Category Archives: Victorian

The Mermaid Look: 1840s

the mermaid Howard Pyle 1910

A STORY OF THE SEA

Mary Kyle Dallas

“Do I believe in mermaids ?” said old Captain Saltwater, stirring his punch and beaming upon us from the fragrant mist which arose from the great glass before him. “Do I believe in mermaids? Of course I do. Long ago, when I went to sea as a cabin boy, I’ve heard them singing many and many a moonlight night so that I could scarcely lie still in my hammock, and have watched over the side oftener than I can tell you for the gleaming of their white arms and the floating of the sea-green hair they are so proud of. They’ve left off troubling me now, for I’m old and tough as sea water can make me; and even if it was of any use, they wouldn’t think me a prize worth capturing; but then when my heart was soft and my cheek like a peach with the down upon it, they could never leave me alone, but were always beckoning and singing to me. If I hadn’t had a good old mother that I was too fond of to forsake for any flesh and blood woman in the world, let alone a mermaid , I’ve no doubt I should have been among the coral caves to-night instead of here, my dears.

“Mermaids! bless you, you’re not half up to their arts; they have a way (I’m sure of it) of getting rid of the fishy part of ‘em and coming out on land for all the world like Christian women. I’ve met them miles and miles away from the ocean, looking as modest and blushing as much as they could if they’d been what they seemed to be. But I knew them; nothing could deceive me. I always saw the sea in their eyes. Blue eyes, and very pretty ones; but when you least expected it, that deep sea-green would rise from behind them or creep over them somehow, and you would see the mermaid look in a moment.

“It was a kind of natural instinct with me, and I never could teach any one my secret. Ah! I wish I could have taught it to Ralph Hawthorne, but he always laughed at me whenever I spoke of such things. He hadn’t been brought up a sailor, d’ye see, but had been to college, and learnt to explain everything away until he believed nothing. Corpselights he called ‘ electricity,’ and ‘Mother Carey’s chickens’ a superstition; and as for the sea serpent, he actually had the audacity to tell old Tom Pipes, a man who had sailed salt water for 40 years, that he must have dreamt he saw it close to the rock of Gibraltar, because the creature was fabulous. The sea serpent fabulous! He might as well have told old Tom he lied.

“Howsomever, the lad’s education was to blame for these things, and he was to be pitied for not being taught what he ought to have known, and I was just as fond of him as though he had been my own brother. Son, is more like it—for he was very young and there was years between us. He was the best messmate when he was off his hobby that I ever met with, and he made the Cousin Kitty ring again with the old sea songs he was so fond of singing on bright moonlight nights.

“The Cousin Kitty was the ship in which we sailed, and of which he was part owner. I had named her after a little cousin of my own, who half bewitched me when I was a lad, and I was as fond of her as I could have been of her namesake, the living cousin Kitty, if it had been written in Life’s log book that I was to be moored alongside of her. I could never have borne that a man I did not like should be part owner of that vessel.

“Our first voyage together was to the East Indies, and we had terrible weather coming home; and were in scenes that proved what stuff the men were made off. Ralph came out pure gold, and showed that college hadn’t spoiled him, and we were fast friends from that time; for when I like a man, d’ye see, I stick to him, and I liked Ralph more than I can tell.

“He had hair that clung in great black rings all about his neck and temples, an olive skin, and eyes such as I have never seen on any other living thing except a seal. You may laugh, but though they talk about gazelle’s eyes in poetry, they don’t compare with those of a seal—great, brown, loving, imploring things, with a soul behind them as sure as I’m a sinner.

“He was so handsome, that when we passed the reef where the mermaids lay in wait, I used to be afraid to see him looking down into the water. Those creatures are bold for all they’re shy, d’ye see, and I didn’t know but that they might make a spring at him and carry him off by main force if stratagem failed them. Perhaps they were daunted by his great brown eyes, for he never even heard them sing.

“Well, my dears, Ralph Hawthorne and I had sailed together four good years, and he was as dear to me as my own son could have been, when coming across from Liverpool to New York we met the very worst storm that the Cousin Kitty had ever weathered through. I never quite gave her up, but there were moments when I began to think that I and my good ship would be lying beneath the water together before the sun rose over it. For it was in the middle of the second night that the storm was at its worst, and with pitch-black water all around and a sky blacker yet overhead, we were beaten and rocked and driven as though the air were full of unseen demons.

“We had passengers on board, and though they were all fastened down below we could hear the women’s shrieks above the roaring of the wind and the breaking of the waves. Women, d’ye see, were never meant to leave dry land. I’d rather see anything on board of a vessel than a woman.

“By dawn the storm had abated, and the Cousin Kitty had acted like a queen, so Ralph and I went down to cheer the passengers up. When we told them we were out of danger, they squalled for joy, just as they had squalled for fear a little while before. The women folks were sulky with me, because when they were at their loudest the night before I beat upon the doors with a belaying pin, and told ’em if they didn’t hold their tongues I’d let the ship sink just to drown their voices. But they all clustered about Ralph as though they wanted to kiss him, and he, the rascal, looked at them out of his great seal-brown eyes as though he were in love with every girl on board.

“Somehow he quieted them, and those who were sick went back to their staterooms, and those who were well enough sat down to breakfast, and there was as much peace as could be expected with petticoats on board at all. Well, when we had settled that job we went on board again. The clouds were clearing off, and there seemed to be a prospect of pleasant weather, but straight ahead of us we saw a sight that made my heart ache—the wreck of a handsome vessel stranded on a rock, and going fast to pieces. We saw no one upon her; all hands had left her, we supposed, for the boats when she began to part. She had been a handsome French-built vessel, and the name upon her side was L’Esperance. It made me think of the Cousin Kitty, as the sight of another man’s dead child makes a man think of his own living one, and I wondered who the captain was, and how he felt when he left his hope to go down into the dark waters without him. For L’Esperance means Hope, you know, my dears, better than I do, and it was awful to see that bright word written in golden letters above the broken hulk that hadn’t so much as an anchor left to it.

“Doubtful as it seemed, we thought there might be some poor soul clinging somewhere to the wreck, and Ralph Hawthorne and I with half a dozen hands went out in a boat to look at her. It seemed plain in a few moments that she was quite deserted, and we were going back to the Cousin Kitty again, when Ralph frightened me by springing upon the boat and over the side in a moment.

“’The mermaids have got him at last!’ I shouted, but before the words were out of my lips he was swimming alongside with something white in his strong young arms.

“’Take her, for Heaven’s sake!’ he cried, and then I knew that it was a woman whom he held, and a drowned one, for if she had been living she would have clung to him until she dragged him down along with her to Davy Jones’s locker. They will do it; you can’t save a woman from drowning unless she is senseless. Well, we took the poor thing on board, and after a deal of fuss, with all the lady passengers in the way, pretending to help and doing worse than nothing, brought breath back to the poor little body. The first use she made of it was to scream for ‘mon père’ and ‘Alphonse,’ until I began to think we were wrong in bringing her to life and misery, for there was little doubt but that the two she called for were sleeping amongst the seaweed together.

“In a day or two she grew quieter, and then she told us in pretty broken English such a pitiful little story of the white-haired old father and the young lover soon to be a husband, and the storm and the darkness and the awful separation. She made me cry like a baby, and Ralph Hawthorne’s eyes were browner and more seal-like as he listened.

“She came on deck before the voyage was over every afternoon, and used to sit looking down into the water for hours and hours together. The lady passengers made a pet of her, and Ralph Hawthorne was like a brother to the little thing.

“As for myself, I had resolved that she should never want a friend while I lived. So when we arrived at the end of our voyage I took her to my sister Margaret, and told her the story. I was old and had no children, and Meg took a fancy to the girl, so when I sailed again I left her safe in moorings, and she kissed me as a daughter might when we parted. Adele she said was her name, and she would call me Monsieur le Capitaine, which I, not being French, didn’t like.

“I never in all my life knew Ralph to be so silent as he was upon that voyage. He was not himself in anything except that he did his duty, as he always did, like a man. I puzzled over the change more than I can tell you. At last, as he sat in the moonlight one night, looking at the sparkles on the dark waves, I went to him and said,

“’What has been the matter with you all this time, Ralph?”

He looked up with a start, and made no answer at first, but after a while he opened his lips and uttered one word only. That one word was ‘Adele.’

“I understood it all now, and I laughed as I slapped him on the back.

“’So it’s Adele,” said I. “Well, you’ve been sly enough about it. So you’re to take my little beauty from me, are you?’

“He shook his head, and looked up at me with his great seal-like eyes.

“’No,” he said, “she will not say I may. Her heart is with that young lover of hers who was lost when L’Esperance became a wreck, and she cares nothing for me.’

“’Nonsense,’ I answered; ‘I never heard of a woman being constant to the living, let alone the dead.’

“’She will be,’ he said, and his eyes wandered to the dark waves again, and he did not speak another word.

“I said no more at that time, but when we were at home again I went to see my little French daughterling and talked to her about it. At first she sobbed for poor Alphonse, but by-and-bye she dried her eyes and owned to liking Ralph, though she did not love him.

“’Liking is enough,’ said I; ‘love will come when you are spliced, and as I stand in the place of a father to you, I think you ought to do as I say, and make Ralph Hawthorne happy.’

“I spoke as I did because I knew that French girls were used to having their matches made for them by their parents, and that the speech would have great weight with her.

“She took my hand and kissed it. ‘ I must obey,’ she said, ‘but I shall never, never be happy with Monsieur Ralph; my heart is in the ocean with Alphonse.’

“I said nothing, for d’ye see I thought the speech meant nothing but a little woman’s coquetry.

“They were married in six months, and I sailed for the first time for years without Ralph Hawthorne. When I came back he brought his wife to see me. She was beautiful in her white dress, with her golden hair coiled in great braids about her shapely head, but she was very pale and her long lashes drooped as sadly as ever over her large eyes. That was one peculiarity about those eyes of hers. They were so shadowed that I never had been able to tell what color they were. Now, when I bent over her, and had both of her little hands in one of my own, she lifted them and looked full at me for the first time. The sight froze my blood. They were blue and beautiful, but out of them, over them, from behind them I could see the sea. It was there as plainly as the eyes themselves was that delicate sea-green shadow, and I knew all at once. The story of the shipwreck was a lie; ‘Alphonse’ and ‘mon père’ were fictions. It was a preconcerted plan hatched amongst the coral reefs. Ralph Hawthorne’s wife was a mermaid . Instead of kissing her I flung her from me.

“’I know you,’ I cried before I knew what I was saying; ‘go back to the sea from whence you came, you French mermaid; you belong there.’

“And she uttered a scream, and crying, ‘Ah, mon Dieu! if I only could,’ fell fainting to the floor.

I thought it was all over between Ralph and I after that, for he told me I was mad, and bade me leave his house, but I wouldn’t go.

“’No, my lad,’ I said, ‘no, you’ll need your old friend more with a mermaid for a wife than you would if you had married a flesh and blood Christian woman.’

