Category Archives: Crime

The Sewing Machine Agent and the Widow: 1875

lady at sewing machine 1860s

How a Pennsylvania Widow Served a Sewing Machine Agent.

The usually quiet little village of Leesport on the line of the Philadelphia & Reading railroad, eight miles above Reading, has had a sensation, which has caused a good deal of amusement. A Reading sewing-machine agent induced the head of a family to take a machine and pay for it in monthly installments. Before the machine was paid for, the husband and father died. The widow was in destitute circumstances, with half a dozen children, and unable to pay the balance owing on the machine, when the agent came round to take the machine away. She determined that he should not remove the machine until he had handed back at least some of the money that had been paid on it by her husband. He was apparently just as determined to secure the machine without returning any of the filthy lucre, insulted the woman and endeavored to take by force what he said belonged to the company by reason of the payment of monthly installments having been stopped.

While the agent was inside the house she locked both the front and back doors, and put the keys in her dress pocket, and being a robust woman “went for” the agent. She took hold of him and a severe and prolonged struggle ensued, while the children were frightened and cried and screamed. The widow threw the agent over the hot kitchen stove, and finally succeeded in setting him down on top of it and held him there, when he begged piteously for mercy. “For God’s sake, let me go, and I’ll pay you back every cent your husband paid me.” Being satisfied that he was severely scorched, if not partly roasted around the thighs, she pulled him off the stove, but held on to him until he had paid back every cent of the installments and then she gave him two minutes time to take the machine and clear out with it. The name of the plucky woman and also that of the agent, are withheld by special request.

Atchison [KS] Daily Patriot 30 September 1875: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mr Isaac Singer patented  the sewing machine in 1851. It was touted as relieving the housewife from the drudgery of sewing, yet made possible even more drudgery in sweatshops.

We might debate who did it better:  how very different the methods of this “robust” widow were from those in another story of a widow and a sewing machine on the hire-purchase plan. Equally happy endings, except, possibly, for the scars impressed on that part of his anatomy by the agent. And a salutary anecdote about the importance of life insurance.

 

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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The Widow, the Shoemaker and the Will: 1850s

A Flaw in the Will

A Flaw in the Will, Phillip Richard Morris http://blackcountryhistory.org/collections/getrecord/WAGMU_OP99/

An amusing incident is related of a woman in England whose husband, a very wealthy man, died suddenly without any will.

The widow, desirous of securing the whole property, concealed her husband’s death, and persuaded a poor shoe-maker to take his place while a will could be made. Accordingly, he was closely muffled up in bed as if very sick, and a lawyer was employed to write the will. The shoe-maker, in a feeble voice, bequeathed half of all the property to the widow.

“What shall be done with the remainder? ” asked the lawyer.

“The remainder,”‘ replied he, “I give and bequeath to the poor little shoe-maker across the street, who has always been a good neighbor and a deserving man.” thus securing a rich bequest for himself!

The widow was thunderstruck with the man’s audacious cunning, but did not dare to expose the fraud; and so two rogues shared the estate.

The Herald of Progress, 21 May 1864: p. 222

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil will point out that this story is very likely to be an “urban legend,” to judge by the many variants and repetitions found in the papers, but that does not make it any less plausible.

The widow of a man who was careless enough to die intestate generally only inherited a third of his estate. If you are interested in the arcane law covering subject of such vital interest to ladies who could have no property of their own until the Married Women’s Property Act was passed a few years later, please see this link. So it is no wonder that the widow was keen to perpetrate a fraud.  She does not seem to have been alone. Such impositions involving deathwills, and mourning were a staple of the nineteenth-century press. No trick was too low, where a bequest was concerned:

AN APPARITION OF HIS MOTHER

Was Invoked by Fakirs to Swindle H.S.H. Cavendish the Great British Explorer.

London, May 14. The chancery court has ordered the cancellation of the deed by which H.S.H. Cavendish, the explorer, provided that his property should go to Mrs. Strutt, wife of Major C.H. Strutt, and her children, to the exclusion of the plaintiff’s own wife, who was Isabel Jay, formerly leading lady of the Savoy theatre.

Mr. Cavendish, in his appeal to the chancery court, charged Maj. Strutt and Mrs. Strutt with influencing him through table turning, and claimed that Mrs. Strutt obtained the deed by pretending to be the ghost of his, the plaintiff’s, mother, and by representing the latter as speaking from heaven and advising him to so dispose of his property. The Winnipeg [Manitoba, Canada] Tribune 14 May 1903: p. 9

 

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.

 

Spoken Between the Courses: 1905

SPOKEN BETWEEN THE COURSES

Mr. Bounderby’s wife had not said a word to him since they sat down to dinner, except to remark that the weather was exceedingly warm. Casting a covert look at her across the fish he noticed two deep and ominous lines between her eyebrows.

“Brace up, Bounderby!” he said to himself, and forthwith swallowed a great goblet of wine without drawing breath.

“My dear,” he began, “You seem rather distrait this evening.”

“I—I am far from well, Archibald,” faintly. “The doctor”—

“Ah!” Bounderby drags his chair close to the table and assumes the attitude of a man about to catch a cannon ball in his bare hands. “Why, my dear, I think I never saw you looking so well before.”

“That Is because I have taken pains to conceal my sufferings. Doctor Borax assured me that I am falling rapidly, and nothing short of a trip to Switzerland would save me,” whisking a dainty bit of cambric across her eyes.

“Huh! He doesn’t consider my chances of failing when he gives such expensive prescriptions. Besides, you are the very picture of health.”

“That is the most dangerous sign of all. Nature’s last rally before the end. I feel it here! Here!” Clasping her bosom convulsively and staring at the ceiling.

“Well, now if it is us bad as that,” replies the unsympathetic brute, “I shouldn’t risk the journey. But apart from financial reasons there is another why you shouldn’t go.”

“How can there be any other?”

“Heh? Oh, to be sure! Why, business wouldn’t permit me to go with you, and as for straggling off alone in your feeble health”—

“Oh, I have arranged for all that. Dear mamma will accompany me.”

“Take the old ca — old lady with you? There’s double expense!”

“But what (tragically) does a paltry sum of money weigh against a life?”

“As you say (musingly), what does a paltry sum of money weigh against a life? I give it up.” He relapses into deep thought and then returns to the charge. “But think, Celestina, how people will talk if you spend the summer away from your husband.”‘

“And for idle gossip would you hold me here to perish at your feet?”

Bounderby, in a brown study, rouses at the last words.

“Perish? Feet? Whose feet? Certainly not! But, my love, are you not the least bit selfish? Of course I can deny you nothing, but a man needs woman’s companionship more in summer than any other time,” (He sighs deeply.) “It is then that love’s romance is renewed and the most holy sentiments of the soul awakened. Ah, me,” and bows his head on his breast.

His wife regards him curiously, even with some alarm.

“Since you are bent on going” — after a pause— “better this summer.”

“And why this summer more than another?” icily.

‘There is— er — a possibility I shall not have to spend the silvery evenings alone,” his coward eyes downcast.

