Category Archives: Ghosts

The Haunted Hat-Box: 1900

1880s leather top hat boxTHE HAUNTED HAT-BOX.

By MAY CROMMELIN, Author of ” A Jewel of a Girl,” “Goblin Gold,” “Dead Men’s Dollars,” “Half Round the World For a Husband,” &c..

“I’ll not bear it any longer!”

Springing to my feet I went to look in a mirror. A tear-stained face, just out of its teens, a rumpled head of auburn hair met my gaze. So sorry a spectacle was it that no wonder the scornful words escaped my lips aloud.

“Humph, my dear! A pretty bride of two months standing you are! Well, sooner or later things have got to come to a climax, and for my part the sooner the better. I’ll sit down and write to Uncle Billy. There!”

With lips firm-set, but trembling fingers, I accordingly sat myself down and scribbled thus to my late guardian:

“Riverside, Henley, Thursday, August 22nd.

“Dearest Uncle Bill, Do come down and see us for the week’s end. I wish to consult you on a special private matter.

“The fact is I am very unhappy about something, and unless it can be cleared up–soon! shall have to ask for the shelter of your roof once more.–Ever your affectionate niece, Gertrude Isabel Cranstoun.”

“That looks strong and decided. It’ll bring him ‘jumping,’ as he always says,” was my satisfied murmur.

Just then the door opened to admit my lord and master, who came in from a solitary afternoon’s punting, looking darkly handsome, so I phrased it to myself.

“Ah, tea is in, I see,”‘ he stiffly remarked.

“It is. I have had mine. Will you have some?” Rising with the new, simple dignity of a wife strictly resolved to do her household tasks, however morally ill-treated, so long as the situation, strained to tension, could be endured.

“Yes, please. No, no sugar. Thanks.”

Alas! One month ago he would not have been late, for we could not have dreamt of being parted all a summer’s day by a lover’s quarrel. I must have waited for him. Then he would have said: “No sugar, sweetest.” and we should have laughed like happy fools. Even last week, even yesterday itself, he always said “dear” in a tone growing daily more deprecatingly entreating, as who should imply: Let us drop that subject. Let us love each other and all be the same as before you found out–? And then he would smile rather piteously.

And I would smile back piteously, too. Oh, my heart was aching for my poor boy–never think otherwise. But I had found out, you see; found out there was a secret close by us–a thing that woke sometimes and wailed in the dark, small hours, chilling my blood. And Cuthbert, when first I wonderingly questioned him, looked embarrassed, and tried to laugh the matter off. These later days he turned pale; said indistinctly once it was an old story that had nothing to do with me, nor ever could. Lastly, he begged me to inquire no more, like a good girl, but to come home to Woodleigh Hall. There, he promised me on his honour, that there would be no more trouble.

The proposal turned me aghast. What! When he knew boating was the one thing we both adored, and we had taken Riverside for another three weeks! When the Hall was not ready, the tenants’ dinners, speechifying, arches, the house-parties, partridges, etc., were all to come in September! When never, never again in our lives were we likely to have another second month of honeymooning! The hot blood leaped to my face, quick words to my tongue. What matter? He cared no longer for my company alone on the river that was clear, oh, quite clear.

All I said, I don’t well know. But I refused, cried, “No!” He ought to speak out. I insisted on knowing; had a right as his wife. Then he grew angry, said he would not be dictated to, had more right to keep certain affairs secret–even from me. Then, oh, it was all a turmoil of mutual entreaties, refusals to tell–to forbear asking. And now, never, never could we two be loving and trustful again. Not unless this horrid, brooding mystery was cleared up.

What was it, do you ask? Well, as few care to hear a tale twice, please wait until Uncle Bill comes, for he will want to know, too.

My husband stared out of the window. I furtively sent search-light glances in his direction. Handsome, dark, when in thought, his features always tinged with melancholy. This was the same Cuthbert who had wooed and won me. But surely, there was more nowadays revealed to my anxious, jealously-loving eyes. He had a poise of the head as if always on the alert, listening to catch some distant sound he dreaded. His eyes, too, looked often into space inquiringly, fearfully. In a miniature of his father, yonder on the table, there was the same strained, apprehensive look. And a cold fear crept into my heart lest there might be a strain of madness—

Yet, no, no! My own ears had heard, and I was sane and prosaic enough. Rousing from this profitless reverie I broke the silence in a small voice: “Have you any objection to my asking Uncle Bill down for the week’s end?”

Cuthbert started, winced I thought, then coolly answered:

“Oh no. Write if you wish it.”

“Thanks. I have written.”

“O–h, you have,” icily. “Then why stand on the ceremony of asking my leave?”

“Because you might have refused. In which case I should have gone to stay with him.”

Crash! That was my lovely teacup set down half-full on the table. Bang! That was Cuthbert’s chair, pushed back so violently it almost knocked over the standard lamp. Slam! The door was closed behind him emphatically.

For two more days we neither of us spoke to each other, except before the servants, to keep up appearances–. Then, oh, thank goodness! on the evening of the Saturday Uncle Bill arrived, calmer, more tactful, kindlier than ever in manner and look, being the most diplomatic of old club-men.

Cuthbert met my uncle civilly, and during tea both were on easy, but guarded terms. Then, with a muttered excuse, my husband left the room, saying he would not be back till dinner-time. No sooner were we two alone than Uncle Bill came and sat down in front of me, saying quietly:

“Now then, what is all this about, eh? I’m so sorry if there has been some trouble between you two.”

“Has been! There is! And as to ‘some,’” here I began to cry softly. “I’ve tried for a fortnight and more to believe it was all my own imagination—that it was wrong to be suspicious. But the other night I had to tell Cuthbert that once for all, he must choose whether he wished to live with me or with__”

“Who with? With whom?” burst from Uncle Bill, quick and clear. Being the softest-voiced, most sleepy-going of men, this showed deep excitement.

“It’s not with who or with whom,” I testily answered, careless of grammar. It’s with what. And to make my story short, it’s with his hat-box! Oh,–don’t!”

Uncle Bill had thrown himself back in his chair, and his portly person was heaving with hearty, subdued laughter. I could have beaten him with infinite pleasure. As it was I stamped my foot, crying out in a passion:

“Uncle Bill, do you think me a fool? Is Cuthbert one, too? Why do you imagine we should have got to such a pass as this when—when—I—I—think of leaving him, unless there was more behind. I mean something dreadful inside it?”

Uncle Bill’s roar of mirth broke off suddenly, as if a trumpeter had withdrawn his lips from his instrument. He looked searchingly at my face, raising his brows, and breathed, “Drink?”

