Category Archives: Death

The Deadly Chewing Gum: 1885

chewing gum seller 1894

The Deadly Chewing Gum.

Some people are continually advocating the cause of total abstinence and waging  war upon the hard cider when it stirreth itself aright in the Venetian glass But they do not seem know there is a vice equally as bad as that, which stings like a centipede and bites like a dose of Jamaica ginger, holding in its grip some of the fairest young ladies of our broad republic, and as I said before I deem it my duty to expose to the world some of the ravages made in our best families by that grim monster who enters into the very heart of our domestic fabric under the name of “Chewing Gum.”

I once knew a black-haired girl with great, liquid, laughing, pleading eyes that looked like a big white daisy with a black spot in the centre, and breath like a clover-fed Polled-Angus heifer. She could have more fun than anybody at a church social or roller skating-rink carnival, and her merry laugh filled the house with more mirth, soulful song and silver-plated melody than any amateur opera company that ever stopped at the entrance to the Grand Canyon. All the boys were “dead gone” on her, and she was mashed on several herself. But in an unguarded moment she commenced nibbling at and chewing her mother’s beeswax. This did not long satisfy her. The cruel thralldom had begun. Whenever she felt depressed, all broke up, or statu quo, as the case might be, there a nothing that would remove her ennui and fill the dark, fathomless aching void in her system, which was situated under the south end of her red corset, but the conscience-deadening, soul-destroying debaser of girlhood—beeswax. From this she gradually sunk lower and lower; became more debased and reckless, till she finally could not shake off the chains that bound her, and there was hardly an hour that she was not under the baleful influence of spruce gum or taffy on a broom-straw.

If she could not get spruce-gum to assuage her mad thirst she would chew on the rubber top of a lead pencil or strings out of an old elastic suspender.

She gradually pined away until she wouldn’t average over twelve ounces to the pound. She could no longer sit on one foot and be happy.

Life to her was filled with mahogany-colored gloom, lit up with only wax Christmas tree candles, and seemed but a rickety rusty waste of stub-toed grief. At last she took an overdose of gum overshoes and tar-roofing one day and her soul glided off for the land where hot-house plants never freeze.

If this little sketch will help any young girl in the community to shun chewing gum like she would the soft dude of the cultured East, and induce her to lead a better and nobler life in the future, it will have accomplished a mission for which the writer is truly thankful in advance.

Salt Lake [UT] Evening Democrat 23 May 1885: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A powerful and cautionary testimonial!  Not for nothing did mothers everywhere caution their children not to swallow gum. It was a mere step from chewing gum to chewing tobacco and from thence to the craving of strong drink.

 

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 anecdote

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.

What They Saw at the Paris Morgue: 1896

A VOICELESS ACCUSATION

She was tall and slender and American from the nodding plumes of her big black hat to the tips of her small, shining shoes. The man with her was an American too, though his carriage no less than his clothes betrayed a longer residence in Paris. He was big and blonde, and he looked about him into the dark recesses of the aisles and chapels of Notre Dame as if he were always on the alert for subjects for his brush, or as if he expected to see the unexpected.

They had known each other in New York, but that was two years ago, and it was not until Mrs. Morton and Edith came to Paris six months before that they had become attached to one another. They were engaged, but that did not prevent them from quarrelling earnestly, though in subdued tones, as they looked up at the huge rose window in the transept.

“I admit that I lost the locket yesterday, Edith, and I say that I’ll try to get it again; or, if I don’t succeed, I’ll do you another. Your likeness never pleased me, anyway.”

“But yours suited me perfectly, Arthur. I wish I hadn’t let you take it. It really didn’t need retouching at all.”

“Well, why go into it any more? The thing is done, and that‘s all there is about it,” exclaimed Abernathy, with a petulance so unsuited to a man of his physical proportions that one could but wonder, and then be led by wonder to notice the tiny lines traced by weakness on his still youthful face, and the full lips of vacillation.

“You needn’t be so cross. I suppose it’s useless to talk about it any more, and we might as well go on to the Morgue,” said Edith, shrugging her shoulders ever so little.

“The Morgue? You’re not going there! Why, it’s horrible, dear!” and Arthur looked the picture of horror and dismay.

“Certainly I’m going. Where’s mamma? Oh, over there, buying a candle. She won’t want to go,” she continued, with the calm finality of the daughter who understands her mother, “but I’ve heard of the Paris Morgue all my life, and I’m going to see it.”

She swept down the center aisle of the vast old building like a young princess, the broad shaft of sunlight from the open door making a golden path for her feet, and illuming every curve of her lithe figure.

“Mrs. Morton, you won’t allow Edith to go to the Morgue?” gasped Abernathy. And “Mamma, I’m going to the Morgue. Wait here for me, please,” announced Edith, simultaneously, with decision.

Mrs. Morton desisted from her candle buying, and looked helplessly from one to the other.

“Very well,” she murmured, vaguely, gazing after their retreating forms as Edith briskly walked away, followed by Arthur, still expostulating.

Sometimes it gives one an appearance of dignity to sanction what one can not help.

Abernathy exhausted his eloquence as they walked down the street beside the cathedral, unmindful of the long, gray mass of stone, with its weather-worn carving and grisly gargoyles. It was a shock to his artistic temperament that Edith, whom he loved and mentally held apart from all unhappiness and squalor, should be faced with the horrid presentments of death from misadventure or from the misery which makes man a God unto himself, even to the taking of his own life. It was hideous to him that Edith should even want to go. Yet, as she insisted, of course he must go too. Then what was the use of seeing more unpleasant things than one has to, in this world?

The usual stream of morbid humanity was passing behind the screen which conceals the bodies exposed in the Morgue from the street, and Arthur and Edith fell into line and passed under the roof. Behind the glass windows which faced them lay four bodies, three men and one woman. The latter was but a girl, small of feature, with her brown hair wet with the river’s slime clinging to her cheeks, whence the color had fled. Over her head was a placard bearing a number and telling where she had been found. Near by were her clothes and the contents of her pocket, placed conspicuously, in the hope that some one might identify her.

Abernathy glanced indifferently at the men—he cared more for the effect of the scene upon Edith. His gaze traveled on to the last figure in the row.

“My God, it is Felicité!”

“Felicité?”

“My model.”

“And that,” said Edith, “is my locket. ”

Abernathy saw his own face smiling up at him, the work of his hands, as the lifelessness of the still form before him was the work of his selfishness.

But the portrait of Edith on the left side of the locket was broken into many pieces, and the gold case was dented as if it had been bitten in agony or in rage.

Mabell Shippie Clarke.

Arden, N.C.

The New Bohemian: A Modern Monthly  Vol. III No. 1 July 1896: pp. 49-50

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has long wondered why the French authorities did not put an embargo on American artists. They had an appalling record, at least in fiction, of wantonly discarding models after they had tired of them and driving the young women to drugs, drink, and desperation.

The Paris Morgue, was, shocking as it may seem to our modern sensibilities, a popular tourist attraction. You may read about Death as Entertainment at the Paris Morgue 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 anecdote

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 Grey Plaid: 1870s

“In the farm-house of T—, where I spent my youth, there lived an old woman named Elspeth M’Kinnon, who was accounted famous for the gift of second sight. Now this old crone was the object of my greatest aversion. Not only was she in the highest degree witchlike in her appearance, being dwarfish in stature, bent almost double, small-eyed, wide-mouthed, and having a sharp chin fringed with a beard, but she was always sitting away in odd nooks and corners peering out at one with eyes glaring and cat-like in their expression, and muttering to herself in a language wholly unintelligible to other ears than her own.  “Had I been permitted to have my own way I am afraid old Elspeth would never have been allowed to pass the remainder of her days at T—, but fortunately for her those in authority did not regard her in the same unpleasing light that I did. They considered her to be a poor helpless creature who had a claim on their kindness owing to her having been for many years a servant in my father’s family, and they reverenced her as a seer.

