Category Archives: Grim and Grewsome

The Ghost with One Shoe: 1910s

Shoes with cut-steel buckles, c. 1914-17 http://collections.lacma.org/node/228104

When one reflects upon the number of people one meets who lead almost entirely animal lives, can one wonder that so many cemeteries and churchyards are haunted! It was once popularly supposed that only the spirits of suicides and murderers were earthbound, but that idea has long been exploded, and it is now recognized by all who have given the subject any earnest reflection at all that the bulk of hauntings when not due to elementals are caused by the earthbound phantoms of the extremely sensual or even the merely intensely material. The spirits of such people would appear to be attached to the material world they loved through the medium of their bodies, articles of clothing, or any personal effects which act as magnets, and to be either loosened from it and transferred to some other sphere. or maybe annihilated altogether–no one knows–the moment such remains and effects are cremated or otherwise equally obliterated.

This being so, these phantoms would divide their visits between the places containing the objects of attraction, haunting most frequently that spot to which they were most strongly magnetized, in the majority of cases the spot containing their bodies or skeletons, usually a churchyard or cemetery. And as it is so often but a step from the grave to the chancel, a reason may thus be supplied for some, at least, of the occult happenings that are commonly reported as taking place in churches. The cessation of hauntings do not, however, always depend on the destruction of articles; on the contrary, they are not infrequently dependent on their careful preservation and return to the rightful owners, when those owners are either alive or, as it more often, perhaps, happens, dead. Here is a case in point: Rathaby Church until quite recently was haunted by an old lady with a poke bonnet and violet petticoat. The Vicar, The Rev. C. Bodkin, was inveigled one day into confessing that he had seen the apparition on at least three occasions. The first occurrence was as follows: Entering alone into the Vestry one August evening, hot and weary, he sat down, and taking off his boots, which, being new, had blistered him badly, he was preparing to put on a pair of somewhat antiquated “elastic sides” which he kept there, when, to his surprise, he saw standing in front of him a little old lady with a big poke bonnet and a violet silk petticoat. As the bonnet covered the upper part of her face, which she kept rather bent down, and the sunlight was fast fading, the Vicar could not distinguish any of her features saving the chin, which was very prominent, but from her clothes he saw that she did not belong to the parish and accordingly concluded she was a stranger. He felt annoyed that she should have entered without knocking, more especially as he was not in the mood to be disturbed. However, trying to appear as courteous as possible, he hurriedly slipped on his old pair of boots, and rising to his feet exclaimed, “What can I do for you, madam?” There was no reply-only a silence which at once impressed him as being singularly emphatic, if not awe-inspiring. He repeated his question, this time, he admits, not quite so politely: whereupon the old lady slightly lifted her gown, and with a naive gesture, pointed at her feet.

The Vicar, who, no doubt, despite his vocation, was human enough to admire a pretty ankle, following with his eyes the direction indicated, perceived with astonishment she only had on one shoe–a remarkably small patent leather one with a large, highly polished silver buckle. On her other foot was a violet stocking, nothing more.

“Good gracious, madam,” he ejaculated, “you will catch your death of cold. Pray be seated here whilst I go and find your shoe. Where do you think you dropped it?”

He took a step towards her as he spoke, with the idea of helping her into a chair, and his hand was actually within reach of her arm, when she suddenly vanished, and there was nothing in front of him but a bare wall. He was then frightened, for he could not persuade himself that what he had seen was merely an hallucination, and without waiting to complete his toilet, he went into the and waited there till the arrival of the sexton.

Ten days later he saw the same phantasm again. The encounter took place this time during the evening service. The congregation were kneeling down and the Vicar was about to begin the collect when some one laughed, a very malicious and highly disrespectful he-he-he! The Vicar, shocked beyond his senses, instantly stopped, and glancing furiously in the direction of the noise, was on the verge of ordering the offender to quit the Church, when his jaw fell. Looking up at him from almost beneath his very nose were a pair of pale, wide open, luminous eyes, full of an expression of malevolent quizzical coyness, that at once sent his thoughts back to certain queens of the demi-mondaines he used to see, surreptitiously parading the streets, in Cambridge, thirty years ago. They made him so hot and cold all over, he was horribly ashamed–ashamed that his, or as a matter of fact any other church, could hold such things. They must be removed with the utmost precipitation–immediately.