“After a while, when she had come out of her swoon, and was lying white and beautiful as any water lily in his arms, Ralph made it up with me, though d’ye see I had to perjure myself by saying it was all a joke (as though she didn’t know better). My excuse is that I did it for the lad’s sake. So I stayed and went to the house often after that, and though I watched Ralph’s mermaid wife I must say I saw no harm in her. So I said to myself, ‘A reformed mermaid ought to be encouraged,’ and next time I came from sea I brought her a lot of shells and china enough to stock her pantry. She never seemed to care for the china, but she would sit for hours with the shells in her lap, dreaming over them and holding them to her ear to hear the roaring of the sea. She said they brought it close to her, and I suppose they did. But she was very mild and sweet, and if I could have seen a child of Ralph’s upon her bosom I think I could have forgotten that she was a mermaid . But two years passed by, and no baby came to look up into her sea-blue eyes with seal-like brown eyes like those of Ralph, and I was not quite at rest with all her sweetness.

“On the 25th of June—no matter in what year—the Cousin Kitty sailed for France, and Ralph Hawthorne and his wife were on board her. She it seems had longed to see her native land again (all pretence I knew), and Ralph told me with tears in his eyes that she would die if she did not go to the France she loved so dearly. I could have told him that it was the sea for which his wife pined, and which she could live without no longer.

“I tackled her with it the first day she came on board.

“’You don’t care for France, Adele,’ said I; ‘you are pining for the ocean, I’m certain.’

“’Yes,’ she answered softly; ‘but, dear monsieur, do not tell Ralph, for it would grieve him, and he is too good to grieve.’

“’Never fear,’ said I. ‘Somebody or other says, where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise, and he was right. I’ll say nothing to the lad.’ And I kept the mermaid ‘s secret.

“Ralph went as a passenger this time, and spent every moment in petting his lily of a wife. Hour after hour he would spend reading to her, her head lying on his shoulder all the while, but I never saw her lay it there voluntarily. She was obedient to him, but as cold as the water from whence she came. The old merman of a father, who got up the match among the coral reefs, had made a mistake. The love was all on Ralph’s side. The ocean was as calm all the way, until what I shall tell you came to pass, as though oil had been poured upon it, and she was always looking down into the water with her sea-green eyes, and her skin grew more and more transparent and her little wrists smaller every day.

“At last, one bright morning, we came in sight of the very rock upon which we had seen L’Esperance stranded three years before, and from the foot of which Ralph Hawthorne had picked up his mermaid wife. We were becalmed there, and such a calm I never knew. There was not breeze enough to lift a thistledown, and sky and water were both red-hot. The moon looked like a copper shield, and all night long it was so bright that you could see every object as plainly as at daybreak. On the first of these awful nights Adele came to me, as I stood leaning over the side, and said, in her own clear voice,

“’Monsieur, will you tell me if those are the rocks?’

“’The rocks?’ I asked, pretending not to understand her, though I did.

“’Where the ship struck—where L’Esperance went down,’she said, and I answered,

“’Yes.’

“’I thought so,’ said she, ‘for listen, monsieur: a moment ago I saw Alphonse, white and wan, with seaweed tangled in his hair, beckoning to me from the water yonder.’

“She looked so wild and spirit-like as she spoke, that I was not sure but that she would melt into the sea until I had her by the arm, and felt solid flesh and bone beneath my fingers.

“’Go to your stateroom, child,’ I said; ‘you are feverish.’

“But all the while she was colder than an icicle, and I knew it. Adele went to her stateroom and lay there all night. The next day she did not rise, but Ralph was not alarmed, for she said she was not ill, but only weary. I knew then, as I know now, that she wanted to keep out of the temptation, which the sight of the sea was to her.

“All this while we were becalmed within sight of those fatal rocks, and the sun went down upon the second day without the prospect of a breeze.

“It was night. Twelve bells had struck, and the watch on deck were changing places with those who had been sleeping. I was too anxious to rest, and stood talking to the man at the wheel. My back, you understand, was toward the staterooms, and I was only aware of what had happened when he let go the wheel, and shouted, in a horrified voice,

“’She’s overboard!’

“’Who is overboard?’ I screamed.

“But the men, who were rushing to let down a boat, could not tell me. A female figure had been seen to glide, ghost-like, across the deck and spring wildly over the side in an instant.

“I went straight to Ralph’s stateroom—the pillow beside him was empty—and I wakened him from the last sweet sleep he ever knew to tell him that Adele was gone.

We never found her body. I never thought we should, for d’ye see we could not get at the coral caves under the sea; but I only spoke a few words of comfort to poor Ralph; it was no time to vex him, his heart was sore enough already. Adele had left a note upon her pillow with Ralph’s name upon it, and in it were these words:

“’Forgive me, you who have been so kind to me. I sin in leaving you only less than in ever having given myself to you while my heart was in the sea. I have seen Alphonse by our bedside every night. Yesterday he beckoned to me from the water. He waits: the very ship stands still that I may go. I dare not stay. Adieu, and forget me.’

“This was all. We had no need to linger near those rocks longer, for a breeze sprung up the moment she was gone, and by daylight we were miles away—miles from those fatal rocks, and my own handsome lad lay raving on his pillow, and did not even know me as I bent above him.

“We made the voyage, and were on our homeward way, and still there was no change in him. With his beautiful eyes for ever open, he babbled of Adele, always, always of the mermaid he had nursed in his warm bosom.

“Again on our return we neared the rocks where L’Esperance had stranded, and once more we were becalmed. The ship was waiting for something, and I guessed what it was, for Ralph grew weaker every day.

“At last, late in the summer afternoon, I heard him utter my name in his own dear voice, and flew to him.

“His eyes were glazing, but they turned lovingly towards me, and he stretched out his hand.

“Good-bye, dear friend,” he said. “I am going to the sea, to meet Adele,” and then his fingers tightened about mine, and bending down to kiss him I saw all was over.

“We buried him in the ocean when the moon was high above the ship, and I could fancy faces in the waves, and see white arms stretched up to catch the beautiful thing we lowered into the waves.

“When the mermaids had what they waited for they let go of the bottom of the ship, and she sailed on again.

“I’ve been upon the sea ever since, but I never care to go in that direction. It would be very hard to pass those rocks where L’Esperance was stranded, and where Ralph’s hope and Ralph, who was my own, went down to meet her wreck amongst the mermaids .”

Frank Leslie’s Weekly 2 August 1862

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A sad case of that well-known maritime disorder: Capture of the Deep.

 

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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A Wreath of Orange Blossoms Bathed in Blood: 1860s

STRANGE NIGHT OF HORROR

What I Saw in the Old Upper Chamber.

The Wreath of Orange Blossoms That Was Bathed in Blood

I received an invitation from an old friend of mine, Colonel Armitage, to run down to his house in Berkshire, for some hunting and a couple of balls.

In those days I was some years younger than I am now, and, having but lately returned from India, very keen on all sorts of amusements. I wrote off a hurried note of acceptance, and speedily followed it.

I knew Mrs. Armitage slightly, and was well acquainted with the Colonel’s taste in champagne, besides which I had met, not long before, an uncommonly pretty sister of his, whom I thought it would be by no means unpleasant to meet again; so I started off in the best of spirits.

I calculated a run of two hours would give me ample time for the three miles drive from the station and to dress for dinner at 8. However, vain were my hopes. There was a break down on the line, and we only reached the station at 7 o’clock. I dashed into the carriage sent to meet me, and, arriving at the Grange, found my host alone, awaiting me in the hall, with outstretched hand and genial welcome.

I knew he was a regular martinet for punctuality, so was not surprised when he hurried me up directly to my room. It was a large and well-appointed room, with bright fire and candles.

“All right, old chap, I’ll send Reggie up to show you the way down in a quarter of an hour,” were the Colonel’s last words as he left me to my toilet. Suddenly the gong thundered through the house, and I, thinking I was forgotten, put out my candles and turned to the door—when it was softly opened and a young man appeared who beckoned to me.

I followed him into the passage, which was rather dark, and began to say something expressive of my obligation to him, but he silenced me with a wave of the hand and preceded me, with noiseless steps and averted face, along the passage. I thought this was odd, but my surprise was increased when he took an abrupt turn to the left which I did not remember, and we found ourselves in a long, low, oak-paneled corridor, dimly lighted by a hanging lamp.

I began to feel a curious sensation stealing over me and endeavored to speak, but was withheld by an undefined feeling, so followed my guide in perfect silence to the end of the corridor. He then passed through a green baize door, up a flight of corkscrew stairs and through another passage, still feeling myself impelled to follow till he stopped, opened a door and stood back for me to pass before him.

I had not seen his face before, but had observed he was above the middle height, with a good figure and rather military gait. Now, however, I saw his face; it was ashy white, with such an expression of horror and fear in his widely opened eyes as froze my blood. I again made an ineffectual attempt to speak to him, but he motioned me imperiously to enter, and I felt constrained to obey.

I found myself in an oddly-shaped room. It was evidently an unused apartment, for there was no carpet, and my footsteps sounded hollow on the boards. Between the windows, half in shadow, half in moonlight, stood a large bed. As I gazed upon it my eyes became gradually accustomed to the somewhat dim light, and I observed with a shudder that it was draped with black and decorated with tall black plumes like those on a hearse, and that there was a motionless form extended upon it.

I glance round for my guide—he was gone and the door was shut, though I had heard no sound. A thrill of horror ran through my veins, I felt an almost irresistible desire for flight, but again the inexplicable force urged me on, and I approached the bed with slow and trembling steps.

There lay a young, and, as far as I could see, beautiful girl, dressed as a bride, in white satin and lace, a wreath of orange blossoms on her head and the long white veil covering, though not obscuring her features, but oh! Horror! The front of her dress and vail were all dabbled and soaked in blood which I could see flowed from a deep open gash in her white throat.

My head swam, and I remembered no more.

Suddenly I felt a cold shock in my face, and opened my eyes to find myself on the floor, with my head supported by my kind host. As my bewildered senses reasserted themselves I remembered what I had seen, and, with an exclamation, sprang to my feet. There was the same bed, but in the bright light I saw that it was without the ghastly appendages I had seen before and was totally untenanted. Colonel Armitage began asking me questions, but, seeing that I was too much dazed to answer, he took me by the arm and half led me, half supported me, back to my own room. When there he put me into an arm-chair, gave me a glass of water and exclaimed:

“My dear fellow! What on earth is the matter with you? We sent Reggie up to you, but he came down saying you had gone. We waited ten minutes—then, thinking you had lost your way, instituted a regular search, and I found you in the old chamber, in a dead faint on the floor.

I pulled myself together, and, as collectedly as I could, told him what had happened. He listened with incredulity, and then said:
“My dear Bruce, you have been dreaming.”

“Why,” I said, rather nettled. “how do you suppose I could have dreamed myself into that room? I tell you, Armitage, that I was as wide awake as you are, and am perfectly certain that what I saw was no dream.”

“Look here,” said Armitage seriously, “don’t you go talking about this to anybody but me; of course there are stories about this house, but nobody has ever seen or imagined anything uncanny before, and it will frighten Mrs. Armitage to death if you tell her; she is awfully delicate, and I don’t want to alarm her.”

“All right,” I said, “but I wish it hadn’t happened to me. I feel frightfully shaky still.”

“Oh, nonsense! Come down to dinner; a good glass of champagne will set you to rights,” said he.

