Category Archives: Death

The Theatrical ‘Bus Driver: 1881

THE THEATRICAL ‘BUS DRIVER

Herbert Standing

“Will any gentleman get outside to ‘blige a lady?” asked the conductor. I have always regarded this question with a certain amount of distrust and suspicion, for I have felt that I am really obliging the conductor; but upon this occasion I complied with the request, and “got outside to ‘blige a lady.”

I found myself on the box-seat, the only occupant with the coachman, the hero of this little story. “Kiver it over yer knees,” he said, giving me the strap of the apron, “for it’s rather chilly to-night, sir.” I did so, lighted my pipe, and endeavoured to make myself as comfortable as I could under the circumstances, for it was raining fast.

As we drove past the gas-lamps I noticed that the driver looked at me rather curiously, and as he pulled up either to let down or take up a passenger, he leaned over towards me and, lowering his voice to a mysterious whisper, said: “You’ll excuse me, you’ll excuse me, sir, but ain’t you wot they calls one o’ the perfeshun?I confessed that such was the case.

“Ah!” said he, ” I thought you wuz. I’m wonderful fond o’ the perfeshun myself, sir, wonderful fond. I takes, as you may say, a reg’lar interest in it, and I’ll tell yer why, sir. You see, sir, my uncle, my mother’s brother, kept a theayter, leastways it warn’t ‘xacly a theayter, but wot they calls a gaff, down the Whitechapel Road, about thirty-four year ago, and afore I tuke to drivin’ I used to be with this ‘ere uncle a ‘elpin’ ‘im in the show. Mind yer, I didn’t do no actin’,” and he chuckled to himself. “Lor’ bless you, no, I warn’t no good at that, I was too nervous. My business consisted of ringing up the curtain and ringing it down agin; and werry orfen I used to hev to do it, for we used to have three shows a night. There was one piece as tuke my fancy special. There warn’t no chatter in it, but it was what they calls a tabbler wax or tabbler something, sir.”

“Tableau vivant?

“That’s it, sir, tabbler wewong, sir. I knowed it was a furrin’ word. It was a piece where three young females comes on all dressed in white, when on comes a chap dressed up with a lot o’ roses and flowers round ‘is ‘ed—they warn’t real, sir—paper ‘uns; a sheepskin tied round ‘is lines, and his nose werry red. He was a bloke as was fond o’ ‘is drop o’ somethin’ short, he was. He was carryin’ what they calls a goblet in ‘is ‘and, and he offers these ‘ere young females a drink out of this ‘ere mug, but they “wouldn’t ‘ev nothin’ to say to him, they was reg’lar teetotalers. I forget the name of the party, my memory ain’t so good as it was, but I think they calls it something like the name o’ the chap who puts ‘is money on hosses, sir. Backer or somethin’.”

I suggested Bacchus.

“That’s it,” said he, with a shout of delight; “Backus and the three Graces, sir, or somethin’ like that. Lor” bless yer soul, sir! fond o’ the perfeshun?—I should think I am. Why there ain’t a night as I gets off this ‘ere work as me and my old woman don’t go to see some piece or other. Lor” bless yer soul, sir! I remember seeing old Phelps” (he called it “Phelips “; and here I must remark that my friend, the driver spoke in a familiar—a very familiar—way of the “perfeshun” for which he professed to have such a great regard). “I remember seeing him in a piece in Droory Lane, sir. It wuz a werry gloomy piece, but werry good. It wuz wrote by that there lord who wuz rayther a goer in his time, sir—I b’lieve Lord Byron. In this ‘ere piece that Phelips— ‘Manfried,’ I think it wuz called, sir—used to go to the top of the mountain and slyoquises to himself, like; werry good piece it wuz, sir—beautiful langwidge. Often thinks about it when I’m sittin’ on this ‘ere seat, and I always finds somethin’ noo in it, sir. I took my old woman to see it, she was pleased too.”