He tried to speak–to tell her to go, but found himself spellbound, hopelessly fascinated. His throat was parched, his mouth all tongue, he could not articulate a syllable, and all the while he was striving his utmost to overcome this condition of helplessness, the eyes kept continually leering at him. As for the rest of the face, it was that of an old, a very old, woman with obviously dyed hair arranged coquettishly in tiny yellow curls on either side of a low, straight forehead. She had neat, regular features, a trifle aquiline perhaps; with a chin that although rather too pronounced now–the inevitable effects of old age–might well have been once full of soft dimples, and beautifully rounded. The teeth even, pearly and glittering, struck the Vicar as far too perfect to be anything but false, though on that score he had no grounds for complaint, as he was in the same plight himself, having long since parted with his own molars, a fact which, however much he tried to persuade himself to the contrary, was the common knowledge of every one in the parish. The figure wore a rich cream-coloured cashmere shawl, from between the folds of which he could catch the gleam of silver buttons and mauve silk; and although the rest of her was hidden by the pew, he knew her at once to be the unknown stranger who had vanished so inexplicably. As he -stared she got up, and, leaving the pew, commenced gliding towards him, holding her violet skirt high above her ankles, and pointing significantly at her tiny feet, one of which was encased in a glittering buckle shoe and the other merely in a stocking.

The Vicar’s heart almost ceased to beat, his eyes swam, his knees shook. God help him, in another second she would be in the pulpit!

In the frenzy of despair he burst the paralytic bonds that had so effectually held him, and stooping down picked up a box of matches and threw it at the old lady. She instantly vanished.

Then the reaction set in. Relief brought hysterics, and in a state of utter collapse the worthy Vicar lolled against the ledge of the pulpit and began to laugh and cry alternately. He was promptly escorted home by a half dozen sympathetic, if somewhat—at least so his wife thought–over-zealous ladies, and the congregation, who, it transpired, had seen nothing of the phantom, attributed his behaviour to an unlimited variety of popular ailments.

The third encounter with the ghost occurred about a year after this incident. It was on St. Martin’s Eve, and the Vicar was preparing to leave the church for the cheerier precincts of the vicarage, where a substantial supper was awaiting him, when a current of icy air suddenly blew into his face, and he found himself confronted by the dreaded figure of the old lady. The enveloping gloom, for there was no other light in the church save that proceeding from the candle the Vicar carried, intensified the lurid glow emanating from the phantom and made it stand out with horrible distinctness. Each line, each feature, were magnified with a vividness that is indescribable, the ultima thule of horrordom being attained in the eyes, which, paler and larger even than before, scowled at the Vicar in the most diabolical fashion.

Paralysed with the suddenness of the vision, the Vicar felt all the strength die out of his limbs; his blood congealed, his hair rose on end. Nor were his feelings in any way mollified when the figure stretched out a long and bony forefinger, and shook it angrily at the floor. The Vicar looked down, and be it to his everlasting credit, blushed-he admitted as much to me afterwards–for whilst there was the same gaudy, shameless buckled shoe on the one foot–on the other there was simply nothing, not even half a stocking. And the abandoned phantom laughed a laugh that set every stone and rafter in the great, gaunt building resonating. When the Vicar looked up again the figure had disappeared. This was the climax. Sooner than, run the risk of incurring another such indignity, the Vicar declared his intention of leaving. One of his most ardent devotees heard of the matter, and in mad desperation wrote to me. Candidly, I never refuse ladies. I am an advocate not merely of woman’s suffrage, but of woman’s participation in everything. I daily visit a lady barber’s, and think there ought to be lady soldiers, sailors, Members of Parliament, dentists, coal-heavers, gutter-rakers and sanitary inspectors.

I went to Rathaby, and although my vigils in the church for three consecutive nights were productive of no ghostly result, the atmosphere of the place struck me as so conducive to occult phenomena that I was quite ready to believe that what the Vicar had seen was subjective and not hallucinatory. Consequently I made vigorous inquiries in the neighbourhood, and at length elicited the information that some forty years before an old lady corresponding to the phantom in the violet petticoat had stayed for the summer in a farmhouse about three miles from Rathaby. Rambling about one morning on the lonely hillsides, she had fallen into a disused quarry and broken her neck.

“I remember quite well,” my informant went on to say, “that when I helped raise her body she had on only one shoe–a shining leather thing with a bright buckle. We could not find the other anywhere and concluded it had got wedged into some crevice.

Her relatives–a nephew and niece–were at once sent for, and at their directions, the old lady was buried in the Rathaby Churchyard in the exact clothes she wore at the time of her death.”

This is all the information I was able to extract from this individual. Another person–a septuagenarian ex-blacksmith–afforded me a great sensation. Leading me upstairs into a tiny bedroom not much bigger than a bathing machine, he approached a worm-eaten chest of drawers, opened it cautiously, and beckoning to me in a very mysterious manner, pointed to an object that lay in one comer. It was a small patent leather shoe with a large silver buckle and Louis heels. A more rakish-looking affair I had never set eyes on.

