Tag Archives: Italy

“A nasty, wicked, malicious face:” 1847


A Mysterious Experience Countess of Munster

Having been much gratified at the notice which has been taken of my short story, entitled “A True Ghost Story,” which was published in the last July Number of The Strand Magazine, and even more so at the many letters I have received concerning it, from unknown friends, who, one and all, seemed struck by the stamp of truth which they kindly assert is impressed upon the narrative, I have ventured to offer to the public another curious experience, which, though shorter and less sensational than the “True Ghost Story,” is, I beg to assert, equally true and, to my mind, equally mysterious.

In the year 1847, we —that is, my mother, my step-father, myself, and my younger sister —were living in Dresden. We had come to that quaint and picturesque-town a year before, for German masters, and with the object of generally finishing our education— that is, my sister’s and mine; for we were very young then–I being just sixteen, and my sister a year younger.

We lived at the Hôtel d’Europe, in the Alt-Markt—an hotel which, I am told, still exists. We occupied the first floor, and my sister and I slept together in a room at the back of the hotel, which looked into a courtyard, round which all the bedrooms were built.

It was a great amusement to my sister and myself at that time to sit at our sitting-room windows and watch the country-people, in curious costumes, who, twice a week, tramped miles and miles to the market, carrying thither all kinds of commodities, and incommodities, too, one would think—for one day we saw a peasant woman carrying a dead bear (!) in her chiffonnier-basket on her back, while her husband walked, quietly smoking, by her side.

The articles for sale in the market were not always very pleasing to the olfactory organs, for sauer-kraut (in pails ) and roe-deer fleisch were there! Mercifully, both articles were very popular among the peasants, and were soon sold out, in fact, quite early in the day. One night I had a dream. I did not remember the next morning (nor could I ever remember afterwards !) what I dreamt. I could only bring to mind, with a shudder, a Man’s Face, and do what I would, I could not forget it! When I rose from my bed in the morning, my sister (we were most tenderly attached) remarked I looked very pale; and she asked, was I ill? I answered no, but that I had had a bad dream.

“What did you dream about?” asked my sister.

“I don’t know!  I can only remember a Man’s Face.

“What was it like, to frighten you so?”

“Well! It was like—a Man’s Face. A nasty, wicked, malicious face. ”

“But, bless me! Child! Who was it like? Come! Tell me, darling! What did you dream about it?”

“I can’t recollect ”

“Oh !” quoth my sister, impatiently, “what a dull, stupid, uninteresting dream ‘” Nothing more was said about it then, and the day’s avocations put it out of my head for the time; but that night, and two or three following nights, I dreamt again and again of the Man’s Face—and told my sister so.

Soon afterwards we left Dresden. There were few railroads in Germany at that time, so we travelled in our own carriage, accompanied by a fourgon for the luggage, in which vehicle the servants rode.

On one never-to-be-forgotten day we crossed the beautiful Stelvio and entered smiling Italy!

That was a pleasant time, and calculated, one would have thought, to charm away all grisly fancies. We visited most of the principal Italian towns — Milan, Venice, Florence, in which latter place we remained for a month before settling in Naples, to which enchanting spot we travelled by sea from Leghorn.

At Naples we lived on the Chiaja, our abode there (No. 127) being known as the “Casa Corby,” it being the property of an English lady, a Mrs. Corby. We lived on the Primo Piano, and we had a charming balcony, looking out upon the Chiaja (with the Villa Reale Gardens beyond), whence we could (after the approved dolce far niente fashion) watch the Neapolitan élite driving, riding, and otherwise disporting itself.

In those days, everything English was much the fashion among the Neapolitan aristocracy; the carriages, horses, and even the coachmen were generally English; and one afternoon, as I was sitting working on the balcony, I beheld the greatest novelty I had yet seen, in the form of an English four-in-hand. It was coming at a great pace towards us. My sister chanced at that moment to have gone, for some reason, into the drawing-room, so, calling her hastily, I said: “Make haste, dear, or it will have passed, and you won’t see it!”

“See what?” from within.

“A four-in-hand! Do come!’

She dashed into the balcony, and we both stood eagerly watching, as the vehicle came clattering by.

As we leant over the balcony, the driver, evidently a gentleman, leant forward in a marked manner, and looked steadily at us.

