Category Archives: Mourning

A Ghost With a Broomstick: 1901

beaded funeral wreath

Beaded French funeral wreath or immortelle.

A GHOST WITH A BROOMSTICK.

After Burying His Wife Schernel Went Home and Felt Her Wrath Physically.

Some days ago a joiner named Louis Schernel, living in the rue d’ Alsace in Levallois-Perret (Seine) took his wife to the Beaujon hospital for treatment. Then he went on a spree, which he kept up for two weeks.

At the end of that period he thought it was about time for him to visit his wife and find out how she was progressing. He went to the hospital and asked to see Mme. Schernel.

The clerk, not catching the name precisely, fancied that he asked for “Mme. Cermel,” a woman who had died just two days before and whose body was about to be taken to the cemetery.

“There is her funeral starting now,” said the official, pointing to a hearse.

There were no mourners to follow the hearse. The dead woman was poor and friendless. Schernel, convinced that his wife’s body was in the hearse, followed It to Saint-Ouen. The last prayers were recited, and while the gravedigger was filling up the grave Schernel knelt and prayed, after which he left the cemetery and purchased a wooden cross and a wreath in a store adjoining the place. He placed them carefully on the grave, knelt again in prayer, and then proceeded to the nearest saloon to mend his broken heart. He continued his spree for five days more. Meanwhile his wife returned from the hospital sound in body and mind. She heard of her husband’s prolonged spree, but knew nothing of her supposed funeral.

While she was shopping he returned in a glorious condition, and, without undressing, threw himself on the bed. She returned to find him snoring like a foghorn. She allowed him to sleep for some hours, and at last proceeded to wake him up with a broomstick. She succeeded marvellously.

With a yell Schernel jumped up and ran out of the house. At full speed he fled through the streets until he came to the police station. There he told the officer in charge that the ghost of his wife was in his house raising Cain.

The officer thought he was crazy. But to investigate the affair he went to the Schernel home, and sure enough, there he found Mme. Schernel putting the place in order and very much astonished at the precipitate flight of her husband.

A little inquiry developed the truth in the case, but Schernel insists that he is a widower and that the ghost of his wife haunts his house. Now nothing can induce him to go home. But later on the ghost will have something to say in the matter. Paris correspondence of the New York Courrier des Etats Unis.

The Clayton [AL] Record 7 March 1901: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  M. Schernel seems to be in denial, while Mme. Schernel, a lady of considerable sang froid, in Mrs Daffodil’s opinion, seems to have taken her husband’s sprees in stride. One shudders to think how vigorously that broomstick would have been deployed if Mme. Schernel had returned to find that her “widower” had decided during one of those sprees that it was not good for man to be alone and had brought home a new bride.

Some gentlemen were remarkably premature in making such arrangements:

A dying woman in Leavenworth overheard her husband make proposals of marriage to a servant girl. She didn’t die.

The Daily Phoenix [Columbia SC] 10 November 1870: p. 3

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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Garters of Funereal Black: 1909

1910 french mourning catalog merry widow

A very merry widow from a 1910 catalogue of mourning goods.

A wife, pretty enough to warrant her desire for decorative garments, wasn’t appreciated by her grouchy husband. He was kicking hard at a batch of lingerie which she was trying to make him pay attention to. She appeared before him in a film of lace.

“What do you call that?” he growled; “it looks to me like a fishnet that has caught a mermaid.”

“I’ll swear solemnly that only one idea was in my mind when I had this sent home on approval,” she sobbed. “I said to myself, how proud it’ll make my husband to see me in it—in case of a fire.”

That plea won. The man bade her keep the garment. A pair of jeweled black garters were next to be offered for his scrutiny. Their price was $10.

‘I can see why those Rhinestone diamonds catch your eye,” he grunted, “But why, oh, tell me why, have jet-black garters on flesh-tint silk stockings?”

She took to weeping to get an idea. Her gasps and moans broke him all up, and he asked what she was crying about.

“If I must tell,” she slowly said, ‘twixt sobs, “I will, though I meant to keep the secret locked within my own breast. My dear brother, who died only a few weeks ago, was a stickler for all the conventional usages of mourning, while you disapprove strongly of wearing black in token of grief. Well, there I was in a dilemma. My dear brother would want me to put on black for him, but my dear alive husband would be offended by it. I hit on a way to honor bruddy’s memory without disregarding hubby’s desire. I wouldn’t change any of my garments to the hue of mourning, but, quite unknown to all save you, me and the spirit of my departed brother, I would wear these garters of funereal black. I was caught and rended between love and duty, and I fondly hoped I had solved a complex problem sentimentally. However, if you object, then—“

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 April 1909: p. 40

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One can only admire the lady’s talent for improvisation and her patience with that growling husband….

Calls for mourning reform from those who believed it to be unwholesome and over-costly echo down the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Mrs Daffodil suspects that the husband above objected principally to the cost, although his ghost would have been greatly offended if his wife did not put on full mourning after his passing. Here is an eloquent plea for the mourning band:

How long are we all to slavishly bow to this unwritten law of mourning, which forces us to adopt a custom inartistic and unsanitary, a blot upon the beauty of the world. a depression upon the nerves and spirits of the entire family, and very often a cruel tax upon the purse, for “mourning” and debt are only too often interchangeable terms. Why can we not break away from this tyrannical old law? There are women who, being widowed, abandon colors utterly and absolutely, just as some mourning mothers find a sorry comfort in wearing densest black as an outward expression of “that within which passeth show,” and their sincerity lends dignity and pathos to the mourning garb. But only think of the thousands who, for aunt or uncle, cousin (distant or near) or for relatives by marriage, resentfully don the purely conventional mourning, that they hate as a restraint and loathe as unbecoming;

Why may we not adopt in such cases the mourning band about the arm, securely stitched to the left sleeve of coat or jacket? It is too modest to mar either costume or suit, while it quietly and effectively announces our loss and expresses our respect.

