It is nice to tell a spooky tale on Hallowe’en, and it is all the more enjoyable to relate one which hints at an afterlife. One that contains a love story is the more intriguing.
This is one of the stories from Lord Halifax’s collection of supposedly true anecdotes, and took place in the eighteenth century.
One morning, Lady Beresford, the daughter of the Earl of Tyrone, surprised her husband Sir Tristram Marcus Beresford by coming down to breakfast wearing a black velvet ribbon about her wrist. She was pale and seemed distraught, and asked him not to ask her about why she wore the ribbon, as it was not a secret that affected him as her husband. She seemed on edge to read the post and said she expected to hear that her brother Lord Tyrone had died last Tuesday at four o’ clock.
When the post arrived, Lady Beresford did receive a letter with that news. She then told him that she knew that she was expecting the son and heir for which he wished. This also proved to be true.
Four years later, Sir Marcus himself died. After that, Lady Beresford lived an almost solitary life, only visiting one family, a clergyman and his wife, who had one son, still only a youth at the time that Lady Beresford started to visit them. Some years later, she astonished society by marrying this young man, who was far younger than she and considered by far her social inferior.
‘He treated her with contempt and cruelty, his conduct being that of an abandoned libertine, destitute of every virtue and human feeling. After bearing him two daughters, Lady Beresford was so estranged by his profligate conduct that she insisted on a separation. They had been parted for several years, when on his expressing deep contrition for his former conduct, she consented to pardon him and once more to reside with him. After some time she bore him a son.’
Lady Beresford had given birth just before the age of forty-eight. At least, she thought that she was forty-eight; but when, a month later, a lifelong friend, the clergyman who had entered her birth came to visit, he told her that a mistake had been made about her age, and she was in fact, forty-seven. Instead of being pleased at proving to be a year younger, Lady Beresford said, ‘You have signed my death warrant.’
She then called her son by Sir Marcus into the room besides a close friend as witness, and told him the story of how she had come always to wear the black velvet ribbon.
She said that she and her brother Lord Tyrone had often discussed their belief in Deism, and had made an agreement that whichever of them should die first, should come back and tell the other whether their religious convictions were true.
On the night before the one where she heard of Lord Tyrone’s death, she awakened to see him standing by her bedside. He told her of his death, and assured her that she would hear of his death the next day, that in seven months she would bear Sir Marcus a sons, and that he would die a few years later. That she would then go on to marry a man who would cause her much unhappiness, and die as a result of childbirth at forty-seven.
He also warned her against ‘infidelity’ but smiled acknowledgement when she asked if he was happy in the afterlife (I do wonder if this warning – not about adultary, but about hetrodox religious views, was added later on to the tale by someone, as it does rather go against the grain of most information given by spirits or gained in NDE’s) .
She asked if she could prevent her unhappy fate, and the brother said yes, but her passions were stronger than she at present knew, and would prove hard to resist.
To prove the reality of his visit, which his sister might otherwise come to think to be a dream, the apparition touched her wrist with fingers cold as ice. The muscles in the wrist instantly withered. He then vanished.
Lady Beresford had tried to avoid her fate by keeping from society as a widow. She never expected to fall in love with the young man who was the son to the only couple she visited, but she had. She long resisted it, but when on the day he was due to join the army, he came and confessed to strong feelings for her, she gave in. The marriage had subsequently proved to be as unhappy as her late brother had predicted.
She had thought herself safe to go back to her husband, being now forty-eight, but as in fact, she was forty-seven, she now expected to die within hours.
She then asked her son and friend to leave her to rest, and when they ran up at a violent ringing of the bell, one of the servants was exclaiming that Lady Beresford was dead. When her son undid the ribbon on her wrist, he found that it was indeed withered as she said.
What happened to her widower is not revealed in the story, nor, sadly, whether the motherless baby thrived.
This was the story that Lord Halifax had from a descendant of Lady Beresford. A later edition corrects a couple of details, concerning her age (she was in fact forty-nine, believing herself to be fifty) and that it was the brother-in-law of the couple she visited with whom she fell in love, and not their son.
It is certainly an intriguing story and I thought, very suitable for Hallowe’en.