Category Archives: Grim and Grewsome

The Girl in the Car: 1903

woman in coffin 1876 American Enterprise. Burley's United States centennial gasetteer and guide

Ghost Editor, Fort Worth Telegram

Dear Sir: I had never been a believer in the supernatural prior to the occurrence of the incident which gives rise to my story, but the facts which I am about to relate had the effect of purging the skepticism that had hitherto prevailed in my mind regarding such matters.

During the year of 1903 I was employed as an express messenger on the Fort Worth-Texarkana run.

One night there was transferred to my car from the western division a coffin containing a corpse consigned from El Paso to Schenectady, N.Y., and while this is no unusual traveling companion for an express messenger, the night in question was one which prompted thoughts of the supernatural, gloomy with a stillness in the air that foretold the approach of a heavy storm.

Being absorbed with routine matters which demanded my attention, little time was given to thought of the contents of the pine box lying in a far corner of the car. Vivid flashes of lightning and the ominous aspect of the sky made it plain that the elements would soon be warring. Being forty-five minutes late out of the last station passed and due in Longview at midnight, we were traveling at a rapid rate with an endeavor to make up the time lost. The air of the car being somewhat close, I stepped to the door and threw it half open. Simultaneously a blinding flash of lightning, accompanied by a crash of thunder, made me start back involuntarily from the open door. Before I could recover my composure, a gust of wind swept thru the car, extinguishing every light. I sprang to the open door and slammed it together, avoiding a deluge of rain that fell as the sluice gates of heaven had been opened. Turning quickly with a view to relighting my lamps, a flash of lightning revealed to me the form of a girl about twenty years of age standing in the center of the car. In my astonishment, thinking that my imagination had served me with an illusion, I waited for a second flash that again revealed the form of the girl, and while my gaze was limited to the momentary glare, I took in every detail of her figure and dress. She was attired in a brown street dress with long gloves to match, and her dark hair fell loose in a mass around her shoulders, contrasting strongly with the paleness of her face. For a moment I could scarcely move. My first thought was of how this girl could have gained entrance to my car while the train was moving at the rate of forty miles an hour. Another lightning flash showed the girl advancing toward me with her arms outstretched in a imploring attitude. My glance in this brief second also reverted to the farther par of the car, and to my horror observed the lid of the coffin thrown to one side and now standing open. This was the first time that I had associated the form of the girl with the supernatural, and my senses seemed to leave me as I dashed to the door and slammed it violently ajar. As I did, something seemed to pass me, and vanish out into the storm, followed by a wailing cry that even now at times rings thru my ears. I staggered back from the door from which I had sought to plunge and fell heavily to the floor of my car.

When the train reached Longview the baggage man climbed into my car and discovered my condition. A stiff drink of whisky brought me back to my normal senses and I recited my story.

After the lamps had been re-lit, a promptly investigation was made of the box in my car, which was found intact and strongly nailed.

Various opinions were presented by my train associates, and I caught  some of them winking knowingly.

I carefully noted down the address and destination of the coffin and the name of the consignor. A few days later I wrote to Schenectady requesting of the consignor a description of the corpse, and a week later received an answer describing in both feature and figure the girl whom I so fully described to my fellow workers the night of the visitation. I answered this letter, confiding my interest in the matter, with the request to be advised if the lady had formerly worn a brown dress, receiving a reply in the affirmative and to the effect that it was in this she had died from heart failure thru climbing a flight of stairs at a hotel in El Paso.

Do I believe in ghosts/ Well, I have another occupation than that of express messenger. Yours truly,

W.K.T. SCOTT

Fort Worth [TX] Star-Telegram 13 December 1907: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A nice, shuddersome story!  One can readily understand the narrator’s resignation from his occupation after such an uncanny encounter.

After the American Civil War, when embalming became more widespread, it was commonplace to ship corpses via the rails. The Wells Fargo company was one of the first in this field; they found an ingenious and heartless way to exploit the deaths of consumption patients.

AN INDUSTRY IN CORPSES
How an Express Company and an Undertaker Whack Up on Consumptives.

The Wells-Fargo Company does some queer things in the way of business, but the strangest perhaps is a new line, worked up by one of the shrewdest agents of the country at Denver. Colorado is a sort of last chance of consumptives, and pretty generally they die there. Most of them are supplied with money from home in regular installments, so when they die not enough coin is found among their effects to pay an undertaker. Undoubtedly many of them would be buried by the county, but right here’s where the company gets in.

It has a contract with an undertaker who takes charge of the body, embalms it, and gets it all ready for shipment. Then the Fargo agent wires to the agents in the towns from which the deceased received letters. If any relatives can be found it is a sure thing, and nine times out of ten enough friends can be found to put up a check for the undertaker’s charges and transportation. When this has been done the body is shipped to the friends or relatives by fast train, and turned over by the agent. The company makes a fat annual profit out of this melancholy business–“the corpse industry,” they call it—it is a good snap for the undertaker, and this county is saved just so many dollars. Many a time there have been three to four corpses at once in the company’s “cooling room” at Denver awaiting notice from friends in just this way. It is a cold day when W.F. & Co., can’t discover a new way to turn an honest penny.

The Pittsburg [PA] Dispatch 19 July 1891: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil thanks Chris Woodyard for that diverting Wells Fargo anecdote, which appears in her book, The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available in a Kindle edition.

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

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

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The Nail in the Skull: c. 1600, 1840s

celtic knot with skull 1900.JPG

AN ENGLISH GREEN-ROOM STORY.

There is a story told in English green-rooms, for the truth of which, writes Celia Logan, in the N.Y. Dispatch, I cannot vouch. It is to the effect that a certain carpenter, a long, long time ago, murdered his wife by driving a nail into her skull. He fled, and the better to conceal his identity, became an actor. He rose to eminence, and the whirligig of time and the wheel of chance brought him to the very village in which years before he had killed his wife, whose murder, however,–so the story runs—had not been suspected, her long, thick black hair concealing the cruel wound from which no blood had flowed.

The part was Hamlet. Whatever memories the place evoked, he had sufficient mastery over his feelings to keep them hidden. The first scene of the fifth act came on. The theatre stood on what had formerly been a burial ground, and the property man had not far to go for skulls, but just dug a little and brought up a dozen or more, and at night tossed them into the trap for the gravedigger to shovel on the stage. He handed a skull to the Hamlet, saying:
“Here’s a skull now hath lain you in the earth for three-and-twenty years.”

Hamlet—“Whose was it?”
Gravedigger “This same skull, sir, was Yorick’s skull, the king’s jester.”

Hamlet took the skull saying: “This—“

He turned pale and staggered, for the skull had left on it one long lock of black hair. Handed to him upside down, the lock fell back, revealing a nail in the skull! The actor recognized it as that of the woman whom he had murdered twenty-three years before. At this mute evidence of his guilt coming from the grave to confront him the actor lost his presence of mind and his senses.

In his insane utterances he revealed his terrible secret, and was only saved from punishment by his fellow actors hushing him up and hurrying him away. He never recovered his reason, and died in a madhouse, raving of the nail in the skull.

About thirty years ago a story was written by a Frenchman on this same ghastly subject, laying the scene in private life in France, and making the perpetrator of the deed a woman. It had a great success, and to this day is occasionally revived, and goes the rounds of the newspapers, but old English actors insist that it was founded on the incident in theatrical life which I have just related, and which did transpire on the British stage.

Rhode Island Press [Providence RI] 21 July 1877: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A nice story to give one the grues!  This was a popular version of what those more learned than Mrs Daffodil might term an “urban legend,” and came in various flavours. Dr John Donne was said to have been the discoverer of a nail-murderess.

The Murderer discovered.

When Dr. Donne, afterwards Dean of St. Paul’s, took possession of the first living he ever had, he walked into the church-yard, where the sexton was digging a grave, and throwing up a skull, the doctor took it up to contemplate thereon, and found a small sprig or headless nail sticking in the temple, which he drew out secretly, and wrapt it up in the corner of his handkerchief. He then demanded of the grave digger, whether he knew whose skull that was: he said he did very well, declaring it was a man’s who kept a brandy shop; an honest drunken fellow, who, one night having taken two quarts of that comfortable creature, was found dead in his bed next morning,  –Had he a wife?—Yes.—What character does she bear? —A very good one: only the neighbours reflect on her because she married the day after her husband was buried. This was enough for the doctor, who, under the pretence of visiting his parishioners, called on her. He asked her several questions, and, among others, what sickness her husband died of. She giving him the same account, he suddenly opened the handkerchief, and cried in an authoritative voice, Woman, do you know this nail? She was struck with horror at the unexpected demand, and instantly owned the fact.