“What a horrible face!’ exclaimed my sister, and as she spoke she looked round at me.

“Darling !” she said, tenderly, “what is the matter ?”

But I had nearly fainted, and a cold, sick shudder came over me. “Oh M__ ,” I ejaculated, “that is the Man’s Face in my dream!”

I was so terrified that we both left the balcony, and for the rest of the day I was cold, and deadly sick. I did not, however, dream of the face that night, nor did I see it again in Naples, although I sat every afternoon in the balcony, conscious of a shrinking fascination in the thought that I might do so!

After stopping some months in Naples we went to Paris, where I was permitted (being by that time seventeen years of age) to mix a little in society.

Amongst the English residents in Paris that year, who were very hospitable, and entertained largely, were Mr. and Mrs. Tudor. The Tudors were rich and very kindly, and even now the memory of their hospitalities is kept green in the French capital.

I saw the face countess of munster

One night they gave a ball, and as I was standing by my mother, waiting and looking eagerly for my partner amid the crowd, I saw – at the other end of the room—the Face which had so strangely haunted me! The eyes were watching me, and the man approached me, as though were his one aim and object I felt faint and very cold, and I saw Mr. Tudor coming towards line.

“The Duca di ­­­__ is anxious to know you.”

I scarcely had the presence of mind to bow. I heard the man say something about a dance, but I turned to my mother and said:

“Mamma, take me away! I am ill!” I could not walk unassisted out of the room, but Mr. Tudor gave me his arm, and as we were waiting for the carriage, I saw the man still looking at me with evident amusement; and I heard Mr. Tudor tell my mother that it was a pity I would not dance with the Duke—that he was the head of one of the oldest Italian families—that he had been much struck by me, and that he was very anxious to obtain an English wife.

But I never saw the man again, either in dreamland or in everyday life; we were told, however, that he started for England the next day, and soon afterwards we heard of his death. He was succeeded by his son, who also, eventually, developed a wish for, and obtained, a beautiful English wife, whom he treated, we were told, with but scant kindness.

The Strand Magazine, Vol. 11, January 1896: pp. 113-115

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Ah, that well-known stage melodrama villain, “The Duca di blank.” Thick moustachios, narrow eyes under lowering brows, an arrogant nose, and an indefinable aura of menace. Other than those traits, you may know him by his immaculately tailored wardrobe and lavish silk vests. Mrs Daffodil fancies that he carries an ivory-tipped cane and that his cigarette case has a double lid, which conceals a compromising picture in highly-coloured enamels of a well-known member of a noble family, which he keeps as insurance.

Wilhelmina FitzClarence, Countess of Munster, known to the family as “Mina,” was the daughter of the Hon. John Kennedy-Erskine and Lady Augusta FitzClarence, an illegitimate daughter of William IV. She married her cousin, William FitzClarence, 2nd Earl of Munster, also a grandchild of King William IV–the Earl was the son of King William and his long-time mistress Dorothea Jordan, who had ten children together.  Most cosy and convenient!

The Countess of Munster wrote novels and ghost stories, including sightings of the family ghost “Green Jean,” at Wemyss Castle. She also wrote an engaging memoir, although modern critics have called her ghost stories “melodramatic” and “forgettable.”


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 Mystery of the Italian Flowers: c. 1900

Italian flowers illustration San Francisco Sunday Call


To the Editor of The Sunday Call.

Sir: The accompanying recital of fact is fully vouched for. The part I myself took in the incident—being in Italy at the time, as this story states—is truly described in every particular; the part taken in it by my relative, as mentioned in the story, is presented exactly as she told it to me after my return to America and confirmed by a record made at the time by Mrs. ___, who is also mentioned in the narrative.

The late Wilkie Collins, the English novelist, with whom I was well acquainted and to whom I first related the story (a man, as is well known, who gave much attention during his life to occult subjects), told me at his home in London that he had investigated at least 1,500 alleged instances of supernatural visitations and that this one was the best authenticated of any that had come under his notice. I inclose the names of the persons who had part in this experience. Yours truly,


*Name of writer and names in narrative in possession of The Sunday Call.

