Category Archives: Ghosts

Rosette Smiled in the Glass: 1889

all is vanity charles allen gilbert 1892 mirror

All is Vanity, Charles Allen Gilbert, 1892

THE HAUNTED MIRROR.

It was early morning, and Thomas, Lord Rosendale’s valet, has waited on his master’s American guest to see what he desired him to do for him.

Thomas was too well-bred to appear to notice anything remarkable, but there certainly was something odd in the gentleman’s manner, and he had not the look of one who had enjoyed refreshing slumbers. Twice he seemed on the point of propounding a question–twice he checked himself. At last just as the man turned to leave the room, he spoke;

“Thomas!”

“Yes, sir,” said Thomas; turning towards him again.

“No matter, Thomas.”

“Very well, sir.”

Thomas had his hand on the lock of the door this time, but again the gentleman spoke:

“Thomas, I have been awake all night.”

“My lord will regret to hear it,” said Thomas, too respectful to appropriate the information.

“Something very odd disturbed me,” continued the gentleman. “Have you any reason to believe that any of the woman servants have lost their senses?”

“Any of the maids, sir?” said Thomas. “Oh, no, sir. My lady’s own maid is a most sensible person. So is the young lady’s, extremely respectable and settled, indeed. As for the cook and–oh, no, sir. I am sure none of the maids are out of their senses, sir.”

“One of the maids kept me awake all last night.” said the American.

“One of the maids, sir?” cried Thomas.

“Yes. Thomas,” said the gentleman. “She kept running into my room at least every half hour to look in the glass and admire herself.”

“She came out of that door,” and he pointed to one in a corner, “and walked straight up to the mirror; the light from the night lamp fell upon her face; she seemed to catch my eye in the glass each time and smiled at me as she did so. I only saw her once in the mirror, but it was very pretty, though very pale. She wore a short quilted skirt, a little black bodice and full white sleeves. She had a gold cross tied around her neck by a black ribbon and wore a little cap on her black braids a very young girl with a perfectly French face, Thomas. Do you know her?”

“If I have the honor of understanding you, sir, the young person came through this door?” he asked.

“Yes,” said the American.”

“More than once, sir?”

“About once an hour from midnight until dawn.”

“She was young, pretty and French-looking and wore a quilted skirt, a bodice and a cap, sir?”

“Exactly, Thomas.”

“And smiled at you in the glass where you saw her face? I understand she did not look toward you as she passed, sir?”

“Right, Thomas.”

“May I beg you to do me the favor of looking into this room, sir?”

The gentleman followed Thomas to the door through which he asserted that the young person had passed and saw nothing but a square closet about twelve feet square, with no door save the one that opened into a large room, and high in the ceiling a little window through which a bird could scarcely have flown. It contained no furniture whatever.

“You will acknowledge, sir, said Thomas, very gravely, “that an ordinary person must have remained here if she had entered, as you think she did, sir, and that we should now find her here, sir?”

“There must be a secret door—or–or something!” cried the American. “I am not mad, and I was wide awake. I–”

“Yes, sir,” said Thomas, still more solemnly. “As I remarked, an ordinary young person could not have contrived to disappear; but I am well aware that the young person you have seen is not an ordinary person, sir. She has been an apparition, for more than 200 years.”

“An apparition!” cried the American gentleman.

“Yes, sir,” replied Thomas; “an apparition, sir. I think you have seen Lady Rosendale’s gentlewoman, Rosette, sir. It is ten years since she was seen before, to my knowledge, but she has been seen very often. Yes, sir, it must have been Rosette.”

“I should like to hear more about Rosette.” said the gentleman.

“Yes, sir,” said the valet. “This is a very old family, and they have lived on this estate for a long while since the time of Queen Elizabeth. I believe, sir–and about 200 years ago there was a Lord Herbert–my present master is Lord Herbert, as you know; it is a favorite name in the family who was a very gay, wild young nobleman, and was a great admirer of the ladies, sir, as gay young noblemen  generally are. However, by the time he was thirty he married and settled down, as one might say; and having travelled with his wife on the continent, he came home, and began to be very much thought of and respected. So was his lady, too, sir, though she was not handsome, and was very haughty.

