Tag Archives: Victorian ghost stories

The Man in the Dog-Cart: 1890s

My next tale has always seemed to me one of the most interesting psychic experiences that I have ever heard related.

Some few years ago, a young officer, whom we will call Lestrange, went to stay at a country house in the Midlands. It may be said that he was a good type of the average British subaltern, whose tastes, far from  inclining towards abstract study or metaphysical speculation, lay chiefly in the direction of polo, hunting, and sport generally. In fact, the last person in the world one would have said likely to “see a ghost.”

One afternoon during his visit, Lestrange borrowed a dog-cart from his friend, and set out to drive to the neighbouring town. About half-way there he saw walking along the road in front of him a very poor and ragged-looking man, who, as he passed him, looked so ill and miserable that Lestrange, being a kind-hearted person, took pity on him and, pulling up, called out, “Look here, if you are going to C—-, get up behind me and I will give you a lift.” The man said nothing but proceeded to climb up on the cart, and as he did so, Lestrange noticed that he wore a rather peculiar handkerchief round his neck, of bright red, spotted with green. He took his seat and Lestrange drove on and reaching C—- stopped at the door of the principal hotel. When the ostler came forward to take the horse, Lestrange, without looking round, said to him: “Just give that man on the back seat a good hot meal and I’ll pay. He looks as if he wanted it, poor chap.” The ostler looked puzzled and said: “Yes, sir; but what man do you mean?”

Lestrange turned his head and saw that the back seat was empty, which rather astonished him and he exclaimed: “Well! I hope he didn’t fall off. But I never heard him get down. At all events, if he turns up here, feed him. He is a ragged, miserable-looking fellow, and you will know him by the handkerchief he had round his neck, bright red and green.” As these last words were uttered a waiter who had been standing in the doorway and heard the conversation came forward and said to Lestrange, “Would you mind stepping inside for a moment, sir?”

Lestrange followed him, noticing that he looked very grave, and the waiter stopped at a closed door, behind the bar, saying: “I heard you describe that tramp you met, sir, and I want you to see what is in here.” He then led the way into a small bedroom, and there, lying on the bed, was the corpse of a man, ragged and poor, wearing round his neck a red handkerchief spotted with green.

Lestrange made a startled exclamation. “Why, that is the very man I took up on the road just now. How did he get here?”

He was then told that the body he saw had been found by the roadside at four o’clock the preceding afternoon, and that it had been taken to the hotel to await the inquest. Comparisons showed that Lestrange had picked up his tramp at the spot where the body had been discovered on the previous day; and the hour, four o’clock, was also found to tally exactly.

Now was this, as the ancients would have told us, the umbra of the poor tramp, loth to quit entirely a world of which it knew at least the worst ills, to “fly to others that it knew not of”? Or was it rather what Mr. C. W. Leadbeater has described in his book, “The Other Side of Death,” as a thought-form, caused by the thoughts of the dead man returning with honor to the scene of his lonely and miserable end, and thereby producing psychic vibrations strong enough to construct an actual representation of his physical body, visible to any “sensitive” who happened that way? We must leave our readers to decide for themselves what theory will best fit as an explanation of this strange and true story.

Stranger Than Fiction, Mary L. Lewes, 1911: p. 96-98

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr. C.W. Leadbeater was a Spiritualist and influential member of the Theosophical Society. He wrote extensively on esoteric subjects such as the astral plane, clairvoyance, and reincarnation. Mrs Daffodil sees no reason to drag “psychic vibrations” or “thought-forms” into a perfectly good English ghost story.

 

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

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

 

 

 

A Ghost’s Whispered Story: 1870s

Niagara Falls, 1890

Was It a Dream?

A GHOST’S WHISPERED STORY.

