Tag Archives: Christmas ghosts

The Unemployed Christmas Ghost: 1927

The Christmas Ghost

Unemployment in One of our Oldest Industries

The other night I was sitting up late–away after nine o’clock–thinking about Christmas because it was getting near at hand.  And, like everybody else who muses on that subject, I was thinking of the great changes that have taken place in regard to Christmas.  I was contrasting Christmas in the old country house of a century ago, with the fires roaring up the chimneys, and Christmas in the modern apartment on the ninth floor with the gasoline generator turned on for the maid’s bath.

I was thinking of the old stage coach on the snowy road with its roof piled high with Christmas turkeys and a rosy-faced “guard” blowing on a key bugle and the passengers getting down every mile or so at a crooked inn to drink hot spiced ale–and I was comparing all that with the upper berth No. 6, car 220, train No. 53.

I was thinking of the Christmas landscape of long ago when night settled down upon it with the twinkle of light from the houses miles apart among the spruce trees, and contrasting the scene with the glare of motor lights upon the highways of today.  I was thinking of the lonely highwayman shivering round with his clumsy pistols, and comparing the poor fellow’s efforts with the high class bandits of today blowing up a steel express car with nitroglycerine and disappearing in a roar of gasoline explosions.

In other words I was contrasting yesterday and today.  And on the whole yesterday seemed all to the good.

Nor was it only the warmth and romance and snugness of the old Christmas that seemed superior to our days, but Christmas carried with it then a special kind of thrill with its queer terrors, its empty heaths, its lonely graveyards, and its house that stood alone in a wood, haunted.

And thinking of that it occurred to me how completely the ghost business seems to be dying out of our Christmas literature.  Not so very long ago there couldn’t be a decent Christmas story or Christmas adventure without a ghost in it, whereas nowadays—

And just at that moment I looked and saw that there was a ghost in the room.

I can’t imagine how he got in, but there he was, sitting in the other easy chair in the dark corner away from the firelight.  He had on my own dressing gown and one saw but little of his face.

“Are you a ghost?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “worse luck, I am.”

I noticed as he spoke that he seemed to wave and shiver as if he were made of smoke.  I couldn’t help but pity the poor fellow, he seemed so immaterial.

“Do you mind,” he went on, in the same dejected tone, “if I sit here and haunt you for a while?”

“By all means,” I said, “please do.”

“Thanks,” he answered, “I haven’t had anything decent to work on for years and years.  This is Christmas eve, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said, “Christmas Eve.”

“Used to be my busiest night,” the ghost complained, “best night of the whole year–and now–say,” he said, “would you believe it!  I went down this evening to that dinner dance they have at the Ritz Carlton and I thought I’d haunt it–thought I’d stand behind one of the tables as a silent spectre, the way I used to in King George III’s time–“

“Well?” I said.

“They put me out!” groaned the ghost, “the head waiter came up to me and said that he didn’t allow silent spectres in the dining room.  I was put out.”  He groaned again.

“You seem,” I said, “rather down on your luck?”

“Can you wonder?” said the ghost, and another shiver rippled up and down him.  “I can’t get anything to do.  Talk of the unemployed–listen!” he went on, speaking with something like animation, “let me tell you the story of my life–“

“Can you make it short?” I said.

“I’ll try.  A hundred years ago–“

“Oh, I say!” I protested.

“I committed a terrible crime, a murder on the highway–“

“You’d get six months for that nowadays,” I said.

“I was never detected.  An innocent man was hanged.  I died but I couldn’t rest.  I haunted the house beside the highway where the murder had been done.  It had happened on Christmas Eve, and so, every year on that night–“

“I know,” I interrupted, “you were heard dragging round a chain and moaning and that sort of thing; I’ve often read about it.”

“Precisely,” said the ghost, “and for about eighty years it worked out admirably.  People became afraid, the house was deserted, trees and shrubs grew thick around it, the wind whistled through its empty chimneys and its broken windows, and at night the lonely wayfarer went shuddering past and heard with terror the sound of a cry scarce human, while a cold sweat–“

“Quite so,” I said, “a cold sweat.  And what next?”

“The days of the motor car came and they paved the highways and knocked down the house and built a big garage there, with electricity as bright as day.  You can’t haunt a garage, can you? I tried to stick on and do a little groaning, but nobody seemed to pay attention; and anyway, I got nervous about the gasoline.  I’m too immaterial to be round where there’s gasoline.  A fellow would blow up, wouldn’t he?”

“He might,” I said, “so what happened?”

“Well, one day somebody in the garage actually SAW me and he threw a monkey wrench at me and told me to get to hell out of the garage. So I went.”

“And after that?”

“I haunted round; I’ve kept on haunting round, but it’s no good, there’s nothing in it.  Houses, hotels, I’ve tried it all.  Once I thought that if I couldn’t make a hit any other way, at least I could haunt children.  You remember how little children used to live in terror of ghosts and see them in the dark corners of their bedrooms?  Well, I admit it was a low down thing to do, but I tried that.”

“And it didn’t work?”

“Work!  I should say not.  I went one night to a bedroom where a couple of little boys were sleeping and I started in with a few groans and then half materialized myself, so that I could just be seen.  One of the kids sat up in bed and nudged the other and said, ‘Say!  I do believe there’s a ghost in the room!’  And the other said, ‘Hold on; don’t scare him.  Let’s get the radio set and see if it’ll go right through him.’

“They both hopped out of bed as brisk as bees and one called downstairs, ‘Dad, we’ve got a ghost up here!  We don’t know whether he’s just an emanation or partially material.  We’re going to stick the radio into him–‘  Believe me,” continued the ghost, “that was all I waited to hear.  Electricity just knocks me edgeways.”

He shuddered.  Then he went on.

“Well it’s been like that ever since–nowhere to go and nothing to haunt.  I’ve tried all the big hotels, railway stations, everywhere.  Once I tried to haunt a Pullman car, but I had hardly started before I observed a notice, ‘Quiet is requested for those already retired,’ and I had to quit.”

“Well, then,” I said, “why don’t you just get immaterial or dematerial or whatever you call it, and keep so?  Why not go away wherever you belong and stay there?”

“That’s the worst of it,” answered the ghost, “they won’t let us. They haul us back.  These spiritualists have learned the trick of it and they just summon us up any time they like.  They get a dollar apiece for each materialization, but what do we get?”

The ghost paused and a sort of spasm went all through him.  “Gol darn it,” he exclaimed, “they’re at me now.  There’s a group of fools somewhere sitting round a table at a Christmas Eve party and they’re calling up a ghost just for fun–a darned poor notion of fun, I call it–I’d like to–like to–“

But his voice trailed off.  He seemed to collapse as he sat and my dressing gown fell on the floor.  And at that moment I heard the ringing of the bells that meant that it was Christmas midnight, and I knew that the poor fellow had been dragged off to work.

Winowed Wisdom, Stephen Leacock 1926

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Recently, the Smithsonian online magazine made a plea for the return of the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas. This is a proposition Mrs Daffodil can heartily endorse. It is true that there was a decay in the quality of Christmas ghost stories, leading to amusing articles and essays totting up the cliches of the usual Christmas spectre, such as this one by Jerome K. Jerome. Mrs Daffodil previously told of how the British ghost was doomed by the introduction of the card game Bridge.

Stephen Leacock also wrote in an essay called “The Passing of the Christmas Ghost Story,” that the logistics of modern life simply were not compatible with the Christmas ghost story.

It is a nice question whether Christmas, in the good old sense of the term, is not passing away from us. One associates it somehow with the epoch of stage-coaches, of gabled inns and hospitable country homes with the flames roaring in the open fireplaces. I often think that half the charm of Christmas, in literature at least, lay in the rough weather and in the physical difficulties surmounted by the sheer force of the glad spirit of the day. Take, for example, the immortal Christmases of Mr. Pickwick and his friends at Dingley Dell and the uncounted thousands of Christmas guests of that epoch of which they were the type. The snow blustered about them. They were red and ruddy with the flush of a strenuous journey. Great fires must be lighted in the expectation of their coming. Huge tankards of spiced ale must be warmed up for them. There must be red wine basking to a ruddier glow in the firelight. There must be warm slippers and hot cordials and a hundred and one little comforts to think of as a mark of gratitude for their arrival; and behind it all, the lurking fear that some fierce highwayman might have fallen upon them as they rode in the darkness of the wood.

Take as against this a Christmas in a New York apartment with the guests arriving by the subway and the elevator, or with no greater highwayman to fear than the taxicab driver. Warm them up with spiced ale? They’re not worth it.

The Bookman, Vol. 50, 1920

Harsh, very harsh, but perhaps a fair assessment. Something of the holiday magic was certainly lost with the introduction of electricity. When ghost story writer M.R. James held his memorable Christmas ghost story readings at Cambridge College, he did not simply press a switch to plunge the room into darkness, but extinguished, one by one, all but one of the candles in the room–and a highly effective bit of stage business it was, say those who witnessed it. Even a dimmer switch could not provide such a thrill.

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

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

It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story: 1891

The Ghost of Marley

The Ghost of Marley visits Scrooge.

It was Christmas Eve.