He announced this fact as a sort of confirmation of his own idea— that there was no doubt that the piece was good, if his old woman agreed with him on the subject.

“It’s wonderful what a lot of clever people there is about. Why I was readin’ a harticle the other day in ‘The Daily Telegrarf,’ and I see some remarks as pleased me very much. Well, the follerin’ Saturday night I gets off, and I goes to the Surrey to see a play, and it wus a Roman piece, sir, where they wears toggers, and things like that—long white dresses. It wuz a piece where two blokes ‘as a row in the marketplace ” (“Julius Caesar”), “and, bless my ‘art, if they didn’t go through all the words as I see in the paper! Wonderful lot o’ learnin’ about, sir, and wonderful things is plays—leastways to me. There’s another reason, sir, that I’m fond o’ the perfeshun,” and the old man lowered his voice and coughed once or twice before he went on again.

“You see, sir, me and my old woman ‘ad been married for some time, and we ‘ad two children—two boys—and we was wonderful wishful for a little gal. Not that I’ve a word to say agin the boys, they wuz good enuff for anybody, my boys wuz, and werry good to their old father they have been; but as I wuz a-sayin’, we wuz wonderful wishful for a gal, and at last she comes, sir—our little Ally, a blue-eyed fair-‘aired little thing, as ever you saw, sir. You wouldn’t b’lieve, to look at me, that I could her ‘ad such a darter, for I ain’t ‘ansome. Well, when she wuz about seven or eight years old, I ‘ad a job to take a pleasure party down to ‘Ampton Court; comin’ back, sir, a werry ‘eavy storm come on, and I got soaked, and about four or five days after it, sir, I wuz laid up with the roomatick fever, and uncommon bad I wuz, too, reg’lar dilurus, orf me ‘ead; and when I got better, the missus wuz a sittin’ by my bedside a-holdin’ me ‘and, and she ees, ‘Jim,’ she ses to me —that’s my name, sir, Jim. And she ses, ‘Jim, how would you like our little Ally to be a fairy?’ ‘Fairy!’ I ses. ‘Yes,’ ses she, ‘in a pantomime.’ ‘No, Lizzie,’ I ses, for I thought o’ the cold nights, and I didn’t like the hidear of the blue-eyed little darlin’ comin’ out of the ‘ot theayter into the cold. But times wuz bad, and money wuz short; so the next mornin’ she takes little Ally down^to the theayter—the Lane, sir— and she comes back in about two hours’ time, and says, ‘Ally’s engaged, she’s to be a little fairy.’ I felt uncomfortable like, and yet a bit proud, sir, to think my little gal was in the perfeshun. I often, now and then, as ye may say, curse myself for that bit of pride, sir, for it pretty nearly broke my ‘art. But, there, God knows wot’s best for us, and it don’t do for me to complain. Well, to make a long story short, sir, I went back to work, and got a job a’ drivin’, and every night, when I used to finish, I used to ‘urry off to the theayter to fetch Ally; and one night I noticed as she didn’t run up to me, eager like, aa she used to do. I ses, ‘Ally, what’s the matter?’ and her anser seemed to ‘it me, and give me a sharp pain underneath my westkit, sir. ‘I don’t feel well, dad,’ she said, ‘my face is burnin’, and my ‘ead feels, oh so big.’ I took her up in my arms and ‘urried off ‘ome across the bridge with her as fast as I could go, and me and my old woman put her to bed. I went for a doctor, but afore mornin’ my little gal was in a ragin’ fever.

“Well, sir, I was obliged to go off to work next mornin’, and the day seemed terrible long, and directly I finished my job I used to ‘urry orf ‘ome to my little Ally, and the thing as pleased her most was picture of pantomimes and theaytres; and money being a bit short, I’ll tell you what I used to do: on my way ‘ome I used to tear the pictur’ advertisements with the pantomime off the walls (and uncommon rough I was on them advertisements), to take ’em ‘ome to my little gal, and as I used to ‘urry upstairs (for though we was low in pocket we was high in the attic), I’d listen for her voices ‘Mother,’ she used to say, ‘I hope father’s got another pictur’ for me,’ and when I opened the door, her eyes used to stare out of her head eager like to see what sort of a pictur’ I’d brought her.

