Category Archives: Victorian

Christmas at Ringshaw Grange: 1906

the ghost of greystone grange 1878

THE GHOST’S TOUCH

I shall never forget the terrible Christmas I spent at Ringshaw Grange in the year ’93. As an army doctor I have met with strange adventures in far lands, and have seen some gruesome sights in the little wars which are constantly being waged on the frontiers of our empire; but it was reserved for an old country house in Hants to be the scene of the most noteworthy episode in my life. The experience was a painful one, and I hope it may never be repeated; but indeed so ghastly an event is not likely to occur again. If my story reads more like fiction than truth, I can only quote the well-worn saying, of the latter being stranger than the former. Many a time in my wandering life have I proved the truth of this proverb. The whole affair rose out of the invitation which Frank Ringan sent me to spend Christmas with himself and his cousin Percy at the family seat near Christchurch. At that time I was home on leave from India; and shortly after my arrival I chanced to meet with Percy Ringan in Piccadilly. He was an Australian with whom I had been intimate some years before in Melbourne: a dapper little man with sleek fair hair and a transparent complexion: looking as fragile as a Dresden china image, yet with plenty of pluck and spirits. He suffered from heart disease; and was liable to faint on occasions ; yet he fought against his mortal weakness with silent courage; and with certain precautions against over-excitement, he managed to enjoy life fairly well.

Notwithstanding his pronounced effeminacy, and somewhat truckling subserviency to rank and high birth, I liked the little man very well for his many good qualities. On the present occasion I was glad to see him, and expressed my pleasure.

“ Although I did not expect to see you in England,” said I, after the first greetings had passed.

“I have been in London these nine months, my dear Lascelles,” he said, in his usual mincing way, “ partly by way of a change and partly to see my cousin Frank,–who indeed invited me to come over from Australia.”

“Is that the rich cousin you were always speaking about in Melbourne?”

“Yes. But Frank is not rich. I am the wealthy Ringan, but he is the head of the family. You see, doctor,” continued Percy, taking my arm and pursuing the subject in a conversational manner, “my father, being a younger son, emigrated to Melbourne in the gold-digging days, and made his fortune out there. His brother remained at home on the estates, with very little money to keep up the dignity of the family; so my father helped the head of his house from time to time. Five years ago both my uncle and father died, leaving Frank and me as heirs, the one to the family estate, the other to the Australian wealth.”

“So you assist your cousin to keep up the dignity of the family as your father did before you.”

“Well, yes, I do,” admitted Percy, frankly. “ You see, we Ringans think a great deal of our birth and position. So much so, that we have made our wills in one another’s favour.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, if I die Frank inherits my money; and if he dies, I become heir to the Ringan estates. It seems strange that I should tell you all this, Lascelles; but you were so intimate with me in the old days that you can understand my apparent rashness.”

I could not forbear a chuckle at the reason assigned by Percy for his confidence, especially as it was such a weak one. The little man had a tongue like a towncrier, and could no more keep his private affairs to himself than a woman could guard a secret. Besides I saw very well that with his inherent snobbishness he desired to impress me with the position and antiquity of his family, and with the fact—undoubtedly true that it ranked amongst the landed gentry of the kingdom.

However, the weakness, though in bad taste, was harmless enough, and I had no scorn for the confession of it. Still, I felt a trifle bored, as I took little interest in the chronicling of such small beer, and shortly parted from Percy after promising to dine with him the following week.

At this dinner, which took place at the Athenian Club, I met with the head of the Ringan family; or, to put it plainer, with Percy’s cousin Frank. Like the Australian he was small and neat, but enjoyed much better health and lacked the effeminacy of the other. Yet on the whole I liked Percy the best, as there was a sly cast about Frank’s countenance which I did not relish ; and he patronised his colonial cousin in rather an offensive manner.

The latter looked up to his English kinsman with all deference, and would, I am sure, have willingly given his gold to regild the somewhat tarnished escutcheon of the Ringans. Outwardly, the two cousins were so alike as to remind one of Tweddledum and Tweddledee; but after due consideration I decided that Percy was the better-natured and more honourable of the two.

For some reason Frank Ringan seemed desirous of cultivating my acquaintance; and in one way and another I saw a good deal of him during my stay in London. Finally, when I was departing on a visit to some relatives in Norfolk he invited me to spend Christmas at Ringshaw Grange—not, as it afterwards appeared, without an ulterior motive.

“I can take no refusal,” said he, with a heartiness which sat ill on him. “Percy, as an old friend of yours, has set his heart on my having you down; and —if I may say so—I have set my heart on the same thing.”

“Oh, you really must come, Lascelles,” cried Percy, eagerly. “ We are going to keep Christmas in the real old English fashion. Washington Irving’s style, you know: holly, wassail-bowl, games, and mistletoe.”

“And perhaps a ghost or so,” finished Frank, laughing, yet with a side glance at his eager little cousin.

“Ah!” said I. “So your Grange is haunted.”

“I should think so,” said Percy, before his cousin could speak, “and with a good old Queen Anne ghost. Come down, Doctor, and Frank shall put you in the haunted chamber.”

“No!” cried Frank, with a sharpness which rather surprised me, “I’ll put no one in the Blue Room; the consequences might be fatal. You smile, Lascelles, but I assure you our ghost has been proved to exist!”

“That’s a paradox; a ghost can’t exist. But the story of your ghost—”

“Is too long to tell now,” said Frank, laughing. “Come down to the Grange and you’ll hear it.”

“Very good,” I replied, rather attracted by the idea of a haunted house, “you can count upon me for Christmas. But I warn you, Ringan, that I don’t believe in spirits. Ghosts went out with gas.”

“Then they must have come in again with electric light,” retorted Frank Ringan, “for Lady Joan undoubtedly haunts the Grange. I don’t mind; as it adds distinction to the house.”

“All old families have a ghost,” said Percy, importantly. “It is very natural when one has ancestors.”

There was no more said on the subject for the time being, but the upshot of this conversation was that I presented myself at Ringshaw Grange two or three days before Christmas. To speak the truth, I came more on Percy’s account than my own, as I knew the little man suffered from heart disease, and a sudden shock might prove fatal. If, in the unhealthy atmosphere of an old house, the inmates got talking of ghosts and goblins, it might be that the consequences would be dangerous to so highly strung and delicate a man as Percy Ringan.

For this reason, joined to a sneaking desire to see the ghost, I found myself a guest at Ringshaw Grange. In one way I regret the visit; yet in another —I regard it as providential that I was on the spot. Had I been absent the catastrophe might have been greater, although it could scarcely have been more terrible.

Ringshaw Grange was a quaint Elizabethan house, all gables and diamond easements, and oriel windows, and quaint terraces, looking like an illustration out of an old Christmas number. It was embowered in a large park, the trees of which came up almost to the doors, and when I saw it first in the moonlight—for it was by a late train that I came from London—it struck me as the very place for a ghost.

Here was a haunted house of the right quality if ever there was one, and I only hoped when I crossed the threshold that the local spectre would be worthy of its environment. In such an interesting house I did not think to pass a dull Christmas; but—God help me—I did not anticipate so tragic a Yule-tide as I spent.

As our host was a bachelor and had no female relative to do the honours of his house the guests were all of the masculine gender. ‘It is true that there was a housekeeper—a distant cousin I understood—who was rather elderly but very juvenile as to dress and manner. She went by the name of Miss Laura, but no one saw much of her as, otherwise than attending to her duties, she remained mostly in her own rooms.

So our party was composed of young men—none save myself being over the age of thirty, and few being gifted with much intelligence. The talk was mostly of sport, of horse racing, big game shooting and yacht-sailing: so that I grew tired at times of these subjects and retired to the library to read and write. The day after I arrived Frank showed me over the house.

It was a wonderful old barrack of a place, with broad passages, twisting interminably like the labyrinth of Daedalus; small bedrooms furnished in an old-fashioned manner, and vast reception apartments with polished floors and painted ceilings. Also there were the customary number of family portraits frowning from the walls; suits of tarnished armour; and ancient tapestries embroidered with grim and ghastly legends of the past.

The old house was crammed with treasures, rare enough to drive an antiquarian crazy; and filled with the flotsam and jetsam of many centuries, mellowed by time into one soft hue, which put them all in keeping with one another. I must say that I was charmed with Ringshaw Grange, and no longer wondered at the pride taken by Percy Ringan in his family and their past glories.

“That’s all very well,” said Frank, to whom I remarked as much; “Percy is rich, and had he this place could keep it up in proper style; but I am as poor as a rat, and unless I can make a rich marriage, or inherit a comfortable legacy, house and furniture park and timber may all come to the hammer.”