They told me that the house was haunted. Nothing had been seen in the shape of an apparition by those who resided there; there was no terrific disturbance, no bright and mysterious light, but there was a general belief that the house was haunted. The ghost was a well-behaved ghost, and modest. On inquiring of one who had slept there, I learned that he had heard nothing except a confused murmur, a sound of low, indistinct speech, as of some one trying to speak while suffering under aphony. It was a laborious whisper, of which a word now and then was audible. I asked him what were the words, and he told me that two he remembered—”falls” and “boat”—but no others. The only thing remarkable about that was that others who had slept there had heard the same words. That gave me, I was quite sure, a key to the matter, and I smiled. I concluded the purchase of the house that very day. It was cheap enough. Nobody would live in it, and it was rotting through disuse. The owner, who needed ready cash, was glad to get rid of his profitless property. The house itself was a comfortable mansion, that cost 10,000 dollars to build, and the ground, rather more than three acre, had been handsomely laid out in trees and shrubbery, though now overgrown with brambles. The architect assured me that 1800 would put the house and grounds in order, and add modern conveniences. So I bought it for 2000 down, and had the necessary repairs made, their cost overrunning the estimate nearly 200 dollars. So that for 4000 dollars I obtained a handsome and convenient dwelling on the banks of a noble river, with the tiny demesne sloping to the south-west, having picturesque views on either hand, and in a good neighbourhood. The night before my family were to remove to it I took up my lodging in the house alone, having had a pallet laid down in the library.

I suppose the stories I had heard, though I had laughed at them, made their impression on my mind. Such things always do, in spite of reason. A vague feeling of easiness fills us m the presence of mystery even though our curiosity or our pride gets the better of our terror, and we probe the thing to the bottom, or try to. That may account for my restlessness, for I was restless and wakeful. I had been busy all day, in arranging furniture, and in directing the men at work on the grounds, in the latter case handling the spade and mattock myself quite often, and was thoroughly tired. Yet 1 could not sleep. It was 10 o’clock when I turned down the light so that it gave only a faint glimmer, and lay down. Eleven o’clock came, and 12, and I still tossed on my couch with open eyes. When the echo of the last stroke of the bell of the church in the neighbouring town of B__ died away, I felt there was some thing or some one in the room. I sprang up, turned the light on full, and grasped the loaded revolver which lay on the library table. There was no one there certainlv that I could see, and the door was locked, I and I laughed at my alarm. The next moment, as I threw myself in the great arm chair, I felt there was some one close to me. Just then there was a low and labored whisper at my right ear. The words distinct, though faintly uttered:

“Let me tell you my story,”

I sprang up and looked around. Nothing there. It appeared to be imagination, and yet I felt terror. Was I awake? I was, undoubtedly. The whisper came again:

“You must listen.”

I felt that to be true. The thin, icy, forced whisper held me by a spell. I could not have moved had flames burst out around me. Body and mind seemed stricken with palsy, I could hear, but nothing more. Then the whisper returned, and I can remember all that followed, word for word, and can write it out, again and again without varying a word or a letter.

“It was three miles above the cataract. As I stood upon, the river bank I could see, even at that point, with what swiftness the Niagara was hurrying toward the fatal plunge. There was a skiff tied to a root on the bank, and as it afforded me a seat, I stepped in and sat down in the stern sheets. There I played with my hands in the stream and listened to the distant incessant roar of the boiling waters. As I sat there I thought of my young wife hundreds of miles away, whom I had left a few days before to attend to some business in Canada, and whom I was to rejoin the next day, having taken this point on my way homeward. I sat there with my eyes half closed, and then, throwing myself backward, was lulled to sleep by the monotonous noise. How long I slept I do not know, but a piercing shriek, rising above the dull roar of the falls, awakened me. I looked round. The boat had broken loose, and I was far out in the stream, all drifting rapidly toward the falls. I sprang up to seize the oars and pull to shore. There were no oars in the boat.

“I glanced toward the shore. It seemed the bank was lined with men, women, and, children, who may have called to me, but I could hear nothing. My first impulse was to leap overboard, but then I could not swim.

“A man on the bank threw a lasso. I waited the coming of the loop, and reached my hand towards it, but it fell short. It was drawn in, and the man, running swiftly to a point further down, tried again. He apparently cast it with greater force, but it fell further off than before. I was being drawn nearer to the centre of the horse-shoe. “And now there came the lethargy of despair. I sat there without hope and without fear. My doom was inevitable. The motion of the boat grew faster and faster; the distant banks whirled past me, and then my spirit rose in a kind of ecstasy. I gave a sharp glance around me and laughed. As the boat struck the edge of the abyss and rose for the final plunge I caught sight of a dense mist; I heard above the roar the rush of a thousand wings; I felt as though I had been struck with a numbing blow, and breath and consciousness left me together.

“It seemed to be a dream, for when I recovered I found I was here in my own house. Yonder sat my wife, clad in black, her head buried in her hands. Yes! it seemed a dream, for though I tried to speak to her, my lips made no sounds and I heard nothing. I touched her, but she did not heed it. I looked around the room, bewildered.

