Category Archives: Death

The Man in the Dog-Cart: 1890s

My next tale has always seemed to me one of the most interesting psychic experiences that I have ever heard related.

Some few years ago, a young officer, whom we will call Lestrange, went to stay at a country house in the Midlands. It may be said that he was a good type of the average British subaltern, whose tastes, far from  inclining towards abstract study or metaphysical speculation, lay chiefly in the direction of polo, hunting, and sport generally. In fact, the last person in the world one would have said likely to “see a ghost.”

One afternoon during his visit, Lestrange borrowed a dog-cart from his friend, and set out to drive to the neighbouring town. About half-way there he saw walking along the road in front of him a very poor and ragged-looking man, who, as he passed him, looked so ill and miserable that Lestrange, being a kind-hearted person, took pity on him and, pulling up, called out, “Look here, if you are going to C—-, get up behind me and I will give you a lift.” The man said nothing but proceeded to climb up on the cart, and as he did so, Lestrange noticed that he wore a rather peculiar handkerchief round his neck, of bright red, spotted with green. He took his seat and Lestrange drove on and reaching C—- stopped at the door of the principal hotel. When the ostler came forward to take the horse, Lestrange, without looking round, said to him: “Just give that man on the back seat a good hot meal and I’ll pay. He looks as if he wanted it, poor chap.” The ostler looked puzzled and said: “Yes, sir; but what man do you mean?”

Lestrange turned his head and saw that the back seat was empty, which rather astonished him and he exclaimed: “Well! I hope he didn’t fall off. But I never heard him get down. At all events, if he turns up here, feed him. He is a ragged, miserable-looking fellow, and you will know him by the handkerchief he had round his neck, bright red and green.” As these last words were uttered a waiter who had been standing in the doorway and heard the conversation came forward and said to Lestrange, “Would you mind stepping inside for a moment, sir?”

Lestrange followed him, noticing that he looked very grave, and the waiter stopped at a closed door, behind the bar, saying: “I heard you describe that tramp you met, sir, and I want you to see what is in here.” He then led the way into a small bedroom, and there, lying on the bed, was the corpse of a man, ragged and poor, wearing round his neck a red handkerchief spotted with green.

Lestrange made a startled exclamation. “Why, that is the very man I took up on the road just now. How did he get here?”

He was then told that the body he saw had been found by the roadside at four o’clock the preceding afternoon, and that it had been taken to the hotel to await the inquest. Comparisons showed that Lestrange had picked up his tramp at the spot where the body had been discovered on the previous day; and the hour, four o’clock, was also found to tally exactly.

Now was this, as the ancients would have told us, the umbra of the poor tramp, loth to quit entirely a world of which it knew at least the worst ills, to “fly to others that it knew not of”? Or was it rather what Mr. C. W. Leadbeater has described in his book, “The Other Side of Death,” as a thought-form, caused by the thoughts of the dead man returning with honor to the scene of his lonely and miserable end, and thereby producing psychic vibrations strong enough to construct an actual representation of his physical body, visible to any “sensitive” who happened that way? We must leave our readers to decide for themselves what theory will best fit as an explanation of this strange and true story.

Stranger Than Fiction, Mary L. Lewes, 1911: p. 96-98

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr. C.W. Leadbeater was a Spiritualist and influential member of the Theosophical Society. He wrote extensively on esoteric subjects such as the astral plane, clairvoyance, and reincarnation. Mrs Daffodil sees no reason to drag “psychic vibrations” or “thought-forms” into a perfectly good English ghost story.

 

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 White Cat: 1844

Photo @warren photographic. You’ll find more of their wonderful pet photographs here: http://www.warrenphotographic.co.uk/26883-white-rabbit-and-white-cat

THE WHITE CAT OF C.