He looked gloomy as he spoke; and, feeling that I had touched on a somewhat delicate matter, I hastened to change the subject, by asking to be shown the famous Blue Chamber, which was said to be haunted. This was the true Mecca of my pilgrimage into Hants.

“It is along this passage,” said Frank, leading the way, “and not very far from your own quarters. There is nothing in its looks likely to hint at the ghost—at all events by day—but it is haunted for all that.”

Thus speaking he led me into a large room with a low ceiling, and a broad casement looking out on to the untrimmed park, where the woodland was most sylvan. The walls were hung with blue cloth embroidered with grotesque figures in black braid or thread, I know not which. There was a large old-fashioned bed with tester and figured curtains and a quantity of cumbersome furniture of the early Georgian epoch. Not having been inhabited for many years the room had a desolate and silent look—if one may use such an expression—and to my mind looked gruesome enough to conjure up a battalion of ghosts, let alone one.

“I don’t agree with you!” said I, in reply to my host’s remark. “ To my mind this is the very model of a haunted chamber. What is the legend?”

“I’ll tell it to you on Christmas Eve,” replied Rigan, as we left the room. “It is rather a bloodcurdling tale.”

“Do you believe it? ” said I, struck by the solemn air of the speaker.

“I have had evidence to make me credulous,” he replied dryly, and closed the subject for the time being.

It was renewed on Christmas Eve when all our company were gathered round a huge wood fire in the library. Outside, the snow lay thick on the ground, and the gaunt trees stood up black and leafless out of of the white expanse. The sky was of a frosty blue with sharply-twinkling stars, and a hard-looking moon. On the snow the shadows of interlacing boughs were traced blackly as in Indian ink, and the cold was of Arctic severity.

But seated in the holly-decked apartment before a noble fire which roared bravely up the wide chimney we cared nothing for the frozen world out of doors. We laughed and talked, sang songs and recalled adventures, until somewhere about ten o’clock we fell into a ghostly vein quite in keeping with the goblin-haunted season. It was then that Frank Ringan was called upon to chill our blood with his local legend. This he did without much pressing.

“In the reign of good Queen Anne,” said he, with a gravity befitting the subject, “my ancestor Hugh Ringan, was the owner of this house. He was a silent misanthropic man, having been soured early in life by the treachery of a woman. Mistrusting the sex he refused to marry for many years; and it was not until he was fifty years of age that he was beguiled by the arts of a pretty girl into the toils of matrimony. The lady was Joan Challoner, the daughter of the Earl of Branscourt; and she was esteemed one of the beauties of Queen Anne’s court.

“It was in London that Hugh met her, and thinking from her innocent and child-like appearance that she would make him a true-hearted wife, he married her after a six months’ courtship and brought her with all honour to Ringshaw Grange. After his marriage he became more cheerful and less distrustful of his fellow-creatures. Lady Joan was all to him that a wife could be, and seemed devoted to her husband and child—for she early became a mother— when one Christmas Eve all this happiness came to an end.”

“Oh!” said I, rather cynically. “So Lady Joan proved to be no better than the rest of her sex.”

“So Hugh Ringan thought, Doctor; but he was as mistaken as you are. Lady Joan occupied the Blue Room, which I showed you the other day; and on Christmas Eve, when riding home late, Hugh saw a man descend from the window. Thunderstruck by the sight, he galloped after the man and caught him before he could mount a horse which was waiting for him. The cavalier was a handsome young fellow of twenty-five, who refused to answer Hugh’s questions.

Thinking, naturally enough, that he had to do with a lover of his wife’s, Hugh fought a duel with the stranger and killed him after a hard fight.

“Leaving him dead on the snow he rode back to the Grange, and burst in on his wife to accuse her of perfidy. It was in vain that Lady Joan tried to defend herself by stating that the visitor was her brother, who was engaged in plots for the restoration of James II, and on that account wished to keep secret the fact of his presence in England. Hugh did not believe her, and told her plainly that he had killed her lover; whereupon Lady Joan burst out into a volley of reproaches and cursed her husband. Furious at what he deemed was her boldness Hugh at first attempted to kill her, but not thinking the punishment sufficient, he cut off her right hand.”

“Why? ” asked everyone, quite unprepared for this information.

“Because in the first place Lady Joan was very proud of her beautiful white hands, and in the second Hugh had seen the stranger kiss her hand—her right hand—before he descended from the window. For these reasons he mutilated her thus terribly.”

“And she died.”

“Yes, a week after her hand was cut off. And she swore that she would come back to touch all those in the Blue Room—that is who slept in it—who were foredoomed to death. She kept her promise, for many people who have slept in that fatal room have been touched by the dead hand of Lady Joan, and have subsequently died.”

“Did Hugh find out that his wife was innocent?”

“He did,” replied Ringan, “and within a month after her death. The stranger was really her brother, plotting for James II, as she had stated. Hugh was not punished by man for his crime, but within a year he slept in the Blue Chamber and was found dead next morning with the mark of three fingers on his right wrist. It was thought that in his remorse he had courted death by sleeping in the room cursed by his wife.”

“And there was a mark on him?”

“On his right wrist red marks like a burn; the impression of three fingers. Since that time the room has been haunted.”

“Does everyone who sleeps in it die?” I asked.

“No. Many people have risen well and hearty in the morning. Only those who are doomed to an early death are thus touched!”

“When did the last case occur?”

“Three years ago,” was Frank’s unexpected reply. “A friend of mine called Herbert Spencer would sleep in that room. He saw the ghost and was touched. He showed me the marks next morning—three red finger marks.”

“Did the omen hold good?”

“Yes. Spencer died three months afterwards. He was thrown from his horse.”

I was about to put further questions in a sceptical vein, when we heard shouts outside, and we all sprang to our feet as the door was thrown open to admit Miss Laura in a state of excitement.

“Mr. Ringan,” addressing herself to Percy, “your room is on fire!”

We waited to hear no more, but in a body rushed up to Percy’s room. Volumes of smoke were rolling out of the door, and flames were flashing within. Frank Ringan, however, was prompt and cool-headed. He had the alarm bell rung, summoned the servants, grooms, and stable hands, and in twenty minutes the fire was extinguished.

On asking how the fire had started, Miss Laura, with much hysterical sobbing, stated that she had gone into Percy’s room to see that all was ready and comfortable for the night. Unfortunately the wind wafted one of the bed-curtains towards the candle she was carrying, and in a moment the room was in a blaze. After pacifying Miss Laura, who could not help the accident, Frank turned to his cousin. By this time we were back again in the library.

“My dear-fellow,” he said, “ your room is swimming in water, and is charred with fire. I’m afraid you can’t stay there to-night; but I don’t know where to put you unless you take the Blue Room.”

“The Blue Room!” we all cried. “What! the haunted chamber?”

“Yes; all the other rooms are full. Still, if Percy is afraid—”

“Afraid!” cried Percy indignantly. “I’m not afraid at all. I’ll sleep in the Blue Room with the greatest of pleasure.”

“But the ghost—”

“I don’t care for the ghost,” interrupted the Australian, with a nervous laugh. “We have no ghosts in our part of the world, and as I have not seen one, I do not believe there is such a thing.”

We all tried to dissuade him from sleeping in the haunted room, and several of us offered to give up our apartments for the night—Frank among the number. But Percy’s dignity was touched, and he was resolute to keep his word. He had plenty of pluck, as I said before, and the fancy that we might think him a coward spurred him on to resist our entreaties.

The end of it was that shortly before midnight he went off to the Blue Room, and declared his intention of sleeping in it. There was nothing more to be said in the face of such obstinacy, so one by one we retired, quite unaware of the events to happen before the morning. So on that Christmas Eve the Blue Room had an unexpected tenant.

On going to my bedroom I could not sleep. The tale told by Frank Ringan haunted my fancy, and the idea of Percy sleeping in that ill-omened room made me nervous. I did not believe in ghosts myself, nor, so far as I knew, did Percy, but the little man suffered from heart disease—he was strung up to a high nervous pitch by our ghost stories—and if anything out of the common—even from natural causes—happened in that room, the shock might be fatal to its occupant.

I knew well enough that Percy, out of pride, would refuse to give up the room, yet I was determined that he should not sleep in it; so, failing persuasion, I employed stratagem. I had my medicine chest with me, and taking it from my portmanteau I prepared a powerful narcotic. I left this on the table and went along to the Blue Room, which, as I have said before, was not very far from mine.

