Animal Likenesses in Flowers: 1901

veggie face

LIKENESSES IN FLOWERS The Shapes of Some of Them Suggest Certain Animals.

From the Boston Herald.

Did you ever see a field of wild larkspur, with its rich colors—violet-purple, deep blue or white? In the center of each blossom the four petals form a little rabbit, with ears alert and listening. The white rabbit is especially pretty, and no one can fail to notice the odd likeness to the animal form. The colored leaves, which seem to be a part of the flower, are really the sepals of the calyx.

You can also find a lark in the flower by pulling off all the sepals except two, which are left for the bird’s outspread wings. The long spur, which runs backward, is the tapering body and long tail of the lark. When I was a child it was great pleasure to see my hidden bird appear as the unnecessary sepals were removed and it was just in the graceful act of flight from the stem!

Another flower of the same family, the wild columbine, takes its name from “columba,” a dove, on account of the likeness of the bright petals to a group of doves surrounding a water bowl. As soon as the colored sepals are removed this likeness is very obvious.

The snap-dragon, one of the charming figworts, is another delightful flower for a child, because he can open the gaping jaws of the dragon’s mouth, and its furry tongue and the spots and blotches of color remind him of the leopard’s spots and tiger’s stripes. The beard-tongue, with its swollen throat, is one of the same grotesque group. The monkey-flower has only to show its odd, grinning blossom to explain its Latin name—mimulus —which means “a little joker, or clown.”

By the way, the pretty gold and purple pansies display queer little monkey faces in their open flowers, which seem to nod and grimace with every passing breeze. The turtle-head is named from its blossom, “shaped like a turtle’s head with closed mouth.” This, too, is “wooly-bearded in the throat,” which adds to its general queerness of look.

The fox-glove sounds like a German fairy tale, with Master Reynard concealing his paw in an elf-made glove. (The accepted derivation of the name is “folks’-glove,” meaning “fairies’-glove,” which gives us quite as romantic a suggestion. Misapprehension or carelessness of pronunciation made “folks” be spelled “fox.”)

The monkshood also suggests a story, a bad one for the monks, for if you look well under the dark-blue hood, or cowl, made by the calyx, you will discover, cunningly hid, two diminutive hammer-like claws, the only petals this flower possesses.

The prettiest blossoms that mimic life are the bee, the butterfly, and the dove, orchids, and the charming moth-mulleins, clustered thickly with exquisite purple or canary yellow, moth-shaped flowers, ready to fly. They carry violet wool to keep the inside dry from rain, and this rich tint, with the orange pollen, makes the central part of the blossoms as gay as a tropical butterfly.

The mouse-ear and the dandelion (the lion’s tooth) and the ragged robin also suggest animal likenesses and associations, and many plants have seed vessels that are shaped like the beak and the spurred foot of a bird, as the hook-beaked crowfoot, the cranesbill, or geranium, from a Greek word for “crane,” and many others. Like children, the early observers of Nature delighted in odd resemblances, and made a kind of fairy tale of their imperfect science.

Current Opinion, Vol. 30, Edward Jewitt Wheeler, Frank Crane, eds.,1901

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Well, this is all very whimsical—making larks and doves by pulling petals off innocent flowers. Mrs Daffodil’s taste runs rather to the photo-gravures making the rounds, of snap-dragon pods, dried or denuded of their petals, forming tiny elongated skulls.

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 Mine Mules’ Vacation: 1898

mule

Mine Mules on Vacation

Fresh Air and Sunshine First Daze Them and Then Overjoy Them.

The superintendent of the Sweet Springs mine undertook a thorough renovation of the mine the day after the miners went out on strike, and the first step preparatory to cleaning up was to remove the mules from the underground stables and put them out on pasture.

Some of them had not been out of the mine for months, a number had been below the surface for two or three years, and one had not seen the sunshine for seven years—as long as Jacob served for Leah.

They were led from the mine, twenty-seven patient creatures, and turned loose in Morrison’s pasture field. They stood about close together, knee deep in lush, green grass, and sweet red clover, with drooping heads and eyes half closed, as though dazed by their sudden change of circumstances. At last, as the sun dropped down behind bowman’s hill, one gray old veteran threw up his head and sniffed at the fine fragrant air blowing down the valley, and in a moment a little movement went through the whole group.

