Tag Archives: ghost impersonator

The Phantom Husband: 1850s

1842 belgian mourning card woman and tomb


Anne T. Wilbur

If you should go some day to Taille, you would not fail to visit the Fontaine and Sables, where, as in the times of the patriarchs, the most beautiful women and the prettiest young girls of the neighborhood repair together at sunset, with their hands on their hips and pitchers on their heads. There, among the most alluring, and especially the most coquettish of these Burgundian Rebeccas, you will notice one whose white coif surrounds a face more alluring and more coquettish than all the others, while her short petticoat of violet stuff, and her elegant scarlet corselette, reveal a foot and a form unrivalled in the neighborhood. This is the Beautiful Vintager. She has no other name in the village, though she has already changed her name more than once; for after having been simply the daughter of the fisherman Yves, she became first Madame Pennil, and afterwards—but she is now a widow, and we must not anticipate events.

A widow at twenty-two! a rich widow! and a marriageable widow! Catherine could not fail to be courted by the handsomest young men and the wealthiest farmers of the village. So, though she sincerely regretted her poor young husband, borne to the cemetery of Taille eighteen months after their marriage, Catherine found herself obliged to forget him now, in order not to throw into despair the numerous suitors who disputed for her hand, to the detriment of all the young girls in the neighborhood. After having hesitated for several weeks between these impatient rivals, her choice was nearly fixed, according to the secret impulse of her heart, on a young widower, of the simple name of Martin, whose good mien and sincere love nobly atoned for his poverty.

“I am rich enough for two,” said the young widow gaily; “I may prefer the most tender heart to the best filled purse.”

And Martin already accompanied his future bride to church on Sundays, in the face of his disappointed rivals. But man proposes, and God disposes. This proverb applies here better than in most other cases; for Heaven opposed by a miracle the tranquil love of Martin and Catherine.

“Ah, mistress,” said one evening to the latter, her servant Marinette, returning terrified from the Fontaine-aux-Sables, “if you knew what has just happened to me!”

“What, my dear? You seem frightened.”

“With good reason, I assure you. Imagine that being left alone at the well, after the departure of the villagers, I suddenly perceived behind me, as I turned to go away—guess who?”

“O, you think only of him! But it was another, whom you have forgotten for a long time; your deceased husband, my mistress! Maitre Pennil in flesh and blood!”

Catherine uttered a cry of horror, and almost fainted.

“Are you very sure of it, Marinette?”

“I saw him as plainly as I see you, with the long beard that he had when he died, and the white shroud in which you wrapped him with your own hands. Besides, even if I had not known him, he told me who he was.”

“He spoke to you? Holy Virgin!”

“During a quarter of an hour—with a voice! a voice from another world. ‘Marinette,’ said he, ‘go and announce to Catherine that you have seen me, and that she shall soon see me in her turn!’”

“I shall see him also? Merciful Goodness!”

“Listen; it is he who speaks: ‘This evening, between eleven o’clock and midnight, I will appear to her in her chamber to inform her of my will and that of God in her approaching marriage. Let her not be terrified at this visit, it is for her interest that Heaven permits me to make it!” The phantom vanished as it finished these words; and I ran, more dead than alive, to fulfil its terrible errand.”

It will be readily imagined in what anxiety the expectation of such an event plunged poor Catherine. Convinced that her husband would return as he had said, she passed the day in prayer, and saw night arrive with terror impossible to describe. Shut up in her chamber, and with Marinette beside her, she counted the hours until morning, without seeing appear the phantom announced.

New anxieties during the day following; new precautions at the return of evening; new waiting with Marinette for the formidable hour of midnight. Suddenly at the moment the two women raised their pale faces from the bed to listen to the strokes of the midnight bell, they involuntarily drew back beneath the clothes, with a stifled cry on hearing a knock thrice repeated at the door of the chamber.

“Just Heaven!” said Catherine. “This door is shut! must we then open it for the ghost?”

“I hope not,” replied Marinette, “phantoms doubtless do not need keys to enter where they have business. But hold! hold!” added she, raising herself timidly, “it is already beside us.”

The young woman turned, not without seizing both hands of her servant, and trembled from head to foot, at sight of the spectre whose portrait Marinette had traced. It was indeed her husband, such as death had made him at his last hour, and as nearly as time and the darkness permitted her to recognize him. From the long black beard to the white shroud, nothing was wanting.

“Catherine!” said the phantom, in a voice which had nothing human, while a bony arm issuing from the winding-sheet extended solemnly towards the bed, “Catherine! thou seest that I am Jean Pennil, formerly thy husband, and now an inhabitant of the other world. I have returned to earth to announce to thee that thou mayest, without offence to my memory, replace me in thy heart by espousing another man. But, as I wish that thou shouldest be happy with my successor, I must name him who deserves the preference among thy numerous suitors. It is the good Jonas, son of the sacristan of the parish, and the most constant of our friends. He alone is worthy of thy hand and can ensure thy domestic felicity. Promise me then to choose him among all, if thou wouldst please God and thy faithful husband.”