“Archibald Bounderby,” nibbling nervously on her handkerchief, “I insist on your explaining your meaning.”

“Oh, it’s nothing that could interest you, my dear. Fact is an old friend of ours has asked me to look her up a house in the neighborhood. It will comfort you when in foreign climes to think that I have a pleasant place to spend the evenings. Won’t it, darling?”

“And might I ask who this person is?” twisting her handkerchief to shreds and displaying ill-concealed emotion.

“Why, certainly, my dear. Of course, you have not forgotten— the former Miss Gabster— she’s a widow now.”

“You mean the creature with dyed hair that angled so shamelessly for you before we were married?” her voice rising shrilly.

Bounderby swallows a chuckle mid shakes hands with himself effusively under the protection of the table. “I certainly knew the lady very well before marriage, but what of that? It will make it all the easier to renew the acquaintance.” The craven Bounderby dares not raise his shameful head, and an ominous silence follows. A servant enters with the next course, removes the remains of the fish and himself.

“Well, my dear, and what are you thinking about?” he asks. She seems to be writing on the table with a fork. Then she gulps hard, as if a croquet ball had lodged in her throat:—

“I— l have been thinking that, after all, it is selfish of me to consider my own happiness first. Wha— what If you should fall ill whe— when I am away,” with a look as if confronted by some horrid vision.

“And your health, my dear,” hardly able to repress his unholy glee.

“Archibald (with tragic gravity), a wife’s place is at her husband’s side. I shall remain.”

Victorious in his villainy, the arch-hypocrite says to himself as he imprints a chaste kiss on his wife’s brow, “Archie, old boy, you were born to be a diplomat!”

Los Angeles [CA] Herald 30 April 1905: p. 30

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The summer pilgrimage of the Little Woman to some Beauty Spot while her lord and master remained toiling at home in the summer heat was a convention which inspired many jokes and saucy sea-side postcards. We have seen the rules for gentlemen who preferred to think of themselves as “slipping the leash” rather than abandoned by wife and chicks. Mrs Daffodil has mentioned the Summer Girls who posed as married ladies to avoid mashers. Gentleman, too, posed as “grass widowers” as we see in this cartoon.

knew his way about mourning cartoon

Algy: No bereavement, I hope, dear boy? I see you’re in mourning. Neddy: Oh, no, nobody dead. Fact is, I’m off to Rotorua for a week. I want the girls to take me for a widower, and then I’m sure of a good time.

 

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 Game of Stealing Spoons: 1892

THE LATEST FAD.

The Way Some Boston Girls Are Amusing Themselves

The Spoon Question at the Tremont Theatre, and Its Explanation—Pretty Girls and an Unpretty Game—How One Girl Plays It—Dilemma for the Hotel Men.

To the Editor of the Herald: It chanced one day not so very long ago that I saw the nervous and energetic business manager of the Tremont Theatre in a more nervous and energetic mood than usual. It was hot; the board of health, he thought, was not doing everything it might to make Boston a model city in summer, and he was suffering from both causes. On this occasion neither cause was, however, the mainspring of his complaint. It was not his own grievances that were weighting upon him as heavy as Atlas’ burden; it was righteous indignation against a public’s ingratitude.

“Think of it,” he ejaculated hoarsely, thrusting his chin forward, and emphasizing his words with his thin, nervous hand, “we give them the best kind of a summer show; we give them mighty good music out here between the acts; we give them ice cream, gratis—and good ice cream, too—and what do they do in return? I’ll tell you just what they do; some of them carry off the spoons; that’s what they do.”
The idea was so deliciously ludicrous that one could not help laughing. What in the world they could do with such useful spoons, perfectly appropriate to their purpose, but hardly desirable for private establishments or domestic pride, puzzled me.

It puzzles me no longer.

The explanation came in the oddest way, but it was absolutely convincing.

A few evenings later I was calling on some stay-in-town people. There were several young people in the room—pretty girls most of them. A popular actress was of the party, and in a very amusing way she was relating

What She Called her Cheek

In taking a party of four down to see “Puritania” one evening and telling with much laughter how the entire party marched out between the acts and partook of free ice cream. “We were determined,” she said, “to take in the entire show, but I must confess that it was not unalloyed pleasure to me. I for one felt that it was a rather large ‘deadhead’ contingent to eat at the courtesy of the house. You ought to have seen the way I bolted the cream. I was in mortal agony for fear Mr. Childs would come along and see the performance. I suppose we were welcome enough, but it did seem to me like ‘crowding the mourners’ a bit.”

Just as the laugh went round the young hostess spoke up: “I say, dear, there was only one thing needed to make that affair simply magnificent. You ought to have stolen the spoons. That would have completed the thing in great shape.”

Supposing that they had heard the statement of “spoon lifting,” just as I had, I mentioned the fact and my inability to account for such appropriating of valueless things. A shout of laughter greeted my seriousness. The young girl of the house rose from her low seat, dropped me a curtsey, and pirouetting across the room, took from a table in plain sight a tray of filigree silver, and with a laugh and another low curtsey presented it to me. On it reposed nearly two dozen indifferent looking spoons, mostly after dinner coffees. I looked from the tray to my hostess. In answer to my amazed glance—for the spoons were not to be confounded with the souvenir fad—she began telling the spoons off in her hands. “Parker House, “ “Tremont House,” “Young’s,” “The Victoria,” “Grand Hotel,” “Langham,” and so on, until I had seen stamped on the back of a series of plated spoons the name of almost every hotel and restaurant in town.

“That,” she cried in triumph, with a wave of her hand, “is my collection of hotel spoons, and I flatter myself that it would be hard to beat it.”

So this is the latest “fad” of the collector. Society girls are making collections of hotel spoons, and the most remarkable feature of the fad is that the spoons are collected surreptitiously, and the collectors take the greatest possible pride in the number they can exhibit. The modus operandi seems to be to get a young man to do the collecting. Of course, it costs more to get the spoons in this way than it would to buy them, but they are only valuable because they are secured irregularly. Usually two or three young people go in for a lunch, which always ends with coffee. Then the sport begins, and much of the maneuvering to “collect’ the spoon and get away before the waiter notes or suspects its loss is said to be very funny. Up to date it is thought that the waiters have

Not Got on to the Game.

There is said to be as much excitement in it as if it were a game of chance, as so many of the girls find much difficulty in avoiding an attack of hysterical giggling, and spoiling the whole thing.

There is one Boston girl who will have no spoon in her collection which she has not collected herself, and she has one of the largest exhibits of her success of any one in her set. Her method is all her own. It is warm weather. She wears her summer gowns cut V-shaped in front. During the coffee drinking she casually drops her spoon her lap, and as carelessly covers it with her napkin. When she wipes her mouth she manages to drop the spoon down her neck, if you please. Why she does not put it in her pocket is a mystery. It would be simpler, but I suppose it would not be so exciting, certainly not so startling, so bizarre—or, possibly, she does not have a pocket.

