bring this hat-box into my room at nights, alleging that his own was crowded with luggage. Now, it was as large a room as mine; but I made no observation, thinking it was my first experience of my husband’s peculiar fad, and that, when living in Uncle Bill’s home, I noticed how the best of men had fads that might just as well be humoured.

“Humph! Ha! Quite so. Not a bit of it. Well, go on,” ejaculated Uncle Bill.

The same thing happened in Switzerland every night. By day the hat-box was carefully locked inside a wardrobe, of which Cuthbert carried the key. One day, therefore, I suddenly said I knew what was inside it. To my surprise, my husband turned quite pale, and demanded in evident perturbation:

“What? How? You could not have opened that lock!”

“It must be money or valuables,” was my piqued response. “Why not leave it in my care instead of hiding it like a wild cat used to do with her last kitten?’

Cuthbert laughed at that, but changed the subject; when once I reverted to it, he showed annoyance.

We went with a party up the mountain to sleep in a hut and see the sunrise, only taking small handbags each. But Cuthbert brought the hat-box too! We were both of us chaffed by the others unmercifully. Well, a second expedition of a similar kind took place; and this time Cuthbert left the tiresome thing behind, at my entreaty. He seemed ill at ease, and hurried back early to our hotel, where we were met by the servants with outcries.

Eh! What a night! From midnight till cockcrow nobody near our room had closed an eye. Why? Because something inside the dress-closet in monsieur’s room made an awful, indescribable noise! Something between a wild animal and a spirit in pain: it so wailed and moaned, explained the night porter. They did open our rooms, but the closet was locked. Well, Cuthbert ran upstairs and into his room, which opened only out of mine. I followed him closely when out he came, saying:

“It was a cat–a wild cat, plainly. Tell the servant so. I must have shut the poor beast in.”

Well. I asked Simpson to tell the household what he said. But my senses told me it was untrue; for no cat passed out by my room–I was there. Simpson looked queerly, pursed her lips, then said:

“Well, miss, I mean, ma’am, I’ll do as you wish, because I was your mother’s maid twenty years before ever I became yours.”

And then she went out of the room as stiff as a grenadier. I felt too ashamed of the fib, and too nervous and puzzled to know what she meant.

In Paris on our return things grew worse. It was hot weather, and our room was very small, with a dressing-closet for Cuthbert inside. Feeling feverish about three in the morning, I got up softly, meaning to lean out of the window when in the dark I stumbled over the hat-box, and hurt my toes. This vexed me, so I thought to thrust the tiresome object into the closet. But it was too heavy to lift; if it had been made of iron, and the floor a magnet, that might give some idea of the weight which amazed me. Furious at what seemed a delusion of my senses for I recalled seeing Cuthbert bring it in one hand easily I set my muscles, and with a great effort literally staggered into the closet. I was stronger than any other girl at school. Hardly was the thing set down than something inside began to roll round, swaying and knocking against the furniture, at which I gave a shriek, and rushing back, shut the door. There came a moan I could swear to that! Next moment, Cuthbert bounded up, switched on the electric light, and looking white as ashes, asked what was wrong. Had I seen anything?

“The hat-box–” was all I could gasp, pointing. He burst into the closet, and the noise stopped like magic. His bride being so upset, crying and trembling, one might think Cuthbert would have come to me. But no; he only implored me to be calm, and stood in the doorway as if mounting guard. Then assuring me it, was all my fancy, he seized the hat-box with two fingers and was bringing it back when I screamed, declaring unless he left it there and shut the door, I would rush into the corridor. Well, he reasoned; I protested. The end of it was, he shut himself into the dressing-closet in a temper, apparently, while I lay awake crying. We left early for England in the morning, and between our first quarrel and a rough crossing, on arriving in London I was suffering too much to go- on to this house straight as we had intended. Cuthbert said hastily I must stay with Simpson at the Grosvenor Hotel, white he ran down to Riverside to “arrange things.” We could follow next morning. And off he rushed to Paddington, before I could utter a word the hat-box with him though he forgot his dressing-bag. Knowing the house and servants were ready, I own to feeling huffed when I came down. But Cuthbert was full of lame excuses for having left me. He added, significantly that he had put all his traps out of the way. No hat-box was to be seen; and I began to breathe freely, when Simpson roused my fears by observing, that a cupboard in the wall of my room was locked and sealed. It was just what she wished to put my hats in.”

“The owners have done so,” I suggested.

Simpson looked nearer, and said:

“Why, the seal is Mr Cranstoun’s crest. See, ma’m!”

She and I gazed at each other, but said nothing. Simpson is a reserved woman, but I know we were both thinking: “it is in there!”

“Well, but my dear Gertrude, if you are not worried any more with sight of it, surely–” began Uncle Bill.

“Listen, please. This past week there have been two dances in the neighbourhood to which we went. But, to my surprise, before the first ended, I missed my husband, he had left about half-past eleven, pleading a headache to the hostess, and saying it would be a pity to spoil my enjoyment, so he would send our fly back later for me. Everyone, myself foremost, praised Cuthbert’s kindness. Unhappily, three evenings ago, we were at the second dance, when, just as I was in the highest spirits, my card crowded with the names of the best men in the room, up came Cuthbert, and whispered, would I mind leaving; he felt out of sorts, Now. as a rule, he has splendid health; what was more, he looked quite well, and a suspicion struck me–in fact, my mind jumped to the true meaning, that the hat-box was connected with this sudden pretence. Well, the hosts pressed him to stay; another dance began, and my partner whirled me off, for just a turn, and would not stop. The end of it was we did not leave for twenty minutes. On the way home, Cuthbert seemed so vexed and silent that my conscience smote me, fearing he was really unwell.

On reaching home, to my surprise, all our maids, the gardener and butler, were huddled in a half-dressed group outside the porch, looking up at my room, where the gas had been left lit. When we called out inquiries, Simpson alone answered, saying sternly to Cuthbert:

“If you please, sir, there is something hoccultly spirituous in the cupboard.”

Without waiting for another word, Cuthbert rushed upstairs, when at the same time we all heard a horrid cry, as one of someone being murdered. There followed a long-drawn moan, coming plainly from my room. The maids screeched; and in terror lest Cuthbert should be in danger. I flew after him. As he flung the door open, I distinctly heard him call out, low, but passionately: “Here I am! Peace! peace! Can I not be late just once, a few minutes? Will this torment never end?”

The wailing sound that still shivered on the air suddenly ceased. There was utter silence in the room, and it was perfectly empty. Cuthbert turned, and seeing me, looked strangely. Then, leaning out of the window, he called to the servants:

“There is nothing here. Did you hear cats on the roof? Come up and see, you men?”

The men came slowly, nodded sheepishly, and went away. I told the maids severely to go to bed, even Simpson. Then, coming back to my husband, I said:

“Look here, Cuthbert, your cousin, Mary Sharky, told me something of this. I love you dearer than all else on earth; but you do not love me truly, or you would put this—thing–away.

“I asked Mary to tell you; it was a thing you ought to know before marrying me,” said Cuthbert, in a hollow voice. “But if she told you all, you ought to know it is impossible for me to—to–separate from this. Other women have borne it before you–and more.”