The old leader wheeled about sharply, took a long look at the clear sky above, the brawling little brook chattering over the stones, the grass and the trees, then he drew up his head, stiffened his tail, and sent forth a prolonged, penetrating, strident heehaw-awaw, which woke the echoes over on Maple Ridge, and with an awkward lumbering bound he started down the long slope.

In an instant the whole mass had separated and was in motion. Such running, racing, kicking and jumping were never before seen—stiff knees, dim eyes and spavined joints all forgotten in the pure enjoyment of out of doors. They brayed and bellowed, ran and kicked, stopped for breath, then began again. The whole village gathered at the fence to see the fun; the men and boys laughed and shouted, the babies crowed and one or two women cried a little, for there were sores and lameness and weakness in plenty.

When night fell they were still rolling about and racing, forgetful of the hunger and thirst that might be satisfied by the running stream and grass.

Old Mrs. Bascom, who lives at the edge of the pasture field, was awakened in the dark hours toward morning by the rapid rush of hoofs thundering down the hillside, and turning over on her pillow she murmured drowsily: “Dear Lord, who would a’thought that any livin’ critter would be so glad and thankful for nothin’ but air and freedom.”

The Sun [New York, NY] 24 April 1898: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  While it seems inconceivable to our modern sensibilities that anyone would be so cruel as to stable mules underground, it was a routine practice in collieries. In the earlier years, mules were often mistreated: beaten, run over when careless drivers refused to apply the brakes, starved and kept without water, forced to work long hours. Yet even in the early part of the 20th century, some mine owners thought it was cheaper to work a mule to death on short rations than to take care of them. If a mule died, another was brought in and no tears were shed. For more stories of mine mules see this link, about “Bess,” a mine mule rescued from working 24 hours a day, and this one, about mules in British mines.

 

Visiting a Dead Husband: 1813

Mr. Samuel Fisher, the inventor of the Golden Snuff, was acquainted with a widow lady of excellent character, who resided at Cork. This lady was inconsolable for the death of her husband; the day was spent by her in sighs and incessant lamentations, and her pillow at night was moistened with the tears of her sorrow. Her husband, her dear husband, was the continual theme of her discourse, and she seemed to live for no other object but to recite his praises, and deplore his loss.

One morning her friend Fisher found her in a state of mental agitation, bordering on distraction. Her departed love, she said, had appeared to her in the night, and most peremptorily ordered her to enter the vault where his remains were deposited, and have the coffin opened. Mr. Fisher remonstrated with her on the absurdity of the idea; he said that the intensity of her sorrow had impaired her intellect; that the phantom was the mere creature of her imagination; and begged of her at least to postpone to some future period her intended visit to the corpse of her husband. The lady acquiesced for that time in his request; but the two succeeding mornings the angry spirit of her spouse stood at her bed side, and with loud menaces repeated his command.

S. Fisher, therefore, sent to the sexton, and, matters being arranged, the weeping widow and her friend attended in the dismal vault; the coffin was opened with much solemnity, and the faithful matron stooped down and kissed the clay-cold lips of her adored husband. Having reluctantly parted from the beloved corpse, she spent the remainder of the day in silent anguish.

On the succeeding morning, Fisher, who intended to sail for England on that day, called to bid his afflicted friend adieu. The maid-servant told him, that the lady had not risen.

‘Tell her to get up,’ said Fisher, ‘I wish to give her a few words of consolation and advice before my departure.’

‘Ah! Sir,’ said the smiling girl, ‘it would be a pity to disturb the new married couple so early in the morning!’

‘What new married couple?’

‘My mistress, Sir, was married last night.’

‘Married! impossible! What! the lady who so adored her deceased husband; who was visited nightly by his ghost, and who yesterday so fervently kissed his corpse? Surely you jest?’

‘Oh, Sir,’ said the maid, ‘my late master, poor man, on his death-bed, made my mistress promise, that she would never marry any man after his decease, till he and she should meet again, which the good man, no doubt, thought would never happen till they met in heaven– and you know, my dear sir, you kindly introduced them to each other, face to face, yesterday. My mistress, Sir, sends you her compliments and thanks, together with this bride’s cake, to distribute among your friends.’