“I found that,” he said in a hoarse whisper, “in the quarry where the old lady broke her neck. It had got wedged into a hole. You may have it for a trifle.”

I gave him five shillings and brought away the giddy article.

My next step was to find the grave of the old lady, in order that the missing shoe, which I suspected was the origin of the haunting, might be returned to the rightful owner. But here an unexpected obstacle presented itself. The Vicar foolishly declared he could not sanction the opening of the coffin without permission of the old lady’s relatives. As this permission could not be for the simple reason that the relatives were not traceable, all further investigations ceased, and I came away highly incensed.

The third night after my return home, between 2 and 3 a.m. there was a violent knocking at my bedroom door and on opening it–very reluctantly, I admit–to see who was there, I perceived a shadow on the moonlit wall opposite-the shadow of an old lady with a poke bonnet. For some seconds I stood and watched it anxiously. Then I fetched the shoe and gently threw it at the spectre. It vanished, but from along the passage, down the narrow winding staircase, and from the hall beyond there came the clearly unmistakable tappings–the sharp resounding tap-tap-tap of a fast, a joyfully fast, receding PAIR of Louis heels.

The front door slammed–a neighbour’s dog howled–a church clock sonorously thundered two—and all was still. From that night, neither in my house nor in Rathaby, has the ghost been seen again.

The Occult Review June 1913: pp 310-314

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Even in death, ladies understand the importance of fine foot-wear. There is an ancient Greek ghost story about a husband haunted by the ghost of his dead wife, who appeared wearing only one sandal. She angrily told him one of her sandals had fallen off and not been burnt on the funeral pyre–hence her barefoot condition. He immediately ordered a lavish new wardrobe, including several pairs of expensive sandals and had the garments burned, which placated his ghostly wife.

This narrative, by the way, comes from Mr Elliott O’Donnell, a popular “ghost-hunter” of the early 20th century. Despite his assurances that he never refuses the ladies, he exhibits a strong misogyny in his work, manifesting here in his unpleasant insinuations about the character of the Louis-heeled ghost. If dyed hair and violet stockings were a crime, Mrs Daffodil knows a number of ladies who would find themselves in the dock.

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

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

 

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Black Cat Tales: 19th century

It is, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed, “Black Cat Day.” In examining her scrap-books of past posts, she realises that it is a theme she has returned to again and again.

So, in celebration of subfusc felines, Mrs Daffodil presents

The Black Cat Horror

Guts, The Ghostly Sailor Cat

The Black Cat Elemental

A Funeral for a Theatrical Cat

Murder by Cat

And, from that feline-friendly person over at Haunted Ohio: Le Chat Noir: Vengeful Cat Tales.

If you are fortunate enough to have a black cat in possession of your home, do set out an extra bowl of cream and some fresh catnip for the honoured guest to-night.

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.

 

Weird Ghost Girls: 1914

Weird Ghost Girls Bathe in Light That They May Be Truly Ghostly.

An Indian maiden has a song to sing. What does she sing of? Men long dead. What does she say of them? She invokes their spirits; she invites them to reappear on earth. A sweet, strange music fills the air—but it does not come from her throat. The light grows dim, and from out the gloom glide forms pale and shadowy, in long robes of light. Noiselessly, swiftly they flit up and down the long aisles. The music but emphasizes the eerie silence. Then, suddenly, it ends in a discordant shriek. Up blaze the lights. The ghosts have faded—vanished into thin air.

Of course it is only a trick, you say to your neighbor. You are not quite sure that you are back on solid earth again, for surely you must have been in Shadowland. Otherwise, how could figures clad in blinding light dart past you, so close that you could almost touch them? You could understand it if they were on the stage, or if huge reflectors were enveloping them in dazzling beams. But they were no on the stage, and no slanting cones of light were breaking the darkness overhead. How is it done? How can human beings—for they must be human beings to move so surely and swiftly—radiate light from their own persons?

Well, it used to be a secret, but it will be no longer. Pale, pretty girls bathed in light—white light, the cold dead gleam of a winter moon, which off times scares the midnight wayfarer by lurking shadows cast in churchyard corners.