The etiquette of mourning, like the man who drinks, or is addicted to drugs, demands a steady “tapering off”.” You should pass from crape to plain black–thence to black and white–thence to lavender and gray, and thus gently glide into blues, pinks, etc. But sometimes the deepest mourning is the briefest.

The Pittsburg [PA] Press 3 June 1906: p. 41

 

For more on the nuances and curiosities of Victorian mourning, Mrs Daffodil recommends The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available for Kindle.

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 Noble Revenge: 1868

child pine coffin

The Noble Revenge

The coffin was a plain one—a poor miserable pine coffin. No flowers on its top, no lining of the rose-white satin for the pale brow; no smooth ribbons about the coarse shroud. The brown hair was laid decently back, but there was no crimped cap, with its neat tie beneath the chin. The sufferer from cruel poverty smiled in her sleep; she had found bread, rest, and health.

“I want to see my mother,” sobbed a poor child, as the city undertaker screwed down the top.

“You can’t—get out of the way, boy, why don’t somebody take the brat?”

“Only let me see her one minute;” cried the hopeless, helpless orphan, clutching the side of the charity box, and as he gazed into the rough face anguishing tears streamed rapidly down the cheek, on which no childish bloom ever lingered. Oh! It was pitiful to hear him cry “Only once, only once, let me see my mother.”

Quickly and brutally the hard-hearted monster struck the boy away, so that he reeled from the blow. For a moment the boy stood panting with grief and rage, his blue eyes distended, his lips sprang apart, a fire glittering through his tears as he raised his puny arm, and with a most unchildish accent screamed, “When I’m a man I’ll kill you for that.”
There was a coffin and a heap of earth between the mother and the poor, forsaken child—a monument stronger than granite, built in his boy heart to the memory of the heartless deed.

* * *

The Court House was crowded to suffocation.

“Does any one appear as this man’s counsel? Asked the judge.

There was silence when he finished, until, with lips tightly pressed together, a look of strange intelligence blended with haughty reserve upon his features, a young man stepped forward with a firm tread and kindly eye, to plead of the erring and friendless. He was a stranger but from his first sentence there was a silence. The splendor of his genius entranced—convinced.

The man who could not find a friend was acquitted.

“May God bless you, I cannot.”

“I want no thanks,” replied the stranger with ice coldness.

“I—I believe you are unknown to me.”

“Man! I will refresh your memory. Twenty years ago you struck a broken-hearted boy away from his mother’s coffin. I was that poor boy.”

The man turned livid.

“Have you rescued me, then, to take away my life?”

“No. I have a sweeter revenge; I have saved the life of a man whose brutal deed has rankled in my breast for twenty years. Go! And remember the tears of a friendless child.”

The man bowed his head in shame and went from the presence of a magnanimity as grand to him as incomprehensible, and the noble young lawyer felt God’s smile in his soul forever after.

The Olathe [KS] Mirror 5 March 1868: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A pauper’s funeral was the final insult to the poor, who often went into debt–foolishly, said social reformers–to provide a decent burial for their loved ones. While undertakers were sometimes accused of exploiting the poor–quoting them a price for a funeral that was precisely the amount that the burial club had just paid out–they also waited years for payment that sometimes did not come.

One wonders what crime the city undertaker had committed to bring him within the shadow of the gallows. Mrs Daffodil suspects that he had a lucrative contract to provide subjects to the local medical school and, needing to fill his quota, he helped some clients  to join the Choir Invisible prematurely.

 

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.

 

Her Fourth Husband: 1910

 

widow jones suits me button

HER FOURTH.

By M. Quad.

Copyright, 1910, by Associated Literary Press.]

“What in tarnation is this about your marrying Jim Carter yesterday?” said Henry Doty to Eunice Smith.

“We were married,” was the reply.

“But I was going to marry you myself!”

“I never knew it. You never said anything about it.”

“And you won’t get a divorce from Jim?”

“Of course not.”

“By gum, Eunice, this is using a man mighty mean! I was jest taking time to think things over, and you go off and marry. It’s a mean trick on a feller!”

“Oh, there are other girls.”

“But I don’t want ’em. I want you, and I’m going to stay single till my chance comes.”

It came in about a year. James Carter was assisting a neighbor to load saw logs when one of them broke loose and rolled over him, and he was no more. Henry Doty didn’t rejoice, but he was on hand at the funeral. He oversaw things for the widow for three or four days and then returned to his job. As he held her hand and bade her goodby he said:

“Eunice, there was something I wanted to say to you, but it slipped my mind. Mebbe I’ll think of it next time I come.”

The widow returned to her parents, and the hired man made her a call three or four times a week, but he never talked love. He simply thought love when he was alone. They’d get married when the year was up, and when they got to the Falls they’d put up at the best house and hang the expense. Fourteen months had passed, and Henry was thinking of tying a string around his thumb to make him remember to ask Eunice that question when he was suddenly told that she had married a wire fence man who was working in the neighborhood. He greased his boots and combed his hair and went over to the house to say: “Eunice, If you’ve gone and done it again I can never forgive you! You knew I was calculating to marry you myself.”

“But you never said anything about it,” she retorted.

“But I was getting ready to.”

“If you’d only said”—

“Oh, well, I’ll have to stand it, I suppose. Mebbe it’s all for the best. Mebbe the living will be cheaper by that time. I’m going to keep right on jest as I am till I get you.”