“She lay ill like that for weeks, sir, and I used to notice (and it give me a pain over my heart, as if I’d draw this ‘ere ‘bus over it) that her eyes seemed to get bigger and her face smaller and smaller.

“One night, sir, I ‘urried ‘ome, for I had a kind o’ feelin’ on me all day that somethin’ was a-goin’ to ‘appen, and as I went upstairs, for the first time I didn’t hear my Ally’s voice—I felt myself hang back a bit as I opened the door. ‘How’s my __?’

‘Hush,’ my wife said, ‘Ally’s sleepin’.’ I walked up to her bed, and I suppose the noise roused her a bit, for she opened her eyes and looked at me. ‘I ain’t got no picture to-night, Ally.’ She didn’t say nothink, only smiled, and put up her little thin hand and stroked my face. ‘Never mind, daddy dear,’ she said at last, in a little feeble voice, ‘I don’t think I shall want any more pantomime pictures. I’ve had such a lovely dream, daddy, just like a transformation scene at a theayter, only more beautifuler ladies with long white dresses and wings like on their shoulders. I’m glad you’ve come home, daddy, for the ladies seemed to want to take me up in the clouds, like they do in the pantomimes, and I’m—oh—so glad you’ve come! You won’t have to wait for me out in the wet at the stage-door any more, daddy.’ And then she seemed to go a bit queer in her head, and talked about the theayter. She lay quiet for a short time, then gave a kind o’ start, raised herself up and said, ‘Father, they’ve come for me,’ stroked my face with her hand, put her little head down on my shoulder, sir, went off to sleep, never to wake no more.”

And as we passed the lamps I saw the tears rolling down the cheeks of my friend the driver; and, to tell the truth, I felt very choky myself.

“Good-night,” I said, as I shook hands with the old fellow.

“Good-night, sir,” he answered, gazing straight in front of him. I got down without another word, for I felt that “his eyes were with his heart, and that was far away.”

The Theatre, A Monthly Review and Magazine Vol. 1, 1 November 1881: pp. 265-68

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: After a moment to collect herself, to avoid getting “choky,” Mrs Daffodil will be Relentlessly Informative and explain that a “Gaff” might be a freak show (what the Americans call a “side-show” or it might be a cheap theatre for the working-class, especially a musical one.  The so-called “Penny Gaff Theatre,” not unlike the theatres of Shakespeare’s time, played to the Pit.

At the first penny gaff to which I came in the London Road, there was the usual crowd of working people and unemployed who are soon to be civilized and elevated to a private-theatricals standard by Beaumont trustees, and according to Mr. Besant, but who as yet have not risen above the penny-gaff level. Talking to them from steps that served as a platform was a Mephistopheles, who, like Mr. Irving, had borrowed the red dress, cock’s feather, and sword from the puppet costumer, and, unlike him, but perhaps more sensibly, had retained the moustache and forked beard of the operatic Mephisto. As in the old drama, Mephistopheles laid a wager in the court of Heaven before the real play began, so his penny-gaff successor bargained with the people before the curtain was drawn. “What’ll you see insoide, gen’lemen?” he cried; “people suspended in midair! Yes, gen’lemen. At other places a guinea’s charged, and people’s wisibly supported by one stick. But ‘ere all sticks is taken away and I’m only chargin’ you a pinny. We don’t ask a shillin’, gen’lemen, but only a pinny. What I promises outsoide, I performs in. My show is sciointifik and respectable, and a ten minutes’ respectable and sciointifik show’s better’n a hour’s rot, which is all you gets in some of your guinea theatres. Your own consciences’Il prompt you to recommen’ my show!” I give his patter, since it points out what he considered to be the principal feature of his performance.

