Mrs Daffodil Takes Pen in Hand

Royal Collection Trust, 1740-80

It is with regret that Mrs Daffodil takes pen in hand to say that she will no longer be posting regularly in this forum. A good many duties claim her time and she can be Relentlessly Informative only on an occasional basis.

She thanks her many readers for their kind attention, their good wishes and their comments throughout the years and encourages them to re-read her previous posts–there are over 1,300 available–whenever they need a topping-up of the ephemera of dress history or of snark.

With all best wishes,

Mrs Daffodil

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 anecdote

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 Pitfalls of New Year’s Day Calls: 1876-1897

New-Year’s Day, Harper’s Bazar, 2 January 1869

Mr. Finkhouser’s Experience as a New Year’s Caller, as Chronicled by Himself.

Young Mr. Finkhouser could have cried with vexation when he got out of bed on New Year’s morning and saw the weather. His heart came right up into his throat, and he only swallowed it by a prodigious effort. He had planned somewhat less than a thousand calls that day, and his line march, as projected, was little less than  Sherman’s march to the sea. He moped, and sulked, and swore under his breath, nearly all the morning, and it was not until nearly noon that he reflected that the carriage he had engaged for the occasion was drawing pay right along, improving every drizzling hour. Then he braced up and determined to call any how. And he arrayed himself in fine broadcloth and linen and went down stairs, and there, sure enough, was the waiting carriage, floating around in the street with a drowned man on the box. Mr. Finkhouser climbed and was slowly dragged away.

We did not have the pleasure of accompanying Mr. Finkhouser on this eventful journey, and his own account of its events were somewhat too confused to be implicitly relied on. But his diary was taken from his breast pocket and its brief entries afforded an interesting study of the gradual transition from the cold formalities and conventionalities of the first calls to the cordiality and hearty friendliness and intimacy of the later and closing calls. Mr. Finkhouser was not an old veteran caller, this being his first New Year’s out, and his diary is all the more interesting on that account. It appears that Mr. Finkhouser, anxious to improve, made an entry of his salutations as soon as he returned to the carriage from each visit, and it is quite apparent that he did his best to improve on every effort. And here is the way he improved:

11:15 A.M. – “Ah-haw-aw, yes, yes. Happy New Year, Miss Dresseldorf. Happy New Year. Happy New Year; many happy returns of the day. Haw, yes, to be sure. Good morning.

11:25 A.M. — “Miss McKerrel, permit me to wish you a happy new year. Tears and clouds in the outside world, smiles and light wherever you are. Thank you. I shall be only too much honored.

It was evident that Mr. Finkhouser thought he had just about got it, as all his subsequent efforts were modeled upon this one. Note by the translator.

11:50 A.M. “Ah, my dear Miss Ballana hack, I have the inexpressible felicity to wish you a happy New Year. The light and smiles of your presence dislocates the sombre clouds and dismal tears of the weather god.”

12:40 – “My dear Mish Binnington, I have thinexpressible felicity t’wish you a happy New Year. The smiles and light, f’your presences dispates the sombre clouds and dismal tears of th’ weather god.”

2:30 p.m.—“Ah! Mdear Mish Washingham, f’y ‘low me t’call you so. I have inexpressible flicity t’wish you Happy New Year. Thlight an schmilesh f’your bri’ presence dishpate the sombre clouds an’ dismal tear of th’ weather god.”

3:45 p.m.—“Howdy, howdy, Mish Milleroy! Wish may have th’ flictable expressitive t’wish ye hampy n’y’er, fack! Th’ bri’ shimlesh an’ light f’your preselece dishlocates clomber souds an’ tearful dismals of threather gog!”

4:30 p.m.—“Howja fine y’self? ic! ‘m all rt. Have ‘nfeliseible ‘spression t’wishye haply newy’r. Hoopee doodle! I guess not! Shimleh f’your presesh dishlocatesh weather gog! Goodby, gubby. Bo good t’yersef.”

And at this point the entries, which continue some distance further, become unintelligible.

Janesville [WI] Daily Gazette 10 January 1876: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In Gilded Age America, the making and receiving of New Year’s Day calls was something of a competitive sport. Society ladies boasted of the number of their callers, while young dandies boasted of their numerous visitations and of the liquid refreshments they had consumed. Mr Finkhouser was unusual only in his candid description of the inevitable dishpation resulting from a day’s rounds.

Drink was only one of the attractions of New Year’s Day receptions; eligible young ladies were the objective of multiple beaux, who flitted in and out, bestowing compliments and bonbons in this early version of “speed-dating.”

[T]he Sunday papers of the time began to print lists of those who would receive, and the houses of those mentioned in the lists were sure to be besieged by numbers of men whom the ladies had never met or heard of and desired never to meet again. Men would go calling in couples and parties, and even in droves of thirty or more, remaining as short a time at each stopping place as possible, and announcing everywhere how many calls they had already made and how many they expected to make before they finished. At every place they drank, and at each place, of course, a different brand of wine. The result was a most appalling assortment of “jags” long before sundown, and a crowding of the police stations at night. Naturally enough the second day of January was always a field day in the police courts, and the judges, some of whom probably had post-calling headaches themselves, were wont to mark S.S. for “sentence suspended,” after the name of every one who could show that he had made a beast of himself in the observance of the “good old Knickerbocker custom.”

The Fort Payne [AL] Journal 6 January 1897: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers every good thing in the New Year!

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 anecdote

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.

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

CHRISTMAS IN THE CRIMEA.

“The Crimea is the home of a country estate within pleasant driving distance of the city of Baltimore, belonging to Mr. Thomas Winans of Russian railway fame.

Close by the suburban mansion is a cottage, or rather, an elegant and commodious playhouse, which Santa Claus erected in a single night for the Winans children about twenty years since. Grace Greenwood, a frequent guest of the family, says of it:

“The small mansion was constructed in sections, and the furniture manufactured to order in town; everything marvelously complete. The children knew nothing of it. There was nothing on the lawn before their windows when they went to bed on Christmas Eve, but while they slept there were mysterious arrivals of wagons and workmen from Baltimore, and great doings by moonlight and lamplight. All night they worked, the carpenters and upholsterers, and at dawn gathered up their traps like the fairies and as silently stole away. In the morning the mother going to take the children, happened to look out on the lawn, and with an excellent imitation of innocence, exclaimed at the surprising sight, and then of course, the children ran pell-mell to see what the marvelous thing could be, and beheld the charming little villa, gay and bright, its windows flashing in the sun, and a fancy flag floating from its tower. The edifice was not of such fairy proportions that they could not keep house in it handsomely, and entertain their little friends and mamma and even papa, if he could stoop a little and make himself as small as he comfortably could. Washington Letter to N. Y. Times, May 4th, 1874.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A charming fancy!  Not unlike the parents who assemble toys and bicycles on Christmas Eve, only rather on a more extravagant scale.

The Winans residence on the Crimea Estate, known as Orianda House, still stands.  The children’s villa was a miniature replica. One can judge by the photo-gravures of the elaborate mansion how charming it must have been. Mrs Daffodil is told by the caretaker that the structure survived until the 1950s, but it has now vanished. However the mansion is open for visitors and events. Here is more information on the house and the Winans family.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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 Thirty-Pound Christmas Turkey: 1893

HAUNTED BY A TURKEY

How the Christmas Present of Thirty Pound Bird Destroyed a Man’s Peace of Mind.

There was an expression of despondency and care on the face of my friend Craggs when, a few days after Christmas, he took me aside and inquired in a quavering voice if I would take the gift of a turkey. He had a discouraged and almost hopeless air, as though he feared I was going to refuse to accept it.

“Thanks, old man,” said I, “I’ll take it and welcome.”

If he had been a street vendor and I had said, “I’ll buy your flowers,” he couldn’t have looked happier.

I could see that something was burdening his mind, but of course had no idea that it was the turkey itself.

He suddenly broke down all at once, grasped me by the hand and said huskily that it was a kindness he would never forget; that he would do as much for me some time, and went on in that style till I began to half fancy that in a fit of temporary insanity he might have stolen a turkey and was trying to get rid of the property in this way.

Then it occurred to me that I might have misunderstood him and he had really asked me to give him a turkey—which, of course, I couldn’t do, for obvious reasons—and the cold chills began to creep up my back.

For a moment it was perhaps the oddest predicament I was ever in. Then my friend Craggs regained his composure and explained himself this wise:

“You see, old fellow,” said he, “I have a turkey that’s an elephant on my hands—an incubus—a monster, and it all came about in this way.

“My wife and I keep house alone by ourselves, and on Christmas Day we had a turkey dinner. The turkey was a modest bird, who had never aspired to be a giant, but had contented himself with remaining juicy and tender.

“As a result of these modest aspirations and achievements of the fowl there remained of him after our Christmas dinner just enough to satisfy our appetites for turkey for some time to come in the way of perhaps another dinner and a few scraps for lunch.

“At this juncture, however, a package arrived at our house addressed to me, which upon being opened, proved to contain a turkey of herculean proportions, sent to me by a sister who lives out of the city on a farm.

“It was a regular Jack Falstaff of a turkey—the biggest I ever laid eyes on—with drumsticks bulging like hams, and a mighty corpulency withal, which told of good living and boundless ambitions in the matter of fat.

“Mrs. Craggs, being a thrifty housewife, was of course, delighted, but I am bound to confess that, though having a sneaking fondness for my stomach, I could not figure it out otherwise than this: That, there being but two of us to eat a turkey which would tip the scales at nearly thirty pounds, here was a prospect of having to endure that diet for weeks.

“I saw that it needs must follow, as the night the day, that that confounded turkey, in some form or other, either roasted or boiled or fried or chopped or fricasseed or mashed or hashed, would form the basis of my daily meals for days and perhaps weeks.

“I even feared, in which case, that the flavour of turkey might get so indelibly absorbed into my palate that it would never die away, forever casting a blighting flavor upon all my favorite dishes.

It took me hours to convince Mrs. Craggs that it was our best interests to give that turkey to some one of our friends. Then I felt relieved, but I soon found that my troubles had only commenced. It was too soon after Christmas, and the turkey was too big. Not one of my friends wanted to take a contract to cook and eat that bird. They were tired of turkey already, they said.

“As it was a present I couldn’t think of selling it. The awful fact stared me in the face that I had got to eat that turkey or bust—perhaps both, in natural sequence.

“I’ve been chasing around all day carrying, mentally, that turkey, but I’ve got you in my clutches at last, and you shall not escape me. But come, first, and we’ll open a small bottle.”

New York [NY] Herald 31 December 1893: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is reminded of the axiom: “Eternity is a ham and two people.”

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.

What the Draper Sees at Christmas: 1903

WHAT THE DRAPER SEES.