It is, perhaps, needless to tell you that Elspeth prided herself on her reputed gift, which it seems she inherited from her mother; and nothing enraged her so much as when any one doubted, or feigned to doubt, her prophetic powers.

“Boy-like, I loved to tease her upon this point, pretending that I was similarly endowed like herself; that whilst wandering amongst the mountains I had seen singular visions, and I would ask her with a mocking laugh what she thought they portended. Elspeth’s sole answer when thus pressed would be a torrent of reproaches, coupled with warnings of hideous evils which would assuredly overtake me for my wicked unbelief and ridicule of her powers.

“One autumn morning, as I was standing in a barn looking on while some men were grinding corn, a servant girl came in with the intelligence that Elspeth had just told her to stand on one side of the road, as she saw a ‘gathering’ with a corpse on a bier passing by. And that on her saying she did not believe in such things, Elspeth told her that the funeral would soon take place, and that her mother and several others (naming them) would follow the bier. She also described the tartan of the plaid which lay over the corpse.

“Running out of the barn I came upon Elspeth cowering under a hedge, moaning and muttering to herself in her usual strange fashion, when, to make use of her own words, ‘she was under the power of the sight.’ ‘Ha! ha! Elspeth,’ I shouted in derision, ‘and so you have just seen a vision—a bier covered over with a plaid—and what like was the plaid, Elspeth?’

“‘It was red,’ shrieked the beldame, glaring at me with the look of a tigress; ‘red, checkered with green and blue. But grey will be the one just over you, when, in company with another prettier than yourself, you are brought down cold and stiff from the heights of Scuir-na-Gillean!’ [“The hill of the young men.”] ‘Thank you, Elspeth; I am glad you have promised me such a comfortable wrap.’

“This mocking rejoinder drew down upon me a fresh torrent of abuse, which I did not tarry to listen to.

“Those among you who believe in ‘second sight’ will not be surprised when I tell you that Elspeth’s prophecy in regard to the ‘gathering’ that was to be was fulfilled to the very letter, and that within a week after she had given utterance to it. It chanced that a young man residing in a neighbouring cottage was accidentally drowned, and being known to all the residenters in the vicinity of T—, he was followed to the grave by the very people named by Elspeth, and his bier was covered with a plaid checkered as she described.

“Still this strange coincidence by no means cured me of my scepticism. What more likely, I thought, than that when the poor fellow was drowned, his friends, recalling to mind Elspeth’s prophecy, should contrive to aid its fulfilment by appointing these persons she named to follow the bier! And every cottage containing one or more plaids it would be easy to procure one similar in pattern to that described by Elspeth.

“Perfectly satisfied in my own mind that such was a correct explanation of the affair, I only laughed at the more than reverential awe with which Elspeth was now regarded by those credulous enough to place faith in her predictions.

“Shortly after this I went south for a few weeks. On my return I was accompanied by a young Englishman named Vernon, who was desirous of learning something of sheep farming under my father’s instructions. A stranger to mountain scenery, the weird grandeur of the Coolins so delighted him that he was never weary of gazing on their rugged summits when dimly seen through the driving clouds or rose-coloured mists of evening.

“Of a bold adventurous disposition, young Vernon frequently expressed the wish that together we should ascend their giddy heights ere a snowstorm rendered such a feat impracticable. Equally desirous myself of achieving such an undertaking which, as you are well aware, is accounted rather a hazardous one from the frequent avalanches of gigantic stones which crash in every direction, thereby imperilling life and limb, one fine October morning we started on our expedition, which, as agreed upon between us, was carried out sub rosa. We had a mile of hard climbing to encounter ere we reached the mountains; and to us unskilled mountaineers this was by far the most fatiguing part of the undertaking. Our breath came short and thick, and so great was the oppression on our chests that we felt as though we must succumb. Gradually, however, this unpleasant feeling wore off, and by the time we arrived at the foot of the Coolins it had entirely disappeared.

“‘Now for the tug of war,’ said Vernon at sight of the grim barren-looking mountains towering up from our very feet, their wild and savage appearance rendered still more perceptible at our near approach. Nothing daunted, however, onwards we went, and now it was climbing in good earnest. Our progress might not unfrequently be described as that of one step forward and two backward: the loose shingle yielding beneath our feet occasioned this rather unsatisfactory mode of progression. The higher we ascended the greater the difficulties we had to encounter; and in many instances the peril became extreme when the narrow pathway by which we advanced led us to the brink of some giddy precipice where one false step would have precipitated us down into an unfathomable abyss.

“When near the top of the mountain I observed a solitary peak rising up behind the others, and evidently a good deal higher than those surrounding it. Pointing it out to Vernon, I said, ‘Once on that pinnacle we have achieved something to be proud of.’ He smiled assent, and we pushed onward, determined to do or die. After two hours and a half’s incessant clambering we stood upon the summit, panting and breathless, yet esteeming ourselves amply rewarded for our arduous ascent. The mighty Coolins, naked, lofty, and precipitous, surrounded on all sides this strange-looking peak, which we found to our great disappointment unscalable. Taglioni herself would have hesitated to execute a pas seul on the giddy pinnacle, whose point seemed to us fine as that of a needle, It towered up from the centre of the Coolins, solitary in its height and obelisk-like appearance, whilst its sides were polished as those of marble. The surrounding scenery was sublime. Lochs and mountains in endless variety met our gaze. Wherever we turned there was something to admire or wonder at in the freaks of nature.

“Whilst intensely enjoying the beauties surrounding us, imagine our horror at beholding a dense mass of cloud advancing towards us with rapid strides. There was something terrific in its appearance as it sped over the sea, enveloping the sun in its dusky folds, which, now of a fierce lurid red, seemed like an incensed magician glaring at us in anger for having invaded his dominions. In an instant, as it seemed, everything was hidden from view. Mountains, loch, glens, all had disappeared, and we were thoroughly wet, as though we had been submerged in one of the lochs we were so recently admiring.

“The cold on the top of the mountain had now become so intense that our faces were quite excoriated, and there being no further inducement for us to remain, we prepared to descend. Some large flakes of snow were now in the air. We quickened our steps in alarm, for one of us at least was but too familiar with the horrors of a Highland snow-storm.

“Not far from the summit we met two shepherds who had come up in quest of their fleecy charge, many of which lay dead around. In our eagerness to accomplish the descent in safety, we only tarried to make some inquiries respecting the path by which to descend, and to ask the name of the moun­tain on which we stood. At mention of Scuir-na-Gillean I could not restrain a cry of surprise. Old Elspeth’s prophecy flashed across my mind, and now it seemed about to be accomplished. Was I not on the heights of Scuir-na-Gillean, in company with a friend, and surrounded on all sides with indications of a coming snow-storm, which, unless we were enabled to accomplish the descent in less than half the time it took to ascend, might yet prove our winding-sheet!

“Through the glimmer of the fast-darkening day I seemed to see old Elspeth’s skinny hand pointed at me in scorn, and to hear her mocking laugh rise and mingle with the storm now moaning at a distance amongst the wild glens and rocks. As the concluding words of her prediction rose to my recollection, I grasped Vernon by the wrist with a vice-like grasp and plunged madly down the mountain.

***

“Some three or four hours afterwards we were discovered by other shepherds lying underneath the shelter of a huge beetling crag, whither we had crept for safety, not dead, but with the life in us frozen. And the shepherds fold us tenderly in their plaids and bear us in safety to our home, for their feet are familiar with the windings of each giddy path, and their dogs, in their wondrous instinct, are guides that err not.