I begin this way, because it is the proper, orthodox, respectable way to begin, and I have been brought up in a proper, orthodox, respectable way, and taught to always do the proper, orthodox, respectable thing; and the habit clings to me.

Of course, as a mere matter of information it is quite unnecessary to mention the date at all. The experienced reader knows it was Christmas Eve, without my telling him. It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story.

Christmas Eve is the ghosts’ great gala night. On Christmas Eve they hold their annual fete. On Christmas Eve everybody in Ghostland who is anybody—or rather, speaking of ghosts, one should say, I suppose, every nobody who is any nobody—comes out to show himself or herself, to see and to be seen, to promenade about and display their winding-sheets and grave-clothes to each other, to criticise one another’s style, and sneer at one another’s complexion.

‘Christmas Eve parade,’ as I expect they themselves term it, is a function, doubtless, eagerly prepared for and looked forward to throughout Ghostland, especially by the swagger set, such as the murdered Barons, the crime-stained Countesses, and the Earls who came over with the Conqueror, and assassinated their relatives, and died raving mad.

Hollow moans and fiendish grins are, one may be sure, energetically practised up. Blood-curdling shrieks and marrow-freezing gestures are probably rehearsed for weeks beforehand.

Rusty chains and gory daggers are overhauled, and put into good working order; and sheets and shrouds, laid carefully by from the previous year’s show, are taken down and shaken out, and mended, and aired.

Oh, it is a stirring night in Ghostland, the night of December the twenty-fourth!

Ghosts never come out on Christmas night itself, you may have noticed. Christmas Eve, we suspect, has been too much for them; they are not used to excitement. For about a week after Christmas Eve, the gentlemen ghosts, no doubt, feel as if they were all head, and go about making solemn resolutions to themselves that they will stop in next Christmas Eve; while the lady spectres are contradictory and snappish, and liable to burst into tears and leave the room hurriedly on being spoken to, for no perceptible cause whatever.

Ghosts with no position to maintain—mere middle – class ghosts — occasionally, I believe, do a little haunting on off-nights: on All-hallows Eve, and at Midsummer; and some will even run up for a mere local event—to celebrate, for instance, the anniversary of the hanging of somebody’s grandfather, or to prophesy a misfortune.

He does love prophesying a misfortune, does the average British ghost. Send him out to prognosticate trouble to somebody, and he is happy. Let him force his way into a peaceful home, and turn the whole house upside down by foretelling a funeral, or predicting a bankruptcy, or hinting at a coming disgrace, or some other terrible disaster, about which nobody in their senses would want to know sooner than they could possibly help, and the prior knowledge of which can serve no useful purpose whatsoever, and he feels that he is combining duty with pleasure. He would never forgive himself if anybody in his family had a trouble and he had not been there for a couple of months beforehand, doing silly tricks on the lawn,or balancing himself on somebody’s bedrail.

Then there are, besides, the very young, or very conscientious ghosts with a lost will or an undiscovered number weighing heavy on their minds, who will haunt steadily all the year round; and also the fussy ghost, who is indignant at having been buried in the dust-bin or in the village pond, and who never gives the parish a single night’s quiet until somebody has paid for a first-class funeral for him.

But these are the exceptions. As I have said, the average orthodox ghost does his one turn a year, on Christmas Eve, and is satisfied.

Why on Christmas Eve, of all nights in the year, I never could myself understand. It is invariably one of the most dismal of nights to be out in —cold, muddy, and wet. And besides, at Christmas time, everybody has quite enough to put up with in the way of a houseful of living relations, without wanting the ghosts of any dead ones mooning about the place, I am sure.

There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas—something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails.

And not only do the ghosts themselves always walk on Christmas Eve, but live people always sit and talk about them on Christmas Eve. Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories. Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood. 

There is a good deal of similarity about our ghostly experiences; but this of course is not our fault but the fault of the ghosts, who never will try any new performances, but always will keep steadily to the old, safe business. The consequence is that, when you have been at one Christmas Eve party, and heard six people relate their adventures with spirits, you do not require to hear any more ghost stories. To listen to any further ghost stories after that would be like sitting out two farcical comedies, or taking in two comic journals; the repetition would become wearisome.

There is always the young man who was, one year, spending the Christmas at a country house, and, on Christmas Eve, they put him to sleep in the west wing. Then in the middle of the night, the room door quietly opens and somebody — generally a lady in her night-dress—walks slowly in, and comes and sits on the bed. The young man thinks it must be one of the visitors, or some relative of the family, though he does not remember having previously seen her, who, unable to go to sleep, and feeling lonesome, all by herself, has come into his room for a chat. He has no idea it is a ghost: he is so unsuspicious. She does not speak, however; and, when he looks again, she is gone!

The young man relates the circumstance at the breakfast – table next morning, and asks each of the ladies present if it were she who was his visitor. But they all assure him that it was not, and the host, who has grown deadly pale, begs him to say no more about the matter, which strikes the young man as a singularly strange request.

After breakfast the host takes the young man into a corner, and explains to him that what he saw was the ghost of a lady who had been murdered in that very bed, or who had murdered somebody else there—it does not really matter which: you can be a ghost by murdering somebody else or by being murdered yourself, whichever you prefer. The murdered ghost is, perhaps, the more popular; but, on the other hand, you can frighten people better if you are the murdered one, because then you can show your wounds and do groans. Then there is the sceptical guest—it is always ‘the guest’ who gets let in for this sort of thing, by-the-bye. A ghost never thinks much of his own family: it is ‘the guest* he likes to haunt who after listening to the host’s ghost story, on Christmas Eve, laughs at it, and says that he does not believe there are such things as ghosts at all; and that he will sleep in the haunted chamber that very night, if they will let him.

Everybody urges him not to be reckless, but he persists in his foolhardiness, and goes up to the Yellow Chamber (or whatever colour the haunted room may be) with a light heart and a candle, and wishes them all goodnight, and shuts the door.

Next morning he has got snow white hair.

He does not tell anybody what he has seen: it is too awful.

There is also the plucky guest, who sees a ghost, and knows it is a ghost, and watches it, as it comes into the room and disappears through the wainscot, after which, as the ghost does not seem to be coming back, and there is nothing, consequently, to be gained by stopping awake, he goes to sleep.

He does not mention having seen the ghost to anybody, for fear of frightening them—some people are so nervous about ghosts,—but determines to wait for the next night, and see if the apparition appears again.

It does appear again, and, this time, he gets out of bed, dresses himself and does his hair, and follows it; and then discovers a secret passage leading from the bedroom down into the beer-cellar, —a passage which, no doubt, was not unfrequently made use of in the bad old days of yore.

After him comes the young man who woke up with a strange sensation in the middle of the night, and found his rich bachelor uncle standing by his bedside. The rich uncle smiled a weird sort of smile and vanished. The young man immediately got up and looked at his watch. It had stopped at half-past four, he having forgotten to wind it.

He made inquiries the next day, and found that, strangely enough, his rich uncle, whose only nephew he was, had married a widow with eleven children at exactly a quarter to twelve, only two days ago.

The young man does not attempt to explain the extraordinary circumstance. All he does is to vouch for the truth of his narrative.

And, to mention another case, there is the gentleman who is returning home late at night, from a Freemasons’ dinner, and who, noticing a light issuing from a ruined abbey, creeps up, and looks through the keyhole. He sees the ghost of a ‘grey sister’ kissing the ghost of a brown monk, and is so inexpressibly shocked and frightened, that he faints on the spot, and is discovered there the next morning, lying in a heap against the or, still speechless, and with his faithful latch-key clasped tightly in his hand.

All these things happen on Christmas Eve, they are all told of on Christmas Eve. For ghost stories to be told on any other evening than the evening of the twenty-fourth of December would be impossible in English society as at present regulated. Therefore, in introducing the sad but authentic ghost stories that follow hereafter, I feel that it is unnecessary to inform the student of Anglo-Saxon literature that the date on which they were told and on which the incidents took place was—Christmas Eve.

Nevertheless, I do so.

“Introduction,” Told After Supper, Jerome K. Jerome, 1891

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Sadly, the English Christmas ghost story tradition has fallen into disuse. Worse, depictions of holiday horror have degenerated into lurid motion pictures with titles like “Santa’s Slay,” “Silent Night, Bloody Night,” and “Bikini Bloodbath Christmas,” full of inelegant and untidy homicides.

In refreshing contrast to these horrors, a gentleman named Robert Lloyd Parry has been making an effort to revive the delicious dread of the holiday season with his one-man shows, wherein he portrays the master of the Christmas Eve ghost tale, M.R. James, who, one may confidently assert, never wrote about young ladies in bathing costumes.

The author of this piece which so delightfully skewers the cliches of the Christmas ghost story, was Jerome K. Jerome [1859-1927], an actor, journalist, and author of the humourous classic Three Men in a Boat.

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, historical anecdotes, and holiday amusements.

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, historical anecdotes, and holiday amusements.

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.

This was originally posted in 2013.

A Dissatisfied Spectre: 1903

ghostly knight

A Spectral Job.

I had been told that the Blue Room was haunted, and was prepared accordingly for a pleasant, sociable evening.

