“ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES ”
By E. M. DUCAT
Mr. and Mrs. Davis are Anglo-Indians, the most hospitable of a proverbially hospitable class. Mr. Davis is also a great sportsman. In India, during one cold weather, they were exceedingly kind to, and entertained for several weeks, a certain Mr. Thompson, who had been, previously, a complete stranger to them, but who had come to their part of the country for big game shooting, and between whom and Mr. Davis a great friendship had sprung up, on account of their mutual sporting proclivities.
On his departure, Mr. Thompson gave a most pressing invitation to his hospitable host and hostess to come, on their return to England, and pay a visit to himself and his wife at their country home in __shire.
Mr. and Mrs. Davis accepted the friendly invitation, and the next time they were home on leave in England they duly paid the visit. They had never before seen Mrs. Thompson, and knew nothing about the family; but Mr. Thompson had told them that his children were grown up, and had left home.
The evening of their arrival, Mrs. Davis went up rather early to dress for dinner. The door between her room and the large room allotted to her husband as a dressing-room was a-jar. She was pottering about her room, arranging her belongings and settling herself comfortably into her new quarters, when she heard a most piteous sobbing and moaning, which seemed to issue from somewhere close by.
She stopped her occupation and listened. Ever persistently the sounds continued, without intermission —emitted evidently by some child in dire distress, who was crying as if its heart were breaking.
Such inconsolable grief was terrible to hear, and Mrs. Davis felt she could not stand it any longer without trying to find out where the child was and what was the matter with it. The noise sounded so close—apparently in the adjoining room— surely no child could be in there, in her husband’s dressing room? Mrs. Davis advanced towards the communicating door to investigate the affair.As she did so, she caught sight of a small figure at the further end of the large room.
It was a little girl of about four years of age, dressed in a brown-holland over-all tied under the arms with a wide, blue ribbon sash. She stood wringing her hands and moaning, and anon bending down and tearing with her wee fingers, and with an air of despairing pertinacity, at one particular spot in the carpet, while tears coursed down her cheeks and sobs convulsed her tiny frame.
For one instant astonishment arrested Mrs. Davis and held her dumb, gazing at the spectacle; the next, she advanced into the dressing-room, exclaiming with concern—“My poor little girl! What is the matter?”
The child took not the slightest notice of the interruption, but continued her strange behaviour and sobbing, as if she had not heard Mrs. Davis speak. Mrs. Davis walked right across the room towards her.
“Tell me, little one, why are you crying?—and what are you trying to do to that carpet ? ”
She was just about to stoop down and touch the child, when, without uttering a word, it turned suddenly away, and burying its face in its hands, ran, still sobbing, out of the room.
Mrs. Davis followed instantly to the door and gazed up and down the passage, looking to see where the child had gone; but not a trace of it was visible in either direction.
It having vanished into thin air and all sounds of sobbing having completely ceased, Mrs. Davis, after standing for a few minutes irresolute in the doorway, turned back and re-entered the room. When her husband came up to dress, she recounted what had taken place, and wondered who the child was, as Mr. Thompson had told them his children were all grown up, and none of them here.
Mr. Davis agreed that it was rather curious, but suggested that probably the little girl was a grandchild, and said, as his wife seemed so concerned about the matter, that he would ask Mr. Thompson who the child was, and tell him it was in distress over something.
Accordingly when they entered the drawing-room—where Mr. and Mrs. Thompson already were—Mr. Davis went up to Mr. Thompson and remarked—“Didn’t you say your children are all grown up? Is that then your grandchild upstairs, who has been crying in our room?”
Mr. Thompson started violently. He turned a countenance towards Mr. Davis the expression of which dumbfounded the latter. Never had he seen any face express such scared agony.
“There is no child in this house,” said Mr. Thompson hurriedly, in a low voice, and speaking as if with difficulty.