“Ever after that memorable day I permitted old Elspeth to predict as many deaths and marriages as she pleased without further molestation from me—for had not her prophecy in respect to myself been literally fulfilled?

“Grey was the colour of the plaid which covered me when, in company with another prettier than myself, I was brought down cold and stiff from the heights of Scuir-na-Gillean.”

The Psychological Review, August, 1882: pp. 118-122

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To be Relentlessly Informative, the mountain is Sgùrr nan Gillean in the Cuillin range on the Isle of Skye. The reality of Second Sight is a fact of life for many on the Isle and throughout Scotland and, like the unnamed young idiot of the tale above, one defies it at one’s peril. He was singularly fortunate in the ambiguity of Elspeth’s Second Sight prophecy and one hopes that he was grovellingly courteous to that lady afterwards. But “I permitted old Elspeth” does not suggest that he took any lesson whatever from his near-death experience.

The “Phantom Funeral” is a particularly common Sight. This footnote to the story gives details:

That invisible funerals—that is, invisible to all save those gifted with the “second sight”—always precede real ones, is a favourite belief with the lower class of Highlanders in the islands of Tiree, Mull, and Skye. The writer of this paper was once solemnly assured by an inhabitant of Mull that a friend of hers was repeatedly knocked down one evening while coming along a road then occupied by a train of spiritual mourners.

That funereal-minded person over at Haunted Ohio has written several posts that tell of phantom funerals: Phantom Funerals and Tokens of Death. A most unsettling and unpleasant thing to meet in the road…

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 anecdote

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.

Rings that are Fatal: Various Dates

RINGS THAT ARE FATAL.

Amazing Stories New and Old.

“A learned German physician,” says a well-known writer upon jewels, “has given an instance in which the devil of his own accord enclosed himself in a ring as a familiar, thereby proving how dangerous it is to trifle with him.”

The Germans are all learned, as we know, and I should not like to dispute a statement so admirable. Finger-rings henceforth should have a new interest for as. The idea that the devil is bottled up in one may not be pleasant to entertain but then we have the German’s word for it, and Germans know everything.

If I do not feel inclined, however, to enter upon such a controversy, as is here suggested, none the less do I, as a jeweller, realise the potency of the superstitions connected with precious stones. Until the last two years, the opal— most beautiful, most lustrous, most wonderful of gems was almost a drug in the popular market. As well might you have sent a woman a letter edged with black to congratulate her upon her marriage as an opal for her wedding present. The prejudice arose, of course, from the old superstition that the opal is fatal to love, and that it sows discord between the giver and the receiver unless the wearer, happily, was born in October. In the latter case the stone becomes an emblem of hope and will bring luck to the wearer.

But, I hear you ask, is all this serious? Are you not rather joking, or speaking of the few and not of the many? I answer that I am as serious as ever I was in my life. Not only did we find it almost an impossibility five years ago to sell an opal at all, but the few women courageous enough to wear them in society contributed in the end to their unpopularity. I remember well a leader of fashion who for 12 months was conspicuous everywhere for the magnificence of the opals she wore, both upon her arms and her fingers. One day she came into my shop and bought an opal ring of immense size and singular magnificence.

“I am determined to kill this superstition,” she said, “and I am buying this ring because I am sure it will bring me luck.”

“I hope it will,” said I, “and if it should do so I trust that you will speak of it. The opal is sadly in need of a good word. I feel sure that nobody can speak that word to greater advantage than yourself.”

She promised that she would; and during the next three months she was loud in her conviction that the opal had been the best friend she had ever bought. Her husband doubled his fortune in that time. Her son obtained conspicuous honours at Cambridge. She backed the favourite for the Derby and he won. It really looked, even to the man of no superstitions, as though a freshet of fortune had flowed for her since the day she bought the ring.

Alas! how soon her hopes were to be shattered. Two months after her horse won the Derby her husband was in the bankruptcy court, a victim in a high degree of the Liberator [a famous race horse.]

It would be absurd and ridiculous, of course, for any sane man to regard the case as a post hoc ergo propter hoc. The event was a pure coincidence; yet nothing in this world would induce the lady in question to regard that ring otherwise than as a fatal one. We may say what we like, but once a woman has dubbed this or that lucky or unlucky, the homilies of a thousand bishops would not change her opinion. Witness that remarkable story told in the “Lives of the Lindsays,” in which we are shown how the Earl of Balcarres, forgetting on the morning of his wedding his appointment to marry the grand daughter of the Prince of Oxaxute, went hurriedly to church at the last moment without the all-necessary ring. This, of course, was a sad position for anybody to be in, and the young man appealed pathetically to the company to know if the deficiency could not be made good. Happily, or rather most unhappily, the best man standing at his side suddenly remembered that he had a ring in his pocket, and he slipped it into the earl’s hand just as the service began. Was it not a strange thing that this should have been a mourning ring, and that, when the happy bride ventured to look down upon her finger, she saw a skull and crossbones grinning at her? So great was her distress that she fainted in the church and when she came to she declared that it was an omen of death, and that she would not live through the year. And did she? the matter-of-fact man asks expectantly. Alas! twelve months were not numbered before Lady Balcarres was in her grave!

byron's mother's wedding ring Newstead Abbey

Byron’s mother’s wedding ring, Newstead Abbey

It is necessary at this point to tell you a story with a happier ending, lest the superstitious man should have it all his own way. It is said of Lord Byron that he was about to sit down to dinner one day when a gardener presented him with his mother’s wedding ring, which the man had just dug up in the garden before a wing of the house. Byron was at that time expectantly awaiting a letter from Miss Millbanke a letter which was to contain an answer to his proposal of marriage. When he saw the ring which the gardener brought him, he fell into a fit of deep gloom, regarding it as a sign of woeful omen but scarce had this depression come upon him when a servant entered with a letter from the lady. She accepted the poet.

There is another story told by the late Professor de Morgan I think it appeared in “Notes and Queries” which relates an instance of a page who fled to America simply because he lost a ring which he was carrying to the jeweller. The stone was an opal, if I remember rightly. The lights of it had so impressed the lad when he saw it upon his mistress’s finger that he stopped upon the plank bridge crossing the stream in his town, and took the jewel out of the box to admire it. But his fingers were clumsy, and in his attempt to try the ring on he let it slip into the river. Two years after in America he told the story, and related how that the ring had driven him to the condition of a miserable serf in the plantations. He did not know then that his condition was soon to be changed, and that diligence and hard work were to carry him to such a position of affluence that at the end of 20 years he returned to this country and to his native town. On the night of his arrival be went with a friend. to the old bridge, and recalled his misfortune there.

“It was in that very spot,” said he, thrusting his stick into the soft mud of the river, “that I dropped the ring.”

“But look!” cried the friend, “you have a ring upon the end of your stick!”

Sure enough, incredible though it may sound, the very ring he had dropped into the river 20 years before was now upon the end of the muddy stick.

Some people may be inclined to take this story with a grain of salt. Personally I am willing to think that Professor de Morgan and “Notes and Queries” would not have fathered upon us a mere bundle of lies. For the matter of that, there are cases as marvellous of the recovery of rings in nearly every town in England. At Brechin they will tell you of a Mrs Mountjoy who, when feeding a calf, let it suck her fingers, and with them a ring she wore. When this animal was slaughtered three years after, the ring was found in its intestine.

In the year 1871 a German farmer, who had been making flour balls for his cattle, missed his dead wife’s ring which he had been wearing upon his little finger. He made a great search for the treasure, holding the ring in some way necessary to his prosperity; but although he turned the house upside down, he never found it.

