Category Archives: Murder

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.

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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.

The Nail in the Skull: c. 1600, 1840s

celtic knot with skull 1900.JPG

AN ENGLISH GREEN-ROOM STORY.

There is a story told in English green-rooms, for the truth of which, writes Celia Logan, in the N.Y. Dispatch, I cannot vouch. It is to the effect that a certain carpenter, a long, long time ago, murdered his wife by driving a nail into her skull. He fled, and the better to conceal his identity, became an actor. He rose to eminence, and the whirligig of time and the wheel of chance brought him to the very village in which years before he had killed his wife, whose murder, however,–so the story runs—had not been suspected, her long, thick black hair concealing the cruel wound from which no blood had flowed.

The part was Hamlet. Whatever memories the place evoked, he had sufficient mastery over his feelings to keep them hidden. The first scene of the fifth act came on. The theatre stood on what had formerly been a burial ground, and the property man had not far to go for skulls, but just dug a little and brought up a dozen or more, and at night tossed them into the trap for the gravedigger to shovel on the stage. He handed a skull to the Hamlet, saying:
“Here’s a skull now hath lain you in the earth for three-and-twenty years.”

Hamlet—“Whose was it?”
Gravedigger “This same skull, sir, was Yorick’s skull, the king’s jester.”

Hamlet took the skull saying: “This—“

He turned pale and staggered, for the skull had left on it one long lock of black hair. Handed to him upside down, the lock fell back, revealing a nail in the skull! The actor recognized it as that of the woman whom he had murdered twenty-three years before. At this mute evidence of his guilt coming from the grave to confront him the actor lost his presence of mind and his senses.

In his insane utterances he revealed his terrible secret, and was only saved from punishment by his fellow actors hushing him up and hurrying him away. He never recovered his reason, and died in a madhouse, raving of the nail in the skull.

About thirty years ago a story was written by a Frenchman on this same ghastly subject, laying the scene in private life in France, and making the perpetrator of the deed a woman. It had a great success, and to this day is occasionally revived, and goes the rounds of the newspapers, but old English actors insist that it was founded on the incident in theatrical life which I have just related, and which did transpire on the British stage.

Rhode Island Press [Providence RI] 21 July 1877: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A nice story to give one the grues!  This was a popular version of what those more learned than Mrs Daffodil might term an “urban legend,” and came in various flavours. Dr John Donne was said to have been the discoverer of a nail-murderess.

The Murderer discovered.

When Dr. Donne, afterwards Dean of St. Paul’s, took possession of the first living he ever had, he walked into the church-yard, where the sexton was digging a grave, and throwing up a skull, the doctor took it up to contemplate thereon, and found a small sprig or headless nail sticking in the temple, which he drew out secretly, and wrapt it up in the corner of his handkerchief. He then demanded of the grave digger, whether he knew whose skull that was: he said he did very well, declaring it was a man’s who kept a brandy shop; an honest drunken fellow, who, one night having taken two quarts of that comfortable creature, was found dead in his bed next morning,  –Had he a wife?—Yes.—What character does she bear? —A very good one: only the neighbours reflect on her because she married the day after her husband was buried. This was enough for the doctor, who, under the pretence of visiting his parishioners, called on her. He asked her several questions, and, among others, what sickness her husband died of. She giving him the same account, he suddenly opened the handkerchief, and cried in an authoritative voice, Woman, do you know this nail? She was struck with horror at the unexpected demand, and instantly owned the fact.

A Thousand Notable Things, Edward Somerset, 2nd Marquise of Worcester, 1822

Mrs Daffodil always likes to give credit where credit is due; she found the John Donne anecdote along with an exceedingly nasty ghost story in a post by that pointed person over at Haunted Ohio—The Old Lady with the Nails.

 

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 Wreath of Orange Blossoms Bathed in Blood: 1860s

STRANGE NIGHT OF HORROR

What I Saw in the Old Upper Chamber.

The Wreath of Orange Blossoms That Was Bathed in Blood

I received an invitation from an old friend of mine, Colonel Armitage, to run down to his house in Berkshire, for some hunting and a couple of balls.

In those days I was some years younger than I am now, and, having but lately returned from India, very keen on all sorts of amusements. I wrote off a hurried note of acceptance, and speedily followed it.

I knew Mrs. Armitage slightly, and was well acquainted with the Colonel’s taste in champagne, besides which I had met, not long before, an uncommonly pretty sister of his, whom I thought it would be by no means unpleasant to meet again; so I started off in the best of spirits.

