Category Archives: Grim and Grewsome

Rings that are Fatal: Various Dates

RINGS THAT ARE FATAL.

Amazing Stories New and Old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

byron's mother's wedding ring Newstead Abbey

Byron’s mother’s wedding ring, Newstead Abbey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

A Halloween Ghost: c. 1890

howdy skeleton

howdy skeleton

A HALLOWEEN GHOST

Doctor Thought Dying Patient Kept Promise

Dr. L.R. Darwin of New York was in town yesterday and continued his journey last night to San Francisco. He was at one time connected with the Bellevue hospital of New York and he tells a story of Dr. J. P. Griffin, who was then at the head of the hospital.

Mr. Griffin was ordinarily not afraid of ghosts, but he quaked once. He was attending a patient with a malady which proved an enigma to the doctors. When the patient was told that he could not live long he called for Dr. Griffin.

“Doctor,” he asked, “do you believe in spirits?”

“I can’t say,” replied the doctor, “that I do.”

The man continued, “I believe in spirits; I’ve seen them. Now it’s about six months until the next Hallowe’en. When I die I’ll remember you and I’ll try to make you aware of my presence.”

The man died and soon the doctor forgot the incident. When Hallowe’en came the doctor was in his study room. He had intended going down town, but a rain prevented him. He did not feel sleepy, so he passed the evening in the dissecting room. Several cadavers were lying about the room. The flashes of lightning and claps of thunder were not calculated to fill one with enjoyment in a dissecting room, but Dr. Griffin was accustomed to the dead, so that his ghostly surroundings did not disturb him.

Taking a dissecting knife he proceeded to examine the body of a man who had died of an unknown disease. The room was lighted with electric lights which suddenly grew dim. The thread-like wires in the incandescent lamps were blood red. From a distant corner of the room there came a sound like the scraping of sandpaper. It grew louder and the doctor felt a sense of uneasiness, which changed to fear and became so intense that he was fixed to the spot. Gradually his muscles relaxed and he gathered courage to start toward the corner from which the noise proceeded. The promise of the dying patient to make some manifestation on Hallowe’en now recurred to him.

The doctor went to a case containing the skeleton of the man. The sound had abated, but a ghastly sight was presented when the case door was opened. The headpiece swayed to and fro. This was evidence enough for the doctor, who started back in horror. He could almost see his former patient frowning on him for permitting him to die. He calmed somewhat, but the head was ceaseless in its motions. In a fit of horror, the doctor made a lunge at the bony figure, designing to tear it from its hangings, when the lights once more shone out brightly. At the same instant a rat sprang from the skeleton and scurried away.

Weekly Republican [Phoenix, AZ] 20 July 1899: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Medical students had a reputation as cynical, hard-drinking pranksters.  They were forever throwing skeletons out of windows, propping up cadavers in front of school buildings, and scaring friends and family witless.

BOY’S PRACTICAL JOKE.

Skeleton in Attic at Glencoe Animated by Wires.

Chicago, Aug. 24. When Miss Marie Henry, residing near Glencoe, on Sunday saw a human skeleton apparently jumping around in the attic in her dwelling, she was seized with convulsions, and her condition now is critical.

At first it was feared the young woman might permanently lose her mind.

The skeleton is the property of Miss Henry’s brother, a medical student, and long had hung in the attic. It was animated by means of hidden wires by Henry and several of his friends. It was a “practical joke.”

The Leavenworth [KS] Times 25 August 1904: p. 8

That morgue-minded person over at Haunted Ohio has written on “A Post-Mortem Room Ghost,” a story which, she says, shook even her hardened sensibilities.

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

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

The Skeleton of the Opera: 1786

In the second act of Der Freyschutz, during the incantation scene, a skeleton is produced upon the stage, and this frightful apparition always creates a sensation. The skeleton is a real one. In the year 1786, says a French writers, a young man of some eighteen years of age, and whose name was Boismaison, fell in love with Mademoiselle Nanine Durival, a pupil like himself, and daughter of the lodge-keeper of the Count d’Artois. Mademoiselle Nanine, by her coquetries, increased the artless passion of her comrade, and gave him hope until the day when she met the handsome moustaches of M. Mazurie, major, commanding the French Guards, who were always on duty at the opera house Boismaison perceived his misfortune, judged it irreparable, and thought no longer of any thing but vengeance.