Accordingly I made an effort to shake off the depression on my spirits, and went down with him.  The bright lights, cheerful talk and clattering of plates seemed terribly incongruous, and I am afraid pretty Mrs. Armitage must have thought me quite off my head, for I could eat nothing, drank feverishly and replied at random to all her remarks, and condolences, while the dead face of the murdered girl floated before my eyes and nearly distracted me.

“I’m afraid you don’t feel at all well, Captain Bruce,” she said at last.

“Please don’t think me dreadfully rude,” I replied, “but if I could slip out unobserved, I should be most grateful.”

She signaled to Reggie, a bright-faced boy whom I begged to show me upstairs. I literally dared not attempt to find my way up alone for fear of meeting my mysterious guardian.

I went to the glass—and recoiled; I hardly knew myself. My hair lay damply on my forehead, my face as very pale, and there was the haunted look in my eyes I had seen in his.  Very soon the door opened—I started nervously; but it was only the Colonel with a steaming tumbler. “Look here,” he said, “drink this off and get into bed; you’ll be all right in the morning.” I did so, and the punch did send me off into a heavy, dreamless sleep, which lasted till my blinds were drawn up by the servant in the morning letting in fresh sunshine.

A whole day in the saddle and a splendid run, followed by a cozy game of billiards with Miss Mabel Armitage before dinner, decided me, ghosts or no ghosts, not to show myself ungrateful to my kind hosts by cutting short my visit as I had thought of doing.

The next day we spent in the covers, the ladies came out to give us our luncheon, and I came home to dress for dinner in a most jubilant frame of mind, much inclined to put my fate to the touch with Miss Mabel: hoping that, be my deserts as small as they might, I should win, not “lose it all.” Some country neighbors were expected to dinner, and I was standing in a deep window-seat with Mabel and listening to her merry descriptions of them as they were ushered into the room by the stately butler when Sir George and Miss Hildyard” were announced, and there entered—dressed in white—the girl I had seen in my dream!

I stood transfixed, and Mabel exclaimed: “Oh, Captain Bruce, what is the matter?” But I could not answer. Before my eyes rose again that darkened room, that funeral bed, and the lifeless form of her who now advanced toward me, led by Mrs. Armitage.

“Miss Hildyard, Captain Bruce.” I bowed as in a dream, but saw a look of surprise cross her face, and she glanced inquiringly at Mabel, who replied by a reassuring nod.

As soon as I could get an opportunity, I took Colonel Armitage aside, and whispered to him—“For heaven’s sake, Armitage, am I mad? That is the girl.” He shook me impatiently by the shoulder and said, “’Pon my word, Bruce, I begin to think you are. That is one of the nicest girls I know. She’s engaged to Lovett, and they are to be married soon after Easter. For goodness’ sake don’t go, and frighten her by staring like a death’s head.”

After dinner I even ventured to accost Miss Hildyard, whom I found very agreeable, with nothing in the least supernatural about her; so once more I made up my mind that I was the victim of some extraordinary hallucination, and resolved to think of it no more. Well—time passed; I was obliged to say good-by to my kind friends with much regret and returned to my duties.

One day, soon after my return, I was driving down the street with my young brother, when I discerned a figure in the distance walking before us which seemed familiar. The back only was visible, but somehow I knew that tall figure, those broad shoulders, that alert, regular stride.

As we passed he turned his face toward us, and—good heavens! It was he; my guide that terrible night at Medlicott. Was I awake or dreaming?

I stopped the cab, to my brother’s intense surprise, jumped out with what intention I hardly know, and rapidly followed him. He turned up King street and went into a house, opening the door with a latch-key and shutting it behind him. I remained hesitating—what should I do next? I decided on ringing the bell; it was answered by a decorous-looking man servant.

“What is the name of that gentleman who has just gone in here?”
“Mr. Lovett, sir,” was the reply.  I felt stunned. Surely this was more than a coincidence!

The servant looked doubtfully at me. “Want to see him sir?”

“N—no,” I stammered, quite unable to make up my mind.

A week or two passed. I had seen Mabel several times and at last had ventured on asking her that question on which all my happiness depended. I need not describe here my joy at receiving the reply I longed for from the sweetest lips that ever breathed. I implored for a short engagement, and her mother promised I should not have to wait long.

One morning I received a note from some friends asking me to come down for a ball at Ryde. As I had nothing particular to do, and Mabel was away on a visit, I accepted the invitation and went down the same day.

I found my friends had taken rooms in the hotel, and were a large and lively party. In the evening the waiter came to me and asked, apologetically, if I would mind changing my room, which was a large one, for another, as they had received a telegram from a young married couple, engaging a room for that night. Of course I consented to the change, and my things were moved.

After the ball I came to bed at about 3 o’clock in the morning, and was sitting in my open window smoking a cigar. My senses seemed preternaturally sharpened, and above the gentle rush of the waves I could hear somebody breathing in the next room. I listened intently, fearing I knew not what.

The breathing came short, almost in gasps, and I heard stealthy movements. The rest of the hotel was wrapped I sleep. I rose to my feet, feeling sure that something was wrong, when I heard a short struggle, a heavy fall, and a wild piercing scream in a woman’s voice that haunts me still. I rushed to the door, and was met on the threshold by—I knew it!—the man I had seen in my vision before. He was in evening dress, much disordered, his shirt front and right arm were stained with blood, and in his right hand he grasped a razor, from which some ghastly drops still trickled. The light of insanity shone in his eyes, and, with a demonical shriek of laughter, he flung himself upon me.

Now began a most fearful struggle for life. The maniac seemed to have the strength of ten men. However I was soon reinforced by a hurrying crowd of servants and visitors.

He was dragged from me by main force and held down by many hands, while I burst open the next door and entered. Ah! A flood of remorse came over me as I recognized the scene I had feared, nay, I knew I should see.

The moonlight pouring in at the window revealed to me the whole tragedy. There, half on, half off the bed lay that inanimate form, blood-stains all over the clothes and floor. The people who had crowded I after me stood dumb, as in a sort of stupor. I approached the bed and recognized the features of her whom I had known as Agnes Hildyard.

The rest of my story is soon told. I had to give evidence before the Magistrates as to what I had seen, and the unfortunate Lovett, who had sunk into a state of insensibility was removed to the nearest asylum pending the arrival of his friends.

I found that I had received in my struggle with him a severe wound in the shoulder, the loss of blood from which, acting upon a highly excited brain, ensued a severe illness which confined me to my room for many weeks, during much of which time I was delirious.

When at last I crept out into the sunshine I felt my youth had left me forever. I was ordered a long sea voyage, and my brave and loving Mabel insisted upon our immediate marriage. I can not enter into the vexed question of physics. All I know is that these events happened to me exactly as I have written them down, and if I did not act upon them, it was not because I had not been forewarned.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 18 July 1891: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Such psychic warnings pose a pretty problem to those who receive them: precisely how much weight should be given to portents of a dire nature? They are generally easy to dismiss as “hallucinations” or “imagination.” And, as Captain Bruce experienced, seers are often urged to refrain from describing visionary horrors for fear of upsetting the ladies. Mrs Daffodil has written before of a young lady who fortuitously broke off an engagement after her absent fiancee appeared three times in her photographs, standing behind her, holding a dagger in his upraised hand.  It was perhaps the mystic number three that decided her; a common numeral in heeded supernatural warnings. Captain Bruce, having been given only a single warning, (albeit an utterly grewsome one) could scarcely be blamed for not warning the young bride-to-be.

 

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.

 

Wedding Tales from a Parish Clerk: 1830

[The narrator is a parish clerk of long-standing.]

It would not perhaps be unamusing to describe the vast changes in fashion which have taken place during the forty years that I have officiated as parish clerk; but though I am not an inattentive observer of dress, I have looked beyond the bridal robes, and my chief delight has been to scrutinize, I hope not impertinently, the conduct of the parties. I was much interested by the appearance of a lady who came in a splendid carriage, and attended by her friends to our church. She was richly and elegantly attired, in white lace and white satin; but no one who looked upon her countenance would ever cast a thought upon her dress again: her form was so thin and fragile, it seemed a mere shadow; her face was of lily paleness, and she wore a look of such deep and touching melancholy, that the heart melted at the piteous sight. There was, however, no violence in her grief; her eyes were tearless, and her manner was calm. I understood that she was a great heiress, who had lately changed her name for a large fortune, and that she was of age, and her own mistress; therefore there could be no constraint employed in inducing her to approach the altar. My ears are rather quick, and I could not help overhearing a part of that lady’s conversation with her bridesmaid, as they walked up and down the aisle together. “I was wrong to come here,” she said in a mournful tone, “wrong to allow any persuasion to tempt me to violate the faith I have plighted to the dead. Can an oath so sacred as that which I have sworn ever be cancelled? I scarcely dare glance my eyes towards those dark and distant corners, lest I should encounter his reproaching shade: it seems as though he must rise from the grave to upbraid me with my broken vow.”

The friend endeavoured to combat these fantastical notions, urged the duty she owed to the living, and the various excellencies of the man who now claimed her hand. “I know it all,” returned the fair mourner, “but still I cannot be persuaded that I have not acted lightly in accepting the addresses of another. My faith should be buried in the tomb with my heart and my affections. I fear me that he who now receives my vows will repent those solicitations which have induced me to break my steadfast resolution to keep that solemn promise which made me the bride of the dead.” Pulling down her veil, she passed her hand across, her eyes and sighed heavily. Not wishing to appear intrusive, I withdrew to the vestry-room; and shortly afterwards the bridegroom entered, accompanied by a gentleman whom he introduced as a stranger, saying that the relative who was to have attended him as the groom’s-man had been suddenly taken ill, and his place unexpectedly supplied by a friend newly arrived from the continent. He then inquired for the bride, entered the church, and led her to the altar. The clergyman opened his book– the ceremony commenced–and the lady, raising her drooping downcast head, fixed her eyes upon the stranger who stood by her intended husband’s side, and, uttering a wild scream, fell lifeless on the ground! We carried her immediately into the vestry, and, after many applications of hartshorn-and-water, she at length revived. In the interim an explanation had taken place; and I learned that in early life the bride had been engaged to the gentleman whose appearance had caused so much agitation, and whom she had long mourned as one numbered with the dead. The bridegroom did not urge the conclusion of the ceremony, and indeed the spirits of the lady had sustained too severe a shock for the possibility of going through it. Her tremor was so great that there was some difficulty in conveying her to the carriage, and the whole party retired looking very blank and dejected.

About three months afterwards, the same lady came to church again to be married, and never in my life did I see so astonishing a change as that which had taken place in her person and demeanour. She had grown quite plump; a sweet flush suffused her face, and her eyes, instead of being sunk and hollow, were now radiantly brilliant. She stepped forward with a cheerful air, and her voice sounded joyously. If my surprise were great at this alteration, it was still greater when I looked at the bridegroom, and saw that he was the very same gentleman who had come before. I thought, to be sure, that the lady who had grieved so deeply was now going to be united to her first love–but no such thing; and I was told afterwards, that the young heiress was so shocked by the inconstancy of the faithless friend–for it seems that he was not aware of the report of his death, and had long ceased to trouble himself about her–that her attachment was quite cured, and she had determined to bestow her hand and fortune upon the man who best deserved them.

