Category Archives: Grim and Grewsome

A Haunted Apple Tree: 1800s

A HAUNTED APPLE TREE

Murder Committed Under It and Now Its Fruit is Streaked Blood Red.

“It is probable that the town of Douglass, Mass., alone belongs the reputation of having a haunted apple tree,” writes Samuel S. Kingdon, in the Ladies’ Home Journal. “The tradition of the town is that a foul murder was committed in the orchard many years ago, and that since then it has been haunted by the spirit of the victim. As the story goes, a peddler, whose custom it was to sell goods from house to house from a pack, laid down to rest at midday under a tree in the orchard, and before the day was ended he was found with a cruel gash in the neck, from which his life blood had ebbed away. Suspicion rested on the owner of the orchard and he was said to have been constantly followed by the spirit of the victim. In an attempt to escape from its dreaded presence he moved away. Then the apparition became a terror to all who had occasion to pass over the road at night. So potent was its influence—standing, as it had a habit of doing, under the apple tree, with one hand at its throat and the other extended as though seeking aid, and uttering shrill cries that could be heard half a mile away—that the location of the highway was changed, and it is now a long distance from the orchard. The old trees still bear fruit, and the apples from the one beneath which the peddler was killed are said to be streaked with red, resembling blood, the streaks extending from skin to core.”

Our Horticultural Visitor: A Quarterly Journal Devoted to the Individual Interests of the Practical Horticulturists Everywhere, August 1900

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well, good gracious. We all look forward to the spring blossoming of the apple trees, but one does not expect to find one’s pippin Exhibit A in a murder trial.

It is curious how often peddlers are murdered and then haunt the spot of their demise. Given their peripatetic nature, one would expect them to gather up their spectral packs and continue their rounds, but no—they must needs annoy the people in the neighbourhood of their death, such as the Fox Sisters, who called up the rapping spirit of a murdered peddler buried in the cellar. The sisters launched Spiritualism on the strength of this phantom peddler. Some say (and the sisters both confessed and recanted) that they made the rappings by popping their toe joints. Still, when the cellar of the Fox homestead was dug out many years later, a skeleton and a tin peddler’s box were found concealed in the walls…

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 Painter of Black Eyes: 1880

Eye miniature with "tear," early 19th c. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1067812/eye-miniature-unknown/

Eye miniature with “tear,” early 19th c. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1067812/eye-miniature-unknown/

A NEW ART

Black Eyes, Bruises and Blemishes Bleached

By Paint, Pond’s Extract and a Polite Professor,

Who Beautifies Belles, Beaux, and Beaten Wives

“Cress,” the gossipy correspondent of the Chicago Inter-Ocean, has discovered in New York a profession hitherto unknown, which she describes in the following letter.

Reading the advertisements in the daily papers, one involuntary wonders why we are not all “things of beauty and joys forever.” For we are promised compounds that will give us adipose tissue or deprive us of the same when too much has accumulated. We are insured hair in any quantity or color we choose; we are assured that our forms may be developed into molds of grace and beauty, while such trifling accessories as coral lips, pearly teeth, luminous eyes, and dazzling complexions are kept bottled up and to be had for a mere trifle. Beside that there are people who stand ready to puncture dimples, and make you false noses, glass eyes and ivory teeth, furnish you with artificial necks, false calves, arched insteps, etc., until one is impressed with the fact that if it was not for that necessary thing called the breath of life we could do without a Creator, as far as the perpetuation of the race is concerned, keeping up the supply by liberal orders from these factories of imitation humanity, with a clever foreman to put the bits together. Then to lose a limb or two would be a mere trifle; to grow bald or blind, a bagatelle; and when one went travelling it would be easy enough to tuck in a Saratoga trunk a few odd pieces in case of accidents. But without speculating further your correspondent will add that a few days ago she discovered a hitherto unknown profession, lately sprung into life and advertisement, which merits description. The following is

A Sample of the new Notices:

BLACKENED OR BRUISED EYES MADE NATURAL instantly; skin disfigurements concealed. Ladies, send for artist. Studio, 28 West Fourth street.

Calling at the studio, I was surprised to find the owner a gentleman with no small pretensions to the title of artist. The room itself was large and almost filled with oil paintings, among which I recognized the portraits of Rose Eytinge, John Raymond, John McCullough, Charles Pope and others. A large copy of the celebrated “Last Supper” hung on one wall, and studies in oil, lithographs and crayons filled the interstices. However, I was not in search of high art, and far more interesting was the live tableau in the centre of the room that met my gaze. Imagine seated in a steamer chair, in an easy, reclining position, a very fashionably-attired youth (this was early on the day after the Fourth), whose patent-leather boots, white tie, and dress coat would indicate that a lark of the night before had just been finished—the results of the said lark being visible in a large and exceedingly dusky horseshoe heel somebody’s fit had imprinted under one orb. The artist, a pleasant-faced, stalwart young man, was busily engaged in mixing some preparation, and hardly looking up he waved me to a seat, saying, “I will attend to your eye in a moment, Madame!” Glad for this opportunity for observation, I picked up a newspaper, and watched with interest the young “swell” who had been “seeing life” have his acknowledgment of the same obliterated. First the artist poured into a bowl a liberal amount of Pond’s Extract, which, with a soft sponge and the air of a mother administering soothing syrup to her babe, he applied to

The Injured Cheek

During this process he remarked, “I’m afraid you have been trying to cure it with something cold.”

“By jove, how it hurts!” ejaculated the patient. “Yes, she put some ice on it afterward, but it didn’t seem to do any good.”

“Of course not,” said the oracle, severely; “I don’t know why people will persist in making such a mistake. Ice, or oysters, or cold water they will apply in spite of the fact that anything cold makes the blood concentrate beneath the skin and turns it black. What they should do it to bathe the bruise in water as hot as they can stand it; that scatters the blood and keeps the skin from discoloring.”
“Well,” said the exhausted hero of a fracas, with a feeble attempt to be witty, “when a fellow gets into hot water he don’t think of pouring it on.”

By this time the live canvas was ready for coloring, and, with a tiny brush and delicate strokes, the artist proceeded to lay on the flesh tints. For nearly half an hour he worked steadily, pausing frequently to add another shade, then toning the edges down. Then allowing the paint to dry, and then softly rubbing on a fine powder that removed the gloss. Then he stepped back and viewed his handiwork with the air of a stern critic, finally holding a small mirror before the youth, who expressed my thoughts when he exclaimed in admiring accents, “By George, judging from the looks, I couldn’t tell which eye was blacked!” Then with as much of a smile as he had energy for, he added: “How much is it, old boy?”

“Five dollars,” was the answer.

“It’s worth that to

Keep Me Out of a Row With the Governor,

But, deuce take it, I haven’t a fiver left; but take this until I call for it,” and he thrust upon the artist a handsome pearl scarf-pin.

“Now, what can I do for you, ma’am?” queried he of the brush, after a disappointed look upon my unblackened countenance. Whereupon I explained my mission, and the artist, not averse to the idea of being written up, assented to my staying awhile to take notes. “For,” said he, “the day after a holiday I always do a rushing business.” Scarcely had he spoken when a little lady entered. She was modestly dressed in black, and had a rather pretty face, though terribly disfigured by a deep semi-circle of black and blue under one of her eyes. She seemed a little embarrassed, and was profuse in her explanations of how she came by it.

“Indeed,” she said, “I never had such a thing happen to me before in my life, but you see I was going down stairs with a tray full of dishes, and my foot caught in the matting and tripped, and I fell all the way down. Such a thing never happened to me before, and I wonder I did not break every bone in my body. Such a shame it should have come on my eye. I never had a black one before, and it’s so mortifying.”

Again the artist plied his art, taking great pains to match the color of her complexion, and persevering until the ugly-looking mark was rendered invisible. Adding, as he concluded; “You can wash your face in cold water, but don’t use hot or soap, because it will bring the paint off. With a little care it will last

Until the Eye is Cured.”

The lady, after careful examination, expressed herself satisfied, and inquired the cost. “Two dollars,” said the artist, considerately, after a glance at her modest toilet.

“Two dollars!” fairly screamed the lady. “Two dollars for such a pesky little job as that. I never heard of such an imposition. Why, young man, in all my life, I never paid more than fifty cents before!”

This assertion, coming after her profuse explanations, had a very comical effect, which she was quick enough to perceive, and without further parley, she put down the money and departed. When the door closed on her your correspondent inquired if the artist had many lady callers.

“They are not uncommon, and they come as this one did, with profuse apologies and explanations, thinking, poor things, that their stories about tumbling down stairs and running up against doors will be swallowed by me, as if I didn’t know that the brutes who beat their wives are not confined to the wearers of fustian and cowhide boots, and you would be surprised to see some of the ladies who come here in carriages. Ladies living in fine houses, and dressed in silks and diamonds, that would die of shame to have the truth suspected, and come here to have the blows of the coward who pass for fine gentlemen hidden. They would sooner be torn to pieces than own up, and I never knew of but one lady that did. She was a bride, only been married three weeks, and lived on Madison avenue. One day her husband got into a rage and threw his boot at her. It struck her on the forehead, leaving

A Terrible Mark;

But after the shock was over all the poor thing thought of was to keep it from her parents, for she had married against their wishes.”