Some years ago, in the course of travels which ultimately took me twice around the world, I found myself fin Naples, having arrived there from a leisurely trip that began at Gibraltar and had brought me by

easy stages and by many stops en route through the Mediterranean. The time of year was late February and the season, even for southern Italy, was much advanced; so in visiting the island of Capri (the exact date, I recollect, was February 22) I found this most charming spot in the Vesuvian bay smiling and verdant and was tempted by the brilliant sunlight and warm breezes to explore the hilly country which rose above the port at which I had landed.

The fields upon these heights were green with grass and spangled with a delicate white flower bearing a yellow center, which, while smaller than our American daisies and held upon more slender stalks, reminded me of them. Having in mind certain friends then in bleak New England, from where I had strayed to this land of summer, I plucked a number of these blossoms arid placed them between the leaves of my guide book—Baedeker’s “Southern Italy”—intending to inclose them in letters which I then planned to write to these friends, contrasting the conditions attending their Washington’s birthday with those in which I fortunately found myself.

Returning to Naples, the many interests of that city put out of my head for the time the thought of letter writing and three days later I took a train for Rome, with my correspondence still in arrears. The first day of my stay in Rome was devoted to a carriage excursion into the Campagna, and on returning to the city I stopped to see that most interesting and touching of Roman monuments, the tomb of Cecilia Matella. Every tourist knows and has visited that beautiful memorial, and so I do not need to describe its massive walls, its roof, now fallen and leaving the sepulcher open to the sky, and the heavy turf which covers the earth of its interior. This green carpet of nature, when I visited the tomb, was thickly strewn with fragrant violets, and of these, as of the daisylike flowers I had found In Capri, I collected several and placed them In my guide book, this time Baedeker’s “Central Italy.” I mention these two books, the “Southern” and the “Central Italy,” because they have an important bearing on my story.

The next day, calling at my banker’s, I saw an announcement that letters posted before 4 o’clock that afternoon would be forwarded to catch the mall for New York by a specially fast steamer from Liverpool, and I hastened back to my hotel with the purpose of preparing, and thus expediting, my much delayed correspondence. The most important duty of the moment seemed to be the writing of a letter to a very near and dear relative of mine in a certain city of New England, and to this I particularly addressed myself. I described my trip through the Mediterranean and my experiences in Naples and Rome, and concluded my letter as follows:

“In Naples I found February to be like our New England May, and in Capri, which I visited on Washington’s birthday, I found the heights of the island spangled over with delicate flowers, some of which I plucked and inclose in this letter. And speaking of flowers, I send you also some violets which I gathered yesterday at the tomb of Cecilia Matella, outside of Rome —you know about this monument, or, if not, you can look up its history and save me from transcribing a paragraph from the guidebook. I send you these flowers from Naples and Rome, respectively, in order that you may understand in what agreeable surroundings I find myself, as compared with the ice and snow and bitter cold which is probably your experience at this season.”

Having finished this letter, I took from the guidebook on “Central Italy,” which lay on the table before me, the violets from the tomb of Cecilia Matella, inclosed them, with the sheets I had written, in an envelope, sealed and addressed it, when it suddenly occurred to me that I had left out the flowers I had plucked in Capri. These I recalled, were still in the guidebook for “Southern Italy,” which I had laid away in my portmanteau as of no further use to me—accordingly I unstrapped and unlocked the portmanteau, found the guidebook, took out the flowers from Capri, which were still between its leaves, opened and destroyed the envelope already addressed, added the daisies to the violets and put the whole into a new inclosure, which I again directed, stamped and duly dropped Into the mailbox at the banker’s.

I am insistent upon these details because they particularly impressed upon my mind the certainty that both varieties of flowers were inclosed in the letter to my relative.

Subsequent events would have been strange enough if I had not placed the flowers in the letter at all—but the facts above described assure me that there is no question that I did so, and make these after events more than ever inexplicable.

So much for my own part in the affair—now for its conclusion in New England.

My relative mentioned above was living at this time in a hotel In a New England city where she had a suite of rooms comprising parlor, bedroom and bath. With her was a child of some eight years of age, daughter of a very dear friend, for whom she cared after the death of the mother, some years before. On the same floor of the hotel were apartments occupied by Mrs.__, a woman whose name is well known in American literature and with whom my relative sustained a very intimate friendship. I am indebted for the facts I am now setting down not only to my relative, who gave me an oral account of them on my return from abroad, but also to Mrs.__ , who made and preserved a written record, of them at the time.