There was something very remarkable about the next couple who came to be married. The lady was old, and the gentleman young –a mere boy of one-and-twenty, going to link himself with sixty-five. And such a vinegar, crabbed aspect as the bride possessed, was surely never exhibited at a wedding before. She seemed conscious that she was about to do a foolish thing, and was angry that the world thought so too; the bridegroom looked sheepish, and kept his eyes fixed on the ground, while he rapped his shoe with his cane, much to the discomfiture of the lady, who was compelled to put herself forward as he hung back, and to take his arm instead of waiting to be led to the altar. She could not conceal her mortification at the neglect she experienced, but she bridled, and tossed, and cast such bitter glances upon those who seemed disposed to smile, that all, the party stood awe-struck; and when the ceremony commenced, it was rather curious to hear the bridegroom whispering his part of the service, while the sharp shrill voice of the bride was actually startling in the solemn silence of a large and nearly empty church. The contrast between this antiquated belle’s yellow parchment visage and her snowy drapery was so striking that it increased her ugliness. I could think of nothing but an Egyptian mummy tricked out in white satin; and there were some sly looks passed amid the company when her restless fiery eyes were for a moment withdrawn, which seemed to say that some such idea was gliding through their heads. I suppose that she had a good deal of money; for by the poor lad’s manner I should think that nothing else would have induced so young a man to link himself with such a withered, and I may say pestilent hag.

I have seen, to be sure, many unwilling bride-grooms in my time. One, I remember, was evidently brought to church through fear of the brothers of his bride. They came, three of them, to escort the lady, as fierce as dragoon officers; and I believe one of them was in the army, for he clattered in with long spurs, and wore a brave pair of mustachios on his upper lip. The other two were stout athletic men, with an air of great resolution; while the bridegroom, who was strong enough to have coped with any one of them, but who in all probability disliked the chances of a bullet, looked dogged and sullen, taking especial care to show that the slight civility which he displayed was extorted from him by compulsion. I felt for the poor girl, for she met nothing but stern glances. The rising tears were checked by a frown from some one of her three brothers, who watched her narrowly; and there was little consolation to be drawn from the countenance of her intended husband: if ever he looked up there was a scowl upon his brow. She could only hope to exchange three tyrants for one, and there seemed too great a probability that the last would revenge upon her the treatment which he had received from her kinsmen. The ladies of the party shook their heads and were silent; and altogether I never saw more evil augury, although the termination was not so disastrous as that which I once witnessed upon a nearly similar occasion.

The lady, according to custom, came first. She had many of her friends about her; and the whole company showed more joy than is generally exhibited by the polite world, even on these happy events. There appeared to be a sort of congratulation amongst them, as though they had brought some fortunate circumstance to pass of which they had despaired; and amid them also was a tall bluff-looking brother, who seemed very well pleased with the success of his exertions. The bride, too, was in high spirits, and talked and smiled with her bride’s-maiden, arranged her dress at the glass, and carried her head with an air. So much were the party occupied with their own satisfied feelings, that they did not appear to observe the wild and haggard look of the bridegroom. I was shocked and alarmed at the pale and ghastly countenance which he presented; he was dressed in black, and though somebody took notice of this circumstance, it was only to joke about it. To me he seemed under the influence of brandy, or of laudanum, for he talked strangely, and laughed in such a manner that I shuddered at the sound. Nobody, however, appeared to regard it; and the wedding party entered the church as gaily as possible. During the ceremony the bridegroom’ s mood changed; as if struck by its solemnity, he became grave; a shade of inexpressible sadness passed over his wan, cold brow; and large drops of perspiration chased each other down his face. The nuptial rite ended; he stooped forward to kiss the bride, and just as the clergyman turned to leave the altar, drew a pistol from his bosom, and shot himself through the heart before an arm could be raised to prevent him! Down dropped the new married couple together, for this unhappy gentleman had entangled himself in his wife’s drapery, and dragged her with him as he fell. It was a horrid sight to see the dead and the living stretched in this fearful embrace upon the ground. Paralyzed by the report of the pistol, we stood aghast, and a minute elapsed before even I could stretch out my hand to extricate the bride from her shocking situation.  She had not fainted, and she could not weep; but her eyes were glazed, her features rigid, and her skin changed to a deep leaden hue. Her satin robe was in several places stained with blood; and surely never was any spectacle half so ghastly! Her friends repressed their tears and sobs; and, gathering round her, attempted to convey her away. She submitted as if unwittingly; but when her foot was on the threshold of the portal, she burst into long and continued shrieks. The whole church rang with the appalling cry; and it was not until she had completely exhausted herself by her screams, and had sunk into a sort of torpor, interrupted only by low moans, that she could be taken from the fatal spot. A coroner’s inquest sat in the vestry; and a sad tale of female levity, and of the weakness and libertinism of man, came out. But the subject is too painful to dwell upon, and I gladly turn to pleasanter recollections.

We had a very fine party shortly afterwards, who arrived in two or three carriages. The bride was young and fair, but she held her head down, and seemed greatly agitated. It was very easy to perceive that her heart had not been consulted in the choice of a husband. The father, a tall heavy-browed man, cast severe and threatening glances upon his trembling daughter; but the mother, though she seemed equally bent upon the match, interceded for a little cessation of hostilities; and, when the shrinking girl asked to be allowed to walk for a moment with one friend in the church, in order to collect her scattered thoughts, leave was granted. As she passed out of the door she dropped her white satin reticule, and it clanked heavily against the steps–a sound not at all like that of a smelling-bottle, and I must confess that my curiosity was strongly excited. I endeavoured to pick it up; but before I could bend my arm, which is a little stiff with the rheumatism, she had whipped it off the ground, and down the side aisle she went, leaning upon her companion’s arm. This aisle is long, and rather dark, terminating in a heavy oaken screen, which conceals the green baize door leading to the front portal. She passed behind this screen and was seen no more! I thought it very odd, but it was not my place to speak, so I returned into the vestry room, that I might not be questioned. Presently the bridegroom arrived and an ill-favoured gentleman he was with a fretful discontented countenance; and he began complaining of having been detained at home by some fool’s message. After he had grumbled for a few minutes the bride was called for–she was not to be found. The father stormed. “Is this a time,” he exclaimed, “to play such childish tricks! she has hidden herself in some corner;” and away we all hastened in search of her. The church doors were shut and locked; but as I passed up the gallery stairs, I observed that the bolts were withdrawn from that which led from the side aisle. I did not, however, feel myself compelled to publish this discovery, though I shrewdly suspected that the reticule which had rung so loudly as it fell contained a key; and so it proved. Some time was wasted in examining the organ-loft, and indeed every place in which a mouse might have been concealed. At last somebody hit upon the truth, and a little inquiry placed the elopement beyond a doubt. We learned that a carriage had been in waiting at a corner of the street opposite to the church; and that a gentleman had been seen loitering under the portico, who, the instant that two ladies popped out, conducted them to his equipage, which moved leisurely away, while we were engaged in our unsuccessful search. Upon strict examination, it came out that a pew-opener had furnished the means of obtaining a false key. It would be impossible to describe the rage and dismay of the disappointed parties: the mother went off in hysterics, the bridegroom looked sourer than ever, the father raved and swore bitterly; and the clergyman, after vainly attempting to pacify him, read him a lecture upon his intemperate conduct. All those who were not related to the parties slunk quietly away, perhaps to have their laugh out; and I take shame to myself to say that I could not help enjoying the scene, so thoroughly unamiable did those persons appear with whom the fair bride was unfortunately connected. I was anxious about the young couple, and heard with great pleasure that they got safe to Scotland.

Another young lady, forced by her parents to the altar, did not manage matters quite so cleverly. They had dressed her out, poor thing, in ball-room attire; her beautiful hair fell in ringlets from the crown of her head, down a swanlike throat as white as snow, and these glossy tresses were wreathed with long knots of pearl, which crossed her forehead twice, and mingled in rich loops with the clustering curls. Her white arms were bare, for her gloves had been lost in the coach, and the veil had slipped from her hand and hung in disorder over her shoulders. Before the carriage reached the church, I saw her fair face thrust out of one of the windows, as if in expectation of seeing somebody. She paused for an instant on the steps, and, unmindful of the gazing crowd, cast hurried glances up and down the street; and even in the vestry-room, and in the church, she searched every corner narrowly with her eyes, turning round quickly at the slightest sound. Hope did not forsake her until the very last moment–when the bridegroom appeared– a tall prim person, who drew on his gloves very deliberately, not seeing or heeding the agonizing perturbation of his intended bride. Her movements became more hurried as her expectation of a rescue decreased. She suffered herself, as if bewildered, to be led to the communion table; her head all the time turned over her shoulder, still watching for the arrival of some too tardy friend. But when she stood by the rails, and the actual commencement of the ceremony struck upon her ear, she seemed to awaken to a full sense of her dangerous situation; and, throwing up her beautiful white arms, and tearing away the long curls from her brow, she exclaimed, with much vehemence, “No! no! no!” Her bosom heaved as though it would have burst through the satin and lace which confined it; her dark flashing eyes seemed starting from her head; her cheek was now flushed with the hue of crimson, and now pale as death, and every feature was swelled and convulsed by the tumultuous emotions which shook her frame. The tall prim gentleman looked astounded: there was a gathering together of friends; but the bride was not to be appeased–she still continued her half-frenzied exclamation, “No! no! no!” A slight scuffle was heard outside the church, and in the next moment a fine-looking young man dashed in through the vestry-room, scarcely making two steps to the afflicted fair, who, uttering a piercing cry of joy, rushed into his outstretched arms. The clergyman shut his book, scandalized by the indecorum of these proceedings; the tall prim gentleman opened his eyes, and seemed fumbling in his waistcoat pocket for a card; and the lovers, careless of every thing but each other, clasped in a fervent embrace, had sunk down upon one of the free seats in the middle aisle–the youth swearing by heaven and earth that his beloved should not be torn from his grasp, and the lady sobbing on his shoulder. The parents of the bride, confounded and amazed at this unexpected catastrophe, had nothing to say. They at length attempted to soothe the bridegroom ; but he had elevated his eyebrows, and, looking unutterable things, was evidently preparing to walk off; and, this resolution taken, he was not to be stayed. He seized his hat, placed it solemnly under his arm, faced about, and, perceiving that his rival was wholly engrossed in wiping away the tears from the loveliest pair of eyes in the world, he pursed up his mouth to its original formality, and marched straight out of the church. An arrangement now took place between the intruder and the crest-fallen papa and mamma. The latter was left with her daughter, while the two gentlemen went in quest of a new license. The young lady, a little too wilful, it must be owned, pouted and coaxed, till the old lady’s brow relaxed, and all was harmony. Again the curate was called upon to perform his office, and now radiant smiles played upon the lips of the bride–a soft confusion stole over her cheek, and scarcely waiting until the conclusion of the ceremony, as if she feared a second separation, clung to her husband’s arm, not quitting it even while signing her name in the book.