You don’t see how a girl could be baked in light? Well, come into the dressing room half an hour before the performance starts. There you will see the chorus girls “make up” for their ghost act. Over their costumes they slip doublets and cloaks of a white leathery substance painted with phosphorus. Cowls of the same material shroud their heads and faces. Then electricians take the soon-to-be-spirits in hand. In a row of giant arc lights, armed with powerful reflectors, stand the girls, and for twenty minutes or more they bathe in the strongest rays that a dynamo can conjure up. There they turn and twist until every portion of their costumes has been exposed to the light over and over again. Big black goggles have to be worn the whole time, for no eye could stand the intense glare, even for a moment. The phosphorescent paint with which they are daubed drinks in the light and stores it up until the time comes for the ghosts to flit up and down the aisles, thrilling the audience by their nightly apparition. But this paint must be renewed regularly or the power of the phosphorus would die out, leaving the ghosts just ordinary mortals.

But how do they pop so suddenly out of the darkness of the auditorium and fade away again? Quite simple! Each ghost has a gown and hood of deepest black and an attendant to handle it. They steal softly to the head of the aisles in parquet and balcony and stand there behind the audience ready for the cue. It comes. Off slip the robes and hoods and down the aisles play the weird forms. So quickly do they dart in and out through the auditorium that the spectators are conscious of nothing but a moving streak of gleaming light. And all the time the orchestra plays strange fairy music and so softly that it seems to come from a great distance. Otherwise, not a sound is heard, and the vast theater is plunged in utter darkness save for the ghostly figures of the light-robed girls. The effect is weird. You sit half terrified, half fascinated, and absolutely silent. The apparitions gradually move toward the head of the aisles. Then the attendant slips on the hood and robe and darkness envelops them once more. Up go the lights, and the thrill is ended.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 11 January 1914: p. 37

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The thrill might be ended for the audience, but one wonders how long the horror went on for the “pale, pretty girls,” exposed to the poisonous phosphorus. Possibly the leather gave some protection, but one is not sanguine.

The dangers of phosphorus were well-known; the match-girls of London went on strike in 1888 to protest their exposure to the toxic substance, which caused a horrible disease called “phossy jaw,” (phosphorus necrosis of the jaw). Phosphorus was banned from matches in 1906, but was still available for other applications, including, apparently, theatrical special effects. We have met with an equally dire exposure before, in a novel Parisian “x-ray spook party.”

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.

 

“‘Ow Did ‘E Get Out?”: 1927

“’Ow Did ‘E Get Out?”

Some months ago, when travelling between Charing Cross and Westminster on the “Underground,” I had an exceedingly weird experience.

At about 8:25 a.m., I got into a third-class carriage one late-summer day at Charing Cross station, and seated myself in one of the “cross-seats,” one of those seats which are not placed against the sides of the car. I had to sit near the edge of this seat as someone was already on it, next the window.

Opposite me was a man in labouring clothes, and, near the entrance to the car, an elderly man was standing.

A second or so after seating myself, I began to feel desperately cold, despite the fact that it was a warm summer morning. The cold, in some strange way, appeared to emanate from my next-door neighbour in the seat near the window. I noticed that the elderly man near the entrance to the car glanced strangely in my direction once or twice, and yet he did not seem to be looking directly at me, and, suddenly, a feeling of the most awful horror swept over me.

I shuddered violently and glanced sideways at one of the most terribly cadaverous faces I have ever seen.

A walking corpse would have best described my next-door neighbour. Gray, haggard, the figure simply defies description.

Half-way between Charing Cross and Westminster—he was no longer there!

He would have had to pass me in order to get out, the windows do not open except at the top.

I heard the labouring man opposite me exclaim: “Well, I’m blowed, where’s the __ blighter got to?”

Then I saw the elderly gentleman gazing with dropped jaw to where my “neighbour” had been sitting.

The labouring man leant over to me. “Excuse me, Miss, but there was a man there, wasn’t there?” he asked.

“There most certainly was,” I replied, chill with horror.

“Well ‘ow did ‘e get out,” asked the workman, “an’ where’s ‘e gorn?”

And that is exactly what I want to know.

Who and what was it? Evidently three of us saw “It”—and between Charing Cross and Westminster station on a bright summer morning.

Uncanny Stories, Weird Happenings to “Daily News” Readers, Edited by S. Louis Giraud, 1927: p. 11-12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A suitably chilling little tale for the run-up to Hallowe’en. The labouring man poses an existential question pondered for centuries by philosophers and theologians: “where’s ‘e gorn?”

 

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 Stuffed Cat-skin: 1860s

A Stuffed Cat-skin.