About 10 days after I had posted my letter inclosing the flowers from Capri and Rome my relative suddenly awoke in the middle of the night and saw standing at the foot of her bed the form of the child’s mother. The aspect of the apparition was so serene and gracious that, although greatly startled, she felt no alarm. Then she heard, as if from a voice at a great distance, the words. “I have brought you some flowers from W__.” At the next Instant the figure vanished. The visitation had been so brief that my relative, although she at once arose and lighted the gas, argued to herself that she had been dreaming, and after a few minutes extinguished the light and returned to bed, where she slept soundly until 6 o’clock the next morning.

Always an early riser, she dressed at once and went from her bedroom, where the child was still sleeping, to her parlor. In the center of the room was a table, covered with a green cloth, and as she entered and chanced to glance at it she saw to her surprise a number of dried flowers scattered over A part of these she recognized as violets, but the rest were unfamiliar to her, although they resembled very small daisies.

The vision of the night was at once forcibly recalled to her, and the words of the apparition. “I have brought you some flowers.”” seemed to have a meaning, though what it was she could not understand. After examining these strange blossoms for a time she returned to her chamber and awakened the child, whom she then took to see the flowers and asked If she knew anything about them. “Why, no.” the little girl replied; “I have never seen them before. I was reading my new book at the table last night until I went to bed. and if they were there then I should have seen them.” So the flowers were gathered up and placed on the shelf above the fireplace, and during the morning were exhibited to Mrs.__, who came in for a chat, and who, like my relative, could make nothing of the matter.

At about 4 o’clock In the afternoon of that day the postman called at the hotel, hearing, among his mall, several letters for my relative, which were at once sent up to her. Among them was postmarked “Rome” and was addressed in my handwriting, and with this she sat down as the first one to be read. It contained an account, among many other things, of my experience in Naples and Rome, and in due course mentioned the inclosure of flowers from Capri and from the tomb of Cecilia Matella. There were, however, no flowers whatever in the letter, although each sheet and the envelope were carefully examined; my relative even shook her skirts and made a search upon the carpet, thinking that the stated inclosure might have fallen out as the letter was opened. Nothing could be found, however, yet 10 hours before the arrival of the letter flowers exactly such aa it described had been found on the center table!

Mrs. __  was summoned, and the two ladles marveled greatly. There was a large educational institution in the city and Mrs.__ suggested that the flowers be offered to the inspection of its professor of botany, a man whose reputation for learning in his department, was international. They lost no time in calling upon him, and the flowers were shown (without, however, the curious facts about them being mentioned), with the request that he state, if it were possible, whence they came. The professor examined them carefully, and then said:

“As to the violets, it is difficult to say where they grew, since these flowers, wherever they are found in the world, may be very much alike. Certain peculiarities of these specimens, however, coupled with the scent that they still faintly retain and which is characteristic, incline me to the opinion that they come from some part of Southern Europe—perhaps Southern France, but more likely Italy. As to the others, which, as you say, resemble small daisies, they came from some point about the bay of Naples, as I am unaware of their occurrence elsewhere.”

The San Francisco [CA] Sunday Call 5 July 1908: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  That enigmatic person over at Haunted Ohio has written before of such mysterious floral deliveries in connection with the seance room, where they are called “apports.” Given the regularity with which exotic flowers showered those in attendance, flowers must been a heavy item in a society medium’s budget. The  narrative above, if it is reliable, is much less explicable.

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.

Psychic Experiences of an American Sculptress: 1860s

Harriet Hosmer, American Sculptor [1830-1907]

Harriet Hosmer, American Sculptor [1830-1907]

The narrator is the American sculptress Harriet Hosmer:

“When I was living in Rome I had for several years a maid named Rosa, to whom I became much attached. She was faithful and competent, and I was greatly distressed when she became ill with consumption and had to leave me. I used to call frequently to see her when I took my customary exercise on horseback, and on one occasion she expressed a desire for a certain kind of wine. I told her I would bring it to her the next morning. This was toward evening, and she appeared no worse than for some days; indeed, I thought her much brighter, and left her with the expectation of calling to see her many times.

