Category Archives: Murder

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.

The Skeleton of the Opera: 1786

In the second act of Der Freyschutz, during the incantation scene, a skeleton is produced upon the stage, and this frightful apparition always creates a sensation. The skeleton is a real one. In the year 1786, says a French writers, a young man of some eighteen years of age, and whose name was Boismaison, fell in love with Mademoiselle Nanine Durival, a pupil like himself, and daughter of the lodge-keeper of the Count d’Artois. Mademoiselle Nanine, by her coquetries, increased the artless passion of her comrade, and gave him hope until the day when she met the handsome moustaches of M. Mazurie, major, commanding the French Guards, who were always on duty at the opera house Boismaison perceived his misfortune, judged it irreparable, and thought no longer of any thing but vengeance.

One night, at the corner of a street, he waited for the passing by of the Guards, after the performance, and on their approach resolutely seized his successful rival by the throat. Mazurie’s first thought was, of course, to kill the aggressor, but a reflection upon his youth and slender form made the gallant soldier smile. At his direction, three of the men detached the straps from their muskets, tied up the furious young man, and placed him under the peristyle of the opera house, where he spent the night, like a garroted man. Early next morning, old Demern, the keeper of the place, found Boismaison, who had made vain attempts to get himself loose, learned from his night’s adventure, laughed at it a great deal for his own part, and did not fail to make the whole theatre merry with it. Moismaison, ridiculed by his comrades, was seized with a fever, took to his bed, and died, after making a strange kind of a will. He bequeathed his body to M. Lamairon, physician of the opera, and who had a little museum in the building itself. The poor young man begged M. Lamairon to keep his skeleton in this collection, in order that he might be after his death, still near her whom he had loved.

In spite of the vicissitudes of the Royal Academy of Music, in spite of fires and other misfortunes, which have caused its transportation to various places, perhaps owing to a traditional respect for the last wish of the young figurant, his skeleton has, to this day, continued to make part of the property of the establishment. And thus, after death, theatrical life again commenced for him.

Southern Sentinel [Plauemine, LA] 3 June 1854: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is one of the urban legends of the theatre, if not a long-standing tradition, that persons with a deep connection to the stage will bequeath their skulls so that they may bask, vicariously, in the artistry of the Bard. For example:

John Reed, gaslighter of the Philadelphia Walnut Street Theater, [willed] thus: “My head to be separated from my body, duly macerated and prepared, then to be employed to represent the skull of Yorick in the play of Hamlet.”

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 16 October 1909: p. 14

One imagines Reed wistfully watching the actors and actresses treading the boards and dreaming of the day he would be able to get a head….

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.

Rosette Smiled in the Glass: 1889

all is vanity charles allen gilbert 1892 mirror

All is Vanity, Charles Allen Gilbert, 1892

THE HAUNTED MIRROR.

It was early morning, and Thomas, Lord Rosendale’s valet, has waited on his master’s American guest to see what he desired him to do for him.

Thomas was too well-bred to appear to notice anything remarkable, but there certainly was something odd in the gentleman’s manner, and he had not the look of one who had enjoyed refreshing slumbers. Twice he seemed on the point of propounding a question–twice he checked himself. At last just as the man turned to leave the room, he spoke;

“Thomas!”

“Yes, sir,” said Thomas; turning towards him again.

“No matter, Thomas.”

“Very well, sir.”

Thomas had his hand on the lock of the door this time, but again the gentleman spoke:

“Thomas, I have been awake all night.”

“My lord will regret to hear it,” said Thomas, too respectful to appropriate the information.

“Something very odd disturbed me,” continued the gentleman. “Have you any reason to believe that any of the woman servants have lost their senses?”

“Any of the maids, sir?” said Thomas. “Oh, no, sir. My lady’s own maid is a most sensible person. So is the young lady’s, extremely respectable and settled, indeed. As for the cook and–oh, no, sir. I am sure none of the maids are out of their senses, sir.”

“One of the maids kept me awake all last night.” said the American.

“One of the maids, sir?” cried Thomas.

“Yes. Thomas,” said the gentleman. “She kept running into my room at least every half hour to look in the glass and admire herself.”

“She came out of that door,” and he pointed to one in a corner, “and walked straight up to the mirror; the light from the night lamp fell upon her face; she seemed to catch my eye in the glass each time and smiled at me as she did so. I only saw her once in the mirror, but it was very pretty, though very pale. She wore a short quilted skirt, a little black bodice and full white sleeves. She had a gold cross tied around her neck by a black ribbon and wore a little cap on her black braids a very young girl with a perfectly French face, Thomas. Do you know her?”

“If I have the honor of understanding you, sir, the young person came through this door?” he asked.

“Yes,” said the American.”

“More than once, sir?”

“About once an hour from midnight until dawn.”

“She was young, pretty and French-looking and wore a quilted skirt, a bodice and a cap, sir?”

“Exactly, Thomas.”

“And smiled at you in the glass where you saw her face? I understand she did not look toward you as she passed, sir?”

“Right, Thomas.”

“May I beg you to do me the favor of looking into this room, sir?”

The gentleman followed Thomas to the door through which he asserted that the young person had passed and saw nothing but a square closet about twelve feet square, with no door save the one that opened into a large room, and high in the ceiling a little window through which a bird could scarcely have flown. It contained no furniture whatever.

“You will acknowledge, sir, said Thomas, very gravely, “that an ordinary person must have remained here if she had entered, as you think she did, sir, and that we should now find her here, sir?”