“Do you ever have any members of the demi-monde here?”

“Oh, yes; though not of the lowest class. They generally get hurt at wine parties, where, after they have drank all they can stand, they commence throwing things at each other, especially fruit. One of the worst black eyes I ever covered was caused by an apple being thrown with considerable force, and fresh lemons can do considerable harm. The gashes from wine-bottles and broken glass generally go to the doctor.”

“What other disfigurements are you called upon to conceal?”

“Why, for ladies generally moles and birthmarks. You see a lady may have a very beautiful white neck or snowy, well-molded arms, but be unable to wear a low-necked party dress on account of one or more of these blemishes. I have regular customers, who, whenever they go to a ball, send for me to paint over these marks. And it is singular the shapes they are in. There is one belle in this city who has on her right arm a regular cross and crown, bright red in color, and large enough to be seen across the room. Another young lady, who has the shoulders of a model, has upon one the initials C.L., in red spots about the size of currants. Still another lady has on her forearm a perfect miniature ladder, though, of course, the majority of these marks assume no distinct form.”
“You must sometimes have ladies who have really suffered from an accident?”

“Oh, yes. There was one young lady here last week whose face was

Covered with Crimson Spots

Big as silver quarters. She was engaged to be married, and to please her betrothed had taken a course of lessons in cooking from Miss Corson. The day before the wedding she invited him to a little supper of her own preparing, intending to give him a pleasant premonition of bliss to come, in the shape of good housekeeping. Her chef d’oeuvre was a dish of soft-shell crabs, and, alas, as she was in the act of frying them, the hot grease sputtered up and burnt her face badly in half a dozen places. It was too late to defer the wedding, and, accordingly she had to have her face done entirely over for the ceremony, but it turned out such an improvement on her natural complexion that I do not think she minded it much.”

“Do you ever ‘make up’ people?”

“Yes, often for dinners and balls, for besides making the complexion, I can fill up wrinkles, and dimples, etc. I do a great deal of this for the dramatic profession. I have made up Rose Eytinge 126 times as ‘Rose Michel,’ and all the Union Square Company during their run of ‘Smike,’ and I used to make up Mr. Palmer whenever he was to make a speech before the curtain. Sara Jewett, Maud Harrison, Linda Dietz, Charles Thorne, Charles Coghlan, Charles Pope, Frederick Paulding, and lots of others, though generally

My Patrons in the Profession

Are debutantes who have not learned the art of making up.”

“I should think this branch of art would exclude any other.”

“Oh, no; I have two gentlemen in the business with me, and I devote most of my time to portrait painting. Barrett, Booth, McCullough, Florence, Sotherns, Raymond, Pope, Brougham, and others have sat to me. McCullough I have painted four times,” concluded Mr. Lysander Thompson, for such is the artist’s name. Before leaving, I asked from what class of men he drew the largest number of blackened-eye customers.

“From sporting men and wealthy business men. The latter class, of course, would be injured by being seen with such disfigurements. There is one gentleman on Wall street who has hardly missed a visit to me this year. Every Saturday night he starts off on a tare that lasts him until Monday morning, when, bright and early, he comes here to get fixed up before going to business. One funny case I had last winter when two gentlemen conspicuous in the management of the Madison-square Garden, got into a quarrel, in the course of which one had both eyes blackened; the other only one. He of the two black eyes came here to be painted over, and told me if I would refuse to fix the other man’s eye he would pay me three times what it was worth. This I promised not to do, and in consequence the worst punished of the two men went round boasting how he had come out ahead, as no one could detect his bruises. The ridicule fell on he of a single and apparently blackened orb.

The Boston [MA] Weekly Globe 28 July 1880: p.7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil scarcely knows what to add to this exhaustive discussion of a little-known art except her horror at the headline’s jaunty linking of “beaten wives” with “belles and beaux” and of the artist’s insouciant and dismissive comment, “poor things!”

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 Black-Whiskered Sailor: 1840s

‘A story with much more of the supernatural about it was related to me by Mrs. Hughes the other day which is, I think, one of the best authenticated ghost stories in existence. It was narrated to her by Mrs. Hastings, wife of Captain Hastings, R.N., and ran to the following effect:

‘Captain and Mrs. Hastings were driving into Portsmouth one afternoon, when a Mr. Hamilton who had recently been appointed to a situation in the dockyard there, made a third in their chaise, being on his way to take possession of his post. As the vehicle passed the end of one of the narrow lanes which abound in the town, the latter gentleman, who had for some little time been more grave and silent than usual, broke through the reserve which had drawn a remark from the lady, and gave the following reason for his taciturnity :—

‘”It was,” said he, “the recollection of the lane we have just passed, and of a very singular circumstance which occurred to me at a house in it some eighteen years ago, which occupied my thoughts at the moment, and which, as we are old friends, and I know you will not laugh at me, I will repeat to you.

‘”At the period alluded to, I had arrived in the town for the purpose of joining a ship in which I was about to proceed abroad. On enquiry, I found that the vessel had not come round from the Downs, but was expected every hour. The most unpleasant part of the business was, that two or three King’s ships had just been paid off in the harbour, a county election was going on, and the town was filled with people waiting to occupy berths in an outward-bound fleet which a contrary wind had for some days prevented from sailing. This combination of events, of course, made Portsmouth very full and very disagreeable. After wandering half over the town without success, I at length happened to enquire at a decent-looking public-house situate in the lane alluded to where a very civil, though a very cross-looking, landlady at length made me happy by the intelligence that she would take me in, if I did not mind sleeping in a double-bedded room. I certainly did object to a fellow-lodger, and so I told her; but, as I coupled the objection with an offer to pay handsomely for both beds though I should occupy only one of them, our bargain was settled, and I took possession of my apartment.

‘”Having retired for the night, and having, as I thought, carefully locked the door to keep out intruders, I undressed, jumped beneath the clothes, and fell fast asleep.

‘”I had slept, I suppose, an hour or more, when I was awakened by a noise in the lane below. I was turning round to recompose myself, when I perceived, by the light of the moon which shone brightly into the room, that the bed opposite was occupied by a man, having the appearance of a sailor. He was only partially undressed, having his trousers on, and what appeared to be a Belcher handkerchief tied round his head by way of a nightcap. His position was half sitting, half reclining on the outside of the bed, and he seemed to be fast asleep.

‘”I was, of course, very angry that the landlady should have broken her covenant with me, and at first felt half disposed to desire the intruder to withdraw; but as the man was quiet, and I had no particular wish to spend the rest of the night in an altercation, I thought it wiser to let things alone till the morning, when I determined to give my worthy hostess a good jobation for her want of faith. After watching him for some time, and seeing that my chum maintained the same posture, though he could not be aware that I was awake, I reclosed my eyes, and once more fell asleep.

‘” It was broad daylight when I awoke in the morning, and the sun was shining full in through the window. My slumbering friend apparently had never moved, and I had a fair opportunity of observing his features, which, though of a dark complexion, were not ill-favoured, and were set off by a pair of bushy black whiskers that would have done honour to a rabbi. What surprised me most, however, was that I could now plainly perceive that what I had taken in the moonlight for a red handkerchief on his forehead was in reality a white one, but quite saturated in parts with a crimson fluid, which trickled down his left cheek, and seemed to have run upon the pillow!

‘”At the moment the question occurred to me—how could the stranger have procured admission to the room? as I saw but one door, and that I felt confident I had locked, while I was quite positive my gentleman had not been in the chamber when I retired to bed.

“I got out and walked to the door, which was in the centre of one side of the room, nearly half-way between the two beds; and as I approached it, one of the curtains interposed for a moment so as to conceal my unknown companion from my view. I found the door fastened, with the key in the lock, just as I had left it. Not a little surprised at the circumstance, I now walked across to the farther bed to get an explanation from my comrade, when to my astonishment he was nowhere to be seen! Scarcely an instant before I had observed him stretched in the same position which he had all along maintained; and it was difficult to conceive how he had managed to make his exit so instantaneously, as it were, without my having perceived or heard him. I, in consequence, commenced a close examination of the wainscot near the head of the bed, having first satisfied myself that he was concealed neither under it nor by the curtain. No door nor aperture of any kind was to be discovered.

‘”I was the first person up in the house ; a slipshod being, however, soon made its appearance, and began to place a few cinders, etc., in a grate not much cleaner than its own face and hands. From this individual I endeavoured to extract some information respecting my nocturnal visitor, but in vain; it ‘knowed nothing of no sailors,’ and I was compelled to postpone my enquiries till the appearance of the mistress, who descended in due time.

‘”After greeting her with all the civility I could muster, I proceeded to enquire for my bill, telling her that I certainly should not take breakfast,  ‘nor do anything more for the good of the house,’ after her breach of promise respecting the privacy of my sleeping-room. The good lady met me at once with a Marry come up!’ a faint flush came over her cheek, her little grey eyes twinkled, and her whole countenance gained in animation what it lost in placidity.