This new “fad”—that is exactly what these girls call it—admits of strange possibilities, if it should become an epidemic, as fads are always liable to do. I found myself on my way home that night calculating—if I know five girls who are collecting (let us be gentle for the moment and avoid the real verb), there are liable to be 50 who have taken it up. If 50, why not 500? If 500 take to making such collections, what will the hotel man do then, poor thing? Who can say where this collecting will stop? Why not collect china, too? From ages there have been jokes about the men who jauntily carried off the napkins in their pockets, and women who helped themselves to hotel towels. It may be that the jibes at them were all unjust. May not they, too have been “collecting.” May not the discredit that has fallen on the man who helps himself to overcoats in front halls be unfair? Why should not a man make collections of overcoats whose sole value should lie in the fact that they do not belong to him? Why not make collections of furniture? Smuggling it out of hotels by private messengers would, it seems to me, make a very exciting game, and tax the ingenuity of the collector; it would require as much calculation as playing chess or cracking a crib. So much the better.

Seriously, the lack of moral conscience shown by young people today is in too many instances startling. It is dangerous to generalize, of course, but such facts as these are far from amusing. Doubtless this new fad originated with some young collegian whose animal spirits got away with him, and a deed which of itself is absolutely a crime—for wrong is a matter of quality, not quantity—loses on a safe acquaintance its real status. This was proved to my satisfaction on the evening in question. A girl, who when she was first told of this latest fad was shocked, became so infatuated before the evening was over that she was prepared to start a collection of her own.

Now these girls were well brought up. I doubt, if they were hungry, if it would occur to them to steal food, or if it did occur to them if they would have the nerve to do it. Yet with full pockets they make a

Game of Stealing Spoons.

Whose only value arises from the dishonest manner in which they have been acquired. Not one of them thought of the wrong in the deed. They thought only of the fun.

If a poor girl in  the South Cove, having nothing except desires for a possession she might never hope to secure, were to steal a 25-cent trinket, she would get marched off to the station house. The case may not look exactly parallel. It is not. All the excuses are on the side of South Cove.

It would be very entertaining to know what the waiters think of the little society game. Perhaps they have not got on to it yet; perhaps they are still rated for the loss of the spoons; perhaps they are charged with them. When admirers of women assert that the feminine nature is singularly lacking in moral sense, it is customary for gallantry to loudly deny the impeachment, but do not the times give proof of their lack of principle?

What would happen if some irate hotel keeper, totally lacking in a sense of humor—and there be such men keeping public houses right here in Boston—were to make an example of a collector?

What would happen?

Well, probably the judge would look upon it as a good joke, and if the court room was in a good humor the laugh would go round. For all that the notoriety would not be desirable.

Perhaps the business manager of the Tremont may feel differently when he knows that the public that eats ice cream is not stealing the spoons, but “collecting” them. It may comfort his indignation to know that nothing so vulgar as stealing is going on in that fashionable playhouse, but that a new game of help yourself is being played by self-considered respectable people. And then, again, perhaps he won’t see the joke.

In the meantime it may not be without its compensations. I heard one woman remark to another in the horse cars: “I am going to ‘Puritania’ again Monday. I want to see them steal the ice cream spoons.”

Boston [MA] Herald 31 July 1892: p. 28

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wishes to make it clear that she is merely reporting on a shocking moral trend; not advocating it. Such light-hearted theft should not go unchecked. Giggling amateurs do not realise that they make it more difficult for hard-working, professional criminals to ply their trade.

It is Mrs Daffodil’s understanding that hotels have much the same problem with towels, robes, ash-trays, and other amenities that find their way into guests’ suit-cases. Some shrug and accept the losses. Others post notices that pilfered items will be added to the bill.  Still others, resourcefully, have taken to selling souvenir amenities. As the young ladies might say, “Where’s the fun in that?” To paraphrase a well-known axiom: “Stolen fruit tastes the sweetest.”  (Or perhaps “Ice cream tastes sweetest when eaten from a stolen spoon.”)

 

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 Mermaid Look: 1840s

the mermaid Howard Pyle 1910

A STORY OF THE SEA

Mary Kyle Dallas

“Do I believe in mermaids ?” said old Captain Saltwater, stirring his punch and beaming upon us from the fragrant mist which arose from the great glass before him. “Do I believe in mermaids? Of course I do. Long ago, when I went to sea as a cabin boy, I’ve heard them singing many and many a moonlight night so that I could scarcely lie still in my hammock, and have watched over the side oftener than I can tell you for the gleaming of their white arms and the floating of the sea-green hair they are so proud of. They’ve left off troubling me now, for I’m old and tough as sea water can make me; and even if it was of any use, they wouldn’t think me a prize worth capturing; but then when my heart was soft and my cheek like a peach with the down upon it, they could never leave me alone, but were always beckoning and singing to me. If I hadn’t had a good old mother that I was too fond of to forsake for any flesh and blood woman in the world, let alone a mermaid , I’ve no doubt I should have been among the coral caves to-night instead of here, my dears.

“Mermaids! bless you, you’re not half up to their arts; they have a way (I’m sure of it) of getting rid of the fishy part of ‘em and coming out on land for all the world like Christian women. I’ve met them miles and miles away from the ocean, looking as modest and blushing as much as they could if they’d been what they seemed to be. But I knew them; nothing could deceive me. I always saw the sea in their eyes. Blue eyes, and very pretty ones; but when you least expected it, that deep sea-green would rise from behind them or creep over them somehow, and you would see the mermaid look in a moment.

“It was a kind of natural instinct with me, and I never could teach any one my secret. Ah! I wish I could have taught it to Ralph Hawthorne, but he always laughed at me whenever I spoke of such things. He hadn’t been brought up a sailor, d’ye see, but had been to college, and learnt to explain everything away until he believed nothing. Corpselights he called ‘ electricity,’ and ‘Mother Carey’s chickens’ a superstition; and as for the sea serpent, he actually had the audacity to tell old Tom Pipes, a man who had sailed salt water for 40 years, that he must have dreamt he saw it close to the rock of Gibraltar, because the creature was fabulous. The sea serpent fabulous! He might as well have told old Tom he lied.

“Howsomever, the lad’s education was to blame for these things, and he was to be pitied for not being taught what he ought to have known, and I was just as fond of him as though he had been my own brother. Son, is more like it—for he was very young and there was years between us. He was the best messmate when he was off his hobby that I ever met with, and he made the Cousin Kitty ring again with the old sea songs he was so fond of singing on bright moonlight nights.

“The Cousin Kitty was the ship in which we sailed, and of which he was part owner. I had named her after a little cousin of my own, who half bewitched me when I was a lad, and I was as fond of her as I could have been of her namesake, the living cousin Kitty, if it had been written in Life’s log book that I was to be moored alongside of her. I could never have borne that a man I did not like should be part owner of that vessel.

“Our first voyage together was to the East Indies, and we had terrible weather coming home; and were in scenes that proved what stuff the men were made off. Ralph came out pure gold, and showed that college hadn’t spoiled him, and we were fast friends from that time; for when I like a man, d’ye see, I stick to him, and I liked Ralph more than I can tell.