Child labour laws did not bar children from working at all hours on the stage. As an 1862 report on the English theatrical economy remarks: “It is a well-known fact that little boys and girls of six and seven years often support a whole family by their slender earnings.”

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.

 

Advertisements

Death in the Pot

there is death in the pot.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The Deferred Appointment: 1911

The Deferred Appointment

Algernon Blackwood

The little “Photographic Studio” in the side-street beyond Shepherd’s Bush had done no business all day, for the light had been uninviting to even the vainest sitter, and the murky sky that foreboded snow had hung over London without a break since dawn. Pedestrians went hurrying and shivering along the pavements, disappearing into the gloom of countless ugly little houses the moment they passed beyond the glare of the big electric standards that lit the thundering motor-buses in the main street. The first flakes of snow, indeed, were already falling slowly, as though they shrank from settling in the grime. The wind moaned and sang dismally, catching the ears and lifting the shabby coat-tails of Mr. Mortimer Jenkyn, “Photographic Artist,” as he stood outside and put the shutters up with his own cold hands in despair of further trade.

It was five minutes to six. With a lingering glance at the enlarged portrait of a fat man in masonic regalia who was the pride and glory of his window-front, he fixed the last hook of the shutter, and turned to go indoors. There was developing and framing to be done upstairs, not very remunerative work, but better, at any rate, than waiting in an empty studio for customers who did not come—wasting the heat of two oil-stoves into the bargain. And it was then, in the act of closing the street-door behind him, that he saw a man standing in the shadows of the narrow passage, staring fixedly into his face.

Mr. Jenkyn admits that he jumped. The man was so very close, yet he had not seen him come in; and in the eyes was such a curiously sad and appealing expression. He had already sent his assistant home, and there was no other occupant of the little two-storey house. The man must have slipped past him from the dark street while his back was turned. Who in the world could he be, and what could he want? Was he beggar, customer, or rogue?

“Good evening,” Mr. Jenkyn said, washing his hands, but using only half the oily politeness of tone with which he favoured sitters. He was just going to add “sir,” feeling it wiser to be on the safe side, when the stranger shifted his position so that the light fell directly upon his face, and Mr. Jenkyn was aware that he—recognised him. Unless he was greatly mistaken, it was the second-hand bookseller in the main street.

“Ah, it’s you, Mr. Wilson!” he stammered, making half a question of it, as though not quite convinced. “Pardon me; I did not quite catch your face—er—I was just shutting up.” The other bowed his head in reply. “Won’t you come in? Do, please.” Mr. Jenkyn led the way. He wondered what was the matter. The visitor was not among his customers; indeed, he could hardly claim to know him, having only seen him occasionally when calling at the shop for slight purchases of paper and what not. The man, he now realised, looked fearfully ill and wasted, his face pale and haggard. It upset him rather, this sudden, abrupt call. He felt sorry, pained. He felt uneasy.

Into the studio they passed, the visitor going first as though he knew the way, Mr. Jenkyn noticing through his flurry that he was in his “Sunday best.” Evidently he had come with a definite purpose. It was odd. Still without speaking, he moved straight across the room and posed himself in front of the dingy background of painted trees, facing the camera. The studio was brightly lit. He seated himself in the faded arm-chair, crossed his legs, drew up the little round table with the artificial roses upon it in a tall, thin vase, and struck an attitude. He meant to be photographed.

His eyes, staring straight into the lens, draped as it was with the black velvet curtain, seemed, however, to take no account of the Photographic Artist. But Mr. Jenkyn, standing still beside the door, felt a cold air playing over his face that was not merely the winter cold from the street. He felt his hair rise. A slight shiver ran down his back. In that pale, drawn face, and in those staring eyes across the room that gazed so fixedly into the draped camera, he read the signature of illness that no longer knows hope. It was Death that he saw.

