Category Archives: Crime

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.

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.

The Lace-Smuggler’s Narrative: 1858

A SMUGGLER’S NARRATIVE.

“We shall be, my dear madam,” said I to a fellow passenger in the Dieppe boat, taking out my watch, but keeping my eye steadily upon her, “we shall be in less than ten minutes at the custom house.” A spasm—a flicker from the guilt within—glanced over her countenance.

“You look very good-natured, sir,” stammered she.

I bowed, and looked considerably more so, in order to invite her confidence.

“If I was to tell you a secret, which I find is too much to keep to myself, oh, would you keep it inviolable?”

“I know it, my dear madam—I know it already,” said I, smiling; it is lace, is it not?”

She uttered a little shriek, and, yes, she had got it there among the crinoline. She thought it had been sticking out, you see, unknown to her.

“Oh, sir,” cried she, “it is only ten pounds’ worth; please to forgive me, and I’ll never do it again. As it is I think I shall expire.”

“My dear madam,” replied I, sternly but kindly, “here is the pier, and the officer has fixed his eye upon us. I must do my duty.” I rushed up the ladder like a lamplighter; I pointed that woman out to a legitimate authority; I accompanied her upon her way, in custody, to the searching house. I did not see her searched, but I saw what was found upon her, and I saw her fined and dismissed with ignominy. Then, having generously given up my emoluments as informer to the subordinate officials, I hurried off in search of the betrayed woman to her hotel.

I gave her lace twice the value of that she had lost. I paid her fine, and then I explained. “You, madam, had ten pounds’ worth of smuggled goods about your person; I had nearly 50 times that amount. I turned informer, madam, let me convince you, for the sake of us both. You have too expressive a countenance, believe me, and the officer would have found you out at all events, even as I did myself. Are you satisfied, my dear madam? If you still feel aggrieved or injured by me in any manner, pray take more lace; here is lots of it.”

We parted the best of friends.

Liverpool [Merseyside, England] Mercury 28 September 1858: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  What a very thoughtful gentleman-smuggler!  Too many in this world think only of themselves. The narrator restores our faith in humanity!

The smuggling of lace and other luxury goods was not only a highly-lucrative profession, it was something of a sport for young ladies, as we have seen in a previous post where the unrepentant culprits told their father, “But every woman on the ship is smuggling, and it is such fun.’.

Some smugglers felt that ladies had a better chance of evading detection, such as the youth who impersonated a widow, complete with a sham infant built on a bottle of dutiable brandy and stuffed with laces.

And fashionable garments provided many useful hiding places. Crinoline, for example:

The Dutch custom-house officers at Rosendael, a few days, seized a quantity of lace to the value of 1200 florins, which a lady coming by the railway from Antwerp had concealed under her crinoline. The anxiety depicted on her countenance is said to have betrayed her.

Liverpool [Merseyside England] Mercury 30 March 1858: p. 7

or the bustle:

A novel method of smuggling has been devised. A woman was discovered in Florida, coming into the United States with a large tin bustle filled with fine Cuban rum.

Lawrence [KS] Daily Journal 21 December 1886: p. 3

This lady’s maid must have been quite a strapping young woman to carry this contraband:

The Customers-officers at Haumont (Nord) last week arrested a lady’s maid who was attempting to cross the frontier with no less than twenty-nine kilogs. [63.9 lbs!] of Belgian tobacco concealed in her crinoline.

The Exeter [Devon England] Flying Post 23 September 1863: p. 6

This lady, who cleverly took advantage of the normal cycles of life to bypass the customs officers, did not know when to stop:

A very common Method of Smuggling practised by the Fair Sex, is by assuming the Appearance of far advanced Pregnancy; although the Bantling proves generally to be Silks and Laces. A Lady well known in the Circles of Fashion, practised this Trick with great Success for many Years, until being big with Child five Times in one Year, the Custom-House Officers began to be staggered by such prolific Powers, and kindly lent a Hand to deliver her of her Burthen.

The Derby [England] Mercury 15 July 1784: 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.

 

Christmas at Ringshaw Grange: 1906

the ghost of greystone grange 1878

THE GHOST’S TOUCH

I shall never forget the terrible Christmas I spent at Ringshaw Grange in the year ’93. As an army doctor I have met with strange adventures in far lands, and have seen some gruesome sights in the little wars which are constantly being waged on the frontiers of our empire; but it was reserved for an old country house in Hants to be the scene of the most noteworthy episode in my life. The experience was a painful one, and I hope it may never be repeated; but indeed so ghastly an event is not likely to occur again. If my story reads more like fiction than truth, I can only quote the well-worn saying, of the latter being stranger than the former. Many a time in my wandering life have I proved the truth of this proverb. The whole affair rose out of the invitation which Frank Ringan sent me to spend Christmas with himself and his cousin Percy at the family seat near Christchurch. At that time I was home on leave from India; and shortly after my arrival I chanced to meet with Percy Ringan in Piccadilly. He was an Australian with whom I had been intimate some years before in Melbourne: a dapper little man with sleek fair hair and a transparent complexion: looking as fragile as a Dresden china image, yet with plenty of pluck and spirits. He suffered from heart disease; and was liable to faint on occasions ; yet he fought against his mortal weakness with silent courage; and with certain precautions against over-excitement, he managed to enjoy life fairly well.

Notwithstanding his pronounced effeminacy, and somewhat truckling subserviency to rank and high birth, I liked the little man very well for his many good qualities. On the present occasion I was glad to see him, and expressed my pleasure.

“ Although I did not expect to see you in England,” said I, after the first greetings had passed.

“I have been in London these nine months, my dear Lascelles,” he said, in his usual mincing way, “ partly by way of a change and partly to see my cousin Frank,–who indeed invited me to come over from Australia.”

“Is that the rich cousin you were always speaking about in Melbourne?”

“Yes. But Frank is not rich. I am the wealthy Ringan, but he is the head of the family. You see, doctor,” continued Percy, taking my arm and pursuing the subject in a conversational manner, “my father, being a younger son, emigrated to Melbourne in the gold-digging days, and made his fortune out there. His brother remained at home on the estates, with very little money to keep up the dignity of the family; so my father helped the head of his house from time to time. Five years ago both my uncle and father died, leaving Frank and me as heirs, the one to the family estate, the other to the Australian wealth.”

“So you assist your cousin to keep up the dignity of the family as your father did before you.”

“Well, yes, I do,” admitted Percy, frankly. “ You see, we Ringans think a great deal of our birth and position. So much so, that we have made our wills in one another’s favour.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, if I die Frank inherits my money; and if he dies, I become heir to the Ringan estates. It seems strange that I should tell you all this, Lascelles; but you were so intimate with me in the old days that you can understand my apparent rashness.”

