Category Archives: Children

Our Dear Little Ghost: 1898

(c) Diana Robinson; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Christmas Tree, Harry Bush, Grundy Art Gallery

Our Dear Little Ghost

The first time one looked at Elsbeth, one was not prepossessed. She was thin and brown, her nose turned slightly upward, her toes went in just a perceptible degree, and her hair was perfectly straight. But when one looked longer, one perceived that she was a charming little creature. The straight hair was as fine as silk, and hung in funny little braids down her back; there was not a flaw in her soft brown skin; and her mouth was tender and shapely. But her particular charm lay in a look which she habitually had, of seeming to know curious things — such as it is not allotted to ordinary persons to know. One felt tempted to say to her:

“What are these beautiful things which you know, and of which others are ignorant? What is it you see with those wise and pellucid eyes? Why is it that everybody loves you?”

Elsbeth was my little godchild, and I knew her better than I knew any other child in the world. But still I could not truthfully say that I was familiar with her, for to me her spirit was like a fair and fragrant road in the midst of which I might walk in peace and joy, but where I was continually to discover something new. The last time I saw her quite well and strong was over in the woods where she had gone with her two little brothers and her nurse to pass the hottest weeks of summer. I followed her, foolish old creature that I was, just to be near her, for I needed to dwell where the sweet aroma of her life could reach me.

One morning when I came from my room, limping a little, because I am not so young as I used to be, and the lake wind works havoc with me, my little godchild came dancing to me singing:

“Come with me and I’ll show you my places, my places, my places!”

Miriam, when she chanted by the Red Sea, might have been more exultant, but she could not have been more bewitching. Of course I knew what “places” were, because I had once been a little girl myself, but unless you are acquainted with the real meaning of “places,” it would be useless to try to explain. Either you know “places” or you do not — just as you understand the meaning of poetry or you do not. There are things in the world which cannot be taught.

Elsbeth’s two tiny brothers were present, and I took one by each hand and followed her. No sooner had we got out of doors in the woods than a sort of mystery fell upon the world and upon us. We were cautioned to move silently; and we did so, avoiding the crunching of dry twigs.

“The fairies hate noise,” whispered my little godchild, her eyes narrowing like a cat’s.

“I must get my wand first thing I do,” she said in an awed undertone. “It is useless to try to do anything without a wand.”

The tiny boys were profoundly impressed, and, indeed, so was I.  I felt that at last, I should, if I behaved properly, see the fairies, which had hitherto avoided my materialistic gaze. It was an enchanting moment, for there appeared, just then, to be nothing commonplace about life.

There was a swale near by, and into this the little girl plunged.  I could see her red straw hat bobbing about among the tall rushes, and I wondered if there were snakes.

“Do you think there are snakes?” I asked one of the tiny boys.

“If there are,” he said with conviction, “they won’t dare hurt her.”

He convinced me. I feared no more. Presently Elsbeth came out of the swale. In her hand was a brown “cattail,” perfectly full and round. She carried it as queens carry their sceptres — the beautiful queens we dream of in our youth.

“Come,” she commanded, and waved the sceptre in a fine manner. So we followed, each tiny boy gripping my hand tight. We were all three a trifle awed. Elsbeth led us into a dark underbrush. The branches, as they flew back in our faces, left them wet with dew. A wee path, made by the girl’s dear feet, guided our footsteps. Perfumes of elderberry and wild cucumber scented the air. A bird, frightened from its nest, made frantic cries above our heads. The underbrush thickened. Presently the gloom of the hemlocks was over us, and in the midst of the shadowy green a tulip tree flaunted its leaves. Waves boomed and broke upon the shore below. There was a growing dampness as we went on, treading very lightly. A little green snake ran coquettishly from us. A fat and glossy squirrel chattered at us from a safe height, stroking his whiskers with a complaisant air.

At length we reached the “place.” It was a circle of velvet grass, bright as the first blades of spring, delicate as fine sea-ferns. The sunlight, falling down the shaft between the hemlocks, flooded it with a softened light and made the forest round about look like deep purple velvet. My little godchild stood in the midst and raised her wand impressively.

“This is my place,” she said, with a sort of wonderful gladness in her tone. “This is where I come to the fairy balls. Do you see them?”

“See what?” whispered one tiny boy.

“The fairies.”

There was a silence. The older boy pulled at my skirt.

“Do you see them?” he asked, his voice trembling with expectancy.

“Indeed,” I said, “I fear I am too old and wicked to see fairies, and yet — are their hats red?”

“They are,” laughed my little girl. “Their hats are red, and as small — as small!” She held up the pearly nail of her wee finger to give us the correct idea.

“And their shoes are very pointed at the toes?”

“Oh, very pointed!”

“And their garments are green?”

“As green as grass.”

“And they blow little horns?”

“The sweetest little horns!”

“I think I see them,” I cried.

“We think we see them too,” said the tiny boys, laughing in perfect glee.

“And you hear their horns, don’t you?” my little godchild asked somewhat anxiously.

“Don’t we hear their horns?” I asked the tiny boys.

“We think we hear their horns,” they cried. “Don’t you think we do?”

“It must be we do,” I said. “Aren’t we very, very happy?”

We all laughed softly. Then we kissed each other and Elsbeth led us out, her wand high in the air.

And so my feet found the lost path to Arcady.

The next day I was called to the Pacific coast, and duty kept me there till well into December. A few days before the date set for my return to my home, a letter came from Elsbeth’s mother.

“Our little girl is gone into the Unknown,” she wrote —” that Unknown in which she seemed to be forever trying to pry. We knew she was going, and we told her. She was quite brave, but she begged us to try some way to keep her till after Christmas. ‘My presents are not finished yet,’ she made moan. ‘And I did so want to see what I was going to have. You can’t have a very happy Christmas without me, I should think. Can you arrange to keep me somehow till after then?’ We could not ‘arrange’ either with God in heaven or science upon earth, and she is gone.”

She was only my little godchild, and I am an old maid, with no business fretting over children, but it seemed as if the medium of light and beauty had been taken from me. Through this crystal soul I had perceived whatever was loveliest. However, what was, was! I returned to my home and took up a course of Egyptian history, and determined to concern myself with nothing this side the Ptolemies.

Her mother has told me how, on Christmas eve, as usual, she and Elsbeth’s father filled the stockings of the little ones, and hung them, where they had always hung, by the fireplace. They had little heart for the task, but they had been prodigal that year in their expenditures, and had heaped upon the two tiny boys all the treasures they thought would appeal to them. They asked themselves how they could have been so insane previously as to exercise economy at Christmas time, and what they meant by not getting Elsbeth the autoharp she had asked for the year before.

“And now —” began her father, thinking of harps. But he could not complete this sentence, of course, and the two went on passionately and almost angrily with their task. There were two stockings and two piles of toys. Two stockings only, and only two piles of toys! Two is very little!