(From the Red Letter.)

Christmas Eve: fine, bright, frosty weather; for a time hatred, malice, and uncharitableness seem to be dying away. Some purses are heavy. more are light, but the hearts of their owners seem alike touched by thoughts that bring all that is best in them to the surface.

Fathers, who perhaps in the ordinary way would seek employment at the public-house to-night, assist their wives with the shopping. Plum puddings are a recognised Christmas institution, but in many families new pinafores for the little girls are almost as much so.

“I want to see some pinafores,” says a customer. Then going to the shop door, she sings out, “Come in, Joe.”

Joe appears doubtfully but when the pinafores are produced his shyness wears off, and his interest is keen. Nellie’s eleven, Marjorie’s eight, Jane is three, and baby’s 9 months. “We want one for each of them.” says the mother. They look at several.

“I say, mother, wouldn’t Nell look fine in that?” says Joe.

“Too dear.” says the careful housewife.

“’Ow much?” asks Joe.

The price quoted, and the generous father declares it is not a ha’penny too much. The selection is completed, and away they go happy. A minute or two after Joe reappears alone–left his stick, he says. “I say, show me some haprons, quick, miss, to fit the missus.” He buys a good one, and, cramming it into his pocket, goes out flourishing his recovered stick, left for the purpose.

Later his wife will dodge in and purchase a tie for Joe, bright enough to dispel a fog of the “London particular” variety.

Such is the pleasant scene enacted again and again in many a fancy shop on Christmas Eve, telling of a fund of affection which seldom finds expression.

Bashful young men appear to buy gloves, fur necklets, or silk ties for their sweethearts. Many come for gloves with no idea of size. One blushing swain informed me that her waist was 23 inches, but didn’t know her size in gloves. A few years ago girls were fond of buying braces and tobacco pouches, which they would embroider with their own fair hands for their beloved ones, but these are not so greatly favoured now, mufflers and silk handkerchiefs having replaced them. And. indeed, generally in present giving there seems to have been a movement in favour of the useful as opposed to the purely ornamental.

One Christmas Eve incident to close with. I was once employed in a shop the proprietor of which his assistants generally spoke of as the “Curmudgeon”–a name his character apparently justified. Just as we were close upon closing time a poor woman in widow’s weeds who had been a good customer in happier times came in and asked for pinafores. There had been a great rush of business, and all the cheap ones of the size she required had been sold. Her eyes tilled with tears to think that her little one must be disappointed.

Just as she was going the “Curmudgeon” came forward with a pinafore, saying. “This has been badly inked. and if it is of any use you may have it for six-pence.” The widow went away happy. The “Curmudgeon” had deliberately inked one of the best pinafores, knowing that she would not accept a big reduction as a matter of charity.

I am persuaded that the half-sovereign he gave me that night was meant to close my lips about the incident, but I refused to be bribed, and his name is no longer the “Curmudgeon.”

Waikato [NZ] Times 24 December 1903: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is always pleased to hear of kindly and generous fathers and husbands and of Scrooge-like employers who show unexpected flashes of liberality in the Christmas season. One hopes that the missus was pleased with her apron and Joe was delighted with his brilliant cravat. The Curmudgeon receives a reverential tip of a figurative cap for his delicate handling of a situation that called for the nicest diplomacy.

A “movement in favour of the useful as opposed to the purely ornamental,” was certainly all to the good. Young men groaned under the weight of the fancy-work inflicted on them by industrious young ladies and longed for a misfit holiday gift exchange where one could trade six pairs of nicely embroidered slippers for a serviceable jacket or cap. Even better would be if the ladies would not send the fad du jour done up in tissue. Mrs Daffodil shudders as she remembers a certain “singing fish” that was all the rage one Christmas.

THE CHRISTMAS FAD. 

I would put forth a yearning prayer

That these, the loving ones, and fair,

Who keep unworthy me in view

As one for Christmas presents due.

Might each, though generously inclined.

A separate inspiration find.

One year with handkerchiefs I’m showered.

The next by neckties overpowered:

Again more slippers than I’d need

Had I been born a centipede.

Another year, both maids and wives

Embower me in paper knives.

Then gloves came in, pair after pair

 Of every sort— from everywhere—

And smoking caps, whose sizes strange

From infants’ up to giants’ range!

Sweethearts, I pray you. list to me!

Whatever gift is said to be

The proper thing to send— the “fad”—

If you would make my poor heart glad

And cause my bosom joyous swells—

Don’t send it–please, send something else.

Feilding [NZ] Star 24 December 1901: p. 8

Of course, some gentlemen, driven to extremes by an excess of fancy-work might do as this man did:

For this man, who as a terrible fellow with the girls, no less than seven fair creatures manufactured pairs of slippers, all delicious things of embroidery, ribbons and velvet, and presented them to the lucky favorite at Christmas.

This was an embarrassment of riches, and the wretched man, having picked out the finest pair for his own use, quietly placed the remaining six pairs of slippers in the show window of a drygoods store downtown for sale. And they fetched fancy prices, I am told.

Pittsburg [PA] Dispatch 7 May 1890: p. 4

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 anecdote

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 Unemployed Christmas Ghost: 1927

The Christmas Ghost

Unemployment in One of our Oldest Industries

The other night I was sitting up late–away after nine o’clock–thinking about Christmas because it was getting near at hand.  And, like everybody else who muses on that subject, I was thinking of the great changes that have taken place in regard to Christmas.  I was contrasting Christmas in the old country house of a century ago, with the fires roaring up the chimneys, and Christmas in the modern apartment on the ninth floor with the gasoline generator turned on for the maid’s bath.

I was thinking of the old stage coach on the snowy road with its roof piled high with Christmas turkeys and a rosy-faced “guard” blowing on a key bugle and the passengers getting down every mile or so at a crooked inn to drink hot spiced ale–and I was comparing all that with the upper berth No. 6, car 220, train No. 53.

I was thinking of the Christmas landscape of long ago when night settled down upon it with the twinkle of light from the houses miles apart among the spruce trees, and contrasting the scene with the glare of motor lights upon the highways of today.  I was thinking of the lonely highwayman shivering round with his clumsy pistols, and comparing the poor fellow’s efforts with the high class bandits of today blowing up a steel express car with nitroglycerine and disappearing in a roar of gasoline explosions.

In other words I was contrasting yesterday and today.  And on the whole yesterday seemed all to the good.

Nor was it only the warmth and romance and snugness of the old Christmas that seemed superior to our days, but Christmas carried with it then a special kind of thrill with its queer terrors, its empty heaths, its lonely graveyards, and its house that stood alone in a wood, haunted.

And thinking of that it occurred to me how completely the ghost business seems to be dying out of our Christmas literature.  Not so very long ago there couldn’t be a decent Christmas story or Christmas adventure without a ghost in it, whereas nowadays—

And just at that moment I looked and saw that there was a ghost in the room.

I can’t imagine how he got in, but there he was, sitting in the other easy chair in the dark corner away from the firelight.  He had on my own dressing gown and one saw but little of his face.

“Are you a ghost?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “worse luck, I am.”

I noticed as he spoke that he seemed to wave and shiver as if he were made of smoke.  I couldn’t help but pity the poor fellow, he seemed so immaterial.

“Do you mind,” he went on, in the same dejected tone, “if I sit here and haunt you for a while?”

“By all means,” I said, “please do.”

“Thanks,” he answered, “I haven’t had anything decent to work on for years and years.  This is Christmas eve, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said, “Christmas Eve.”

“Used to be my busiest night,” the ghost complained, “best night of the whole year–and now–say,” he said, “would you believe it!  I went down this evening to that dinner dance they have at the Ritz Carlton and I thought I’d haunt it–thought I’d stand behind one of the tables as a silent spectre, the way I used to in King George III’s time–“

“Well?” I said.

“They put me out!” groaned the ghost, “the head waiter came up to me and said that he didn’t allow silent spectres in the dining room.  I was put out.”  He groaned again.

“You seem,” I said, “rather down on your luck?”

“Can you wonder?” said the ghost, and another shiver rippled up and down him.  “I can’t get anything to do.  Talk of the unemployed–listen!” he went on, speaking with something like animation, “let me tell you the story of my life–“

“Can you make it short?” I said.

“I’ll try.  A hundred years ago–“

“Oh, I say!” I protested.

“I committed a terrible crime, a murder on the highway–“

“You’d get six months for that nowadays,” I said.

“I was never detected.  An innocent man was hanged.  I died but I couldn’t rest.  I haunted the house beside the highway where the murder had been done.  It had happened on Christmas Eve, and so, every year on that night–“

“I know,” I interrupted, “you were heard dragging round a chain and moaning and that sort of thing; I’ve often read about it.”

“Precisely,” said the ghost, “and for about eighty years it worked out admirably.  People became afraid, the house was deserted, trees and shrubs grew thick around it, the wind whistled through its empty chimneys and its broken windows, and at night the lonely wayfarer went shuddering past and heard with terror the sound of a cry scarce human, while a cold sweat–“

“Quite so,” I said, “a cold sweat.  And what next?”

“The days of the motor car came and they paved the highways and knocked down the house and built a big garage there, with electricity as bright as day.  You can’t haunt a garage, can you? I tried to stick on and do a little groaning, but nobody seemed to pay attention; and anyway, I got nervous about the gasoline.  I’m too immaterial to be round where there’s gasoline.  A fellow would blow up, wouldn’t he?”

“He might,” I said, “so what happened?”

“Well, one day somebody in the garage actually SAW me and he threw a monkey wrench at me and told me to get to hell out of the garage. So I went.”

“And after that?”

“I haunted round; I’ve kept on haunting round, but it’s no good, there’s nothing in it.  Houses, hotels, I’ve tried it all.  Once I thought that if I couldn’t make a hit any other way, at least I could haunt children.  You remember how little children used to live in terror of ghosts and see them in the dark corners of their bedrooms?  Well, I admit it was a low down thing to do, but I tried that.”

“And it didn’t work?”

“Work!  I should say not.  I went one night to a bedroom where a couple of little boys were sleeping and I started in with a few groans and then half materialized myself, so that I could just be seen.  One of the kids sat up in bed and nudged the other and said, ‘Say!  I do believe there’s a ghost in the room!’  And the other said, ‘Hold on; don’t scare him.  Let’s get the radio set and see if it’ll go right through him.’

“They both hopped out of bed as brisk as bees and one called downstairs, ‘Dad, we’ve got a ghost up here!  We don’t know whether he’s just an emanation or partially material.  We’re going to stick the radio into him–‘  Believe me,” continued the ghost, “that was all I waited to hear.  Electricity just knocks me edgeways.”

He shuddered.  Then he went on.