A knock brought Percy to the door, clothed in pyjamas, and at a glance I could see that the ghostly atmosphere of the place was already telling on his nerves. He looked pale and disturbed, but his mouth was firmly set with an obstinate expression likely to resist my proposals. However, out of diplomacy, I made none, but blandly stated my errand, with more roughness, indeed, than was necessary.

“Come to my room, Percy,” I said, when be appeared, “and let me give you something to calm your nerves.”

“I’m not afraid! ” he said, defiantly.

“Who said you were?” I rejoined, tartly. “You believe in ghosts no more than I do, so why should you be afraid? But after the alarm of fire your nerves are upset, and I want to give you something to put them sight. Otherwise, you’ll get no sleep.”

“I shouldn’t mind a composing draught, certainly,” said the little man. “Have you it here?”

“No, it’s in my room, a few yards off. Come along.”

Quite deluded by my speech and manner, Percy followed me into my bedroom, and obediently enough swallowed the medicine. Then I made him sit down in a comfortable arm-chair, on the plea that he must not walk immediately after the draught. The result of my experiment was justified, for in less than ten minutes the poor little man was fast asleep under the influence of the narcotic. When thus helpless, I placed him on my bed, quite satisfied that he would not awaken until late the next day. My task accomplished, I extinguished the light, and went off myself to the Blue Room, intending to remain there for the night.

It may be asked why I did so, as I could easily have taken my rest on the sofa in my own room; but the fact is, I was anxious to sleep in a haunted chamber.

I did not believe in ghosts, as I had never seen one, but as there was a chance of meeting here with an authentic phantom I did not wish to lose the opportunity.

Therefore when I saw that Percy was safe for the night, I took up my quarters in the ghostly territory, with much curiosity, but—as I can safely aver—no fear. All the same, in case of practical jokes on the part of the feather-headed young men in the house, I took my revolver with me. Thus prepared, I locked the door of the Blue Room and slipped into bed, leaving the light burning. The revolver I kept under my pillow ready to my hand in case of necessity. ‘

“Now,” said I grimly, as I made myself comfortable, “I’m ready for ghosts, or goblins, or practical jokers.”

I lay awake for a long time, staring at the queer figures on the blue draperies of the apartment. In the pale flame of the candle they looked ghostly enough to disturb the nerves of anyone: and when the draught fluttered the tapestries the figures seemed to move as though alive. For this sight alone I was glad that Percy had not slept in that room. I could fancy the poor man lying in that vast bed with blanched face and beating heart, listening to every creak, and watching the fantastic embroideries waving on the walls. Brave as he was, I am sure the sounds and sights of that room would have shaken his nerves, I did not feel very comfortable myself, sceptic as I was.

When the candle had burned down pretty low I fell asleep. How long I slumbered I know not: but I woke up with the impression that something or some one was in the room. The candle had wasted nearly to the socket and the flame was flickering and leaping fitfully, so as to display the room one moment and leave it almost in darkness the next. I heard a soft step crossing the room, and as it drew near a sudden spurt of flame from the candle showed me a little woman standing by the side of the bed. She was dressed in a gown of flowered brocade, and wore the towering head dress of the Queen Anne epoch. Her face I could scarcely see, as the flash of flame was only momentary: but I felt what the Scotch call a deadly grue as I realized that this was the veritable phantom of Lady Joan.

For the moment the natural dread of the supernatural quite overpowered me, and with my hands and arms lying outside the counterpane I rested inert and chilled with fear. This sensation of helplessness in the presence of evil, was like what one experiences in a nightmare of the worst kind.

When again the flame of the expiring candle shot up, I beheld the ghost close at hand, and—as I felt rather than saw—knew that it was bending over me. A faint odour of musk was in the air, and I heard the soft rustle of the brocaded skirts echo through the semi-darkness. The next moment I felt my right wrist gripped in a burning grasp, and the sudden pain roused my nerves from their paralysis.

With a yell I rolled over, away from the ghost, wrenching my wrist from that horrible clasp, and, almost mad with pain I groped with my left hand for the revolver. As I seized it the candle flared up for the last time, and I saw the ghost gliding back towards the tapestries. In a second I raised the revolver and fired. The next moment there was a wild cry of terror and agony, the fall of a heavy body on the floor, and almost before I knew where I was I found myself outside the door of the haunted room To attract attention I fired another shot from my revolver, while the Thing on the floor moaned in the darkness most horribly.

In a few moments guests and servants, all in various stages of undress, came rushing along the passage bearing lights. A babel of voices arose, and I managed to babble some incoherent explanation, and led the way into the room. There on the floor lay the ghost, and we lowered the candles to look at its face. I sprang up with a cry on recognising who it was.

“Frank Ringan!”

It was indeed Frank Ringan disguised as a woman in wig and brocades. He looked at me with a ghostly face, his mouth working nervously. With an effort he raised himself on his hands and tried to speak—whether in confession or exculpation, I know not. But the attempt was too much for him, a choking cry escaped his lips, a jet of blood burst from his mouth, and he fell back dead.

Over the rest of the events of that terrible night I draw a veil. There are some things it is as well not to speak of. Only I may state that all through the horror and confusion Percy Ringan, thanks to my strong sleeping draught, slumbered as peacefully as a child, thereby saving his life.

With the morning’s light came discoveries and explanations. We found one of the panels behind the tapestry of the Blue Room open, and it gave admittance into a passage which on examination proved to lead into Frank Ringan’s bedroom. On the floor we discovered a delicate band formed of steel, and which bore marks of having been in the fire. On my right wrist were three distinct burns, which I have no hesitation in declaring, were caused by the mechanical hand which we picked up near the dead man. And the explanation of these things came from Miss Laura, who was wild with terror at the death of her master, and said in her first outburst of grief and fear, what I am sure she regretted in her calmer moments.

“It’s all Frank’s fault,” she wept. “He was poor and wished to be rich. He got Percy to make his will in his favour, and wanted to kill him by a shock. He knew that Percy had heart disease and that a shock might prove fatal; so he contrived that his cousin should sleep in the Blue Room on Christmas Eve; and he himself played the ghost of Lady Joan with the burning hand. It was a steel hand, which he heated in his own room so as to mark with a scar those it touched.”

“Whose idea was this?” I asked, horrified by the devilish ingenuity of the scheme.

“Frank’s!” said Miss Laura, candidly. “He promised to marry me if I helped him to get the money by Percy’s death. We found that there was a secret passage leading to the Blue Room; so some years ago we invented the story that it was haunted.”

“Why, in God’s name?”

“Because Frank was always poor. He knew that his cousin in Australia had heart disease, and invited him home to kill him with fright. To make things safe he was always talking about the haunted room and telling the story so that everything should be ready for Percy on his arrival. Our plans were all carried out. Percy arrived and Frank got him to make the will in his favour. Then he was told the story of Lady Joan and her hand, and by setting fire to Percy’s room last night I got him to sleep in the Blue Chamber without any suspicion being aroused.”

“You wicked woman!” I cried. “Did you fire Percy’s room on purpose?”

“Yes. Frank promised to marry me if I helped him. We had to get Percy to sleep in the Blue Chamber, and I managed it by setting fire to his bedroom. He would have died with fright when Frank, as Lady Joan, touched him with the steel hand, and no one would have been the wiser. Your sleeping in that haunted room saved Percy’s life, Dr. Lascelles; yet Frank invited you down as part of his scheme, that you might examine the body: and declare the death to be a natural one.”

“Was it Frank who burnt the wrist of Herbert Spence some years ago?” I asked.

“Yes!” replied Miss Laura, wiping her red eyes. “We thought if the ghost appeared to a few other people, that Percy’s death might seem more natural. It was a mere coincidence that Mr. Spence died three months after the ghost touched him.”

“Do you know you are a very wicked woman, Miss Laura?”

“I am a very unhappy one,” she retorted. “I have lost the only man I ever loved; and his miserable cousin survives to step into his shoes as the master of Ringshaw Grange.”

That was the sole conversation I had with the wretched woman, for shortly afterwards she disappeared, and I fancy must have gone abroad, as she was never more heard of. At the inquest held on the body of Frank the whole strange story came out, and was reported at full length by the London press to the dismay of ghost-seers: for the fame of Ringshaw Grange as a haunted mansion had been great in the land.

I was afraid lest the jury should bring in a verdict of manslaughter against me, but the peculiar features of the case being taken into consideration I was acquitted of blame, and shortly afterwards returned to India with an unblemished character. Percy Ringan was terribly distressed on hearing of his cousin’s death, and shocked by the discovery of his treachery. However, he was consoled by becoming the head of the family, and as he lives a quiet life at Ringshaw Grange there is not much chance of his early death from heart disease—at all events from a ghostly point of view.