A Thousand Notable Things, Edward Somerset, 2nd Marquise of Worcester, 1822

Mrs Daffodil always likes to give credit where credit is due; she found the John Donne anecdote along with an exceedingly nasty ghost story in a post by that pointed person over at Haunted Ohio—The Old Lady with the Nails.

 

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.

Grandmere Jeanneton: 1884

grandmere

“GRANDMERE JEANNETON.”

I was smoking my after-dinner cigar and reading Figaro on the esplanade in Strasbourg, when I was accosted by an old woman who inquired in French for the nearest photographer. She wore the common dress of the Alsatian peasant, and her dusty shoes indicated a long foot journey, but under her linen head-dress fell her white hair round a face that, sunburnt and wrinkled and wearing traces of recent tears, yet was so beautiful in its expression of tender goodness and touching resignation not unmixed with a certain pride, that I involuntarily addressed her as “Grandmere,” and forgetting that I had promised a friend to await his arrival, offered to guide her to her destination.

On the road she told me her simple story. She was a widow, and lived prior to the French-German war with her married son in a village, fifty miles from Strasbourg. They were well-to-do peasants before the enemy invaded their little village; but one morning they woke to find the Prussians encamped in their fields and making themselves perfectly at home. More troops arrived the next day and the following, until the quiet village was a big camp, where the enemy heaped up the stores needed for the siege of Strasbourg.

One dark night the camp was alarmed and a magazine containing among other stores a considerable quantity of powder was found on fire, and there was no doubt that it was the work of the inhabitants. Accordingly the next morning six of the most prominent or most patriotic of the inhabitants were brought before the Prussian commander, and after a short examination that proved nothing, without further trial, were shot in the square in front of the village church. The widow’s son was one of the six victims, and his wife, who became frantic with grief over his death, was the next morning found lifeless on his grave, thus leaving her infant son to the sole care of his grandmother.

The old woman now centered all her hope and all her affection in the little boy, and as he grew up she was fully repaid, for he loved his grandmother with an intensity often found in children who die young a love that was alone equaled by his veneration of his dead parents, his adoration of “la belle France” and his hate of the Prussians, for the old woman, who loved her country dearly, and never forgot that her husband fell fighting for it at “Solferino,” and that her son was killed by its enemies, instilled, perhaps unconsciously, both feelings in his young breast.

One day, when the boy was 10 years old, a Prussian official who inspected the village school was struck with his beauty and serious air, and addressed a question to him in German respecting his parents. “The Prussians killed them,” answered the boy in French. The official colored, and in a rebuking tone asked the boy why he didn’t speak German. “Because it is the language of my country’s enemies,” answered the boy fearlessly.

The official ordered him in arrest, and he was shut up in a chamber above the school-room, where he remained until night, when he boldly leaped from the window to the ground and, as he fell in a thick copse, escaped unhurt. The boy now fairly flew to his grandmother’s house, but as he was afraid of being seen and brought back to the school if he followed the road, he crossed in through the fields behind the village.

It was in the harvest and the grapes were ripe, so old Martin, the owner of the choicest grapes in the village, kept watch with a loaded shot-gun over his precious treasures. Softly he walks over the field behind the wine-press, when he hears something force its way through the grapevines. He stops and cocks his piece. He will now catch the thief who robs him of his biggest grapes. The moon is behind the clouds, out he sees the outline of a person running fast through the vines. “Halt!” he commands but the person never heeds him. He raises his gun–a flash–a scream–a fall of a body among the grapes, and when the old man arrives on the spot, he finds instead of the supposed grape thief a little curly-haired boy whose life is fast ebbing away with the blood that flows out and mixes with the crushed grapes; his black eyes are already fixed and glassy and it is with a faltering voice he whispers: “Give my love to grandmother and tell her– father! mother! I am coming”–his hands grasp the vines tighter, he raises himself to a sitting posture, the moon coming from behind the clouds shines on the wine leaves in his curly hair, a cry rises in his throat: “Vive la belle France!”–he sinks back, his eyes closed, and the orphan boy is gone.

“And it was me–me alone–who murdered him,” complained the grandmother when she concluded her tale. Her eyes were dry, but the muscles round the corner of her mouth worked convulsively and there was a great sob in her throat. “It was all my fault, the result of my unforgiveness; holy Mary have mercy–” and the old woman ran the black beads of her rosary through her fingers, murmuring her prayers.

We arrived shortly after at our destination, the atelier of a French photographer, with whom I was slightly acquainted. I introduced my companion to him, and he, after offering her a seat, addressed some questions to her about her picture. She looked at him with wonder, and finally replied that she only wanted a picture of her boy. “Ah!” said the photographer, “a little boy, very good, where is he!” A tear dimmed the old woman’s black eye, and for answer she pointed up to heaven. “Oh!” exclaimed my friend, “dead! I do not like to photograph dead bodies, but still as monsieur brought you here I will make an exception; when did your little boy die?”

“When the grapes ripen he will have been gone a year,” replied the grandmother.

“But, my dear,” began the photographer, perplexed, when I interrupted him, and taking him aside told him the old woman’s story and how she had walked fifty miles on her old legs to procure a likeness of her dead grandchild.

“But, my dear fellow, what can I do? I am grieved, upon my word I am; but what would you have me do? I can’t photograph angels!”

A noise of romping children was now heard and two boys, about 8 and 10 years old, came running into the atelier, crying at the top of their voices: “Oh, papa, voici!”

“Hush, children!” said the parent, “go away; I am busy,” and the happy boys disappeared laughing in the next room. A sudden idea struck me and turning to the old woman, who looked wistfully at the door through which the boys escaped, I asked her if she had kept any of her little boy’s clothes. “Indeed I have, monsieur!” she answered. “I have kept everything belonging to the little dear,” and opening a bundle she carried with her she continued: “Here is the best dress and (her voice sunk to a whisper) the last I ever saw him wear.”

I now took the photographer aside and made him acquainted with my plan for “photographing angels,” and after obtaining his promise of carrying out my instructions I persuaded the grandmother to leave her grandson’s clothing in the atelier and follow me to an inn, where I left her to the care of the buxom hostess.

Two days after the photographer sent for her and on her arrival handed her a picture at sight of which the old woman began crying freely. “My boy! my own darling boy! It is the clothes I spun every thread of myself and his pretty curly hair but why does he cover his face so? Won’t he look at me?” she asked suddenly, looking up from the picture that represented a little boy kneeling in a chair with his folded hands before his face.

“Oh!” remarked the photographer, “he is saying his prayers.”

“Yes, yes, I know! he is praying for his poor old grandmere. Oh, my darling boy!” and the great tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks. “God and our lady bless you, messieurs!” said she when she grew calmer. “I am now going to pray by my boy’s grave until I follow him;” and refusing all aid for her trip home, but pressing her newly found treasure fast to her brave old heart, “Grandmere Jeanneton” left us.

As to the picture, our readers have of course all guessed that the photographer dressed his oldest boy in the poor peasant boy’s clothes; and who would not practice such a deception to see the tears that rolled down Grandmere Jeanneton’s aged cheeks?

The Argos [IN] Reflector 25 December 1884: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil was formerly in service in the household of Mrs Marrowfat, the society medium and shudders at the impostures by which that clever lady enriched herself at the expense of the desolate and sorrowing. And yet, somehow, Mrs Daffodil cannot bring herself to condemn the photographer who gave such consolation to the aged Grandmere who had lost everything.

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 Sewing Machine Agent and the Widow: 1875

lady at sewing machine 1860s

How a Pennsylvania Widow Served a Sewing Machine Agent.

The usually quiet little village of Leesport on the line of the Philadelphia & Reading railroad, eight miles above Reading, has had a sensation, which has caused a good deal of amusement. A Reading sewing-machine agent induced the head of a family to take a machine and pay for it in monthly installments. Before the machine was paid for, the husband and father died. The widow was in destitute circumstances, with half a dozen children, and unable to pay the balance owing on the machine, when the agent came round to take the machine away. She determined that he should not remove the machine until he had handed back at least some of the money that had been paid on it by her husband. He was apparently just as determined to secure the machine without returning any of the filthy lucre, insulted the woman and endeavored to take by force what he said belonged to the company by reason of the payment of monthly installments having been stopped.