I could not forbear a chuckle at the reason assigned by Percy for his confidence, especially as it was such a weak one. The little man had a tongue like a towncrier, and could no more keep his private affairs to himself than a woman could guard a secret. Besides I saw very well that with his inherent snobbishness he desired to impress me with the position and antiquity of his family, and with the fact—undoubtedly true that it ranked amongst the landed gentry of the kingdom.

However, the weakness, though in bad taste, was harmless enough, and I had no scorn for the confession of it. Still, I felt a trifle bored, as I took little interest in the chronicling of such small beer, and shortly parted from Percy after promising to dine with him the following week.

At this dinner, which took place at the Athenian Club, I met with the head of the Ringan family; or, to put it plainer, with Percy’s cousin Frank. Like the Australian he was small and neat, but enjoyed much better health and lacked the effeminacy of the other. Yet on the whole I liked Percy the best, as there was a sly cast about Frank’s countenance which I did not relish ; and he patronised his colonial cousin in rather an offensive manner.

The latter looked up to his English kinsman with all deference, and would, I am sure, have willingly given his gold to regild the somewhat tarnished escutcheon of the Ringans. Outwardly, the two cousins were so alike as to remind one of Tweddledum and Tweddledee; but after due consideration I decided that Percy was the better-natured and more honourable of the two.

For some reason Frank Ringan seemed desirous of cultivating my acquaintance; and in one way and another I saw a good deal of him during my stay in London. Finally, when I was departing on a visit to some relatives in Norfolk he invited me to spend Christmas at Ringshaw Grange—not, as it afterwards appeared, without an ulterior motive.

“I can take no refusal,” said he, with a heartiness which sat ill on him. “Percy, as an old friend of yours, has set his heart on my having you down; and —if I may say so—I have set my heart on the same thing.”

“Oh, you really must come, Lascelles,” cried Percy, eagerly. “ We are going to keep Christmas in the real old English fashion. Washington Irving’s style, you know: holly, wassail-bowl, games, and mistletoe.”

“And perhaps a ghost or so,” finished Frank, laughing, yet with a side glance at his eager little cousin.

“Ah!” said I. “So your Grange is haunted.”

“I should think so,” said Percy, before his cousin could speak, “and with a good old Queen Anne ghost. Come down, Doctor, and Frank shall put you in the haunted chamber.”

“No!” cried Frank, with a sharpness which rather surprised me, “I’ll put no one in the Blue Room; the consequences might be fatal. You smile, Lascelles, but I assure you our ghost has been proved to exist!”

“That’s a paradox; a ghost can’t exist. But the story of your ghost—”

“Is too long to tell now,” said Frank, laughing. “Come down to the Grange and you’ll hear it.”

“Very good,” I replied, rather attracted by the idea of a haunted house, “you can count upon me for Christmas. But I warn you, Ringan, that I don’t believe in spirits. Ghosts went out with gas.”

“Then they must have come in again with electric light,” retorted Frank Ringan, “for Lady Joan undoubtedly haunts the Grange. I don’t mind; as it adds distinction to the house.”

“All old families have a ghost,” said Percy, importantly. “It is very natural when one has ancestors.”

There was no more said on the subject for the time being, but the upshot of this conversation was that I presented myself at Ringshaw Grange two or three days before Christmas. To speak the truth, I came more on Percy’s account than my own, as I knew the little man suffered from heart disease, and a sudden shock might prove fatal. If, in the unhealthy atmosphere of an old house, the inmates got talking of ghosts and goblins, it might be that the consequences would be dangerous to so highly strung and delicate a man as Percy Ringan.

For this reason, joined to a sneaking desire to see the ghost, I found myself a guest at Ringshaw Grange. In one way I regret the visit; yet in another —I regard it as providential that I was on the spot. Had I been absent the catastrophe might have been greater, although it could scarcely have been more terrible.

Ringshaw Grange was a quaint Elizabethan house, all gables and diamond easements, and oriel windows, and quaint terraces, looking like an illustration out of an old Christmas number. It was embowered in a large park, the trees of which came up almost to the doors, and when I saw it first in the moonlight—for it was by a late train that I came from London—it struck me as the very place for a ghost.

Here was a haunted house of the right quality if ever there was one, and I only hoped when I crossed the threshold that the local spectre would be worthy of its environment. In such an interesting house I did not think to pass a dull Christmas; but—God help me—I did not anticipate so tragic a Yule-tide as I spent.

As our host was a bachelor and had no female relative to do the honours of his house the guests were all of the masculine gender. ‘It is true that there was a housekeeper—a distant cousin I understood—who was rather elderly but very juvenile as to dress and manner. She went by the name of Miss Laura, but no one saw much of her as, otherwise than attending to her duties, she remained mostly in her own rooms.

So our party was composed of young men—none save myself being over the age of thirty, and few being gifted with much intelligence. The talk was mostly of sport, of horse racing, big game shooting and yacht-sailing: so that I grew tired at times of these subjects and retired to the library to read and write. The day after I arrived Frank showed me over the house.

It was a wonderful old barrack of a place, with broad passages, twisting interminably like the labyrinth of Daedalus; small bedrooms furnished in an old-fashioned manner, and vast reception apartments with polished floors and painted ceilings. Also there were the customary number of family portraits frowning from the walls; suits of tarnished armour; and ancient tapestries embroidered with grim and ghastly legends of the past.

The old house was crammed with treasures, rare enough to drive an antiquarian crazy; and filled with the flotsam and jetsam of many centuries, mellowed by time into one soft hue, which put them all in keeping with one another. I must say that I was charmed with Ringshaw Grange, and no longer wondered at the pride taken by Percy Ringan in his family and their past glories.

“That’s all very well,” said Frank, to whom I remarked as much; “Percy is rich, and had he this place could keep it up in proper style; but I am as poor as a rat, and unless I can make a rich marriage, or inherit a comfortable legacy, house and furniture park and timber may all come to the hammer.”

He looked gloomy as he spoke; and, feeling that I had touched on a somewhat delicate matter, I hastened to change the subject, by asking to be shown the famous Blue Chamber, which was said to be haunted. This was the true Mecca of my pilgrimage into Hants.

“It is along this passage,” said Frank, leading the way, “and not very far from your own quarters. There is nothing in its looks likely to hint at the ghost—at all events by day—but it is haunted for all that.”