“What did I mean? I had bespoke the whole room, and I had had the whole room, and, though she said it, there was not a more comfortable room in all Portsmouth; she might have let the spare bed five times over, and had refused because of my fancy. Did I think to ‘bilk’ her? and called myself a gentleman, she supposed!

‘”I easily stopped the torrent of her eloquence by depositing a guinea (about a fourth more than her whole demand) upon the bar, and was glad to relinquish the offensive for the defensive. It was, therefore, with a most Quaker-like mildness that I rejoined, that certainly I had not to complain of any actual inconvenience from the vicinity of my fellow-lodger, but that, having agreed to pay double for the indulgence of my whim, if such she was pleased to call it, I, of course, expected the conditions to be observed on the other side; but I was now convinced that they had been violated without her privity, and that some of her people had doubtless introduced the man into the room, in ignorance probably of our understanding.

‘”‘What man?’ retorted she, briskly. ‘There was nobody in your room, unless you let him in yourself; had you not the key, and did not I hear you lock the door after you?’

‘”That I admitted to be true. ‘Nevertheless,’ added I, taking up my portmanteau and half turning to depart,’ there certainly was a man—a sailor—in my room last night; though I know no more how he got in or out than I do where he got his broken head or his unconscionable whiskers.’

‘”My foot was on the threshold as I ended, that I might escape the discharge of a reply which I foreboded would not be couched in the politest of terms. But it did not come, and as I threw back a parting glance at my fair foe, I could not help being struck with the very different expression of her features from that which I had anticipated.

‘”I hesitated, and at length a single word, uttered distinctly but lowly, and as if breathlessly spoken, fell upon my ear; it was ‘WHISKERS!!’

‘”‘Ay, whiskers? I replied; ‘I never saw so splendid a pair in my life.’

‘”‘And a broken head! For Heaven’s sake, come back one moment,’ said the lady. ‘Let me entreat you, sir, to tell me, without disguise, who and what you saw in your bedroom last night.’

‘”‘No one, madam,’ was my answer, ‘but the sailor of whose intrusion I before complained, and who, I presume, took refuge there from some drunken fray to sleep off the effects of his liquor, as, though evidently a good deal knocked about, he did not appear to be very sensible of his condition.’

‘”An earnest request to describe his person followed, which I did to the best of my recollection, dwelling particularly on the wounded temple and the remarkable whiskers, which formed, as it were, a perfect fringe to his face.

‘”‘Then, Lord have mercy upon me!’ said the woman, in accents of mingled terror and distress; ‘it’s all true, and the house is ruined for ever!’

‘”So singular a declaration only whetted my already excited curiosity, and the landlady, who now seemed anxious to make a friend of me, soon satisfied my enquiries in a few words.

‘”After obtaining a promise of secrecy, she informed me that, on the third evening previous to my arrival, a party of sailors were drinking in her house, when a quarrel ensued between them and some marines. The dispute at length rose to a great height. The landlady in vain endeavoured to interfere, till at length a heavy blow, struck with the edge of a pewter pot, lighting upon the temple of a stout young fellow of five-and-twenty, one of the most active of the sailors, brought him to the ground senseless and covered with blood. He never spoke again, but, although his friends immediately conveyed him upstairs and placed him on the bed, endeavouring to staunch the blood, and doing all in their power to save him, he breathed his last in a few minutes.

‘”In order to hush up the affair, the woman admitted that she had consented to the body’s being buried in the garden, where it was interred the same night by two of his comrades. The man having been just discharged, it was calculated that no enquiry after him was likely to take place.

‘”‘But then, sir,’ cried the landlady, wringing her hands, ‘it’s all of no use! Foul deeds will rise, and I shall never dare to put anybody into your room again, for there it was he was carried ; they took off his jacket and waistcoat, and tied his wound up with a handkerchief, but they never could stop the bleeding till all was over; and, as sure as you are standing there a living man, he is come back to trouble us, for if he had been sitting to you for his picture, you could not have painted him more accurately than you have done.’

‘”Startling as this hypothesis of the old woman’s was, I could substitute no better; and as the prosecution of the enquiry must have necessarily operated to delay my voyage, without answering, as far as I could see, any good end, I walked quietly down to the Point; and my ship arriving in the course of the afternoon, I went immediately on board, set sail the following morning for the Mediterranean, and have never again set foot in Portsmouth from that hour to this.”

‘Thus ended Mr. Hamilton’s narrative.

‘The next day the whole party set out to reconnoitre the present appearance of the house, but some difficulty was experienced in identifying it, the building having been converted into a greengrocer’s shop about five years before. A dissenting chapel had been built on the site of the garden, but nothing was said by their informant of any skeleton having been found while digging for the foundation, nor did Mr. Hamilton think it advisable to push any enquiries on the subject.’

The life and letters of the Rev. Richard Harris Barham, Richard Harris Barham,1880: pp. 104-113

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Dark doings, indeed, at Portsmouth! Mrs Daffodil wonders whose hand it was that held the fatal pewter pot? Despite her initial vain intervention, the landlady no doubt knew a trick or two about quelling customers’ disputes.

At this time the city was the greatest naval port in the Empire, and, like most seaports, no better than it should be.  It was a town of great bustle and ferment; it was no wonder a lone seaman, even one adorned with a set of splendid whiskers, could disappear without trace. Since traditional apparitions often haunt until they are “properly” buried, Mrs Daffodil wonders why the whiskered seaman did not haunt the back garden or, later, the chapel, instead of the bedchamber. Perhaps he was a Dissenter and was finally able to rest.

Another maritime ghost story: Guts, the Ghostly Sailor-Cat

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 Banshee of the Fitzgeralds: 1760s

An Irish Ghost Story

By Kate Bell

The tale I am about to relate is strictly true. It was told to me by a young lady whose grandmother, or grandaunt, or great-grandmother, had been the heroine. I am not quite certain which of the three, but it was some ancestress or relative. I wish to be particular on this point, because I know how much more interesting it must make the story.

About 60 years ago then—more or less (I know it must have been a long time ago because there were rebels in Ireland then) armed bands of men, most absurdly called ‘Whiteboys,’ though they were full-grown villains of the blackest die, roamed over certain districts of Ireland, doing all the mischief they could, burning houses, shooting men, ill-treating women and children, rousing Catholics against Protestants, tenants against landlords, and, in fact, everybody, who had nothing, against everybody who had anything. The special objects of the Whiteboys’ hatred were the landed proprietors. These persons were not at that time greatly to be envied. Inheriting, for the most part, heavily mortgaged estates, they inherited also a talent for spending money, far beyond any capacity for gathering it. When, at last, their tenants refused to pay any rent at all, and the excited state of the country made it dangerous to attempt to force them, why, the result was that the majority of the ‘landed gintry’ of Ireland found themselves finally ‘landed’ in the ‘Encumbered Estates Court.’

Mr Fitzgerald was a landed proprietor, who lived at Kilbally-something House, near the small country-town of Ballykillsomething else; (the final syllable does not matter much in these Irish names). Although a Protestant, Mr Fitzgerald had hitherto lived on amicable terms with his tenantry. He was known to be a just and kind-hearted man, and besides, (which was of much more importance in the eyes of the Irish poor) he came of a ‘rale ould family,’ a family of sufficient dignity to possess a ‘Banshee’ of its own. Therefore although the majority of the tenants had ceased to pay any rent, they were forbearing and generous enough not to shoot their landlord, and, as long as he ‘kept quiet,’ did not mean to do him any harm. So the wives of the poorer tenants still went up to the kitchen of the big house for a chat, and still resorted to ‘the misthress’ when they needed help, or medicine, or a word of good advice, the latter two, however, being much oftener asked for than taken.

A few years before the (unknown) date of my story, Mr. Fitzgerald had married Annie O’Byrne, the daughter of a neighbouring country gentleman. Many men envied him the prize, for Annie was one of the belles of the county and as good as she was pretty. Picture her to yourselves, my readers if you can! for she is the heroine of this tale, generous, bravo, and witty, impulsive, loving, and loveable; in fact, a perfect specimen of that most charming of all feminine creatures, the true Irish lady. Annie had been brought up almost entirely in her own native county, the only exception being two seasons spent at a fashionable boarding school in Dublin. There was one branch of her education not attended to at that boarding school. This neglect, afterwards turned out to be of the greatest use to her, as we shall see. In her early childhood, Annie had learnt from the nurses aid servants who surrounded her, many of the wild legends and superstitions of her native country and many also of its touching ballads. Possessing a vivid imagination and retentive memory, she could, in later years relate some wild story of the district in such a manner as to thrill her auditors with pleasing horror, or sing some touching Irish ditty till tears came to their eyes but her special talent lay in imitating the mournful ‘keen’—that heart-breaking wail of the Irish mourner.