“It was this library. There on a long table, which did not belong here, lay some- thing like a human form, covered by a sheet. What was it doing here? Whose body lay here? A new and more unspeakable terror seized me. I would like to have cried out. I could not. I was dumb.

“My wife arose and went to the table. ‘Now,’ I said to myself, ‘I shall know all.’ She raised the cover from her head, and, stooping down, kissed the face of the corpse. Could it be that my father-in-law, Colonel Barnesleigh, had died while I was away! I did not walk, but I was moved by some unseen power until I stood by my wife and over the dead body and looked down. I knew it all then. I recognised the cold, lifeless face. It was my own….”

Then the whisper ceased, and I fell in a deep sleep in the chair. It was daylight when I awoke. I looked around. Had I dreamed it all? On the table was the fragment of a newspaper. Picking it up, my glance caught the name of a former owner of the house, and I read as follows:

Melancholy Casualty.—A terrible event occurred on Friday last, Robert Grant of this village, on his return from Toronto, where he had been on business, stopped at Niagara. He took a walk above the falls after breakfast. He must have got in a boat and lost or broken the oars— though it is said no oars were in the boat at all. He was seen afloat by a large crowd of people just above the fall. Every attempt was made to rescue him, but unsuccessfully, and he was carried to death. His body was recovered on Sunday, and is now on its way here. He leaves a widow.

I had certainly seen never seen that paragraph before. I am quite sure of that. From that time out there had been no noises in the house, except such as could be easily explained, and the whispered voice never came again. Yet, if it were no dream, or no imaginary whisper, why should me ghost have told his story to me, and why should he tell it at all?

Thomas Dunn English.

Auckland [NZ] Star, 22 March 1879: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One does not expect impeccable logic in a ghost story, but to be perfectly frank, Mrs Daffodil has several objections to this sensational tale. One is that the narrator could easily have read or sub-consciously absorbed the contents of the newspaper fragment so conveniently situated on the table, thus generating a vivid and ghostly dream. Second, what sort of imbecile gets into a boat above the great Niagara cataract and, without noticing if the boat is securely moored or if there are oars, falls asleep, knowing that he cannot swim?

Perhaps this is only what might have been expected from Mr English, who was the author “Ben Bolt,” one of the hoariest chestnuts of the drawing-room recitation oeuvre and of such works as Walter Woolfe, or the Doom of the Drinker, a Temperance novel. (Mrs Daffodil shudders even to hint at the existence of such a literary genre.) The author also quarreled with Mr Edgar Allan Poe, who said that English was “a man without the commonest school education busying himself in attempts to instruct mankind in topics of literature”.

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 Captain’s Vision: 1830s

Mary's ghost a pathetic ballad BL

The Captain’s Vision.

I t was on a miserable cold day in February that the good bark Emerald, in which I was second mate, weighed her anchor from the mud opposite Gravesend, and commenced her voyage for the Mauritius. I had sailed with the captain (Wharton) to the West Indies on a former voyage, and had been asked by him to take the second mate’s place this trip, although I was only twenty-one years old at the time. I thought it was a good berth, and accepted it, although I disliked the man.

He was a good sailor, there was no denying, but a bit of a bully, and, I always suspected, drank a good deal when quiet in his cabin. He had been married just before our voyage, and his honeymoon was rather curtailed by our departure. I saw his wife several times before we left England, for she was staying at Gravesend; and also came on board while we were lying in the docks. She was a pretty young girl, and seemed to be too quiet and good for the skipper, who, I thought, did not treat her as he ought to have done.

She told me that she was going to take a cottage at Gosport while her husband was away, and asked me, if I had time, to write her a few words to say how the ship got on, in case we met any of the homeward bound, or stopped at any port. I believe when she shook hands with me, and said, “good-by, sir; a happy voyage to you,” I felt much inclined to do her any service, and pitied her lonely situation more than her husband did. She told me that her only relation was an aged aunt. Well, we floundered across the Bay of Biscay, and ran down the trades, and in twenty-seven days from leaving England with a freezing north wind, we were baking under the line with 95 degrees in the shade shown on our thermometer. The skipper had shoved a couple of our men in irons for very slight offences during our run, and seemed to be a greater brute than ever. He was one of those fellows who acted like an angel on shore, so pleasant and kind, but when he got afloat in the blue water, he wasn’t an angel exactly, at least not the right sort of an angel.

