Category Archives: Murder

Empress Eugenie and the Scent of Violets: 1880

It is Bastille Day, so Mrs Daffodil will share a strange French tale. Let us preface this story with a few words of historical background.

Napoléon Eugene, the Prince Imperial, son of the exiled French Emperor, Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie, had enlisted in the British Army and, eager to see action, had managed to have himself posted to Zululand to fight in the Anglo-Zulu War. On 1 June 1879, the Prince Imperial was ambushed and killed. His body was returned to England for burial; a funeral was held on 12 July 1879. In 1880, the Empress made a pilgrimage to Zululand, wishing to see where her son fell.

SCENT FROM BEYOND

Of the many stories told of uncanny experiences, that related of the late Empress Eugenie is one of the most amazing.

After her son, the Prince Imperial, was killed in Zululand, the Empress, accompanied by the late Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood, paid a visit to his grave. This spot had been marked by a cairn of stones, but by the date of the visit the jungle had encroached so that even the Zulu guides, who had been among the Prince’s assailants, could not find it.

The Prince had a passion for violet scent; it was the only toilet accessory of the kind he used. Suddenly the Empress became aware of a strong smell of violets. “This is the way,” she cried, and went off on a line of her own.

She tore along, stumbling over dead wood and tussocks, her face beaten by the high grass that parted and closed behind her, until, with a loud cry, she fell upon her knees, crying, “C’est ici!” (It is here). And there, hidden in almost impenetrable brushwood, they found the cairn!

“The Empress told me,” said Sir Evelyn afterwards, “that the first whiff of perfume had been so overwhelming that she thought she was going to faint. But it seemed to drag her along with it; she felt no fatigue, and could have fought her way through the jungle for hours.”

News-Journal [Mansfield OH] 3 July 1921: p. 17

In addition, after the Empress had spent the night in prayer at the site,

Towards morning a strange thing happened. Although there was not a breath of air, the flames of the candles were suddenly deflected, as if someone wished to extinguish them, and I said to him: “Is it indeed you beside me’? Do you wish me to go away’?” Quoted in Featherstone. Captain Carey’s Blunder, pp. 21S-16.

Another version of the story of the scent is related by Dr Ethel Smyth, musician and friend to the Empress.

When these Recollections were first published, much interest was excited by a curious psychic experience of the Empress’s in Zululand, whither she went in 1880 to visit the spot where her son had fallen. When, she told me the story I remembered having heard something about it from Sir Evelyn Wood who was in command of the expedition, but in those days I kept no diary, and certain details had distorted themselves in my mind.

I will therefore collate my version with that given by my friend, Lucien Daudet—one of “les enfants de la maison”—in a Memoir [L’Imperatrice Eugenie, par Lucien Daudet (A. Fayard).] of which, before it finally appeared in book-form, the Empress herself corrected the proofs. She disliked being written about at all, but this particular work gave her great pleasure. And though her weaknesses find no mention here, (“inevitable, but a pity!” as she herself remarked) this is the most faithful and delicate portrait of her in later years that exists.

When, at length, after many days trekking across the veldt, the expedition was nearing the goal, the Empress begged that instead of pressing on they might pitch camp. The first sight of the Zulus in war panoply had produced a terrible impression on her, and she wished to brace herself for the last stage. Since many months it was only with the aid of chloral and by inducing physical fatigue that she could win a little sleep in the 24 hours, and at the close of that long sultry day she slipped out of her tent for her usual solitary walk.

It appears that the Prince had a passion for verveine, that to think of “mon petit gargon” was to think of that scent. Suddenly the air was full of it; so unexpected, so overwhelming was the perfume that the Empress told me she thought she should faint. But it seemed to drag her onwards, and presently, without sensation of fatigue, ever faster and faster, she was following it “comme un chien sur une piste,” passing over rough, broken ground, pushing through thickets, crossing hidden ravines without conscious effort. . . . Then, quite as suddenly, the perfume failed, and with it her strength. She found herself on a hill covered with curious flat stones and knew she could never retrace her path. Presently men sent after her by her alarmed suite appeared and led her back to the camp.

Next day, as they neared the spot where the Prince had fallen, no need to tell her the goal was at hand; she recognized the hill and the stones.

This story is doubly impressive since, as I have said, she was not imaginative, and to all appearance anything but psychic.

Streaks of life, Ethel Smyth, 1922: p. 56-60

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  There are several little inaccuracies in the newspaper story. The site where the Prince fell was not only well-known, but it had been tidied and gravelled over in the manner of an English church-yard. The Empress was distressed by this. She had been hoping to find the site as it was when her son had been cut down. Here is an admirable article describing some of the events of the Empress’s pilgrimage.

While the violets story is inexpressively poignant, Mrs Daffodil has not been able to find it in Sir Evelyn Woods’s several memoirs or in biographies of the Empress herself. And was the Prince’s favourite scent violet, the signature flower of Napoleon Bonaparte, or verbena?

At the start of the Empress’s pilgrimage, her aides had to deal with a odiously intrusive female journalist working for The New York Herald, calling herself “Lady Avonmore,” who claimed to be a dear friend of the Empress and who tried to intercept the Imperial party. One wonders if it was she who created the sensational narrative above for her American readers.

Mrs Daffodil will add one more curious anecdote about the Prince Imperial’s death:

On the day of the surrender of Napoleon III, after the Battle of Sedan, a frightful storm broke over Windsor, and during the tempest a tree which the Emperor had planted in the park, while he and the Empress Eugenie were visiting Queen Victoria in 1855, was struck by lightning. Still half the stricken tree remained standing, but on June 1, 1879, a similar terrific storm broke over and swept the park, and a further lightning stroke completed the destruction of the tree. On this date the Prince Imperial (son and heir of Napoleon III) was killed in action in Zululand.

Noted Prophecies, Predictions, Omens and Legends, The Countess Zalinski, 1917 pp. 97-98

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.

 

A Haunted Apple Tree: 1800s

A HAUNTED APPLE TREE

Murder Committed Under It and Now Its Fruit is Streaked Blood Red.

“It is probable that the town of Douglass, Mass., alone belongs the reputation of having a haunted apple tree,” writes Samuel S. Kingdon, in the Ladies’ Home Journal. “The tradition of the town is that a foul murder was committed in the orchard many years ago, and that since then it has been haunted by the spirit of the victim. As the story goes, a peddler, whose custom it was to sell goods from house to house from a pack, laid down to rest at midday under a tree in the orchard, and before the day was ended he was found with a cruel gash in the neck, from which his life blood had ebbed away. Suspicion rested on the owner of the orchard and he was said to have been constantly followed by the spirit of the victim. In an attempt to escape from its dreaded presence he moved away. Then the apparition became a terror to all who had occasion to pass over the road at night. So potent was its influence—standing, as it had a habit of doing, under the apple tree, with one hand at its throat and the other extended as though seeking aid, and uttering shrill cries that could be heard half a mile away—that the location of the highway was changed, and it is now a long distance from the orchard. The old trees still bear fruit, and the apples from the one beneath which the peddler was killed are said to be streaked with red, resembling blood, the streaks extending from skin to core.”

Our Horticultural Visitor: A Quarterly Journal Devoted to the Individual Interests of the Practical Horticulturists Everywhere, August 1900

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well, good gracious. We all look forward to the spring blossoming of the apple trees, but one does not expect to find one’s pippin Exhibit A in a murder trial.

It is curious how often peddlers are murdered and then haunt the spot of their demise. Given their peripatetic nature, one would expect them to gather up their spectral packs and continue their rounds, but no—they must needs annoy the people in the neighbourhood of their death, such as the Fox Sisters, who called up the rapping spirit of a murdered peddler buried in the cellar. The sisters launched Spiritualism on the strength of this phantom peddler. Some say (and the sisters both confessed and recanted) that they made the rappings by popping their toe joints. Still, when the cellar of the Fox homestead was dug out many years later, a skeleton and a tin peddler’s box were found concealed in the walls…

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.

 

Coals of Fire: 1860s

woman-at-fireplace

COALS OF FIRE.

BY LUCY H. HOOPER.

