An 1838 New Hampshire Tale of Horror: The Three Brides

Sketch of Grave Digger from I’ve gathered them in; or, The old grave digger; song for bass or contralto, by C.A. White 1873; Internet Archive. Colorized by blog editor.

As published in Weekly Raleigh Register newspaper, Raleigh, North Carolina, 18 June 1838, page 1 /and/ The Maryland Gazette, Annapolis Maryland, 21 June 1838, page 1

“Towards the close of a chilly afternoon in the latter part of November, I was traveling in New Hampshire on horse-back. The road was solitary and rugged, and would along through gloomy pine forests, over abrupt and stony hills. I stopped at an inn, a two story brick building, standing a little back from the road.

In the morning I rose early and took a look from the window, but the prospect was very uninviting. Afar, in the most distant part of the field, a man was busily engaged in digging a grave. I passed on to where the grave digger was pursuing his occupation. He answered my morning salutation civilly enough, but continued intent upon his work. He was a man of about fifty years of age, spare but strong, with gray hair and sunken cheeks, and certain lines about the mouth which argued a propensity to indulge in dry jest, though the sternness of his grey eyes seemed to contradict the tacit assertion.

Graphic, The Lost Bride, Timothy Shay Arthur, 1880; Internet Archive, colorized by blog editor.

“An unpleasant morning, sir, to work in the open air,” said I.
“He that regardeth the clouds shall not reap,” replied the grave digger, still busily plying his spade, “Death stalks abroad, fair and foul days, and we that follow in its footsteps, must prepare for the dead, rain or shine.”

“A melancholy occupation!”
“A fit one for a moralist. Some would find pleasure in it. Deacon Giles, I am sure, would willingly be in my place now.”
“And why?”
“This grave is for his wife,” replied the grave digger, looking up from his occupation with a dry smile that wrinkled his sallow cheeks and distorted his shrunken lips. Perceiving that his merriment was not infectious, he resumed his employment, and that so assiduously, that in a short time he had hollowed the last resting place of Deacon Giles’ consort. This done he ascended from the trench with a lightness that surprised me, and walking a few paces from the new grave, sat down upon a tombstone and beckoned me to approach. I did so.

“Young man,” said he, “a sexton and a grave differ, if he is one who has a zeal for his calling, becomes something of a historian, amassing many a curious talk and strange legend concerning the people with whom he has to do, living and death; for a man, with a taste for his profession, cannot provide for the last repose of his fellows, without taking an interest in their story, the manner of their death & the concerns of their relatives who follow their remains so fearfully to their grave.”

“Then,” replied I, taking a seat beside the sexton, “methinks you could relate some interesting tales.” Again the withering smile, that I had before observed, passed over the face of the sexton as he answered.
“I am not story teller, sir, I deal in fact not fiction. Yes, yes, I could chronicle some strange events. But of all things I know, there is nothing stranger to me than the melancholy history of the three brides.” “The three brides?”

“Ay. Do you see three hillocks yonder, side by side?” There they sleep and will, till the last trumpet comes,k wailing through the heart of these lone hills, with a tone so strange and stirring, that the dead will start from their graves at its first awful note. Then will come the judgment and the retribution. But to my tale. Look there, sir, on yonder hill you may boserve a little isolated house with a straggling fence in front, and a few stunted apple trees on the ascent behind it.

It is sadly out of repair now, and the garden is all overgrown with weeds and brambles and the whole place has a desolate appearance. If the wind were high now, you might hear the old crazy shutters flapping against the sides, and the wind tearing the gray shingles off the roof. Many years ago, there lived an old man and his son, who cultivated the few acres of arable land which belong to it.

The father was a self taught man, deeply versed in the mysteries of science, and as he could tell the name of every flower that blossomed in the wood and grew in the garden, and used to sit up late of nights at his books, or reading the mystic story of the starry heavens, men thought he was crazed or bewitched, and avoided him, and even hated him, as the ignorant ever shun and dread the enlightened. So they all deserted him, and the Minister, for the old man differed in some trifling points of doctrine, spoke very slightly of him; and by and by, all looked upon the self-educated farmer with the eyes of aversion. He instructed his son in all his lore–the languages, literature, history, science, were unfolded to the enthusiastic son of the solitary. He at length, died.