An eccentric and parsimonious old lady, who died in a small village in the State of Maine, some twenty years ago, always kept a half dozen cats about the house. She was a dried-up-looking old crone, and some ill-minded people had gone so far as to call her a witch, doubtless because of her oddities and her cats, “black, white, and brindled.” When one of these delightful night-prowlers departed this life, the old lady would have the skin of the animal stuffed, to adorn her mantel shelf. My informant said he had once seen them with his own eyes, arranged along on the shelf, some half score of them, looking as demure and comfortable as a stuffed cat could, while the old woman sat by the fireplace, crooning over her knitting work.

The woman paid no bills that she could avoid, always pleading poverty as her excuse for the non-fulfilment of her responsibilities.

One dark and stormy night she was taken very sick, and by a preconcerted signal to a neighbor, — the placing of a light in a certain window, — help was summoned, including the village doctor, to whom she owed a fee for each visit he had ever made her. But this was fated to be the doctor’s last call to that patient.

“O, doctor, then I am dying at last — am I?”

The physician assured her such was the case.

“Then, doctor, I must tell you that you’ve been very patient with me, and have hastened day or night to see me, in my whims, as well as my real sickness, and you shall be rewarded. I have no money, but you see all my treasures arranged along on the mantel-piece there?”

“What!” exclaimed the doctor ; “you don’t call those cats treasures, I hope!”

“Yes, they are my only treasures, doctor. Now, I want to be just to you, above all others, because you’ve not only served me as I said, but you’ve often sent me wood and provisions during the cold winters —”

Here she became too feeble to go on, and the doctor revived her with some cordial from his saddle-bags, when she took breath, and continued, —

“See them, doctor; eleven of them. Which will you choose?” The doctor, with as much grace as possible, declined selecting any one of the useless stuffed skins; when the old lady, by much effort, raised her head from the pillow, and said, “Well, I will select for you. Take the black one —take — the black — cat — doctor!” and died.

Her dying words so impressed him, that he took the cat home, and, on opening her, — for it was very heavy, — he found that the skin contained nearly a hundred dollars, in gold.

The Funny Side of Physic: 1880: p. 400-2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A macabre case of a black cat being lucky!

Recently Mrs Daffodil posted a story by Mr Oscar Wilde on the theme of deceptive appearances, The Model Millionaire. The nineteenth century press was found of stories about immensely wealthy misers who went about in rags and the eccentric places they hid their treasures, such as the following:

“ Peg-leg” Dan used to be a familiar figure on Clark Street, in Chicago. He sold pencils and chewing-gum from a little tray that swung from his neck, and the thump of his peg-leg helped to wear away the sidewalk from daylight to night-time. Then, one day they picked up what was left of Dan, and tried to patch it together on the operating-table at the hospital.

“Just look out for my peg,” he’d say anxiously; and to please him, the old wooden leg was stood up beside his cot where he could look at it.

“I’m going to will you that, nurse,” he told the white-capped girl who soothed his last hours, and she smiled back, and told him he’d need it himself.

“No, I won’t, and I ain’t joking, either.“ he said earnestly. ” Don’t you forget what I say. You can have that peg-leg as soon as they’ve finished with me, ’cause you‘ve been good to me. understand. nurse? Don’t you forget.”

She did not forget. She took the old. battered wooden leg as a memento of the kind-faced, brave old cripple. And. on closer examination, the leg was found to be hollow. and jammed with bills of high denomination. making it as valuable as was ever the “precious leg of Miss Kilmansegg.”** Something over fifteen thousand it yielded as “ Peg-leg” Dan’s treasure-trove. left to the nurse who was kind to him. And she didn’t forget.

**A reference to “Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg,” a poem about a solid gold artificial limb by Thomas Hood.

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.

 

Piloted by a Spirit: 1870s

PILOTED BY A SPIRIT.

By A. Y.

I checked my horse, and after one long, straining look around owned to myself that I was lost. I had suspected the fact some time since, but had stubbornly fought down the suspicion, though my horse evidently realized it. With patient endurance he plodded along, resignation plainly expressed in the droop of his tail and ears. In place of the ranch, the hearty welcome, pleasant words, bed, supper and fire I had expected to reach by sunset, there was nothing to be seen before, behind or on either hand, but the dead level of the plain. There were paths in plenty; in fact, the trouble was there were too many—all narrow and winding, for whose meandering there seemed not the slightest excuse, except the general tendency to crookedness most things, animate and inanimate, alike possess. But it would have taken the instinct of a bloodhound or a trailing Indian to have said which paths had been made by horses’ feet or those of cattle.

Now that the sun was gone, I found my knowledge of the point of the compass gone with it. As I sat perplexed and worried the gloom of twilight gathered fast, and the chill of coming rain smote me through and through while in the distance there was the roll of thunder.