The Countess de Castro was dying. People— that is to say, her relatives and immediate heirs— were so hard-hearted as to say it was time; for the Countess had passed her seventy-fifth birthday by some months, and had been a hopeless paralytic for over ten years past.

She was dying in the odor of sanctity. Her enemies, and even the Countess de Castro had a few, said that people who can stir neither hand nor foot, can very well earn a reputation, even for exemplary piety. Others said, more charitably, that there was no cause for anybody to grieve over her approaching demise, for that it was rare that any one was so well prepared to take her departure. They talked of the money she had given in charity, of her holy conversation, of her resignation, of her Christian example.

The Countess inhabited an antique hotel in Paris. It was her own by right of inheritance, for she had been, in her youth, a great heiress— Madamoiselle de St. Yvon, of Keriodec, in Brittany. She had been celebrated for her intellect and strength of character, and in her youth she had refused to marry, with a persistency rare in a French damsel of rank. It was reported that Louis XVIII. had sued to her in person, on behalf of one of the greatest of the Legitimist nobles of France, but in vain. She was over fifty years of age, when Parisian society was startled by the announcement of her marriage with the young Count de Castro, who numbered scarce half her own age, and who was notorious for his extravagance and his profligacy. But he was handsome as a picture, and possessed a winning tongue and a graceful address. And so the ill-matched pair were wedded, and took up their residence in the grand old hotel, in the Faubourg St. Germain. There the Countess gave stately balls, whereat all the gentlemen wore white lilies in their button-holes, and the ladies looped their tresses and their draperies with the same flower, and where a giddy young marquise was pitilessly snubbed by the hostess, because she came to the festival in question, wearing a dress trimmed with bouquets of the obnoxious Bonaparte violets. There were state dinner-parties given, also, whereat the guests were all old and dried up, and the ladies wore garments of antique fashion, scorning the mode that followed the lead of a parvenu Empress. But these formal festivities soon ceased, and it was whispered abroad that the Count de Castro was rapidly winning high favor at the Court of Napoleon III.

Of course, such a rumor meant that he had quarreled with his elderly wife; and that portion, at least, of the report, was true. They led but a cat-and-dog’s life of it, in that grand old hotel beyond the Seine. The Count was fast and frivolous, the Countess jealous and severe. He wanted money beyond the income secured to him by the terms of the marriage contract, and she refused to comply with his demands. Stories got abroad of fearful scenes between the pair. Their daily lives had long been as widely parted as possible, Madame going continually to church, while Monsieur frequented balls, and operas, and theatres. This kind of thing went on for some years. At last matters reached a crisis. The Count lost heavily at cards, at the Jockey Club, one evening, and confided to a friend that other claims were weighing upon him. There was a house at Burgival for which he owed, and the furniture, also, had never been paid for. And so the fashionable world was not much surprised when the Count de Castro disappeared, one fine morning, leaving all his debts, whether of honor or dishonor, unpaid behind him.

Madame de Castro behaved remarkably well at this conjuncture, as everybody remarked. She paid the Count’s debts, to the uttermost farthing, and was seen in her usual places of resort a trifle paler, sterner, and stiffer-looking than before, but otherwise wearing an unchanged and placid aspect. One only circumstance revealed how deeply she mourned for her vanished spouse. She caused the suite of apartments wherein she had dwelt with the Count to be closed up, and transferred her abode to the other wing of the hotel. But the servants averred, that after nightfall their mistress would occasionally enter the locked-up rooms, and remain there for a space, as if to mourn for her husband’s absence in solitude and secrecy. Few who knew the grave, stern Countess, would have fancied her capable of any such romantic action; but the story got noised abroad, nevertheless, and spread a sentimental halo about the deserted wife, prosaic and severe as her age and aspect might be.

The Count never returned. Occasionally, vague rumors were current of his appearance in far-distant lands. One story declared that he had gone to America with a certain celebrated dancer, and that he had been seen driving out with her, on the Shell Road, New Orleans. Another report averred that he was holding a high official position under the Governor of Java. Some said he had gone to Algiers; others, that he was in the employ of the French Legation at Hong-Kong. Some of these stories were traced to their source, and were found to be utterly groundless; others remained unquestioned and uncontradicted, till time proved their falsity. At all events, the Count never returned to Paris.

As the years went on, the Countess dwelt more and more in solitude. She did not put on mourning, neither did she assume any of the privileges of a widow. But she never spoke of her husband, nor would she permit his name to be mentioned in her presence. It was ten years after his mysterious disappearance, that she was first stricken with paralysis. She then insisted upon again changing her quarters, and took up her abode anew in the rooms wherein the troubled years of her married life had been spent. At first she used to be drawn in a wheeled chair around the garden, or through the long corridors of the hotel; but years had passed since she had relinquished even that form of locomotion, and had refused to quit the room wherein she now lay.

It was a vast and cheerless apartment; the wood-work, black with age, even to the waxed and polished floor, whose boards, warped and loosened by time, creaked noisily beneath the unwary tread. Some antique tapestry, saved from the sack of the Chateau de Keriodec by the Republican troops, during the first Revolution, clothed the walls, its tints of dull and faded green and sickly yellow adding an unnecessary touch of gloom to the aspect of the room. The ceiling overhead, with massive cross-beams, was of the same dark wood as the wainscoting and the floor. The chairs were mostly huge, carved arm-chairs, with cushions of faded needle-work, the only exception being a patent invalid-chair, lately used by the Countess, which stretched itself out in one dusky corner like some shapeless and huge antediluvian lizard. The fireplace, vast and cavernous, with a chimney-piece that towered to the ceiling, was filled with blazing logs; for the month was November, and the weather was chill, even for the season. At the extreme end of the room stood the bed, a large, old-fashioned structure, with curtains that matched the hangings on the walls. These were drawn aside, and the figure of the Countess could plainly be seen there, stretched out, stark and straight, as though life had already departed, and looking, with her white draperies and bandaged brows, like some monumental effigy on an ancient tomb. She still lived, however, if the faint pulsation at heart and wrist, and the feeble flutter of breath upon her lips, could really be called life. And but for one point about her pallid, wrinkled face, one might readily have supposed that she had passed already beyond the reach of mortal aid. That point was her eyes. Wide open, keen, and glittering, they were turned with a fixed and steady gaze, not forward or upward, but toward the vast dim-lighted room, seeming to seek a particular point in the flooring, and to watch that with unwavering fixity.

Around the wide fire-place were clustered a number of individuals, who talked together in subdued whispers, and only stirred with due precaution and noiseless movements. These were the blood-relations and heirs of the aged Countess, summoned, by her direction, some days before, and now gathered together in the chamber of death, awaiting the event which the doctor, himself also present, declared to them might take place at any moment.

Prominent among these persons was the Count de St. Yvon, an elderly gentleman, with gray hair and most polished manners. Then there was the Demoiselle de Savarre, a hard-featured old maid, with the bluest blood in all Brittany flowing in her withered veins; a devout Legitimist, who passed her time between saying her prayers and embroidering fleurs de-lit upon banners and mantles, to be used at the future consecration of Henri Cinq, when the glad day of the restoration of the ancient monarchy should dawn for France. Then there was the Chevalier de Keriodec, a little older and more wrinkled than his cousin, the Count; and his daughter, a peachy-cheeked demoiselle, Anne Marie Antoinette de Keriodec by name, to whom the eldest son of Count de St. Yvon was whispering soft nonsense in the embrasure of one of the windows. These were all, the Countess having announced her intention of excluding from the succession such of her relatives as should be tinged either with Bonapartism or Republicanism; and as one or the other of these poisonous principles had crept even into Brittany, that sacred stronghold of Legitimism, she had been forced to restrict her bequests to a very few individuals. There was also present, as we have said before, her physician, Doctor Dumaresq, and her confidential maid. This last, a long, thin, stern-looking female, with a face like a German nut-cracker, was fast asleep in the large arm-chair, worn out with protracted vigils and constant toil in her lady’s service.

