Sarah Bow’s Hand: 1830s

The Christian Age, reprints from the Ladies’ Home Journal, of Philadelphia, a weird story entitled “The Wife of Ben Bow,” a tale of Brook Farm, by Hezekiah Butterworth. The story is prefaced by the following note of the author:

The story is substantially true. I have taken the story-teller’s licence in giving it form, making some changes in names and places, adding a little here and there for the sake of the movement of the narrative, but the psychological incidents remain intact. I give them as the honest and simple witnesses believed them to be. I have never known anyone to fully credit the tale, except one physician, who said: “I can believe it all: it is not stranger than a birthmark, or the stigmata of the Middle Ages. Mental impressions, if the faith be perfect, may be a deathstroke.”— The Author.

Whether true or false it is weird enough. The story tells how some sixty years ago two young ladies, who were frequent visitors at Brook Farm community, called at the farm-house on a young farmer called Benjamin Bow. His wife was a woman of character, much given to the speculation as to the inward world. When she was a little girl the middle forefinger of her right hand had to be amputated owing to an accident in the mill. The farmer and his wife had one child. When she was dying, she sent a message to the ladies who had called upon her, asking them to come and see after her child. She added,”I shall know if it is treated well, I shall know.” The doctor who told the story of the death scene said:

There was a nurse there whose name was Cone. As I was sitting by the bed the child cried. The dying woman started, and said with a look that was fearful: “Margaret Cone, Margaret Cone, if you or any one else ever injure that child, this dead hand will appear to you, or to whoever it be.” She lifted the hand from which the forefinger was missing. I have seen that scene ever since. There seemed to be something of hidden meaning in it—something like a prophecy. Then she grew calm, and lay uttering poetry.

Another year passed when Ben Bow married Margaret Cone, and after a time the two ladies were waited upon by a neighbouring farmer, who asked them to go and look after the child as it was being treated so badly. They rode over accordingly to ask how the child was getting on. The step-mother received them coldly, and said that the child was the worst youngster she ever knew. She was breaking his will and made him stop crying for his mother. The child was called in, and asked what was his mother’s name. He immediately gave the name of his real mother not of his step-mother. “Did you ever see anything like that for wilfulness?” said the step-mother. “That woman lies out on the hills in the cold without a grave stone, and never will have one if I can help it. That woman was never any good to Ben Bow. One mother is enough for the child,” said she. “When the dead Mrs. Bow wants to see you,” she said to her visitors, “she will send for you. Say, what was that?”

There came a heavy rap on the front door.

“There have been strange noises about the house ever since Sarah died,” said the woman. “Let me go and look out of the window and see who is there. That door hasn’t been opened since Ben banked up the house.”

Margaret Bow went to the window and threw up the curtain, and stood silent. She presently said: “There don’t seem to be anybody there.”

She sat down in an old rocking-chair and began to rock violently. She looked disturbed, and she presently said: “Now, I am going to tell ye how bad that child is.”

There fell a succession of loud, echoing raps on the door. Margaret Bow looked around wildly. A gust swept by the corner of the house. The two ladies turned apprehensively toward each other. The boy shared the fear, and came hesitatingly to his stepmother and buried his face in her lap.

“What do you come to me for? You told these folks that Sarah was your mother. If Sarah is your mother let her look out for ye and protect ye.”

Raps fell upon the door, almost causing the house to shake. Another gust of wind whirling the lone leaves swept around the corner of the house.

“Here, take the brat,” were the words of Margaret Bow, as she pushed the child from her. “Let me go and open the door.”

The visitors heard Margaret Bow unlock the door and slowly open it. They felt a sharp gust of wind sweep into the rooms. They heard a door in the entry fly open. There followed an awful shriek, a heavy fall. They opened the door of the room. Margaret Bow lay on the floor, moaning. They tried to lift her, but she was convulsed. They asked her what had happened. She at last gasped:

“Sarah’s hand!”

“What—tell us?”

“It met me at the door, and struck me on the forehead here. It was her hand—I knew it—I can’t tell ye how. Send for Ben.”

She curled up in a heap on the floor and lay motionless.

“Where is your husband?” asked the ladies over and over, but they received no answer. They asked the boy, but he could only answer: “He’s chopping wood,” but where he could not tell.

“The woman is dying,” said Mary Needham. “She must not be left alone. You go over to Brook Farm and call the doctor, and I will remain here with the child.”

At sunset Ben Bow came home, and Dr. Fifield and his sister met him on the road and told him all that had happened. They entered the dreary house, and found Margaret Bow lying unconscious where she had fallen. The doctor examined the prostrate form.

“She is dead,” he said.

“What was it?” asked Mary Needham.

“Paralysis,” said Dr. Fifield.

“No, it were not,” said Ben Bow. “That wam’t no paralysis.”

“What then?” asked Miss Needham.

“It were a conscience stroke. I know that woman’s soul. I know things that I wouldn’t want to tell. You may call it what you will—it were a conscience stroke. She’s been a-hearin’ noises. People who have wrong in their souls have haunted minds. Poor critter, may the Lord forgive her; she was constituted so.”

“She said that Sarah’s hand came and struck her on the forehead,” said Mary Needham. “Her forehead does look strange.”

They took up the form and laid it on a bed. Her hair fell over her high forehead and white face.

When the day of the funeral came the country side assembled. It was the custom for the visitors to take a farewell glance at the corpse before the coffin lid was fastened down.

Dr. Fifield, his sister, and Miss Needham rode over to the place in the morning, and the ladies prepared the body with suitable dress for the last rites, and waited the ceremonies which would begin with the opening of the coffin lid.