One night, at the corner of a street, he waited for the passing by of the Guards, after the performance, and on their approach resolutely seized his successful rival by the throat. Mazurie’s first thought was, of course, to kill the aggressor, but a reflection upon his youth and slender form made the gallant soldier smile. At his direction, three of the men detached the straps from their muskets, tied up the furious young man, and placed him under the peristyle of the opera house, where he spent the night, like a garroted man. Early next morning, old Demern, the keeper of the place, found Boismaison, who had made vain attempts to get himself loose, learned from his night’s adventure, laughed at it a great deal for his own part, and did not fail to make the whole theatre merry with it. Moismaison, ridiculed by his comrades, was seized with a fever, took to his bed, and died, after making a strange kind of a will. He bequeathed his body to M. Lamairon, physician of the opera, and who had a little museum in the building itself. The poor young man begged M. Lamairon to keep his skeleton in this collection, in order that he might be after his death, still near her whom he had loved.

In spite of the vicissitudes of the Royal Academy of Music, in spite of fires and other misfortunes, which have caused its transportation to various places, perhaps owing to a traditional respect for the last wish of the young figurant, his skeleton has, to this day, continued to make part of the property of the establishment. And thus, after death, theatrical life again commenced for him.

Southern Sentinel [Plauemine, LA] 3 June 1854: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is one of the urban legends of the theatre, if not a long-standing tradition, that persons with a deep connection to the stage will bequeath their skulls so that they may bask, vicariously, in the artistry of the Bard. For example:

John Reed, gaslighter of the Philadelphia Walnut Street Theater, [willed] thus: “My head to be separated from my body, duly macerated and prepared, then to be employed to represent the skull of Yorick in the play of Hamlet.”

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 16 October 1909: p. 14

One imagines Reed wistfully watching the actors and actresses treading the boards and dreaming of the day he would be able to get a head….

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

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

A Ghost at Table: 1890s?

bones in landscape 1870

Phantasms in East Africa

[Die Uebersinnliche Welt; Berlin, June, 1905.]

Die Uebersinnliche Welt gives an account, by Colonel Langheld, of his experiences while in charge of a station in the interior of German East Africa. The only non-native civilian there was the son of a large colonial merchant in Hamburg, who was travelling to gain experience and promote the interests of his firm. He was of a strong and earnest nature, and had made a firm friendship with the Colonel, who, on the occasion of the young man’s departure for the Victoria Nyanza [Lake Victoria], felt an uneasy sense of danger, and recommended him to be prudent. His friend replied: “If anything befalls me you shall know of it at once; I will give you a sign, wherever you may be.”

About two months later, the pigeons, in their cote in the middle of the yard, appeared to be disturbed by some animal. Having set a watch, the Colonel was aroused in the night, and saw two round points, more like glowing coals than the eyes of a wild beast, gleaming from the dovecote. He fired, and saw an animal like a chimpanzee, having long reddish-brown hair, fall to the ground and immediately rise and disappear round the comer of the house with lightning rapidity, uttering a terrible shriek. An old Soudanese Sergeant declared that it was a “devil,” and that European weapons were powerless against it. He said that it came as a warning when a European had died an unnatural death, and that this was the third time he had seen it.

A strict search revealed no traces of blood, although the shot had been fired at only four yards’ range, The Colonel’s dog was found to have hidden himself in great terror, and could not be induced to pass the comer of the house where the creature had been last seen.

Later in the same night the Colonel, still awake, heard light footsteps on the verandah, where he was accustomed to take his meals, and soon he heard sounds as though glasses and other articles were being moved on a table. Rising to see who was there, he was surprised to find a man sitting at the table, which was fully set out for a meal. As the stranger raised his head in the full moonlight, he saw that it was his friend, the young Hamburg merchant, but hollow-eyed, with sunken cheeks, and a suffering mien. The Colonel, with a feeling of icy chill, managed to utter a question, when suddenly the apparition vanished, and the table appeared clear of all dishes, etc., as was usually the case after the last meal. On getting a light, nothing was to be seen of the visitor.

Six weeks later, word came to the station that, on the same day on which these remarkable events had happened, or seemed to happen, the young merchant had lost his way during a hunting expedition, and had been partly devoured by wild beasts. His body, when found, was recognised by a portrait which the Colonel had given him.

[Light, June 24th, 1905.]

The Annals of Psychical Science, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1905: pp. 137-8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  What a cracking ghost story—with both a monstrous beast and the gaunt “forerunner” of the young merchant! Psychic researchers of the day would have described the vision as a “crisis apparition,” while they might have characterised the devil at the dove-cote as an “elemental” or malign, earth-bound spirit. Mrs Daffodil would have said it was an “ourang-outan,” but, alas, those long-haired great apes are found only in East Asia. And chimpanzees do not have long coats. So perhaps the Sudanese Sergeant was correct after all. It was a devilish bad end to the young man, in any event, poor fellow.

