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.
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 I 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.