“There must be a secret door—or–or something!” cried the American. “I am not mad, and I was wide awake. I–”

“Yes, sir,” said Thomas, still more solemnly. “As I remarked, an ordinary young person could not have contrived to disappear; but I am well aware that the young person you have seen is not an ordinary person, sir. She has been an apparition, for more than 200 years.”

“An apparition!” cried the American gentleman.

“Yes, sir,” replied Thomas; “an apparition, sir. I think you have seen Lady Rosendale’s gentlewoman, Rosette, sir. It is ten years since she was seen before, to my knowledge, but she has been seen very often. Yes, sir, it must have been Rosette.”

“I should like to hear more about Rosette.” said the gentleman.

“Yes, sir,” said the valet. “This is a very old family, and they have lived on this estate for a long while since the time of Queen Elizabeth. I believe, sir–and about 200 years ago there was a Lord Herbert–my present master is Lord Herbert, as you know; it is a favorite name in the family who was a very gay, wild young nobleman, and was a great admirer of the ladies, sir, as gay young noblemen  generally are. However, by the time he was thirty he married and settled down, as one might say; and having travelled with his wife on the continent, he came home, and began to be very much thought of and respected. So was his lady, too, sir, though she was not handsome, and was very haughty.

One thing, however, the English servants did not like; she brought a foreign maid with her from France–a girl named Rosette, and as pretty as a picture.

My lady thought all the world of her, and would never let any other woman be about her in her room, and of course, the people were jealous and talked against Rosette, and the women began to say something about the way my lord looked at her. Though, to be sure, women will be suspicious. However, that may be, my lady loved  her, and I think she thought too much of herself to be jealous of her maid, until one day, sitting before her glass, Rosette combing her hair for her, she heard her husband coming into the room. Her back was towards him, and they forgot the mirror; and so, sir, she saw in it without stirring both their faces; and she saw the girl smile at her husband and she saw him smile back her, and she did not need to see any more. Ladies are very quick, sir, as we all know. She understood everything, but she never stirred, and she never said anything to him—no, nor to the maid, sir.

This was her room, sir. In that little closet Rosette had her bed, to be ready if she called. But one morning my lady’s bell rang furiously, and the maid who answered it was told to do my lady’s hair, for Rosette had gone back to her native country. All the time she was doing it the girl thought she heard a faint moaning sound and was frightened and went back to the rest, pale and trembling; and before night it was very well known in the house that the little closet there was not only locked, but nailed up.

There was a coldness between my lord and my lady and they kept very much apart; but she had told him, also that Rosette had returned to France and no one ever saw the girl again.

After that my lord seemed to take up his wild ways again, in a measure, and drank a good deal and my lady lived very much alone. She never had a regular maid and she was harsh to those who waited on her. There never were any children, but they both lived to be very old indeed, and at last my lady died in this very room and was buried in the church yonder. You may see her tomb there–Lady Maud Rosendale, aged eighty.

My lord was as old as she by that time; but as soon as the funeral was over he went into my lady’s room and stood a long while before the locked and nailed closet door.

Then he said to himself, ‘I cannot die until I know,’ and ordered it to be opened. They sent for the blacksmith to do it, and all the while my lord sat in his great arm-chair, staring before him. There were hundreds of nails in it. People said afterwards that all my Lady Maud’s life there used now and then to be a little sound of hammering in her room when she was alone, but they were all out at last and the lock was forced, and my lord arose and tottered into the closet.

A bed stood there still and some gowns hung on the wall, and over the bed one was lying with cords twisted about it. Then they looked closer and the maids began to scream, and one old woman who remembered Rosette had called out her name, and my lord turned his pale old eyes upon them like a ghost and said, ‘God forgive me and have mercy upon both their souls!’ and held out his hand to be helped back to his own room which he never left again.

It wasn’t much they found–only a few bones and an ornament or two, but it was plain that the girl had been tied hand and foot and bound to the bed and left there to die—if she were not murdered outright by the jealous lady. As for the smile, my lady, he talked of that in a wandering kind of way on his death-bed. So it came to be known. But ever since, sir, whenever there is going to be misfortune in the family, whoever sleeps here in this room sees Rosette come out of her closet and smile in the glass. No one ever sees her face, only its reflection.

She was seen before one young lady—it is two generations ago, sir—eloped with a very inferior person.

She was seen before my master’s father died and before my master’s brother was killed at the Crimea. I hope no trouble will follow now, sir.”

“I trust not,” said the American. “Perhaps it would be best not to mention this to any one.”

“Very well, sir, said Thomas, and left the room.

As for the American, he slept elsewhere the next night. He had no admiration for ghosts, even the family ghosts of noblemen, and he had no desire to see Rosette smile at him in the glass again. The smiles of a phantom of 200 years standing are more awesome than bewitching.

The Nebraska State Journal [Lincoln NE] 22 December 1889: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well, really… After the sad story of the gruesome end of young Rosette, and Thomas’s observation that tragedy invariably followed in the wake of Rosette’s apparition, we are fobbed off with a mere “he slept elsewhere the next night.”

A shocking decline in journalistic standards….

The least we might expect was the death of an old factor, believed to be the illegitimate son of a previous Lord Rosendale, in a remote cottage on the estate, if not the demise of Lord Rosendale himself, found dead in his bed with a look of stark, staring horror on his face. Mrs Daffodil considers the whole thing a travesty of missed opportunities.

 

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 Deadly Valentine: 1896

jealous woman's revenge illustrated police news

A Deadly Valentine

W.J. Lampton

The colonel had received a valentine, and as he looked it over and read its pretty verses he handed it to the writer.

“From a lady?” smiled the writer.

“Yes, from my wife. She never forgets,” and the colonel’s face wore the look of a sweetheart’s.