Sporting Magazine, Vol. 41, 1813, p. 132

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil does love a happy ending. Too often death-bed promises cause nothing but heart-ache or the bereaved lady annoys a second husband with tales of the perfections of the late-lamented first. This widow was ingenious enough to satisfy her exacting spouse’s requirements to the satisfaction of all concerned.

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 Autobiography of a Corset: 1883

The Autobiography of a Corset.

Chapter I.

The history of my birth and the first days of my life possess but little interest. At an early age I was carried off from my birthplace with several of my companions and placed in a large store on a street which I soon learned was called Broadway. While my fellows remained packed away in boxes, I, on account of my superior beauty, I suppose, was hung up in full view of the public. At first I felt proud of the honor and made much over myself, but I soon perceived that my fancied elevation was in fact the greatest obstacle to my success in life, for while my companions rapidly followed one another out into the world, to fulfill their destiny, I remained solitary and unsought for. It was not because I was not admired. When any one asked for a corset, I was invariably taken down, my beauty and sterling qualities lauded and everything done to tickle my vanity, but somehow or other when I pleased, which was generally the case, I was always hung up again, and one of my companions handed out in my stead. It was useless to protest against this gross injustice, and, moreover, I soon learned my true nature—I was a sample. My lofty position cut me off from all companionship with my fellows, and very soon I heartily wished that I, too, had remained humbly packed away in a box—a warning, let me tell you, to those people who fancy that elevated rank always brings happiness.

Gradually I became morose and melancholy and I know not what dark crime I might have committed had I not been timely rescued.

One bleak December morning—ah, how well I remember it!—while I was brooding over my present miseries and looking forward gloomily to the future, the door opened and there entered, gentle reader, the most entrancing vision of petite black-eyed female loveliness I had ever seen, and I assure you I had seen many pretty women. I fell in love with her at first sight, if a corset may be properly said to fall in love, and awaited with breathless interest to hear what she would ask for.

A corset! O joy of joys! And number 16! My number! Oh my ribs keep still!

I was at once handed down, and O the joy, the complete ecstasy of being fondled by those soft white fingers! It was but for a moment, alas! For although I pleased her, I was as usual put up again by the heartless clerk, who went to seek out one of my companions. I was in the darkest despair when he returned and told the lady that he had no more of that number.

“Great heavens! Haven’t you got me?” I tried to shout, but, being mouthless, failed.

Imagine the thrill of delight which vibrated through every part of me when the sweet creature said she would like to have me if the clerk would part with his sample.

The wretch softened, wrapped me up, and in another moment I reposed on the breast of my loved one, and we were whirling up Fifth avenue.

We soon arrived at a handsome brown-stone mansion and, still clasped in her arms, we ascended to the prettiest little boudoir imaginable. Shall I confess that I blushed when I saw the preparations for my embrace?

Yes, gentle reader, I blushed—I, a dignified, modest corset, blushed. My modesty was soon to be even more sorely tried, for she took me up and—O, gentle reader, may such a moment of ecstasy one day fall to your lot—clasped me tightly around her waist.

Terrified and trembling, I first made a faint show of resistance, but she pulled me only the closer, and, to prevent my escape, tied me. Yielding at last, I gave myself up entirely to the delights of my situation, and clasping her in a long, close embrace, swooned away with joy.

Yes, gentle reader, I swooned, and when I returned to consciousness and found all things changed, I was in a brilliantly lighted ball room, sweet music was floating through the air, and—yes—some villain was waltzing with my lady and had his arm around her waist.

How I longed to spurn the wretch from me and from that waist which had been placed under my protection. I had the inside track on him, however, and I longed to tell him so too. My indignation had reached a high pitch, and I was panting for revenge when the waltz ended, and my lady and her companion went to the conservatory.

They took seats in a secluded spot, but what they said shall never be known to the world through me. A corset is nothing if not honorable. In a few minutes his arm stole around her waist, and the pressure soon became so great that I thought I would surely expire. I could do nothing to defend myself, but I had one consolation, which was, as I said before, that he could not cut me out.

Lest I become tiresome, I will only say that my unmarried life, or rather the unmarried life of my lady, was to him a crystal streamlet of bliss, but alas, flowing, as I was soon to discover, into the dark pool of misery! One day I heard that my lady was to be married.