“No, oh no. Cuthbert is most abstemious. He takes even less than you. This is something on his conscience, I fear; otherwise”—bending forward to whisper—“why should he mutter in his sleep? Three night ago he woke me by crying out—but it seems a shame to betray what he said when sleep, doesn’t it?”

“Humph! Yes. What did he say?”

“He groaned and called out: ‘I must hide it somewhere else. Gertie! Gertie knows!’ But you don’t understand. Shall I begin from the beginning?”

“Yes, do. Go on, I’m listening.”

This meant serious business, for Uncle Bill’s favourite invitation to speak was: Fire away!

Accordingly, I began by telling how, when we first started abroad on our honeymoon trip to Switzerland, my maid offered to carry a hat-box amongst my husband’s luggage. He thanked her, but said so distinctly he always wished it to be left to himself that she and I joked about it. What could he want with a “topper” in the mountains? Ah! He replied as gaily, he never liked to go without it. Somewhat to my surprise Cuthbert next asked leave to bring this hat-box into my room at nights, alleging that his own was crowded with luggage. Now, it was as large a room as mine; but I made no observation, thinking it was my first experience of my husband’s peculiar fad, and that, when living in Uncle Bill’s home, I noticed how the best of men had fads that might just as well be humoured.

“Humph! Ha! Quite so. Not a bit of it. Well, go on,” ejaculated Uncle Bill.

The same thing happened in Switzerland every night. By day the hat-box was carefully locked inside a wardrobe, of which Cuthbert carried the key. One day, therefore, I suddenly said I knew what was inside it. To my surprise, my husband turned quite pale, and demanded in evident perturbation:

“What? How? You could not have opened that lock!”

“It must be money or valuables,” was my piqued response. “Why not leave it in my care instead of hiding it like a wild cat used to do with her last kitten?’

Cuthbert laughed at that, but changed the subject; when once I reverted to it, he showed annoyance.

We went with a party up the mountain to sleep in a hut and see the sunrise, only taking small handbags each. But Cuthbert brought the hat-box too! We were both of us chaffed by the others unmercifully. Well, a second expedition of a similar kind took place; and this time Cuthbert left the tiresome thing behind, at my entreaty. He seemed ill at ease, and hurried back early to our hotel, where we were met by the servants with outcries.

Eh! What a night! From midnight till cockcrow nobody near our room had closed an eye. Why? Because something inside the dress-closet in monsieur’s room made an awful, indescribable noise! Something between a wild animal and a spirit in pain: it so wailed and moaned, explained the night porter. They did open our rooms, but the closet was locked. Well, Cuthbert ran upstairs and into his room, which opened only out of mine. I followed him closely when out he came, saying:

“It was a cat–a wild cat, plainly. Tell the servant so. I must have shut the poor beast in.”

Well. I asked Simpson to tell the household what he said. But my senses told me it was untrue; for no cat passed out by my room–I was there. Simpson looked queerly, pursed her lips, then said:

“Well, miss, I mean, ma’am, I’ll do as you wish, because I was your mother’s maid twenty years before ever I became yours.”

And then she went out of the room as stiff as a grenadier. I felt too ashamed of the fib, and too nervous and puzzled to know what she meant.

In Paris on our return things grew worse. It was hot weather, and our room was very small, with a dressing-closet for Cuthbert inside. Feeling feverish about three in the morning, I got up softly, meaning to lean out of the window when in the dark I stumbled over the hat-box, and hurt my toes. This vexed me, so I thought to thrust the tiresome object into the closet. But it was too heavy to lift; if it had been made of iron, and the floor a magnet, that might give some idea of the weight which amazed me. Furious at what seemed a delusion of my senses for I recalled seeing Cuthbert bring it in one hand easily I set my muscles, and with a great effort literally staggered into the closet. I was stronger than any other girl at school. Hardly was the thing set down than something inside began to roll round, swaying and knocking against the furniture, at which I gave a shriek, and rushing back, shut the door. There came a moan I could swear to that! Next moment, Cuthbert bounded up, switched on the electric light, and looking white as ashes, asked what was wrong. Had I seen anything?

“The hat-box–” was all I could gasp, pointing. He burst into the closet, and the noise stopped like magic. His bride being so upset, crying and trembling, one might think Cuthbert would have come to me. But no; he only implored me to be calm, and stood in the doorway as if mounting guard. Then assuring me it, was all my fancy, he seized the hat-box with two fingers and was bringing it back when I screamed, declaring unless he left it there and shut the door, I would rush into the corridor. Well, he reasoned; I protested. The end of it was, he shut himself into the dressing-closet in a temper, apparently, while I lay awake crying. We left early for England in the morning, and between our first quarrel and a rough crossing, on arriving in London I was suffering too much to go- on to this house straight as we had intended. Cuthbert said hastily I must stay with Simpson at the Grosvenor Hotel, white he ran down to Riverside to “arrange things.” We could follow next morning. And off he rushed to Paddington, before I could utter a word the hat-box with him though he forgot his dressing-bag. Knowing the house and servants were ready, I own to feeling huffed when I came down. But Cuthbert was full of lame excuses for having left me. He added, significantly that he had put all his traps out of the way. No hat-box was to be seen; and I began to breathe freely, when Simpson roused my fears by observing, that a cupboard in the wall of my room was locked and sealed. It was just what she wished to put my hats in.”

“The owners have done so,” I suggested.

Simpson looked nearer, and said:

“Why, the seal is Mr Cranstoun’s crest. See, ma’m!”

She and I gazed at each other, but said nothing. Simpson is a reserved woman, but I know we were both thinking: “it is in there!”

“Well, but my dear Gertrude, if you are not worried any more with sight of it, surely–” began Uncle Bill.

“Listen, please. This past week there have been two dances in the neighbourhood to which we went. But, to my surprise, before the first ended, I missed my husband, he had left about half-past eleven, pleading a headache to the hostess, and saying it would be a pity to spoil my enjoyment, so he would send our fly back later for me. Everyone, myself foremost, praised Cuthbert’s kindness. Unhappily, three evenings ago, we were at the second dance, when, just as I was in the highest spirits, my card crowded with the names of the best men in the room, up came Cuthbert, and whispered, would I mind leaving; he felt out of sorts, Now. as a rule, he has splendid health; what was more, he looked quite well, and a suspicion struck me–in fact, my mind jumped to the true meaning, that the hat-box was connected with this sudden pretence. Well, the hosts pressed him to stay; another dance began, and my partner whirled me off, for just a turn, and would not stop. The end of it was we did not leave for twenty minutes. On the way home, Cuthbert seemed so vexed and silent that my conscience smote me, fearing he was really unwell.

On reaching home, to my surprise, all our maids, the gardener and butler, were huddled in a half-dressed group outside the porch, looking up at my room, where the gas had been left lit. When we called out inquiries, Simpson alone answered, saying sternly to Cuthbert:

“If you please, sir, there is something hoccultly spirituous in the cupboard.”

