Category Archives: Murder

Mrs Lincoln’s Bonnet String: 1865

mary todd lincoln bonnet worn to ford's theatre

The bonnet worn by Mrs. Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre on 14 April, 1865, the night President Lincoln was assassinated. http://digitalcollection.chicagohistory.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16029coll3/id/2592/rec/1

MRS. LINCOLN’S BONNET STRING NOW A TREASURED RELIC IN A MISSOURI HOME

A Bit of Tulle From Headgear the Martyred President’s Wife Wore the Night He Was Assassinated Has Been Preserved and Handed Down in Family of Man in Whose Apartment the Great Emancipator Died.

Even in his lifetime mementoes of President Lincoln were carefully preserved to be passed on as heirlooms. With his tragic death these took on greatly increased significance and importance, and with the growing appreciation of the great emancipator’s place in history they have come to be among the most cherished of possessions.

One of these to which unusual interest attaches now reposes in a small pasteboard box in one of the finest ante-bellum homes in Central Missouri, the residence of Mrs. Charles Carroll Hemenway at Glasgow. It is a string from the bonnet Mrs. Lincoln wore to that fateful performance of “Our American Cousins” at Ford’s theater, April 14, 1865. A mere wisp of white tulle, it has lain all these years, folded several times and carefully protected from the light, together with a letter written by an eye-witness of the tragic scenes in which it figured. Although the bonnet string itself is of purely sentimental value, the letter throws vivid and authentic light on the closing hours in the life of the martyred President.

The bonnet string and the letter were sent in May, 1865, by George Francis of Washington, to his niece, Josephine Hemenway, who at her death, passed them on to her brother, the late Rev. Charles Carroll Hemenway, of Glasgow, Mo. It is from his widow, now wintering in New York City with her daughter, Josephine Hemenway Kenyon—widely known woman physician and editor of the Child Health page for Good Housekeeping magazine—that permission has been obtained to tell the story, perhaps for the first time in print.

Mr. Francis and his wife lived in an apartment house across the street from Ford’s theater, where Lincoln was assassinated. The President was carried to their apartment, but Mr. and Mrs. Francis had retired, so he was taken to a small bedroom at the end of the hall, occupied by a young man. Mrs. Lincoln, in her distraction, cast her bonnet aside and when she departed from the house several hours later, she neglected to take it with her. The young man, knowing that she would adopt the mourning bonnet as was the custom of the period, made no attempt to return her property. Keeping it for his own, he cut from it one of its strings which he gave to the Francis family across the hall.

WILD DAYS IN WASHINGTON.

Mr. Francis’s letter with its detailed account of the occurrences of that tragic night follows with the omission of some family news at its conclusion.

“Washington, D.C.

“May 5, 1865.

“Dear Josephine: Your letter of last week and the one in January reached me in due time. I have been on the point of writing to you for sometime back but we have had so much excitement here, so much to occupy my attention, that it has seemed as if I must be in a dream and I have hardly known what I was about.

“The fall of Richmond, the surrender of Lee’s army and the assassination of the President is all that has been thought of here. The President died in our house and we witnessed that heart-rending scene. I shall never forget that awful night, following as it did one of such general rejoicing. For a week before the whole city had been crazy over the fall of Richmond, and the surrender of Lee’s army. Only the night before, the city was illuminated, and though it has been illuminated several times just before this time it was more general and was the grandest affair of its kind that ever took place in Washington.

“THE PRESIDENT IS SHOT!”

“At the time of the murder we were about getting in bed. I had changed my clothes and shut off the gas when we heard such a terrible scream that we ran to the front window to see what it could mean. We saw a great commotion in the theater, some running in, others hurrying out, and we could hear hundreds of voices mingling in the greatest confusion. Presently we heard some one say ‘the President is shot,’ when I hurried on my clothes and ran across the street as they brought him out of the theater.

“Poor man! I could see as the gas light fell upon his face that it was deathly pale and that his eyes were clouded. They carried him out into the street and toward our steps. The door was open and a young man belonging to the house, standing on the steps, told them to bring him in there, expecting to have him laid upon our bed. But the door of our room being fastened, they passed on to a little room in the back building at the end of the hall. Huldah (Mrs. Francis) remained looing out of the window until she saw them bringing him up our steps, when she ran to get on her clothes.

“Mrs. Lincoln came in soon after, accompanied by major Rathbone and Miss Harris. She was perfectly frantic. ‘Where is my husband? Where is my husband?’ she cried, wringing her hands in the greatest anguish. As she approached his bedside, she bent over him kissing him again and again, exclaiming, ‘How can it be so! Do speak to me.’

NO HOPE FROM THE FIRST.