Now it happened that Mary Sharky did not tell me all. For she began a story full of innuendos against Cuthbert about some woman whom he had ill-treated and ought to have married, she said. It was told as if she were anxious to warn me, fearful my marriage would be a frightful failure. So, thinking her a spiteful cat, I haughtily refused to pry into Cuthbert’s affairs, and begged her to say no more.

“Do you wish me to take that to the spare room. There will be a horrible noise if I leave it alone there,” added Cuthbert.

“No. I’m not afraid! And we need not make more gossip for the servants to-night,” was my reply, for my spirit was roused. “You see now, Uncle Bill, that either I am Cuthbert’s wife, and have a right to live in peace with him, or else he had better keep to his–his midnight ghostly companion and let me go, go back to my dear old uncle.” The burst of sobbing which ended this sentence did not premise much for my own or Uncle Bill’s happiness, if this should come to pass.

“Poor little girl! Cheer up! cheer up!” cried Uncle Bill. “But what the dickens is it?” in blank wonder.

“I can’t guess!” A wail was in my voice, tears in my eyes. My ears were strained to hear my good guardian say that I was a foolish, big baby. My heart ached with the fear lest he might—must–think ill of Cuthbert. Slowly the verdict came from those bearded lips.

“Humph! Ha! It looks uncommonly queer. Perhaps Cranstoun will let me speak to him to-night. Come, Gertie, dry up! Your face looks as if it had run in the washing.”

Thanks to Uncle Bill’s strenuous resolve to make us all three keep up appearances, dinner went off fairly well. Then I left early, and creeping out into the darkness of the summer night, leant with aching brow and worse aching heart against the old cedar in deep shadow. Presently men’s voices sounded close by. Two burning spots betrayed cigars in the dark, where a couple of forms were strolling noiselessly on the turf. And his, I mean Cuthbert’s, voice said, emphatically, in sadness:

“I would give ten of the remaining years of my life to be free from this haunting horror. But Gertie knows–my cousin told her of the family curse. My mother, my grandmother, both endured it, so I hoped she loved me as they did their husb–”

“Cuthbert! I’m here, not listening, but I couldn’t help overhearing. What curse? What family?” was my wildly eager interruption, as breaking through the low branches I came out from my retreat, stammering almost incoherently: “Mary never told. She slandered you, made believe you ought to have married somebody else–herself I thought, and so refused to hear. Then afterwards–you see–I supposed it was worse– something dead–Oh, dear, there must have been some dreadful mistake.”

“Never mind, it’s all right.” (I was in Cuthbert’s arms). “There, there, my dear little wife. Mary is a–a snake! Believe me, I never thought of marrying her, though she did try at one time. Why, Uncle Bill, it seems neither of you do know. Where are you?”

“Humph! Ha! I just strolled on here,” came from a discreet distance. A portly form loomed, returning; then in mellow tones came the meaning reminder: “No, my dear Cranstoun, we don’t know–yet! Being in the dark in both senses, how would it be to return to the house and get some light?”

“You mean–?  Yes; you should both know. Certainly my wife has a right,” answered Cuthbert, in uncertain accents. “Well, come in.” Without mutual explanations we closed the windows, drew the blinds, lit all the lights. Then Cuthbert began; and from his tone it seemed a real relief to speak freely to me at last.

“The story begins seventy-five years ago,” said Cuthbert, “when my grandfather was an orphan between fourteen and fifteen years old, living at Woodleigh Hall with his three step-brothers. These were grown men, ho oldest over thirty years of age; a jolly, hard-swearing, fox-hunting trio of bachelors on more or less friendly terms. Their father had married twice, however, and the only child of the second marriage was my grandfather. Besides being so much younger than the others, he was, by all accounts, very different; a gentle, studious lad, timid and delicate, perhaps because his brothers looked upon him as an intruder and made him the butt for their taunts or ill-humour.

“Woodleigh Hall was a hell-fire club in a small way, while these three roysterers kept open house for all their dare-devil acquaintances. They passed the day in the most barbarous sports of the time–cock-fighting, or bull-baiting, and drank their six bottles of port a-piece at night till they rolled under the table.

“One summer evening, about seven o’clock, when they were sitting over their wine, and as it happened with no other company but my grandfather, one of my grand-uncles spied a pedlar passing through the park for there was a right of way there which was a standing grievance to the three brothers. They were so feared by the villagers that few or none came that way unless greatly pressed. But this pedlar, being a wayfarer, possibly did not know.

“‘Hullo!’ cried one of the party, ‘here’s some sport! Let’s go and turn that fellow back for his impudence and we will empty his pack.’

“Out the three staggered, full of wine and quarrelment, followed by my grandfather, who said to the hour of his death that he was quite sober–for he used to spill his wine on his clothes when bullied by his brothers to take more wine than his head could carry. Fearing mischief, he went reluctantly, keeping behind though they called to him to come on- and he saw them enter a wood with a whoo-whoop! Tallyho! as if they viewed their man. Next came the noise of a loud wrangle—blows, a shout of ‘Murder!’ and dying groans.

My grandfather was not very brave, perhaps, for he turned and fled home. When he saw his brothers next, they looked so darkly at him, that he durst not ask questions. But he feared the worst; and, indeed, he was packed off to college the day after—a boon he had vainly asked for months. So they feared him it would seem; and on the very day he left a hue and cry for the missing man was already begun.

“The pedlar’s body was found after some weeks by a gamekeeper’s dog that scratched up freshly-turned earth in the wood. At the time there were angry rumours among the peasantry, for the squire and his brothers were suspected of having a hand in the foul play. But as the poor fellow was a stranger, it was nobody’s business. My grand-uncles, however, declared they would give the pedlar a Christian burial; and his remains were accordingly placed in the churchyard, with an inscription stating he was killed by persons unknown.

“But here comes the queerest part of the story. A week later the sexton was horrified to find the grave disturbed, the coffin split open, and the pedlar’s skull on the top. The strange news was taken to Woodleigh, when my grand-uncles were very angry, blamed the sexton, and themselves saw the skull reinterred. The next night the same thing happened, and once more. The country people also believed that groans came from the murdered man’s grave. So, declaring they would pretty soon show there was nothing to fear, the Cranstoun brothers took the skull to the Hall, where the eldest kept it in his own bedroom. We do not know what they saw or heard, but all three seemed under a curse from the day the pedlar was killed. The oldest died of drink within the year; the second went raving mad and was shut up; and the youngest broke his neck in three months, riding his hunter at a quarry-hole which he knew well. My grandfather inherited Woodleigh and the estates, but he was never a happy man. He tried to bury the skull again, but it reappeared above ground, and to his despair he was forced to keep it at Woodleigh. By experience he discovered that by day he was at peace from ghostly manifestations. But from midnight till dawn or so, there was no quiet unless he slept with the skull near him.

“My father found the same thing. So have I! And that is the history of the Cranstoun family curse. If anyone can suggest how to free myself and those belonging to me from it, no words could express my gratitude.”