The blue chamber is shut up, for it is haunted now by a worse spectre than that of Lady Joan, whose legend (purely fictitious) was so ingeniously set forth by Frank. It is haunted by the ghost of the cold-blooded scoundrel who fell into his own trap; and who met with his death in the very moment he was contriving that of another man. As to myself, I have given up ghost-hunting and sleeping in haunted rooms. Nothing will ever tempt me to experiment in that way again. One adventure of that sort is enough to last me a lifetime.

Clutha Leader 3 March 1899: p. 7

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

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  “Granges,” or country farming estates, were a popular motif in haunted, sensational, and mystery fiction.  The Adventure of the Abbey Grange by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle springs to mind as an example of the latter. Perhaps the setting was so popular because of something else Sir Arthur wrote, in the voice of Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches:

“[T]he lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

“You horrify me!”

“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”

And, undoubtedly one of the grange out-buildings will contain scrap-iron and facilities for manufacturing Infernal Machines such as heatable steel claws.

Mr Hume furnished us with a similar, ghost-in-disguise story last year for the holidays, The Ghost in Brocade.

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.

Three Gold Balls: A Visit to the Pawnbrokers’ Shops: 1872

Die Gartenlaube 1861 pawnbroker.jpg

THREE GOLD BALLS
A Visit to the Pawnbrokers’ Shops

To the Editors of the Evening Post:

A week or two since I had occasion to visit several pawnbrokers’ establishments in this city, to redeem some articles pawned by a friend who had once seen better days.

A brief mention of my experience may be instructive as well as entertaining. The redemption of my friend’s tools (he was a mechanic) as accomplished after no little trouble in visiting the principal establishments doing business under the sign of the “Three Golden Balls,” in a certain street, and redeeming one or two articles here, another there and a third or fourth somewhere else.

I had been told of the system of universal cheating which the proprietors of these places practice, and the enormous exactions made in grinding the faces of the poor. I had heard described their dexterity in the substitution of colored glass and crystals for gems, while pretending to examine articles brought for pledges, and was prepared to encounter all that was sinister and heartless. But the half had not been told me, and I soon found that my previous conceptions fell far short of the reality. I was detained at each place which I had occasion to visit by the delays in finding the article I was in search of, and for which the holders had doubtless flattered themselves no inquiries would be made. The press of business at all of the shops was another cause of delay. As I recovered my friend’s articles, one by one, it appeared at once that the most outrageous system of extortion had been practiced in every instance. The sums advanced had been pitiful in amount, and the rates of interest charged exorbitant beyond belief. At every one of these dens a crowd of victims was collected—a motley company indeed: blacklegs and would-be gentlemen—the cheater and the cheated; the widow parting with her disposable article of dress, to procure one more meal for her famishing children; a consumptive girl, with the hectic flush upon her check. The grasping misers—sometimes a woman—read the condition of the sufferers from their countenances with cool calculation. The pick-pocket, the thief, and the purloining servant were received with equal readiness, and the spoils were divided with the fullest understanding that no questions were to be asked.

AT MY UNCLE’S

I had scarcely made my business known at the first of “my uncle’s” establishments, No. ___ street, to which I had been directed, when a middle-aged man entered with a bundle on which he asked a small advance, and which, on being opened, was found to contain a shawl and two or three other articles of female apparel. The man was stout and sturdy, and, as I judged from his appearance, a mechanic, but the mark of the destroyer was on his bloated countenance. The pawnbroker was examining the offered pledge when a woman with pale face and attenuated form came hastily into the shop and with the single exclamation, “O, Robert!” darted, rather than ran to that part of the counter where the man was standing. Her miserable husband, not satisfied with wasting his own earnings, and leaving her to starve with her children, had plundered even her scanty wardrobe, and the pittance received was to be squandered at the rum-shop. A blush of shame arose even upon his degraded face, but it quickly passed away; the brutal appetite prevailed.

“Go home,” was his harsh exclamation; “what brings you here, running after me with your everlasting scolding? Go home and mind your own business.”

“Oh, Robert, dear Robert,” answered the unhappy wife, “don’t pawn my shawl. Our children are crying for bread, and I have none to give them; or let me have the money. Give me the money, Robert, and don’t leave us to perish!”

I watched the face of the pawnbroker.

“Twelve shillings on these things,” he said, tossing them back to the drunkard, with a look of perfect indifference. “Only twelve shillings,” murmured the heart-broken wife, in a tone of despair; “O, Robert, don’t let them go for twelve shillings. Let me try somewhere else.” “Nonsense!” answered the brute. “It’s as much as they are worth, I suppose. Here, Mr. ___ give us the change.” The money was placed before him, and the bundle consigned to a drawer. The poor creature reached forth her hand towards the money, but the movement was anticipated by her husband. “There, Mary,” he said, giving her half a dollar. “there, go home now, and don’t make a fuss. I’m going a little way up the street, and perhaps I’ll bring you something from market when I come home.”

The hopeless look of the poor woman as she meekly turned to the door told plainly enough how little she trusted the promise. They went on their way—she to her children and he to the next “corner grocery.”

A BENEVOLENT CUSTOMER

While this scene was in progress another had been added to the number of spectators. This was a young man, dressed in the height of the fashion. He had a reckless, good-humored look and very much the air of what is called “a young man about town,” that is, one who rides out to the Central Park in the afternoon, eats game suppers at Delmonico’s in the evening after the play, spends the rest of the night and his money at billiards. The moment the poor woman was gone, he twitched from his neck a gold chain, with a gold watch, and placing it in the hands of the pawnbroker, with whom he seemed to be on terms of acquaintance, he exclaimed, “Quick now, Mr. ___; thirty dollars on that? You’ve had it before, and needn’t stop to examine it.” The money was instantly paid; and the young man of fashion, crumpling the bills up in his hand, hurried off at full speed, first looking up and then down the street. I followed him to the door and saw him accost the poor woman who had just left the shop, thrust into her hand either the whole or part of the sum he had just received, and then turning away to the other side of the street without stopping either for thanks or for explanation.

The reverie of mingled surprise and admiration into which I was thrown by this unexpected manifestation of benevolence was interrupted by a loud outcry from Mr. ___, the pawnbroker, and by seeing him, with a look of wrath and horror, hurry round his counter and out through the door, upon the sidewalk, where he stood for a moment, straining his eyes down the street, as if in search of the kind-hearted youth, who had by this time disappeared up one of the cross-streets. “The villain,” he exclaimed, “the swindling scoundrel! Which way did he go? The ungrateful thief! Tell me,” he continued, turning to me, “tell me which way he went.” I point out to Mr. ___ the course taken by his late customer, and mentioned also what I had seen take place between him and the poor woman. “Ah, it’s no use,” he then said; “he’s got off clear by this time, and my thirty dollars is a ‘gone case.’ But I’ll find him yet, someday.” And thus soliloquizing, Mr. ___ returned into his shop. Taking advantage of the familiarity that had grown up between the broker and his chain, the young man had substituted an oroide chain for the gold one which had been so often deposited with the watch, and the deception had passed unnoticed until it was too late. The watch itself was a cheap one, and probably worth about the sum advanced.

THE STORY OF A RING

A touching incident occurred at the place of my next visit. A woman about thirty-five years old, in the garb of mourning, entered, evidently with reluctance; she could hardly make the object of her visit known on account of her emotion. She was of a delicate frame, of easy and rather graceful manners, and but for the ravages of care upon her face might still have been beautiful. At length she took a ring from a pretty little morocco case, upon the pledge of which she wished to realize such an amount of money as would sustain herself and children through the winter. The extortioner took the ring in his fingers, and holding it up to the window pretended to examine it—assuming at the same time an air of affected disappointed; he began at once to depreciate the article, declaring that it was nothing but an Alaska crystal, and that he would hardly take it at any price. He was inexorable and peremptorily refused to advance more than four or five dollars. Tears glistened in the woman’s eye.

I had seen, as the man studied the ring with secret satisfaction by the window, that the gem was valuable. I was determined that the unfortunate owner should not be imposed upon. Just before a bargain was completed, however, as I was about to interpose myself, another gentleman, who had also been watching the proceeding, stepped forward and declared that the beautiful ring should not be sacrificed…in that way. The broker at once endeavored to hasten matters, and declaring the bargain to have been completed, would have succeeded in thrusting the jewel into the drawer, but for the resolution of the gentleman who seized and saved it. The wretch muttered something about people’s interfering in business that was exclusively his own concern, but to no purpose. The widow was rescued from his fangs, and received a fair amount for her ring.