During the rest of the afternoon I was busy in my studio, and do not remember that Rosa was in my thoughts after I parted from her. I retired to bed in good health and in a quiet frame of mind. I always sleep with my doors locked, and in my bedroom in Rome there were two doors; the key to one my maid kept, and the other was turned on the inside. A tall screen stood around my bed. I awoke early the morning after my visit to Rosa and heard the clock in the library next, distinctly strike five, and just then I was conscious of some presence in the room, back of the screen. I asked if any one was there, when Rosa appeared in front of the screen and said, ‘Adesso sono contento, adesso sono felice.’ (Now I am content, now I am happy).

For the moment it did not seem strange, I felt as though everything was as it had been. She had been in the habit of coming into my room early in the morning. In a flash she was gone. I sprang out of bed. There was no Rosa there. I moved the curtain, thinking that she might have playfully hidden behind its folds. The same feeling induced me to look into the closet. The sight of her had come so suddenly, that in the first moment of surprise and bewilderment I did not reflect that the door was locked. When I became convinced that there was no one in the room but myself, I recollected that fact, and then I thought I must have seen a vision.

At breakfast I mentioned the apparition to my French landlady, and she ridiculed the idea as being anything more than the fantasy of an excited brain. To me it was a distinct fact, and is to this day a distinct vision. Instead of going to see Rosa after breakfast, I sent to enquire, for I felt a strong premonition that she was dead. The messenger returned saying Rosa had died at five o’clock. When I told Mr. Gladstone of this experience he was interested until I came to the apparition talking. He said he firmly believed in a magnetic current, action of one mind upon another, or whatever you choose to call it, but could not believe ghosts had yet the power of speech. However, to me this occurrence is as much of a reality as any experience of my life.

Then, too, I have had many strange flashes of inner vision in seeing articles that were lost. I have never been able to produce them by reasoning or strong desire. They have come literally in a flash. I had three such visions during different visits to Lady A., once at her country seat in Scotland and the others at her London house. Lady A. wears a curious gold ring designed by her husband. When taken from the finger it can be straightened into a key. All of her valuables, from jewel cases, to her writing room, where many important papers are kept, are fitted with locks for this key. She has one duplicate of this, made of steel that she sometimes left with her daughter or me, when going away.

One morning she came into my room much distressed, saying she could not find her ring key, and asked me to come into her room and help in the search that was being made for it by the housekeeper and assistants. She was positive she had put the ring in a cabinet by the side of her bed upon retiring the night before. When I went into the room I saw the ring key, in my mind’s eye, plainly on the table in her daughter’s apartment. I told her it was needless to search further there, that she had left it in her daughter’s room. Lady A. protested that she was certain she had taken it off after retiring. But the ring was found just where I saw it.

On another occasion Lady A. could not find a despatch box containing valuable papers. She enlisted my services in hunting for it in her writing room. She described the box. She had scarcely finished the description when a vision of it flashed across my brain. I said, ‘It is useless to search here, the box is at Drummond’s bank, in one of your large boxes.’

Lady A. said her secretary had made a careful inspection of every box at the bank, and it was not there. I saw that box distinctly, and I went to the bank. When I reached there the Messrs. Drummond seemed to think it was quite unnecessary to go through the boxes again. I asked the clerk to bring out his ledger containing the list of boxes. I felt that I could locate the right one without examining all. When I ran my hand down the list (there were seven) it stopped at five. Number five was brought from the vault into the private room of the bankers and there opened in the presence of the three brothers.

The box proved to have women’s belongings in it, rare laces chiefly. The bankers smiled incredulously and said, ‘You are not likely to find the despatch box among those things.’ All the while I saw that lacquered box. After taking out all the carefully packed articles I was rewarded by finding the lost box at the very bottom: ‘Despatch Box’ across the front in gilt letters. I said to Messrs. Drummond, ‘ I will not take the box home, my friend must come and see for herself that my vision was accurate.’ So it was left in the private room of the bank while I drove home. When I told Lady A. the circumstance she turned pale and said she believed I was a witch, as the servants thought, because I had such powers of finding lost articles. We drove back and got the treasure.

How and why these visions come, is, as yet, an unknown science, but I firmly believe it will be made clear some time, perhaps at no distant day.”

