Mrs Pomeroy’s Page: 1873

pageboy 1902


By Mary E. Bradley.

Did you notice him when he opened the door for us, just now—a cunning little chap, with a curly head, and a blue sailor suit? Perhaps you thought he was Mazie Pomeroy’s little brother, or something?—people do, sometimes, because Mrs. Pomeroy always keeps him dressed so nicely, and not in “buttons,” either.

He isn’t the least relation, though; only her little page; and it’s quite a story, the way we found him. I had something to do with it, you see,— quite a good deal, in fact,—for it all came about through an accident that happened to me last summer, when Lizzie Prior and I were spending the long vacation with Mazie. Mrs. Pomeroy has a cottage at Long Branch, you know, and she was kind enough to invite Lizzie and me to go down with Mazie for the holidays.

We were to stop a week in New York before we went to the Branch, just to get our little fineries together. Mazie was clever with her needle, and she had the idea of an astonishing bathing-dress that was to take the shine out of everything on the beach. Lizzie and I followed her lead, and we were all three up to our eyes in blue and gray and scarlet flannels,—making a great litter of scraps and cuttings, too,—when Catharine came up stairs, one morning, with a little object of a child behind her.

Catharine is the parlor-maid, and she wanted her mistress; but Mrs. Pomeroy had gone out to buy a lot of things we needed for our work,—Hercules braid, and smoked pearl buttons, and oiled silk for caps. Mazie asked her was it anything particular that was wanted, and where under the sun had she picked up that creature,—meaning the child, who was the most ridiculous object you can-imagine, and set us all to laughing at the first glimpse. It was dressed in such an absurd way, with a boy’s hat on its shaggy head, and a boy’s jacket, with the sleeves cut off, round its waist, and under that was a girl’s little faded cotton frock, so short that it hardly covered the child’s knees. Its slim bare arms, and its long pipe-stem legs, made you think of a young Shanghai before its feathers are grown; and altogether there was such a comical look about it that we couldn’t help screaming,—though we are not so hard-hearted as to laugh when it hurts anybody’s feelings, I want you to know.

It didn’t hurt this monkey at all. In fact, it seemed as much amused with us as we were with it; and stared and grinned in the drollest way while Catharine was explaining that it had come to beg for rags to sell; and did anybody know what they wouldn’t be coming after next? But it was Mrs. Pomeroy’s orders that no beggars were to be sent away, and she didn’t know what to do about it.

“Why, give her the rag-bag, of course,” said Mazie.

But Catharine didn’t know whether there was a rag-bag, and looked as if she thought it beneath the dignity of the house to keep such a thing. Mazie didn’t know, herself; but I happened to have seen one hanging in the hall closet once when I wanted to get rid of some scraps, and I told Catharine where to find it.

So she went to fetch it, and came back presently with a large calico bag, pretty well stuffed with the snips and pieces that Mrs. Pomeroy’s dress-maker had left. The ridiculous child was perfectly delighted when all this trash was emptied into the big basket she carried, and we were so amused with her grimaces, that we went upon our knees and picked up all the scraps of flannel that were scattered on the floor, to add to her treasure.

“Now, then, what are you going to do with the rags?” I asked her, as I stuffed the last handful into the basket .

“Take ’em home to Mum,” she said, with a beaming face.

“Who’s Mum? Your mother?” asked Lizzie.

“Mum’s the woman. Haint got any mother.”

“Is the woman good to you? Do you like her?” asked Lizzie again.

The object shook her flaxen head, “like “the lady from over the Rhine,” and civilly answered: “No, she aint!”

“What makes you so glad to get the rags for her, then?” cried Mazie.

“‘Cause we get whacked when we don’t bring ’em,” she said, coolly. “There’s Jinny, an’ Sally, an’ Mary-Ann an’ me, an’ some of us gets whacked every night for not fetchin’ enough. Mum’s a hard hitter, too, she is.”

The girls looked at each other, and Lizzie cried pitifully, “You poor little monkey! She starves you, too, I dare say,—the horrid woman!”

“Well, she don’t feed us werry high,—Mum don’t,” was the answer, with a confidential nod at Lizzie. “Cold mush for brekfus, an’ wotever you can pick up in the street for dinner, aint none too fillin’, miss. You know how it is yourself.”

This was more than we could stand, of course. We screamed with laughter at the idea of Lizzie “knowing how it was herself;” and Mazie, as soon as she could get her breath, ordered Catharine to take the child down stairs and feed her.

“Give her all she can possibly eat, and a whole lot of gingerbread and sponge-cake to take home with her,” said Mazie.

“And here, you oddity !” cried Lizzie, “there’s a quarter for you to keep. Mind you don’t give it to Mum, though.”

Such eyes as that creature made! I wish you could have seen how they flashed like fire, at first, and then softened all over, and the way she snatched Lizzie’s hand and kissed it—actually kissed it! Mazie and l found some pennies to keep the quarter company, and Catharine carried the child off at last to be fed in the kitchen. Of course, it kept our tongues going for awhile afterwards, and there wasn’t much sewing done, until Mazie remarked, sarcastically, that she thought we might take in orders for bathing dresses, we were getting on so fast. And then we all picked up our thimbles and went to work again.

