FINDING OF THE LOST WILL
Under his signature Mr. Schipa tells two psychical experiences of his own. Once, when a boy, he saw the apparition of a woman with Spanish veil and fan. Months after he visited his uncle in Parma, where he had never previously been. Glancing through a photograph album he came upon one of his uncle’s lately-deceased wife, taken in Spain at the time of her marriage, and exclaimed to his mother that this was the lady he saw. It proved to be his uncle’s wife whom, as well as whose portrait, he had never seen, and it was also ascertained that the apparition appeared on the night of her death…. The remaining incident we now present. The ingenuity shown at the close of the story, in trying to account for the facts, indicates that the narrator has a critical, rationalizing tendency.
Still more interesting was another incident which happened in my early days of opera singing and shortly after my career had started. It was at Vercelli, where I made my debut in Traviata. The little inn, a very old one, where I stopped seemed steeped in gloom, which extended from the manager through the entire personnel. It developed that the man’s father had died and left no will; at least none which could be found. For generations that inn had been inherited by the eldest son, whose early life was spent in preparation for its future management.
Owing to absence of a will, the then eldest son in charge would lose it, as the place must be sold and the proceeds divided among the dead man’s heirs.
This eldest son proved a nice fellow, telling me with frank honesty and thinking I might have scruples, that his place was crowded and the sole room he could give me was the one in which his father had died. Having no foolish fears in the matter, I promptly took it, sleeping soundly the night through.
The second night proved less fortunate. Tossing restlessly for hours, at last I fell asleep, though it seemed to me only briefly, when I was awakened by a whirring noise as of some big bird circling just above my head. Thinking probably a bat had flown in through the open window, I got up, lit a candle and made search. No bat was there.
Sleeping from then on, I was again aroused in the half-dawn by repetition of the whirring noise just above my head. Only partially awake, I struggled against sleep until startled by spoken words. Sounding husky, and uttering the words singly, as if with strong effort, the voice said: “Look-on-left-wall.” The last word was almost inaudible. Whether I had dreamed this or really heard it I felt uncertain. But I got up and looked in the dim light. The left wall looked exactly like any other wall, wainscoted to the ceiling with wood panels, against which hung an old oil painting.
Smiling to myself at what seemed a freak of imagination, I climbed into bed. Presently three sharp knocks against the wooden wainscoting of the left wall decided me that a bat was blindly seeking freedom. Then I began to search more thoroughly, for I was tired of having my peace wrecked.
Perhaps the bird had been caught behind the old painting, was my next thought. Dragging a tall table across the floor, I climbed up on it, taking down the picture, which proved to be the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, gloomy and cruel, showing the bleeding wounds and piercing arrows. I placed the face of the picture against the wall. Before I climbed back to hang it up, and in the daylight which had meanwhile grown stronger, the gleam of a white paper caught my eyes. It was neatly folded and stuck at the back of the picture between a wooden stretcher and the canvas. Pulling the paper out, I took it to a window to investigate. It was the lost will, leaving the inn to the writer’s eldest son.
Frankly speaking, a cold sweat covered me. The will dropped from my hands. The voice speaking must have been that of the dead! Then reason began to assert itself. Possibly, my mind filled with the story of the will, I had dreamed those words, or, half awake, had fancied them. As for the whirring noise and knockings, they might, after all, have been made by a bat now flown.
Then, too, I considered the situation along another line. As a singer I was keenly sensitive in my response to surrounding influences, often reading the thoughts of those about me, much as the antenna of a radio receives sounds. Why might not that same sensitive response to the hidden paper have inspired me, driven on by a half-dream, to the finding of the will? At any rate, there it was.
Noted Witnesses for Psychic Occurrences, Walter Franklin Prince, University Books, 1963 : pp. 263-65
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This gripping anecdote originally appeared in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, February 12, 1928. Tito Schipa (1888-1965) was an Italian tenor who had a long and illustrious career, making his debut at Milan and eventually being engaged, in 1919, by the Chicago Opera Company as its leading lyric tenor. He also sang at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and at the San Francisco Opera. Mrs Daffodil must say that Signor Schipa sounds remarkably sensible, despite his claim of unusual sensitivity, rather than full of dramatic bravado, as tenors notoriously are. And bravo to him for braving what well could have been a bat in the dark.
For another story of a will lost and found, see The Will and the 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.