They went away and left the darkened room, and after a time they slept — after a long time. Perhaps that was about the time the tiny boys awoke, and, putting on their little dressing gowns and bed slippers, made a dash for the room where the Christmas things were always placed. The older one carried a candle which gave out a feeble light. The other followed behind through the silent house. They were very impatient and eager, but when they reached the door of the sitting-room they stopped, for they saw that another child was before them.

It was a delicate little creature, sitting in her white night gown, with two rumpled funny braids falling down her back, and she seemed to be weeping. As they watched, she arose, and putting out one slender finger as a child does when she counts, she made sure over and over again — three sad times — that there were only two stockings and two piles of toys! Only those and no more.

The little figure looked so familiar that the boys started toward it, but just then, putting up her arm and bowing her face in it, as Elsbeth had been used to do when she wept or was offended, the little thing glided away and went out. That’s what the boys said. It went out as a candle goes out.

They ran and woke their parents with the tale, and all the house was searched in a wonderment, and disbelief, and hope, and tumult! But nothing was found. For nights they watched. But there was only the silent house. Only the empty rooms. They told the boys they must have been mistaken. But the boys shook their heads.

“We know our Elsbeth,” said they. “It was our Elsbeth, cryin’ ’cause she hadn’t no stockin’ an’ no toys, and we would have given her all ours, only she went out — jus’ went out!”

Alack!

The next Christmas I helped with the little festival. It was none of my affair, but I asked to help, and they let me, and when we were all through there were three stockings and three piles of toys, and in the largest one were all the things that I could think of that my dear child would love. I locked the boys’ chamber that night, and I slept on the divan in the parlor off the sitting-room. I slept but little, and the night was very still — so windless and white and still that I think I must have heard the slightest noise. Yet I heard none. Had I been in my grave I think my ears would not have remained more unsaluted.

Yet when daylight came and I went to unlock the boys’ bedchamber door, I saw that the stocking and all the treasures which I had bought for my little godchild were gone. There was not a vestige of them remaining!

Of course we told the boys nothing. As for me, after dinner I went home and buried myself once more in my history, and so interested was I that midnight came without my knowing it. I should not have looked up at all, I suppose, to become aware of the time, had it not been for a faint, sweet sound as of a child striking a stringed instrument. It was so delicate and remote that I hardly heard it, but so joyous and tender that I could not but listen, and when I heard it a second time it seemed as if I caught the echo of a child’s laugh. At first I was puzzled. Then I remembered the little autoharp I had placed among the other things in that pile of vanished toys. I said aloud:

“Farewell, dear little ghost. Go rest. Rest in joy, dear little ghost. Farewell, farewell.”

That was years ago, but there has been silence since. Elsbeth was always an obedient little thing.

“Their Dear Little Ghost,” The Shape of Fear, and Other Ghostly Tales, Elia W. Peattie, 1898: pp. 29-41

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  There has recently been a suggestion to revive the Victorian custom of telling ghost stories at Christmas. If Mrs Daffodil did not have something in her eye, she would read this story at the servants’ hall Christmas tea, over the spiced cider and roasted chestnuts.

 

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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What Shall I Give: Christmas Suggestions for the Seven Ages of Man: 1913

18ct gold dressing table set Tiffany 1930s

18-ct gold Tiffany gentleman’s dressing table set, 1930s https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/24252/lot/357/

WHAT SHALL I GIVE?

CHRISTMAS SUGGESTIONS. (By Imogen in the “Dominion.”) The most distracting thing in the world is to know what to give at Christmas time, and the difficulty is still more accentuated when the recipient is a man, and since there are so many men there must be an equal number of. sorely-perplexed women ransacking their brains for ideas that may materialise into new, useful, or ornamental gifts for members of their family, friends, or those of any other standing in their regard.

In desperation the question was hurled at a modest, unsuspecting, hard-working man the other day.

“What would you like for a Christmas Present?

The pen fell out of his hand and he subsided into his chair. “This is awfully sudden,” he murmured in subdued, tones. “Have you come in for unlimited wealth?”

“No! I’m, merely wanting to know what men like for presents.” was the crushing reply.

“Oh Is that all!”

A pause.

“I see what you’re after,” he broke out. with a sudden rush of discernment. “You shall have my little lot.”

After a few seconds’ laboured thinking, he handed in triumph a small sheet of paper. “Quite simple, don’t you think?”

The paper read as follows:

“One new pipe, costing 2s 6d; one new cricket bat, weighing only 21b 4oz, with sliding cane in the handle; one pair feather-weight shoes, weighing .0005 of an oz. so that I could field at cricket.”

The suggestions found an encouraging reception, especially the featherweight shoes. Another occupant of the room was asked his preferences. His cup of happiness was so full, however, that all he could think of was a new pipe (evidently an insatiable and everlasting need among men) and, as an afterthought, a pair of bath slippers, and not even after a few minutes devoted to hard thinking could he think of any other need. He was not a millionaire either, or if he was he kept the fact a deep, dark, horrible secret, possibly, a necessary thing in these Socialistic, Red Federation days. A newcomer into the room was asked ingratiatingly what he would like given, to him. Delightedly he smiled. “It’s very kind of you. There are a few trifles I would like, especially as I may be going to England shortly. Shall I begin?” He began!!!

“A safe money-belt; a fitted suitcase; a. dressing-case; a shaving outfit; pair of prism binoculars; Thermos flask; monogramed pocketbook; walking-stick medicine case; military brushes; opera glasses; silver shoehorn collar-case; silver soap cup; safety razor; fountain–!!!

“Why, what is the matter I can still go on, you know.”

It was an undoubted fact. He was prepared to go on for quite a long time, but a telephone call being made upon him, he had to vanish.

A comprehensive addition to the little list of possible gifts enumerated above might be found in the appended suggestions, which are taken from the Christmas number of the “Ladies’ Home Journal.” It is quite suited to the seven ages of man:

rabbit rattle

German velvet rabbit rattle, c. 1906 http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1122524/soft-toy/

For the Baby Boy.

Hanger for his wardrobe, trimmed baby basket, celluloid, rubber, and stuffed toys, hand-made dresses and skirts, celluloid toilet sets, rompers, worsted cap, silk bonnet, corduroy coat, stuffed animals, silver cup, low table and chairs, eiderdown bath robe, rattle, ring, and dell, pillow-cover, bootees, worsted sacque, sweater, leggings, carriage cosy, rag doll, silver spoon, table tray, bath thermometer.

For Little and Big Boys.

House slippers, building blocks, indoor-outdoor games, balance toys, moving toys, mechanical toys, soldier’s suit, fireman’s suit, books, dog, kitten, rabbit, bird, dog-collar, folding desk, roller skates, comb and brush set, kindergarten gifts, reflecting lantern, camera, bicycle, athletic game books, clothes-brush, penknife, boxing gloves, pedometer, pocket compass, inexpensive watch, Indian clubs, blackboard, electric train, painting book, bow and. arrow, scout equipment, shooting game with cork ammunition, cowboy suit, vocational toys, filled school case, tool chest, stilts, boy’s suitcase, camping tent, microscope, gauntlet gloves, tool-chest, stationary engine, referee’s whistle, school pennant, megaphone, developing film.