There was nothing extraordinary about the next couple who joined their hands in our church, excepting their surpassing beauty. It seemed a question which could be styled the handsomer, the lady or the gentleman: both were tall, and both had that noble aspect which one is apt to fancy the exclusive gift of high birth. The bridegroom was a man of rank, and the bride little inferior in family connexion. The friends of each party, magnificently appointed, graced the ceremony: altogether–it seemed a most suitable match, and was one of the grandest weddings that had taken place for a long time. The whole affair was conducted with the greatest propriety; hearts, as well as hands, appeared to be joined; the lady smiling through the few tears which she seemed to shed, only because her mother and her sisters wept at parting from her, and the rapturous delight of the gentleman breaking through the cold and guarded forms prescribed by the fashion.

I was much amazed to see the same lady only five years afterwards come again to our church to be married. The same she certainly was, but still how different! Wrapped in a plain deshabille, attended by a cringing female, who bore the stamp of vulgarity in face, dress, and demeanour; her cheeks highly rouged, and the elegant modesty of her manners changed into a bold recklessness, which seemed to struggle with a sense of shame. I could scarcely believe my eyes; the widow of a nobleman would not surely have been in this degraded state. I was soon convinced of the truth of the surmise which flashed across my mind: she answered to the responses in her maiden name–she had been divorced–and the man to whom she now plighted the vow so lately broken, was he worthy of the sacrifice? I should say, no! He was, I understand, one of the wits of the day; but in person, bearing and breeding; sadly, wretchedly beneath her former lord. She seemed to feel her situation, notwithstanding all her efforts to shake off the painful recollections that would arise. I saw her press her hand once or twice upon her heart; and when her eyes glanced around, and caught those well -known objects which she had gazed upon in happier days, she heaved deep and frequent sighs. There was less of solemn earnestness about the clergyman who officiated than usual, and he seemed to hurry over the service as though the holy rite were profaned in joining guilt and shame together. But though the marriage ceremony was cut short, it had already detained this dishonoured pair too long. As they were leaving the altar the vestry-door opened, and a gay bridal party descended the steps. It was the divorced lady’s deserted husband, leading a beautiful young creature, the emblem of innocence and purity, by the hand, and surrounded by a host of friends splendidly attired. A start, and almost a scream of recognition, betrayed the emotion which the wretched woman, who had forfeited her rank in society, sustained at this unexpected and most unwished-for meeting. She had many mortifications to undergo before she could get away. During the ceremony of signing her name, several individuals made excuse to enter the vestry, in order to stare at her; while the ladies, in passing by, shrunk away as though they feared contamination; and she was obliged to walk half-way down the street, amid a line of gaping menials, before she could reach her shabby carriage, which had drawn off to make room for the coroneted coaches of the noble company in the church.

There was something I thought exceedingly strange about another wedding which took place nearly at the same period. One chariot contained the whole party, which consisted of an elderly and a young gentleman, and the bride, a very pretty girl, not more than seventeen or eighteen at the utmost. She was handsomely dressed, but in colours, and not with the precision and neatness of a bride: her clothes, though fashionable and expensive, were certainly not entirely new, bearing slight tokens of having been worn before. Neither did she show any thing like timidity or bashfulness; asking a hundred questions, as if totally ignorant of the forms and ceremonies usually observed at weddings, laughing heartily at the idea of a set of demure bride-maids, and exclaiming continually, “La! how ridiculous! The bridegroom lounged upon the chair and benches, and said it would be a fine addition to a parson’s income, if he could unmarry the fools who were silly enough to slip into his noose; and the old gentleman listened to this idle conversation with a grieved and mortified air. The young couple, it seems, had not very long returned from a journey to Scotland, and were now re-united, to satisfy the scruples of the bride’s father; although both appeared as if they would have been as well pleased to have been left at liberty to seize the facilities offered in the North for the annulling, as well as the celebrating of contracts, too often hastily performed and speedily repented.

There was a gentleman, a sort of Blue-beard, I must call him, who, having -his town-house in our parish, came five times to be married; and I observed that, in all his five wives, he seemed to make a pretty good choice, at least as far as beauty went. The first was a blooming country nymph, who, except that her hair was powdered, and she wore high-heeled shoes, might have passed, with her large curls pinned stiffly in a row, immense hat, and spreading furbelows, for a belle of the present day; and a mighty comely pair she and the ‘Squire made. The second wife was a languishing lady of quality, who, annoyed at the bridegroom’ s old-fashioned prejudice against a special license, kept her salts in her hand, said that the church smelled of dead bodies, and that she should catch some disease and die; and so she did. Then came the third, buttoned up in a riding-habit, which was an ugly fashion adopted at weddings some fifteen or twenty years ago, with a man’s hat upon her head, and a green gauze veil: her partner, then a little inclining to the shady side of life, affected the fooleries of the times, and was dressed in the very tip of the mode, She looked as though she would see him out; but he came again; and the fourth, a pale, pensive, ladylike woman, apparently far gone in a consumption, who seemed, poor thing, as though she had been crossed in love, and now married only for a maintenance, did not last long. The fifth time we had three weddings: the old gentleman and his son espoused two sisters; the former taking care to choose the younger lady, and his daughter married the uncle of her father’s bride. It was a droll exhibition; and I think that the elder Benedict would have done well to remain in his widowed state; for he appeared to have caught a Tartar at last, and would have some difficulty in carrying things with the high hand which he had done with his former wives. I have not heard of his death, but I still retain the expectation of seeing his widow.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, October 1830

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A candid narrative from a gentleman with a front-pew seat, as we might say. He is most severe upon the ladies, which one feels is ungenerous of him and unfair to a sex put at such a disadvantage by society and the law. One does wonder why the clergy did not put a stop to marriages where there was obviously coercion.

A Consent.—A girl was forced into a disagreeable match with an old man whom she detested. When the clergyman came to that part of the service where the bride is asked if she consents to take the bridegroom for her husband, she said with great simplicity, ” Oh dear, no, sir! but you are the first person who has asked my opinion about the matter.” New-York Mirror, Volume 18, 1840

Or where fashion sowed confusion:

 A certain Macaroni bien peudre et bien frize, with a feather hat under his arm, perfumed like an Egyptian mummy, and who had all the appearance of a modern puppy, went to church with his bride, to receive the nuptial blessing, when the Parson, struck with wonder at the strange apparition, for fear of a mistake, thought proper to ask before the ceremony, which of the two was the Lady?

Spooner’s Vermont Journal [Windsor, VT]  7 April 1784: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Charm on His Watch Chain: 1884

torquoise shell heart locket

Tortoise-shell locket with pique work. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/15128/lot/205/

“COME HOME TO-MORROW, PAPA”

Half a dozen railroad conductors, running on different roads, all good friends, met in a cigar store one day last week, and smoked, and talked, and joked each other about owning the various roads they run on, “knocking down” fares, “whacking up” with the directors, etc. They are great men to “cod” each other, as the saying is, and one stylish conductor, who always dresses well had to take it pretty rough. One good natured fellow, who is a great talker, joked the stylish conductor about his diamond, and finally got sight of a little worn and dilapidated charm on his watch chain, a little tortoise shell locket with marks cut into it all over. The talking conductor said.

“O, boys, look at him? A diamond as big as a paper weight, a two hundred dollar watch and a hundred dollar chain, and a dirty, nicked, worn out, miserable locket not worth ten cents. The brotherhood of railroad conductors ought to bounce him out of the association.” The boys all joined in and said it was a shame to wear such a thing ; some proposed raising a purse to get him a new one, and one of the boys was going to take hold of the miserable little charm and pull it off. The stylish conductor stepped back with a forced smile, and took the charm in his hand tenderly and seemed to caress it, and he tried to change the subject, but the boys would not allow it, when he said.

“Boys, that is of more value to me than my diamond stud, my watch, or my position. I would not part with it for all of Alex. Mitchell’s wealth. I would not erase one of those little dents in the charm to save my right arm. I couldn’t do it, boys.”

“Oh I know what’s the matter,” said the talking conductor, as he punched the stylish conductor in the ribs with his thumb, “some girl gave it to him. I know how it is. A girl made me a present once of a grand bounce, and I carried the marks of it for years. Old softy, here, carries that cow-horn charm with the notches in, as a reminder of old love. Every notch represents a kiss eh, you old rascal?”

The stylish conductor turned away from the boys, ostensibly to light his cigar, but really to hide a tear that was trying to steal a ride on the truck of his eye-ball. He took his handkerchief and wiped his eye, and said something about a cinder in it, and then turned to the boys and said: “Fellows, I don’t want you to think I am too soft, and as the most of you have children, I guess you won’t think so if I tell you about this cheap-looking affair. I used to wear it on a silver watch chain when I was braking on a freight train fifteen years ago. We had a little flaxen-haired girl baby, a year and a-half old, and I was away so much, leaving at four o’clock in the morning and coming home late every second night, that I did not have much time to visit with the baby, except when she woke up nights with aching gums, and Sundays. Well, boys, the little baby almost cut a whole set of teeth on that miserable little watch charm. Nothing else would seem to hit the right spot on a tooth, and she would lay awake nights to wait for me to come, and pap’ was never too dirty for her to get in his lap, nestle up in the bosom covered with a greasy blouse, and be happy. Sundays her mother didn’t have to even look at her, because she was in my lap all day.

Well, one day I was up the road with a way freight, unloading some stuff at a station, the second day out, and thinking that at eight P. M. I would be home and the baby would gallop over me, when my conductor, as good a boy as ever lived, who is now a division superintendent, came along the platform as pale as a sheet, and said to me: “Boss you have got to go right home. Go get on the engine and the old man will pull her out and get you down to your house in forty minutes, and he can get back before we have this freight unloaded. Your baby is awful sick.”

Boys, I was so weak I couldn’t lift a pound. I couldn’t get on the engine without help, but we run to J. like the wind. The baby was dead when the conductor told me, and he knew it, but it was tough enough for him, poor old, pard to tell me she was sick. I found her dead, having died of convulsions in teething, and my wife frantic, while 1 felt as though a train of box cars had run over me, and I wished they had. Oh, what a blow that was. The prettiest baby that ever was, that I left two days before with a smile on her face that would soften the hardest heart, dead. She said: “Tum home morrow, papa, and baby have new toot.” As she lay on the bed, an angel, with her lips smilingly parted, enough to show some of the little teeth that had cut the holes you see in this charm, I took the charm up and kissed it, and I said I would wear it always, and I have, so far boys, and I always will.”

The stylish conductor turned his head one way to wipe his eyes, the talking conductor turned his head another way, and every blessed one of the largehearted boys had tears in their eyes as big as the stylish conductor’s diamond. They shook hands with the stylish conductor and went away. A few days later the stylish conductor missed his charm from his watch chain, when he was going away, and his wife told him she wanted to have the ring fixed that held it on the chain, and she would have it for him when he came back from his run. When he came back the boys met at his house, and after supper one of them handed him the charm beautifully mounted in gold, with only the part of tortoise shell showing where the tooth marks of the dead baby had been made, and on the back in pure gold, was engraved the word, “Darling.” The boys wanted to show that they appreciated the conductor’s feelings. How often a careless remark, in a joke, will bring out a story of heart ache that makes tears flow from eyes unaccustomed to weeping.—

The Conductor and Brakeman, Volume 1, 1 October 1884: pp 471-73

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wishes all doting Papas a very Happy Father’s Day.