“Well it’s been like that ever since–nowhere to go and nothing to haunt.  I’ve tried all the big hotels, railway stations, everywhere.  Once I tried to haunt a Pullman car, but I had hardly started before I observed a notice, ‘Quiet is requested for those already retired,’ and I had to quit.”

“Well, then,” I said, “why don’t you just get immaterial or dematerial or whatever you call it, and keep so?  Why not go away wherever you belong and stay there?”

“That’s the worst of it,” answered the ghost, “they won’t let us. They haul us back.  These spiritualists have learned the trick of it and they just summon us up any time they like.  They get a dollar apiece for each materialization, but what do we get?”

The ghost paused and a sort of spasm went all through him.  “Gol darn it,” he exclaimed, “they’re at me now.  There’s a group of fools somewhere sitting round a table at a Christmas Eve party and they’re calling up a ghost just for fun–a darned poor notion of fun, I call it–I’d like to–like to–“

But his voice trailed off.  He seemed to collapse as he sat and my dressing gown fell on the floor.  And at that moment I heard the ringing of the bells that meant that it was Christmas midnight, and I knew that the poor fellow had been dragged off to work.

Winowed Wisdom, Stephen Leacock 1926

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Recently, the Smithsonian online magazine made a plea for the return of the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas. This is a proposition Mrs Daffodil can heartily endorse. It is true that there was a decay in the quality of Christmas ghost stories, leading to amusing articles and essays totting up the cliches of the usual Christmas spectre, such as this one by Jerome K. Jerome. Mrs Daffodil previously told of how the British ghost was doomed by the introduction of the card game Bridge.

Stephen Leacock also wrote in an essay called “The Passing of the Christmas Ghost Story,” that the logistics of modern life simply were not compatible with the Christmas ghost story.

It is a nice question whether Christmas, in the good old sense of the term, is not passing away from us. One associates it somehow with the epoch of stage-coaches, of gabled inns and hospitable country homes with the flames roaring in the open fireplaces. I often think that half the charm of Christmas, in literature at least, lay in the rough weather and in the physical difficulties surmounted by the sheer force of the glad spirit of the day. Take, for example, the immortal Christmases of Mr. Pickwick and his friends at Dingley Dell and the uncounted thousands of Christmas guests of that epoch of which they were the type. The snow blustered about them. They were red and ruddy with the flush of a strenuous journey. Great fires must be lighted in the expectation of their coming. Huge tankards of spiced ale must be warmed up for them. There must be red wine basking to a ruddier glow in the firelight. There must be warm slippers and hot cordials and a hundred and one little comforts to think of as a mark of gratitude for their arrival; and behind it all, the lurking fear that some fierce highwayman might have fallen upon them as they rode in the darkness of the wood.

Take as against this a Christmas in a New York apartment with the guests arriving by the subway and the elevator, or with no greater highwayman to fear than the taxicab driver. Warm them up with spiced ale? They’re not worth it.

The Bookman, Vol. 50, 1920

Harsh, very harsh, but perhaps a fair assessment. Something of the holiday magic was certainly lost with the introduction of electricity. When ghost story writer M.R. James held his memorable Christmas ghost story readings at Cambridge College, he did not simply press a switch to plunge the room into darkness, but extinguished, one by one, all but one of the candles in the room–and a highly effective bit of stage business it was, say those who witnessed it. Even a dimmer switch could not provide such a thrill.

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 anecdote

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.

Casts of Hands a Christmas Fad: 1896

Sculpture. Cast of the right hand of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Hand resting on an oval base. In glass topped case with tortoiseshell frame. Plaster, cast, height, plaster, 6.5, cm, width, plaster, 14 cm, length, plaster, 24 cm, before 1903. 18th-early 19th century. English.

Christmas Fad Among Eastern Women.

A novelty which will take the place of the framed photograph or other personal gift as a Christmas remembrance for intimate friends and admirers, is a plaster cast which is an exact reproduction of the hand of the giver. Such a gift from his sweetheart would certainly be highly prized by the fond lover, for though the clasp of this image of the real is, as it were, but second-hand, it is at least a reminder of blissful first hand pressures of the past.

This new fad, however, has more than a merely romantic interest. The admirers of clever politicians, eloquent preachers and successful writers are vying with one another for the possession of facsimiles of the hands of their favorites. Casts of the hand of President-elect McKinley are very much in demand, and Mr. Bryan still stretches out his hand in effigy over the heads of his admirers.

Alabaster hand with rose. Former eBay listing.

The casts are by no means the same thing as those lily white affairs of marble which were popular among prominent actresses a few years ago, and which the sculptor was instructed to make as smooth and beautiful as possible. Even when the original hand was beautiful, the sculptor’s art failed to give an exact portrayal of all its points. Beauty and symmetry were there, and they were fair to look upon, but the little lines that mean so much, were absent. It was as if a cast had been made of a gloved hand.

To make a reproduction which will be an exact likeness, including imperfections as well as points of beauty, it is necessary that the hand be used as a mold upon which the plaster is actually cast. Then the slightest mark—even a scratch—will be faithfully repeated in the paste that tells no tales but true ones.
This idea was conceived by an interesting young woman of New York, who looks upon the newly inaugurated custom, not as a fad, but as an educational practice calculated to hold up to public view the frailties, as well as the virtues of our public men and women.

She has already secured facsimiles of the hands of Chauncey M. Depew, ex-Speaker Crisp, Banker Henry Clews and Rev. T. DeWitt Talmadge, besides those of prominent politicians, and is now at work upon the hands of distinguished literary personages.

The hands are, she says, in a very large degree, the index of the will and other mental faculties. They reveal the temperament and the traits of character as readily as the face, to one who can master them, although the latter is popularly supposed to be the leading expression of character. She contends that the hand being connected with the moto-center of the will, is an executor of the will and must bear the expression of the nerve thoughts; whereas the eye, lip and other features formerly relied upon for the reading of character are made by her subordinate to the hand.

When asked to put in her own words the story of this new fad, she said: “The modeling of the hand is not altogether a new idea. It has long been a beautiful custom in England and France to take the cast of the first born. The cast was reserved until the marriage of the child, when it was presented as a wedding gift and saved as a sort of heirloom to be handed down from generation to generation. That was a mere matter of sentiment, but later the scientific value of such casts has become known, and it is upon those lines that I am working.”

“It is similar then to palmistry?”

“By no means. The hand is the key to the soul. A beautiful hand by no means indicates the possession of a beautiful or ideal character. This cast which you see on the table is delicate with smooth, tightly drawn skin, tapering fingers, narrow finger nails, symmetrically formed and thin in the palm. A beautiful hand, you say, but let me tell you the characteristics portrayed. She is fickle, loveless, willful, usually has her own way, and will tease until she tires a person out to get what she wants, and she is very likely to discard it. No regard for the welfare, or the desires and pleasures of others bothers her. The tightly drawn skin shows a lack of sensitiveness and the straight thumb, with no upward curve, shows a lack of generosity. She is not domestic, and altogether there is little of worth in that hand. The slender, tapering fingers which are very thin at the end and have narrow nails, indicate that she will never stick long to any one person or object. She is lazy or indolent, at least; is selfish, and will easily develop consumption.

1. Henry Clews 2. Chauncey Depew 3. Horace Greely 4. Rev. T. De Witt Talmage

“The hand of Chauncey M. Depew, as you see by this cast,” she continued, holding up for the writer’s inspection a large, strong-looking hand, “with its stout wrist, outwardly curved thumb, thick and hollow palm, long, strong fingers, broad nails and with loose skin on the back is very strong. He is not curious, but very energetic. Domestic and fond of his family, he is very affectionate, as shown by the thick, hollow palm. The thumb and the loose skin show a remarkable generosity. Though not averse to fame he is very sensitive, and a mean criticism will hurt him deeply. He is extremely quick of perception and decides instantaneously. While he is irritated by trifles, he bears great matters with perfect calmness. The long, strong fingers show remarkable energy and activity of thought. His hand indicates a total lack of selfishness and I think he would do his utmost to assist a worthy person or cause. The pose in which the hand is taken is perfectly natural and as much is own as the color of his eyes. He will not die suddenly, but just wear out. The outward course of the thumb also indicates a quality which I might term unreserved.

“The cast of Henry Clews’ hand is not open like Dr. Depew’s, but closed with the forefinger extended. Dr. Depew gives what he has freely, but Mr. Clews, as the hand pose indicates will keep what he has to himself. Mr. Clews’ hand shows great business ability, secretiveness in a sense and a strong will. The hand of the late ex-Speaker Crisp cast a short time before his death while in Washington, was blue in tint, showing that he would succumb to a sudden stroke, probably of heart failure brought about by undue excitement. The fingers are rather short and fat, indicating the shortness of his body. The palms are thick, the wrist strong, and it is altogether a good hand.

“This short, fat hand, which is the fac-simile of that of a popular actress is usually accompanied by a double chin. The possessor of such a hand is jolly and good tempered, and holds decided opinions, which she is not averse to stating, regardless of her hearers.”

Many bachelor quarters in New York now contain such casts of hands, and also of feet showing the ankle, doing duty as paper weights. The left hand is usually chosen, as it is generally more perfectly formed.

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 6 December 1896: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has previously mentioned the “summer fad,” of young ladies casting their faces in plaster to give as souvenirs to their beaux, some of whom, Mrs Daffodil grieves to say, had whole galleries of plaster beauties on the walls of their bachelor quarters. She does not imagine that plaster hands given as Christmas presents will be any more reverently received and imagines the careless gentleman stubbing out his cigarettes in the upturned, flower-like plaster hand of the Loved One.

It is curious how plaster casting, normally thought of in the context of the drawing class, was transformed into a method of character reading, although the interesting young woman’s subjects were so well-known that she certainly had enough information on their personalities to draw conclusions without recourse to plaster hands.

A few years earlier, it was the foot that was used for character analysis.

The newest fad taken up by the ladies in New York is character reading from the feet. There are regular foot reading women, who make a livelihood out of their strange calling. The proper way is to have a plaster cast taken of the foot, and sent to the chiropodist who writes out the character. Nelson [NZ] Evening Mail, 29 March 1890: p. 2

Then we have the young gentlemen of Paris (the plasterers of Paris?) who found a practical use for their plastered figures:

The superchic young men in Paris (according to an imaginative correspondent), not content with mere boot lasts, have plaster casts made of their legs from the waist down, with the object of keeping both their trousers, their knee-breeches, and even their under-wear in proper shape. One youth, with more money than brains, has an entire room of his residence devoted to the reception of some sixty pairs of plaster-of-Paris counterparts of his legs, and nothing is more peculiar than the spectacle presented by this army of fully clothed limbs standing about without any trunk and head. The Argonaut [San Francisco CA] 10 July 1893

Mrs Daffodil rather shudders to think what a character reader would make of those Parisian plasters.