“Oh, yes, a splendid old fellow,” said my host, referring to the resident spectre. “Fought at Agincourt, and is full of racy stories of the period. You ‘re certain to like him. Get him to tell you that story of his about Sir Ralph and the suit of armour. Good-night.”

When I reached the Blue Room the first thing I saw was a shadowy form seated in a despondent manner on the chest of drawers.

“Evening,” I said; “glad to meet you.”

He grunted.

“Mind if I open the window?”

He grunted again.

I was not used to treatment of this kind. All the ghosts I had ever met before had been courteous, and, even when not conversationalists, they had never grunted at me. I was hurt. But I determined to make one more effort to place matters on a sociable footing.

“You seem a little depressed,” I said. “I quite understand. This shocking weather. Enough to give anyone the blues. But won’t you start haunting? I have often known a little spirited haunting work wonders when a spectre was feeling a cup too low.”

This time he did speak. “Oh, haunting be hanged!” he said rudely.

“Well, tell me about Agincourt, then. Glorious day that for Old England, Sir.”

“I don’t know anything about Agincourt,” he snapped. “Why don’t you read your Little Arthur?”

“But you fought there”

“Do I look as if I had fought at Agincourt?” he asked, coming towards me. I admitted that he did not. I had expected something much more medieval. The spectre before me was young and modern. I pressed for an explanation.

“My host distinctly told me that the Blue Room was haunted by a gentleman who had fought at Agincourt,” I said. “This is the Blue Room, is it not?”

“Oh, him,” said the spectre, “he’s a back number. He left a fortnight ago. They sent him away so that they might give me the place. I don’t want to haunt. What’s the good of haunting? Foolishness, I call it. They talk about a career and making a name. Bah! Rot!”

“Tell me all,” I said, sympathetically.

“Why, it’s not my line at all, this haunting business. But just because I came of an old family, and all my ancestors were haunting houses in different parts of the country, the asses of authorities would have it that I must be given a place, too. ‘We’ll make it all right, my boy,’ they kept saying. ‘You. leave it to us. We’ll see that you get a billet.’ I told them I didn’t want to haunt, but they thought it was all my modesty. They recalled the old chap who was here, and gave me the place. So here I am, haunting an old castle, when I don’t know how to do it, and wouldn’t do it if I could. And everybody in the Back of Beyond is talking of the affair, and saying what a scandalous job it was. And so it was, too. The Spectral News has got a full-page caricature of me this week in colours, with a long leader on the evils of favouritism. Rotten, I call it. And just as I hoped I was going to get the one billet I wanted.”

“Ah, what was that?” I inquired.

“I wanted to go on the boards, and be a real ghost in a play, you know— just as they have real [persons of colour] that don’t need blacking.”

“Then your leanings are towards theatrical triumphs?”

“Rather,” said he; “I’m all for going on the stage. You should see me knock ’em.”

“Then I’ll tell you what I can do for you. I know the manager of the Piccadilly Theatre. He is just going to produce Hamlet, and I know he is looking about for someone to play the ghost. I don’t see why a real ghost shouldn’t make an enormous hit. Call on him, and he may give you the part.”

He was off in an instant.

A month later the papers were raving about his interpretation of the part, and wondering what Shakespeare was thinking about it, and the Blue Room was once more occupied by the ghost who had fought at Agincourt, one of the dearest old fellows I ever met.

Punch, Volume 125, 25 November, 1903

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One can only imagine the scathing reviews in the Spectral News. But that is the younger generation of ghosts for you: spoilt, only concerned with their own affairs, not willing to lend a hand or begin at the bottom and work their way up. It is the same way with this modern generation of servants. But Mrs Daffodil is pleased that the old gentleman got his job back.

The ghost story was a standard of any self-respecting British periodical Christmas Number.  Such stories were usually goose-fleshers, but there are also some humorous classics, such as Jerome K. Jerome’s Tales Told After Supper and John Kendrick Bangs’s The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall.

Mrs Daffodil has written before about a threat to the traditional Christmas ghost.

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.

 

 

 

Christmas Ghosts Doomed by Bridge in Britain: 1905

Cartoon from Punch. Caption: Instead of our usual Servant's Ball, this year I've invited the staff to come up here and watch our Bridge

Cartoon from Punch. Caption: Instead of our usual Servant’s Ball, this year I’ve invited the staff to come up here and watch our Bridge

GHOSTS DOOMED BY BRIDGE IN BRITAIN

People Are Too Busy at Cards to Bother About Christmas Wraiths

London, Dec. 30 Among the destructive effects of bridge is the total discomfiture of ghost and ghost stories without which, in the good old-fashioned days, no Christmas annual could be complete. It has no place in this years’ Christmas periodical literature, and current fiction is equally silent on the subject of the ghostly visitant who contributed to the Christmas festivities of a decade ago.

White ladies, headless monks, gray friars, wicked lords and all the vast army of spooks who were obstreperous on Christmas eve, are no longer part of the novelist’s stock in trade.

Women who anxiously inquire for a really good ghost story at the shops, meet with a blank stare of surprise. Not a single ghost story has emanated from the publishers this Christmas tide.

“Out of date,” was the terse explanation of the publisher of light literature when asked why the Christmas ghost had been exorcised. There is no demand for blood-curdling stories of clanking chains, rattling bones and dismal shrieks.

The Haunts of Ghosts

Dreary tumble-down houses, ancient feudal castles and melancholy moated granges, as will be seen from the following list of Christmas phantoms, are their favourite haunts. All of them are pedigreed ghosts with officially recorded appearances.

At Dilston Castle, Lady Westmoreland; Cullaly Castle, the wicked priest; Beddiscombe Manor, the screaming skull; Calverley Hall, Sir Hugh Calverly; Pradenham House, Isaac Disraeli; Rainham hall, the gray lady; Corby Castle, the radiant boy; Newstead Abbey, the black friar; Brookhouse, the headless woman; Copley House, the two heads; Pomeroy Castle, the lady; Churton Hall, the lady and dog; Llyne Valley, the white horse of Llangynwyd; Holland House, Lord Holland; Bisham Abbey, the wraith of Lady Hobey; Rufford Abbey, the Cistercian father; Cheedle Rectory, the abbess of Godstown; Hampton Court, Catherine Howard and Jane Seymour.

The Spooks’ Delight.

A fine ghostly company these. Lady Derwentwater, so goes the tale, has been wont at Christmastide to revisit this earth to expiate the crime of restless ambition which impelled her to drive the Earl of Derwentwater to the scaffold.

Isaac Disraeli, father of the late Lord Beaconsfield, is said to drive a ghostly coach and pair. The beheaded form of Lord Holland used to walk in the grillroom carrying his head in his hands. The wraith of Lady Hobey carried a spectral basin, wringing her hands and vainly trying to wash out the stain of guilt, for, according to the legend, she murdered her boy because he blotted his copybook.

The Cistercian father, dressed in white, always appeared to women only, but this Christmas none of these ghosts are reported to have manifested themselves.

What is the use of their troubling, when everybody is too deep in bridge all night through to watch for them?

Bridge Is Supreme

If a census was to be taken of the amusements which occupied the guests at the country houses during the Christmas holidays it would probably be found that in sixty per cent of the cases bridge had ousted all the games associated with the old-fashioned Christmas festivities. If there were one or two children in the house they were bundled off to bed as early as possible and the house party settled down in religious silence to bridge.

In many houses the game was played for four successive afternoons and nights without a thought of turkey, plum pudding or crackers. The one anxiety was to rush thru a short meal as quickly as possible. Bridge, in fact, killed in certain circles the old-fashioned Christmas in London. Several waif-and-stray parties were given on Christmas day, the idea being to gather together the lonesome souls who dislike noisy festivities, to pull down the blinds and play bridge from luncheon until the small hours of the morning. Tea and the short dinner were regarded as interruptions and small talk as superfluous.

The Minneapolis [MN] Journal 31 December 1905: p. 3 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has seen, first hand, the scourge that bridge has become: meals sent back to the kitchen, untasted, beds left vacant, presents unopened beneath the tree, mistresses left neglected at house-parties, and engagements broken off without a murmur because one of the contracting parties was absorbed in sorting out a defective trick.

But the human toll is as nothing compared to the loss of the Christmas ghost story. Mrs Daffodil entreats those who are tempted to take up the fatal deck to Think. Remember those memorable childhood Christmas Eves spent lying awake, scarcely daring to breathe under the covers or staring at the door of the cupboard, wondering if it had moved. Those happy times were all because of the Christmas ghost story and those memories will be lost to future generations if the bridge set cannot shun this noxious habit. Mrs Daffodil urges you to put down the cards and the bridge tallies shaped like little Chinese lanterns, and vow to keep alive the traditional Christmas ghost narrative. Posterity, and the terrified children of Britain, will thank you.

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.

This has been an encore posting of a piece originally posted in 2013.

 

Some Christmas Ghosts of the British Isles: 1907

Some Christmas Ghosts

Queer Pranks of Uncanny Spirits That Make Their Appearance Each Yuletide.

Ghosts and other preternatural apparitions have always been recognized as among the essential factors of a good old-fashioned Christmas. Our forefathers loved to gather round their mighty fires in their ill-lit halls at Yuletide to listen to the histories and legends of their ancestors, whom, when their imaginations had been sufficiently inflamed, they would seem to see in the flesh once more, flitting across dark corridors and peeping from behind the wind-shaken arras.

