Today’s winter tale is by California poet, translator, and author Emma Francis Dawson (1839–1926). She wrote it for the Christmas 1881 edition of The Wasp, a satirical weekly San Francisco periodical, at the request of The Wasp‘s editor, Ambrose Bierce.
In “A Sworn Statement,” the valet Wilkins relates the story of his former employer, Mr. Audenried, and his relationship (or non-relationship?) with the mysterious silent woman who seems to co-inhabit their dwelling.
Ambrose Bierce appears to have admired Dawson’s writing greatly, saying, “She is head and shoulders above any writer on this coast with whose works I am acquainted.” And this story is indeed weird and atmospheric, punctuated here and there with poems and songs (Audenried, like Francis Dawson, is a poet) that help unravel the story behind the events of this tale.
It also gives us a little snapshot of San Francisco as it was in the late nineteenth century, at least among the more affluent.
As I took in some wine, a gentleman was saying: “Too wild a story for such a commonplace background as San Francisco.”
“One must be either commonplace or sated with horrors to say that,” says Mr. Audenried. “What city has more or stranger disappearances and assassinations? There have been murders and suicides at all the hotels. Other cities surpass it in age, but none in crime and mystery.”
Dawson is an intriguing writer, and very little known. I plan to write more about her work in a future installment of “Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic,” but until then, do enjoy this mysterious and uncanny tale.
A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.
Featured Image: Engraved illustration of the original Palace Hotel, C.P. Heninger (1887). Source: Wikimedia.