Mrs. Fitzgerald was of course a great favourite amongst the tenants, both on her father’s and husband’s estates. Her intimate acquaintance with their habits and modes of thought, and her knowledge of their native language gave her great influence. Her ready sympathy in their troubles quite won their hearts, those warm and loving Irish hearts, which yet often so cruelly belie themselves under the evil influences of ignorance–and superstition!

Ballykil——-House was situated on a terrace commanding a lovely view of the surrounding country. The lawn studded with clusters of Arbutus and Hydrangea, and bordered by two fine avenues of Elm and Ilex, sloped gradually down till it reached the high road, beyond which, stretched an undulating plain, where the fields and hedges glistened with that vivid green, so peculiar to the Emerald Isle.

Ballykil__ House was a large and comfortable mansion though, (like many of the Irish country houses of that time) standing much in need of repair. The sitting-rooms were all on the ground floor, and so also ware the kitchens and servants offices, The latter lay at the back of the house, and were reached by a long passage, having been built out from the main edifice. The old-fashioned vaulted stone floored kitchen had three large windows on each side, looking out on the one hand, into the glen before mentioned, and on the other into the shrubbery. The windows had no shutters, but were crossed by two or three iron bars, an unusual precaution in those days, for burglary was not a vice of the Irish peasantry, nor even petty theft. Upstairs there were the sleeping rooms of the family and servants. Mr. Fitzgerald’s domestic establishment had been greatly reduced since the real troubles had begun, and consisted at present of only three female servants and one man, the latter acted as groom, gardener and general messenger.

One summer evening, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald were sitting on the terrace in front of their house, admiring the glories of the sunset rays gilding the fair scenes before them, and discussing the state of affairs in general and the state of their own district in particular.

‘ How happy we are,’ said Mrs. Fitzgerald ‘to be so quiet and peaceful here.’

‘Long may it last!’ replied her husband, ‘but there are floating rumours, that the Whiteboys have been seen in the neighbourhood, and if so; farewell, to peace!’

‘I do not think they would do us any harm at any rate,’ observed Annie, ‘for none of our people would join them, we are not rich enough to tempt an attack for the sake of plunder, and I do not think there is one man in the district, who harbours ill-feeling or revenge against us.’

‘You forget Con Bourke,’ answered Mr. Fitzgerald; ‘I was obliged to turn him out as he had not paid rent for three years; he was thoroughly bad, or I might have left him alone, but I found he was spreading mischief and persuading the tenants not to pay any rent, vowing vengeance. I have never ventured to eject another tenant since.’

‘But you know dear, Con came from another part of the country,’ remarked Mrs. Fitzgerald eagerly ‘he was not one of our own people and besides that, he is gone to America.’

‘I hope so, but I doubt the fact,’ replied her husband, ‘and if the Whiteboys should ever attack us I fancy we shall have to thank Con Bourke. But who is this coming up the avenue?’

As he spoke, a man appeared, riding in haste. On reaching the house, he dismounted and handed Mr Fitzgerald a letter. Annie, watching her husband while he read saw his face grow suddenly grave and anxious. He turned quietly, however, to the messenger saying, ‘Take your horse round to the stable for a feed, O’Hara, and send Jerry here to me.’ Only when the man had disappeared did Mr Fitzgerald relieve his wife’s curiosity. ‘This is a letter from the High Sheriff, my dear Annie, calling on me to repair at once to the town, both as a magistrate and as an officer of militia, to assist in keeping order and to protect the inhabitants against an expected attack by the Whiteboys. The militia has been called out in the immediate neighbourhood already, Sir George says.’

Annie turned pale, for danger threatened her husband. ‘And how does Sir George know of this attack?’ she asked. ‘He has received an anonymous communication, informing him that a large band of rebels intend entering the town to-night, where they expect to be joined by a number of malcontents. Their object is to seize the gaol, and burn it down after having set free the prisoners, especially that last batch of rebels. However, I must go at once, but I cannot bear to leave you here alone, Annie I don’t know what to do.’

‘I am not in the least afraid,’ replied Annie, bravely. ‘You know I am quite safe amongst our own people, and as the Whiteboys will be occupied with the attack on the town there is no fear of them. I am far more anxious about you, my dear husband, who are going into danger. However it is your duty to go at once, and I will not keep you back by my foolish fears.’

‘You should have been the wife of a soldier, my dear,’ said her husband, kissing her, and while Mrs Fitzgerald went into the house to make some preparations for his departure, Mr Fitzgerald gave his orders to Jerry, who now appeared breathless with excitement.

‘Bring round the car at once, Jerry, put on your uniform and load your gun, there may be fighting in store for us. The Whiteboys are expected in the town to-night.’ Jerry grinned with delight at the prospect of a shindy, for he was a soldier in his master’s regiment of militia.

In less than a quarter of an hour the car was at the door, and master and servant, both, armed, but with large top boots concealing their uniforms, mounted one on each side, and away rattled the old jaunting car down the avenue. ‘God bring you back safe to me again, darling,’ had been Annie’s last words as she had been bravely struggling to  keep back the tears that would glisten in her eyes as she bade good-bye. As Mr Fitzgerald looked back up the avenue to wave a last farewell, he saw his wife still standing on the terrace. The last rays of the setting sun were falling on her sweet face and crimsoning the long curls of her hair tossed back from her brow, as she held one child high in air to kiss its hand to papa, and the other child clung timidly to her dress. Mr. Fitzgerald never forgot that scene, for his wife’s hair was grey ere she stood on that terrace again.

When the car had disappeared Mrs Fitzgerald went into the house and occupied herself busily till night came on; determined not to give way to her sorrow and anxiety. The elder of the two children, little Aileen, had. been feverish and restless during the day and her mother determined to keep the child with herself for the night. Before retiring to rest, Annie drew back the curtains of her window, and looked out. The wind had risen, and heavy masses of cloud swept across the sky, obscuring at intervals the light of the newly risen moon. All seemed quiet in the direction of the distant town, and breathing one more prayer for her husband’s safety, Annie lay down to sleep. An hour or two later Aileen awoke, and became more and more restless in spite of the medicine and cooling drink administered by her mother, till finding sleep impossible, Mrs Fitzgerald rose and throwing on a long white dressing-gown, sat down in aa armchair by the bed-side, prepared for a night watch. After a time little Aileen cried for more ‘nice drink,’ but there were no more lemons in the room so Annie, giving the little girl the last drop left in the tumbler, told her to be quiet and be a good child while mama went to fetch some for her. Then, drawing back the curtains that the child might see the moonlight, Mrs Fitzgerald took the candle and left the room.

Having descended to the dining-room, and finding no lemons on the sideboard, Annie suddenly remembered that there were some in a pantry which opened off the kitchen, and at once she hurried there to get them. As she left the dining-room a draught, by the shutting of the door, blew out her candle.

‘This is unfortunate!’ said Annie to herself ‘especially as I have no matches. However, it is moonlight so I can grope my way to the kitchen where I shall find both matches and candles on the chimney piece.’ So leaving her own candle on the Hall table, she hurried down the long dark passage leading to the kitchen. Mrs. Fitzgerald had told her husband truly that she was not afraid, for personal fear had really never crossed her mind, and her only personal anxiety was lest the child should become frightened at her long absence.

On opening the door, Annie found the kitchen almost in total darkness. Only a few streaks of light only, lay across the floor, the moon being half obscured at the moment. The rest of the floor was darkened by heavy shadows from the shrubbery. As she groped her way to the chimneypiece Mrs. Fitzgerald for the first time, experienced a sensation of awe and loneliness, aptly turned eerie and this feeling increased when, after searching on the chimneypiece (where, she knew the cook always kept her matches, she could find none. She was still standing in the deep black shade thrown by some shrubs across the upper end of the kitchen, when the moon suddenly emerged, bright and clear, from behind the clouds and all the floor before her lay in one broad expanse of soft and silvery light, crossed by bars of shadow.

Delighted at the sudden change Annie looked up, and out of the barred windows, looked up—and saw at every window human faces—faces, that looked white and ghastly in the moonlight, pressed against the bars, fierce eyes that seemed to be piercing that corner of black shadow where one white speck appeared—faces that were cruel, coarse and brutal! eyes that haunted Annie to her dying day.

The shock was so great, that for one instant her heart and brain seemed turned to stone, she could not breathe or stir. Then, like a lightening flash, the whole truth burst upon. her. ‘The Whiteboys the cruel Whiteboys they will kill us all! they will burn down the house,’ but then the first thought of the woman’s heart was ‘my children ! Oh god! save my children,’ and in that brief moment an agonized though silent prayer went up to Him. who, heareth in the time of trouble.’ But she must act as well as pray, and what can she do? Poor Annie! surely terror must have driven her mad! Loosening the knot of her black hair till it fell in waving masses to her waist, throwing her arms above her head,  and there clasping and wringing her hands and uttering one long low wail of agony she suddenly emerged into the light. Those hardy men were terror stricken at the sight; some with a cry of horror turned and fled, others hid their eyes and whispered to their companions behind them; for fast as those faces disappeared from the windows others took their place, at first incredulous, but soon on all there came the same blank look of awe and dread. Truly they saw a weird sight!