Thus speaking he led me into a large room with a low ceiling, and a broad casement looking out on to the untrimmed park, where the woodland was most sylvan. The walls were hung with blue cloth embroidered with grotesque figures in black braid or thread, I know not which. There was a large old-fashioned bed with tester and figured curtains and a quantity of cumbersome furniture of the early Georgian epoch. Not having been inhabited for many years the room had a desolate and silent look—if one may use such an expression—and to my mind looked gruesome enough to conjure up a battalion of ghosts, let alone one.

“I don’t agree with you!” said I, in reply to my host’s remark. “ To my mind this is the very model of a haunted chamber. What is the legend?”

“I’ll tell it to you on Christmas Eve,” replied Rigan, as we left the room. “It is rather a bloodcurdling tale.”

“Do you believe it? ” said I, struck by the solemn air of the speaker.

“I have had evidence to make me credulous,” he replied dryly, and closed the subject for the time being.

It was renewed on Christmas Eve when all our company were gathered round a huge wood fire in the library. Outside, the snow lay thick on the ground, and the gaunt trees stood up black and leafless out of of the white expanse. The sky was of a frosty blue with sharply-twinkling stars, and a hard-looking moon. On the snow the shadows of interlacing boughs were traced blackly as in Indian ink, and the cold was of Arctic severity.

But seated in the holly-decked apartment before a noble fire which roared bravely up the wide chimney we cared nothing for the frozen world out of doors. We laughed and talked, sang songs and recalled adventures, until somewhere about ten o’clock we fell into a ghostly vein quite in keeping with the goblin-haunted season. It was then that Frank Ringan was called upon to chill our blood with his local legend. This he did without much pressing.

“In the reign of good Queen Anne,” said he, with a gravity befitting the subject, “my ancestor Hugh Ringan, was the owner of this house. He was a silent misanthropic man, having been soured early in life by the treachery of a woman. Mistrusting the sex he refused to marry for many years; and it was not until he was fifty years of age that he was beguiled by the arts of a pretty girl into the toils of matrimony. The lady was Joan Challoner, the daughter of the Earl of Branscourt; and she was esteemed one of the beauties of Queen Anne’s court.

“It was in London that Hugh met her, and thinking from her innocent and child-like appearance that she would make him a true-hearted wife, he married her after a six months’ courtship and brought her with all honour to Ringshaw Grange. After his marriage he became more cheerful and less distrustful of his fellow-creatures. Lady Joan was all to him that a wife could be, and seemed devoted to her husband and child—for she early became a mother— when one Christmas Eve all this happiness came to an end.”

“Oh!” said I, rather cynically. “So Lady Joan proved to be no better than the rest of her sex.”

“So Hugh Ringan thought, Doctor; but he was as mistaken as you are. Lady Joan occupied the Blue Room, which I showed you the other day; and on Christmas Eve, when riding home late, Hugh saw a man descend from the window. Thunderstruck by the sight, he galloped after the man and caught him before he could mount a horse which was waiting for him. The cavalier was a handsome young fellow of twenty-five, who refused to answer Hugh’s questions.

Thinking, naturally enough, that he had to do with a lover of his wife’s, Hugh fought a duel with the stranger and killed him after a hard fight.

“Leaving him dead on the snow he rode back to the Grange, and burst in on his wife to accuse her of perfidy. It was in vain that Lady Joan tried to defend herself by stating that the visitor was her brother, who was engaged in plots for the restoration of James II, and on that account wished to keep secret the fact of his presence in England. Hugh did not believe her, and told her plainly that he had killed her lover; whereupon Lady Joan burst out into a volley of reproaches and cursed her husband. Furious at what he deemed was her boldness Hugh at first attempted to kill her, but not thinking the punishment sufficient, he cut off her right hand.”

“Why? ” asked everyone, quite unprepared for this information.

“Because in the first place Lady Joan was very proud of her beautiful white hands, and in the second Hugh had seen the stranger kiss her hand—her right hand—before he descended from the window. For these reasons he mutilated her thus terribly.”

“And she died.”

“Yes, a week after her hand was cut off. And she swore that she would come back to touch all those in the Blue Room—that is who slept in it—who were foredoomed to death. She kept her promise, for many people who have slept in that fatal room have been touched by the dead hand of Lady Joan, and have subsequently died.”

“Did Hugh find out that his wife was innocent?”

“He did,” replied Ringan, “and within a month after her death. The stranger was really her brother, plotting for James II, as she had stated. Hugh was not punished by man for his crime, but within a year he slept in the Blue Chamber and was found dead next morning with the mark of three fingers on his right wrist. It was thought that in his remorse he had courted death by sleeping in the room cursed by his wife.”

“And there was a mark on him?”

“On his right wrist red marks like a burn; the impression of three fingers. Since that time the room has been haunted.”

“Does everyone who sleeps in it die?” I asked.

“No. Many people have risen well and hearty in the morning. Only those who are doomed to an early death are thus touched!”

“When did the last case occur?”

“Three years ago,” was Frank’s unexpected reply. “A friend of mine called Herbert Spencer would sleep in that room. He saw the ghost and was touched. He showed me the marks next morning—three red finger marks.”

“Did the omen hold good?”

“Yes. Spencer died three months afterwards. He was thrown from his horse.”

I was about to put further questions in a sceptical vein, when we heard shouts outside, and we all sprang to our feet as the door was thrown open to admit Miss Laura in a state of excitement.

“Mr. Ringan,” addressing herself to Percy, “your room is on fire!”

We waited to hear no more, but in a body rushed up to Percy’s room. Volumes of smoke were rolling out of the door, and flames were flashing within. Frank Ringan, however, was prompt and cool-headed. He had the alarm bell rung, summoned the servants, grooms, and stable hands, and in twenty minutes the fire was extinguished.

On asking how the fire had started, Miss Laura, with much hysterical sobbing, stated that she had gone into Percy’s room to see that all was ready and comfortable for the night. Unfortunately the wind wafted one of the bed-curtains towards the candle she was carrying, and in a moment the room was in a blaze. After pacifying Miss Laura, who could not help the accident, Frank turned to his cousin. By this time we were back again in the library.

“My dear-fellow,” he said, “ your room is swimming in water, and is charred with fire. I’m afraid you can’t stay there to-night; but I don’t know where to put you unless you take the Blue Room.”

“The Blue Room!” we all cried. “What! the haunted chamber?”

“Yes; all the other rooms are full. Still, if Percy is afraid—”

“Afraid!” cried Percy indignantly. “I’m not afraid at all. I’ll sleep in the Blue Room with the greatest of pleasure.”