Without waiting for another word, Cuthbert rushed upstairs, when at the same time we all heard a horrid cry, as one of someone being murdered. There followed a long-drawn moan, coming plainly from my room. The maids screeched; and in terror lest Cuthbert should be in danger. I flew after him. As he flung the door open, I distinctly heard him call out, low, but passionately: “Here I am! Peace! peace! Can I not be late just once, a few minutes? Will this torment never end?”

The wailing sound that still shivered on the air suddenly ceased. There was utter silence in the room, and it was perfectly empty. Cuthbert turned, and seeing me, looked strangely. Then, leaning out of the window, he called to the servants:

“There is nothing here. Did you hear cats on the roof? Come up and see, you men?”

The men came slowly, nodded sheepishly, and went away. I told the maids severely to go to bed, even Simpson. Then, coming back to my husband, I said:

“Look here, Cuthbert, your cousin, Mary Sharky, told me something of this. I love you dearer than all else on earth; but you do not love me truly, or you would put this—thing–away.

“I asked Mary to tell you; it was a thing you ought to know before marrying me,” said Cuthbert, in a hollow voice. “But if she told you all, you ought to know it is impossible for me to—to–separate from this. Other women have borne it before you–and more.”

Now it happened that Mary Sharky did not tell me all. For she began a story full of innuendos against Cuthbert about some woman whom he had ill-treated and ought to have married, she said. It was told as if she were anxious to warn me, fearful my marriage would be a frightful failure. So, thinking her a spiteful cat, I haughtily refused to pry into Cuthbert’s affairs, and begged her to say no more.

“Do you wish me to take that to the spare room. There will be a horrible noise if I leave it alone there,” added Cuthbert.

“No. I’m not afraid! And we need not make more gossip for the servants to-night,” was my reply, for my spirit was roused. “You see now, Uncle Bill, that either I am Cuthbert’s wife, and have a right to live in peace with him, or else he had better keep to his–his midnight ghostly companion and let me go, go back to my dear old uncle.” The burst of sobbing which ended this sentence did not premise much for my own or Uncle Bill’s happiness, if this should come to pass.

“Poor little girl! Cheer up! cheer up!” cried Uncle Bill. “But what the dickens is it?” in blank wonder.

“I can’t guess!” A wail was in my voice, tears in my eyes. My ears were strained to hear my good guardian say that I was a foolish, big baby. My heart ached with the fear lest he might—must–think ill of Cuthbert. Slowly the verdict came from those bearded lips.

“Humph! Ha! It looks uncommonly queer. Perhaps Cranstoun will let me speak to him to-night. Come, Gertie, dry up! Your face looks as if it had run in the washing.”

Thanks to Uncle Bill’s strenuous resolve to make us all three keep up appearances, dinner went off fairly well. Then I left early, and creeping out into the darkness of the summer night, leant with aching brow and worse aching heart against the old cedar in deep shadow. Presently men’s voices sounded close by. Two burning spots betrayed cigars in the dark, where a couple of forms were strolling noiselessly on the turf. And his, I mean Cuthbert’s, voice said, emphatically, in sadness:

“I would give ten of the remaining years of my life to be free from this haunting horror. But Gertie knows–my cousin told her of the family curse. My mother, my grandmother, both endured it, so I hoped she loved me as they did their husb–”

“Cuthbert! I’m here, not listening, but I couldn’t help overhearing. What curse? What family?” was my wildly eager interruption, as breaking through the low branches I came out from my retreat, stammering almost incoherently: “Mary never told. She slandered you, made believe you ought to have married somebody else–herself I thought, and so refused to hear. Then afterwards–you see–I supposed it was worse– something dead–Oh, dear, there must have been some dreadful mistake.”

“Never mind, it’s all right.” (I was in Cuthbert’s arms). “There, there, my dear little wife. Mary is a–a snake! Believe me, I never thought of marrying her, though she did try at one time. Why, Uncle Bill, it seems neither of you do know. Where are you?”

“Humph! Ha! I just strolled on here,” came from a discreet distance. A portly form loomed, returning; then in mellow tones came the meaning reminder: “No, my dear Cranstoun, we don’t know–yet! Being in the dark in both senses, how would it be to return to the house and get some light?”

“You mean–?  Yes; you should both know. Certainly my wife has a right,” answered Cuthbert, in uncertain accents. “Well, come in.” Without mutual explanations we closed the windows, drew the blinds, lit all the lights. Then Cuthbert began; and from his tone it seemed a real relief to speak freely to me at last.

“The story begins seventy-five years ago,” said Cuthbert, “when my grandfather was an orphan between fourteen and fifteen years old, living at Woodleigh Hall with his three step-brothers. These were grown men, ho oldest over thirty years of age; a jolly, hard-swearing, fox-hunting trio of bachelors on more or less friendly terms. Their father had married twice, however, and the only child of the second marriage was my grandfather. Besides being so much younger than the others, he was, by all accounts, very different; a gentle, studious lad, timid and delicate, perhaps because his brothers looked upon him as an intruder and made him the butt for their taunts or ill-humour.

“Woodleigh Hall was a hell-fire club in a small way, while these three roysterers kept open house for all their dare-devil acquaintances. They passed the day in the most barbarous sports of the time–cock-fighting, or bull-baiting, and drank their six bottles of port a-piece at night till they rolled under the table.

“One summer evening, about seven o’clock, when they were sitting over their wine, and as it happened with no other company but my grandfather, one of my grand-uncles spied a pedlar passing through the park for there was a right of way there which was a standing grievance to the three brothers. They were so feared by the villagers that few or none came that way unless greatly pressed. But this pedlar, being a wayfarer, possibly did not know.

“‘Hullo!’ cried one of the party, ‘here’s some sport! Let’s go and turn that fellow back for his impudence and we will empty his pack.’

“Out the three staggered, full of wine and quarrelment, followed by my grandfather, who said to the hour of his death that he was quite sober–for he used to spill his wine on his clothes when bullied by his brothers to take more wine than his head could carry. Fearing mischief, he went reluctantly, keeping behind though they called to him to come on- and he saw them enter a wood with a whoo-whoop! Tallyho! as if they viewed their man. Next came the noise of a loud wrangle—blows, a shout of ‘Murder!’ and dying groans.

My grandfather was not very brave, perhaps, for he turned and fled home. When he saw his brothers next, they looked so darkly at him, that he durst not ask questions. But he feared the worst; and, indeed, he was packed off to college the day after—a boon he had vainly asked for months. So they feared him it would seem; and on the very day he left a hue and cry for the missing man was already begun.