Nearly all, at least, but my thimble was not to be found. I couldn’t remember exactly where I had laid it down; yet, as I had never left the room, it must be somewhere around, we all agreed. However, after scattering everything about, and upsetting the work-basket, and rummaging the tabledrawer, and turning things inside out, generally, there was still no sign of it.

I began to be worried; for the mischief of it was, l had been using Mrs. Pomeroy’s thimble; and, besides being a very handsome one, she thought everything of it for another reason. It was made of a lump of Californian gold that her only brother had dug with his own hands; and not long after he had it made for her, he had lost his life at the mines. It all happened, of course, long before any of us were born; but the thimble was one of Mrs. Pomeroy’s precious things still.

I had no business to have touched it, either. It was just a piece of laziness not to go up stairs for my own; but this lay in a work-basket conveniently near, and I slipped it on my finger without thinking, which is nothing new for me, I suppose; for mother says my thinking generally does come when it’s too late to do any good.

It was certainly so this time; for after all our rummaging,—and Lizzie has eyes that could find a needle in a haystack,—we had to give it up in despair. The thimble wasn’t in that room, and none of us had left the room since it was seen on my finger. So there was only one conclusion,—somebody had carried it off; and the same thought flashed upon all of us at once. It was that wretched little rag-beggar!

“And to think of our giving him quarters and pennies!” cried Mazie.

“And sponge-cake and gingerbread!” exclaimed Lizzie.

“What do you say him for?” l snapped out crossly. “The horrid little object was a girl, and so much the worse.”

“So it was,” said Mazie, innocently. “But, do you know, it didn’t seem to me in the least like a girl. It talked and looked like a boy.”

“As if that made a bit of difference!” I said, peevishly. ”Boy or girl—it’s all one. The little wretch has stolen Mrs. Pomeroy’s thimble, and whatever am I going to do about it? Lizzie, why did you let me touch it? You ought to have known better!”

Now, Lizzie is the most amiable creature in the world; but this attack took her by surprise.

“How could I help your touching it?” she exclaimed. And Mazie cried indignantly:

“Why, Jet! aren’t you ashamed of yourself, to blame Lizzie?”

So they were both down upon me, and I was down upon myself, for that matter; and when Mrs. Pomeroy came back with the pearl buttons and things, she found us all looking as sober as a funeral. We had asked Catharine and the cook, and we had hunted up stairs and down; but it was all no use, any more than my crying like a baby, which I could n’t help, either.

Mrs. Pomeroy was lovely about it, as she is about everything. It’s her “nature to,” and I wish it was mine. She brushed the tears off my cheeks with her lace handkerchief, and said I was not to cry. That accidents would happen, and she might have lost it, herself, in exactly the same way, and she didn’t blame me in the least. Still I knew how sorry she was, in spite of her being so sweet, and I blamed myself enough, I can tell you.

We couldn’t talk of anything else, and the whole story was told over and over, till, before we knew it, it was one o’clock, and the luncheon-bell rang. I thought I shouldn’t eat a mouthful when I went down, but there was a great dish of strawberries, and the most delicious frozen custard; and one must feel pretty bad, you know, to refuse those on a hot June day. I didn’t refuse them, neither did Mazie nor Lizzie; in fact, we had a second helping, and were getting quite cheerful over it, when suddenly a great outcry came from the kitchen regions. We heard a scream from cook, and a sort of scattering rush out into the basement hall, and then a screech, as if they had pounced upon a chicken.

Lizzie started up breathlessly. “If it should be that child!” she exclaimed. “Mazie! Jet! Don’t you know that voice?”

We sprang up without asking to be excused, and rushed out into the hall, where the first thing we saw was cook struggling up the basement stairs, and dragging, sure enough, our poor little Shanghai with her.

“I’ve got her, miss! I’ve got her!” she screamed. “I spied her goin’ past the windy, an’ I jumped at her ‘fore she had time to run.”

“I warn’t agoin’ to run—now !” cried the child, trying to shake herself out of cook’s grasp. “I was a-comin’ here a purpose to give the young lady her thimble wot I found in the rags. You lemme go, I say!”

And in a second she had twisted herself out of her old jacket, that she left in cook’s hands, and darted away to Lizzie.

“Here’s your thimble”—stuffing it into her hand—“it’s gold, aint it? Mum tried to grab it when it rolled out o’ the rags, but I hooked it an’ run, cos I thought you’d be wantin’ it. Guess you dropped it in the basket with them rags you picked up off the floor.”

So there it was, as clear as daylight. I had let the thimble slip off my finger,—it was rather large for me, anyhow,—when I was stuffing those flannel scraps into the basket, and the poor little monkey that we had been abusing for a thief, had rescued it from Mum’s clutches, and braved her wrath to restore it to us!

It seemed at first so impossible to believe, that we could only stare at each other, and say, “Did you ever?”

Mrs. Pomeroy was the first one to give the child a word of praise or thanks.

“You ‘re an honest little girl,” she began, “and a brave little girl. You shall certainly…”

But, before she could finish her sentence, that child interrupted her.

“I aint a honest little girl—I aint a brave little girl—I aint a girl at all! ” he jerked out. “I’m a boy, I am, an’ I don’t care what Mum says, I aint agoing to have no more nonsense about it.”