What was that ghostly, awful figure wandering up and down, and round and round that gloomy vaulted room, keeping her lonely watch at dead of night. White feet gleaming on the cold stone floor, white garments floating to the ground! Pale hands, now folded patiently upon her breast, now wrung as if in bitter agony! A white and ghastly face! whose fixed blue eyes gazed at them, with such a wild and mournful, but yet stony gaze, that the bravest amongst that murderous band, shuddered as they looked: and ever and anon, there rang out upon the breathless silence, that shrill and mournful keen, that wailing deathsong which thrills the Irish heart.

What could this be but the Banshee?—the ‘Banshee of the Fitzgeralds!’ that sad spirit who appears only to announce the approaching death of one of that family which she loves and guards; and who mourns bitterly over the fate which she alone foresees, but has not power to avert. Woe to the man, who disturbs that spirit in her night watch or who interrupts her ‘keen’ of sorrow

There were amongst those men however, some more determined and less superstitious than the rest, and although even they, dared not enter the house which that spirit walked, yet they said ‘Let us wait a while perhaps she will disappear soon, and then we must make haste, seize what we can, and burn the house down.’ And Annie heard them!

The band retreated to the glen, from whence two or three of the boldest returned at intervals to look in; but the spirit walked still! still wept and wailed, and wrung her hands only each time they came, the wail was lower and feebler, the step slower and more solemn. At last the boldest gave way, and came no more. For the Irish peasant will face danger in any earthly form, but let the terror take a ghostly shape and he is the veriest coward! With gloomy fears and lowered voices, the baffled Whiteboys slowly slunk away and disappeared down the glen.

Annie Fitzgerald unfortunately, did not know that the men she feared had gone at last, and she still dreaded their return. It was past midnight when she had left her room that night, and now the clock was striking three. The moon sank down below the verge of the horizon, but a faint light still lingered on the sky, and so the Banshee walked still! near to the windows, where the glimmer of her white garments might be seen; only the wail had ceased at last. The voice was gone indeed she walked mechanically now. The faint red gleam of early dawn appeared. The chirping of the awakening birds sounded from the shrubberies. Slowly, oh, how slowly, the blessed light of day crept up the eastern horizon, bringing release to a brave weary creature whose strength was well-nigh exhausted. Then, only, did Annie feel that she was saved. She knew that the Whiteboys dare not wait for daylight, and so, casting one last shuddering look at those barred windows, she left the kitchen, and walked steadily down the long passage. When she reached the foot of the staircase, strength failed her, brave Annie gave way at last and fell senseless on the floor. There the servants found her a short time afterwards. Roused by the crying of little Aileen, the nurse had run down to her mistress’ room, where she found the child alone, crying out for her mama who she said had left her ‘such a long long time ago.’

Fortunately little Aileen must have fallen asleep immediately after her mother had left the room, and had not awakened till daylight appeared. Nurse calling down the other servants, immediately went in search of her mistress, and was horrified to see the white heap lying at the foot of the staircase. They carried Annie to her bed, and tended her lovingly till her husband’s return a little later, when he found his wife, whom he had left so bright and well, senseless and speechless Immediately Jerry was despatched for the doctor and also to bring the parents of Mrs. Fitzgerald, who lived a few miles away. The servants could give no reason for the condition in which they had found their mistress, and all seemed most mysterious. Presently, however, the cook ran up to say that there were numerous footsteps outside the kitchen, as if a number of men had come up from the glen and returned thither. Mr Fitzgerald at once suspected that the Whiteboys, instead of attacking the town made their way to his house, and that the letter to the sheriff had been only part of a plot to mislead him and others; for no alarm or attack had occurred in the town during the past night. Before the doctor arrived Mrs Fitzgerald recovered consciousness sufficiently to relate with tolerable clearness what had happened. This enabled her husband to send messages to the town giving information as to the direction the band had taken their steps having been traced after leaving the glen.

Very brief was poor Annie’s gleam of intelligence; she soon relapsed into unconsciousness again, and a severe illness followed. For weeks she lay in brain fever, struggling with dreadful phantasies, haunted incessantly by those faces and eyes, and wailing on monotonously that dolorous ‘keen’ she had often practised in her merry childhood, but which now wrung the hearts of the loving watchers by her bedside learning, as they did, from her ravings, all the concentrated agony which she had endured on that dreadful night. But if the wife had prayed earnestly for her husband in his hour of danger, so now his prayers for her were answered; and Annie recovered to be more than ever the beloved wife, mother, and daughter, and in addition to become henceforward the heroine of the county.

The long hair which had played its part was shaved off during her illness, and when Annie’s locks grew again, they were grey. But some thought this only added to the beauty of the sweet face, which, had grown more thoughtful and grave then of yore. Many years passed ere Mrs Fitzgerald could be persuaded to relate her story to any but her husband. As the terror and suffering of that night passed away in the past, she would occasionally, however, tell the tale to some of her children and dear friends at their very earnest request.

It seemed to her, she said, as if in immediate answer to her prayer for help, that thought had come into her mind. By a sudden inspiration, knowing as she did the superstition of the Irish poor, and knowing how mysterious and ghostly she must appear in that lonely room at dead of night, she had acted—for the very last time in her life—the part of Banshee and strength had been mercifully given her to bear a mental strain for three long hours, which might well have driven her mad.

Soon after Mrs Fitzgerald’s recovery, the band of Whiteboys, which had threatened Kilbally—— House, was captured by two and threes, having dispersed about the country. It appeared that Con Burke, inspired by revenge, had induced them to attack his late landlord’s house, informing them that there were plate and jewels of great value in the house (an invention of his own) and rousing their indignation against Mr. Fitzgerald as a ‘tyrant’ Landlord and, a ‘heritic.’ As those Whiteboys were all from a different part of Ireland, they believed him, their only aim indeed, being plunder and destruction. All the men acknowledged the terror they had felt at sight of the ghost!

Most of the prisoners wore transported. Only a few of the greatest criminals amongst them suffered death, but from that time, the district remained quiet and Mr. Fitzgerald enjoyed many happy years in peace with the noble woman whose courage had saved to him his wife, his children, and his home.

Auckland Star, 27 May 1876: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  While this story was published in the 1870s, the “Whiteboys” protested the injustices of landlords in the 1760s. The authoress, with a romanticised view of the Irish countryside, voices some unfortunate common prejudices about the “superstitions” of the “peasants,” as well as a bit of dismissiveness for the lower orders.

The “keen” or caoine was the Irish funeral lamentation uttered at wakes and funerals. It was, indeed, heart-breaking. Here is an early 20th-century description:

The cries of lamentation usually take the form of questions which are asked in a half-singing, half-reciting and sobbing voice. “Mo cushla machree (pulse of my heart), why did you die from me ? Wasn’t it you that was the best of husbands and fathers, giving joy to all that knew you, and wouldn’t those that love you go through fire and water to save a hair of your head from being hurt ? ” The piercing wail of a mother for a favourite son is most heartrending to hear. “Ah, Michael, mo ville astore (my ten thousand treasures), sure your like was not to be found on all the broad acres of Ireland, and your death has cast a shadow on the country that no sun will ever disperse.”

The Banshee or Bean Sidhe is the Irish death messenger. She may appear as an old woman washing the bloody clothes of the soon-to-be-dead or as a younger woman with long red hair. She keens or wails in the manner of Irish mourners, announcing an imminent death.  The Fitzgeralds as well as the O’Neills, the O’Donnells, and the O’Briens, were among the ancient families of Ireland said to have their own personal banshees. It was said that the banshee might even cross the water to wail for members of those families who had sailed to America.

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 Tightest-Lacing Customers in London:” 1893

 

cdeath-tightlacing-actress-death-by

IMPORTANT OMISSION

An exchange says a Chicago girl has just died of tight lacing—it does not say whether of corset or shoes. Wilmington Messenger.

Evening Post [Charleston, SC] 9 November 1904: p. 4

Recently a crusade has been started in England against tight lacing, led by the Gentlewoman, one of the most valuable of English journals for women. A representative was sent to interview the most prominent stay-makers. One of these is thus reported:

“I am reputed,” she said, “to have the tightest-lacing customers in London; and I think that some of the waists my stays encircle would be hard to beat. I think that some of my customers positively like the sensations produced by tight lacing, or they would never take all the pains they do to get thin, such as dieting and sleeping in corsets, as some of them do.”

“Sleeping in corsets!” I exclaimed.

“Oh, yes; a good many, especially young ladies, do; an opera stay or riding one is a favorite make for the purpose. Let me think. Yes. The largest pair of corsets I have made had a waist measurement of thirty-five inches. The smallest — well, you won’t believe me, perhaps, but twelve and one-half inches was the size. No, I don’t think she’ll be able to get them closed. Every inch under fifteen, with most ladies, means a tremendous lot of lacing in. I’ve known a young lady break five or six silk laces, as strong ones as are made, in getting a pair of new stays close.”

“How small is your pretty assistant’s waist?” I asked.