The following story, which appears in Mrs. Crowe’s last book, has just been vouched to us by the lady who furnished the account to Mrs. Crowe, and our readers may rely on its perfect accuracy. It is as well authenticated as the rabbit of the Wesley family, or of any of the more modern and well proved appearances of animals:—

About fifteen years ago, I was staying with some friends in Yorkshire, and our host, Sir G. W., being very much crippled with gout, was in the habit of driving about the neighborhood, on which occasions, I often accompanied him. One fine summer’s evening, we had just entered a lane, when, seeing the hedges full of wild flowers, I asked my friend to let me alight and gather some; I walked on before the carriage till I came to a gate, a common country gate, with a post on each side, and on one of these posts, sat a large white cat, which though seen by the groom as well as myself, was not visible to my friend. I thought he must be joking or else losing his sight, and I approached the cat, intending to carry it to the carriage: as I drew near, she jumped off the post, but to my surprise, as she jumped, she disappeared! No cat in the field,—none in the lane—none in the ditch! I was quite bewildered; and when I got into the carriage, again my friend said, he thought I and James were dreaming. I had a commission to execute as we passed through the town of C., and I alighted for that purpose at the haberdasher’s; and while they were serving me, I mentioned that I had seen a beautiful cat, sitting on a gate in the lane, and asked if they would tell me who it belonged to, adding, it was the largest cat I ever saw. The owners of the shop and two women who were making purchases, suspended their proceedings, looked at each other, and then at me, evidently very much surprised.

“The lady’s seen the White Cat of C.,” cried two or three. “It hasn’t been seen this twenty years.”

The pony getting restless, I hurried out, and got into the carriage, telling my friend that the cat was well known to the people at C., and that it was twenty years old.

In those days, I believe I never thought of ghosts, and least of all should I have thought of the ghost of a cat; but two evenings afterwards, as we were driving down the lane, I again saw the cat, in the same position, and again my companion could not see it; I alighted immediately and went up to it. As I approached, it turned its head and looked full towards me with its mild eyes, and a kindly expression, like that of a loving dog; and then, without moving from the post, it began to fade gradually away, as if it were vapour, till it had quite disappeared.

All this the groom saw; and now there could be no mistake as to what it was. A third time, I saw it in broad daylight, and my curiosity greatly awakened, I resolved to make further enquiries amongst the inhabitants of C., but before I had an opportunity of doing so, I was summoned away by the death of my eldest child, and I have never been in that part since.

The British Spiritual Telegraph, 1859

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “The rabbit of the Wesley family” refers to what psychical researchers might term a “poltergeist” outbreak at Epworth Rectory, home of the Rev. Samuel Wesley, father of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Among other apparitions, Mrs. Wesley saw an animal in the house resembling a badger, while a serving man saw “something like a white rabbit, which came from  behind the oven, with its ears flat upon the neck, and its little scut  standing straight up.” Family letters relating the entire mystifying affair may be found at this site.

Mrs Crowe is Catherine Crowe [1803-76], author of novels and children’s stories, but best remembered for her collection of stories of ghosts and ghost-seers, The Night Side of Nature. The subject seems to have unhinged the lady’s mind, for she was found in the streets of Edinburgh “clothed only in her chastity, a pocket-handkerchief, and a visiting card,” under the delusion that she was invisible. An admirable account of this unfortunate event is found here.

In this muted account, the ghostly white cat seems (although this is not stated explicitly) to be a token of the death of the narrator’s child.  White objects–doves, rabbits, owls, White Lady spectres, arsenical powders–are well-known to peasant and folklorist alike as death omens.

 

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.

Funeral Drill: 1912

Hearse and Mourning Coaches, William Francis Freelove http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_220846/William-Francis-Freelove/page-1

FUNERAL DRILL.

Two stories are told quite seriously by a contributor to London ‘Truth, which it is difficult to accept at face value. The first relates a system of funeral drill to which a wife in the shires declares she has been subjected. She writes:

“Sir,—Some months ago I married ___, who is a well-known but eccentric man. After the honeymoon we retired to his estate, when began the annoyance of which I complain.

Every Wednesday a hearse and several mourning coaches are driven up to the front door, and mutes carry down from my husband’s bedroom a coffin which is supposed to contain his remains!

Draped in widow’s weeds, and accompanied by several of the servants, I have to follow this, my husband marshalling the procession, and directing the proceedings generally!

‘Be careful; do not ram the rails,’

‘Bend your head more reverently, dear,’

‘Slower, please,’

‘Keep your distances; it looks so slip-shod.’