“But the ghost—”

“I don’t care for the ghost,” interrupted the Australian, with a nervous laugh. “We have no ghosts in our part of the world, and as I have not seen one, I do not believe there is such a thing.”

We all tried to dissuade him from sleeping in the haunted room, and several of us offered to give up our apartments for the night—Frank among the number. But Percy’s dignity was touched, and he was resolute to keep his word. He had plenty of pluck, as I said before, and the fancy that we might think him a coward spurred him on to resist our entreaties.

The end of it was that shortly before midnight he went off to the Blue Room, and declared his intention of sleeping in it. There was nothing more to be said in the face of such obstinacy, so one by one we retired, quite unaware of the events to happen before the morning. So on that Christmas Eve the Blue Room had an unexpected tenant.

On going to my bedroom I could not sleep. The tale told by Frank Ringan haunted my fancy, and the idea of Percy sleeping in that ill-omened room made me nervous. I did not believe in ghosts myself, nor, so far as I knew, did Percy, but the little man suffered from heart disease—he was strung up to a high nervous pitch by our ghost stories—and if anything out of the common—even from natural causes—happened in that room, the shock might be fatal to its occupant.

I knew well enough that Percy, out of pride, would refuse to give up the room, yet I was determined that he should not sleep in it; so, failing persuasion, I employed stratagem. I had my medicine chest with me, and taking it from my portmanteau I prepared a powerful narcotic. I left this on the table and went along to the Blue Room, which, as I have said before, was not very far from mine.

A knock brought Percy to the door, clothed in pyjamas, and at a glance I could see that the ghostly atmosphere of the place was already telling on his nerves. He looked pale and disturbed, but his mouth was firmly set with an obstinate expression likely to resist my proposals. However, out of diplomacy, I made none, but blandly stated my errand, with more roughness, indeed, than was necessary.

“Come to my room, Percy,” I said, when be appeared, “and let me give you something to calm your nerves.”

“I’m not afraid! ” he said, defiantly.

“Who said you were?” I rejoined, tartly. “You believe in ghosts no more than I do, so why should you be afraid? But after the alarm of fire your nerves are upset, and I want to give you something to put them sight. Otherwise, you’ll get no sleep.”

“I shouldn’t mind a composing draught, certainly,” said the little man. “Have you it here?”

“No, it’s in my room, a few yards off. Come along.”

Quite deluded by my speech and manner, Percy followed me into my bedroom, and obediently enough swallowed the medicine. Then I made him sit down in a comfortable arm-chair, on the plea that he must not walk immediately after the draught. The result of my experiment was justified, for in less than ten minutes the poor little man was fast asleep under the influence of the narcotic. When thus helpless, I placed him on my bed, quite satisfied that he would not awaken until late the next day. My task accomplished, I extinguished the light, and went off myself to the Blue Room, intending to remain there for the night.

It may be asked why I did so, as I could easily have taken my rest on the sofa in my own room; but the fact is, I was anxious to sleep in a haunted chamber.

I did not believe in ghosts, as I had never seen one, but as there was a chance of meeting here with an authentic phantom I did not wish to lose the opportunity.

Therefore when I saw that Percy was safe for the night, I took up my quarters in the ghostly territory, with much curiosity, but—as I can safely aver—no fear. All the same, in case of practical jokes on the part of the feather-headed young men in the house, I took my revolver with me. Thus prepared, I locked the door of the Blue Room and slipped into bed, leaving the light burning. The revolver I kept under my pillow ready to my hand in case of necessity. ‘

“Now,” said I grimly, as I made myself comfortable, “I’m ready for ghosts, or goblins, or practical jokers.”

I lay awake for a long time, staring at the queer figures on the blue draperies of the apartment. In the pale flame of the candle they looked ghostly enough to disturb the nerves of anyone: and when the draught fluttered the tapestries the figures seemed to move as though alive. For this sight alone I was glad that Percy had not slept in that room. I could fancy the poor man lying in that vast bed with blanched face and beating heart, listening to every creak, and watching the fantastic embroideries waving on the walls. Brave as he was, I am sure the sounds and sights of that room would have shaken his nerves, I did not feel very comfortable myself, sceptic as I was.

When the candle had burned down pretty low I fell asleep. How long I slumbered I know not: but I woke up with the impression that something or some one was in the room. The candle had wasted nearly to the socket and the flame was flickering and leaping fitfully, so as to display the room one moment and leave it almost in darkness the next. I heard a soft step crossing the room, and as it drew near a sudden spurt of flame from the candle showed me a little woman standing by the side of the bed. She was dressed in a gown of flowered brocade, and wore the towering head dress of the Queen Anne epoch. Her face I could scarcely see, as the flash of flame was only momentary: but I felt what the Scotch call a deadly grue as I realized that this was the veritable phantom of Lady Joan.

For the moment the natural dread of the supernatural quite overpowered me, and with my hands and arms lying outside the counterpane I rested inert and chilled with fear. This sensation of helplessness in the presence of evil, was like what one experiences in a nightmare of the worst kind.

When again the flame of the expiring candle shot up, I beheld the ghost close at hand, and—as I felt rather than saw—knew that it was bending over me. A faint odour of musk was in the air, and I heard the soft rustle of the brocaded skirts echo through the semi-darkness. The next moment I felt my right wrist gripped in a burning grasp, and the sudden pain roused my nerves from their paralysis.

With a yell I rolled over, away from the ghost, wrenching my wrist from that horrible clasp, and, almost mad with pain I groped with my left hand for the revolver. As I seized it the candle flared up for the last time, and I saw the ghost gliding back towards the tapestries. In a second I raised the revolver and fired. The next moment there was a wild cry of terror and agony, the fall of a heavy body on the floor, and almost before I knew where I was I found myself outside the door of the haunted room To attract attention I fired another shot from my revolver, while the Thing on the floor moaned in the darkness most horribly.

In a few moments guests and servants, all in various stages of undress, came rushing along the passage bearing lights. A babel of voices arose, and I managed to babble some incoherent explanation, and led the way into the room. There on the floor lay the ghost, and we lowered the candles to look at its face. I sprang up with a cry on recognising who it was.

“Frank Ringan!”

It was indeed Frank Ringan disguised as a woman in wig and brocades. He looked at me with a ghostly face, his mouth working nervously. With an effort he raised himself on his hands and tried to speak—whether in confession or exculpation, I know not. But the attempt was too much for him, a choking cry escaped his lips, a jet of blood burst from his mouth, and he fell back dead.

