I’ve had to change a few of the details given in the following story, because the female at the centre of this account is possibly the great-grandmother of a family of note in Cheshire, and a person in this family gave me the tale on the understanding I would never reveal a surname or any facts that would allow a local historian to identify the family or ancestor concerned.
In the late Victorian period, at one of the most prestigious addresses in the city of Bath, there resided a beautiful Cheshire-born lady named Georgina Fontaine, the wife of a famous, fabulously rich merchant named Charles Fontaine. The couple lived in a four-storey townhouse with a retinue of hand-picked servants. They holidayed three times a year, at Switzerland, Scotland and France, and entertained the most influential families in the Empire. The Fontaines were the envy of many people, such was their wealth and apparent contentment with their carefree life of luxury. Georgina Fontaine was a rather aloof person who seemed like a cold fish to the servants, but each year she allotted various sums of money to several local charities.
One foggy autumnal morning, Lady Fontaine was in the drawing room, playing her piano, when the butler, Desmond, entered. Georgina stopped playing and looked at the elderly servant.
‘There is a Mrs Rigby who wishes to see you ma’m,’ intoned Desmond, his nostrils flaring to denote that the visitor was of the lower classes. Lady Fontaine returned a puzzled look, for she knew no one by the surname of Rigby.
Desmond had asked the middle-aged caller to the household if she had an appointment with Lady Fontaine, and the woman had shaken her head and admitted that no such prior arrangement had been made, but Mrs Rigby insisted that her brother had known Lady Fontaine for a while when she was in India. Now Mrs Rigby had something urgent to relate to the lady of the household that related to the time she’d spent at Bengal.
Lady Fontaine seemed very edgy all of a sudden when she heard about this unknown visitor, but she asked Desmond to bring her into the drawing room anyway.
Mrs Elizabeth Rigby was a large dowdily dressed woman of fifty-one years of age with a rotund rosy-cheeked face. She smiled nervously as she entered the drawing room, and Lady Fontaine dismissed Desmond then told Mrs Rigby to sit on the carved and gilt Louis XIV-style sofa. The visitor revealed the sole purpose of her visit: blackmail.
For five months in the summer of 1892, Lady Fontaine had sent 17 love letters to Colonel Lionel Wingate, a married friend of her husband. The lady and the colonel had enjoyed an affair that had lasted almost a year, and Lizzie Rigby, a former maid at the colonel’s Bath residence on Landsowne Road, had somehow come into possession of three love-letters Lady Fontaine had sent to the colonel, and also a pencil drawing Mr Wingate had made of a nude Lady Fontaine. Rigby wanted one-hundred pounds in return for the love-letters and the sketch, or she would send them to Charles Fontaine. Lady Fontaine barely reacted to the hideous stipulation, but merely requested the address for the place where the transaction could take place. Lizzie Rigby stammered out the rendezvous – the stable of her employer, Miss Robinson at Park Gardens, Audley Road, at 11pm - tonight. Lady Fontaine said she would travel there by carriage at the appointed time with the money.
Unknown to Lady Georgina Fontaine and her blackmailer, the butler Desmond had been listening at the door of the drawing room, so he was now privy to the secret of the adulterous affair. The butler was very loyal to Lady Georgina and he seriously considered visiting Lizzie Rigby in the evening with a pistol to extract the damaging letters and drawing. Desmond decided it was better for Lady Georgina to resolve the situation in the end, but that night, he was surprised when he saw her sneak out of her mansion by the tradesmen’s entrance at the rear of the house. He had understood that she would be travelling to the rendezvous point by carriage. This was most peculiar, and Desmond worried for Lady Fontaine’s safety, so he followed her at a distance. An autumn fog rolled inland from the Bristol Channel that night and blanketed Bath, and Desmond soon lost sight of Lady Georgina in the swirling jade night vapours. The pea-souper played havoc with the old butler’s bronchitis, forcing him to return to the mansion. When he arrived there twenty minutes later, the cook, Mrs Jones, told him that Lady Georgina had retired to bed quarter of an hour ago. Desmond knew that was impossible, even if Lady Fontaine had returned from the blackmailer’s rendezvous in a hansom cab. He wondered if Lady Georgina had decided not to give in to Mrs Rigby and returned home. The next evening, Desmond read an intriguing piece of information in the local newspaper. At a cottage on Audley Road named Harcroft, a maid of 51 years of age, named Elizabeth Rigby had died in her bed around midnight from what a physician termed ‘night terrors’ – a nightmare of such vivid intensity, the fear had stopped the maid’s heart. The deceased had obviously clawed at her own neck during the nightmare, for her fingernails had scraped deep red furrows in the neck. The expression on the face of the dead woman was one of abject terror.