At the time I was glad, for I will confess that I was beginning to become surfeited with my delights and longed for novelty. What that novelty was to be, I soon discovered. Ah, that I had remained forever in solitary misery at my old store home, or perished before that fatal wedding day!

Chapter II.

What! Is this really myself—the happy, petted corset who experienced the joys recorded in the above chapter? How is it that I am away up here in the garret, amidst old rags and papers—my ribs broken, all soiled and covered with dust, my life fast ebbing away? Why am I thus pitched aside and forsaken?

My lady has now been wedded nearly a year.

I have grown too small for her!

P.S. Since writing the above, I have been consoled by a visit from one of my companions who had fallen to the lot of a dude. The relation of the horrors he went through will give me strength to bear up during the few remaining days of my life.

P.P.S. Horrors! I have fallen into a terrible place, and am being torn limb from limb. Surely, this must be the end of all things—the paper millennium.

Truth [New York, NY] 20 May 1883: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Who would have thought that an inanimate object was such a maelstrom of emotions?  One blushes for the almost erotic frankness of the garment’s recollections! One might almost call the narrative “50 Shades of Stay.” From the 1850s onward whimsical “autobiographies” of the normally insentient were a popular literary genre. One finds autobiographies of hackney coaches, cats, pigs, rubber bands, oranges, sheep, shin-plasters, race horses, flies, dolls, bureaus, &c, &c, &c  Mrs Daffodil has previously printed a “Reminiscence of an old Needlebook” and the “Diary of a Young Dog,” in a similar vein.

The sad fate of the once-beloved corset was common to many house-hold articles: sold to the “old-clothes man” and sent to the rag factory to be pulped for paper. As a corset was often made of sturdy linen and cotton, found in the best papers, it might expect to be resurrected as wedding invitations.

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 Healer of Pearls: 1902,1912

tortola valencia

Carmen Tortola Valencia, the Healer of Pearls

Let us begin with a fabulous story about the late Empress Elisabeth of Austria and her refuge at Corfu.

On the coast of Corfu a story is told which will perhaps someday pass into folklore, for it is of the stuff of which legends are made. Whether it is true or not no one can say, but the fishermen of Corfu believe it and dream of it.

When the Empress of Austria received the news of her son Rudolf’s death, she was wearing a famous necklace of Oriental pearls. That night, so the stories goes, the attendant whose duty it was to care for her jewels, was horrified to see that the superb pearls had lost their luster and looked dull and dead. She spoke of the matter to her mistress, who in her sorrow did not even listen.

A month or two later the Empress had occasion to call for her pearls; and, on opening the case, found every pearl of the necklace a lusterless gray.

She called the court jewelers into consultation, but nothing could be done to restore the pearls to their former beauty.

Finally a famous chemist of Vienna assured the Empress that if the pearls could be left in the sea for a long time the action of the salt water would bring back their color and lustre. The Empress went to Corfu later.

While there she went with Father Ambrosius, an old monk, who was her friend and confidant, to a wild spot on the shore of the island, and there they hid the pearls securely in a fissure under the surface of the water and left them. There the pearls were when the Empress met her sudden and tragic death.

Father Ambrosius fell dead in the cloister when told of the death of his mistress. The pearls, so the storytellers say, await a lucky finder, somewhere along the rugged coast, and are likely to be the Capt. Kidd’s treasure of Corfu.

Taking the story for what it is worth, the fact remains that there are on record many curious instances in which pearls apparently sympathized with the health and mood of their wearers. Pearls, too often lose their color and lustre for no perceptible reason, and in many cases never regain their beauty.

All through the Orient there are jewelers famous as doctors of sick pearls, and to certain of these doctors pearls of great value are frequently sent by the native rulers and merchants. The salt water treatment is one of the most common methods of dealing with a sick pearl; so if Elizabeth’s necklace is by any chance where Corfu gossip locates it, its pearls may be finding healing while they await discovery.