“Generally about fourteen to fourteen and one-half inches. I find it best for all my assistants to have trim figures; but she has tight-laced to that extent entirely of her own free will. Many of my customers lace to seventeen, sixteen, and even fifteen inches. I suppose you haven’t seen a smaller waist than Miss Blank’s?”

“No.”

“Would you like to?”

“Yes,” I replied, “if such a thing is practicable.”

Mrs. Smith rang. In a few minutes the young lady appeared, and Mrs. Smith and she went into the alcove. Another assistant was summoned, and then a whispered consultation took place. After a minute or two, we heard Mrs. Smith ask: “Can you bear it?” and the answer, “Quite, madam.” Mrs. Smith’s voice again: “There, Miss Jones, I think the laces are close; tie them tightly.” Two or three minutes later Mrs. Smith and Miss Jones came out from the alcove, the latter incased in a long-waisted, black satin corset, which made her waist look scarcely larger than her throat. It seemed incredible that any girl — for she was little more — could breathe and move, let alone move about, without much apparent discomfort, when tight-laced to such an extent.

“Now I suppose,” said Mrs. Smith, smiling at my look of astonishment,” that you will now believe what I told you before — namely, that a well-cut corset and strong arms will make a woman’s waist almost any size she may wish. See!” she exclaimed, taking up a measuring tape off a chair, “Miss Jones’s waist is just thirteen — thirteen and one-quarter inches.”

“How long could you bear being laced up like that?” I asked.

Miss Jones smiled. “Not very long — it is rather painful — half an hour; perhaps an hour.”

Mrs. Smith said, just as we were leaving: “You know, I think tight lacing becomes a positive mania with some women. There are two of my customers, for instance — theatrical people — who usually wear their waists about nineteen inches. Well, when at home they both lace themselves as tightly as their maids can do it.” Another states that at some schools the girls are not only encouraged, but forced to lace. Five different women said that they made corsets for girls of sixteen and under with waist measurements of fifteen inches, and all agreed that girls are put into corsets much earlier than formerly.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 30 January 1893

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil suggests that the reporter, who perhaps fell short of a “positive mania,” was still titillated by the subject. Debate over tight-lacing began in the Elizabethan period and goes on even unto the present day. Mrs Daffodil has seen articles about how sleeping in corsets is supposed to promote a slender figure. “Waist-training,” is the term used—as if one’s waist was a sporting dog to be taught to “heel” and “fetch.” The anti-tight-lacers, who were often seen as cranks and, worse, dress reformers, warned of tragic outcomes such as this one:

An actress in a London theatre has just died of tight lacing. The victim of this reprehensible custom had just finished a song and danced off the wings, when she collapsed, calling on her husband in agonized tones to unlace her gown. Before a doctor could reach her dressing room she was dead. Every vital function had been paralyzed by the lacing, and a weakness of the heart was aggravated by the exertion of her performance. It can, however, be said of the generality of woman on the stage that “tight lacing” is obsolete with them. Waists of whatever fashion fit the figure better than they did in years gone by, and there is a generous roominess of bust measure which admits of healthful expansion of the lungs every time the breath is drawn. No lesson will be learned by the fate of this London actress. She represents a bad style of corset, and some natural disarrangement which might have proved fatal had she run for the train or skipped upstairs in a hurry.

Boston [MA] Herald 17 January 1895: p. 6

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.

 

Coals of Fire: 1860s

woman-at-fireplace

COALS OF FIRE.

BY LUCY H. HOOPER.

The Countess de Castro was dying. People— that is to say, her relatives and immediate heirs— were so hard-hearted as to say it was time; for the Countess had passed her seventy-fifth birthday by some months, and had been a hopeless paralytic for over ten years past.

She was dying in the odor of sanctity. Her enemies, and even the Countess de Castro had a few, said that people who can stir neither hand nor foot, can very well earn a reputation, even for exemplary piety. Others said, more charitably, that there was no cause for anybody to grieve over her approaching demise, for that it was rare that any one was so well prepared to take her departure. They talked of the money she had given in charity, of her holy conversation, of her resignation, of her Christian example.

The Countess inhabited an antique hotel in Paris. It was her own by right of inheritance, for she had been, in her youth, a great heiress— Madamoiselle de St. Yvon, of Keriodec, in Brittany. She had been celebrated for her intellect and strength of character, and in her youth she had refused to marry, with a persistency rare in a French damsel of rank. It was reported that Louis XVIII. had sued to her in person, on behalf of one of the greatest of the Legitimist nobles of France, but in vain. She was over fifty years of age, when Parisian society was startled by the announcement of her marriage with the young Count de Castro, who numbered scarce half her own age, and who was notorious for his extravagance and his profligacy. But he was handsome as a picture, and possessed a winning tongue and a graceful address. And so the ill-matched pair were wedded, and took up their residence in the grand old hotel, in the Faubourg St. Germain. There the Countess gave stately balls, whereat all the gentlemen wore white lilies in their button-holes, and the ladies looped their tresses and their draperies with the same flower, and where a giddy young marquise was pitilessly snubbed by the hostess, because she came to the festival in question, wearing a dress trimmed with bouquets of the obnoxious Bonaparte violets. There were state dinner-parties given, also, whereat the guests were all old and dried up, and the ladies wore garments of antique fashion, scorning the mode that followed the lead of a parvenu Empress. But these formal festivities soon ceased, and it was whispered abroad that the Count de Castro was rapidly winning high favor at the Court of Napoleon III.

Of course, such a rumor meant that he had quarreled with his elderly wife; and that portion, at least, of the report, was true. They led but a cat-and-dog’s life of it, in that grand old hotel beyond the Seine. The Count was fast and frivolous, the Countess jealous and severe. He wanted money beyond the income secured to him by the terms of the marriage contract, and she refused to comply with his demands. Stories got abroad of fearful scenes between the pair. Their daily lives had long been as widely parted as possible, Madame going continually to church, while Monsieur frequented balls, and operas, and theatres. This kind of thing went on for some years. At last matters reached a crisis. The Count lost heavily at cards, at the Jockey Club, one evening, and confided to a friend that other claims were weighing upon him. There was a house at Burgival for which he owed, and the furniture, also, had never been paid for. And so the fashionable world was not much surprised when the Count de Castro disappeared, one fine morning, leaving all his debts, whether of honor or dishonor, unpaid behind him.

Madame de Castro behaved remarkably well at this conjuncture, as everybody remarked. She paid the Count’s debts, to the uttermost farthing, and was seen in her usual places of resort a trifle paler, sterner, and stiffer-looking than before, but otherwise wearing an unchanged and placid aspect. One only circumstance revealed how deeply she mourned for her vanished spouse. She caused the suite of apartments wherein she had dwelt with the Count to be closed up, and transferred her abode to the other wing of the hotel. But the servants averred, that after nightfall their mistress would occasionally enter the locked-up rooms, and remain there for a space, as if to mourn for her husband’s absence in solitude and secrecy. Few who knew the grave, stern Countess, would have fancied her capable of any such romantic action; but the story got noised abroad, nevertheless, and spread a sentimental halo about the deserted wife, prosaic and severe as her age and aspect might be.

The Count never returned. Occasionally, vague rumors were current of his appearance in far-distant lands. One story declared that he had gone to America with a certain celebrated dancer, and that he had been seen driving out with her, on the Shell Road, New Orleans. Another report averred that he was holding a high official position under the Governor of Java. Some said he had gone to Algiers; others, that he was in the employ of the French Legation at Hong-Kong. Some of these stories were traced to their source, and were found to be utterly groundless; others remained unquestioned and uncontradicted, till time proved their falsity. At all events, the Count never returned to Paris.

As the years went on, the Countess dwelt more and more in solitude. She did not put on mourning, neither did she assume any of the privileges of a widow. But she never spoke of her husband, nor would she permit his name to be mentioned in her presence. It was ten years after his mysterious disappearance, that she was first stricken with paralysis. She then insisted upon again changing her quarters, and took up her abode anew in the rooms wherein the troubled years of her married life had been spent. At first she used to be drawn in a wheeled chair around the garden, or through the long corridors of the hotel; but years had passed since she had relinquished even that form of locomotion, and had refused to quit the room wherein she now lay.

It was a vast and cheerless apartment; the wood-work, black with age, even to the waxed and polished floor, whose boards, warped and loosened by time, creaked noisily beneath the unwary tread. Some antique tapestry, saved from the sack of the Chateau de Keriodec by the Republican troops, during the first Revolution, clothed the walls, its tints of dull and faded green and sickly yellow adding an unnecessary touch of gloom to the aspect of the room. The ceiling overhead, with massive cross-beams, was of the same dark wood as the wainscoting and the floor. The chairs were mostly huge, carved arm-chairs, with cushions of faded needle-work, the only exception being a patent invalid-chair, lately used by the Countess, which stretched itself out in one dusky corner like some shapeless and huge antediluvian lizard. The fireplace, vast and cavernous, with a chimney-piece that towered to the ceiling, was filled with blazing logs; for the month was November, and the weather was chill, even for the season. At the extreme end of the room stood the bed, a large, old-fashioned structure, with curtains that matched the hangings on the walls. These were drawn aside, and the figure of the Countess could plainly be seen there, stretched out, stark and straight, as though life had already departed, and looking, with her white draperies and bandaged brows, like some monumental effigy on an ancient tomb. She still lived, however, if the faint pulsation at heart and wrist, and the feeble flutter of breath upon her lips, could really be called life. And but for one point about her pallid, wrinkled face, one might readily have supposed that she had passed already beyond the reach of mortal aid. That point was her eyes. Wide open, keen, and glittering, they were turned with a fixed and steady gaze, not forward or upward, but toward the vast dim-lighted room, seeming to seek a particular point in the flooring, and to watch that with unwavering fixity.

