RINGS THAT ARE FATAL.
Amazing Stories New and Old.
“A learned German physician,” says a well-known writer upon jewels, “has given an instance in which the devil of his own accord enclosed himself in a ring as a familiar, thereby proving how dangerous it is to trifle with him.”
The Germans are all learned, as we know, and I should not like to dispute a statement so admirable. Finger-rings henceforth should have a new interest for as. The idea that the devil is bottled up in one may not be pleasant to entertain but then we have the German’s word for it, and Germans know everything.
If I do not feel inclined, however, to enter upon such a controversy, as is here suggested, none the less do I, as a jeweller, realise the potency of the superstitions connected with precious stones. Until the last two years, the opal— most beautiful, most lustrous, most wonderful of gems was almost a drug in the popular market. As well might you have sent a woman a letter edged with black to congratulate her upon her marriage as an opal for her wedding present. The prejudice arose, of course, from the old superstition that the opal is fatal to love, and that it sows discord between the giver and the receiver unless the wearer, happily, was born in October. In the latter case the stone becomes an emblem of hope and will bring luck to the wearer.
But, I hear you ask, is all this serious? Are you not rather joking, or speaking of the few and not of the many? I answer that I am as serious as ever I was in my life. Not only did we find it almost an impossibility five years ago to sell an opal at all, but the few women courageous enough to wear them in society contributed in the end to their unpopularity. I remember well a leader of fashion who for 12 months was conspicuous everywhere for the magnificence of the opals she wore, both upon her arms and her fingers. One day she came into my shop and bought an opal ring of immense size and singular magnificence.
“I am determined to kill this superstition,” she said, “and I am buying this ring because I am sure it will bring me luck.”
“I hope it will,” said I, “and if it should do so I trust that you will speak of it. The opal is sadly in need of a good word. I feel sure that nobody can speak that word to greater advantage than yourself.”
She promised that she would; and during the next three months she was loud in her conviction that the opal had been the best friend she had ever bought. Her husband doubled his fortune in that time. Her son obtained conspicuous honours at Cambridge. She backed the favourite for the Derby and he won. It really looked, even to the man of no superstitions, as though a freshet of fortune had flowed for her since the day she bought the ring.
Alas! how soon her hopes were to be shattered. Two months after her horse won the Derby her husband was in the bankruptcy court, a victim in a high degree of the Liberator [a famous race horse.]
It would be absurd and ridiculous, of course, for any sane man to regard the case as a post hoc ergo propter hoc. The event was a pure coincidence; yet nothing in this world would induce the lady in question to regard that ring otherwise than as a fatal one. We may say what we like, but once a woman has dubbed this or that lucky or unlucky, the homilies of a thousand bishops would not change her opinion. Witness that remarkable story told in the “Lives of the Lindsays,” in which we are shown how the Earl of Balcarres, forgetting on the morning of his wedding his appointment to marry the grand daughter of the Prince of Oxaxute, went hurriedly to church at the last moment without the all-necessary ring. This, of course, was a sad position for anybody to be in, and the young man appealed pathetically to the company to know if the deficiency could not be made good. Happily, or rather most unhappily, the best man standing at his side suddenly remembered that he had a ring in his pocket, and he slipped it into the earl’s hand just as the service began. Was it not a strange thing that this should have been a mourning ring, and that, when the happy bride ventured to look down upon her finger, she saw a skull and crossbones grinning at her? So great was her distress that she fainted in the church and when she came to she declared that it was an omen of death, and that she would not live through the year. And did she? the matter-of-fact man asks expectantly. Alas! twelve months were not numbered before Lady Balcarres was in her grave!
Byron’s mother’s wedding ring, Newstead Abbey
It is necessary at this point to tell you a story with a happier ending, lest the superstitious man should have it all his own way. It is said of Lord Byron that he was about to sit down to dinner one day when a gardener presented him with his mother’s wedding ring, which the man had just dug up in the garden before a wing of the house. Byron was at that time expectantly awaiting a letter from Miss Millbanke a letter which was to contain an answer to his proposal of marriage. When he saw the ring which the gardener brought him, he fell into a fit of deep gloom, regarding it as a sign of woeful omen but scarce had this depression come upon him when a servant entered with a letter from the lady. She accepted the poet.
There is another story told by the late Professor de Morgan I think it appeared in “Notes and Queries” which relates an instance of a page who fled to America simply because he lost a ring which he was carrying to the jeweller. The stone was an opal, if I remember rightly. The lights of it had so impressed the lad when he saw it upon his mistress’s finger that he stopped upon the plank bridge crossing the stream in his town, and took the jewel out of the box to admire it. But his fingers were clumsy, and in his attempt to try the ring on he let it slip into the river. Two years after in America he told the story, and related how that the ring had driven him to the condition of a miserable serf in the plantations. He did not know then that his condition was soon to be changed, and that diligence and hard work were to carry him to such a position of affluence that at the end of 20 years he returned to this country and to his native town. On the night of his arrival be went with a friend. to the old bridge, and recalled his misfortune there.
“It was in that very spot,” said he, thrusting his stick into the soft mud of the river, “that I dropped the ring.”
“But look!” cried the friend, “you have a ring upon the end of your stick!”
