Category Archives: Supernatural

The Mystery of the Italian Flowers: c. 1900

Italian flowers illustration San Francisco Sunday Call

 

To the Editor of The Sunday Call.

Sir: The accompanying recital of fact is fully vouched for. The part I myself took in the incident—being in Italy at the time, as this story states—is truly described in every particular; the part taken in it by my relative, as mentioned in the story, is presented exactly as she told it to me after my return to America and confirmed by a record made at the time by Mrs. ___, who is also mentioned in the narrative.

The late Wilkie Collins, the English novelist, with whom I was well acquainted and to whom I first related the story (a man, as is well known, who gave much attention during his life to occult subjects), told me at his home in London that he had investigated at least 1,500 alleged instances of supernatural visitations and that this one was the best authenticated of any that had come under his notice. I inclose the names of the persons who had part in this experience. Yours truly,

*____

*Name of writer and names in narrative in possession of The Sunday Call.

Some years ago, in the course of travels which ultimately took me twice around the world, I found myself fin Naples, having arrived there from a leisurely trip that began at Gibraltar and had brought me by

easy stages and by many stops en route through the Mediterranean. The time of year was late February and the season, even for southern Italy, was much advanced; so in visiting the island of Capri (the exact date, I recollect, was February 22) I found this most charming spot in the Vesuvian bay smiling and verdant and was tempted by the brilliant sunlight and warm breezes to explore the hilly country which rose above the port at which I had landed.

The fields upon these heights were green with grass and spangled with a delicate white flower bearing a yellow center, which, while smaller than our American daisies and held upon more slender stalks, reminded me of them. Having in mind certain friends then in bleak New England, from where I had strayed to this land of summer, I plucked a number of these blossoms arid placed them between the leaves of my guide book—Baedeker’s “Southern Italy”—intending to inclose them in letters which I then planned to write to these friends, contrasting the conditions attending their Washington’s birthday with those in which I fortunately found myself.

Returning to Naples, the many interests of that city put out of my head for the time the thought of letter writing and three days later I took a train for Rome, with my correspondence still in arrears. The first day of my stay in Rome was devoted to a carriage excursion into the Campagna, and on returning to the city I stopped to see that most interesting and touching of Roman monuments, the tomb of Cecilia Matella. Every tourist knows and has visited that beautiful memorial, and so I do not need to describe its massive walls, its roof, now fallen and leaving the sepulcher open to the sky, and the heavy turf which covers the earth of its interior. This green carpet of nature, when I visited the tomb, was thickly strewn with fragrant violets, and of these, as of the daisylike flowers I had found In Capri, I collected several and placed them In my guide book, this time Baedeker’s “Central Italy.” I mention these two books, the “Southern” and the “Central Italy,” because they have an important bearing on my story.

The next day, calling at my banker’s, I saw an announcement that letters posted before 4 o’clock that afternoon would be forwarded to catch the mall for New York by a specially fast steamer from Liverpool, and I hastened back to my hotel with the purpose of preparing, and thus expediting, my much delayed correspondence. The most important duty of the moment seemed to be the writing of a letter to a very near and dear relative of mine in a certain city of New England, and to this I particularly addressed myself. I described my trip through the Mediterranean and my experiences in Naples and Rome, and concluded my letter as follows:

“In Naples I found February to be like our New England May, and in Capri, which I visited on Washington’s birthday, I found the heights of the island spangled over with delicate flowers, some of which I plucked and inclose in this letter. And speaking of flowers, I send you also some violets which I gathered yesterday at the tomb of Cecilia Matella, outside of Rome —you know about this monument, or, if not, you can look up its history and save me from transcribing a paragraph from the guidebook. I send you these flowers from Naples and Rome, respectively, in order that you may understand in what agreeable surroundings I find myself, as compared with the ice and snow and bitter cold which is probably your experience at this season.”

Having finished this letter, I took from the guidebook on “Central Italy,” which lay on the table before me, the violets from the tomb of Cecilia Matella, inclosed them, with the sheets I had written, in an envelope, sealed and addressed it, when it suddenly occurred to me that I had left out the flowers I had plucked in Capri. These I recalled, were still in the guidebook for “Southern Italy,” which I had laid away in my portmanteau as of no further use to me—accordingly I unstrapped and unlocked the portmanteau, found the guidebook, took out the flowers from Capri, which were still between its leaves, opened and destroyed the envelope already addressed, added the daisies to the violets and put the whole into a new inclosure, which I again directed, stamped and duly dropped Into the mailbox at the banker’s.

I am insistent upon these details because they particularly impressed upon my mind the certainty that both varieties of flowers were inclosed in the letter to my relative.

Subsequent events would have been strange enough if I had not placed the flowers in the letter at all—but the facts above described assure me that there is no question that I did so, and make these after events more than ever inexplicable.

So much for my own part in the affair—now for its conclusion in New England.

My relative mentioned above was living at this time in a hotel In a New England city where she had a suite of rooms comprising parlor, bedroom and bath. With her was a child of some eight years of age, daughter of a very dear friend, for whom she cared after the death of the mother, some years before. On the same floor of the hotel were apartments occupied by Mrs.__, a woman whose name is well known in American literature and with whom my relative sustained a very intimate friendship. I am indebted for the facts I am now setting down not only to my relative, who gave me an oral account of them on my return from abroad, but also to Mrs.__ , who made and preserved a written record, of them at the time.

About 10 days after I had posted my letter inclosing the flowers from Capri and Rome my relative suddenly awoke in the middle of the night and saw standing at the foot of her bed the form of the child’s mother. The aspect of the apparition was so serene and gracious that, although greatly startled, she felt no alarm. Then she heard, as if from a voice at a great distance, the words. “I have brought you some flowers from W__.” At the next Instant the figure vanished. The visitation had been so brief that my relative, although she at once arose and lighted the gas, argued to herself that she had been dreaming, and after a few minutes extinguished the light and returned to bed, where she slept soundly until 6 o’clock the next morning.

Always an early riser, she dressed at once and went from her bedroom, where the child was still sleeping, to her parlor. In the center of the room was a table, covered with a green cloth, and as she entered and chanced to glance at it she saw to her surprise a number of dried flowers scattered over A part of these she recognized as violets, but the rest were unfamiliar to her, although they resembled very small daisies.

The vision of the night was at once forcibly recalled to her, and the words of the apparition. “I have brought you some flowers.”” seemed to have a meaning, though what it was she could not understand. After examining these strange blossoms for a time she returned to her chamber and awakened the child, whom she then took to see the flowers and asked If she knew anything about them. “Why, no.” the little girl replied; “I have never seen them before. I was reading my new book at the table last night until I went to bed. and if they were there then I should have seen them.” So the flowers were gathered up and placed on the shelf above the fireplace, and during the morning were exhibited to Mrs.__, who came in for a chat, and who, like my relative, could make nothing of the matter.

At about 4 o’clock In the afternoon of that day the postman called at the hotel, hearing, among his mall, several letters for my relative, which were at once sent up to her. Among them was postmarked “Rome” and was addressed in my handwriting, and with this she sat down as the first one to be read. It contained an account, among many other things, of my experience in Naples and Rome, and in due course mentioned the inclosure of flowers from Capri and from the tomb of Cecilia Matella. There were, however, no flowers whatever in the letter, although each sheet and the envelope were carefully examined; my relative even shook her skirts and made a search upon the carpet, thinking that the stated inclosure might have fallen out as the letter was opened. Nothing could be found, however, yet 10 hours before the arrival of the letter flowers exactly such aa it described had been found on the center table!

Mrs. __  was summoned, and the two ladles marveled greatly. There was a large educational institution in the city and Mrs.__ suggested that the flowers be offered to the inspection of its professor of botany, a man whose reputation for learning in his department, was international. They lost no time in calling upon him, and the flowers were shown (without, however, the curious facts about them being mentioned), with the request that he state, if it were possible, whence they came. The professor examined them carefully, and then said:

“As to the violets, it is difficult to say where they grew, since these flowers, wherever they are found in the world, may be very much alike. Certain peculiarities of these specimens, however, coupled with the scent that they still faintly retain and which is characteristic, incline me to the opinion that they come from some part of Southern Europe—perhaps Southern France, but more likely Italy. As to the others, which, as you say, resemble small daisies, they came from some point about the bay of Naples, as I am unaware of their occurrence elsewhere.”

The San Francisco [CA] Sunday Call 5 July 1908: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  That enigmatic person over at Haunted Ohio has written before of such mysterious floral deliveries in connection with the seance room, where they are called “apports.” Given the regularity with which exotic flowers showered those in attendance, flowers must been a heavy item in a society medium’s budget. The  narrative above, if it is reliable, is much less explicable.

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 Cry of the Banshee: 1887

the tempest rodin banshee

The Cry of the Banshee

There is now living in Bristol a Mrs. Linahan, an old Irish woman, who has not seen her own country for forty years. She is old, poor, bed ridden and suffering, but patient and cheerful beyond belief. Her strongest feeling is love for Ireland ,and she likes talking to me because I am Irish. Many a time, sitting in her little, close room, above the noisy street, she has told me about banshees and phookas and fairies, especially the first. She declares solemnly she once heard the cry, or caoin of a banshee.