The clock struck one. The sexton who had been given the “charge of the funeral,” made his way through the crowd and opened the coffin lid. He started back, staring. What had happened? An elderly woman arose and bent over the coffin. A strange look came into her face. She stood there until a wild expression came into her eyes. She then sank down into her chair and whispered: “Something has happened—she don’t look natural!”

Others looked, and shut their eyes and turned away. The good old deacon now came forward and looked down. He, too, seemed to receive a shock. He turned around and said: “She don’t look natural at all. She ought not to be seen. I would shut down the lid again. Send for Ben.”

Benjamin Bow came, leading the child by the hand. He lifted the boy up in his arms, and bent over the dead face. One glance, and he uttered a cry:

“Sexton!” said he, “she is changing. Close the lid.”

Dr. Fifield leaped to his feet as the sexton came forward. He looked into the coffin. On the upper part of the white face and forehead there was the impression of a hand as black as ink. And the middle forefinger was gone.

Borderland Vol. 4, 1897, pp. 98-9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: When Mrs Daffodil saw that this story was written by “Hezekiah Butterworth,” she gave a knowing chuckle, believing it to be a pseudonym denoting one of those painfully home-spun New England humourists, writing in the quaint Yankee dialect. Well. Mrs Daffodil stands corrected. The name is the gentleman’s own and he was a noted author, travel writer, platform lecturer, and hymnologist. He also told a superlative and shiver-making ghost story.

Mrs Daffodil really has no patience with widowers who remarry in haste and allow their children to repent their parent’s imprudence at leisure. Yet it was Margaret that the first Mrs Bow visited, not the husband…. But, after all, it is something of a cliché in supernatural literature that ghostly mothers return to see that their children are not mistreated by a wicked step-mother. Mrs Daffodil has previously shared a dire story of a very young woman haunted by her husband’s  ghostly first wife. 

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.


Jewel-set Gloves: 1896-1899


The Latest Parisian Fad Which Is on Its Way Here.

The latest fad in the way of eccentric dress is the wearing of jewels upon various articles of clothing. This extravagance originated in gay Paris, where the jewelers are falling over one another in their attempts to find some new use to which to put gems.

There are now on the market as a unique result of this attempt to find or devise something new, gloves in the back of which rubies, pearls and emeralds, and, in fact, any gem whose natural color harmonizes or makes a pleasing contrast to the color of the glove. Diamonds seem to be the favorite gem used for this purpose.

The jewels are set in the back of the glove, along the seam and are held in place by means of a small nut attachment. Thus far only a few of the more advanced women of the ultra-fashionable set have taken to wearing the diamond ornamented glove, but the fad is slowly but surely spreading and no man can tell to what extent it may be carried.

The wearing of gems, according to jewelers, has never been so widespread and extensive as at the present time. While a year or two ago it was considered bad form to wear any but the plainest jewels, the extreme will soon be reached, and jewels will be worn in ways never before thought of.

Like every other fashion which originates in Paris, the fad of wearing diamond-backed gloves has crossed the English Channel and a few of the more daring English leaders of fashion have promptly had jewels set in the backs of their gloves. Following the invariable order of such things, the fad will reach this country during the present season.

St Louis [MO] Republic 14 June 1896: p. 21

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While the jeweled-glove fad was extensively reported from about 1896 to 1899, there were varying descriptions of precisely how the gemstones were attached. Mrs Daffodil is uncertain about the particulars of that “small nut attachment.” For example, this description is from 1897:

Jewelled gloves are now numbered among the many luxuries indulged in by fashionable Parisians, who adorn their gloves, according to the colour of the kid, with real diamonds, rubies, pearls, turquoises, etc. These are fastened on fine chains, which replace the raised seams on the back of the hand. Short gloves are ornamented at the wrists and gauntlets, and they have not unfrequently a jewelled monogram conspicuously placed in the middle.

Hawke’s Bay Herald, 3 April 1897, Page 1

An engraved newspaper illustration, which somewhat inadequately conveys the splendour of jewelled gloves.

An engraved newspaper illustration, which somewhat inadequately conveys the splendour of jewelled gloves.

And this account of jeweled gloves on the Riviera:


A New Fashion Started by Leaders of Society at Nice and Rome

Several leaders of society at Nice and Rome have taken to jewelled gloves, and the fashion is said to be spreading. At a Russian dinner on the Riviera, one woman wore jewelled gloves which represented a fortune. The jewels were not set in the gloves, but were detachable. Hoop rings of rare rubies and diamonds encircled each finger. From each ran a tiny gold chain, and these chains were caught together on the back of the hand by a superb cluster of the same stones. The chains then extended to the wrist, where they were fastened to a ruby and diamond bracelet…the wearer was a countess who is a power in European society, and other women are wearing less pretentious ornaments of the sort.

The Times [Richmond, VA] 31 January 1899: p. 7

Certainly the notion of jewelled chains couched to the fabric of the glove or of linked rings and bracelets worn over the glove seem far more practical than painstakingly attaching prong-set gems to the accessory.  It is certainly more palatable than the disagreeable fad of setting jewels into one’s finger-nails. When the jewelled glove fad was revived in the 1930s and 1940s, large and blatantly faux jewels, attached with adhesives, simplified life immensely. The effect, as may be seen at the top of this post, was eminently satisfying.

 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.


Tennyson’s “The May Queen” Adapted for Inclement Weather: 1877

An ideal May Queen's bower.

An ideal May Queen’s bower.


New Version, adapted to existing Climatic Conditions

Considering apology superfluous, Mr Punch offers none, as the Poet Laureate will doubtless approve the modifications of his beautiful lines, rendered needful by recent meteorological conditions.