I calculated a run of two hours would give me ample time for the three miles drive from the station and to dress for dinner at 8. However, vain were my hopes. There was a break down on the line, and we only reached the station at 7 o’clock. I dashed into the carriage sent to meet me, and, arriving at the Grange, found my host alone, awaiting me in the hall, with outstretched hand and genial welcome.

I knew he was a regular martinet for punctuality, so was not surprised when he hurried me up directly to my room. It was a large and well-appointed room, with bright fire and candles.

“All right, old chap, I’ll send Reggie up to show you the way down in a quarter of an hour,” were the Colonel’s last words as he left me to my toilet. Suddenly the gong thundered through the house, and I, thinking I was forgotten, put out my candles and turned to the door—when it was softly opened and a young man appeared who beckoned to me.

I followed him into the passage, which was rather dark, and began to say something expressive of my obligation to him, but he silenced me with a wave of the hand and preceded me, with noiseless steps and averted face, along the passage. I thought this was odd, but my surprise was increased when he took an abrupt turn to the left which I did not remember, and we found ourselves in a long, low, oak-paneled corridor, dimly lighted by a hanging lamp.

I began to feel a curious sensation stealing over me and endeavored to speak, but was withheld by an undefined feeling, so followed my guide in perfect silence to the end of the corridor. He then passed through a green baize door, up a flight of corkscrew stairs and through another passage, still feeling myself impelled to follow till he stopped, opened a door and stood back for me to pass before him.

I had not seen his face before, but had observed he was above the middle height, with a good figure and rather military gait. Now, however, I saw his face; it was ashy white, with such an expression of horror and fear in his widely opened eyes as froze my blood. I again made an ineffectual attempt to speak to him, but he motioned me imperiously to enter, and I felt constrained to obey.

I found myself in an oddly-shaped room. It was evidently an unused apartment, for there was no carpet, and my footsteps sounded hollow on the boards. Between the windows, half in shadow, half in moonlight, stood a large bed. As I gazed upon it my eyes became gradually accustomed to the somewhat dim light, and I observed with a shudder that it was draped with black and decorated with tall black plumes like those on a hearse, and that there was a motionless form extended upon it.

I glance round for my guide—he was gone and the door was shut, though I had heard no sound. A thrill of horror ran through my veins, I felt an almost irresistible desire for flight, but again the inexplicable force urged me on, and I approached the bed with slow and trembling steps.

There lay a young, and, as far as I could see, beautiful girl, dressed as a bride, in white satin and lace, a wreath of orange blossoms on her head and the long white veil covering, though not obscuring her features, but oh! Horror! The front of her dress and vail were all dabbled and soaked in blood which I could see flowed from a deep open gash in her white throat.

My head swam, and I remembered no more.

Suddenly I felt a cold shock in my face, and opened my eyes to find myself on the floor, with my head supported by my kind host. As my bewildered senses reasserted themselves I remembered what I had seen, and, with an exclamation, sprang to my feet. There was the same bed, but in the bright light I saw that it was without the ghastly appendages I had seen before and was totally untenanted. Colonel Armitage began asking me questions, but, seeing that I was too much dazed to answer, he took me by the arm and half led me, half supported me, back to my own room. When there he put me into an arm-chair, gave me a glass of water and exclaimed:

“My dear fellow! What on earth is the matter with you? We sent Reggie up to you, but he came down saying you had gone. We waited ten minutes—then, thinking you had lost your way, instituted a regular search, and I found you in the old chamber, in a dead faint on the floor.

I pulled myself together, and, as collectedly as I could, told him what had happened. He listened with incredulity, and then said:
“My dear Bruce, you have been dreaming.”

“Why,” I said, rather nettled. “how do you suppose I could have dreamed myself into that room? I tell you, Armitage, that I was as wide awake as you are, and am perfectly certain that what I saw was no dream.”

“Look here,” said Armitage seriously, “don’t you go talking about this to anybody but me; of course there are stories about this house, but nobody has ever seen or imagined anything uncanny before, and it will frighten Mrs. Armitage to death if you tell her; she is awfully delicate, and I don’t want to alarm her.”

“All right,” I said, “but I wish it hadn’t happened to me. I feel frightfully shaky still.”

“Oh, nonsense! Come down to dinner; a good glass of champagne will set you to rights,” said he.

Accordingly I made an effort to shake off the depression on my spirits, and went down with him.  The bright lights, cheerful talk and clattering of plates seemed terribly incongruous, and I am afraid pretty Mrs. Armitage must have thought me quite off my head, for I could eat nothing, drank feverishly and replied at random to all her remarks, and condolences, while the dead face of the murdered girl floated before my eyes and nearly distracted me.