“The pedlar’s body was found after some weeks by a gamekeeper’s dog that scratched up freshly-turned earth in the wood. At the time there were angry rumours among the peasantry, for the squire and his brothers were suspected of having a hand in the foul play. But as the poor fellow was a stranger, it was nobody’s business. My grand-uncles, however, declared they would give the pedlar a Christian burial; and his remains were accordingly placed in the churchyard, with an inscription stating he was killed by persons unknown.

“But here comes the queerest part of the story. A week later the sexton was horrified to find the grave disturbed, the coffin split open, and the pedlar’s skull on the top. The strange news was taken to Woodleigh, when my grand-uncles were very angry, blamed the sexton, and themselves saw the skull reinterred. The next night the same thing happened, and once more. The country people also believed that groans came from the murdered man’s grave. So, declaring they would pretty soon show there was nothing to fear, the Cranstoun brothers took the skull to the Hall, where the eldest kept it in his own bedroom. We do not know what they saw or heard, but all three seemed under a curse from the day the pedlar was killed. The oldest died of drink within the year; the second went raving mad and was shut up; and the youngest broke his neck in three months, riding his hunter at a quarry-hole which he knew well. My grandfather inherited Woodleigh and the estates, but he was never a happy man. He tried to bury the skull again, but it reappeared above ground, and to his despair he was forced to keep it at Woodleigh. By experience he discovered that by day he was at peace from ghostly manifestations. But from midnight till dawn or so, there was no quiet unless he slept with the skull near him.

“My father found the same thing. So have I! And that is the history of the Cranstoun family curse. If anyone can suggest how to free myself and those belonging to me from it, no words could express my gratitude.”

“As Cuthbert ended, he glanced at the clock, out of nervous habit, being so used to watch for the hour of trouble. I glanced, too; but then looked at Uncle Bill. After deep musing the latter roused, bent forward to us and spoke:

“There is a plan which might, be tried, but it involves a possible nine days’ scandal at Woodleigh. Therefore you would both have to weigh that against the mere chance, mind you, of freedom, Now, Gertie, declare nothing till you hear. It is like this, Cuthbert! and you will decide between family pride and honesty. You say, on the grave-stone over the pedlar’s grave the words still stand: ‘Killed by persons unknown!’ Have you moral courage to put instead the names of your grand-uncles?” Cuthbert was silent awhile. Then he said: “It is just. I will do it!”

***

On the following Monday we three were at Woodleigh, to the surprise of the household and tenantry. Only very few, and those tried servants, knew of a short service that week one early morning, when a skull was buried in an old grave: and upon the headstone stood in fresh letters, after the pedlar’s name. “John Luckpenny, died 1798,” these words: “Killed without just cause, by Simon. Wilfrid, and Thomas Cranstoun.” But soon the matter became whispered abroad, as also truly, that the Cranstoun family curse was lifted.

The Newcastle [Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England] Weekly Courant, 13 January 1900: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Oh, the endless misunderstandings of newlyweds who do not communicate  and foolishly keep vital secrets from one another! One is reminded of Du Maurier’s Rebecca.  What sort of a man asks his cousin to break the news of a murderous family’s curse to his fiancée? One can almost hear the skull screaming in impotent rage at such idiocy.

That said, pedlars, who had no fixed abode and carried goods and cash, were easy targets for thieves and malefactors.  Mrs Daffodil has written before about an apple tree haunted by the spirit of a murdered pedlar. This story also echoes the tales of “Screaming Skulls,” an exceptionally noisy type of ghostly manifestation in British lore, wherein a skull accustomed to sitting at or being walled up in one location, screams and raises a great row when moved. They are the supernatural equivalent of a toddler throwing a temper tantrum.

 

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.

Sitwell Spectres: The Haunted Mansion of Renishaw: 1909

sitwell family singer sargent

The Sitwell Family, John Singer-Sargent, 1900. From left: Edith Sitwell (1887–1964), Sir George Sitwell, Lady Ida, Sacheverell Sitwell (1897–1988), and Osbert Sitwell (1892–1969)

HAUNTED MANSION

Lady Ida Sitwell’s Strange Experience.

Friendly Ghost’s Visit

Chesterfield Correspondence London Chronicle.

Here at Chesterfield, of all places, Chesterfield, whose twisted spire might well serve as a sort of lightning conductor of the uncanny, there has been no little excitement over an announcement by Sir George Sitwell, Bart., that a ghost has been paying apparently perfectly friendly after dinner visits to “Renishaw,” his beautiful old Jacobean country house, some nine miles away.

The bare facts as vouched for by Sir George Sitwell and Lady Ida Sitwell, are briefly these. Soon after dinner on Saturday evening Lady Sitwell was sitting upon a sofa in an upstairs room chatting with half a dozen guests. She was tired, having been at a ball at Scarborough till 4 o’clock that morning, and traveled all day. Opposite her was an open door, giving out upon a staircase. This staircase was built by Sir George Sitwell himself. It replaced an older staircase that led down to an ancient and famous haunted room now done away with by Sir George, and merged into the hall.

Suddenly through the open door she saw a lady, apparently 50 or 60 years of age, moving past the door to the top of the stairs. The figure glided along the passage with arms outstretched. Her hair was gray and done up in a bun beneath a white cap. The dress was old-fashioned, like that of some old servant. The skirt was dark, the bodice blue. Although seemingly solid the figure cast no shadow and made no sound. As suddenly as it had come it vanished. Lady Sitwell immediately called out, “Who’s that?” No answer was given and she then rushed out upon the stairs. There was no sign of any one being or having been there until a lady of the party, a Miss R., saw beneath the archway below not 20 feet away, and in a full light, a figure exactly corresponding to Lady Ida’s description. “I do believe that’s the ghost!” she exclaimed. Then with the same silent motion as before the figure glided into the darkness near the now walled up door of the already mentioned ghost room and for the second time disappeared.

Such is the story; a very pretty ghost story as it stands. Alas, however, upon investigation the vision of “Renishaw” proves a very harmless unnecessary ghost, a ghost of shreds and patches.

Sir George Sitwell, who, as it happens, left “Renishaw” on Sunday with his family for a tour in Italy, confessed before his departure that the ghost was probably only a mental phantasm due to Lady Sitwell’s fanciful condition. But if so, what about Miss R., who was presumably in complete health and yet professed to have seen the old lady as clearly as Lady Sitwell herself? Accordingly, there is only general evidence to fall back upon. If any ancient inhabitant of “Renishaw” had really desired to communicate with the living world, no more appropriate occasion could well have been chosen than tonight when I visited the old house. It looked as lone and ghostly as could well be wished, standing deserted between the moonlight and silent trees and the distant flare of innumerable furnaces. Instead, however, of any ghostly intercourse, I found a cheery company of servants having a cosy supper, and entirely free from any supernatural qualms. With all deference to Lady Sitwell and Miss R., they ridiculed the possibility of there being anything in the way of a really public-spirited ghost at “Renishaw.” The old housekeeper, a charming old dame who looked the very image of Lady Sitwell’s phantom save of her air of melancholy, said that she had been there 23 years and had never seen so much as the ghost of a ghost.