One thing, however, the English servants did not like; she brought a foreign maid with her from France–a girl named Rosette, and as pretty as a picture.

My lady thought all the world of her, and would never let any other woman be about her in her room, and of course, the people were jealous and talked against Rosette, and the women began to say something about the way my lord looked at her. Though, to be sure, women will be suspicious. However, that may be, my lady loved  her, and I think she thought too much of herself to be jealous of her maid, until one day, sitting before her glass, Rosette combing her hair for her, she heard her husband coming into the room. Her back was towards him, and they forgot the mirror; and so, sir, she saw in it without stirring both their faces; and she saw the girl smile at her husband and she saw him smile back her, and she did not need to see any more. Ladies are very quick, sir, as we all know. She understood everything, but she never stirred, and she never said anything to him—no, nor to the maid, sir.

This was her room, sir. In that little closet Rosette had her bed, to be ready if she called. But one morning my lady’s bell rang furiously, and the maid who answered it was told to do my lady’s hair, for Rosette had gone back to her native country. All the time she was doing it the girl thought she heard a faint moaning sound and was frightened and went back to the rest, pale and trembling; and before night it was very well known in the house that the little closet there was not only locked, but nailed up.

There was a coldness between my lord and my lady and they kept very much apart; but she had told him, also that Rosette had returned to France and no one ever saw the girl again.

After that my lord seemed to take up his wild ways again, in a measure, and drank a good deal and my lady lived very much alone. She never had a regular maid and she was harsh to those who waited on her. There never were any children, but they both lived to be very old indeed, and at last my lady died in this very room and was buried in the church yonder. You may see her tomb there–Lady Maud Rosendale, aged eighty.

My lord was as old as she by that time; but as soon as the funeral was over he went into my lady’s room and stood a long while before the locked and nailed closet door.

Then he said to himself, ‘I cannot die until I know,’ and ordered it to be opened. They sent for the blacksmith to do it, and all the while my lord sat in his great arm-chair, staring before him. There were hundreds of nails in it. People said afterwards that all my Lady Maud’s life there used now and then to be a little sound of hammering in her room when she was alone, but they were all out at last and the lock was forced, and my lord arose and tottered into the closet.

A bed stood there still and some gowns hung on the wall, and over the bed one was lying with cords twisted about it. Then they looked closer and the maids began to scream, and one old woman who remembered Rosette had called out her name, and my lord turned his pale old eyes upon them like a ghost and said, ‘God forgive me and have mercy upon both their souls!’ and held out his hand to be helped back to his own room which he never left again.

It wasn’t much they found–only a few bones and an ornament or two, but it was plain that the girl had been tied hand and foot and bound to the bed and left there to die—if she were not murdered outright by the jealous lady. As for the smile, my lady, he talked of that in a wandering kind of way on his death-bed. So it came to be known. But ever since, sir, whenever there is going to be misfortune in the family, whoever sleeps here in this room sees Rosette come out of her closet and smile in the glass. No one ever sees her face, only its reflection.

She was seen before one young lady—it is two generations ago, sir—eloped with a very inferior person.

She was seen before my master’s father died and before my master’s brother was killed at the Crimea. I hope no trouble will follow now, sir.”

“I trust not,” said the American. “Perhaps it would be best not to mention this to any one.”

“Very well, sir, said Thomas, and left the room.

As for the American, he slept elsewhere the next night. He had no admiration for ghosts, even the family ghosts of noblemen, and he had no desire to see Rosette smile at him in the glass again. The smiles of a phantom of 200 years standing are more awesome than bewitching.

The Nebraska State Journal [Lincoln NE] 22 December 1889: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well, really… After the sad story of the gruesome end of young Rosette, and Thomas’s observation that tragedy invariably followed in the wake of Rosette’s apparition, we are fobbed off with a mere “he slept elsewhere the next night.”

A shocking decline in journalistic standards….

The least we might expect was the death of an old factor, believed to be the illegitimate son of a previous Lord Rosendale, in a remote cottage on the estate, if not the demise of Lord Rosendale himself, found dead in his bed with a look of stark, staring horror on his face. Mrs Daffodil considers the whole thing a travesty of missed opportunities.