To celebrate, that ghostly person over at Haunted Ohio has posted this dire story of a dead father who returns for his little daughter.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

A Bride by Telegram: 1899

1875 Gaultier bride doll

A BRIDE BY TELEGRAM

By Mrs.Whitney.

 “Send me down bride in full dress for Friday evening.

H. Smith, Walkley Station.”

That was the tenor of the telegram, Miss Betsey Blythe knew, because she read it, over forty times, if she read it once. She picked it up on the step of the telegraph office, where the lucky recipient thereof must have dropped it —and, unluckily, the address was torn off the northeast corner of the folded paper.

But Miss Betsey Blythe had not been engaged in looking after her neighbors’ business all her life to be foiled now. She wiped the street mud off the telegram with her pocket-handkerchief, put it safely into her reticule and carried it home to her sisters, Miss Arethusa and Miss Pamela Blythe.

“There,” she said, “didn’t I tell you Harold Smith was going to be married on the sly.”

“Goodness me!” said Arethusa.

“It can’t be possible,” piped Pamela. “But who can the bride be?”

“That’s the question,” declared Miss Betsey, staring back at the poll-parrot’s cage in the window. “And Friday is to be the wedding day.”

“Which Friday, I wonder?” said Miss Arethusa.

“Why, this Friday, of course!” pronounced Miss Pamela. “The day after to-morrow, of course; or it would have been a deal easier and cheaper to write instead of telegraphing. Don’t you see?”

“Friday’s an unlucky day for a wedding,” groaned Miss Betsey.

“Just like Harold Smith to get married on a Friday,” said Miss Pamela. “He’s always making fun of what he calls ‘superstitious observances.’”

“Well, I never!” said Miss Arethusa. “Who is the bride, anyhow?”

“If she’s a girl of any spirit whatever,” whatever,” tartly observed Miss Betsey, “she won’t allow herself to be telegraphed around the country like a package of dry goods.”

“Some girls will do anything to get married,” said Arethusa, with vicious emphasis.

“It’s Jessie Mordaunt. of course.” decided Pamela. “She’s been flirting on and off with Harold Smith for these three years, but I didn’t suppose he was foolish enough to fall into her trap!”

“Or perhaps it’s Marian Shelton,” added Miss Betsey. “I know they’ve been making up a new white silk dress with tablier fronts and a trained skirt at Shelton’s. Miss Needlepoint told me so herself. And I can believe any amount of folly of the Shelton family since they changed that girl’s name from Mary Ann to Marian.”

“There’s the three Misses MacKenzie, every one of ’em crazy,” suggested Miss Arethusa.

“No,” said Miss Pamela, decidedly. ”You may be quite certain it’s Jessie! Jessie’s flighty enough for anything! I think she’d rather enjoy an escapade like that!”

“And I dare say,” vindictively added Miss Arethusa, who was the eldest sister of the three, and the least addicted to favorable views of human nature, “they think it’s an unfathomable secret!”

“Walkley Station is only three-quarters of an hour from New York,” said Betsey. “Let’s go to the wedding!”

“And,” added Miss Pamela, in a chuckle, “let’s notify all our friends to go!” For the three Misses Blythe were not pleased that Harold Smith should presume to take so important a step as that of matrimony without their consent and advice. Hadn’t they known him as a curly-headed lad before he ever went into college? Hadn’t he played many a practical joke upon them, in his wild, rollicking way—and didn’t they know perfectly well that he regarded them as three sour, ridiculous, disappointed old spinsters?

And now that they had come into possession of one of his choicest, dearest secrets, it was scarcely in human nature not to be revenged, fully and entirely.

“Do you suppose she’ll go out in the cars?” asked Arethusa.

“In full dress! What nonsense,” retorted Pamela. “She’ll drive, of course, in a carriage!”

“She’ll get her death of cold.” said Miss Betsey, with a shiver. “Driving fifteen miles in ‘full dress!'”

“The idea of Harold Smith ordering her around in that majestic fashion!” cried Arethusa. “But, girls, I’ll tell you what we will do; we’ll go and call on the Mordaunts.”

Mrs. Mordaunt, a pretty, full-blown rose style of matron, was doing crewelwork. crewelwork. Jessie, her daughter, who corresponded with the rosebud in the family, was painting a vase of purple pansies in watercolors. They did not appear in the least like custodians of an important secret; looked surprised when Miss Betsey alluded to the subject of impending marriages, and said they had heard of no wedding in the neighborhood; and they stared when Miss Arethusa asked if they hadn’t had a dressmaker in the house lately.

“We always do our own sewing,” said Mrs. Mordaunt. “Jessie can fit a dress as well as Madam Mondini herself.”

“But for such a very, very important occasion as this,” smirked Miss Arethusa.

“We never have any important occasions,” laughed Jessie. “Look, Miss Blythe, do you think my pansy petal as deep a purple as the original?” And when the three old maids had, last, taken their departure, Jessie looked at her mother in amazement mingled with mirth.

“”Mamma,” said she, “what do those old women mean?”

“I think, dear,” said Mrs. Mordaunt, “that they are the least bit unsettled in their minds–just a little crazy, you know.”

And the Misses Blythe went away, ex changing mysterious glances, and whispering to each other—

“They cannot deceive us!”

The Misses Blythe told everybody they could think of always in strict confidence,  of course. Everybody repeated it to everybody else, and by Friday evening the train to Walkley Station was full.

To Miss Betsey Blythe’s infinite disappointment, the Smith house, a pretty, old-fashioned mansion with a pillared front, a garden full of clipped box monstrosities, and an octagonal conservatory, built out from the south end, was not lighted up after any extraordinary fashion. Mrs. Smith, Harold’s mother, a dimpled old lady, in a white lace cap and gleaming gold spectacle-glasses, was knitting, half asleep, when the three Misses Blythe were ushered in, followed by a crowd of other acquaintances.

“Oh!” said she, rubbing her eyes to make sure that it was not a dream, “this is a surprise party, is it? I’m sure I’m delighted to see you! Only it’s a pity Harry isn’t at home!”

“My good soul,” said Miss Arethusa Blythe, shaking her finger, “it’s no use trying to deceive us. We know all about it!”

“All about what?” said Mrs. Smith.

“About the wedding!” cried out the company in chorus.

“Whose wedding?” demanded Mrs. Smith.

“Why, Harold’s, to be sure!” they responded.

“But Harold isn’t going to be married,” said Mrs. Smith. “He isn’t even engaged! Good gracious! What can have put such a thing into people’s heads?”

“It’s the telegram,” said Miss Pamela.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Mrs. Smith in despair.

“Well, if you won’t believe me, you will, perhaps, believe your own eyes,” said Miss Betsey Blythe, with dignity, as she drew the telegram from her pocket, and, carefully straightening out its creases, held it up before Mrs. Smith’s spectacle glasses.

“Dear me!” cried Mrs. Smith, at last comprehending a little of this curious network of cross-purposes, “it’s Bella Smith’s big doll!”

“What!” shrieked Miss Arethusa, Miss Pamela and Miss Betsy in chorus.

“What!” more wildly echoed the rest of the assemblage, crowding eagerly around.

“Mrs. Helena Smith’s little daughter across the street,” explained Mrs. Smith. “It’s her birth-night party, and an immense doll, dressed as a bride was forwarded by express this afternoon! I saw it myself –a perfect beauty, with veil and wreath, white satin boots, buttoned by knobs of pearl, and long-wristed white kid gloves, entirely complete! And you thought–you really imagined that my Harold was going to be married secretly and had telegraphed to New York for his bride!”

The old lady broke out into a fit of soft, sweet-sounding laughter, which shook her as if she had been a mold of jelly. Everybody else laughed, too, except the three Misses Blythes. They only looked blank.

“But now that you’re here,” added hospitable Mrs. Smith, “you’ll stay to tea, all of you? But you must! The down train doesn’t leave until ten, and you’ll be half starved, now that there is no wedding feast for you. Oh! I insist upon your staying to tea.”

The biggest tea-kettle in the house was put over to boil at once; seven pounds of coffee were put into the pot, and the maids ran, one to the muffle and crumpet store and cake bakery, the other to the oyster stand, which, luckily, was not yet shut up for the night. And kind Mrs. Smith entertained her unexpected guests with gracious politeness.  But there was no wedding and no bride, except little Bella Smith’s wax bride across the street, and the three Misses Blythe went back to New York sadder and wiser women. And what was perhaps the most desirable result, they resolved to adhere, thenceforth, to the eleventh commandment.

The Daily Herald [Delphos OH] 21 September 1899: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Eleventh Commandment, in case Mrs Daffodil’s readers’ theological educations have been neglected, is “for every one to mind his (or, more aptly, her) own business.”

 

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.

 

She Was To Have Been His Bride: 1820s

Mary's ghost a pathetic ballad BL

THE SCHOOLMASTER’S STORY.

The next evening was stormier than the other. In the afternoon the wind hauled into the east, and at nightfall it blew a gale. The rain dashed in fierce gusts against the windows.

“A terrible night on the coast,” said my uncle, as he took his accustomed seat before the glowing hickory fire. “I’d rather be here than tossing about the bay to-night.”

“Yes, or five miles east of High Pound Light,” said Stephen Ford, who was a Truro man.

“Hear the wind roar in the chimney,” said the children.

The schoolmaster was reading by the lamp-stand. But Mary Horton, and I suspect Aunt Sarah also, had not forgotten his promise of a story. So while it was yet early in the evening, the children were, by various inducements, inveigled into retiring; and as soon as they were out of the way, Mary reminded him of his narrative. As all joined with her, he was easily persuaded to lay aside his book and entertain us.

I hardly know, he began, if I ought to divulge a circumstance of so strange and terrible a character; yet as it happened long ago, and the principal parties, none of whom were ever known in this part of the country, are now dead, I think that by altering names and other particulars, I may with propriety do so. We are bound to contribute as much of individual experience as we can (he added, smiling at his own preciseness) to the general stock of information.

Among the students at the college where I received my education, was one towards whom I very early learned to cherish those sentiments which ripen under the lapse of time into the most endearing friendship. William Alison was then a young man in the bloom and promise of life. Delicate and slender in person, yet with a form of masculine mould; in his manners lofty and gentle; alive to all impulses; his graceful forehead just saddened with the paleness of thought; his conversation open and various; he was to my mind the realization of my ideal of a student. It was my pride to make him my friend; and I felt more joy in knowing that we were looked upon by our fellow students as inseparable companions, than in gaining the highest honors of the university.