Around the wide fire-place were clustered a number of individuals, who talked together in subdued whispers, and only stirred with due precaution and noiseless movements. These were the blood-relations and heirs of the aged Countess, summoned, by her direction, some days before, and now gathered together in the chamber of death, awaiting the event which the doctor, himself also present, declared to them might take place at any moment.

Prominent among these persons was the Count de St. Yvon, an elderly gentleman, with gray hair and most polished manners. Then there was the Demoiselle de Savarre, a hard-featured old maid, with the bluest blood in all Brittany flowing in her withered veins; a devout Legitimist, who passed her time between saying her prayers and embroidering fleurs de-lit upon banners and mantles, to be used at the future consecration of Henri Cinq, when the glad day of the restoration of the ancient monarchy should dawn for France. Then there was the Chevalier de Keriodec, a little older and more wrinkled than his cousin, the Count; and his daughter, a peachy-cheeked demoiselle, Anne Marie Antoinette de Keriodec by name, to whom the eldest son of Count de St. Yvon was whispering soft nonsense in the embrasure of one of the windows. These were all, the Countess having announced her intention of excluding from the succession such of her relatives as should be tinged either with Bonapartism or Republicanism; and as one or the other of these poisonous principles had crept even into Brittany, that sacred stronghold of Legitimism, she had been forced to restrict her bequests to a very few individuals. There was also present, as we have said before, her physician, Doctor Dumaresq, and her confidential maid. This last, a long, thin, stern-looking female, with a face like a German nut-cracker, was fast asleep in the large arm-chair, worn out with protracted vigils and constant toil in her lady’s service.

The silence in the room was very great, broken only by the subdued whispers of the waiting heirs, and by an occasional snore from Agathe, the maid. Outside, the wind went tearing down the Rue de Varennes, banging aristocratic shutters, and whistling around ducal chimney-pots, with no more reverence than it had shown to the shop-signs in the Marais, or the vanes on the Halles Centrales. Occasionally Doctor Dumaresq would rise and go to the bed to lay a finger on the pulse of the patient, and would then, with a sigh and a shake of the head, return to his seat. And so the night went on. The wind howled, and Agathe slept, and the heirs whispered together, and the Countess lay and watched the floor. Thus the hours wore away without change or incident.

Suddenly the blast, that had been sweeping and shrieking along the street, took a sudden turn, and came careering down the great, wide chimney, sending a volley of sparks and smoke into the room. It could do but little more than that. The heavy logs, of which the fire was built, scoffed at the puny efforts of a puff of wind. One glowing coal, however, was dislodged, and flew into the room, alighting on the very plank on which the eyes of the Countess were so pertinaciously fixed. Nobody noticed the coal. The Count was lost in thought; the Chevalier and Mademoiselle de Savarre were conferring together respecting the possible amount of the estate, in an undertone; the two young people were absorbed in each other; and the doctor was half asleep. And so it glowed, and scorched, and sparkled, gnawing its way into the dry oak of the ancient flooring, surrounded by an ever-widening ring of red and charring fire.

Suddenly the dying Countess, she who had been paralyzed for years, arose from her bed, walked straight to the fire-place, picked up the tongs, took up the coal, and threw it back into the fire, and then returned to her bed. Stiff and stark, and stretched out straight as before, she lay, only the wide-open eyes were closed, and her face was, if possible, a shade paler than before.

This strange incident, this sudden revival of vitality in that seemingly lifeless frame, and the apparition in the midst of that listless group, of the white-shrouded, spectral form of the Countess, startled every one present. The heirs ceased musing or whispering, and gathered together, amazed and startled. The doctor, aroused from his doze, sprang to his feet. Only Agathe slept on in peaceful unconsciousness.

Doctor Dumaresq approached the bed, and once more laid his finger on the patient’s wrist. Then he touched her breast gently, and bent his ear to her parted lips. After a brief pause, he turned to the bystanders.

“Pray for the soul of your noble relative,” he said, solemnly. “The Countess is no more!”

The funeral took place two days later. It was a grand affair, with much display of nodding plumes and silver-spotted draperies, of mourning carriages, and of mighty candles, and of all the other accessories of funereal pomp, as imagined by the great Burial Company of Paris. It was a first-class affair in every respect. The cords of the hearse were held by two dukes, a marquis, and three counts, all of the bluest blood in the Faubourg St Germain. The funeral sermon was preached by a bishop, who was himself of princely extraction. Nobody shed any tears, it is true. The only sincere mourner that followed the widowed and childless Countess to her grave, was probably her faithful old servant, Agathe. And she, serene in the knowledge of a snug little annuity, secured to her by the will of her late mistress, was far from feeling wholly broken-hearted.

On the evening of the following day, a mysterious meeting was held in the bed-room of the departed lady. The heavy tapestry curtains were closely drawn across the windows, so that no intrusive outside gaze could penetrate the chamber wherein sat the three principal heirs of the deceased, the Count, the Chevalier, and Mademoiselle de Savarre, in solemn conclave. Three flickering candles threw a pallid light upon the group, and vainly strove to dissipate the darkness that filled the farthest corners of the spacious room.

The Count was the first to break silence.

“We have decided, I believe,” he said, “that it is our duty to examine that point in the flooring which our departed relative watched so constantly.”

“And whose peril roused her to such strange and sudden exertions,” added the Chevalier.

“Who knows what may not lie concealed beneath the scorched plank?” said Mademoiselle de Savarre.

“Family papers, political secrets,” suggested the Chevalier.

“Coin or jewels,” remarked the Count. “Aged people are often like magpies, in their propensity for hiding things.”

“Let us look at once!” cried the old maid, fired to activity by the suggestion.

Each had brought a chisel, or some other tool, and they set to work with a will. The solid oaken plank was soon removed, revealing a cavity between the floor and the beams of the ceiling beneath, large enough to have contained the crown-jewels of an empire, or the archives of a republic. Within there appeared something, neither papers, nor jewels, nor gold, but a long, irregularly-shaped bundle, that rattled strangely when dragged forth to the light. A cry of horror broke from the lips of the three searchers, as the dim rays of their candles fell upon the thing that they had found—a human skeleton, clothed in remnants of what had once been superfine broadcloth and delicate linen; a jeweled pin, gleaming on the discolored shirt-front; a massive seal-ring, hanging loose upon the long hand, and great stains and streaks of rusty-brown upon the linen, which was revealed by the rents in the decaying cloth, splotches; that had once been of a ghastly red.

As if turned to stone, the three seekers after wealth stood speechless, in the presence of Death and Crime.

The Chevalier was the first to recover his presence of mind.

“It is the Count de Castro!” he said, in a horror-stricken whisper. “See, these are his arms!” And he picked up the seal-ring, which had dropped from the fleshless finger and rolled upon the floor.

“And who could have killed him? It must have been the Countess!” cried Mademoiselle de Savarre, trembling from head to foot.

“Hush—sh—sh!” whispered the Count, looking fearfully around. “No doubt it was she.”

“We had better hush this matter up,” remarked the Chevalier, with chattering teeth. And it was hushed up, accordingly. A roaring fire in the mighty chimney soon consumed every vestige of the poor, dried remains of what had once been the gay and gallant Count de Castro.

And when, a few years later, a grand new street was run right over the site of the demolished hotel, the few who remembered anything at all about the deceased Countess, spoke of her with bated breath, and called her “a saint upon earth.”

The Peterson Magazine, 1876: pp. 395-8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A dark and gothic tale, is it not? While Mrs Daffodil enjoys the odd spot of fiction but rarely, she reads such narratives as the above with a professionally critical eye. Poisoned wine was the obvious solution to the Countess’s wayward husband, yet a more bloody method was selected, perhaps in the heat of the moment. One understands the reluctance to involve others in a private domestic murder, but to leave the corpse under the floor-boards for future discovery argues a carelessness quite out of keeping with that lady’s prudent character.

Surely she and Agathe, whose annuity must have been the result of her discretion, could have managed to do what the Count, the Chevalier, and Mademoiselle de Savarre did: cremate the mummified Count de Castro in the immense fireplace. But perhaps paralysis overtook her before this could be done or it was a case such as we have seen at the courts of Versailles and of Spain, where certain members of the nobility feel that certain tasks are beneath them. Mrs Daffodil seems to remember a King of Spain who died because no person of lowly-enough rank could be found to move a red-hot brazier. Perhaps the Countess did not deign to soil her blue-blooded fingers with the dishonourable corpse of a—one shudders to think of it—Bonapartist.