Over the rest of the events of that terrible night I draw a veil. There are some things it is as well not to speak of. Only I may state that all through the horror and confusion Percy Ringan, thanks to my strong sleeping draught, slumbered as peacefully as a child, thereby saving his life.

With the morning’s light came discoveries and explanations. We found one of the panels behind the tapestry of the Blue Room open, and it gave admittance into a passage which on examination proved to lead into Frank Ringan’s bedroom. On the floor we discovered a delicate band formed of steel, and which bore marks of having been in the fire. On my right wrist were three distinct burns, which I have no hesitation in declaring, were caused by the mechanical hand which we picked up near the dead man. And the explanation of these things came from Miss Laura, who was wild with terror at the death of her master, and said in her first outburst of grief and fear, what I am sure she regretted in her calmer moments.

“It’s all Frank’s fault,” she wept. “He was poor and wished to be rich. He got Percy to make his will in his favour, and wanted to kill him by a shock. He knew that Percy had heart disease and that a shock might prove fatal; so he contrived that his cousin should sleep in the Blue Room on Christmas Eve; and he himself played the ghost of Lady Joan with the burning hand. It was a steel hand, which he heated in his own room so as to mark with a scar those it touched.”

“Whose idea was this?” I asked, horrified by the devilish ingenuity of the scheme.

“Frank’s!” said Miss Laura, candidly. “He promised to marry me if I helped him to get the money by Percy’s death. We found that there was a secret passage leading to the Blue Room; so some years ago we invented the story that it was haunted.”

“Why, in God’s name?”

“Because Frank was always poor. He knew that his cousin in Australia had heart disease, and invited him home to kill him with fright. To make things safe he was always talking about the haunted room and telling the story so that everything should be ready for Percy on his arrival. Our plans were all carried out. Percy arrived and Frank got him to make the will in his favour. Then he was told the story of Lady Joan and her hand, and by setting fire to Percy’s room last night I got him to sleep in the Blue Chamber without any suspicion being aroused.”

“You wicked woman!” I cried. “Did you fire Percy’s room on purpose?”

“Yes. Frank promised to marry me if I helped him. We had to get Percy to sleep in the Blue Chamber, and I managed it by setting fire to his bedroom. He would have died with fright when Frank, as Lady Joan, touched him with the steel hand, and no one would have been the wiser. Your sleeping in that haunted room saved Percy’s life, Dr. Lascelles; yet Frank invited you down as part of his scheme, that you might examine the body: and declare the death to be a natural one.”

“Was it Frank who burnt the wrist of Herbert Spence some years ago?” I asked.

“Yes!” replied Miss Laura, wiping her red eyes. “We thought if the ghost appeared to a few other people, that Percy’s death might seem more natural. It was a mere coincidence that Mr. Spence died three months after the ghost touched him.”

“Do you know you are a very wicked woman, Miss Laura?”

“I am a very unhappy one,” she retorted. “I have lost the only man I ever loved; and his miserable cousin survives to step into his shoes as the master of Ringshaw Grange.”

That was the sole conversation I had with the wretched woman, for shortly afterwards she disappeared, and I fancy must have gone abroad, as she was never more heard of. At the inquest held on the body of Frank the whole strange story came out, and was reported at full length by the London press to the dismay of ghost-seers: for the fame of Ringshaw Grange as a haunted mansion had been great in the land.

I was afraid lest the jury should bring in a verdict of manslaughter against me, but the peculiar features of the case being taken into consideration I was acquitted of blame, and shortly afterwards returned to India with an unblemished character. Percy Ringan was terribly distressed on hearing of his cousin’s death, and shocked by the discovery of his treachery. However, he was consoled by becoming the head of the family, and as he lives a quiet life at Ringshaw Grange there is not much chance of his early death from heart disease—at all events from a ghostly point of view.

The blue chamber is shut up, for it is haunted now by a worse spectre than that of Lady Joan, whose legend (purely fictitious) was so ingeniously set forth by Frank. It is haunted by the ghost of the cold-blooded scoundrel who fell into his own trap; and who met with his death in the very moment he was contriving that of another man. As to myself, I have given up ghost-hunting and sleeping in haunted rooms. Nothing will ever tempt me to experiment in that way again. One adventure of that sort is enough to last me a lifetime.

Clutha Leader 3 March 1899: p. 7

The Dancer in Red and Other Stories, Fergus Hume, 1906

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  “Granges,” or country farming estates, were a popular motif in haunted, sensational, and mystery fiction.  The Adventure of the Abbey Grange by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle springs to mind as an example of the latter. Perhaps the setting was so popular because of something else Sir Arthur wrote, in the voice of Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches:

“[T]he lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

“You horrify me!”

“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”

And, undoubtedly one of the grange out-buildings will contain scrap-iron and facilities for manufacturing Infernal Machines such as heatable steel claws.

Mr Hume furnished us with a similar, ghost-in-disguise story last year for the holidays, The Ghost in Brocade.

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.

Three Gold Balls: A Visit to the Pawnbrokers’ Shops: 1872

Die Gartenlaube 1861 pawnbroker.jpg

THREE GOLD BALLS
A Visit to the Pawnbrokers’ Shops

To the Editors of the Evening Post:

A week or two since I had occasion to visit several pawnbrokers’ establishments in this city, to redeem some articles pawned by a friend who had once seen better days.

A brief mention of my experience may be instructive as well as entertaining. The redemption of my friend’s tools (he was a mechanic) as accomplished after no little trouble in visiting the principal establishments doing business under the sign of the “Three Golden Balls,” in a certain street, and redeeming one or two articles here, another there and a third or fourth somewhere else.

I had been told of the system of universal cheating which the proprietors of these places practice, and the enormous exactions made in grinding the faces of the poor. I had heard described their dexterity in the substitution of colored glass and crystals for gems, while pretending to examine articles brought for pledges, and was prepared to encounter all that was sinister and heartless. But the half had not been told me, and I soon found that my previous conceptions fell far short of the reality. I was detained at each place which I had occasion to visit by the delays in finding the article I was in search of, and for which the holders had doubtless flattered themselves no inquiries would be made. The press of business at all of the shops was another cause of delay. As I recovered my friend’s articles, one by one, it appeared at once that the most outrageous system of extortion had been practiced in every instance. The sums advanced had been pitiful in amount, and the rates of interest charged exorbitant beyond belief. At every one of these dens a crowd of victims was collected—a motley company indeed: blacklegs and would-be gentlemen—the cheater and the cheated; the widow parting with her disposable article of dress, to procure one more meal for her famishing children; a consumptive girl, with the hectic flush upon her check. The grasping misers—sometimes a woman—read the condition of the sufferers from their countenances with cool calculation. The pick-pocket, the thief, and the purloining servant were received with equal readiness, and the spoils were divided with the fullest understanding that no questions were to be asked.