Mr. Davis, the second husband, was fat and rugged and seemed good for forty years more of life, but one can never tell about those things. He was made a very happy man by the marriage and continued in the wire fence business to make others happy. After eight months had gone by he was putting up a fence for a farmer one day when a thunderstorm came up. Mr. Davis had his hands on the wire when the electric fluid found it and shocked him to death. Queerly enough, Henry Doty was driving past in a wagon at the time and was the messenger to announce the sad news to the double widow. He realized that it was no time to speak of a bridal trip then and held his peace.

Once more the widow came back to the old home, and things went on as before. Henry returned to the habit of dropping in frequently, and he only waited for the days to pass until he could ask the question always uppermost in his mind. One evening he presented himself with a string twisted around his thumb, but when the widow called his attention to it he couldn’t remember what he had made sure not to forget. Now and then the farmer for whom he labored and who knew his thoughts would jog him with:

“Henry, the time is passing along, and the widow may step off again any day.”

“But I don’t hear of anybody being after her.”

“You don’t always hear about such things. Widows step right off without much courting.”

“Yes, I must speak to Eunice. I was a-thinking this afternoon I would.”

But he didn’t. He just let things drift on, and one Sunday evening he dropped in just after she had married the rural mall carrier on that route.

Henry was indignant and desperate.

“Why didn’t you say something!” he demanded of the bride.

“Why didn’t you?”

“Say, this is throwing a good man down powerful hard. This is the third time I’ve lost you!”

“But you’ve never said you wanted me. You don’t expect a woman to pop the question, do you?”

“All right, Eunice—all right. I can wait. Bound to get you and make a trip if I wait long enough.”

“It was just eleven months to a day that as the carrier came to a narrow place in the highway he encountered a load of hay. In trying to pass it his cart was upset, and when it was righted he was found with a broken neck. Henry Doty was coming up with a freshly killed hog in his wagon, and as soon as he ascertained what had happened he chucked the hog out of the wagon and drove back three miles with the horses on a dead run. Eunice happened to be at the gate when he  drove up, and he called to her:

“Eunice, get a pencil and write it down that I’m here on the spot.”

“But for why?”

“And that I ask you to marry me when the year is up.”

“Why. Henry, what can you mean!”

“And that we take in Niagara Falls and all of Buffalo on our wedding trip and that we love each other till death do us part”

And it was said that the fourth husband was the happiest of all.

The Hot Springs [SD] Weekly Star 10 March 1910: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The lady must have possessed considerable property or personal fascinations to “step off” as often as she did. Mrs Daffodil is not sure that someone as dilatory as Mr Doty is a wise spousal choice, but Eunice née Smith cannot say she was not warned.  She seemed to enjoy a variety of husbands and was happy enough to take her chances that the reticent fellow would never Speak his Love.

 

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 Mother’s Ghost Visits Her Child: 1870s

1870s mother and child

A PLEASANT GHOST STORY

Supposed Visit of a Dead Mother to Her Child

A rather a queer story is told and can be vouched for by over a dozen persons in Springfield. It appears about three years ago a young man living in Summit got married, and in due time his wife gave birth to a child, which was a girl. When the child was about one year old the mother died. About five months later the young widower became lonely and took unto himself another wife. But before doing so he took all his first wife’s clothing, packed it in a trunk, locked it up, and allowed no one to have charge of the key but himself. Among the clothing put away was her wedding shawl and a pillow his wife had made for her first-born, and also some toys she had bought just before she died. Then he brought home wife No. 2, who, it is said, made as good a mother as the average step-mothers do. Things went on lively till one night last week, when there was a party at the next neighbor’s house. So, after putting the babe in its little bed, the father and mother No. 2 went over to spend the evening at the party. Shortly after they left, two men came along on their way to the party also. They saw a wonderful light in the house as though it might be on fire. They also heard the cries of the babe, as though in great pain. They went to the house, and as soon as they reached the door the light went out, and all was silent as the grave within. They hastened on to the house where the party was and told the man what they had seen and heard in his house as they came by. Five or six men, including the owner of the house, started to investigate the report. When they arrived they found every room and door fast as they were when the owner left. On going inside everything was found to be in its place except the child, which, after a long search, was found upstairs under the bed on which its mother died, covered up with its mother’s wedding shawl and its little head resting on the pillow its mother made for it, sound asleep. Alongside of it lay its playthings. On examining the trunk it was found to be locked and nothing missing except the above mentioned articles. Now, how the things got out of the trunk and the key in the owner’s pocket, and he half a mile from it, and how the child got upstairs, is a mystery. The above may sound a little dime-novelish, but, as, we said before, the facts of the case can be and are vouched for by over a dozen respectable citizens of Springfield.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 16 September 1878: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is shuddering at the notion of “as good a mother as the average step-mother.” Although there are certainly many splendid step-mamas, it is often the “average” ones–or at least the classic “Wicked Stepmothers”–who end up in the papers and the dock for cruelty.  

That collector of ghostly horrors over at Haunted Ohio previously shared the story above and added an additional fillip:

A Dead Mother Visits Her Living Child—She Sits at Its Cradle and Caresses It.

Correspondence Cincinnati Commercial.

Richmond, VA., Jan. 23.

A strange story is current in certain circles here. About two years ago Mr. A. married. In due time he became a father, but the wife died when the child was a few months old. On her deathbed she exhibited intense anxiety as to the fate of the little one she was to leave behind her, and earnestly besought her husband to confide it, after her death, to the care of one of her relatives. He promised, and, I believe, did for a while let the child stay in charge of the person whom the mother had designated. Some weeks ago, however, Mr. A. again married, and at once reclaimed the child, who as yet had never learned to speak a word, and was unable to crawl. One day this child was left alone for a few moments in its stepmother’s bedroom, lying in a crib or cradle some distance from the bed. When Mrs. A. returned she was amazed to see the child smiling and crowing upon the middle of the bed—In her astonishment she involuntarily asked:

“Who put you here, baby?”

