Blurb: An excerpt from the Vampire-Hunter's manual: A case which baffled the noble Society of Vampire-Hunters in Derbyshire in the year 1814.
Posted on 2010-10-31
The Foulest Curse That Walks The Earth
Chapter XVIII: Case Studies
B. The Case of Mrs C---, Richmond, 1814.
My readers may laugh at me for including a case that dates back more than half a century, but as this case continues to be one of the most baffling cases which the Royal Society of Vampire-Hunters (then: Vampire-Hunters of Derbyshire) has ever had to face, I can only urge every one of them to study it closely. I cannot, of course, give any first-hand testimony of this case, but it has been excellently documented by one of my predecessors as head of this Noble Society; my grandfather, in fact, Fitzwilliam Darcy, who presided over it for many years until he left it to the care of my uncle Roderick Darcy (later Sir Roderick).
The case of Mrs C--- was first presented to the V.D. in the early months of 1814. I should perhaps add a word about how things were handled back then, before we received the honour of being acknowledged and elevated. Those readers familiar with The Chronicles of Pemberley, wherein I give a detailed account of our history and our customs until this day, may already know that in those days, the Society still operated mainly in Derbyshire, whence it originated. Nevertheless, its reputation was even then widely spread.
It was thus not so very unusual that a Mrs C---, of Yorkshire, was referred to the Society by her physician. This gentleman, an eminent citizen of York, was learned enough to realise that his patient's ailments were well beyond his powers.
He referred her to a specialist in London, all the while warning her that she might find the specialist very unusual, but assuring her that this was her only hope. He was not mistaken in his assessment; the reader will easily imagine Mrs C---'s surprise when the specialist turned out to be none other than a Mrs Hurst (of whom the reader will undoubtedly have heard before).
Even in our modern day and age, women taking the onerous duties of a physician on themselves are an exception; but in those days, the reader must remember, it was simply not heard of. (In the Society, of course, we have never made any difference between our male and female members, since, of course, the vampire does not make one either.)
Mrs C--- however was sensible enough to understand that she must trust Mrs Hurst and she thus agreed to a treatment. The symptoms with which Mrs C--- presented herself were the following: a constant restlessness coupled with fatigue; frequent, reappearing, tormenting headaches; an overall weakened constitution; hefty bruises on arms and legs; and an oversensitivity towards smells and tastes. Further inquiries by Mrs Hurst showed that the headaches appeared when the patient was exposed to sunlight and that the oversensitivity was brought about by certain strong herbs and spices (cf. Chapter 3 for a list that roughly corresponds to the list Mrs C--- gave Mrs Hurst).
Naturally, Mrs Hurst first suspected vampirism, which seemed to fit all the symptoms, apart from the bruises. A close examination, however, brought to light that Mrs C---'s skin had not been punctured anywhere. There was neither the characteristic bi-dental marking (cf. the drawings in Chapter 7) nor any other penetration of the skin, making it impossible for the venom to have entered Mrs C---'s circulation. Strictly speaking, Mrs C--- was thus not a case for the V.D., but as the readers may know, we have taken an oath to serve those who need us, and to make the world a safer place, and it was obvious that Mrs C--- needed the help of the society. (Nowadays, of course, such cases would be referred to the S.V.A.M.P.S., but in those days, a quarter of a century before our beloved Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, the S.V.A.M.P.S. had not yet been founded – it would indeed by my aunt Eleanor who founded the S.V.A.M.P.S., and she had not yet been born in 1814 (cf. Chapter 27 for a detailed discussion of the origins of the S.V.A.M.P.S.))
My readers may wonder why Mrs Hurst did not attempt to undertake blood tests to exclude the possibility of vampirism for certain; the answer is quite simple. The rudimentary blood tests that existed in those days were not only very crude, but also very unreliable. It would, in fact, be the impressions of this particular case which would later make Mrs Hurst develop the first reliable blood tests. (For a discussion of blood tests, cf. Chapter 13)
In this case, however, Mrs Hurst did not make any tests – and we now know the tests of those days would not have shown her anything. Instead, she decided to spend as much time with the patient as possible in order to be able to protocol the precise appearances of the illness. As Mrs Hurst also wanted to learn more about her patients family and environments, Mrs C--- and her family were installed in the London house of Dr Aldridge, another worthy member of the society and a good friend of Mrs Hurst.