“As Cuthbert ended, he glanced at the clock, out of nervous habit, being so used to watch for the hour of trouble. I glanced, too; but then looked at Uncle Bill. After deep musing the latter roused, bent forward to us and spoke:

“There is a plan which might, be tried, but it involves a possible nine days’ scandal at Woodleigh. Therefore you would both have to weigh that against the mere chance, mind you, of freedom, Now, Gertie, declare nothing till you hear. It is like this, Cuthbert! and you will decide between family pride and honesty. You say, on the grave-stone over the pedlar’s grave the words still stand: ‘Killed by persons unknown!’ Have you moral courage to put instead the names of your grand-uncles?” Cuthbert was silent awhile. Then he said: “It is just. I will do it!”

***

On the following Monday we three were at Woodleigh, to the surprise of the household and tenantry. Only very few, and those tried servants, knew of a short service that week one early morning, when a skull was buried in an old grave: and upon the headstone stood in fresh letters, after the pedlar’s name. “John Luckpenny, died 1798,” these words: “Killed without just cause, by Simon. Wilfrid, and Thomas Cranstoun.” But soon the matter became whispered abroad, as also truly, that the Cranstoun family curse was lifted.

The Newcastle [Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England] Weekly Courant, 13 January 1900: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Oh, the endless misunderstandings of newlyweds who do not communicate  and foolishly keep vital secrets from one another! One is reminded of Du Maurier’s Rebecca.  What sort of a man asks his cousin to break the news of a murderous family’s curse to his fiancée? One can almost hear the skull screaming in impotent rage at such idiocy.

That said, pedlars, who had no fixed abode and carried goods and cash, were easy targets for thieves and malefactors.  Mrs Daffodil has written before about an apple tree haunted by the spirit of a murdered pedlar. This story also echoes the tales of “Screaming Skulls,” an exceptionally noisy type of ghostly manifestation in British lore, wherein a skull accustomed to sitting at or being walled up in one location, screams and raises a great row when moved. They are the supernatural equivalent of a toddler throwing a temper tantrum.

 

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 anecdote

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.

Sitwell Spectres: The Haunted Mansion of Renishaw: 1909

sitwell family singer sargent

The Sitwell Family, John Singer-Sargent, 1900. From left: Edith Sitwell (1887–1964), Sir George Sitwell, Lady Ida, Sacheverell Sitwell (1897–1988), and Osbert Sitwell (1892–1969)

HAUNTED MANSION

Lady Ida Sitwell’s Strange Experience.

Friendly Ghost’s Visit

Chesterfield Correspondence London Chronicle.

Here at Chesterfield, of all places, Chesterfield, whose twisted spire might well serve as a sort of lightning conductor of the uncanny, there has been no little excitement over an announcement by Sir George Sitwell, Bart., that a ghost has been paying apparently perfectly friendly after dinner visits to “Renishaw,” his beautiful old Jacobean country house, some nine miles away.

The bare facts as vouched for by Sir George Sitwell and Lady Ida Sitwell, are briefly these. Soon after dinner on Saturday evening Lady Sitwell was sitting upon a sofa in an upstairs room chatting with half a dozen guests. She was tired, having been at a ball at Scarborough till 4 o’clock that morning, and traveled all day. Opposite her was an open door, giving out upon a staircase. This staircase was built by Sir George Sitwell himself. It replaced an older staircase that led down to an ancient and famous haunted room now done away with by Sir George, and merged into the hall.

Suddenly through the open door she saw a lady, apparently 50 or 60 years of age, moving past the door to the top of the stairs. The figure glided along the passage with arms outstretched. Her hair was gray and done up in a bun beneath a white cap. The dress was old-fashioned, like that of some old servant. The skirt was dark, the bodice blue. Although seemingly solid the figure cast no shadow and made no sound. As suddenly as it had come it vanished. Lady Sitwell immediately called out, “Who’s that?” No answer was given and she then rushed out upon the stairs. There was no sign of any one being or having been there until a lady of the party, a Miss R., saw beneath the archway below not 20 feet away, and in a full light, a figure exactly corresponding to Lady Ida’s description. “I do believe that’s the ghost!” she exclaimed. Then with the same silent motion as before the figure glided into the darkness near the now walled up door of the already mentioned ghost room and for the second time disappeared.

Such is the story; a very pretty ghost story as it stands. Alas, however, upon investigation the vision of “Renishaw” proves a very harmless unnecessary ghost, a ghost of shreds and patches.

Sir George Sitwell, who, as it happens, left “Renishaw” on Sunday with his family for a tour in Italy, confessed before his departure that the ghost was probably only a mental phantasm due to Lady Sitwell’s fanciful condition. But if so, what about Miss R., who was presumably in complete health and yet professed to have seen the old lady as clearly as Lady Sitwell herself? Accordingly, there is only general evidence to fall back upon. If any ancient inhabitant of “Renishaw” had really desired to communicate with the living world, no more appropriate occasion could well have been chosen than tonight when I visited the old house. It looked as lone and ghostly as could well be wished, standing deserted between the moonlight and silent trees and the distant flare of innumerable furnaces. Instead, however, of any ghostly intercourse, I found a cheery company of servants having a cosy supper, and entirely free from any supernatural qualms. With all deference to Lady Sitwell and Miss R., they ridiculed the possibility of there being anything in the way of a really public-spirited ghost at “Renishaw.” The old housekeeper, a charming old dame who looked the very image of Lady Sitwell’s phantom save of her air of melancholy, said that she had been there 23 years and had never seen so much as the ghost of a ghost.

As for the haunted lumber room, many was the time when she had known it was used as a bedroom without the remotest ill effect. She, by the way, happened to be out at the time of Lady Sitwell’s vision, so it could not have been her. As for the male domestics, one of them pronounced himself cheerily prepared to sit through a night at the top of the ghost-trod stair with only a candle and a bottle of whiskey for companions. Certainly there had been no possible sign of the ghost’s reappearance since the family left. For the rest, all that the servants knew of the ghost was by hearsay.

As for the many ghostly legends which are supposed to cluster round “Renishaw,” they are at any rate entirely unknown both to the neighbors or to Chesterfield people in general, who are, as a matter of fact, very much prepared to look upon the whole affair as a joke upon Sir George Sitwell’s part. The fact of the ghost having delayed its visit until the eve of Sir George’s Italian tour is held to add color to this theory. There only remains the testimony of Lady Sitwell and Miss R., who cannot for the moment be subpoenaed at the ghostly tribunal.

State [Columbia SC] 14 November 1909: p. 13

Having read of this latest appearance of a ghost at Renishaw, F. Gorell Barnes describes his experiences there. In 1892 he was parliamentary candidate for Northeast Derbyshire and Sir George Sitwell, who was then contesting another division, placed Renishaw Hall at Mr. Barnes’s disposal.

“My neighbors and visitors,” he writes, “told me more than one ghostly legend associated with it and more particularly with the old ghost room mentioned by Sir George in his letter.

“I recall one in particular, that when a stranger slept for the first time at the hall the ghost of a lady was supposed to appear. One visitor, whose name I do not now recollect, told me of a young lady who occupied the ghost room having been found in a state of abject terror and refused to give any account of what she had seen.