“He had hair that clung in great black rings all about his neck and temples, an olive skin, and eyes such as I have never seen on any other living thing except a seal. You may laugh, but though they talk about gazelle’s eyes in poetry, they don’t compare with those of a seal—great, brown, loving, imploring things, with a soul behind them as sure as I’m a sinner.

“He was so handsome, that when we passed the reef where the mermaids lay in wait, I used to be afraid to see him looking down into the water. Those creatures are bold for all they’re shy, d’ye see, and I didn’t know but that they might make a spring at him and carry him off by main force if stratagem failed them. Perhaps they were daunted by his great brown eyes, for he never even heard them sing.

“Well, my dears, Ralph Hawthorne and I had sailed together four good years, and he was as dear to me as my own son could have been, when coming across from Liverpool to New York we met the very worst storm that the Cousin Kitty had ever weathered through. I never quite gave her up, but there were moments when I began to think that I and my good ship would be lying beneath the water together before the sun rose over it. For it was in the middle of the second night that the storm was at its worst, and with pitch-black water all around and a sky blacker yet overhead, we were beaten and rocked and driven as though the air were full of unseen demons.

“We had passengers on board, and though they were all fastened down below we could hear the women’s shrieks above the roaring of the wind and the breaking of the waves. Women, d’ye see, were never meant to leave dry land. I’d rather see anything on board of a vessel than a woman.

“By dawn the storm had abated, and the Cousin Kitty had acted like a queen, so Ralph and I went down to cheer the passengers up. When we told them we were out of danger, they squalled for joy, just as they had squalled for fear a little while before. The women folks were sulky with me, because when they were at their loudest the night before I beat upon the doors with a belaying pin, and told ’em if they didn’t hold their tongues I’d let the ship sink just to drown their voices. But they all clustered about Ralph as though they wanted to kiss him, and he, the rascal, looked at them out of his great seal-brown eyes as though he were in love with every girl on board.

“Somehow he quieted them, and those who were sick went back to their staterooms, and those who were well enough sat down to breakfast, and there was as much peace as could be expected with petticoats on board at all. Well, when we had settled that job we went on board again. The clouds were clearing off, and there seemed to be a prospect of pleasant weather, but straight ahead of us we saw a sight that made my heart ache—the wreck of a handsome vessel stranded on a rock, and going fast to pieces. We saw no one upon her; all hands had left her, we supposed, for the boats when she began to part. She had been a handsome French-built vessel, and the name upon her side was L’Esperance. It made me think of the Cousin Kitty, as the sight of another man’s dead child makes a man think of his own living one, and I wondered who the captain was, and how he felt when he left his hope to go down into the dark waters without him. For L’Esperance means Hope, you know, my dears, better than I do, and it was awful to see that bright word written in golden letters above the broken hulk that hadn’t so much as an anchor left to it.

“Doubtful as it seemed, we thought there might be some poor soul clinging somewhere to the wreck, and Ralph Hawthorne and I with half a dozen hands went out in a boat to look at her. It seemed plain in a few moments that she was quite deserted, and we were going back to the Cousin Kitty again, when Ralph frightened me by springing upon the boat and over the side in a moment.

“’The mermaids have got him at last!’ I shouted, but before the words were out of my lips he was swimming alongside with something white in his strong young arms.

“’Take her, for Heaven’s sake!’ he cried, and then I knew that it was a woman whom he held, and a drowned one, for if she had been living she would have clung to him until she dragged him down along with her to Davy Jones’s locker. They will do it; you can’t save a woman from drowning unless she is senseless. Well, we took the poor thing on board, and after a deal of fuss, with all the lady passengers in the way, pretending to help and doing worse than nothing, brought breath back to the poor little body. The first use she made of it was to scream for ‘mon père’ and ‘Alphonse,’ until I began to think we were wrong in bringing her to life and misery, for there was little doubt but that the two she called for were sleeping amongst the seaweed together.

“In a day or two she grew quieter, and then she told us in pretty broken English such a pitiful little story of the white-haired old father and the young lover soon to be a husband, and the storm and the darkness and the awful separation. She made me cry like a baby, and Ralph Hawthorne’s eyes were browner and more seal-like as he listened.

“She came on deck before the voyage was over every afternoon, and used to sit looking down into the water for hours and hours together. The lady passengers made a pet of her, and Ralph Hawthorne was like a brother to the little thing.

“As for myself, I had resolved that she should never want a friend while I lived. So when we arrived at the end of our voyage I took her to my sister Margaret, and told her the story. I was old and had no children, and Meg took a fancy to the girl, so when I sailed again I left her safe in moorings, and she kissed me as a daughter might when we parted. Adele she said was her name, and she would call me Monsieur le Capitaine, which I, not being French, didn’t like.

“I never in all my life knew Ralph to be so silent as he was upon that voyage. He was not himself in anything except that he did his duty, as he always did, like a man. I puzzled over the change more than I can tell you. At last, as he sat in the moonlight one night, looking at the sparkles on the dark waves, I went to him and said,

“’What has been the matter with you all this time, Ralph?”

He looked up with a start, and made no answer at first, but after a while he opened his lips and uttered one word only. That one word was ‘Adele.’

“I understood it all now, and I laughed as I slapped him on the back.

“’So it’s Adele,” said I. “Well, you’ve been sly enough about it. So you’re to take my little beauty from me, are you?’

“He shook his head, and looked up at me with his great seal-like eyes.

“’No,” he said, “she will not say I may. Her heart is with that young lover of hers who was lost when L’Esperance became a wreck, and she cares nothing for me.’

“’Nonsense,’ I answered; ‘I never heard of a woman being constant to the living, let alone the dead.’

“’She will be,’ he said, and his eyes wandered to the dark waves again, and he did not speak another word.

“I said no more at that time, but when we were at home again I went to see my little French daughterling and talked to her about it. At first she sobbed for poor Alphonse, but by-and-bye she dried her eyes and owned to liking Ralph, though she did not love him.

“’Liking is enough,’ said I; ‘love will come when you are spliced, and as I stand in the place of a father to you, I think you ought to do as I say, and make Ralph Hawthorne happy.’

“I spoke as I did because I knew that French girls were used to having their matches made for them by their parents, and that the speech would have great weight with her.

“She took my hand and kissed it. ‘ I must obey,’ she said, ‘but I shall never, never be happy with Monsieur Ralph; my heart is in the ocean with Alphonse.’

“I said nothing, for d’ye see I thought the speech meant nothing but a little woman’s coquetry.

“They were married in six months, and I sailed for the first time for years without Ralph Hawthorne. When I came back he brought his wife to see me. She was beautiful in her white dress, with her golden hair coiled in great braids about her shapely head, but she was very pale and her long lashes drooped as sadly as ever over her large eyes. That was one peculiarity about those eyes of hers. They were so shadowed that I never had been able to tell what color they were. Now, when I bent over her, and had both of her little hands in one of my own, she lifted them and looked full at me for the first time. The sight froze my blood. They were blue and beautiful, but out of them, over them, from behind them I could see the sea. It was there as plainly as the eyes themselves was that delicate sea-green shadow, and I knew all at once. The story of the shipwreck was a lie; ‘Alphonse’ and ‘mon père’ were fictions. It was a preconcerted plan hatched amongst the coral reefs. Ralph Hawthorne’s wife was a mermaid . Instead of kissing her I flung her from me.