This poor lady, whose history I afterward learned, was an orphan, a daughter of a Virginia planter, who had been reduced to poverty before our civil war, so that his children were left portionless, and had been married when quite young. The husband of this daughter was killed in the late war, and she had learned the miseries and uncertainties of life.

Doubtless these examples which came under my notice are but a few of many, the mere relation of which is sufficient to make one blush for his fellow men.

W.L. STONE

Evening Post [New York, NY] 13 January 1872: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Many ladies of this era were held hostage by drunken, improvident, and abusive spouses. Widows fared little better, if, as so often happened, the late husband lost the family fortune by imprudent speculation, went into a Decline, and died. The pawnshop, the sweatshop–or the street–were often the only recourse. Mrs Daffodil can only suggest to the attenuated spouse of the brute Robert, that she lay out part of the money thrust into her hands by the young man about town to secure an insurance policy on her husband. While the balance of the money should be well-hidden, enough should be retained to allow Robert to accidentally discover it and go on a spree so immoderate that it will inevitably bring a quick return on her investment.

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.

 

Notes in the Turkeys: 1899

King Turkey 1873

NOTES IN THE TURKEYS.

“This Thanksgiving has been a lucrative one so far as my collection is concerned,” said the boss faddist.

“Which of your collections do you mean?” asked the amateur.

“Why my collection of notes and messages that are found in the turkeys sent down here from the New England states. Did you ever heard of  a Thanksgiving turkey coming to town from Vermont for instance, that didn’t contain tucked away inside against the white meat, either a pair of red mittens or blue yarn socks or a message directed to some ‘little waif?’ A bird without that sort of stuffing would be very rare. As I have just mentioned, most of the things are addressed to little waifs. You see up there in the some of those faraway farms where the best turkeys come from they seem to have an idea that all the grown-ups in New York are crooks; that all the children are waifs, and that Potter’s Field is the only cemetery. I discovered that when I began to make my collection of turkey notes four years ago, and tried to learn the cause. I think I have discovered it.

“About 25 or 30 years ago, when book agents were in their prime and chromos were accepted as works of art someone wrote a book and called it ‘Sunshine and Shadow of New York.’ The book agents did the rest, so far as the New England farmers were concerned. There wasn’t much sunshine in that book, but the shadows were lad on thick and black. There were pictures in it of Harry Hill’s dance hall and a lot of similar institutions, not to mention wood cuts of thieves’ dens, and several hundred pages of reading matter to the effect that there wasn’t anything else in the town except, of course, Potter’s Field. The book was strong on that particular graveyard. Well, the book agents had a gold mine it, and if you go through the New England farm districts today, especially far away from the big towns, you will find that ‘Sunshine and Shadow of New York’ still shares the honors of the centre table in nearly every Sunday room, with the family Bible, the history of the country and its leading men and ‘Pilgrims’ Progress.’ The children look at those pictures Sunday, and that’s where they get their impressions that the kids here are waifs.

“But to return to this year’s addition to my collection. Just as I had expected, most of the notes in the turkeys from Vermont had something to say about Dewey. Here’s a sample.

“To the poor little waif who has her Thanksgiving dinner off of this nice turkey: When Admiral Dewey came home he walked by our house one day and just then this very turkey got out of the barnyard and ran across the road in front of him and the admiral must have seen it. I didn’t want to have this one killed this year, but pa says a turkey’s a turkey even if times are good, so I’ll send this note.

“’Your Loving Little Friend’

“Most all of the Vermont notes said that the birds in which they were concealed had been named Dewey. In a bird from eastern Connecticut I found a pair of blue yarn knit stockings wrapped up in a paper, on which was the message, “Whoever gets them, may they keep her warm through the long winter.’ That bird was in a big lot that was just going to be sent off to a Broadway restaurant where the patrons never wear anything but open-work hosiery winter or summer. You see I got all my specimens at the markets before the turkeys are delivered to the consumers. I have explained the situation to half a dozen butchers, and they all let me search for the notes through every fresh batch of birds that comes in.

“From southwestern Rhode Island I got a good note in a turkey that had evidently been reared and killed on the outskirts of the prohibition town of Westerly. It said: ‘It is the earnest wish of the maiden lady who raised this turkey and now sends it on the way that the great city to which it is going may sometime stamp out the awful curse of rum, as we have here in our own peaceful little town.’  New York Sun.

Boston [MA] Daily Advertiser 6 December 1899: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The placing of notes by piece-workers in garments or with food-stuffs was, apparently a common practice. Mrs Daffodil has previously noted it in Cora’s Christmas Doll, and in this story with a happy ending:

Novel Marriage in Minnesota.

Miss Estella May Duncan, of Mazeppa, Minn., was married in splendid style at Bellchester, Minn., a few days ago to Mr. John F. O’Connell of Woonsocket, R.I. About a year ago Mr. O’Connell purchased a dozen eggs in a Woonsocket grocery store. One of them appeared quite light and out of curiosity he opened it, only to find a dainty little note penned in rhyme suggesting a correspondence with the writer providing the finder would enjoy a little literary discussion. Mr. O’Connell promptly responded in rhyme, and a correspondence ensued that led to a courtship and a happy marriage. At the wedding dinner given at the home of George Duncan, a brother of the bride, after the ceremony, there was a handsome wedding cake, surmounted by an immense hen’s egg, bronzed. During the banquet the groom told the story of the romance and repeated the poetry addressed to Miss Duncan when he found the egg in a grocery store and also the verses which he found in the egg containing a request that the finder correspond with the writer.
Denver [CO] Rocky Mountain News 24 November 1895: p. 21

Rather than “Sunshine and Shadow of New York,” possibly the note-collecting narrator meant this book, with its “spoiler-alert” title: Lights and Shadows of New York Life or The Sights and Sensations of The Great City. A Work Descriptive of the City of New York in All its Various Phases: With Full and Graphic Accounts of Its Splendors, and Wretchedness; its High and Low Life; Its Marble Palaces and Dark Dens; Its Attractions and Dangers; Its Rings and Frauds; Its Leading Men and Politicians; Its Adventurers; Its Charities; Its Mysteries, and Its Crimes, By James D. McCabe, author of “Paris By Sunlight and Gaslight,” History of the War Between Germany and France,” “Great Fortunes,” “The Great Republic,” Etc. Etc. Illustrated with Numerous Fine Engravings of Noted Places, Life, and Scenes in New York. By subscription only and not for sale in the book stores. Residents of any State desiring a copy should address the Publishers, and an Agent will call upon them. See page 863.

You may read the book and judge its impressions of New York for yourself at this link.

 

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.

Kitty’s Railway Adventure: 1894

kitty's adventure

KITTY’S ADVENTURE.

“Good-by, dear.”

“A safe journey and a pleasant one.”

The train began to move. Miss Kitty Belwhistle distributed a farewell series of nods and smiles.

She felt quite fond of the Cholmondeleys, now that she was leaving them. They were sorry to lose their guest undoubtedly.

Their brother sorrowed also, but not as one without hope. Business of a pressing nature was likely to take him up to London in the course of a week or so.

Kitty, experienced hand that she was, had not spent three weeks at Northwitch Grange for nothing. The understanding between herself and the heir of the Northwitch acres was pretty definite, that young gentleman flattered himself. They were almost, if not exactly, engaged.

Kitty had made the usual stipulation.

If, within the space of twelve months from date, she met somebody else she liked better than dear Chubbington, all that had passed between them was henceforth to be regarded as an idle dream. If on the other hand, she did not, then—

Kitty pulled up the window and sank back into her comfortable corner seat. The first-class compartment contained no other passenger than the charming young lady in the sealskin coat and crimson-leathered toque who consulted her complexion in the strip of looking glass before she fell to overhauling her bags and packages.

The journey was tedious, and would be certain to be a cold one upon this keen, frosty January day.

But Kitty, who always was distinguished by admirable forethought in matters where her own well-being was concerned, had got all her little comforts around her.

“Eau de cologne? Yes, the housemaid put it in. How stupid of Parker to catch bronchitis! Of course, I was obliged to leave her behind. If I had insisted on her traveling she would have been sure to incur a fresh chill and die on me out of spite.

“If anything in the shape of an adventure could possibly present itself in the course of the humdrum seven hours’ railway journey between Norwich and Liverpool, I should be inclined to welcome it, unless it came in the form of a railway smash. Ugh! The bare idea makes one shudder.

“Let me just peep at the luncheon basket. Tongue and turkey sandwiches, bard-boiled eggs and anchovy ditto, a bottle of cold tea, half a pint and a bag of macaroons. Perhaps Chubby superintended the arrangement! Poor Chubby!”