AT MY UNCLE’S

I had scarcely made my business known at the first of “my uncle’s” establishments, No. ___ street, to which I had been directed, when a middle-aged man entered with a bundle on which he asked a small advance, and which, on being opened, was found to contain a shawl and two or three other articles of female apparel. The man was stout and sturdy, and, as I judged from his appearance, a mechanic, but the mark of the destroyer was on his bloated countenance. The pawnbroker was examining the offered pledge when a woman with pale face and attenuated form came hastily into the shop and with the single exclamation, “O, Robert!” darted, rather than ran to that part of the counter where the man was standing. Her miserable husband, not satisfied with wasting his own earnings, and leaving her to starve with her children, had plundered even her scanty wardrobe, and the pittance received was to be squandered at the rum-shop. A blush of shame arose even upon his degraded face, but it quickly passed away; the brutal appetite prevailed.

“Go home,” was his harsh exclamation; “what brings you here, running after me with your everlasting scolding? Go home and mind your own business.”

“Oh, Robert, dear Robert,” answered the unhappy wife, “don’t pawn my shawl. Our children are crying for bread, and I have none to give them; or let me have the money. Give me the money, Robert, and don’t leave us to perish!”

I watched the face of the pawnbroker.

“Twelve shillings on these things,” he said, tossing them back to the drunkard, with a look of perfect indifference. “Only twelve shillings,” murmured the heart-broken wife, in a tone of despair; “O, Robert, don’t let them go for twelve shillings. Let me try somewhere else.” “Nonsense!” answered the brute. “It’s as much as they are worth, I suppose. Here, Mr. ___ give us the change.” The money was placed before him, and the bundle consigned to a drawer. The poor creature reached forth her hand towards the money, but the movement was anticipated by her husband. “There, Mary,” he said, giving her half a dollar. “there, go home now, and don’t make a fuss. I’m going a little way up the street, and perhaps I’ll bring you something from market when I come home.”

The hopeless look of the poor woman as she meekly turned to the door told plainly enough how little she trusted the promise. They went on their way—she to her children and he to the next “corner grocery.”

A BENEVOLENT CUSTOMER

While this scene was in progress another had been added to the number of spectators. This was a young man, dressed in the height of the fashion. He had a reckless, good-humored look and very much the air of what is called “a young man about town,” that is, one who rides out to the Central Park in the afternoon, eats game suppers at Delmonico’s in the evening after the play, spends the rest of the night and his money at billiards. The moment the poor woman was gone, he twitched from his neck a gold chain, with a gold watch, and placing it in the hands of the pawnbroker, with whom he seemed to be on terms of acquaintance, he exclaimed, “Quick now, Mr. ___; thirty dollars on that? You’ve had it before, and needn’t stop to examine it.” The money was instantly paid; and the young man of fashion, crumpling the bills up in his hand, hurried off at full speed, first looking up and then down the street. I followed him to the door and saw him accost the poor woman who had just left the shop, thrust into her hand either the whole or part of the sum he had just received, and then turning away to the other side of the street without stopping either for thanks or for explanation.

The reverie of mingled surprise and admiration into which I was thrown by this unexpected manifestation of benevolence was interrupted by a loud outcry from Mr. ___, the pawnbroker, and by seeing him, with a look of wrath and horror, hurry round his counter and out through the door, upon the sidewalk, where he stood for a moment, straining his eyes down the street, as if in search of the kind-hearted youth, who had by this time disappeared up one of the cross-streets. “The villain,” he exclaimed, “the swindling scoundrel! Which way did he go? The ungrateful thief! Tell me,” he continued, turning to me, “tell me which way he went.” I point out to Mr. ___ the course taken by his late customer, and mentioned also what I had seen take place between him and the poor woman. “Ah, it’s no use,” he then said; “he’s got off clear by this time, and my thirty dollars is a ‘gone case.’ But I’ll find him yet, someday.” And thus soliloquizing, Mr. ___ returned into his shop. Taking advantage of the familiarity that had grown up between the broker and his chain, the young man had substituted an oroide chain for the gold one which had been so often deposited with the watch, and the deception had passed unnoticed until it was too late. The watch itself was a cheap one, and probably worth about the sum advanced.

THE STORY OF A RING

A touching incident occurred at the place of my next visit. A woman about thirty-five years old, in the garb of mourning, entered, evidently with reluctance; she could hardly make the object of her visit known on account of her emotion. She was of a delicate frame, of easy and rather graceful manners, and but for the ravages of care upon her face might still have been beautiful. At length she took a ring from a pretty little morocco case, upon the pledge of which she wished to realize such an amount of money as would sustain herself and children through the winter. The extortioner took the ring in his fingers, and holding it up to the window pretended to examine it—assuming at the same time an air of affected disappointed; he began at once to depreciate the article, declaring that it was nothing but an Alaska crystal, and that he would hardly take it at any price. He was inexorable and peremptorily refused to advance more than four or five dollars. Tears glistened in the woman’s eye.

I had seen, as the man studied the ring with secret satisfaction by the window, that the gem was valuable. I was determined that the unfortunate owner should not be imposed upon. Just before a bargain was completed, however, as I was about to interpose myself, another gentleman, who had also been watching the proceeding, stepped forward and declared that the beautiful ring should not be sacrificed…in that way. The broker at once endeavored to hasten matters, and declaring the bargain to have been completed, would have succeeded in thrusting the jewel into the drawer, but for the resolution of the gentleman who seized and saved it. The wretch muttered something about people’s interfering in business that was exclusively his own concern, but to no purpose. The widow was rescued from his fangs, and received a fair amount for her ring.

This poor lady, whose history I afterward learned, was an orphan, a daughter of a Virginia planter, who had been reduced to poverty before our civil war, so that his children were left portionless, and had been married when quite young. The husband of this daughter was killed in the late war, and she had learned the miseries and uncertainties of life.

Doubtless these examples which came under my notice are but a few of many, the mere relation of which is sufficient to make one blush for his fellow men.

W.L. STONE

Evening Post [New York, NY] 13 January 1872: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Many ladies of this era were held hostage by drunken, improvident, and abusive spouses. Widows fared little better, if, as so often happened, the late husband lost the family fortune by imprudent speculation, went into a Decline, and died. The pawnshop, the sweatshop–or the street–were often the only recourse. Mrs Daffodil can only suggest to the attenuated spouse of the brute Robert, that she lay out part of the money thrust into her hands by the young man about town to secure an insurance policy on her husband. While the balance of the money should be well-hidden, enough should be retained to allow Robert to accidentally discover it and go on a spree so immoderate that it will inevitably bring a quick return on her investment.