So, in course of time, men grew to look for ghosts at Christmas as naturally as for mistletoe and holly berries. And the ghosts obligingly made a note of our requirements, more especially as they were surer of a sympathetic reception at that time of year than any other. A man may be cynical, if you like, on August bank holiday, on Christmas eve never! Christmas became the fashionable time for haunting. No self-respecting ghost could afford to be out of the swim at that season of the year. Thus we find that specters of old established reputations–ghosts who may almost be said to have retired from business–will put in an appearance at Christmas if on no other day in the year.

coach

There is a wicked Jemmy Lowther, for instance, otherwise known as the “bad Lord Lonsdale” of whom indeed, history makes no record, but whose iniquities are still recounted with bated breath (or used to be) by the people of Westmoreland. For centuries this notorious spirit energetically haunted the Whole county frightening his descendants out of their wits, raising unearthly dins, scaring nurse girls and teasing cattle. Now in more dignified style he contents himself with riding as a phantom coach and six at full speed across the country, generally at Christmas-time. No one ever seems to have seen him or his equipage, but the sound of the wheels, the snorting of the steeds, and the objurgations hurled by his lordship at his invisible coachman serve to remind the country people at the festive season that he is not “laid” forever beneath Wallow Crag as they had the impudent assurance to suppose.

hearse from Boone County Recorder 1908

 

Queen Anne Boleyn and her less famous sire have also given up haunting for many years past; and if they are to be seen at all it is at Christmas they must be looked for. Like Lord Lonsdale, both these personages revisit the glimpses of the moon in coaches. The luckless Queen drives down the avenue at Blicking Hall, holding her head in her lap in a hearse-like conveyance drawn by four headless horses with headless coachmen and grooms to match. Poor, pretty, flighty Anne Boleyn! You little thought that yours would become a shape to frighten lovers in their evening rambles, and send the children screaming to their nurses! Her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn. is also a headless specter, driven by headless horses. He has to cross 40 bridges and drive through 40 gates till someone courageous enough can be found to open or to shut — we forget which — one or all of these before him. The headless driver in the coach-and-six is a frequent apparition in Ireland. On Christmas Eve, when a family is seated at the board expecting a belated guest, the noise of wheels will be heard. There will be a rush to the door, it will be flung open and in the darkness without the spectral coach will be seen driving away — sure harbinger of misfortune for host or guest.

A legend of this kind must materially contribute to the enjoyment of the Irish Christmas dinner!

headless horseman

Then there is the spectral headless horseman of Wyecoller Hall, near Colne. This ruined mansion was the seat of the Cunliffes de Billington, a family which became extinct in 1819, in fulfillment of a curse laid upon it by the murdered wife of one of its members. Every Christmas a headless cavalier, in seventeenth century costume, gallops wildly up the road to the hall. He dismounts and enters, making his way with echoing footfall up the stairs. Fearful screams are heard, the tragedy is re-enacted and the horseman reappears to gallop frantically away over hill and dale, as if the devil were at his heels.

Watton Priory, photograph by JohnArmagh

Watton Priory, photograph by JohnArmagh

Yorkshire is infected by ghosts and these never fail to gratify the legitimate expectations of the Christmas holiday-maker. Between Driffield and Beverly is the old Gilbertine priory of Watton. There are several uncomfortable legends connected with this venerable pile, and it is not easy to identify the various spectral visitants who haunt the place. There was an erring nun, who was walled up according to the humane fashion of those days, and some declare they have seen her. The most authentic apparition, however, is that associated with a wainscoted bed room connected with the moat by a secret passage. In this room a Royalist lady took refuge with her child when the mansion was attacked by a marauding band of Roundheads. Her retreat was discovered and the Puritans, incensed by her haughty replies, dashed out her child’s brains and struck off her head. Now the poor lady comes once a year to sleep in the oak-paneled room and next morning the bedclothes are found-disturbed and bearing the impression of her fair form; and if any one occupies the bed she appears at the foot headless, in bloodstained garments with her child in her arms, standing motionless for a while, and then vanishes.

Calverley Hall, photo by Betty Longbottom

Calverley Hall, photo by Betty Longbottom

Another victim of the barbarous practice of the bad old times was Walter Calverley, who was pressed to death at York in 1604. There is a painful story of his begging his old servant to sit on the stones with which the life was being slowly crushed out of him. “A pound o’ more weight lay on, lay on!” The servant obliged his request, and was hanged for his good nature. Calverley seems to have nourished (and not unnatural) considerable ill-will against the human race. He used to gallop about on a headless horse, running down any luckless folk he met in his path. Then he was “laid.” But a clergyman who visited Calverley hall about Christmas time was unpleasantly reminded of the dead criminal’s post-mortem activity. The reverend gentleman felt something creep on to his chest as he lay in bed, pressing him very hard, and was then thrown three times on to the floor. Other pranks has Calverley played, such as tolling the bell toward the close of the year from midnight till dawn. The weight on the chest of which the clerical gentleman complained is a sensation not unknown about Christmas time, and is not always to be ascribed to supernatural causes.

The north of England has not a monopoly of ghosts. Once upon a time, at Bisham Abbey, on the Thames, lived a learned lady, the wife of Sir Thomas Hoby and afterwards of John Lord Russell. As ill-luck would have it, the eldest son of this Elizabethan blue stocking was an idle urchin, so averse to learning that he used deliberately to spill ink over his copy books. If much learning had not made Lady Russell mad it had made her extremely irascible, and she chastised the bad little boy so severely that he died. Dr. Lee, author of “Glimpses of the Supernatural” states that “in taking down an old oak window-shutter of the latter part of the sixteenth century a packet of antique copy books of that period was discovered pushed into the wall between the joints of the skirting, and several of these books on which young Hoby’s name was written were covered with blots, thus supporting the ordinary tradition.” The unnatural mother is now seen at Christmas gliding through a certain chamber, and washing bloodstains from her hands. Her little victim is never seen, and sleeps soundly, where tiresome masters and mistresses and copy books are not.

Glamis Castle in the Snow, Morris's Country Seats, 1880

Glamis Castle in the Snow, Morris’s Country Seats, 1880

Glamis Castle, in Forfarshire, has a whole staff of ghosts and we are not sure that their visitations are confined to any particular season of the year. That wicked person, Earl Patie, [sic] may be relied upon to return to his ancestral hall at Christmas time. For was it not on a dark and stormy winter night — possibly Christmas eve — that he announced his intention of playing cards, although it was the Sabbath? The righteous Scots properly recoiled with horror from such a proposal, and Earl Patie retired grumbling to his room, declaring that he would welcome the devil himself as a partner. The invitation was responded to with alacrity. A tall, dark stranger appeared, and the reckless thane offered, if he were the loser, to sign a bond for whatsoever his mysterious guest might ask. They played with a zest. A butler who incautiously peeped through the keyhole, had his eye blinded by a sudden streak of flame; and Patie having lost the game, the stranger vanished with a bond for what the carl did not precisely know. Five years later he died and as his spirit continued to return to play cards with the dark stranger in the old chamber this was bricked up and remains the “Secret Room of Glamis Castle.”

No wandering, troubled spirit has more claim upon our credulity and our sympathy than the hapless Lady Bothwell, who returns every year to Woodhouselee, upon the Esk. Her husband, James Hamilton, or Bothwellhaugh, lost his lands as a result of his devotion to the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots. His wife retired with her infant child to her own personal estate of Woodhouselee, not knowing that this had been given by the Regent Murray to a creature of his, the Lord Justice Clerk Bellenden. This man came to Woodhouselee while the household was asleep and had the brutality to turn the lady and her infant out in the woods in their nightclothes. Next morning Lady Hamilton was found wandering a raving lunatic, the child dead in her arms. She died herself a few days later. Her husband swore to be avenged, and laying his plans carefully, shot Murray, Mary’s traitor brother, in the streets of Linlithgow. Men bore the wrongs done by process of law to those they loved less patiently than they do now. But still poor Lady Bothwell walks in piteous guise the park of Woodhouselee.

Prince Rupert at Edgehill

Prince Rupert at Edgehill

If supernatural apparitions are to be considered as they undoubtedly are, indispensable features of Christmas entertainment then the good people of Edge Hill, near Keinton, in Northampshire, had good reason to think themselves highly favored at Christmas, 1641. A battle between Cavaliers and Roundheads had taken place at this spot a month or two previously and to the amazement and horror of the villagers the action was fought over again almost every evening during Christmas week by spectral warriors. First the sound of drums, as afar off, would be heard, then the tramping of armed men, the trampling and neighing of horses, the firing of guns; then the rival hosts would appear in the air and the battle would be repeated in all its details. King Charles I. sent some of his officers to investigate the phenomenon, and they declared that they recognized among the ghostly warriors several of their old comrades who had fallen in the engagement.

In the same county of Northampton (says Mr. Thistleton Dyer) there still lingers the belief that the ghosts of suicides and of unfortunates buried at cross-roads with “stakes in their insides” have a particular license to wander about on Christmas eve, and to wreak their vengeance on defenceless persons.