“Oh! but pardon me, my dear fellow, there is!” laughed Mr. Davis, “for my wife saw it not an hour ago! It was in our room, sobbing and crying and seemingly in great distress over something or other. Freda is quite concerned about it, and hopes you will find out what is the matter with the child and do——”
*”Hush-sh!” whispered his host in his ear, laying a restraining hand upon his arm, while he cast an apprehensive glance towards his wife, as if dreading lest she should have overheard Mr. Davis’ speech. ” After dinner I will tell you all about that child; in the meantime, pray say nothing more on the matter. I will explain all, afterwards, in private.”
Following Mr. Thompson’s glance, Mr. Davis perceived that Mrs. Thompson had turned ashy white, was trembling like an aspen and clutching at the edge of the table near her, as if to prevent herself from falling in a faint.
Realizing that he had unwittingly made a faux pas, Mr. Davis hastened, with ready tact, to change the conversation, and welcomed the opportune arrival of the butler, announcing the dinner, as putting an end to a more than proverbially trying mauvais quart d’heure.
After dinner, over their wine, Mr. Thompson, on his own initiative, confided to his friend the following explanation of the skeleton in his cupboard that had that day been laid bare to the gaze of his friends.
The child that Mrs. Davis had seen crying in the bedroom was Mr. and Mrs. Thompson’s own child; but it had been dead for years.
Throughout those years it had continued, at intervals, to appear to various people—always sobbing and wringing its hands and moaning in the broken-hearted manner that Mrs. Thompson had described. It took no notice of any one, and although more than once it had been spoken to by different people who had seen it, it had never paid the slightest attention, nor had it ever replied to any one’s interrogations.
The subject was the more intensely painful to Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, for the reason that the child had died under distressing circumstances, believing itself to be in disgrace and still unforgiven.
The facts were, that the little girl one morning was, as usual, playing in her mother’s room while the latter was dressing, and was amusing herself with her mother’s rings, which were lying on the dressing-table. When the nurse came to fetch the child, it, unknown to any one, went away still holding in its hands one of the rings.
As soon as Mrs. Thompson was dressed, she found that this particular ruby ring was missing, and went at once to the nursery to recover it from the child, who, she felt convinced, must have gone off with it. The children, however, had already departed with the nurse for their walk, and there was no sign of the ring anywhere to be seen.
At midday, when the children returned, Mrs. Thompson immediately sent for the baby and questioned her about the ring. The child at once admitted having taken it, but said she could not tell where it was now, because she had lost it.
Very much vexed, for the ring was a valuable and favorite one, Mrs. Thompson asked the child where she had lost it? The little girl replied that she could not remember.
Mrs. Thompson urged her and coaxed her to try and remember where she had lost it; but all the child would reply was that she had “lost it down a hole,” and whether indoors, or out-of-doors, or where, she could not, or would not, say.
From the child’s manner, Mrs. Thompson felt sure she knew, really, perfectly well where the ring was, but that she didn’t wish to have to part with it, and had, for that reason, hidden it away somewhere on purpose, and refused, willfully, to divulge where.
She therefore told the child that she was a very naughty girl to have taken away the ring and to have lost it, and until she could remember and confess where she had lost it, and restore it, she must consider herself in disgrace.
The child, who was a most sensitive little thing, was very much upset on being told this, and went crying out of the room, reiterating her former asseveration that she could not remember where she had lost the ring, but it was “down a hole.”
Two or three days passed and still the child never divulged where she had put the ring, although she seemed to feel very keenly being in disgrace, and was most unhappy and always begging to be forgiven.
As every one was convinced she could very well tell, if she chose, where “the hole” was, in which she had hidden the ring, it was thought advisable to continue to keep her in disgrace, in order that she might the sooner confess, and the valuable ring be recovered.
Not many days later, however, the child fell ill, and rapidly developed a serious fever. In her delirium she did nothing but rave about the subject of the lost ring. She maintained just what she had declared when well, that she had dropped the ring down some hole, but that she could not remember where the hole was. She implored deliriously for forgiveness.
Mrs. and Mr. Thompson, the nurse, the doctor, every one who attended her bedside, assured her over and over again that she was believed and forgiven,—but in vain. The words conveyed no meaning to the poor little delirious brain ; and it was without regaining consciousness, and while still believing herself to be in disgrace, that the child died.