 

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

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

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The Wrecked Major: 1882

knole long gallery 1902

 

THE WRECKED MAJOR.

“Our nearest neighbour in ___shire was a Major S., a man of good family, and possessed of ample means, yet one whose society was not courted in the county in which he had recently become a resident. Curious things were said of him, worse were hinted at, so that the surrounding gentry fought rather shy of him with the exception of a few who both visited him and received his visits. For this man my mother entertained the utmost aversion. She detested alike his appearance and manners; the former she considered diabolical, and the latter repulsive, as indeed they were. My father had frequent arguments with her on the subject of the major, and always took his part. But his defence of him in no ways softened my mother’s feelings towards him. She persisted in loathing the man, and said she was sure something dreadful would come out about him. Her dislike extended itself to his surroundings; and she would not even pass his house when out walking or driving. My father simply smiled at this feminine absurdity, as he termed it, and continued to think not so badly of the major.

It chanced that my mother passed him one day. He was riding; and she told us on her return that the expression of his face, as he looked down at her, was absolutely appalling in its wickedness; indeed, she could think or speak of nothing else. That very same night she awoke from sleep with a cry of terror. On my father asking her what the matter was, she said—‘Oh, William! I have had such a fearful dream, and I am sure it has to do with Major S.’

“‘Nonsense, nonsense;’ was the sleepy reply.

“‘But I tell you I am convinced of it,’ and she told him her dream. She described herself as going into a large gloomy looking room, full of quaintly carved furniture, arranged after a peculiar fashion, the ceiling of which was traversed by an oaken beam, and from this there dangled a rope having a noose at the end.

“‘What is going on here?’ I asked, although I cannot remember being conscious of seeing any one.

“‘Hush!’ exclaimed an awful voice. ‘A dreadful crime is being committed, part of which will be known now, and part at the day of judgment!’

“‘Aye, indeed; curious, very; but go to sleep, my dear, and forget all about the major.’ With this advice given in a drowsy tone, my father once more sought oblivion in sleep. But my mother did not allow him to remain in peace. Again she woke him up with an exclamation of horror at the repetition of her dream. No sooner had she fallen asleep than she found herself transported to the sombre room, with its beam traversed ceiling, and ghastly dangling rope. At sight of which, as on the former occasion, she cried, ‘What is going on here?’ and the same impressive voice responded with ‘Hush! a dreadful crime is being committed; part of which will be known now, and part at the day of judgment!’

‘I know we shall hear something about that horrid man,’ she kept repeating in spite of my father’s assurances to the contrary.

Their feelings, under these circumstances, may well be imagined when the next day the country was ringing with the news that Major S. had hanged himself during the night.

Hastening to the scene of the tragedy, my father, on being shown into the room, at once recognised it as the one my mother had seen in her dream.”

Psychological Review Vol. 4 May 1882: p. 311-12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is curious how many of these sorts of premonitory dreams were recorded in the annals of the past, and how one can still find similar stories on the “Internet” to-day. If the affair had gone according to the proper patterns of folk-lore, the lady would have seen the Major being carried off to his Doom by the Wild Hunt mounted on fire-breathing demon-horses. The story is a trifle ambiguous as to whether the Major she saw on her ride was a living man or the phantom of one already hanging in his chamber.

Mrs Daffodil is reminded of the chilling scene near the end of Mr Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby, where Ralph Nickleby comes to a bad end.

“He had torn a rope from one of the old trunks, and hanged himself on an iron hook immediately below the trap-door in the ceiling—in the very place to which the eyes of his son, a lonely desolate little creature, had so often been directed in childish terror, fourteen years before.”

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.

 

Nurse Sees a Ghost: c. 1910s

nurse and baby

The Old Nurse’s Story

By Gerda Calmady-Hamlyn.

The following story was related to me by a respectable elderly woman—a children’s nurse—who said she had held “no belief in ghosts or any of that there sort of nonsense” till the curious experience which I am about to relate fell to her lot.