“Some weeks before the general election of 1893 my election agent came to stay with me till the election was over. On the night of his arrival we worked till about 1 A.M., lighted our candles and went up the staircase which Sir George describes as having been put in twenty years ago, close to the old ghost room. Near the top of the stairs this gentleman, an astute and clever Sheffield solicitor, stopped short, tapped me on the shoulder and whispered:

“’There’s somebody following us up stairs.’

“I went down, examined the stairs, entrance hall and the rooms, without finding anything. I ascended the stairs again, and step for step as I ascended I distinctly heard footsteps following me up to the top of the staircase.

“I returned again to the entrance hall, but I saw no figures as described by Sir George Sitwell. There were no ghosts or phantasms, no reversed impressions of something seen in the past, but distinct footsteps were heard by two over-tired, but not excited men.

The Sun [New York, NY] 3 October 1909: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Sir George seems to have regarded his wife, Lady Ida, with both amusement and contempt. Certainly, only a few years later, when her extravagance landed her in debt and she was found to have fallen into the clutches of money-lenders and to have uttered bad checks, he refused to pay her creditors and allowed her to spend three months in jail. One suspects that the servants interviewed by the author were in such a cheery mood because Sir George had left the premises.

 

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 anecdote

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.

The Baron and the Devil: 1838

the devil

A QUEER CASE FOR THE LAW.

In 1838, M. le Baron de Cormann, an opulent German noble, inhabited the chateau of his ancestors, situated in the environs of Weima. An excellent sportsman, and a redoubted smoker, the baron was at the same time one of the ugliest mortals Germany ever produced. Notwithstanding this circumstance, he was an admirer of beauty in others, and conceived a lively passion for Mademoiselle de Reischberg, daughter of a neighbouring castellane, whose antique domicile constituted nearly his whole property. A formal demand of the lady’s hand was made by the baron, and the father, delighted with the prospect of such a match, hastened to give the suitor an assurance of his assent and best wishes. It was not so, however, with the young lady, who, herself endowed with extraordinary charms, could not endure the looks of the baron, and had, besides, long ago given away her heart to one of her cousins, a handsome cavalier, in contrast with whom the baron made a very sorry figure. On this account the assiduities of the latter, and the commands of the father, produced no effect. Mademoiselle de Reischberg conclusively declared that she would never give her hand to any man so thoroughly ugly as the Baron de Cormann.

One evening she was tempted, by new intreaties on the part of the suitor, to repeat the preceding declaration even more energetically than before. The downcast baron afterwards wended his way home. He sat down by his blazing fire, called for a pipe and ale; and, betwixt the curling whiffs from his only source of consolation, he exclaimed passionately–“I would give myself to the Old One himself to be as good-looking as that confounded cousin!” In his energy the baron—who, it will soon be pretty evident, was something of a simpleton—spoke aloud; indeed, he almost roared out the words. After the ejaculation, he smoked on vigorously, every blast-like puff giving indication of the storm within. How long he sat absorbed in this occupation, it is impossible for us to say; but certain it is, that when he laid down the pipe, and the fumes around slowly floated away, he saw before him, to his great surprise, an odd-looking personage, but black all over, in countenance and clothes. “You have been heard,” said this personage; “sign this paper, and by to-morrow morning you shall be beautiful in the eyes of all the world, though unchanged in your own.” Stupified—almost out of his senses—M. de Cormann sat staring without motion. “Sign “repeated the figure; “I am never invoked in vain, and you shall find my words to hold good ” The thought of Mademoiselle de Reischberg crossed the baron’s brain. Great was the temptation. He took the pen, and again hesitated, being in a state of unspeakable confusion of mind. Then, as if determined not to trust himself with reflection, he hurriedly signed the paper. The stranger lifted it, bowed, and disappeared.

After this proceeding, which had taken place so rapidly that the baron had had scarcely time for connected thought, he sat in silent dreamy stupor through several long hours. With strange feelings he retired to bed, half afraid of the past, and half eager for the dawn, that he might prove the reality of the promised metamorphosis. Morning broke, and the baron arose. He dressed himself, and perceived no change in his appearance; but he had no sooner descended the staircase than the reality of a change was made manifest. Two servants stood in waiting, and the instant that they cast eyes on their master, they started back in great surprise. “Gracious powers! how much my lord is improved in looks! what a noble figure! how beautiful a countenance!” The baron’s heart beat thick with exultation. He went out for further proof, bending his course to the mansion of M. de Reischberg, which was close to his own. Two men met him, and they, also, started to behold him. “How noble is my lord’s figure!” cried one. “What a charming countenance!” cried the other; “surely he is much altered!”

These and such like ejaculations confirmed the baron in his impression of the reality of the metamorphosis; and he proceeded, without delay, to the house of M. de Reischberg. Here the crowning stroke was given to his triumph. Mademoiselle de Reischberg appeared equally surprised and enchanted with his form and looks. She seemingly could not conceal or restrain her admiration, and the handsome cousin appeared to be driven out of her thoughts at once by the new and irresistible charms of his rival. Striking while the iron was hot, the baron intreated her to reward his long devotion by consenting to be his. The lady hesitated—the cousin seemed to pass, for a last time, across her thoughts; but the baron pressed his request, and the lady gave her consent.

In passing homewards on that happy day, the baron received additional though superfluous proofs of the change in his looks, from the remarks of various persons who came in his way. When before his own fire, a pipe and ale were again called for to heighten the delightful cast of the baron’s ruminations. Long he smoked, gazing on the blaze; but at length he laid down the pipe. Then did he first become sensible of a startling fact. His sable visitor of the preceding evening was again before him. “If you fulfil the intention you now entertain of leading Mademoiselle de Reischberg to the altar,” said the stranger solemnly, “you will die on its steps.” As he spoke he disappeared.

The Baron de Cormann lay for a long time in a swoon after this fearful announcement. When he regained his senses, and could reflect on what had passed, great was his vexation, and greater his terrors. He could not conceal from himself the fact, that, since his visitor had been able to fulfil one promise so effectually, the same being could not fail to fulfil with equal certainty the menace just made, or at least to foresee the future. He saw that the fiend, if fiend it were, had “paltered with him in a double sense,” but the evil was irremediable. Preferring life to every other consideration, the baron, ere long, took a decisive resolution. He wrote to the Reischbergs, announcing his altered resolutions respecting marriage, and, in short, declining the honour of the young lady’s hand. On the following morning he jumped into his carriage, and drove off for Paris, after leaving precise orders with an agent to sell his chateau and property at Weima without delay.

It was in the end of 1838 that the Baron de Cormann reached Paris, where he took a handsome hotel in the Rue Dominique. A month or two after his settlement there, he was presented with an acceptance of his own for 120,000 francs, purporting to have been granted by him while in Germany, and a demand was made upon him for payment of the same. The holder of the acceptance, and the requester of payment, was the already-mentioned handsome cousin of Mademoiselle de Reischberg, now become her husband.