After having listened to the commencement of these words with terror, the young woman heard the end with much more pain, and it was necessary that the summons should be repeated in an imposing manner, before she could stammer, falling back on her bed, the promise demanded.

The speaker then congratulated her on her submission, and disappeared, after having repeated that her happiness would be her reward.

“Well,” said Marinette to her mistress, as she saw her fallen back on her pillow. A sigh from Catherine was her only reply, and this sigh was followed by a thousand others until the next morning. The pious widow did not doubt the wisdom of her husband’s counsel any more than the reality of the apparition; but she could not believe that Jonas was calculated to render her happy in the bonds of a second marriage.

The son of the sacristan of Taille was indeed one of the warmest and most assiduous of her admirers; he was equal to many others in fortune and influence, and Martin himself was his inferior in these; but she did not love this Jonas; she thought him disagreeable, and believed him to be neither frank nor devout. Endowed, in fact, with a double skill in love and in business, which had acquired for him in the neighborhood the reputation of a rogue, Jonas did not possess the confidence of the young men any more than the sympathy of the young girls, and he had allowed himself to calumniate his rivals to the beautiful vintager. We may imagine, therefore, the invincible repugnance which Catherine experienced to obey the commands which her husband had returned from the other world expressly to utter in favor of Master Jonas. Unfortunately she had given her word to the phantom, who might come to remind her of it daily, or rather nightly; and in this cruel perplexity she dared neither banish the young widower nor accept the son of the sacristan. All that she could do was to gain time by telling both that she had not yet decided. But this poor resource could not last long, and a new incident took place which compelled her to decide.

“Your husband has appeared to me again,” said Marinette, on returning one evening from the fountain, “he has commissioned me to tell you that you have not obeyed the orders which God has transmitted to you by his mouth. ‘That she may no longer doubt my will and my mission,’ added he in a severe tone, “let her repair this night to my tomb at the village cemetery. I will come out of the grave before her, and will repeat again what I have already told her in her chamber.’”

Whether the widow dared not disobey this new injunction, or whether she had really some doubts on the apparition of her husband, she had the courage to be punctual, with her servant at the fearful rendezvous assigned. At eleven, while all in the village were reposing, they took together the road to the cemetery. The nigh was cold and gloomy, not a star shone in the sky, and the moon showed her timid crescent only now and then between dark clouds. Arrived at the gate of the funeral enclosure the two women paused, chilled with terror, and asked themselves, pressing closely together, whether they had courage to proceed. The spectacle which met their eyes might have terrified persons more intrepid than they. The cemetery lay extended in the obscurity, with no other, visible limits than the white grottoes excavated here and there in the dark walls. The floating foliage of the willows and cypresses veiled and uncovered by turns their fantastic spots, so that it seemed as if a multitude of ghosts were flitting in the distance. In the midst rose the charnel-house, the last place of deposit of the skulls and bones which the earth yielded to the gravedigger when there was no longer upon them food for worms. The pale gleam of a funeral lamp shone through a bronze grating, casting around sinister rays on the green turf furrowed with new graves, or the little crosses with white inscriptions, and on the sombre squares of box ornamented with emblematic flowers. No sound disturbed the silence of this fearful spot, except the sighing of the wind among the leaves, the rustling of the latter against the tombstones, the buzzing of an insect on the grass, and at a little distance, and at regular intervals, the scream of an osprey on an isolated tree.

What was most frightful for those females was that they must traverse the whole enclosure to reach the tomb of Pennil. They therefore hesitated a long time before resolving to go on, and the servant was obliged to encourage the mistress, in order to revive her resolution. Then they resumed their walk, and stumbling at every step over graves, turning at the slightest sound, supporting each other with their arms and voices, they reached, breathless, the termination of their fearful walk.

“I am here, Pennil,” said the young woman, piously kneeling before the black cross on which was traced the name of her husband.

“It is well!” replied a subterranean voice. “I am here also!”

In fact, the ground was immediately agitated, and opened to give passage to a body; and the same ghost which Catherine had already seen, rose at once before her. It shook its shroud thrice, fixed on the widow a sparkling glance, and commenced, according to its promise, to repeat the things it had said in her chamber. But scarcely had it pronounced a few words than it stopped and started, as if the terror it was imposing had suddenly reached itself. Involuntarily imitating the movements of the phantom, the two females looked around in their turn, and immediately fell, with a shrill scream, at sight of the horrible vision which froze them with terror.

Three spectres more frightful than the first, had risen from three neighboring tombs. Three others, more monstrous still, appeared at the same instant in an opposite direction, then three others followed, at the extremity of the cemetery. Nine menacing cries resounded at once, as many arms were extended from the ghosts, with a threatening gesture, and, darting at the same signal, with unanimous imprecations, ran together towards the one which still stood on the grave.

“Impious wretch!” cried a voice.

“Profaner of our tombs!” added another.

“Cowardly impostor, and sacrilegious monster!” cried a third and fourth. “Thou shalt expiate thy crime, and the dead will avenge themselves!” repeated the others in chorus.