“I’m afraid you don’t feel at all well, Captain Bruce,” she said at last.

“Please don’t think me dreadfully rude,” I replied, “but if I could slip out unobserved, I should be most grateful.”

She signaled to Reggie, a bright-faced boy whom I begged to show me upstairs. I literally dared not attempt to find my way up alone for fear of meeting my mysterious guardian.

I went to the glass—and recoiled; I hardly knew myself. My hair lay damply on my forehead, my face as very pale, and there was the haunted look in my eyes I had seen in his.  Very soon the door opened—I started nervously; but it was only the Colonel with a steaming tumbler. “Look here,” he said, “drink this off and get into bed; you’ll be all right in the morning.” I did so, and the punch did send me off into a heavy, dreamless sleep, which lasted till my blinds were drawn up by the servant in the morning letting in fresh sunshine.

A whole day in the saddle and a splendid run, followed by a cozy game of billiards with Miss Mabel Armitage before dinner, decided me, ghosts or no ghosts, not to show myself ungrateful to my kind hosts by cutting short my visit as I had thought of doing.

The next day we spent in the covers, the ladies came out to give us our luncheon, and I came home to dress for dinner in a most jubilant frame of mind, much inclined to put my fate to the touch with Miss Mabel: hoping that, be my deserts as small as they might, I should win, not “lose it all.” Some country neighbors were expected to dinner, and I was standing in a deep window-seat with Mabel and listening to her merry descriptions of them as they were ushered into the room by the stately butler when Sir George and Miss Hildyard” were announced, and there entered—dressed in white—the girl I had seen in my dream!

I stood transfixed, and Mabel exclaimed: “Oh, Captain Bruce, what is the matter?” But I could not answer. Before my eyes rose again that darkened room, that funeral bed, and the lifeless form of her who now advanced toward me, led by Mrs. Armitage.

“Miss Hildyard, Captain Bruce.” I bowed as in a dream, but saw a look of surprise cross her face, and she glanced inquiringly at Mabel, who replied by a reassuring nod.

As soon as I could get an opportunity, I took Colonel Armitage aside, and whispered to him—“For heaven’s sake, Armitage, am I mad? That is the girl.” He shook me impatiently by the shoulder and said, “’Pon my word, Bruce, I begin to think you are. That is one of the nicest girls I know. She’s engaged to Lovett, and they are to be married soon after Easter. For goodness’ sake don’t go, and frighten her by staring like a death’s head.”

After dinner I even ventured to accost Miss Hildyard, whom I found very agreeable, with nothing in the least supernatural about her; so once more I made up my mind that I was the victim of some extraordinary hallucination, and resolved to think of it no more. Well—time passed; I was obliged to say good-by to my kind friends with much regret and returned to my duties.

One day, soon after my return, I was driving down the street with my young brother, when I discerned a figure in the distance walking before us which seemed familiar. The back only was visible, but somehow I knew that tall figure, those broad shoulders, that alert, regular stride.

As we passed he turned his face toward us, and—good heavens! It was he; my guide that terrible night at Medlicott. Was I awake or dreaming?

I stopped the cab, to my brother’s intense surprise, jumped out with what intention I hardly know, and rapidly followed him. He turned up King street and went into a house, opening the door with a latch-key and shutting it behind him. I remained hesitating—what should I do next? I decided on ringing the bell; it was answered by a decorous-looking man servant.

“What is the name of that gentleman who has just gone in here?”
“Mr. Lovett, sir,” was the reply.  I felt stunned. Surely this was more than a coincidence!

The servant looked doubtfully at me. “Want to see him sir?”

“N—no,” I stammered, quite unable to make up my mind.

A week or two passed. I had seen Mabel several times and at last had ventured on asking her that question on which all my happiness depended. I need not describe here my joy at receiving the reply I longed for from the sweetest lips that ever breathed. I implored for a short engagement, and her mother promised I should not have to wait long.

One morning I received a note from some friends asking me to come down for a ball at Ryde. As I had nothing particular to do, and Mabel was away on a visit, I accepted the invitation and went down the same day.

I found my friends had taken rooms in the hotel, and were a large and lively party. In the evening the waiter came to me and asked, apologetically, if I would mind changing my room, which was a large one, for another, as they had received a telegram from a young married couple, engaging a room for that night. Of course I consented to the change, and my things were moved.

After the ball I came to bed at about 3 o’clock in the morning, and was sitting in my open window smoking a cigar. My senses seemed preternaturally sharpened, and above the gentle rush of the waves I could hear somebody breathing in the next room. I listened intently, fearing I knew not what.