Apropos of nothing, Mrs Daffodil is reminded of the film The African Queen, set in German East Africa, and its climactic scene on Lake Victoria.

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

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

 

A Spectral Shadow–The Nurse’s Story: 1880s

 

ghost in bedchamber british library 1895 cut

A Spectral Shadow.

Sir,—The following incident was related to me by a nurse whose veracity I have no reason to doubt; on the contrary, I am justified in believing anything she might tell me, knowing what I do of her character and truthfulness. The statement was as follows:—

Some years ago, I was sent for to nurse a woman, who had been engaged to attend on a lady who was slightly mentally deranged, and lived with a sister. The ladies were elderly and well off. The attendant, a powerful and rather coarse- featured woman, was very ill when I was called to her, and not expected to live, and her illness had been brought about in the following way:—

The attendant had been some three months in the house and had managed to give every satisfaction to the sister and to the doctor, but was greatly feared and disliked by the patient, who complained bitterly of the harsh and cruel treatment to which this woman had subjected her; but the sister and doctor merely put this complaint down to the patient’s state of mind, and pooh-poohed it as a delusion—the attendant strenuously denying the accusation, in which the poor lady persisted. My informant, however, gave it as her opinion that the poor lady’s complaints were justified and ought to have received the attention which, as after events proved, they did not receive and which would have averted the terrible consequences that followed.

One morning, early in June, there had been a scene in the bedroom; the lady had cried out for help and complained of her attendant’s harshness and cruelty, but the attendant said that her patient had been very violent, and must be left to her, as she was responsible, and she forbade everyone to enter the room, saying that she would soon quiet the patient if allowed to manage her in her own way. As the lady ceased her cries the attendant descended to the kitchen for her patient’s breakfast, and, taking advantage of her absence, the poor lady threw herself from her bedroom window and was picked up dead. The fright of the death simply paralysed the attendant, and as she was unable to do anything she was put to bed. She became worse, could not attend the inquest or be removed, and I was sent for to nurse her at night, another nurse remaining with her by day, we being paid by the lady’s sister.

On the sixth night, as the weather was close, I opened the windows and fastened back the door, which opened into a narrow passage about twenty feet long. My patient had been very restless and was lying in an uneasy sleep, muttering as she lay. I placed myself at a small table, where I could see down the passage I have named, then lowered the gas on account of the heat, and was reading by the dim light of a candle, when I became conscious of a sudden fall in the temperature of the room. It seemed to me that an icy, deathlike cold, such as I had never before imagined could exist, a tangible cold, had suddenly surrounded me. I rose from my chair to account, if I could, for this strange occurrence, when, as I looked down the passage, I saw a moving shadow. Unable to stir, I watched, and soon defined something in human shape, but a shadow only, approaching me. Slowly it moved, bringing with it a still colder atmosphere, and before I could utter a sound the shadow, with its unseeing eyes, walked to the bed and stood there, leaning over the foot. I then saw that it was an elderly woman, with streaming hair and features drawn with pain. She was solemnly gazing at the other woman in the bed, who, however, did not see the ghostly shadow, but continued her mutterings and restless movements.

It seemed to me that the shadow stood thus for an hour, looking intently at the sick woman, and then slowly, with a backward glance at the bed, it left the room and was lost in the shadows of the passage. As it departed the atmosphere of the room recovered its normal temperature as quickly as it had lost it.

On looking at my watch, I found the incident had lasted about eight or nine minutes. I was so terrified I went at once to the servants’ room, and one returned with me, who assured me that she had often seen the shadow, which she believed to be that of her late mistress, but she was not afraid. I found, on inquiry, that two nurses had left on account of the shadow’s visit, and as I had no wish to see it again I was relieved of night duty, at my request, and the servant took my place. The woman eventually recovered, and then the remaining sister gave up the house and left the town, and whether the present occupants of the house have ever seen the ghostly shadow that so completely upset my nerves I do not know_

Yours, &c.,

Dora de Bike.

Light 7 August 1909: p. 382

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The ghost who returns to take revenge on its murderer is a well-known figure in supernatural literature. This case raises questions about the efficacy of such revenge-bound revenants—were this a fictional story, the paralysed nurse would have fallen back dead, a look of stark, staring horror on her face, when confronted with the spectre of the elderly lady at the foot of the bed. Alternately she would have contracted a fatal chill from the icy, deathlike cold permeating the room.  A sadly ineffectual spectre, one fears—possibly so enfeebled by her own illness she could not successfully frighten her tormentor to death.