In the third year after our friendship, Alison was compelled, in consequence of some cause which I have now forgotten, to remain for nearly a term at his home, which was in __ington, about sixty miles from the town where the college was situated. During this time he informed me, in the frankness of youthful correspondence, of an attachment he had conceived for a certain young lady in the neighborhood, and his happiness in believing his affection returned. The young lady’s name he did not mention, though from sundry sonnets he inclosed me, I suspected it must be Ellen, and gathered also that there was some obstacle in the way of their wishes, which they almost despaired of ever being able to remove. When he returned to the university in the term after the summer vacation, I found a marked difference in the character of his hopes and purposes. The whole bent of his existence was changed. Before, he had been the indefatigable student, the example of his class and the pride of our professors and tutors. No labors had been too hard for him, nor was there any department of science or literature into which his mind did not seem to burst with such an eagerness it was as if there had been a latent affinity between his spirit and knowledge. Now, he was another creature. Books for him had lost their charm. He delighted to muse alone, and it was with difficulty I could persuade him into our old topics of talk, in our customary walks and conversations. On one subject only would he willingly dilate—the perfections of the aforesaid Ellen, of whom, for my own part, since by his painting she appeared to be such a miracle as could by no possibility exist in the world, I grew somewhat tired of hearing.

As I might judge from his portraiture, she was a rather slight girl of seventeen or eighteen, with blue eyes and light hair, and a disposition inclining more to tenderness than to gaiety. I imaged to myself, through his descriptions, a creature susceptible to poetic influences as well as to the grosser developments of manly strength; one like Coleridge’s Genevieve, who loves her poet best when he sings to her

“The songs that make her grieve.”

I fancied I could see such a one as nature would choose to be the bride of such a man as Alison—a being capable of loving him as Desdemona loves Othello, for “his mind,” or as poor Ophelia loves her ill-starred prince, for his “noble and most soverain reason,” as well as for his ability to sustain her and minister to her feminine pride. With all my allowance for the exaggeration of his passion, I could not but believe he had found what is so rare in man or woman, that love which is unto the death —that sacred interchange of wills which makes two beings, in deed as well as in form, one flesh and one spirit.

A world of correspondence passed between the lovers, but of this nothing was ever communicated by Alison to me. He could enlarge upon the personal charms of his love; her devotion to him; the high inspiration which her affection breathed into him, and the vision of coming happiness which almost overwhelmed him with its lustre; but his love was not of that kind which requires sympathy. In truth I believe that if there was ever true affection, like that depicted by our great poets, it was experienced then by Alison and his young mistress.

But there was an obstacle. Ellen was the daughter of a poor widow, Alison the heir to wealth. She was without family and without friends, dowered only by her beauty and her love; Alison was descended of a proud stock, and had a mother who, he dreaded, would never hear of his marrying beneath his rank. Their great fear was the apprehension of his mother’s displeasure.

As far as I could gather from what he informed me, it seemed there was little in common between his mother and himself; she was an austere woman, of gloomy religious faith, and almost a monomaniac on the subject of family. He kept the whole affair of his love a secret from her, and intended to win her gradually by ingenious contrivance, to allow him to wed the daughter of one who had been the tenant of a small portion of his paternal acres. His scheme was to bring Ellen by some means, at church or elsewhere, though his mother, he told me, seldom visited, to be acquainted with her; when he hoped that the loveliness of her character could not fail in time of pleasing.

Thus matters stood during the remainder of the time we spent at college. Alison grew more studious and somewhat reserved. It appeared that his love had passed into the depth of his life, and became a part of his very self, so that his whole bearing showed an inward peace, and he was no longer a speculative youthful scholar, but a resolute, laborious man. Yet there was in him no want of sympathy, and we continued firm friends till the day we graduated, when we separated, as class-mates usually do, to meet we knew not when. Alison retired to his estate, and I went to the West, where I found employment in teaching.

For many months we kept up a regular correspondence, but our ways of life were so different, his so quiet, mine so full of excitement, that gradually, though our friendship was unabated, the intervals between our letters grew longer, and at last it occasioned me no surprise that I did not hear from him for nearly half a year.

As it happened, opportunely enough, I was in Cincinnati preparing to return eastward after three years’ absence, when I received one day a letter bearing the postmark of Alison’s village. It may be supposed that not having heard from him for so long, I opened it with no little eagerness, though the handwriting of the superscription was unfamiliar. What was my surprise to find, instead of a letter from my friend, a communication from his mother, informing me that he had been afflicted with an illness which had injured his mind, and requesting me, if possible, to visit them. She stated that since the commencement of his disease, her son had frequently spoken of me, and always in the most affectionate manner, and that one of his favorite occupations was re-reading and re-arranging the numerous letters that had passed between us. He would sit gazing at the parcel which they made for hours together, saying that I was the only true friend he had ever possessed in the world, and lamenting my neglect in not keeping up my correspondence. (This by the way was altogether fancied, for I had written him twice since hearing from him.)

Much grieved by this unpleasant news, respecting one on whose intellectual strength I had so securely relied, and whose noble heart I had so truly loved, I lost no time in replying to the summons. I was to leave the West in a week, and hoped ere another to be able to visit __ington, and render to my friend such assistance as might be in my power. To him also I wrote an apparently careless letter respecting my return to the East, the pleasure it would give me to see him again, and the like, designed to soothe him without betraying any knowledge of his affliction. Within three days after, I was on my way across the mountains, and in little more than seven, had arrived home. I remained but a day or two to exchange greetings with my kindred, my anxiety for Alison urging me to comply with his mother’s request without delay.

I well recollect, though so many years have now passed away, the evening when, after a long day’s ride, I at length dismounted before Alison House. It was in the season of the Indian summer, and the sun was just setting beyond a woodland valley that sloped away in front and exhibited all the variegated richness of our autumnal forests. The mansion, which, though I had never seen it before, I had no difficulty, through my friend’s well remembered descriptions, in recognizing, was an ancient structure, such as there now remain but a few of in the country. In front it was three stories high, with a double roof and narrow projecting windows; on the back the roof sloped down to a single story. The eaves were heavily moulded in the antique fashion, and the glass in the windows looked obscure and weatherworn. In the ends and at the rear I observed several small casements fitted with gothic or lozenge-shaped frames.

Before the house was a narrow green plat or lawn leading down to the gateway, where two pillars of rough masonry, surmounted by wooden urns, stood like sentinels to guard the place from profane intrusion. Some venerable trees waved their arms over this inclosure, and on one side a decaying orchard encroached upon the level sward. On the other were sundry out-buildings, apparently coeval with the principal structure. All the aspect of the place inspired a solemn peace, that sacred, almost religious repose which it brings into the mind to come as it were into the immediate presence of the generation that has passed away. There was no gravel walk leading from the gateway to the entrance, and clumps of lilac and other shrubs had been suffered to spread untrained around the house and against the walls, as if nature loved to contrast the vigor of their youth with the venerableness of its age.

Had it been later in the year, or on a gloomy day, my first impressions of such a scene would have been doubtless far less agreeable; but now, bathed as it was in the full radiance of the sunset, and mingling its impression with the cheerful feelings inspired by the nearness of my friend, and my hopes of aiding him by my presence, it appeared only suggestive of tranquillity.

I passed into the house and was conducted by an aged serving-woman into the presence of the mother of my friend. It was the first time I had ever seen her, and I was destined to a sad disappointment. I hardly know why, but from the moment she greeted me, all my cheerful frame of mind seemed to pass from me like the fading sunlight, and a horrible shadow crept over my spirits, filling me with an indescribable uneasiness.

She was a tall unfeminine person, without any trait of gentleness in form, or voice, or carriage. Her face—I shall never forget it—was characterized only by an expression of cruel, self-denying pride— that peculiar conformation of temper which finds a poison in the most innocent pleasures of life, and tends constantly towards unhappiness, both in itself and those with whom it comes in contact. Her eyes were gray and severe; her forehead contracted; she had prominent cheek bones, an aquiline nose, and pinched lips; altogether her countenance was the most stern and unwomanly I had ever seen in a female—and may God grant I never behold such another!

As I recall the scenes of that memorable night, I seem to see her sitting in her high-backed chair in that dusky parlor, discoursing to me of the condition of her unfortunate son, and impressing me, as she supposed, with her extraordinary sagacity, but in reality astonishing me by the reflection how such a man as my friend could have been the offspring of such a mother. It had appeared to her, she said, that William had grown of late rather over-studious, and to this cause and their retired mode of life, she attributed his malady, which was a sort of melancholy nervousness that led him to pass whole days in his study, almost without food, and permitting no one to approach him. She thought it better to postpone informing him of my arrival until she had spoken with me; this I readily assented to. She believed I could be of infinite service to him by winning him to rides or walks with me in the fields, and that a few weeks of my society would quite restore him to health. The cause of his melancholy being but temporary, a little cheerful society would soon restore him.

I made suitable replies to these observations, and said that I hoped all would succeed as we desired. But I was by no means satisfied with this view of the causes of my friend’s illness. He must, indeed, I said, have studied severely if that had driven him to madness, for his mind was of a texture to bear study as well as any I had known. But his mother persisted in her opinion, and added that he had for the last year or more lived in much too retired a manner; that she had for some time entertained fears for his health, and in order to wean him from study, had contrived a marriage for him with a young lady who was heiress to a large property in the next county, when he was suddenly taken ill.

As she said this I observed that momentary unsteadiness of the eye which the most thorough adepts in falsehood are not always able to avoid, and by which we know that the tongue is uttering what the mind knows to be untrue. I observed this, and I remembered at once what Alison had told me in our college days of his love affair, how much it changed him, and the difficulty he anticipated with his mother. “Ah,” said I, with the assumed nonchalance of a man of the world,” if my friend is grown to be a woman-hater, he is changed indeed. Had he never,” I inquired, “since college times, shown a partiality for any of the sex?” “O yes, he had at one time been quite a lady’s man; that is, he used to visit and amuse himself with the farmers’ girls in the village below. She had not encouraged it. She had heard something, indeed, of a sort of flirtation with a little artful minx who was so presumptuous as even to pay court to herself. But it never came to anything. The hussy had left the village several months, and gone no one knew whither.”

I remarked an unsteadiness when this was saying, not in the eye only, but in the voice and manner. It was evidently the constraint of dissimulation. But I had not time to sift the matter further, for the door of the parlor opened, and in a moment I was grasping by the hand my poor friend, who had, on my arrival being announced to him by the serving-woman, come down at once to meet me.

Time and sorrow had wrought sad changes in his once noble countenance, and fearfully ravaged the graceful beauty of his once healthful form. I read at a glance, in his hollow cheek and eye, and heard in his cavernous voice, that the destroyer had marked him, and that however successful I might be in my endeavors to recover him from his depression, it could never be for a long enjoyment of his society. I might minister to his diseased mind, but no earthly power could arrest the progress of consumption. I should restore him only to watch at his death-bed.

We sat and conversed of old times, for his affliction did not reach his reason, until I was convinced that he was suffering more from general decay than from any organic affection, arising from what cause soever. He grew faint with the effort of speaking, and was obliged to recover himself by intervals of rest. These his mother by her looks to me evidently considered as simple wanderings of his intellect. She encouraged him accordingly to converse, and urged him to partake more of the tea, which was in the meantime brought in by the housekeeper, than he would have desired. She did not appear to be in the least aware of his actual condition. In her manner towards him she mingled none of that gentleness, none of those kind tones which are so soothing to the exhausted nerves of the sick. On the contrary, she appeared quite rough and dictatorial, as though in my coming she had gained a point, and was now securing the attainment of her wishes. Grim and rigid, she sat in her upright chair and doled us out a thin infusion that kept no promise to the taste, meanwhile talking on in the very presence of her wretched son, of schemes and plans which it was plain he was well aware could never be realized. It seemed she was one of those women who have man’s desire for control, and that she had been accustomed to assume the entire management of her son; he deferring to her out of long habit, and because he was too affectionate to wish to undeceive her. I made one or two attempts to check her by exposing her pride and wickedness, but my friend rebuked me with glances which seemed to say, “Let her alone—it will soon be over!”