Graphic, The Three brides, by Charlotte M. Yonge, 1876; Internet Archive

I cannot paint to you the grief of the son at this bereavement. He was for a time as one distracted. He sought to bury his grief in thirst for fame. After his thirst was gratified, he began to yearn for the companionship of some sweet being of the other sex, to share the laurels they had won–to whisper consolation in his ear in moments of despondency, and to supply the void which the death of his old father occasioned. He would picture to himself a refined, intellectual and beautiful woman; and as he had chosen for his motto, what has been done may still be done, he did not despair of success. In this village lived three sisters, all beautiful and accomplished. Their names were Mary, Adelaide, and Madeline. I can never forget the beauty of these young girls. Mary was the youngest, and a fairer haired, more laughing damsel never danced upon a green.– Adelaide was a few years older, was dark haired and pensive, but of the three, Madeline, the eldest, possessed the most fire, spirit, cultivation and intellect[uality].

Their father was a man of taste and education, and being somewhat above vulgar prejudice, permitted the visits of the hero of my story. When he found an affection springing up between Mary and the Poet, he did not withhold his consent from her marriage, and the recluse bore to the solitary mansion the young bride of the affections. Oh, sir, the house assumed a new appearance without and without.– Roses bloomed in the garden, jessamines [variant of jasmines] peeped through the lattices, and the fields smiled with the effects of careful cultivation. Lights were seen in the little parlor in the evening, and many a time would the passenger pause by the garden gate to listen to strains of sweetest music, breathed by choral voices from the cottage. If the mysterious student and his wife were neglected, what cared they?– Their enduring and mutual affection made their home a little paradise–but death came to Eden. Mary fell suddenly sick, and, after a few hours sickness, died, in the arms of her husband.

Days and months rolled on and the only solace of the bereaved was to set with the family and talk of the lost one.– At length to Adelaide he offered his widowed heart. She came to the lone home like the dove, hearing the olive branch of peace and consolation. But their bridal was not one of revelry and mirth, for a sad recollection brooded over the hour. Yet they lived happily; the husband again smiled, and with a new Spring, the roses against blossomed in the garden. When the roses withered and the leaf fell, in the mellow autumn of the year, Adelaide too sickened and died, like her sister, in the arms of her husband, and of Madeline.

Perhaps you will think it strange, that after all, the wretched survivor stood at the altar again. His third bride was Madeline. I well remember her. She was a beauty in the true sense of the word. It may seem strange to you, to hear the praise of beauty from such lips as mine; but I cannot avoid expatiating upon her. She was a proud creature, with a tall commanding form, and raven tresses, that floated, dark and cloud-like, over her shoulders. She was a singularly gifted woman, and possessed a rare inspiration. She loved the widower for his power and his fame, and she wedded him.

They were married in that Church. It was on a summer afternoon–I recollect it well.– During the ceremony, the blackest cloud that I ever saw, overspread the heavens like a pall, and at the moment, when the bride pronounced the vow, a clap of thunder shook the building to its centre. All the females shrieked; but the bride made her response with a firm voice as she gazed upon her bridegroom. He marked a kind of incoherence in her expressions as they rode homeward, which surprised him at the time. Arriving at the house, she shrunk upon the threshold, but this was the timidity of a maiden. When they were alone he clasped her hand–it was cold as ice. He looked into her face.

Graphic, Lightning Fact Sheet, University of Illinois, State of Illinois. Internet Archive.

“Madeline,” said he, “what means this; your cheeks are as pale as your weeding gown?” The bride uttered a frantic shriek. “My wedding gown!” exclaimed she; “no–no–this is my sister’s shroud! The hour of confession has arrived. It is God that impels me to speak. To win you I have lost my soul!– yes, yes, I am a murderess. She smiled upon me in the joyous affection of her young heart–but I gave her the drug? Adelaide clasped her white arms about my neck, but I administered the poison! Take me to your arms! I have lost my soul for you, and mine you must be!”

“She spread her white arms,” said the sexton, rising in the excitement of the moment and assuming the attitude he described; “and then” continued he, in a hollow voice,”at that moment came the thunder and the flash, and the guilty woman fell dead on the floor.” The countenance of the narrator expressed all the horror that he felt.

“And the bridegroom,” asked I “the husband of the destroyer and the victim, what has become of him?”

“He stands before you!” was the thrilling answer.”


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