I paid a visit, the other day, says Madame de la Barca, which merits to be recorded. It was to the rich Senora , whose first visit I had not yet returned. She was at home, and I was shown into a very large drawing-room, where, to my surprise, I found the lamps, mirrors, etc., covered with black crape, as in cases of mourning here. I concluded that some one of the family was dead, and that I had made a very ill-timed first visit. However, I sat down, when my eyes were instantly attracted by something awful placed directly in front of the sofa where I sat. There were six chairs ranged together, and on these lay, stretched out, a figure, apparently a dead body, about six feet long, enveloped in black cloth, the feet alone visible, from their pushing up the cloth. Oh, horror! Here I sat, my eyes fixed upon this mysterious apparition, and lost in conjecture as to whose body it might be. The master of the house? He was very tall, and being in bad health, might have died suddenly. My being received argued nothing against this, since the first nine days after a death the house is invariably crowded with friends and acquaintances, and the widow, or orphan, or childless mother, must receive the condolences of all and sundry, in the midst of her first bitter sorrow. There seems to be no idea of grief wishing for solitude.
Pending these reflections, I sat uneasily, feeling or fancying a heavy air in the apartment, and wishing most sincerely that some living person would enter. I thought even of slipping away, but feared to give offence, and in fact began to grow so nervous, that when the Senora de __ entered at length, I started up as if I had heard a pistol. She wore a coloured muslin gown and a blue shawl; no signs of mourning.
After the usual complimentary preface, I asked particularly after her husband, keeping a side glance on the mysterious figure. He was pretty well. Her family? Just recovered from the small pox, after being severely ill. “Not dangerously?” said I, hesitatingly, thinking she might have a tall son, and that she alluded to the recovery of others. “No;” but her sister’s children had been alarmingly ill. “Not lost any, I hope?” “None.” Well, so taken up was I, that conversation flagged, and I answered and asked questions at random, until, at last, I happened to ask the lady if she were going to the country soon. “Not to remain. But to-morrow we, are going to convey a Santo Cristo (a figure of the crucifixion) there, which has just been made for the chapel;” glancing towards the figure; “for which reason this room is, as you see, hung with black.”
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.