Mrs C---'s family, it has to be said, was less than supportive. Mr C---, the husband, was ready enough to humour his wife and cater to her whims, but it was obvious he did not believe in super-natural forces, as he called them. To him, his wife's very real and very dangerous condition was nothing more than a lack of spirits and he gave Mrs Hurst leave to, as he put it, "cheer her up in whatever ways she thought fit." Mrs C---'s nephew, young Mr C---, was even less disposed to take his aunt's illness seriously. He clearly thought that Mrs C--- was merely asking for attention and that Mrs Hurst was after the family fortune, which was rumoured to be rather grand. Young Mr C---, however, was completely happy to stay in London and thus did not pose a great opposition to the plan.
During the short time Mrs C--- stayed in Dr Aldridge's house, her condition worsened significantly. Constant breathlessness now came to complete exhaustion and there were days where Mrs C--- could not even raise from her bed; she described it as "a leaden weight on her whenever she tried to move." She required the curtains to be drawn in her room at all times as the sunlight gave her headaches to the point of nausea; and even when she did not have headaches, she could hardly eat for most smells would make her unable to partake of food. It was only plain, unleavened bread that sustained her during those days.
Most alarming to Mrs Hurst, however, were the bruises which now appeared on Mrs C---'s skin with greater and greater frequency. Her shoulders were, as Mrs Hurst described it in a letter to my grandfather, "completely black on some days, her hips and waist equally bruised and swollen, and in addition to it, her back always very tender and sore, if unbruised."
It was in this letter that Mrs Hurst eagerly asked my grandfather for assistance; he was still at Pemberley with his wife, who had just then been delivered of a healthy boy (my uncle Roderick, as it happened), and was not eager to part from her. Upon receiving the alarming news from Mrs Hurst, however, he arranged for transportation immediately (the reader will know that in those days, travel was not as easy as it is nowadays, for then, every journey had to be undertaken in a carriage, and the journey from Pemberley to the South could easily take two or more days).
My grandfather met Mrs Hurst and Mrs C---, with Mrs C---'s family, in his house in Richmond, where they had in the meantime removed. Mrs C---, it seemed, was unable to tolerate the noise that must necessarily come from living in a large city, and Mrs Hurst had thought it only wise to take her into the country. She was, most astonishingly, not met with any opposition from the nephew, whom she had thought rather partial to the amusements of town; it turned out that young Mr C---'s father, a Mr W---, was living in a Surrey village not far from Richmond. As Mr W--- had recently remarried, young Mr C--- was most eager to visit with his new mother there; the short visit he had already paid her before obviously was not enough for him.
During the carriage journey to Richmond, Mrs Hurst, attempting to distract Mrs C--- from the rumbling motions of the carriage and the sunlight which could not be completely excluded, asked Mrs C--- about her nephew's history. Mrs Hurst later told my grandfather that she had originally only meant to ask why young Mr C--- did not have his father's name, but it seemed she had struck a nerve, for Mrs C--- desperately needed to unburden herself to Mrs Hurst.
The first Mrs W---, it transpired, had been Mr C---'s sister. Both Mr and Mrs C--- had been in dire opposition to her marriage to Mr W---, on the grounds that he was young, without connections and penniless, and Miss C---, equally young, had been expected to make a good match. (In our modern times, of course, a young lady's wish to marry for love is met with less resistance from her family, provided she chooses someone worthy; in those times, however, the reader must remember, it was still the norm for the family of a young lady to arrange a marriage for her, as it was thought to be the best way to preserve and enlarge family fortunes.) However, Miss C--- was not to be swayed, in spite of the many disadvantages of the connection pointed out to her by Mrs C---, and in the end, she married Mr W---. This, unfortunately, caused a rift between Mr and Mrs C--- and their sister, for Mrs W--- could not but blame her sister for her interference, kindly as it was undoubtedly meant. Mrs W--- was, however, not long for this world, for only two years after having been delivered of a son – young Mr C--- - she died, leaving Mr W--- without money and with a child to care for.