The Times [Richmond, VA] 26 January 1902: p. 15 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The always-restless Empress Elisabeth, attempting to flee from her grief over her son Rudolf’s death, built a palace on Corfu, called the Achilleion. The Empress had many beautiful jewels, but there is no telling if this is a true story or not, although the sea-water cure actually was prescribed for “healing” pearls. There were also other remedies for the sick jewels. The exotic-looking lady in the photo-gravure at the head of this post was Carmen Tórtola Valencia. The caption reads: 

This is Tortola Valencia, who has the peculiar gift of being able to cure “sick” pearls by wearing them. After reposing a few weeks on Tortola’s bosom, pearls which have lost their luster are said to recover their original brilliance.

Tortola is a Spanish dancer just now the rage in Paris. Her strange effect on pearls resulted in a commission from the czar of Russia, who has sent her a magnificent pearl necklace to wear and “cure.” It was originally made for Catherine the Great of Russia.

While Tortola wears it she is guarded day and night by detectives employed by the French and Russian governments. The Day Book [Chicago, IL] 28 March 1912: p. 34 

Carmen Tórtola Valencia [1882-1955] was a Spanish dancer, choreographer and artist who was inspired by Isadora Duncan’s avant-garde work.  She specialized in Spanish and Oriental pieces, as well as pieces inspired by native cultures of India, Africa, and the Middle East, which she studied most assiduously. She was often photographed in her striking costumes, which she designed herself.

Although some articles say that Tórtola Valencia gave up the stage to become a nursemaid for the pearls of the mighty, in fact she last danced in 1930. She was an early Spanish proponent of women’s rights, took lovers wherever she chose, and was misunderstood by some critics as simply a scantily-clad Mata-Hari-type and “the reincarnation of Salome.” It is a pity that journalists focused almost exclusively on the lady’s pearl-healing bosom, rather than her very considerable artistic talents.

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.

For several other anecdotes of pearls see here and here.

Sarah Bernhardt and the Dying Costumer: 1880

 

Sarah Bernhardt in Phèdre by Racine.

Sarah Bernhardt in Phèdre by Racine.

An episode from the life of the great actress:

I was given, on signing the contract, 100,000 francs as advance payment for the expenses of departure. I was to play eight pieces: “Hernani,” “Phedre,” “Adrienne Lecouvreur,” “Froufrou,” “La Dame aux Camelias,” “Le Sphinx,” ” L’Etrangere,” and ” La Princesse George.”

I ordered twenty-five costumes for town wear at Laferriere’s, with whom I then dealt.

At Baron’s I ordered six costumes for “Adrienne Lecouvreur,” and four costumes for “Hernani.” I ordered from a young theater costumier named Lepaul, my costume for “Phedre.” These thirty-six costumes cost me 61,000 francs; but out of this my costume for “Phedre” alone cost 4,000 francs. The poor artiste-costumier had embroidered it himself. It was a marvel. It was brought to me two days before my departure and I cannot think of this moment without emotion. Irritated by long waiting, I was writing an angry letter to the costumier when he was announced. At first I received him very badly, but I found him looking so ill, the poor man, that I made him sit down and asked how he came to be so ill.

“Yes, I am not at all well,” he said in such a weak voice, that I was quite upset. “I wanted to finish this dress and I have worked at it three days and nights. But look how nice it is, your costume!” And he spread it out with loving respect before me.

“Look!” remarked Guerard, [Madame Guerard, Mme. Bernhardt’s long-time family friend and assistant] “a little spot!”

“Ah, I pricked myself,” answered the poor artiste quickly.

But I had just caught sight of a drop of blood at the corner of his lips. He wiped it quickly away so that it should not fall on the pretty costume as the other little spot had done. I gave the artiste the 4,000 francs, which he took with trembling hands. He murmured some unintelligible words and withdrew.

”Take away this costume, take it away!” I cried to my petite dame and my maid. And I cried so much that I had the hiccough all the evening. Nobody understood why I was crying. But I reproached myself bitterly for having worried the poor man. It was plain that he was dying. And by the force of circumstances I had unwittingly forged the first link of the chain of death which was dragging to the tomb this youth of twenty-two—this artiste with a future before him.

I would never wear this costume. It is still in its box yellowed with age. Its gold embroidery is tarnished by time, and the little spot of blood has slightly reddened the stuff. As to the poor artiste, I learned of his death during my stay in London in the month of May, for before leaving for America I signed with Hollingshead and Mayer, the impresarios of the Comedie, a contract which bound me to them from the 24th May to the 24th June (1880).