 

The Young Man, Father, and Grandfather.

Gloves, silk hosiery, slumber slippers, blanket robe, housecoat, sectional bookcase, lawyer’s brief case, wing chair, footstool, pictures, desk, carving set, handy box, week-end trunk, Malacca walking-stick, evening slippers, rain-coat, silk shirt, hip pocket book (monogrammed), spring grip dumbbells, bill fold and wallet, medicine cupboard, leather key case numbered for 10-1 dozen keys, barometer, thermometer, flexible top cloth brush, silk or knitted muffler, umbrella, coin purse, magazine subscription, sweater, football, starter’s golf clubs, tennis racket, silk or flannel pyjamas, manicure set, triplicate mirrors, brush and comb set, toilet water.

travelling rug hermes 1930s

A leather and woollen travelling rug by Hermes, c. 1930s https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/15398/lot/286/

If He Travels.

Leather sewing box, rubber-lined tourist cases, soft leather, necktie case’ with stickpin and collar button pockets, travelling rug and strap, leather shirt case with collar, cuff, glove, and tie compartments, suitcase, umbrella, travelling medicine chest, commutation ticket case, fitted toilet case, traveller’s slippers in case, fitted leather correspondence case, leather jewellery box.

 

If He Motors.

Fitted emergency case with instruction book, lunch basket, gloves, clock, pennant, automobile match safe, foot muff or warmer, motor roll for coats, etc., leather air cushions, motor rugs, goggles, muffler, leather shell coat.

cartier chinoiserie letter opener watch

Cartier chinoiserie letter opener/paper knife with clock. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22466/lot/1147/

For His Desk and Den.

Large calendar, newspaper rack, clock, desk set, letter clip, postage scales, assorted stationery, expanding hook shelves, large scrap basket, desk scissors, reading lamp, cushions, ivory paper knife.

gentleman's gold pocket watch chain and seal 1929

Gentleman’s gold pocket watch, chain, and fob, c. 1929 https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/17233/lot/188/

In Gold and Silver.

Eyeglass case, scarf pin, shirt studs, key chain, signet ring, charm, cuff links, gold pencil, fob, lapel chain, watch, gold buckle with leather belt, gold vest-pocket fountain pen, platinum chain for evening wear, silver photo frame.

1920s shetland golf jumper

A 1920s Shetland golf jumper, useful for any out-of-doors sport. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O368372/golf-jumper-unknown/

For Outdoor Life.

Leather leggings, folding pocket camera, driving gloves, raincoat, blazer, stop watch, athletic jersey, harness, saddle.

Timaru [NZ] Herald,  20 December 1913: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil would note that although slippers do appear  on the list, gentlemen rightly recoil from those beaded, Berlin-wool-work horrors young ladies inflict upon them.

Let us hear from a candid gentleman who enumerates the many useless gifts he has received over the years and frankly states what he wants:

A Christmas Letter.

From the Christmas Peck.

Dearest Phyllis:

Pray remember when you’re making up the list of your presents for December (unless I am to be missed) that I’ve slippers, picture brackets, smoking sets of various types, half a dozen smoking jackets, thirty-seven meerschaum pipes, twenty patent “kid glove menders,” collar boxes by the score, of embroidered silk suspenders forty-eleven pairs or more! That each year since I was twenty I’ve received a paper weight, have penwipers, ink stand plenty, paper cutters—twenty-eight. That I’ve Browning and Longfellow by the hundreds—every kind; Shakespeare—black and blue and yellow; Milton till I’m nearly blind!

So there’s just one present only that I’m wanting in this year of my bachelorship so lonely—that’s yourself, my Phyllis dear.

Evening Star [Washington DC] 25 December 1897: p. 15

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 Theatrical ‘Bus Driver: 1881

THE THEATRICAL ‘BUS DRIVER

Herbert Standing

“Will any gentleman get outside to ‘blige a lady?” asked the conductor. I have always regarded this question with a certain amount of distrust and suspicion, for I have felt that I am really obliging the conductor; but upon this occasion I complied with the request, and “got outside to ‘blige a lady.”

I found myself on the box-seat, the only occupant with the coachman, the hero of this little story. “Kiver it over yer knees,” he said, giving me the strap of the apron, “for it’s rather chilly to-night, sir.” I did so, lighted my pipe, and endeavoured to make myself as comfortable as I could under the circumstances, for it was raining fast.

As we drove past the gas-lamps I noticed that the driver looked at me rather curiously, and as he pulled up either to let down or take up a passenger, he leaned over towards me and, lowering his voice to a mysterious whisper, said: “You’ll excuse me, you’ll excuse me, sir, but ain’t you wot they calls one o’ the perfeshun?I confessed that such was the case.

“Ah!” said he, ” I thought you wuz. I’m wonderful fond o’ the perfeshun myself, sir, wonderful fond. I takes, as you may say, a reg’lar interest in it, and I’ll tell yer why, sir. You see, sir, my uncle, my mother’s brother, kept a theayter, leastways it warn’t ‘xacly a theayter, but wot they calls a gaff, down the Whitechapel Road, about thirty-four year ago, and afore I tuke to drivin’ I used to be with this ‘ere uncle a ‘elpin’ ‘im in the show. Mind yer, I didn’t do no actin’,” and he chuckled to himself. “Lor’ bless you, no, I warn’t no good at that, I was too nervous. My business consisted of ringing up the curtain and ringing it down agin; and werry orfen I used to hev to do it, for we used to have three shows a night. There was one piece as tuke my fancy special. There warn’t no chatter in it, but it was what they calls a tabbler wax or tabbler something, sir.”

“Tableau vivant?

“That’s it, sir, tabbler wewong, sir. I knowed it was a furrin’ word. It was a piece where three young females comes on all dressed in white, when on comes a chap dressed up with a lot o’ roses and flowers round ‘is ‘ed—they warn’t real, sir—paper ‘uns; a sheepskin tied round ‘is lines, and his nose werry red. He was a bloke as was fond o’ ‘is drop o’ somethin’ short, he was. He was carryin’ what they calls a goblet in ‘is ‘and, and he offers these ‘ere young females a drink out of this ‘ere mug, but they “wouldn’t ‘ev nothin’ to say to him, they was reg’lar teetotalers. I forget the name of the party, my memory ain’t so good as it was, but I think they calls it something like the name o’ the chap who puts ‘is money on hosses, sir. Backer or somethin’.”

I suggested Bacchus.