And Kitty smiled a heartless little smile at the remembrance of Chubby’s pink tinged nose and tearful eyes. Then she opened a brand now railway novel, “The Fang of the Adder,” and immersed herself in the most thrilling chapter of that electrical work:

“Forked and lurid flashes of lightning silently played over the midnight azure. A low peal of thunder rumbled overhead as Paulina gained the churchyard. She reached the lonely resting place of the man whom her heart had worshiped, the man whom her relentless hand had guided to his doom.

“Did he but know it, Cherrington Chim was bitterly avenged.

“As sobs thickened in his murderess’s strangling throat and she sank forward amid the matted and tangled grasses—what happened?

“A hand touched her on the shoulder. A voice said hoarsely”—

“Kimpton, Kimpton! Change ‘ere for Carbury and Walsing.”

The train slowed and stopped, with a jerk. Kitty shut the book and let down the window.

Something darkened the carriage door. A dark-faced mustached, fur-coated stranger got in hurriedly. He trampled on Miss Belwhistle’s toes and apologized floridly. His tone offended her cars ; the perfume which exhaled from his garments offended a still more sensitive perception.

He trampled on Kitty’s toes again as he received into his arms a heavy bundle, the helpless figure of another man, and deposited it in a further corner of the compartment, with evident difficulty.

Another mustached, scented and fur-coated stranger followed and sat himself down in the seat immediately opposite Miss Belwhistle.

Kitty, in a state of freezing indifference to the admiring manifestations of her vis-a-vis, resumed her perusal of “The Fang of the Adder.”

The two mustached and fur-coated individuals interchanged a sentence or two in an undertone and then settled down to their respective news-papers. The invalid lay back helplessly in his corner, swaying from side to side with the motion of the carriage.

He was small of stature and slight of limb. He wore a gray-flapped traveling cap, tied under the chin, and a long gray ulster. From underneath the edge of the ulster peeped a pair of tiny little feet in patent-leather boots.

As much of his profile as was visible to Kitty’s observation was perfectly regular and of a waxen delicacy. The ungloved right hand, which rested stiffly on his knee, was small and dazzlingly white.

“Oh,” exclaimed Miss Belwhistle involuntarily as the express rounded a curve and the invalid lurched violently to the right.

The mustached and scented strangers looked over their newspapers. Kitty had half risen from her seat.

“Anything wrong, miss?” inquired No. 1 in accents of oily vulgarity.

The train steadied; the invalid left off wobbling. Kitty sank among her rugs and parcels.

“I–I beg your pardon. I–I was afraid the–your friend was going to faint.” she breathed. To cover her confusion she stooped for her book, which lay sprawling on the floor.

“The young lady thought Mr. Walker might be feeling ill, Sig. Denzo,” remarked No. 2. “Tell him to answer hisself if he’s got any manners in him,” the signor added, and looked at the invalid. Immediately Mr. Walker spoke in a queer, highly pitched voice, which seemed to come from under the seat which ho occupied.

“I thank you, miss, for your kind inquiries and beg to say I am quite well.”

Kitty began to regret the exclamation of alarm into which she had been betrayed. She began to wonder how long it would be before the next stoppage would afford her an opportunity of exchanging to another carriage, This horrible pair were evidently bent upon improving the occasion.

Rosenbaum offered her a comic paper. Declined with thanks.

The signor produced a silver flask of cognac, which might have contained about a quart, and audaciously invited the young lady to test the quality of its contents. Declined with thanks.

Upon which both the signor and Mr. Rosenbaum applied themselves to the liquor with great good will. They produced huge packages of sandwiches and ate with gusto and without offering the invalid a share of their supplies.

Kitty burned with indignation and was conscious of a yearning in the direction of her well filled luncheon basket, but dread of provoking the civilities of her companions staid her. She would change at the next station they stopped at, and then–

Thank goodness an old town rising out of the snowy landscape! The empty noise and bustle of a station succeeding. She collected her luggage hastily; she peered anxiously out of the window searching for a porter,

“By your leave, miss, said the odious voice of Rosenbaum. He opened the door and jumped out upon the platform. The signor followed. They vanished, arm in arm, into the refreshment room.

“Porter.” cried Miss Belwhistle, but no functionary responded to her call. She leaned out of the window. She waved her muff. She called to the porter again without success.

There was a dull crash, a sickening thud, behind her. She turned. The invalid Mr. Walker had tumbled out of his seat and lay prostrate on the floor. Before the affrighted girl could utter a scream for help the express moved on. Where, where were those callous companions of the sick man? Doubtless Rosenbaum and the signor had been left.

She raised the head of the insensible man. He was lighter than she had expected and strangely, strangely stiffer. She opened his collar with a shaking hand.

She got out the bottle of tea and endeavored to pour a little down his throat. Useless. The rigid lips were not to be forced apart. She removed the traveling cap and wet his fore head and temples with eau de cologne. He showed no signs of reviving. She wiped his face with her handkerchief and–oh, horror!

The faint color vanished from his checks, his lips turned pale. The sick man had been painted.

She looked at him more closely, The strange light blue eyes that maintained their horrible unwinking stare. the deadly color of the face and the icy coldness of its contact struck chill to her. She felt at his heart, Not a beat! Mr. Walker was dead–dead!

Had his murderer–they must be his murderers–painted the dead face with the hues of life, deceived her eye with rouge and powder as they had deceived her ears with a ventriloquial trick? Had they not made good their escape, leaving their helpless dupe alone–alone with their victim?

And at last the express slackened speed, jolted, stopped. They were at Ely. She might scream now, and she did.

“What’s here? Gentleman ill, miss? What do you say?”

Thus the guard.

“There has been murder here,” she said, looking out upon the throng of faces that surrounded the carriage door. “Telegraph to the last stopping place. I can describe the guilty wretches who have done this awful deed. Ah, there they are!”

Here they were indeed, the guilty wretches. Dared they brazen it out? Did they mean to deny all knowledge of the dead man?

“This is a serious charge, you know, gentlemen. I must trouble you to come along with me.”

“With pleasure, Mr. Polizeman,” said the signor, with horrible lightness. “But we look at this corpo morto here first, with your kind obligement. Why will pretty young ladies shriek at everything? My good Rosenbaum, you have better the English language Please explain.

Rosenbaum drew a large poster from the bulging pocket of his fur coat. He gravely handed it to the station-master. It bore this inscription:

TO-NIGHT.

At the Temple of Varieties, Ely.

Herr Rosenbaum and Sig. Denzo,

The Marvelous Conjurors and Ventriloquists

In Their Unparalleled Entertainment,

In which the ANIMATED DUMMY will also

Take part.

COME EARLY.

“This here jointed wooden figure with the wax face and hands,” went on Rosenbaum, “is the dummy. He usually travels in the guard’s van, but the guard couldn’t guarantee his reaching Ely in condition to appear before the public, having a fox-terrier pup in charge as was given to worrying. So we took him in the carriage with us. At the last station we stopped at, me and the signor, gets out for a drink, and the train having started sooner than we bargained for we whipped into second-class compartment. Sorry the young lady has been frightened. Ain’t you, signor?”

“Estremamente!” said Sig. Denzo.

Forest Republication [Tionesta PA] 24 October 1894: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Why will pretty young ladies shriek at everything?” Mrs Daffodil raises her eyebrows at this impertinence. The conjurors/ventriloquists had their nerve, considering that the duo went out of their way to hoodwink the young lady, so fearless in matters of the heart, but so timid when faced with cognac-swilling, sandwich-guzzling, fur-coated showmen and a wooden dummy.

One cannot entirely blame the young person; for a lady travelling without a companion, the individual railway carriage compartment was fraught with danger.  Miss Belwhistle was fortunate that her travelling companions were not fast young gentlemen.

 

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.

Hist Went the Corpse: 1889

Baltimore and Ohio Employees magazine 1912 wake poem

A Wonderful Escape

“When I first went on the police force,” said the fat policeman to a Philadelphia North American man. “I was lucky. One of my assignments was a queer one, and I’m not likely to forget it. I was sent to the house of a man who had just died. He was well known and belonged to a good many lodges. It was a big crowd at the funeral. I was stationed at the foot of the coffin to preserve order. The shutters were closed and the gas burned dimly. The coffin lid was off and the body exposed. No one besides myself and the ‘stiff ‘ was in the room. After I’d been there awhile I began to grow uneasy. I kept looking at the dead face. I’d take my eyes off, and the first thing I’d be gazing at the body again. Suddenly the eyes opened. I thought I was dreaming. Then the left eye winked. Holy smoke!”