You must wake and call me early, call me early, Mother dear;

To-morrow’ll be the tryingest time of all the Spring, this year—

Of all the Spring, this year, Mother, the dreariest, dreadfullest day ;—

For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, Mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.


There’ll be many a red, red nose, no doubt, but none so red as mine;

For the wind is still in the East, Mother, and makes one peak and pine:

And we ‘re going to have six weeks of it, or so the prophets say—

And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, Mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.


I sleep so sound all night, Mother, I’m sure I shall never wake,

So you’d better call me loud, Mother, and perhaps you’ll have to shake:

I shall want some coffee hot and strong, before I’m called away,

To shiver as Queen o’ the May, Mother, to shiver as Queen o’ the May.


As I was coming home to-night whom think you I should see but Doctor Squills!

And he saw that my nose was as red as red could be;

And he said the weather was cruel sharp, that I’d better stay away,—

But I’m chosen Queen o’ the May, Mother, so I must be Queen o’ the May.


The honeysuckle round the porch is white with sleety showers,

And, though they call it the month of May, the hawthorn has no flowers;

And the ice in patches may yet be found in swamps and hollows gray,—

Ain’t it nice for the Queen o’ the May, Mother, so nice for the Queen o’ the May?


The East wind blows and blows, Mother, on my nose I follow suit,

For my influenza’s so very bad, and I’ve got a cough to boot;

Perhaps it will rain and sleet, Mother, the whole of the livelong day,

Yet I’m to be Queen o’ the May, Mother; I must be Queen o’ the May


I’ve not the slightest doubt, Mother, I shall come home very ill,

And then there’ll be bed for a week or more, and a long, long doctor’s bill;

And with prices up and wages down however will father pay?

But I’m to be Queen o’ the May, Mother—oh, bother the Queen o’ the May!


So please wake and call me early, call me early, Mother dear,

That I may look out some winter wraps, fit for the spring this year.

To-morrow of this bitter “snap” I’m sure’ll be the bitterest day,

For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, Mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

Punch 12 May 1877

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This parody is based on the old chestnut, “The May Queen,” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, which was quoted in the press and recited ad nauseam in drawing-rooms until one wanted to scream. The anonymous Punch contributor has captured perfectly the thumpety-bumpety scansion of the original, which ill-accords with the lingering death-bed and morally uplifting sentiments found in the last two sections of the poem.

It was something of a joke that May-day weather in England was always inclement. In 1876 and 1877, records show that the day was either snowy or very wet. Mrs Daffodil has previously posted an amusing cartoon sequence on the Ideal vs. the Actual May-Day, dating from 1878, when the weather continued perfectly foul. Mrs Daffodil notes that the forecast for May-day is anything but sunny. She wishes all of her readers the happiest of times on this, the maddest, merriest day.

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 Witch’s Ring: 1886


A very curious, struggling, sleepy, old village is Addingtune. Half a century behind the rest of the world, it still sits between the green hills of the Eastern State, its elbows on its knees and its chin in its hands, musing on by-gone days, when old King George held the land under his sway, and when, as its old folks sagely remark, things were not as they are now. There are a great many old people in Addingtune—in fact, very few people die young there. The atmosphere is so dreamy and peaceful that excitement cannot exist, and the wear and tear of the busy world is unknown, or at most only hums faintly over the hills, like the buzzing of a fly on a sunny pane on a summer day. And so they sit still in the chimney corners from year to year, and muse, and doze, and dream, until they dream their lives away and take their final sleep. It was to an old crone of this description that I was indebted for my adventure.

In the course of my idle wanderings about the village I chanced one day to peer over a crumbling wall, and discovered an old, disused burial ground. The brown slabs were broken, prostrate, and scattered, with only here and there a forlorn, unsteady stone standing wearily, and waiting for the time to come when it, too, might fall down and rest with the sleepers beneath. Scrambling over the low wall I stooped about among the grass, pushing away the tangled masses of vines and leaves from the faces of the slabs, that I might read the inscriptions there. But the suns and storms of nearly 100 years had obliterated nearly all the letters, so that only a portion of names and dates remained. Finally, down in a deep corner of the enclosure, where the weeds grew densest and the shade was darkest, I found an old stone, which, leaning forward, had protected its face from the storms, and on this stone I read the words:

“Barbara Conwail, born 1670, died 1730. Age 60 years. Having been lawfully executed for the practice of witchcraft.”

My curiosity was at once aroused. I inquired of several persons as to the history of this woman, but without success for a time. Finally, however, I found an old woman, who told me the history of Barbara Conwail as it had been handed down by her ancestors:

Living in an old stone house at the edge of the village she was rarely seen—for no one ever crossed her threshold—save when she was occasionally met by a frightened party of children idling away a summer afternoon’s holiday in the woods, when she would scowl and pass away, stooping along over the fields gathering herbs with which to brew her mighty potions. No one ever interfered with her, however, until a sad year came to Addingtune.

An epidemic broke out and raged with a fury that nothing could withstand. People began to mutter that Barbara the witch was the cause of it. Passing along the road she was stoned by a party of boys, to whom she turned, and, shaking her bony hand, shrieked that the curse was upon them.

Two of the lads sickened and died in a few days, and though scores were carried away in a like manner, no especial import was attached to their death. Barbara began to be watched. They looked through her windows at midnight and found her bending over a seething cauldron, throwing in herbs, muttering cabalistic words, and stirring the mixture with what they reported to be a human bone. Old Barbara was working her charms.