“That’s it,” said he, with a shout of delight; “Backus and the three Graces, sir, or somethin’ like that. Lor” bless yer soul, sir! fond o’ the perfeshun?—I should think I am. Why there ain’t a night as I gets off this ‘ere work as me and my old woman don’t go to see some piece or other. Lor” bless yer soul, sir! I remember seeing old Phelps” (he called it “Phelips “; and here I must remark that my friend, the driver spoke in a familiar—a very familiar—way of the “perfeshun” for which he professed to have such a great regard). “I remember seeing him in a piece in Droory Lane, sir. It wuz a werry gloomy piece, but werry good. It wuz wrote by that there lord who wuz rayther a goer in his time, sir—I b’lieve Lord Byron. In this ‘ere piece that Phelips— ‘Manfried,’ I think it wuz called, sir—used to go to the top of the mountain and slyoquises to himself, like; werry good piece it wuz, sir—beautiful langwidge. Often thinks about it when I’m sittin’ on this ‘ere seat, and I always finds somethin’ noo in it, sir. I took my old woman to see it, she was pleased too.”

He announced this fact as a sort of confirmation of his own idea— that there was no doubt that the piece was good, if his old woman agreed with him on the subject.

“It’s wonderful what a lot of clever people there is about. Why I was readin’ a harticle the other day in ‘The Daily Telegrarf,’ and I see some remarks as pleased me very much. Well, the follerin’ Saturday night I gets off, and I goes to the Surrey to see a play, and it wus a Roman piece, sir, where they wears toggers, and things like that—long white dresses. It wuz a piece where two blokes ‘as a row in the marketplace ” (“Julius Caesar”), “and, bless my ‘art, if they didn’t go through all the words as I see in the paper! Wonderful lot o’ learnin’ about, sir, and wonderful things is plays—leastways to me. There’s another reason, sir, that I’m fond o’ the perfeshun,” and the old man lowered his voice and coughed once or twice before he went on again.

“You see, sir, me and my old woman ‘ad been married for some time, and we ‘ad two children—two boys—and we was wonderful wishful for a little gal. Not that I’ve a word to say agin the boys, they wuz good enuff for anybody, my boys wuz, and werry good to their old father they have been; but as I wuz a-sayin’, we wuz wonderful wishful for a gal, and at last she comes, sir—our little Ally, a blue-eyed fair-‘aired little thing, as ever you saw, sir. You wouldn’t b’lieve, to look at me, that I could her ‘ad such a darter, for I ain’t ‘ansome. Well, when she wuz about seven or eight years old, I ‘ad a job to take a pleasure party down to ‘Ampton Court; comin’ back, sir, a werry ‘eavy storm come on, and I got soaked, and about four or five days after it, sir, I wuz laid up with the roomatick fever, and uncommon bad I wuz, too, reg’lar dilurus, orf me ‘ead; and when I got better, the missus wuz a sittin’ by my bedside a-holdin’ me ‘and, and she ees, ‘Jim,’ she ses to me —that’s my name, sir, Jim. And she ses, ‘Jim, how would you like our little Ally to be a fairy?’ ‘Fairy!’ I ses. ‘Yes,’ ses she, ‘in a pantomime.’ ‘No, Lizzie,’ I ses, for I thought o’ the cold nights, and I didn’t like the hidear of the blue-eyed little darlin’ comin’ out of the ‘ot theayter into the cold. But times wuz bad, and money wuz short; so the next mornin’ she takes little Ally down^to the theayter—the Lane, sir— and she comes back in about two hours’ time, and says, ‘Ally’s engaged, she’s to be a little fairy.’ I felt uncomfortable like, and yet a bit proud, sir, to think my little gal was in the perfeshun. I often, now and then, as ye may say, curse myself for that bit of pride, sir, for it pretty nearly broke my ‘art. But, there, God knows wot’s best for us, and it don’t do for me to complain. Well, to make a long story short, sir, I went back to work, and got a job a’ drivin’, and every night, when I used to finish, I used to ‘urry off to the theayter to fetch Ally; and one night I noticed as she didn’t run up to me, eager like, aa she used to do. I ses, ‘Ally, what’s the matter?’ and her anser seemed to ‘it me, and give me a sharp pain underneath my westkit, sir. ‘I don’t feel well, dad,’ she said, ‘my face is burnin’, and my ‘ead feels, oh so big.’ I took her up in my arms and ‘urried off ‘ome across the bridge with her as fast as I could go, and me and my old woman put her to bed. I went for a doctor, but afore mornin’ my little gal was in a ragin’ fever.

“Well, sir, I was obliged to go off to work next mornin’, and the day seemed terrible long, and directly I finished my job I used to ‘urry orf ‘ome to my little Ally, and the thing as pleased her most was picture of pantomimes and theaytres; and money being a bit short, I’ll tell you what I used to do: on my way ‘ome I used to tear the pictur’ advertisements with the pantomime off the walls (and uncommon rough I was on them advertisements), to take ’em ‘ome to my little gal, and as I used to ‘urry upstairs (for though we was low in pocket we was high in the attic), I’d listen for her voices ‘Mother,’ she used to say, ‘I hope father’s got another pictur’ for me,’ and when I opened the door, her eyes used to stare out of her head eager like to see what sort of a pictur’ I’d brought her.

“She lay ill like that for weeks, sir, and I used to notice (and it give me a pain over my heart, as if I’d draw this ‘ere ‘bus over it) that her eyes seemed to get bigger and her face smaller and smaller.

“One night, sir, I ‘urried ‘ome, for I had a kind o’ feelin’ on me all day that somethin’ was a-goin’ to ‘appen, and as I went upstairs, for the first time I didn’t hear my Ally’s voice—I felt myself hang back a bit as I opened the door. ‘How’s my __?’

‘Hush,’ my wife said, ‘Ally’s sleepin’.’ I walked up to her bed, and I suppose the noise roused her a bit, for she opened her eyes and looked at me. ‘I ain’t got no picture to-night, Ally.’ She didn’t say nothink, only smiled, and put up her little thin hand and stroked my face. ‘Never mind, daddy dear,’ she said at last, in a little feeble voice, ‘I don’t think I shall want any more pantomime pictures. I’ve had such a lovely dream, daddy, just like a transformation scene at a theayter, only more beautifuler ladies with long white dresses and wings like on their shoulders. I’m glad you’ve come home, daddy, for the ladies seemed to want to take me up in the clouds, like they do in the pantomimes, and I’m—oh—so glad you’ve come! You won’t have to wait for me out in the wet at the stage-door any more, daddy.’ And then she seemed to go a bit queer in her head, and talked about the theayter. She lay quiet for a short time, then gave a kind o’ start, raised herself up and said, ‘Father, they’ve come for me,’ stroked my face with her hand, put her little head down on my shoulder, sir, went off to sleep, never to wake no more.”

And as we passed the lamps I saw the tears rolling down the cheeks of my friend the driver; and, to tell the truth, I felt very choky myself.

“Good-night,” I said, as I shook hands with the old fellow.

“Good-night, sir,” he answered, gazing straight in front of him. I got down without another word, for I felt that “his eyes were with his heart, and that was far away.”