“’I know you,’ I cried before I knew what I was saying; ‘go back to the sea from whence you came, you French mermaid; you belong there.’

“And she uttered a scream, and crying, ‘Ah, mon Dieu! if I only could,’ fell fainting to the floor.

I thought it was all over between Ralph and I after that, for he told me I was mad, and bade me leave his house, but I wouldn’t go.

“’No, my lad,’ I said, ‘no, you’ll need your old friend more with a mermaid for a wife than you would if you had married a flesh and blood Christian woman.’

“After a while, when she had come out of her swoon, and was lying white and beautiful as any water lily in his arms, Ralph made it up with me, though d’ye see I had to perjure myself by saying it was all a joke (as though she didn’t know better). My excuse is that I did it for the lad’s sake. So I stayed and went to the house often after that, and though I watched Ralph’s mermaid wife I must say I saw no harm in her. So I said to myself, ‘A reformed mermaid ought to be encouraged,’ and next time I came from sea I brought her a lot of shells and china enough to stock her pantry. She never seemed to care for the china, but she would sit for hours with the shells in her lap, dreaming over them and holding them to her ear to hear the roaring of the sea. She said they brought it close to her, and I suppose they did. But she was very mild and sweet, and if I could have seen a child of Ralph’s upon her bosom I think I could have forgotten that she was a mermaid . But two years passed by, and no baby came to look up into her sea-blue eyes with seal-like brown eyes like those of Ralph, and I was not quite at rest with all her sweetness.

“On the 25th of June—no matter in what year—the Cousin Kitty sailed for France, and Ralph Hawthorne and his wife were on board her. She it seems had longed to see her native land again (all pretence I knew), and Ralph told me with tears in his eyes that she would die if she did not go to the France she loved so dearly. I could have told him that it was the sea for which his wife pined, and which she could live without no longer.

“I tackled her with it the first day she came on board.

“’You don’t care for France, Adele,’ said I; ‘you are pining for the ocean, I’m certain.’

“’Yes,’ she answered softly; ‘but, dear monsieur, do not tell Ralph, for it would grieve him, and he is too good to grieve.’

“’Never fear,’ said I. ‘Somebody or other says, where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise, and he was right. I’ll say nothing to the lad.’ And I kept the mermaid ‘s secret.

“Ralph went as a passenger this time, and spent every moment in petting his lily of a wife. Hour after hour he would spend reading to her, her head lying on his shoulder all the while, but I never saw her lay it there voluntarily. She was obedient to him, but as cold as the water from whence she came. The old merman of a father, who got up the match among the coral reefs, had made a mistake. The love was all on Ralph’s side. The ocean was as calm all the way, until what I shall tell you came to pass, as though oil had been poured upon it, and she was always looking down into the water with her sea-green eyes, and her skin grew more and more transparent and her little wrists smaller every day.

“At last, one bright morning, we came in sight of the very rock upon which we had seen L’Esperance stranded three years before, and from the foot of which Ralph Hawthorne had picked up his mermaid wife. We were becalmed there, and such a calm I never knew. There was not breeze enough to lift a thistledown, and sky and water were both red-hot. The moon looked like a copper shield, and all night long it was so bright that you could see every object as plainly as at daybreak. On the first of these awful nights Adele came to me, as I stood leaning over the side, and said, in her own clear voice,

“’Monsieur, will you tell me if those are the rocks?’

“’The rocks?’ I asked, pretending not to understand her, though I did.

“’Where the ship struck—where L’Esperance went down,’she said, and I answered,

“’Yes.’

“’I thought so,’ said she, ‘for listen, monsieur: a moment ago I saw Alphonse, white and wan, with seaweed tangled in his hair, beckoning to me from the water yonder.’

“She looked so wild and spirit-like as she spoke, that I was not sure but that she would melt into the sea until I had her by the arm, and felt solid flesh and bone beneath my fingers.

“’Go to your stateroom, child,’ I said; ‘you are feverish.’

“But all the while she was colder than an icicle, and I knew it. Adele went to her stateroom and lay there all night. The next day she did not rise, but Ralph was not alarmed, for she said she was not ill, but only weary. I knew then, as I know now, that she wanted to keep out of the temptation, which the sight of the sea was to her.

“All this while we were becalmed within sight of those fatal rocks, and the sun went down upon the second day without the prospect of a breeze.

“It was night. Twelve bells had struck, and the watch on deck were changing places with those who had been sleeping. I was too anxious to rest, and stood talking to the man at the wheel. My back, you understand, was toward the staterooms, and I was only aware of what had happened when he let go the wheel, and shouted, in a horrified voice,

“’She’s overboard!’

“’Who is overboard?’ I screamed.

“But the men, who were rushing to let down a boat, could not tell me. A female figure had been seen to glide, ghost-like, across the deck and spring wildly over the side in an instant.

“I went straight to Ralph’s stateroom—the pillow beside him was empty—and I wakened him from the last sweet sleep he ever knew to tell him that Adele was gone.

We never found her body. I never thought we should, for d’ye see we could not get at the coral caves under the sea; but I only spoke a few words of comfort to poor Ralph; it was no time to vex him, his heart was sore enough already. Adele had left a note upon her pillow with Ralph’s name upon it, and in it were these words:

“’Forgive me, you who have been so kind to me. I sin in leaving you only less than in ever having given myself to you while my heart was in the sea. I have seen Alphonse by our bedside every night. Yesterday he beckoned to me from the water. He waits: the very ship stands still that I may go. I dare not stay. Adieu, and forget me.’

“This was all. We had no need to linger near those rocks longer, for a breeze sprung up the moment she was gone, and by daylight we were miles away—miles from those fatal rocks, and my own handsome lad lay raving on his pillow, and did not even know me as I bent above him.

“We made the voyage, and were on our homeward way, and still there was no change in him. With his beautiful eyes for ever open, he babbled of Adele, always, always of the mermaid he had nursed in his warm bosom.

“Again on our return we neared the rocks where L’Esperance had stranded, and once more we were becalmed. The ship was waiting for something, and I guessed what it was, for Ralph grew weaker every day.

“At last, late in the summer afternoon, I heard him utter my name in his own dear voice, and flew to him.

“His eyes were glazing, but they turned lovingly towards me, and he stretched out his hand.

“Good-bye, dear friend,” he said. “I am going to the sea, to meet Adele,” and then his fingers tightened about mine, and bending down to kiss him I saw all was over.

“We buried him in the ocean when the moon was high above the ship, and I could fancy faces in the waves, and see white arms stretched up to catch the beautiful thing we lowered into the waves.

“When the mermaids had what they waited for they let go of the bottom of the ship, and she sailed on again.

“I’ve been upon the sea ever since, but I never care to go in that direction. It would be very hard to pass those rocks where L’Esperance was stranded, and where Ralph’s hope and Ralph, who was my own, went down to meet her wreck amongst the mermaids .”