The breathing came short, almost in gasps, and I heard stealthy movements. The rest of the hotel was wrapped I sleep. I rose to my feet, feeling sure that something was wrong, when I heard a short struggle, a heavy fall, and a wild piercing scream in a woman’s voice that haunts me still. I rushed to the door, and was met on the threshold by—I knew it!—the man I had seen in my vision before. He was in evening dress, much disordered, his shirt front and right arm were stained with blood, and in his right hand he grasped a razor, from which some ghastly drops still trickled. The light of insanity shone in his eyes, and, with a demonical shriek of laughter, he flung himself upon me.

Now began a most fearful struggle for life. The maniac seemed to have the strength of ten men. However I was soon reinforced by a hurrying crowd of servants and visitors.

He was dragged from me by main force and held down by many hands, while I burst open the next door and entered. Ah! A flood of remorse came over me as I recognized the scene I had feared, nay, I knew I should see.

The moonlight pouring in at the window revealed to me the whole tragedy. There, half on, half off the bed lay that inanimate form, blood-stains all over the clothes and floor. The people who had crowded I after me stood dumb, as in a sort of stupor. I approached the bed and recognized the features of her whom I had known as Agnes Hildyard.

The rest of my story is soon told. I had to give evidence before the Magistrates as to what I had seen, and the unfortunate Lovett, who had sunk into a state of insensibility was removed to the nearest asylum pending the arrival of his friends.

I found that I had received in my struggle with him a severe wound in the shoulder, the loss of blood from which, acting upon a highly excited brain, ensued a severe illness which confined me to my room for many weeks, during much of which time I was delirious.

When at last I crept out into the sunshine I felt my youth had left me forever. I was ordered a long sea voyage, and my brave and loving Mabel insisted upon our immediate marriage. I can not enter into the vexed question of physics. All I know is that these events happened to me exactly as I have written them down, and if I did not act upon them, it was not because I had not been forewarned.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 18 July 1891: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Such psychic warnings pose a pretty problem to those who receive them: precisely how much weight should be given to portents of a dire nature? They are generally easy to dismiss as “hallucinations” or “imagination.” And, as Captain Bruce experienced, seers are often urged to refrain from describing visionary horrors for fear of upsetting the ladies. Mrs Daffodil has written before of a young lady who fortuitously broke off an engagement after her absent fiancee appeared three times in her photographs, standing behind her, holding a dagger in his upraised hand.  It was perhaps the mystic number three that decided her; a common numeral in heeded supernatural warnings. Captain Bruce, having been given only a single warning, (albeit an utterly grewsome one) could scarcely be blamed for not warning the young bride-to-be.

 

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.

 

She Was To Have Been His Bride: 1820s

Mary's ghost a pathetic ballad BL

THE SCHOOLMASTER’S STORY.

The next evening was stormier than the other. In the afternoon the wind hauled into the east, and at nightfall it blew a gale. The rain dashed in fierce gusts against the windows.

“A terrible night on the coast,” said my uncle, as he took his accustomed seat before the glowing hickory fire. “I’d rather be here than tossing about the bay to-night.”

“Yes, or five miles east of High Pound Light,” said Stephen Ford, who was a Truro man.

“Hear the wind roar in the chimney,” said the children.

The schoolmaster was reading by the lamp-stand. But Mary Horton, and I suspect Aunt Sarah also, had not forgotten his promise of a story. So while it was yet early in the evening, the children were, by various inducements, inveigled into retiring; and as soon as they were out of the way, Mary reminded him of his narrative. As all joined with her, he was easily persuaded to lay aside his book and entertain us.

I hardly know, he began, if I ought to divulge a circumstance of so strange and terrible a character; yet as it happened long ago, and the principal parties, none of whom were ever known in this part of the country, are now dead, I think that by altering names and other particulars, I may with propriety do so. We are bound to contribute as much of individual experience as we can (he added, smiling at his own preciseness) to the general stock of information.

Among the students at the college where I received my education, was one towards whom I very early learned to cherish those sentiments which ripen under the lapse of time into the most endearing friendship. William Alison was then a young man in the bloom and promise of life. Delicate and slender in person, yet with a form of masculine mould; in his manners lofty and gentle; alive to all impulses; his graceful forehead just saddened with the paleness of thought; his conversation open and various; he was to my mind the realization of my ideal of a student. It was my pride to make him my friend; and I felt more joy in knowing that we were looked upon by our fellow students as inseparable companions, than in gaining the highest honors of the university.

