The Shoe in the Safe-deposit Box: 1904

Stephen Millbank’s last morning was exactly what every other week-day morning had been for the twenty-five years of his married life, except for half-a-dozen brief business absences. The excellent breakfast was put on the table at eight o’clock by the exemplary maid-servant, just as Mr. Millbank came down the wide front stairs—a handsome but not ostentatious flight—suggesting dignified and self-respecting prosperity. Mrs. Millbank complete in costume and composed in countenance, was already in the breakfast-room, a careful eye on the details. Not a tremor of premonition came to either of them, nor to the maid-servant waiting respectfully by the sideboard, as he blessed the food provided for their use and shook out his napkin. They talked cheerfully during the meal—both considering cheerful talk valuable to the digestion—of business matters and charitable projects, and decided what he should give toward the new church—a decision she afterward faithfully fulfilled. Then they took their places at the library desk to go over the household accounts of the day before. This was perhaps the most intimate and companionable moment of their daily life together—certainly the most keenly interesting. The expenses were within their margin, as usual, the balance unimpeachable. Mr. Millbank patted his wife’s hand with an approving smile.

“My dear, you are a perfect helpmate,” he said. He kissed her cheek, and as nine was striking he closed his generous front door behind him for the last time. Dignified, commanding, carrying the stoutness of prosperity but not the fat of self-indulgence, he turned toward the bank which thirty-five years before had admitted him as a serious and hardworking clerk and now opened respectfully to him as president. He had been a conscientious little boy, a model student, a vigorous worker, and then, when he had-turned his unremitting wisdom to the choice of a wife, an irreproachable husband. The city was proud of him and his flawless career, and the lapses of weaker brothers were seldom discussed in his presence. A man of his unswerving rectitude, could not be expected to make allowances. He was admittedly the leading citizen.

An hour later half the city knew that its leading citizen had been struck and instantly killed by an electric car. That the accident was entirely the motorman’s fault was little good to Stephen Millbank now; but it brought a certain dim comfort to his widow, as maintaining to the end the fact that never could a foolish or ill-considered act be laid to his account. Unexpected as his death had been, Mr. Millbank’s affairs were in perfect order, and the two executors had fulfilled their tasks within a very few weeks. It was a surprise to them, therefore, six months later, to receive a notice from a safe deposit company stating that the rent on a box held by Mr. Millbank was now due. Among all his neatly catalogued papers there had been no record of any such box. Moreover there had been plenty of boxes at his disposal in the safe deposit of his own bank, so why should Mr. Millbank maintain one elsewhere? He was not a man to pay out $22 a year for no reason.

They took Mr. Millbank’s keys merely as a formality, and made their way downtown, two keen, sober, grizzled men, not so far above the world’s weaknesses as Mr. Millbank had been, yet excellent citizens. The manager of the safe deposit met them with conviction, and showed them the entry made fifteen years before, when Stephen Millbank had rented the box. He himself had gone down to the vaults with Mr. Millbank on that occasion and, after opening the box, had turned away while something was put in. Mr. Millbank had never returned, but his check had come with perfect regularity ever since. A key was identified as that belonging to the box.

“Strange that there should have been no memorandum, with Mr. Millbank’s habits,” said Mr. Jerome, as they followed the manager to the vaults.

“And $22 a year—very extraordinary, very,” nodded Mr. Thompson.

The box was opened and the manager discreetly turned his back while Mr. Thompson took out a package clumsily wrapped in white tissue. As the shape made itself felt through the wrapping, he turned a little pale and drew nearer to Mr. Jerome, with a glance toward the waiting manager. They took off the papers in silence, then stood staring in helpless, dismayed wonder. On Mr. Thompson’s unsteady hand was poised a white satin slipper.

It was soiled and frayed with use as well as yellow with time, but it was slim and delicately shaped, curving up from a tiny, pointed toe, to an extravagantly high heel. A little ghost of a past perfume seemed to rise with the unfolding of the paper, and to hover between the two grizzled, speechless men. Suddenly Mr. Thompson, with a deep breath, gave a warning nod toward the manager’s back and thrust the slipper into his pocket.

“Doubtless nothing of importance, nothing at all,” he said. “Nevertheless, we will take them home and examine them.”

“Yes, certainly,” stammered Mr. Jerome.

Five minutes later they were seated side by side in an uptown car in profound silence. Not till they were half-way home did Mr. Thompson speak, and then his head was turned away from his companion.

“If I recollect correctly,” he said slowly, “ah—Mrs. Millbank has not a small foot.”

“Yes—that is my impression,” murmured Mr. Jerome, his eyes looking vacantly in the opposite direction.

Current Opinion, Volume 34, 1904

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is not surprised that the two gentlemen leapt instantly to a sordid (and completely unwarranted) conclusion at the contents of the safe-deposit box. To Mrs Daffodil’s mind, the slipper suggests renunciation. After all, if one were pining for a lost love, or had a fancy for ladies’ footwear, the late Mr Millbank would have visited the vault at some time during that fifteen years to reminisce or caress the adored object.  And if the affaire were ongoing, what need for a satin memento?

Mrs Daffodil, in a flight of fancy, sketches an alternate scenario: Mr Millbank, seeking to capture his lost youth after a sensible ten years of marriage, meets a young person on one of his business trips. One thing leads to another until an impending blessed event drives the frantic young person to make demands. The sensible Mr Millbank is appalled.  He thinks deeply, then he invites the young person to go for a walk in the park by the river. On the bridge, acrimonious words are hurled as it begins to rain. There is a struggle, an impulsive motion of revulsion or perhaps a despairing leap. He makes a futile grab. A splash, a white face, and a bubbling cry….

Mr Millbank is left standing alone in the rain with a single satin slipper in his hand. Mechanically he puts it into his pocket and walks back to his hotel. He is snug at home when the body is discovered. The newspapers cluck briefly over the sad, old story. The shoe is placed in the safe-deposit box. Mr Millbank does not forget.

Or, in yet another plausible scenario, if chemists examined the shoe, they would find traces of champagne from a single midnight supper decades ago. Mr Millbank, perhaps awakened to the imprudence of keeping the shoe in his home or office by an associate’s domestic embarrassment, tucked it away in the safe-deposit box. No one would have been more surprised than the lady herself, now a buxom matron living respectably in Cleveland, Ohio, to find that a long-forgotten gentleman had kept a souvenir of a memorable evening.

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.

 

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