“Mamma!” responded quite distinctly the child that had never before spoken a word.

On a strict inquiry throughout the household it was found that none of the family had been in the room during Mrs. A’s brief absence from it. This, it is solemnly averred, was but the beginning of a series of spiritual visitations from the dead mother. Whenever the child was left alone it could be heard to laugh and crow as if delighted by the fondlings and endearments of someone, and on these occasions it was frequently found to have changed its dress, position, &c., in a manner quite beyond its own unaided capacity.

Finally, as the account is, the first Mrs. A. appeared one night at the bedside of Mr. A. and his second wife, and earnestly entreated that her darling should be restored to the relative whom she had indicated as the guardian of the child on her death bed. The apparition, which, it is declared, was distinctly seen and heard by both Mr. A. and his wife, promised to haunt them no more if her wish was complied with. Both Mr. A. and his wife were too much awe-stricken to reply; but the next day the child was carried back as directed by the ghostly visitant. Such is the story as seriously avouched by the principal parties concerned, who are most respectable and intelligent people, and no spiritualists.

New Philadelphia [OH] Democrat 10 February 1871: p. 2

It’s practically obligatory for the ghostly mother in this genre of story to assert her dominance over her successor or make sure that her children are being properly treated. Even with some advances in obstetrics, women knew that death was a possibility with every pregnancy and anxiety over what would become of their motherless children is a constant theme in death-bed narratives. But perhaps mother-love never really dies.

For a previous story of a ghostly mother who threatened a new stepmother, see this post. That story also appears in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past

Mrs Daffodil has told the heart-warming story of a ghost-mother who comes to assist her dying boy to the Other Side. And a shiversome tale of a phantom mother’s revenge.

 

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 Baroness is Mistaken for a Shop-Lifter: 1871

baroness burdett-coutts

An Anecdote of Baroness Burdett Coutts.

By Mrs. Laura Curtis Bullard

Miss Burdett Coutts, upon whom Queen recently conferred the rank and title of baroness, is a tall, gaunt, angular woman, who more nearly resembles the traditional and popular type of the strong-minded female than any one of the prominent members of the woman’s rights party whom I have ever met.  A tolerably wide acquaintance with the leaders of this movement on both sides of the Atlantic has convinced me that scragginess is not a characteristic of the genuine “woman’s rights woman.” But in justice to Miss Coutts, I must hasten to say that her personal resemblance to the typical strong-minded female does not result from sympathy-with the sisterhood. On the contrary, she cherishes for this class the most wholesome aversion, and has taken pains publicly to disavow all participation in their sentiments, aims and purposes.

Miss Coutts is no longer young, but she has a fancy that juvenile bonnets become her—which it is scarcely necessary to say, a mistake on her part. In short, neither in person nor in dress is she the attractive woman she would be if nobility of soul, of heart and purity of character revealed themselves in personal beauty or accompanied by an instinctive knowledge of the sources of good taste which is unfortunately not often the case.

But where Miss Coutts is known no one would ever give a thought to the minor and external defects of this truly noble-souled and generous-hearted woman, whose generous  liberality is as widespread as the fact that she is the wealthiest commoner in England.

Angela Burdett-Coutts 1882 National Portrait Gallery

Angela Burdett-Coutts, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, 1882, National Portrait Gallery

Of course she is a well-known and most welcome customer at all the fashionable shops in London, but she is not so familiar a habitue of the shops of Paris. During a visit to this latter city, not long since, she learned of the death of a distant relative, and she went to purchase mourning  to the shop, the Trois Quartiers, a large dry goods establishment something like, “to compare great things with small,” our own Stewart’s. She asked for mourning dress goods, and was shown, by one of the attentive shop-men to the proper department. “Please show this lady mourning stuffs,” he said, “two-ten.”

Miss Coutts made her selection and then asked for mourning collars; the clerk who waited on her accompanied her to the proper counter. “Please show this lady mourning collars-—two-ten,” said he, and left her. From this department she went look for mourning pocket handkerchiefs, escorted by the clerk, who passed her over to his successor, with the request, “show this lady pocket handkerchiefs—two-ten.”

As she had still other articles to buy, she was escorted from counter to counter, department to department, and everywhere these cabalistic words, ” two-ten,” were repeated by one clerk to another.

Struck by the peculiarity of this refrain, asked the proprietor, as she left the establishment, “Pray what does two-ten mean? I noticed each clerk said it to the other in your shop.”

“Oh, it is nothing,” he replied; “merely a password that they are in the habit of exchanging.”

But Miss Coutts was not satisfied with explanation. Her woman’s curiosity was piqued, and she resolved to unravel the riddle. So, in the evening, when the porter,  a young boy, brought home her purchases, after paying her bill, she said, “My boy, would you like to earn five francs?”

Of course the lad had no objection to and only wanted to know in what way he could do it.

“Tell me,” said the lady,’ “what does ‘two-ten’ mean ? I will give you five francs.”

“Why, don’t you know, ma’am?” said he, evidently amazed at her ignorance; “it means keep your two eyes on her ten fingers.”

The mystery was solved at last. All the clerks of the Trois Quarters had taken the richest woman in Great Britain for a shop-lifter.

She tells the story with great gusto, and one of her friends to whom she had related it in Paris repeated it to me.