In the third year after our friendship, Alison was compelled, in consequence of some cause which I have now forgotten, to remain for nearly a term at his home, which was in __ington, about sixty miles from the town where the college was situated. During this time he informed me, in the frankness of youthful correspondence, of an attachment he had conceived for a certain young lady in the neighborhood, and his happiness in believing his affection returned. The young lady’s name he did not mention, though from sundry sonnets he inclosed me, I suspected it must be Ellen, and gathered also that there was some obstacle in the way of their wishes, which they almost despaired of ever being able to remove. When he returned to the university in the term after the summer vacation, I found a marked difference in the character of his hopes and purposes. The whole bent of his existence was changed. Before, he had been the indefatigable student, the example of his class and the pride of our professors and tutors. No labors had been too hard for him, nor was there any department of science or literature into which his mind did not seem to burst with such an eagerness it was as if there had been a latent affinity between his spirit and knowledge. Now, he was another creature. Books for him had lost their charm. He delighted to muse alone, and it was with difficulty I could persuade him into our old topics of talk, in our customary walks and conversations. On one subject only would he willingly dilate—the perfections of the aforesaid Ellen, of whom, for my own part, since by his painting she appeared to be such a miracle as could by no possibility exist in the world, I grew somewhat tired of hearing.

As I might judge from his portraiture, she was a rather slight girl of seventeen or eighteen, with blue eyes and light hair, and a disposition inclining more to tenderness than to gaiety. I imaged to myself, through his descriptions, a creature susceptible to poetic influences as well as to the grosser developments of manly strength; one like Coleridge’s Genevieve, who loves her poet best when he sings to her

“The songs that make her grieve.”

I fancied I could see such a one as nature would choose to be the bride of such a man as Alison—a being capable of loving him as Desdemona loves Othello, for “his mind,” or as poor Ophelia loves her ill-starred prince, for his “noble and most soverain reason,” as well as for his ability to sustain her and minister to her feminine pride. With all my allowance for the exaggeration of his passion, I could not but believe he had found what is so rare in man or woman, that love which is unto the death —that sacred interchange of wills which makes two beings, in deed as well as in form, one flesh and one spirit.

A world of correspondence passed between the lovers, but of this nothing was ever communicated by Alison to me. He could enlarge upon the personal charms of his love; her devotion to him; the high inspiration which her affection breathed into him, and the vision of coming happiness which almost overwhelmed him with its lustre; but his love was not of that kind which requires sympathy. In truth I believe that if there was ever true affection, like that depicted by our great poets, it was experienced then by Alison and his young mistress.

But there was an obstacle. Ellen was the daughter of a poor widow, Alison the heir to wealth. She was without family and without friends, dowered only by her beauty and her love; Alison was descended of a proud stock, and had a mother who, he dreaded, would never hear of his marrying beneath his rank. Their great fear was the apprehension of his mother’s displeasure.

As far as I could gather from what he informed me, it seemed there was little in common between his mother and himself; she was an austere woman, of gloomy religious faith, and almost a monomaniac on the subject of family. He kept the whole affair of his love a secret from her, and intended to win her gradually by ingenious contrivance, to allow him to wed the daughter of one who had been the tenant of a small portion of his paternal acres. His scheme was to bring Ellen by some means, at church or elsewhere, though his mother, he told me, seldom visited, to be acquainted with her; when he hoped that the loveliness of her character could not fail in time of pleasing.

Thus matters stood during the remainder of the time we spent at college. Alison grew more studious and somewhat reserved. It appeared that his love had passed into the depth of his life, and became a part of his very self, so that his whole bearing showed an inward peace, and he was no longer a speculative youthful scholar, but a resolute, laborious man. Yet there was in him no want of sympathy, and we continued firm friends till the day we graduated, when we separated, as class-mates usually do, to meet we knew not when. Alison retired to his estate, and I went to the West, where I found employment in teaching.

For many months we kept up a regular correspondence, but our ways of life were so different, his so quiet, mine so full of excitement, that gradually, though our friendship was unabated, the intervals between our letters grew longer, and at last it occasioned me no surprise that I did not hear from him for nearly half a year.

As it happened, opportunely enough, I was in Cincinnati preparing to return eastward after three years’ absence, when I received one day a letter bearing the postmark of Alison’s village. It may be supposed that not having heard from him for so long, I opened it with no little eagerness, though the handwriting of the superscription was unfamiliar. What was my surprise to find, instead of a letter from my friend, a communication from his mother, informing me that he had been afflicted with an illness which had injured his mind, and requesting me, if possible, to visit them. She stated that since the commencement of his disease, her son had frequently spoken of me, and always in the most affectionate manner, and that one of his favorite occupations was re-reading and re-arranging the numerous letters that had passed between us. He would sit gazing at the parcel which they made for hours together, saying that I was the only true friend he had ever possessed in the world, and lamenting my neglect in not keeping up my correspondence. (This by the way was altogether fancied, for I had written him twice since hearing from him.)