The baron was struck dumb by this demand. Never, in the course of his life, was he aware of having signed any such obligation either to the nominal holder of the one before him, or to any person else. Yet he could not deny that the handwriting of the presented bill was his own; it was certainly his signature. Nevertheless, in the consciousness that he really owed no such debt, he refused payment. Immediately afterwards, he went to consult an acute legal friend. After relating the circumstance to that gentleman, and repeating his confident assurance that he never signed, to his knowledge. the obligation in question, though unquestionably his signature was there, the lawyer asked if he never, while in Germany, signed any paper without knowing its contents? The baron thought for an instant, and blushed for his folly. The remembrance of his strange visitant came across his mind with all the attendant circumstances. He compelled himself to tell his legal friend the whole affair.

The acute lawyer saw through the mystery at once. The baron had been ugly at Weima, he was ugly at Paris, and he had never been aught but ugly anywhere. The handsome cousin had so suborned his domestics as to acquire a knowledge of every movement, even of every word of the baron, in his own establishment; and being near the spot, perhaps in the house, on the evening of the baron’s rash ejaculation respecting a change of personal appearance, he had taken advantage of the circumstance, when it was reported to him, to victimise de Cormann in a double and truly diabolical way. By the connivance of the treacherous servants, and one or two other persons, Mademoiselle de Reischberg included, the poor baron had been thoroughly imposed upon, and, in some respects, he was not undeserving of it, seeing that he credulously consented to attempt success in his suit by such means as those described. The conspirator of a cousin, it is probable, imagined that the baron would pay the sum rather than incur the ridicule of a full disclosure.

The affair, says our French authority, came to a trial, and a celebrated Parisian advocate was engaged for the baron, the note for 120,000 francs being lodged, in the interval, in the safe hands of Messrs Rothschild. We regret that we have heard nothing of the issue of the case, and can only hope that the law prevented the poor credulous baron from being ultimately tricked out of his money by the unscrupulous young lady and her cousin. The moral seems to be—never sign any document of whose purport you are not fully acquainted.

Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, 20 August 1842 Number 551: p. 247

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is pursing her lips dubiously over the notion that the “poor credulous Baron” should be pitied. Instead of improving his character and perhaps going in for a wardrobe make-over or spot of cosmetic surgery, the man signed a pact with the Devil. Not, one fears, a gentleman with whom one would wish to link one’s lot in life. In addition, when he declined “the honour of the young lady’s hand,” the Baron opened himself to a breach-of-promise suit. Mrs Daffodil considers that he got off cheaply at 120,000 francs.

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 anecdote

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.

$35,000 a Year to Dress a “Deb”: 1924

 

$35,000 a Year to Dress a “Deb”!

Dressmakers to the “400” Tell How the Modern Society Girl Wears Annually 30 Evening Gowns, 250 Pairs of Stockings, 25 Pairs of Shoes, 30 Hats, 2 Dozen Negligees, 1 Dozen Evening Wraps, and a $25,000 Coat!

When one of New York’s smartest dressmakers announced the other day that nobody could dress on less than $35,000 in a year, a lot of people clutched their pocketbook with one hand and held up the other hand in horror.

But not the debutante. Not, either, the debutante’s mother in the his year of grace 1924. Nor, indeed, the debutante’s father. They knew that the dressmaker’s estimate was conservative. “I only hope my daughter will cut her wardrobe expenses down to $35,000!” was the sincere groan of many a plutocratic parent.

Of course when the dressmaker said nobody could dress on less than $35,000 a year, she referred to anybody feminine who was “anybody” in New York City. Even in Manhattan there are girls who spend less than $500 a year for clothes. But they are not the girls who get their names into the society column.

To the innocent bystander, however, whose name never gets near the society column than the death notices, advertisements and “marriage licenses issued today,” that $35,000 remark was a smash between the eyes. “How,” said the innocent bystander, fingering his last $1 bill, “can any woman not only not get along on less than $35,000 for clothes and incidentals alone—but how, on clothes and incidentals alone, can she spend so much?”

The easiest answer is: “Easily.” But after all, that doesn’t tell the innocent bystander much about what it’s all for, so this innocent bystander galumphed up to the source of the hair-raising remark and asked how come, with specifications, explanations and itemized particulars.

Fay Lewisohn

Miss Fay Lewisohn

She’s a surprisingly young and girlish person, this Fay Lewisohn who made the statement which has ever since been causing squawk of dismay. Perhaps it is worth noting that the squawks come from people—like oneself, for example—who haven’t anything like $35,000 to spend on anything, let alone on clothes. Her establishment is in the most fashionable-dressmaker section of West Fifty-seventh street, which as the initiate know is at present the ultra fashionable district for the modistes whose clientele is truly exclusive.

“How can a woman spend $35,000 a year on dress?” is the question directed at the slim, attractive young woman who announces herself as proprietor of the place.

The slim, attractive young woman shrugged. “How can she help it?” is her answer.

“Well, but after all—”

The modiste smiled. “Oh, I’m talking about the woman of wealth and social position. Naturally, every one who comes to my shop for an occasional gown doesn’t spend that much on clothes; perhaps not in a lifetime. I myself don’t spend that much on clothes in a year.

“But perhaps you don’t realize that there are dozens of women in New York today to whom $35,000 as an annual outlay for dress, cosmetics and so on, is not an extravagance. I know one woman who has a yearly contract with a modiste for $50,000 worth of clothes. There are society women who easily spend that much. Just as there are people who spend $50 a month for a house and others who pay $15,000 a year for an apartment. The thing is relative, you know.”

The modiste, it seemed, got a fair profit and no more. “It is possible that by some lucky chance a woman might find a cheap dressmaker who would turn her out, as well as one whose prices were higher. That is an unlikely chance; but it might happen. However, what the society woman wants is a quiet, attractive place in which to inspect gowns. She wants to see those gowns displayed by refined, high-class models. Naturally, both these requisites mean high rent and good salaries.”

Your murmur about the overhead expense brought an emphatic nod.

“Moreover, the very materials in the clothes themselves are expensive even before the scissors and needle touch the goods. Brocades at, say, around $100 a yard, send the price of a gown up, rather.”

Rather!

“There is an East Indian, for example, who brings me marvelously embroidered silks straight from India. He drapes them around the models and they really need, oftentimes, very little cutting or sewing. But the materials themselves are almost museum pieces. Some are antiques. And, of course, they are very valuable.

“Another big item in sending up the price of a frock is the actual labor upon it. Labor I these days and in this city, especially skilled needlework, is high. On a first-class gown which has many yards of an intricately beaded pattern, each bead must be sewn on with care so that it won’t pull off. These patterns often are works of art and it requires almost artists to bead them. Do you know that the beading on one gown, when properly done, may take several weeks?”

These were matters worthy of consideration. But how many of these gowns would a sure-enough social leader need in the course of a year? And how much would such a gown cost?

It depended, naturally, on the taste of the patron and the amount of beading.

“A gown of this type, beautifully done, might run into many hundreds of dollars. It might be five hundred dollars, six hundred—the material itself would, of course, be a determining factor. I am speaking, by the way, of a gown on which the modiste would make a legitimate profit; not of a gown for which the modiste would charge every dollar she thought she could extort.

“A debutante may easily spend $35,000 a year for clothes and really get her money’s worth. Without being cheated by the modiste.”

You began to see how this was so.