“It was when I was a little young child,” she told me, “And knew nothing at all of banshees or of death. One day mother sent me to see after my grandmother, the length of three miles from our house. All  the road was deep in snow, and I went my lone – and didn’t know the grandmother was dead, and my aunt gone to the village for help. So I got to the house, and I see her lying so still and quiet I thought she was sleepin’. When I called her and she wouldn’t stir or speak, I thought I’d put snow on her face to wake her. I just stepped outside to get a handful, and came in, leaving the door open, and then I heard a far away cry, so faint and yet so fearsome that I shook like a leaf in the wind. It got nearer and nearer, and then I heard a sound like clapping or wringing of hands, as they do in keening at a funeral. Twice it came and then I slid down to the ground and crept under the bed where my grandmother lay, and there I heard it for the third time crying, “Ochone, Ochone,” at the very door. Then it suddenly stopped; I couldn’t tell where it went, and I dared not lift up my head till the woman came in the house. One of them took me up and said: “It was the banshee the child heard, for the woman that lies there was one of the real old Irish families – she was an O’Grady and that was the raison of it.’” English Magazine

Aberdeen [SD] Daily News 18 May 1887: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Clapping and keening were a feature of Irish funerals; professional keeners called bean chaointe would cry of the merits of the deceased and the broken hearts of those left behind.

The “raison of it” was that banshees were said to be attached only to the oldest, noblest Irish families, usually meaning those prefaced by “O'” or “Mac.”

In some cases, families have been apprised of an approaching death by some strange spectre, either male or female, a remarkable instance of which occurs in the MS. memoirs of Lady Fanshaw, and is to this effect: “Her husband, Sir Richard, and she, chanced, during their abode in Ireland, to visit a friend, who resided in his ancient baronial castle surrounded with a moat. At midnight she was awakened by a ghastly and supernatural scream, and, looking out of bed, beheld by the moonlight a female face and part of the form hovering at the window. The face was that of a young and rather handsome woman, but pale; and the hair, which was reddish, was loose and dishevelled. This apparition continued to exhibit itself for some time, and then vanished with two shrieks, similar to that which had at first excited Lady Fanshaw’s attention. In the morning, with infinite terror, she communicated to her host what had happened, and found him prepared not only to credit, but to account for, what had happened.

“A near relation of mine,” said he, “expired last night in the castle. Before such an event happens in this family and castle, the female spectre whom you have seen is always visible. She is believed to be the spirit of a woman of inferior rank, whom one of my ancestors degraded himself by marrying, and whom afterwards, to expiate the dishonour done his family, he caused to be drowned in the castle moat.”

This, of course, was no other than the Banshee, which in times past has been the source of so much terror in Ireland.

However, sometimes  embarrassing errors occurred.

Amongst the innumerable stories told of its appearance may be mentioned one related by Mrs. Lefanu, the niece of Sheridan, in the memoirs of her grandmother, Mrs. Frances Sheridan. From this account we gather that Miss Elizabeth Sheridan was a firm believer in the Banshee, and firmly maintained that the one attached to the Sheridan family was distinctly heard lamenting beneath the windows of the family residence before the news arrived from France of Mrs. Frances Sheridan’s death at Blois. She adds that a niece of Miss Sheridan’s made her very angry by observing that as Mrs. Frances Sheridan was by birth a Chamberlaine, a family of English extraction, she had no right to the guardianship of an Irish fairy, and that therefore the Banshee must have made a mistake.

Strange Pages from Family Papers, T.F. Thistelton-Dyer, 1895

Mrs Daffodil and that person over at Haunted Ohio are both fascinated by tales of banshees. It is always useful to know one’s death omens. For other stories of banshees, both knocking and shrieking, please see A Banshee in IndianaThe Banshee of the O’Dowds, The Banshee Sang of Death, and A Banshee at Sea 

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 Ghost of Princess Borghese: 1840

Gwendoline Talbot Princess Borghese by Giovanni Piancastelli

Lady Gwendoline Talbot, Princess Borghese, Giovanni Piancastelli

GHOST OF PRINCESS BORGHESE

Leaves Its Coffin and Gives a Valuable Ring to a Poor Woman.

The approaching marriage of Don Marco Borghese with Mll. Ysabel Porges [Isabel Fanny Louise Porges], says the London Daily Chronicle, has revived interest in the famous Borghese ghost story. The lady who succeeded to the honors of the beautiful but notorious Pauline Bonaparte [married to Camillo Borghese] was Lady Gwendoline Talbot, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury. She was a very lovely woman and adored in Rome on account of her charity. She died a victim to duty during the cholera visitation of 1840, when she devoted herself in the most heroic manner to nursing the very poorest. Her funeral was made the occasion of an extraordinary demonstration, the students of the university insisting upon dragging the hearse to Santa Maria Maggiore, where the body was buried in the gorgeous family chapel built by Paul V. The Prince [Marcantonio] Borghese had himself placed a sapphire ring of great value upon his wife’s finger on her wedding day and insisted that it should be buried with her, and himself watched the soldering of the leaden coffin.

A few days after the funeral a poor woman was arrested, charged with the theft of a sapphire ring, which had evidently belonged to the Princess Borghese, since it bore on the reverse her name and the date of her marriage, 1835. The woman asserted that while she was praying in the Borghese chapel the saintly princess had appeared to her and had given her the ring.

On recognizing the ring Prince Borghese ordered the coffin to be opened in his own presence and in that of several other well-known persons who had watched its sealing up. None of the seals were broken, but the hand was slightly moved, and the ring was gone. Much struck by this strange coincidence, the prince withdrew the charge and educated the children of the accused, one of whom is still living and is well known in the Italian literary world.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 14 April 1901: p. 20

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Princess Borghese was born Lady Gwendoline Talbot, daughter of the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury. She married Don Marcantonio, Prince Borghese in 1835, and died in 1840, aged 22 or 23 of scarlet fever contracted just after the family returned to Rome from a family visit to England and France. Shortly after that, her three sons died of the measles.

The Princess was called “la Madre dei Poveri” by the Romans. Her reputation and saintly nature made such a story all too plausible. Mrs Daffodil wonders about sleight-of-hand by the solderers, or a paste ring substituted for the real one. But perhaps it is easier to simply believe that the generous Princess arose from the grave for one last act of charity.

 

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.

What to Do When Baby Gets a Tooth: 1889

teething ring

An ivory and silver teething ring for baby. From http://www.bexfield.co.uk/01/d333.htm

WHAT TO DO

In Case the Baby Gets a Tooth

1. Telegraph at once to his grandfather and maternal aunt.

2. Ask the baby if he really has it, taking care not to address him in English undefiled.

3. Send word to the office that you will not be down to-day.

4. Avoid any jest which requires you to say that baby is now old enough to chews for himself.

5. Make an entry in your diary to the effect that a tooth is born unto you.

6. Do not temper your joy with your pessimistic thoughts as dentist’s bills inspire.

7. Swear off letting the little one chew your watch unless you like your hunting case to have dents in it.

8. Do not ask the child’s mother if she doesn’t think it strange that the other tooth don’t appear.

9. If you are a poor man don’t buy the youngster a silver-backed toothbrush on the strength of the first molar.

10. Do not tell an experienced father that you think it is a wisdom tooth. He will know better, and will probably go home and tell his wife what an unsophisticated cow you are.

11. Do not insist on feeding the boy on beefsteak right away.

12. Do not imagine that, that is the only tooth in the world, and eschew undue personal vanity because of the newcomer. You didn’t grow the tooth. Leave the conceit to this baby.

13. Remember that there are more teeth to come, and do not lavish too much enthusiasm on the first.

14. Make the youngster stop biting the piano legs and newspapers.

15. Never give theatre parties in honor of a first tooth.

16. Get the baby a toy to mark the occasion if you like, but do not move into a more commodious house because of it.

17. Do not waste your money on newspapers to see what they have to say about the new arrival.

18. Do not tell your friends about it more than eight times a day.

19. Do not charge admission to ladies who want to see it, or overestimate its drawing attractions by taking it on a starring tour through the suburbs. There are some things that suburban residents won’t pay to see, and one of them is the first tooth of another man’s baby.

20. If you deposit $100 in the bank in the child’s name, as a reward for his gallant feat, do not draw it out again under six months, if you want to get interest on it.

21. Do not ask your wife to let you take the tooth down to the club with you to show to the boys. You’ll have to take the baby with you if you do, and if there is one thing that is more out of place than another in a club it is a one-toothed baby.

22. Do not overtax the tooth, and see that baby does not bite off more than he can chew.

23. If the tooth is loose do not pull it out and have it set in a ring, nor must you fasten it in more firmly with stratina. Let nature take its course.