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 anecdote

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.

Raw Material: A Christmas Ghost Story

RAW MATERIAL

by Marjorie Bowen

Linley was fond of collecting what he called “raw material” and, as a fairly successful barrister, he had good opportunity for doing so. He despised novelists and romancists, yet one day he hoped to become one of these gentry himself, hence his collection of the raw material…however, after some years he became disgusted and overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” (as he termed it) which he had gathered together—scenes, episodes, characters, dialogues, descriptions and decorations for all or any possible type of tale; he remained, he declared, surprised at the poverty of invention of the professional story-tellers who gave so little for the public’s money in the way of good, strong, rousing drama, such as he, Robert Linley, had come across, well, more times than he cared to count…

“There isn’t anything,” he declared with some vehemence, “of which I haven’t had experience.”

“Ghosts?” I asked, and he smiled contemptuously.

“Yes, of course, I’ve had any amount of experiences with ghosts, with people who’ve seen ’em, and people who think they’ve seen ’em, and with the ghosts themselves…”

“Well,” I asked, “have you come across a real Christmas ghost story—what we used to call the old-fashioned kind? They’re getting a bit threadbare now, you know; they’ve been told over and over again, year after year; have you got a novelty in that direction?” Linley, after a moment’s pause, said that he had.

“There’s some raw material for you,” he cried, waxing enthusiastic, “the story of the Catchpoles and Aunt Ursula Beane, there’s some raw material—why, there’s everything in it—comedy, tragedy, drama, satire, farce—”

“Hold on!” I cried, “and just tell us as briefly as possible what your ‘raw material’ consists of. I’m out for a Christmas ghost story, you know, and I shall be disappointed if you don’t give us something of that kind.”

Linley made himself extremely comfortable and, with a lawyer’s relish of the right phrase and the correct turn of sentence, gave us the history of Aunt Ursula Beane, with the usual proviso, of course, that the names and places had been altered. Before he began his narration Linley insisted on the novelty of the story, and before he had finished we all of us (those select few who were privileged to hear him hold forth) agreed that it was very novel indeed.

The case of Aunt Ursula Beane, as he called her, had come under his notice in a professional way and in the following manner, commonplace enough from a lawyer’s point of view, although the subsequent case was one which the papers endeavored to work up into what is described by that overworked word “sensational.” As far as the lawyers and the public were concerned it began with an inquest on Mrs. Ursula Beane. In Linley’s carefully selected phrases the case was this:

“Mrs. Ursula Beane had died suddenly at the age of seventy-five. The doctor who had been intermittently attending her—she was an extremely robust and healthy old woman—had not been altogether satisfied with her symptoms. He had refused a death certificate, there had been an autopsy, and it was discovered that Mrs. Ursula Beane had died from arsenical poisoning. The fact established, an enquiry followed, eliciting the following circumstances. Mrs. Ursula Beane had lived for forty years in a small house at Peckham Rye which had belonged to her father and his father before him. The house had been built in the days when Peckham Rye—well, was not quite like it is now. She resided with a nephew and niece—James and Louisa Catchpole. Neither of them had ever married, neither of them had ever left Peckham Rye for more than a few weeks at a time, and the most minute investigation did not discover that either of them had had the least adventure or out-of-the-way event in their lives. They enjoyed a small annuity from a father who had been a worthy and fairly prosperous tradesman. James was, at the time of the inquest, a man over sixty and had been for many years a clerk—’confidential clerk’ as he emphasized it—with a large firm of tea merchants. He received a sufficient, if not a substantial salary and was within a year or two of a pension. His sister, Miss Louisa Catchpole, was younger—fifty or so; she also had a substantial, if not a brilliant, position as a journalist on one of those few surviving monthlies which rather shun publicity and cater for the secluded and the virtuous. She wrote occasional short stories in which the hero was always a clergyman and the heroine sans peur et sans reproche. She also wrote little weekly causeries—as I believe they are called—’Meditations in a Garden’; they were headed and adorned with a little cut of an invalid in a basket-chair gazing at a robin. In these same causeries Miss Louisa Catchpole affected month after month, year after year, with unfaltering fortitude, a vein of Christian cheerfulness, and encouraged her readers with such maxims as ‘Character is stronger than Destiny,’ ‘A man is only as strong as his faith in himself,’ and chirpings about the recurring miracle of spring, together with quotations from the more minor poets—you know the type of thing.

“It is irrelevant to our story to go into why Aunt Ursula Beane lived with those two; they seemed to be the only surviving members of their very unimportant family, and they had lived together in the house at Peckham Rye for forty years, ever since Louisa was quite a small child and had gone there to live with Aunt Ursula who, on her husband’s death, had retired to this paternal abode. Nobody could think of them as apart one from the other. During those forty years James had gone to and fro his work, Louisa had written her articles and stories, and at first had been looked after by, and afterwards had looked after, Aunt Ursula Beane. Their joint earnings kept the tiny establishment going; they were considerably helped by the fact that there was no rent to pay and they lived in modest comfort, almost with (what James would have called) ‘every luxury.’ Besides giving them the house to live in, Mrs. Beane paid them at first thirty shillings, then, as the cost of living went up, two pounds a week for what she called ‘her keep.’ What, you will say, could have been more deadly commonplace than this? But there was just one touch of mystery and romance. Aunt Ursula was reputed to be of vast wealth and a miser—this was one of those family traditions that swell and grow on human credulity from one generation to another. The late Mr. Beane was spoken of with vague awe as a very wealthy man, and it appeared that the Catchpoles believed that he had left his widow a considerable fortune which she, a true miser, had concealed all those years, but which they might reasonably hope to inherit on her death, as a reward for all their faithful kindness. Investigation proved that what had seemed rather a fantastic delusion had some startling foundation. Mrs. Ursula Beane employed a lawyer and his evidence was that her late husband, who had been a tobacconist, had left her a tidy sum of money when he had died forty years ago, amounting to fifteen thousand pounds, which had been safely invested and not touched till about five years before. What Mrs. Beane lived on came from another source—a small capital left by her father that brought her in about a hundred and fifty pounds a year; therefore this main sum had been, as I have said, untouched and had accrued during those thirty-five years into a handsome sum of nearly fifty thousand pounds. The lawyer agreed that the old lady was a miser, nothing would induce her to draw out any of this money, to mention its existence to a soul, or to make a will as to its final disposal. The lawyer, of course, was pledged to secrecy. He knew that the Catchpoles guessed at the existence of the hoard, he also knew that they were not sure about it and that they had no idea as to its magnitude. Five years before her death the old lady had drawn out all her capital—forty-eight thousand pounds—without any explanation whatever to the lawyer, and had taken it away in a black bag, going off in a taxicab from the lawyer’s office in Lincoln’s Inn. It might have been the Nibelung hoard flung into the Rhine for all the mystery that was attached to it, for nobody saw or heard of it again. Both the Catchpoles swore that they had no knowledge whatever of the old woman realizing her capital; she had certainly not banked it anywhere, she must have taken that very large sum of money in notes and, I believe, a few bonds, to that small house at Peckham Rye and in some way disposed of it. A most exhaustive search revealed not so much as a five-pound note. In the bank was just the last quarterly installment of her annuity—barely enough, as Louisa Catchpole remarked with some passion, ‘to pay the doctor and the funeral expenses.’

“There you have the situation. This old woman dead in what was almost poverty, the disappearance of this large sum of money she had realized five years previously, and the fact that she had died from arsenical poisoning. To explain this there were the usual symptoms, or excuses, whatever you like to call them; she had been having medicine with arsenic in it, and she might have taken an overdose. There had been arsenic in the house in the shape of powders for an overgrown and aged dog, and in the shape of packets of weed-killer, James had always taken an industrious interest in the patch of garden that sloped to the Common. The old lady might have committed suicide, she might have taken some of the stuff in mistake, or the Catchpoles might have been murderers. The only possible reason for suspecting foul play would have been that the Catchpoles knew of her hoard and wished to get hold of it. But this it was impossible to prove. I was briefed to watch the case for the Catchpoles. There was, of course, a certain sensation and excitement over the fact of the large sum of money, the only startling and brilliant fact about the whole commonplace, drab and rather depressing story. I myself thought it rather absurd that any question of suspicion should attach to the Catchpoles. After forty years of placid uninspired devotion to Aunt Ursula Beane, why should they suddenly decide to put her out of the way when, in the nature of things, she could not have had more than a few years to live? Their demeanor, too, impressed me very favorably. There was none of the flaunting vanity, posing or vehement talk of the real criminal, they seemed slightly bewildered, not very much disturbed, and to trust wholly in their undeniable innocence, they almost found the whole thing grotesque and I could understand their point of view. The verdict, however, was rather surprising. It was confidently expected that it would be Death from misadventure,’ but instead, the verdict was ‘Death from arsenical poisoning not self-administered.’ This is really about as near as we can get in England to the Scottish verdict ‘Not proven,’ and I was rather indignant, for it seemed to me to attach a great deal of wholly unmerited suspicion to the two Catchpoles. Still, of course, they were quite free and no direct blame was laid on them. In fact, the coroner had remarked on their devoted care of an old lady who must have been, from the various facts proved by the doctors, ‘very trying and difficult,’ as the saying goes. They conducted themselves very well after the inquest, still with that slightly bewildered patient air of resignation. It seemed to me that they did not realize the ghastly position in which they stood and, as I knew when I heard the verdict, the very narrow escape they had had from being arrested on a charge of murder. They paid all the expenses connected with the inquest at once and without any trouble. They had, as James explained with a certain mild pride, ‘savings.’ I was interested in them, they were so meek and drab, so ordinary and repressed; there was something kindly and amiable about them and they were very attached to each other. I questioned them about this mysterious hoard, the existence of which would have been difficult to believe but for the evidence of the lawyer. They did not seem very concerned, they had always known that Aunt Ursula Beane had money and, said Louisa without passion, they had always guessed that she had tried to do them out of it—she had been an extraordinarily malicious old woman, they complained, and it was quite likely that the money was buried somewhere, or had been destroyed. She was capable of feeding the fire with it, of sticking it in a hole in the ground, of throwing it into the water in a bag weighed down with stones, in fact of doing anything in the world with it except putting it to some profitable use. She was undoubtedly not right in her head.

“‘She ought to have been certified years ago,’ I declared.

“James Catchpole shook his head. ‘She was never bad enough for that,’ he announced with resignation.

“They had really been slaving and ‘bearing’ things for forty years for that money, and they took the loss of it, I thought, with extreme gallantry.

“They returned to the little house in Peckham Rye which came to them as next-of-kin. The little annuity, which was all that Aunt Ursula had left of her worldly goods after she had disposed of her main fortune, perished with her. James and Louisa would have to live on his clerkship and her journalism.”