“Now, for instance,” the modiste continued, “a girl who moves in what is known as high society needs about thirty evening gowns. She doesn’t plan to wear any costume more than two or three times; some of them only once. It is not too much to say that thirty evening gowns would cost her $9000.

“She would require 250 pairs of stockings. These would cost on a average, perhaps $9 a pair; an item of $2250 for hosiery alone. Of course, some stockings would cost much more than $9 a pair.”

As a matter of fact, a shop in the vicinity of Fifth avenue and Forty-second street has had on display within the year a pair of stockings priced at $500. Not $500 each, you understand; but $500 for the pair, or $250 each. They were perfectly simple black silk hose, with a large medallion of lace on the front.

The same shop had another pair of quite good-looking silk and lace stockings for $250.

But the modiste was going on with her itemized bill of wardrobe expenses. Shoes, she agreed, could cost anything you want to spend on them, but $2000 wasn’t too much for some women. A lady who wanted her feet to look really chic would require, at the least twenty-five pairs of shoes, and this was a low estimate.

Hats? Of course, you could get a good little hat for $35. Or you could get a stunning little thing for $100. Anyway, the lady would need at least thirty hats and she could easily spend from $1200 to $2100 before she got out of the millinery department.

By this time you begin to see that milady has run up quite a sizable bill. But the end is by no means yet. How about lingerie? How about lounging robes for the boudoir? How about the perfumes and powders, the creams and other cosmetics with which the boudoir dressing table is stacked?

Of course, a negligee is whatever you please. It is, so to speak, an elastic garment. It may be a cotton wrapper or a thing exquisite as sunshine on the sea. The negligee of the social leader is of this latter type. And you’d be surprised at how expensive it is to put the sunshine on the sea into figured silk and chiffon.

“A dozen negligees are not too many” –it is the voice of authority which speaks; “many women have many more than a dozen. They might easily cost a little more than $200 apiece, or $2500 for the dozen.

“As for lingerie—I have just finished a set of lingerie, for a bride, which is valued at $10,000. I have made other sets for $15,000; that is to say, a dozen of each garment. The set which I have just finished was of hand-made filet lace and Italian silk of special quality. The wedding gown, priced at $600, was intricately beaded with crystal. One could get a really lovely wedding gown, as a matter of fact for around $300. But, of course, this is without the veil. The veil may cost as much as one is willing to pay—

“It may be a few almost priceless yards of antique lace, made in some convent of the Middle Ages.

“The more usual lingerie, of finest linen or silks and exquisite laces, would cost about $3600 for two dozen sets.

 

“A dozen evening wraps would be part of the society woman’s wardrobe. It is difficult to put a price on them. They might cost several hundred dollars each, depending on what fur was used for the collars and other decorations.

“There are such things as fans, too, which vary tremendously in price. These would mount at least into the hundreds. Corsets, too, are expensive when well made and made to order. The materials are costly, also. Seventy dollars is the price of one corset which makes no pretense to embroidery or other ornamentation. The price is for the best quality of brocade and of silk elastic and for the model itself.

“You understand, further that a social leader could not possibly buy her furs within that $35,000 which I have allowed her for a wardrobe. Furs would have to be extra. For a handsome coat $15,000 is not an unusual price and $25,00 would more likely be the figure.

“This leaves what are known as incidentals. They include hairdressing and all that goes with this art; beauty treatments, with cosmetics, perfumes at—say–$30 an ounce—and things of the sort. Cigarettes, too, may be put with the incidentals. Many society women smoke the brands that come in fifteen or twenty cent packages, but you may, if you wish, have the sort that has a monogram, a special blend of tobacco and a little dab of cotton inside the cork tip to absorb the nicotine and keep it from touching the lips. Without the monogram these can be obtained for around eleven cents each.

“No, not each packet. Each cigarette.

“For incidentals we may safety estimate that a society woman spends $5000 yearly.”

The modiste drew a long breath. So did you.

“Well, you see,” she said.

You did, indeed.

New Britain [CT] Herald 7 October 1924: p. 16

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil, who has previously shared information on the account-books of the very rich (The Cost of a Fine Lady, What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe, Where that $10,000 a Year Dress Allowance Goes, and The Cost of a Curtsey), wonders if these articles are a form of what she has heard called “humble-bragging,” or if they are meant to be inspiration for the ten-shillings-a-week shop-girl to set her sights on an elderly peer or millionaire?

Although she inexplicably omits essentials such as hand-bags, vanity cases, and jewels, Miss Lewisohn knew a thing or two about the sartorial needs of the society woman. She was the heiress to the Randolph Guggenheim millions. She was often in the news: Her engagement to one William Burton (of a Park Avenue address) was announced 23 February 1919; the engagement was reported as broken on 2 April, 1919, with her mother saying that the couple was “Too young to know their own hearts.” In 1921 she had to issue a statement denying that she was marrying a Russian prince; while in 1922, she announced the opening of her dressmaking establishment, in partnership with Mrs. Basil Soldatenkov, wife of the former Russian envoy under the Czar. She also married Jack Rothstone, brother of Broadway gambler Arnold Rothstein in 1928; divorcing him in 1934.

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 anecdote

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.

The Countess and the Dead Queen: 1693

 

queen ulrika of sweden with four dead children

When Queen Ulrica was dead, her corpse was placed in the usual way in an open coffin, in a room hung with black and lighted with numerous wax candles; a company of the king’s guards did duty in the ante-room. One afternoon, the carriage of the Countess Steenbock [Stenbock] , first lady of the palace, and a particular favourite of the queen’s, drove up from Stockholm. The officers commanding the guard of honour went to meet the countess, and conducted her from the carriage to the door of the room where the dead queen lay, which she closed after her.

The long stay of the lady in the death-chamber caused some uneasiness; but it was ascribed to the vehemence of her grief; and the officers on duty, fearful of disturbing the further effusion of it by their presence, left her alone with the corpse. At length, finding that she did not return, they began to apprehend that some accident had befallen her, and the captain of the guard opened the door. He instantly started back, with a face of the utmost dismay. The other officers ran up, and plainly perceived, through the half-open door, the deceased queen standing upright in her coffin, and ardently embracing the countess. The apparition seemed to move, and soon after became enveloped in a dense smoke or vapour. When this had cleared away, the body of the queen lay in the same position as before, but the countess was nowhere to be found. In vain did they search that and the adjoining apartments, while some of the party hastened to the door, thinking she must have passed unobserved to her carriage; but neither carriage, horses, driver, or footmen were to be seen. A messenger was quickly despatched with a statement of this extraordinary circumstance to Stockholm, and there he learnt that the Countess Steenbock had never quitted the capital, and that she died at the very moment when she was seen in the arms of the deceased queen.

The Haunters and the Haunted, Ernest Rhys, 1921

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Queen Ulrika Eleanora of Denmark, consort of King Charles XI of Sweden, died in 1693, age 36, weakened by seven pregnancies in as many years and mourning the loss of four sons. The painting at the head of this post shows her with her lost children. She was universally beloved; her husband said at her deathbed: “Here I leave half of my heart.” He never remarried.