Harriet Hosmer: Letters and Memories, Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, edited by Cornelia Carr, 1912

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Harriet Hosmer [1830-1907] was an American sculptress and inventor. She went to Italy at age 22 and lived there for many years, becoming friends with notables such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thackeray, the sculptor Thorvaldsen, George Eliot, George Sand, and the Brownings. She was also associated with a group of women artists in Rome, who were ridiculed by Henry James for their masculine proclivities. One fears that James was spiteful because he was jealous. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote euphemistically of Miss Hosmer and her friends: “there’s a house of what I call emancipated women…very clever and very strange…” Sculptor William Wetmore Story (creator of the “Angel of Grief”) wrote to a friend that Hosmer and her friends formed  “a Harem (Scarem) of emancipated females.”

Hosmer created a large body of work, much of which seems to have been lost or destroyed.  Naturally an “emancipated female” working as a sculptor was the target of prejudice. A rumour was  circulated that her monumental Zenobia in Chains was actually created by one of her Italian workmen because obviously ladies couldn’t sculpt anything that large or that well. Hosmer sued the London Queen, who had printed the story, and won her case. See this link for the entire fascinating story and photos of Miss Hosmer in her studio.

Miss Hosmer was, it is said, devoted to patroness of the arts Louisa, Lady Ashburton, the “Lady A.” of the passages above, for over 25 years. Her letters are at Harvard, but many of them were destroyed or mutilated, with indiscreet, erotic, or overly-candid passages scissored out by her friend Cornelia Carr, who edited the letters for publication.

Mrs Lydia Maria Child [1802-1880] was a novelist and worker for the rights of the American Indian and women.  She was also an Abolitionist and a Spiritualist. She and Harriet Hosmer were friends and correspondents. Miss Hosmer gave her permission to paraphrase the story of the ghostly Rosa’s visit in a piece entitled “Spirits” for the Atlantic Monthly.

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 a Poisoned Princess: Naples: c. 1895

The Bay of Naples with Vesuvius in the Distance.

The Bay of Naples with Vesuvius in the Distance.

There was something in the atmosphere of the Villa Crawford which always made people wish to tell of the most interesting things that had ever happened to them. Sitting out on the great terrace after dinner, listening to the waves lapping against the rocks, a sheer three hundred feet below, watching the moonlight fling its silver witchery over that magic sea while distant Naples showed like a chaplet of wet pearls on the curve of the bay, and Vesuvius threw out its angry glow and an occasional tongue of flame, confidences that would have shunned the light of day were murmured over the coffee and cigarettes. The “Principino,” as he was still called, began by railing at the adverse fate which condemned him to pass so much of his time in Naples.

“Is it not too absurd,” he exclaimed, “that I, who detest Naples, and love Turin, am the Prince of Naples and have got to live in Naples, while my cousin who adores the place and hates Turin, is the Count of Turin and is condemned to live there!”

“And what is the matter with Naples that you dislike it so much, Monseigneur?”

“Oh, I don’t know — it is not my atmosphere, I suppose. I belong in the North and I cannot take to Southern ways. Besides, I had a very distressing experience in Naples. I got a shocking fright there! Yes, a real fright — and that is an emotion which I shall never forget.”

This was too promising an opening to neglect and after a little persuasion the Prince related the following story, of which all the incidents except those concerning himself were more or less known to my brother, for they centred round a tragedy which had attained the unenviable fame of a “cause celebre.”

“The heroine and victim of it was a certain Princess M__ a young girl of great wealth and beauty, and unhappily for her, an orphan, living under the guardianship of her uncle and aunt, who, until she should marry, or come of age, were to administer her fortune for her. As the time approached for one or both of these events to take place, the passion of avarice excited in her guardians by her great possessions became so overwhelming that they felt they could never part with their use of them. They did not apparently arrive at murder point all at once; they compromised by marrying her to a young man of their own choice, who, it was understood, was not to interfere with their administration of the estates. But either he turned restive when he was in a position to do so, or, (as seems most likely) their increasing cupidity could no longer brook any bar to absolute and complete possession. During her short married life, which was not a happy one, the Prince of Naples formed a strong friendship for the rather friendless girl, and the news of her alarmingly sudden death, reaching him during his own absence from the town, was a great shock to him. Those around him, anxious to spare his feelings, took care that he should not hear the circumstances of her end, which, there was no doubt, had been a violent one. 