The silence in the room was very great, broken only by the subdued whispers of the waiting heirs, and by an occasional snore from Agathe, the maid. Outside, the wind went tearing down the Rue de Varennes, banging aristocratic shutters, and whistling around ducal chimney-pots, with no more reverence than it had shown to the shop-signs in the Marais, or the vanes on the Halles Centrales. Occasionally Doctor Dumaresq would rise and go to the bed to lay a finger on the pulse of the patient, and would then, with a sigh and a shake of the head, return to his seat. And so the night went on. The wind howled, and Agathe slept, and the heirs whispered together, and the Countess lay and watched the floor. Thus the hours wore away without change or incident.

Suddenly the blast, that had been sweeping and shrieking along the street, took a sudden turn, and came careering down the great, wide chimney, sending a volley of sparks and smoke into the room. It could do but little more than that. The heavy logs, of which the fire was built, scoffed at the puny efforts of a puff of wind. One glowing coal, however, was dislodged, and flew into the room, alighting on the very plank on which the eyes of the Countess were so pertinaciously fixed. Nobody noticed the coal. The Count was lost in thought; the Chevalier and Mademoiselle de Savarre were conferring together respecting the possible amount of the estate, in an undertone; the two young people were absorbed in each other; and the doctor was half asleep. And so it glowed, and scorched, and sparkled, gnawing its way into the dry oak of the ancient flooring, surrounded by an ever-widening ring of red and charring fire.

Suddenly the dying Countess, she who had been paralyzed for years, arose from her bed, walked straight to the fire-place, picked up the tongs, took up the coal, and threw it back into the fire, and then returned to her bed. Stiff and stark, and stretched out straight as before, she lay, only the wide-open eyes were closed, and her face was, if possible, a shade paler than before.

This strange incident, this sudden revival of vitality in that seemingly lifeless frame, and the apparition in the midst of that listless group, of the white-shrouded, spectral form of the Countess, startled every one present. The heirs ceased musing or whispering, and gathered together, amazed and startled. The doctor, aroused from his doze, sprang to his feet. Only Agathe slept on in peaceful unconsciousness.

Doctor Dumaresq approached the bed, and once more laid his finger on the patient’s wrist. Then he touched her breast gently, and bent his ear to her parted lips. After a brief pause, he turned to the bystanders.

“Pray for the soul of your noble relative,” he said, solemnly. “The Countess is no more!”

The funeral took place two days later. It was a grand affair, with much display of nodding plumes and silver-spotted draperies, of mourning carriages, and of mighty candles, and of all the other accessories of funereal pomp, as imagined by the great Burial Company of Paris. It was a first-class affair in every respect. The cords of the hearse were held by two dukes, a marquis, and three counts, all of the bluest blood in the Faubourg St Germain. The funeral sermon was preached by a bishop, who was himself of princely extraction. Nobody shed any tears, it is true. The only sincere mourner that followed the widowed and childless Countess to her grave, was probably her faithful old servant, Agathe. And she, serene in the knowledge of a snug little annuity, secured to her by the will of her late mistress, was far from feeling wholly broken-hearted.

On the evening of the following day, a mysterious meeting was held in the bed-room of the departed lady. The heavy tapestry curtains were closely drawn across the windows, so that no intrusive outside gaze could penetrate the chamber wherein sat the three principal heirs of the deceased, the Count, the Chevalier, and Mademoiselle de Savarre, in solemn conclave. Three flickering candles threw a pallid light upon the group, and vainly strove to dissipate the darkness that filled the farthest corners of the spacious room.

The Count was the first to break silence.

“We have decided, I believe,” he said, “that it is our duty to examine that point in the flooring which our departed relative watched so constantly.”

“And whose peril roused her to such strange and sudden exertions,” added the Chevalier.

“Who knows what may not lie concealed beneath the scorched plank?” said Mademoiselle de Savarre.

“Family papers, political secrets,” suggested the Chevalier.

“Coin or jewels,” remarked the Count. “Aged people are often like magpies, in their propensity for hiding things.”

“Let us look at once!” cried the old maid, fired to activity by the suggestion.

Each had brought a chisel, or some other tool, and they set to work with a will. The solid oaken plank was soon removed, revealing a cavity between the floor and the beams of the ceiling beneath, large enough to have contained the crown-jewels of an empire, or the archives of a republic. Within there appeared something, neither papers, nor jewels, nor gold, but a long, irregularly-shaped bundle, that rattled strangely when dragged forth to the light. A cry of horror broke from the lips of the three searchers, as the dim rays of their candles fell upon the thing that they had found—a human skeleton, clothed in remnants of what had once been superfine broadcloth and delicate linen; a jeweled pin, gleaming on the discolored shirt-front; a massive seal-ring, hanging loose upon the long hand, and great stains and streaks of rusty-brown upon the linen, which was revealed by the rents in the decaying cloth, splotches; that had once been of a ghastly red.

As if turned to stone, the three seekers after wealth stood speechless, in the presence of Death and Crime.

The Chevalier was the first to recover his presence of mind.

“It is the Count de Castro!” he said, in a horror-stricken whisper. “See, these are his arms!” And he picked up the seal-ring, which had dropped from the fleshless finger and rolled upon the floor.

“And who could have killed him? It must have been the Countess!” cried Mademoiselle de Savarre, trembling from head to foot.

“Hush—sh—sh!” whispered the Count, looking fearfully around. “No doubt it was she.”

“We had better hush this matter up,” remarked the Chevalier, with chattering teeth. And it was hushed up, accordingly. A roaring fire in the mighty chimney soon consumed every vestige of the poor, dried remains of what had once been the gay and gallant Count de Castro.

And when, a few years later, a grand new street was run right over the site of the demolished hotel, the few who remembered anything at all about the deceased Countess, spoke of her with bated breath, and called her “a saint upon earth.”

The Peterson Magazine, 1876: pp. 395-8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A dark and gothic tale, is it not? While Mrs Daffodil enjoys the odd spot of fiction but rarely, she reads such narratives as the above with a professionally critical eye. Poisoned wine was the obvious solution to the Countess’s wayward husband, yet a more bloody method was selected, perhaps in the heat of the moment. One understands the reluctance to involve others in a private domestic murder, but to leave the corpse under the floor-boards for future discovery argues a carelessness quite out of keeping with that lady’s prudent character.

Surely she and Agathe, whose annuity must have been the result of her discretion, could have managed to do what the Count, the Chevalier, and Mademoiselle de Savarre did: cremate the mummified Count de Castro in the immense fireplace. But perhaps paralysis overtook her before this could be done or it was a case such as we have seen at the courts of Versailles and of Spain, where certain members of the nobility feel that certain tasks are beneath them. Mrs Daffodil seems to remember a King of Spain who died because no person of lowly-enough rank could be found to move a red-hot brazier. Perhaps the Countess did not deign to soil her blue-blooded fingers with the dishonourable corpse of a—one shudders to think of it—Bonapartist.

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.

 

The Warning Ghost: 1795

18th-century-couple-and-man-with-knife

THE WARNING GHOST.

Its Timely Appearance Prevented a Dastardly Crime.

A German count, who had served with distinction many years in the Prussian army, found himself, after the treaty of Basel [1795], about to leave the service, not only from his own inclination, but also because called to the management of a large estate, fallen to him through his mother’s early death, but according to her will held during his minority by his father, with whom it was to remain in case the son died first without children.

As a child he had but seldom seen his father, and since his mother’s death, never without aversion, and could all the less love the man, ever unfriendly to him and cruel to his mother, when all the glow of his heart was turned to one whom he, with unceasing pain, had seen at last succumb a victim of many years’ suffering.

After passing some merry weeks among his comrades, and half promising not to leave the regiment forever, he departed, accompanied by a thousand good wishes from his friends who reluctantly saw him go, and went straight to an old castle that belonged to him to make with his father, who dwelt there, the necessary arrangements for the impending change. Reluctantly he approached the parental abode, and a presentiment almost persuaded him to turn back, but from conviction of the necessity for one conference he continued his journey.

The father had married again, and with the second wife had other children. The son, whose remembrance of a beloved mother made him feel ill at the bare idea of a stepmother, was made the more unhappy by knowing how, even in his mother’s lifetime, she stood in relations with his father which had caused the dead much grief. However, the few days he intended to stay there once over and the business done, there opened before him the smiling prospect of a life of independence, which he meant to devote to the improvement of his wide estate. Filled with these thoughts, and more cheerful the nearer he came to his property, already recognizing forests on the side and green mountains in the background as his own, he lost by degrees that unpleasant feeling which had till now accompanied him, and wholly abandoned himself to the happiness of standing on the threshold of a new course of existence.