We jogged on, however, till we passed round the Cape; we gave it a wide berth, and kept well off the bank, to avoid the current that runs from the east all down that coast for seventy miles distant. We were about off Cape L’Agulhas, when the northwest wind that we had carried with us from near South America, turned round and blew right in our teeth; we had plenty of wind in our jib then, it blew great guns, and we were under close-reefed topsails for a week.

One night I was on the watch, and finding it was blowing harder than ever, and the ship was making very bad weather of it, I thought I would go down and ask the skipper’s leave to lay to. I dived down the hatchway, and knocked twice at the captain’s door before I received an answer; at last I heard his “come in.” I opened the door and was about to report the gale increased, but was stopped by the appearance of the captain.

He was as white as a sheet, and his eyes were staring like a maniac’s. Before I could speak a word, he said, “Have you seen her?” I did not know what he meant, but said, “Beg pardon, sir, the ship is making very bad weather of it.”

He cursed the weather and repeated, “Did you see my wife as she came in?”

I said, “See your wife? No!

He stared at me for an instant and then dropped on his couch and said, “God have mercy on me!”

It was the first time that I had ever heard him use that sacred name, although the evil one’s was often enough in his mouth. I then asked him about the ship, when he told me to go and do what I thought best. I went up and took all the canvass off, with the exception of the mizzen trysail. I got the peak lowered down to the deck, and showed but a pocket-handkerchief sort of a sail; this kept her head to the wind. I had a guy made fast to the boom, which kept it firm, and lashed the helm; we then rode like a duck on the water. I turned in as usual after being relieved, and said nothing to anyone about what I had heard.

In the morning the captain sent for me, told me not to speak about what he said last night, but that he had been told that his days were numbered. He pointed to the log-book, in which he had put down that he had seen his wife come into the cabin, and that she spoke to him, and told him something about himself. He then requested me to sign his statement, in the book, and ordered me not to say a word to any one of the men as long as he lived. I told him not to think anything about it, as such things were only imaginations, and were caused by the stomach being a little out of order. I did not think it at the time, although I thought it would quiet him by telling him so. We lay to all that day; the captain came on deck once, but spoke to no one. In the afternoon I went down to ask him about getting a little sail on again; I found him reading his Bible, a thing I had never heard of his doing before.

He put it down and came on deck; ordered me to get up the foretopsail; I went forward to see about it, and the skipper walked to the poop; the helm was still lashed, and no one there but him.

“I was giving the men orders to go aloft, when I heard a crack astern and felt a jar through the whole ship. I turned round and found the pitching had caused the heavy boom of the try-sail to break the guy that fastened it, and it was swinging from side to side with every lurch of the ship. I ran aft with all the men, and with great, difficulty made it fast again; it took us some time to settle, and I then went down to tell the captain. His cabin was just as I left it before, and no one in it; came out and asked for him on deck, but no one had seen him there. The men said that he was on the poop when the guy gave way; there was a general call throughout the ship, but the captain was not found. The first mate and I went on the poop, and looked well round. On the bulwarks near the stern there was a slight dent, and close beside it a streak of blood; there was no doubt that the boom in its first swing had knocked the skipper clean overboard, and the chances were had smashed some of his limbs too.

We never saw him more. The first mate took the command, and I told him about the captain’s vision; he laughed at me, and told me I was a fool to believe in such rubbish, and recommended me not to talk about it. I quietly tore the leaf out of the log-book, and have got it now. I will show it to you. (Saying this he went down to his cabin and brought me up the sheet of paper, which I read and found it as he had described.)

We went on to the Mauritius, loaded and returned to England. I had no opportunity of fulfilling my promise of writing-to the captain’s wife; so immediately I could leave the ship, I started for Gosport to tell her about his loss. I found her house from the address she had given me, and walked once or twice up and down to consider all I should say to her. It was any way a difficult thing and one I did not much like doing, having to relate the death of her husband; and, besides, women are inclined to think there is always some neglect in others if an accident happens to those they love.

At last I plucked up courage and knocked at the door. A decent-looking servant came, and upon my asking if Mrs. Wharton was at home, she replied: “Mrs. Wharton don’t live here, Mrs. Somebody or other lives here, and she ain’t at home.” I asked if she could tell me where to find Mrs. Wharton—and was informed by the maid that she was a stranger, and knew nothing; but the baker over the way, she thought could tell me. I went over and asked the baker’s wife, and she informed me that Mrs. Wharton had been dead nearly five months, and her aunt had moved away. I was thunderstruck at this intelligence, and immediately inquired the date of her death. She looked over a day-book in the drawer, and told me. I put it down in my memorandum book, and when I got back to the ship I found the date the same as that noted on the leaf of the log-book as the one the captain had seen her off the Cape. Now, I never was superstitious before this, nor am I alarmed now at the idea of seeing ghosts; but still there is a queer sort of a feeling comes over me when I think of that night.