Seven or eight months after, this farmer shipped a number of bullocks upon the Adler cattle ship. The Adler came to port all right, but one of the bullocks had died during the voyage and been thrown overboard. Strangely enough, the carcase floated upon the sea, and was picked up by an English smack— the Mary Ann, of Colchester— the crew of which cut open the body to obtain some grease for the rigging. Did we not know that every line of this story had been authenticated, we should laugh when it is added that the farmer’s ring was found in the stomach of the derelict bullock and duly restored to its owner through the German Consul.

Here are stories of luck if you like. I will give you one also of luck which has never been told except to me and to the members of the household in which the strange occurrence took place. A lady, whose husband was a bank manager, purchased at my house some six years ago a singularly fine turquoise ring. She came to me at the end of two years and declared that the jewel in question had completely lost its colour. I saw that this was so, and told her there was no secret about the matter, but that she had washed her hands with the ring upon her finger, The turquoise, as all the world knows, should never be dipped in water. Some of the finest stones will stand the treatment, but in the majority of cases it is fatal. You would think that this was not a case for any superstitious fears, but my client was sadly troubled from the start at the omen of the ring; nor could my assurances comfort her. And oddly enough, within three months of the date of her visit to me her husband was in difficulties and had fled to America.

But this is not the end of the story of the turquoise. I had, previous to this calamity, set a new stone in the place of the old, and this jewel, being properly treated, kept its colour very well. Yet, as though that ring must prove fatal to all who wore it, it was the instrument of the capture of the lady’s husband, and of the term of imprisonment which followed on his arrest. The thing worked out in this way. For two years the fugitive remained abroad, but with that love of country which sometimes will prevail above reason, the unfortunate man returned here at last, and lay in hiding at the house which his wife had taken near Reading.

This was a rambling old place, with a decaying wing, very convenient for hiding a man. One morning the servants, who were not in the secret, found a turquoise upon the floor of a bedroom in this side of the house. As they had reason to believe that no one except themselves had been in the place for some years, they carried the ring to their mistress as a wonderful and amazing discovery. She, in her feverish desire to protect her husband, made up some cock-and-bull story which did not satisfy them. Although they had promised absolute secrecy, they made haste to tell the story in the village, where by a colossal misfortune the detective who was watching the case was even then staying. Needless to say how he pricked up his ears at the information; arguing rightly that where a ring was there a man or woman must have been. Three days later he arrested the defaulter, who had been hidden in the house all the time and had dropped the ring upon the floor of the bedroom. He had worn it on his little finger as a memento of his wife when he fled from the country, but it proved a fatal ring to him and to her.

It is scarcely within the scope of this article to write upon that vast branch of this subject which would properly come under the heading of poisoned rings. There was a story told in the French newspapers at no distant date of a man who bought an old ring in a shop in the Rue St. Honore, He was much interested in this, and was examining it closely, when he chanced to give himself a slight scratch in the hand with the edge of the ring. So slight was it that he scarce noticed it, and continued in conversation with the dealer, until of a sudden he was taken with violent pains in his body and fell in a fit upon the floor of the shop. The doctor who was summoned discovered every trace of mineral poison, and administered an antidote–happily with success, though the man suffered severely for several hours, and was at one time upon the very point of death. There is no doubt whatever that he had purchased what is called a “death ring,” a common weapon of assassination in the sixteenth century, and still to be found in the byways of Italy. The ring in question was made in the shape of two tiny lions’ claws, the nails being minute tubes from which the poison was ejected into the body. A man bearing a grudge against another would contrive to send him such a ring as a present and he would so manage it that he would meet the unlucky wearer very shortly after the present was received. It was the easiest thing in the world to give the victim a hearty shake of the hand, so squeezing the sharp claws into the flesh and administering a dose of the poison. And so skilled were the men in the manufacture of these rings that the day was rare when the victim of one lived even 10 minutes after he had received this death grip.

Otago [NZ] Witness 15 October 1896: p. 50

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has written before on those useful poisoned diamond rings with little spikes and a cursed ring formerly the property of the Spanish royal family. Various royal personages have also possessed “lucky” and “unlucky” rings as magical talismans.

Mrs Daffodil cannot accede to the author’s suggestion that Byron’s proposal to Anne Isabella Milbanke was a story with a “happier ending.”  The ill-matched couple separated shortly after their one-year anniversary and may have never seen each other again before Byron’s death in Greece in 1824.

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 anecdote

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 Countess and the Dead Queen: 1693

 

queen ulrika of sweden with four dead children

When Queen Ulrica was dead, her corpse was placed in the usual way in an open coffin, in a room hung with black and lighted with numerous wax candles; a company of the king’s guards did duty in the ante-room. One afternoon, the carriage of the Countess Steenbock [Stenbock] , first lady of the palace, and a particular favourite of the queen’s, drove up from Stockholm. The officers commanding the guard of honour went to meet the countess, and conducted her from the carriage to the door of the room where the dead queen lay, which she closed after her.

The long stay of the lady in the death-chamber caused some uneasiness; but it was ascribed to the vehemence of her grief; and the officers on duty, fearful of disturbing the further effusion of it by their presence, left her alone with the corpse. At length, finding that she did not return, they began to apprehend that some accident had befallen her, and the captain of the guard opened the door. He instantly started back, with a face of the utmost dismay. The other officers ran up, and plainly perceived, through the half-open door, the deceased queen standing upright in her coffin, and ardently embracing the countess. The apparition seemed to move, and soon after became enveloped in a dense smoke or vapour. When this had cleared away, the body of the queen lay in the same position as before, but the countess was nowhere to be found. In vain did they search that and the adjoining apartments, while some of the party hastened to the door, thinking she must have passed unobserved to her carriage; but neither carriage, horses, driver, or footmen were to be seen. A messenger was quickly despatched with a statement of this extraordinary circumstance to Stockholm, and there he learnt that the Countess Steenbock had never quitted the capital, and that she died at the very moment when she was seen in the arms of the deceased queen.

The Haunters and the Haunted, Ernest Rhys, 1921

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Queen Ulrika Eleanora of Denmark, consort of King Charles XI of Sweden, died in 1693, age 36, weakened by seven pregnancies in as many years and mourning the loss of four sons. The painting at the head of this post shows her with her lost children. She was universally beloved; her husband said at her deathbed: “Here I leave half of my heart.” He never remarried.

Maria Elisabeth Stenbock Countess Stenbock

Maria Elisabeth Stenbock (died 1693) was Mistress of the Robes to Queen Ulrika Eleanora of Denmark 1680-1693.  Portrait by David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl

A variant of this legend states that, while the queen was dying at Karlberg Palace, her favorite lady-in-waiting and Mistress of the Robes, Countess Maria Elisabeth Stenbock, lay sick in Stockholm. On the night the queen died, Countess Stenbock was seen to arrive at Karlberg and was admitted alone to the room containing the remains of the queen. The officer in charge, the splendidly-named Captain Stormcrantz, looked through the keyhole and saw the countess and the queen speaking by the window of the room. He was so shocked by the sight that he started coughing up blood. The countess, as well as her carriage, was gone in the next instant. It was found that the countess had been gravely ill in bed that day and had not left Stockholm. The King ordered that the affair be hushed up.  Countess Stenbock died of her illness several weeks later, and Captain Stormcrantz also died shortly after seeing the ghostly Queen.

 

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 anecdote

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.

Dolly. A Western Drover’s Story: 1870

DOLLY.

A Western Drover’s Story.

My name is Anthony Hunt. I am a drover; and I live miles and miles away upon the Western prairie. There wasn’t a house in sight, when we moved there, my wife and I, and now we haven’t many neighbors, though those we have are good ones.