Ghosts are generally believed by the country folk to be more spiteful at this season than at any other. In Ireland, however, the banshee who is usually more a friend of the family than otherwise, selects this time for a visitation.

Yes, most of us see ghosts at Christmas time. They do not all come to us in dreadful guise, clanking their chains and showing ghastly wounds. Most of us see ghosts of a different kind ; by the Christmas fireside and at the Christmas board, we seem to see dim, dear faces of husbands, wives, parents, children, old sweethearts and old friends whom we shall never greet in the flesh again. We are perhaps too busy to give them a thought during the rest of the year; but then they come back to haunt us. We would not be without them. And most of us, I suspect, are prone to unlock the haunted chambers in our hearts and hold sweet, sad converse with the inmates at the merry Christmastide.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 21 December 1907: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Quite the embarrassment of ghostly riches! Of course, this was written as pleasant holiday entertainment. Several distasteful details are omitted, such as the grewsome fate of the Nun of Watton’s lover and the fact that Walter Calverley, far from being the “victim of the barbarous practice of the bad old times,” murdered his two children, nearly murdered his wife, and was riding hell-for-leather to murder a third child when he was captured. Any punishment was richly deserved.

Mrs Daffodil, who visited Glamis in her earlier career as lady’s maid, is clucking her tongue over the mangling of the name of the notorious 15th-century “Earl Beardie.” To be fair, several of the Lords Glamis were named Patrick; perhaps the journalist, in that over-familiar American way, thought “Patie” was an appropriate nickname.  Mrs Daffodil wishes her readers bright Yuletide spirits and the happiest of New Years to come.

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 Crown Derby Plate: A Christmas Ghost Story by Marjorie Bowen

A Crown Derby plate from Leonce Antiques.

A Crown Derby plate from Leonce Antiques. http://www.leonceantiques.com/index.php/cPath/25_104

Holiday duties at the Hall beckon and Mrs Daffodil must ring off until the New Year. She will leave you with this classic ghost story to tell on Christmas Eve. Mrs Daffodil thanks all of her readers for being so kind as to join her here and wishes all of them the happiest of Christmases and the most prosperous of New Years.

The Crown Derby Plate

by Marjorie Bowen

Martha Pym said that she had never seen a ghost and that she would very much like to do so, “particularly at Christmas, for you can laugh as you like, that is the correct time to see a ghost.”

“I don’t suppose you ever will,” replied her cousin Mabel comfortably, while her cousin Clara shuddered and said that she hoped they would change the subject for she disliked even to think of such things.

The three elderly, cheerful women sat round a big fire, cosy and content after a day of pleasant activities; Martha was the guest of the other two, who owned the handsome, convenient country house; she always came to spend her Christmas with the Wyntons and found the leisurely country life delightful after the bustling round of London, for Martha managed an antique shop of the better sort and worked extremely hard. She was, however, still full of zest for work or pleasure, though sixty years old, and looked backwards and forwards to a succession of delightful days.

The other two, Mabel and Clara, led quieter but none the less agreeable lives; they had more money and fewer interests, but nevertheless enjoyed themselves very well.

“Talking of ghosts,” said Mabel, “I wonder how that old woman at ‘Hartleys’ is getting on, for ‘Hartleys,’ you know, is supposed to be haunted.”

“Yes, I know,” smiled Miss Pym, “but all the years that we have known of the place we have never heard anything definite, have we?”

“No,” put in Clara; “but there is that persistent rumour that the House is uncanny, and for myself, nothing would induce me to live there!”

“It is certainly very lonely and dreary down there on the marshes,” conceded Mabel. “But as for the ghost–you never hear what it is supposed to be even.”

“Who has taken it?” asked Miss Pym, remembering “Hartleys” as very desolate indeed, and long shut up.

“A Miss Lefain, an eccentric old creature–I think you met her here once, two years ago—-”

“I believe that I did, but I don’t recall her at all.”

“We have not seen her since, ‘Hartleys’ is so un-get-at-able and she didn’t seem to want visitors. She collects china, Martha, so really you ought to go and see her and talk ‘shop.'”

With the word “china” some curious associations came into the mind of Martha Pym; she was silent while she strove to put them together, and after a second or two they all fitted together into a very clear picture.

She remembered that thirty years ago–yes, it must be thirty years ago, when, as a young woman, she had put all her capital into the antique business, and had been staying with her cousins (her aunt had then been alive) that she had driven across the marsh to “Hartleys,” where there was an auction sale; all the details of this she had completely forgotten, but she could recall quite clearly purchasing a set of gorgeous china which was still one of her proud delights, a perfect set of Crown Derby save that one plate was missing.

“How odd,” she remarked, “that this Miss Lefain should collect china too, for it was at ‘Hartleys’ that I purchased my dear old Derby service–I’ve never been able to match that plate—-”

“A plate was missing? I seem to remember,” said Clara. “Didn’t they say that it must be in the house somewhere and that it should be looked for?”

“I believe they did, but of course I never heard any more and that missing plate has annoyed me ever since. Who had ‘Hartleys’?”

“An old connoisseur, Sir James Sewell; I believe he was some relation to this Miss Lefain, but I don’t know—-”

“I wonder if she has found the plate,” mused Miss Pym. “I expect she has turned out and ransacked the whole place—-”

“Why not trot over and ask?” suggested Mabel. “It’s not much use to her, if she has found it, one odd plate.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Clara. “Fancy going over the marshes, this weather, to ask about a plate missed all those years ago. I’m sure Martha wouldn’t think of it—–”

But Martha did think of it; she was rather fascinated by the idea; how queer and pleasant it would be if, after all these years, nearly a lifetime, she should find the Crown Derby plate, the loss of which had always irked her! And this hope did not seem so altogether fantastical, it was quite likely that old Miss Lefain, poking about in the ancient house, had found the missing piece.

And, of course, if she had, being a fellow-collector, she would be quite willing to part with it to complete the set.

Her cousin endeavoured to dissuade her; Miss Lefain, she declared, was a recluse, an odd creature who might greatly resent such a visit and such a request.

“Well, if she does I can but come away again,” smiled Miss Pym. “I suppose she can’t bite my head off, and I rather like meeting these curious types–we’ve got a love for old china in common, anyhow.”

“It seems so silly to think of it–after all these years–a plate!”

“A Crown Derby plate,” corrected Miss Pym. “It is certainly strange that I didn’t think of it before, but now that I have got it into my head I can’t get it out. Besides,” she added hopefully, “I might see the ghost.”

So full, however, were the days with pleasant local engagements that Miss Pym had no immediate chance of putting her scheme into practice; but she did not relinquish it, and she asked several different people what they knew about “Hartleys” and Miss Lefain. And no one knew anything save that the house was supposed to be haunted and the owner “cracky.”

“Is there a story?” asked Miss Pym, who associated ghosts with neat tales into which they fitted as exactly as nuts into shells.

But she was always told: “Oh, no, there isn’t a story, no one knows anything about the place, don’t know how the idea got about; old Sewell was half-crazy, I believe, he was buried in the garden and that gives a house a nasty name—-”

“Very unpleasant,” said Martha Pym, undisturbed.

This ghost seemed too elusive for her to track down; she would have to be content if she could recover the Crown Derby plate; for that at least she was determined to make a try and also to satisfy that faint tingling of curiosity roused in her by this talk about “Hartleys” and the remembrance of that day, so long ago, when she had gone to the auction sale at the lonely old house.

So the first free afternoon, while Mabel and Clara were comfortably taking their afternoon repose, Martha Pym, who was of a more lively habit, got out her little governess cart and dashed away across the Essex flats.

She had taken minute directions with her, but she had soon lost her way.  Under the wintry sky, which looked as grey and hard as metal, the marshes stretched bleakly to the horizon, the olive-brown broken reeds were harsh as scars on the saffron-tinted bogs, where the sluggish waters that rose so high in winter were filmed over with the first stillness of a frost; the air was cold but not keen, everything was damp; faintest of mists blurred the black outlines of trees that rose stark from the ridges above the stagnant dykes; the flooded fields were haunted by black birds and white birds, gulls and crows, whining above the long ditch grass and wintry wastes.

Miss Pym stopped the little horse and surveyed this spectral scene, which had a certain relish about it to one sure to return to a homely village, a cheerful house and good company.

A withered and bleached old man, in colour like the dun landscape, came along the road between the sparse alders.

Miss Pym, buttoning up her coat, asked the way to “Hartley” as he passed her; he told her, straight on, and she proceeded, straight indeed across the road that went with undeviating length across the marshes.

“Of course,” thought Miss Pym, “if you live in a place like this, you are bound to invent ghosts.”

The house sprang up suddenly on a knoll ringed with rotting trees, encompassed by an old brick wall that the perpetual damp had overrun with lichen, blue, green, white colours of decay.

“Hartleys,” no doubt, there was no other residence of human being in sight in all the wide expanse; besides, she could remember it, surely, after all this time, the sharp rising out of the marsh, the colony of  tall trees, but then fields and trees had been green and bright—there had been no water on the flats, it had been summer-time.

“She certainly,” thought Miss Pym, “must be crazy to live here. And I rather doubt if I shall get my plate.”