Much grieved by this unpleasant news, respecting one on whose intellectual strength I had so securely relied, and whose noble heart I had so truly loved, I lost no time in replying to the summons. I was to leave the West in a week, and hoped ere another to be able to visit __ington, and render to my friend such assistance as might be in my power. To him also I wrote an apparently careless letter respecting my return to the East, the pleasure it would give me to see him again, and the like, designed to soothe him without betraying any knowledge of his affliction. Within three days after, I was on my way across the mountains, and in little more than seven, had arrived home. I remained but a day or two to exchange greetings with my kindred, my anxiety for Alison urging me to comply with his mother’s request without delay.

I well recollect, though so many years have now passed away, the evening when, after a long day’s ride, I at length dismounted before Alison House. It was in the season of the Indian summer, and the sun was just setting beyond a woodland valley that sloped away in front and exhibited all the variegated richness of our autumnal forests. The mansion, which, though I had never seen it before, I had no difficulty, through my friend’s well remembered descriptions, in recognizing, was an ancient structure, such as there now remain but a few of in the country. In front it was three stories high, with a double roof and narrow projecting windows; on the back the roof sloped down to a single story. The eaves were heavily moulded in the antique fashion, and the glass in the windows looked obscure and weatherworn. In the ends and at the rear I observed several small casements fitted with gothic or lozenge-shaped frames.

Before the house was a narrow green plat or lawn leading down to the gateway, where two pillars of rough masonry, surmounted by wooden urns, stood like sentinels to guard the place from profane intrusion. Some venerable trees waved their arms over this inclosure, and on one side a decaying orchard encroached upon the level sward. On the other were sundry out-buildings, apparently coeval with the principal structure. All the aspect of the place inspired a solemn peace, that sacred, almost religious repose which it brings into the mind to come as it were into the immediate presence of the generation that has passed away. There was no gravel walk leading from the gateway to the entrance, and clumps of lilac and other shrubs had been suffered to spread untrained around the house and against the walls, as if nature loved to contrast the vigor of their youth with the venerableness of its age.

Had it been later in the year, or on a gloomy day, my first impressions of such a scene would have been doubtless far less agreeable; but now, bathed as it was in the full radiance of the sunset, and mingling its impression with the cheerful feelings inspired by the nearness of my friend, and my hopes of aiding him by my presence, it appeared only suggestive of tranquillity.

I passed into the house and was conducted by an aged serving-woman into the presence of the mother of my friend. It was the first time I had ever seen her, and I was destined to a sad disappointment. I hardly know why, but from the moment she greeted me, all my cheerful frame of mind seemed to pass from me like the fading sunlight, and a horrible shadow crept over my spirits, filling me with an indescribable uneasiness.

She was a tall unfeminine person, without any trait of gentleness in form, or voice, or carriage. Her face—I shall never forget it—was characterized only by an expression of cruel, self-denying pride— that peculiar conformation of temper which finds a poison in the most innocent pleasures of life, and tends constantly towards unhappiness, both in itself and those with whom it comes in contact. Her eyes were gray and severe; her forehead contracted; she had prominent cheek bones, an aquiline nose, and pinched lips; altogether her countenance was the most stern and unwomanly I had ever seen in a female—and may God grant I never behold such another!

As I recall the scenes of that memorable night, I seem to see her sitting in her high-backed chair in that dusky parlor, discoursing to me of the condition of her unfortunate son, and impressing me, as she supposed, with her extraordinary sagacity, but in reality astonishing me by the reflection how such a man as my friend could have been the offspring of such a mother. It had appeared to her, she said, that William had grown of late rather over-studious, and to this cause and their retired mode of life, she attributed his malady, which was a sort of melancholy nervousness that led him to pass whole days in his study, almost without food, and permitting no one to approach him. She thought it better to postpone informing him of my arrival until she had spoken with me; this I readily assented to. She believed I could be of infinite service to him by winning him to rides or walks with me in the fields, and that a few weeks of my society would quite restore him to health. The cause of his melancholy being but temporary, a little cheerful society would soon restore him.

I made suitable replies to these observations, and said that I hoped all would succeed as we desired. But I was by no means satisfied with this view of the causes of my friend’s illness. He must, indeed, I said, have studied severely if that had driven him to madness, for his mind was of a texture to bear study as well as any I had known. But his mother persisted in her opinion, and added that he had for the last year or more lived in much too retired a manner; that she had for some time entertained fears for his health, and in order to wean him from study, had contrived a marriage for him with a young lady who was heiress to a large property in the next county, when he was suddenly taken ill.