The Titusville [PA] Herald 6 October 1871: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906) was (after the Queen) the wealthiest woman in England. A practical and an energetic woman, she used her fortune for the benefit of a large range of charities including co-founding the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which became The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. While she might have fallen prey to fortune-hunters, she lived with her governess for much of her life, although she did propose to her neighbour, the Duke of Wellington, who at the time was seventy-eight to her thirty-three years. He refused her gently and they remained friends. After the death of her governess, (and a decade after the story above) she shocked the world by marrying her protégé and secretary, a young American named William Ashmead-Bartlett, who was twenty-nine to her sixty-seven. In so doing, she forfeited most of her fortune, (the terms of her inheritance did not allow marriages to foreigners)  but by all accounts she counted all well lost for love. Her husband became an MP and carried on a legacy of philanthropy after her death.

We have read of refined lady shoplifters before in Prepared to Carry off the Store, The Lady and the Laces, and The Rat in the Muff.

 

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.

Something Advantageous: 1840s

SOMETHING ADVANTAGEOUS;

OR, A FAMILY FRACAS.

I once attended a very poor old man of the name of Jordan, in his last illness. I call him poor, but yet he was not in want, and had about him the comforts of life. When he was near his end, he said to me—

‘Doctor, I want to know the truth from you. I am not in the habit of being flattered by the world. There was a time, indeed, when it ‘fooled me to the top of my bent;’ but that was long ago. Do you not flatter me, but tell me your real opinion. Shall I soon die, or shall I linger on a brief career, in a world I am quite willing to be done with?’

‘You desire me,’ replied I, ‘to be candid with you, and I will. You are on your death bed.’

‘How soon shall I be immortal?’

‘That I can not say. But your hours, so far as human experience can teach me to predict, are numbered.’

He was silent for a few moments, and a slight spasm passed across his face.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘it is the lot of all. I have lived long enough.’

‘Is there no friend or relation, Mr. Jordan,’ said I, ‘to whom you would wish to send? You are here, as you have often told me, quite alone in lodgings. Perhaps you would like to revive some old recollections before you leave the world.’

‘Not one,’ he said.

‘Are you so completely isolated?

‘Most completely. I have tried all relations, and found them wanting. But still I have remembered them, and made my will. It is now between the mattress and sacking of this bed, and Mr. Shaw, the only honest attorney I ever met with, and who resides in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, will carry my intentions into effect I was rich once in early life. How dark a day.’

‘What day?’

‘To-day. How dark and misty it has come over, doctor.’

His sight was going fast, and I felt certain that it would require but little patience, and a small sacrifice of time to see the last of Mr. Jordan.

‘Yes,’ he continued, speaking in an odd, spasmodic fashion. ‘Yes, I was rich, and had many a crawling sycophant about me, many smiling faces at my board; but there came a reverse, and like fair flowers at a sudden frost, my kind friends hid their heads. I was nearly destitute, and thinking and believing that the ties of blood would be strong enough to bind to me, in my distress, those with whom I claimed kindred, and who had been delighted to claim kindred with me, I went to them, a visitor.’

‘And failed.’

‘And failed, as you say. They dropped from me one by one. Some remembered slight offenses; some were never at home; some really thought I must have been dreadfully improvident, and, until they were convinced I had not, could not assist me. Doors were shut in my face—window blinds pulled down as I passed. I was shunned as a pestilence — my clothes were in rags — my step feeble from long want of common necessaries. And then an old school companion died in the West Indies, and left me £20,000, which I received through the hands of Mr. Shaw.’

‘A large fortune! And your relations?’

‘Heard of it, and were frantic. I disappeared from them all. From that day to this, they have not heard of me. Do you love wild flowers?’

‘Wild flowers?’

‘Yes. Here are heaps just from the teeming garden. Look, too, how yon cherub twines them in her hair. The stream flows deep to eternity!’

‘Mr. Jordan, sir,’ I cried. ‘Mr. Jordan, do you know me.’

‘Come hither, laughing, gentle spirit,’ he said, ‘bring with you your heap of floral gems. Yes, I know this is the sweet violet. Mary, my Mary; God knows I love you.’

It was a strange thing but, at the moment the blind of the window, which I had drawn up to the top, came suddenly rattling down, and the room was quite dark. I raised it again, and then turned to the bed,

Mr. Jordan was a corpse!

What a remarkable change had in these few moments come over the old man’s face. The sharp lines of age had all disappeared, and there was a calm, benign expression upon the still features, such as in life I never saw them wear.

‘A restless spirit is at peace,’ I said, as I felt for the will where he told me it was placed, and found it. It was merely tied up with a piece of red tape, and addressed to Mr. Shaw, 20, Lincoln’s-Inn Fields; so I resolved to trust no other messenger, but to take it in my hand myself. I told the landlady of the house that her lodger was no more; and that she would no doubt hear immediately from his solicitor, and then I left.

‘Well, Mr. Shaw,’ I said, after I had mentioned to him the manner of Mr. Jordan’s death, ‘here is the will, sir, and I presume I have nothing further to do than to thank you for your courtesy, and bid you good evening.’

‘Stay a moment,’ he said. ‘Let me look at the document. Humph! a strange will. He leaves the form of an advertisement here, which is to be inserted in the morning papers, calling his relations together, to here the will read.’

‘Indeed!’

‘Yes, Well, I shall, as I see I am named trustee, do as he wishes. He states that he is very poor.’

‘Why, he spoke to me of £20,000.’

‘Did he really? A delusion, sir, quite a delusion. £20,000! He had that amount twenty-five years ago. But, sir, as you have attended him, and as I happen to know he had a high opinion of you, I should like you, as his friend, to be with me, as it were, in future proceedings connected with his will!”

‘In which there is a mystery, eh! Mr. Shaw!’