Memories of My Life: Being My Personal, Professional, and Social Recollections as a Woman and Artist, Sarah Bernhardt, 1907

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have read about the Divine Sarah in these pages before, in the story of her visit to a séance. We have also read of Eleanora Duse’s exacting costuming demands on Jean-Phillipe Worth. Mme. Bernhardt set the bar high for histrionic behaviour. She was prone to rages and horse-whips, particularly when criticised. She used a skull as a letterbox and had herself photographed in her coffin, which was normally kept in her drawing-room. This pre-mortem photograph is said to have started a fad among young women. Here is a particularly dire example of Mme. Bernhardt’s self-centredness.

A Death-Bed Scene

Of all the stories about M’lle Sarah Bernhardt, her experience in a hospital is surely the most remarkable. The tragedienne was, it is said, anxious, for purposes of dramatic study, to see some people who were on the point of death. She was taken to the bedside of a girl who was not expected to live for more than few minutes. Now, it is needless to say, the actress is not exactly the picture of sunny health. Dressed in black with a long, pale face, which I am too gallant to call cadaverous, the lady might give a fright to a man of robust nerves if he met her suddenly in a lonely place. It is not surprising that to the poor creature whose soul was just leaving her body this apparition at her bedside was appalling. “Ah! I know you,” she cried; “you are the angel of death; you came the other day to take away one of my neighbors; but I am too young—I will not die. Begone, terrible specter!” And then in a paroxysm of fear the poor thing died. The actress fainted away at the foot of the bed. It was a dramatic tableau she could not have conceived in her wildest dreams. The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 10 December 1881: p. 12

In fairness, this story is likely to be apocryphal; the newspapers were full of reports of the actress’s eccentricities and scenes. Still, one suspects that Mme. Bernhardt was a trifle disingenuous in claiming that she wept for the dying costumier. It is more likely she got the hiccoughs from sheer pique at the blood spot. Actors are notoriously superstitious so Mme. Bernhardt may very well have not worn the Phèdre costume. History records that she was quite lavish in her costume expenditures, requiring the finest embroidery and real jewels. (See her Lalique lily tiara here.)  Perhaps she was only crying over the wasted 4,000 francs? Mrs Daffodil has her doubts that the actress would have packed away any costume she thought would enhance her stage presence. 

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 Funeral Coach: 1855

 

Eugene Atget, Funeral Carriage, First Class, 1910

Eugene Atget, Funeral Carriage, First Class, 1910

THE FUNERAL COACH.

“1855, March 28.—The following story was told me by Lady S., who heard it from Mr. M., a gentleman of considerable note, and one not at all given to romancing:—

“Mr. M., a well-known lawyer, went to stay with Mr.T., in the county of ___. In the course of their first evening together, Mr. M. learned that, among his host’s neighbours, was an old friend of his own, for whom he had great regard; but of whom he had lost sight since college days. The next morning Mr. M asked the gentleman of the house if he would forgive him if he walked over to see his old friend; adding a request that if he were asked to dinner, he might be allowed to accept the invitation.

“On being assured that he might do whatever was most agreeable to himself, he went to make his call—not on foot, as he had proposed, but in his friend’s dog-cart. As he anticipated, the gentleman he went to see insisted on his staying to dinner. He consented, and sent the groom back with the dog-cart, with a message to his master to say that, as it would be a fine moonlight night, he should prefer walking home. After having passed a very agreeable day with the old fellow-collegian, he bade him good-bye; and, fortified with a couple of cigars, sallied forth on his return. On his way he had to pass through the pleasant town of ___, and on coming to the church in the main street, he leaned against the iron railings of the churchyard while he struck a match and lighted his second cigar. At that moment the church clock began to strike. As he had left his watch behind him, and did not feel certain whether it were ten o’clock or eleven, he stayed to count, and to his amazement found it twelve. He was about to hurry on, and make up for lost time, when his curiosity was pricked, and the stillness of the night broken, by the sound of carriage wheels on the road, moving at a snail’s pace, and coming up the side street directly facing the spot where he was standing. The carriage proved to be a mourning-coach, which, on turning at right angles out of the street in which Mr. M. first saw it, pulled up at the door of a large red brick house. Not being used to see mourning-coaches out at such an unusual hour, and wondering to see this one returning at such a funereal pace, he thought he would stay and observe what happened. The instant the coach drew up at the house, the carriage door opened, then the street door, and then a tall man, deadly pale, in a suit of sables, descended the carriage steps, and walked into the house. The coach drove on, and Mr. M. resumed his walk. On reaching his quarters, he found the whole household in bed, with the exception of the servant, who had received orders to stay up for him.