24. Do not be disappointed if the first tooth comes without gold filling in it.

By a judicious observance of the two dozen vital regulations your baby may have a tooth without subjecting the world to any undue excitement and without disturbance to the stock market.

Rocky Mountain News [Denver, CO] 13 February 1889: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To-day is the fanciful holiday “Tooth-fairy Day.” Mrs Daffodil wonders at the celebration of a supernatural entity notorious for breaking and entering and creeping into children’s bedrooms, but perhaps the financial consideration  compensates for its burglarious behaviour. Mrs Daffodil, if she had children, would be standing by with a net.

[This piece originally appeared in this venue on Father’s Day, 2015.]

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 Ghost in Yellow Calico: c. 1903

17th c memento mori rosary bead

THE GHOST IN YELLOW CALICO

The Rev. Elwyn Thomas, 35, Park Village East, N. W., London, has published a very remarkable experience of his own. It is as follows:

“Twelve years ago,” says the doctor, “I was the second minister of the Bryn Mawr Welsh Wesleyan Circuit, in the South Wales District. It was a beautiful evening in June when, after conducting the service at Llanyndir, I told the gentlemen with whom I generally stayed when preaching there, that three young friends had come to meet me from Crickhowell, and that I meant to accompany them back for about half a mile on their return journey, so would not be home before nine o’clock.

“When I wished good-night to my friends it was about twenty minutes to nine but still light enough to see a good distance. The subject of our conversation all the way from the chapel until we parted was of a certain eccentric old character who then belonged to the Crickhowell church. I walked a little further down the road than I intended in order to hear the end of a very amusing story about him. Our conversation had no reference whatever to ghosts. Personally I was a strong disbeliever in ghosts and invariably ridiculed anyone whom I thought superstitious enough to believe in them.

“When I had walked about a hundred yards away from my friends, after parting from them, I saw on the bank of the canal, what I thought at the moment was an old beggar. I couldn’t help asking myself where this old man had come from. I had not seen him in going down the road. I turned round quite unconcernedly to have another look at him, and had no sooner done so than I saw, within half a yard of me one of the most remarkable and startling sights I hope it will ever be my lot to see. Almost on a level with my own face, I saw that of an old man, over every feature of which the putty colored skin was drawn tightly, except the forehead which was lined with deep wrinkles. The lips were extremely thin and appeared perfectly bloodless. The toothless mouth stood half open. The cheeks were hollow and sunken like those of a corpse, and the eyes which seemed far back in the middle of the head, were unnaturally luminous and piercing. The terrible object was wrapped in two bands of old yellow calico, one of which was drawn under the chin, and over the cheeks and tied at the top of the head, the other was drawn round the top of the wrinkled forehead and fastened at the back of the head.

So deep and indelible an impression it made on my mind, that, were I an artist, I could paint that face to-day.

“What I have thus tried to describe in many words, I saw at a glance. Acting on the impulse of the moment, I turned my face toward the village and ran away from the horrible vision with all my might for about sixty yards. I then stopped and turned around to see how far I had distanced it, and to my unspeakable horror, there it was still face to face with me as if I had not moved an inch. I grasped my umbrella and raised it to strike him, and you can imagine my feelings when I could see nothing between the face and the ground, except an irregular column of intense darkness, through which my umbrella passed as a stick goes through water!

“I am sorry to say that I took to my heels with increasing speed. A little further than the space of this second encounter, the road which led to my host’s house branched off the main road. Having gone two or three yards down this branch road, I turned around again. He had not followed me after I left the main road, but I could see the horribly fascinating face quite as plainly as when it was close by. It stood for a few minutes looking intently at me from the center of the main road. I then realized fully that it was not a human being in flesh and blood; and, with every vestige of fear gone, I quickly walked toward it to put my questions. But I was disappointed, for, no sooner had I made toward it, than it began to move slowly down the road keeping the same distance above it until it reached the churchyard wall; it then crossed the road and disappeared near where the yew tree stood inside. The moment it disappeared, I became unconscious. Two hours later I came to myself and I made my way slowly to my home. I could not say a word to explain what had happened, though I tried several times. It was five o’clock in the morning when I regained my power of speech. The whole of the following week I was laid up with a nervous prostration.

“My host, after questioning me closely, told me that fifteen years before that time an old recluse of eccentric character, answering in every detail to my description (yellow calicoes, bands, and all) lived in a house whose ruins still stand close by where I saw the face disappear.”

True Ghost Stories, Hereward Carrington, 1915: pp 116-119

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Recently that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio has been assiduously studying shrouds for some presentation or other and Mrs Daffodil has been hearing a great deal too much about the subject….

However, it occurs to Mrs Daffodil that the calico bands around the disembodied head bear all the hallmarks of burial attire, much like the cloth tied around the ghostly Jacob Marley’s jaws. So unless the living recluse was known to stalk around the neighbourhood wearing a shroud and bands, one expects that this was just another example of ghosts who appear in their grave-clothes.  A reprehensible habit, to be sure, and most unhygienic—we have seen the warnings from the medical establishment about the unwholesome trade in used shrouds and grave goods.

One wonders if the Rev. Thomas was prostrated merely by the horror of the thing or by some obscure contagion from the grave.  Mrs Daffodil suggests that the local authorities should have responded to the disruptive revenant swiftly and decisively, either by compelling the creature to remain in its tomb via iron or exorcism, or by supplying it with a change of shroud in the newest and neatest pattern.

 

 

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 Maid with Red Hair: 1899

 

In the spring of 1899, being then a member of a certain Psychical Research Society, and hearing that a ghost had been seen at No — Southgate Street, Bristol, I set off to interview the ladies who were reported to have seen it. I found them (the Misses Rudd) at home, and on their very graciously consenting to relate to me their psychical experiences, I sat and listened to the following story (told as nearly as possible in the eldest lady’s own words) : ” It is now,” she began, ” some ten years since we were the tenants of the house you mention, but I recollect what I saw there as vividly as if it were yesterday.

“The house, I must tell you, is very small (only eight or so rooms), dingy, and in a chronic state of dilapidation ; it stands in the middle of a terrace with no front garden to speak of, save a few yards of moss-covered tiles, slate-coloured and broken, whilst its back windows overlooked a dreary expanse of deep and silent water. Nothing more dismal could be imagined.

“Still, when we took it, the idea of it being haunted never for one instant entered our minds, and our first intimation that such was the case came upon us like a thunderbolt.

“We only kept one maid, Jane (a girl with dark hair and pleasant manners), my sisters and I doing all the cooking and helping with the light work. The morning on which incident No. 1 happened, knowing Jane to be upstairs occupied in dusting the rooms, and my sisters being out, my mother asked me to go into the kitchen and see if the stove was all right as ‘there was a smell of burning.’

“Doing as she bid, I hastened to the kitchen, where a strange spectacle met my sight.

“Kneeling in front of the stove, engaged apparently in polishing the fender, was a servant-girl with RED hair; I started back in astonishment. ‘Who could she be?’

Too intent at first to notice my advent, she kept on at her work, giving me time to observe that she was wearing a very dirty dress, and that her rag of a cap was quite askew. Satisfied she was not ‘Jane,’ and wondering whether some one else’s maid had mistaken our kitchen for her own — the houses in the terrace being all alike — I called out, ‘Who are you? what do you want?’ — whereupon, dropping the fire-irons with a clatter, she quickly turned round, displaying an ashen-pale face, the expression on which literally froze me with horror.

“Never! never had I seen such an awful look of hopeless, of desperate, of diabolical abandonment in any one’s eyes as in those of hers when their glance met mine.

“For some seconds we glared at one another without moving, and then, still regarding me with a furtive look from out of the corner of her horrible eyes, she slowly rose from the hearth, and gliding stealthily forward, disappeared in the diminutive scullery opposite.

“Curiosity now overcoming fear, I at once followed. She was nowhere to be seen; nor was there any other mode of exit by which she could have made her departure than a tiny window, some four feet or so from the floor and directly overlooking the deep waters of the pond to which I have already alluded.

“Here, then, was a mystery ! What had I seen? Had I actually encountered a phantasm, or was I but the victim of an exceedingly unpleasant and falsidical hallucination? I preferred to think the former.

“Not wishing to frighten my mother, I intended keeping the incident to myself, writing, however, a complete account of it in my diary for the current year, but, a further incident occurring to my youngest sister within the next few days, I determined to reveal what I had seen and compare notes.”

The eldest Miss Rudd now concluded, and on my expressing a desire to hear more, her youngest sister very obligingly commenced:

“I had been out shopping in the Triangle one morning,” she said, “and having omitted to take the latchkey, I was obliged to ring. Jane answered the summons. There was nothing, of course, unusual in this, as it was her duty to do so, but there was something extremely singular in what appeared at her elbow.

“Standing close beside — I might almost say leaning against her (though Jane was apparently unaware of it) — was a strange, a very strange, servant-girl, with red hair and the most uncanny eyes; she had on a bedraggled print dress and a cap all askew ; but it was her expression that most attracted my attention — it was horrid.