Frank Leslie’s Weekly 2 August 1862

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A sad case of that well-known maritime disorder: Capture of the Deep.

 

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 Wreath of Orange Blossoms Bathed in Blood: 1860s

STRANGE NIGHT OF HORROR

What I Saw in the Old Upper Chamber.

The Wreath of Orange Blossoms That Was Bathed in Blood

I received an invitation from an old friend of mine, Colonel Armitage, to run down to his house in Berkshire, for some hunting and a couple of balls.

In those days I was some years younger than I am now, and, having but lately returned from India, very keen on all sorts of amusements. I wrote off a hurried note of acceptance, and speedily followed it.

I knew Mrs. Armitage slightly, and was well acquainted with the Colonel’s taste in champagne, besides which I had met, not long before, an uncommonly pretty sister of his, whom I thought it would be by no means unpleasant to meet again; so I started off in the best of spirits.

I calculated a run of two hours would give me ample time for the three miles drive from the station and to dress for dinner at 8. However, vain were my hopes. There was a break down on the line, and we only reached the station at 7 o’clock. I dashed into the carriage sent to meet me, and, arriving at the Grange, found my host alone, awaiting me in the hall, with outstretched hand and genial welcome.

I knew he was a regular martinet for punctuality, so was not surprised when he hurried me up directly to my room. It was a large and well-appointed room, with bright fire and candles.

“All right, old chap, I’ll send Reggie up to show you the way down in a quarter of an hour,” were the Colonel’s last words as he left me to my toilet. Suddenly the gong thundered through the house, and I, thinking I was forgotten, put out my candles and turned to the door—when it was softly opened and a young man appeared who beckoned to me.

I followed him into the passage, which was rather dark, and began to say something expressive of my obligation to him, but he silenced me with a wave of the hand and preceded me, with noiseless steps and averted face, along the passage. I thought this was odd, but my surprise was increased when he took an abrupt turn to the left which I did not remember, and we found ourselves in a long, low, oak-paneled corridor, dimly lighted by a hanging lamp.

I began to feel a curious sensation stealing over me and endeavored to speak, but was withheld by an undefined feeling, so followed my guide in perfect silence to the end of the corridor. He then passed through a green baize door, up a flight of corkscrew stairs and through another passage, still feeling myself impelled to follow till he stopped, opened a door and stood back for me to pass before him.

I had not seen his face before, but had observed he was above the middle height, with a good figure and rather military gait. Now, however, I saw his face; it was ashy white, with such an expression of horror and fear in his widely opened eyes as froze my blood. I again made an ineffectual attempt to speak to him, but he motioned me imperiously to enter, and I felt constrained to obey.

I found myself in an oddly-shaped room. It was evidently an unused apartment, for there was no carpet, and my footsteps sounded hollow on the boards. Between the windows, half in shadow, half in moonlight, stood a large bed. As I gazed upon it my eyes became gradually accustomed to the somewhat dim light, and I observed with a shudder that it was draped with black and decorated with tall black plumes like those on a hearse, and that there was a motionless form extended upon it.

I glance round for my guide—he was gone and the door was shut, though I had heard no sound. A thrill of horror ran through my veins, I felt an almost irresistible desire for flight, but again the inexplicable force urged me on, and I approached the bed with slow and trembling steps.

There lay a young, and, as far as I could see, beautiful girl, dressed as a bride, in white satin and lace, a wreath of orange blossoms on her head and the long white veil covering, though not obscuring her features, but oh! Horror! The front of her dress and vail were all dabbled and soaked in blood which I could see flowed from a deep open gash in her white throat.

My head swam, and I remembered no more.

Suddenly I felt a cold shock in my face, and opened my eyes to find myself on the floor, with my head supported by my kind host. As my bewildered senses reasserted themselves I remembered what I had seen, and, with an exclamation, sprang to my feet. There was the same bed, but in the bright light I saw that it was without the ghastly appendages I had seen before and was totally untenanted. Colonel Armitage began asking me questions, but, seeing that I was too much dazed to answer, he took me by the arm and half led me, half supported me, back to my own room. When there he put me into an arm-chair, gave me a glass of water and exclaimed:

“My dear fellow! What on earth is the matter with you? We sent Reggie up to you, but he came down saying you had gone. We waited ten minutes—then, thinking you had lost your way, instituted a regular search, and I found you in the old chamber, in a dead faint on the floor.

I pulled myself together, and, as collectedly as I could, told him what had happened. He listened with incredulity, and then said:
“My dear Bruce, you have been dreaming.”

“Why,” I said, rather nettled. “how do you suppose I could have dreamed myself into that room? I tell you, Armitage, that I was as wide awake as you are, and am perfectly certain that what I saw was no dream.”

“Look here,” said Armitage seriously, “don’t you go talking about this to anybody but me; of course there are stories about this house, but nobody has ever seen or imagined anything uncanny before, and it will frighten Mrs. Armitage to death if you tell her; she is awfully delicate, and I don’t want to alarm her.”

“All right,” I said, “but I wish it hadn’t happened to me. I feel frightfully shaky still.”

“Oh, nonsense! Come down to dinner; a good glass of champagne will set you to rights,” said he.

Accordingly I made an effort to shake off the depression on my spirits, and went down with him.  The bright lights, cheerful talk and clattering of plates seemed terribly incongruous, and I am afraid pretty Mrs. Armitage must have thought me quite off my head, for I could eat nothing, drank feverishly and replied at random to all her remarks, and condolences, while the dead face of the murdered girl floated before my eyes and nearly distracted me.

“I’m afraid you don’t feel at all well, Captain Bruce,” she said at last.

“Please don’t think me dreadfully rude,” I replied, “but if I could slip out unobserved, I should be most grateful.”

She signaled to Reggie, a bright-faced boy whom I begged to show me upstairs. I literally dared not attempt to find my way up alone for fear of meeting my mysterious guardian.

I went to the glass—and recoiled; I hardly knew myself. My hair lay damply on my forehead, my face as very pale, and there was the haunted look in my eyes I had seen in his.  Very soon the door opened—I started nervously; but it was only the Colonel with a steaming tumbler. “Look here,” he said, “drink this off and get into bed; you’ll be all right in the morning.” I did so, and the punch did send me off into a heavy, dreamless sleep, which lasted till my blinds were drawn up by the servant in the morning letting in fresh sunshine.

A whole day in the saddle and a splendid run, followed by a cozy game of billiards with Miss Mabel Armitage before dinner, decided me, ghosts or no ghosts, not to show myself ungrateful to my kind hosts by cutting short my visit as I had thought of doing.

The next day we spent in the covers, the ladies came out to give us our luncheon, and I came home to dress for dinner in a most jubilant frame of mind, much inclined to put my fate to the touch with Miss Mabel: hoping that, be my deserts as small as they might, I should win, not “lose it all.” Some country neighbors were expected to dinner, and I was standing in a deep window-seat with Mabel and listening to her merry descriptions of them as they were ushered into the room by the stately butler when Sir George and Miss Hildyard” were announced, and there entered—dressed in white—the girl I had seen in my dream!