The Theatre, A Monthly Review and Magazine Vol. 1, 1 November 1881: pp. 265-68

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: After a moment to collect herself, to avoid getting “choky,” Mrs Daffodil will be Relentlessly Informative and explain that a “Gaff” might be a freak show (what the Americans call a “side-show” or it might be a cheap theatre for the working-class, especially a musical one.  The so-called “Penny Gaff Theatre,” not unlike the theatres of Shakespeare’s time, played to the Pit.

At the first penny gaff to which I came in the London Road, there was the usual crowd of working people and unemployed who are soon to be civilized and elevated to a private-theatricals standard by Beaumont trustees, and according to Mr. Besant, but who as yet have not risen above the penny-gaff level. Talking to them from steps that served as a platform was a Mephistopheles, who, like Mr. Irving, had borrowed the red dress, cock’s feather, and sword from the puppet costumer, and, unlike him, but perhaps more sensibly, had retained the moustache and forked beard of the operatic Mephisto. As in the old drama, Mephistopheles laid a wager in the court of Heaven before the real play began, so his penny-gaff successor bargained with the people before the curtain was drawn. “What’ll you see insoide, gen’lemen?” he cried; “people suspended in midair! Yes, gen’lemen. At other places a guinea’s charged, and people’s wisibly supported by one stick. But ‘ere all sticks is taken away and I’m only chargin’ you a pinny. We don’t ask a shillin’, gen’lemen, but only a pinny. What I promises outsoide, I performs in. My show is sciointifik and respectable, and a ten minutes’ respectable and sciointifik show’s better’n a hour’s rot, which is all you gets in some of your guinea theatres. Your own consciences’Il prompt you to recommen’ my show!” I give his patter, since it points out what he considered to be the principal feature of his performance.

Child labour laws did not bar children from working at all hours on the stage. As an 1862 report on the English theatrical economy remarks: “It is a well-known fact that little boys and girls of six and seven years often support a whole family by their slender earnings.”

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 Festive Christmas Tree: 1906

the festive christmas tree illustration 1906.JPG

The Festive Christmas Tree

It will not be the fault of the shop-keepers if your Christmas tree is lacking in characteristic beauty, for as early as November first the toy departments were beginning to assume a “Christmasy” aspect.

The number of people who purchased decorations at that time was altogether surprising, and from the first week of November to Thanksgiving the buying has been unprecedented. There are two good reasons for early buying; the novelties, of course, quickly disappear and the stock becomes exhausted; again when purchased in ample time there is less danger of the frail ornaments being broken, which is sure to occur when the holiday rush is on for good and everybody is making for the same goal.

While there is nothing strikingly new or unusual among the fanciful embellishments for this year’s Christmas tree, they are sufficiently satisfying and ornate to please the little men and women for whom they are intended, happy sojourners in the Land of Delusion.

FAD FOR DIMINUTIVE TREES.

It is probably owing to the small box-like rooms that prevail in recently built houses and the growing popularity of flat-life that brought the diminutive tree into favor. At any rate, real and artificial trees from 24 inches to l yard high and from this height to the fast vanishing giant balsam that ends unwillingly beneath the ceiling are all equally desirable according to recent advice.

Every purchaser buys a tree best suited to the available space in his home. Children may trim and untrim small trees and so engage their time for days at a stretch, whereas with the usual size tree this is not possible. Besides, there is an economical side to the dwarf-like tree, which is vastly better than none at all, when a larger one proves too great a tax for a slender purse. The attendant annoyance of falling greens and the time required in trimming the tree are reduced to a minimum.

Small trees are also employed to bear the gifts for the children, which is even more fun than finding them under the tree.

ORNAMENTS IN BLOWN GLASS.

A number of very attractive shapes are shown in colored glass ornaments, besides the standard ones that have been doing service for many years. The coloring this year seems to be unusually brilliant, three or four hues often being combined in one piece. Many of the more expensive ones are hand-painted and encrusted with diamond dust.

All sorts of egg and oval shapes are conspicuous, striped, plaided and rainbow tinted, with queer little spirals of gilt running over and around them.

About a hundred and one different models for airships, some horizontally built, others like balloons swinging vertically, are in profuse assortment. These are mostly seen in a single color with spirals of gilt surrounding them. Boats, horns of plenty, besides hosts of others, may be added to the list. Many musical instruments are displayed alike in painted glass, with bright and dull finish.

Bunches of grapes in gold, silver, green and purple glass are available from 5 cents to $1, and must assuredly be included among the essential decorations.

FANS AND FAIRIES.

Miniature fans with the tops finished by frills oi a plain color and enlivened with tinsel, ornate flowers, fancy heads and sparkling dust, are among the attractive novelties; these fans vary from three to six inches, the sticks are of gilt and silver paper, some of which are mounted on heavy cardboard.

The Christmas fairy does not flourish in her undisputed sway today as she did when we were nursery enthusiasts. But she is the same ornate, fluffy spangled lady, sometimes wearing frilled skirts of gold paper, again one of coarse lace with paper flowers and bits of tinsel and stars or one of cotton net standing out in a characteristic, bouffant fashion.

Quite amusing are the little roly-poly decorations, dudes, Indians, clowns, dancing girls, besides those of the animal tribe, rabbits, dogs, cats, pigs, bears and what not, all fancifully garbed, with their bearing attached to swing on the tree.

NOVELTIES IN PAPER AND BEADS.

Both plain and crepe papers enter largely into the fanciful designs of all sorts. Very graceful indeed are the horns of plenty of embossed gold and paper filled with flowers, some of which support a fairy butterfly, glistening with varicolored diamond dust.

Large single flowers, the rose, chrysanthemum and sunflower, besides sprays, are realistically designed in colored papers, their petals touched with gold and silver dust. Torpedo bonbons, wishing bon bons gayly decorated with tinsel, fancy heads and flowers are fashioned of colored papers. These, it may be whispered, are not in the least difficult to make and very effective, and in white, scarlet, yellow, pale blue and pink make a good showing. I neglected to say that in some of the single flowers of crepe paper a little doll’s face unexpectedly appears.

Among the most effective novelties handled by several houses are those of varicolored beads, made up into unique little ornaments. Many of these are of pendant persuasion and occasionally combined with glass beads, as in air ships, for example.

Strings of glistening glass beads and crystal shapes, some in one color shading from light to dark, again several colors alternating with each other, produce a most artistic effect when arranged in garland fashion. In pure white they catch and reflect the light, like so many diamonds.

Crystal or glass fringe in gracefully shaped oval pendants of varying color add a refined brilliancy, to the tree as a whole that seems unmatched by any other medium of decoration.

MARJORIE.

The Sunday Journal [Minneapolis MN] 9 December 1906: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has written on this subject before, discussing how to make a Christmas fairy for tree or table. The vogue for “diminutive trees” also calls to mind an ingenious lady who made miniature beaded trees.