One day, about ten years ago, I went away from home to sell some fifty head of cattle–fine creatures as I ever saw. I was to buy some dry goods and groceries before I came back–and, above all, a doll for our youngest, Dolly. She had never had a store doll of her own, only the rag babies her mother made her.

Dolly could talk of nothing else, and went down to the very gate to call after me to “buy a big one.” Nobody but a parent can understand how full my mind was of that toy, and how, when the cattle were sold, the first thing I hurried off to buy Dolly’s doll. I found a large one, with eyes that would open and shut when you pulled a wire, and had it wrapped in a paper and tucked it under my arm, while I had the parcels of calico and delaine and tea and sugar put up. Then, late as it was, I started for home. It might have been more prudent to stay until morning; but I felt anxious to get back, and eager to hear Dolly’s prattle about her doll.

I was mounted on a steady-going horse of mine, and was pretty well loaded. Night set in before I was a mile from town, and settled down dark as pitch while I was in the middle of the darkest bit of road I knew of. I could have felt my way, though, I remembered it so well, and it was almost midnight when the storm that had been brewing broke, and pelted the rain in torrents. I was five miles or may be six, from home yet, too.

I rode on as fast as I could. All of a sudden I heard a little cry like a child’s voice. I stopped short and listened–I heard it again, and again was answered. Then I began to wonder. I’m not timid; but I was known to be a drover, and to have money about me. It might be a trap to catch me unawares, and rob and murder me.

I am not superstitious–not very; but how could a real child be out on the prairie on such a night, at such an hour? It might be more than human.

The bit of coward that hides itself in most men showed itself to me then, and I was half inclined to run away; but once more I heard that cry, and said I:

“If any man’s child is hereabouts, Anthony Hunt is not the man to let it die.”

I searched again. At last I bethought me of a hollow under the hill, and groped that way. Sure enough, I found a little dripping thing that moaned and sobbed as I took it in my arms. I called my horse, and the beast came to me, and I mounted, and tucked the little soaked thing under my coat as well as I could, promising to take it home to mammy. It seemed tired to death, and pretty soon cried itself to sleep against my bosom.

It had slept there over an hour when I saw my own windows. There were lights in them, and I supposed my wife had lit them for my sake: but when I got into the dooryard I saw something was the matter, and stood still with a dead fear of heart five minutes before I could lift the latch. At last I did it, and saw the room full of neighbors, and my wife amidst them, weeping.

When she saw me she hid her face.

“Oh, don’t tell him,” she said. “It will kill him!”

“What is it, neighbors?” I cried.

And one said, “Nothing now, I hope. What’s that in your arms?”

“A poor, lost child!” said I. “I found it on the road. Take it will you! I’ve turned faint;” and I lifted the sleeping thing and saw the face of my own child, my own Dolly.

It was my own darling, and none other, that I had picked up upon the drenched road.

My little child had wandered out to meet “daddy” and the doll, while her mother was at work, and I had picked up her whom they were lamenting as one dead. I thanked Heaven on my knee before them all. It is not much a story, neighbors; but I think of it often in the nights, and wonder how I could bear to live now if I had not stopped when I heard the cry for help on the road, the little baby cry, hardly louder than a squirrel’s chirp.

That’s Dolly yonder with her mother, a girl worth saving—I think (but, then, I ‘m her father, and partial, may be)—the prettiest and sweetest thing this side of the Mississippi.

The Greensboro [NC] Patriot 10 February 1870: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: No doubt we are all exhaling and mopping our foreheads in relief at that happy ending. A very near thing, indeed…

 

 

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.

Christmas at Ringshaw Grange: 1906

the ghost of greystone grange 1878

THE GHOST’S TOUCH

I shall never forget the terrible Christmas I spent at Ringshaw Grange in the year ’93. As an army doctor I have met with strange adventures in far lands, and have seen some gruesome sights in the little wars which are constantly being waged on the frontiers of our empire; but it was reserved for an old country house in Hants to be the scene of the most noteworthy episode in my life. The experience was a painful one, and I hope it may never be repeated; but indeed so ghastly an event is not likely to occur again. If my story reads more like fiction than truth, I can only quote the well-worn saying, of the latter being stranger than the former. Many a time in my wandering life have I proved the truth of this proverb. The whole affair rose out of the invitation which Frank Ringan sent me to spend Christmas with himself and his cousin Percy at the family seat near Christchurch. At that time I was home on leave from India; and shortly after my arrival I chanced to meet with Percy Ringan in Piccadilly. He was an Australian with whom I had been intimate some years before in Melbourne: a dapper little man with sleek fair hair and a transparent complexion: looking as fragile as a Dresden china image, yet with plenty of pluck and spirits. He suffered from heart disease; and was liable to faint on occasions ; yet he fought against his mortal weakness with silent courage; and with certain precautions against over-excitement, he managed to enjoy life fairly well.

Notwithstanding his pronounced effeminacy, and somewhat truckling subserviency to rank and high birth, I liked the little man very well for his many good qualities. On the present occasion I was glad to see him, and expressed my pleasure.

“ Although I did not expect to see you in England,” said I, after the first greetings had passed.

“I have been in London these nine months, my dear Lascelles,” he said, in his usual mincing way, “ partly by way of a change and partly to see my cousin Frank,–who indeed invited me to come over from Australia.”

“Is that the rich cousin you were always speaking about in Melbourne?”

“Yes. But Frank is not rich. I am the wealthy Ringan, but he is the head of the family. You see, doctor,” continued Percy, taking my arm and pursuing the subject in a conversational manner, “my father, being a younger son, emigrated to Melbourne in the gold-digging days, and made his fortune out there. His brother remained at home on the estates, with very little money to keep up the dignity of the family; so my father helped the head of his house from time to time. Five years ago both my uncle and father died, leaving Frank and me as heirs, the one to the family estate, the other to the Australian wealth.”

“So you assist your cousin to keep up the dignity of the family as your father did before you.”

“Well, yes, I do,” admitted Percy, frankly. “ You see, we Ringans think a great deal of our birth and position. So much so, that we have made our wills in one another’s favour.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, if I die Frank inherits my money; and if he dies, I become heir to the Ringan estates. It seems strange that I should tell you all this, Lascelles; but you were so intimate with me in the old days that you can understand my apparent rashness.”

I could not forbear a chuckle at the reason assigned by Percy for his confidence, especially as it was such a weak one. The little man had a tongue like a towncrier, and could no more keep his private affairs to himself than a woman could guard a secret. Besides I saw very well that with his inherent snobbishness he desired to impress me with the position and antiquity of his family, and with the fact—undoubtedly true that it ranked amongst the landed gentry of the kingdom.

However, the weakness, though in bad taste, was harmless enough, and I had no scorn for the confession of it. Still, I felt a trifle bored, as I took little interest in the chronicling of such small beer, and shortly parted from Percy after promising to dine with him the following week.

At this dinner, which took place at the Athenian Club, I met with the head of the Ringan family; or, to put it plainer, with Percy’s cousin Frank. Like the Australian he was small and neat, but enjoyed much better health and lacked the effeminacy of the other. Yet on the whole I liked Percy the best, as there was a sly cast about Frank’s countenance which I did not relish ; and he patronised his colonial cousin in rather an offensive manner.

The latter looked up to his English kinsman with all deference, and would, I am sure, have willingly given his gold to regild the somewhat tarnished escutcheon of the Ringans. Outwardly, the two cousins were so alike as to remind one of Tweddledum and Tweddledee; but after due consideration I decided that Percy was the better-natured and more honourable of the two.