At this point Linley stopped to ask me if we did not perceive a real strong drama in what he had told us—”A whole novel, in fact,” he added triumphantly.

“Well,” I replied, “one might make it into a whole novel by inserting incidents and imagining this and that and the other. As you have given it, it seems a dreary stretch of nothingness with a rather damp squib at the end. After all, there was no murder, I suppose the old woman took an overdose of medicine by mistake. Where,” I asked, “does the Christmas ghost story come in?”

“I will tell you if you will have just a little more patience. Well, I have said that I was interested in the Catchpoles, I even went to see them once or twice. They seemed to me to be what used to be called ‘human documents’—the very fact that they had such blank faces made me want to study them. I know there must be some repression somewhere, some desire, some hope, something beside what there appeared on the surface—this blank negation. They did not betray themselves. Louisa said she missed the old lady and that she was having quite a handsome headstone put on her grave in the vast London cemetery where she had been laid to rest. James spoke of the old lady with a certain deference, as if the fact of her being dead had made a saint of Aunt Ursula Beane.

“I continually asked them if they had had any news of the money. They shook their heads with a compassionate smile at my hopefulness. They were convinced that during those five years Aunt Ursula Beane had completely destroyed the forty-eight thousand pounds—easily destroyed, for most of it had been in hundred- and thousand-pound notes. Of course the garden had been dug over and every brick and plank in the house disturbed, with no result.

“‘And if she never left the house and garden?’ I asked.

“They told me she had. She was a robust old woman, as I said before, and she used to take long walks and every year during those five years she went away for a fortnight—sometimes with Louisa, sometimes with James, sometimes to the seaside and sometimes to lodgings in a farmhouse, and on all these different occasions she had had plenty of opportunity of getting rid of her money. Of course these five several lodgings had been searched and the country round about them, but always with no result.

“‘You see, sir,’ said James, with his meek and placid smile, his pale faded eyes gleaming at me behind the glasses, ‘she was far too cunning for all of us.’

“One winter evening about a year after the inquest the mood took me to go and visit these two curious specimens. I found them with a planchette, their eyes goggling at the sprawling writing that appeared on the piece of paper beneath. James informed me without excitement that they had ‘taken up’ spiritualism, and Miss Louisa chirped in that they were getting ‘the most wonderful results.’

“Aunt Ursula Beane had ‘come through,’ as they put it, almost at once, and was now in constant communication with them. “‘Well, I hope she can tell you what she did with the money.’ “They answered me quite seriously that that was what they were trying to find out, but that the old lady was just as tricky and malicious on the other side, as they termed it, as she had been on this, luring them on with false scents and wayward suggestions. At the same time, they declared, placidly but with intense conviction, they believed that sooner or later she would disclose to them her secret.

“I soon began to lose interest in them after this. When people of the type of the Catchpoles get mixed up with this spiritualistic business they cease to be—well, almost cease to be ‘human documents.’ I thought I’d leave ’em to it, when I received a rather urgent invitation from Miss Louisa Catchpole, begging me to be present at a ‘demonstration’ at which Aunt Ursula Beane would undoubtedly appear in person.

“I went to the little house in Peckham where the furniture, the wallpaper, even the atmosphere did not appear to have been changed all those monotonous forty years—forty-one now to be exact. There was a medium present and no one else save myself and the brother and sister. We sat round the table. The medium who beamed with a rather fussy kindness went off with surprising celerity into a trance, and soon the ‘demonstration’ took place.

“At first I was cynical, secondly I was disgusted, and thirdly, I was rather disturbed, finding myself first in the midst of farce, low charlatanry and chicanery, then suddenly in the presence of something which I could not understand. The ‘demonstration’ began by groans and squeaks issuing from the lips of the medium, greetings to Louisa and James (presumably in the voice of the defunct Aunt Ursula), various jovial references to a bottle containing poison, a few other crude remarks of that nature, and then several knocks from different parts of the room—rappings loud and quick, and then beating time, as if to a piece of music, then a sudden clatter on the table in the middle of us as if the old lady were dancing there with heavy boots on. James and Louisa sat side by side, their hands clasped, listening to all this without a shade of expression on their blank faded faces. The hideous little room was the last resort of the antimacassar, and presently these began to fly about, scraps of the horrible white crocheted tatting gliding through the air in a way which would have been very funny if it hadn’t been rather dreadful. Of course I knew that many mediums have these powers and there is nothing much in them—I mean, it can all be explained in a perfectly practical and satisfactory fashion. At the same time I did not greatly care about the exposition, and I begged the Catchpoles to bring it to an end, particularly as the old lady had nothing definite to say. James whispered that the medium must not be disturbed while she was in trance. Aunt Ursula Beane then began to sing a hymn, but with a very unpleasant inflection, worse than any outspoken mockery. While the hymn was being sung I gained the impression far more vividly than I had ever received before that Aunt Ursula Beane had been a rather terrible person. When she had finished the hymn she began in an old half-broken voice softly to curse them all in a language that was not at all agreeable to listen to, coming as it did in those querulous, ancient feminine tones. This was rather too much for me, and I shook the medium violently. She came out of her trance. Louisa and James did not seem in the least affected, drank tea, ate biscuits, and discussed in banal terms the doings of those on ‘the other side.’

“I received no more invitations from the Catchpoles and did not go near them for a considerable time. In fact, I think I had rather forgotten about them, as I had had a great many other interesting cases and a good many other interesting specimens had come my way. I had heard a vast number of stories as good as the story of Aunt Ursula Beane, but it did happen one day that I had to pass through Peckham and could not resist the passing impulse of curiosity that urged me to go and look at the house on the Common. It was ‘To Let’ or ‘To be Sold,’ according to two or three estate agents’ blatant boards on the front railing. I called next door and was received with the inevitable suspicion with which the stranger is usually regarded in small places. I did, however, discover what I had set out to discover, namely, that the Catchpoles had left the neighborhood about six months ago, and no one knew where they were. I took the trouble to go to one of the estate agents whose address was given on the board, to make further enquiries. The house was to be let or sold, it did not seem to have been considered a great prize, and it certainly had not gone off very quickly, though it was cheap enough; the neighborhood, even the estate agent admitted, ‘was not what it had been.’ Then, of course, one couldn’t deny that the Ursula Beane case and the fact that the old lady had died there, and of poison, had given a slightly sinister air to the modest stucco building. As to the Catch-poles, the estate agent did not know where they had gone; all he had was the address of a bank, nor was it any of my business, so I decided to dismiss the whole thing from my mind.

“Good raw material, no doubt, but none of it worked up sufficiently to be of much interest.”

Linley glanced round at us all triumphantly as he said this.

“But it was all rounded off as neatly as any novelist could do it. Let me tell you,” he added with unction.

“Five years afterwards I ran over to Venice for Christmas—I don’t know why, except just the perverse desire to see the wrong place at the wrong time, instead of forever the right place at the right time. I like Venice in the winter fogs, with a thin coat of ice on the canals, and if you can get a snowstorm—well, so much the better—St. Marco, to me, looks preferable with the snowflakes in front of the blue and the bronze instead of that eternal sunshine…Well, there I was in Venice, and I’m not going to bore you with any more local color or picturesque details. I was in Venice, very well satisfied with myself, very comfortable and alone. I was tolerably familiar with the city and I always stay at the same hotel. One of the first things I noticed was that a large and very pretentious palace near by had recently been handsomely and expensively ‘done up’; I soon elicited the fact that the place which I had always envied had been bought by the usual rich American who had spent a great deal of money in restoring and furnishing it, but who did not very often live there, he only came and went after the fashion of all Americans, and was supposed to travel considerably in great luxury. Once or twice I saw this American going past in a gondola, wrapped in a foreign, rather theatrical-looking cloak, lounging with a sort of ostentation of ease on the cushions. He was an elderly man with a full grey beard, and wore, even now in the winter, blue sunglasses. On two separate occasions when I was sitting on the hotel balcony in the mild winter sunlight and he was being rowed past underneath I had the impression that he was looking at me sharply and keenly behind those colored spectacles, and also the impression, which was likely enough to be correct, that I had seen him before. I meet, of course, a great many people, but even with a memory on which I rather pride myself, cannot immediately place everyone. The hotel at which I was staying—and this was one of the reasons I always selected it—did not have any of those ghastly organized gaieties at Christmas; we were left to ourselves in a poetic gloom best suited to the season and the city. I was seated by myself enjoying a delicious kind of mournful repose, piquantly in contrast with my usual life, when I received a message and a very odd one: the gentleman, Signor Hayden, the American from next door, would very much like to see me. He had observed me on the balcony, knew my name and my profession, and requested the honor of my company. Attracted by anything queer or the least out of the way, I at once accepted, and in ten minutes or so found myself in the newly-restored palace which I had so often admired and envied. The place was furnished with a good deal of taste, but rather, I suspected, the orthodox taste of the professional decorator. Mr. Hayden was not immediately visible, but, I understood, in bed ill; I expressed my willingness to go to his bedside and was shortly conducted there. The room was very handsome, the servants very well trained, and I was impressed by the fact that this rich American must be very rich indeed. One knows, of course, what these out-of-the-way little caprices of newly-restored palaces in Venice cost. The owner of this up-to-date luxury was in bed, propped up with pillows and shaded by old-fashioned mauve velvet curtains. He still wore the colored glasses, and I concluded that he had some defect in his sight. He appeared to see me perfectly well, however, and beckoned to me to approach his bedside. As I did so he removed his glasses; there was an electric standard lamp on an antique table by the bedside and the light of it was turned full on to the sick man’s face, which I immediately recognized. I was looking down into the faded, mild, light-blue eyes of James Catchpole.

“‘Very odd that you should be here,’ he smiled at me, ‘very odd indeed. You’ve always been interested in us and I thought perhaps you’d like to hear the end of the story, that is, if any story ever does end; there’s a pause in ours at this point, anyway.’

“I expressed due surprise and gratification at seeing him. In truth, I was considerably amazed. I was startled, too, to see how ill he was. He asked me to help him up in bed. He declared, without emotion, that he knew himself to be dying.

“‘Where’s Miss Louisa?’ I asked; ‘where is your sister?’

“‘She died last year,’ he answered placidly. ‘She had a thoroughly good time for four years and I suppose it killed her, you know; but, of course, it was worth it, she always said so.’

“The inevitable conclusion had jumped to my mind.

“‘You found Miss Ursula Beane’s hoard?’ I suggested.

“James Catchpole, passing his hand over the full grey beard which had so changed his face, replied simply:

“‘We never lost it—we had it all the time.’

“‘You mean you?’ I asked dubiously, and he nodded and replied:

“‘Exactly!’