In a flash the impression came and went—less than a second. The whole business, indeed, had not occupied two minutes. Mr. Jenkyn pulled himself together with a strong effort, dismissed his foolish obsession, and came sharply to practical considerations. “Forgive me,” he said, a trifle thickly, confusedly, “but I—er—did not quite realise. You desire to sit for your portrait, of course. I’ve had such a busy day, and—’ardly looked for a customer so late.” The clock, as he spoke, struck six. But he did not notice the sound. Through his mind ran another reflection: “A man shouldn’t ‘ave his picture taken when he’s ill and next door to dying. Lord! He’ll want a lot of touching-up and finishin’, too!”

He began discussing the size, price, and length—the usual rigmarole of his “profession,” and the other, sitting there, still vouchsafed no comment or reply. He simply made the impression of a man in a great hurry, who wished to finish a disagreeable business without unnecessary talk. Many men, reflected the photographer, were the same; being photographed was worse to them than going to the dentist. Mr. Jenkyn filled the pauses with his professional running talk and patter, while the sitter, fixed and motionless, kept his first position and stared at the camera. The photographer rather prided himself upon his ability to make sitters look bright and pleasant; but this man was hopeless. It was only afterwards Mr. Jenkyn recalled the singular fact that he never once touched him—that, in fact, something connected possibly with his frail appearance of deadly illness had prevented his going close to arrange the details of the hastily assumed pose.

“It must be a flashlight, of course, Mr. Wilson,” he said, fidgeting at length with the camera-stand, shifting it slightly nearer; while the other moved his head gently yet impatiently in agreement. Mr. Jenkyn longed to suggest his coming another time when he looked better, to speak with sympathy of his illness; to say something, in fact, that might establish a personal relation. But his tongue in this respect seemed utterly tied. It was just this personal relation which seemed impossible of approach—absolutely and peremptorily impossible. There seemed a barrier between the two. He could only chatter the usual professional commonplaces. To tell the truth, Mr. Jenkyn thinks he felt a little dazed the whole time—not quite his usual self. And, meanwhile, his uneasiness oddly increased. He hurried. He, too, wanted the matter done with and his visitor gone.

At length everything was ready, only the flashlight waiting to be turned on, when, stooping, he covered his head with the velvet cloth and peered through the lens— at no one! When he says “at no one,” however, he qualifies it thus: “There was a quick flash of brilliant white light and a face in the middle of it—my gracious Heaven! But such a face—’im, yet not ’im—like a sudden rushing glory of a face! It shot off like lightning out of the camera’s field of vision. It left me blinded, I assure you, ’alf blinded, and that’s a fac’. It was sheer dazzling!”

It seems Mr. Jenkyn remained entangled a moment in the cloth, eyes closed, breath coming in gasps, for when he got clear and straightened up again, staring once more at his customer over the top of the camera, he stared for the second time at—no one. And the cap that he held in his left hand he clapped feverishly over the uncovered lens. Mr. Jenkyn staggered… looked hurriedly round the empty studio, then ran, knocking a chair over as he went, into the passage. The hall was deserted, the front door closed. His visitor had disappeared “almost as though he hadn’t never been there at all”—thus he described it to himself in a terrified whisper. And again he felt the hair rise on his scalp; his skin crawled a little, and something put back the ice against his spine.

After a moment he returned to the studio and somewhat feverishly examined it. There stood the chair against the dingy background of trees; and there, close beside it, was the round table with the flower vase. Less than a minute ago Mr. Thomas Wilson, looking like death, had been sitting in that very chair. “It wasn’t all a sort of dreamin’, then,” ran through his disordered and frightened mind. “I did see something…!” He remembered vaguely stories he had read in the newspapers, stories of queer warnings that saved people from disasters, apparitions, faces seen in dream, and so forth. “Maybe,” he thought with confusion, “something’s going to ’appen to me!” Further than that he could not get for some little time, as he stood there staring about him, almost expecting that Mr. Wilson might reappear as strangely as he had disappeared. He went over the whole scene again and again, reconstructing it in minutest detail. And only then, for the first time, did he plainly realise two things which somehow or other he had not thought strange before, but now thought very strange. For his visitor, he remembered, had not uttered a single word, nor had he, Mr. Jenkyn, once touched his person… And, thereupon, without more ado, he put on his hat and coat and went round to the little shop in the main street to buy some ink and stationery which he did not in the least require.