The coffin is raised into the hearse, and I and several of the householders occupy the coaches, whilst the gardeners and others follow on foot, my husband drilling us until the funeral service is completed, even to the lowering of the coffin into the grave!

I can scarcely hope that this letter will not be intercepted, but should it reach you, will you publish it, that your readers may know to what length a man will go in indulging his peculiarities?”

Mataura [NZ] Ensign, 26 February 1912: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: That gentleman’s eccentricities were not as singular as one might think. The Divine Sarah was celebrated for allegedly sleeping in her coffin, or, at the very least, posing for photographs in it:

Sarah Bernhardt posing in her coffin.

A certain lady who is not over-religious, in the usual acceptation of the term—Madame Sarah Bernhardt—has her whole life toned and seasoned and solemnised by the presence of the grim, even if dainty, case in which her mortal remains are to be interred. She has got a new coffin to replace the old one, which some time ago, along with her other personal effects, was seized by her relentless creditors. The present coffin is daintily lined with blue silk, and at the head has a soft little pillow trimmed with Valenciennes lace. It is Sarah’s grim humour to sleep in her coffin sometimes; and, to be quite consistent, she dresses herself in something not unlike a shroud. But usance dulls the edge of appetite, and this funeral fad of the Divine Sarah has a tendency to make the coffin a joke and the grave a jest.

Roses and Rue: Being Random Notes and Sketches, William Stewart Ross, London: W. Stewart & Company, 1890: p. 168

Returning to Mr Funeral Drill’s eccentricities, “peculiarities” is perhaps the kindest euphemism for such tastes. The lady’s statement about the note being intercepted suggests alarming and sinister possibilities. If this were a Gothic Novel written by a lady with three names, our heroine would be a great heiress, wooed in a whirlwind courtship and married before she could discover her husband’s morbid fancies. Then, one day, the funeral drill would go on without her and the coffin would be buried, the lady’s absence explained by an indisposition which would shortly lead to a permanent residence in the South of France for her health, despite no one seeing her en route. Her tragically early death in France would be announced and shortly thereafter Mr Funeral Drill would remarry….

Mrs Daffodil suggests that after the first few repetitions of this macabre ritual, the lady should have taken steps to ensure that the next funeral was no drill, but the genuine article.

For more on Victorian funerals and mourning, please consult The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard, also available in a Kindle edition.

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 Ghost’s Whispered Story: 1870s

Niagara Falls, 1890

Was It a Dream?

A GHOST’S WHISPERED STORY.

They told me that the house was haunted. Nothing had been seen in the shape of an apparition by those who resided there; there was no terrific disturbance, no bright and mysterious light, but there was a general belief that the house was haunted. The ghost was a well-behaved ghost, and modest. On inquiring of one who had slept there, I learned that he had heard nothing except a confused murmur, a sound of low, indistinct speech, as of some one trying to speak while suffering under aphony. It was a laborious whisper, of which a word now and then was audible. I asked him what were the words, and he told me that two he remembered—”falls” and “boat”—but no others. The only thing remarkable about that was that others who had slept there had heard the same words. That gave me, I was quite sure, a key to the matter, and I smiled. I concluded the purchase of the house that very day. It was cheap enough. Nobody would live in it, and it was rotting through disuse. The owner, who needed ready cash, was glad to get rid of his profitless property. The house itself was a comfortable mansion, that cost 10,000 dollars to build, and the ground, rather more than three acre, had been handsomely laid out in trees and shrubbery, though now overgrown with brambles. The architect assured me that 1800 would put the house and grounds in order, and add modern conveniences. So I bought it for 2000 down, and had the necessary repairs made, their cost overrunning the estimate nearly 200 dollars. So that for 4000 dollars I obtained a handsome and convenient dwelling on the banks of a noble river, with the tiny demesne sloping to the south-west, having picturesque views on either hand, and in a good neighbourhood. The night before my family were to remove to it I took up my lodging in the house alone, having had a pallet laid down in the library.