It is rather sad to think that so many of the ornaments so delightfully described above have not survived. The glass ornaments are easily shattered–and even more readily if any person in the house found an air- or pellet-gun under the Christmas tree and especially if they have seen the film, The Thin Man. 

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.

Mrs Daffodil’s Thanksgiving Greeting

turkey cart

Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her friends who celebrate the holiday

a very jolly Thanksgiving!

 

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 Fairy Godmother Treasure Chest: 1920

 

 Fancy Costumes for Children

In one city of about 50,000, there are a great many social affairs for children during the winter, and again and again mothers have been put to much trouble, or have had to forego the happiness of being able to dress up as all children love to do.

One woman with a knack for making attractive garments at small expense undertook to fill this need. She calls her service the Fairy Godmother Treasure Chest.

Now it so happened that she had a large quantity of fancy and plain materials left over from the days when her husband had bought in a bankrupt stock of goods and did not succeed in selling all of it. This would give excellent foundation of materials. She also watched a number of bargain sales and picked up such things as she could use.

cobalt boy fancy dress

Boy’s 18th-century fancy dress http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21727/lot/355/

 

Then in her spare time she fashioned fancy costumes for children out of these. There were clown suits, and little Minute Men rigs, and Martha Washington dresses, and the most wonderful fairies and Puritan maidens, and butterfly and flower suits in bewildering array. She became exceedingly interested in all of these.

martha washington fancy dress

Martha Washington fancy dress for a young girl. http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/87849.html?mulR=1013756972|6

The costumes were either sold outright to the owner, or rented. If rented, the charge was on a basis of 20% of the cost of the costume plus the expense of professional cleaning. Thus, if the costume cost $5.00 (work included), the rent of it for twenty-four hours would be $1.00 plus the cleaning charge, which would be from 50 cents to 75 cents.

In this way every mother was assured that the garment her child wore had been cleaned and thoroughly disinfected after its last use, and so there was no danger of contagion or infection.

Masquerade and costume parties became quite the rage after the Fairy Godmother lifted the cover of her Treasure Chest. Some of the costumes were very striking and beautiful, for it was not difficult to pick up ends and odds of materials and lace curtains for brides’ veils, and all that sort of thing.

About once a year the Fairy Godmother sells the most of her stock to a costumer in a different place, and this enables her to have a fresh supply of attractive goods.

Money for the Woman who Wants It, Emmett Leroy Shannon 1920: pp. 328-329

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It sounds a delightful business.  Mrs Daffodil has seen modern advertisements for ladies who will bring a “dress-up box” to children’s birthday parties and for establishments that specialise in dressing party guests like fairies in pretty pastels and spangled nylon wings.

Mrs Daffodil can remember when every country house worthy of the name had a cupboard where the costumes for amateur theatricals were kept. Often these were run up by the local dressmaker, but (and here Mrs Daffodil advises any dress historians among her readership to avert their eyes) they were also repositories for genuine historic garments which were often carelessly worn and altered. It is possible that the waistcoat worn with the boy’s blue fancy-dress suit pictured above is a genuine antique garment. Eighteenth-century gowns and gentleman’s coats were particularly popular in house-party productions, or, in the United States, for “Martha Washington Teas” or patriotic entertainments. Mrs Daffodil can hear the dress historians blanching in horror….   One hopes that the Fairy Godmother actually made all of the beautiful and striking contents of her treasure chest rather than plundering antique trousseaux preserved in the attic.

 

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.

A Jar of Sugared Fruit: 1869

little girl and grandmother offering sweet

WAS IT INSANITY?

Madame Rosine was sewing some light, dainty stuff; her nervous fingers flashed to and fro in the twilight, and the diamond bracelet on her white arm glistened like the eye of a snake, as she held her needle up to the fading light, and inserted the gossamer thread.

The world generally, I confess, uses women up in about forty years: they shrivel and grow grim and enervated in its atmosphere…But, Madame was an exception; she grew rounder and rosier and plumper every year; every year nature seemed to discover some unfinished beauty in her which she proceeded with artist hand to “touch up.” There was a sense of color, and light and warmth in her stately presence, that fascinated me, as well as her younger pupils.

It was after school-hours, yet Madame, who was a very conscientious teacher, was expounding to me patiently a chapter in Ancient History. A very ancient and profound chapter in the story of the world.

How the old heroes met death; stoically, yet as a king of terror. How the terrible king held high revel in the bleak walls and grave-like secrecy of the inquisition. How men’s lives were wrenched out of them by sheer physical force, and death was made hideous by his association with all that was vile and cruel in man.

“Those were frightful times!” said I with a shudder. “I’m glad we got over them before I was born!”

“We haven’t got over them, my dear,” said Madame, with her courtly smile. “We have arrived at great achievements in medicine, certainly, and great attainments in art. Every year we are conquering the world’s roughness, and making it easier to live—we have yet to perfect the science of death. We are perfecting ourselves in every thing—only in this we are barbarous; we let men gulph out of existence brutishly.”

“It is a difficult field of study, Madame,” said I, “and dangerous.”

“And so,” continued Madame, not noticing the interruption, “not a hand is lifted, not a voice raised; we die hideously, when the passage might be made dewy and fragrant as a walk over a land of flowers. We keep our halt, our sick and suffering, hovering cruelly on the brink of death, when death is inevitable, and no one leads them kindly by the hand down the dismal road. They are left to crawl out of life alone, and open the doors of the other world with their own trembling hands, because we are too cowardly to be courteous; we will not venture to usher them in thither while there is a better life, and glow and pleasure left—we send them out in the dark.”

Madame’s voice grew into a thoughtful whisper, and she looked dreamily out into the twilight, as she said these words.

I looked up at the lady, as she sat there in the flash of the yellow sunset, her silk dress falling about her in shining folds, her dark eye and crimson cheek catching strange luster as she spoke. Yes, she was indeed the model of a Frenchwoman, well dressed, well cared-for, tasteful and philosophic.

Madame Rosine was my teacher; she was also the teacher of my younger sisters, who, during our father’s absence, were left with her in her cottage on the sea-shore.

The cottages on the sea-shore were very sparse; they were let out to strangers during the summer months, who came down to bathe and reinvigorate themselves with the fresh sea air.

She and her old grandmother, a queer, half silly, but kindly old lady, inhabited the little white house just beyond the turn of the hills, where they swept off from the shore, leaving the white line of beach-sand for the waves and the bathers. There were one or two other little pupils, from among the summer residents.

My father thought a deal of Madame’s French; and of her powers of training. And Madame thought a deal of my father. We had been very happy at the cottage this summer; the sunshiny, breezy days had passed like a swift flight of birds that paused to dip their wings in the radiant waters, and vanished beyond the hills.

Madame Rosine arose and approached the doorway which looked out on the far line of beach, and the brimming, heaving sea, tinged with the ruddy light of the departing sun.