The shop seemed all as usual, though Mr. Wilson himself was not visible behind the littered desk. A tall gentleman was talking in low tones to the partner. Mr. Jenkyn bowed as he went in, then stood examining a case of cheap stylographic pens, waiting for the others to finish. It was impossible to avoid overhearing. Besides, the little shop had distinguished customers sometimes, he had heard, and this evidently was one of them. He only understood part of the conversation, but he remembers all of it. “Singular, yes, these last words of dying men,” the tall man was saying, “very singular. You remember Newman’s: ‘More light,’ wasn’t it?” The bookseller nodded.

“Fine,” he said, “fine, that!” There was a pause. Mr. Jenkyn stooped lower over the pens. “This, too, was fine in its way,” the gentleman added, straightening up to go; “the old promise, you see, unfulfilled but not forgotten. Cropped up suddenly out of the delirium. Curious, very curious! A good, conscientious man to the last. In all the twenty years I’ve known him he never broke his word…”

A motor-bus drowned a sentence, and then was heard in the bookseller’s voice, as he moved towards the door. “…You see, he was half-way down the stairs before they found him, always repeating the same thing, ‘I promised the wife, I promised the wife.’ And it was a job, I’m told, getting him back again… he struggled so. That’s what finished him so quick, I suppose. Fifteen minutes later he was gone, and his last words were always the same, ‘I promised the wife’…”

The tall man was gone, and Mr. Jenkyn forgot about his purchases. “When did it ’appen?” he heard himself asking in a voice he hardly recognised as his own. And the reply roared and thundered in his ears as he went down the street a minute later to his house: “Close on six o’clock—a few minutes before the hour. Been ill for weeks, yes. Caught him out of bed with high fever on his way to your place, Mr. Jenkyn, calling at the top of his voice that he’d forgotten to see you about his picture being taken. Yes, very sad, very sad indeed.”

But Mr. Jenkyn did not return to his studio. He left the light burning there all night. He went to the little room where he slept out, and next day gave the plate to be developed by his assistant. “Defective plate, sir,” was the report in due course; “shows nothing but a flash of light—uncommonly brilliant.” “Make a print of it all the same,” was the reply. Six months later, when he examined the plate and print, Mr. Jenkyn found that the singular streaks of light had disappeared from both. The uncommon brilliance had faded out completely as though it had never been there.

The Times-Democrat [New Orleans LA] 12 March 1911: p. 39

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Algernon Blackwood is perhaps best known for his “weird” supernatural and horror fiction. This is a workmanlike example of one of his ghost stories.

Mrs Daffodil regrets that the death-like countenance of Mr Wilson did not appear in the plate or the print so that the image could have been presented to his wife as a memento (mori) of the occasion. Normally a post-mortem photograph would be taken at the home of the deceased, with the decedent passively submitting to the professional ministrations of the photographic artist. The notion of a post-mortem photograph taken of a subject who not only walked into the photographic studio but posed himself at a table containing a vase of artificial roses is uncommonly chilling.

 

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.

Armistice Day: 1918

In Flanders fields.jpg

One hundred years ago, to-day, the guns fell silent on the Western Front. It was a time for rejoicing. The War to End All Wars was over. And yet, amid the cheering crowds,  there were those who were silent,  mourning for those who would not return.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

For the story of Canadian physician and poet John McCrae and how he came to write this poem–perhaps the best-known of the Great War, see this podcast and transcription from Library and Archives, Canada.

Mrs Daffodil has discussed the melancholy question of how to mourn the dead of the Great War here and here.