“’Oh Jane!’ I cried, ‘whoever is it with you?’

“Following the direction of my gaze, Jane immediately turned round, and, without a word, FAINTED.

“That is all. The apparition, or whatever you may please to call it, vanished, and the next time I saw it was under different circumstances.”

“Will you be so kind as to relate them?” I inquired.

Miss Rudd proceeded: “Oh! it is nothing very much!” she exclaimed, “only it was very unpleasant at the time — especially as I was all alone.

“You see, mother, being delicate, went to bed early, my sisters were at a concert, and it was Jane’s ‘night out.’

“I never, somehow, fancied the basement of the house; it was so cold and damp, reminding me not a little of a MORGUE or charnel-house; consequently I never stayed there a moment longer than was absolutely necessary, and on this night in question I was in the act of scurrying back to the drawing- room when a gentle tap! tap! at the scullery-window made me defer my departure. Entering the back kitchen, somewhat timidly I admit, I saw a face peering in at me through the tiny window.

“Though the night was dark and there was no artificial lighting at this side of the house, every feature of that face was revealed to me as clearly as if it had been day. The little, untidy cap, all awry, surmounting the shock-head of red hair now half- down and dripping with water, the ghastly white cheeks, the widely open mouth, and the eyes, their pupils abnormally dilated and full of lurid light, were more appallingly horrible than ever.

“I stood and gazed at it, my heart sick with terror, nor do I know what would have happened to me had not the loud rap of the postman acted like magic; the thing vanished, and ‘turning tail,’ I fled upstairs into the presence of my mother. That is all.”

I was profuse in my thanks, and the third Miss Rudd then spoke:

“My bedroom,” she began, “was on the top landing — the window over-looking the water. I slept alone some months after the anecdotes just related, and was awakened one night by feeling some disgusting, wet object lying on my forehead.

“With an ejaculation of alarm I attempted to brush it aside, and opening my eyes, encountered a ghastly white face bending right over me.

“I instantly recognised it, by the description my sisters had given, as the phantasm of the red-headed girl.

“The eyes were terrible! Shifting its slimy hand from my forehead, and brandishing it aloft like some murderous weapon, it was about to clutch my throat, when human nature would stand it no longer — and — I fainted. On recovering, I found both my sisters in the room, and after that I never slept by myself.”

“Did your mother ever see it?” I asked.

“Frequently,” the eldest Miss Rudd replied, “and it was chiefly on her account we relinquished our tenancy — her nervous system was completely prostrated.”

“Other people saw the ghost besides us,” the youngest Miss Rudd interrupted, “for not only did the long succession of maids after Jane all see it, but many of the subsequent tenants ; the house was never let for any length of time.”

“Then, perhaps, it is empty now?” I soliloquised, “in which case I shall most certainly experiment there.”

This proved to be the case; the house was tenantless, and I easily prevailed upon the agent to loan me the key.

But the venture was fruitless. Three of us and a dog undertook it. We sat at the foot of the gloomy staircase; twelve o’clock struck, no ghost appeared, the dog became a nuisance — and — we came away disgusted.

A one-night’s test, however, is no test at all; there is no reason to suppose apparitions are always to be seen by man ; as yet we know absolutely nothing of the powers or conditions regulating their appearances, and it is surely feasible that the unknown controlling elements of one night may have been completely altered, may even have ceased to exist by the next. At all events, that was my opinion. I was by no means daunted at a single failure. But it was impossible to get any one to accompany me.

The sceptic is so boastfully eager by day. “Ghosts,” he sneers, “what are ghosts? Indigestion and imagination! I’ll challenge you to show me the house I wouldn’t sleep in alone! Ghosts indeed! Give me a poker or a shovel and I will scare away the lot of them.” And when you do show him the house he always has a prior engagement, or else the weather is too cold, or he has too much work to do next day, or it isn’t really worth the trouble, or — well! he is sure to have some very plausible excuse; at least, that has been my invariable experience.

There is no greater coward than the sceptic, and so, unable to procure a friend for the occasion, I did without one; neither did I have the key of the house, but — taking French leave — gained admittance through a window.

It was horribly dark and lonely, and although on the former occasion I did not feel the presence of the superphysical, I did so now, the very moment I crossed the threshold. Striking a light, I looked around me: I was in the damp and mouldy den that served as a kitchen; outside I saw the moon reflected on the black and silent water.

A long and sleek cockroach disappeared leisurely in a hole in the skirting as I flashed my light in its direction, and I thought I detected the movement of a rat or some large animal in the cupboard at the foot of the stairs. I forthwith commenced a search — the cupboard was empty. I must have been mistaken. For some minutes I stood in no little perplexity as to my next move. Where should I go? Where ought I to go if my adventure were to prove successful?

I glanced at the narrow, tortuous staircase winding upwards into the grim possibilities of the deserted hall and landings — and — my courage failed.

Here, at least, I was safe! Should the Unknown approach me, I could escape by the same window through which I had entered. I felt I dare not! I really could not go any further. Seized with a sudden panic at nothing more substantial than my own thoughts, I was groping my way backwards to the window when a revulsion of feeling made me pause. If all men were poltroons, how much would humanity ever know of the Occult? We should leave off where we began, and it had ever been my ambition to go — further.

My self-respect returning, I felt in my pocket for pencil, notebook and revolver, and trimming my lamp I mounted the stairs.

A house of such minute dimensions did not take long to explore; what rooms there were, were Lilliputian — mere boxes; the walls from which hung the tattered remnants of the most offensively inartistic papers were too obviously Jerry built; the wainscoting was scarred, the beading broken, not a door fitted, not a window that was not either loose or sashless — the entire house was rotten, paltry, mean; I would not have had it as a gift. But where could I wait to see the ghost? Disgust at my surroundings had, for a time, made me forget my fears ; these now returned reinforced: I thought of Miss Rudd’s comparison with a morgue— and shuddered. The rooms looked ghastly! Selecting the landing at the foot of the upper storey, I sat down, my back against the wall — and — waited.

Confronting me was the staircase leading up and down, equally dark, equally ghostly; on my right was what might once have been the drawing-room, but was now a grim conglomeration of bare boards and moonlight, and on my left was an open window directly overtopping the broad expanse of colourless, motionless water. Twelve o’clock struck, the friendly footsteps of a pedestrian died away in the distance; I was now beyond the pale of assistance, alone and deserted — deserted by all save the slimy, creeping insects below — and the shadows. Yes! the shadows; and as I watched them sporting phantastically at my feet, I glanced into the darkness beyond — and shivered.

All was now intensely suggestive and still, the road alone attractive; and despite my spartonic resolutions I would have given much to be out in the open. The landing was so cramped, so hopeless.

A fresh shadow, the shadow of a leaf that had hitherto escaped my notice, now attracted and appalled me; the scratching of an insect made my heart stand still ; my sight and hearing were painfully acute; a familiar and sickly sensation gradually crept over me, the throbbing of my heart increased, the most inconceivable and desperate terror laid hold of me: the house was no longer empty — the supernatural had come! Something, I knew not, I dare not think what, was below, and I knew it would ascend.

All the ideas I had previously entertained of addressing the ghost and taking notes were entirely annihilated by my fear — fear mingled with a horrible wonder as to what form the apparition would take, and I found myself praying Heaven it might not be that of an elemental.

The THING had now crossed the hall (I knew this somehow instinctively) and was beginning to mount the stairs.

I could not cry out, I could not stir, I could not close my eyes: I could only sit there staring at the staircase in the most awful of dumb, apprehensive agonies. The thing drew nearer, nearer; up, up, UP it came until I could see it at last — see the shock-head of red hair, the white cheeks, the pale, staring eyes, all rendered hideously ghastly by the halo of luminous light that played around it. This was a ghost — an apparition — a bona fide phantasm of the dead ! And without any display of physical power —it overcame me.

Happily for me, the duration of its passage was brief.

It came within a yard of me, the water dripping from its clinging clothes, yet leaving no marks on the flooring. It thrust its face forward; I thought it was going to touch me, and tried to shrink away from it, but could not. Yet it did nothing but stare at me, and its eyes were all the more horrible because they were blank; not diabolical, as Miss Rudd had described them, but simply Blank! — Blank with the glassiness of the Dead.

Gliding past with a slightly swaying motion, it climbed upstairs, the night air blowing through the bedraggled dress in a horribly natural manner; I watched it till it was out of sight with bated breath — for a second or so it stopped irresolutely beside an open window; there was a slight movement as of some one mounting the sill: a mad, hilarious chuckle, a loud splash — and then — silence, after which I went home.

I subsequently discovered that early in the seventies a servant-girl, who was in service at that house, had committed suicide in the manner I have just described, but whether or not she had RED hair I have never been able to ascertain.

P.S. — The Ghost I am informed on very reliable authority, is still (August 1908) to be seen.