Nurse Mitchell had undertaken a temporary but extremely well-paid post at W——, a town in the Midlands famous alike for its beautiful Cathedral and the fact that the bones of a world-renowned novelist lie buried therein. She was to be nurse to a young married-lady with one very delicate and fretful baby requiring the greatest care. The lady was not the actual owner of No. 21, Stevenstone Street; she merely rented what appeared a most picturesque old place, with low casement windows, carved and panelled walls, and a corkscrewy sort of staircase—”just the sort to break your neck over—going downstairs on a darkish night.” Originally the quaint abode may have been built as two separate smaller houses, joined together now by the staircase alluded to. There was a wide hall in the centre from which opened doors into passages leading away to the kitchen-regions; while upstairs were bedrooms round a gallery, and the nursery at the back part of the house.

Nurse had been in residence for over a week, and her infant charge had proved so unusually fretful that she found herself tied almost entirely to the nursery. One morning, after a particularly restless night, she was carrying baby from his own apartments to those of his mother in the front part of the house, and had to pass down the winding staircase, across the hall, and up on the farther side, holding the child on one arm and a bundle of shawls upon the other. Both burdens proved somewhat cumbrous, and just as Nurse reached the most difficult portion of the stairway the bundle of woolly shawls began to slip. She must either drop them altogether, or lessen her hold on the sleeping infant. That would be pretty sure to wake him—a thing to be avoided at all costs. At that crucial moment. Nurse Mitchell caught sight of a plump little dark-haired girl, in a pink-cotton dress and neatly-starched cap and apron, very similar to the little between-maid, Polly Awcott, who usually brought up her breakfast and supper trays.

“Polly, my girl,” cried she, “just come and give me a hand with these shawls or I’ll drop them and the blessed baby too in another minute!”

To her amazement, the girl paid not the faintest attention to her request, but slipped through a red baize door leading to the pantries and disappeared from view.

Late that evening. Nurse went down to the kitchen to fetch hot water, and seeing that same girl (as she believed) who had played her such a shabby trick, said, “Hullo, Polly, is that you, I see? Why didn’t you come this morning when I called to you, may I ask? You might have stretched out a friendly hand.”

Polly, who was a wholesome sensible-looking girl with a smiling face, stared at Nurse with a puzzled expression, then burst into a laugh, in which several of the other domestics joined.

Nurse Mitchell began to feel angry. “What’s the wonderful joke all about?” she exclaimed.

Cook, a fat good-natured woman, explained, “It’s nothing, Nurse; nothing against you anyway; this house is supposed to be haunted, by a maidservant. We’ve most of us seen her, and one or two of us have spoken to her, but she never answers back. Neither does she do any harm to us or anyone else that I know of— just flits about the house, an inoffensive little thing, sometimes in a pink-cotton dress such as Polly wears of a morning, sometimes in a neat black afternoon get-up, as if she were going to the front door to let in callers. Whose ghost she is, or what she’s supposed to be doing here none of us know.”

“Fancy that now,” exclaimed Nurse in astonishment; “I wouldn’t have believed what you say for one single minute if I hadn’t seen the little maid with my own eyes!”

“I’ve always heard that this old house was haunted, and it has been my wish ever since I grew up to try and get a place here and see what I could for myself,” put in Peggy the kitchen-maid, a striking-looking damsel with luminous psychic black eyes.

After which, Mary the head housemaid, said, “That ghost you saw, Nurse, ain’t by any manner o’ means the only one in this house; there’s far worse than that. One parlour-maid here got the fright of her life one evening, and left before she’d been in the place six days. Two visitors were expected the day after she came, a young married couple; and Annie K—–had orders to prepare the big blue spare-room for them to sleep in. That’s just over the drawing-room suite, and is the best bedchamber in the house. About six o’clock in the evening, —the visitors weren’t due to arrive till nearly eight—Annie ran upstairs to the blue room with clean towels and to see that all was straight. She opened the door to walk in, and saw a beautiful young lady, standing in front of the glass, wearing a pink silk dressing-jacket and lace petticoat, who had masses of lovely golden hair flowing down over her shoulders! For a moment Annie fancied that the lady guest must-have arrived by an earlier train, unbeknown to her. ‘If you please, Ma’am,’ she began, but all of a sudden, the young lady swung round from the glass with a face of the most awful fury, rushed across the room as swift as a sheet o’ greased lightning. Annie hurried out and the lady slammed the door behind her. In the passage Annie fainted and it was an hour and more before anybody found her. Her people came and took her away, and the doctor said she was on the verge of brain fever.”