“Surely,” said the writer, “no better valentine could be than that.”

The colonel took it again and held it in his hand tenderly

“When she and I were married,” he began, in a reminiscent way, “we went to a post in the far west, where as a lieutenant, that was thirty years ago, I was stationed. Not far away was a town of the class not uncommon at that time, and chief among its well-known characters and prominent citizens was a man known as ‘Bug’ Thornton. He was a bad man and the barkeeper in the leading hotel of the town. The landlord of the hotel had a daughter of twenty-five or thereabouts, who was by odds the best-looking woman in town and a very nice girl, barring the fact that she was in love with Thornton.

“At first he was flattered by the favor in which he stood with the young woman, but her attentions in a few months wearied him, and he made her wildly jealous by devoting himself to the cashier of the Golden Lion restaurant, a young woman who owned a half interest in the business and was considered a good catch. This occurred about valentine season, and when the day came around the landlord’s daughter received a comic valentine, setting forth those things do, the delightful attractiveness of a jealous woman. The accompanying verse was more galling than the picture, and the girl was frenzied by it.

“It was no unusual matter for Bug Thornton to have a scrap once or twice a day with the rough characters who frequented his saloon, and every now and then he added a feature to the bill by shooting somebody or getting a shot himself, though, up to that time, escaping with slight wounds. Late in the afternoon of St. Valentine’s day he tried to put a gang of miners out of his place, and the whole crowd surged out into the street in front of the hotel. There the shooting began. And it lasted long enough for those not interested to get into what shelter first presented itself.

“I ran into the hotel, and as I did so, I noticed, Mollie, the landlord’s daughter, sitting by a window, with the shutters half-closed, looking at the fight. When it was over three men were dead on the ground and the others had disappeared. One of the men was Thornton, and, as I knew him, I ran to him first and lifted him up to see how badly he was hurt. As I raised him up with my arm under his back a bullet fell from his coat into my hand. I thrust it into my pocket without thinking, and helped carrying him into the house. Of course, the town was considerably excited over three killings at one time, and as all sorts of rumors were flying about I hurried to the post to let my wife know I was all right. Young husbands, you know, think first of their wives. When I found her and told her the story she became very nervous and asked about Mollie. I told her I had seen the girl at the window during the fight, and that made her worse.

“Then I became provoked and said Mollie hadn’t anything to do with it. Then my wife told me that she had seen Mollie at noon, and she had told her she was going to send Bug Thornton a valentine he would not forget, and that very day, too. That night I went back to the hotel and found that Thornton had received a bullet in the arm and one in the thigh, but the one which had done for him had gone square through his heart. I also found Mollie in a raving delirium. With all this going on around me, there wasn’t any wonder that I should forget the bullet I had put in my pocket, and there’s no telling when I would have remember it if it had not dropped on the floor that night when I took off my coat to go to bed.

“My wife picked it up and asked me what it was. Then I remembered, and quietly took it from her without saying. She insisted, and as she showed signs of hysteria about it, I told her it was the bullet that had killed Bug Thornton. She grabbed it from me, held it close to the light and then collapsed in a dead faint. She became conscious in half an hour or so, but I had to sit up all night with her, and the post surgeon was also in attendance until nearly daylight. By daylight things were quieter, and I took a look at the bullet. It was a .44 long and was not much roughened by the deadly work it had done. As I turned it over in my  hand, thinking what a fatal effect so small a bit of lead could have, I notice da mark on it, and taking it out where I could see better I found on it, scratched deep with a large needle, evidently, one word and part of another: ‘My Valen–.’ That told a dreadful story and explained my wife’s hysteria.

“What to do now I scarcely knew. Mollie had shot Bug Thornton, that was circumstantially proved by my wife’s testimony and the words on the bullet, but no one knew it save myself and wife. No one knew so much as that I had the bullet, except my wife. We had both known Mollie and respected her, and it seemed to be something awful to give her over to the law when it was so easy to let it all go to the credit of the miners in the night. After an hour’s thinking I was so near hysteria myself that I went to the doctor for something to quiet my nerves.

“At 9 o’clock I started into the town, leaving my wife asleep under the influence of opiates, and half way there I met a messenger coming for my wife to come to the hotel, as Mollie had shot herself and was dying. I turned the messenger back and hurried on to the hotel. When I reached her room she was dead, and near her on a table lay a .44-caliber revolver. It was the same one that had sent Bug Thornton his fatal valentine, but I didn’t go around looking for any more bullets. I had already found one too many.

“It was a positive relief to my wife when I told her as carefully as I could that Mollie was dead, and we talked it all over, coming to the conclusion that the girl had seated herself at the window, half concealed, with the object of killing Thornton when he came out to go to his supper, and had marked the bullet in the strange freak of a crazy woman. That her shot had been so true was a piece of chance or luck, or retribution; whatever you may call it, although she was not unskilled in the use of firearms. None the less was it chance that the fight in the street should have taken place at the time it did?”

“What did you do with the bullet?” inquired the writer.

“Dropped it into Mollie’s coffin when my wife and I went to see her for the last time. And,” concluded the colonel, “neither of us ever told our story of the tragedy until five years ago, when the last member of Mollie’s family died and was buried in the same graveyard where the bodies of Mollie and Bug Thornton lie moldering in the clay.”

Evening Star [Washington DC] 15 February 1896: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Comic” or “vinegar” valentines were the bane of the holiday. Although we may be baffled as to why a caricature and an insult should deserve any notice whatsoever, despairing lovers often took these vile missives entirely too much to heart.  That Schadenfreude-ish person over at Haunted Ohio has written of some of the tragedies that ensued in “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacres,” and “My Fatal Valentine.” Mrs Daffodil urges any of her readers who suffer unrequited love to have a trusted friend open your Valentine’s Day post and burn any unpleasant communications.