Maria Elisabeth Stenbock Countess Stenbock

Maria Elisabeth Stenbock (died 1693) was Mistress of the Robes to Queen Ulrika Eleanora of Denmark 1680-1693.  Portrait by David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl

A variant of this legend states that, while the queen was dying at Karlberg Palace, her favorite lady-in-waiting and Mistress of the Robes, Countess Maria Elisabeth Stenbock, lay sick in Stockholm. On the night the queen died, Countess Stenbock was seen to arrive at Karlberg and was admitted alone to the room containing the remains of the queen. The officer in charge, the splendidly-named Captain Stormcrantz, looked through the keyhole and saw the countess and the queen speaking by the window of the room. He was so shocked by the sight that he started coughing up blood. The countess, as well as her carriage, was gone in the next instant. It was found that the countess had been gravely ill in bed that day and had not left Stockholm. The King ordered that the affair be hushed up.  Countess Stenbock died of her illness several weeks later, and Captain Stormcrantz also died shortly after seeing the ghostly Queen.

 

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 anecdote

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.

The Ghost and the Spinster: 18th century

18th century strongbox

It had been for some time reported in the neighbourhood that a poor unmarried woman, who was a member of the Methodist society, and had become serious under their ministry, had seen and conversed with the apparition of a gentleman, who had made a strange discovery to her. Mr Hampson, being desirous to ascertain if there was any truth in the story, sent for the woman, and desired her to give an exact relation of the whole affair from her own mouth, and as near the truth as she possibly could.

She said she was a poor woman who got her living by spinning hemp and linen; that it was customary for the farmers and gentlemen of that neighbourhood to grow a little hemp or linen in the corner of their fields, for their own home consumption, and as she had a good hand at spinning the materials she used to go from house to house to inquire for work; that her method was, where they employed her, during her stay to have meat and lodging (if she had occasion to sleep with them) for her work, and what they pleased to give her besides. That, among other places, she happened to call in one day at the Welsh Earl Powis’s country seat, called Redcastle, to inquire for work, as she usually had done before. The quality were at this time in London, and had left the steward and his wife, with other servants, as usual, to take care of their country residence in their absence.

The steward’s wife set her to work, and in the evening told her that she must stay all night with them, as they had more work for her to do next day. When bed-time arrived, two or three of the servants in company, with each a lighted candle in her hand, conducted her to her lodging. They led her to a grand room, with a boarded floor and two sash windows. The room was grandly furnished, and had a genteel bed in one corner of it. They had made her a good fire, and had placed her a chair and a table before it, and a large lighted candle upon the table. They told her that was her bedroom, and she might go to sleep when she pleased, they then wished a good night and withdrew all together, pulling the door quickly after them, so as to hasp the springsneck in the brass lock that was upon it.

When they were gone she gazed a while at the fine furniture, under no small astonishment that they should put such a poor person as her in so grand a room and bed, with all the apparatus of fire, chair, table, and candle. She was also surprised at the circumstance of the servants coming so many together, with each of them a candle; however, after gazing about her some little time, she sat down and took out of her pocket a small Welsh Bible which she always carried about with her, and in which she usually read a chapter—chiefly in the New Testament—before she said her prayers and went to bed.

While she was reading she heard the room door open, and, turning her head, saw a gentleman enter in a gold-laced hat and waistcoat, and the rest of his dress corresponding there-with. (I think she was very particular in describing the rest of his dress to Mr Hampson, and he to me at the time, but I have now forgot the other particulars.) He walked down by the sash window to the corner of the room, and then returned. When he came at the first window in his return (the bottom of which was nearly breast-high) he rested his elbow on the bottom of the window, and the side of his face upon the palm of his hand, and stood in that leaning posture for some time, with his side partly towards her.

She looked at him earnestly to see if she knew him, but though, from her frequent intercourse with them, she had a personal knowledge of all the present family, he appeared a stranger to her. She supposed afterwards that he stood in this manner to encourage her to speak; but as she did not, after some little time he walked off, pulling the door after him as the servants had done before. She began now to be much alarmed, concluding it to be an apparition and that they had put her there on purpose. This was really the case. The room, it seems, had been disturbed for a long time, so that nobody could sleep peaceably in it; and as she passed for a very serious woman, the servants took it in their heads to put the Methodist and spirit together, to see what they would make out of it.

Startled at this thought, she rose from her chair, and kneeled down by the bedside to say her prayers. While she was praying he came in again, walked round the room and came close behind her. She had it on her mind to speak, but when she attempted it she was so very much agitated that she could not utter a word. He walked out of the room again, pulling the door shut as before. She begged that God would strengthen her, and not suffer her to be tried beyond what she was able to bear; she recovered her surprise and thought she felt more confidence and resolution, and determined if he came in again she would speak to him if possible.

He presently came in again, walked round, and came behind her as before; she turned her head and said, “Pray, sir, who are you, and what do you want?” He put up his finger and said, “Take up the candle and follow me, and I will tell you.” She got up, took up the candle and followed him out of the room. He led her through a long boarded passage, till they came to the door of another room which he opened and went in; it was a small room, or what might be called a large closet.

“As the room was small, and I believed him to be a spirit,” said she, “I stopped at the door; he turned and said, ‘Walk in, I will not hurt you’; so I walked in. He said, ‘Observe what I do’; I said, ‘I will.’ He stooped and tore up one of the boards of the floor, and there appeared under it a box with an iron handle in the lid. He said, ‘Do you see that box?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ He then stepped to one side of the room and showed me a crevice in the wall, where he said a key was hid that would open it. He said, ‘This box and key must be taken out, and sent to the Earl in London’ (naming the Earl and his residence in the city). He said, ‘Will you see it done?’ I said, ‘I will do my best to get it done’; and he said, ‘Do, and I will trouble the house no longer!’ He then walked out of the room and left me. (He seems to have been a very civil spirit, and to have been very careful to affright her as little as possible.)

I stepped to the room door, and set up a shout. The steward and his wife, with the other servants, came to me immediately; all clinging together, with a number of lights in their hands. It seems they had all been waiting to see the issue of the interview betwixt me and the apparition. They asked me what was the matter. I told them the foregoing circumstances, and showed them the box. The steward durst not meddle with it, but his wife had more courage, and, with the help of the other servants, tugged it out, and found the key. She said by their lifting it appeared to be pretty heavy, but that she did not see it opened, and therefore did not know what it contained—perhaps money, or writings of consequence to the family, or both. They took it away with them, and she then went to bed and slept peaceably till morning.

  It appeared that they sent the box to the Earl in London, with an account of the manner of its discovery, and by whom; as the Earl sent down orders immediately to his steward to inform the poor woman who had been the occasion of its discovery that if she would come and reside in his family she would be comfortably provided for during her remaining days; or, if she did not choose to reside constantly with them, if she would let them know when she wanted assistance, she would be liberally supplied at his lordship’s expense as long as she lived. And Mr Hampson said it was a known fact in the neighbourhood that she had been supplied from his lordship’s family, from the time the affair was said to have happened, and continued to be so at the time she gave Mr Hampson this account.