A Soldier on the Garden Path: 1916

grave of an unknown Canadian soldier, Somme battlefield October 1916

The grave of an unknown Canadian soldier, Somme battlefield, October 1916 https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194594

Pauline Frederick’s fine emotional countenance relaxed into a smile on being requested to relate her most vivid Christmas experience; then it grew grave again, as though the request had conjured up an unpleasant memory.

“This story relates to a young cousin of whom I was very fond, as we had practically been brought up together,” commenced Miss Frederick. “On the outbreak of war he joined the Canadian army.

“On this particular night I was about to retire to bed, and my maid, who was drawing down the blinds, turned to me with a movement of surprise, and then cried out: ‘There’s a soldier coming up the garden path.’ I ran to the window and looked out. It was a bright moonlight night, and I had no difficulty in recognising the soldier as my cousin. Wondering that he had never informed me that he would have leave of absence, I went downstairs to open the door, followed by my maid. On opening the door and going out on the steps I found to my surprise that no one was in sight. With my maid we searched the garden, but everything was quiet and we went indoors again. Feeling a little uneasy, I questioned the maid as to the impression she had received of the soldier, and her replies convinced me that I could not have been suffering from hallucinations.

“The next day I dropped a note to my cousin’s mother asking her if she had heard lately from her son. A reply came by return of post that she had that morning received a cheery letter from France, and that my cousin had asked to be remembered to me.

“I felt a little more cheerful on the receipt of this news, and dismissed the incident from my mind. A week later, however. I found a letter on my breakfast table, the envelope being of the kind known as ‘mourning,’ and seeing that it was in my aunt’s handwriting I had an eerie feeling that there was some connection between my vision and this communication. The news was hardly news to me although my aunt informed me that her son had been killed in one of the innumerable raids on the Somme, and the time of the raid corresponded with the time of the strange visitation. What do I make of the experience? I really don’t know. I have heard such things have happened before in–other people’s experience, and I have always been sceptical of those stories, but I shall never be sceptical again.”

Evening Star 22 December 1920: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The narrative above comes from Miss Pauline Frederick, an American stage and cinema actress. It was part of an article about the unusual and supernatural experiences of  actors and actresses.

The Battle of the Somme, which began 1 July 1916, saw 60,000 British casualties just on the first day of the campaign. The Canadian troops were called on in September of 1916 to launch a series of new attacks against a particularly well-fortified trench. When the trench was bombed into submission, the Battle of the Somme ended.

As this site on the Canadian troops in the Great War describes: “The fighting at the Somme shifted the front lines only eight kilometres at a horrendous cost of more than 1 million casualties, including 24,000 dead and wounded Canadians. The human toll of the battle remains as controversial today as it was at the time.”

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 Kiss of Death: 1887

skeleton lovers Posada.JPG
On this, the last day of Dia de Muertos, Mrs Daffodil has received permission to borrow a post appropriate to the holiday from that death-obsessed person over at Haunted Ohio. She writes: 
 

As we have all painted our faces like La Calavera Catrina and are munching sugar skulls to honor our Dear Departed on this Day of the Dead, let us settle down among the marigolds for a ghost story. On previous holidays, we have met a faithful dead nun and a skeletal bishop with his evil raven companion. Today we go to a churchyard in San Juan where a seductive entity sought its prey.

THE KISS OF DEATH

STRANGE SUPERSTITION OF MONTEREY MEXICANS

A Spectre That Appears in Beautiful Guise to Lure Men and Women to Death.

The Santa Cruz ghost, which is engrossing the attention of the citizens of that famous watering-place by its midnight revelries, recalls a legend of San Juan, in the adjoining county, told the writer many years ago by a narrator no less credible than a good old Spanish priest, with whom the writer happened to be staying on a few days’ visit.

One morning after breakfast he expressed a wish to stroll into the ancient graveyard attached to the old adobe church of that quaint little Mexican town. The old padre, with the kindness and courtesy characteristic of the simple missionary fathers, at once acceded and accompanied the writer, relating as we walked among the graves the brief history of some who lay quietly beneath. “Here,” he observed, with a quiet smile as he pointed to a grave in the middle of the cemetery, “here is a grave which the simple old Mexican families around here look upon with unusual interest, if not with actual awe.”