“Indeed he is to be congratulated who turns his mind to the cultivation of the earth, and brings to it art and knowledge. Nature is grateful toward those devoted to her, and only with the shallow brains who embrace her without ardor can she, in rain and drought, and failure of crops, seem to be angry. The true farmer, who knows how to profit by her manifold gifts, she will never destroy.”

Amid such contemplations he arrived at nightfall at the castle, and could not repress a shudder upon entering. His father, to whom he had written announcing his coming, was absent, but was hourly expected. In the meantime the newcomer visited the garden and the adjoining field, because he did not wish to see his step-mother yet. Later, long after dark, they announced to him his father’s return. He went in, and found a chilly reception. After supper they wished each other “goodnight,” and separated. A servant of the house lighted him to his room, where, wearied by the journey and disagreeable fancies excited by the sight of such strange yet near relatives, he soon found uneasy sleep.

About one o’clock he awoke from deep dreams. A little dog which was very dear to him. and had accompanied him on this journey, sprang anxiously to the bed, and with complaining whimper seemed to want to show his master something. He raised himself, and after he had taken the dog on the bed and caressed him without his ceasing to cringe with fear and softly whine, he gave him closer attention, and observed by the moonlight that the dog’s eyes remained always directed toward one corner of the room. He looked there to learn what could frighten the dog, and his blood ran cold and his hair bristled, when he saw a mist-like figure that resembled his dead mother in every line, and, crouching in the corner, seemed sinking with trouble and fear. She looked sadly at him, and then with audible groans toward the door, while she lifted her arms in lamentation and warning. The count was beside himself, and unable to speak to the phantom; his breath seemed to fail him. Outside he heard heavy steps go up and down, then stop close beside his door, as if someone doubted whether to come in or not.

This lasted by turns a long while, and still more perplexed his stupefied senses. It was impossible for him to scream or move a hand. By and by he sought again to collect himself, and as he again looked in the corner the apparition was no more to be seen, but the walking up and down outside, and the doubtful pauses before the door, went on all the plainer. Then he suddenly took courage, sprang up, seized his sword, and tore open the door, with the words:

“What do you want?”

He could see nothing in the dark vestibule, but he heard something fall near him, and some one flying down the stairs. Looking about, he picked up a large knife, which he kept, and went back to his room, where he watched through the rest of the night, with a thousand torturing thoughts. In the morning, when the servant came with breakfast, the count asked him what had been the disturbance in the house that night.

“So it awakened you, too,” answered the old huntsman. “I thought there were thieves, and would have given an alarm; but when I saw it was the gracious master who went about the house, probably because he could not sleep, I stayed quietly in bed and went to sleep again.”

When the huntsman had gone the count drew the knife from its sheath and found his father’s name on it. An icy chill ran over him. He at once ordered horses. The dog had sprung out when the door was first opened, and could not be brought back by caresses or threats. Just as the carriage came he returned to his master. The count traveled away without speaking to any one, and in melancholy turned back to the city. The fearful thought that his father would have murdered him, and the ghost of his mother appeared to waken and to warn, pursued him incessantly with terrible pain. A riddle to his friends, since he could disclose the horrible affair to no one, his dark meditations not to be dispersed, he had to be given in charge of a skilled physician, who could not learn from him the cause of his sullen behavior.

He died in deep melancholy a few months later, after hearing of his father’s sudden death and his mismanagement of the property. Among his papers this story was found, written down with the same particulars as told here. — Translated for the Argonaut from the German of Barnhagen von Ense.

The Argonaut 13 February 1915

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This tale illustrates perfectly what Mrs Daffodil always says, viz., that the Germans really have no talent for ghost stories. If this had been a good, wholesome English ghost story, the young count would not have died at the end, but would have struggled in the dark with his nefarious father and cut his throat. Upon turning up the light, he would discover that not only was his father dead, but the “ghost” was his mother, held captive while her death was simulated and the count’s inheritance falsely reported to lure him within reach of his dastardly parent. The story ends as the count tenderly enfolds his mother while blood from the unpleasant incident soaks into the floor, leaving a stain which can never be eradicated.

And that, Herr Barnhagen von Ense* (where do they get these names?) if you will be guided by Mrs Daffodil, is how a proper ghost story ends.

Mrs Daffodil will pass over in silence the florid paragraph about ardour, knowledge, and the gratitude of Mother Nature. She would like to see Herr von Ense spout that sort of rubbish to any sturdy yeoman farmer after his crops have been destroyed by a hail-storm.

*Mrs Daffodil is informed that the correct spelling of the author’s name is Karl August Varnhagen von Ense. The Argonaut did not scruple about “borrowing” foreign authors’ work and Mrs Daffodil suspects that they were often late with royalty cheques.

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.

 

The Black Cat Elemental: 1870s

black-cat-trademark

CARNE HOUSE, NEAR

NORTHAMPTON

THE MAN IN THE FLOWERY DRESSING-GOWN AND THE BLACK CAT

Technical form of apparitions: Phantoms of the dead and possibly animal Elemental.

Cause of haunting: Murder

Source of authenticity: First-hand evidence

The word ghost is very elastic, it may be used in reference to many different types of spirits, and is, in fact, only the designation for that genus of which the departed soul of man is but a species.

Now Northamptonshire is very rich in species; species of all kinds; spirits of men, of beasts, of vegetables! and species of elementals — elemental being in itself, a genus which includes many various types, too numerous indeed, for any attempt at classification in this work.

It is no uncommon thing to meet with some locality (usually barren) or village (generally on the site of barrows or Druidical remains as, for example, Guilsborough) where the nature of the hauntings is dual; a complexity that is, fortunately, of rarer occurrence in houses.

Concerning the latter, Lee mentions one instance, i.e “The Gybe Farm,” in his book, ” More Glimpses of the Unseen World” whilst I will take this opportunity to quote another case of dual haunting, i.e., Carne House, which is situated at the utmost extremity of a village to the south-east of Northampton.

My informant, Mrs. Norton, frequently resided in the house in her childhood and youth, and it was from her lips that I heard the following story which I recollect only too well.

*****

My first impression of Carne House was one of extreme aversion; I can see it now as I saw it then — vast, sleek, and white, like some monstrous toad-stool, or slimy fungus.

Bathed in the moonlight — for we did not arrive till late — it confronted us with audacious nudity; not a plant or shrub being trained to hide its naked sides. There was something unspeakably loathsome in the boldness of its carriage — something that made me glance with fear at its wide and gaping windows and glance again as I crossed the threshold into the dark and lofty hall.

The passages of the house, both in number and sinuosity, resembled a maze ; they recalled to my youthful mind the story of Daedalus, and I half expected to see the figure of the Minotaur suddenly arise from some gloomy corner and pursue me through the labyrinth.

Nor were my fears entirely groundless, for I had hardly been in the place a month before I had a very unpleasant experience. Chancing one morning to go on an errand for my mother to a room that had in all probability once served as a laundry, but which was now restricted to lumber, I was startled at hearing something move either in or on the copper. Thinking it must be some stray animal, or, may be, a rat, I threaded my way through a sea of packing cases, and standing on tip-toe, peeped very cautiously into the copper.

To my intense surprise I found myself looking into a very deep and sepulchral well, at the bottom of which was a man. I could see him distinctly, owing to a queer kind of light that seemed to emanate from every part of his body. He was draped in a phantastic costume that might have been a kimono or one of those flowery dressing-gowns worn by our great-great-grandfathers. [a banyan] He was bending over a box which he was doing his best to conceal under a pile of debris, and it was undoubtedly this noise that had attracted me.

Too intent on his work, he was apparently unaware of my close proximity, until, satisfied that the box was well hidden, he straightened his back and looked up. His face frightened me; not that it was anything out of the normal either in feature or complexion, but it was the expression — the look of evil joy that sufTused every lineament before he saw me, changing to one of the most diabolical fury as our eyes met. I was at first too transfixed with terror to do more than stare, and it was only when, crouching down, he took a sudden and deliberate spring at the wall and began to climb it like a spider, that I regained possession of my limbs, and turning round, fled for my life.