As for the haunted lumber room, many was the time when she had known it was used as a bedroom without the remotest ill effect. She, by the way, happened to be out at the time of Lady Sitwell’s vision, so it could not have been her. As for the male domestics, one of them pronounced himself cheerily prepared to sit through a night at the top of the ghost-trod stair with only a candle and a bottle of whiskey for companions. Certainly there had been no possible sign of the ghost’s reappearance since the family left. For the rest, all that the servants knew of the ghost was by hearsay.

As for the many ghostly legends which are supposed to cluster round “Renishaw,” they are at any rate entirely unknown both to the neighbors or to Chesterfield people in general, who are, as a matter of fact, very much prepared to look upon the whole affair as a joke upon Sir George Sitwell’s part. The fact of the ghost having delayed its visit until the eve of Sir George’s Italian tour is held to add color to this theory. There only remains the testimony of Lady Sitwell and Miss R., who cannot for the moment be subpoenaed at the ghostly tribunal.

State [Columbia SC] 14 November 1909: p. 13

Having read of this latest appearance of a ghost at Renishaw, F. Gorell Barnes describes his experiences there. In 1892 he was parliamentary candidate for Northeast Derbyshire and Sir George Sitwell, who was then contesting another division, placed Renishaw Hall at Mr. Barnes’s disposal.

“My neighbors and visitors,” he writes, “told me more than one ghostly legend associated with it and more particularly with the old ghost room mentioned by Sir George in his letter.

“I recall one in particular, that when a stranger slept for the first time at the hall the ghost of a lady was supposed to appear. One visitor, whose name I do not now recollect, told me of a young lady who occupied the ghost room having been found in a state of abject terror and refused to give any account of what she had seen.

“Some weeks before the general election of 1893 my election agent came to stay with me till the election was over. On the night of his arrival we worked till about 1 A.M., lighted our candles and went up the staircase which Sir George describes as having been put in twenty years ago, close to the old ghost room. Near the top of the stairs this gentleman, an astute and clever Sheffield solicitor, stopped short, tapped me on the shoulder and whispered:

“’There’s somebody following us up stairs.’

“I went down, examined the stairs, entrance hall and the rooms, without finding anything. I ascended the stairs again, and step for step as I ascended I distinctly heard footsteps following me up to the top of the staircase.

“I returned again to the entrance hall, but I saw no figures as described by Sir George Sitwell. There were no ghosts or phantasms, no reversed impressions of something seen in the past, but distinct footsteps were heard by two over-tired, but not excited men.

The Sun [New York, NY] 3 October 1909: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Sir George seems to have regarded his wife, Lady Ida, with both amusement and contempt. Certainly, only a few years later, when her extravagance landed her in debt and she was found to have fallen into the clutches of money-lenders and to have uttered bad checks, he refused to pay her creditors and allowed her to spend three months in jail. One suspects that the servants interviewed by the author were in such a cheery mood because Sir George had left the premises.

 

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.

The Ghost and the Spinster: 18th century

18th century strongbox

It had been for some time reported in the neighbourhood that a poor unmarried woman, who was a member of the Methodist society, and had become serious under their ministry, had seen and conversed with the apparition of a gentleman, who had made a strange discovery to her. Mr Hampson, being desirous to ascertain if there was any truth in the story, sent for the woman, and desired her to give an exact relation of the whole affair from her own mouth, and as near the truth as she possibly could.

She said she was a poor woman who got her living by spinning hemp and linen; that it was customary for the farmers and gentlemen of that neighbourhood to grow a little hemp or linen in the corner of their fields, for their own home consumption, and as she had a good hand at spinning the materials she used to go from house to house to inquire for work; that her method was, where they employed her, during her stay to have meat and lodging (if she had occasion to sleep with them) for her work, and what they pleased to give her besides. That, among other places, she happened to call in one day at the Welsh Earl Powis’s country seat, called Redcastle, to inquire for work, as she usually had done before. The quality were at this time in London, and had left the steward and his wife, with other servants, as usual, to take care of their country residence in their absence.

The steward’s wife set her to work, and in the evening told her that she must stay all night with them, as they had more work for her to do next day. When bed-time arrived, two or three of the servants in company, with each a lighted candle in her hand, conducted her to her lodging. They led her to a grand room, with a boarded floor and two sash windows. The room was grandly furnished, and had a genteel bed in one corner of it. They had made her a good fire, and had placed her a chair and a table before it, and a large lighted candle upon the table. They told her that was her bedroom, and she might go to sleep when she pleased, they then wished a good night and withdrew all together, pulling the door quickly after them, so as to hasp the springsneck in the brass lock that was upon it.

When they were gone she gazed a while at the fine furniture, under no small astonishment that they should put such a poor person as her in so grand a room and bed, with all the apparatus of fire, chair, table, and candle. She was also surprised at the circumstance of the servants coming so many together, with each of them a candle; however, after gazing about her some little time, she sat down and took out of her pocket a small Welsh Bible which she always carried about with her, and in which she usually read a chapter—chiefly in the New Testament—before she said her prayers and went to bed.

While she was reading she heard the room door open, and, turning her head, saw a gentleman enter in a gold-laced hat and waistcoat, and the rest of his dress corresponding there-with. (I think she was very particular in describing the rest of his dress to Mr Hampson, and he to me at the time, but I have now forgot the other particulars.) He walked down by the sash window to the corner of the room, and then returned. When he came at the first window in his return (the bottom of which was nearly breast-high) he rested his elbow on the bottom of the window, and the side of his face upon the palm of his hand, and stood in that leaning posture for some time, with his side partly towards her.

She looked at him earnestly to see if she knew him, but though, from her frequent intercourse with them, she had a personal knowledge of all the present family, he appeared a stranger to her. She supposed afterwards that he stood in this manner to encourage her to speak; but as she did not, after some little time he walked off, pulling the door after him as the servants had done before. She began now to be much alarmed, concluding it to be an apparition and that they had put her there on purpose. This was really the case. The room, it seems, had been disturbed for a long time, so that nobody could sleep peaceably in it; and as she passed for a very serious woman, the servants took it in their heads to put the Methodist and spirit together, to see what they would make out of it.