It was now quite dark, and very dark at that, though at short intervals close to the horizon a faint gleam of lightning showed too distant to cast brightness on my path and only sufficient to intensify the blackness about me.

All at once I saw a man walking about fifteen feet in front of me. Yes, I know I said it was intensely dark, but all the same I repeat it. I saw a man walking in front of me, and, furthermore, I could see that he was a large man, dressed in rough, but well-fitting clothes; that he wore a heavy red beard, and that he looked back at me from time to time with an expression of keen anxiety on his otherwise relaxed features.

“Halloo!” I cried, but as he did not halt I concluded he did not hear me. As a second hail produced no result I spurred my weary horse up to overtake the stranger. But, though the gray responded with alacrity most commendable under the circumstances I soon found that this strange pedestrian did not intend to let me catch up with him. Not that he hurried himself. He seemed without any exertion to keep a good fifteen feet between us.

Then I began to wonder how, with the intense darkness shutting me in as four black walls, I was yet able to see my strange companion so clearly, to take in the details of his dress, and even the expression of his face, and that at a distance more than twice my horse’s length, when I could hardly see his head before me. I am not given to superstitious fancies, and my only feeling was of curiosity.

We went on in silence for nearly half an hour, when as suddenly as he had appeared he was gone. I looked around for him, half afraid from his instant and complete disappearance, that I had been dreaming, when I perceived that I was close to a small, low building of some sort. I reined in and shouted several times, but not the slightest response could I hear, and at last I rode boldly up and tapped on the wall with the butt of my riding whip. Then as this elicited no sign of life, I concluded that I had stumbled on some deserted house or that it was the abode of my eccentric friend; so dismounting and tying the gray, I resolved to spend the rest of the night under a roof or to find some good reason for continuing my journey.

I felt my way along the wall till I reached a door, and trying this and finding that it yielded to me I stepped inside, striking a match as I did so. Fortunately, I carried my matches in an air tight case, and as it was dry the one I struck gave me a light at once. I found myself in a large room close to a fireplace over which a rude shelf was placed, and on this mantel I saw an oil lamp to which I applied my match.

On the hearth was heaped a quantity of ashes, and over these crouched a child, a little girl of 5 or 6. At the end of the room, which was plainly and scantily furnished, lay a man across a bed, and as I raised the lamp I saw that he was the same I had been following, but there was something in his attitude and face that struck me as peculiar, and I was about to go forward and look at him when the child who had at first seemed dazed at the light fairly threw herself upon me.

“Have you anything for Nelly to eat?” she said, and then, “Oh, Nelly so hungry!”

I ran my hand into my pocket and drew forth what had been a paper bag of chocolate candy, but now was a pulpy unappetizing mass. I must confess to a childish fondness for sweets, which I usually carry in some form about me. I handed the remains of my day’s supply to the child, and then walked over to the bed.

Yes, it was the same man, red beard, rough clothes, but setting off the magnificent frame to perfection; the same man, but dead, long dead.

I took his hand only to find it stiff and cold while his face had the dull gray aspect never seen in the newly dead. As I stood gazing down on him a little hand touched mine.

“Nelly so hungry!” said the child.

“Have you eaten all the candy?” I asked her.

“Yes, yes! But me hungry, for me had no dinner, no brekkus, no supper, and papa won’t get up.

The house, which consisted of the large room, a smaller kitchen and a shed, where I found a quantity of hay and fodder, seemed quite bare of food but by dint of searching in the hay I discovered a nest, which Nelly informed me was there, and in it two fresh eggs. These I boiled for her. When she had finished I soothed her to sleep on a bed I made for her before the fire. Then after I had put my horse in the shed room and fed him I performed as well as I could a service for the dead.

When day dawned I was able to discern at some distance from the house a line of telegraph poles, and taking the child with me I followed these to the nearest. town where I notified the authorities of the death.

The dead man’s name was Frederick Barnstaple. He was an Englishman, so I found, a recent arrival in those parts. His daughter was restored to her family across the water, and is now a pretty girl of 17. I have never told this story, but am ready to take an affidavit to its truth.

It all happened about thirty miles from Dallas.

Religio-Philosophical Journal 7 February 1891: p. 585

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Where, one wonders, was the child’s mother? Many of the Englishmen who came to America’s west were bachelor younger sons, looking to find a fortune or consumptives, seeking health.  Neither class of émigré brought little girls with them. A mystery.

But certainly no more of a mystery than the narrator’s ghostly guide, who was so mysteriously visible in the darkness of the prairie. How (again, one wonders) was the spirit of the dead man able to find and influence his child’s rescuer on that vast plain? Do spirits have some sort of heat-seeking apparatus or extremely acute hearing? Do they scent the living from miles away, as a blow-fly scents the dead? A mystery….