When one morning a man came into town, bruised and covered with mud, and testified that as he rode past old Barbara’s house at 12 o’clock the night before, he saw the Arch Fiend and the witch in conversation upon the housetop, surrounded by flames, and laughing fiendishly in the lurid glare as they shook their fist at the plague-stricken village sleeping below, his tale found ready credence. The fact that he was an habitual drunkard, and had on more than one occasion rolled from his horse in a drunken stupor, and passed the night in a ditch, dreaming wild dreams, did not in the least detract from the belief the villagers in his account of this pair of demons had pounced upon him, and had first tortured and thrown him senseless into a ditch, their indignation became uncontrollable.

Old Barbara was tried, condemned, and hanged, though she protested her innocence to the last. The little sum of money found in her possession was used to buy that gravestone—as no one would dare appropriate it—and to this day if anyone were bold enough to go to her grave at midnight on the same day of the year on which she was hanged, and say, “Barbara, I believe that you were innocent,” at the same time stretching out his hand over the grave, she would, appear to him and place in his hand a talisman.

This talisman would bring good fortune as long as he retained: it, but at some time in his life the witch would return and claim her own.

The old woman ended her story in a low, impressive monotone, which, with her earnestness and sincere belief in what she said, almost carried conviction to me in spite of reason. As I sauntered away, ridiculing these ignorant and superstitious, village folks, I found myself almost unconsciously wandering back through the old burial ground to the witch’s grave. Carelessly glancing at the inscription, I was surprised to find that very day was the 150th anniversary of her death, and still more surprised when the thought occurred to me of watching at her grave that night. I ridiculed and scoffed the idea. Where was my boasted commonsense and incredulity? But, still returning ever, came that wayward thing called fancy—and it conquered.

The world was wild and weird that night, when I stole forth from the village. The wind was moaning through the trees, and sobbing piteously; the black clouds were driven in broken patches across the sky, now letting down the moonshine, and again shrouding it in the blackest night, and making the shadows chase each other about, and steal around corners upon one in a manner that made me wince in spite of myself. Climbing the low stone wall—rather nervously, I confess—I stole away through the old, down-trodden graves, pushing through the weeds and briars as silently as possible, and making my way toward that dark, dreary corner where the old witch reposed. A graveyard at noon is a very different spot from a graveyard at midnight—especially if one is there to seek an interview with a spirit.

I reached the place and stood by the tomb. It still lacked a few minutes of 12, and as I stood there watching the moonlight flitting over the graves, I longed for a little ray to creep in with me. But, no—approaching and receding, and wavering all about me, it never touched this grave, but fled away as often as it approached, as though frightened at the black shadow forever lurking there.

By-and-bye the village clock tolled 12. As the slow, tremulous tones stole out on the night, the wind ceased moaning, the clouds covered the face of the moon, the insects stopped chirping, and when the last stroke was finished the almost unbearable silence was broken only by my own breathing, which I strove in vain to suppress. The darkness was intense, and I could see nothing. A terrible feeling of guilt and terror seized me, that I, a mortal, should be intruding there at such an hour. Mechanically I strove to speak the words I had been told, but my lips refused to form a sound.

Still I stood in that awful black silence, chilled with fear, until with a mighty effort I reached out my arm over the grave and grasped—a hand.

It was only for an instant—not that, for it was jerked away in a twinkle—but long enough to feel how warm and velvety it was— and how small. Not that I lingered there to reflect upon these novel qualities in the hand of the ghost, and an old witch at that, for you altogether mistake my bravery in supposing it; but it was after I had cleared the old wall at a bound, and was out on the moonlit road, walking at a rattling good pace toward town, that I recalled it.

From a state of intense cold I had changed to burning heat. The touch of those soft fingers thrilled me through as with an electric shock, and I walked faster still in my excitement. Gradually the consciousness forced itself upon me that I had something in my clenched hands. There was first a glitter and then a spark, as the moonlight fell into the hollow of my upraised hand, and I saw there a glittering ring set with flashing stones. The icicles began slipping down my back again, and I hurried on. Some persons may be inclined to deride my nervousness on this occasion, but I assure such that I am not naturally a timid man. I have a medal hanging in my room at home which asserts that I am not a timid man, and above all, I had always been void of superstitious fear; but truth compels me to say that I not only lighted all the lights on reaching my room at the little inn that night, but turned them very high into the bargain, and that I made a systematic inspection of all the closets, and removed from its peg a long cloak that was hanging in a very suggestive position on the wall. This done, I sat down and examined the ring.

It was a quaint, old ring, curiously carved and massive. The setting was composed of several small coloured stones, set in a circle about a diamond. My financial circumstances had rendered it unnecessary for me to acquaint myself with precious stones and their values, so that I could only surmise that the ring was somewhat valuable. Considering the excited condition of my nerves by this time, it was not strange that I should start when my eyes fell upon the name that was inscribed in quaint letters inside the ring—” Barbara.”

I sat and mused upon the whole adventure—what the crone had told me—the graveyard, the ring, and (this was returned to me the) oftenest) the thrilling touch of that soft hand in the darkness.

Perhaps I should say right here that I called myself an old bachelor, and had never been in love—that is, with any mortal. I did not think that I was devoid of sentiment or feeling, for I often dreamed of love and worshipped beautiful things of my own fancy, but my life had been thrown among boys and men; and woman was far away and a mystery. A motherless home, a stern father, a hard-working student’s life at college, a stranger struggling for bread and reputation in a great city—one can perceive how it could be that I had made few acquaintances among women. In reality I was only 25, but much experience had made me feel older; so, as I said, I called myself a bachelor.

I have given the brief history of myself in order to prepare the way for another confession. I was falling in love with the owner of that soft, warm hand. It is preposterous, but it is true. I began to doubt my reason. In vain, I tried to remember that Barbara, the witch, was an old, ugly woman. The only picture I could call up was that of a beautiful, young girl, with—but words fail me; only she was far from ghastly, but was as warm, and substantial, and full of life as that hand had seemed to be.