And he held up his head and spread out his comical little legs with such a lord-of-creation air, —well, you never saw anything like it, and it’s no use trying to describe it, or to express our amazement. Catharine declared afterwards, that it made her feel all over in spots, whatever that means; and cook said that “it bate Banagher, to see the impidence of a little spider like that.” But Mazie turned to me in her innocent way: “I told you it talked like a boy,” said she; “now you see.”

Well, we inquired, of course, why “it” wore a frock, and made a pretence of being a girl; and we were informed, with a condescending air, that it was “just a notion of Mum’s. She said girls was more noticed than boys, and ladies would ruther give ’em the rags.” His own mother was dead, he went on to explain, and Mum had kept him two years, and made him beg for her. But he was going to “cut it” now, and do something else for a living. “He’d have to keep out of Mum’s way after this, or she’d make jelly of him. An’ if the lady could give him a old pair o’ trowzes, he’d be werry much obliged, an’ he wouldn’t trouble her no more.”

Mrs. Pomeroy asked him what he meant to do for a living, and, as his answer was not perfectly satisfactory, she concluded to keep the monkey in the house till Mr. Pomeroy came home. He was made very comfortable in the kitchen, with a plate of strawberries and unlimited bread and butter; and to come to the end of my story, he has been very comfortable ever since.

The Pomeroys are the best people in the world, I do believe. They took pains to hunt up “Mum,” and find out whether she really had any right to the boy; and she hadn’t, and was an awful old creature besides, and everything the little “what-isit” said was true. So it ended in his being sent to some respectable people in the country, to be civilized a little; and when we came back from the Branch there was such a good report of him that Mrs. Pomeroy brought him home, and made him her little page. He opens the door for us whenever we go over to see Mazie, and gives us all a beaming smile. But Lizzie is his adoration. He considers her an angel, Mrs. Pomeroy says, on account of that quarter, I suppose; and was quite disappointed when he discovered that the thimble wasn’t hers after all.

One of these days, when he’s a little bigger and stronger, he’s to be Mr. Pomeroy’s office boy. And, after that, what’s to hinder his being a lawyer and a statesman, and a member of Congress, may be? Wouldn’t it be funny, though? and all to grow out of a thimble!

St Nicholas Magazine, 1873

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A recognised theme in the nineteenth-century press was the girl dressed as a boy to avoid detection either when fleeing a cruel step-parent or enlisting in the armed services to follow a lover. When we hear reports of a boy dressed as a girl, invariably it is for some nefarious purpose.

How very interesting to observe that the Americans, particularly on the Eastern coast, had adopted some of our old English customs, such as page boys, week-end cottages, and the class system.  In the inevitable sequel to this story, “the monkey” would rise from office boy to Head of the Firm and marry Lizzie.

Rags were a lucrative commodity. See this post on the “rag trade.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Commercial Adonis: 1893

A Travelling Salesman or "Drummer," 1904

A Travelling Salesman or “Drummer,” 1904


Joys by the Way That Enliven the Drummer’s Life on the Road

Chicago News-Record

He was in the seat in front of me reading a yellow book that had been loaned to him by the train boy. He knew the train boy, and seemed to know most of the people at the stations. When the train stopped he would raise the window, push out his head and yell at the agent or operator. They would respond with hearty surprise and joyous profanity. It was at Pegasus, I believe, where the operator came out and shook hands through the window.

“Know any new stories, mac?” he asked.

“Say, I’ve got a bird, but it’s too long to tell now. I’m goin’ to the house to spend Sunday, but I make you some time next week. How’s the fairy?”

“She was askin’ for you at the house yesterday.”

“Get out!”

“I’m givin’ it to you straight.”

Then it was at Mount Carmel where he leaned out of the coach as we drew up to the squatty station and waved his hand at a white-aproned figure in a window of the occidental hotel across the street. She did not seem to recognize him until the train had started, and then her response was frantic. She shook a pillowcase at the retreating train and motioned for some one to come. Just as the view was shut by a red elevator I saw two capped heads hanging from the window.

At the second stop after that, while the man in front was getting deep into the chapters of his book, a girl with one of those flat, masculine hats, and a feather boa came tripping down the aisle. Her brown hair was lifted into defiant curls, and she chewed gum with serious vigor and a lateral motion of the jaw. She caught the eye of the traveling man, who immediately dropped his book and straightened up in the seat to make room for her.

Said he: “Hello, Min! Which way?”

“Why, hod-do-Mac? Why, I’m goin’ to Frankfort. How air ye, anyway?”

“Oh, so so; how are you comin’ on?”

“Oh, all right. Y’ain’t been to Flory for a long spell, have ye?”

“That’s right. Aw, I quit makin’ these whistling posts. They ain’t no business in my lien there. An’ say, that’s the bummest hotel old Sanders keeps I ever see.”

“That’s right.”

“Well, I should say so. Say, I had a kick comin’ six months before I quit puttin’ up there. Say, he had the freshest lot o’ dinin’ room girls I ever see. You knew Kate Mahaffy?”