She fastened up the good little horse by the garden gate which stood negligently ajar and entered; the garden itself was so neglected that it was quite surprising to see a trim appearance in the house, curtains at the window and a polish on the brass door knocker, which must have been recently rubbed there, considering the taint in the sea damp which rusted and rotted everything.

It was a square-built, substantial house with “nothing wrong with it but the situation,” Miss Pym decided, though it was not very attractive, being built of that drab plastered stone so popular a hundred years ago, with flat windows and door, while one side was gloomily shaded by a large evergreen tree of the cypress variety which gave a blackish tinge to that portion of the garden.

There was no pretence at flower-beds nor any manner of cultivation in this garden where a few rank weeds and straggling bushes matted together above the dead grass; on the enclosing wall which appeared to have been built high as protection against the ceaseless winds that swung along the flats were the remains of fruit trees; their crucified branches, rotting under the great nails that held them up, looked like the skeletons of those who had died in torment.

Miss Pym took in these noxious details as she knocked firmly at the door; they did not depress her; she merely felt extremely sorry for anyone who could live in such a place.

She noticed, at the far end of the garden, in the corner of the wall, a headstone showing above the sodden colourless grass, and remembered what she had been told about the old antiquary being buried there, in the grounds of “Hartleys.”

As the knock had no effect she stepped back and looked at the house; it was certainly inhabited–with those neat windows, white curtains and drab blinds all pulled to precisely the same level.

And when she brought her glance back to the door she saw that it had been opened and that someone, considerably obscured by the darkness of the passage, was looking at her intently.

“Good afternoon,” said Miss Pym cheerfully. “I just thought that I would call to see Miss Lefain–it is Miss Lefain, isn’t it?”

“It’s my house,” was the querulous reply.

Martha Pym had hardly expected to find any servants here, though the old lady must, she thought, work pretty hard to keep the house so clean and tidy as it appeared to be.

“Of course,” she replied. “May I come in? I’m Martha Pym, staying with the Wyntons, I met you there—-”

“Do come in,” was the faint reply. “I get so few people to visit me, I’m really very lonely.”

“I don’t wonder,” thought Miss Pym; but she had resolved to take no notice of any eccentricity on the part of her hostess, and so she entered the house with her usual agreeable candour and courtesy.

The passage was badly lit, but she was able to get a fair idea of Miss Lefain; her first impression was that this poor creature was most dreadfully old, older than any human being had the right to be, why, she felt young in comparison–so faded, feeble, and pallid was Miss Lefain.

She was also monstrously fat; her gross, flaccid figure was shapeless and she wore a badly cut, full dress of no colour at all, but stained with earth and damp where Miss Pym supposed she had been doing futile gardening; this gown was doubtless designed to disguise her stoutness, but had been so carelessly pulled about that it only added to it, being rucked and rolled “all over the place” as Miss Pym put it to herself.

Another ridiculous touch about the appearance of the poor old lady was her short hair; decrepit as she was, and lonely as she lived she had actually had her scanty relics of white hair cropped round her shaking head.

“Dear me, dear me,” she said in her thin treble voice. “How very kind of you to come. I suppose you prefer the parlour? I generally sit in the garden.”

“The garden? But not in this weather?”

“I get used to the weather. You’ve no idea how used one gets to the weather.”

“I suppose so,” conceded Miss Pym doubtfully. “You don’t live here quite alone, do you?”

“Quite alone, lately. I had a little company, but she was taken away, I’m sure I don’t know where. I haven’t been able to find a trace of her anywhere,” replied the old lady peevishly.

“Some wretched companion that couldn’t stick it, I suppose,” thought Miss Pym. “Well, I don’t wonder–but someone ought to be here to look after her.”

They went into the parlour, which, the visitor was dismayed to see, was without a fire but otherwise well kept.

And there, on dozens of shelves was a choice array of china at which Martha Pym’s eyes glistened.

“Aha!” cried Miss Lefain. “I see you’ve noticed my treasures! Don’t you envy me? Don’t you wish that you had some of those pieces?”

Martha Pym certainly did and she looked eagerly and greedily round the walls, tables, and cabinets while the old woman followed her with little thin squeals of pleasure.

It was a beautiful little collection, most choicely and elegantly arranged, and Martha thought it marvellous that this feeble ancient creature should be able to keep it in such precise order as well as doing her own housework.

“Do you really do everything yourself here and live quite alone?” she asked, and she shivered even in her thick coat and wished that Miss Lefain’s energy had risen to a fire, but then probably she lived in the kitchen, as these lonely eccentrics often did.

“There was someone,” answered Miss Lefain cunningly, “but I had to send her away. I told you she’s gone, I can’t find her, and I am so glad. Of course,” she added wistfully, “it leaves me very lonely, but then I couldn’t stand her impertinence any longer. She used to say that it was her house and her collection of china! Would you believe it? She used to try to chase me away from looking at my own things!”

“How very disagreeable,” said Miss Pym, wondering which of the two women had been crazy. “But hadn’t you better get someone else.”

“Oh, no,” was the jealous answer. “I would rather be alone with my things, I daren’t leave the house for fear someone takes them away–there was a dreadful time once when an auction sale was held here—-”

“Were you here then?” asked Miss Pym; but indeed she looked old enough to have been anywhere.

“Yes, of course,” Miss Lefain replied rather peevishly and Miss Pym decided that she must be a relation of old Sir James Sewell. Clara and Mabel had been very foggy about it all. “I was very busy hiding all the china–but one set they got–a Crown Derby tea service—-”

“With one plate missing!” cried Martha Pym. “I bought it, and do you know, I was wondering if you’d found it—-”

“I hid it,” piped Miss Lefain.

“Oh, you did, did you? Well, that’s rather funny behaviour. Why did you hide the stuff away instead of buying it?”

“How could I buy what was mine?”

“Old Sir James left it to you, then?” asked Martha Pym, feeling very muddled.

She bought a lot more,” squeaked Miss Lefain, but Martha Pym tried to keep her to the point.

“If you’ve got the plate,” she insisted, “you might let me have it–I’ll pay quite handsomely, it would be so pleasant to have it after all these years.”

“Money is no use to me,” said Miss Lefain mournfully. “Not a bit of use. I can’t leave the house or the garden.”

“Well, you have to live, I suppose,” replied Martha Pym cheerfully. “And, do you know, I’m afraid you are getting rather morbid and dull, living here all alone–you really ought to have a fire–why, it’s just on Christmas and very damp.”

“I haven’t felt the cold for a long time,” replied the other; she seated herself with a sigh on one of the horsehair chairs and Miss Pym noticed with a start that her feet were covered only by a pair of white stockings; “one of those nasty health fiends,” thought Miss Pym, “but she doesn’t look too well for all that.”

“So you don’t think that you could let me have the plate?” she asked briskly, walking up and down, for the dark, neat, clean parlour was very cold indeed, and she thought that she couldn’t stand this much longer; as there seemed no sign of tea or anything pleasant and comfortable she had really better go.

“I might let you have it,” sighed Miss Lefain, “since you’ve been so kind as to pay me a visit. After all, one plate isn’t much use, is it?”

“Of course not, I wonder you troubled to hide it—-”

“I couldn’t bear,” wailed the other, “to see the things going out of the house!”

Martha Pym couldn’t stop to go into all this; it was quite clear that the old lady was very eccentric indeed and that nothing very much could be done with her; no wonder that she had “dropped out” of everything and that no one ever saw her or knew anything about her, though Miss Pym felt that some effort ought really to be made to save her from herself.

“Wouldn’t you like a run in my little governess cart?” she suggested. “We might go to tea with the Wyntons on the way back, they’d be delighted to see you, and I really think that you do want taking out of yourself.”

“I was taken out of myself some time ago,” replied Miss Lefain. “I really was, and I couldn’t leave my things–though,” she added with pathetic gratitude, “it is very, very kind of you—-”

“Your things would be quite safe, I’m sure,” said Martha Pym, humouring her. “Who ever would come up here, this hour of a winter’s day?”

“They do, oh, they do! And she might come back, prying and nosing and saying that it was all hers, all my beautiful china, hers!”

Miss Lefain squealed in her agitation and rising up, ran round the wall fingering with flaccid yellow hands the brilliant glossy pieces on the shelves.

“Well, then, I’m afraid that I must go, they’ll be expecting me, and it’s quite a long ride; perhaps some other time you’ll come and see us?

“Oh, must you go?” quavered Miss Lefain dolefully. “I do like a little company now and then and I trusted you from the first–the others, when they do come, are always after my things and I have to frighten them away!”

“Frighten them away!” replied Martha Pym. “However do you do that?”

“It doesn’t seem difficult, people are so easily frightened, aren’t they?”

Miss Pym suddenly remembered that “Hartleys” had the reputation of being haunted–perhaps the queer old thing played on that; the lonely house with the grave in the garden was dreary enough around which to create a legend.

“I suppose you’ve never seen a ghost?” she asked pleasantly. “I’d rather like to see one, you know—-”

“There is no one here but myself,” said Miss Lefain.