While the agent was inside the house she locked both the front and back doors, and put the keys in her dress pocket, and being a robust woman “went for” the agent. She took hold of him and a severe and prolonged struggle ensued, while the children were frightened and cried and screamed. The widow threw the agent over the hot kitchen stove, and finally succeeded in setting him down on top of it and held him there, when he begged piteously for mercy. “For God’s sake, let me go, and I’ll pay you back every cent your husband paid me.” Being satisfied that he was severely scorched, if not partly roasted around the thighs, she pulled him off the stove, but held on to him until he had paid back every cent of the installments and then she gave him two minutes time to take the machine and clear out with it. The name of the plucky woman and also that of the agent, are withheld by special request.

Atchison [KS] Daily Patriot 30 September 1875: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mr Isaac Singer patented  the sewing machine in 1851. It was touted as relieving the housewife from the drudgery of sewing, yet made possible even more drudgery in sweatshops.

We might debate who did it better:  how very different the methods of this “robust” widow were from those in another story of a widow and a sewing machine on the hire-purchase plan. Equally happy endings, except, possibly, for the scars impressed on that part of his anatomy by the agent. And a salutary anecdote about the importance of life insurance.

 

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 Mermaid Look: 1840s

the mermaid Howard Pyle 1910

A STORY OF THE SEA

Mary Kyle Dallas

“Do I believe in mermaids ?” said old Captain Saltwater, stirring his punch and beaming upon us from the fragrant mist which arose from the great glass before him. “Do I believe in mermaids? Of course I do. Long ago, when I went to sea as a cabin boy, I’ve heard them singing many and many a moonlight night so that I could scarcely lie still in my hammock, and have watched over the side oftener than I can tell you for the gleaming of their white arms and the floating of the sea-green hair they are so proud of. They’ve left off troubling me now, for I’m old and tough as sea water can make me; and even if it was of any use, they wouldn’t think me a prize worth capturing; but then when my heart was soft and my cheek like a peach with the down upon it, they could never leave me alone, but were always beckoning and singing to me. If I hadn’t had a good old mother that I was too fond of to forsake for any flesh and blood woman in the world, let alone a mermaid , I’ve no doubt I should have been among the coral caves to-night instead of here, my dears.

“Mermaids! bless you, you’re not half up to their arts; they have a way (I’m sure of it) of getting rid of the fishy part of ‘em and coming out on land for all the world like Christian women. I’ve met them miles and miles away from the ocean, looking as modest and blushing as much as they could if they’d been what they seemed to be. But I knew them; nothing could deceive me. I always saw the sea in their eyes. Blue eyes, and very pretty ones; but when you least expected it, that deep sea-green would rise from behind them or creep over them somehow, and you would see the mermaid look in a moment.

“It was a kind of natural instinct with me, and I never could teach any one my secret. Ah! I wish I could have taught it to Ralph Hawthorne, but he always laughed at me whenever I spoke of such things. He hadn’t been brought up a sailor, d’ye see, but had been to college, and learnt to explain everything away until he believed nothing. Corpselights he called ‘ electricity,’ and ‘Mother Carey’s chickens’ a superstition; and as for the sea serpent, he actually had the audacity to tell old Tom Pipes, a man who had sailed salt water for 40 years, that he must have dreamt he saw it close to the rock of Gibraltar, because the creature was fabulous. The sea serpent fabulous! He might as well have told old Tom he lied.

“Howsomever, the lad’s education was to blame for these things, and he was to be pitied for not being taught what he ought to have known, and I was just as fond of him as though he had been my own brother. Son, is more like it—for he was very young and there was years between us. He was the best messmate when he was off his hobby that I ever met with, and he made the Cousin Kitty ring again with the old sea songs he was so fond of singing on bright moonlight nights.

“The Cousin Kitty was the ship in which we sailed, and of which he was part owner. I had named her after a little cousin of my own, who half bewitched me when I was a lad, and I was as fond of her as I could have been of her namesake, the living cousin Kitty, if it had been written in Life’s log book that I was to be moored alongside of her. I could never have borne that a man I did not like should be part owner of that vessel.

“Our first voyage together was to the East Indies, and we had terrible weather coming home; and were in scenes that proved what stuff the men were made off. Ralph came out pure gold, and showed that college hadn’t spoiled him, and we were fast friends from that time; for when I like a man, d’ye see, I stick to him, and I liked Ralph more than I can tell.

“He had hair that clung in great black rings all about his neck and temples, an olive skin, and eyes such as I have never seen on any other living thing except a seal. You may laugh, but though they talk about gazelle’s eyes in poetry, they don’t compare with those of a seal—great, brown, loving, imploring things, with a soul behind them as sure as I’m a sinner.

“He was so handsome, that when we passed the reef where the mermaids lay in wait, I used to be afraid to see him looking down into the water. Those creatures are bold for all they’re shy, d’ye see, and I didn’t know but that they might make a spring at him and carry him off by main force if stratagem failed them. Perhaps they were daunted by his great brown eyes, for he never even heard them sing.

“Well, my dears, Ralph Hawthorne and I had sailed together four good years, and he was as dear to me as my own son could have been, when coming across from Liverpool to New York we met the very worst storm that the Cousin Kitty had ever weathered through. I never quite gave her up, but there were moments when I began to think that I and my good ship would be lying beneath the water together before the sun rose over it. For it was in the middle of the second night that the storm was at its worst, and with pitch-black water all around and a sky blacker yet overhead, we were beaten and rocked and driven as though the air were full of unseen demons.

“We had passengers on board, and though they were all fastened down below we could hear the women’s shrieks above the roaring of the wind and the breaking of the waves. Women, d’ye see, were never meant to leave dry land. I’d rather see anything on board of a vessel than a woman.

“By dawn the storm had abated, and the Cousin Kitty had acted like a queen, so Ralph and I went down to cheer the passengers up. When we told them we were out of danger, they squalled for joy, just as they had squalled for fear a little while before. The women folks were sulky with me, because when they were at their loudest the night before I beat upon the doors with a belaying pin, and told ’em if they didn’t hold their tongues I’d let the ship sink just to drown their voices. But they all clustered about Ralph as though they wanted to kiss him, and he, the rascal, looked at them out of his great seal-brown eyes as though he were in love with every girl on board.

“Somehow he quieted them, and those who were sick went back to their staterooms, and those who were well enough sat down to breakfast, and there was as much peace as could be expected with petticoats on board at all. Well, when we had settled that job we went on board again. The clouds were clearing off, and there seemed to be a prospect of pleasant weather, but straight ahead of us we saw a sight that made my heart ache—the wreck of a handsome vessel stranded on a rock, and going fast to pieces. We saw no one upon her; all hands had left her, we supposed, for the boats when she began to part. She had been a handsome French-built vessel, and the name upon her side was L’Esperance. It made me think of the Cousin Kitty, as the sight of another man’s dead child makes a man think of his own living one, and I wondered who the captain was, and how he felt when he left his hope to go down into the dark waters without him. For L’Esperance means Hope, you know, my dears, better than I do, and it was awful to see that bright word written in golden letters above the broken hulk that hadn’t so much as an anchor left to it.

“Doubtful as it seemed, we thought there might be some poor soul clinging somewhere to the wreck, and Ralph Hawthorne and I with half a dozen hands went out in a boat to look at her. It seemed plain in a few moments that she was quite deserted, and we were going back to the Cousin Kitty again, when Ralph frightened me by springing upon the boat and over the side in a moment.

“’The mermaids have got him at last!’ I shouted, but before the words were out of my lips he was swimming alongside with something white in his strong young arms.

“’Take her, for Heaven’s sake!’ he cried, and then I knew that it was a woman whom he held, and a drowned one, for if she had been living she would have clung to him until she dragged him down along with her to Davy Jones’s locker. They will do it; you can’t save a woman from drowning unless she is senseless. Well, we took the poor thing on board, and after a deal of fuss, with all the lady passengers in the way, pretending to help and doing worse than nothing, brought breath back to the poor little body. The first use she made of it was to scream for ‘mon père’ and ‘Alphonse,’ until I began to think we were wrong in bringing her to life and misery, for there was little doubt but that the two she called for were sleeping amongst the seaweed together.

“In a day or two she grew quieter, and then she told us in pretty broken English such a pitiful little story of the white-haired old father and the young lover soon to be a husband, and the storm and the darkness and the awful separation. She made me cry like a baby, and Ralph Hawthorne’s eyes were browner and more seal-like as he listened.

“She came on deck before the voyage was over every afternoon, and used to sit looking down into the water for hours and hours together. The lady passengers made a pet of her, and Ralph Hawthorne was like a brother to the little thing.