“Well, say, Min, honestgawd, one day I seen her set a plate of soup down in front of that little feller that sells notions out o’ Terry Hut, an’ one of her hairpins dropped into the soup. He kicked like a steer, and what d’ye think? Kate up and says to his nibs: ‘Wire noodles to-day, mister; no extra charge.’ What d’ye think of that, eh?” Got her nerve with her?”

“That’s right,” responded Min, without relapsing her busy features.

When the train stopped at Frankfort, she flounced down the aisle, calling back, “S’long, Mac; take keer of yourself.”

“Good by, Min; you do the same.”

“Don’t get killed on the cars and spile your beauty,” she said to him after she had reached the platform, and he had again raised the window.

“Ha, ha! That’s right,” laughed Mac.

As the conductor came along for the tickets he gravely winked at the man in front. The brakeman went through with a red flag and he stopped to say something about a “bute.” The train boy, when he came for his book, grinned exceedingly, but failed to learn her name.

As the train came to a stop in the pretentious little city at the end of the run, I saw the man who had been sitting in front gather up two telescope grips and join a little woman in black, whom he kissed rapturously.

“Great Scott!” said I to the friendly brakeman, “he has one in every town.”

“No,” he replied, “that’s his wife.”

Dallas [TX] Morning News 10 January 1893: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What a sprightly slice of Americana is this little account! One can only admire the drummer’s stamina and hope that he is never, like the travelling salesman in the smoking-room stories, caught with the farmer’s daughter.

Ghosts at the Seaside Resorts: 1882-1926

A travelling ghost show, such as would visit sea-side resort towns, c.1900

A travelling ghost show, such as would visit sea-side resort towns, c.1900



Writing on the subject of ghosts that haunt the seaside resorts of Great Britain, a London correspondent says:—

Last year a man took a furnished house at the seaside, as he wished to spend the summer there on account of his wife’s health. The house was roomy and double-fronted, but at the end of a fortnight the wife’s nerves were worn to a frazzle and they were glad to return home.

No one saw anything, but there were crashing noises, sounds of heavy breathing in the passages, and sounds all through the night of someone moving from room to room. One does not usually associate the sunshine and ozone of a seaside resort with spooks, but this seemed like a case to the contrary. Weird happenings were reported from a boarding-house at Blackpool which the superstitious insisted were genuine manifestations of the supernatural. But practical folks were inclined to credit “unseen” boarders with a turn for practical joking.

First queer sounds were heard, and then strange handwriting appeared on a screen and on a table, both of which articles of furniture performed as graceful a dance as their rigid legs would allow. Spiritualists who appeared on the scene were hit by flying pepper boxes. Bells rang mysteriously, and the hands of the clock had a habit of going round the wrong way.

It was thought that a certain boarder had a psychic influence, as the moment he returned to town the manifestations ceased.

A vicar who took a certain locum tenens job at the seaside for the regular clergyman, who had gone to Scotland with his wife, had a curious experience. The back garden went down to the beach, and the newcomer liked to stroll to the end of it late at night.

Leaving a low light burning in the study, he had been lounging and smoking for half an hour and then returned up the garden path. Judge of his surprise when he saw the Rev.__ whose place he was taking, sitting at the desk of the study, a pile of books at his side.

The sequel was singular. News came the next morning that the vicar and his wife had been in a railway accident and were both in hospital.

Peculiar Manifestations.

Certain places along the British coasts have their special and peculiar manifestations. There are, for instance, the spectral longships of the Solway Firth. The story is that in the old days two Danish sea-rovers, their long ships loaded with spoil, put into the Firth for shelter. A squall came shrieking from the sea and sank the ships at their moorings. Ever since, on the anniversary of their destruction, these two ships glide up Solway, and no local man is bold enough to put to sea when they are visible.

There is a certain small town on a beautiful estuary on the south coast to which small coasting vessels go. One of these was lost in a great storm a few years ago, and several families in the town mourned their relatives for lost. Then, five months later, after another great storm, she was seen coming up the river in the dusk. Many people declare they saw her, but she never arrived she faded into mist.

A story is told of the Needles, the famous headland of the Isle of Wight. A fine ship was proceeding up the Channel in a dense fog. The captain had gone below, thinking his course was right, but a stranger came to him and told him to take soundings at once. Scarcely knowing what he did, he obeyed and found but seven fathoms beneath his keel. He tacked at once, and, the fog lifting, found that had he proceeded when the “ghost” appeared he would have been wrecked on the Needles.

Pukekohe & Waiuku Times [New Zealand], 10 December 1923: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A learned psychical researcher named R.S. Lambert suggested that hauntings in Britain occurred most often in the presence of tidal water and that water was a kind of conductor for ghostly energies. He also noted, more practically, that underground water could undermine ancient houses, producing mysterious phenomena like groans or opening doors.

Mrs Daffodil cannot really see the attractive of the sea-side for ghosts unless, with their shrouding draperies, not unlike a bathing cap and towel, and deathly-pale faces, like those of bathers slathered in zinc creme, they hope to be mistaken for the Living.

Shall we have a few more?