The fire irons fell with an earthly clatter, and startled me out of my dreams. I went to bed to soothe my nerves with sleep, and lay awake most of the night with the lamps burning.

Fortune smiled upon me from that night. Two years of busy, city life had passed, when old Barbara’s talisman was still unreclaimed, when one day—do you believe in love at first sight? Well, if the appearance of Walter Wyman’s sister had not conquered me as she stood under the parlour lamps, a revelation of beauty and youth, the touch of her hand when she welcomed her brother’s friend would have enslaved me forever. Never had a touch so thrilled me since—since I had the witch’s hand in the graveyard. The same peculiar shock passed through me, and the memory of that spectral night came over me like a flash.

But I did not start out to tell a love story. Let me briefly say that I fell in love, hopelessly and ridiculously in love, and that I acted just as all lovers have done since the world began. It doesn’t matter much about a man’s age. At 27 he will act pretty much as he would have done at 17, and so I wrote verses and sighed, and tormented myself with a thousand hopes and fears, and grew hot and cold by turns, and wonderfully timid, and prided myself on concealing it all, when, as a matter of fact, the state of my feelings was perfectly apparent to all my acquaintances.

Matters were in this interesting state when one day an opportunity occurred of which I availed myself with a degree of skill and presence of mind that I am proud of to this day. It all came about my asking the young lady if she believed in ghosts.

“I suppose I should,” said she, “considering my experience.”

Leave a woman alone to make an evasive answer. Of course I implored an explanation, and she related to me the following story:—

“It was about two years ago when a party of girls, just home from school, were visiting a friend down in the country. One of the girls had heard a foolish story about a witch’s grave, and some nonsense about her annual appearance, and a talisman, and when I expressed my incredulity, they braved me to put it to the test. What is the matter? The place? A little town called Addingtune.”

“Foolishly I accepted their challenge and received a terrible fright. I carried out the instructions and stretched my arm over the grave. It was so dark I could see nothing, but someone seized my hand. I was so benumbed with fear that I could not cry out, but could only fly through the lonely grave-yard to where my trembling companions were awaiting me in the field. It was a foolish adventure, for I fell ill, and it cost me a valuable ring which was left to me by.poor Aunt Barbara. ‘For her little namesake,’ she said, when she sent it across the sea to me. You see the ring was a little large for my finger, and was pulled off by—by—”

“By me!” I interrupted, taking the lost ring from my pocket.

It was time for Barbara (I forgot to say that was her name) to be startled now. I hope I may say that I came out strong on the occasion. I told my story in a very impressive way, lingered over the effect of the witch’s hand on my heart, spoke of the good fortune the talisman had brought me, made very pretty allusion to Barbara, the witch, reclaiming her own—for she was not a witch, after all, as I could testify, having felt her charms—and finally, not only offered to return the ring, but to give myself into the bargain.

She took both.

The Australian Journal: A Family Newspaper of Literature and Science, Vol. 21, April 1886: p. 433-4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A jolly “witch” story for Walpurgisnacht, that festival mystifyingly named for a saintly abbess, when the witches have free reign to gambol round the skies and meet on the peak of the Brocken, the highest point in the gnome-haunted Harz Mountains of Germany. It is a feast primarily observed in Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Britain, of course, is entirely witch-free, or so it likes to believe.

That bewitching person over at Haunted Ohio tells of a Swedish witch and her cow-curing charm gotten from a Man in Black.

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 Ghost in the Lilac Print Gown: 1840s

lavendar and gold 1840s

Our narrator is the name-dropping Mr Augustus Hare:

The society of Mrs. Gaskell the authoress was a great pleasure during this term at Oxford. I made great friends with her, and we kept up a correspondence for some time afterwards. Everybody liked Mrs. Gaskell. I remember that one of the points which struck me most about her at first was not only her kindness, but her extreme courtesy and deference to her own daughters. While she was at Oxford, the subject of ghosts was brought forward for a debate at the Union; she wished to have spoken from the gallery, and if she had, would probably have carried the motion in favour of ghosts at once. Here is one of her personal experiences: —

“Mrs. Gaskell was staying with some cousins at Stratford-on-Avon, who took her over to see Compton Whinyates. [Compton Whynyates] On their return she stayed to tea at Eddington with her cousins — cousins who were Quakers. Compton Whinyates naturally led to the subject of spirits, and Mrs. Gaskell asked the son of the house whether there were any stories of the kind about their neighbourhood; upon which the father, who was a very stiff, stern old man, reproved them for vain and light talking.

“After tea Mrs. Gaskell and her cousins went out to walk about the place with the younger Quaker, when the subject of the supernatural was renewed, and he said that their attention had lately been called to it in a very singular manner. That a woman who was a native of the place had many years ago gone as a lady’s-maid to London, leaving her lover, who was a carter, behind her. While in London, she forgot her carter and married some one else, but after some years her husband died, leaving her a large competence, and she came back to spend the rest of her life in her native village. There she renewed her acquaintance with the carter, to whom, after a fortnight’s renewal of courtship, she was married. After they had been married a few weeks, she said she must go up to London to sell all the property she had there, and come down to settle finally in the country. She wished her husband to go with her, and urgently entreated him to do so; but he, like many countrymen in that part, had a horror of London, fancied it was the seat of all wickedness, and that those who went there never could come back safe: so the woman went alone, but she did not return. Some time after her husband heard that she had been found in the streets of London — dead.