Oh! how long that room seemed and what an interminable succession of furniture now appeared to barricade the way. Every yard was a mile, every instant I expected he would clutch me. I reached the door only just in time — happily for me it was open — I darted out, and as I did so the outlines of a hand — large and ill-shapen–shot fruitlessly past me. The next moment I was in the kitchen — the servants were there — I was saved — saved from a fate that would assuredly have sent me mad.

When I related what had happened, to my mother, she laughingly informed me I must have been dreaming, that there was NO well there, nor was there any man in the house save my father and the servants; yet I fancied I could detect beneath those smiling assurances a faint and scarcely perceptible horror — and she never let me visit that room again — alone!

But was I dreaming — was there no well, and had that man been but the fancy of  a childish and distorted brain? Sometimes I answered “Yes,” and sometimes “No.”

After this little incident, a manifest, though of necessity, subtle change took place in our household; the servants became infected with a general spirit of uneasiness, which although only shown in my presence by their looks, convinced and alarmed me far more than any fears, even the most terrible, would have done had they been outspoken. I was positive they lived in daily anticipation of something very dreadful — something that lay concealed in those dark and tortuous corridors or in that grim and ghostly room.

My dreams at night were horrible, nor did I again feel that in this respect I was singular as I overheard some one remark that no one ever passed the night without awakening with a sudden and inexplicable start. I say inexplicable — would that it had always remained so!

It was August when my next definite adventure occurred….Well, I slept in a room at the end of a corridor, my nearest neighbour. Miss Dovecot our governess, occupying a chamber some dozen yards away. I do not think I need describe any article of furniture the room contained; every piece was strictly modern, and had been brought with us from a newly furnished house in Sevenoaks. The fireplace and cupboard are, however, deserving of comment; the former was one of those old-fashioned ingles Burns delights in describing, and which are now so seldom to be seen; an inn at Dundry, near Bristol, containing, I believe, the finest specimen in the kingdom; whilst the latter, which I always kept securely locked at night, was of such far-reaching dimensions that it might well be termed in modern phraseology a linen room.

On the night in question, I had gone to bed at my usual time — eight — and I had speedily fallen to sleep, as I was in the habit of doing; but my slumber was by no means normal. I was tortured with a series of disturbing dreams, from which I awoke with a start to hear some clock outside sonorously strike twelve. As an additional proof of my wakefulness, I might add (pardon my explicitness) I was sensibly affected by a constant irritation of the skin, due, I believe, to a disordered state of the liver, which in itself was a sufficient preventive to further sleep. It must have been half-past twelve when I heard, to my intense horror, the cupboard door — which I distinctly recollect locking — slowly, very slowly, open.

My first impulse was to make a precipitate rush for the door, but, alas! I soon became aware that I was powerless to act; a kind of catalepsy, coming on suddenly, held my body as in a vice, whilst my senses, on the other hand, had grown abnormally acute. In this odious condition I was now compelled to listen to the Thing — whatever it might be — slowly crossing the floor in the direction of my bed.

The climax at length came, and my cup of horrors overflowed, when, with an abruptness that was quite unexpected (in spite of the direst apprehension), the Thing leaped on the bed, and I discovered it to be an enormous CAT.

I can unhesitatingly add the epithet — black — for the room, which a moment before was shrouded in darkness, had now become a blaze of light, enabling me to perceive the colour as well as the outline with the most unpleasant perspicuity. It was not only in intensity of colour (the blackest ebony could not have been blacker) that the cat was abnormal, but in every other respect; its dimensions were not far removed from those of a large bull-dog, and its expression — the eyes and mouth of the beast were more than bestial — was truly Satanic. Stalking over my legs, its tail almost perpendicular and swaying slightly like the nodding plumes of a hearse, it squatted down between the bedposts opposite, transfixing me with a stare full of malevolent meaning.

I was so fully occupied in watching it and trying to solve the enigma I saw so plainly written in its every gesture, that I did not realise I had other visitors, till a sudden uncertain twitching in the light made me look round. I then perceived with a start a fire was burning in the grate. A fire, and in August — how incongruous! I shivered. But it was no delusion; the flames soared aloft, adopting a hundred fantastic yet natural shapes; the coals burned hollow, and in their crimson and innermost recesses I read the future. But not for long. My cogitations were unceremoniously interrupted by the appearance of the man-in-the-well, whom I was startled to perceive seated in the chimney-corner in the most nonchalant attitude possible — nursing a baby!

Anomalous and mirth-provoking as is such a sight in the usual way, the existing circumstances were grim enough to excite my horror and raise anew my worst forebodings. Supposing he saw me now? There was no escape! I was entirely at his mercy. What would he do?

I glanced from him to the cat, and from the cat back again to him. Of my two enemies, which was most to be feared? The slightest movement on my part would inevitably arouse them both, and bring about my immediate destruction. The situation did not even warrant my breathing.

The minutes sped by with the most tantalising slowness. The clock struck one, and neither of my visitors had budged an inch — the man in the flowery dressing-gown still nursing the baby, and the black cat still staring at me. Mine was indeed a most unenviable position, and I was despairing of its ever being otherwise, when a sudden transmutation in the man sent a flow of icy blood to my heart. He no longer regarded his burden indifferently — he scowled at it.

The scowl deepened, the utmost fury pervaded his features, converting them into those of a demon. He got up, gnashed his teeth, stamped on the ground, and lifting up the child, dropped it head first into the fire. I saw it fall. I heard it burn! The hideous cruelty of the man, the abruptness of his action, proved my undoing. Oblivious of personal danger, I shrieked.

The effect was electrical. Dropping the poker, with which he had been holding down the baby, the inhuman monster swung round and saw me. The expression in his face at once became hellish, absolutely hellish.

My only chance of salvation now lay in making the greatest noise possible, and I had commenced to shout for help lustily, when at a signal from the man, the enormous black cat crouched and sprang.

What followed I cannot exactly remember, I have dim recollections of feeling a heavy thud and of some one or some thing trying to tear away the clothes from my head, after which there came a very complete blank, and when I recovered consciousness, the anxious countenances of my parents and governess were bending over me.

The next night I slept with my sister.

My health had been so impaired by these encounters, that my parents decided to move elsewhere; the furniture was once again packed, and within a month of the above incident we had taken up our abode in Clifton, Bristol.

The history of the hauntings was subsequently revealed to me by the owner of the house. It had once been inhabited by a man of the name of Darby, who seems to have been a sort of wholesale butcher. His elder brother dying, the family estate passed to the latter’s eldest son, a child of two, and Darby determining to succeed to the property, invited the widow to stay with him. She did so — she was a weakly creature — and he got rid of her by puttingher to sleep in a damp bed. The children were next disposed of, the younger by being burnt (as I had witnessed) and the elder, aged two, by being smothered to death by a black cat. Darby is said to have deliberately made the cat sit upon the infant’s mouth as it lay asleep. But these rapid deaths, as might have been expected, aroused suspicions. The nurse, who had been an unwilling party to the burning of the baby, turned King’s Evidence, and a warrant for his arrest was issued. As is often the case, however, the officers of the law were a bit too late. When they arrived at the house, the quarry had flown, nor could his whereabouts be discovered for many years; not, indeed, till fifty years after the crimes, when his skeleton was found at the bottom of a disused well he had himself sunk in one of the back kitchens. Under the skeleton lay an iron box containing many valuables, rings, &c., which he had been doubtless striving to hide when death in some unaccountable form or another overtook him. What became of the cat, history does not say.

The place had always borne a reputation for being haunted — it was on that account my parents had got it at so low a rental — and the ghosts seen there (undoubtedly those of Darby and his cat) corresponded in every detail with the phenomena that had so terrified me.

I am aware that many deny the existence of souls in animals — let them do so — but do not let them be too dogmatical, for where Life ends all is mystery.