The Spiritual Age 22 May 1858

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well really, that is not the ending we have a right to expect. Not quite playing the game… The young man should have found the pretty young widow alive and well and, after a decent interval, he should have married her and made her happy. These authors who kill off perfectly innocent characters and deny their readers a satisfactory denouement are little better than Bolsheviks in Mrs Daffodil’s view.

Still, it is the narrator’s own story, told as a true one, and, to be fair, it has the consistency and symmetry one demands from a ghost story. Yet, while one was perfectly content to see the bullying Captain Wharton knocked over-board; one somehow feels that his young wife, whose honeymoon was cut as short as her life, deserved better.

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 Who Had to Catch His Train: 1850s

Three Young Cricketers, George Elgar Hicks, Southampton City Art Museum. http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/three-young-cricketers-17667

Three Young Cricketers, George Elgar Hicks, Southampton City Art Museum. http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/three-young-cricketers-17667

A STRANGE APPARITION.

We are indebted to the Paris correspondent of the Nation for the following narrative:—

“My friend, Colonel Sir William D__, an officer in the British army, having seen much service in various parts of the world, has been for some time past residing in Paris with his family, consisting of his wife, two sons, and a highly accomplished and charming daughter. From Sir William and his daughter I have the following story, which I give—changing only the names and initials of the parties—exactly as they told it to me a few evenings ago:—

“‘The eldest son, when pursuing his studies, a very few years since, at the Military College of Sandhurst, near London, was on intimate terms with another of the cadets, whom we will call Hartly. Young Hartly was a general favourite in the college, a promising, active young fellow, fond of the sports usually played by young men in England, and especially addicted to cricket. On Saturday afternoon, young Hartly having been absent for some time from the college on a visit to his parents in London, the pupils all turned out for a game of cricket. It was a fine sunny afternoon; the cricket-ground was full of animation, and the game was going on merrily. Presently, to the surprise and satisfaction of all the pupils, young Hartly was seen to enter the ground, dressed as usual and looking in all respects exactly like his usual self. He went up to the ushers and shook hands with them, and with a number of the pupils. All present appear to have seen him perfectly, and to have felt pleased at seeing him come back. Presently he threw himself on the ground, took a cigar from his pocket, lighted it, and began to smoke, watching the game, meanwhile, with his usual interest, and every now and then commenting upon its progress, criticising this stroke, applauding that, and seeming as intent on the game as any of the players. At length he suddenly drew out his watch, and started to his feet, exclaiming, “I am wanted in London at four o’clock, and I must be off at once, for I have but just time to catch the train,” and rushed from the ground in the direction of the railway station. Much surprised at so sudden a departure, several of the pupils took out their watches and discussed his chances of being in London by four o’clock, as it then wanted but a few minutes of that hour.

“‘Next day brought to the astonished inmates of the college the news of young Hartly’s death, which had occurred the preceding day at his father’s house, exactly at four o’clock. He had fallen ill during his visit home, and, as was afterwards ascertained, had not once left his bed from the time of his falling ill. It was also ascertained that during the whole of that last day, through which he lay in a sort of quiet stupor, his mother had never left his bedside. “We’ve seen a real apparition for once in our lives!” was the shuddering admission of the cadets when the news of Hartly’s decease reached them. But the awkwardness of such an admission, and the impossibility of classifying or explaining so inconvenient a fact as the visible and tangible presence of their comrade on the cricket-ground while he was really dying in his bed in London, were too obvious not to produce a certain reaction; and so it came to pass that, in course of time, the cadets gave up the idea of having “seen an apparition,” and settled down on the more convenient hypothesis of an “hallucination.” A few of the number, however, of whom young D__ is one persist firmly in their first belief in regard to this remarkable incident, and stoutly declare that they did see, touch, and hear the perfect image of their friend, though utterly unable to explain the nature of such an appearance.'”

The Spiritual Magazine 1868

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A puzzling and chilling anecdote, indeed! Mrs Daffodil, who is not a “fan” of cricket, suggests that the young departed gentleman mistook the grounds for Eternity, due to the interminable nature of the sport. 

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.