It was, Mrs C--- told Mrs Hurst, out of consideration for this child, that Mrs C--- and her husband contacted Mr W--- again. The first Mrs W--- would not return, Mrs C--- said, but the child should, for his mother's sake, live the life she should have had, and Mrs C--- did her utmost to make him understand his worth in the world. They were, Mrs C--- said, ready to forget the hard words that the mother had said for the child's sake, which Mr and Mrs C--- then took in to raise as their own; it was for this reason that the young man later took their name. Mr W---, having made his fortune in the world, returned to the small village where he and the first Mrs W--- had first made their home, and married a respectable young lady there. Young Mr C--- was all to eager, Mrs C--- said, to welcome the lady into the family, but Mrs C--- had reservations; Mr W---, after all, had most earnestly professed his love for the erstwhile Miss C--- and Mrs C--- could not but feel hurt by the way the first Mrs W--- had been supplanted.
Mrs C--- had dearly loved her sister, she confessed to Mrs Hurst, whatever else the world may have thought. It had only been her sister's best interests that had caused her to act as she had; it might, she conceded, have seemed harsh and unfeeling at the time, but ultimately, she had only wanted her sister to live in such a way as was her due.
Whilst unburdening this tale to Mrs Hurst greatly relieved Mrs C---, it also exhausted her very much. Upon their arrival, she immediately took to her bed and did not leave it for half a week, so bereft of energy was she. Mr Darcy arrived in Richmond two days after Mrs Hurst had with her charge; he had there consulted again with several members of the V.D. for the reports he had had from Mrs Hurst confused him greatly. None of those ladies and gentlemen, however, had any satisfactory theory as to what might plague Mrs C---. Mr Darcy thus journeyed on to Richmond in order to examine the patient himself.
When he had done so, he had to admit that Mrs Hurst's examination had been sound – not that there had been any doubts about this; Mrs Hurst was, after all, an expert – and that he could not find any explanation for Mrs C---'s condition either. Said condition had, in the meantime, worsened dramatically; the leaden weight on her of which she complained made it all but impossible for her to move and her upper arms were full of bruises.
Neither Mr Darcy nor Mrs Hurst had any idea how to continue; all they could do was provide Mrs C--- with healthy food (most of which, however, Mrs C--- found herself unable to eat), fresh air and, most importantly, quiet. They hoped that this might, eventually, at least alleviate the symptoms Mrs C--- was showing, if not the cause.
For a while, it seemed as if they might succeed. Gradually, Mrs C--- began to show signs of improvement at least in spirits. She kept herself on a strict diet, rested for large parts of the day and ventured outside only when there was no danger of sunlight. She continued to be exhausted and remained very weak; it was obvious that only a removal of the cause of her illness would ultimately cure her. Mrs Hurst's ministrations, however, ascertained that at least she was comfortable and without too much suffering, which greatly relieved the patient. Her family also adjusted to the situation; her nephew spent time with his father and his friends in Surrey whilst her husband took to fishing in the area.
Mr Darcy, however, was not content. He journeyed north again with the double intention of seeing his first-born son and his wife, and to consult the large library at Pemberley again. He had much pleasure in seeing his wife and son but was disappointed in the library. From Pemberley, he travelled westward to a small village near the Welsh border. It was there that his cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam and his wife, the sister of Mrs Hurst, resided. (The Fitzwilliams were, incidentally, the grandparents of my beloved wife.) Their son, Rupert, was then almost two years old and Mrs Fitzwilliam was expecting again. Col. Fitzwilliam had spent several years on the continent during the recent wars against Napoleon (the history of which will of course be familiar to the reader) and it was his expertise Mr Darcy was seeking. Col. Fitzwilliam and his wife spent a long time going over Mrs Hurst's reports and interrogating Mr Darcy about all that he had noted during his own examination. Finally, Mrs Fitzwilliam, who remembered something, proposed a theory that was so outrageous that it was instantly dismissed by both gentlemen. Mrs Fitzwilliam, however, was not to be discouraged.