“I believe,” said she, “grandmother is getting too old to trust with the children.”

A nodding, smiling old woman in a red kerchief came, leaning on her stick, up the gravel path, a little child toddling on in advance of her.

It was little Fanchette, my sister, with her hands and tiny white apron full of green, shiny seaweed.

She held the dripping mass up to Madame’s gaze as she skipped eagerly forward.

“Me dot a fower!” she cried.

Madame withdrew her silken dress from possible contact: an expression of disgust warped her face. She had sent the little thing out so clean and shining, to be admired by the gazers on the seashore, an attractive exposition of her system and her care.

But with the self-control which she inculcated in her pupils, she checked the expression; her face resumed its courteous complacency as the old woman came slowly up the path.

“I think, grandmother,” said she, “these walks are getting too much for you. The children are too much of a charge—I will accompany them myself next time.”

It was grandmother’s charge to walk with the little ones on the beach of an afternoon, and to take the little day-pupils home. The toddling things liked the old woman well; she was “grandmother” by election to the whole of them, and that she sometimes wandered off with them for half a day or so, did not discredit her claims in their eyes.

“Rosine,” said she, “thou wilt not deprive me of the little ones!” Her old voice quivered.

Madame did not answer. She was busy disgorging Fanchette’s little apron of its contents.

The next day, bright and early, I saw the old grandmother, staff in hand, making her swift way toward the gate, her ruffled cap blowing back in the breeze, and Fanchette, with a many furtive glance backward, trudging valiantly by her side.

I supposed that they were only going down for milk, but school-time came, and Fanchette’s face was absent.

I did not trouble myself much about the child; it was safe and happy, no doubt, and I had my head full of French verbs.

We were expecting my father up that day; he would come in the afternoon train. He usually came out once a week. On that day Madame always wore red ribbons in her hair, and looked younger and more coquettish than usual. She was also very kind to us on those days; we had cakes and sweetmeats for lunch, and made a sort of gala-day of it.

But if my father came and little Fanchette was unaccountably absent—what then?

I saw that Madame grew uneasy as the morning waned, and her uneasiness reflected itself in me. We spent the intervening time between lessons, in walking down to the gate, and glancing up and down the road for the fugitives. Madame had a saintly patience with that childish old grandmother, but it gave way as the day passed, and no sign of them appeared.

“I will go out,” said she, “Sophie, and take a walk along the shore. Doubtless they are there among the shells.”

Madame walked thoughtfully along the shore, while I, less anxious, strolled on, flinging pebbles into the water. The tide was rising; nearer and nearer came the creeping waves; they wetted my feet; they drove me further and further from the beach toward the line of rocks overhanging it.

Just then, where the water and the rocks met, and a tangled mass of scraggy, wild growth overhung the steep ascent, I caught a glimpse, just above my head, of some red, glittering object, and parting the bushes, there lay Fanchette asleep, her rosy face pressed against the stones. A dangerous sleep in such a chamber, when the tide was rising.

“Madame! Madame!” I cried, “I have found her!”

Madame came quickly back; she stretched up her round, strong arms, and caught the child hastily down from its eyrie. She turned homeward without a word; not a word during all the long walk, either to Fanchette or me.

As we reached the cottage gate, who should look up from the porch, and smiling, knock the ashes from her pipe, but the old grandmother.

“Ah, aha!” said she, cunningly, eyeing Madame with that half fearing, half defiant expression which I have seen in the eyes of animals when doubtful of their master’s intentions toward them. “Ah, yes! too hot, too hot, you see, to bring the little one home. Grandmother only left her to cool a little!”

To cool! If Fanchette had not happened to wear her red dress, she might have been cooling under the waves tonight, I thought to myself.

It seemed, however, that Fanchette had strolled away from the old woman, who, in her bewilderment at losing her, and terror of Madame Rosine, had thought of no better way to shield herself than to deny the fact.

Fanchette, all curled and smiling, was ready to be brought in when my father, immediately on his arrival, asked for his favorite child.

We said nothing about her recent adventure.

“I so hate to disturb your dear father, Sophie,” said the complacent Madame, “he has already so much on his mind.”

Madame waited assiduously upon my father on these days, spread his hot biscuit with her own dainty fingers, and showed him an attention which my own sweet mother never did; but I think my father liked it. We were little half-orphans, for my mother had died in giving birth to Fanchette, but Madame often declared she felt like a mother to us.

Madame was alone in the world.

“Monsieur,” said she, sweetly, on the day of my father’s visit, “I am alone; I am very sad; but I feel sure that the good God watches over me and the dear old lady. What, else, should become of us, two poor, lone waifs by the seashore!”

Madame was alone in the world, but she owned the little cottage, or would own it on grandmother’s death, and a snug little sum in the bank, it was said.

My father looked into the lady’s eyes and smiled when she said that so pathetically, and I heard him call her Rosine.

The sunshine streamed over her and little Fanchette, who, wearied with her recent exploits, curled herself up in Madame’s loving arms, and fell fast asleep. A very sweet picture it made, and as my father had something of an artist eye, no doubt it pleased him.

The next day as I walked in the garden, I saw the old grandmother sitting solitary upon a stone; she did not lift her eyes, nor speak to me. The blithe, cheery look that kept her foolish old face like foggy sunshine was all gone out; she looked gray and wrinkled, and sullen.

I did not dare to speak to the old woman when she was in this mood, and strolled on through the garden, among the fallen leaves. Presently, as I stooped among a clump of flowers to gather a low forget-me-not, I heard another footstep rustle the fallen leaves, and Madame passed swiftly, without seeing me.

She was evidently looking for her grandmother. I heard her utter a low exclamation when she came upon the wretched object sitting there alone. Oh, but this was a trying old woman! and Madame certainly had a saintly patience with her!

I trembled in my hiding-place when I heard Madame’s voice speaking sternly and gravely in French; so severely I had never heard her voice sound before, but I did not catch the words.

As I passed out again, when the conversation ceased, the old woman still sat crouching on her stone; her face had a cowed, scared look, and she shrunk away from me.

She continued thus sullen and solitary for days, occasionally varying her grimness by a flight to the sea-shore, whence she would have to be brought home by the maid-servant, or by Madame herself. Or she would sit for long, monotonous hours in the doorway, neither knitting nor smoking as her wont.

The children shunned her; by one leap their old favorite had taken herself out of the cheery little circle of their lives, and become a thing mysterious and apart. Not a child came up to her for a kiss, or to show her new primer, or bring her a flower to smell; they eyed her askance and walked away.

Certainly this old woman, growing into a specter, was making an ominous reputation for the school, and undoing all Madame’s patient labor for success.

Yet Madame Rosine’s saintly patience and politeness was a model to her pupils; she took her own shawl of an evening, and wrapped it about grandmother’s shoulders; the crimson shawl that grandmother used to covet.

“The dear old mother,” she said, “one would fain make her comfortable, if one only could. My dear Sophie, we must always respect the aged, be they ever so ungrateful.”