“A few weeks after this the carter husband was observed to have become unaccountably pale, ill, and anxious, and on being asked what was the matter with him, he complained bitterly, and said that it was because his wife would not let him rest at nights. He did not seem to be frightened, but lamented that his case was a very hard one, for that he had to work all day, and, when he wanted rest, his wife came and sat by his bedside, moaning and lamenting and wringing her hands all the night long, so that he could not sleep.

“Mrs. Gaskell naturally expressed a wish to see the man and to hear the story from his own lips. The Quaker said that nothing could be easier, as he lived in a cottage close by; to which she went, together with five other persons. It was like a Cheshire cottage, with a window on each side of the door, and a little enclosure, half-court, half-garden, in front. It was six o’clock in broad summer daylight when they arrived. The door was locked and the Quaker went round to try the back entrance, leaving Mrs. Gaskell and her friends in the enclosure in front. They all, while there, distinctly saw a woman, of hard features, dressed in a common lilac print gown, come up to the latticed window close by them on the inside and look out. They then saw her pass on and appear again at the window on the other side of the door, after which she went away altogether.

“When the Quaker appeared, unsuccessful in opening the back-door, they said, ‘But there is some one who could have let you in, for there is a woman in the house.’ They tried unsuccessfully, however, to make her hear. Then they went to the adjoining cottage, where the people assured them that the man was gone out for the day, and that there could not possibly be any one in the house. ‘Oh,’ said Mrs. Gaskell, ‘but we have seen a woman in the house in a lilac print gown.’ ‘Then,’ they answered, ‘you have seen the ghost: there is no woman in the house; but that is she.’

The Story of My Life, Volume 1, Augustus John Cuthbert Hare

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Gaskell was, of course, Elizabeth Gaskell the novelist and short-story writer, perhaps best-known as author of Cranford, North and South, The Life of Charlotte Bronte, and many chilling fictional ghost stories.

Mr Hare was an exceptionally talented raconteur, particularly of ghost stories. See, for example, the story of a ghost appearing to Count Axel von Fersen or the ensign who saw a horror.

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.

Those Successful Women Drummers: 1908

Successful Women Drummers and How They Succeed

By Frances Van Etten

Women drummers are becoming more plentiful every day, and they are successful, too. One has but to go to the firms employing these “ladies of the grip” to learn that their sales are as large as, if not larger than, those of the sterner sex. This field for women is comparatively new, but already so many bright and clever young women have entered into it who have met with phenomenal success that it will not be long until they will stand equal chances with the “knights,” who have for so long monopolized this particularly well-paying business. And we have not far to go in looking for a reason for all this. In the first place, a woman is bound to gain recognition simply because she is a woman; for it is the hardest thing in the world for a man to refuse a request made by a woman, especially if the woman be young and pretty and, of course, clever. So, before he knows what he is doing, he is placing an order.

In many branches, such as in selling corsets, ladies’ waists and underwear, perfumery, millinery, toilet articles, and dozens of other things, a woman is better adapted to the business of selling than is a man, and she is particularly successful along these lines. A successful woman drummer is always in her element, for she is sure of herself and knows what she can do; it is second nature for her to dilate and expand on the salient features of such of these articles as she may be selling. As a rule, these women are quick at repartee, some of them good story-tellers, brimming over with original good humor, and have a thorough knowledge of men’s weaknesses.

“Oh, yes; they have come to stay all right,” said a drummer the other day, speaking of the women in the business; “and it will not be very long before the many men holding these lucrative positions will be forced to look for other employment. Why, we men will not be in it in a short time. I know personally twenty women who are making more sales and drawing better salaries and commissions than I am, and I have been in the business fifteen or twenty years, and am traveling for one of the largest silk houses in the country. They are smart, far-sighted, and quick to read human nature. As a rule, they are all ladylike, and some of them mighty pretty, too, and unusually attractive mentally. Just to show you how they are taking the trade from us fellows, I will relate a personal experience. About two months before Christmas I started out with a full line of holiday goods. A week later I struck Cleveland, where we had a number of first-class customers. Well, I started in leisurely, expecting to pile up orders without much effort, as I had my trade established; but when I reached the store of my first customer I was dumfounded to hear him accost me in this manner:

“‘Well, Mr. Jones, you are too late this time.’

“‘Why, what do you mean?’ I questioned nervously. ‘Didn’t I write you just when I would be here?’

“‘Yes, I know you did; but a good-looking young woman has already been here with a splendid line of goods and at much more reasonable figures, and was so sweet and amiable besides, I just gave her the whole order for her firm.’

“‘Surely you do not mean you gave her the entire order?’ I still questioned.

“‘Yes, I did; I gave her everything she wanted.’

“Well, I felt mad enough to jump right through that man, and I started out of that town in a hurry, with a new determination in the line of selling goods; surely I would head her off at the next town and get my order as usual. To my great surprise and disgust, this ‘sweet and amiable’ woman drummer had been there and gobbled up that order, too. I had almost reached an end to my patience and felt like swearing, but I knew this would not be good business policy, so I smiled and asked my customer to wait for me next time, and hurried off to number three customer, with a good many grave doubts as to what I might expect. The amount of the story is that this woman was first everywhere and had sold her goods to more than two-thirds of my customers in Cleveland. Suffice it to say, I left there in disgust and humiliation. At Columbus I found she had played me the same trick, and the same cruel fate awaited me in Cincinnati, and a little more of the same in Indianapolis.