“As for myself, I had resolved that she should never want a friend while I lived. So when we arrived at the end of our voyage I took her to my sister Margaret, and told her the story. I was old and had no children, and Meg took a fancy to the girl, so when I sailed again I left her safe in moorings, and she kissed me as a daughter might when we parted. Adele she said was her name, and she would call me Monsieur le Capitaine, which I, not being French, didn’t like.

“I never in all my life knew Ralph to be so silent as he was upon that voyage. He was not himself in anything except that he did his duty, as he always did, like a man. I puzzled over the change more than I can tell you. At last, as he sat in the moonlight one night, looking at the sparkles on the dark waves, I went to him and said,

“’What has been the matter with you all this time, Ralph?”

He looked up with a start, and made no answer at first, but after a while he opened his lips and uttered one word only. That one word was ‘Adele.’

“I understood it all now, and I laughed as I slapped him on the back.

“’So it’s Adele,” said I. “Well, you’ve been sly enough about it. So you’re to take my little beauty from me, are you?’

“He shook his head, and looked up at me with his great seal-like eyes.

“’No,” he said, “she will not say I may. Her heart is with that young lover of hers who was lost when L’Esperance became a wreck, and she cares nothing for me.’

“’Nonsense,’ I answered; ‘I never heard of a woman being constant to the living, let alone the dead.’

“’She will be,’ he said, and his eyes wandered to the dark waves again, and he did not speak another word.

“I said no more at that time, but when we were at home again I went to see my little French daughterling and talked to her about it. At first she sobbed for poor Alphonse, but by-and-bye she dried her eyes and owned to liking Ralph, though she did not love him.

“’Liking is enough,’ said I; ‘love will come when you are spliced, and as I stand in the place of a father to you, I think you ought to do as I say, and make Ralph Hawthorne happy.’

“I spoke as I did because I knew that French girls were used to having their matches made for them by their parents, and that the speech would have great weight with her.

“She took my hand and kissed it. ‘ I must obey,’ she said, ‘but I shall never, never be happy with Monsieur Ralph; my heart is in the ocean with Alphonse.’

“I said nothing, for d’ye see I thought the speech meant nothing but a little woman’s coquetry.

“They were married in six months, and I sailed for the first time for years without Ralph Hawthorne. When I came back he brought his wife to see me. She was beautiful in her white dress, with her golden hair coiled in great braids about her shapely head, but she was very pale and her long lashes drooped as sadly as ever over her large eyes. That was one peculiarity about those eyes of hers. They were so shadowed that I never had been able to tell what color they were. Now, when I bent over her, and had both of her little hands in one of my own, she lifted them and looked full at me for the first time. The sight froze my blood. They were blue and beautiful, but out of them, over them, from behind them I could see the sea. It was there as plainly as the eyes themselves was that delicate sea-green shadow, and I knew all at once. The story of the shipwreck was a lie; ‘Alphonse’ and ‘mon père’ were fictions. It was a preconcerted plan hatched amongst the coral reefs. Ralph Hawthorne’s wife was a mermaid . Instead of kissing her I flung her from me.

“’I know you,’ I cried before I knew what I was saying; ‘go back to the sea from whence you came, you French mermaid; you belong there.’

“And she uttered a scream, and crying, ‘Ah, mon Dieu! if I only could,’ fell fainting to the floor.

I thought it was all over between Ralph and I after that, for he told me I was mad, and bade me leave his house, but I wouldn’t go.

“’No, my lad,’ I said, ‘no, you’ll need your old friend more with a mermaid for a wife than you would if you had married a flesh and blood Christian woman.’

“After a while, when she had come out of her swoon, and was lying white and beautiful as any water lily in his arms, Ralph made it up with me, though d’ye see I had to perjure myself by saying it was all a joke (as though she didn’t know better). My excuse is that I did it for the lad’s sake. So I stayed and went to the house often after that, and though I watched Ralph’s mermaid wife I must say I saw no harm in her. So I said to myself, ‘A reformed mermaid ought to be encouraged,’ and next time I came from sea I brought her a lot of shells and china enough to stock her pantry. She never seemed to care for the china, but she would sit for hours with the shells in her lap, dreaming over them and holding them to her ear to hear the roaring of the sea. She said they brought it close to her, and I suppose they did. But she was very mild and sweet, and if I could have seen a child of Ralph’s upon her bosom I think I could have forgotten that she was a mermaid . But two years passed by, and no baby came to look up into her sea-blue eyes with seal-like brown eyes like those of Ralph, and I was not quite at rest with all her sweetness.

“On the 25th of June—no matter in what year—the Cousin Kitty sailed for France, and Ralph Hawthorne and his wife were on board her. She it seems had longed to see her native land again (all pretence I knew), and Ralph told me with tears in his eyes that she would die if she did not go to the France she loved so dearly. I could have told him that it was the sea for which his wife pined, and which she could live without no longer.

“I tackled her with it the first day she came on board.

“’You don’t care for France, Adele,’ said I; ‘you are pining for the ocean, I’m certain.’

“’Yes,’ she answered softly; ‘but, dear monsieur, do not tell Ralph, for it would grieve him, and he is too good to grieve.’

“’Never fear,’ said I. ‘Somebody or other says, where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise, and he was right. I’ll say nothing to the lad.’ And I kept the mermaid ‘s secret.

“Ralph went as a passenger this time, and spent every moment in petting his lily of a wife. Hour after hour he would spend reading to her, her head lying on his shoulder all the while, but I never saw her lay it there voluntarily. She was obedient to him, but as cold as the water from whence she came. The old merman of a father, who got up the match among the coral reefs, had made a mistake. The love was all on Ralph’s side. The ocean was as calm all the way, until what I shall tell you came to pass, as though oil had been poured upon it, and she was always looking down into the water with her sea-green eyes, and her skin grew more and more transparent and her little wrists smaller every day.

“At last, one bright morning, we came in sight of the very rock upon which we had seen L’Esperance stranded three years before, and from the foot of which Ralph Hawthorne had picked up his mermaid wife. We were becalmed there, and such a calm I never knew. There was not breeze enough to lift a thistledown, and sky and water were both red-hot. The moon looked like a copper shield, and all night long it was so bright that you could see every object as plainly as at daybreak. On the first of these awful nights Adele came to me, as I stood leaning over the side, and said, in her own clear voice,

“’Monsieur, will you tell me if those are the rocks?’

“’The rocks?’ I asked, pretending not to understand her, though I did.

“’Where the ship struck—where L’Esperance went down,’she said, and I answered,

“’Yes.’

“’I thought so,’ said she, ‘for listen, monsieur: a moment ago I saw Alphonse, white and wan, with seaweed tangled in his hair, beckoning to me from the water yonder.’

“She looked so wild and spirit-like as she spoke, that I was not sure but that she would melt into the sea until I had her by the arm, and felt solid flesh and bone beneath my fingers.

“’Go to your stateroom, child,’ I said; ‘you are feverish.’

“But all the while she was colder than an icicle, and I knew it. Adele went to her stateroom and lay there all night. The next day she did not rise, but Ralph was not alarmed, for she said she was not ill, but only weary. I knew then, as I know now, that she wanted to keep out of the temptation, which the sight of the sea was to her.

“All this while we were becalmed within sight of those fatal rocks, and the sun went down upon the second day without the prospect of a breeze.

“It was night. Twelve bells had struck, and the watch on deck were changing places with those who had been sleeping. I was too anxious to rest, and stood talking to the man at the wheel. My back, you understand, was toward the staterooms, and I was only aware of what had happened when he let go the wheel, and shouted, in a horrified voice,

“’She’s overboard!’

“’Who is overboard?’ I screamed.

“But the men, who were rushing to let down a boat, could not tell me. A female figure had been seen to glide, ghost-like, across the deck and spring wildly over the side in an instant.

“I went straight to Ralph’s stateroom—the pillow beside him was empty—and I wakened him from the last sweet sleep he ever knew to tell him that Adele was gone.

We never found her body. I never thought we should, for d’ye see we could not get at the coral caves under the sea; but I only spoke a few words of comfort to poor Ralph; it was no time to vex him, his heart was sore enough already. Adele had left a note upon her pillow with Ralph’s name upon it, and in it were these words:

“’Forgive me, you who have been so kind to me. I sin in leaving you only less than in ever having given myself to you while my heart was in the sea. I have seen Alphonse by our bedside every night. Yesterday he beckoned to me from the water. He waits: the very ship stands still that I may go. I dare not stay. Adieu, and forget me.’