“Having left her own house, perfectly well, to visit her uncle and aunt, she became mortally ill on her return home and died a few hours later in fearful pain and with every symptom of poisoning, black spots appearing on her skin and her face becoming horribly disfigured. The southern horror of death hurried the poor child into her grave before any proper investigation had taken place, the hastily summoned physicians believing her death to be the result of an accident and not wishing to wound her husband’s feelings by insisting on an autopsy.

“But, when on the reading of her will, it became known that she had left her entire fortune unconditionally to her well-beloved uncle and aunt, public indignation was aroused and a trial ensued. But it was impossible to convict the offenders; there is nothing so difficult to obtain in the South as evidence; the fear of retaliation on the part of their families is too great. The widower appeared unwilling to implicate them, and it was thought that his silence was probably due to some nefarious pre-matrimonial arrangement of which the Princess’ late guardians could produce the proof. The prosecution finally fell through and the murderers — as they were generally accounted to be — left in quiet possession of their blood stained gains.

“It was some two months after the Princess M—’s death, that the Prince of Naples, from whom, as I have said, the more painful details of her end had somehow been kept, was returning to his quarters alone one night, his road taking him past Palazzo M—. ‘It was towards one o’clock in the morning,’ he said, ‘ and a full moon was making the city light as day. I left my cab, as was my custom, at the bottom of the street, and went up on foot, on the side opposite Palazzo M—. I was not thinking of Princess M— at that moment, being merely in haste to reach my quarters. As I passed the palace I noticed that a woman was standing on the central balcony (one story above ground) leaning over and looking out towards Capri, her figure very clear in the moonlight against the closed shutters behind her. I did not glance at her a second time, but passed on, and it was not until I had gone some distance further up the street that a question presented itself to my mind. Those shutters were tightly closed; the fastenings were all on the inside; how could that woman have got out on to the balcony? I resolved to go back and find out, for I was really puzzled. Retracing my steps I halted in the middle of the street directly before the balcony and looked up. Then my blood froze in my veins, for standing there, gazing down at me, was my dead friend, with the most mournful expression I have ever seen on a human countenance. Her eyes were fixed on mine with entire recognition and some sad appeal which her lips were not permitted to frame. Thus we stood confronting each other while some minutes must have passed. I had time to convince myself that I had been right — that the window behind her was tightly closed from within. The unusually bright moonlight showed me every detail of her appearance. She was dressed in white, there were dark, livid looking patches on her face and hands, and also on her dress. I particularly noticed her hands, for the moonlight played brilliantly on a large ruby ring which I had never seen her wear.

“Suddenly she disappeared and I was alone, staring at the empty balcony and the tightly closed shutters. We of the House of Savoy are not cowards, but in that moment I learnt what fear was; my knees were giving way under me and it was all that I could do to reach my quarters on foot. May I never have such another experience!

“After that I insisted on learning all the particulars of Princess M— ‘s death. You know what they were. For some unexplained reason she had been buried, wearing that ruby ring.”

A Diplomatist’s Wife in Many Lands, Mrs Hugh Fraser 1910

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Prince of Naples or “Principino,” was Victor Emmanuel [1869-1947], later King of Italy. The Prince of Naples title is similar to our Prince of Wales so he was the “princeling” or perhaps “the little prince.” (His majesty was a diminutive man.)  He seems to refer to himself in the third person at the start, as if distancing himself from events, but is compelled into the first person by his horror at the apparition.

Mrs Fraser’s diplomat-wife’s discretion and dashes make it difficult to locate the victim or the precise date of this story. Born Mary Crawford, Mrs Fraser was brought up in Italy and it was there that she met her husband. They were married in 1874, posted to Peking and Vienna and returned to Rome in 1882.

Located at Sant’ Agnello, Sorrento, the Villa Crawford, was formerly the Villa Renzi, but was renamed when he purchased it in 1885 by the author Francis Marion Crawford, Mrs Fraser’s brother, who was famous for his weird tales. Mrs Fraser was posted with her husband to Chile in 1885, then to Tokyo in 1889 so this tale was probably spun after she had returned to Italy after her husband’s death in 1894.  In 1896 Crawford published a book called Taquisara, about an aunt and uncle attempting to poison their niece, an Italian Princess. The author obviously used the facts of the cause celebre in his roman à clef.

Mrs Daffodil regrets that she has not found the story of the real poisoned princess, which is a pity, as Mrs Daffodil has a professional interest in the subject. There are some very useful poisons to be found in Italy.