“‘That you—?’ I suggested, and this time he nodded and said:

“‘Precisely!’

“‘Louisa persuaded her to realize her capital,’ he continued with childish calm. ‘She was a proper miser and she rather fretted not having the actual stuff in her hands. It wasn’t difficult to make her get it—she liked a real hoard, a thing you can put under the hearthstone or in the mattress, you know. We thought we should get hold of it easier that way when she came to die. You never knew with anyone like that what she might do in the way of a will, she was keen on lost cats and Christians. We thought she would enjoy herself playing with it, and then we’d get it if we were patient enough.’

“He blinked up at me and added, with the faintest of ironic smiles—We’d been patient for forty years, don’t you suppose we spent some part of that time planning what we would do with the money? We were both engaged, to start with, but her young man and my young woman couldn’t wait all those years…We read a good deal, we made lists of things we wanted, and places we wanted to go to…We had quite a little library of guide-books, you may have noticed them on the bookshelf—one of them was a guide to Venice. Louisa, writing her piffling articles, and I at my piffling job, to and fro—well, you don’t suppose we didn’t have our ideas?’

“‘I see,’ I said doubtfully, ‘and then, when there was that little misfortune about the arsenic, I suppose you didn’t care to mention the hoard?’

“‘It wouldn’t have been altogether wise, sir, would it?’ smiled James Catchpole simply. It would have thrown a lot of suspicion on us, and we’d been very careful. There wasn’t any proof, not a shred. We had to wait until the case had blown over a bit, and then we—well, we did the best we could with the time that was left us. We lived at the rate of ten thousand a year. We had the best of everything…Of course it was the pace—don’t you call it?—that killed. We were neither of us young, and we knew we couldn’t stand it for long, so we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, believe me, sir, thoroughly.’

“He paused and added reflectively:

“‘But it’s a good thing we made a move when we did, we shouldn’t have been able to get about at seventy; she—she might have gone on to a hundred and ten.’

“‘Do you mean that you—?’ I suggested quietly.

“‘It was the easiest thing in the world,’ he smiled, ‘to drop a couple of those dog powders into her milk…’

“I’d always been intensely interested in murderers. I tried to question James Catchpole as to his motives, his sensations, his possible remorse; he appeared to have had none of any of these…

“‘You didn’t regret it afterwards, you haven’t felt the Furies behind you, or anything of that sort?’

“He replied, as far as his feeble strength would permit:

“‘I have enjoyed myself thoroughly. I wish we hadn’t waited so long.’

“I was puzzled. They had always seemed such very nice people.

“‘I am dying now,’ said James Catchpole, ‘and it’s about time, for I’ve spent all the money. The doctor said my next heart attack would be fatal, and I’ve done my best to bring one on. I couldn’t go back to lack of money.’

“‘Who are you going to leave all this to?’ I asked with professional interest. I glanced round the handsome room.

“He smiled at me with what I thought was compassion.

“‘I haven’t been so silly as all that,’ he replied. ‘Everything that I possess wouldn’t pay half of my debts. I have had full value, I can assure you. After all, I had a right to it, hadn’t I? I’d waited long enough.’

“‘What about the planchette and the demonstrations?’ I asked. ‘I suppose all that was a fake to throw us off the scent?’

“‘Not at all,’ he declared, in what seemed to be hurt surprise, ‘that was perfectly genuine. We made up our minds to get in touch with Aunt Ursula Beane, to find out what she thought about it all.’

“‘And what did she think?’ I asked, startled.

“‘She said we were a couple of fools not to have done it sooner.’

“‘Come, come, Mr. Catchpole,’ I cried, something shocked, ‘this is unseemly jesting.’

“‘No jesting at all,’ he assured me. ‘Aren’t I dying myself? I shall be in the old girl’s company in a few minutes, I daresay. You heard her yourself, sir, dancing on the table that evening. She said she’d been a perfect fool herself, and now that she’d “got over” she realized it. She said if we didn’t have a good time, or someone didn’t have a good time with that damn money, she’d never forgive us. You see, sir, at first we began to have that miserly feeling too and didn’t want to spend it. We thought we’d go on hoarding it, living just the same and knowing it was there. She used to scribble out on the planchette saying what idiots we were. That’s why she used all that strong language. “You’ve got it—now use it!” That was what she always said. “I’ll go with you and share in your good time”—and so she has, sir, believe me. We’ve often seen her sitting at the table with us, nodding over the champagne; she’d have been fond of champagne if she’d allowed herself…We’ve seen her dancing in some of those jazz-halls, we’ve seen her in boxes listening to opera, we’ve seen her sitting in the Rolls-Royce revelling in the cushions and the speed…Remorse? Why, I tell you we’ve given the old girl the good time she ought to have had years ago.’

“‘Come, come, James Catchpole,’ I said, ‘you’re delirious. I’d better fetch the doctor.’

“He smiled at me with compassion and some contempt.

“‘You’re a clever lawyer,’ he said, ‘but there are a lot of things you don’t understand.’

“Even as he spoke he seemed to fall into a peaceful sleep and I thought it was my responsibility to fetch a doctor. Of course I believed hardly anything he said—I thought it was quite likely that he hadn’t poisoned Aunt Ursula Beane, but that he had invented the story. At the same time there was the hard concrete evidence of the palace, the servants, the furniture—he had got money from somewhere.

“‘Good raw material, eh? Think what you could make of it if you wrote it up!’

“I went downstairs, telephoned on my own responsibility to the address of one of the English doctors. It was Christmas Eve and I could not find him at home. I was quite uncertain what to do. I stood hesitant at the foot of the wide magnificent staircase, when I observed a dreadful old woman creeping up the stairs with a look of intense enjoyment on her face—Mrs. Ursula Beane—not a doubt of it—Aunt Ursula Beane! I saw her so clearly that I could have counted the stitches in the darns at the elbows of her black sleeves. I ran up after her, but of course she was there before I was. When I came up to the bedside James Catchpole was dead, with an extremely self-satisfied smug smile on his face.

“There’s my Christmas Eve ghost! An hallucination, of course, but you can give it all the usual explanation. There’s the story, you can put it together as you will. There’s plenty of stuff in it—good raw material, eh, take it how you will?”

We all agreed with Linley.

Kecksies and Other Twilight Tales, Marjorie Bowen

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While one sympathises with the Catchpoles in their long wait for the terrible and malicious Aunt Ursula’s hoard, Mrs Daffodil has particular animus for Miss Louisa Catchpole. The image of “a little cut of an invalid in a basket-chair gazing at a robin” and those “chirpings about the recurring miracle of spring” are particularly damning.  One wonders that some literary critic did not slip a couple of dog powders into her milk.

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.

Christmas Gifts for the Destitute: 1904

CHRISTMAS GIFTS FOR POOR CHILDREN

Six children were left destitute in one of the few poor families in a wealthy and fashionable suburb. It was near Christmas. A benevolent lady, Miss Scripp, had the children on her mind, but was not able personally to do much to gladden them at the joyful Christmastide for she herself was not rich. Her neighbors were, however, and Miss Scripp determined to make a canvass among them and secure gifts of food, clothing, and money—anything that could be spared from a wealthy household to make Christmas merry for the Hobb children.

Miss Scripp gave notice to her neighbors of her charitable intention. All the ladies replied that they would rejoice to contribute. Two days before Christmas Miss Scripp sent a boy around with a pushcart to make collections. He returned with an assortment of bundles as large as that of a laundryman on Monday morning and not unlike it in outward appearance.

With pleased anticipation, Miss Scripp had the boys carry the parcels into her pretty little dining room. Then she began to overhaul their contents. She began with the largest parcel. She uttered an exclamation of disappointment, vexation, even, as there unfolded before her the remains of that ivory white chiffon gown which had done duty at parties two winters for Mrs. J. Van Blinker De Whytte. Its multitudinous flouncings hung in festoons; its accordion plaiting was battered and bulging like an antique umbrella; its front was stained with particles of feasts ranging from heavy dinners of state to after theatre “snacks.”

“How can that be cut down into warm coats and stockings of the poor little Hobbs?” murmured Miss Scrip as she laid it aside with a deep sigh.

Few of the parcels were marked with the name of the donor. Evidently the fair and generous givers wished to do their alms in secret. It may have been that, but Miss Scripp concluded as she proceeded to go through a pile that they were ashamed to be known and for this reason had refrained from attaching their names to their respective donations. Unfortunately for this amiable precaution, however, Miss Scripp recognized most of the articles. Mrs. Thrifty had sent her old rain coat. It was out of fashion; it was also bedraggled; it also let the rain through in spots. Again Miss Scripp shoved the unpleasant article aside, with a sigh, and murmured:

“How can I make that available for keeping the poor little Hobbs warm?”

Miss Florence De Whytte sent a pair of pink satin slippers run over at the heel. She tucked into the tiny toe of one of them a necktie of her brother’s that had been worn so long it could never by any possibly be used again. Mrs. Pynchem sent, indeed, a woollen rug. It had lain at the threshold of her husband’s bedroom almost time out of mind. It had become worn into holes just where each of Pynchem’s substantial feet had pressed it, so that more than once he had tripped upon it and come near falling. Opportunely the very night before the boy called with the collecting pushcart Mr. Pynchem had said, with divers unconventional expressions, that if he ever found that old rag there again he would “histe” it out the front window. Thus perforce Mrs. Pynchem removed it, skilfully working it off on charity. But the gem of the collection for the destitute little Hobbs was Mrs. Sparing’s last winter’s calling hat. It had been a perfect dream when the milliner first turned it out, all silken, spangled gauze, and radiant rainbow tinted panne, with a sparkling buckle that had become so tarnished that Mrs. Sparing could never use it again. In this pristine perfectness there had been likewise real ostrich plumes upon that calling hat, but these Mrs. Sparing had prudently ripped off that she might have them renovated for another winter.

Such were some of the items in Miss Scripp’s charity collection for the destitute Hobb children’s Christmas.

Tabitha Sourgrapes.

The Rockford [IL] Daily Register-Gazette 24 December 1904: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One is rather reminded of Dicken’s Mrs Jellyby and her despised tracts. And of the many useless items made and urged upon visitors to charity bazaars.  One hopes that Miss Scripps sold the hand-cart of useless items to the rag-and-bone man for a goodly sum and was able to purchase the desired goods herself. 

Mrs Daffodil will charitably assume that the donors wished to remain anonymous because of the Biblical injunction: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.”  

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 Consequences of Marrying a Farmer/Schoolma’am: 1870

Dodd, Francis; Afternoon in the Parlour; Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/afternoon-in-the-parlour-83774

THE CONSEQUENCES

He and she were driving out together. He was dark, short, and stout—in fact, some people called him fat—a sure way of enraging her. His redeeming points were—a pair of keen black eyes, a certain manly, sensible way he had with him, and a reliable look. She was small and slender, looking as if the wind might blow her away some fine March morning, with “two eyes so soft and brown,” and having, natural—not crimped—chestnut hair, falling in little rings and sprays around a white face, delicate, but full of life and spirit.