After tea I went up with him to his chamber. It was a dark old room, with antique presses and chairs, and cold—very cold—one of those rooms which strike upon the senses with a funereal chilliness. We sat upon a faded sofa that stood against the eastern wall, and talked of former days and hopes departed. My own life had not been unchequered by grief, and in endeavoring to probe the rooted sorrow of my friend, I was obliged to go over much which even now I struggle to forget.

But at length I wrung from him his secret. It was, as I suspected, no excess of application that had jangled the harmony of his soul. Ellen—it was she who was the burden of his lamentations—once she was his, and now she was lost forever. Where was she? He had searched the country over for tidings of her; he had spent days and weeks, and employed the best assistance money could buy. But never since one fatal evening in the May that was past was he able to hear aught concerning her. She was to have been his bride; they had loved long; they had been patient. He had been dutiful, and his mother he thought would have yielded. She had relaxed so far even as to invite Ellen to the house, and had seemed to countenance her efforts to please. On the very evening, she had come up to the mansion with a bouquet of flowers from her own garden; he was to have met her here, and they thought then to have joined in asking his mother’s consent to their union. But an accident to his horse had delayed him in returning from a neighboring town; Ellen was forced to walk down alone, and that was the last ever seen of her. Was not this enough to make him weary of life? Had she sickened and died, or even been taken away by some sudden and dreadful accident, he could have borne it with fortitude. But now what might she not have undergone? In what secret den of hell might not her beauty be the spoil of ravishers and murderers? Feeble as he had seemed, while he spoke thus he started up in agony, and his voice rang loud and hollow. I trembled lest when the paroxysm passed I should see him fall and die before my face. I exerted all my art to soothe and divert him. We would speak of it to-morrow, I said, but that in the meantime he must be quiet. I appealed to his pride—to his Christian’s faith. At last he softened, and allowed himself to let me assist him to his couch.

As I descended from his apartment I met his mother in the hall. She was coming, she said, to conduct me to my chamber. As I took the candle from her withered and bony fingers, I glanced at her face. She saw that I had heard the truth and more than suspected her falsehood. But she would not relent; it seemed she expected to overawe me by the same stern authority she exercised upon her son. “My God!” I could not help exclaiming as then a horrible suspicion crossed my mind. She grew deadly pale and pointed to the door of the room I was to occupy. I went in mechanically and locked the door with violence.

I knew not why, but I remember that I then examined the apartment all over with the light. I felt as though there were some dreadful influence in the very air of the house—an indefinite apprehension oppressed me. Thoughts that I dared not entertain floated into my mind. Did I hear a noise? I looked so long in one direction that I shuddered to turn to look in another. The candle burnt low—I could not bear to be in darkness—sleep was out of my power. While the wick fell I raised the heavy sash, and looked forth into the night.

There was a full moonlight, whose radiance fell softly on the valley, and the air was calm and filled with the fragrance of autumn. As I gazed, my nerves grew tranquil; the peace of the scene passed into my soul, and I smiled at my late perturbations. It could not be, methought; the world is not so bad; I misjudge my species. And then I grew abstracted with watching the effects of the moonlight cm the masses of foliage and the broad shadows beneath.

I was looking thus towards the orchard, when I perceived up the vista made by two rows of trees, something white, which appeared to be slowly moving. At first I paid no particular attention to it, thinking it must be a dog or cow. But now it approached, and I saw it was upright— could it be a man? Alas! God help me! it was no human creature, but a sheeted figure, which I knew by its gliding to be a bodiless visitant from the world of shadows! The blood froze in my veins as I marked its steady advance. I tried to shout, but could only groan, as in a dream. It was all enwrapped in white, so that I could see no face, and it came directly below and before my eyes to the very door of the house, and I saw it enter!

Presently—all the wealth of the universe would not tempt me to undergo it again— the house rang with shrieks—loud, agonized. I sprang to my feet and seized a chair, not knowing what I did. But immediately I heard the voice of the old servant, who occupied the chamber adjoining mine, crying “Fire!” and this recalled me to my senses. I opened the door and went to her room, the shrieks still continuing, though more faintly, and seeming to proceed from below.

But I need not narrate circumstantially all that followed. By the time we had obtained a light, and proceeded to the old woman’s apartment, the shrieks (which were found to come from thence) had fallen to low groans, and when we stood around her bedside she was past recognising even her son, whose presence appeared but to increase her agonies. She died raving, and the ghastly look of her stiffening features was awful.

My unhappy friend did not long survive the shock of his mother’s sudden death. He died peacefully. I never told him what I had witnessed. Indeed for a long while I was never sure that it was not an illusion of my senses caused by fatigue and excitement.

But upon the death of my friend the estate passed into the hands of a distant connexion, a worthy man, who is still living. He had the house torn down and replaced by a more comfortable dwelling, and made also many improvements on the adjacent grounds. In removing the orchard, which had long ceased to be productive, they found an old well, of whose existence none but the housekeeper had any knowledge; it was covered by a thin slab of slate, almost overgrown with grass and briers. Thinking it might be rendered serviceable, the proprietor a few years ago determined to have it cleaned, and in performing that operation the workmen drew up in the first buckets what proved to be the bones of a human skeleton. The circumstance naturally made some noise in that neighborhood; to me it was the solving of a fearful mystery. I went to see the bones, and from a plain gold ring which was found along with them I knew they must be those of Ellen. The ring had been made smaller by a clumsy workman. I remembered when my friend had it done. I gave no hint of my knowledge to others, for the innocent and the guilty were both gone to their account; but ever since then I have had no doubt in my own mind that Ellen was murdered by the mother of my friend, either pushed into this well as they were walking there, which might easily have been done, or made away with in some other manner and thrown there afterwards. And I cannot but believe it was her injured spirit which I saw, and which Heaven instructed to be the minister of its vengeance upon such atrocious wickedness. G. W. P.

American Review: A Whig Journal Devoted to Politics and Literature, Volume 8: October 1848: pp 411-420

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil really has nothing more to add to this story of a woman who would have surely been the mother-in-law from Hell and who, if the narrator had his way, would surely have gone hence.

Undine of Strange Company gives us another, brilliant example of a mother-in-law from Hell.

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.

 

Popping the Question with the Phonograph: 1888

phonograph recording couple

SHE HAD HIM.

The Phonograph as a Third Party at a Popping of the Question.

From The Chicago Tribune.

“Are you in earnest, Mr. Hankinson?”

The lovely girl who asked this question of Marcellus Hankinson sat behind the cater table with her hands in her lap and regarded the young man intently.

“In earnest, Irene!” he exclaimed, pale with emotion and chronic dyspepsia. “The whole happiness of my life is wrapped up in your answer to the question I have asked. If you will trust your future in my hands, my life shall be devoted to the task of making you happy. It will be my sole aim to shield you from the rude blasts of all adversity, to smooth your pathway through the world, to interpose my right arm between you and every danger that threatens to disturb your peace, and—“

“If I listen to your suit, Mr. Hankinson,” interrupted the young lady, casting her eyes with some timidity and confusion to the floor, “you may regret it some day. You would find me ignorant of the practical duties of housekeeping and without—“

“Practical duties of housekeeping!” broke in the enthusiastic youth; “you will have no practical duties of that kind. As my wife you shall not be a drudge. You shall be the queen of my home. You consent, do you not, my dar—“

“Wait a moment, my dear Mr. Hankinson. I am afraid you would find me thoughtless and extravagant in a great many things.”

“Extravagant! Irene, it will be the joy of my life to provide you with whatever may gratify your slightest whim. You can never make a request of me that I would not rejoice to anticipate and grant beforehand.”

“And you would be willing to spend all your evenings at home?”

“My angel, I never would want to spend them anywhere else.”

“You would never break my heart by joining a club or becoming a drinking man?”

“Hear me, Irene! I promise never to do either.”

“Let me see,” said the young lady, meditatively; “I think that is all—O! You will agree to have the word ‘obey’ left out of my part of the marriage service, will you, Mr. Hankinson?”

“Obey! Ha! Ha! Why, my own, certainly. I am even willing to promise to obey you!”

“Then, Marcellus,” said the lovely girl, as she lifted a full-grown phonograph off her lap, locked it carefully in the drawer of the secretary that stood against the wall, turned up the gas, and beamed in a sweet yet business-like manner upon the terror-stricken young man, “I am yours!”

St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 5 March 1888: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One does feel a certain amount of sympathy for the terror-stricken young man. Who among us wishes to recall the foolish things said in heedless moments of youthful passion? And who among us wishes to be the principal in a breach of promise suit, when there is such iron-clad evidence? Mrs Daffodil fears that the young man will just have to take his medicine and like it. If he is a smoker, he will have one solace: the young lady did not mention tobacco use. He may be able to retreat to a cosy smoking room or spend his leisure time out on the porch with a cigarette or a pipe. That is, if the “obey” clause is not invoked over such behaviour.

On a happier note, this shy swain used the technology to his advantage.

POPPING THE QUESTION

A Backward Swain Utilized His Adored One’s Photograph.

A few days ago a neatly dressed, well appearing young man entered a music store in this city and asked to look at their line of phonographs.

The obliging clerk, in a courteous manner, showed him how the instruments were operated and entered into a minute description concerning the delicate parts of which they are composed.
The young man seemed to be ill at ease, acting in a manner to lead one to surmise that he had some grave problem before him with which to grapple. And as future developments proved, he most assuredly had.

After several unsuccessful attempts he finally opened the conversation or the subject which had called him thither. Could they furnish him a blank “record” and would they record it?

When assured by the clerk that they were only too pleased to thus accommodate him, he asked that the blank be placed in the instrument. This was done, and the stranger, taking the mouth piece, started out something like the following, or at least as near as the clerk could remember:

‘Dear Alice. I trust you will pardon me, but for the past year I have silently worshipped you, only from a distance, as I could never summon sufficient courage to declare my suit. Heaven at last seems to have provided the way, and I hasten to avail myself of this opportunity, my adored one, etc. etc.” This ardent lover, by means of the phonograph did declare his love.

When the sheet was taken from the instrument, he asked that it be carefully wrapped as he wished to preserve it.

By this time the curiosity of the clerk was fully aroused and in a polite way inquired if it was to be used at an evening’s entertainment. If such was the fact it would surely make a hit.

The love stricken swain hesitated a moment, and then explained that he trusted it would make a hit, but not in the way suggested. Calling the clerk to one side in a confidential manner, he told how he had loved the young lady in question for nearly a year but could never bring himself to the point of a positive declaration and had almost given up in despair, when lo! And behold! The lady of his choice purchased a phonograph and now he would simply present her with the “record” with a request that she place it in the instrument and the business was done.

Trenton [NJ] Evening News 24 October 1899: p. 6

 

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.