Startled at this thought, she rose from her chair, and kneeled down by the bedside to say her prayers. While she was praying he came in again, walked round the room and came close behind her. She had it on her mind to speak, but when she attempted it she was so very much agitated that she could not utter a word. He walked out of the room again, pulling the door shut as before. She begged that God would strengthen her, and not suffer her to be tried beyond what she was able to bear; she recovered her surprise and thought she felt more confidence and resolution, and determined if he came in again she would speak to him if possible.

He presently came in again, walked round, and came behind her as before; she turned her head and said, “Pray, sir, who are you, and what do you want?” He put up his finger and said, “Take up the candle and follow me, and I will tell you.” She got up, took up the candle and followed him out of the room. He led her through a long boarded passage, till they came to the door of another room which he opened and went in; it was a small room, or what might be called a large closet.

“As the room was small, and I believed him to be a spirit,” said she, “I stopped at the door; he turned and said, ‘Walk in, I will not hurt you’; so I walked in. He said, ‘Observe what I do’; I said, ‘I will.’ He stooped and tore up one of the boards of the floor, and there appeared under it a box with an iron handle in the lid. He said, ‘Do you see that box?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ He then stepped to one side of the room and showed me a crevice in the wall, where he said a key was hid that would open it. He said, ‘This box and key must be taken out, and sent to the Earl in London’ (naming the Earl and his residence in the city). He said, ‘Will you see it done?’ I said, ‘I will do my best to get it done’; and he said, ‘Do, and I will trouble the house no longer!’ He then walked out of the room and left me. (He seems to have been a very civil spirit, and to have been very careful to affright her as little as possible.)

I stepped to the room door, and set up a shout. The steward and his wife, with the other servants, came to me immediately; all clinging together, with a number of lights in their hands. It seems they had all been waiting to see the issue of the interview betwixt me and the apparition. They asked me what was the matter. I told them the foregoing circumstances, and showed them the box. The steward durst not meddle with it, but his wife had more courage, and, with the help of the other servants, tugged it out, and found the key. She said by their lifting it appeared to be pretty heavy, but that she did not see it opened, and therefore did not know what it contained—perhaps money, or writings of consequence to the family, or both. They took it away with them, and she then went to bed and slept peaceably till morning.

  It appeared that they sent the box to the Earl in London, with an account of the manner of its discovery, and by whom; as the Earl sent down orders immediately to his steward to inform the poor woman who had been the occasion of its discovery that if she would come and reside in his family she would be comfortably provided for during her remaining days; or, if she did not choose to reside constantly with them, if she would let them know when she wanted assistance, she would be liberally supplied at his lordship’s expense as long as she lived. And Mr Hampson said it was a known fact in the neighbourhood that she had been supplied from his lordship’s family, from the time the affair was said to have happened, and continued to be so at the time she gave Mr Hampson this account.

She told him that she was so often solicited by curious people to relate the story that she was weary of repeating it; but, to oblige him, she once more related the particulars, wishing now to have done with it. Mr Hampson said she appeared to be a sensible, intelligent person, and that he saw no reason to doubt her veracity. I know many persons in the present day laugh at such stories, and affect very much to doubt their reality, while others totally deny the possibility of their existence. However, Scripture and many well-attested relations seem to favour the idea, and the present story appeared so singular and so well attested, and I had it so near the fountain-head, that I thought it might perhaps be worth preserving, and I have therefore taken pains to record it.

Admitting it to be true, it should seem that the consequence to the family of what the hidden box contained was the formal cause of the spirit’s disquiet, and of its disturbing the house so much and so long, in order to bring about the discovery; but why the departed spirit should concern itself in the affairs of this world after it has left it—or why they should disquiet it so as to cause it to reappear and make disturbances, in order to discover and have things righted, as in the preceding case—or why this should be done in some cases of apparently less moment, while in other cases much greater family injuries seem to be suffered, and no spirit appears to interest itself in the case—are circumstances for which we can by no means account. A cloud sits deep on futurity; and we are so little acquainted with the laws of the spiritual world that we are perhaps incapable, in our present state, of comprehending its nature or of giving any satisfactory account of these matters.

The Haunters and the Haunted, Ernest Rhys, ed., 1921

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: As M.R. James, that consummate chronicler of English ghosts said, “Depend upon it! Some of these things are so, but we do not know the rules!” Mrs Daffodil also wonders why the ghostly gentleman—so tenacious in worrying the devout spinster—did not visit the Earl or his family when they were in residence and show them the box?

Mrs Daffodil put this hypothetical question to that ghost researcher over at Haunted Ohio, who responded with an anecdote of a young woman whose late father-in-law kept giving her messages for his son, her husband. “When I rather testily asked him why he didn’t go directly to his son, he said sadly, ‘He can’t hear me.'”

So perhaps it was only a “serious” Methodist lady who had ears to hear or the courage to speak to the ghost, for there is much folklore that says ghosts can only speak when spoken to.

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.

“I have never known a Red Room yet that was not haunted.”: 1903

a visit to the haunted chamber William Frederick Yeames 1869

A Visit to the Haunted Chamber, William Frederick Yeames, 1869

Mr. Punch’s Spectral Analyses.

AN OFFICIAL MUDDLE.

It is always my custom when I go to stop at a country house to ask my host to put me in the haunted room. I like ghosts. In my earlier literary days I was often a ghost myself, and even now I occasionally do “Cheery Chatter for the Chicks” in Baby’s Own lckle Magazine for my friend Bamstead Barker when he wants a holiday. I use a spirit lamp, too, and in a great many other ways exhibit a marked partiality for the spectre world.

When, therefore, I went to stay at Strathpuffer Castle last autumn, I put my usual request, and my host sent for the butler.

“Keggs,” he said, “Mr. Wuddus wishes to sleep in a haunted room. What ghosts have we?”

“Well, your lordship,” said Keggs thoughtfully, “there’s Bad Lord ‘erbert and Dark Lord Despard and the man in armour wot moans and ‘er late ladyship as ain’t got no ‘ead and exhibits of warious gaping wounds, but all the bedrooms wot they ‘aunts is took at present. They do say, though, your lordship, as ‘ow remarkable sounds ‘ave bin ‘eard recent from the Red Room.”

“Then let the Red Room be my bedroom,” I said, dropping into poetry with all the aplomb of a Silas Wegg” I have never known a Red Room yet that was not haunted.” And to the Red Room accordingly I went.

It was past twelve when I went to bed. Scarcely had I got inside the room when a sepulchral voice on my right said “Boo!” and almost at the same instant a chain rattled on my left. I sat down on the bed, and spoke with firmness and decision.

“This won’t do at all,” I said. “No haunted room is ever allowed two ghosts. One of you must go, or I lodge a formal complaint. Which is it to be?”

“I got here first,” said a sulky voice.