Every body in Knipsic Farms said it was perfectly absurd. At the last sewing society there was but one opinion. It was an unusually full meeting, the engagement having but just come out. They were working on a bed quilt for the home missionary in Bariboo. Quilting is the most social work imaginable; it so brings every one together, and over “herring-bone” and “shell” stitch the coldest hearts thaw out. Mrs. Daniel Dodge was there, Lance Lambert’s aunt; and as no one knew exactly how she stood on the all-absorbing question of the day, a little preliminary beating around the bush was necessary. Aunt Polly Griggs boldly opened the campaign like the veteran she was.

“So Lance is really engaged at last,” said she. “He’s flirted round so long I didn’t know’s he’d ever settle down and git married.”

“Oh, you know there’s always something irresistibly fascinating about schoolma’ams,” suggested sarcastic Miss Craps, who had not found the same fate true of dress-makers in her own experience.

“Well, if I am his aunt—“ said Mrs. Dodge.

Every one listened with, as Virgil puts it, “erected ears,” when Mrs. Dodge said, “if I am his aunt.” They felt it a promising beginning. When people mean to abuse their relatives they generally begin by proclaiming the rights of kindred not to spare a story for relation’s sake.

“If I am his aunt,” said Mrs. Dodge, “I must say I think he’s driven his pigs to rather a poor market. What he can fancy in that little, pale-faced schoolma’am is more than I can see. Her high-flown village airs, I suppose. A pretty farmer’s wife she’ll make!”

“Well, that’s jest what I was a-sayin’ to Miss Stowell before you cum in,” said Aunt Polly. “Says I, Miss Stowell, you mark my words, Lance Lambert’ll rue the day he ever let his eyes run away with his good sense. Lance is a fore-handed, well-to-do young man, and he ought to have a real smart, go-ahead wife— some good, stout, capable girl, brought up on a farm, with plain, sensible notions, like your Lesta or Phemie, for instance. Says Miss Stowell, says she, that ain’t for me to say, of course; but one thing I will say, my girls can turn their hand to any thing from making bread to fodderin’ and milkin’ the cows. Says she, a farmer that marries a village girl—and a schoolma’am at that—is a fool. They don’t know nothin’ about work, and are above it, and full of all kinds of extravagant notions, enough to send a man to the poor-house!”

“How does his mother feel about it?” queried Mrs. Jedediah Jones.

“Oh, she don’t say much. It isn’t her way, you know. Besides, it’s no use to oppose Lance when his mind is once made up. He’s dreadful set.”

“Well, I’m afraid he’ll be sorry,” with an accent on the afraid that made it sound singularly like hope.

“Will they live at home with the old folks?”

“No; Lance has bought the Jackson farm over at the Corners. He says there’s no house big enough for two families.”

“The Jackson farm! I shouldn’t s’pose that would be quite grand enough to suit Laury’s idees.”

“They’re goin’ to fix the house up some, I believe. The barns are good, and it’s nice land for tobacco.”

Out in the other room, where the girls were concocting calico dresses for the missionary’s children, the subject raged with even greater virulence, as might have been expected, considering that Lance had been a general favorite, and in the days of his freedom had roamed from flower to flower, after the usual butterfly fashion of young bachelors. They pitied him; they pitied her. They wondered at him; they wondered at her. Poverty and sickness, ruin and disaster, were the mildest of their predictions for this unfortunate couple.

Equal consternation prevailed in Knipsic village, where it was rumored that Laura Bridges was deliberately determined to marry a farmer. No engagement had created such a commotion since the next to the last new minister had married Sue Syllabub. Every body dressed up and called on every one else to talk it over.

“Is the child crazy?” asked Mrs. General Sampson of Mrs. Judge Jewett, in her most impressive manner. “To throw herself away on a farmer! It is true the Bridges are not wealthy, but they are one of our oldest families; and Laura, with her connections, her fine education, her agreeable, lady- like manners and pretty face, might have married into the very first circles. George Ledell was extremely attentive to her last year, before she went off teaching that miserable district-school, and became infatuated with this coarse farmer”—pronounced co-os fahmah.

Then Mrs. Judge Jewett took up the refrain: “She will have no society whatever. She will be obliged to work like a galley-slave—farmers’ wives always do. Think of Laura making butter and cheese, apple-sauce, soft soap, sausages, mopping, eating with hired men, living on salt pork!” And Mrs. Jewett shuddered at the dreadful picture imagination thus presented of a farmer’s life.

“Oh, it’s truly dreadful!” said Mrs. General Sampson.

“She can’t endure it,” said Mrs. Jewett.

“She’ll break down under it,” said Mrs. Sampson.

“She won’t live long,” said Mrs. Jewett.

Meantime, the victims, “unconscious of their doom,” were jogging along in a state of perfect happiness and infatuation. They were driving over to the Jackson farm to inspect their future home. It was a cloudy, bleak March day, the roads muddy, the grass not yet turned green. People who met on the street added, “A disagreeable day!” to their “Good-afternoon!” But Lance and Laura found it an uncommonly nice day. I think they labored under a dim impression that roses were blooming and bobolinks warbling all along the road. The summer of youth and love in their hearts cast its glamour on all the world outside.

The old Jackson farm-house certainly needed to be looked at through a glamour, if ever house did. It was a story and a half house, the paint worn off, no blinds, the fence, poor at best, now dilapidated, a solitary scraggy lilac representing the shrubbery.

There is always something slightly pathetic in these same scraggy lilacs and flowering almonds, one so often sees struggling for life in the otherwise dreary waste of a farmer’s front yard. Some woman once had heart to try and redeem with such touch of the beautiful as came within her power the desolate barrenness of her surroundings.

Poor Mrs. Jackson set out that lilac when she was young and hopeful, and still expected something of life; before Jackson’s harsh, narrow skinflintedness took all the heart out of her, and made her the broken-spirited drudge, who worked on like a tread-mill horse till one day she dropped into her grave, and there, let us hope, found rest. Then Jackson, finding a housekeeper expensive, sold out, and went to live with his son out West, where he could get twenty per cent, for his money on first mortgage—as much of heaven as his meagre soul was capable of appreciating.

And now another young couple were coming here to try that difficult experiment we call Life—the experiment against whose success there are so many odds—the experiment so many of us would gladly try over again, with the dear-bought experience that comes of failure. Would Lance degenerate into a mere money-making machine, a “keep-what-you-get-and-get-what-you-can” sort of man, like Jackson? Would the light, and hope, and love fade out of Laura’s eyes in the years to come, leaving her another Mrs. Jackson? Certainly, the associations of the new home were not calculated to inspire very cheerful ideas of a farmer’s life.

Fortunately, Laura was one of those happy people who look out on life through rose-colored spectacles. So she immediately fell to seeing the bright side of the Jackson house. If secretly rather dismayed at the forlorn aspect of things, yet the native energy of her character rose up strong within her to meet the emergency. Old Debbie, Mrs. Bridges’s washer-woman, used to say, “Laury’s all grit. Folks say it don’t take but a small skin to hold a deal of spunk, and that’s true of Laury, any how.” She possessed a latent resolution, a power of endurance hardly to be expected from her frail, delicate appearance.

“This doesn’t look like a very suitable place for you, Laura,” said Lance, as he swung her lightly down to terra firma in his strong hands.

“An original conundrum strikes me, Lance. Why are you and I unlike Alexander the Great? Because he sighed for other worlds to conquer, and we don’t need to. This will furnish scope for all our energies at present. It does look dilapidated enough. However, I am thankful it stands upon a hill. I like to ‘view the landscape o’er.'”

“By cutting away those forlorn hemlocks we shall get a view of the river and mountains beyond, picturesque enough to satisfy even you. It’s very pleasant here in summer, little as you would think it now.”

Inside, the house was more dreary still. The papers locked all the more dingy and faded from having been originally of gaudy and flaunting designs and colors. Ochre-yellow being a durable color, not often requiring renewal, every room but the parlor was painted that hue. The ceilings resembled the works of the old masters in that they were very cracked and smoky. Straw, papers, an old hat or two, a broken rush-bottomed chair, littered the floors. The March wind howled round the house, rattling the windows, and wailing down the chimneys, as if it were Mrs. Jackson’s ghost uttering warnings of doleful presage to her successor.

After inspecting the whole premises, and discussing their capabilities—after Lance had shown Laura how he intended to put a sink in the kitchen, with pumps to bring hard and soft water directly into it, instead of her lugging the former by the pailful from the well in the yard, and catching the latter in tubs or however she could, as Mrs. Jackson had been obliged to do, Jackson never having time to “fuss about women’s nonsense”—after Laura had confidentially assured Lance he was “the best old fellow in the world,” and Lance had reciprocated in kind, only more so, they returned to the front room, where, seated in state on an old dry goods box, they proceeded to engage in the pleasing occupation of erecting air-castles.

Let not the youthful reader sneer at this hero and heroine of mine as prosy, tiresome, uninteresting, because their talk turned on pumps, furnaces, and similar unromantic topics. They, too, had been through the era of hopes, despair, moonlight, ecstasy, rhapsodies. Now there was a charm better than romance in the words “our house,” “we will do thus and so;” it signified so much to them of the future, when they were never to be separated, the happy home they were to share. Besides, hath not Solomon said there is a time for all things—a time for moonlight, and a time for bread and butter, a time for raptures, and a time for furnaces?

This was how they came to talk of furnaces: Lance said, ” How mouldy and musty this room smells! I wonder if Jackson kept his cheese here? What’s that verse you quote about

“‘You may break, you may shatter the vase If you will.

But the scent of the roses—'”

“Barbarian!” broke in Laura; “to deliberately desecrate Moore by such an application! Probably this was the best parlor, and the sun was never permitted to fairly shine into it more than once a year. New paper, paint, and whitewash, and plenty of air and sun for a while, will remedy it, I suspect; But that reminds me. Do you suppose Knipsic would be able to bear it, if we should have a furnace? It makes a house so much pleasanter and more usable.”

“It certainly is a great innovation. No one in Knipsic Farms has one. The idea of a farmer’s selling his wood and buying coal will probably be a great shock to the public; but, after all, I don’t know whose concern it is but ours.”

“Aunt Polly Griggs—” mischievously suggested Laura.

“Aunt Polly Griggs may ‘hang her harp on a willow-tree,’ so far as we are concerned. I’m glad you haven’t the idea, Laura, most women seem to have, that one’s house is altogether too good to be used, by the family, and must be kept most of the time in solemn state and gloom.”