Another writer states that while staying at Brighton with some friends in November, 1879, he was walking alone on a moonlight night on the seaside of the Esplanade, when a carriage and pair drew up alongside the rails. He was greatly startled, as the wheels made no noise, but he at once took half-a-dozen steps towards the carriage, and then distinctly recognised its occupants as his grandmother, an old lady of 83, whom he had left perfectly well at Cheltenham a few days before, also her coachman and footman on the box. Vaulting over the rails he made one step forward to greet her, when to his horror the whole thing vanished. On his relating the circumstances to his friends they of course laughed at him, but next morning they received a telegram that the old lady had been found dead in her bed, at 7.30 that morning. Previous to this occurrence the correspondent had always laughed at the bare idea of ghosts. The Spiritualist 21 October 1881

Blackpool has several hauntings, though none more remarkable than the one popularly ascribed to the sea. According to tradition, the church and cemetery of Kilmigrol once stood about two miles from the shore, and were one day submerged. Ever since then, on certain nights in the year, even in stormy weather, a ghostly chime of bells may be heard ringing, far under the waves. I have met people in Blackpool who assure me they have actually heard them.

A similar haunting is stated to take place off Whitby. According to local tradition, the bells of Whitby Abbey were sold when the Abbey was suppressed in 1539. They were put on board a ship to be conveyed to London, but as soon as the vessel conveying them weighed anchor and tried to leave the bay she sank, and the bells found a home on the sea bottom. And ever since then at certain times, as in the case of Blackpool, bells no human fingers touch ring their hidden chimes.”

I am told there is a house near the Blackpool Winter Gardens which is periodically haunted by the phantasm of a girl in blue. All blue—blue hat, bodice, skirt, and eyes.

She is encountered on the staircase leading from the hall to the first landing, and looks so much like a real person that those who see her invariably take her for one, and it is only on learning afterwards that there is no such live individual in the house that they realise she is a ghost.

The house is not known to have any particular history, and the cause of the haunting is a baffling mystery.

At Brighton ,the ghostly happenings are in a house almost within sight of Brunswick square. They are invariably in the form of whistling on the staircase. The whistling sometimes ascends, as if the whistler were walking up, descends to the hall, or is stationary, but nothing is ever seen.

Elliott Donnell, 1926

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


“Scorching” on the Beach: 1897

beach cycling


Do This and You Are Up to Date According to Sea Shore Ethics

Sense of Propriety Given to the Fad When a Chaperon is Taken in Charge.

The Clean White Sand Closely Packed Down Forms a Splendid Bicycle Path

Wise Summer Girl’s Plan.

New York, June 12. To be thoroughly fashionable this year you should take a spin on the beach on your wheel. Of course you ride a wheel, because everyone does. If you cannot take a spin on the sea shore, take one along the shore of the lake and if that fails, think up a good substitute. In any event, if you are at the sea shore do not fail to take a breather just as near old ocean as circumstances will permit. Fashion has set the seal of approval on this fad and all her devotees, male and female, are scorching to obey her behests.

One of the most pleasant features of this new idea is that to be strictly en règle, one should ride in a bathing suit. The summer girl is not always at her best in a bathing suit, but if she is at her best then of course the idea suits her to a T. It also suits the summer young man and thus there is nothing left to be desired. To give the sanction of absolute propriety, it has been decreed that the way to take this spin along the sands is to do so in a party which is known as a bathing bicycle party. There must be a chaperon and the chances are that a chaperon who can ride a wheel is not oblivious to the fact that young people do not always dare to be conventional. So there is a delightful combination of a jolly chaperon, a bicycle and a bath.

It might not be thought that the beach would make the best of bicycle paths, but it does. In fact the firm, hard sand seems to have an elasticity that helps a rider to speed along at a great rate. It is very peasant also to go at a scorching pace with the ocean breeze blowing all about you and fanning away the perspiration. Those who have tried it say the exhilaration is simply unspeakable. Add to the joy the scorcher feels in the very movement of his wheel the invigorating effect of the salt air, and the result must be pleasant in the extreme.

Down at Coney Island, along that section of the beach that stretches away westward in horseshoe fashion toward Norton’s Point, lies the speedway of the bathing cyclist, par excellence. Go down there any day and you can see plenty of evidence of the popularity of the new fad. Maidens of from 16 to 40, young men, middle-aged men, and men who would like to be thought middle-aged, are all there. Therefore the fashionable summer girl and her best young man must join the B.B. club—that of the Bicycle and the Bath.

Omaha [NE] World-Herald 21 June 1897: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  “Scorching” was wheel-woman/man slang for speeding along at a blistering pace. It was no doubt capital exercise and, for the sea-side rider, it served a cosmetic purpose:

“Nearly all the bicycle girls at the sea shore—and all women who ride wheels are bicycle girls—go in the water without any head covering and take the surf as they find it, and dive and plunge just as if they were not the least afraid of wet hair. They come out of the water, don their bicycle costumes, and, bare-headed, ride up and down the roads, their hair streaming out in the breeze and being dried as fast as sun and wind can accomplish the desired result.” Evening Star [Washington DC] 15 August 1896: p. 10

Possibly the beaches of the States are more congenial to “scorching,” than Brighton’s stony sea-side.  From Mrs Daffodil’s experience with sand, a wheel is more likely to sink into it and hurl the wheel-woman over the handle-bars. Should that occur, jolly as is the notion of riding in one’s bathing-costume, the skin is apt to be “scorched” as well.