The spectre thus attacked—strange circumstance!—began to tremble from head to foot in its shroud, and quickly forgot everything to attempt to flee. But seized and arrested at the first step, it could only roll on the ground and ask for mercy.

“O ye dead!” it cried, with clasped hands, and in a tone which was no longer sepulchral, “O ye dead! pardon me, I entreat! in pity pardon me!” “No,” replied the phantoms, “no pity! no pardon | Thou hast violated the tomb and the shroud; the tomb and the shroud shall be thy punishment!” And, without listening to the cries of the unfortunate man, they wrapped him in his own shroud, and fastened him in it so closely in every direction that his most convulsive efforts could not succeed in disengaging him from it. When this useless struggle had exhausted his last strength, and the nine spectres had finished their pitiless work, two of them went to the charnel-house to get the spade and pickaxe of the gravedigger, and began to dig the earth, while the others were preparing to deposit their victim in it. But, at the moment they were about to fill it up, the two women, who had until then remained petrified with horror, at last found in this very horror strength to flee from the sight of this frightful execution.

On the morrow, at daybreak, all the inhabitants of the village passed in terror before the great door of the church. A body was deposited there, immovable and wrapped in a white sheet.

For a long time no one dared approach, each persuading himself that it was a dead body taken from the cemetery. But at last some young people, less timid, disengaged the shroud from its fastenings, and the morning air striking on a face that had nothing cadaverous about it, restored to himself a poor fellow, in whom they immediately recognized Jonas, the son of the sacristan.

Universal hootings pursued to his dwelling the unfortunate ghost, in the simple apparel of a dead man, and the telegraphic tongue of the gossips circulating the adventure from mouth to mouth, everybody knew in less than half an hour for a league round, the fantastic receipt of Master Jonas to ensure the dowry of rich widows.

As for the phantoms who had so cruelly chastised him, the sacrilegious fellow long believed, with all the superstitious of the place, that they were genuine ghosts; but Martin, his happy rival, at length made known the truth.

Some indiscreet words of the beautiful vintager, at the first appearance of the phantom, had led Martin to watch and discover the wonderful invention of Jonas, and he secretly arranged with eight young fellows of the village the trick which was to unmask the impostor.

Six weeks afterwards, Catherine Pennil became Catherine Martin, and the adroit Marinette having proved that her accomplice had commenced by being her lover, compelled him to pay for her services by espousing her.

Ballou’s Monthly Magazine October 1855: Vol. II. No. 4 Whole No. 10. pp. 314-317

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil does so enjoy a happy ending, especially one involving ghosts, tombs, and shrouds. It was kind of the “phantoms” to let Jonas live, although one expects that his was an unhappy existence unless he relocated to try his wiles on the widows of some other village. The text is ambiguous about Marinette’s role in this little farce. If Jonas was her lover, why would she agree to help him marry her mistress?

Mrs Daffodil has written before of a jealous husband who decided to “return from the grave” to trap his “widow” with a lover. It had a much grimmer outcome.


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.

The Spectre Wedding: 1820s

the oracle 1919 ghosts


Mr. Martin Dupont was a Justice of the Peace in the little town of Marlburg. He had been elected to the office at the close of the war of 1812, and had acted in his present capacity for nearly nine years. Men of Mr. Dupont’s type were very common in those days, and even now one does not have to search far to find one of these self-complacent, pompous gentlemen, who delight in winning admiration from their associates, who always have at their tongue’s end a great many stories in which they played the leading part, but who are, nevertheless, very superstitious, so much so, indeed, that a glimpse of the moon over the left shoulder, or a howling dog, has power to make them melancholy for a week.

Having failed to secure for himself as large a share of this world’s goods as he had wished, Mr. Dupont was fully resolved that his two children, Henry and Margaret, should not be lacking in wealth. As for his son, he very wisely concluded that a good education, added to his natural abilities, would secure for him a place in the world: and already Henry was showing the wisdom of the plan, and by his rapid advancement in business was more than fulfilling his father’s expectations. It had always been Mr. Dupont’s desire that his daughter should marry some rich man, but Margaret had fallen in love, very foolishly, according to her father’s idea, with the principal of the Marlburg High School.

Charles Foster had several times pleaded his suit in vain before Mr. Dupont. There was no fault in the young man, Mr. Dupont rather grudgingly admitted, except that all he had to depend upon was his salary, but still no man should presume to become his son-in-law who had not money enough to support his daughter in better style than that in which she was then living, He liked the school teacher very well as a friend, but as a son-in-law that was quite another matter.

Nevertheless Charles and Margaret did not despair of their cause, although Mr. Dupont was seemingly immovable. The thought of an elopement was banished by them both as being dishonorable, and as no other plan seemed practicable, they very wisely resolved to wait until some kind fate should come to their aid. This, then, was the condition of affairs when our story begins.

Mr. Dupont’s duties as Justice of the Peace did not confine his law practice to Marlburg, but very frequently he was called away to attend various lawsuits in neighboring towns and hamlets, and it so happened that at this particular time he was engaged in a case of some considerable importance in an adjoining town. On account of the nearness of the place, it was Mr. Dupont’s custom to drive his own horse back and forth and to spend his nights at home.