 

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

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

A Skull for a Bonnet: 1896

 

a brooklyn woman whose bonnet is a skull

It is once again “World Goth Day,” a time to celebrate the dark, the decadent, and the black-garbed—although, frankly, Mrs Daffodil tries to quietly exemplify those qualities year-round.  And what better way to celebrate than with a superlative example of morbid millinery?

A SKULL FOR A BONNET.

A BROOKLYN WOMAN HAS THE MOST SENSATIONAL HEAD COVERING IN THE WORLD.

A Brooklyn woman is the proud possessor of the most gruesome headgear ever seen atop of a feminine head. She is proud of her curious bonnet chiefly because it is unique, and the consciousness that it cannot easily be duplicated by her envious sisters adds not a little to her feminine joy.

About a month ago the lady’s husband, a well-known physician of the City of Churches, took home a human skull, which the woman laughingly placed on her head, saying: “How is this, John for a stunning effect?”
“By Jove!” replied the husband, “the effect certainly is stunning. But the authorities would arrest you if you appeared on the street in that sort of head-dress.”

There the matter dropped. But the wife, full of a new idea, had the skull carefully cleaned and polished and, with a deftness known only to the hands of woman, fashioned an affair of skull, feathers and ribbons which, when completed, was as original an arrangement as one could imagine.

“It will make a great sensation,” said the lady of the skull bonnet to a horrified woman friend. And she was right, for wherever the grinning death’s-head, in its downy bower of feathers and ribbons, is seen it causes people to gape in utter amazement. The woman’s audacity is admired by the men, but roundly condemned by the women.

Still, the lady of the skull bonnet is quite indifferent to the criticism of either sex. To be sure, it is only on very especial occasions that the hideously pretty headgear is worn abroad, and then it is generally at night.

You may imagine the surprise of the woman’s husband when he first saw the very practical use to which his wife had put the skull he so innocently brought home. He remonstrated with his wife but to no end, for she contended with true womanly logic, that if it considered proper to wear the dead bodies of birds as a means of decoration, why should not a mere skull be just as properly employed for an artistic effect?

Even so convincing an argument failed to alter the view of the do tor, and he has gone so far as to offer his wife a splendid new bicycle if she will cast aside her queer headgear and don something more conventional. But the bonnet is still in readiness for my lady’s first walk abroad, and will be until she accepts her husband’s munificent compromise.

The St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 11 October 1896: p. 28

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil rarely wonders at the morbid vagaries of the human race, but she is pursing her lips dubiously about the strict veracity of the tale above. The lady and her well-known physician husband are not named and the image does not convince us it is anything more than a portrait drawn from the artist’s fancy. One wonders if it was merely a satire about the hyperbolic hat styles of the late nineteenth century?

On the other hand, medical students and physicians, quite aside from their proclivities for stealing corpses and treating dissection-room subjects with levity, were known for some very grisly fancies, such as turning human remains into articles such as shoes, tobacco pouches, jewellery, tobacco jars, and drinking vessels. So one cannot entirely rule out the possibility of a skull being casually brought home by a physician. And the late nineteenth century was known for some decadent entertainments, such as the Cabaret du Néant, where the waiters dressed as undertakers and patrons sat at coffin-shaped tables, drank from skull-shaped cups, and watched Death-themed floor shows.

Surprisingly, the term “skull bonnet” was a well-known millinery term. For example:

A fashion writer refers to  “the ugly old skull bonnet we used to see during the war.” in The Weekly Era [Raleigh NC] 8 October 1874: p. 2

A small skull bonnet of straw, the crown surrounded with flowers, is worn with this [spring morning] costume.” (spring morning costume)

The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser 5 May 1881: p. 4

Tiny skull-cap bonnets are mentioned in The Graphic [London, England] 29 April 1893: p. 20

And in other advertisements we see “French Skull Bonnets” [1897]; Silk Skull Bonnets [1906] and the phrase is used to describe the 1920’s cloche: “The modern skull-tight bonnet” [1924]. The term seems simply to mean a bonnet with a tight-fitting crown.

Mrs Daffodil would be delighted to see proof that this was a genuine lady with a taste for truly macabre millinery.  And she wishes those who celebrate it a happy World Goth Day.

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.