Some Haunted Houses of England & Wales, Elliott O’Donnell, 1908

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Red hair was considered to be either the mark of the Devil or a sign of a coarse or depraved person. While one might consider engaging a red-headed scullery maid, a red-headed parlour maid could not have been countenanced.

We have heard supernatural tales from Mr O’Donnell before: The Ghost with One Shoe; The Banshee Sang of Death; The Spectral Hound.  He, Mrs Daffodil has observed, had a wide streak of misogyny, was obsessed with “Elementals” and decay, and—Mrs Daffodil knows that you will be grieved to hear it—often paltered with the truth. Still, we are obliged to him for providing us with the grues on snowy afternoons.

 

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 Ghost in Brocade: 1906

ghost in brocade dressA

The Ghost in Brocade

On hoardings, in fields, on the covers of magazines, on the back sheets of newspapers, an advertisement headed “S.S.S.” appears with the regularity of the sun. Additional information is accorded to the curious by the expansion of these mystic signs into the words, “Sarah’s Salutary Sauce “–a condiment invented by Sarah Brag to tickle the palates of the epicures.

Her husband, a compositor in the office of a provincial journal, made a fortune out of it for both of them. He commenced quite in a small way by advertising it in the columns he set up, while Sarah, renting suitable premises in the town, personally manufactured her invention. The advertisements were read, the sauce was approved of, and as circles on the water its fame widened round the world. In twenty years Mr. and Mrs. Brag were almost millionaires, and having turned their concern into a limited liability company, retired to enjoy an old age of well-earned ease and comfort at Alliston Hall. “S.S.S.” did its work well, and for once fortune bestowed her favours on the deserving.

They were wholly unlike the millionaires of commerce or of fiction, these two. For they were neither anxious to get into society nor desirous of displaying their wealth with ostentation. Mr. Brag, indeed, had rubbed off some of his natural roughness whilst shouldering his way through the world, but Sarah his wife was as much a cook as she had been when she presided over the kitchen of Alliston Hall. Now she sat in the drawing-room, and could without doubt have set up as a fine lady had she so desired. But her heart was ever in the back premises, and her visits there were by no means infrequent. She remained always the uneducated, rough, warm-hearted woman, devoted to her home and to her husband. I knew her value better than anyone, save perhaps Helen; and both of us were extremely fond of her, and indeed of Mr. Brag also. They were a typical Mr. and Mrs. Boffin.

But who am I, you will ask—and who is Helen, too? Well, I who tell you this story am Geoffrey Beauchamp, an idle Oxonian and private secretary to Mr. Brag.

When I left Balliol, my father, failing in business, took his loss of money and reputation so seriously that he died of a broken heart, and joined my mother in the next world, whither she had long preceded him. Finding myself an orphan, penniless, and without a profession, I cast about for employment. I answered an advertisement for a secretary. In this way it was that I became acquainted with Mr. Brag. For three years past I have looked after his affairs—that is to say, I have written his letters, advised him as best I could, and have stood between his too kindly soul and the hungry horde of money-hunters. And he on his part has treated me more like a son than a paid servant, which I have not failed to appreciate. So comfortable at position and so kindly a friend come not to every man.

Then there is Helen. She is looked upon as the daughter of the house, as indeed she is, seeing that she was born at the Hall.

When Sir Ralph Alliston died after a spendthrift career, he left his only child without a penny. The Hall was sold, and the proceeds went to pay off the mortgages and the rest of the debts. So Helen, poor helpless girl, had no choice but to go out as a governess. But Sarah Brag soon changed all that. She remembered Helen as a child, and when the Hall was purchased by the money made out of “S.S.S.” she sought out the orphan and insisted upon her returning.

“As my own child.” explained the good soul; “seein’ that ‘J. ’ and me ain’t bin bless’d with babies. Not that I’m a lady, my dear, nor could ever have a daughter like you. But we’ll put it like that to satisfy the ‘conveniences ‘ of society.”

What could Helen do but accept an offer so kindly and so liberally made. So she came back to her ancestral home, and found existence made as pleasant for her as Mr. and Mrs. Brag could make it. Then it came about that as I was young and Helen altogether charming we fell in love with each other, much to the delight, be it said, of our patrons. Eventually it was arranged that I should be Helen’s husband, and that she should expect to inherit the substantial profits from “S.S.S.”

“And if I might advise Mr. Beauchamp,” said Mrs. Brag, beaming, “ you should take the name and arms of Alliston, by right of ‘Elen here; so that when we are dead and gone the old family will still be in the old place where they have been for Lord knows what number of years.

“Think,” cried Mrs. Brag, jubilantly, “of the ancestors you’ll have. Why there’s a church chock full of ’em—all knights and bar’nites. Fine, ain’t it?”

I agreed that it was “fine,” and with Helen’s consent, indeed at her express wish, I promised the worthy couple to take the name of Alliston when I should lead the last scion of the family to the altar.

And this was the position of affairs when the ghost came; and I do not think there were four happier people in the whole world up to that time. Lady Marian spoilt it all.

Lady Marian was the ghost’s name. She had been a Georgian beauty a couple of hundred years ago—had rustled in silken brocade in the midst of Jacobite conspiracies. Her husband had preferred King George to King James, and desirous of keeping his head and property had given her to understand as much. But it would seem that excitement was the breath of Lady Marian’s nostrils and she made the Hall a centre of intrigue, which included the midnight visits of Jesuit priests, of French emissaries from his Majesty over the water, and of sulky Squires who cursed the Hanoverian in their cups.

Sir Walter Alliston, being a jealous husband as well as a loyal subject, disapproved of his wife’s pranks, and accused her of using politics for the masking of intrigues against his honour and her own. The lady, being of high spirit, denied the accusation, and swore never again to speak to her husband. He, more furious than ever, kept a close watch upon her, and one evening found a masked gallant leaving her apartments. Without a moment’s hesitation he ran the intruder through with his rapier. When he tore off the vizor he found to his horror that the victim was Lady Marian herself, disguised for some excursion. Dying, she cursed him and his, and declared that she would haunt him and his descendants evermore.

“And she’s kept her word!” said Mrs. Brag, who told me the story, “for when Sir Walter died she walked down the picture gallery the night before. She always comes to tell when one of the family is to die. I ’eard as she was seen just before ’Elen’s father went off, and when Lady Alliston died in giving birth to that dear girl I saw the ghost myself.”

“Nonsense, Mrs. Brag! There are no such things as ghosts,” I said.

“Oh, ain’t there, but there is. I tell you, as I’m a livin’ breathin’ woman I saw the Lady Marian gliding along the picture gallery in brocade and ‘igh-‘eeled shoes, just as she were when alive.”

“Have you seen the ghost since you bought the Hall, Mrs. Brag?”

“God forbid, my dear; for if Lady Marian comes again it will only be to take away ’Elen, seein’ as she’s the last of them.”

As Mrs. Brag, with the superstition of an uneducated person, firmly believed in the warning apparition. I was not surprised on returning from a month’s holiday in Switzerland shortly before Christmas, to find her in a state of great alarm at the reappearance of her bugbear. Two weeks before my return Lady Marian, brocade, high-heeled shoes, cane and all, had twice, been seen in the picture gallery—on each occasion at the midnight hour.

Mrs. Brag was certain that it meant Helen’s death, and unable utterly to keep feeling of any kind to herself, had succeeded in infecting the whole house with her fears. Not a servant would enter the Long Gallery, as it was called, after dark; and even Mr. Brag, sceptic as he was, became uneasy when he came to think of what it might mean.

The girl herself did not look so well as when I had left for my holiday. She was pale and thin, and singularly silent. Her eyes, too, seemed unnaturally bright. After Mrs. Brag had delivered herself of the story, and had stated her intention of calling in the vicar to exorcise the ghost, I was left alone in the drawing-room with Helen.

“My darling, you look ill,” I said, clasping her in my arms; “surely you do not believe in all this nonsense.”

She shivered. “I don’t know,” she said, nervously. “Both the housekeeper and the butler have seen the ghost. Mrs. Brag is always talking about it, and really I am beginning to think there must be some truth in it.”

“Nonsense l nonsense ! All this talk and fuss has made you nervous and ill; hasn’t it, dear?”

“Yes, Geoffrey; I was quite well until the ghost came.”

I saw very plainly how matters stood. Helen was sensitive and highly strung, and Mrs. Brag’s foolish talk had wrought her up to such a pitch that the tortured nerves reacted on her delicate body. She was never a strong girl, but she was always very healthy. Worry was evidently what had made her ill. I no longer wondered that the Allistons had died when Lady Marian was rumoured to have appeared. They were a nervous race. I realised therefore that if I did not do something to exorcise this spirit, if such it were, Helen would become seriously ill, and might even die.

“It is a good thing I returned,” I said to Mr. Brag, when Helen retired to dress for dinner. “That girl will die if this sort of thing goes on.”

“I dessay, I dessay, Geoffrey; but how do you propose to stop it?”

“Find out the trick, to be sure.”

“But how do you know it’s a trick, Geoffrey?”

“I’m sure of it. Tell me, have you seen the ghost?”