Ungrateful, indeed, the old lady was; when Madame’s jeweled fingers pressed her angular shoulders with the luxurious shawl dropping down its ruddy folds, the recipient of this kindness repelled her with a gesture of aversion. She got up feebly, and put the crimson drapery from her. After that she hobbled off to bed.

Madame’s eye followed her as she left the room, with a glance of philosophic consideration, as if meditating the possibility of further experiments in her behalf.

After this the old woman kept her bed most of the time; but she had a notion that she would not be treated us a child; a dainty cloth was therefore spread in her room at meal-times, and Madame herself prepared an orderly repast to set before her. The old lady would sit up at the table, querulous and provoking, but eat nothing; some time afterward I would hear her shuffling feet coming down the stairway to sit in the ashes of the kitchen, where she munched a mouthful with the servant, betaking herself back in terror if she heard Madame’s stately step approaching.

But gradually she gave up that; she grew whiter and thinner, and finally kept her bed altogether.

We were sent up in the afternoons to pay our respects to her, shrinking back in childish awe from the spectral figure bolstered up before us, and making our courtesies brief as possible.

One day she seemed to rouse up a little as we entered; she nodded her withered head to us in its wide-frilled cap, and apparently wished to speak; but we could not understand the mumbling words, and shrank nervously toward the door.

The old woman lifted with her trembling hands a gaudy tulip from a vase on the table, and held it toward Fanchette. Fanchette could not withstand the temptation; she faltered slowly, slowly up, and took the flower from the shaking, bony hand; then the wrinkled donor smiled, a wrinkled, quavering, ghost of a smile, and placed her hand on the child’s curling head. Fanchette was not thinking of her old friend much; her childish eyes were wandering over the white-spread table, whose array of jelly and other good things was far more attractive. A nice white bowl of gruel stood near the edge; she stretched up on her tiny tiptoes and peered into it.

The sunshine streamed in over the snowy table, the clean old woman and the gaily-dressed child. We stood at the door and looked, but did not approach. Overcoming all her scruples, the little epicure had mounted to a chair. The invalid drew the table slowly toward her. Apparently she had a whim that they should have a meal together; these two children, the one hoary-headed, the other with her downy, sunshiny hair just lighting with a golden luster her infantile head, used to be attached to each other once; the old attraction seemed to be coming up again as they sat sunning together.

With her trembling hands the old woman took some sugared fruit from a jar, and held it all glistening with crystal sweetness toward the child.

The sight was too much for those of us who did not want to appear covetous, and had outgrown the ingenuousness of childhood.

We politely withdrew.

Madame was on the stairs as we came out; apparently she had been waiting. She, good lady, was always so anxious about us.

“Fanchette ?” she said, quickly, seeing, as we swept out into the garden, that the little one was missing.

We pointed merrily up the stairs, and I saw Madame gather up her long robe and rush up swiftly like a young girl.

I can not tell what had come over me in regard to Madame lately; I took a strange, dreamy interest in every thing she did, and watched her with an apparently motiveless fascination. Why did she hurry up stairs so? Would we, would Fanchette be punished for staying too long with the old lady? Or for touching her dainties, which we had been forbidden to do? An interesting woman, my father always said; and she had become so to me.

***

The old lady was dead. Her troublesome, querulous life had flickered out at last. She lay up stairs folded in the linen so long prepared for her. She had died in the night. Madame, who had sat up all that long solemn night, looked worn and white this morning; she had dark lines under her eyes, and was strangely restless and uneasy, as people are apt to be who have overtasked their strength.

“I so wanted the poor soul to die easy, Sophie,” said she to me, who, being the oldest pupil, was honored with Madame’s confidence occasionally.

As we stood in the breezy, white draped room, and looked at the solemn face from which death had swept out all the silliness and insignificance, there was a stir of the gauzy window-drapery. Madame started: it was only little Fanchette, who peered in with curious, frightened face, and sped away.

Madame called the child, but she would not return; she held aloof from Madame all that day, and would not be caressed or cared for, though it appeared to me she did not look well. But children have queer and eccentric instincts, and Fanchette was an odd child. She wandered about in the garden, and eyed us askance all day, like a bird that has alighted among strangers a moment, and will take wing presently.

When I came down the stairway I found Fanchette sitting in the sunny porch. “Come in, darling,” said I, “to luncheon. We’ve got something good.”

Fanchette was a little epicure; “something good” always won her heart. This time she did not stir. “Me dot somesin dood,” said she. She put her tiny hand in her tiny pocket, and drew out the confection old grandmother had given her yesterday. The cunning little one, arrested by Madame’s entrance in the midst of her dainty revel with the old woman, had pocketed the delicacy.

“It will make you sick, Fanchette,” said I, prudently.

“Did it make granny sick?” said the child, turning her feverish little face up toward the window where her dead friend lay.

I did not answer. Madame called me, and I left the child to her feast.

The pupils were all running wild with the liberty and change death made in the house. I had to assist in keeping the little things quiet, and I had to go to the village for Madame. The death of the poor old woman had upset the usual routine altogether.

When I returned, I saw Fanchette lying curled up among the honeysuckle leaves; the shadow of them flickered over her red dress. The child was asleep. Madame came hastily out to see how I had succeeded with my shopping; she stopped as she saw Fanchette lying there.

“The child,” said she, “will get her death! Run up with the things, Sophie, and I will wake her up.”

Anxious to show my purchases, I waited impatiently in the upper chamber. Apparently, it took a long time to wake Fanchette.

I listened. A cry rang through the house that thrilled me to my finger-ends, and some one came staggering heavily up, as if burdened with a dead weight.

It was Madame; her white face blanched to a death-like hue; her eyes set. The burden she carried was Fanchette.

“Oh, God?” she cried, “who will make death easy for me!”

 For little Fanchette was dead.

***

The line of demarcation between sanity and insanity physicians tell us is very difficult to discern. It melts off indistinctly between the passions, the emotions, and even the intellectual and philosophic processes of the mind.

This woman was sane when she essayed to study the problem of death. But when the little innocent child unwittingly entered through the door which she had dared to open for the decrepit and miserable old woman, reason, long clouded with subtle and metaphysical arguments, went out in the gust. Its light never was relit.

The cottage by the sea-shore, where Fanchette had partaken of the death feast whose subtle poisons Madame had prepared with skillful hands, is deserted and in ruins. But to the moping maniac, whose cell I sometimes visit, Fanchette and the old grandmother are often present; they come together, hand in hand, whispering and eyeing her together.

A. M. Hoyt

Beadle’s Monthly, Volume 3, 1869: p.524-529

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Moping maniac,” indeed… It seems a shocking lapse of judgement on the part of the philosophic and conscientious Madame Rosine—so enchanted with dewy and fragrant death—that she did not think to reserve a sweet or two from the old lady’s jar for use in an emergency.

 

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.