As much of the history of the old house as Nurse Mitchell could discover ran something like this—it belonged to a wealthy family of bankers. Some sixty years before Julia, the only daughter of the house—a beautiful young girl of nineteen—became engaged to a young man whom her people highly disapproved of. Parents were strict in those days, and the father was so enraged at his daughters engaging herself without his knowledge that he forbade his would-be son-in-law the house and kept the unhappy damsel virtually a prisoner, permitting her to hold communication with no one, not even to see a friend. Somehow or other she escaped by the help of a maidservant, and her lover having sailed for India, mistress and maid agreed to follow him. The ship on which they sailed foundered, and all on board were drowned. It was after that the hauntings at 21, Stevenstone Street began. Months went by without tidings of the fate of the two fugitives; but long before news of their death reached England, Julia had appeared in spirit form, first to a favourite brother, and then to other members of the family. The maid also was frequently seen, both then and afterwards—a little quiet flitting figure, who molested no one and disappeared at once if you spoke to her.

Nurse Mitchell concluded—“I don’t like them kind o’ things, do you ma’am? and I hope I’ll never take situation in another haunted house. I don’t wonder that wretched parlour-maid gave notice!”

The International Psychic Gazette August 1919: p. 167

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is quite a roster of staff: delicate servants who fall into brain fever at the sight of a ghost in an attractive combing jacket, kitchen-maids with luminous psychic black eyes, and a ghostly maidservant who, even though correctly garbed for her duties, won’t lend a helping hand.  Mr Elliott O’Donnell has written censoriously about the slatternly appearance of a ghost-maid with red hair. And who could forget the ghost of that previous paragon of a maid, Ann Frost, who gave such trouble when she was murdered?

It is no wonder that ladies despair over the “servant question.”

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.

Mr Blomgren’s New Year’s Call: 1880s

Christmas and New Year's Greeting fan 1880

Before the custom of making calls on New Year’s day had quite come to an end in New York, we were directing envelopes for our cards, during Christmas week, when some one noticed that we had forgotten our friend, Mr. Blomgren. We hastened to correct our omission, and fell to speaking of Mr. Blomgren as one we liked particularly. He was amiable and unassuming, and had the most winning manners. In fact, he was a very fine specimen of the Swedish gentleman, and each of us had something pleasant to say of him, and we rejoiced that we had discovered our mistake in time for him to get his card, which we directed to his boarding place.

New Year’s day came, and, during the afternoon, Mr. Blomgren did not present himself. However, we had rather thought that he would come in the evening and were not surprised.

It was about eight o’clock, I think, when one of us went up-stairs to put two little nieces, who were visiting us, to bed.

The children were sound asleep, and their aunt was growing drowsy, when she became aware of a tall figure standing in the door-way, and, starting up, saw that it was Mr. Blomgren, and fancied that, as the room was sometimes used as a dressing-room at our receptions, he had supposed that this would be the case to-night.

She arose and advanced toward him, saying words to the effect that every one was down stairs. He answered, without a smile—”I came because you sent me a card.”

“We are delighted to see you, Mr. Blomgren,” she replied ; “shall we go down?” But he was already gone, and she followed.

As he was not to be found in any of the lower rooms, and none of us had seen him, we decided that the mistake he had made had mortified him and that he had gone away at once, and we were all very sorry. Yet, it was not like him to be so sensitive, he was too much a man of the world, and not by any means a boy— thirty years of age, probably.

A few days after, a lady friend called, and one of us spoke of Mr. Blomgren. She had got so far as to say —”of course, we sent him cards “—when the visitor cried out:

“Sent him cards?—why, he had been dead a week or more on New Year’s day.”

He died of pneumonia, after a brief illness, and, having no relatives here, he was taken to a hospital.

I know that many people who knew him had no knowledge of his death until weeks after it occurred.

It is only fair to say that the lady who saw him afterwards decided that she must have been asleep and dreamed it all—though, she declared, it resembled no other dream that she had ever had, and she was not conscious of any waking. 