I suppose the stories I had heard, though I had laughed at them, made their impression on my mind. Such things always do, in spite of reason. A vague feeling of easiness fills us m the presence of mystery even though our curiosity or our pride gets the better of our terror, and we probe the thing to the bottom, or try to. That may account for my restlessness, for I was restless and wakeful. I had been busy all day, in arranging furniture, and in directing the men at work on the grounds, in the latter case handling the spade and mattock myself quite often, and was thoroughly tired. Yet 1 could not sleep. It was 10 o’clock when I turned down the light so that it gave only a faint glimmer, and lay down. Eleven o’clock came, and 12, and I still tossed on my couch with open eyes. When the echo of the last stroke of the bell of the church in the neighbouring town of B__ died away, I felt there was some thing or some one in the room. I sprang up, turned the light on full, and grasped the loaded revolver which lay on the library table. There was no one there certainlv that I could see, and the door was locked, I and I laughed at my alarm. The next moment, as I threw myself in the great arm chair, I felt there was some one close to me. Just then there was a low and labored whisper at my right ear. The words distinct, though faintly uttered:

“Let me tell you my story,”

I sprang up and looked around. Nothing there. It appeared to be imagination, and yet I felt terror. Was I awake? I was, undoubtedly. The whisper came again:

“You must listen.”

I felt that to be true. The thin, icy, forced whisper held me by a spell. I could not have moved had flames burst out around me. Body and mind seemed stricken with palsy, I could hear, but nothing more. Then the whisper returned, and I can remember all that followed, word for word, and can write it out, again and again without varying a word or a letter.

“It was three miles above the cataract. As I stood upon, the river bank I could see, even at that point, with what swiftness the Niagara was hurrying toward the fatal plunge. There was a skiff tied to a root on the bank, and as it afforded me a seat, I stepped in and sat down in the stern sheets. There I played with my hands in the stream and listened to the distant incessant roar of the boiling waters. As I sat there I thought of my young wife hundreds of miles away, whom I had left a few days before to attend to some business in Canada, and whom I was to rejoin the next day, having taken this point on my way homeward. I sat there with my eyes half closed, and then, throwing myself backward, was lulled to sleep by the monotonous noise. How long I slept I do not know, but a piercing shriek, rising above the dull roar of the falls, awakened me. I looked round. The boat had broken loose, and I was far out in the stream, all drifting rapidly toward the falls. I sprang up to seize the oars and pull to shore. There were no oars in the boat.

“I glanced toward the shore. It seemed the bank was lined with men, women, and, children, who may have called to me, but I could hear nothing. My first impulse was to leap overboard, but then I could not swim.

“A man on the bank threw a lasso. I waited the coming of the loop, and reached my hand towards it, but it fell short. It was drawn in, and the man, running swiftly to a point further down, tried again. He apparently cast it with greater force, but it fell further off than before. I was being drawn nearer to the centre of the horse-shoe. “And now there came the lethargy of despair. I sat there without hope and without fear. My doom was inevitable. The motion of the boat grew faster and faster; the distant banks whirled past me, and then my spirit rose in a kind of ecstasy. I gave a sharp glance around me and laughed. As the boat struck the edge of the abyss and rose for the final plunge I caught sight of a dense mist; I heard above the roar the rush of a thousand wings; I felt as though I had been struck with a numbing blow, and breath and consciousness left me together.

“It seemed to be a dream, for when I recovered I found I was here in my own house. Yonder sat my wife, clad in black, her head buried in her hands. Yes! it seemed a dream, for though I tried to speak to her, my lips made no sounds and I heard nothing. I touched her, but she did not heed it. I looked around the room, bewildered.

“It was this library. There on a long table, which did not belong here, lay some- thing like a human form, covered by a sheet. What was it doing here? Whose body lay here? A new and more unspeakable terror seized me. I would like to have cried out. I could not. I was dumb.

“My wife arose and went to the table. ‘Now,’ I said to myself, ‘I shall know all.’ She raised the cover from her head, and, stooping down, kissed the face of the corpse. Could it be that my father-in-law, Colonel Barnesleigh, had died while I was away! I did not walk, but I was moved by some unseen power until I stood by my wife and over the dead body and looked down. I knew it all then. I recognised the cold, lifeless face. It was my own….”