She told him that she was so often solicited by curious people to relate the story that she was weary of repeating it; but, to oblige him, she once more related the particulars, wishing now to have done with it. Mr Hampson said she appeared to be a sensible, intelligent person, and that he saw no reason to doubt her veracity. I know many persons in the present day laugh at such stories, and affect very much to doubt their reality, while others totally deny the possibility of their existence. However, Scripture and many well-attested relations seem to favour the idea, and the present story appeared so singular and so well attested, and I had it so near the fountain-head, that I thought it might perhaps be worth preserving, and I have therefore taken pains to record it.

Admitting it to be true, it should seem that the consequence to the family of what the hidden box contained was the formal cause of the spirit’s disquiet, and of its disturbing the house so much and so long, in order to bring about the discovery; but why the departed spirit should concern itself in the affairs of this world after it has left it—or why they should disquiet it so as to cause it to reappear and make disturbances, in order to discover and have things righted, as in the preceding case—or why this should be done in some cases of apparently less moment, while in other cases much greater family injuries seem to be suffered, and no spirit appears to interest itself in the case—are circumstances for which we can by no means account. A cloud sits deep on futurity; and we are so little acquainted with the laws of the spiritual world that we are perhaps incapable, in our present state, of comprehending its nature or of giving any satisfactory account of these matters.

The Haunters and the Haunted, Ernest Rhys, ed., 1921

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: As M.R. James, that consummate chronicler of English ghosts said, “Depend upon it! Some of these things are so, but we do not know the rules!” Mrs Daffodil also wonders why the ghostly gentleman—so tenacious in worrying the devout spinster—did not visit the Earl or his family when they were in residence and show them the box?

Mrs Daffodil put this hypothetical question to that ghost researcher over at Haunted Ohio, who responded with an anecdote of a young woman whose late father-in-law kept giving her messages for his son, her husband. “When I rather testily asked him why he didn’t go directly to his son, he said sadly, ‘He can’t hear me.'”

So perhaps it was only a “serious” Methodist lady who had ears to hear or the courage to speak to the ghost, for there is much folklore that says ghosts can only speak when spoken to.

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 anecdote

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.

A Lady’s Social Diplomacy: 1895

Romney, George, 1734-1802; A Hand Holding a Letter

Social Diplomacy.

New York Tribune.

Diplomacy ranks next to tact in social ethics, and to be a successful hostess with limited means nowadays In New York requires almost the brains of a Machiavelli. How little Mrs. Z.–who lives in a bandbox of a house, with only a parlor maid to serve at her dainty table–manages to get the smartest people to dine with her en petit comité, whenever she will, apparently is a constant source of amusement and irritation to her rich neighbor, Mrs. Midas. The latter, despite her chef and her millions, sometimes finds it hard work to collect enough guests for her heavy entertainments twice or thrice during the season, and her own invitations are few and far between, whereas Mrs. Z. drives out whenever she is not entertaining at home.

“What do you suppose is the secret of her success?” exclaimed one of her friends. “Certainly she seems to have very few substantial advantages. She is comparatively poor, she is hardly even pretty, though It must be admitted she is very chic, but no more so than many others, She is certainly ‘sympatica,’ but so are a score of people I could name. Her house is a dear, but as a man said the other day, there is ‘hardly room in it to swing a cat,’ while her dinners, which are, of course, perfect in their way, are simplicity itself. What is her especial attraction is absolutely inexplicable, and yet it is there. or she could not pick and choose among the most exclusive people as she undoubtedly does.”

“My dear,” answered her companion, “it is tact combined with diplomacy and I will give you an instance of the latter quality, which is, of course, only one out of many. She told me this herself, so I need not hesitate to repeat it. Wishing to secure, for a special occasion, Mr.—, the celebrated author, who is a somewhat surly lion, and seldom condescends to roar at any one’s table except at that of Mrs. B., the pretty widow he wants to marry, Mrs. Z. cast about in her mind how she could engage him, by letting him know, before he had time to write a refusal, that Mrs. B. was invited, without directly saying so, which would, of course, be impossible. Suddenly an inspiration seized her: she wrote an invitation to Mrs. B. and put it into the wrong envelope, which, by an odd coincidence, happened to be addressed to Mr.—. Of course, as soon as the letters had gone to the post, she discovered her mistake, and wrote another note of explanation. Needless to say that both guests came and her dinner went off as her dinners always are sure to do, with the most perfect success.”

The Indianapolis [IN] Journal 6 December 1895: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Tact and diplomacy, indeed!  Mrs Daffodil must make a note of the hostess’s mixed-envelope scheme; she can think of several occasions on which it might be useful. Indeed, it has often been used as a plot device for stage, screen, and fiction. Comic valentines are particularly susceptible to being placed in the wrong envelopes, often with disastrous consequences.

The situation gave rise to much mirth in the joke columns of newspapers.

REMEDY FOR MEASLES.

A lady who had two children sick with the measles wrote to a friend for the best remedy. The friend had just received a note from another lady, inquiring her method of making pickles. In reply the lady unfortunately placed the notes in the wrong envelopes, so that the person who inquired about the pickles received the remedy for the measles, and the anxious mother of the sick children read with horror the following: “Scald them three or four times in hot vinegar, and sprinkle them with salt, and in a few days they will be cured.”

The Osage City [KS] Free Press 3 May 1878: p. 3

AMUSING MISTAKE—A MINISTER ASKED TO LOAN A HOOP SKIRT.

A well-known minister in Chelsea, Mass., was greatly surprised, some time since at receiving an epistle from a lady friend at Cape Ann, containing sundry and divers female confidences relative to her approaching marriage, and an urgent request to send immediately a “hoop skirt.”

The minister was completely dumbfounded. It was a strange epistle for him to receive, but there was the superscription, Rev. ___, as plain as could be. In the course of the day, however, the mystery was cleared up, and it appeared that the fair correspondent had indicted two letters, one to the reverend gent requesting his presence to tie the marriage knot, and the other to a female friend, enlarging on the anticipated occasion, and requesting her services in procuring that highly useful article a hoop skirt. By some hocus-pocus the letters were placed in the wrong envelopes, but luckily the rightful owners exchanged letters, and the minister and hoop skirt were both there! Bangor (Me.) Times.

The States and Union [ Ashland OH] 16 May 1860: p. 4

The lady of rank in this last anecdote was singularly lacking in tact and diplomacy. She was also fortunate that she did not live in the days when Royalty could say “Off with her head,” with impunity:

A NOTE IN THE WRONG ENVELOPE.

A lady of rank had received the honor of an invitation to dinner from the Princess Mary of Teck, [Mother of Queen Mary, the present Queen’s grandmother.] for a day when she was engaged to dine with an old friend. She wrote two letters—one to the Princess in her sweetest manner, acknowledging the honor, &c.; another to her friend, beginning: “Such a bore, dear! Fat Mary has invited me to dinner on our day, and of course I must go.” To her horror, she learned by the next post that her friend had got the letter for the Princess in her friend’s envelope. The mischief was done, and she went prepared to throw herself at the feet of her royal hostess, when the Princess met her with open hands and smiling face as she said: “Fat Mary is very much pleased to see you, and hopes you won’t find her a bore.”

London Truth.

The Press Herald [Pine Grove PA] 22 October 1880: p. 1

 

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.