In Madrid a young lady, noted for her beauty and musical gifts, whom I had met on several occasions at the British Embassy, paid me a visit in company with her duenna in order to ascertain something very near what, I presume, she would have termed her heart. The stately duenna waited discreetly in the anteroom whilst my fascinating visitor, with impassioned volubility, declared the object of her visit. It was just this: Two young bloods of Madrid were very much in love with her. On family grounds one was as acceptable as the other, and, personally, she really had no preference. She could not marry both, but, eventually, would surely marry one of them — but which? Would I advise her? Would I make the choice for her? Alas! what had I to do with other people’s little love affairs? And what man has yet been born who could safely and wisely take upon himself such a momentous decision? Obviously I promptly declined the role cast for me. But she resented my refusal with the prettiest possible display of petulance.
I explained that in my country when in doubt we frequently tossed for it, letting the spin of the coin determine our decision. It, I added, would possibly collide with her conception of things to toss a coin with “Heads — Jose; tails —Juan.” She agreed that it would not be a convincing decision. It, to tell the truth, was much too matter-of-fact for her romantic disposition. There is chance, but precious little sentiment, associated with the tossing of a coin. Finally, I suggested that as she was uncertain in her choice, and as, presumably, it didn’t really matter much either way who was the successful suitor, she should let Fate or chance decide for her. This suggestion made a direct appeal to her sentimentality. And she left me determined to accept the one — whether Jose or Juan — she happened first to meet after departing from my hotel. As I left Madrid the next day, I was at that time unacquainted with what chance had decided for Clarita. Indeed, I have never had the pleasure of since seeing the lady and receiving her congratulations or reproaches which she surely would have meted out to me, deservedly or otherwise.
But in the years to follow I was to hear again of Clarita and her love affairs. My Ambassador, who had been her host in Madrid, had become Ambassador at Constantinople. At the Embassy one day the topic of conversation turned upon events in the Spanish capital.
Said his Excellency to me, with mock severity: “That, my friend, was an unfortunate choice of yours about Clarita.”
“How so, sir?”
“Oh, didn’t you hear? Well, after leaving you, the first man she met happened to be Juan; and, having let chance decide for her, she favoured that worthy young man in preference to all others — and, finally, married him. And what an unhappy marriage it turned out to be! The dear Clarita, I am afraid, blames you and not her own choice, as if you had anything to do with regulating Fate’s chance meeting. It is just possible that if it had been the other way about, and Clarita had first met Jose instead of Juan, the marriage might have been equally unfortunate, and you would have been blamed all the same. That is woman’s way.”
“And Jose, sir?”
“Oh, he, it was said, was searching for you with a knife or something unpleasantly aggressive, as it had got about that Clarita in her choice had acted upon a suggestion you had made her. Woman-like, she didn’t keep the suggestion to herself. She told everyone — including myself — how she was in Fate’s hands. That, again, is woman’s way. Now you will see, mon ami what comes of giving women advice in connection with their love affairs: an unhappy wife, a fearfully jealous husband, and an impetuous, indiscreet lover. And divorce is so difficult in Spain!”
Since then, as becomes a penitent, I for my sins have taken unto sackcloth and ashes — an unbecoming and uncomfortable garb when worn even merely metaphorically.
That other world: personal experiences of mystics, Stuart Cumberland, 1919
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr Cumberland was a stage “mentalist” who did not believe in genuine psychic ability. He relied on techniques such as “cold reading” and “muscle reading” for his startling accuracy. One is uncertain whether the young lady was consulting him merely as a man of the world or as (she thought) a psychic advisor. An excellent illustration of “No good deed goes unpunished.”
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.