“So you’ve never seen anything? I thought it must be all nonsense. Still, I do think it rather melancholy for you to live here all alone—-”

Miss Lefain sighed: “Yes, it’s very lonely. Do stay and talk to me a little longer.” Her whistling voice dropped cunningly. “And I’ll give you the Crown Derby plate!”

“Are you sure you’ve really got it?” Miss Pym asked.

“I’ll show you.”

Fat and waddling as she was, she seemed to move very lightly as she slipped in front of Miss Pym and conducted her from the room, going slowly up the stairs–such a gross odd figure in that clumsy dress with the fringe of white hair hanging on to her shoulders.

The upstairs of the house was as neat as the parlour, everything well in its place; but there was no sign of occupancy; the beds were covered with dust sheets, there were no lamps or fires set ready. “I suppose,” said Miss Pym to herself, “she doesn’t care to show me where she really lives.”

But as they passed from one room to another, she could not help saying: “Where do you live, Miss Lefain?”

“Mostly in the garden,” said the other.

Miss Pym thought of those horrible health huts that some people indulged in.

“Well, sooner you than I,” she replied cheerfully.

In the most distant room of all, a dark, tiny closet, Miss Lefain opened a deep cupboard and brought out a Crown Derby plate which her guest received with a spasm of joy, for it was actually that missing from her cherished set.

“It’s very good of you,” she said in delight. “Won’t you take something for it, or let me do something for you?”

“You might come and see me again,” replied Miss Lefain wistfully.

“Oh, yes, of course I should like to come and see you again.”

But now that she had got what she had really come for, the plate, Martha Pym wanted to be gone; it was really very dismal and depressing in the house and she began to notice a fearful smell–the place had been shut up too long, there was something damp rotting somewhere, in this horrid little dark closet no doubt.

“I really must be going,” she said hurriedly.

Miss Lefain turned as if to cling to her, but Martha Pym moved quickly away.

“Dear me,” wailed the old lady. “Why are you in such haste?”

“There’s–a smell,” murmured Miss Pym rather faintly.

She found herself hastening down the stairs, with Miss Lefain complaining behind her.

“How peculiar people are–she used to talk of a smell—-”

“Well, you must notice it yourself.”

Miss Pym was in the hall; the old woman had not followed her, but stood in the semi-darkness at the head of the stairs, a pale shapeless figure. Martha Pym hated to be rude and ungrateful but she could not stay another moment; she hurried away and was in her cart in a moment–really–that smell—-

“Good-bye!” she called out with false cheerfulness, “and thank you so much!”

There was no answer from the house.

Miss Pym drove on; she was rather upset and took another way than that by which she had come, a way that led past a little house raised above the marsh; she was glad to think that the poor old creature at “Hartleys” had such near neighbours, and she reined up the horse, dubious as to whether she should call someone and tell them that poor old Miss Lefain really wanted a little looking after, alone in a house like that, and plainly not quite right in her head.

A young woman, attracted by the sound of the governess cart, came to the door of the house and seeing Miss Pym called out, asking if she wanted the keys of the house?

“What house?” asked Miss Pym.

“‘Hartleys,’ mum, they don’t put a board out, as no one is likely to pass, but it’s to be sold. Miss Lefain wants to sell or let it—-”

“I’ve just been up to see her—-”

“Oh, no, mum–she’s been away a year, abroad somewhere, couldn’t stand the place, it’s been empty since then, I just run in every day and keep things tidy—-”

Loquacious and curious the young woman had come to the fence; Miss Pym had stopped her horse.

“Miss Lefain is there now,” she said. “She must have just come back—-”

“She wasn’t there this morning, mum, ’tisn’t likely she’d come, either–fair scared she was, mum, fair chased away, didn’t dare move her china. Can’t say I’ve noticed anything myself, but I never stay long–and there’s a smell—-”

“Yes,” murmured Martha Pym faintly, “there’s a smell. What–what–chased her away?”

The young woman, even in that lonely place, lowered her voice.

“Well, as you aren’t thinking of taking the place, she got an idea in her head that old Sir James–well, he couldn’t bear to leave ‘Hartleys,’ mum, he’s buried in the garden, and she thought he was after her, chasing round them bits of china—-”

“Oh!” cried Miss Pym.

“Some of it used to be his, she found a lot stuffed away, he said they were to be left in ‘Hartleys,’ but Miss Lefain would have the things sold, I believe–that’s years ago—-”

“Yes, yes,” said Miss Pym with a sick look. “You don’t know what he was like, do you?”

“No, mum–but I’ve heard tell he was very stout and very old–I wonder who it was you saw up at ‘Hartleys’?”

Miss Pym took a Crown Derby plate from her bag.

“You might take that back when you go,” she whispered. “I shan’t want it, after all—-”

Before the astonished young woman could answer Miss Pym had darted off across the marsh; that short hair, that earth-stained robe, the white socks, “I generally live in the garden—-”

Miss Pym drove away, breakneck speed, frantically resolving to mention to no one that she had paid a visit to “Hartleys,” nor lightly again to bring up the subject of ghosts.

She shook and shuddered in the damp, trying to get out of her clothes and her nostrils–that indescribable smell.

Christmas Ghosts Doomed by Bridge in Britain: 1905

Cartoon from Punch. Caption: Instead of our usual Servant's Ball, this year I've invited the staff to come up here and watch our Bridge

Cartoon from Punch. Caption: Instead of our usual Servant’s Ball, this year I’ve invited the staff to come up here and watch our Bridge

GHOSTS DOOMED BY BRIDGE IN BRITAIN

People Are Too Busy at Cards to Bother About Christmas Wraiths

London, Dec. 30 Among the destructive effects of bridge is the total discomfiture of ghost and ghost stories without which, in the good old-fashioned days, no Christmas annual could be complete. It has no place in this years’ Christmas periodical literature, and current fiction is equally silent on the subject of the ghostly visitant who contributed to the Christmas festivities of a decade ago.

White ladies, headless monks, gray friars, wicked lords and all the vast army of spooks who were obstreperous on Christmas eve, are no longer part of the novelist’s stock in trade.

Women who anxiously inquire for a really good ghost story at the shops, meet with a blank stare of surprise. Not a single ghost story has emanated from the publishers this Christmas tide.

“Out of date,” was the terse explanation of the publisher of light literature when asked why the Christmas ghost had been exorcised. There is no demand for blood-curdling stories of clanking chains, rattling bones and dismal shrieks.

The Haunts of Ghosts

Dreary tumble-down houses, ancient feudal castles and melancholy moated granges, as will be seen from the following list of Christmas phantoms, are their favourite haunts. All of them are pedigreed ghosts with officially recorded appearances.

At Dilston Castle, Lady Westmoreland; Cullaly Castle, the wicked priest; Beddiscombe Manor, the screaming skull; Calverley Hall, Sir Hugh Calverly; Pradenham House, Isaac Disraeli; Rainham hall, the gray lady; Corby Castle, the radiant boy; Newstead Abbey, the black friar; Brookhouse, the headless woman; Copley House, the two heads; Pomeroy Castle, the lady; Churton Hall, the lady and dog; Llyne Valley, the white horse of Llangynwyd; Holland House, Lord Holland; Bisham Abbey, the wraith of Lady Hobey; Rufford Abbey, the Cistercian father; Cheedle Rectory, the abbess of Godstown; Hampton Court, Catherine Howard and Jane Seymour.

The Spooks’ Delight.

A fine ghostly company these. Lady Derwentwater, so goes the tale, has been wont at Christmastide to revisit this earth to expiate the crime of restless ambition which impelled her to drive the Earl of Derwentwater to the scaffold.

Isaac Disraeli, father of the late Lord Beaconsfield, is said to drive a ghostly coach and pair. The beheaded form of Lord Holland used to walk in the grillroom carrying his head in his hands. The wraith of Lady Hobey carried a spectral basin, wringing her hands and vainly trying to wash out the stain of guilt, for, according to the legend, she murdered her boy because he blotted his copybook.

The Cistercian father, dressed in white, always appeared to women only, but this Christmas none of these ghosts are reported to have manifested themselves.

What is the use of their troubling, when everybody is too deep in bridge all night through to watch for them?

Bridge Is Supreme

If a census was to be taken of the amusements which occupied the guests at the country houses during the Christmas holidays it would probably be found that in sixty per cent of the cases bridge had ousted all the games associated with the old-fashioned Christmas festivities. If there were one or two children in the house they were bundled off to bed as early as possible and the house party settled down in religious silence to bridge.

In many houses the game was played for four successive afternoons and nights without a thought of turkey, plum pudding or crackers. The one anxiety was to rush thru a short meal as quickly as possible. Bridge, in fact, killed in certain circles the old-fashioned Christmas in London. Several waif-and-stray parties were given on Christmas day, the idea being to gather together the lonesome souls who dislike noisy festivities, to pull down the blinds and play bridge from luncheon until the small hours of the morning. Tea and the short dinner were regarded as interruptions and small talk as superfluous.

The Minneapolis [MN] Journal 31 December 1905: p. 3 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has seen, first hand, the scourge that bridge has become: meals sent back to the kitchen, untasted, beds left vacant, presents unopened beneath the tree, mistresses left neglected at house-parties, and engagements broken off without a murmur because one of the contracting parties was absorbed in sorting out a defective trick.

