Nellie’s Leap Year Proposal: 1878

Love in leap year


By Hope Ledyard.

“Really, Catharine, I do not wonder at Mary’s surprise at your behavior. You forget that you are Frank’s widow. You are too forward.”

I hesitated a moment, really anxious to keep my temper; for I was Frank’s widow, and the speaker was his mother.

“Forward!” cried Mary. “Indeed, you would have been shocked, last night, mother. There was Mr. Vance urging her to sing, and she hanging back, as if she were a young, bashful girl; and acting as if Herbert Halstead was her old friend, when it was only as a married woman—”

“Yes,” interrupted Julia; “I think, mother, if you can’t make Kate realize that she is a married woman, with a daughter nearly six years of age, you had better—”

“Send me away,” I broke in, unable longer to control myself, “it’s not the first time the hint has been thrown out; and, if it were not for little Nellie, poor child, I would go away to earn my living at once. You drive me desperate. I declare I will marry again, and get rid of all this—” and then I burst into tears.

“Marry again! How will you do it? Oh, yes I A good joke!” cried Julia, with a shrug at my tears. “Don’t you see, Mary, it’s leap year!” and she laughed, derisively.

“Who’ll you ask?” sneered Mary. “Herbert Halstead? Julia, you’d better look out!”

“You may sneer,” I cried, checking my tears; I was now thoroughly angry. “But I tell you, if no one would ask me to marry him, I believe I should ask Mr. Halstead, and—he’d have me!”

I had fairly taken up their own weapons of personalities, which I scorned. The moment after, ashamed of myself, I ran to my room, to put on my bonnet and get out of the house. I looked in the glass, as I put the crape bonnet, with its widow’s cap and heavy veil, on my head. I saw a face to which black was certainly becoming, though it was not a remarkably pretty face. It looked not more than twenty-five, some said not more than twenty; but I was, really, a little over twenty-four. Married at eighteen to Frank Stevens, I had been a petted wife for four years, and now a widow for two. The thought of the happiness of the four, and the loneliness of the two, as I looked at the face surrounded by crape, made the tears come again; but I brushed them away, resolutely, and went out, Knowing that a brisk walk would do me more good than anything else. I went out without my darling, my inseparable companion, my little baby girl, Nellie. This alone showed how troubled I was. Truth to tell, I was too angry to trust myself with the little one, who might have asked to have our conversation explained, for she had been in the room at the time. I could only hope, that, at five years old, a child did not understand me.

Soon after I left, my mother-in-law and her daughters went out for a drive. They invited Nellie to go; but she, feeling, perhaps, that they had not treated mamma well, refused. Soon the front door bell rang, and like all children, Nellie must needs run to see who was there. She managed to open the door herself, and there stood her prime favorite among the gentlemen, that visited the house, Mr. Halstead, or, as she had called him, since her babyhood, Uncle Herbert. He had been her father’s chum and dearest friend, and loved the child for Frank’s sake.

“Ladies home, Nell?”

“I’m home,” she said, “and I dess mamma ‘ll be in soon.”

“Very well. Let’s go in the parlor, and have a chat.”

Nellie sat in his lap, discussing the merits of cocoanut cakes and sugar almonds a little while; but suddenly, dropping her candies in her lap, she asked, “What’s leap—leap—I fordet. Do you know what’s it?”

“Leap? Leap frog? Leap year? Is that the word?”

“Yes. What is it?”

“Why, its a year when you ladies can ask the gentlemen to marry you. But you see, Nellie, you’re too young—or, wouldn’t you ask me?”

“Oh, no! I wouldn’t ask you. Mamma’s going to ask you.”

The young man nearly dropped the child, and then folded her close to him, lest (perhaps) he should forget her again. “‘What do you mean, darling?” he asked. “Now think, Nellie, but don’t tell Uncle Herbert anything ‘make up.'”

“Oh, no! Really, truly, bless me, sure’s alive—isn’t that what you say when you’se true? Well!”—the little tot gave a long sigh, and paused, Herbert not daring to interrupt her, lest she should see his anxiety, and miniature woman that she was, should refuse to satisfy him.

“Well!” she repeated, “you see, they does scold my mamma, so they does. To-day morning, they maked mamma cry, and to-morrow morning,” (she would call yesterday to-morrow), they scolded her again, because she wouldn’t sing, and then they said she was fordard. What’s fordard?”

“Forward, indeed!” ejaculated Herbert, under his breath. “If it had been some others now. But Nellie, what about leap year?”

“Oh, yes! I most fordot, didn’t I? Well, you see, mamma said—but oh, Uncle Herbert! I never showed you my two weenie, new little kittens. They’s only little sings, wivout eyes. Come out to the pizaza, and I’ll show you.”

It was no use to be impatient; the young man knew the child too well for that; and so they went out, and inspected the kittens. Then he tried to coax Nellie back to the subject.

“Oh, I fordet,” she said. “Only they made mamma cry.”

“What did they say, darling? I’ll give you a big doll—”

“With real hair?”

“Yes, yes! Real hair and eyes, and—oh, anything. But did they say I wanted to marry—”

“They said mamma wasn’t a girl, and she was old; and mamma said — oh, there’s mamma. Mamma, didn’t you ask Uncle Herbert to marry you? He wants to know.”

I had come in, looking for the child, and that was the speech I heard. I felt ready to sink with mortification.

“Kate, darling, can’t I hope you’ll let me ask? You must know that I hoped, when these” (touching my veil and black dress,) “were put aside, that I could ask you to let me care for you. And from what I hear, I think Frank, even, would wish me to care for you, and at once. Come, darling,” as I hid my face in my hands. “You’ve asked me to marry you; and I must name the day; and I say now, at once. Let’s give them a good, thorough surprise. I can guess how they’ve treated you. Come, now, get ready this fairy, this blessed little darling that has brought me my happiness, and we’ll go to your own minister.”

I tried to refuse, but I was so weary of living with my mother-in-law, that at last we three slipped out of the house; and dear Dr. S__, who had baptized me, married me to Frank, and knew Herbert well, married us.

We drove back, and reached the front door, as the family were returning. Julia, who would appropriate Herbert, stepped forward.

“Good evening, Mr. Halstead. So you met Kate on the steps? Strange!” with a glance at me, as if I had planned to meet him.

“Not at all, Miss Julia,” said Herbert. “My wife and I just called in to receive your congratulations, and to leave little midget here for a few days.”

No tableau I have ever seen, was half so comical as the one those three made. I really felt for Julia; for I knew she cared for Herbert. She gained her self-possession quickly, however, and congratulated me, whispering, as she kissed me, “So you asked him?”

My husband heard, and answered.

“No, Miss Julia, she did not ask me. Through other means, thank God, I learned the one I loved was unhappy; and, as I had hoped for more than a year past, to soon ask her to be my wife, I persuaded her to marry me at once. Leap year privileges are still open for those who choose to use them.”

We are quite an old married couple now; for four years have passed; but Herbert and I still often laugh over Nellie’s Leap Year Proposal. 

Peterson Magazine February 1878

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil really cannot approve of child-dialect stories, but one supposes one can stretch a point for a happy ending, except not for Miss Julia.   

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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