“Lor’ no. I ain’t a coward, Geoffrey, but wild ‘orses wouldn’t drag me to that gallery at night. I ain’t seen it, but Parsons and Mrs. Jackson ’ave.”

“Or think they have. What they have seen is some one dressed up as Lady Marian, mark me. Or else they suffer from hallucination. Parsons is sober, I know.”

“Oh, yes; and even if he ain’t, Mrs. Jackson is. She never touches a drop to my knowledge. No, ‘tain’t drink, whatever it is.”

“And they both declare that they have seen the ghost?”

“Lor’, yes. They take their oaths they have.”

“Then it must be a trick. And if I catch the person who is playing it I’ll—well, I’ll make the false ghost a real one. Will you let me take charge of this matter, Mr. Brag?”

“Of course, Geoffrey. I was just waitin’ for you to come back. Find out what’s wrong, and knock all this stuff out of my old woman’s head. She’s mostly in hysterics o’ nights.”

“And no wonder when Helen looks so ill. Believe me, ghosts went out when gas came in. I think I shall manage to prove to you that this spectral Lady Marian is very substantial flesh and blood.”

“But she may not be,” urged Mr. Brag, somewhat dubiously. “Lots of these ‘igh families ’ave their ghosts to see ’em into the next world, I believe. Besides, who could be playin’ this wild trick?”

“Ah, that’s just what we have to find out.”

But it was not so easy to find out. I questioned Mrs. Jackson and Parsons in the most exhaustive manner. They corroborated each other’s story with such verisimilitude and wealth of detail as to leave no doubt in my mind of their good faith. Evidently they had seen a brocaded lady in the picture gallery; but, of course, it could be no such thing as a visitant from the other world. That was where they went wrong. I was certain it was someone playing a trick.

“Oh, you may laugh, sir,” said Mrs. Jackson. She was such a stiff old dame. “But I do assure you that I saw the ghost with my own eyes. I was coming through the long gallery from Miss Alliston’s room and in the moonlight it came on, clack, clack, clack, in high-heeled shoes. I could hear distinctly the rustle of the dress, and as it swept past me I smelt a perfume like that of dried roseleaves. It was Lady Marian sure enough, as I saw from the portrait in the gallery. I fainted dead away, Mr. Beauchamp, sir; and when I came to myself it was gone.”

I confess to feeling a trifle uncomfortable at all this. Then Parsons took up the story.

“I didn’t faint, sir, not bein’ a woman,” said he, “but my flesh was mighty creepy as it went past. I stared at it like a stuck pig, though it was plain enough in the moonlight. It vanished all of a sudden by the painted winder at the end of the gallery.”

“What were you doing in the Long Gallery at that hour, Parsons?”

“Comin’ from master, sir. He’d a bad cold, and I took him up some ‘ot rum and water. I wouldn‘t go to that there gallery again, sir, for all the crown jewels. It was a ghost, sure enough.”

“Oh, was it!” said I, showing plainly by my tone that I did not think it was. “Call the servants Parsons.”

In a few minutes all the domestics in the house were assembled, and a very white-faced crowd they were. Many of them would have been frightened away from the Hall had it not been that the place was such a good one. I suppose, too, it was a case in which they felt there was comfort in numbers. I harangued them pretty freely for what I termed their nonsensical fears.

“Men and women come to years of sense,” I went on, “well—I’m surprised. How can you believe such rubbish? Some one of you is playing a trick; and who it is I shall find out, so beware all of you.”

Of course they protested vehemently. But that was to be expected.

“However,” I said, “you can take this warning from me. I shall watch in the gallery myself with a straight-shooting revolver, and if that ghost appears it shall have a taste of it. I am not going to have your master and mistress and Miss Alliston frightened by this silly trick.”

Again they all protested. But I sent the lot of them away with more blood in their cheeks. Then I turned upstairs to dress for dinner. As I did so I noticed a pretty, timid-looking young woman whose face I did not recognise. She glanced at me uneasily, and was evidently disturbed.

“Who are you?” I asked, abruptly, pausing before her.

“Jane Riordan, sir,” she replied with a curtsey. “I am new here.”

“What are you?”

“Under-housemaid, sir. Oh, please, sir, do you really think there is a ghost?”

“No, you silly girl. The dead never return to this world.”

“Please, sir, what about the Witch of Endor and Samuel, sir?”

“Oh, you are a theologian, I see. Well we won’t discuss that apparition. You must just look upon that as a miracle and not be afraid.”

She shuddered, and looked over her shoulder apprehensively.

“I am terribly afraid, sir, it’s no use my denying it. I shall ask mistress to let me go.”

“You will ask nothing of the kind,” said I in my most peremptory manner.

“Your going would only be the signal for general flight. You‘ll stay here like a sensible girl, until all this mystery is cleared up.”

“Oh, sir, but will it be cleared up?”

“Of course it will, and by a very substantial leaden bullet, too. Now get on with your work and don’t be a fool.”

I saw that there was only one way to deal with the thing, so that I spoke more brusquely to the girl than I would have otherwise done. Besides, she irritated me; she seemed so absolutely terrified with fear. She was calculated to infect the rest of them, though they seemed bad enough as it was. I went off to dress in no very good humour,

Mr. Brag’s want of common sense over this affair amazed me. Usually he was a cool headed and logical man as was conclusively proved by the position to which he had attained. Yet apparently he was as nervous and distaught now, as any of the women. The ghost seemed to have been too much for him; to have knocked the grit out of him, so to speak. He was no more fit than a baby to deal with the situation. I put down his short-coming at this juncture in no small degree to his lack of education.

Then there was the constant chatter of his wife, of whom this element of the supernatural had taken firm hold. She never ceased talking about it, and I suppose the strongest mind is in the end influenced by reiteration. It seemed as if Mrs. Brag’s mind were becoming unhinged.

I was glad that I returned so opportunely. At least if I could throw no light on the subject I could go to work with a cool head and an unprejudiced mind to clear it up.

Mrs. Brag continued to talk of little else but the ghost, whose appearance she seemed to think was quite in keeping with the season. It was astounding the numbers of legends she seemed to have accumulated. Headless phantoms, churchyard apparitions, ghosts in armour, and clanking chains and “presences,” who she said could not be seen but only felt in the most horrific way—upon all these she descanted in the most appalling manner. Helen shuddered, Mr. Brag shook his head portentously, and I must confess that even I felt uncomfortable. The old lady seemed so to environ us with the atmosphere of the supernatural that when a coal dropped from the fire we all jumped, and she shrieked. It was really a most terrible state of things especially for Christmas.

I asked her about Jane Riordan. My question fortunately turned the subject, for it seemed that Mrs. Brag had a good deal to say about this young woman.

“Ah,” she said, “hers is a sad history, my dear. Her father and mother were fellow-servants of mine when I was cook here. The name wasn’t Riordan, for that’s Jane’s married name. Craik’s what we called ‘em—‘Enry and Liza Craik, butler and housekeeper.”

Helen looked up with interest. “Henry Craik ? ” she said, “ why that was the man who stole my mother’s jewels!”

“The same, my dear. Oh, he was a bad one he was; but yet you’d think butter wouldn’t melt in ’is mouth to look at ’im. Liza was always sayin’ as ‘e ‘d die in gaol and disgrace ’er, and ’e did.”

“Were the jewels recovered Mrs. Brag?”

“No, Geoffrey, they weren’t. My Lady missed ‘em one morning after a ball ’ere, when the ‘ouse was full of guests. The whole box was stolen—five or six thousand pounds’ worth, no less; and she only saved what she wore at the ball. All kinds of people were suspected of ’aving gone to ’er room and taken ’em, but no one thought as Craik had done it.”

“I heard something of the story myself,” observed Mr. Brag. “He was caught selling a bracelet, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, J., he was. He got leave to visit a dying friend in London, the old fox; and the friend was a pawnbroker, and ’e told the police, seein’ as ‘e recognised the bracelet from the ’and bills put about. Craik was arrested and sent to gaol for years. He died there, and they never got anything out of ‘im. Where he hid the jewels no one knows, and no one ever will, my dears; for twenty years ’ave gone by since they were stolen.”

“And how does Jane Riordan come to be here?” I asked.

“Her mother died the other day and sent her to me, my dear. ‘Liza and I were born in the village and lived here for years as ’ousekeeper and cook. I can’t say as I liked ‘er over much, she was sly and deceitful; but I don’t think she had anything to do with Craik stealing the jewels. He was bad enough to do that by himself. When he died in gaol Liza wrote to me, and I sent her money to bring up Jane. Then Jane married a bad husband, who left ‘er and when Liza died she came ’ere and asked me to ‘elp ’er for ’er mother’s sake. So I made ‘er under’ousemaid. I think she’s a fool, Geoffrey, but honest enough.”

“She appeared to be nervous, however.”

“And no wonder with this ’orrid ghost,” cried Mrs. Brag, looking round. “I tell you what, J., if you don’t get the parson to exorcise that thing, I’ll leave the ’ouse, that I will.”