The Freed Spirit: Or Glimpses Beyond the Border, Mary Kyle Dallas, 1897

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We think of the notion of a round of New Year’s Day calls as a stream of decorous visitors wishing the householders the joys of the season and leaving their cards in the tray.  In reality, the addresses of prominent persons holding “open houses” on New Year’s were printed in the newspapers and droves of young males went about from house to house, just long enough to greet the party and swill the alcoholic refreshments that etiquette demanded be offered. Their social depredations were planned with military precision to see how many houses they could “hit.” By the end of the day, most of the revelers were so intoxicated they could not stand up. They could not be left to litter the streets so most of them were swept up by the officers of the law and hauled off to court. These distasteful celebrations spelt an end to formal New Year’s Day calls.

 

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 Lost Song: c. 1800

THE LOST SONG.

It was my grandmother’s story, and this how she came to tell it to me:

I, Annie Rae, had come down to spend Christmas at “Raeburn,” the old family homestead. My grandmother and grand-father had been abroad for years, and this being the first Christmas for so long that the old house was opened, they wanted to fill it with bright young faces and merry laughter, to crowd out the voiceless memories which lurked in every corner, and so a whole party of us had come–cousins, first, second and third, in fact of all degrees. Speaking of cousins, isn’t it strange that very often the further removed the nearer they seem? At least George Stewart was only my third cousin by blood, and yet he always assumed more on the strength of our relationship than any of my first cousins, and somehow, in my own heart I did not mind it at all, though I did tease him so.

But I must go on with my story. It was Christmas Eve, and the old house was quiet at last. We girls had all gone to our rooms after a merry evening together. Fannie and Rose had the room near grandma’s, while Kate and Lillie were just opposite. Some one had to sleep alone at the other of the hall, and after long consultation, it was decided that I should go, for I had rashly boasted of never being afraid. I will confess to feeling a little lonely when all was quiet, and the deep shadows in the corners of the room seemed very dark, for the light of my candle did not reach far. There were three doors in my room, and fastening securely the one leading into the entry, I merely turned the handles of the others, and finding them locked inside, did not care to explore any further just then.  I must have been a long time undressing, for the clock struck the hour of midnight as I put my light out. Even then I could not sleep, but found myself wondering what was behind those doors that I had not opened, and I determined to have a regular exploring expedition the next day. There were so many romantic stories to this old house. I had even heard hints of staircases, shut up rooms, &c., and had always delighted in mysteries.

I think I must have been asleep for a short time, when I suddenly found myself awake with a start, and a curious impression that I was listening for something. There certainly was a sound overhead, but what was it? It came more clearly, and I distinguished a faint, broken melody, and yet imperfect, like some one playing a long forgotten air on a piano where some of the strings were broken. Three times it came like the verses of a song, and though there were no words, it seemed to speak to my very heart, and I thought of George, and how sorrowfully he had looked at me that evening as I had passed him without saying “good night.” It was only to tease him, I had pretended not to see his proffered hand, but had taken Willie Thorne’s instead, and we had walked up the broad staircase together.

Again all was still, only a long drawn sigh seemed to echo my own through the room, and came from the direction of the furthest door. Without a sensation of fear, only an ill-defined feeling of pain and regret, I sank to sleep, and when I woke the morning sun was shining brightly enough to dispel illusions. I resolved to say nothing to the girls, but quietly to explore and see what was to be found, for I knew perfectly well that what I had heard was no dream. So I got up long before breakfast, and after completing my toilet, threw wide the shutters and opened the first door nearest the entry. Only an empty closet! Disappointed but slightly relieved, I closed it and went over to the other. The key turned hard in the lock as if it had not been opened for a long time. Then the door stood wide open, and I saw a flight of stairs but only prosaic wooden steps, like those leading to any garret. I started bravely up and soon found myself in a large loft attic, with odds and ends. First, an old spinning wheel caught my eye, relic of our most industrious great grandmothers. Then a stack of old fire- arms, with which our ancestors, the bold Races, may have shed the blood of daring foes, or, perhaps, and I am afraid more likely, have only done damage among the crows that came to steal from their spacious cornfields. Lastly, beyond these, and behind a pile of mattings and boxes, I came upon an old piano. It quite startled me at first but then the broad daylight was very reassuring, and I am not nervous. It was very old and of a most curious shape, and evidently had been very elegant in its day. I tried to lift the lid, and found it locked, but as I touched it a shiver ran through me, for I was convinced now that this was what my ghostly music had come from last night, and I am determined to find out before another day had passed who it had belonged to, and what restless spirits still haunted its worn strings.