For some reason Frank Ringan seemed desirous of cultivating my acquaintance; and in one way and another I saw a good deal of him during my stay in London. Finally, when I was departing on a visit to some relatives in Norfolk he invited me to spend Christmas at Ringshaw Grange—not, as it afterwards appeared, without an ulterior motive.

“I can take no refusal,” said he, with a heartiness which sat ill on him. “Percy, as an old friend of yours, has set his heart on my having you down; and —if I may say so—I have set my heart on the same thing.”

“Oh, you really must come, Lascelles,” cried Percy, eagerly. “ We are going to keep Christmas in the real old English fashion. Washington Irving’s style, you know: holly, wassail-bowl, games, and mistletoe.”

“And perhaps a ghost or so,” finished Frank, laughing, yet with a side glance at his eager little cousin.

“Ah!” said I. “So your Grange is haunted.”

“I should think so,” said Percy, before his cousin could speak, “and with a good old Queen Anne ghost. Come down, Doctor, and Frank shall put you in the haunted chamber.”

“No!” cried Frank, with a sharpness which rather surprised me, “I’ll put no one in the Blue Room; the consequences might be fatal. You smile, Lascelles, but I assure you our ghost has been proved to exist!”

“That’s a paradox; a ghost can’t exist. But the story of your ghost—”

“Is too long to tell now,” said Frank, laughing. “Come down to the Grange and you’ll hear it.”

“Very good,” I replied, rather attracted by the idea of a haunted house, “you can count upon me for Christmas. But I warn you, Ringan, that I don’t believe in spirits. Ghosts went out with gas.”

“Then they must have come in again with electric light,” retorted Frank Ringan, “for Lady Joan undoubtedly haunts the Grange. I don’t mind; as it adds distinction to the house.”

“All old families have a ghost,” said Percy, importantly. “It is very natural when one has ancestors.”

There was no more said on the subject for the time being, but the upshot of this conversation was that I presented myself at Ringshaw Grange two or three days before Christmas. To speak the truth, I came more on Percy’s account than my own, as I knew the little man suffered from heart disease, and a sudden shock might prove fatal. If, in the unhealthy atmosphere of an old house, the inmates got talking of ghosts and goblins, it might be that the consequences would be dangerous to so highly strung and delicate a man as Percy Ringan.

For this reason, joined to a sneaking desire to see the ghost, I found myself a guest at Ringshaw Grange. In one way I regret the visit; yet in another —I regard it as providential that I was on the spot. Had I been absent the catastrophe might have been greater, although it could scarcely have been more terrible.

Ringshaw Grange was a quaint Elizabethan house, all gables and diamond easements, and oriel windows, and quaint terraces, looking like an illustration out of an old Christmas number. It was embowered in a large park, the trees of which came up almost to the doors, and when I saw it first in the moonlight—for it was by a late train that I came from London—it struck me as the very place for a ghost.

Here was a haunted house of the right quality if ever there was one, and I only hoped when I crossed the threshold that the local spectre would be worthy of its environment. In such an interesting house I did not think to pass a dull Christmas; but—God help me—I did not anticipate so tragic a Yule-tide as I spent.

As our host was a bachelor and had no female relative to do the honours of his house the guests were all of the masculine gender. ‘It is true that there was a housekeeper—a distant cousin I understood—who was rather elderly but very juvenile as to dress and manner. She went by the name of Miss Laura, but no one saw much of her as, otherwise than attending to her duties, she remained mostly in her own rooms.

So our party was composed of young men—none save myself being over the age of thirty, and few being gifted with much intelligence. The talk was mostly of sport, of horse racing, big game shooting and yacht-sailing: so that I grew tired at times of these subjects and retired to the library to read and write. The day after I arrived Frank showed me over the house.

It was a wonderful old barrack of a place, with broad passages, twisting interminably like the labyrinth of Daedalus; small bedrooms furnished in an old-fashioned manner, and vast reception apartments with polished floors and painted ceilings. Also there were the customary number of family portraits frowning from the walls; suits of tarnished armour; and ancient tapestries embroidered with grim and ghastly legends of the past.

The old house was crammed with treasures, rare enough to drive an antiquarian crazy; and filled with the flotsam and jetsam of many centuries, mellowed by time into one soft hue, which put them all in keeping with one another. I must say that I was charmed with Ringshaw Grange, and no longer wondered at the pride taken by Percy Ringan in his family and their past glories.

“That’s all very well,” said Frank, to whom I remarked as much; “Percy is rich, and had he this place could keep it up in proper style; but I am as poor as a rat, and unless I can make a rich marriage, or inherit a comfortable legacy, house and furniture park and timber may all come to the hammer.”

He looked gloomy as he spoke; and, feeling that I had touched on a somewhat delicate matter, I hastened to change the subject, by asking to be shown the famous Blue Chamber, which was said to be haunted. This was the true Mecca of my pilgrimage into Hants.

“It is along this passage,” said Frank, leading the way, “and not very far from your own quarters. There is nothing in its looks likely to hint at the ghost—at all events by day—but it is haunted for all that.”

Thus speaking he led me into a large room with a low ceiling, and a broad casement looking out on to the untrimmed park, where the woodland was most sylvan. The walls were hung with blue cloth embroidered with grotesque figures in black braid or thread, I know not which. There was a large old-fashioned bed with tester and figured curtains and a quantity of cumbersome furniture of the early Georgian epoch. Not having been inhabited for many years the room had a desolate and silent look—if one may use such an expression—and to my mind looked gruesome enough to conjure up a battalion of ghosts, let alone one.

“I don’t agree with you!” said I, in reply to my host’s remark. “ To my mind this is the very model of a haunted chamber. What is the legend?”

“I’ll tell it to you on Christmas Eve,” replied Rigan, as we left the room. “It is rather a bloodcurdling tale.”

“Do you believe it? ” said I, struck by the solemn air of the speaker.

“I have had evidence to make me credulous,” he replied dryly, and closed the subject for the time being.

It was renewed on Christmas Eve when all our company were gathered round a huge wood fire in the library. Outside, the snow lay thick on the ground, and the gaunt trees stood up black and leafless out of of the white expanse. The sky was of a frosty blue with sharply-twinkling stars, and a hard-looking moon. On the snow the shadows of interlacing boughs were traced blackly as in Indian ink, and the cold was of Arctic severity.

But seated in the holly-decked apartment before a noble fire which roared bravely up the wide chimney we cared nothing for the frozen world out of doors. We laughed and talked, sang songs and recalled adventures, until somewhere about ten o’clock we fell into a ghostly vein quite in keeping with the goblin-haunted season. It was then that Frank Ringan was called upon to chill our blood with his local legend. This he did without much pressing.

“In the reign of good Queen Anne,” said he, with a gravity befitting the subject, “my ancestor Hugh Ringan, was the owner of this house. He was a silent misanthropic man, having been soured early in life by the treachery of a woman. Mistrusting the sex he refused to marry for many years; and it was not until he was fifty years of age that he was beguiled by the arts of a pretty girl into the toils of matrimony. The lady was Joan Challoner, the daughter of the Earl of Branscourt; and she was esteemed one of the beauties of Queen Anne’s court.

“It was in London that Hugh met her, and thinking from her innocent and child-like appearance that she would make him a true-hearted wife, he married her after a six months’ courtship and brought her with all honour to Ringshaw Grange. After his marriage he became more cheerful and less distrustful of his fellow-creatures. Lady Joan was all to him that a wife could be, and seemed devoted to her husband and child—for she early became a mother— when one Christmas Eve all this happiness came to an end.”

“Oh!” said I, rather cynically. “So Lady Joan proved to be no better than the rest of her sex.”