“Well, you’d no business here,” said the second ghost snappishly. “I was definitely and officially appointed, and I give up my rights to no one.”

“I’ve told you a thousand times that I was appointed.”

“Nonsense. I was.”

“Meaning that I lie, Sir?”

“Come, come, come,” I interrupted impatiently. “I won’t have this unseemly wrangling. Settle it peaceably, my friends, peaceably.”

“Tell you what,” said the ghost with the chain, eagerly; “we’ll have a haunting competition, if this gentleman will be good enough to act as referee; and the loser quits.”

“But, my good Sir,” I said, “you forget that I want to go to sleep some time to-night. And besides, if you’ll forgive the criticism, a haunting competition between you two would be poor sport. You are neither of you what I should describe as fliers at the game. You lack finesse. You, Sir, remarked ‘Boo!” when I came in, and your colleague rattled a chain. Now, I ask you, what is the good of that kind of thing?”

“Ah,” said the groaning ghost, “but I can do a deal more than that. I can imitate all sorts of things. Thunderstorms and bagpipes, for instance. And I can turn myself into a hearse-and-four and drive up to the front door. And I can–”

“Well,” broke in the other, “and can’t I turn myself into a luminous boy and a hideous old woman, and a variety of jumpy and ingenious shapes? And can’t I produce raps from the furniture and fill a room with a weird, unearthly glow? And can’t I–”

“Stop,” I said, “stop. I see it all. A bright idea has struck me. You are respectively outdoor and indoor ghosts. What has happened, I take it, is this. Your muddling officials down below have made out your papers for Strathpuffer Castle and forgotten to give details. I have no doubt that, if you make enquiries, you will find that one of you has been appointed to haunt this room, the other the Castle grounds. You follow me?”

“My preserver!” gasped both spectres simultaneously, and vanished together to make enquiries at headquarters.

That my surmise proved correct was shown on the occasion of my next visit to the Castle. As the carriage passed through the grounds I heard the sound of bagpipes mingled with thunderclaps from behind an adjacent tree, and the first sight that met my eyes as I entered the Red Room was a hideous old woman who, even as I gazed, changed into a luminous boy.

Punch 2 September 1903: p. 153

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Once again, Punch unerringly hits the satirical mark in listing some of the most popular spectres of Britain:

  • The Luminous (or Radiant) Boy, found at Corby Castle and other stately homes
  • The hideous old woman, practically de rigueur in any ghost story written by Mr Elliott O’Donnell. An example not by that lurid gentleman is this chilling anecdote, either from Streatlam Castle or Glamis Castle:

My daughter-in-law has a ghost story of an old woman who appears in a haunted room at Lord Strathmore’s. His lordship’s house was so full of visitors on one occasion that the only spare bedroom was the haunted chamber, into which two of his lordship’s guests, the Misses Davidson, were ushered without being told of its ghostly reputation. After midnight one of the young ladies was wakened by some noise, and shrieked at seeing a hideous old woman in an antiquated dress leaning over her, grinning fiendishly, and bringing her loathly visage into close conformity to that of Miss D. Recovering her courage, and suspecting that the ghost was flesh and blood, the girl sprang out of bed to repulse the intruder. The phantom retreated and disappeared at a door, to the astonishment of both ladies, who still thought it might be a living human being. Next morning they related their nocturnal adventure to the company at breakfast, on which the Earl’s family exchanged significant glances, but gave no explanation.

  • The hearse-and-four, often lit by skull-lamps with flaming eyes and pulled by headless horses, is a favourite omen of death among noble families. That  peripatetic person over at Haunted Ohio has written several times about phantom coaches and hearses.
  • The phantom piper, who was sent to explore a tunnel (for example, at Keilor at Edinburgh Castle) and who never emerged, leaving behind only the sound of his pipes beneath the ground.

Hideous old women are all very well, but Mrs Daffodil wonders that the Punch satirist neglected to include those pillars of the British paranormal scene, The Grey Lady, The White Lady, The Green Lady, The Woman in Black, and The Pink Lady  It is a curious and perhaps telling omission. Mrs Daffodil would advise the legal representatives of those colourful entities to file grievances with the proper office. There is no excuse for not remembering the lady ghosts who must haunt twice as hard as the gentlemen, backwards, and in high heels.

 

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.

It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story: 1891

The Ghost of Marley

The Ghost of Marley visits Scrooge.

It was Christmas Eve.

I begin this way, because it is the proper, orthodox, respectable way to begin, and I have been brought up in a proper, orthodox, respectable way, and taught to always do the proper, orthodox, respectable thing; and the habit clings to me.

Of course, as a mere matter of information it is quite unnecessary to mention the date at all. The experienced reader knows it was Christmas Eve, without my telling him. It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story.

Christmas Eve is the ghosts’ great gala night. On Christmas Eve they hold their annual fete. On Christmas Eve everybody in Ghostland who is anybody—or rather, speaking of ghosts, one should say, I suppose, every nobody who is any nobody—comes out to show himself or herself, to see and to be seen, to promenade about and display their winding-sheets and grave-clothes to each other, to criticise one another’s style, and sneer at one another’s complexion.

‘Christmas Eve parade,’ as I expect they themselves term it, is a function, doubtless, eagerly prepared for and looked forward to throughout Ghostland, especially by the swagger set, such as the murdered Barons, the crime-stained Countesses, and the Earls who came over with the Conqueror, and assassinated their relatives, and died raving mad.

Hollow moans and fiendish grins are, one may be sure, energetically practised up. Blood-curdling shrieks and marrow-freezing gestures are probably rehearsed for weeks beforehand.

Rusty chains and gory daggers are overhauled, and put into good working order; and sheets and shrouds, laid carefully by from the previous year’s show, are taken down and shaken out, and mended, and aired.

Oh, it is a stirring night in Ghostland, the night of December the twenty-fourth!

Ghosts never come out on Christmas night itself, you may have noticed. Christmas Eve, we suspect, has been too much for them; they are not used to excitement. For about a week after Christmas Eve, the gentlemen ghosts, no doubt, feel as if they were all head, and go about making solemn resolutions to themselves that they will stop in next Christmas Eve; while the lady spectres are contradictory and snappish, and liable to burst into tears and leave the room hurriedly on being spoken to, for no perceptible cause whatever.

Ghosts with no position to maintain—mere middle – class ghosts — occasionally, I believe, do a little haunting on off-nights: on All-hallows Eve, and at Midsummer; and some will even run up for a mere local event—to celebrate, for instance, the anniversary of the hanging of somebody’s grandfather, or to prophesy a misfortune.