Still there is an alternative theory to account for the appearance of animal phantoms, which is, I think, quite within the realms of possibility: the black cat I saw, if not the spirit of the one made such hideous use of by the old man, was undoubtedly an elemental — a spirit representative of a popular crime, a vice — Darby’s evil genius — that ever hovered at his heels in his lifetime and is more loth than ever to leave him now that his physical body is dead and his soul earthbound.

Some Haunted Houses of England & Wales, Elliott O’Donnell, 1908

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A few days ago it was “Black Cat Day” in England. To-day it is, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed, “National Cat Day,” in the States, a time to appreciate Our Feline Friends.  Mrs Daffodil has the highest professional regard for the species—the cats at the Hall perform their ratting and mousing duties with admirable zeal—and Mrs Daffodil has ordered an extra ration of cat-nip and kippers in honour of the occasion. However, in this post, with its proximity to Hallowe’en, she has judged it best to highlight the dark qualities of the species, so often linked with witchery and skull-duggery.  If her readers would prefer more kindly kittens, she will direct them to The Brighton Cats, Feline Entertainments, The Ghostly White Cat, and A Funeral for a Theatrical Cat—black cats are traditionally lucky in theatrical circles.

If you wish for thrilling narratives of sinister black cats, see The Black Cat Horror and Murder by Cat.

While he was an unmistakably talented writer of Horrors, Mr O’Donnell was well-known for his fancies and his purple prose (one rather doubts that Mrs Norton really said that the house was “unspeakably loathsome” or compared it to a monstrous toad-stool.) as well as his obsession with “Elementals”—non-human and sometimes monstrous spirits—all of whom were disease-spotted, odouriferous, beast-headed, or otherwise  “unspeakably loathsome.”

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.

 

Aunt Barbara’s Ghost Story: 1870s

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AUNT BARBARA’S GHOST STORY

By Gerda M. Calmady-Hamlyn

MASSINGTON Rectory, near B—–, in Devonshire, was occupied at the time of which I speak by my uncle, the Rev. James Shepheard—”Uncle Jamie,” as we his younger relatives, to whom he was devoted, always called him. And I, Barbara Sinclair, being, I believe, a special favourite, frequently stayed with him there for weeks upon end, acting more or less as his housekeeper and as hostess to his guests. Uncle Jamie loved to see young and lively people about the place, and he allowed me to ask any friend I chose to keep me company, in case life in the country should seem dull.

Now there was one fact about the big rambling comfortable old house (kept in apple-pie order as it was, too, by some excellent elderly servants who had served their bachelor master for more years than he or they could count) that invariably puzzled and made me very curious; namely, that what was known as the “east wing” of the house, containing larger and better furnished bedrooms than any other part, was never by any chance used when we had guests. They always slept in the smaller, low-ceiled, narrow-gabled apartments in the centre or west wing.

Many and many a time have I entreated Mary, our trusty middle-aged housemaid (who knew all the “ins and outs “of the place) to enlighten me upon the matter. But she always shook her head and changed the conversation—never vouchsafed me any direct explanation or reply. Yet there was one lovely big bedroom, full of real antique rosewood furniture—draped in quaint patterned delicate chintz, and with such a view over the lake from its wide windows—that I often longed to see in constant use. My uncle knew of no story connected with the house, and neither he nor I believed in such nonsense as ghosts or “hauntings.” So we ascribed Mary’s obstinate determination to prevent anybody spending a night in the east wing to some silly superstition or fad on her part—founded, perhaps, on tales she had heard in the village!

In the November of 187—(a stormy, rain-swept, dismal month I remember it was, too!) I received a letter from two very great friends of mine—Hester and Connie Brackenford— who had lived abroad for some years with their parents, and now wrote to say they were returning to England, and of course I wrote and begged them both to come and stay with me at Massington. They accepted, and I then went off for a last decisive battle with obstinate old Mary. I would stand no more of her nonsense! My friends, being sisters, should occupy together the large sunny “ chintz ” bedroom in the east wing, which should be made even brighter and more attractive than it already was by the addition of flowers, books, and a cosy fire burning in the wide old-fashioned fireplace directly opposite the bed. I would brook no contradiction; possibly too Mary herself was tired of arguing the question by this time. “Very well, Miss,” she answered in an acid voice, and a mysterious expression, half-fearful, half-triumphant, flitted, across her withered sharp-featured face; while I swept back to the drawing-room elated at what seemed to me a very easy victory!

Just before five o’clock (when my guests were almost due) I thought I would run up to the east wing for a final inspection to see that everything was in perfect order for them. Up the wide front staircase I sped, along a narrow gallery, and under an alcove that led to a second and wider gallery, with yet another stairway beyond, and as I entered this hitherto unused part of the Rectory, I saw to my surprise (for the appearance was a very sudden and unexpected one) a tall female figure (very much it seemed to me, the height and build of our housemaid Mary) hurrying along in the direction of the further staircase and a few hundred yards ahead of me.

“Mary, is that you?” I called. But the figure made no answer.

“Mary, do come here; I want to speak to you.” But it never turned its head or uttered a word.

“Mary is still sulky, I suppose, because I insist on using the chintz room for our visitors! ” I said to myself, as I turned away and ran downstairs to the front hall, where at the end of the first flight I again came face to face with the recalcitrant and most-mysterious Mary, appearing now in quite a different direction, through a doorway leading from the kitchens in the centre of the house carrying two cans of hot water in her hands and some clean towels over one arm.

“Why, Mary,” I exclaimed, “I saw you only a few minutes ago in the east wing, and called to you. You were hurrying along the further passage and refused either to hear or to answer me!”

“You never spoke to me, Miss,” she replied with her sardonic little smile. “I haven’t been in the east wing at all this afternoon. I’ve been helping cook bake cakes in the kitchen, as it’s Elizabeth’s afternoon out, and I’m going upstairs now, for the first time since luncheon, with hot water for the young ladies’ room.”

I felt certain that Mary was telling me an untruth, and for some quite unknown and unusual reason. But I could not stay to argue with her; for, at that very moment, a carriage drove up to the door and Connie and Hester stepped out of it.

I must pass over our first memorable evening together; spent in laughing, chatting, playing chess for a short time with genial Uncle Jamie, making plans for the future, and listening to my friends’ adventures while abroad; till, soon after ten o’clock, Connie, the delicate sister, complained that she was tired. And I (bidding them “on no account to hurry” in the morning) escorted my guests to their quarters in the cosy spacious luxuriousness of the east wing, afterwards returning to my own small rooms on the other side of the house.

Next morning I was down betimes. Uncle Jamie appeared, read prayers, had his breakfast, and was off to a round of work in the parish. Still, no Connie or Hester appeared; and I told Mary to sound the gong again. It was half-past nine, and I was feeling a trifle vexed and worried!—when the dining room door at last stealthily opened, and the elder of the two sisters—Hester—stole nervously into the room, looking so white and weary and distraught—”exactly as though she had seen a ghost!” I said to myself.

She scarcely returned my morning greeting. “Connie will be down presently; she isn’t feeling very well this morning,” was all she said, as she slipped into her place at the breakfast-table, and began fumbling at her letters. “Oh, and by the way, Barbara” (she paused, and it seemed as though she dared not look me in the face), “I’m afraid we must leave you today, we ought never to have come. Aunt Maria wants us to go to her! ”

And then Hester’s gentle voice faltered; her blue eyes filled with tears. I knew that she was telling me a lie—and for some reason so strange and inexplicable that I could not pretend to fathom it.

“Leave me to-day? you must be mad! Hester? ” I exclaimed. “What is the matter, dear? aren’t Connie and you happy here? Of course, I know you are going to your Aunt Maria’s, but not for three weeks or more. You promised to pay me a nice long visit first. I can’t understand this sudden alteration.”

The poor child burst into a flood of wild hysterical weeping. It seemed as though her nerves had sustained some fearful shock. “Barbara, we daren’t—we simply could not pass another night in that dreadful, dreadful room! We should go raving mad if we did. You don’t know what we have seen, what we have suffered. As it is, poor Connie has lain unconscious half the night through, and is only just now coming round—–!” The rest of her sentence was lost in a burst of wild tumultuous sobbing.