So after breakfast, when all the others gone to church, I went into my grandmother’s room to sit with her, for she was not very strong, dear old lady, and rarely went out of the house in winter.

After we were nicely settled and had got through our morning’s reading, I told her of my last night’s adventure, and my subsequent researches, and begged her to tell me all about the old piano I had found in the attic. She smiled at my eagerness, but did not seem at all surprised or incredulous, for though she herself had never heard the music I spoke of, there had been others long ago, she said, who, sleeping in that room on Christmas Eve, had been known to hear faint sounds, coming as if from the old piano above, though it was locked, and the key had been lost. The coincidence, at least, was very strange, taken in connection with the history attached to it, and which my grandmother then proceeded to relate to me.

“Many years ago,” said my grandmother, “when your great-great-great-grandfather was alive, this house was full of life and merriment; for your Aunt Annie–your great-great-aunt for whom you are named, child—lived here with her father and brothers. She was as bright and funny as the day was long, but so full of mischief and coquetry that she gave the heartache to all the young men, far and near and yet had suffered never a pang herself. I am afraid that a spice of her coquetry has descended to this generation too, my dear,” said the lady gazing fondly, but reproachfully at me. “I felt sorry to see the look in poor George’s eyes, last night, as you turned from him on the stairs–”

“Oh I please go on, grandmother dear,” said I, ”I am so much interested in the story.” But in my own wicked little heart I was sorry too, and inwardly resolved to make up for it to him on the first opportunity. “Well your Aunt Annie always had the house full, and some of her cousins and young friends were always staying there. Among the gentlemen who were their frequent visitors was a young naval officer, Robert Carrol, whom they inspected Annie of preferring. Of course, as girls will, they teased her most unmercifully about him and consequently she would hardly speak to him sometimes, and just because in her own heart she knew that to talk with him just one hour was better to her than a whole day with the others.

“The poor fellow evidently had no eyes for any one else, but he was very reserved and sensitive, and did not go in boldly and make love to her, as any other man would done, but stood and worshiped afar off. They say he was very fine musician, and sang beautifully, and not only that but he composed a song for Annie to sing; for she had a lovely voice, and would sing lovely old ballads for us in the long summer evenings with wonderful pathos and feeling.

“As the days went by the time drew near for Robert to join his ship. Early in December his orders came, and he was to leave the day after Christmas.

“He loved Annie so dearly that he felt he could not go away from her so long without asking for some assurance that his love was returned, and yet he could not bear to think of hearing her say she could never love him. Sometimes she treated him so coldly, almost rudely, and yet again, when they were alone, he could have sworn her eyes spoke a different language.

“The day before Christmas came and still no word had been spoken. On the morning of that day Robert wrote a note to her and inclosed in it a little song he had written and in the note he said,–“But stay,” said my grandmother, “I think I can show you the very note itself,” and going to her desk she took from it an old yellow piece of manuscript music, so faded as to be illegible and a little sheet of paper. “These,” she said, “were found up in the attic among other old letters and private family papers when we came back, and though I destroyed the rest I kept these,” and taking up the note she read it aloud. It was very short, and ran thus:

Annie, darling will you be my wife? And may I go away with hope warm at my heart that when I come back I may claim you as my own? Little one if it is to be, and can love me, will you sing my song for me to-night when I come. If there is no hope for me you will sing something else, and I will know my fate at once, and it will be better to learn it so than to give you pain of telling me. But somehow I feel hopeful, and shall come with a brave heart in spite of the fate which your sweet voice is to sing me into life or death.

Forever yours, in this world and the next.

Robert.

“He sealed the note inclosing the song and sent it over by his servant.  As the man was going into the gate he met Annie’s youngest brother, Harry, a little fellow of ten years old, who snatched the note from him, and said, ‘Oh! I’ll take it to Annie, Tom,’ and ran off. So Thomas walked away with an easy conscience, thinking he had delivered the note safely at least to a ‘member of the family.’