“A murder?”

“No, no! Something much stranger. I have tried to combat the idea, and while I would be addressing the people they would say, “Si Si, Padre.” They would assent to all I said, but the belief remained and does remain indelible.

“A spirit,” he began, “is said to have appeared to everyone buried in that grave, and to warn the family whenever any of them is about to pass away.

“Its appearance, which is generally made in the following manner, is believed to be uniformly fatal, being an omen of death to those who are so unhappy as to meet with it.

“When a funeral takes place the spirit is said to watch the person who remains last in the graveyard, over whom it possesses a fascinating influence.

“If the person be a young man the spirit takes the shape of a fascinating female, inspires him with a charmed passion, and exacts a promise that he will meet her at the graveyard a month from that day. This promise is sealed with a kiss, that communicates a deadly taint to him who complies.

“The spirit then disappears. No sooner does the person from whom it received the promise and the kiss pass the boundary of the churchyard than he remembers the history of the specter. He sinks into despair and insanity and dies. If, on the contrary, the specter appears to a female, it assumes the form of a young man of exceeding elegance and beauty.” The padre showed me the grave of a young person about 18 years of age, who was said four months before to have fallen a victim to it. “Ten months ago,” the father said, “a man gave the promise and the fatal kiss, and consequently looked upon himself as lost. He took a fever and died and was buried on the day appointed for the meeting, which was exactly a month after the fatal interview.

“Incredible as it may appear, the friends of these two persons solemnly declared to me that the particulars of the interview were repeatedly detailed by the two persons without the slightest variation.

“There are several cases of the same kind mentioned, but the two cases alluded to are the only ones that came within my personal knowledge.

“It appears, however, that the spectre does not confine its operations to the graveyard only. There have been instances mentioned of its appearance at weddings and social parties, where it never failed to secure its victims by dancing them into pleuritic fevers.”

On being questions as to what he might think of such possible occurrences, the good father simply smiled and shook his head.

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 21 October 1887: p. 1

The Santa Cruz ghost mentioned was a Woman in White, like the classic Hispanic ghost, La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, said to weep for her children whom she killed when their father refused to marry her. Over time La Llorona has morphed into a kind of banshee, warning of imminent death, or a vampire spirit, luring young men to their doom. Here the churchyard specter is both incubus and succubus, an equal-opportunity, shape-shifting seducer. The victim’s oblivion until he or she steps out of the graveyard is an especially fiendish touch. There is an interesting echo of the Dance of  Death in that “dancing into pleuritic fevers” and a hint of the European belief that the last person buried in a graveyard is forced to be its guardian until the next corpse comes along.  Let this be a warning to all of us to never be the last one out of the graveyard….

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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.

The Victorian Book of the Dead

A book on the popular and material culture of Victorian death and mourning.

Morbid Curiosities

Promoting the education and interest in all things death-related and removing the stigma from the fate we are all destined for

Week In Weird

Paranormal News, Reviews, and Reports of the Strange and the Unexplained

Hayley is a Ghost

'When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.'

Lindagodfrey's Blog

Author & Investigator of Strange Creatures

The Concealed Revealed

Shedding light on the concealed object, revealed

A Grave Concern

A member of the Association of Graveyard Rabbits

Ghostly Aspects

Supernatural Folklore

Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

EsoterX

If Monsters Don't Exist, Why Are They Out To Get Me?

Misc. Tidings of Yore

Forgotten Lore & Historical Curiosities

Haunted Ohio Books

This is the official website of the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series and the Ghosts of the Past series by Ohio author Chris Woodyard

Deathly ponderings

The mutterings of a couple of thanatology nerds

weirdaustralia

All that's weird in Oz.

freaky folk tales

A haunting we will go...

Two Nerdy History Girls

A blog about costume, history, and social ephemera