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.

Death in the Pot

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On the first Sunday in the year 1749, Mr. Thomas Lilly, the son of a farmer in the parish of Kelso in Roxburghshire, a young man intended for the Church of Scotland, remained at home to keep the house in company with a shepherd’s boy, all the rest of the family, except a maid-servant, being at church. The young student and the boy being by the fire whilst the girl was gone to the well for water, a venerable old gentleman, clad in an antique garb, presented himself, and after some little ceremony, desired the student to take up the family bible which lay on a table, and turn over to a certain chapter and verse in the Second Book of Kings. The student did so, and read—“there is death in the pot.”

On this the old man, with much apparent agitation, pointed to the great family pot boiling on the fire, declaring that the maid had cast a great quantity of arsenic into it with an intent to poison the whole family, to the end she might rob the house of the hundred guineas which she knew her master had lately taken for sheep and grain which he had sold. Just as he was so saying the maid came to the door. The old gentleman said to the student, “remember my warning and save the lives of the family!” and that instant disappeared.

The maid entered with a smiling countenance, emptied her pail, and returned to the well for a fresh supply. Meanwhile young Lilly put some oatmeal into a wooden dish, skimmed the pot of the fat and mixed it for what is called brose or croudy, and when the maid returned, he with the boy appeared busily employed in eating the mixture. “Come, Peggy,” said the student, “here is enough left for you; are not you fond of croudy?” She smiled, took up the dish, and reaching a horn spoon, withdrew to the back room. The shepherd’s dog followed her, unseen by the boy, and the poor animal, on the croudy being put down by the maid, fell a victim to his voracious appetite; for before the return of the family from church it was enormously swelled, and expired in great agony.

The student enjoined the boy to remain quite passive for the present; meanwhile he attempted to shew his ingenuity by resolving the cause of the sudden death of the dog into insanity, in order to keep the girl in countenance till a fit opportunity of discovering the plot should present itself.

Soon after his father and family with the other servants returned from church.

The table was instantly replenished with wooden bowls and trenchers, while a heap of barley bannocks graced the top. The kail or broth, infused with leeks or winter-cabbages, was poured forth in plenty; and Peggy, with a prodigal hand, filled all the dishes with the homely dainties of Teviotdale. The master began grace, and all hats and bonnets were instantly off; “O Lord,” prayed the farmer, “we have been hearing thy word, from the mouth of thy aged servant Mr. Ramsay; we have been alarmed by the awful famine in Samaria, and of death being in the pot!” Here the young scholar interrupted his father, by exclaiming— “Yes sir, there is death in the pot now here, as well as there was once in Israel! Touch not! taste not! see the dog dead by the poisoned pot!”

“What!” cried the farmer, “have you been raising the devil by your conjuration? Is this the effect of your study, sir?” “No, father,” said the student, “ I pretend to no such arts of magic or necromancy, but this day, as the boy can testify, I had a solemn warning from one whom I take to be no demon, but a good angel. To him we all owe our lives. As to Peggy, according to his intimation, she has put poison into the pot for the purpose of destroying the whole family.” Here the girl fell into a fit, from which being with some trouble recovered, she confessed the whole of her deadly design, and was suffered to quit the family and her native country. She was soon after executed at Newcastle-upon-Tyne for the murder of her illegitimate child, again making ample confession of the above diabolical design.

Signs Before Death: A Record of Strange Apparitions, Remarkable Dreams, &c, John Timbs, 1875

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A curious story for St Andrew’s Day.  Mrs Daffodil wonders why supernatural gentlemen so often appear in “antique garb:” ancestral  ghosts in clan plaids, the Gentry in gold-laced coats, His Satanic Majesty in black velvet, and, apparently, an aged angel**. Are there no fashionable tailors in the Afterlife?

To be Relentlessly Informative, the turning over the pages of the Bible as a form of divination is well-known in supernatural circles. It is also known as bibliomancy, although the Holy Book is not a requirement. M.R. James used it to great effect in ‘The Ash Tree,” where Mr Crome tries to discover the secrets of the ash tree by the “old and by many accounts superstitious practice of drawing the sorts.”  But in this case, it appears that the venerable gentleman, rather than opening the Book at random, “cribbed” to deliver the life-saving message.

 

**Spoiler Alert: We find in a second part of the story that the “angel” is Mr Lilly’s dead grandfather, who kindly directs him to a treasure.

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 Diabolical Teapot: 18th century

A story, so remarkable as to be scarcely worthy of credence had not the narrator been a lady of unimpeachable veracity, was related to your correspondent a few days ago. The lady, who is a member of an old, aristocratic family, told me the story in the following terms:

When the founder of the American branch of our family came over from England, he brought a large quantity of silverware, already very old. Among the various articles was a teapot of curious workmanship and shape. In fact, the old vessel may not have been a teapot, but it was called so. All of this silver was stolen during the Revolutionary War, the teapot included; but the morning after the theft, to the great surprise of the family, this particular piece was found in its accustomed place. No one could even surmise how it came there. Through all the changes of circumstances and residence that teapot has remained with us. I would only weary you were I to recite the numerous times it has been lost, stolen and even sold, and yet, through some mysterious intervention, it has always made its way back to the possession of the family. But the most wonderful thing in connection with this singular vessel is that never, since we possess any record of it, has it been put to its ostensible use. The first I knew of this was when I was a girl of 16. My mother was giving a large tea party and while she was arranging her table she placed upon it the teapot we ordinarily used.