Two days later, Desmond read a strange epilogue to the night terrors incident in the same newspaper. A coroner had found several puncture marks on the breasts and face of Mrs Rigby, including a puncture mark in the right eyeball. The coroner also believed several pints of blood were absent from the corpse, but was at a loss to explain why. The butler read the newspapers eagerly for weeks, but nothing else was ever published about the bizarre death of the blackmailer Rigby. Desmond thought it was poetic justice at first, the way the scheming, immoral blackmailer had died in her sleep from a nightmare, but he later realised that the real cause of Rigby’s death had been Lady Georgina herself.
Rumours of Charles Fontaine’s affair with the daughter of a surgeon named Ranston reached Lady Georgina’s ears in the winter of 1893. Charlotte Ranston was just eighteen, porcelain-skinned and beautiful. Charles Fontaine was 39 years her senior, hook-nosed, baldy, and plagued with rheumatism, but somehow managed to win the affections of young Charlotte, and he spent Wednesday and Saturdays with her at his pied-a-terre in Bath’s Queen Square. Charles had told Lady Georgina that he was working at his office on the two days he was spending at his love-nest with Charlotte.
Desmond the butler and the rest of the servants at the mansion of the Fontaines heard Charles and Georgina rowing one night, and Georgina accused her husband of adultery with Charlotte Ranston. Charles gave a false laugh and denied any involvement with the teenager, and Lady Georgina screamed at him and said she was going to see Miss Ranston for a confrontation. ‘Oh dear,’ remarked Desmond, listening on the stairs, and he imagined the Fontaine’s solicitor Francis Ingle and the Reverend Baylis – two old friends of Charles Fontaine - would soon be called in an attempt to sort this ‘problem’ out. The reverend and the solicitor had been called in twice before to deal with the deceitfulness of Charles Fontaine.
Desmond, the cook, the footman, and two maids heard a curious thing that night. In a frantic raised voice, Charles called for his wife to come back – as if she had left the bedroom, yet Lady Georgina had not passed any of them on the stairs. Moments later, Charles appeared in his night-robe on the landing. He gazed down at the household staff with a glazed lost look, then hurried back into his room and slammed the door. Desmond went up to the bedroom, and finding the door locked, he enquired if the master of the house was in need of his assistance, but Charles told him to go away.
That night, a terrifying apparition was seen at the house of the surgeon Thomas Ranston; the spectral form of a woman in a dark diaphanous flowing garment of some sort, hovering outside of his window. The face was deadly pale, as pallid as the faces of the corpses Ranston had dissected at post mortems. As he watched in horrified disbelief, the ghoul moved sideways, away from his window – towards the window of his daughter’s room. Ranston bravely opened his window and looked out into the snow-flecked night. He saw only filaments of snow, and nothing else there, and so he decided the ghost he’d seen had been a product of his over-worked mind – until he heard a scream next door. It was Charlotte!
The surgeon rushed into his daughter’s bedroom and hanging in the air over Charlotte’s bed he saw the same ghastly phantasm he had seen outside his window not a minute before. The inhuman thing was descending on his screaming daughter, and Ranston instantly noticed the streaks of blood on Charlotte’s face and the bloodstains on her nightgown. Charlotte fainted and fell face down into her pillow. Two of the surgeon’s servants arrived on the scene, and they too saw the grotesque supernatural visitant flying around the room like some trapped giant white bird. The three men gasped in horror when the face of the demon turned towards them. Its visage was vaguely female, but the eyes were black and domed, and the mouth was twice the length of a normal mouth, with two rows of long white teeth. On the head of this monstrosity there were two wide triangular pink ears. One of the servant’s ran off, and Thomas Ranston lunged perilously close to the flying female fiend and managed to drag the inert limp body of his unconscious daughter from her bed. As he pulled her off the bed, the imprint of her bloodied face was left in the soft white goosefeather pillow. Seconds later the servant who had ran away returned with a pistol and aimed it at the repulsive vision that was now sloping from the ceiling towards Thomas Ranston and his daughter. The servant fired the pistol four times before the thing retreated and flew straight through the closed window and out into the snowy night. Somehow, the malevolent phantom had not even cracked a pane of glass in its passing out of the room. The window was thrown open and the two servants looked at the grey form of the nocturnal intruder flying into the distance over snow-covered rooftops until it was lost to sight in the swirling eddies of flakes.