“I believe,” said Laura, “in furnishing a house pleasantly and comfortably, but not expensively — nothing merely for show. Then take all the comfort you can out of it. I expect to do wonders with that six hundred dollars Aunt Dunlap left me, to say nothing about that two hundred I’ve laid up—profits of ‘teaching the young idea,’ etc.”

“How delightful it is to marry an Heiress!” observed Lance.

“Mercenary young man! Thou shalt be twigged by the ear for that speech!” said Laura, suiting the action to the word, and being repaid by a sound kissing, which it only needed the slightest provocation in the world to tempt Lance to inflict, as Laura ought to have known—in fact, I fear, did know.

Then Laura said there was something on her mind, and Lance was anxious to officiate as father confessor.

“It’s a fancy of mine, a secret desire, that I’m afraid to tell you. I know you will think it is really extravagant, far worse than the furnace. You will begin to repent of your bargain, I fear, and think there is some truth in every one’s forebodings about my ‘high notions,’ village airs, etc.;” for people always find out, sooner or later, what “they say” about them, and Lance and Laura were no exceptions.

“Nonsense, Laura. What is it—a roc’s egg?”

“Almost as foolish, for us, I fear. A bow-window, if you must know. I always did like bow-windows, they are so cheerful and sunny; and filled with plants in the winter, they give a room a perfectly summer-like look. Then one takes off the stiff angularity of a room, and gives it individuality. Here’s a proposition in the Rule of Three for you, ‘founded on fact,’ as story-writers say: As a spice of romance and imagination to a woman’s character, so is a bow-window to a square room.”

“Ah, Laura, you have such an artful way of putting things! I foresee I shall be ‘managed,’ and never know it. However, we’ll contrive the bow-window somehow, if possible,” said the indulgent Lance, who—being in that delightfully acquiescent state of mind often manifested in mankind before marriage, when the wish of the beloved object is law—if Laura had suggested a three-story cupola as a desirable addition to their modest mansion, would undoubtedly have seen at once the extreme feasibility and necessity of the thing.

Spring and summer passed away. Lance haunted carpenters like an avenging spirit, became an object of terror to painters and tinners, worked hard on the farm daytimes, took Laura out driving in the pleasant summer evenings. Laura took a trip to New York, and made a few modest purchases at Stewart’s. Not much for herself; she saw no special reason why she should dress more or differently after marriage than before. Besides, she was carefully husbanding Aunt Dunlap’s six hundred with a view to furniture. She felt an honest pride in doing something to help toward providing the mutual home, in being a little of a helpmeet to start with, at least, even if she were to prove the miserable failure in the end every one predicted. Long webs of cotton cloth grew into sheets, pillow-cases, curtains, what not, under her busy needle, flying in and out through the long summer days. Also, she found time to practice various culinary arts in the kitchen. A bit of the summer was put away for winter use, in shape of canned berries, peaches, etc. Her bread and pies were really quite wonderful, so Lance thought.

Early in October they were married, and moved into their new home, now hardly to be recognized in its daintiness of fresh paint, pretty papers, new furniture. It was far from being a fashionable or imposing residence; nothing Gothic, or Italian, or Elizabethan about it, unless indeed we except Laura’s one extravagance—the little bow-window; but it had an eminently cozy, homelike air. The moment you stepped inside, you received a comfortable, cheerful impression, as if here were a place where people were in the habit of enjoying themselves. Entering a little square hall—on one side was the dining-room; on the other, the parlor; back of the parlor, the bedroom. The furnace imparting a summer temperature, the doors of these adjoining rooms all stood open, giving good air, and a deal of roominess for so small a house. The parlor paper was a green and gilt flower on a light drab ground; the carpet, an ingrain, small checks, green the predominant color. Through the bow-window the sun shone brightly in over Laura’s plants, making a summer within, even if the ground were white with snow outside and the mercury down among the zeros. Each side of the bow window, on little brackets, Parian busts, Eve and Psyche, wedding presents, looked out from English ivy that twined around them, and then met over the hanging basket in the middle of the window. On the walls hung two or three good engravings and photographs, over them clusters of bright autumn leaves—souvenirs of the wedding tour. A set of hanging bookshelves, bearing the united libraries of Lance and Laura, presented an odd combination of poetry and works on Agriculture and “The Horse.” Then there was a lounge which was a lounge—not a rack contrived to exasperate the human frame to the utmost by its knobbiness—an easy-chair, a camp-chair, a shaker rocking-chair, one or two cane-seated chairs, a centre-table with the big lamp, books, papers, Laura’s work-basket.

This was the family sitting-room. Looking in of an evening, you would have seen Lance one side of the table in the big easy-chair, reading his paper, or chatting with Laura, sitting opposite in her shaker rocker with her sewing. One great advantage in marrying a farmer is, that you have him at home with you evenings, provided you make yourself tolerably agreeable to him. Laura, even if she were married, still thought it worthwhile to fashionably arrange her hair, wear the bright bow, the dainty collar, the little et ceteras that really add so much to a woman’s attractions. Lance had too much respect for Laura and himself too to sit down for the evening in his old frock, tumbled hair, overalls tucked into coarse boots, savoring strongly of the barn-yard. He brushed his hair, donned an old coat and slippers, and so, with a little trouble, gained vastly in comfort and his wife’s affections.

From their windows the light of a happy home streamed cheerfully out over the snow, a benediction to the passer-by. People were fond of dropping in there for an evening, it was “so pleasant,” they said. Many a farmer’s boy and girl, after an evening at Lance’s, went home thinking farming wasn’t so bad, after all, and they wouldn’t be in such a hurry to grow old enough to leave for the city, if it could be as pleasant at home. For fashion in Knipsic Farms had ordained an entirely different order of things from that prevailing at Lance’s. The parlor of every respectable farmer must contain a very hard and slippery hair-cloth sofa, six chairs, and a huge rocking-chair possessing the same qualities in even greater degree; other furniture to correspond, arranged at stiff angles around the walls. This sacred apartment, as well as the whole main part of the house, was kept cold, dark, shut up, suggestive to the bold invader who dared penetrate their dreary shades only of funerals. The family lived mostly in the kitchen, sustained, probably, by the proud consciousness of possessing a best parlor and hair-cloth furniture. Passing by at night, you would think the house uninhabited, did not a ray of light from way back in the L reassure you. Did company come unexpectedly, so great a parade was made of building fires, opening rooms, getting out the best things, that the unfortunate guest felt he should never dare come again. So Lance and Laura were unconsciously doing missionary work in demonstrating that a farmer’s home need not necessarily be destitution of any desirable comfort or refinement. That we may see how the public stood affected, we will lift the curtain on Aunt Polly Griggs’s “east room,” on an occasion of more than usual solemnity. Ten years of meetings, funerals, sewing societies, tea-drinkings, having in a measure destroyed the primitive lustre of Aunt Polly’s best black alpaca, it was being turned and modernized, Miss Scraps having been summoned to aid on this important occasion. To them, thus momentously engaged, entered Mrs. Stowell, dropping in on her way to the village to do a little “trading,” ostensibly out of pure affection for Aunt Polly, but really to crib a sleeve pattern gratis out of Miss Scraps. This little preliminary settled, Mrs. Stowell said:

“As I came down by the Lamberts, there sat Laura at her front window, as large as life, prinked up as much as I should be if I was going to tea at the minister’s. You don’t suppose they’ve got company, do you?”

“La, no,” replied Aunt Polly; “she sets there every afternoon, fadin’ her best carpet all out. I never heerd any thing to equal it.”

“Nothing’s too good for some folks, you know,” observed Miss Scraps, with a spiteful snap of her scissors.

“I shouldn’t think Lance would allow it,” suggested Mrs. Stowell. “That wa’n’t old Miss Lambert’s way of doing.”

“Allow it! My, he thinks she’s just right, and every thing she says law and gospel!”

“Well, they do say she makes a tip-top housekeeper, better than folks thought for before they were married. Mrs. Jedediah Jones told me she gets fifty-five cents a pound for all her butter, in Boston.”

“Fifty-five cents!” almost shrieked Aunt Polly, who only had fifty for hers.

“Yes; fifty-five cents. You see she fixes it all up in some sort of fancy balls. She’s a regular manager, I tell you.”

So it will be seen Laura was gradually rising in popular esteem. It was a fact that the same system, culture, judgment, patience, that had made her a successful teacher, also made her a good housekeeper. Instead of doing every thing at the hardest, driving it through by main strength, she put some mind into her work, planned, had method and order, made her brains save her hands.

But some skeptical reader may possibly suggest that the life of a farmer’s wife does not consist entirely of sitting in ivy-wreathed parlors with bright bows on; that there are certain disagreeable actualities of churnings, bakings, washings, pig-killings, hired men, not to be ignored. It is true it was not all sunshine. Few lives are. Keats says:

“Where’s the eye, however blue,
Doth not weary?”

So it may be presumed Laura did not escape her share of the discipline Life has for every station. Sometimes she was dreadfully tired, and consequently a little blue. Sometimes, after a hard day’s work, a day when she did not feel very well, and the children were cross, and every thing went wrong—such days as will come occasionally in every household—she was tempted perhaps to look back half-regretfully to the peaceful days of girlhood. But Lance was so good, so considerate. If Laura was a trifle cross, he discreetly said nothing, which course soon brought her to a very becoming state of humility and penitence. He did not look upon women’s work as nothing, because different from his. He felt it as right that Laura should have help in the house as he on the farm, even if in the end he owned less bank stock and government bonds as a result. he actually thought more of his wife than of money. So if Laura were pecuniarily less profitable to him than big strapping Phemie Stowell would have been, and if Laura sometimes had her trials and vexations, yet they never regretted yielding to the secret attraction of the strong love that drew them toward each other—a love that bound them only the more closely to each other as the years went on, and the experiences they brought were enjoyed and endured together.

Harper’s Magazine, Vol. 4, 1870

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Best Parlour was a recognised institution. When its hermetically-sealed door was opened, the visitor was treated to a chill scent of horse-hair upholstery, camphor balls–and death–for the room was the place where the dead were laid out in their last sleep. The shades and curtains were kept drawn so that the best carpet would not become “faded all out.” The walls were adorned with such treasures as steel-cut engravings of the grimmer Biblical episodes and framed coffin-plates.

If bow-windows are an extravagance, we should all be labeled spendthrifts…

Mrs Daffodil has written previously on the over-worked farmer’s wife, also, sadly, a recognised institution. While it is pleasant to know that Lance and Laura did not regret their troth-plighting, Mrs Daffodil could have done with less of the apropos quotations; no husband, coming in from the farm-yard, whether willing to brush his hair or not, wishes to be met with some Shakespearean injunction to wipe his feet: “Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.”

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.