“When I left Indiana I was thoroughly disheartened, but hoped for better luck in Chicago and farther West. I had never before failed to place orders with all of these firms. Naturally I began to be personally interested in this paragon of petticoats, cleverness, and business tact, although I had never seen her. She must be ‘sweet and amiable’ if she could take from me my trade of fifteen years’ standing, and I thought it high time to know more about her methods of doing business. I made her acquaintance in Denver, whither I had followed her on a fool’s errand, as she had all of my orders closely pressed into her order book. I had not talked with her ten minutes until I acknowledged to myself that she was the cleverest, most diplomatic woman I had ever met, either in business or out, and if I hadn’t gotten out of that town just when I did I should have proposed to her, and she would now be Mrs. John Jones instead of Miss Frances Williams, the ‘sweet and amiable.’

“That was her first trip, I afterward learned, and she had been out but three weeks. Her house had wired her to await further instructions from them, as she had piled up the orders faster than they could fill them. I told her she had played smash with my trade, and I might have expected the answer she gave me. ‘It is the age we live in,’ she said. ‘Get all you can.’ After once getting ahead of her my trip was a fairly good one, but if she took a cent she took fifty thousand dollars right out of my firm’s pockets. But my experience in this line is not the only one, for nearly all of the drummers are running against the same thing; every day they find new obstacles of this nature to contend with.”

“I know a young woman, by the name of Lincoln, who sells hats (and so do I when I can keep ahead of her),” said another drummer in relating his experience; “but let me drop in behind her, and it’s ‘all day’ with me, for when she strikes a town she carries away every order in it. But in this she has the advantage of me; she is strikingly pretty for a milliner’s model, and tries on every shape she has for sale among her samples, and she places them all on her pretty head in such a coquettish and graceful way that it shows off the beauties of the hats to perfection. Now, I would look pretty trying on ladies’ hats, wouldn’t I? There seems to be only one alternative, and that is to take to selling men’s hats in self-defense. I will never again be a success selling ladies’ hats, for a man with a face like mine, fringed with red whiskers and red hair and big ears protruding, can never look irresistible in a lady’s hat.”

In the face of all his troubles, the drummer laughed convulsively and continued: “Yes; she has got the drop on me, and sells fully as many more hats in the course of a year than I do. And this is the reputation all of these ‘skirted knights of the grip’ have established with the firms they represent. They are, as a rule, strong, healthy, clear-headed, and in every way belong to the twentieth century. Some of them do exactly as men do—visit the merchants personally and solicit orders. Others rent a suite of rooms in the best hotel in which to display goods, notify their customers, and await them there. And there is still another class of these drummers who cater to individual custom, and these, too, are very successful. Quite a number of New York women work in this manner. There is one young woman, Mary Fergesson, who travels for one of the largest dry-goods houses in Cincinnati. She is of Irish parentage and has the beautiful eyes and complexion we so often see among the Irish-American girls. Her figure is simply perfection, and all of the made-up garments among her samples are made to her form, so that they fit like the paper on the wall, and when she once dons them she shows them to the best advantage, and she seldom fails to get an order. She told me she was a graduate of one of the leading colleges for women in America, and has since studied every art that might be of benefit to her in her business. She has had many offers of marriage from some of her best customers, but she is happy and content to live on her salary of $4,000 a year, and commissions which often run it up to $5,000, besides all of her expenses. And why should she not be? There are very few men who can earn that salary as easily as she does.”

And the drummer subsided into sorrowful reflections. “Miss Fergesson’s trade is worth $300,000 a year to her house, and this is enormous, when it is taken into consideration that it is for only six months in the year that these goods can be sold. I have known several women,” he continued, “who have been driven to the business through force of circumstances. Here is one. Tom Huntington is one of the best-known traveling men in Massachusetts. He is a jolly fellow and knows every shoe manufacturer and dealer throughout the New England States. In many cities in which he sold goods in his palmy days he was always elaborately entertained by one or another of his customers. This was the case one trip when he was taken very ill. The customer with whom he was stopping was a friend of long standing, and when Tom learned that he could not proceed on his trip, he wished to be taken to his hotel, but his friend objected and Tom was persuaded to remain as a guest; but he fumed and fretted so over not being able to continue on his trip that it worried his friend a great deal.

“The latter had a daughter who was well educated, but, owing to business adversities, had gone into the store to help her father. One morning she suggested that she take Tom’s samples and go to the next town and see what she could do. Of course objections were raised, but she was so persistent that she finally obtained permission from Tom and her father. Well, she started, but did not stop at that town, but went on and on, finishing up the entire route, and she fairly set the house crazy with orders. Every man on the line took his credit limit, and she sold more goods than a faker at a country fair. Then she went home to her father and her sick friend. She was so successful that she was forthwith given a lucrative position with the firm. Tom was a confirmed old bachelor and never even thought of marriage, but this opened his eyes as to the true worth of women, and before he knew it he was head over heels in love with the fair drummeress, and some time later they were married. Tom is now a large stockholder in the firm, but always speaks with pride of the little woman who so bravely helped him out when he couldn’t help himself. And as for Celie (as Celie Pitts was her name), she says blushingly that it was real, true love for Tom which made her take his samples that morning and start out on that never-to-be-forgotten trip. Yes; that’s the way it goes—men never did fully appreciate women,” and here the brave story-teller relapsed into a benedict’s reverie.

One of our most successful drummers is Mrs. Atwood, of Mount Vernon. For years she solicited orders for corsets from door to door. Her success was phenomenal, beyond the wildest expectations of the firm she worked for, and they could not comprehend her extraordinary ability. She is now a wholesale representative for this same firm of corset manufacturers, and commands a salary of $5,000 yearly. She told me that she actually surprised herself when, on her first trip through Massachusetts and Connecticut, she began to pile up immense orders. The firm asserts that she is worth more to the business than all the rest of the drummers combined. Mrs. Atwood is as pretty as she is clever, which is saying a good deal.