“This was all. We had no need to linger near those rocks longer, for a breeze sprung up the moment she was gone, and by daylight we were miles away—miles from those fatal rocks, and my own handsome lad lay raving on his pillow, and did not even know me as I bent above him.

“We made the voyage, and were on our homeward way, and still there was no change in him. With his beautiful eyes for ever open, he babbled of Adele, always, always of the mermaid he had nursed in his warm bosom.

“Again on our return we neared the rocks where L’Esperance had stranded, and once more we were becalmed. The ship was waiting for something, and I guessed what it was, for Ralph grew weaker every day.

“At last, late in the summer afternoon, I heard him utter my name in his own dear voice, and flew to him.

“His eyes were glazing, but they turned lovingly towards me, and he stretched out his hand.

“Good-bye, dear friend,” he said. “I am going to the sea, to meet Adele,” and then his fingers tightened about mine, and bending down to kiss him I saw all was over.

“We buried him in the ocean when the moon was high above the ship, and I could fancy faces in the waves, and see white arms stretched up to catch the beautiful thing we lowered into the waves.

“When the mermaids had what they waited for they let go of the bottom of the ship, and she sailed on again.

“I’ve been upon the sea ever since, but I never care to go in that direction. It would be very hard to pass those rocks where L’Esperance was stranded, and where Ralph’s hope and Ralph, who was my own, went down to meet her wreck amongst the mermaids .”

Frank Leslie’s Weekly 2 August 1862

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A sad case of that well-known maritime disorder: Capture of the Deep.

 

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 Wreath of Orange Blossoms Bathed in Blood: 1860s

STRANGE NIGHT OF HORROR

What I Saw in the Old Upper Chamber.

The Wreath of Orange Blossoms That Was Bathed in Blood

I received an invitation from an old friend of mine, Colonel Armitage, to run down to his house in Berkshire, for some hunting and a couple of balls.

In those days I was some years younger than I am now, and, having but lately returned from India, very keen on all sorts of amusements. I wrote off a hurried note of acceptance, and speedily followed it.

I knew Mrs. Armitage slightly, and was well acquainted with the Colonel’s taste in champagne, besides which I had met, not long before, an uncommonly pretty sister of his, whom I thought it would be by no means unpleasant to meet again; so I started off in the best of spirits.

I calculated a run of two hours would give me ample time for the three miles drive from the station and to dress for dinner at 8. However, vain were my hopes. There was a break down on the line, and we only reached the station at 7 o’clock. I dashed into the carriage sent to meet me, and, arriving at the Grange, found my host alone, awaiting me in the hall, with outstretched hand and genial welcome.

I knew he was a regular martinet for punctuality, so was not surprised when he hurried me up directly to my room. It was a large and well-appointed room, with bright fire and candles.

“All right, old chap, I’ll send Reggie up to show you the way down in a quarter of an hour,” were the Colonel’s last words as he left me to my toilet. Suddenly the gong thundered through the house, and I, thinking I was forgotten, put out my candles and turned to the door—when it was softly opened and a young man appeared who beckoned to me.

I followed him into the passage, which was rather dark, and began to say something expressive of my obligation to him, but he silenced me with a wave of the hand and preceded me, with noiseless steps and averted face, along the passage. I thought this was odd, but my surprise was increased when he took an abrupt turn to the left which I did not remember, and we found ourselves in a long, low, oak-paneled corridor, dimly lighted by a hanging lamp.

I began to feel a curious sensation stealing over me and endeavored to speak, but was withheld by an undefined feeling, so followed my guide in perfect silence to the end of the corridor. He then passed through a green baize door, up a flight of corkscrew stairs and through another passage, still feeling myself impelled to follow till he stopped, opened a door and stood back for me to pass before him.

I had not seen his face before, but had observed he was above the middle height, with a good figure and rather military gait. Now, however, I saw his face; it was ashy white, with such an expression of horror and fear in his widely opened eyes as froze my blood. I again made an ineffectual attempt to speak to him, but he motioned me imperiously to enter, and I felt constrained to obey.

I found myself in an oddly-shaped room. It was evidently an unused apartment, for there was no carpet, and my footsteps sounded hollow on the boards. Between the windows, half in shadow, half in moonlight, stood a large bed. As I gazed upon it my eyes became gradually accustomed to the somewhat dim light, and I observed with a shudder that it was draped with black and decorated with tall black plumes like those on a hearse, and that there was a motionless form extended upon it.

I glance round for my guide—he was gone and the door was shut, though I had heard no sound. A thrill of horror ran through my veins, I felt an almost irresistible desire for flight, but again the inexplicable force urged me on, and I approached the bed with slow and trembling steps.

There lay a young, and, as far as I could see, beautiful girl, dressed as a bride, in white satin and lace, a wreath of orange blossoms on her head and the long white veil covering, though not obscuring her features, but oh! Horror! The front of her dress and vail were all dabbled and soaked in blood which I could see flowed from a deep open gash in her white throat.

My head swam, and I remembered no more.

Suddenly I felt a cold shock in my face, and opened my eyes to find myself on the floor, with my head supported by my kind host. As my bewildered senses reasserted themselves I remembered what I had seen, and, with an exclamation, sprang to my feet. There was the same bed, but in the bright light I saw that it was without the ghastly appendages I had seen before and was totally untenanted. Colonel Armitage began asking me questions, but, seeing that I was too much dazed to answer, he took me by the arm and half led me, half supported me, back to my own room. When there he put me into an arm-chair, gave me a glass of water and exclaimed:

“My dear fellow! What on earth is the matter with you? We sent Reggie up to you, but he came down saying you had gone. We waited ten minutes—then, thinking you had lost your way, instituted a regular search, and I found you in the old chamber, in a dead faint on the floor.

I pulled myself together, and, as collectedly as I could, told him what had happened. He listened with incredulity, and then said:
“My dear Bruce, you have been dreaming.”

“Why,” I said, rather nettled. “how do you suppose I could have dreamed myself into that room? I tell you, Armitage, that I was as wide awake as you are, and am perfectly certain that what I saw was no dream.”

“Look here,” said Armitage seriously, “don’t you go talking about this to anybody but me; of course there are stories about this house, but nobody has ever seen or imagined anything uncanny before, and it will frighten Mrs. Armitage to death if you tell her; she is awfully delicate, and I don’t want to alarm her.”

“All right,” I said, “but I wish it hadn’t happened to me. I feel frightfully shaky still.”

“Oh, nonsense! Come down to dinner; a good glass of champagne will set you to rights,” said he.

Accordingly I made an effort to shake off the depression on my spirits, and went down with him.  The bright lights, cheerful talk and clattering of plates seemed terribly incongruous, and I am afraid pretty Mrs. Armitage must have thought me quite off my head, for I could eat nothing, drank feverishly and replied at random to all her remarks, and condolences, while the dead face of the murdered girl floated before my eyes and nearly distracted me.

“I’m afraid you don’t feel at all well, Captain Bruce,” she said at last.

“Please don’t think me dreadfully rude,” I replied, “but if I could slip out unobserved, I should be most grateful.”

She signaled to Reggie, a bright-faced boy whom I begged to show me upstairs. I literally dared not attempt to find my way up alone for fear of meeting my mysterious guardian.

I went to the glass—and recoiled; I hardly knew myself. My hair lay damply on my forehead, my face as very pale, and there was the haunted look in my eyes I had seen in his.  Very soon the door opened—I started nervously; but it was only the Colonel with a steaming tumbler. “Look here,” he said, “drink this off and get into bed; you’ll be all right in the morning.” I did so, and the punch did send me off into a heavy, dreamless sleep, which lasted till my blinds were drawn up by the servant in the morning letting in fresh sunshine.

A whole day in the saddle and a splendid run, followed by a cozy game of billiards with Miss Mabel Armitage before dinner, decided me, ghosts or no ghosts, not to show myself ungrateful to my kind hosts by cutting short my visit as I had thought of doing.

The next day we spent in the covers, the ladies came out to give us our luncheon, and I came home to dress for dinner in a most jubilant frame of mind, much inclined to put my fate to the touch with Miss Mabel: hoping that, be my deserts as small as they might, I should win, not “lose it all.” Some country neighbors were expected to dinner, and I was standing in a deep window-seat with Mabel and listening to her merry descriptions of them as they were ushered into the room by the stately butler when Sir George and Miss Hildyard” were announced, and there entered—dressed in white—the girl I had seen in my dream!

I stood transfixed, and Mabel exclaimed: “Oh, Captain Bruce, what is the matter?” But I could not answer. Before my eyes rose again that darkened room, that funeral bed, and the lifeless form of her who now advanced toward me, led by Mrs. Armitage.