I stood transfixed, and Mabel exclaimed: “Oh, Captain Bruce, what is the matter?” But I could not answer. Before my eyes rose again that darkened room, that funeral bed, and the lifeless form of her who now advanced toward me, led by Mrs. Armitage.

“Miss Hildyard, Captain Bruce.” I bowed as in a dream, but saw a look of surprise cross her face, and she glanced inquiringly at Mabel, who replied by a reassuring nod.

As soon as I could get an opportunity, I took Colonel Armitage aside, and whispered to him—“For heaven’s sake, Armitage, am I mad? That is the girl.” He shook me impatiently by the shoulder and said, “’Pon my word, Bruce, I begin to think you are. That is one of the nicest girls I know. She’s engaged to Lovett, and they are to be married soon after Easter. For goodness’ sake don’t go, and frighten her by staring like a death’s head.”

After dinner I even ventured to accost Miss Hildyard, whom I found very agreeable, with nothing in the least supernatural about her; so once more I made up my mind that I was the victim of some extraordinary hallucination, and resolved to think of it no more. Well—time passed; I was obliged to say good-by to my kind friends with much regret and returned to my duties.

One day, soon after my return, I was driving down the street with my young brother, when I discerned a figure in the distance walking before us which seemed familiar. The back only was visible, but somehow I knew that tall figure, those broad shoulders, that alert, regular stride.

As we passed he turned his face toward us, and—good heavens! It was he; my guide that terrible night at Medlicott. Was I awake or dreaming?

I stopped the cab, to my brother’s intense surprise, jumped out with what intention I hardly know, and rapidly followed him. He turned up King street and went into a house, opening the door with a latch-key and shutting it behind him. I remained hesitating—what should I do next? I decided on ringing the bell; it was answered by a decorous-looking man servant.

“What is the name of that gentleman who has just gone in here?”
“Mr. Lovett, sir,” was the reply.  I felt stunned. Surely this was more than a coincidence!

The servant looked doubtfully at me. “Want to see him sir?”

“N—no,” I stammered, quite unable to make up my mind.

A week or two passed. I had seen Mabel several times and at last had ventured on asking her that question on which all my happiness depended. I need not describe here my joy at receiving the reply I longed for from the sweetest lips that ever breathed. I implored for a short engagement, and her mother promised I should not have to wait long.

One morning I received a note from some friends asking me to come down for a ball at Ryde. As I had nothing particular to do, and Mabel was away on a visit, I accepted the invitation and went down the same day.

I found my friends had taken rooms in the hotel, and were a large and lively party. In the evening the waiter came to me and asked, apologetically, if I would mind changing my room, which was a large one, for another, as they had received a telegram from a young married couple, engaging a room for that night. Of course I consented to the change, and my things were moved.

After the ball I came to bed at about 3 o’clock in the morning, and was sitting in my open window smoking a cigar. My senses seemed preternaturally sharpened, and above the gentle rush of the waves I could hear somebody breathing in the next room. I listened intently, fearing I knew not what.

The breathing came short, almost in gasps, and I heard stealthy movements. The rest of the hotel was wrapped I sleep. I rose to my feet, feeling sure that something was wrong, when I heard a short struggle, a heavy fall, and a wild piercing scream in a woman’s voice that haunts me still. I rushed to the door, and was met on the threshold by—I knew it!—the man I had seen in my vision before. He was in evening dress, much disordered, his shirt front and right arm were stained with blood, and in his right hand he grasped a razor, from which some ghastly drops still trickled. The light of insanity shone in his eyes, and, with a demonical shriek of laughter, he flung himself upon me.

Now began a most fearful struggle for life. The maniac seemed to have the strength of ten men. However I was soon reinforced by a hurrying crowd of servants and visitors.

He was dragged from me by main force and held down by many hands, while I burst open the next door and entered. Ah! A flood of remorse came over me as I recognized the scene I had feared, nay, I knew I should see.

The moonlight pouring in at the window revealed to me the whole tragedy. There, half on, half off the bed lay that inanimate form, blood-stains all over the clothes and floor. The people who had crowded I after me stood dumb, as in a sort of stupor. I approached the bed and recognized the features of her whom I had known as Agnes Hildyard.

The rest of my story is soon told. I had to give evidence before the Magistrates as to what I had seen, and the unfortunate Lovett, who had sunk into a state of insensibility was removed to the nearest asylum pending the arrival of his friends.

I found that I had received in my struggle with him a severe wound in the shoulder, the loss of blood from which, acting upon a highly excited brain, ensued a severe illness which confined me to my room for many weeks, during much of which time I was delirious.

When at last I crept out into the sunshine I felt my youth had left me forever. I was ordered a long sea voyage, and my brave and loving Mabel insisted upon our immediate marriage. I can not enter into the vexed question of physics. All I know is that these events happened to me exactly as I have written them down, and if I did not act upon them, it was not because I had not been forewarned.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 18 July 1891: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Such psychic warnings pose a pretty problem to those who receive them: precisely how much weight should be given to portents of a dire nature? They are generally easy to dismiss as “hallucinations” or “imagination.” And, as Captain Bruce experienced, seers are often urged to refrain from describing visionary horrors for fear of upsetting the ladies. Mrs Daffodil has written before of a young lady who fortuitously broke off an engagement after her absent fiancee appeared three times in her photographs, standing behind her, holding a dagger in his upraised hand.  It was perhaps the mystic number three that decided her; a common numeral in heeded supernatural warnings. Captain Bruce, having been given only a single warning, (albeit an utterly grewsome one) could scarcely be blamed for not warning the young bride-to-be.

 

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 Bride by Telegram: 1899

1875 Gaultier bride doll

A BRIDE BY TELEGRAM

By Mrs.Whitney.

 “Send me down bride in full dress for Friday evening.

H. Smith, Walkley Station.”

That was the tenor of the telegram, Miss Betsey Blythe knew, because she read it, over forty times, if she read it once. She picked it up on the step of the telegraph office, where the lucky recipient thereof must have dropped it —and, unluckily, the address was torn off the northeast corner of the folded paper.

But Miss Betsey Blythe had not been engaged in looking after her neighbors’ business all her life to be foiled now. She wiped the street mud off the telegram with her pocket-handkerchief, put it safely into her reticule and carried it home to her sisters, Miss Arethusa and Miss Pamela Blythe.

“There,” she said, “didn’t I tell you Harold Smith was going to be married on the sly.”

“Goodness me!” said Arethusa.

“It can’t be possible,” piped Pamela. “But who can the bride be?”

“That’s the question,” declared Miss Betsey, staring back at the poll-parrot’s cage in the window. “And Friday is to be the wedding day.”

“Which Friday, I wonder?” said Miss Arethusa.

“Why, this Friday, of course!” pronounced Miss Pamela. “The day after to-morrow, of course; or it would have been a deal easier and cheaper to write instead of telegraphing. Don’t you see?”

“Friday’s an unlucky day for a wedding,” groaned Miss Betsey.

“Just like Harold Smith to get married on a Friday,” said Miss Pamela. “He’s always making fun of what he calls ‘superstitious observances.’”