Then the whisper ceased, and I fell in a deep sleep in the chair. It was daylight when I awoke. I looked around. Had I dreamed it all? On the table was the fragment of a newspaper. Picking it up, my glance caught the name of a former owner of the house, and I read as follows:

Melancholy Casualty.—A terrible event occurred on Friday last, Robert Grant of this village, on his return from Toronto, where he had been on business, stopped at Niagara. He took a walk above the falls after breakfast. He must have got in a boat and lost or broken the oars— though it is said no oars were in the boat at all. He was seen afloat by a large crowd of people just above the fall. Every attempt was made to rescue him, but unsuccessfully, and he was carried to death. His body was recovered on Sunday, and is now on its way here. He leaves a widow.

I had certainly seen never seen that paragraph before. I am quite sure of that. From that time out there had been no noises in the house, except such as could be easily explained, and the whispered voice never came again. Yet, if it were no dream, or no imaginary whisper, why should me ghost have told his story to me, and why should he tell it at all?

Thomas Dunn English.

Auckland [NZ] Star, 22 March 1879: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One does not expect impeccable logic in a ghost story, but to be perfectly frank, Mrs Daffodil has several objections to this sensational tale. One is that the narrator could easily have read or sub-consciously absorbed the contents of the newspaper fragment so conveniently situated on the table, thus generating a vivid and ghostly dream. Second, what sort of imbecile gets into a boat above the great Niagara cataract and, without noticing if the boat is securely moored or if there are oars, falls asleep, knowing that he cannot swim?

Perhaps this is only what might have been expected from Mr English, who was the author “Ben Bolt,” one of the hoariest chestnuts of the drawing-room recitation oeuvre and of such works as Walter Woolfe, or the Doom of the Drinker, a Temperance novel. (Mrs Daffodil shudders even to hint at the existence of such a literary genre.) The author also quarreled with Mr Edgar Allan Poe, who said that English was “a man without the commonest school education busying himself in attempts to instruct mankind in topics of literature”.

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 Little Children’s Watches: 1882

The Little Children’s Watches.

Yesterday an old man entered a Little Rock store, and taking from his pocket an old buckskin pouch he emptied two coins on the counter, and the, after regarding the silver for a few moments said; “Mister, I want to buy some goods to make a dress.”

“That money is mutilated, old gentleman. This twenty-five-cent piece has notches filed in it, and this fifty-cent piece has been punched. You see they have been abused. I can’t take them.”

“Abused,” said the old man. “Abused,” and he took up the fifty-cent piece and looked at it tenderly. “And you won’t take it on account of the holes. Heaven grant that I did not have to offer it to you. Years ago, when my first child was a little girl I punched a hole in this coin and strung it around her neck. It was her constant plaything. At night when she went to bed we’d take it off, but early at morning she would call for her watch. When our John—you didn’t know John, did you? No. Well, he used to come to town a good deal.”

“Where is he now?” asked the merchant, not knowing what to say, but desiring to show appreciation of the old man’s story.

“He was killed in the war. I say that when John was a little boy I strung this quarter around his neck. One day his watch got out of fix, he said, and he filed these notches in it. He and his sister Mary—that was the girl’s name—used to play in the yard and compare their watches to see if they were right. Sometimes John wouldn’t like it because Mary’s watch was bigger than his, but she would explain that she was bigger than him and ought to have a bigger watch. The children grew up, but as they had always lived in the woods they were not ashamed to wear their watches.

When a young man came to see Mary once she forgetfully looked at her fifty cents. ‘What are you doing?’ asked the young man, and when she told him she was looking at her watch, he took it as a hint and went home. After this she did not wear her watch in company.

Well, Mary and the young man married. John went off in the army and got killed. Mary’s husband died, and about two years ago Mary was taken sick. When her mother and I reached her house she was dying. Calling me to her bed, she said: ‘Papa, lean over.’ I leaned over, and, taking something from under her pillow, she put it around my neck and said: ‘Papa, take care of my watch.’”

The old man looked at the merchant. The eyes of both men were moist. “Do you see that boy out there on the wagon?” he said. “Well, that is Mary’s child. I wouldn’t part with this money, but my old wife, who always loved me, died this morning, and I have come to buy her a shroud.”

When the old man went out he carried a bundle in one hand and the “watches” in the other.

Little Rock (Ark.) Gazette.