“Miss Hildyard, Captain Bruce.” I bowed as in a dream, but saw a look of surprise cross her face, and she glanced inquiringly at Mabel, who replied by a reassuring nod.

As soon as I could get an opportunity, I took Colonel Armitage aside, and whispered to him—“For heaven’s sake, Armitage, am I mad? That is the girl.” He shook me impatiently by the shoulder and said, “’Pon my word, Bruce, I begin to think you are. That is one of the nicest girls I know. She’s engaged to Lovett, and they are to be married soon after Easter. For goodness’ sake don’t go, and frighten her by staring like a death’s head.”

After dinner I even ventured to accost Miss Hildyard, whom I found very agreeable, with nothing in the least supernatural about her; so once more I made up my mind that I was the victim of some extraordinary hallucination, and resolved to think of it no more. Well—time passed; I was obliged to say good-by to my kind friends with much regret and returned to my duties.

One day, soon after my return, I was driving down the street with my young brother, when I discerned a figure in the distance walking before us which seemed familiar. The back only was visible, but somehow I knew that tall figure, those broad shoulders, that alert, regular stride.

As we passed he turned his face toward us, and—good heavens! It was he; my guide that terrible night at Medlicott. Was I awake or dreaming?

I stopped the cab, to my brother’s intense surprise, jumped out with what intention I hardly know, and rapidly followed him. He turned up King street and went into a house, opening the door with a latch-key and shutting it behind him. I remained hesitating—what should I do next? I decided on ringing the bell; it was answered by a decorous-looking man servant.

“What is the name of that gentleman who has just gone in here?”
“Mr. Lovett, sir,” was the reply.  I felt stunned. Surely this was more than a coincidence!

The servant looked doubtfully at me. “Want to see him sir?”

“N—no,” I stammered, quite unable to make up my mind.

A week or two passed. I had seen Mabel several times and at last had ventured on asking her that question on which all my happiness depended. I need not describe here my joy at receiving the reply I longed for from the sweetest lips that ever breathed. I implored for a short engagement, and her mother promised I should not have to wait long.

One morning I received a note from some friends asking me to come down for a ball at Ryde. As I had nothing particular to do, and Mabel was away on a visit, I accepted the invitation and went down the same day.

I found my friends had taken rooms in the hotel, and were a large and lively party. In the evening the waiter came to me and asked, apologetically, if I would mind changing my room, which was a large one, for another, as they had received a telegram from a young married couple, engaging a room for that night. Of course I consented to the change, and my things were moved.

After the ball I came to bed at about 3 o’clock in the morning, and was sitting in my open window smoking a cigar. My senses seemed preternaturally sharpened, and above the gentle rush of the waves I could hear somebody breathing in the next room. I listened intently, fearing I knew not what.

The breathing came short, almost in gasps, and I heard stealthy movements. The rest of the hotel was wrapped I sleep. I rose to my feet, feeling sure that something was wrong, when I heard a short struggle, a heavy fall, and a wild piercing scream in a woman’s voice that haunts me still. I rushed to the door, and was met on the threshold by—I knew it!—the man I had seen in my vision before. He was in evening dress, much disordered, his shirt front and right arm were stained with blood, and in his right hand he grasped a razor, from which some ghastly drops still trickled. The light of insanity shone in his eyes, and, with a demonical shriek of laughter, he flung himself upon me.

Now began a most fearful struggle for life. The maniac seemed to have the strength of ten men. However I was soon reinforced by a hurrying crowd of servants and visitors.

He was dragged from me by main force and held down by many hands, while I burst open the next door and entered. Ah! A flood of remorse came over me as I recognized the scene I had feared, nay, I knew I should see.

The moonlight pouring in at the window revealed to me the whole tragedy. There, half on, half off the bed lay that inanimate form, blood-stains all over the clothes and floor. The people who had crowded I after me stood dumb, as in a sort of stupor. I approached the bed and recognized the features of her whom I had known as Agnes Hildyard.

The rest of my story is soon told. I had to give evidence before the Magistrates as to what I had seen, and the unfortunate Lovett, who had sunk into a state of insensibility was removed to the nearest asylum pending the arrival of his friends.

I found that I had received in my struggle with him a severe wound in the shoulder, the loss of blood from which, acting upon a highly excited brain, ensued a severe illness which confined me to my room for many weeks, during much of which time I was delirious.

When at last I crept out into the sunshine I felt my youth had left me forever. I was ordered a long sea voyage, and my brave and loving Mabel insisted upon our immediate marriage. I can not enter into the vexed question of physics. All I know is that these events happened to me exactly as I have written them down, and if I did not act upon them, it was not because I had not been forewarned.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 18 July 1891: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Such psychic warnings pose a pretty problem to those who receive them: precisely how much weight should be given to portents of a dire nature? They are generally easy to dismiss as “hallucinations” or “imagination.” And, as Captain Bruce experienced, seers are often urged to refrain from describing visionary horrors for fear of upsetting the ladies. Mrs Daffodil has written before of a young lady who fortuitously broke off an engagement after her absent fiancee appeared three times in her photographs, standing behind her, holding a dagger in his upraised hand.  It was perhaps the mystic number three that decided her; a common numeral in heeded supernatural warnings. Captain Bruce, having been given only a single warning, (albeit an utterly grewsome one) could scarcely be blamed for not warning the young bride-to-be.

 

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.

 

She Was To Have Been His Bride: 1820s

Mary's ghost a pathetic ballad BL

THE SCHOOLMASTER’S STORY.

The next evening was stormier than the other. In the afternoon the wind hauled into the east, and at nightfall it blew a gale. The rain dashed in fierce gusts against the windows.

“A terrible night on the coast,” said my uncle, as he took his accustomed seat before the glowing hickory fire. “I’d rather be here than tossing about the bay to-night.”

“Yes, or five miles east of High Pound Light,” said Stephen Ford, who was a Truro man.

“Hear the wind roar in the chimney,” said the children.

The schoolmaster was reading by the lamp-stand. But Mary Horton, and I suspect Aunt Sarah also, had not forgotten his promise of a story. So while it was yet early in the evening, the children were, by various inducements, inveigled into retiring; and as soon as they were out of the way, Mary reminded him of his narrative. As all joined with her, he was easily persuaded to lay aside his book and entertain us.

I hardly know, he began, if I ought to divulge a circumstance of so strange and terrible a character; yet as it happened long ago, and the principal parties, none of whom were ever known in this part of the country, are now dead, I think that by altering names and other particulars, I may with propriety do so. We are bound to contribute as much of individual experience as we can (he added, smiling at his own preciseness) to the general stock of information.

Among the students at the college where I received my education, was one towards whom I very early learned to cherish those sentiments which ripen under the lapse of time into the most endearing friendship. William Alison was then a young man in the bloom and promise of life. Delicate and slender in person, yet with a form of masculine mould; in his manners lofty and gentle; alive to all impulses; his graceful forehead just saddened with the paleness of thought; his conversation open and various; he was to my mind the realization of my ideal of a student. It was my pride to make him my friend; and I felt more joy in knowing that we were looked upon by our fellow students as inseparable companions, than in gaining the highest honors of the university.

In the third year after our friendship, Alison was compelled, in consequence of some cause which I have now forgotten, to remain for nearly a term at his home, which was in __ington, about sixty miles from the town where the college was situated. During this time he informed me, in the frankness of youthful correspondence, of an attachment he had conceived for a certain young lady in the neighborhood, and his happiness in believing his affection returned. The young lady’s name he did not mention, though from sundry sonnets he inclosed me, I suspected it must be Ellen, and gathered also that there was some obstacle in the way of their wishes, which they almost despaired of ever being able to remove. When he returned to the university in the term after the summer vacation, I found a marked difference in the character of his hopes and purposes. The whole bent of his existence was changed. Before, he had been the indefatigable student, the example of his class and the pride of our professors and tutors. No labors had been too hard for him, nor was there any department of science or literature into which his mind did not seem to burst with such an eagerness it was as if there had been a latent affinity between his spirit and knowledge. Now, he was another creature. Books for him had lost their charm. He delighted to muse alone, and it was with difficulty I could persuade him into our old topics of talk, in our customary walks and conversations. On one subject only would he willingly dilate—the perfections of the aforesaid Ellen, of whom, for my own part, since by his painting she appeared to be such a miracle as could by no possibility exist in the world, I grew somewhat tired of hearing.