“Mother,” I exclaimed, “why don’t you use that lovely old teapot which came from England?”

She answered, gravely: “Alice, you are old enough now to hear the story of that teapot and I will tell it to you, for the thing will eventually become yours. The history of the vessel no one knows, but it has been remarked by its possessors for generations that no one has ever been able to use it. Place it on the table and, watch it, as you will, it is invariably removed and returned to its case, by what or whom I cannot say.”

“Well, I’ll engage to find out,” I said, “if you’ll let me get it down.”
She gave her consent and I put the teapot on the table, taking my seat within reach of it. My mother went on with her work, passing in and out of the room, while I sat intently regarding the beautiful old piece of silver. About five minutes passed, when I received a violent blow on the cheek, which cause me to turn indignantly to see my assailant. There was no one in the room! Hurt and bewildered, I looked back at the table, but the teapot was gone. I ran to the closet, on the shelf on which the thing was kept, and there I saw it in its place. I called my mother and told her what had happened.

“You see,” she said. “It does not intend to be used.”

After some years the teapot became my property, but I had such a horror of the diabolical thing that I kept it under lock and key for some time. At last one of my neighbors sent to borrow a teapot of me on the occasion of a high tea. Thinking to find out whether it peculiarities were only exercised for the family’s benefit or not, I sent her my strange heirloom. In an hour or two my friend came running in.

“My dear friend,” she cried, “have you heard anything of your teapot? I fear it has been stolen. I had filled it and left it on the table, when I left the room for a moment. On my return I found the tea spilt and running from the cloth and the pot gone.”

We went to my closet together, and though the door had been locked and the key in my pocket, there sat the teapot in its place. There was nothing for it but to make a clean breast of it to her, but I could see that she was incredulous and very much offended. I resolved now to have the thing melted down, but the fact of its being an heirloom caused me to reconsider my resolution. My husband, too, persuaded me to try and solve the mystery before destroying so remarkable an object. Overcoming the horror, and even terror, with which I regarded the thing, I brought it out one evening and my husband and I saw down to watch it. As we fixed our eyes on it we saw distinctly a delicate feminine hand close its shadowy fingers bout the handle and carry the teapot through the air to the closet. Once at rest on the shelf the hand relinquished its hold and vanished, and we brought he teapot back to the table, resuming our watch. Again the phantom hand seized the handle, but Mr. ___ caught the spout and clung to it. Then ensued a struggled between my husband and the invisible power that sought to remove the teapot form the room. For several moments, during which, my husband says, he seemed turning slowly to ice, the struggle went on, when suddenly the uncanny thing was snatched from the living hand that held it, and, to our surprise, replaced on the table. We ran to it and saw a clear, colorless liquid gradually rise from some invisible spring and fill the teapot. We bent our heads over it and saw, instead of the bottom, a spacious room, that is, we seemed to be looking as through a window into such an apartment. There were three persons in the room, a man and two women.

My knowledge of bygone fashions was not sufficient for me to accurately determine the nationality and period of their dress, but from what I did know I judged it belonged to England, of perhaps the middle of the Eighteenth Century. Both women were beautiful, one in a dark, vivacious style, the other in a blonde English way. The man seemed to divide equally between the two his attentions, which were courtly and what would now seem exaggerated and affected. The fair woman went to a table and took up my teapot! She poured out a cup of some liquid (whether it was tea or not I can not tell), and handed it to the dark woman, who, in turn, presented it to the man. He appeared to protest, but finally drank it. The fair woman made a gesture as if to prevent it, but it was too late. She again filled the cup and gave it to the other woman, who drank it. As she did so, the man fell to the floor, evidently dying, the dark woman falling also on her knees beside him. Se arose soon and turning to the murderess cursed her (I judged so by her silent gesture and the teapot to which she pointed). This done she fell beside the man, and the next moment the liquid turned blood red, while a low, long drawn moan and a ringing, cruel laugh of triumphant scorn were heard in the room. The lights burned blue and flickered so low that we could scarcely see the face of the other. A chill wind swept over us, and after it everything resumed its usual aspect, but the teapot once more empty and quite dry, sat in its accustomed place on the closet shelf. We sent it next day to have it melted down, but it wasn’t forty-eight hours before my horror was back again. Yes, if you call, I’ll show it to you, for I have given up. I know I’m saddled with it for life. Houston (Tex.) Correspondence Globe-Democrat.

The Brooklyn [NY] Daily Eagle 21 April 1889: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is delightful to find a shiversome tale for Hallowe’en told by a lady both of unimpeachable veracity and an old, aristocratic family.  That person of peachable veracity over at Haunted Ohio, who reads altogether too much 19th-century ghost literature, tells us that if a story is introduced by a narrator Whose Veracity Cannot Be Questioned, it is axiomatic that we are about to be treated to a gripping, but suspect tale.

Be that as it may, it seems a trifle odd that an innocent teapot should bear the brunt of a long-standing curse, and that the curse should consist merely of always returning to a locked cupboard with the other silver. Mrs Daffodil does not think much of it. A proper curse would have wiped out the descendants of the murderess within a generation.

 

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 Jar of Sugared Fruit: 1869

little girl and grandmother offering sweet

WAS IT INSANITY?

Madame Rosine was sewing some light, dainty stuff; her nervous fingers flashed to and fro in the twilight, and the diamond bracelet on her white arm glistened like the eye of a snake, as she held her needle up to the fading light, and inserted the gossamer thread.