One night, on account of an unusual press of business, he was obliged to remain beyond his ordinary time of leaving, and after the work was completed he yielded to the urgent invitation of his client to chat for a few moments. As they puffed away at the choice Havanas, they began to tell each other of curious exciting adventures and wonderful experiences. Time slipped away so rapidly that it was after 10 o’clock before Mr. Dupont suddenly remembered that a seven-mile drive lay between him and his home. Hastily bidding his friend good-by, he started for the hotel stable to get his horse.

The weather had changed while the two gentlemen had been chatting, and now the ominous stillness and the cloudy sky admonished Mr. Dupont that, if he wished to get home before the rain began to fall, he must hasten. Hastily throwing a quarter to the sleepy hostler, he sprang into his buggy and set out on his homeward way.

The road home was a lonely one; houses were few and far between, and a few miles out of Marlburg some lonely woods lined the road on either side, and adjoining the woods was a graveyard. As Mr. Dupont drove on into the darkness he began to become nervous, the weird stories that he had just been hearing kept flashing through his mind, a great many wrong deeds of his life came before him, magnified by the darkness and solitude, and among other things he began to wonder if he was doing just right in refusing his consent to his daughter’s marriage. In this frame of mind he approached the woods; involuntarily he tried to quicken his horse’s pace, but the darkness and the low murmurings of thunder seemed to have affected the horse too, and the sagacious brute tried constantly to slacken his pace. How lonely it seemed there, no houses, no living being–nothing but the dead in the graveyard beyond. Suddenly the, horse stopped and snorted. Mr. Dupont saw two white figures suddenly dart into the road; one stood beside his horse, and the other beckoned him to descend from his wagon. His hair rose, and his tongue seemed glued to his mouth. The silence was terrible. If those white beings would only speak; but no sound came from them. At last in desperation he stammered out:

“Who are you, and what do you mean by stopping me here in this way” “We are spirits of the departed dead,” a sepulchral voice replied, “and we have need of your services; descend from your vehicle, do as we bid you, and on the word of a ghost you shall not be harmed.”

The terrified lawyer descended and stood by the speaker’s side, while the other ghost tied his horse to a tree and joined them.

“Yield yourself entirely to us and you shall be safe,” said the spokesman. “You must needs walk far and must allow us to blindfold your eyes, in order that you may not discover before your time the way to the land of the shades. No more words must be spoken. Obey.”

Mr. Dupont was so terrified that he could not speak, and in silence allowed a cloth to be bound over his eyes; then, escorted by his ghostly companions he began to walk. It seemed to him that he would never be allowed to stop; seconds seemed ages; every attempt of his to speak was checked by impatient groans of his guides. At last, after walking half around the earth, as it seemed to him, he realized that he was being piloted up some steps and by the feeling of warmth he knew that he had left the open air.

“The Justice of Peace may be seated,” said the ghost who had done all the talking. Mr. Dupont sat down and the cloth was quickly removed from his eyes, revealing to his astonished gaze the interior of a room dimly lighted by wax candles. Every side was hung with black curtains, and on four black-covered stools facing him sat four white-robed spectres, while beside him stood another dressed like his companions. Before he had time to more than wonder at his strange surroundings, the spokesman began:

“Mr. Dupont, we have a solemn duty for you to perform. You are a Justice of the Peace in the world of the living, and a man dear to us on account of your noble life; therefore are you here. We have in these abodes of the dead two young shades recently come from the other world. Each of those died of a broken heart because a stern parent forbade them to marry What do you think sir, of such a parent as that?” Mr. Dupont wiggled about uneasily in his chair, and at last said: “I think, good shade, it was very wrong of him.”

“We knew you would,” resumed the ghost, “because you are a kind man. and one who loves his children. Now do we understand you to say that if the poor girl had been your child it would never have happened?” “Surely it never would,” replied the frightened Mr. Dumont.

“We have not misjudged you, then,” replied the shade, while the other four ghosts nodded approvingly. “We have summoned you in order that you may unite them in wedlock, so that in this world at least they may be happy. Such a marriage as this is not common among us, so we brought you here, a good justice of the peace, rather than a minister, who might have been shocked at these proceedings. You can marry them just as well as a clergyman. Now, sir, will you oblige us by marrying these two shades? If you will consent, you may depart at once to your home. Will you?”

Marry the two shades? Of course he would: anything to get away from this terrible spot. And so, without the precaution of stipulating his fee, he stammered out:

“Oh, yes, surely, anything you wish.”

No sooner had he given his consent than one of the black curtains was drawn aside and two other beings in white entered and stood before him. The other shades rose, and Mr. Dupont, not wishing to be the only one to keep his seat, rose too. The good justice had never married shades; he did not know quite how to proceed. They looked exactly alike; he did not know which was the bride and which the groom. He wished he were well out of it, and the only way to gain his wish was to proceed quickly with the ceremony, and so he began at once. In some way he managed get through, although he could not have told afterward how it was done. He turned to the bride when he said: “Do you take this woman to be your wedded wife?” and to the groom when he should have addressed the bride; but at length, much to his relief, the “I do” was said by each, and the Justice finished with the “I pronounce you man and wife.”