“Secretary Stanton, Secretary Wells and all of the members of the cabinet except Secretary Seward came in and remained all night. Also Charles Lumm, George Carter, General Augur, General Meigs, two or three surgeons and a good many others. Our front parlor was given up to Mrs. Lincoln and her friends. The back parlor (our bedroom) was occupied by Secretary Stanton. He wrote his dispatches there during the night. Judge Carter held an informal court there, and it was full of people.

“Mrs. Lincoln went in to see her husband occasionally. Robert Lincoln was with her. Reverend Dr. Gurly was there and made a prayer by the bedside of the President, and then in the parlor with Mrs. Lincoln.

Mr. Lincoln was insensible from the first and there was no hope from the moment he was shot. As he lay on the bed, the only sign of life he exhibited was his breathing. About 2 o’clock he began to breathe harder and he breathed with more and more difficulty until he died. After he died, Dr. Gurly made a short prayer over him and then prayed again with Mrs. Lincoln in the parlor.

A CABINET MEETING THERE.

“A cabinet meeting was then held in our back parlor, and soon after the most of the people left. Mrs. Lincoln went soon and in about two hours after he died he was carried away to the President’s room. We saw him the last time up in the capitol the day before he was carried away.

“Things are now resuming their natural appearance, but business seems to keep very quiet….

“Your Uncle

“George Francis.

Kansas City [MO] Star 12 February 1934: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  At the head of the article, we find an image of the bonnet worn to Ford’s Theatre by Mrs Lincoln on that tragic night in 1865. The ribbons do not appear to have been removed or altered, but perhaps there was tulle over the present strings or the “tulle” was actually a bit of lace.

One is slightly uncertain of the bonnet’s provenance–it appears to have been purchased by the Chicago Historical Society in 1920, which is when the Society bought the eccentric and eclectic collection of Charles Frederick Gunther, a wealthy confectioner who amassed a wealth of historical artifacts for his own museum, including many relics of the Lincoln assassination, such as the furniture of the President’s death-chamber, as well as the purported skin of the serpent from the Garden of Eden.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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A Grateful Little Owl: 1880s


the little owl 1508

The Little Owl, Albrecht Durer, 1508, Albertina, Vienna

A Grateful Little Owl.

“The dining-room opened on a little courtyard under the Trinta dei Monti steps, transformed by me into a sort of infirmary and convalescent home for my various animals. Among them was a darling little owl, a direct descendant from the owl of Minerva. I had found it in the Campagna with a broken wing half dead of hunger. Its wing healed, I had twice taken it back where I had found it and set it free, twice it had flown back to my carriage to perch on my shoulder, it would not hear of our parting. Since then the little owl was sitting on her perch in the corner of the dining-room, looking lovingly at me with her golden eyes. She had even given up sleeping in the day in order not to lose sight of me. When I used to stroke her soft little person she would half close her eyes with delight and nibble gently at my lips with her tiny, sharp beak, as near to a kiss as an owl can get, Among the patients admitted to the dining-room was a very excitable young Russian lady, who was giving me lots of trouble. Would you believe it, this lady got so jealous of the owl, she used to glare at the little bird so savagely, that I had to give strict orders to Anna never to leave these two alone in the room. One day on coming in for luncheon, Anna told me that the Russian lady had just called with a dead mouse wrapped in paper. She had caught it in her room, she felt sure the owl would like it for breakfast. The owl knew better after having bitten off its head, owl fashion, she refused to eat it. I took it to the English chemist; it contained enough arsenic to kill a cat.”

The Story of San Michele, Axel Munthe, 1929: pp. 431-432

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed, one of the days of the “International Festival of Owls.” Mrs Daffodil is fond of the night-flying creatures despite (or perhaps because of) their folkloric reputation as an Omen of Death. And, like Mrs Daffodil, they are so helpful in keeping down vermin.

Axel Munthe, while he was an admirable doctor, is perhaps best known for his skill as a raconteur and for being a passionate advocate of animal rights. His passions also ran to the ladies; he seems to have fascinated a largish swath of the English aristocracy as well as at least one of the crowned heads of Europe. Plus a Russian lady and a little owl.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written of a pair of pet owls. You will find the first section of the two-part story here.

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.

Black Cat Tales: 19th century

It is, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed, “Black Cat Day.” In examining her scrap-books of past posts, she realises that it is a theme she has returned to again and again.

So, in celebration of subfusc felines, Mrs Daffodil presents

The Black Cat Horror

Guts, The Ghostly Sailor Cat

The Black Cat Elemental

A Funeral for a Theatrical Cat

Murder by Cat

And, from that feline-friendly person over at Haunted Ohio: Le Chat Noir: Vengeful Cat Tales.

If you are fortunate enough to have a black cat in possession of your home, do set out an extra bowl of cream and some fresh catnip for the honoured guest to-night.

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.

 

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.