The world generally, I confess, uses women up in about forty years: they shrivel and grow grim and enervated in its atmosphere…But, Madame was an exception; she grew rounder and rosier and plumper every year; every year nature seemed to discover some unfinished beauty in her which she proceeded with artist hand to “touch up.” There was a sense of color, and light and warmth in her stately presence, that fascinated me, as well as her younger pupils.

It was after school-hours, yet Madame, who was a very conscientious teacher, was expounding to me patiently a chapter in Ancient History. A very ancient and profound chapter in the story of the world.

How the old heroes met death; stoically, yet as a king of terror. How the terrible king held high revel in the bleak walls and grave-like secrecy of the inquisition. How men’s lives were wrenched out of them by sheer physical force, and death was made hideous by his association with all that was vile and cruel in man.

“Those were frightful times!” said I with a shudder. “I’m glad we got over them before I was born!”

“We haven’t got over them, my dear,” said Madame, with her courtly smile. “We have arrived at great achievements in medicine, certainly, and great attainments in art. Every year we are conquering the world’s roughness, and making it easier to live—we have yet to perfect the science of death. We are perfecting ourselves in every thing—only in this we are barbarous; we let men gulph out of existence brutishly.”

“It is a difficult field of study, Madame,” said I, “and dangerous.”

“And so,” continued Madame, not noticing the interruption, “not a hand is lifted, not a voice raised; we die hideously, when the passage might be made dewy and fragrant as a walk over a land of flowers. We keep our halt, our sick and suffering, hovering cruelly on the brink of death, when death is inevitable, and no one leads them kindly by the hand down the dismal road. They are left to crawl out of life alone, and open the doors of the other world with their own trembling hands, because we are too cowardly to be courteous; we will not venture to usher them in thither while there is a better life, and glow and pleasure left—we send them out in the dark.”

Madame’s voice grew into a thoughtful whisper, and she looked dreamily out into the twilight, as she said these words.

I looked up at the lady, as she sat there in the flash of the yellow sunset, her silk dress falling about her in shining folds, her dark eye and crimson cheek catching strange luster as she spoke. Yes, she was indeed the model of a Frenchwoman, well dressed, well cared-for, tasteful and philosophic.

Madame Rosine was my teacher; she was also the teacher of my younger sisters, who, during our father’s absence, were left with her in her cottage on the sea-shore.

The cottages on the sea-shore were very sparse; they were let out to strangers during the summer months, who came down to bathe and reinvigorate themselves with the fresh sea air.

She and her old grandmother, a queer, half silly, but kindly old lady, inhabited the little white house just beyond the turn of the hills, where they swept off from the shore, leaving the white line of beach-sand for the waves and the bathers. There were one or two other little pupils, from among the summer residents.

My father thought a deal of Madame’s French; and of her powers of training. And Madame thought a deal of my father. We had been very happy at the cottage this summer; the sunshiny, breezy days had passed like a swift flight of birds that paused to dip their wings in the radiant waters, and vanished beyond the hills.

Madame Rosine arose and approached the doorway which looked out on the far line of beach, and the brimming, heaving sea, tinged with the ruddy light of the departing sun.

“I believe,” said she, “grandmother is getting too old to trust with the children.”

A nodding, smiling old woman in a red kerchief came, leaning on her stick, up the gravel path, a little child toddling on in advance of her.

It was little Fanchette, my sister, with her hands and tiny white apron full of green, shiny seaweed.

She held the dripping mass up to Madame’s gaze as she skipped eagerly forward.

“Me dot a fower!” she cried.

Madame withdrew her silken dress from possible contact: an expression of disgust warped her face. She had sent the little thing out so clean and shining, to be admired by the gazers on the seashore, an attractive exposition of her system and her care.

But with the self-control which she inculcated in her pupils, she checked the expression; her face resumed its courteous complacency as the old woman came slowly up the path.

“I think, grandmother,” said she, “these walks are getting too much for you. The children are too much of a charge—I will accompany them myself next time.”

It was grandmother’s charge to walk with the little ones on the beach of an afternoon, and to take the little day-pupils home. The toddling things liked the old woman well; she was “grandmother” by election to the whole of them, and that she sometimes wandered off with them for half a day or so, did not discredit her claims in their eyes.

“Rosine,” said she, “thou wilt not deprive me of the little ones!” Her old voice quivered.

Madame did not answer. She was busy disgorging Fanchette’s little apron of its contents.

The next day, bright and early, I saw the old grandmother, staff in hand, making her swift way toward the gate, her ruffled cap blowing back in the breeze, and Fanchette, with a many furtive glance backward, trudging valiantly by her side.

I supposed that they were only going down for milk, but school-time came, and Fanchette’s face was absent.

I did not trouble myself much about the child; it was safe and happy, no doubt, and I had my head full of French verbs.

We were expecting my father up that day; he would come in the afternoon train. He usually came out once a week. On that day Madame always wore red ribbons in her hair, and looked younger and more coquettish than usual. She was also very kind to us on those days; we had cakes and sweetmeats for lunch, and made a sort of gala-day of it.

But if my father came and little Fanchette was unaccountably absent—what then?

I saw that Madame grew uneasy as the morning waned, and her uneasiness reflected itself in me. We spent the intervening time between lessons, in walking down to the gate, and glancing up and down the road for the fugitives. Madame had a saintly patience with that childish old grandmother, but it gave way as the day passed, and no sign of them appeared.

“I will go out,” said she, “Sophie, and take a walk along the shore. Doubtless they are there among the shells.”

Madame walked thoughtfully along the shore, while I, less anxious, strolled on, flinging pebbles into the water. The tide was rising; nearer and nearer came the creeping waves; they wetted my feet; they drove me further and further from the beach toward the line of rocks overhanging it.