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.

 

Kitty’s Railway Adventure: 1894

kitty's adventure

KITTY’S ADVENTURE.

“Good-by, dear.”

“A safe journey and a pleasant one.”

The train began to move. Miss Kitty Belwhistle distributed a farewell series of nods and smiles.

She felt quite fond of the Cholmondeleys, now that she was leaving them. They were sorry to lose their guest undoubtedly.

Their brother sorrowed also, but not as one without hope. Business of a pressing nature was likely to take him up to London in the course of a week or so.

Kitty, experienced hand that she was, had not spent three weeks at Northwitch Grange for nothing. The understanding between herself and the heir of the Northwitch acres was pretty definite, that young gentleman flattered himself. They were almost, if not exactly, engaged.

Kitty had made the usual stipulation.

If, within the space of twelve months from date, she met somebody else she liked better than dear Chubbington, all that had passed between them was henceforth to be regarded as an idle dream. If on the other hand, she did not, then—

Kitty pulled up the window and sank back into her comfortable corner seat. The first-class compartment contained no other passenger than the charming young lady in the sealskin coat and crimson-leathered toque who consulted her complexion in the strip of looking glass before she fell to overhauling her bags and packages.

The journey was tedious, and would be certain to be a cold one upon this keen, frosty January day.

But Kitty, who always was distinguished by admirable forethought in matters where her own well-being was concerned, had got all her little comforts around her.

“Eau de cologne? Yes, the housemaid put it in. How stupid of Parker to catch bronchitis! Of course, I was obliged to leave her behind. If I had insisted on her traveling she would have been sure to incur a fresh chill and die on me out of spite.

“If anything in the shape of an adventure could possibly present itself in the course of the humdrum seven hours’ railway journey between Norwich and Liverpool, I should be inclined to welcome it, unless it came in the form of a railway smash. Ugh! The bare idea makes one shudder.

“Let me just peep at the luncheon basket. Tongue and turkey sandwiches, bard-boiled eggs and anchovy ditto, a bottle of cold tea, half a pint and a bag of macaroons. Perhaps Chubby superintended the arrangement! Poor Chubby!”

And Kitty smiled a heartless little smile at the remembrance of Chubby’s pink tinged nose and tearful eyes. Then she opened a brand now railway novel, “The Fang of the Adder,” and immersed herself in the most thrilling chapter of that electrical work:

“Forked and lurid flashes of lightning silently played over the midnight azure. A low peal of thunder rumbled overhead as Paulina gained the churchyard. She reached the lonely resting place of the man whom her heart had worshiped, the man whom her relentless hand had guided to his doom.

“Did he but know it, Cherrington Chim was bitterly avenged.

“As sobs thickened in his murderess’s strangling throat and she sank forward amid the matted and tangled grasses—what happened?

“A hand touched her on the shoulder. A voice said hoarsely”—

“Kimpton, Kimpton! Change ‘ere for Carbury and Walsing.”

The train slowed and stopped, with a jerk. Kitty shut the book and let down the window.

Something darkened the carriage door. A dark-faced mustached, fur-coated stranger got in hurriedly. He trampled on Miss Belwhistle’s toes and apologized floridly. His tone offended her cars ; the perfume which exhaled from his garments offended a still more sensitive perception.

He trampled on Kitty’s toes again as he received into his arms a heavy bundle, the helpless figure of another man, and deposited it in a further corner of the compartment, with evident difficulty.

Another mustached, scented and fur-coated stranger followed and sat himself down in the seat immediately opposite Miss Belwhistle.

Kitty, in a state of freezing indifference to the admiring manifestations of her vis-a-vis, resumed her perusal of “The Fang of the Adder.”

The two mustached and fur-coated individuals interchanged a sentence or two in an undertone and then settled down to their respective news-papers. The invalid lay back helplessly in his corner, swaying from side to side with the motion of the carriage.

He was small of stature and slight of limb. He wore a gray-flapped traveling cap, tied under the chin, and a long gray ulster. From underneath the edge of the ulster peeped a pair of tiny little feet in patent-leather boots.

As much of his profile as was visible to Kitty’s observation was perfectly regular and of a waxen delicacy. The ungloved right hand, which rested stiffly on his knee, was small and dazzlingly white.

“Oh,” exclaimed Miss Belwhistle involuntarily as the express rounded a curve and the invalid lurched violently to the right.

The mustached and scented strangers looked over their newspapers. Kitty had half risen from her seat.

“Anything wrong, miss?” inquired No. 1 in accents of oily vulgarity.

The train steadied; the invalid left off wobbling. Kitty sank among her rugs and parcels.

“I–I beg your pardon. I–I was afraid the–your friend was going to faint.” she breathed. To cover her confusion she stooped for her book, which lay sprawling on the floor.

“The young lady thought Mr. Walker might be feeling ill, Sig. Denzo,” remarked No. 2. “Tell him to answer hisself if he’s got any manners in him,” the signor added, and looked at the invalid. Immediately Mr. Walker spoke in a queer, highly pitched voice, which seemed to come from under the seat which ho occupied.

“I thank you, miss, for your kind inquiries and beg to say I am quite well.”

Kitty began to regret the exclamation of alarm into which she had been betrayed. She began to wonder how long it would be before the next stoppage would afford her an opportunity of exchanging to another carriage, This horrible pair were evidently bent upon improving the occasion.

Rosenbaum offered her a comic paper. Declined with thanks.

The signor produced a silver flask of cognac, which might have contained about a quart, and audaciously invited the young lady to test the quality of its contents. Declined with thanks.

Upon which both the signor and Mr. Rosenbaum applied themselves to the liquor with great good will. They produced huge packages of sandwiches and ate with gusto and without offering the invalid a share of their supplies.

Kitty burned with indignation and was conscious of a yearning in the direction of her well filled luncheon basket, but dread of provoking the civilities of her companions staid her. She would change at the next station they stopped at, and then–

Thank goodness an old town rising out of the snowy landscape! The empty noise and bustle of a station succeeding. She collected her luggage hastily; she peered anxiously out of the window searching for a porter,

“By your leave, miss, said the odious voice of Rosenbaum. He opened the door and jumped out upon the platform. The signor followed. They vanished, arm in arm, into the refreshment room.

“Porter.” cried Miss Belwhistle, but no functionary responded to her call. She leaned out of the window. She waved her muff. She called to the porter again without success.