 

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.

 

Shrieks in the West Room: 1835

Shrieks in the West Room at Flesbury

A plain statement of the facts, as they occurred, without any attempt to embellish or magnify them, will be given.

Early in 1835, my brother John was taken seriously ill, and for many weeks his life hung in the balance. A crisis was reached and passed, followed by a fortnight of mingled hope and despair. At the end of that time his condition showed so great an improvement that the most sanguine hopes for his recovery were entertained by all the family, except his mother and aunt, who continued to be very anxious so long as the doctors were unwilling to give a decidedly favourable opinion.

It was between five and six o clock on a fine spring evening, towards the end of March. The sinking sun was cheerfully lighting up the West room, where three of John’s sisters and his brother William were sitting, having just left their father in the dining-room. Their mother and aunt had returned to John’s room. The West room adjoins the principal staircase, which leads up from the entrance hall through the centre of the house. There is a small landing at the door of the West room, the stain ascending a little further to the principal landing. A second flight leads to the upper landing, on which opened the room occupied by John. Owing to the centre of the house being open, any sound in the hall is distinctly audible on the upper floor. The offices are reached by a long passage behind the hall and the dining-room, so that ordinary sounds from the hall or the staircase cannot be heard there.

The children in the West room were all in the highest spirits. They were no longer feeling anxious about their brother and were even a little inclined to think that their elders had been unnecessarily alarmed. Poor dear Johnnie, they told each other, after all the fuss that had been made, was getting well.

To be sure, it was impossible to spoil him; he was such a dear good boy and never made a fuss about himself. But even now Mamma and Aunt would not believe that he was not going to die. In fact, that very day at dinner. Mamma had been actually crying again. The children went on to discuss the two doctors who were attending John. The younger of the two had particularly annoyed them that day m reporting on the state of the patient to their father. While admitting an increase in strength and appetite, he had added, ‘Still, I see no improvement.’ ‘Papa said he was ridiculously inconsistent,’ one of the children remarked; and someone went on to say something which raised a general laugh. The laughter had not ceased when a piercing shriek rang through the room. It was as if uttered by someone standing on the landing just outside the open door.

There was silence, and then a second shriek like the first; another silence, and then yet a third shriek, even louder and more prolonged than the others, and ending in a rattling, gurgling sound, as though someone were dying.

The children in the room were struck with horror. None of them is likely to forget that awful sound. As I write, it seems to ring in my ears.

In a moment the door of the drawing-room, on the further side of the hall, was thrown open, and Mr Carnsen, who had been sitting in the room alone, hurried across the hall to the foot of the staircase. He called in an agitated voice to his daughter, whom he knew to be in the West room ‘Gertrude, what is the matter! Who is screaming in that dreadful manner!’

‘Papa,’ we answered, ‘we don’t know. It wasn’t one of us, though it seemed quite close.’

‘It sounded as though someone were in great distress,’ our father said. ‘Go down to Grace and ask her if the people in the kitchen are all right, although the noise did not seem to come from there.

Gertrude went at once and found the housekeeper alone in the big front room. She was standing as if listening and declared she had distinctly heard three shrieks. She was wondering what could be the matter and though positive that the sound had come from further off than the kitchen, she went there to enquire if the servants knew anything.

When she returned her usually florid face was quite pale. ‘Oh, Miss Gertrude,’ she said, ‘there is no hope for Master John — that is what it means. What we heard was none of the servants, and no human voice. The servants heard the screams too but they seemed to come from far off.’

‘How can you talk such nonsense!’ Gertrude replied. ‘A person like you ought to know better. Papa says you must find out what it was and let him know.’

The girl then returned to the hall, where she found her father talking to the old doctor, who had just arrived. Mr. Carnsen was saying: ‘It was like a woman’s voice, screaming as though in the utmost distress. You would have supposed she was being murdered.’

The doctor replied that he had been crossing the lawn at the time, and that if the noise had come from outside the house, he must have heard it.

After Gertrude had reported the failure of her enquiries, her father asked her to tell her mother, who was in John’s room, of the doctor’s arrival. On her way upstairs, she looked into the West room, where she found that the others had been joined by Ellen, a faithful and attached servant, with the youngest child, then about two and a half, in her arms. Ellen said they had been in one of the rooms on the first landing when they had heard the shrieks, coming, as it were, from the West room or near it. The child asked, ‘Who is screaming, Ellen; I didn’t scream’; and picking her up the maid had run to the West room to find out what was the matter.