But all was not yet over. No sooner had the words left his lips, than one of the beings before him threw aside its ghostly robe, and there, in a beautiful wedding gown, stood his daughter, Margaret. Mr. Dupont started to speak, but he only gasped, for around him stood the other ghosts; they too had thrown aside their robes and stood revealed. Could he believe his eyes? Yes, there was no mistake, he had married his daughter to Charles Foster, in the presence of his wife, his son, and three family friends; and the Justice knew enough of law to realize that the ceremony was binding. The black curtains, too, were torn down, and there they all stood in his own parlor.

There was no help for it, consequently Mr. Dupont submitted, and someway all his friends thought that he was very glad that the joke was played upon him; at any rate, in later days, as he trotted his grandchildren on his knees he never tired of telling over and over again into their wondering ears the tale of the spectre wedding. Amherst Literary Monthly.

The Garden City [KS] Telegram 15 October 1892: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mr Dupont must have been heavily under the influence of those weird stories not to have noticed the earthly actions of the “ghosts” such as taking care to tie up his horse and the nonsensical explanation for the blindfold. Did he not recall that in Heaven there is no marriage nor giving in marriage? Were there no earthly boots visible beneath those robes? And, even draped in black and lit by candles, why did the quaking gentleman not recognise his own parlour?

Such is the power of imagination. Mrs Daffodil and that ghastly person over at Haunted Ohio have written about persons who were convinced that they were marrying an actual spirit. See A Wealthy Widow Weds a Ghost, Girl Weds a Ghost, and Too Much Prudence–Spirit Weddings.

Justices of the Peace seemed to be ready targets for ghostly clients. Mrs Daffodil has written before about a haunted JP, who married a genuine ghostly couple.

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.

Something Nameless, but Unutterably Awful: 1868

misty drapery ghost of woman and man



“Wanted, sir—a patient.”

It was in the early days of my professional career, when patients were scarce and fees scarcer; and though I was in the act of sitting down to my chop, and had promise! myself a glass of steaming punch afterwards, in honour of the Christmas season, I hurried instantly into my surgery.

I entered briskly; but no sooner did I catch sight of the figure standing leaning against the counter than I started back with a strange feeling of horror which for the life of me I could not comprehend.

Never shall I forget the ghastliness of that face—the white horror stamped upon every feature — the agony which seemed to sink the very eyes beneath the contracted brows; it was awful to me to behold, accustomed as I was to scenes of terror.

“You seek advice,” I began, with some hesitation.

“No; I am not ill.”

“You require then—”

“Hush!” he interrupted, approaching more nearly, and dropping his already low murmur to a mere whisper. “I believe you are not rich. Would you be willing to earn a thousand pounds?”

A thousand pounds! His words seemed to burn my very ears.

“I should be thankful, if I could do so honestly,” I replied with dignity. “What is the service required of me?”

A peculiar look of intense horror passed over the white face before me; but the blue-black lips answered firmly, “To attend a death-bed.”

“A thousand pounds to attend a death-bed! Where am I to go, then ?—whose is it?”


The voice in which this was said sounded so hollow and distant, that involuntarily I shrank back. “Yours! What nonsense! You are not a dying man. You are pale, but you appear perfectly healthy. You—”

“Hush!” he interrupted; “I know all this. You cannot be more convinced of my physical health than I am myself; yet I know that before the clock tolls the first hour after midnight I shall be a dead man.”


He shuddered slightly; but stretching out his hand commandingly, motioned me to be silent. “I am but too well informed of what I affirm,” he said quietly; “I have received a mysterious summons from the dead. No mortal aid can avail me. I am as doomed as the wretch on whom the judge has passed sentence. I do not come either to seek your advice or to argue the matter with you, but simply to buy your services. I offer you a thousand pounds to pass the night in my chamber, and witness the scene which takes place. The sum may appear to you extravagant. But I have no further need to count the cost of any gratification; and the spectacle you will have to witness is no common sight of horror.”

The words, strange as they were, were spoken calmly enough; but as the last sentence dropped slowly from the livid lips, an expression of such wild horror again passed over the stranger’s face, that, in spite of the immense fee, I hesitated to answer.

“You fear to trust to the promise of a dead man! See here, and be convinced,” he exclaimed eagerly; and the next instant, on the counter between us lay a parchment document; and following the indication of that white muscular hand, I read the words, “And to Mr. Frederick Kead, of 14 High-street, Alton, I bequeath the sum of one thousand pounds for certain services rendered to me.”

“I have had that will drawn up within the last twenty-four hours, and I signed it an hour ago, in the presence of competent witnesses. I am prepared, you see. Now, do you accept my offer, or not?”

My answer was to walk across the room and take down my hat, and then lock the door of the surgery communicating with the house.