Just then, where the water and the rocks met, and a tangled mass of scraggy, wild growth overhung the steep ascent, I caught a glimpse, just above my head, of some red, glittering object, and parting the bushes, there lay Fanchette asleep, her rosy face pressed against the stones. A dangerous sleep in such a chamber, when the tide was rising.

“Madame! Madame!” I cried, “I have found her!”

Madame came quickly back; she stretched up her round, strong arms, and caught the child hastily down from its eyrie. She turned homeward without a word; not a word during all the long walk, either to Fanchette or me.

As we reached the cottage gate, who should look up from the porch, and smiling, knock the ashes from her pipe, but the old grandmother.

“Ah, aha!” said she, cunningly, eyeing Madame with that half fearing, half defiant expression which I have seen in the eyes of animals when doubtful of their master’s intentions toward them. “Ah, yes! too hot, too hot, you see, to bring the little one home. Grandmother only left her to cool a little!”

To cool! If Fanchette had not happened to wear her red dress, she might have been cooling under the waves tonight, I thought to myself.

It seemed, however, that Fanchette had strolled away from the old woman, who, in her bewilderment at losing her, and terror of Madame Rosine, had thought of no better way to shield herself than to deny the fact.

Fanchette, all curled and smiling, was ready to be brought in when my father, immediately on his arrival, asked for his favorite child.

We said nothing about her recent adventure.

“I so hate to disturb your dear father, Sophie,” said the complacent Madame, “he has already so much on his mind.”

Madame waited assiduously upon my father on these days, spread his hot biscuit with her own dainty fingers, and showed him an attention which my own sweet mother never did; but I think my father liked it. We were little half-orphans, for my mother had died in giving birth to Fanchette, but Madame often declared she felt like a mother to us.

Madame was alone in the world.

“Monsieur,” said she, sweetly, on the day of my father’s visit, “I am alone; I am very sad; but I feel sure that the good God watches over me and the dear old lady. What, else, should become of us, two poor, lone waifs by the seashore!”

Madame was alone in the world, but she owned the little cottage, or would own it on grandmother’s death, and a snug little sum in the bank, it was said.

My father looked into the lady’s eyes and smiled when she said that so pathetically, and I heard him call her Rosine.

The sunshine streamed over her and little Fanchette, who, wearied with her recent exploits, curled herself up in Madame’s loving arms, and fell fast asleep. A very sweet picture it made, and as my father had something of an artist eye, no doubt it pleased him.

The next day as I walked in the garden, I saw the old grandmother sitting solitary upon a stone; she did not lift her eyes, nor speak to me. The blithe, cheery look that kept her foolish old face like foggy sunshine was all gone out; she looked gray and wrinkled, and sullen.

I did not dare to speak to the old woman when she was in this mood, and strolled on through the garden, among the fallen leaves. Presently, as I stooped among a clump of flowers to gather a low forget-me-not, I heard another footstep rustle the fallen leaves, and Madame passed swiftly, without seeing me.

She was evidently looking for her grandmother. I heard her utter a low exclamation when she came upon the wretched object sitting there alone. Oh, but this was a trying old woman! and Madame certainly had a saintly patience with her!

I trembled in my hiding-place when I heard Madame’s voice speaking sternly and gravely in French; so severely I had never heard her voice sound before, but I did not catch the words.

As I passed out again, when the conversation ceased, the old woman still sat crouching on her stone; her face had a cowed, scared look, and she shrunk away from me.

She continued thus sullen and solitary for days, occasionally varying her grimness by a flight to the sea-shore, whence she would have to be brought home by the maid-servant, or by Madame herself. Or she would sit for long, monotonous hours in the doorway, neither knitting nor smoking as her wont.

The children shunned her; by one leap their old favorite had taken herself out of the cheery little circle of their lives, and become a thing mysterious and apart. Not a child came up to her for a kiss, or to show her new primer, or bring her a flower to smell; they eyed her askance and walked away.

Certainly this old woman, growing into a specter, was making an ominous reputation for the school, and undoing all Madame’s patient labor for success.

Yet Madame Rosine’s saintly patience and politeness was a model to her pupils; she took her own shawl of an evening, and wrapped it about grandmother’s shoulders; the crimson shawl that grandmother used to covet.

“The dear old mother,” she said, “one would fain make her comfortable, if one only could. My dear Sophie, we must always respect the aged, be they ever so ungrateful.”

Ungrateful, indeed, the old lady was; when Madame’s jeweled fingers pressed her angular shoulders with the luxurious shawl dropping down its ruddy folds, the recipient of this kindness repelled her with a gesture of aversion. She got up feebly, and put the crimson drapery from her. After that she hobbled off to bed.

Madame’s eye followed her as she left the room, with a glance of philosophic consideration, as if meditating the possibility of further experiments in her behalf.

After this the old woman kept her bed most of the time; but she had a notion that she would not be treated us a child; a dainty cloth was therefore spread in her room at meal-times, and Madame herself prepared an orderly repast to set before her. The old lady would sit up at the table, querulous and provoking, but eat nothing; some time afterward I would hear her shuffling feet coming down the stairway to sit in the ashes of the kitchen, where she munched a mouthful with the servant, betaking herself back in terror if she heard Madame’s stately step approaching.

But gradually she gave up that; she grew whiter and thinner, and finally kept her bed altogether.

We were sent up in the afternoons to pay our respects to her, shrinking back in childish awe from the spectral figure bolstered up before us, and making our courtesies brief as possible.

One day she seemed to rouse up a little as we entered; she nodded her withered head to us in its wide-frilled cap, and apparently wished to speak; but we could not understand the mumbling words, and shrank nervously toward the door.