Sure enough, incredible though it may sound, the very ring he had dropped into the river 20 years before was now upon the end of the muddy stick.
Some people may be inclined to take this story with a grain of salt. Personally I am willing to think that Professor de Morgan and “Notes and Queries” would not have fathered upon us a mere bundle of lies. For the matter of that, there are cases as marvellous of the recovery of rings in nearly every town in England. At Brechin they will tell you of a Mrs Mountjoy who, when feeding a calf, let it suck her fingers, and with them a ring she wore. When this animal was slaughtered three years after, the ring was found in its intestine.
In the year 1871 a German farmer, who had been making flour balls for his cattle, missed his dead wife’s ring which he had been wearing upon his little finger. He made a great search for the treasure, holding the ring in some way necessary to his prosperity; but although he turned the house upside down, he never found it.
Seven or eight months after, this farmer shipped a number of bullocks upon the Adler cattle ship. The Adler came to port all right, but one of the bullocks had died during the voyage and been thrown overboard. Strangely enough, the carcase floated upon the sea, and was picked up by an English smack— the Mary Ann, of Colchester— the crew of which cut open the body to obtain some grease for the rigging. Did we not know that every line of this story had been authenticated, we should laugh when it is added that the farmer’s ring was found in the stomach of the derelict bullock and duly restored to its owner through the German Consul.
Here are stories of luck if you like. I will give you one also of luck which has never been told except to me and to the members of the household in which the strange occurrence took place. A lady, whose husband was a bank manager, purchased at my house some six years ago a singularly fine turquoise ring. She came to me at the end of two years and declared that the jewel in question had completely lost its colour. I saw that this was so, and told her there was no secret about the matter, but that she had washed her hands with the ring upon her finger, The turquoise, as all the world knows, should never be dipped in water. Some of the finest stones will stand the treatment, but in the majority of cases it is fatal. You would think that this was not a case for any superstitious fears, but my client was sadly troubled from the start at the omen of the ring; nor could my assurances comfort her. And oddly enough, within three months of the date of her visit to me her husband was in difficulties and had fled to America.
But this is not the end of the story of the turquoise. I had, previous to this calamity, set a new stone in the place of the old, and this jewel, being properly treated, kept its colour very well. Yet, as though that ring must prove fatal to all who wore it, it was the instrument of the capture of the lady’s husband, and of the term of imprisonment which followed on his arrest. The thing worked out in this way. For two years the fugitive remained abroad, but with that love of country which sometimes will prevail above reason, the unfortunate man returned here at last, and lay in hiding at the house which his wife had taken near Reading.
This was a rambling old place, with a decaying wing, very convenient for hiding a man. One morning the servants, who were not in the secret, found a turquoise upon the floor of a bedroom in this side of the house. As they had reason to believe that no one except themselves had been in the place for some years, they carried the ring to their mistress as a wonderful and amazing discovery. She, in her feverish desire to protect her husband, made up some cock-and-bull story which did not satisfy them. Although they had promised absolute secrecy, they made haste to tell the story in the village, where by a colossal misfortune the detective who was watching the case was even then staying. Needless to say how he pricked up his ears at the information; arguing rightly that where a ring was there a man or woman must have been. Three days later he arrested the defaulter, who had been hidden in the house all the time and had dropped the ring upon the floor of the bedroom. He had worn it on his little finger as a memento of his wife when he fled from the country, but it proved a fatal ring to him and to her.
It is scarcely within the scope of this article to write upon that vast branch of this subject which would properly come under the heading of poisoned rings. There was a story told in the French newspapers at no distant date of a man who bought an old ring in a shop in the Rue St. Honore, He was much interested in this, and was examining it closely, when he chanced to give himself a slight scratch in the hand with the edge of the ring. So slight was it that he scarce noticed it, and continued in conversation with the dealer, until of a sudden he was taken with violent pains in his body and fell in a fit upon the floor of the shop. The doctor who was summoned discovered every trace of mineral poison, and administered an antidote–happily with success, though the man suffered severely for several hours, and was at one time upon the very point of death. There is no doubt whatever that he had purchased what is called a “death ring,” a common weapon of assassination in the sixteenth century, and still to be found in the byways of Italy. The ring in question was made in the shape of two tiny lions’ claws, the nails being minute tubes from which the poison was ejected into the body. A man bearing a grudge against another would contrive to send him such a ring as a present and he would so manage it that he would meet the unlucky wearer very shortly after the present was received. It was the easiest thing in the world to give the victim a hearty shake of the hand, so squeezing the sharp claws into the flesh and administering a dose of the poison. And so skilled were the men in the manufacture of these rings that the day was rare when the victim of one lived even 10 minutes after he had received this death grip.
Otago [NZ] Witness 15 October 1896: p. 50
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has written before on those useful poisoned diamond rings with little spikes and a cursed ring formerly the property of the Spanish royal family. Various royal personages have also possessed “lucky” and “unlucky” rings as magical talismans.
Mrs Daffodil cannot accede to the author’s suggestion that Byron’s proposal to Anne Isabella Milbanke was a story with a “happier ending.” The ill-matched couple separated shortly after their one-year anniversary and may have never seen each other again before Byron’s death in Greece in 1824.
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 anecdote
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.