“Connie unconscious, what can it all mean?” I exclaimed. “Let me go to her at once!” And in five seconds I was out of the room and in my uncle’s little parish surgery, hunting for brandy and other restoratives. Then, up the wide front- staircase, with Hester at my heels, under the alcove and along the passage leading to the east wing, we found poor Connie lying on a sofa, still half unconscious and moaning pitifully.

“Don’t let her come near me—don’t, don’t,” she muttered, waving away with trembling nervous hands some malign presence that she appeared to believe was threatening her.

It was not from her, but from Hester sometime after both girls had left me, that I learnt all they had endured that fatal night. I use the word “fatal” advisedly, though at the time I saw no connection between their terribly sudden deaths and the vigil I had unwittingly forced upon them. Both my poor friends died within the ensuing year. Connie was on her way to India to be married; the ship she sailed in was wrecked; and, though most of the crew and passengers ultimately got safe to land, she, alas, was not among the number! Hester was out riding in the following September, when her pony suddenly shied and threw her. It is supposed she struck her head against a hidden rock or tree trunk, for she was picked up unconscious, and died within a few hours.

The following is Hester’s account of her own and her sister’s experience:—

“We were lying very cosily and comfortably in bed, about an hour after you, Barbara, had left us—not actually asleep, you know, but more than a trifle drowsy—watching the flicker of the firelight on the walls and the shadows that it threw into dark distant comers, when, suddenly and very, very slowly, our door began to open inch by inch (although we never saw the handle move, and Connie felt certain she had turned the key in the lock before getting into bed), and a tall gaunt grey-clad figure, in shape like a woman, slithered across the floor with a swift and subtle motion that fairly made one’s flesh creep, while we lay trembling with horror (wondering furiously, wildly, who our midnight visitor could be), pulled aside the curtains that hung round our bed, and stood there looking down upon us with oh! such dreadful eyes! Barbara, as long as I live I shall never forget them! They were the eyes of a fiend, of an unimaginably wicked malignant soul, set in a spectral uncanny face. For just a few brief seconds as far as I can tell (but they really seemed years to me!) she stood there glaring down upon us, as though she would willingly seize us both and carry us away into hell. Then she turned and glided out of the room as silently as she had entered.

“Connie, poor child, at first sight of the terrible apparition gave one mad scream of terror that I thought must have aroused the entire house—then she fainted dead away, and I could do nothing to rouse her. When I tried to set foot in the long dark passage down which that baleful shadow had already passed, something seemed to paralyse my every movement, turning my heart’s blood to ice. Nobody answered my feeble cries for help, and I did not know in what direction your own room might be; so, shivering with fear and with Connie in a half-dead state in the bed beside me, I lay and waited for the morning.”

At the time (continued Aunt Barbara) I did not believe a single word of my friend’s story, and Fate decreed I was never to see her again. Not for some years, and till after Uncle James’ death, did I piece together the sinister legend that hung around Massington Rectory. Incumbent after incumbent was appointed to the living, and each in turn speedily made some excuse for leaving it again. One said the house was unhealthily situated and affected his health; another pleaded his family was too large and his income too small for the upkeep of such an expensive house and gardens. The Bishop alternately persuaded and expostulated, but all to no avail! there was talk of building a new rectory, only no funds were available. At length it passed to a distant connection of my own, with a well-off wife, iron nerves, and a love of “digging and delving” into old bygone legends, village tales, and genealogies. He it was who told me the story, bit by bit, as he could make it out.

About one hundred years previous to the incidents narrated in this story, the living had been held by an exceedingly wicked Rector, whose scandalously evil and immoral life made him a veritable “disgrace to his cloth” and notorious for miles round. He had married (and solely for her money) a wife who was several years his senior—a wealthy Scotch woman— and the ill-assorted pair led a “cat-and-dog” life, further complicated by the presence at the Rectory of a pretty and brazen young maid-servant, about whose relations with the Rector the ugliest rumours spread abroad. Quite suddenly the unhappy lady—mistress of the house—disappeared, and was never seen or heard of again! She had gone to pay a visit to her relations in Scotland, so her shameless husband explained and affirmed. Tongues were wagged, and heads shaken over the mysterious occurrence, but nothing was ever found out. Perhaps she had separated from him of her own free will, the misery and degradation of her marriage being common talk. Who could tell? And there were very few police in country districts, no telegrams, and hardly any newspapers in those long ago days. Later on, the wicked Rector himself died; and his companion in sin, the maid, took herself away from the parish. Then, little by little, there was built up a tale of the Rectory being inexplicably haunted by a tall gaunt woman with a terrible sinister glare in her eyes, who glided along passages and into certain bedrooms of the house. And (herein was the crux of the story) whoever she encountered, and looked full in the face, died within the year!

I myself never went back to the place till long after I was married. Then I stayed with the distant relatives aforesaid, and was very ill while there. Coming to my senses after several days’ unconsciousness, I found that the nurse in attendance had had me moved away from my cosy former quarters on the west side of the house to the “haunted bedroom ” (of all places) in that dire east wing! She declared it was more airy and pleasant for a patient; all my expostulations and entreaties to be moved back again to the west wing proved worse than useless. My agonized pleadings were treated solely as the ravings of a brain weakened by long illness. And for three long weeks I lay, trembling and helpless, fearful through each hour of the day and night lest I should glance up and see my door slowly and mysteriously slide open; that terrible ghostly female figure appear! and I receive my death sentence in the glare of those evil eyes! But still, to my relief she did not come. Till one dull grey Sunday afternoon when I was almost convalescent, that which I had prayed to be delivered from really seemed about to happen to me.

Nurse was seated by the window reading or writing letters; myself lying peacefully and happily in bed, thankful that the worst of my illness was over and I soon to be about again, when my very blood froze in my veins, as I saw my door-handle begin to turn; my door to slide ajar, thrust open by a spectral hand, a woman’s grey-clad dreadful figure enter and move swiftly towards the bed! But (thanks be to Heaven!) she did not draw the curtains or attempt to look at me.

She just sat down by the bed-side, in the chair that Nurse habitually used; I screamed loud enough to bring the household flocking to my couch; Nurse rushed to see what was amiss with me; but the figure disappeared from view without her noticing it. I was ill with brain-fever for a good many weeks afterwards, and neither doctors nor nurses were ever able to explain the cause of my relapse.

In due time my cousin chose to make some alterations in the Rectory, and even in the dire east wing itself; and in pulling down one of the walls of that very same “chintz ” room wherein I and my two poor friends had gone through such a vigil of fear and suffering, the workmen came across an opening in the wall covered with lath and plaster; and inside that a little winding stairway, leading to an apparently unguessed-at chamber, a large attic high up under the roof. The door of this room was likewise blocked, and must have been so for many, many years judging by the dust heaped around and the cobwebs across it. Bursting it open, nothing appeared but in one far comer a rope, old and frayed, hanging from the ceiling, and beneath it a heap of tattered rags and some decaying bones and a skull. The doctor who afterwards examined the remains declared them to be those of a female; but whether of the wicked Rector’s ill-used, and probably murdered wife, I am not prepared to say!

[Though the names given in this story are fictitious, I have received the fullest details from the people concerned. The ghost was seen many times by different people, and the narrative may be regarded as absolutely authentic. The rectory was subsequently burnt down under circumstances of a mysterious kind, and a factory was built on the site.—Ed.]

The Occult Review July 1916: p. 31-37

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil hopes that her modern readers will not find the discursiveness of the nineteenth-century ghost story too tiresome. They often occur in a country rectory (which raises a great many questions about the clergymen of the Church of England) and always end so satisfyingly, with mysterious bones found in sealed-up rooms; a technique Mrs Daffodil has always wanted to try.

Mrs Daffodil thinks it was very unkind of the narrator to “not believe a single word” of her unhappy friend’s story. Even if one put the horrifying vision down to hallucination induced by fatigue or doing oneself too well with cakes at tea, the young ladies’ terror was real and required sympathy and a stiff brandy.

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.

 

The Lost Story of the William and Mary: A Guest Post by Gill Hoffs

william-and-mary-shipwreck-gill-hoffs

Mrs Daffodil is pleased to welcome author Gill Hoffs, whose new book The Lost Story of the William and Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson, has just been released.