“The next morning, at breakfast, after he had given the host and hostess an account of his doings on the previous day, he turned to the husband and asked him the name of the person who lived in the large red brick house directly opposite the churchyard. ‘Who lives in it?’ ‘Mr. P., the lawyer!’ ‘Do you know him?’ ‘Yes; but not at all intimately. We usually exchange visits of ceremony about once a year, I think.’

“Mr. M.: ‘Does any one live with him? Is he married?’ “Answer: ‘No. Two maiden sisters live with him. He is a bachelor, and likely to remain one; for, poor fellow, he is a sad invalid. If I am not mistaken, he is abroad at this moment, on account of his health.’

“Mr. M. then mentioned his motive for asking these questions. When he had told of his adventure, he proposed that, after lunch, they should drive to and call on the ladies, and see if, by their help, they could not unravel the mystery. Full of their object, they paid their visit, and after the usual interchange of commonplace platitudes, the sisters were asked if they had heard lately of their brother. They said, ‘No; not for weeks: and felt rather uneasy in consequence.’

Mr. M. surprised at not seeing them in mourning, asked them if they had not lately sustained a great loss. ‘No,’ they replied: ‘why do you ask such a question?’ ‘Oh,’ said Mr. M. ‘because of the mourning-coach I saw, with some gentleman of this family in it, returning from a funeral so late last night.’ ‘I think, Sir,’ said one of the ladies, ‘ you must have mistaken this house for some other.’ He shook his head confidently. At their request, he then told them what had happened. They said it was impossible that their street door could have been opened at that hour, for that every servant, as well as themselves, were in bed. The more the subject was canvassed, the farther they seemed from arriving at any satisfactory conclusion. The ladies, rather nettled at the obstinacy of his assertions, examined the servants, individually and collectively, but with no better result. Mr. M. and his host eventually withdrew. On their drive home, Mr. M.’s friend quizzed him, and reminded him that when he saw the apparition he had dined, and dined late, and had sat long over his friend’s old port. But Mr. M., though he submitted to the badinage good-humouredly, remained ‘of the same opinion still.’

“A week after, when Mr. M. was in his chambers in London, his friend from the country burst in upon him, and said, ‘I know you are much engaged, but I could not resist running in to tell you that the two ladies we called on last week, three or four days after our visit received a letter, telling them that their brother, “a tall, pale man,” had died at Malta, at twelve o’clock on the very night you saw the mourning-coach and the person in it at their door.'”

The Spiritual Magazine 1 October 1871

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While Mrs Daffodil finds that the ghostly tale delivers a delightful frisson (and plans to tell it at the next All Hallow’s festivities, where it will frighten the Tweenie out of her wits…) , she is pursing her lips dubiously over the many breaches of etiquette found in this narrative. Mr. M. deserves reproach for entering a stranger’s house and posing such a delicate question, despite paving the way with conventional platitudes. His host is equally in the wrong for introducing him to the household simply in order to gratify a morbid curiosity.

The dead man is also to be censured. He might have panicked the household by his unexpected appearance, so late at night. At the very least he should have sent a telegram notifying his sisters of his arrival.  One might also point out that the tall, pale gentleman properly belonged in a hearse, not in a funeral carriage, which is reserved for conveying legitimate mourners to and from the funeral and churchyard. Mrs Daffodil will reserve judgement on the dead man’s attire. It is a nice point of etiquette as to whether the corpse himself should don “sables” for his own demise.

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.

For other stories of death-omens and tokens of death, see The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past and The Victorian Book of the Dead, both by Chris Woodyard of http://www.hauntedohiobooks.com.  Her blog also contains rather too many stories of death and the grim and grewsome for those of a sensitive disposition. Mrs Daffodil has had to forbid the Tweenie the site.