As I might judge from his portraiture, she was a rather slight girl of seventeen or eighteen, with blue eyes and light hair, and a disposition inclining more to tenderness than to gaiety. I imaged to myself, through his descriptions, a creature susceptible to poetic influences as well as to the grosser developments of manly strength; one like Coleridge’s Genevieve, who loves her poet best when he sings to her

“The songs that make her grieve.”

I fancied I could see such a one as nature would choose to be the bride of such a man as Alison—a being capable of loving him as Desdemona loves Othello, for “his mind,” or as poor Ophelia loves her ill-starred prince, for his “noble and most soverain reason,” as well as for his ability to sustain her and minister to her feminine pride. With all my allowance for the exaggeration of his passion, I could not but believe he had found what is so rare in man or woman, that love which is unto the death —that sacred interchange of wills which makes two beings, in deed as well as in form, one flesh and one spirit.

A world of correspondence passed between the lovers, but of this nothing was ever communicated by Alison to me. He could enlarge upon the personal charms of his love; her devotion to him; the high inspiration which her affection breathed into him, and the vision of coming happiness which almost overwhelmed him with its lustre; but his love was not of that kind which requires sympathy. In truth I believe that if there was ever true affection, like that depicted by our great poets, it was experienced then by Alison and his young mistress.

But there was an obstacle. Ellen was the daughter of a poor widow, Alison the heir to wealth. She was without family and without friends, dowered only by her beauty and her love; Alison was descended of a proud stock, and had a mother who, he dreaded, would never hear of his marrying beneath his rank. Their great fear was the apprehension of his mother’s displeasure.

As far as I could gather from what he informed me, it seemed there was little in common between his mother and himself; she was an austere woman, of gloomy religious faith, and almost a monomaniac on the subject of family. He kept the whole affair of his love a secret from her, and intended to win her gradually by ingenious contrivance, to allow him to wed the daughter of one who had been the tenant of a small portion of his paternal acres. His scheme was to bring Ellen by some means, at church or elsewhere, though his mother, he told me, seldom visited, to be acquainted with her; when he hoped that the loveliness of her character could not fail in time of pleasing.

Thus matters stood during the remainder of the time we spent at college. Alison grew more studious and somewhat reserved. It appeared that his love had passed into the depth of his life, and became a part of his very self, so that his whole bearing showed an inward peace, and he was no longer a speculative youthful scholar, but a resolute, laborious man. Yet there was in him no want of sympathy, and we continued firm friends till the day we graduated, when we separated, as class-mates usually do, to meet we knew not when. Alison retired to his estate, and I went to the West, where I found employment in teaching.

For many months we kept up a regular correspondence, but our ways of life were so different, his so quiet, mine so full of excitement, that gradually, though our friendship was unabated, the intervals between our letters grew longer, and at last it occasioned me no surprise that I did not hear from him for nearly half a year.

As it happened, opportunely enough, I was in Cincinnati preparing to return eastward after three years’ absence, when I received one day a letter bearing the postmark of Alison’s village. It may be supposed that not having heard from him for so long, I opened it with no little eagerness, though the handwriting of the superscription was unfamiliar. What was my surprise to find, instead of a letter from my friend, a communication from his mother, informing me that he had been afflicted with an illness which had injured his mind, and requesting me, if possible, to visit them. She stated that since the commencement of his disease, her son had frequently spoken of me, and always in the most affectionate manner, and that one of his favorite occupations was re-reading and re-arranging the numerous letters that had passed between us. He would sit gazing at the parcel which they made for hours together, saying that I was the only true friend he had ever possessed in the world, and lamenting my neglect in not keeping up my correspondence. (This by the way was altogether fancied, for I had written him twice since hearing from him.)

Much grieved by this unpleasant news, respecting one on whose intellectual strength I had so securely relied, and whose noble heart I had so truly loved, I lost no time in replying to the summons. I was to leave the West in a week, and hoped ere another to be able to visit __ington, and render to my friend such assistance as might be in my power. To him also I wrote an apparently careless letter respecting my return to the East, the pleasure it would give me to see him again, and the like, designed to soothe him without betraying any knowledge of his affliction. Within three days after, I was on my way across the mountains, and in little more than seven, had arrived home. I remained but a day or two to exchange greetings with my kindred, my anxiety for Alison urging me to comply with his mother’s request without delay.

I well recollect, though so many years have now passed away, the evening when, after a long day’s ride, I at length dismounted before Alison House. It was in the season of the Indian summer, and the sun was just setting beyond a woodland valley that sloped away in front and exhibited all the variegated richness of our autumnal forests. The mansion, which, though I had never seen it before, I had no difficulty, through my friend’s well remembered descriptions, in recognizing, was an ancient structure, such as there now remain but a few of in the country. In front it was three stories high, with a double roof and narrow projecting windows; on the back the roof sloped down to a single story. The eaves were heavily moulded in the antique fashion, and the glass in the windows looked obscure and weatherworn. In the ends and at the rear I observed several small casements fitted with gothic or lozenge-shaped frames.

Before the house was a narrow green plat or lawn leading down to the gateway, where two pillars of rough masonry, surmounted by wooden urns, stood like sentinels to guard the place from profane intrusion. Some venerable trees waved their arms over this inclosure, and on one side a decaying orchard encroached upon the level sward. On the other were sundry out-buildings, apparently coeval with the principal structure. All the aspect of the place inspired a solemn peace, that sacred, almost religious repose which it brings into the mind to come as it were into the immediate presence of the generation that has passed away. There was no gravel walk leading from the gateway to the entrance, and clumps of lilac and other shrubs had been suffered to spread untrained around the house and against the walls, as if nature loved to contrast the vigor of their youth with the venerableness of its age.

Had it been later in the year, or on a gloomy day, my first impressions of such a scene would have been doubtless far less agreeable; but now, bathed as it was in the full radiance of the sunset, and mingling its impression with the cheerful feelings inspired by the nearness of my friend, and my hopes of aiding him by my presence, it appeared only suggestive of tranquillity.

I passed into the house and was conducted by an aged serving-woman into the presence of the mother of my friend. It was the first time I had ever seen her, and I was destined to a sad disappointment. I hardly know why, but from the moment she greeted me, all my cheerful frame of mind seemed to pass from me like the fading sunlight, and a horrible shadow crept over my spirits, filling me with an indescribable uneasiness.

She was a tall unfeminine person, without any trait of gentleness in form, or voice, or carriage. Her face—I shall never forget it—was characterized only by an expression of cruel, self-denying pride— that peculiar conformation of temper which finds a poison in the most innocent pleasures of life, and tends constantly towards unhappiness, both in itself and those with whom it comes in contact. Her eyes were gray and severe; her forehead contracted; she had prominent cheek bones, an aquiline nose, and pinched lips; altogether her countenance was the most stern and unwomanly I had ever seen in a female—and may God grant I never behold such another!

As I recall the scenes of that memorable night, I seem to see her sitting in her high-backed chair in that dusky parlor, discoursing to me of the condition of her unfortunate son, and impressing me, as she supposed, with her extraordinary sagacity, but in reality astonishing me by the reflection how such a man as my friend could have been the offspring of such a mother. It had appeared to her, she said, that William had grown of late rather over-studious, and to this cause and their retired mode of life, she attributed his malady, which was a sort of melancholy nervousness that led him to pass whole days in his study, almost without food, and permitting no one to approach him. She thought it better to postpone informing him of my arrival until she had spoken with me; this I readily assented to. She believed I could be of infinite service to him by winning him to rides or walks with me in the fields, and that a few weeks of my society would quite restore him to health. The cause of his melancholy being but temporary, a little cheerful society would soon restore him.

I made suitable replies to these observations, and said that I hoped all would succeed as we desired. But I was by no means satisfied with this view of the causes of my friend’s illness. He must, indeed, I said, have studied severely if that had driven him to madness, for his mind was of a texture to bear study as well as any I had known. But his mother persisted in her opinion, and added that he had for the last year or more lived in much too retired a manner; that she had for some time entertained fears for his health, and in order to wean him from study, had contrived a marriage for him with a young lady who was heiress to a large property in the next county, when he was suddenly taken ill.

As she said this I observed that momentary unsteadiness of the eye which the most thorough adepts in falsehood are not always able to avoid, and by which we know that the tongue is uttering what the mind knows to be untrue. I observed this, and I remembered at once what Alison had told me in our college days of his love affair, how much it changed him, and the difficulty he anticipated with his mother. “Ah,” said I, with the assumed nonchalance of a man of the world,” if my friend is grown to be a woman-hater, he is changed indeed. Had he never,” I inquired, “since college times, shown a partiality for any of the sex?” “O yes, he had at one time been quite a lady’s man; that is, he used to visit and amuse himself with the farmers’ girls in the village below. She had not encouraged it. She had heard something, indeed, of a sort of flirtation with a little artful minx who was so presumptuous as even to pay court to herself. But it never came to anything. The hussy had left the village several months, and gone no one knew whither.”