“Harry trotted off toward the house with the best intentions in the world, but was diverted on the way by some important business with a small boy of his own age, who suddenly turned up, so by the time he did go home all memory of the note had vanished from his youthful mind.

“Evening came and the younger children were all in bed, and Harry lay sound asleep, while on a chair hung his little jacket, and in the pocket still, poor Robert’s note undelivered. Annie, with ‘cheeks like twin roses,’ and’ eyes bright with love and hope was waiting for the company.

All the young people were coming from neighborhood to have a frolic, but she only thought of Robert. ‘He must speak to me to-night,’ she said to herself. ‘I am sure he loves me, and in spite of my bad behaviour to him sometimes he must know my heart.’

“Early in the evening Annie’s father according to his custom, asked her for a song and as she rose and went to the piano she caught sight of Robert’s pale handsome face. He was near the door, where he had just entered standing with his arms folded and his eyes fixed upon her with a look that to her dying day she never forgot. As she sat down to the instrument an unaccountable feeling of depression came over her, some unseen influence seemed to hold her hands so that she could scarcely strike the notes, but with an impulse she threw it off and dashed into some gay and nonsensical song that was popular at the time, and sang it through to the very end.

“When she looked up Robert was gone, and she never saw him again in this world. He left home that night and never returned, for his ship, with all on board was lost on the way out; and he went to his grave thinking her cold and heartless. And she–all the next day she waited for him, wondering that he did not come. That night as she was wearily going to her room a little voice from the nursery called her, and going in she found Harry wide awake.

“Oh! sister Annie,’ said he ‘don’t scold me, but I forgot your note yesterday, and there it is still in my pocket.’ And he pointed to the jacket which hung on a chair. Mechanically, she reached and took it, but when she saw the address in his hand, she grew as pale as death. She only stopped and kissed the little fellow, who was sobbing bitterly, and no word of reproach passed her lips.

“From that day she was a different being. Her whole life seemed to be a period of waiting; waiting for news of him.

“You must remember, my dear,” added grandmother, “that in those times there were no such conveniences for communications as we have now-a-days, when lovers can change their minds two or three times a day by mail, and can telegraph ‘yes’ and ‘no’ sixty times a minute (more or less) if they please.

“And when at last the news of Robert’s death came, it was as if some blight had fallen on her, for she seemed to fade away, and grew weaker and weaker, until it got to be so that she never left her room. Then her piano was moved up there, the room you were in last night–for her music seemed the only thing left in which she took any interest, and often at night when all was still they would hear her playing, for she had never been known to sing since that time when, with her own sweet voice, she had smilingly sounded the death knell of two hearts.”

“On Christmas morning, just one year after, when they came to her room they found her seated at her piano, with his song before her, and her white hands cold and stiff resting on the keys. She had gone to meet him, and her weary waiting was over at last.”

“This was my grandmother’s story of the piano–and that evening as George and I were sitting together on the board staircase, while the others were dancing in the parlor, I told it all over to him, and would you believe it? when I came to the part about poor Robert’s last letter, George actually said it served him right for not being man enough to ask for what he wanted when he had the chance, “as I intended to ask you right here, little Annie,” said he, and then–well, somehow I did not finish the story that evening.

Since then, however, we have often talked it over since, but George always smiles when I tell him of the ghostly music I heard on Christmas eve in the old house, and suggests though the piano was locked, yet the back had fallen out from old age, and there was room enough for a whole regiment of mice to creep in and run over the rusty strings, and he further says that I was sleepy and troubled in my mind for treating him so badly, and thought it was my aunt’s ghost come to warn me. But that is nonsense, of course, and I shall always believe that it was poor Robert’s last song that I heard.

The Indiana [PA] Democrat 14 November 1872: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It seems to Mrs Daffodil that there is blame enough to go around, with some to spare. Coquettes! Thoughtless younger brothers!  Timid suitors!  One wonders how, without the spur of “on-line” dating and “swiping,” the species ever propagated itself.

Still, it was curious that the mice, if mice there were, only came out to run over the piano’s strings on Christmas eve.

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.

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.

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.

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