This was the tale that Mr. Thompson related that night to Mr. Davis, as the two men sat over their wine. The unfortunate father was quite overcome with grief, even at recounting the tragedy. At the conclusion, he said to his friend, in a choked voice—“Neither I nor my wife has ever got over the loss of that child, and this periodic reappearance of our poor little dead girl, still wailing for a forgiveness that we were, and are, unable to make it understand was long ago granted, keeps perpetually opening and bleeding a wound that is too deep ever to heal.”
This painful story, Mr. Davis, at his host’s request, repeated that night to his wife, in explanation of the sight she had witnessed. Miss. Davis, naturally, was much moved at the narration— not only that, she was also greatly excited.
“And has the lost ring never been found?” she inquired eagerly.
Her husband replied no, that he believed that, to that day, it had never been recovered.
“Then I am convinced that where the child was scratching at the carpet is where the ring is! ” exclaimed Mrs. Davis. “It was trying to get at something, in or under the carpet at that spot! That would explain perfectly its extraordinary actions! And all its grief seemed to be caused by its inability to accomplish its purpose! You may be sure that is for what the child comes back!—it wants to recover that ring which it believes must be found before it can obtain its parents’ forgiveness. Do let us ask Mr. Thompson to have the carpet taken up and a search made! I can show the precise spot which the child indicated. Surely it is worth a search!”
“My dear Freda,” replied Mr. Davis, “you forget. The child has been dead for years. The carpet must have been up a dozen times between then and now.”
“But no search has ever been made beneath it at that spot, you may be sure ! ” said Mrs. Davis. “Do, do ask to have the carpet taken up that we may see what is under it!”
“I really don’t like to broach the subject again,” said Mr. Davis; “I can’t tell you how frightfully cut up poor Thompson is still about this whole business. He says he shall never get over it. I should hate to have to mention again such a terribly painful subject. We had much better say nothing more about it.”
But Mrs. Davis was so insistent, she prevailed.
Mr. Davis repeated to his host his wife’s remarks and request.
Mr. Thompson said he would be most glad to have a search made if Mrs. Davis would point out the spot. He said that as that room had been the children’s day-nursery formerly, it was quite possible that it was in that room that the ring had been lost by the child, and if the desire to recover and restore the missing property was what prevented the child from resting in her grave, willingly would he order the whole house to be pulled down if there were any chance thereby of obtaining the desired result.
Accordingly, after Mrs. Davis had marked the position where the child stood, the carpet was removed. No ring was to be seen; but there was a tiny chink between two of the boards in the floor, just at that spot.
There had been no carpet in the room in the days it was used as a nursery—the child had always said the ring was “down a hole ”—perhaps it had fallen through that chink in the boards? A carpenter was called in and the boards were taken up.
Beneath, on the lathes of the ceiling of the room below, like a drop of ruddy heart’s-blood, gleamed the red ruby of the long-lost ring!
Many are the years that have now elapsed since that eventful day, but never, during the whole of that time, has any living soul in that house again set eyes on a forlorn little figure, weeping and wailing and wringing its hands.
The Occult Review January 1909: pp. 19-24
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A painful story. Mrs Daffodil hopes that none of her readers would be so unfeeling as to keep a child in disgrace over a piece of jewellery, no matter how prized or valuable. Mrs Daffodil does not like to be severe, but she feels strongly that, although Mrs Thompson suffered dreadfully in the loss of her little daughter, the mother must accept some blame in the matter for leaving the rings on her dressing-table. When finding the ring gone, Mrs Thompson’s first thought was not to suspect the servant of having taken the ring, but that her daughter had pilfered it. This obviously was not the first time; sadly, it was the last…
Eva M. Ducat was a writer of pony stories, the Ponies of Bunts series, written with Marjorie Mary Oliver. Mrs Daffodil regrets that she does not know any more about Miss Ducat or how she came to write this story.
Mrs Daffodil has previously shared another story of a lost ruby ring and how it was found in this post.
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.