“’Hist went the corpse.’”

“My teeth chattered.

“‘Say, officer.’

“Goodness! The corpse sat up. ‘Ain’t you dead?’ I gasped.

“’Me, me dead?’

“’Yes.’

“’Oh, no.’

“’What are you doing there?’

“’That’s only a dodge.’

“’Dodge?”

“’Yes. I’m just now a dodger. A kind of an Artful Dodger. See?’

“’I’ll call the folks.’

“’Heavens, no. I’ll tell you. You see I wasn’t feeling well. I’ve got a mother-in-law who is a holy terror. Worse than ten parrots and the hydrophobia. Well, I’ve been trying for ten years to get rid of her. Now, I told my wife that I would simulate death, get put in a vault, be taken out again right away and sneak west. She liked the idea. I’ll be taken out tonight, go to a hotel, and I’ll meet my wife in St. Louis. In that way we’ll shake the old girl. Well, here’s a dollar. I wish you could send out and get me a little spirits’ reviver.’

“Pretty soon the folks began to come in. The supposed corpse looked as natural as life everybody said. People always say this at funerals. There is no use saying it at weddings or balls. The mother-in-law sobbed. Then she leaned over and kissed the corpse.

“’Why, John smells of whisky,’ she said.

“‘John was a beautiful drinker,’ explained the wife.”

Aberdeen [SC] Daily News 10 September 1889: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Possibly in connection with the 19th-century’s idée fixe about premature burial, we find many stories, some amusing, some grim, about corpses “waking up” or the watchers at a wake fearing that they have wakened up, such as The Corpse Sat Up, by that grave person over at Haunted Ohio. There is also an entire genre of stories about persons pretending to be dead, for example, The Corpse Counted the Coins, in which a similar scam was worked for a more mercenary reason than was admitted by John-the-beautiful-drinker above, or to induce a cruel father to relent and give his blessing to a young couple, as in The Resurrection of Willie Todd.

We can only hope that the Artful Dodger and his wife found an earthly paradise in St. Louis and that the mother-in-law did not disinherit her newly-widowed daughter when she decided to go west to Forget.  Mrs Daffodil fears that a woman worse than ten parrots and the hydrophobia would be capable of anything.

 

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 Fin-de-siècle Bow: 1896

It Flaunts From the Bonnet and Adorns the Lapdog.

THE NEW MARLBOROUGH KNOT.

The Bow and the Bloomer Not Harmonious—A Knot That Means Death to the Big Sleeve.

The bow is fashion’s fad. It has burst into bloom everywhere. It is omnipresent. The old, the young, the rich, the poor, every class and condition of femininity has yielded to its magnetic influence and it has become fashion’s crest for 1895. How long it will reign in the feminine heart remains to be seen. Time only can prove that. Gentle woman has cast her own fair form before its shrine and her lingerie, her hosiery, her garters, her shoes, her gowns, her millinery, her neckwear, her fans, flowers, bon bons, her muff, her parasol, every accessory within and every accessory without–everything seen and everything unseen–all, all are decorated with this recent fad of fashion and the power behind fashion’s throne dares not predict where it may end.

Gentle woman has had other fads. She embroidered her gowns with sunflowers and cat tails at one time and in her hand she carried sunflowers and cat tails; later she worshipped at the shrine of the rose, and still more recently she smiled with favor upon the violet. She bowed before Napoleon and Trilby, but her subjection has never in any instance—no, not in all instances put together—been as complete in its nature as in this reign of the bow.

She has gathered the bow from the bric-a-brac and from the piano legs and tied it about her own anatomy—her neck, her knees, her elbows, her waist; she has perched it upon her shoulders and upon her head, and she has encouraged it in every locality to flaunt and obtrude and intrude and protrude, and in all fabrics, and all hues and combinations of hues, solitary and in flocks. It has fluttered; or it has taken root and simply grown and blossomed, and we submit; we are even reconciled. It is absolute femininity; it is in contrast to the new woman and her bloomers. The bow is stationed at the dividing line of sentiment, and while the fin-de-siècle woman bombards our intelligence with her ideas about advancement there is another kind of woman who sews true, old-time feminine sentiment into bows, and with the latter the she bombards the camp of the enemy.

fin de siecle bows asserts itself in millinery

It is impossible to state whether the bow belongs to us on account of its credentials handed down from the period of the empire; whether its popularity is of Japanese origin, or whether it is simply the result of evolution and a final reaction from the English mode that has been in favor for several years. It is with millinery perhaps that the bow takes the greatest liberties. This winter my lady’s bonnet may be simply a bow, and be-spangled or not, just as she likes. It may be built on a wire foundation worn at the front of her head or at the back, and with an aigrette or a jeweled hat pin to stand sponsors for its claim to being a bonnet. It may dart out in front, or flare at the sides, windmill fashion; it may flare at the side of the hat like a great wing, or it may settle over the hat like a pair of wings. It may be as conspicuous as a weather vane or it may nestle back of a bird whose pinions are spread; it may flare at the back of the hat like a bat shaped bulletin, or it may spread its loops to the four points of the compass. It may be even tied in “a true lover’s knot under the chin.” The Priscilla-like maiden is not now much in evidence. The winter-of-’95 maiden is nothing if not smart in her get-up. One of the most striking features in the Vanderbilt trousseau was a Virot bonnet with nodding plumes and wide strings of French flowered ribbon tied under the chin in this same lover’s knot.

fin de siecle bows windmill2

The Marlborough bow, now worn at the back of the neck, is named in honor of this new American duchess. Every dark gown must be lighted up by the Marlborough bow and in most daring colors, too, is this startling neck adornment perpetrated. Deep crimson, magenta, rose pink, apple green, yellow, and all flowered, striped brocaded, and combined with every tint in silk, satin or velvet stripes. It is seen in whatever design in four-inch ribbon the manufacturer can produce. Nothing is too gorgeous for the season’s belle or debutante to utilize in the Marlborough collar and bow. She pins the broad ribbon to place in front, and then winds it about her throat and thoroughly effective is the result produced by the startling and assertive bow she ties at the back of her neck. About the folds of this bow cluster little curls of fluffy hair and the shades in the ribbon blend into her fair pink skin. Woe to her, indeed, when the colors do not harmonize with her complexion and repeat their prevailing tone in her eyes!

fin de siecle bows shoulder

The bow does not flock as much as it did. On last season’s gown it spread itself like a cluster of butterflies about the dress skirt. It now confines itself more to unexpected places, and it perches where you are not looking for it. At a bridesmaid’s dinner given last week in New York one of the most fetching toilettes was made of lavender crepon, and on one shoulder rose in perpendicular lines the loops and ends of an assertive bow made of watermelon-pink velvet. The fan carried by the same person wore also the same sort of a bow.

fin de siecle bows louis XIV sleeve

The Louis XIV. bow is absolutely the latest, and, by the way, it is this bow that is to liberate us from the thraldom of the huge sleeve. Already that feature in attire is beginning to lower its flag of supremacy. The sleeve begins to droop, its shirring is now falling down around the curve of the shoulder; later it will enjoy its final inflation in the huge puff at the elbow and last the bow on the elbow, as illustrated here, will supersede it. This will be some time hence, but it will come. Who could have predicted four years ago the sleeve as we now behold it?

The florist and the confectioner estimate the value of the bow to enhance the attractiveness of their goods. Even the modern modish funeral does not escape, and a large bunch of white chrysanthemums may be tied with six-inch white satin ribbon and hung on to the middle handle of the casket.

fin de siecle bows lingerie

However important are all these conspicuous bows, the true sentiment of the bow never penetrated deeply into the feminine-heart until fair woman applied it to the decoration of her underwear. Every week after she has trimmed her freshly laundered underwear she is as attractive as lace, dimity, dainty ribbon and the half-hidden curves in all their classic outline can make her.  While the bow adorns her underwear, it will stem the tide that tends toward bloomers. My lady ties her robe de nuit with ribbon bows at the neck and wrists and ties a blossom in with the loops. She sews loops of ribbon in among the flounces of her petticoats; she adorns her garters with huge sachet rosettes of ribbon. She runs a tiny ribbon about the neck of her chemise and she perks bows at the shoulders of that same garment. She loops up her nether garments in festoons with bows that duplicate those on the shoulders and she ties her petticoats and her corset covers to place in the same fascinating manner. ‘Tis safe to assert that while she chooses to wield the sceptre of a ribbon bow, as she does now, the world will continue to submit to feminine rule.

HARYOT HOLT CAHOON.