There was a dull crash, a sickening thud, behind her. She turned. The invalid Mr. Walker had tumbled out of his seat and lay prostrate on the floor. Before the affrighted girl could utter a scream for help the express moved on. Where, where were those callous companions of the sick man? Doubtless Rosenbaum and the signor had been left.

She raised the head of the insensible man. He was lighter than she had expected and strangely, strangely stiffer. She opened his collar with a shaking hand.

She got out the bottle of tea and endeavored to pour a little down his throat. Useless. The rigid lips were not to be forced apart. She removed the traveling cap and wet his fore head and temples with eau de cologne. He showed no signs of reviving. She wiped his face with her handkerchief and–oh, horror!

The faint color vanished from his checks, his lips turned pale. The sick man had been painted.

She looked at him more closely, The strange light blue eyes that maintained their horrible unwinking stare. the deadly color of the face and the icy coldness of its contact struck chill to her. She felt at his heart, Not a beat! Mr. Walker was dead–dead!

Had his murderer–they must be his murderers–painted the dead face with the hues of life, deceived her eye with rouge and powder as they had deceived her ears with a ventriloquial trick? Had they not made good their escape, leaving their helpless dupe alone–alone with their victim?

And at last the express slackened speed, jolted, stopped. They were at Ely. She might scream now, and she did.

“What’s here? Gentleman ill, miss? What do you say?”

Thus the guard.

“There has been murder here,” she said, looking out upon the throng of faces that surrounded the carriage door. “Telegraph to the last stopping place. I can describe the guilty wretches who have done this awful deed. Ah, there they are!”

Here they were indeed, the guilty wretches. Dared they brazen it out? Did they mean to deny all knowledge of the dead man?

“This is a serious charge, you know, gentlemen. I must trouble you to come along with me.”

“With pleasure, Mr. Polizeman,” said the signor, with horrible lightness. “But we look at this corpo morto here first, with your kind obligement. Why will pretty young ladies shriek at everything? My good Rosenbaum, you have better the English language Please explain.

Rosenbaum drew a large poster from the bulging pocket of his fur coat. He gravely handed it to the station-master. It bore this inscription:

TO-NIGHT.

At the Temple of Varieties, Ely.

Herr Rosenbaum and Sig. Denzo,

The Marvelous Conjurors and Ventriloquists

In Their Unparalleled Entertainment,

In which the ANIMATED DUMMY will also

Take part.

COME EARLY.

“This here jointed wooden figure with the wax face and hands,” went on Rosenbaum, “is the dummy. He usually travels in the guard’s van, but the guard couldn’t guarantee his reaching Ely in condition to appear before the public, having a fox-terrier pup in charge as was given to worrying. So we took him in the carriage with us. At the last station we stopped at, me and the signor, gets out for a drink, and the train having started sooner than we bargained for we whipped into second-class compartment. Sorry the young lady has been frightened. Ain’t you, signor?”

“Estremamente!” said Sig. Denzo.

Forest Republication [Tionesta PA] 24 October 1894: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Why will pretty young ladies shriek at everything?” Mrs Daffodil raises her eyebrows at this impertinence. The conjurors/ventriloquists had their nerve, considering that the duo went out of their way to hoodwink the young lady, so fearless in matters of the heart, but so timid when faced with cognac-swilling, sandwich-guzzling, fur-coated showmen and a wooden dummy.

One cannot entirely blame the young person; for a lady travelling without a companion, the individual railway carriage compartment was fraught with danger.  Miss Belwhistle was fortunate that her travelling companions were not fast young gentlemen.

 

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.

Hist Went the Corpse: 1889

Baltimore and Ohio Employees magazine 1912 wake poem

A Wonderful Escape

“When I first went on the police force,” said the fat policeman to a Philadelphia North American man. “I was lucky. One of my assignments was a queer one, and I’m not likely to forget it. I was sent to the house of a man who had just died. He was well known and belonged to a good many lodges. It was a big crowd at the funeral. I was stationed at the foot of the coffin to preserve order. The shutters were closed and the gas burned dimly. The coffin lid was off and the body exposed. No one besides myself and the ‘stiff ‘ was in the room. After I’d been there awhile I began to grow uneasy. I kept looking at the dead face. I’d take my eyes off, and the first thing I’d be gazing at the body again. Suddenly the eyes opened. I thought I was dreaming. Then the left eye winked. Holy smoke!”

“’Hist went the corpse.’”

“My teeth chattered.

“‘Say, officer.’

“Goodness! The corpse sat up. ‘Ain’t you dead?’ I gasped.

“’Me, me dead?’

“’Yes.’

“’Oh, no.’

“’What are you doing there?’

“’That’s only a dodge.’

“’Dodge?”

“’Yes. I’m just now a dodger. A kind of an Artful Dodger. See?’

“’I’ll call the folks.’

“’Heavens, no. I’ll tell you. You see I wasn’t feeling well. I’ve got a mother-in-law who is a holy terror. Worse than ten parrots and the hydrophobia. Well, I’ve been trying for ten years to get rid of her. Now, I told my wife that I would simulate death, get put in a vault, be taken out again right away and sneak west. She liked the idea. I’ll be taken out tonight, go to a hotel, and I’ll meet my wife in St. Louis. In that way we’ll shake the old girl. Well, here’s a dollar. I wish you could send out and get me a little spirits’ reviver.’

“Pretty soon the folks began to come in. The supposed corpse looked as natural as life everybody said. People always say this at funerals. There is no use saying it at weddings or balls. The mother-in-law sobbed. Then she leaned over and kissed the corpse.

“’Why, John smells of whisky,’ she said.

“‘John was a beautiful drinker,’ explained the wife.”

Aberdeen [SC] Daily News 10 September 1889: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Possibly in connection with the 19th-century’s idée fixe about premature burial, we find many stories, some amusing, some grim, about corpses “waking up” or the watchers at a wake fearing that they have wakened up, such as The Corpse Sat Up, by that grave person over at Haunted Ohio. There is also an entire genre of stories about persons pretending to be dead, for example, The Corpse Counted the Coins, in which a similar scam was worked for a more mercenary reason than was admitted by John-the-beautiful-drinker above, or to induce a cruel father to relent and give his blessing to a young couple, as in The Resurrection of Willie Todd.

We can only hope that the Artful Dodger and his wife found an earthly paradise in St. Louis and that the mother-in-law did not disinherit her newly-widowed daughter when she decided to go west to Forget.  Mrs Daffodil fears that a woman worse than ten parrots and the hydrophobia would be capable of anything.

 

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.