‘A little—perhaps a little bit of post mortem revenge, that is all, which I am not now at liberty to descant upon. But I will take care to coincide with you, and I shall hope that you will follow the old fellow to the grave.’

I promised that much, and duly attended the funeral. It was a quiet, walking affair, and from the manner of it I felt quite convinced that there were not funds to make it otherwise. A mound of earth alone marked the spot in the little church-yard at Barnes, where Mr. Jordan slept the sleep that knows no waking. A drizzling rain came down. The air was cold and eager, and I returned home from the funeral of Mr. Jordan, about as uncomfortable as I could.

o o o o o o

The next day the following advertisement appeared in a morning paper, and caught my eye as I sat at breakfast:

‘If any of the relations of Mr. John James Jordan, deceased, will call at the office of Mr. Shaw, 20, Lincoln’s-Inn Fields, they will hear of something advantageous.’

I made up my mind to call upon Mr. Shaw during the day, and about three o’clock, I reached his chambers, or rather I reached the stair-case leading to them, and there I had to stop, for it was quite besieged by men and women, who were all conversing with great eagerness.

‘What can it mean?’ said an old woman; ‘I’m his aunt, and of course I speak for my Ned!’

‘Well, but bother your Ned,’ said a man, ‘he hardly really belongs to the family. I’m his brother. Think of that, Mrs. Dean.’

‘Think of what, you two-legged goose?’

‘Pho, pho,’ said another man, ‘I knew him very well. I’m his cousin. Hilloa! what’s this? Who are you?’

A woman in tattered garments, but who still looked like a beautiful one, stood hesitatingly at the foot of the stairs.

‘Is this Mr. Shaw’s?’ she said. ‘Hush, Mary, hush! don’t my dear.’ ‘But I am hungry, mamma,’ said the little girl, who was holding her by a handful of her dress.

‘Oh, Mary—do not dear; we—we shall soon go home. Hush, dear, hush, hush! Is this Mr. Shaw’s?’

‘Yes,’ said a fat woman, ‘and who is you, pray?’

‘I—I saw an advertisement. I am his aunt Grace’s only child. My name is Mary Grantham. This is my only child. She—she is fatherless and has been so for many a day,’

‘What,’ cried a man, ‘are you the Mary he broke his heart about?’

‘Broke his fiddlestick,’ said the fat woman.

‘Good God, do I live to hear that!’ exclaimed the woman with the child.

‘You had better go up to the solicitor at once,’ whispered I. ‘Come, I will show his door,’

I made a way for her through the throng of persons, and we soon reached the chamber.

‘Here is another of Mr. Jordan’s relations, Mr. Shaw,’ said I, ‘I find you have had quite a levee.’

‘I have indeed, doctor. You must come at twelve o’clock, next Monday, madam, when the will of Mr. Jordan will be read by me to all around.’

‘I thank you, sir.’ She was about to leave the chambers, when I interposed.

‘Pardon me, madam,’ I said. ‘But as I was the only person with Mr. Jordan, at the time of his decease, I wish to ask you a question. If I mistake not, your name was the last that passed his lips. ‘Mary, my Mary,’ he said, ‘God knows that I loved you!’

She sank into a chair, and burst into tears.

‘You, then,’ I added, ‘are the Mary whom he loved. Ah, why did you not, if you can weep for him now, reciprocate the passion?’

‘I did love him,’ she cried; ‘God knows, and he, who is now with his God, knows how I loved him. But evil tongues came between us, and we were separated. He was maligned to me, and I was wearied by entreaties and tears, until I married another. She, who has turned me from him, and severed two hearts that would and should have been all the world to each other, confessed the sin upon her death-bed.’

‘Who was it?’ said Mr. Shaw.

‘His mother! From no other source could I have believed the tales I was told. But I did not then know enough of the world to think that there were mothers who could malign their own children. We were

Separated–my husband died, leaving me that last little one, of many. We are very, very poor—no one will help us—an acquaintance showed me the advertisement, and urged me to come—it was a false hope. But I find that there are strong arms and brawling tongues below, that I can not contend against.’

‘Never mind that,’ said the solicitor; ‘it is my duty to read the will on Monday, and as a relation it is your duty to attend at the same time. I tell you to have no expectations.’

I saw Mr. Shaw try to slip some money into her hand, and I saw a crimson flush come over her face as she said, ‘We can still work:’ and then, fearing she had been harsh to one who wished to be kind, she shook his hand in both of hers, and said. ‘God bless you, sir, I thank you from my heart.’

Bang, bang! came to the door of the chamber, a minute after Mary had left, and upon its being opened, a man of about six and thirty made his appearance.

‘Something advantageous!’ he gasped, for he was out of breath; ‘what—what is it? Give it me, give it me! How much? Good God, don’t let any body else have it. I’m his youngest brother—give it to me.’

‘If you will attend here at 12 o’clock on Monday, the will will be read.’

Bang, bang, bang!

‘I’m thoroughly besieged,’ said Mr. Shaw; ‘now, madam, who are you?’

‘Something advantageous,’ screamed a masculine looking woman;

‘I’m a relative—what is it? Come on, my dears. Here’s my five dear daughters, and my baby—come along.’

‘Be off with you,’ cried the younger brother.

‘Did you speak to me, you wretch,’ said the lady, and she planted a blow in his face that made him reel again. ‘Take that; I know you are a sneaking hound; you used to be called the chimpanzee in the family, you poor, scorched-up-looking bundle of cat’s-meat.’

Several more arrivals now took place, and poor Mr. Shaw was fairly bewildered. Sounds of contention arose on the staircase—shrieks from family combatants came upon our ears, and finally, I advised Mr. Shaw to paste a placard on the outer door of his office, on which was written,

‘The will of Mr. Jordan will be read here on Monday next, at twelve o’clock, precisely.’