It was a dark, icy-cold night, and somehow the courage and determination which the sight of my own name in connection with a thousand pounds had given me, flagged considerably as I found myself hurried along through the silent darkness by a man whose death-bed I was about to attend.

He was grimly silent; but as his hand touched mine, in spite of the frost, it felt like a burning coal.

On we went—tramp, tramp, through the snow—on, on, till even I grew weary, and at length on my appalled ear struck the chimes of a church-clock; whilst close at hand I distinguished the snowy hillocks of a churchyard.

Heavens! was this awful scene of which I was to be the witness to take place veritably amongst the dead?

“Eleven,” groaned the doomed man. “Gracious God! but two hours more, and that ghostly messenger will bring the summons. Come, come; for mercy’s sake, let us hasten.”

There was but a short road separating us now from a wall which surrounded a large mansion, and along this we hastened until we reached a small door.

Passing through this, in a few minutes we were stealthily ascending the private staircase to a splendidly-furnished apartment, which left no doubt of the wealth of its owner.

All was intensely silent, however, through the house; and about this room in particular there was a stillness that, as I gazed around, struck me as almost ghastly.

My companion glanced at the clock on the mantelshelf, and sank into a large chair by the side of the fire with a shudder. “Only an hour and a half longer,” he muttered. “Great heaven! I thought I had more fortitude. This horror unmans me.” Then, in a fiercer tone, and clutching my arm, he added, “Ha! you mock me, you think me mad; but wait till you see—wait till you see!”

I put my hand on his wrist; for there was now a fever in his sunken eyes which checked the superstitious chill which had been gathering over me, and made me hope that, after all, my first suspicion was correct, and that my patient was but the victim of some fearful hallucination.

“Mock you!” I answered soothingly. “Far from it; I sympathise intensely with you, and would do much to aid you. You require sleep. Lie down, and leave me to watch.”

He groaned, but rose, and began throwing off his clothes; and, watching my opportunity, I slipped a sleeping-powder, which I had managed to put in my pocket before leaving the surgery, into the tumbler of claret that stood beside him.

The more I saw, the more I felt convinced that it was the nervous system of my patient which required my attention; and it was with sincere satisfaction I saw him drink the wine, and then stretch himself on the luxurious bed.

“Ha,” thought I, as the clock struck twelve, and instead of a groan, the deep breathing of the sleeper sounded through the room; “you won’t receive any summons to-night, and I may make myself comfortable.”

Noiselessly, therefore, I replenished the fire, poured myself out a large glass of wine, and drawing the curtain so that the firelight should not disturb the sleeper, I put myself in a position to follow his example.

How long I slept I know not, but suddenly I aroused with a start and as ghostly a thrill of horror as ever I remember to have felt in my life.

Something—what, I knew not—seemed near, something nameless, but unutterably awful.

I gazed round.

The fire emitted a faint blue glow, just sufficient to enable me to see that the room was exactly the same as when I fell asleep, but that the long hand of the clock wanted but five minutes of the mysterious hour which was to be the death-moment of the “summoned” man!

Was there anything in it, then?—any truth in the strange story he had told?

The silence was intense.

I could not even hear a breath from the bed; and I was about to rise and approach, when again that awful horror seized me, and at the same moment my eye fell upon the mirror opposite the door, and I saw—

Great heaven! that awful Shape—that ghastly mockery of what had been humanity—was it really a messenger from the buried, quiet dead?

It stood there in visible death-clothes; but the awful face was ghastly with corruption, and the sunken eyes gleamed forth a green glassy glare which seemed a veritable blast from the infernal fires below.

To move or utter a sound in that hideous presence was impossible; and like a statue I sat and saw that horrid Shape move slowly towards the bed.

What was the awful scene enacted there, I know not. I heard nothing, except a low stifled agonised groan; and I saw the shadow of that ghastly messenger bending over the bed.

Whether it was some dreadful but wordless sentence its breathless lips conveyed as it stood there, I know not; but for an instant the shadow of a claw-like hand, from which the third finger was missing, appeared extended over the doomed man’s head; and then, as the clock struck one clear silvery stroke, it fell, and a wild shriek rang through the room—a death-shriek.

I am not given to fainting, but I certainly confess that the next ten minutes of my existence was a cold blank; and even when I did manage to stagger to my feet, I gazed round, vainly endeavouring to understand the chilly horror which still possessed me.

Thank God! the room was rid of that awful presence—I saw that; so, gulping down some wine, I lighted a wax-taper and staggered towards the bed. Ah, how I prayed that, after all, I might have been dreaming, and that my own excited imagination had but conjured up some hideous memory of the dissecting-room!

But one glance was sufficient to answer that.

No! The summons had indeed been given and answered.

I flashed the light over the dead face, swollen, convulsed still with the death-agony; but suddenly I shrank back.

Even as I gazed, the expression of the face seemed to change: the blackness faded into a deathly whiteness; the convulsed features relaxed, and, even as if the victim of that dread apparition still lived, a sad solemn smile stole over the pale lips.

I was intensely horrified, but still I retained sufficient self-consciousness to be struck professionally by such a phenomenon.