“Steady, old lady, we must see what Geoffrey can do first. He’s watching in the Long Gallery tonight.”

“Oh, Geoffrey, the ghost’ll ’ave you for sure.”

“The ghost will have a dose of lead, Mrs. Brag. If you hear a shot, don’t be alarmed.”

“But you can’t shoot ghosts, Geoffrey, they’re shadows, my dear. You can see through ’em.”

“I daresay. I never saw one myself. But this ghost is pretty substantial I’ll be bound. But tell me, Mrs. Brag; was anything ever found out about the jewels?”

“No!” said Helen, before the old lady could answer. “I remember my father searched everywhere for them and offered a big reward. He saw Craik, too: but he refused to say what he had done with them, and Mrs. Craik protested she knew nothing about it. They have been lost for years now.”

“H’m. I wonder if Jane Riordan knows anything about them.”

“That she don’t,” said Mrs. Brag, with energy. “Liza was an honest woman I know; and the gal seems straight enough. If they’d ’ad the jewels they wouldn’t ‘ave lived in poverty so.”

“Still, Craik might have told his wife where he concealed them.”

“No Geoffrey, dear. She’d ’ave come to my Lady or Sir Ralph about them, and got paid for bringing ’em back. If she knew anything she’d ‘ave told for ’er own sake: for she was as poor as poor. Jane told me the most ’arrowing tales of ‘ardship.”

“I’ll question Jane myself,” said I, after some thought. “If these jewels could be recovered they would suit Helen very well.”

Helen laughed and Mrs. Brag beamed.

“If its jewels she wants I will give ‘er ‘eaps. Won’t I, J.?”

“She’s only to ask and to ‘ave,” said Mr. Brag; “but I wish I saw you more rosy and ’ealthy, my dear.”

“I’m afraid this ghost is upsetting my nerves terribly,” said Helen; “do what I will I can’t help thinking about it.”

“Oh, J., can’t we ‘ave some ‘oly water and get it away?” implored Mrs. Brag.

“’Oly water, no. I won’t have no popery here, Sarah. S.S.S. shall never go to fatten the priests if I can ‘elp it. I’m surprised at you, I am.”

“She is over-wrought, Mr. Brag,” said Helen, rising. “Indeed, I think we all are, with this horrid Lady Marian about. Come along to bed, Mrs. Brag. I’ll come up with you.”

“You’ll have to stay with me all night, my dear,” whimpered the old lady, “for I don’t know as Geoffrey firin’ off pistols won’t be as bad as the ghost. Are you goin’ to stay up too, J.?”

“There is no necessity,” I interposed. “I can watch quite well alone. When Mr. Brag hears a shot he can come to me if he likes.”

“Oh, I’ll come fast enough,” said the old man, sturdily; “’tain’t flesh and blood I’m scared of, though I don’t like the other thing. However, if the blessed thing belongs to this world or the next it’s quite certain we’ve got to put a stop to its goin’s on ’ere. If you don’t catch it, Geoffrey, we’ll shut up the house and go abroad. I‘m getting quite skeery myself, and I ain’t got over much nerve to speak of.”

“Well, let me try my hand at exorcising the thing, Mr. Brag. If I can’t manage it we’ll do what you say. Helen will die if this sort of thing goes on.”

“Lord, you don’t think it’s come for ’er?”

“No, I don’t. It is some trick, I tell you. Leave me to find it out,”

Mr. Brag shook his head doubtfully and retired to bed in his turn. Left alone I started on an exploration of the house with a lamp in one hand and a revolver in the other. I examined all the doors and windows, and found them securely bolted and barred. I looked into what rooms I could, from cellar to attic, and found them empty. It was quite clear that beyond the inmates of the house there was no one. Then I made for the happy hunting ground of the ghost.

It had lately been snowing, but now the night was frosty and clear. A bright moon dispelled the darkness and the white world without was as clear as day.

The Long Gallery stretched the whole length of the west wing. On one side a row of tall windows admitted a good light on to the pictures on the opposite wall. There was a fair collection of these, but the Allistons had never been sufficiently artistic in their tastes, or sufficiently acute in their judgment, to acquire masterpieces.

The portraits of Helen’s ancestors were of most interest to me. There was a long series of them, dating from the Tudor time and representing some of the best work of the masters. These were let into the oak panelling with their gilded frames, and could not be detached from the wall. At the further end of the gallery was an ornate window of stained glass, and through this the moonlight fell now weaving coloured arabesques of the floor and portraits. Here I paused before the picture of Lady Marian Alliston.

She must have been a supremely beautiful woman, this Jacobite conspirator, with the high spirit and strong will. Here she was portrayed as tall and stately of figure. A proud expression was on her almost swarthy face, and in the slenderest of white hands she gripped a walking-cane. In a dress of rich brocade, with jewels on neck and arms, red-heeled shoes, and the towering head-dress of the period, she looked every inch a queen, and in her day must surely have moved and ruled as one. I could imagine those imperious brows frowning at the mention of the Elector! I could fancy those firm lips speaking the curse on her too hasty husband. There was something about this fair dead woman which reminded me of Beatrix Esmond; filled with the joy of life and born to dominate by the power of beauty and intellect. Yet she failed as Thackeray‘s heroine failed; but died more nobly, in the prime of loveliness without withering out into sad old age. Had Sir Walter’s rapier not struck through the proud heart she might have been a Sarah Jennings. As it was she was thwarted by Fate; and it was her sad destiny to appear as a bird of ill-omen to those who sat in her seat of pride. Yet I could imagine her wrath when alive at the idea that her fair phantom would descend to scaring an old cook and her plebian husband. How ironical a fate!

But all this preamble leads to nothing. Although I watched in the gallery until dawn I saw no ghost. It was bitterly cold; and the vigil was uncomfortable and in vain. Lady Marian did not appear. I did not even hear the rustle of her skirts, much less set eyes on her face; and when I descended to breakfast, after an hour or so of sleep, it was to laugh at the superstitions of my friends.

“It is as I thought,” said I. “Parsons and Mrs. Jackson both dreamed they saw the phantom. Lady Marian is too wise to revisit the scene of her death.”

“Ah, but she don’t appear every night,” protested Mrs. Brag, wisely. “You wait, Geoffrey. She’ll freeze your blood yet.”

“Not while she knows that an armed watcher has his eye on her, Mrs. Brag.”

“You still believe it is a trick, Geoffrey?”

“If Lady Marian’s phantom is not merely the creation of Parson’s and Mrs. Jackson’s dreams, I still believe it is a trick.”

But trick or no trick, all my vigils were in vain. Night after night for quite two weeks I watched in that infernal gallery for the ghost which never came. Yet notwithstanding my disappointment I could not rid myself of the feeling that there was some mystery about the apparition. It was possible that my public announcement to shoot the so-called ghost had scared the person who, I truly believed, represented it. With this idea I went on a new tack, and once more assembled the household.

“I have watched for fourteen nights, more or less,” I said, “and no ghost has come to scare me. Therefore, I believe Mr. Parsons and Mrs. Jackson have been deceived in thinking they saw one. There is no phantom here, so you can all set your minds at rest. For my part,” and this was the most important point of my speech, “I intend to watch no more. If Lady Marian comes again she must go without an audience. Now all of you go away, and let me have no more of this rubbish.”

Butler and housekeeper were both indignant at my aspersions, but they knew better than to protest openly, and went away with the rest of the servants to grumble in secret. An air of calm pervaded the table, and Mrs. Brag began to pluck up courage. Also Helen, to prove what was undermining her health, became more cheerful and less hysterical. My common sense had exorcised the ghost so far, but it had not solved the mystery. Determined to fathom this I still continued to watch in the gallery. But no one knew of my vigils, not even Helen; so if the trickster came, he or she, whatsoever it might he, would find me waiting.

For two or three nights the gallery was empty as the palm of my hand. But on the fourth night my chance came, and with it the ghost.

It was about midnight, and the moon shining through the clear glass of the side windows and reflecting her light from an expanse of snow made the gallery almost as brilliant as day. I was hidden behind a curtain, midway along the gallery, and half drowsily was looking out into the maze of shadow and silver radiance. Suddenly in the absolute stillness I heard a faint sound. It was a tapping of heels, the rustle of silk skirts, and in a moment under the painted window I saw the ghost. It appeared from nowhere, and I must confess it startled me very considerably.

It was Lady Marian sure enough. I was sufficiently close to it to see that. There she stood, with the tall head-dress and cane, and rich brocaded gown, exactly as she was represented in her portrait. I caught just a glimpse of her face, but it was not sufficient for me to say with certainty whether it was identical with that in the picture. But the figure was certainly the same. I sat quite still and watched, and waited, one finger ready on the trigger of my revolver.