The riot gradually subsided. The evening came on, and all the relations of the deceased had been and gone. Mr. Shaw and I supped together, and I promised to be with him punctually at twelve o’clock on Monday, for I was as curious as anybody could be to hear the will read, and at all events, anticipated a bustling scene upon the occasion. I was not doomed to be disappointed.

o o o o o

It is a habit of mine rather to be too soon than too late, and in the present instance I found it a most useful one, for I really almost doubt if I should have got into the chambers of Mr. Shaw at all, if I had been later than I was.

I had fairly to push Mrs. Mary Grantham in, despite a vigorous opposition; and a man stopped my own entrance, crying—

‘Who are you? What relation are you?’

‘His grandfather’s uncle,’ said I; ‘and if you don’t make way I’ll pull the nose off your face.’

It was well that Mr. Shaw occupied very spacious chambers, or otherwise he could not have accommodated one-half of the persons who came to the reading of the will; and never in all my life did I see such malignant looks pass from one to another, as shot from the eyes of the relations. It was a most pitiful picture of human nature.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ said Mr. Shaw; ‘ahem! ahem!’

There was a death-like stillness.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am commissioned to read to you the—the —what shall I call it?—it is hardly a will—of the late Mr. Jordan. No, it certainly ought not to be called a will, for a will, properly speaking, is a testamentary—”

‘Read, read, read!’ cried a dozen voices.

‘Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am glad to see you are all in respectable mourning.’

‘Except one,’ said the younger brother; ‘there’s his Mary, that he was so fond of. Oh, dear me! she only comes for what she can get.’

Mrs. Grantham burst into tears. There was a little shabby piece of black crape upon her arm, and another upon the arm of her child.

‘I—I could not,’ she said; ‘I could not do more. God help me! I had not the means!’

‘Read, read, read!’ cried all the voices.

‘Ahem!’ said Mr. Shaw, reading; ‘I, John James Jordan, being very poor, and having in vain called upon every relation I have in the world, for assistance, and found none, have to state that my heart was filled with bitterness and uncharitableness toward them. But still I think that they are not dead to all feeling; and this being my last will and testament, I desire that my debts, amounting to the sum of one pound, three shillings, and eight pence, be paid forthwith of my estate; that my funeral be strictly private, in Barnes churchyard, where I last parted with one whom I loved, but who has gone abroad, I am told; and to that one of my relations who will erect a tombstone, I bequeath—

‘Hark! will you!’ cried one; ‘be quiet. Go on—yes, yes. Oh: you wretch, where’s your feelings! Go to the devil!’

‘Really, ladies and gentlemen,’ said I, ‘this is most indecorous.’

‘I bequeath,’ continued Mr. Shaw, ‘my dying blessing and forgiveness.’

Mr. Shaw then folded up the will and put it into his pocket, saying— ‘I wish you all good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I sold the few clothes and other matters he died possessed of, and paid for the funeral, and his debts; being myself minus one shilling and four pence, which I hope you will some of you pay.’

It is quite impossible by any words to fairly depict to the reader the appearance of Mr. Jordan’s relations at this moment. If the fabled Gorgon’s head had suddenly appeared, and transformed them all to stone, they could not have looked more completely paralyzed and panic-stricken.

‘A tomb-stone!’ shrieked twenty voices. ‘A tombstone!’

‘A tombstone!’ said Mr. Shaw. ‘A small one would not cost much. You could put on it a suitable inscription. Here lies—’

‘Lies here—never mind,’ said the brother. ‘Never mind. I—I—Oh, that’s all, is it.’

‘You are a humbug,’ said the masculine woman to Mr. Shaw, ‘and so was old stupid Jordan.’

‘Go to the deuce, all of you,’ shouted another; ‘a tombstone indeed.’

Mr. Shaw was wiping his spectacles.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to add,—’

‘Oh, stuff, stuff! Bother! A tombstone indeed; I shan’t stay another moment. An old thief. I wish a tombstone had been down his throat. Come on! Come on! It’s all a do.’

‘But, ladies and gentlemen.—’

They were quite deaf to the remonstrances of Mr. Shaw, and in a few moments the chambers were quite clear, with the exception of Mrs. Mary Grantham, who was sobbing bitterly. She then rose, and looked at me hesitatingly. Then she looked at Mr. Shaw, and she seemed to be struggling to say something. She placed her hand in her bosom, and drew forth a ring tied to a black ribbon, and then, with a convulsive effort she spoke.

‘This—this ring—it is my only valuable possession. It was given to me thirty years ago, by him who is now no more, my cousin John, who loved me. I have clung to it in pain and in sorrow, in difficulty and in distress; I have never parted with it. I seemed to be but only separated from him while I had it near my heart. But now, great distress forces me—to—to part with it. Will—will neither of you gentlemen buy it of me. I—I shrink from its going into the hands of utter strangers.’

‘Humph!’ said Mr. Shaw; ‘there are a couple of sovereigns for it.’

She took the money, and then, after one long, lingering look, and a fervent kiss at the ring. she laid it on the table. and tottered from the place. I was about to follow her, but Mr. Shaw held me back.

‘Hold! hold!’ he said.

‘You are a brute sir,’ said I. ‘Take your hands off me; I will buy the ring of you and give it back to her. It breaks her heart to part with it, I see,’

‘I shan’t part with it,’ he said; ‘you are a very hasty man, doctor.’