Her Bathing Suit: 1895



“And is there anything I can do for you, Cynthia?” She hesitated a moment, and then answered: “Yes, there is, Colville, if you don’t mind.”

“My darling, I shall be delighted.”

He tried to speak as if he meant what he said, but it required an effort. Cynthia was not only a dear, good girl, but he was engaged to her. According to the novels, he should have flung himself at her feet when she preferred [sic] her request, and vowed to go through fire and water to accomplish her most trifling wish. But Colville was an ordinary, everyday individual, and the prospect of executing a number of awkward and silly commissions and of lugging a lot of parcels from London to Folkestone didn’t appeal to him. He was compelled to ask the question, however, hoping that Cynthia would give a negative reply. To his disappointment she did precisely the opposite.

“The jewelers?” he suggested, hopefully.

Cynthia shook her head.

“I want you to go to Mme. Rossi in Bond street, you know.”

“Yes, dear,” he muttered, faintly, picturing to himself a box of gigantic and ungainly proportions done up in brown paper.

“There’s a little—”she emphasized the last word, and Colville gave vent to a sigh of relief “parcel for me, dear. Would you like to know what it is? Of course, if we were not engaged, dear, I shouldn’t think of telling you; but now, of course, it doesn’t matter. It’s a new bathing dress—there!”

“How jolly,” said Colville, faintly.

“Something wonderfully original and fetching. Mme. Rossi has designed it especially for me, and there won’t be another like it made this season. Mme. Rossi has promised me that. Won’t all the other girls be jealous?”

“Horribly. But I’m afraid I must be off now. My train goes in three minutes. Good-by!”

* * *

The down express from London was late in starting, and, as usual, a number of people just managed to catch it by the skin of their teeth. Colville was on the point of lighting a cigar, when the door of his compartment was flung open, there was a mingling of masculine and feminine voices, a frou-frou of silk, of lace, a rush and tumble and banging of doors, and a little woman and a dozen bags and parcels fell in a confused heap on the seat opposite him.

“Confound it!” muttered Colville, as he extinguished the match, which he was about to apply to his cigar; “a woman!” He opened his newspaper and scowled.

“I beg your pardon.” whispered a still, small voice, dashed with just the slightest and most chic tinge of French accent, “but can you pleese tell me if zis is ze right train for Volkes-stone-?”

Colville looked up. The little woman had settled herself and her packages and was gazing at him with a smile that showed her white teeth to the best advantage. From the pink lips, Colville’s eyes traveled to the black curls falling over the white forehead, to the piquant hat topping the shapely head, to the little pink ears, and black eyes, and then to the well-fitting, blue-serge frock, the fawn gloves, and brown shoes. Having finished his tour of inspection, he managed to murmur, “Yes,” whereupon the little woman expressed her gratitude and smiled afresh.

The simple inquiry and the equally simple reply thereto broke the ice, and from that moment, as the reporters say, the conversation became general.

“You will come and see me at Volkesstone. eh?” asked the little Frenchwoman, presently.

“Come and see you?” repeated Colville, somewhat taken aback by the invitation. He would like to have done so, certainly, but he was hardly a free agent. He was engaged to Cynthia, he mustn’t forget that. And Cynthia’s Mother, Lady Mango, was an austere puritan of the black-satin dress and crape-bonnet variety. He mustn’t forget that. And he didn’t.

“I should be delighted,” he murmured, —but “—“

“Oh, do not be afraid,” she said, laughing gayly. “I do not mean in private. Oh no! That would be shocking. But in public—”


“Yees. At ze Aquarium. But you must come early, or all ze seats will be taken. Everybody will come to see Mlle. Mimi—“

“What, the Human Mermaid?”

The little woman laughed.

“Look!” she said, unrolling a big sheet of paper, and holding up for his inspection a gorgeous poster, representing a comely young person clad in a curious costume and in a variety of attitudes, gyrating gracefully in a tank of water. Colville did not need to look at the brilliant production twice. The name of Mile. Mimi, the Human Mermaid, was as well known in town aa that of the prime minister. And there was a most excellent reason for this, apart from Mme. Mimi’s posters and advertisements. The Social Purity Regeneration Society, of which a bishop was president, had taken the matter in hand and publicly protested against the performance of the Human Mermaid. It was scandalous, said the S. P.R.S., and the county council was appealed to. Memorials were presented to the home secretary asking him to interdict the performance on the grounds of morality, and a band of curates, carrying banners, waited on the Bishop of London and begged his lordship to use his influence toward suppressing the public scandal. The result of all this excitement was naturally to draw renewed attention to Mile. Mimi and her striking performance, and crowds flocked to the music hall where she was appearing nightly. The dealers in opera-glasses in the neighborhood did a roaring trade, and at the clubs the absorbing question as to what Mile. Mimi’s perfectly fitting costume was composed of was hotly debated.

“Here is my costume,” she said, hugging a brown-paper parcel. “I never let it go out of my sight. It is too precious, and although entrepreneurs offer me ‘undreds of pounds for ze secret, I shake my head and say: ‘Non, non, non!” and the cheery little laugh, like the song of some happy bird, trilled out again.