Another well-known woman drummer is Mrs. Henry. Her husband formerly traveled for an underwear house. He died, leaving her with a large family to support, and it occurred to her that she might take up her husband’s business. She accordingly went to the firm and asked for the position. They demurred at first, fearing to trust a woman to handle this kind of goods; but finally, through sympathy and a desire to help the wife of one who had so long and faithfully served them, they consented to give her a trial. Her success was striking. Each mail brought fresh evidence of it, and the result is she is now a confidential member of the firm, and she only assumes the role of “drummer” when she feels like it. She makes sales the quickest and gets out of town the liveliest of any woman ever heard of. Once, while in Chicago, she had but eight minutes in which to catch her train. She put on her traveling gown, paid her bill, telephoned for a carriage, and drove to the depot, six blocks away. She checked her luggage in the meantime, paid for excess baggage, and caught her train. How many men or women could do half this amount of work in twice the time and not suffer from nervous exhaustion for a fortnight? Mrs. H. is an improved “twentieth-century” girl, and she doesn’t smoke cigarettes or aspire to voting.

Another bright little drummer woman under discussion at the same time was Miss Sofy Lansdon, of Philadelphia. She almost monopolizes the trade of her territory in fruit extracts, flavoring, and spices, and her trade is enormous. She touches none of the small towns whatever, only the largest cities east of the Mississippi River, and visits these towns seven or eight times a year. She does not spend on an average more than two weeks at home during the entire year. She is but twenty-five years of age and receives a salary of $3,500 a year and all of her expenses. One young woman sells coffin trimmings for one of the large silver manufacturers in Connecticut. Her success has been truly wonderful, the house often being obliged to call her in during the year, owing to the inability to fill her orders promptly. Another woman sells coffins, and one of her “knight” rivals says she sells so many that the undertakers have to make kindling wood of them to get their stock reduced, people don’t die fast enough to keep up the demand. Her house allows her ample money for expenses and pays a liberal salary besides.

Boston furnishes its quota of petticoated drummers, and they, with due dignity, use slang and smoke a little out of business hours, just as their brothers do. One fascinating little maid of about twenty-three summers, known among the fraternity, travels for a large wholesale dry-goods house, and her trade is worth $500,000 to her house yearly. She carries a dozen large trunks and draws a salary of nearly half as many thousands per year. She is not especially pretty, but bright and clever, with the dogged determination which wins out every time. Mrs. Flora Lee, of New York, travels for a California silk hose house and does a tremendous business, much better than men in the same profession. She supports a husband in ill health, a large family of children, and a goodly number of needy relatives, and lays aside a few hundred ducats each year for the inevitable “rainy day.”

Frank Leslie’s Weekly 13 August 1908

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What can one add to such an encomium? It was kind of the various drummers to concede, albeit grudgingly, that the success of the lady drummers was due as much to their mental acuity, as to the use of their feminine wiles. Mrs Daffodil was both interested and appalled to note the blend of admiration, condescension, and envy for these “ladies of the grip,” (a grip was the traditional salesman’s sample case) perhaps reflecting the fair-minded gentlemen one sometimes finds in the States, who, although disadvantaged by a competitor’s tricks, still can admire their methods.  As might be expected, “The Female Drummer” was the theme of several comic stage entertainments.

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 Fatal Envelope: 1904

viewing corpse in coffin The Spectre of the Hall, author of Varney the Vampire 1848


Waiting Wife Across Sea to Get Picture of Husband in Coffin.

Friends in the New World Were Kinder Than Fortune.

A picture of her husband lying in his coffin will be received by the wife of Peter Weber of No. 89 1-2 Davenport street, in faraway Germany, instead of a long expected epistle containing money which would bring her to him. The photograph was taken yesterday in the rooms of a local undertaking establishment and will be forwarded to the wife.

The story of Weber is one of expectations which death with a relentless hand destroyed. Five months ago he came to this country, after vainly toiling for success in his native land. He had by economy gathered together sufficient funds to pay his expenses, but scrape as he would, eh could not gather sufficient to bring his faithful wife with him. At last she told him to go to the land of promise alone, and said that she would follow when he was able to send for her.

Weber came alone on his journey, he forfeited all his pleasure, and bought nothing but the sheer necessities of life. Each economy which Weber practiced instead of a hardship was a delight to him.

One day, his journey over, he reached Cleveland, and set about finding work at his trade of furrier. But the long journey and the few hours of relaxation had told upon Weber. The next morning when he attempted to rise from his bed, he fell back. The strange weakness which had seized him during the past few days, had him securely in its grasp. He was taken to lakeside hospital where the physicians diagnosed his illness as a severe attack of typhoid fever.

Repeatedly in his delirious moments, he raved of the sorrow which would come to his wife if he died and he spoke of the happy future which he had planned. But the end came Tuesday.

A few foreigners, little known to Weber, heard of the illness and had sent him to the hospital at their own expense, they too met the expenses of his funeral. A modest casket was purchased and the preparations completed for a simple burial. They also decided to send a picture of the casket, the flowers and her husband to Mrs. Weber. Yesterday a photographer was hired to go to the undertaking rooms.

The top of the casket was opened, the flowers placed at the foot and the friends gathered about the coffin. A flashlight was lit. The coffin was again closed and the photographer and the friends took their departure.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 7 April 1904: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Photographing the dead was, of course, a common practice in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  It was a chance for one last look at the loved one; a chance to “secure the shadow, ere the substance fade.”

Mrs Daffodil understands the thoughtful impulse of Weber’s friends to show the bereaved wife that her husband did not die alone and friendless in a strange land. It was, no doubt, kindly meant. But Mrs Daffodil would not care to have been at the widow’s side when she opened the fatal envelope.

More on post-mortem photography may be found in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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.