“So Hugh Ringan thought, Doctor; but he was as mistaken as you are. Lady Joan occupied the Blue Room, which I showed you the other day; and on Christmas Eve, when riding home late, Hugh saw a man descend from the window. Thunderstruck by the sight, he galloped after the man and caught him before he could mount a horse which was waiting for him. The cavalier was a handsome young fellow of twenty-five, who refused to answer Hugh’s questions.

Thinking, naturally enough, that he had to do with a lover of his wife’s, Hugh fought a duel with the stranger and killed him after a hard fight.

“Leaving him dead on the snow he rode back to the Grange, and burst in on his wife to accuse her of perfidy. It was in vain that Lady Joan tried to defend herself by stating that the visitor was her brother, who was engaged in plots for the restoration of James II, and on that account wished to keep secret the fact of his presence in England. Hugh did not believe her, and told her plainly that he had killed her lover; whereupon Lady Joan burst out into a volley of reproaches and cursed her husband. Furious at what he deemed was her boldness Hugh at first attempted to kill her, but not thinking the punishment sufficient, he cut off her right hand.”

“Why? ” asked everyone, quite unprepared for this information.

“Because in the first place Lady Joan was very proud of her beautiful white hands, and in the second Hugh had seen the stranger kiss her hand—her right hand—before he descended from the window. For these reasons he mutilated her thus terribly.”

“And she died.”

“Yes, a week after her hand was cut off. And she swore that she would come back to touch all those in the Blue Room—that is who slept in it—who were foredoomed to death. She kept her promise, for many people who have slept in that fatal room have been touched by the dead hand of Lady Joan, and have subsequently died.”

“Did Hugh find out that his wife was innocent?”

“He did,” replied Ringan, “and within a month after her death. The stranger was really her brother, plotting for James II, as she had stated. Hugh was not punished by man for his crime, but within a year he slept in the Blue Chamber and was found dead next morning with the mark of three fingers on his right wrist. It was thought that in his remorse he had courted death by sleeping in the room cursed by his wife.”

“And there was a mark on him?”

“On his right wrist red marks like a burn; the impression of three fingers. Since that time the room has been haunted.”

“Does everyone who sleeps in it die?” I asked.

“No. Many people have risen well and hearty in the morning. Only those who are doomed to an early death are thus touched!”

“When did the last case occur?”

“Three years ago,” was Frank’s unexpected reply. “A friend of mine called Herbert Spencer would sleep in that room. He saw the ghost and was touched. He showed me the marks next morning—three red finger marks.”

“Did the omen hold good?”

“Yes. Spencer died three months afterwards. He was thrown from his horse.”

I was about to put further questions in a sceptical vein, when we heard shouts outside, and we all sprang to our feet as the door was thrown open to admit Miss Laura in a state of excitement.

“Mr. Ringan,” addressing herself to Percy, “your room is on fire!”

We waited to hear no more, but in a body rushed up to Percy’s room. Volumes of smoke were rolling out of the door, and flames were flashing within. Frank Ringan, however, was prompt and cool-headed. He had the alarm bell rung, summoned the servants, grooms, and stable hands, and in twenty minutes the fire was extinguished.

On asking how the fire had started, Miss Laura, with much hysterical sobbing, stated that she had gone into Percy’s room to see that all was ready and comfortable for the night. Unfortunately the wind wafted one of the bed-curtains towards the candle she was carrying, and in a moment the room was in a blaze. After pacifying Miss Laura, who could not help the accident, Frank turned to his cousin. By this time we were back again in the library.

“My dear-fellow,” he said, “ your room is swimming in water, and is charred with fire. I’m afraid you can’t stay there to-night; but I don’t know where to put you unless you take the Blue Room.”

“The Blue Room!” we all cried. “What! the haunted chamber?”

“Yes; all the other rooms are full. Still, if Percy is afraid—”

“Afraid!” cried Percy indignantly. “I’m not afraid at all. I’ll sleep in the Blue Room with the greatest of pleasure.”

“But the ghost—”

“I don’t care for the ghost,” interrupted the Australian, with a nervous laugh. “We have no ghosts in our part of the world, and as I have not seen one, I do not believe there is such a thing.”

We all tried to dissuade him from sleeping in the haunted room, and several of us offered to give up our apartments for the night—Frank among the number. But Percy’s dignity was touched, and he was resolute to keep his word. He had plenty of pluck, as I said before, and the fancy that we might think him a coward spurred him on to resist our entreaties.

The end of it was that shortly before midnight he went off to the Blue Room, and declared his intention of sleeping in it. There was nothing more to be said in the face of such obstinacy, so one by one we retired, quite unaware of the events to happen before the morning. So on that Christmas Eve the Blue Room had an unexpected tenant.

On going to my bedroom I could not sleep. The tale told by Frank Ringan haunted my fancy, and the idea of Percy sleeping in that ill-omened room made me nervous. I did not believe in ghosts myself, nor, so far as I knew, did Percy, but the little man suffered from heart disease—he was strung up to a high nervous pitch by our ghost stories—and if anything out of the common—even from natural causes—happened in that room, the shock might be fatal to its occupant.

I knew well enough that Percy, out of pride, would refuse to give up the room, yet I was determined that he should not sleep in it; so, failing persuasion, I employed stratagem. I had my medicine chest with me, and taking it from my portmanteau I prepared a powerful narcotic. I left this on the table and went along to the Blue Room, which, as I have said before, was not very far from mine.

A knock brought Percy to the door, clothed in pyjamas, and at a glance I could see that the ghostly atmosphere of the place was already telling on his nerves. He looked pale and disturbed, but his mouth was firmly set with an obstinate expression likely to resist my proposals. However, out of diplomacy, I made none, but blandly stated my errand, with more roughness, indeed, than was necessary.

“Come to my room, Percy,” I said, when be appeared, “and let me give you something to calm your nerves.”

“I’m not afraid! ” he said, defiantly.

“Who said you were?” I rejoined, tartly. “You believe in ghosts no more than I do, so why should you be afraid? But after the alarm of fire your nerves are upset, and I want to give you something to put them sight. Otherwise, you’ll get no sleep.”

“I shouldn’t mind a composing draught, certainly,” said the little man. “Have you it here?”

“No, it’s in my room, a few yards off. Come along.”

Quite deluded by my speech and manner, Percy followed me into my bedroom, and obediently enough swallowed the medicine. Then I made him sit down in a comfortable arm-chair, on the plea that he must not walk immediately after the draught. The result of my experiment was justified, for in less than ten minutes the poor little man was fast asleep under the influence of the narcotic. When thus helpless, I placed him on my bed, quite satisfied that he would not awaken until late the next day. My task accomplished, I extinguished the light, and went off myself to the Blue Room, intending to remain there for the night.

It may be asked why I did so, as I could easily have taken my rest on the sofa in my own room; but the fact is, I was anxious to sleep in a haunted chamber.

I did not believe in ghosts, as I had never seen one, but as there was a chance of meeting here with an authentic phantom I did not wish to lose the opportunity.

Therefore when I saw that Percy was safe for the night, I took up my quarters in the ghostly territory, with much curiosity, but—as I can safely aver—no fear. All the same, in case of practical jokes on the part of the feather-headed young men in the house, I took my revolver with me. Thus prepared, I locked the door of the Blue Room and slipped into bed, leaving the light burning. The revolver I kept under my pillow ready to my hand in case of necessity. ‘

“Now,” said I grimly, as I made myself comfortable, “I’m ready for ghosts, or goblins, or practical jokers.”