As she said this I observed that momentary unsteadiness of the eye which the most thorough adepts in falsehood are not always able to avoid, and by which we know that the tongue is uttering what the mind knows to be untrue. I observed this, and I remembered at once what Alison had told me in our college days of his love affair, how much it changed him, and the difficulty he anticipated with his mother. “Ah,” said I, with the assumed nonchalance of a man of the world,” if my friend is grown to be a woman-hater, he is changed indeed. Had he never,” I inquired, “since college times, shown a partiality for any of the sex?” “O yes, he had at one time been quite a lady’s man; that is, he used to visit and amuse himself with the farmers’ girls in the village below. She had not encouraged it. She had heard something, indeed, of a sort of flirtation with a little artful minx who was so presumptuous as even to pay court to herself. But it never came to anything. The hussy had left the village several months, and gone no one knew whither.”

I remarked an unsteadiness when this was saying, not in the eye only, but in the voice and manner. It was evidently the constraint of dissimulation. But I had not time to sift the matter further, for the door of the parlor opened, and in a moment I was grasping by the hand my poor friend, who had, on my arrival being announced to him by the serving-woman, come down at once to meet me.

Time and sorrow had wrought sad changes in his once noble countenance, and fearfully ravaged the graceful beauty of his once healthful form. I read at a glance, in his hollow cheek and eye, and heard in his cavernous voice, that the destroyer had marked him, and that however successful I might be in my endeavors to recover him from his depression, it could never be for a long enjoyment of his society. I might minister to his diseased mind, but no earthly power could arrest the progress of consumption. I should restore him only to watch at his death-bed.

We sat and conversed of old times, for his affliction did not reach his reason, until I was convinced that he was suffering more from general decay than from any organic affection, arising from what cause soever. He grew faint with the effort of speaking, and was obliged to recover himself by intervals of rest. These his mother by her looks to me evidently considered as simple wanderings of his intellect. She encouraged him accordingly to converse, and urged him to partake more of the tea, which was in the meantime brought in by the housekeeper, than he would have desired. She did not appear to be in the least aware of his actual condition. In her manner towards him she mingled none of that gentleness, none of those kind tones which are so soothing to the exhausted nerves of the sick. On the contrary, she appeared quite rough and dictatorial, as though in my coming she had gained a point, and was now securing the attainment of her wishes. Grim and rigid, she sat in her upright chair and doled us out a thin infusion that kept no promise to the taste, meanwhile talking on in the very presence of her wretched son, of schemes and plans which it was plain he was well aware could never be realized. It seemed she was one of those women who have man’s desire for control, and that she had been accustomed to assume the entire management of her son; he deferring to her out of long habit, and because he was too affectionate to wish to undeceive her. I made one or two attempts to check her by exposing her pride and wickedness, but my friend rebuked me with glances which seemed to say, “Let her alone—it will soon be over!”

After tea I went up with him to his chamber. It was a dark old room, with antique presses and chairs, and cold—very cold—one of those rooms which strike upon the senses with a funereal chilliness. We sat upon a faded sofa that stood against the eastern wall, and talked of former days and hopes departed. My own life had not been unchequered by grief, and in endeavoring to probe the rooted sorrow of my friend, I was obliged to go over much which even now I struggle to forget.

But at length I wrung from him his secret. It was, as I suspected, no excess of application that had jangled the harmony of his soul. Ellen—it was she who was the burden of his lamentations—once she was his, and now she was lost forever. Where was she? He had searched the country over for tidings of her; he had spent days and weeks, and employed the best assistance money could buy. But never since one fatal evening in the May that was past was he able to hear aught concerning her. She was to have been his bride; they had loved long; they had been patient. He had been dutiful, and his mother he thought would have yielded. She had relaxed so far even as to invite Ellen to the house, and had seemed to countenance her efforts to please. On the very evening, she had come up to the mansion with a bouquet of flowers from her own garden; he was to have met her here, and they thought then to have joined in asking his mother’s consent to their union. But an accident to his horse had delayed him in returning from a neighboring town; Ellen was forced to walk down alone, and that was the last ever seen of her. Was not this enough to make him weary of life? Had she sickened and died, or even been taken away by some sudden and dreadful accident, he could have borne it with fortitude. But now what might she not have undergone? In what secret den of hell might not her beauty be the spoil of ravishers and murderers? Feeble as he had seemed, while he spoke thus he started up in agony, and his voice rang loud and hollow. I trembled lest when the paroxysm passed I should see him fall and die before my face. I exerted all my art to soothe and divert him. We would speak of it to-morrow, I said, but that in the meantime he must be quiet. I appealed to his pride—to his Christian’s faith. At last he softened, and allowed himself to let me assist him to his couch.