I was very angry, and bounced out of the office. I looked eagerly about for Mrs. Grantham, but could not see her. I walked hurriedly across the square, and as chance would have it. I went in the same direction she did. My first impulse was to speak to her, and my second thought was to follow her, and to see where she went. She crossed Holborn, and traversed some of the long streets that lead into the New Road, where she arrived at last, and finally paused at a stone-mason’s yard.

I could have shed tears at that moment, for now I felt why she had parted with her cherished ring. She stayed about a quarter of an hour at the stone-mason’s, and then she came out and walked slowly away. I did not follow her further, but I went into the mason’s yard, and said to him—

‘Did that lady give you an order?’

‘Why, yes, sir, such a one as it is. She has got me to do a stone for two pounds, and she’s paid me. I’m to meet her at the churchyard at Barnes to-morrow morning at nine o’clock with it. and put it up. It’s only to have on it the name of John James Jordan. and under that. ‘God bless him.’

I walked away with a sort of mist before my eyes, and it was an hour before I recovered my composure. ‘I will meet her,’ thought I, ‘at the grave of her last love, and I will be a friend to her, if she never have another in the world. She shall have her ring again, if I force it from the lawyer. She shall have it. I’ll go and get it now, at once.’

I suppose I looked in a very tolerable passion when I got back to Mr. Shaw’s chambers, for he got behind a table when he saw me, and said— ‘Come, come, no violence.’

‘Hark you, sir,’ said I; ‘you have got the ring. There’s your money. Give it me directly, sir. Mrs. Grantham, poor thing, is going tomorrow morning, at nine o’clock, to place a stone at the grave of Mr. Jordan, and I intend to be there and give her her ring.’

‘Oh! very well. Bother the ring. I don’t want it. It ain’t worth half the money I gave for it. There it is; don’t bother me.’

I took up the ring, then put down two sovereigns, and casting upon him a withering look, which, to tell the truth, he did not seem much to care about, I left the chambers.

o o o o o

A soft. damp, white mist covered up all objects, and made the air uncommonly raw and chilly, as on the following morning, just as the clock of the church at Barnes chimed the three-quarters past eight, I entered the churchyard.

The first thing I then did, was to fall over somebody’s grave, for I was looking for Mrs. Grantham, instead of minding where I was walking; and then a voice said—

‘There you go again, as violent as usual, doctor;’ and in the dim mist I saw Mr. Shaw, the solicitor, to my great surprise.

I was going to say something, but at the moment I was nearly knocked down again, by some one brushing past me. A gleam of sunshine came out, and the mist began to clear away, when a most singular scene presented itself. A few yards off was the grave of Mr. Jordan, and kneeling by it was Mary, his first love, with her child by her side. Mr. Shaw stood to my left, and at his feet there knelt a respectable looking young man—I recollected him as Mr. Shaw’s clerk.

“Good God! Richards,’ said Mr. Shaw, ‘is that you? What is the matter?’

‘Oh! sir,’ said Richards. ‘I have come to ask your forgiveness. The spirit of my poor old father stood by my bedside all night. Oh, God! oh, God! it was dreadful; and I knew what it was for. Oh! sir, forgive me. I—I peeped into the will, sir, while you went out to dinner—Mr. Jordan’s will—and—and I went round to all the relations, and sold the secret for two pounds a-piece, and—and—’

Mr. Shaw gave a jump that astonished me.

‘Doctor, doctor,’ he shouted; ‘for God’s sake run down the London road and bring the man with the gravestone. Oh! good gracious. Oh! d——n you, Richards. Ha! ha! ha! Oh! here he is. Oh! bless you for a prudent stone-mason; you shall get well paid for this job. Hip! hip! Hip!—hurrah!’

I thought, to be sure, that Mr. Shaw must have gone mad. There was a man looking over the railing of the church-yard, with a spade on his shoulder; to him Mr. Shaw said—

‘Five guineas for that spade.’

The man thought he was mad, and tried to run away; but he dropped the spade; and in another moment Mr. Shaw’s coat was off, and he was digging away like fury.

‘Where’s the stone!’ he cried: ‘bring the stone. That’s right. Poke it in—prop it up. That’s the thing—all’s right. Here we are. Another knock. All’s right—all’s right.’

‘Lor!’ said the stone-mason, as he lifted up his hands; ‘look there!’

I looked in the direction he indicated, and there, to my astonishment, I saw arriving, carts, coaches, cabs, and wheel-barrows, and each containing a tombstone. A regular fight ensued at the entrance of the churchyard; and engaged in the fight I recognized the relations of Mr. Jordan. Heavens, how they cuffed each other!

‘Hold!’ cried Mr. Shaw; ‘you are all too late, although you had information you ought not to have had. There is already a stone on Mr. Jordan, and placed, too, by the only one who knew not what you all know. Listen to the conclusion of the will—‘And to that one of my relations who will erect a tombstone to my memory, I bequeath my blessing and forgiveness, and eighty thousand pounds in bank stock.’ ‘Madam,’ to Mrs. Grantham, ‘I congratulate you.’

‘And there’s your ring.’ said I; ‘Mr. Shaw, let us shake hands; I understand you now.’

‘Ha! ha!’ said Mr. Shaw, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, you had better all of you keep the tombstones for yourselves. You can get the name altered, for if you don’t, I’m very much afraid you will not find them

SOMETHING ADVANTAGEOUS.’

The Cincinnatus, Vol. 1, 1857: pp. 31-40

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil does so like a happy ending…. Except, possibly for Mr Shaw’s clerk, who will, it seems likely, lose his situation.  And possibly for the greedy relatives, although, to be fair, tombstones can be easily altered or even re-sold to recoup their losses. One predicts that some of the tombstones will be soon needed, as Mr Jordan’s volatile relations succumb to chagrin-induced apoplexies.

 

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.