One of the children remarked: ‘Poor Johnnie! How frightened he must have been!’

Whereupon Ellen suggested: ‘Could it have been Master John seized with a fit?’

Struck with this idea, Gertrude ran upstairs. The door of her brother s room was partly open, and when she went in she saw him lying with a very placid look on his fact. As she passed the bed, he gave her a look and a smile, but did not speak. Her mother was resting on the sofa and her aunt was reading by the window. Nothing in short, could have been quieter or more composed than the room and its inmates.

After announcing the doctor s arrival, Gertrude went over to the bed to discover if possible, without alarming her brother, if he had heard the shrieks.

‘Johnnie, how quiet you look!’ she said. Have you been asleep?’

No, Gertrude,’ he replied, ‘I was not asleep and I knew the doctor had come. I heard Dash give his little bark’ — meaning a short single bark which the old dog, who lay on a mat in the hall always gave when the doctor arrived. So it seemed that John had heard the bark, but not the awful shrieks which had rung through the house and been heard by everyone in it except himself and those who were with him.

The doctor was now on his way up and Gertrude, as she left, beckoned to her aunt to follow her. In the West room she told her of their experience, the aunt replying that everything had been exceptionally quiet that afternoon in John’s room.

He had been lying awake, but without speaking for some tune and no unusual noise of any kind had been heard.

An immediate search was made, every possible and impossible cause being sought for and suggested; but all was in vain; no explanation was forthcoming.

Next morning, the doctor came to breakfast, accompanied by his brother, the old clergyman, who occasionally visited John; and while they were there, the housekeeper and the farm bailiff were called in and questioned as to the result of the enquiries which, by Mr. Carnsen’s orders, they had made. One point was clear: the sounds had been made in the house, since no one outside had heard them. The accounts of all those inside the house talked: there had been three shrieks at short intervals; it was as though a woman’s voice were being strained to the utmost; and the noise had ended in a dying rattle. What was most unaccountable was that the shrieks were loudest on the staircase, close to the West room, and therefore should have been distinctly audible in John’s room just above; yet everyone there was utterly unconscious of them.

Nothing more could be done. The servants were given strict orders not to allow any report of what had happened to leak out. Mr. Carnsen, who disliked the subject so much that no one ventured afterwards to allude to it in his presence, enjoined a similar silence on the children. The clergyman, after hearing all the evidence, pronounced the incident to be of a kind for which it was impossible to give a natural explanation. He told us that we could not pretend to deny the reality of what we had heard, but must not give way to superstitious fancies Some lesson or warning which time would make more clearly known, was intended.

From that day onwards, even those of us who had been most hopeful, found their confidence gone, though for another week John’s health continued to show signs of improvement.

After that he took a turn for the worse, and three weeks from the day when the shrieks were heard he died. It may be asked whether a similar warning was given on the occasion of the death of any other member of the family

Fifteen years later, John’s young sister, Emma, was on her deathbed. In the middle of the night, just before the end, those who were watching in her room heard sounds of hysterical wailing and lamentation passing through the house The noises ceased as she drew her last breath A few months later, when the daughters were watching by the deathbed of their mother they had so strong an expectation of hearing that unearthly voice once more, that they told each other they ought to doubt the evidence of their senses if it came but it did not come. Nor was any warning given of the deaths of two of the sons in distant lands, or when Mr Carnsen himself passed away in March 1860 as he knelt in prayer by his bedside.

Further Stories from Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book, 1937, pp. 3-9 (reported earlier in an abbreviated form in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 16 November 1888).

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: As the Proceedings and the introduction to this story in The Ghost Book says, ” Lord Halifax copied the following story from a manuscript, written by the sister of John Carnsen, the child concerned, who died on April 22nd 1835, aged eleven. He added the information that ‘the house where the events of this narrative occurred is Flesbury, a lonely country house on the north coast of Cornwall. The family who reside there are the only descendants of the Carnsens of Carnsen, in Cornwall.’ The names are given as they appear in The Ghost Book, but Carnsen should probably be Carnsew, the name of an old Cornish family, and Flesbury, should probably be Flexbury, near Bude.”

Ah, that is so often the trouble with supernatural accounts: the narrator wishes to disguise the name of the family or the location so that the family is not embarrassed or the house does not get a bad name. One wonders if such subterfuges confused the wailing spirit, who did not appear at the death of the narrator’s brothers, mother, or father, but instead found itself in the Bude-Stratton Business Centre car park, puzzling over a Ordnance Survey map in search of a non-existent family and house.

 

 

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.