He does love prophesying a misfortune, does the average British ghost. Send him out to prognosticate trouble to somebody, and he is happy. Let him force his way into a peaceful home, and turn the whole house upside down by foretelling a funeral, or predicting a bankruptcy, or hinting at a coming disgrace, or some other terrible disaster, about which nobody in their senses would want to know sooner than they could possibly help, and the prior knowledge of which can serve no useful purpose whatsoever, and he feels that he is combining duty with pleasure. He would never forgive himself if anybody in his family had a trouble and he had not been there for a couple of months beforehand, doing silly tricks on the lawn,or balancing himself on somebody’s bedrail.

Then there are, besides, the very young, or very conscientious ghosts with a lost will or an undiscovered number weighing heavy on their minds, who will haunt steadily all the year round; and also the fussy ghost, who is indignant at having been buried in the dust-bin or in the village pond, and who never gives the parish a single night’s quiet until somebody has paid for a first-class funeral for him.

But these are the exceptions. As I have said, the average orthodox ghost does his one turn a year, on Christmas Eve, and is satisfied.

Why on Christmas Eve, of all nights in the year, I never could myself understand. It is invariably one of the most dismal of nights to be out in —cold, muddy, and wet. And besides, at Christmas time, everybody has quite enough to put up with in the way of a houseful of living relations, without wanting the ghosts of any dead ones mooning about the place, I am sure.

There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas—something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails.

And not only do the ghosts themselves always walk on Christmas Eve, but live people always sit and talk about them on Christmas Eve. Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories. Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood. 

There is a good deal of similarity about our ghostly experiences; but this of course is not our fault but the fault of the ghosts, who never will try any new performances, but always will keep steadily to the old, safe business. The consequence is that, when you have been at one Christmas Eve party, and heard six people relate their adventures with spirits, you do not require to hear any more ghost stories. To listen to any further ghost stories after that would be like sitting out two farcical comedies, or taking in two comic journals; the repetition would become wearisome.

There is always the young man who was, one year, spending the Christmas at a country house, and, on Christmas Eve, they put him to sleep in the west wing. Then in the middle of the night, the room door quietly opens and somebody — generally a lady in her night-dress—walks slowly in, and comes and sits on the bed. The young man thinks it must be one of the visitors, or some relative of the family, though he does not remember having previously seen her, who, unable to go to sleep, and feeling lonesome, all by herself, has come into his room for a chat. He has no idea it is a ghost: he is so unsuspicious. She does not speak, however; and, when he looks again, she is gone!

The young man relates the circumstance at the breakfast – table next morning, and asks each of the ladies present if it were she who was his visitor. But they all assure him that it was not, and the host, who has grown deadly pale, begs him to say no more about the matter, which strikes the young man as a singularly strange request.

After breakfast the host takes the young man into a corner, and explains to him that what he saw was the ghost of a lady who had been murdered in that very bed, or who had murdered somebody else there—it does not really matter which: you can be a ghost by murdering somebody else or by being murdered yourself, whichever you prefer. The murdered ghost is, perhaps, the more popular; but, on the other hand, you can frighten people better if you are the murdered one, because then you can show your wounds and do groans. Then there is the sceptical guest—it is always ‘the guest’ who gets let in for this sort of thing, by-the-bye. A ghost never thinks much of his own family: it is ‘the guest* he likes to haunt who after listening to the host’s ghost story, on Christmas Eve, laughs at it, and says that he does not believe there are such things as ghosts at all; and that he will sleep in the haunted chamber that very night, if they will let him.

Everybody urges him not to be reckless, but he persists in his foolhardiness, and goes up to the Yellow Chamber (or whatever colour the haunted room may be) with a light heart and a candle, and wishes them all goodnight, and shuts the door.

Next morning he has got snow white hair.

He does not tell anybody what he has seen: it is too awful.

There is also the plucky guest, who sees a ghost, and knows it is a ghost, and watches it, as it comes into the room and disappears through the wainscot, after which, as the ghost does not seem to be coming back, and there is nothing, consequently, to be gained by stopping awake, he goes to sleep.

He does not mention having seen the ghost to anybody, for fear of frightening them—some people are so nervous about ghosts,—but determines to wait for the next night, and see if the apparition appears again.

It does appear again, and, this time, he gets out of bed, dresses himself and does his hair, and follows it; and then discovers a secret passage leading from the bedroom down into the beer-cellar, —a passage which, no doubt, was not unfrequently made use of in the bad old days of yore.

After him comes the young man who woke up with a strange sensation in the middle of the night, and found his rich bachelor uncle standing by his bedside. The rich uncle smiled a weird sort of smile and vanished. The young man immediately got up and looked at his watch. It had stopped at half-past four, he having forgotten to wind it.

He made inquiries the next day, and found that, strangely enough, his rich uncle, whose only nephew he was, had married a widow with eleven children at exactly a quarter to twelve, only two days ago.

The young man does not attempt to explain the extraordinary circumstance. All he does is to vouch for the truth of his narrative.

And, to mention another case, there is the gentleman who is returning home late at night, from a Freemasons’ dinner, and who, noticing a light issuing from a ruined abbey, creeps up, and looks through the keyhole. He sees the ghost of a ‘grey sister’ kissing the ghost of a brown monk, and is so inexpressibly shocked and frightened, that he faints on the spot, and is discovered there the next morning, lying in a heap against the or, still speechless, and with his faithful latch-key clasped tightly in his hand.

All these things happen on Christmas Eve, they are all told of on Christmas Eve. For ghost stories to be told on any other evening than the evening of the twenty-fourth of December would be impossible in English society as at present regulated. Therefore, in introducing the sad but authentic ghost stories that follow hereafter, I feel that it is unnecessary to inform the student of Anglo-Saxon literature that the date on which they were told and on which the incidents took place was—Christmas Eve.

Nevertheless, I do so.

“Introduction,” Told After Supper, Jerome K. Jerome, 1891

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Sadly, the English Christmas ghost story tradition has fallen into disuse. Worse, depictions of holiday horror have degenerated into lurid motion pictures with titles like “Santa’s Slay,” “Silent Night, Bloody Night,” and “Bikini Bloodbath Christmas,” full of inelegant and untidy homicides.

In refreshing contrast to these horrors, a gentleman named Robert Lloyd Parry has been making an effort to revive the delicious dread of the holiday season with his one-man shows, wherein he portrays the master of the Christmas Eve ghost tale, M.R. James, who, one may confidently assert, never wrote about young ladies in bathing costumes.

The author of this piece which so delightfully skewers the cliches of the Christmas ghost story, was Jerome K. Jerome [1859-1927], an actor, journalist, and author of the humourous classic Three Men in a Boat.

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, historical anecdotes, and holiday amusements.

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, historical anecdotes, and holiday amusements.

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.

This was originally posted in 2013.

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.