Of course Colville had seen the show. Who had not? And sitting there, he could scarcely realize that quiet little woman, in the neat serge frock, was the Human Mermaid who had set all London agog and flung the nonconformist conscience off its balance by her daring audacity.

“I shall be delighted to come,” said Colville when he recovered himself, “and—“

The train came to a sudden standstill.

“All out!” yelled the guard, rushing up the platform, adding in explanation: “One of the coaches is broke down.”

The platform of the station where the train had pulled up was crowded with a mob of excursionists, and into the surging mass of dirty humanity Coville plunged, followed by Mile. Mimi. When he had scrambled through the crowd and found a seat, he looked round for his companion. But she had vanished. Before he had time to go in search of her the train was shunted, the damaged coach taken out, and the train brought into the station again. Colville fought his way into a carriage.

* * *

“You went to Mme Rossi, dear?”

“Yes, Cynthia, I did, and and—and–”

“Wasn’t the dress ready?”

“Yes, darling, and I brought it away with me, but well, to cut a long story short, we were all turned out at some confounded wayside station; there was an awful crowd of beastly excursionists, and dash it all. Cynthia, if you must have the truth, when I got to Folkestone I found that I had lost the parcel. Now, don’t get excited, there’s a dear, good girl. It can’t be far off and I’ve been down to the station five times already, and I mean to keep on going until I find it.”

“What a horrid nuisance; I must have it tomorrow. I’ve told all the girls about it, and I dare not show myself without it.”

“You shall have it tomorrow, dear, if I sit up all night and go to the station every ten minutes.”

* * *

“Yes, sir, there was a parcel found in one of the carriages of the 4:30 train from Charing Cross. It hadn’t got a label on, and so we opened it. What did your parcel contain?”

“A lady’s bathing dress.”

“Well, I suppose that’s what this is. Me and my mates couldn’t quite make it out,” and the man laughed.

“Thank goodness,” said Colville, as he slipped a shilling in the man’s hand, and, hugging his parcel, made a bolt tor the beach. He was just in time. Cynthia was standing by her machine, a frown on her brow and a look in her eyes which spoke volumes. As she saw Colville running toward her, the frown vanished and a smile came over her face.

“Good boy,” she exclaimed, as she took the parcel from the hands of the breathless man, and mounting the steps of her machine disappeared within.

* * *

“Mme. Rossi must have made a mistake,” said Cynthia, as she prepared to don her bathing-garment. “It is hardly the sort of thing I wanted. Still, it doesn’t seem so bad,” she said, contemplating herself, “and I dare say it looks all right. Anyhow, there’s hardly any one about, and so it doesn’t matter.”

The water was splendid and she felt in such perfect trim that she determined to have a longer swim than usual. Presently, feeling tired, she floated on the surface, closing her eyes and basking in the warm sunshine. When she turned toward the shore, she was surprised to see a large crowd lining the beach and what was more curious still every third person was armed with a field-glass.

“What on earth can be the matter?” she muttered, calmly swimming into shallow water. “If they are going to stare like that, I shall go in.”

She walked toward her machine. Then suddenly something caused her to look down.

She gave one wild shriek and literally fell into her bathing machine.

* * *

From Cynthia Mango to her friend Lydia Stapleton.

“I shall never dare to show my face in Folkestone again. By some horrible mistake, Colville brought me a bathing-dress which—I can hardly write the words, my cheeks are simply burning—as soon as it got wet became—oh, Lydia, think of it—almost transparent! Unconscious of this, there I was in full view of the crowded beach for nearly half an hour. Can you imagine my feelings? The local papers are full of it. Colville talks of going to India or some other horrid place and hiding himself until the scandal has blown over. Worse still, dear mother, when she heard of it—the curate brought her the news—went herself to the police station, and not knowing that I, her own daughter, was the guilty party, refused to leave the place until a promise was given to take action in the matter. When she heard the truth she took to her bed and has not been up since. I wish I were dead!”

* * *

Copy of a paragraph in the local paper.

“A great crowd turned up last night to witness the curious and much-advertised performance of Mlle. Mimi, the Human Mermaid, but before the doors were opened an announcement was made that, owing to the loss of Mlle. Mimi’s costume during her journey from town, the performance could not take place. We understand that a reward of $500 is to be offered for the recovery of the missing parcel.

The Democratic Press [Ravenna, OH] 9 January 1895: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil really has nothing more to add except that it is a pity the contretemps did not inspire Miss Mango to break off the engagement to a fiancé she regarded as a sort of human retriever, to be rewarded with “good boy” and a pat.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about a professional swimmer here, several bathing machine stories, both fiction and non-fiction, and an actress’s mermaid palace here.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Little Mothers’ League: 1912

poor children 1921

When “the little white hearse goes glimmering by,” as James Whitcomb Riley saw it, for a New York baby’s funeral, there is a sorrowful chance that the death may have been due to some little girl of ten or twelve years old, forced at that early age to take upon her, without knowledge, the care of the family baby.

Some time back medical experts were declaring that the chief reason for New York’s high baby death-rate was “the little mother.” Not that she does anything worse than kill by kindness. She believes that odds and ends of pickles and cucumbers are good for babies. She generously bestows on her youngest charge a large share of the ice-cream in which she herself passionately delights. She meets the ever recurring emergencies of infant life with all the courage of ignorance, and weeps most bitterly when a small sufferer departs to a better world.