A fortnight after this terrifying attack by the unidentified entity, Charlotte Ranston almost died from a typhoid-like fever. A week after that, she suffered from internal bleeding, and her physician expected her to die of septicaemia, but the teenager pulled through and eventually made a slow recovery from the mysterious illness. The servant who had fired upon the ‘ghost’ happened to be a relative of a servant named Jane Cowan in the Fontaine household, and when his story was repeated by Jane to Desmond the butler, he recalled how Charles Fontaine had pleaded for his wife not to leave upon that night when she threatened to go and confront Charlotte Ranston. This led Desmond to consider a shocking and apparently far-fetched possibility: was Lady Georgina Fontaine a vampiress? Desmond recalled the unexplained loss of blood in the blackmailer Mrs Rigby, and the injuries to Charlotte Ranston and her mystifying near-fatal illness. Desmond’s grandmother had told him about a vampire who was said to have been at large in South Wales in 1846, and how the fiend had spread a whole host of infections by biting the throats of sleeping people at night and imbuing their blood. How though, if Lady Georgina was a vampire, could she endure daylight? Desmond pondered this question, for it was a commonly held belief that vampires were creatures of the night who loathed the light of day. Desmond recalled how Lady Georgina often used a parasol on the rare occasions when she visited the nearby park, and now, come to think of it, didn’t she have the drapes of the windows arranged to admit a modicum of light? Desmond wondered if his line of thought was taking him into the realms of fantasy. Wasn’t there one test he could carry out to see if his mistress was a female vampire? Now, was there a food that a vampire couldn’t stomach? Yes! Of course – garlic. Desmond asked the cook Mrs Jones if she had ever used garlic as an ingredient in any of the dishes she had prepared for Charles and Georgina upstairs? ‘It’s more than I’d dare do,’ answered Mrs Jones, ‘as Lady Georgina cannot stomach it.’
Desmond felt the hairs on his neck rise up when the cook told him that. Was it mere coincidence? The bell below stairs rang, and Desmond changed into his better coat and went up to the drawing room to see what the matter was. Lady Georgina had summoned Desmond, and she was alone in the drawing room. She kept eye-contact as she told him to ask the cook if she would be kind enough to make some more Garibaldi biscuits. Then she gave Desmond the shock of his life. ‘What made you mention garlic just now?’ she asked.
Desmond’s legs felt weak. How on earth could she have overheard what he had said down in the kitchen? Desmond did not know that vampires were reputed to have hypersensitive hearing, smell and vision. He was speechless. Could she read minds? He wondered.
‘Well?’ Lady Georgina glared at the man who had been her faithful servant for so many years. The anger in her dark eyes softened to sadness.
‘I cannot say ma’m – it was just a thought,’ said Desmond, avoiding her eyes.
‘You have served me for almost twenty years Desmond,’ said Lady Georgina in a solemn voice, ‘does that not count for anything?’
‘Of course ma’m, of course it does,’ Desmond replied, feeling an incredible urge to get out the house he’d regarded as his home. The hunch was overwhelming, and he suspected his life was in danger.
‘Come here,’ Lady Georgina commanded in a firm voice.
Desmond turned his back on her – something he would have regarded as unthinkable a day or two ago. He walked to the door, and Lady Fontaine snarled at him in an inhuman voice to come back. Desmond walked out the room and gracefully closed the door behind him in one swift movement. He walked down the stairs, his heart thumping, and he knew this would be the last time he would walk down those familiar stairs. With each step he felt invisible hands clawing at his back and a faint howling wind by his ears, but he began to say the Lord’s Prayer, and walked straight out of the house, not through the tradesmen’s door or the servant’s door, but by the front door. He walked straight into a church and felt the evil presence that had overshadowed him every step of the way suddenly cease as he entered the House of God. He told a bemused vicar about Lady Fontaine, and how she was some vampiric being hiding behind the façade of respectability, but the man of the cloth did not believe his story. Upon leaving the church, Desmond felt the evil presence at his side again, and so he walked to a catholic church and told a young priest the same tale as the one told to the Protestant vicar. This time the priest was open-minded, and he too had heard about the entity that had attacked Charlotte Ranston and the unnatural death of Elizabeth Rigby from so-called ‘night terrors’. The priest invited the nervous old butler into his home, which was annexed to the church, and after a meal together, the holy man told him he could stay at the house until the matter was ‘dealt with’. The priest gathered all the things he would need to confront the thing that was masquerading as a woman; his rosary, the Holy Bible, a bottle of blessed water, and a crucifix. Desmond was worried about the young priest coming to serious harm, but the young man told him if the worst should come to the worst it would be what was known in the faith as “Baptism by Blood” – a shedding of one’s own blood for Christ in a final act of martyrdom. The priest set out for the Fontaines home at 7pm, and returned almost an hour later. He told Desmond that the vampiress had fled in her true form, resembling an enormous white bat with red eyes. The Holy water had scarred her face after being splashed upon her. The servants, who had heard the screams upstairs, had been completely unaware of the unusual situation, and had sent for the police. An inspector named Bence had been unable to establish just what crime had been committed, but had taken a statement anyway. Charles Fontaine would undoubtedly be in touch, the priest reasoned, and he wondered if that man knew what his wife was. As far as is known, Charles never did get in touch with the Catholic priest, and resumed his affair with Charlotte Ranston. Lady Georgina Fontaine was never heard from again, but no doubt the vampiress settled down for a while in the guise as some other beautiful woman.
Copyright Tom Slemen 2010. All rights reserved. The above story is taken from Tom Slemen's Vampires of Great Britain available from Amazon on Kindle.