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 Mask of Glory: 1920

Mrs Daffodil will caution the sensitive that some may find this post (and its illustration), which is about French soldiers disfigured in the Great War, disturbing.

The Mask of Glory

Paul Junka [pseudonym of “Mlle Ferponnes”]

A powerful car, marked with large white initials, U. S. A., called for me to begin my series of visits to the principal establishments of the American Red Cross in and around Paris. I was shown to-day one of the most ingenious and touching things that has arisen from the war, which if it has developed means of destruction to a degree hitherto unknown, has, on the contrary, exalted to sublimity acts of devotion and the divine art of healing sorrow.

“Now,” Miss Farrand, my guide, announced, with that lovely smile which told at the same time her intimate pride in the great things she showed me and the modesty which she brought to her role. “Now I will show you the masks.” “The masks?” “Yes; for the mutilated.”

We crossed Paris and reached that part of the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, which, with its little houses behind gates hung with ivy and glycin, recalled a corner of our calm Provinces, where, in similar dwellings and silent gardens, grow the virile virtues which our race has proved to the world—to the world that knew only its superficial and glittering side. The motorcar stopped before one of these homes, well designed to shelter the dream of a thinker and artist.

“Here is the studio of Mrs. Maynard Ladd, under whose direction the masks for the wounded are made.” said Miss Farrand.

We followed an alley between two walls covered with vines and entered a room where one noticed only plaster casts and molds, the habitual equipment of a sculptor’s studio. From thence we climbed three flights up to Mrs. Ladd’s private studio, and at first saw but a vast bay-window showing a sunlit perspective of sky and foliage. Several people were working here, and I was presented to Mr. Wlerick, the sculptor, Mrs. Ladd’s collaborator. As Mrs. Ladd was at Vichy, he courteously placed himself at my disposition to furnish me all details of interest.

A soldier rose to go, but Mr. Wlerick cordially called him back. “Wait a moment, will you, old fellow? Madame came to see the masks. Will you kindly show her yours?”

With military discipline the soldier made a haft turn and stood before me, his face raised for my inspection. He was a sharpshooter, with slightly olive complexion, and on the ardent face, under his rakishly worn cap, I could find nothing whatever abnormal. I was surprised, and said: “And the mask?” Mr. Wlerick smiled, saying, “He has it on. Look closer, Madame.” I approached and could, indeed, distinguish a faint line upon the soldier’s check; a shadow, rather, that went from mouth to ear. It was so slight a thing that I said, “Oh, yes,” out of politeness, not being able to realize that beneath the perfect appearance of the face was a terrible mutilation. Then, pressing the soldier’s hand, I added, “My friend, it is wonderful; no one could believe that you wear a mask!”

My sincerity was obvious, my astonishment so complete that I was not conscious of it. The poilu was overjoyed, saluted and went out; shortly afterward I understood why my simple words gave him such keen pleasure.

On one side of the large bay-window that lighted the studio numbers of plaster molds were lying. I started forward to see them and stopped, horror-struck. It was almost impossible to discover human lineaments in these casts that, nevertheless, represented poor martyred faces which had been serene, often beautiful, almost always smiling from being loved, from being young, and having all the future before them, and which were now but terrible formless ruins, something indescribable, “which has no more a name in any tongue.” There were noses torn off, twisted lips, disfigured chins and crushed foreheads—the whole gamut of deformity.

While I gazed, wide-eyed, Mr. Wlerick explained to me that these were the first molds, made upon the mutilé exactly as his wound had left him. Finally a second mold is modeled after a photograph of the blesse taken before his wound, which is a reconstruction of his normal face. To restore a complete resemblance to this visage and give back its proper psychological expression a medical study is often necessary, examination of the throat, etc. This work requires a rather long and delicate series of processes, no less than ten in number:

  1. A plaster negative on the mutilé.
  2. A plaster positive on the mutilé.
  3. Modeling after a photograph prior to the wound.
  4. and 5. Plaster molds on the portrait model.
  5. Galvanoplastie (deposit of sulphate of copper by electricity).
  6. Work of adjustment upon the blesse.
  7. Unalterable painting upon the mutilé.
  8. Placing of artificial eyes, lashes and brows.
  9. System of spectacles to hold the mask in place. “When this difficult work is ended and the arrangement is as it should be, it is difficult to realize that the one who wears this mask is generally completely disfigured,” continued M. Wlerick. “You have seen it in the case of the sharpshooter whom I presented to you just now. Here is his cast. . .”

The sculptor indicated a plaster mold which seemed a strange animal head and which would have appeared to be a caricature had not we compared it with the corresponding cast which showed the head reconstructed. For this terrible deformation was due to the absence of the whole lower part of the face, and I had not even guessed it! I understood now why my unthinking compliment had so delighted the poor soldier!

An example of a mask for a wounded soldier, 1919

An example of a mask for a wounded soldier, 1919

Upon further inquiries I learned that the invention of the mask is due to Captain Derwent Wood, of the Second London Hospital. Mrs. Ladd adopted it as it was first made, but it has been since developed and perfected. The first masks were necessarily heavy and quite different from the models of delicacy and lightness which were shown to me. The masks, if need be, may contain a dressing and are indestructible; if the wounded is careful they will last indefinitely. They are made at the expense of the American Red Cross, and the painting upon them has been rendered completely unalterable.

I approached another soldier who was seated in the center of the room. Standing beside him an artist, a colleague of Mrs. Ladd’s. was moving a paint-brush across his cheek with a light, gracious movement that would have seemed a gesture in a game if one had not known, as I had just learned, that this motion on the wretched wounded face represented the height of art and love. At this moment the painter was giving the finishing touches to the indefinable bluish tone that the razor leaves upon a close-shaven cheek. It was unbelievably natural, and one would have to be informed that it was not a face fresh from the hands of a careful barber, but rather an extraordinary imitation of a human visage.

“Oh, it is fine; it is splendid! How they should bless you, these young men!” I cried, considering by turns the soldier beaming with pleasure and the artist, who stood there as modest as though she had accomplished the most ordinary work. “Certainly they will never forget you; you make them again the lovely boys they were before their wounds; you give them back all the joys of life, all the possibilities of happiness.” Ah! how he looked at me, the poor poilu so terribly disfigured. I am sure this boy, tried beyond human endurance, was upheld in his adversity by the tenderness of a dream, and for him this mask, which hid so admirably his fearful and glorious misery, was the Mask of Love!

I was delighted with this sudden thought that came to me; then I smiled, for what I had believed to have been an inspiration was only a memory. The Mask of Love is the title of one of the most famous books by Daniel-Lesueur.

“These masks,” I said to those about me, “are a glorious achievement, indeed, and one can never sufficiently realize how much patience and talent is spent here to lessen the heroic suffering of our soldiers. However, it seems to me that the using of this mask implies a real vanity upon your part; for one should not hide a glorious wound, but wear it proudly. …”

They smiled, flattered, because in the depths of their simple souls they had sincerely thought themselves too disfigured to appear in public. A little farmer of Châlons expressed the humiliation that indiscrete looks cause our wounded. “Oh! you know, Madame, one does not like to be conspicuous. …”

Still filled with my idea. I continued, “Listen, I have an inspiration. I owe it, moreover, to your modesty. I shall call the article which I am to write concerning you the Mask of Glory, because it is, indeed, your glory you mask!” There were many exclamations around me, and Mrs. Ladd’s collaborators approved heartily.

Later, talking with Mrs. Ladd herself concerning the zeal expended and the difficulties conquered, Mrs. Ladd smiled gently and said, “We are amply rewarded by the joy of our mutilés. They write me very lovely letters; would you like to see them?” I accepted her offer eagerly and quote here two of the most affecting:

Dear Madame: I am so greatly satisfied with my mask that I cannot wait to come to thank you again. My parents, too, are very happy to see me as I am. When I arrived they scarcely recognized me as the same wounded man. Also the neighbors wondered how it is possible for one to make such a beautiful nose in so short a time! Briefly, it is a tremendous success. If I return to Paris, as I hope, I will certainly come to see you.François Gorall, September 6, 1918.

Madame: I surprised my parents with my mask and I can find no words to paint their delight; they could hardly believe it was I! You have done so much for me that I do not know how to express my gratitude, for it is thanks to you that I will be able to have my own home. My fiancée finds me not unpleasing and has not refused me as she would have had the right to do. She will soon be my wife.Marc Maréchal.

“All who enter here leave hope behind” was inscribed upon the portal of Dante’s Inferno. I would that a poet of genius might find the fitting inscription for Mrs. Ladd’s studio, where so many beings, secretly despairing, have found and will find supreme comfort. And once more the homage of our gratitude goes out to the American Red Cross, which has discovered here an incomparable and almost divine means of soothing one of the most poignant forms of human suffering.

The New France, Vol. 3, 1920: p. 544

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: On this Armistice Day we remember the service of veterans everywhere, and especially the wounded, who bear scars both visible and hidden.

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.