"If all the evidence suggests that whatever it is, is a vampyre," she wrote into her journal, "then the most rational explanation must be, that it is a vampyre – in a form, mayhap, that has hitherto not been known to us. John may laugh at me but I recall something about which I read in an old German chronicle, of a creature that haunted their villages. I have researched this creature in the old myths of the werewolf by Bielefeldt and I am positive that this is the explanation. This creature is not the vampyre we know, with a fully developed body who haunts all living creatures in order to drink their blood; it was a proto-vampyre, who clung only to one soul in order to be nourished by this soul. This one soul, most often, was one that had wronged or slighted it when it was still alive. This Widergänger, as the Germans call it, is not visible to the living, having not yet reached the physical power to assume an autonomous body, rather, it is its spirit that takes possession of the victim's body. The victim often experiences the sensation of having something invisible cling to his back, as if he were carrying a tired child, for example. The victim is slowly bereft of his soul, his resilience and his life force, until such a time when his body is nothing but an empty shell, which then dies. The Widergänger shares several traits with the real vampyre; an aversion to the sunlight, for example, and to certain smells. The exhaustion the victim experiences is similar to the experiences of one bitten by the vampyre, to such an extent that for all purposes, it appears to be the same."
Mrs Fitzwilliam here showed that indeed she had understood all that was known about the Widergänger perfectly. She also noted down that there was only one possibility to determine for sure whether a person was haunted by such a proto-vampiric creature; namely, to find out who was haunting the victim, then to open that person's grave and inspect the body for signs of the Widergänger, namely, an open mouth and eye, and, most characteristically, a half-eaten shroud. In order to then banish the Widergänger, its body, like that of the real vampire, has to be decapitated; its heart removed and a stake driven through its chest.
It goes without saying that such a heinous deed, the opening of a coffin and the subsequent desecration of a body, can only be undertaken when one is certain of a positive outcome.
Since Mrs Fitzwilliam had no idea who might be the Widergänger haunting Mrs C---, she could not verify the theory herself. She intended, however, to write to her sister, Mrs Hurst, to tell her all she had learnt, so that Mrs Hurst might decide if this was the answer.
"I know, dearest," she wrote, "that it sounds dreadful, but remember, this is but a vampyre with a different name. If you are absolutely certain that you have found the body that is taking Mrs C---'s life, then you must unearth this body and, when you have found those signs, you must perform the rites you would perform on a vampyre; there is no other cure. Only if you do this, your patient will be saved."
Mrs Fitzwilliam wrote this letter but never posted it; a day later, she was laid to bed with her child and was subsequently delivered of a daughter. She forgot, due to the exhaustion of the delivery and the following delight in her child, about the letter to her sister. The midwife absolutely forbade her from rising from her bed for a full week and Col. Fitzwilliam, joyous in his renewed fatherhood, paid no attention to his wife's letters.
When Mrs Fitzwilliam finally stumbled over the letter again and posted it, it was too late. In spite of the care Mrs Hurst had been bestowing on her, Mrs C--- had died, rather unexpectedly, by the end of June.
Whether it was indeed a Widergänger that had haunted her could never be proven; Mr C---, who did not believe, as he repeatedly told Mrs Hurst, in "other-worldly creatures," opposed a post-mortem examination of his wife's body that might have shed light on the affair. Mrs Fitzwilliam later suggested that it had most probably been the spirit of the first Mrs W--- that had haunted Mrs C---, but this also could never be proven, as the Society abstained from asking Mr W--- permission to open his wife's grave.
What remains of this case are the blood test Mrs Hurst later developped and Mrs Fitzwilliam's conclusion, which I can only impress upon my readers time an again: "If all the evidence suggests that whatever it is, is a vampyre, then the most rational explanation must be, that it is a vampyre – in a form, mayhap, that has hitherto not been known to us. "
For it would be foolish of us to assume that we know all of the vampire, only because we have studied it for years. The vampire constantly assumes knew forms, changes and reinvents itself; all that we can do is defeat it wherever we have the opportunity and remain constantly vigilant.The End