I lay awake for a long time, staring at the queer figures on the blue draperies of the apartment. In the pale flame of the candle they looked ghostly enough to disturb the nerves of anyone: and when the draught fluttered the tapestries the figures seemed to move as though alive. For this sight alone I was glad that Percy had not slept in that room. I could fancy the poor man lying in that vast bed with blanched face and beating heart, listening to every creak, and watching the fantastic embroideries waving on the walls. Brave as he was, I am sure the sounds and sights of that room would have shaken his nerves, I did not feel very comfortable myself, sceptic as I was.

When the candle had burned down pretty low I fell asleep. How long I slumbered I know not: but I woke up with the impression that something or some one was in the room. The candle had wasted nearly to the socket and the flame was flickering and leaping fitfully, so as to display the room one moment and leave it almost in darkness the next. I heard a soft step crossing the room, and as it drew near a sudden spurt of flame from the candle showed me a little woman standing by the side of the bed. She was dressed in a gown of flowered brocade, and wore the towering head dress of the Queen Anne epoch. Her face I could scarcely see, as the flash of flame was only momentary: but I felt what the Scotch call a deadly grue as I realized that this was the veritable phantom of Lady Joan.

For the moment the natural dread of the supernatural quite overpowered me, and with my hands and arms lying outside the counterpane I rested inert and chilled with fear. This sensation of helplessness in the presence of evil, was like what one experiences in a nightmare of the worst kind.

When again the flame of the expiring candle shot up, I beheld the ghost close at hand, and—as I felt rather than saw—knew that it was bending over me. A faint odour of musk was in the air, and I heard the soft rustle of the brocaded skirts echo through the semi-darkness. The next moment I felt my right wrist gripped in a burning grasp, and the sudden pain roused my nerves from their paralysis.

With a yell I rolled over, away from the ghost, wrenching my wrist from that horrible clasp, and, almost mad with pain I groped with my left hand for the revolver. As I seized it the candle flared up for the last time, and I saw the ghost gliding back towards the tapestries. In a second I raised the revolver and fired. The next moment there was a wild cry of terror and agony, the fall of a heavy body on the floor, and almost before I knew where I was I found myself outside the door of the haunted room To attract attention I fired another shot from my revolver, while the Thing on the floor moaned in the darkness most horribly.

In a few moments guests and servants, all in various stages of undress, came rushing along the passage bearing lights. A babel of voices arose, and I managed to babble some incoherent explanation, and led the way into the room. There on the floor lay the ghost, and we lowered the candles to look at its face. I sprang up with a cry on recognising who it was.

“Frank Ringan!”

It was indeed Frank Ringan disguised as a woman in wig and brocades. He looked at me with a ghostly face, his mouth working nervously. With an effort he raised himself on his hands and tried to speak—whether in confession or exculpation, I know not. But the attempt was too much for him, a choking cry escaped his lips, a jet of blood burst from his mouth, and he fell back dead.

Over the rest of the events of that terrible night I draw a veil. There are some things it is as well not to speak of. Only I may state that all through the horror and confusion Percy Ringan, thanks to my strong sleeping draught, slumbered as peacefully as a child, thereby saving his life.

With the morning’s light came discoveries and explanations. We found one of the panels behind the tapestry of the Blue Room open, and it gave admittance into a passage which on examination proved to lead into Frank Ringan’s bedroom. On the floor we discovered a delicate band formed of steel, and which bore marks of having been in the fire. On my right wrist were three distinct burns, which I have no hesitation in declaring, were caused by the mechanical hand which we picked up near the dead man. And the explanation of these things came from Miss Laura, who was wild with terror at the death of her master, and said in her first outburst of grief and fear, what I am sure she regretted in her calmer moments.

“It’s all Frank’s fault,” she wept. “He was poor and wished to be rich. He got Percy to make his will in his favour, and wanted to kill him by a shock. He knew that Percy had heart disease and that a shock might prove fatal; so he contrived that his cousin should sleep in the Blue Room on Christmas Eve; and he himself played the ghost of Lady Joan with the burning hand. It was a steel hand, which he heated in his own room so as to mark with a scar those it touched.”

“Whose idea was this?” I asked, horrified by the devilish ingenuity of the scheme.

“Frank’s!” said Miss Laura, candidly. “He promised to marry me if I helped him to get the money by Percy’s death. We found that there was a secret passage leading to the Blue Room; so some years ago we invented the story that it was haunted.”

“Why, in God’s name?”

“Because Frank was always poor. He knew that his cousin in Australia had heart disease, and invited him home to kill him with fright. To make things safe he was always talking about the haunted room and telling the story so that everything should be ready for Percy on his arrival. Our plans were all carried out. Percy arrived and Frank got him to make the will in his favour. Then he was told the story of Lady Joan and her hand, and by setting fire to Percy’s room last night I got him to sleep in the Blue Chamber without any suspicion being aroused.”

“You wicked woman!” I cried. “Did you fire Percy’s room on purpose?”

“Yes. Frank promised to marry me if I helped him. We had to get Percy to sleep in the Blue Chamber, and I managed it by setting fire to his bedroom. He would have died with fright when Frank, as Lady Joan, touched him with the steel hand, and no one would have been the wiser. Your sleeping in that haunted room saved Percy’s life, Dr. Lascelles; yet Frank invited you down as part of his scheme, that you might examine the body: and declare the death to be a natural one.”

“Was it Frank who burnt the wrist of Herbert Spence some years ago?” I asked.

“Yes!” replied Miss Laura, wiping her red eyes. “We thought if the ghost appeared to a few other people, that Percy’s death might seem more natural. It was a mere coincidence that Mr. Spence died three months after the ghost touched him.”

“Do you know you are a very wicked woman, Miss Laura?”

“I am a very unhappy one,” she retorted. “I have lost the only man I ever loved; and his miserable cousin survives to step into his shoes as the master of Ringshaw Grange.”

That was the sole conversation I had with the wretched woman, for shortly afterwards she disappeared, and I fancy must have gone abroad, as she was never more heard of. At the inquest held on the body of Frank the whole strange story came out, and was reported at full length by the London press to the dismay of ghost-seers: for the fame of Ringshaw Grange as a haunted mansion had been great in the land.

I was afraid lest the jury should bring in a verdict of manslaughter against me, but the peculiar features of the case being taken into consideration I was acquitted of blame, and shortly afterwards returned to India with an unblemished character. Percy Ringan was terribly distressed on hearing of his cousin’s death, and shocked by the discovery of his treachery. However, he was consoled by becoming the head of the family, and as he lives a quiet life at Ringshaw Grange there is not much chance of his early death from heart disease—at all events from a ghostly point of view.

The blue chamber is shut up, for it is haunted now by a worse spectre than that of Lady Joan, whose legend (purely fictitious) was so ingeniously set forth by Frank. It is haunted by the ghost of the cold-blooded scoundrel who fell into his own trap; and who met with his death in the very moment he was contriving that of another man. As to myself, I have given up ghost-hunting and sleeping in haunted rooms. Nothing will ever tempt me to experiment in that way again. One adventure of that sort is enough to last me a lifetime.

Clutha Leader 3 March 1899: p. 7

The Dancer in Red and Other Stories, Fergus Hume, 1906

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  “Granges,” or country farming estates, were a popular motif in haunted, sensational, and mystery fiction.  The Adventure of the Abbey Grange by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle springs to mind as an example of the latter. Perhaps the setting was so popular because of something else Sir Arthur wrote, in the voice of Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches:

“[T]he lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

“You horrify me!”

“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”

And, undoubtedly one of the grange out-buildings will contain scrap-iron and facilities for manufacturing Infernal Machines such as heatable steel claws.

Mr Hume furnished us with a similar, ghost-in-disguise story last year for the holidays, The Ghost in Brocade.

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

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