Surely there was something more than supernatural agency in all this?

Again I scrutinised the dead face, and even the throat and chest; but, with the exception of a tiny pimple on one temple beneath a cluster of hair, not a mark appeared. To look at the corpse, one would have believed that this man had indeed died by the visitation of God, peacefully, whilst sleeping.

How long I stood there I know not, but time enough to gather my scattered senses and to reflect that, all things considered, my own position would be very unpleasant if I was found thus unexpectedly in the room of the mysteriously dead man.

So, as noiselessly as I could, I made my way out of the house. No one met me on the private staircase; the little door opening into the road was easily unfastened; and thankful indeed was I to feel again the fresh wintry air as I hurried along that road by the churchyard.

There was a magnificent funeral soon in that church; and it was said that the young widow of the buried man was inconsolable; and then rumours got abroad of a horrible apparition which had been seen on the night of the death; and it was whispered the young widow was terrified, and insisted upon leaving her splendid mansion.

I was too mystified with the whole affair to risk my reputation by saying what I knew, and I should have allowed my share in it to remain for ever buried in oblivion, had I not suddenly heard that the widow, objecting to many of the legacies in the last will of her husband, intended to dispute it on the score of insanity, and then there gradually arose the rumour of his belief in having received a mysterious summons.

On this I went to the lawyer, and sent a message to the lady, that, as the last person who had attended her husband, I undertook to prove his sanity; and I besought her to grant me an interview, in which I would relate as strange and horrible a story as ear had ever heard. The same evening I received an invitation to go to the mansion. I was ushered immediately into a splendid room, and there, standing before the fire, was the most dazzlingly beautiful young creature I had ever seen.

She was very small, but exquisitely made; had it not been for the dignity of her carriage, I should have believed her a mere child. With a stately bow she advanced, but did not speak.”I come on a strange and painful errand,” I began, and then I started, for I happened to glance full into her eyes, and from them down to the small right hand grasping the chair. The wedding-ring was on that hand!

“I conclude you are the Mr. Kead who requested permission to tell me some absurd ghost-story, and whom my late husband mentions here.” And as she spoke she stretched out her left hand towards something—but what I knew not, for my eyes were fixed on that hand.

Horror! White and delicate it might be, but it was shaped like a claw, and the third finger was missing!

One sentence was enough after that. “Madam, all I can tell you is, that the ghost who summoned your husband was marked by a singular deformity. The third finger of the left hand was missing,” I said sternly; and the next instant I had left that beautiful sinful presence.

That will was never disputed. The next morning, too, I received a check for a thousand pounds; and the next news I heard of the widow was, that she had herself seen that awful apparition, and had left the mansion immediately.

Belgravia, Vol. 4, Mary Elizabeth Graddon, 1868

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One wonders what this gentleman did to arouse the enmity of his dainty wife. Even a husband with a private staircase leading to his bed-chamber is innocent until proven guilty. And, the last time Mrs Daffodil examined the criminal statutes of Great Britain (for one likes to stay abreast of  legal developments) the penalty for a gentleman proven guilty of infidelity or intemperance is still not death. Surely a separation agreement with adequate maintenance including a London townshouse and a pied-a-terre in Paris would be a pleasanter outcome than a conviction for mariticide. But, of course, that would make for a far less atmospheric Gothic narrative. The lady was unfortunate that her late husband chose such an observant death-bed watcher, although Mrs Daffodil notes that she got away with it, at least for the present. One suspects that she will try the same game with her next husband… The amateur never knows quite when to stop.

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 Widow and the Ghost: 1911

The Lure, John Byam Liston Shaw. A young widow is distracted by Cupid.

The Lure, John Byam Liston Shaw. A young widow is distracted by Cupid.


Lawrence Alfred Clay

Mrs. George Armstrong, relict of George Armstrong of the village of Brunswick, had passed her year of mourning and there were gossips in the village mean enough to say that she was in the market again. Of course they did her injustice. No widow is ever in the market. If it so happens that women contract a second marriage, it is a matter of surprise to them. They didn’t plan to and how they came to do it is a matter to puzzle them.

It was true that the widow Armstrong was looked upon with favour by several men. There was the piano tuner that came down from Cleveland every two or three months on his rounds of the villages. She had no piano, but he called and discussed grand opera with her. He had long hair and wild eyes and dandruff on his coat collar, and he had thrown out hints that his artistic soul longed for a mate.

Then there was the sewing machine man. He had short hair, tame eyes and no dandruff, but he had his good points. He had committed pages and pages of Shakespeare to memory and between the way he could spout them and repair a sewing machine was something to make a widow sit up and think.

And then there were the village butcher, the lightning rod man, the druggist over at Liverpool and the man who came twice a year to sell the farmers fertilizers and labor saving machinery.

For not being on the market, and for a woman who did not in the least encourage the flattery of men, the widow Armstrong was well provided for. The last, but not least, of her admirers was the village carpenter. His name was Phillips, and he was a bachelor. He was a coy man and a shy man. Of course he couldn’t always run away when he saw a woman coming, but he talked as little as he could and got away as soon as he could. He hadn’t married simply because he was shy.