But the human toll is as nothing compared to the loss of the Christmas ghost story. Mrs Daffodil entreats those who are tempted to take up the fatal deck to Think. Remember those memorable childhood Christmas Eves spent lying awake, scarcely daring to breathe under the covers or staring at the door of the cupboard, wondering if it had moved. Those happy times were all because of the Christmas ghost story and those memories will be lost to future generations if the bridge set cannot shun this noxious habit. Mrs Daffodil urges you to put down the cards and the bridge tallies shaped like little Chinese lanterns, and vow to keep alive the traditional Christmas ghost narrative. Posterity, and the terrified children of Britain, will thank you.

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

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

 

The Ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots Wails of Death on Christmas Eve: 1900

Here is a chilling Christmas Eve ghost story for Mrs Daffodil’s readers to tell during the haunted holidays.

The death-mask of Mary, Queen of Scots

The death-mask of Mary, Queen of Scots

GHOST OF DEATH Heard in the Tower of London Christmas Eve – A Bad Omen

London Cor. New York Journal.

The ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots, which appears in the Tower of London before the death of a crowned head, made itself heard on Christmas Eve.

The fact has been carefully concealed from the Queen because of the extreme grief into which the death of the Dowager Lady Churchill threw her, but it has caused the greatest alarm in court circles.

Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth in the Constable’s tower, and was led from it to execution in the tower quadrangle. Before the death of every King or Queen of England since her day her spirit has been reported as having appeared. An officer of the guard on duty in the Constable’s tower on Christmas Eve heard a long wail from the top of the tower. He stopped to listen and heard it again. Footsteps followed, and a third time the wail rang out over the fog-bound river and the sleeping city. He went to search for a cause but found none.

How severe a shock to the Queen was the death of Lady Churchill may be gathered from the following extract from today’s Court Circular.

“The Queen has sustained another and great loss in the death of the Dowager Lady Churchill, who had been a devoted and intimate friend of the Queen. Her Majesty, while sorely grieved by this sudden loss of one for whom she entertained the warmest affection, has not suffered in health from the great shock.”

Private reports say that Christmas at Osborne was a day of awful depression. The plans for its celebration were canceled, as the Queen’s condition of overpowering grief filled the house with gloom.

The Queen regards it as an evil omen that the last Christmas of the century should bring the angel of death under her own roof. This is the first death in a house with the Queen since that of the Prince Consort.

Lady Churchill was the Queen’s oldest and closest companion. They lived in personal intimacy, spent most of the day together and slept in adjoining rooms. What gave the Queen a particular shock was the knowledge that Lady Churchill died within a few feet of her, separated only by the thickness of a wall. Numerous recent tragedies, such as the deaths of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Christian Victor and several particularly respected old friends, added to this latest, have had a telling effect on the Queen

Superstitious people are prophesying many gloomy events and the ghost of Mary in the tower has caused more than a sensation. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 29 December 1900: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This is a curious story, mingling fact and completely falsehood. Mary Queen of Scots was never imprisoned in the Constable’s Tower (which was built in the 19th century on the site of a medieval tower that was used to house prisoners during the reign of Elizabeth I)  or anywhere in the Tower complex, and she was certainly not led out of it to her death in the “tower quadrangle.” She was held captive in various manor houses well away from London and was executed at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587.

1900 was indeed an annus horribilis for the Queen. Queen Victoria’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and, until 1893, the Duke of Edinburgh, died 30 July 1900. Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein was Queen Victoria’s grandson by her daughter Helena. He died 29 October 1900 of typhoid fever in South Africa. The Dowager Lady Churchill was Senior Lady of the Bedchamber and, as the article says, a close friend of Queen Victoria. She was found dead in her bed at Osborne House 24 December 1900, aged 74.  Queen Victoria mourned in her diary: “It is a horrible year, nothing but sadness & horrors of one kind & another.”

Mary Queen of Scots was a romantic figure to the Victorians and an overwhelmingly popular apparition (as she is, even today) so perhaps it is natural that she was believed to be the wailing ghost. The Habsburgs had their White Lady of the Hohenzollerns, who appeared before Imperial deaths. One wonders if the British Royal family felt that they needed their own royal death apparition even though there was a tradition (probably no older than the 19th century) that if the ravens at the Tower of London flew away either England would be conquered by her enemies or a member of the Royal family would die.  And a beautiful, beheaded queen is much more appealing than croaking black birds.  More likely this is a piece of journalistic poetic licence. Other, later versions of this piece elaborate on the basic story and add what appear to be quotes from guards at the Tower or describe how the ghost of Mary appeared to Queen Elizabeth I before her death.

Still, despite the historical inaccuracies, a wailing ghost–the banshee–would have been familiar to many readers of this story as an omen of death.  And a banshee keening in the dark within the haunted environs of the Tower is a perfect image for a Victorian Christmas ghost story.

However, Mrs Daffodil must point out that Queen Victoria died 22 January 1901.

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 Christmas Ghost Party for Christmas Eve: 1904

An Illustration for Dickens' Christmas Carol. The Ghost of Christmas Future.

An Illustration for Dickens’ Christmas Carol. The Ghost of Christmas Future.

A CHRISTMAS GHOST PARTY

FOR CHRISTMAS EVE

The veil that separates the realm of spirits from that of mortals has always been held by reverent tradition —not to say superstition—to be thinner on Christmas Eve than at any other time of the year. Ghosts are said to revisit their old haunts and homes; hence the Christmas custom of relating stories of spectral visitants.

A phantom reunion is therefore appropriate to the day.

The invitations may read:

The Shade of Miss Blank is requested to be present at a

Meeting of the Ghosts at

Apparition Assembly Cave

No Street

on the eve of the “Holy Night” at nine o’clock

It is requested that each fair phantom wear a winding-sheet

The walls of the room in which the spectres assemble should be hung with white cheese-cloth, and all lights screened with white paper shades lined with blue, etc give a more ghastly effect, to which burning alcohol containing a pinch of salt will contribute.

The ghosts arrive, draped in sheets, with pillow-cases about their heads, wearing white masks and gloves. At the appearance of each female phantom the hostess says “Sh-h-h!” which all the guests repeat, but upon the arrival of a man spirit a dolorous groan is his welcome, and is taken up by the rest of the company. They move noiselessly about the room, never speaking above a sepulchral whisper. If a “graveyard” cough can be managed at intervals, the effect will be appreciated.

Each apparition must wear a distinctive mark on his or her forehead—a splash of blood-red paint, a bone attached to the top of the mask, the picture of a spade, a skull—anything gruesome. With these they are solemnly invested as they pass from the dressing-room, and a card, with pencil attached, is given to each.

They are expected to guess one another’s identity, in spite of all efforts to foil detection, and the names are to be noted on the card, accompanied by his or her special mark by way of signature.

At the sound of a bell slowly and solemnly tolled the guests add their signatures to their cards, which they then drop into a box draped with black.

If, in placing the cards within it, a slight electric shock could be delivered from a small hidden battery, the uncanny effect would be emphasised.

The one whose card bears the greatest number of correct guesses may have a prize, and another be presented to the one who has best concealed his identity.

An occasional waltz is danced to the slowest possible accompaniment of muffled music, but square dances are most appropriate if walked through with the solemn stateliness befitting the ideal ghost.

A bell is slowly tolled to announce supper, served at eleven o’clock or before, on plain white dishes, the table decorated with white flowers. The menu may keep to ghostly white consisting of clam bouillon or creamed oysters, chicken salad, sandwiches, angel cake, kisses, vanilla ice-cream, peppermints, and other white bonbons.

The guests unmask at supper, return to human, fleshly habitations, and are as merry as they please.

To be so absorbed in frolic as to ignore entirely the great event commemorated on the “holy night” would be to carry fun too far.

Upon returning to the drawing-room (from which all suggestions of gruesomeness are removed) after supper, the lights may be turned down, and after the solemn tolling of midnight a voice from an unseen singer may thrill the auditors with the stirring notes of Adam’s “Cantique de Noel,” which seem to be the very utterance of the herald-angel. Or Gounod’s “Messe Solennelle” on piano or organ would be most impressive, and with its triumphant proclamation would make an effective climax. In and Out Door Games: With Suggestions for Entertainments, Florence Kingsland (Mrs. Burton Kingsland.) 1904

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While Mrs Kingland was a widely-published etiquette author, Mrs Daffodil wonders at her recommending such a lugubrious entertainment, which seems designed for some penitential purpose rather than for holiday pleasure.  She certainly seems anxious not to “carry fun too far.” Perhaps this was a party got up for a young ladies’ Sunday School class or a Temperance Society. Chapel-goers would certainly indignantly repudiate any dashed French “Messe,” no matter how “Solenelle.”

Then there is the matter of the burning alcohol and the electric shocks, which are more often associated with Halloween and the19th-century American fondness for painful practical jokes.

Mrs Daffodil suggests that the effective climax of a well-regulated British Christmas Eve is a Service of Lessons and Carols, followed by a selection of ghost stories told in the Provost’s rooms, accompanied by sherry and biscuits.

Since today is St. Nicholas’ Day, you might enjoy this post on the cribs of the Infant Jesus written last year for the Haunted Ohio blog.

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