With the clacking sound described by Mrs. Jackson it came down the gallery. The stick tapped, and the long train rustled, and the moonlight played upon the rich hues of the brocade. It did not come near me, but kept close by the range of the family pictures, fingering the frames and passing its white hand over the surfaces. At times it stopped, and with bent head scrutinised more closely the faces of the portraits. Then it began to glide back more swiftly than it had come. I rose, perhaps too incautiously, and I must have made some noise, for before I could raise my revolver to take aim the ghost started, retreated rapidly towards the painted window, and vanished.

Yes, before my very eyes it vanished. I hurried to the spot where I had last seen it, but not a trace of anything could I find. Unless it had dropped through the floor or had passed through a solid wall I could not see for the life of me how it had got away. Could it be a true phantom after all? No, my reason wouldn’t allow such a supposition. Beyond doubt it was flesh and blood—some member of the household got up to resemble Lady Marian. I was more than ever perplexed.

I related everything to Mr. Brag next morning. But he kept my story carefully from his wife and Helen. They were recovering their spirits somewhat, and it would not do to damp them again by saying that I had seen the thing myself. Mr. Brag, indeed, was considerably agitated at this seeming confirmation of the apparition, and it was as much as ever I could do to talk him out of the conviction that spiritual it was.

“But what on earth can it be, man?” he said.

“Well,” I replied, “ I have some sort of idea, but at present I won’t state it lest I should prove to be wrong. I propose that you watch with me to-night, Mr. Brag, and together we’ll see if we can’t unmask the ghost.”

“But do you think it will come again tonight?”

“I can’t say. Perhaps not. It may be that the trickster, whoever it may be, has had a fright and will delay further operations for a while. It is someone in the house, I am convinced of that. When I announced that I would watch nothing was seen of it. But directly I said I would give up watching, Lady Marian appears. What we must do is to watch regularly, Mr. Brag; even should it not appear for a week or more.”

It turned out that I was right. Night after night we concealed ourselves behind the curtain, I with my revolver, Brag with a large dinner bell, with which he intended alarming the house when Lady Marian was captured. This went on for no less than ten nights. Then I took Mrs. Brag and Helen into confidence and arranged a pretended departure from the house. I went off to London with great fuss and ceremony. But I got out of the train at the first station and returned to the hall by road secretly. And at eleven o’clock that night Brag and I were in our hiding place once more. And it was Christmas Eve, the very time when ghosts should be abroad, according to legend.

“Now,” I whispered, “the ghost is off its guard; take my word for it he or she, whichever it is, will come.” Brag said nothing, but gripped viciously at the handle of his dinner-bell.

It fell out as I had anticipated. Shortly after midnight Lady Marian re-appeared in the same guise as before. I could hear Brag’s teeth chattering as he saw the apparition. The moonlight was as strong as it had been on the previous occasion, and Lady Marian, clacking and tapping as before, moved through it in precisely the same way. She glided along by the pictures and fingered the frames. Suddenly we heard her give a joyous exclamation, and there was a sliding sound as of something pushed back. A portrait vanished, and a black cavity was seen in its place.

Now was the time. I jumped up, and poising my revolver fired as truly as I could, and at the same moment Brag’s bell clanged out vigorously. There was a shriek and a hurried scamper. Then as before the ghost of Lady Marian vanished before we could reach the spot.

“Where the deuce has she gone?” cried Brag, who was still ringing his bell hard.

“Through a sliding panel,” I replied, guessing the means of exit was through the cavity.

As I lighted the lamp there was more noise and pattering of feet, and the half-dressed servants in all stages of déshabille and alarm came crowding into the gallery. Some carried lights, others pokers and sticks, but one and all were as frightened as they well could be. And no wonder; for the clamour of Brag’s bell was enough to wake the dead. Then came Helen and Mrs. Brag fully dressed, for they both had waited up to witness the success of my scheme.

And it was a success—greater than I had dared to dream. As I said, a picture—that of Lady Marian had vanished—that is it had slid back into the wall, leaving a cavity which we proceeded to examine. Therein we found an iron box fast locked. But Brag soon had it torn open, to find that it contained velvet lined drawers and trays all heaped with the most splendid jewellery. Gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds —the mass glittered like a rainbow.

“See, Helen, your mother’s long lost jewels. So this is what the ghost of Lady Marian came for.”

“My gracious!” cried Mrs. Brag, dropping on her knees. “Look, my dear, all my Lady’s jewels! You’ll wear them at your wedding after all.”

But Helen did not look at them. She just stared at me, nervous and shaking.

“Geoffrey, who is the ghost?”

“Cannot you guess? Jane Riordan.”

“Impossible! Isn’t she here?”

“No, miss,” said Parsons, glancing round at the servants, “she ain’t with us.”

“Oh, Geoffrey, I hope you haven’t shot her.”

“Serve ‘er right if ‘e ‘as,” cried Brag. “But don’t cry, my pretty, she went through another sliding panel. Come, Geoffrey, let us look.”

“The spring is in the frame, Mr. Brag. I’m sure of that.”

Instantly a dozen hands were busy with the frames, and we soon came upon a spring in that of a picture at the far end of the gallery. It opened noiselessly, and I stepped into the open space, followed by Brag bearing the lamp. We proceeded along a narrow passage, ascended a flight of stone steps and finally emerged through another sliding panel into the back part of the house. On our way we picked up the tall cane, the grey wig and head-dress and the brocade skirt.

“She stripped herself to get away,” said Brag, nodding. “Let us go to her room. She has one to herself, you know. Asked my old woman to give her one as a special favour; and for Eliza Craik’s sake she got it.

The room was reached and we found it empty, with the last remnants of the disguise on the floor. On going to the back door we discovered that it was open, and through it Jane Riordan had vanished into the night never to return.

So it was that I exercised the ghost of Lady Marian. On Christmas Day at breakfast we discussed thoroughly the stirring events of the night. Mrs. Brag was filled with anger at the way in which Jane Riordan had tricked her.

“I wonder how she knew about my Lady’s jewels,” she said.

“Oh, there’s no difficulty in guessing that,” I replied. “The father must have told his wife where he had hidden them. I daresay he intended to fetch them himself when he came out of gaol. But he died before his sentence expired. However, he let his wife know, and she, of course, told Jane, who came here and tried to get them by masquerading as Lady Marian’s ghost.”

“And Eliza must have told her that story, Geoffrey. We often talked of the ghost. Oh, what a wicked woman!”

“But I wonder why Mrs. Craik, being poor, did not try to get the jewels for herself. She would hardly wait twenty years before doing so.”

It was Helen who said this, and I who replied.

“Well, I expect Mrs. Craik was either afraid, or did not learn from her husband behind which picture the jewels were hidden. I expect her reason was the last; for Jane, as I told you, went up and down the wall fingering the frames in order to find the right one. That was why she appeared so often in the gallery. Had she known the true hiding-place one appearance and visit would have done. I see now that she feigned fear to me in order to ward off suspicion. From her looks I never thought she would be so clever.”

“Ah, my dear,” said Mrs. Brag, “she married a scamp, and I daresay, after hearing the story from Liza, he put her up to the trick.”

“She brought the dress with her, I suppose?”

“She must have; and it was to carry on her wicked pranks that she made such a point of having a separate room.”

“I wonder how she knew of the secret passage,” said Brag.

“Liza again,” cried his wife. “She was years here before I came, and so was Craik. I daresay they found the secret passage together and made use of it when they stole the jewels. And now I come to think of it, my dears, it was an actor Jane Riordan married. Oh, I’m well quit of her, I am.”

“Yes, thank goodness she’s gone,” said Brag.

“We don’t want no row about the thing. We’ve got the jewels, and Helen shall wear them on her wedding day.”

“And what‘s more, we’ve got rid of the ghost,” said I, smiling. “I don’t think you can ever believe in ghosts again after this, eh, Mrs. Brag?”

“No, Geoffrey, I can‘t. I daresay the ghost of Lady Marian that I saw myself was either Craik or his wife dressed up. No, I’ll never believe in ghosts again.” Nor did she.

So this was our Christmas ghost, which was no ghost. But true or false it was a very seasonable apparition; and brought to Helen the Christmas gift of her mother’s jewels. She wore them at her wedding with me shortly afterwards; for next Christmas there was no Miss Alliston, but a pretty Mrs. Beauchamp. Nor was there any ghost. Lady Marian, in the person of Jane Riordan, had fulfilled her mission, and we never saw her again.

The Dancer in Red and Other Stories, Fergus Hume, 1906

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is always so satisfying when a ghost story contains lost jewels, sumptuous brocade dresses, and tap-tap-tapping 18th-century heels. Mrs Daffodil will note that the “idle Oxonian” narrator seems a bit contemptuous of those he terms uneducated, nervous, and hysterical, a common failing among “cool-headed” sorts. One is dubious about whether his devotion to Helen outweighs his snobbishness. But a happy ending to a Christmas ghost story is always welcome. The author, Mr Hume, is not always so forgiving to the females in his tales; one would have expected Jane Riordan to be have been found dead at the foot of the stone staircase in the secret passage or to become trapped in a secret compartment where her mouldering bones would be found years later.

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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