As I descended from his apartment I met his mother in the hall. She was coming, she said, to conduct me to my chamber. As I took the candle from her withered and bony fingers, I glanced at her face. She saw that I had heard the truth and more than suspected her falsehood. But she would not relent; it seemed she expected to overawe me by the same stern authority she exercised upon her son. “My God!” I could not help exclaiming as then a horrible suspicion crossed my mind. She grew deadly pale and pointed to the door of the room I was to occupy. I went in mechanically and locked the door with violence.

I knew not why, but I remember that I then examined the apartment all over with the light. I felt as though there were some dreadful influence in the very air of the house—an indefinite apprehension oppressed me. Thoughts that I dared not entertain floated into my mind. Did I hear a noise? I looked so long in one direction that I shuddered to turn to look in another. The candle burnt low—I could not bear to be in darkness—sleep was out of my power. While the wick fell I raised the heavy sash, and looked forth into the night.

There was a full moonlight, whose radiance fell softly on the valley, and the air was calm and filled with the fragrance of autumn. As I gazed, my nerves grew tranquil; the peace of the scene passed into my soul, and I smiled at my late perturbations. It could not be, methought; the world is not so bad; I misjudge my species. And then I grew abstracted with watching the effects of the moonlight cm the masses of foliage and the broad shadows beneath.

I was looking thus towards the orchard, when I perceived up the vista made by two rows of trees, something white, which appeared to be slowly moving. At first I paid no particular attention to it, thinking it must be a dog or cow. But now it approached, and I saw it was upright— could it be a man? Alas! God help me! it was no human creature, but a sheeted figure, which I knew by its gliding to be a bodiless visitant from the world of shadows! The blood froze in my veins as I marked its steady advance. I tried to shout, but could only groan, as in a dream. It was all enwrapped in white, so that I could see no face, and it came directly below and before my eyes to the very door of the house, and I saw it enter!

Presently—all the wealth of the universe would not tempt me to undergo it again— the house rang with shrieks—loud, agonized. I sprang to my feet and seized a chair, not knowing what I did. But immediately I heard the voice of the old servant, who occupied the chamber adjoining mine, crying “Fire!” and this recalled me to my senses. I opened the door and went to her room, the shrieks still continuing, though more faintly, and seeming to proceed from below.

But I need not narrate circumstantially all that followed. By the time we had obtained a light, and proceeded to the old woman’s apartment, the shrieks (which were found to come from thence) had fallen to low groans, and when we stood around her bedside she was past recognising even her son, whose presence appeared but to increase her agonies. She died raving, and the ghastly look of her stiffening features was awful.

My unhappy friend did not long survive the shock of his mother’s sudden death. He died peacefully. I never told him what I had witnessed. Indeed for a long while I was never sure that it was not an illusion of my senses caused by fatigue and excitement.

But upon the death of my friend the estate passed into the hands of a distant connexion, a worthy man, who is still living. He had the house torn down and replaced by a more comfortable dwelling, and made also many improvements on the adjacent grounds. In removing the orchard, which had long ceased to be productive, they found an old well, of whose existence none but the housekeeper had any knowledge; it was covered by a thin slab of slate, almost overgrown with grass and briers. Thinking it might be rendered serviceable, the proprietor a few years ago determined to have it cleaned, and in performing that operation the workmen drew up in the first buckets what proved to be the bones of a human skeleton. The circumstance naturally made some noise in that neighborhood; to me it was the solving of a fearful mystery. I went to see the bones, and from a plain gold ring which was found along with them I knew they must be those of Ellen. The ring had been made smaller by a clumsy workman. I remembered when my friend had it done. I gave no hint of my knowledge to others, for the innocent and the guilty were both gone to their account; but ever since then I have had no doubt in my own mind that Ellen was murdered by the mother of my friend, either pushed into this well as they were walking there, which might easily have been done, or made away with in some other manner and thrown there afterwards. And I cannot but believe it was her injured spirit which I saw, and which Heaven instructed to be the minister of its vengeance upon such atrocious wickedness. G. W. P.

American Review: A Whig Journal Devoted to Politics and Literature, Volume 8: October 1848: pp 411-420

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil really has nothing more to add to this story of a woman who would have surely been the mother-in-law from Hell and who, if the narrator had his way, would surely have gone hence.

Undine of Strange Company gives us another, brilliant example of a mother-in-law from Hell.

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.

 

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.

 

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.