Mrs. Daffodil is a creature of the land and shudders at the horrors of shipwreck. Yet, what we see in these excerpts are snap-shots of life on an emigrant ship, the alien impression the survivors made in England, and descriptions of Frisian emigrant clothing. Even in the wake of this maritime tragedy, we catch glimpses of fashion and adornment.

The following is excerpted from “The Lost Story of the William and Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson” (Pen & Sword, 2016, all rights reserved, available from http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Lost-Story-of-the-William-and-Mary-Hardback/p/12290).

When reading about Victorian maritime disasters in old newspapers while conducting research for my book The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’ (Pen & Sword, 2014, 2015 http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Sinking-of-RMS-Tayleur-Paperback/p/10677), one shipwreck stood out as particularly odd among the thousands reported. The William and Mary was an ordinary vessel with a common name, which set sail from Liverpool in early 1853 without any sort of fanfare or special treatment. Nothing distinguished the parties of Irish, Scottish, English, Dutch and German emigrants on board, nor the captain and crew, from any of the thousands of others leaving port that month. But within a few months the William and Mary would provoke outrage in newspapers around the world.

The accounts I read at first bemoaned the loss of over 200 passengers and a handful of crew, hoped for the salvation of a group who might have made it onto a raft as the ship went down before the captain’s eyes in the shark-infested waters of the Bahamas and hinted at their dissatisfaction with the captain and crew’s ‘hurry to yield to the instinct [of self-preservation]’ (Freeman’s Journal, 31 May 1853). Then, according to articles published just a few weeks later, the truth came out – or, at least, a version of it.

* * *

The author first introduces us to the hygienic challenges faced by emigrants.

This was the age of the crinoline and women and girls wore voluminous skirts and – if they had them – giant bloomer underpants that went past their knees. Poorer women stiffened their multiple petticoats with rings of horsehair or rolled newspaper and stored precious items, such as money and important papers, in their corsets and stays while still aspiring to the impractical wasp-waisted ideal. Outfits were constricting, heavy, not easily changed in such cramped quarters and even less easily cleaned despite this being extremely desirable given the numerous vomit and food stains that would quickly accumulate on the many layers of fabric. Depending on the state of the lodging houses where the emigrants had previously slept and the state of the straw that made up their ‘donkey’s breakfast’ bedding, there would likely be fleas and similar pests annoying them on board.

* * *

Yet life on board ship had some pleasant moments:

Once the emigrants had found their sea-legs, the voyage became more tolerable and occasionally even enjoyable. According to Haagsma [a survivor who wrote about the ordeal], ‘we entertained ourselves with music or in other ways’. Those with an instrument would gladly show off their prowess with a melody, some passengers – or occasionally, sailors – would sing and dance and there would be a celebratory mood for a while at least as people let loose with a jig. There were restrictions regarding who could go where on the ship, none more so than for the Frisian women, who were forbidden from going on deck with bare feet. But Captain Stinson appears to have taken a shine to at least one of the young women, as Haagsma later related: ‘One evening, at the request of the captain, a Friesian girl was dressed in national or rather provincial clothing and presented to him, which he, the mates and others enjoyed very much. They were especially impressed by the gold ear-pie[ce] with the lace bonnet. The captain called her “a soldier with a southwester.” The gold ear-piece he said was the helmet and the southwester, that you can easily guess.’

* **

When the survivors of the William and Mary were landed, many had only the clothes on their backs. These were far from fashionable to the English eye:

The Frisians made an impression on the English, particularly when they had to take a break at the yellow-brick station of Ely to allow the cattle to change trains for London. ‘We had to remain there until two thirty and meanwhile toured the city, to the great amusement of the residents. The wooden shoes and silver ear ornaments [traditional Frisian dress] caused people to stare at us,’ recalled Haagsma, who was impressed with what he saw of England, saying ‘at Peterborough … they have a station 160 feet in length. The beautiful scene across hills and valleys, along woods and creeks soon disappeared. They were covered by the dark evening fog, which alas prevented the inquisitive traveller from seeing any more. But I know this, that we passed through tunnels three times, which are the result of the iron will of English enterprise.’

* * *

[In Liverpool as] in Ely, the traditional dress of the Frisians drew attention. Roorda wrote, ‘On our arrival the inhabitants of Liverpool expressed very great bemusement at the clogs that we wore and particularly the oorijzers [a type of head covering] which the women in our company wore, yet nobody was unfriendly to us and the owners of our lodging in particular were always very generous and forthcoming.’ Dutch people wore thick woollen socks with wooden clogs and would have clattered across cobbled streets, whereas many of the inhabitants of Liverpool (and the poorer emigrants) would have gone without any kind of footwear due to the extreme poverty there.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, came to Liverpool a few months later to work as US Consul and was shocked to see people out with bare legs and feet even when there was snow on the ground, turning their skin raw and red.

Trijntje [Catherine Tuininga Albers de Haan], who survived the William and Mary wreck, but lost her bag of keepsakes, including her dead children's clothing, during the rescue. It was she who had been told by her Mother to make sure she kept her oorijzers so she could show her social standing. Copyright Christopher Lindstrom

Trijntje [Catherine Tuininga Albers de Haan], who survived the William and Mary shipwreck, but lost her bag of keepsakes, including her dead children’s clothing, during the rescue. It was she who had been told by her Mother to make sure she kept her oorijzers so she could show her social standing. Copyright Christopher Lindstrom

Even more startling was the hair of the Frisian women, which the English found shockingly short:

Haagsma said, ‘The Frisian women with their bonnets aroused the pity of the English and they said, “O, God, those women have no hair”.’ They did, but at that time they cut their hair fairly short, especially compared to British women and wore it under a thin white cloth cap held in place by an ornate metal headdress. These were symbols of wealth and locality and one Frisian woman, 39-year-old Trijntje de Haan, was under strict orders from her mother not to lose hers. Her granddaughter later recalled, ‘there was her head dress which consisted of a lace cap with a gold chain over the brow to hold the lace in place and ending at each temple with loops of lace held in place by engraved gold knobs which completed the decoration. Almost the last advice grandmother had received from her mother was this, “No matter how poor you may become, Treen, never give up your head-dress, for without that you will lose caste and your social standing”.’

The oorijzer, sometimes translated as “ear iron,” was originally a frame of iron. (Mrs Daffodil actually knows a young lady blacksmith who has forged one. It looked rather like a bed-spring.) The frames eventually were made in silver and gold, becoming, as mentioned above, a status symbol. The English did not quite understand the nuances of this fashion:

Class and social standing were of great importance to the Victorians, but while some felt reassured by their knowledge of their place in society – generally those in the upper classes – many felt trapped or hobbled by the strictures and snobberies of the system. This was another reason some found the idea of emigration so attractive: the social mobility and chance of a fresh start elsewhere offered opportunities to many that would be denied them if they stayed at home. Thus Liverpool and other ports became inundated with those seeking a better, or at least different, life.

Not everyone was happy about this. Nathaniel Hawthorne was displeased with the busy atmosphere of the city, saying ‘The people are as numerous as maggots in cheese; you behold them, disgusting and all moving about, as when you raise a plank or log that has long lain on the ground and find many vivacious bugs and insects beneath it.’

Mr Hawthorne was, undoubtedly, a gifted writer, but his distaste for foreigners is rather uncouthly expressed and in a manner not unknown even to-day.

* * *

If you wish to find out more about the passengers and crew on the doomed voyage of the William and Mary, please see  http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Lost-Story-of-the-William-and-Mary-Hardback/p/12290 or contact Gill at gillhoffs@hotmail.co.uk or @GillHoffs on twitter.”]

Mrs Daffodil was intrigued by this passage shared by the author:

A storm tossed the William and Mary about, emptying emigrants from their bunks onto the deck and the ship was holed on first one rock then another, allowing water to gush into the hold. What happened next was brutal and bizarre and if it wasn’t for the kindness of a local wrecker, the true story of Stinson and his crew’s loathsome actions that could easily be interpreted as an attempt at mass murder would have been lost at sea along with over 200 passengers – which is probably just what Stinson hoped would happen.

Wholesale murder at sea foiled by a kindly local wrecker is something Mrs Daffodil would pay to see…

Many thanks, Gill!

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.