The Abbeville [SC] Press and Banner 22 March 1882; p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Shrouds, strangely enough, could be purchased from one’s local dry-goods store. Here is a more light-hearted account of such a purchase: The Trousseau Night-dress.

Mrs Daffodil’s readers will, she hopes, excuse her from further comment, as she has something in her eye.

 

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.

 

Pigeons of Doom: 1700

 

Doves in a funeral flower arrangement, 1885

Both doves and pigeons are constantly associated in the popular mind with death. Every reader of Westward Ho! will remember the white dove which was the habitual death-token of the Oxenham family.

We have in Shropshire a less poetical record of a similar death-warning, which, however, seems to have been attached not so much to a particular family as to a particular house. The narrative shall be given verbatim from the pages of the old writer who has preserved it for us.

‘Beecause many maryages of persons in this parish of Myddle have beene made with persons of Cayhowell, I will say something of that farme. . . . There is a wounderfull thing observable concerning this farme, of which I may say, in the words of Du Bartas—

Strang to bee told, and though believed of few,

Yet is not soe incredible as true.

It is observed that if the chiefe person of the family that inhabits in this farme doe fall sick, if his sicknesse bee to death, there come a paire of pidgeons to the house about a fortnight or a weeke before the person’s death, and continue there untill the person’s death, and then goe away. This I have knowne them doe three severall times. 1st. Old Mrs. Bradocke fell sicke about a quarter of a yeare after my Sister was maryed, and the paire of pidgeons came thither, which I saw. They did every night roust under the shelter of the roofe of the kitchen att the end, and did sit upon the ends of the side raisers. In the day time they fled about the gardines and yards. I have seene them pecking on the hemp butt as if they did feed, and for ought I know they did feed. They were pretty large pidgeons; the feathers on their tayles were white, and the long feathers of theire wings, their breasts, and bellyes, white, and a large white ring about theire necks ; but the tops of theire heads, their backs, and theire wings (except the long feathers,) were of a light browne or nutmeg colour. (My brother-in-law, Andrew Bradocke, told mee that hee feared his mother would die, for there came such a pair of pidgeons before his father’s death, and hee had heard they did soe beefore the death of his grandfather.) After the death of Mrs. Bradocke, the pidgeons went away. 2ndly. About three-quarters of a year after the death of Mrs. Bradocke, my father goeing to give a visit to them at Kayhowell, fell sicke there, and lay sicke about nine or ten weekes. About a fortnight beefore his death, the pidgeons came; and when hee was dead, went away. 3rdly. About a yeare after his death, my brother-in-law, Andrew Bradocke, fell sicke, the pidgeons came, and hee died; they seemed to me to bee the same pidgeons at all these three times. When I went to pay Mr. Smalman, then minister of Kynerley, the buriall fee for Andrew Bradocke, which was in April, Mr. Smalman said, this is the fiftieth Corps which I have interred here since Candlemas last, and God knows who is next, which happened to bee himselfe. Andrew Bradocke died of a sort of rambeling feavourish distemper, which raged in that country, and my sister soone after his decease fell sicke, but shee recovered, and dureing her sicknesse, the pidgeons came not, which I observed, for I went thither every day, and returned att night. Afterwards my Sister sett out [= let] her farme to John Owen, a substantiall tenant, who about three yeares after fell sicke; and my Sister comeing to Newton, told mee that shee feared her tenant would bee dead, for hee was sicke, and the pidgeons were come; and hee died then.’

From Richard Gough, Antiquityes and Memoyres of the Parish of Myddle, 1700, Ed. 1875, pp. 45-48

Shropshire folk-lore: a sheaf of gleanings, edited by Charlotte Sophia Burne, 1885: p. 227-9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: On several recent mornings Mrs Daffodil has noticed the mourning doves making moan in the shrubberies. The creatures visit only intermittently and Mrs Daffodil does not know whether to take it as an omen or a directive…

Doves and pigeons are often conflated in folk-lore. One suspects that their reputation as downy death omens comes from their role as a symbol for the Holy Spirit.  In some parts of England there was a superstition that if pigeon feathers were found in the feather bed or pillow of a dying person, that person would not be able to pass on until the offending feathers were removed. See this post on “Feather Superstitions” for the particulars of death-preventing feathers.

 

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.