And at last New York woke up to the danger of her, and by a stroke of genius she has been converted from a menace into an ally, by the organisation of “Little Mothers’ Leagues.” As girls grow in practical wisdom through their training as “Peace Scouts,” so now in East Side tenements life-saving has become the aim of 20,000 girls enrolled as “Little Mothers.”

To begin with, the management of babies is taught in schoolrooms, at classes held during the ordinary vacations. Tenement children do not go out of town for the holidays, and the girls soon found the study of hygiene, with practical demonstrations of proper rules for bathing, dressing, and feeding the baby, quite an interesting event in their school-less hours. When a child had proved herself competent, she was admitted as a “Little Mother,” and was then bound not only to practice right ways upon her small sisters and brothers, but to pass on her knowledge as much as possible.

Each child carries with her a cherished notebook, entitled ‘What I have done for the Little Mothers’ League,’ and in it she records her triumphs in the neighborhood. One girl finds a man giving his baby coffee in a dirty bottle, and warns him against such crimes. “‘He said, ‘Mind your own business:’ I said, ‘I belong to the Little Mothers’ League! and know how to take care of babies.’ When, shortly after this, the infant was as ill as might be expected, the man was persuaded by his still determined adviser to take it to the doctor, who strongly supported her denunciation of coffee and lollipops as diet for the young. “I think the father will never give the baby these things,” she remarks, happily, in her note for the day. Careless grown-ups are often stopped on the streets and reproved, if a ‘”Little Mother” observes them feeding babies with water-melon, or otherwise offending against child hygiene.

In the Italian quarter the ice-cream sandwich man bitterly complains that his business is ruined. And the lessening death-rate already shows how much an organisation of small girls can do to help the tenement infant through “this dangerous business of being a baby.”

Hawera & Normanby [NZ] Star, 30 November 1912: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: High infant and child mortality was a dire fact of the 19th and early 20th century. Summers were an especially dangerous time for purgative diseases such as cholera, believed to be carried in water-melon. Food spoilt more easily in heat and the young were more likely to succumb to food-poisoning. Mothers often were forced by poverty to go out to work, leaving their eldest in charge. One must applaud this ingenious solution. The tenacity of the 8-year-old girl is legendary. White was, of course, the colour of childhood death: white crape instead of black was hung on doors where a child had been lost. Coffins and hearses were white for the young and their play-fellows were often enlisted as pall-bearers.

The poem referenced in the first part of the article is this:


As the little white hearse went glimmering by—

The man on the coal-cart jerked his lines, And smutted the lid of either eye, And turned and stared at the business signs; And the street-car driver stopped and beat His hands on his shoulders, and gazed up street Till his eye on the long track reached the sky— As the little white hearse went glimmering by.

As the little white hearse went glimmering by—

A stranger petted a ragged child In the crowded walks, and she knew not why, But he gave her a coin for the way she smiled; And a bootblack thrilled with a pleasure strange, As a customer put back his change With a kindly hand and a grateful sigh, As the little white hearse went glimmering by.

As the little white hearse went glimmering by—

A man looked out of a window dim, And his cheeks were wet and his heart was dry, For a dead child even were dear to him! And he thought of his empty life, and said :—”Loveless alive, and loveless dead—Nor wife nor child in earth or sky!”

As the little white hearse went glimmering by.

Old-fashioned Roses, James Whitcomb Riley, 1893



The Open Grave: 1890s

german gravestone with skull

Whilst, some years ago, I was on a visit in Berkshire, and spent some days with my friends, Mr. and Mrs. Lonsdale, the former told me a remarkable occurrence which had happened a few years previously.

Mr. Lonsdale’s brother, an army officer, had returned from India after a long absence, being invalided, and was expected in the evening at The Hall which was only about half a mile distant from the railway station.

The train was due to arrive at 9.15, and Mr. Lonsdale, accompanied by his wife. walked slowly down to meet and greet the arrival, the carriage being sent to bring the party back.

On the way from The Hall to the station they had to pass the old church, which was surrounded by the village burial ground. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and they could not help observing a new-made open grave. As they had not heard of any death in the neighbourhood, they were surprised, the more so as the grave seemed next to their family plot.

The train arrived, but without the expected guest. They drove back to their house, concluding he had missed the train or bad been delayed on his way from Portsmouth to London. Next morning a telegram announced the death of the officer, who had been landed very ill and had died the previous evening, at 9.15, at Portsmouth.

The strange thing was that there did not exist any open grave as seen by Mr. and Mrs. Lonsdale at the very moment the death took place.

Three days afterwards the body was buried at the spot where the relatives had in vision seen the open grave.

The Occult Review, November 1912

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  In Japan it is said that summer is the best time for ghost stories, since they give the reader a chill. Mrs Daffodil hopes that this simple supernatural tale will offer at least a mild frisson.

Phantom graves are something of a rarity in the ghost story canon, although there is a good deal of folklore about phantom funerals and phantom coffin-making.  There are also a few stories of phantom tombstones–equally as prophetic as the story above.