I remarked an unsteadiness when this was saying, not in the eye only, but in the voice and manner. It was evidently the constraint of dissimulation. But I had not time to sift the matter further, for the door of the parlor opened, and in a moment I was grasping by the hand my poor friend, who had, on my arrival being announced to him by the serving-woman, come down at once to meet me.

Time and sorrow had wrought sad changes in his once noble countenance, and fearfully ravaged the graceful beauty of his once healthful form. I read at a glance, in his hollow cheek and eye, and heard in his cavernous voice, that the destroyer had marked him, and that however successful I might be in my endeavors to recover him from his depression, it could never be for a long enjoyment of his society. I might minister to his diseased mind, but no earthly power could arrest the progress of consumption. I should restore him only to watch at his death-bed.

We sat and conversed of old times, for his affliction did not reach his reason, until I was convinced that he was suffering more from general decay than from any organic affection, arising from what cause soever. He grew faint with the effort of speaking, and was obliged to recover himself by intervals of rest. These his mother by her looks to me evidently considered as simple wanderings of his intellect. She encouraged him accordingly to converse, and urged him to partake more of the tea, which was in the meantime brought in by the housekeeper, than he would have desired. She did not appear to be in the least aware of his actual condition. In her manner towards him she mingled none of that gentleness, none of those kind tones which are so soothing to the exhausted nerves of the sick. On the contrary, she appeared quite rough and dictatorial, as though in my coming she had gained a point, and was now securing the attainment of her wishes. Grim and rigid, she sat in her upright chair and doled us out a thin infusion that kept no promise to the taste, meanwhile talking on in the very presence of her wretched son, of schemes and plans which it was plain he was well aware could never be realized. It seemed she was one of those women who have man’s desire for control, and that she had been accustomed to assume the entire management of her son; he deferring to her out of long habit, and because he was too affectionate to wish to undeceive her. I made one or two attempts to check her by exposing her pride and wickedness, but my friend rebuked me with glances which seemed to say, “Let her alone—it will soon be over!”

After tea I went up with him to his chamber. It was a dark old room, with antique presses and chairs, and cold—very cold—one of those rooms which strike upon the senses with a funereal chilliness. We sat upon a faded sofa that stood against the eastern wall, and talked of former days and hopes departed. My own life had not been unchequered by grief, and in endeavoring to probe the rooted sorrow of my friend, I was obliged to go over much which even now I struggle to forget.

But at length I wrung from him his secret. It was, as I suspected, no excess of application that had jangled the harmony of his soul. Ellen—it was she who was the burden of his lamentations—once she was his, and now she was lost forever. Where was she? He had searched the country over for tidings of her; he had spent days and weeks, and employed the best assistance money could buy. But never since one fatal evening in the May that was past was he able to hear aught concerning her. She was to have been his bride; they had loved long; they had been patient. He had been dutiful, and his mother he thought would have yielded. She had relaxed so far even as to invite Ellen to the house, and had seemed to countenance her efforts to please. On the very evening, she had come up to the mansion with a bouquet of flowers from her own garden; he was to have met her here, and they thought then to have joined in asking his mother’s consent to their union. But an accident to his horse had delayed him in returning from a neighboring town; Ellen was forced to walk down alone, and that was the last ever seen of her. Was not this enough to make him weary of life? Had she sickened and died, or even been taken away by some sudden and dreadful accident, he could have borne it with fortitude. But now what might she not have undergone? In what secret den of hell might not her beauty be the spoil of ravishers and murderers? Feeble as he had seemed, while he spoke thus he started up in agony, and his voice rang loud and hollow. I trembled lest when the paroxysm passed I should see him fall and die before my face. I exerted all my art to soothe and divert him. We would speak of it to-morrow, I said, but that in the meantime he must be quiet. I appealed to his pride—to his Christian’s faith. At last he softened, and allowed himself to let me assist him to his couch.

As I descended from his apartment I met his mother in the hall. She was coming, she said, to conduct me to my chamber. As I took the candle from her withered and bony fingers, I glanced at her face. She saw that I had heard the truth and more than suspected her falsehood. But she would not relent; it seemed she expected to overawe me by the same stern authority she exercised upon her son. “My God!” I could not help exclaiming as then a horrible suspicion crossed my mind. She grew deadly pale and pointed to the door of the room I was to occupy. I went in mechanically and locked the door with violence.

I knew not why, but I remember that I then examined the apartment all over with the light. I felt as though there were some dreadful influence in the very air of the house—an indefinite apprehension oppressed me. Thoughts that I dared not entertain floated into my mind. Did I hear a noise? I looked so long in one direction that I shuddered to turn to look in another. The candle burnt low—I could not bear to be in darkness—sleep was out of my power. While the wick fell I raised the heavy sash, and looked forth into the night.

There was a full moonlight, whose radiance fell softly on the valley, and the air was calm and filled with the fragrance of autumn. As I gazed, my nerves grew tranquil; the peace of the scene passed into my soul, and I smiled at my late perturbations. It could not be, methought; the world is not so bad; I misjudge my species. And then I grew abstracted with watching the effects of the moonlight cm the masses of foliage and the broad shadows beneath.

I was looking thus towards the orchard, when I perceived up the vista made by two rows of trees, something white, which appeared to be slowly moving. At first I paid no particular attention to it, thinking it must be a dog or cow. But now it approached, and I saw it was upright— could it be a man? Alas! God help me! it was no human creature, but a sheeted figure, which I knew by its gliding to be a bodiless visitant from the world of shadows! The blood froze in my veins as I marked its steady advance. I tried to shout, but could only groan, as in a dream. It was all enwrapped in white, so that I could see no face, and it came directly below and before my eyes to the very door of the house, and I saw it enter!

Presently—all the wealth of the universe would not tempt me to undergo it again— the house rang with shrieks—loud, agonized. I sprang to my feet and seized a chair, not knowing what I did. But immediately I heard the voice of the old servant, who occupied the chamber adjoining mine, crying “Fire!” and this recalled me to my senses. I opened the door and went to her room, the shrieks still continuing, though more faintly, and seeming to proceed from below.

But I need not narrate circumstantially all that followed. By the time we had obtained a light, and proceeded to the old woman’s apartment, the shrieks (which were found to come from thence) had fallen to low groans, and when we stood around her bedside she was past recognising even her son, whose presence appeared but to increase her agonies. She died raving, and the ghastly look of her stiffening features was awful.

My unhappy friend did not long survive the shock of his mother’s sudden death. He died peacefully. I never told him what I had witnessed. Indeed for a long while I was never sure that it was not an illusion of my senses caused by fatigue and excitement.

But upon the death of my friend the estate passed into the hands of a distant connexion, a worthy man, who is still living. He had the house torn down and replaced by a more comfortable dwelling, and made also many improvements on the adjacent grounds. In removing the orchard, which had long ceased to be productive, they found an old well, of whose existence none but the housekeeper had any knowledge; it was covered by a thin slab of slate, almost overgrown with grass and briers. Thinking it might be rendered serviceable, the proprietor a few years ago determined to have it cleaned, and in performing that operation the workmen drew up in the first buckets what proved to be the bones of a human skeleton. The circumstance naturally made some noise in that neighborhood; to me it was the solving of a fearful mystery. I went to see the bones, and from a plain gold ring which was found along with them I knew they must be those of Ellen. The ring had been made smaller by a clumsy workman. I remembered when my friend had it done. I gave no hint of my knowledge to others, for the innocent and the guilty were both gone to their account; but ever since then I have had no doubt in my own mind that Ellen was murdered by the mother of my friend, either pushed into this well as they were walking there, which might easily have been done, or made away with in some other manner and thrown there afterwards. And I cannot but believe it was her injured spirit which I saw, and which Heaven instructed to be the minister of its vengeance upon such atrocious wickedness. G. W. P.

American Review: A Whig Journal Devoted to Politics and Literature, Volume 8: October 1848: pp 411-420

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil really has nothing more to add to this story of a woman who would have surely been the mother-in-law from Hell and who, if the narrator had his way, would surely have gone hence.

Undine of Strange Company gives us another, brilliant example of a mother-in-law from Hell.

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.