“Well, I never!” said Miss Arethusa. “Who is the bride, anyhow?”

“If she’s a girl of any spirit whatever,” whatever,” tartly observed Miss Betsey, “she won’t allow herself to be telegraphed around the country like a package of dry goods.”

“Some girls will do anything to get married,” said Arethusa, with vicious emphasis.

“It’s Jessie Mordaunt. of course.” decided Pamela. “She’s been flirting on and off with Harold Smith for these three years, but I didn’t suppose he was foolish enough to fall into her trap!”

“Or perhaps it’s Marian Shelton,” added Miss Betsey. “I know they’ve been making up a new white silk dress with tablier fronts and a trained skirt at Shelton’s. Miss Needlepoint told me so herself. And I can believe any amount of folly of the Shelton family since they changed that girl’s name from Mary Ann to Marian.”

“There’s the three Misses MacKenzie, every one of ’em crazy,” suggested Miss Arethusa.

“No,” said Miss Pamela, decidedly. ”You may be quite certain it’s Jessie! Jessie’s flighty enough for anything! I think she’d rather enjoy an escapade like that!”

“And I dare say,” vindictively added Miss Arethusa, who was the eldest sister of the three, and the least addicted to favorable views of human nature, “they think it’s an unfathomable secret!”

“Walkley Station is only three-quarters of an hour from New York,” said Betsey. “Let’s go to the wedding!”

“And,” added Miss Pamela, in a chuckle, “let’s notify all our friends to go!” For the three Misses Blythe were not pleased that Harold Smith should presume to take so important a step as that of matrimony without their consent and advice. Hadn’t they known him as a curly-headed lad before he ever went into college? Hadn’t he played many a practical joke upon them, in his wild, rollicking way—and didn’t they know perfectly well that he regarded them as three sour, ridiculous, disappointed old spinsters?

And now that they had come into possession of one of his choicest, dearest secrets, it was scarcely in human nature not to be revenged, fully and entirely.

“Do you suppose she’ll go out in the cars?” asked Arethusa.

“In full dress! What nonsense,” retorted Pamela. “She’ll drive, of course, in a carriage!”

“She’ll get her death of cold.” said Miss Betsey, with a shiver. “Driving fifteen miles in ‘full dress!'”

“The idea of Harold Smith ordering her around in that majestic fashion!” cried Arethusa. “But, girls, I’ll tell you what we will do; we’ll go and call on the Mordaunts.”

Mrs. Mordaunt, a pretty, full-blown rose style of matron, was doing crewelwork. crewelwork. Jessie, her daughter, who corresponded with the rosebud in the family, was painting a vase of purple pansies in watercolors. They did not appear in the least like custodians of an important secret; looked surprised when Miss Betsey alluded to the subject of impending marriages, and said they had heard of no wedding in the neighborhood; and they stared when Miss Arethusa asked if they hadn’t had a dressmaker in the house lately.

“We always do our own sewing,” said Mrs. Mordaunt. “Jessie can fit a dress as well as Madam Mondini herself.”

“But for such a very, very important occasion as this,” smirked Miss Arethusa.

“We never have any important occasions,” laughed Jessie. “Look, Miss Blythe, do you think my pansy petal as deep a purple as the original?” And when the three old maids had, last, taken their departure, Jessie looked at her mother in amazement mingled with mirth.

“”Mamma,” said she, “what do those old women mean?”

“I think, dear,” said Mrs. Mordaunt, “that they are the least bit unsettled in their minds–just a little crazy, you know.”

And the Misses Blythe went away, ex changing mysterious glances, and whispering to each other—

“They cannot deceive us!”

The Misses Blythe told everybody they could think of always in strict confidence,  of course. Everybody repeated it to everybody else, and by Friday evening the train to Walkley Station was full.

To Miss Betsey Blythe’s infinite disappointment, the Smith house, a pretty, old-fashioned mansion with a pillared front, a garden full of clipped box monstrosities, and an octagonal conservatory, built out from the south end, was not lighted up after any extraordinary fashion. Mrs. Smith, Harold’s mother, a dimpled old lady, in a white lace cap and gleaming gold spectacle-glasses, was knitting, half asleep, when the three Misses Blythe were ushered in, followed by a crowd of other acquaintances.

“Oh!” said she, rubbing her eyes to make sure that it was not a dream, “this is a surprise party, is it? I’m sure I’m delighted to see you! Only it’s a pity Harry isn’t at home!”

“My good soul,” said Miss Arethusa Blythe, shaking her finger, “it’s no use trying to deceive us. We know all about it!”

“All about what?” said Mrs. Smith.

“About the wedding!” cried out the company in chorus.

“Whose wedding?” demanded Mrs. Smith.

“Why, Harold’s, to be sure!” they responded.

“But Harold isn’t going to be married,” said Mrs. Smith. “He isn’t even engaged! Good gracious! What can have put such a thing into people’s heads?”

“It’s the telegram,” said Miss Pamela.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Mrs. Smith in despair.

“Well, if you won’t believe me, you will, perhaps, believe your own eyes,” said Miss Betsey Blythe, with dignity, as she drew the telegram from her pocket, and, carefully straightening out its creases, held it up before Mrs. Smith’s spectacle glasses.

“Dear me!” cried Mrs. Smith, at last comprehending a little of this curious network of cross-purposes, “it’s Bella Smith’s big doll!”

“What!” shrieked Miss Arethusa, Miss Pamela and Miss Betsy in chorus.

“What!” more wildly echoed the rest of the assemblage, crowding eagerly around.

“Mrs. Helena Smith’s little daughter across the street,” explained Mrs. Smith. “It’s her birth-night party, and an immense doll, dressed as a bride was forwarded by express this afternoon! I saw it myself –a perfect beauty, with veil and wreath, white satin boots, buttoned by knobs of pearl, and long-wristed white kid gloves, entirely complete! And you thought–you really imagined that my Harold was going to be married secretly and had telegraphed to New York for his bride!”

The old lady broke out into a fit of soft, sweet-sounding laughter, which shook her as if she had been a mold of jelly. Everybody else laughed, too, except the three Misses Blythes. They only looked blank.

“But now that you’re here,” added hospitable Mrs. Smith, “you’ll stay to tea, all of you? But you must! The down train doesn’t leave until ten, and you’ll be half starved, now that there is no wedding feast for you. Oh! I insist upon your staying to tea.”

The biggest tea-kettle in the house was put over to boil at once; seven pounds of coffee were put into the pot, and the maids ran, one to the muffle and crumpet store and cake bakery, the other to the oyster stand, which, luckily, was not yet shut up for the night. And kind Mrs. Smith entertained her unexpected guests with gracious politeness.  But there was no wedding and no bride, except little Bella Smith’s wax bride across the street, and the three Misses Blythe went back to New York sadder and wiser women. And what was perhaps the most desirable result, they resolved to adhere, thenceforth, to the eleventh commandment.

The Daily Herald [Delphos OH] 21 September 1899: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Eleventh Commandment, in case Mrs Daffodil’s readers’ theological educations have been neglected, is “for every one to mind his (or, more aptly, her) own business.”

 

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.