It was when the widow Armstrong laid off her weeds that a great event happened in the life of Mr. Phillips. He found himself thinking of her—not thinking whether she wanted a summer kitchen built on to her house, or the picket fence repaired, but of her as a prospective wife. He thought and blushed. He thought and dodged. He thought and felt chills. It was no use to banish the thoughts! Once they got a foothold they stuck by him like a porous plaster. But what could the poor man do? There he was, born shy and coy, and the widow might marry 20 times over before he would dare to tell her of his love. He did brace himself to walk by her house and to bow to her, and to sit in the pew behind her at church, but at the same time he realized that widows are not won that way. He even went so far as to put a hinge on her gate and make her a press-board gratis, but was that courting and telling her that he could not live without her?

And all the while Mr. Phillips was loving and hoping and despairing, he was hearing from the gossips how this or that man was laying siege to the widow’s heart. He just groaned as he listened to the talk. Then the hour came to him when it must be either suicide or a bright idea. The bright idea came just as he was selecting a rope and a limb.

The widow Armstrong had had a pleasant day of it. The butcher, the piano tuner and the lightning rod man had all called the same afternoon and laid their hearts at her feet. She hadn’t refused and trampled on them—oh, no! She had simply said that she felt honoured, and if in the far-distant future—years and years in the future—should she desire to marry again—

They had to be content with this. No wise widow ever turns a man down so completely as to leave him without a hope to cling to. Mrs. Armstrong went to bed—happy and fearless, but at midnight she was awakened by sounds that made her sit up in bed and gasp for breath. Her bedroom window looked out on the garden and the sash was raised.

“Widow Armstrong,” said a voice that was certainly not human, “I am here to warn you!”

She looked out. Under the apple tree stood a ghost. It was none of the vapory ghosts that wave forward and backward over the ground, but a solid-looking ghost in white who stood firmly on his feet.

“Widow,” continued the voice, “beware of the piano tuner! He is doomed to go mad! Beware of the butcher! He will slay you as you sleep, if you marry him! Beware of the lightning rod mad. He will get your last dollar and then abandon you! Beware! Beware! Beware!”

And then Mr. Ghost retreated noiselessly and gave the frightened widow a chance to get her breath. All the rest of the night she lay with her head covered up and expecting the summons any moment, and she was a happy woman when the roosters began crowing for daylight.

Did she rush off to tell the neighbors as soon as she had eaten her breakfast? Not a bit of it. If she had told of the ghost she must have repeated the ghost’s words. She wasn’t going to tell of those three offers of marriage and set other tongues to wagging. And before noon came she began to doubt the ghost. She went out to the apple tree and she found tracks on the soil—tracks of boots, or she didn’t know tracks when she saw them. Some one had wrapped himself in a sheet, and some one had held a peach stone in his mouth while he talked.

When a man trifles with a widow he doesn’t know what he is going to get. When this widow had decided that she was being guyed by some one she went across the street and borrowed a shotgun to shoot cats with and paid a boy ten cents to load it with powder and salt and show her how to fire it.

 No ghost came that night or the next. On the third day the Liverpool druggist drove over and eased his palpitating heart by a confession and a proposal. His tracks were hardly cold when in came the sewing machine man. He must tell her of his love or perish. He was permitted to tell. The fertilizer man had meant to be first, but came in third, being unavoidably detained by  Deacon Robinson. He also loved and had to tell of it or run the risk of an explosion.

To each of the last three the widow returned the same answer as to the first three. Six proposals in a week and six men going away fairly happy when it is figured right down, any widow is a blessing to the land.

Midnight again. The widow Armstrong sleeps. The shogun leans against the wall. The ghost comes across the garden with noiseless feet. Cats take one brief glance and fly for their lives.

“Widow, I am here to warn you again! Do not marry the sewing machine man! “Do not marry the drug store man! “Do not marry the fertilizer man!”

 The widow slipped softly out of bed. There stood the ghost under the apple tree. He had the same white sheet around him—same peach stone in his mouth! She reached for the old gun, and as the ghost turned to be swallowed up in the night, she fired. There was a yell and a fall. The ghost had been salted. Boots and legs kicked the air—the sheet was thrown off, and the next minute the widow was out door and bending over a man assaying,:

“Why—why—it’s Mr. Phillips! Why—why—what on earth!”

“I—I didn’t want you to marry anybody but me!” he exclaimed as he struggled to his knees.

“But I didn’t know you cared for me!”

“But I do!”

“Well, come in and sit down, and we’ll see how badly you are hurt.”

“But I can’t—can’t sit down!”

“Then come over tomorrow and stand up and tell me you want me for a wife and maybe I’ll say yes!”

Muskogee [OK] County Republican 23 March  1911: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has heard Mr Thomas, the gamekeeper, speak of warning off poachers with rock-salt-filled shotgun shells. They cause painful injury, but are not lethal. One might say that the love-stricken Mr Phillips was the victim of a salt with a deadly weapon.


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.