The old woman lifted with her trembling hands a gaudy tulip from a vase on the table, and held it toward Fanchette. Fanchette could not withstand the temptation; she faltered slowly, slowly up, and took the flower from the shaking, bony hand; then the wrinkled donor smiled, a wrinkled, quavering, ghost of a smile, and placed her hand on the child’s curling head. Fanchette was not thinking of her old friend much; her childish eyes were wandering over the white-spread table, whose array of jelly and other good things was far more attractive. A nice white bowl of gruel stood near the edge; she stretched up on her tiny tiptoes and peered into it.

The sunshine streamed in over the snowy table, the clean old woman and the gaily-dressed child. We stood at the door and looked, but did not approach. Overcoming all her scruples, the little epicure had mounted to a chair. The invalid drew the table slowly toward her. Apparently she had a whim that they should have a meal together; these two children, the one hoary-headed, the other with her downy, sunshiny hair just lighting with a golden luster her infantile head, used to be attached to each other once; the old attraction seemed to be coming up again as they sat sunning together.

With her trembling hands the old woman took some sugared fruit from a jar, and held it all glistening with crystal sweetness toward the child.

The sight was too much for those of us who did not want to appear covetous, and had outgrown the ingenuousness of childhood.

We politely withdrew.

Madame was on the stairs as we came out; apparently she had been waiting. She, good lady, was always so anxious about us.

“Fanchette ?” she said, quickly, seeing, as we swept out into the garden, that the little one was missing.

We pointed merrily up the stairs, and I saw Madame gather up her long robe and rush up swiftly like a young girl.

I can not tell what had come over me in regard to Madame lately; I took a strange, dreamy interest in every thing she did, and watched her with an apparently motiveless fascination. Why did she hurry up stairs so? Would we, would Fanchette be punished for staying too long with the old lady? Or for touching her dainties, which we had been forbidden to do? An interesting woman, my father always said; and she had become so to me.

***

The old lady was dead. Her troublesome, querulous life had flickered out at last. She lay up stairs folded in the linen so long prepared for her. She had died in the night. Madame, who had sat up all that long solemn night, looked worn and white this morning; she had dark lines under her eyes, and was strangely restless and uneasy, as people are apt to be who have overtasked their strength.

“I so wanted the poor soul to die easy, Sophie,” said she to me, who, being the oldest pupil, was honored with Madame’s confidence occasionally.

As we stood in the breezy, white draped room, and looked at the solemn face from which death had swept out all the silliness and insignificance, there was a stir of the gauzy window-drapery. Madame started: it was only little Fanchette, who peered in with curious, frightened face, and sped away.

Madame called the child, but she would not return; she held aloof from Madame all that day, and would not be caressed or cared for, though it appeared to me she did not look well. But children have queer and eccentric instincts, and Fanchette was an odd child. She wandered about in the garden, and eyed us askance all day, like a bird that has alighted among strangers a moment, and will take wing presently.

When I came down the stairway I found Fanchette sitting in the sunny porch. “Come in, darling,” said I, “to luncheon. We’ve got something good.”

Fanchette was a little epicure; “something good” always won her heart. This time she did not stir. “Me dot somesin dood,” said she. She put her tiny hand in her tiny pocket, and drew out the confection old grandmother had given her yesterday. The cunning little one, arrested by Madame’s entrance in the midst of her dainty revel with the old woman, had pocketed the delicacy.

“It will make you sick, Fanchette,” said I, prudently.

“Did it make granny sick?” said the child, turning her feverish little face up toward the window where her dead friend lay.

I did not answer. Madame called me, and I left the child to her feast.

The pupils were all running wild with the liberty and change death made in the house. I had to assist in keeping the little things quiet, and I had to go to the village for Madame. The death of the poor old woman had upset the usual routine altogether.

When I returned, I saw Fanchette lying curled up among the honeysuckle leaves; the shadow of them flickered over her red dress. The child was asleep. Madame came hastily out to see how I had succeeded with my shopping; she stopped as she saw Fanchette lying there.

“The child,” said she, “will get her death! Run up with the things, Sophie, and I will wake her up.”

Anxious to show my purchases, I waited impatiently in the upper chamber. Apparently, it took a long time to wake Fanchette.

I listened. A cry rang through the house that thrilled me to my finger-ends, and some one came staggering heavily up, as if burdened with a dead weight.

It was Madame; her white face blanched to a death-like hue; her eyes set. The burden she carried was Fanchette.

“Oh, God?” she cried, “who will make death easy for me!”

 For little Fanchette was dead.

***

The line of demarcation between sanity and insanity physicians tell us is very difficult to discern. It melts off indistinctly between the passions, the emotions, and even the intellectual and philosophic processes of the mind.

This woman was sane when she essayed to study the problem of death. But when the little innocent child unwittingly entered through the door which she had dared to open for the decrepit and miserable old woman, reason, long clouded with subtle and metaphysical arguments, went out in the gust. Its light never was relit.

The cottage by the sea-shore, where Fanchette had partaken of the death feast whose subtle poisons Madame had prepared with skillful hands, is deserted and in ruins. But to the moping maniac, whose cell I sometimes visit, Fanchette and the old grandmother are often present; they come together, hand in hand, whispering and eyeing her together.

A. M. Hoyt

Beadle’s Monthly, Volume 3, 1869: p.524-529

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Moping maniac,” indeed… It seems a shocking lapse of judgement on the part of the philosophic and conscientious Madame Rosine—so enchanted with dewy and fragrant death—that she did not think to reserve a sweet or two from the old lady’s jar for use in an emergency.

 

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.