Star Tribune [Minneapolis MN] 24 November 1895: p. 22

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Most interesting. Mrs Daffodil had no notion that bows would stem the riding tide of bloomerism.  Bloomers, whether on or off the wheel, have always been suspect to certain upright members of society.  In 1891, the Rt. Rev. Arthur Cleveland Coxe, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York, condemned women bicycle-riders, tactlessly stating that they resembled witches on broomsticks. He also objected to what he believed to be the indecorous posture of ladies on the wheel.

Speaking of Bishop Coxe’s objection to women on bicycles, the Boston Herald says: “The Bishop does not appear to understand that the bicycle is not equipped with a side saddle, and that riding astride is the only way to promulgate this interesting vehicle.” We ought not to be surprised, perhaps, if the Boston woman rides astride [or man-fashion as it was called]  a bicycle, but if so she is lonely among her sex in that accomplishment. The women’s bicycles we have seen are provided simply with a seat, and they are no more required to ride astride than sit astride on an ordinary chair. If the good Bishop thinks that women straddle a bicycle as men do theirs he should request some fair Buffalonian to explain to him the difference. Rochester HeraldThe Gogebic Advocate [Ironwood, MI] 11 July 1891: p. 2

What the Right Reverend Arthur Cleveland Coxe failed to understand is that there is no surer way to arouse public interest in the novel or indecorous than to denounce it from the pulpit. Bows and Bishops will never ban the bloomer or the bicycle.

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.

Dead Man Riding: 1854

death on a horse.jpg

This story was written by General Barter on the 28th of April, 1888, for the S. P. R. It was corroborated by Mrs. Barter and Mr. Stewart, to whom General Barter told his adventure at the time. The facts that the dead man had changed considerably since Mr. Barter saw him in life, and that the pony also had never before been seen by him, add greatly to its interest and value.

From General Barter, C.B., of Careystown, Whitegate, Co. Cork.

April 28th, 1888.

In the year 1854, I, then a subaltern in the 75th Regiment, was doing duty at the hill station of Murree in the Punjab. The sanatorium had not been long in being, and our men were in temporary huts perched on the crest of a hill some 7,000 feet above sea level, and the officers were living in tents pitched in sheltered spots on the hillside, except three or four who had been fortunate enough to rent houses, such as they were, which had been built by their predecessors. I rented a house built a year or two before by a Lieutenant B., who had died the previous year at Peshawur. [We learn from the War Office that Lieutenant B. died at Peshawur, January 2nd, 1854.] This house was built on a spur jutting out from the side of the mountain, and about 200 or 300 yards under the Mall, as the only road then made which ran around the hill was called. A bridle-path led to my house from the Mall, and this was scooped out of the hillside, the earth, &c., being shovelled over the side next my house. The bridle-path ended at a precipice, but a few yards from there a footpath led to my hut.

Shortly after I had occupied my hut an officer named D. came down one evening with his wife and stayed with us until near 11 p.m. It was a lovely night, with the moon at the full, and I walked with them to where my path joined the bridle-road, and remained standing there while they toiled up the zig-zag footpath to the Mall, from which they called down to me good-night. I had two dogs with me, and remained on the spot while I finished the cigar which I was smoking, the dogs meanwhile hunting about in the brushwood jungle which covered the hill. I had just turned to return home when I heard the ring of a horse’s hoof as the shoe struck the stones coming along the bridle-path before it takes the sharp bend [marked in a plan which General Barter encloses], and presently I could see a tall hat appear, evidently worn by the rider of the animal. The steps came nearer, and in a few seconds round the corner appeared a man mounted on a pony with two syces or grooms. At this time the two dogs came, and, crouching at my side, gave low, frightened whimpers. The moon was at the full, a tropical moon, so bright that you could see to read a newspaper by its light, and I saw the party before me advance as plainly as it were noon-day; they were above me some eight or ten feet on the bridle road, the earth thrown down from which sloped to within a pace or two of my feet. On the party came, until almost in front of me, and now I had better describe them. The rider was in full dinner dress, with white waistcoat, and wearing a tall chimney-pot hat, and he sat a powerful hill pony (dark brown, with mane and tail) in a listless sort of way, the reins hanging loosely from both hands. A syce led the pony on each side, but their faces I could not see, the one next to me having his back to me and the one farthest off being hidden by the pony’s head. Each held the bridle close by the bit, the man next me with his right and the other with his left  hand and the other hands were on the thighs of the rider, as if to steady him in his seat. As they approached, I, knowing they could not get to any place other than my own, called out in Hindustani “Quon hai ?”(who is it?) There was no answer, and on they came until right in front of me, when I said, in English, “Hallo, what the d—1 do you want here?” Instantly the group came to a halt, the rider gathering the bridle reins up in both hands, turned his face, which had hitherto been looking away from me, towards me, and looked down upon me. The group was still as in a tableau, with the bright moon shining upon it, and I at once recognised the rider as Lieutenant B., whom I had formerly known. The face, however, was different from what it used to be; in the place of being clean shaven, as when I used to know it, it was now surrounded by a fringe (what used to be known as a Newgate fringe), and it was the face of a dead man, the ghastly waxen pallor of it brought out more distinctly in the moonlight by the dark fringe of hair by which it was encircled; the body, too, was much stouter than when I had known it in life.

I marked this in a moment, and then resolved to lay hold of the thing, whatever it might be. I dashed up the bank, and the earth which had been thrown on the side giving under my feet, I fell forward up the bank on my hands; recovering myself instantly, I gained the road, and stood in the exact spot where the group had been, but which was now vacant, there was not a trace of anything; it was impossible for them to go on, the road stopped at a precipice about twenty yards further on, and it was impossible to turn and go back in a second. All this flashed through my mind, and I then ran along the road for about 100 yards, along which they had come, until I had to stop for want of breath, but there was no trace of anything, and not a sound to be heard. I then returned home, where I found my dogs, who on all other occasions my most faithful companions, had not come with me along the road.

Next morning I went up to D. who belonged to the same regiment as B., and gradually induced him to talk of him. I said, “How very stout he had become lately, and what possessed him to allow his beard to grow into that horrid fringe?” D. replied, “Yes, he became very bloated before his death. You know he led a very fast life, and while on the sick list he allowed the fringe to grow in spite of all that we could say to him, and I believe he was buried with it:” I asked him where he got the pony I had seen, describing it minutely. “Why,” said D., “how do you know anything about all this? You hadn’t seen B. for two or three years, and the pony you never saw. He bought him at Peshawur, and killed him one day riding in his reckless fashion down the hill to Trete.”

I then told him what I had seen the night before.

R. Barter, Major-General, C.B.

[General Barter then relates how he and his wife repeatedly heard the sound of a man riding rapidly down the path to the house.]

Once, when the galloping sound was very distinct, I rushed to the door of my house. There I found my Hindoo bearer, standing with a tattie [rattan cane] in his hand. I asked him what he was there for. He said that there came a sound of riding down the hill, and “passed him like a typhoon,” and went round the corner of the house, and he was determined to waylay it, whatever it was. He added: “Thitan ka ghur hai,” (It is a devil’s house).

Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. V., 18 March, 1889: pp. 469-473.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The ghastly image of the dead man halting abruptly to look down at Barter is enough to give anyone a frisson of horror. But horrors were not proof enough for the Society for Psychical Research. In their usual methodical way, the SPR, printed correspondence from General Barter, General Barter’s wife, and Mr Adam Steuart (whom Barter had told of the ghost the next morning) clarifying details and offering corroborative testimony.

The SPR editor adds:

The group and the action which General Barter saw was like a scene reproduced or prolonged from the fevered fancies of the man who had now been some months in the grave… the dogs’ behaviour is noticeable. In every case which I can recall where a dog or other animal is stated to have been in a position to see or hear phantasmal sights or sounds, it has been alarmed thereby.

It has been suggested that some “ghosts” are merely a sort of “recording” on the aether; that repetition creates a ghostly pattern that can sometimes be glimpsed by mortals.  Perhaps the ride of the dissipated Lieutenant in his odious fringe, so intoxicated that he had to be held in his seat by attendants, had been repeated so often that it had impressed itself on the bridle-path.

One wonders why the late Lieutenant B. was in such a hurry to return to his old home. As the leader of a “fast” life, surely a less rural, domestic setting would have been more to his liking in the Afterlife.

To be Relentlessly Informative, the “Newgate Fringe,” also called the “Newgate Frill,” was named for its resemblance to a hangman’s noose around the neck. This horror can be seen here as worn by the American writer Henry David Thoreau.

henry david thoreau.jpg

 

 

 

 

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.