Category Archives: Crime

The Ball Dress: 1890

THE BALL DRESS

Mary Kyle Dallas

“You are invited to the regiment ball, my dear,” said Mrs. Ackland as her daughter entered the room, her dripping waterproof and umbrella giving evidence of a sturdy battle with the storm that could be plainly heard even through closed shutters and dropped curtains on that upper floor. “The most polite letter from Col. B__, and knowing that I forsook society long ago, Mrs. Col. B__ will take you with her own girls; it is really charming of her. Here is the ticket.”

The elderly lady’s frail fingers drew two elegant squares of pink and gold pasteboard from an envelope as she spoke. But the girl, having hung the waterproof in an adjacent kitchen and perched her umbrella where it could drip harmlessly into the stationary tubs of said kitchen, did not even pick them up.

“It would be better to publish the fact that I have retired from society also, mamma,” she said, a little sadly.

“You!” cried her mother. “At 20, Effie?”

“It comes to that when one has one black frock,” said Effie,” and that patched at both elbows.”

“You could go in white,” said her mother, “you look very girlish. Gentlemen admire white, or used to. White and a few flowers and no jewelry—no one could find fault with that style. The greatest heiress in Boston when I was a girl was known for her simplicity—always white.”

“I fancy I should be if I went in a sheet and pillow case costume,” said Effie. “Really, that would be the only white one I could manage. That poor old white dress that still exists in your memory is short in the waist, shorter in the skirt, won’t meet in the belt, and has a sleeve that would not go over my wrist. I’ve grown a great deal in five years, mamma.”

“Is it five years since you went to your cousin Jennie’s wedding in it?” cried Mrs. Ackland. “Dear, dear, how time flies. Couldn’t you make over one of my old silks?”

“I should be a laughing stock, mamma” said Effie. “Well, I can live without going to the ball, though I should enjoy it very much.”

“The daughter of Capt. Ackland ought to have opportunities,” said the widow. “How are you to marry if you never meet any one I cannot think. A pretty girl like you was never meant to be a spinster and work for her bread.”

“Things point in that direction now,” said the girl. “Typewriting is not a lively amusement, and I am as likely to marry as I am to go to China. Don’t sigh so bitterly, mamma. It would only make you lonelier if I went to the ball, and I should be up late and make mistakes next day—lose my place, perhaps. I’ll write a very polite regret when I get some fine note paper. Now, let us have tea.”

“The little brown teapot, the two blue cups and plates to match, were soon on the table. Effie Ackland had a way of making excellent little dishes out of next to nothing—it was very convenient under the circumstances—and though the girl pined for something besides the daily routine of typewriting and evenings spent in listening to her mother’s reminiscences of former grandeur—for Mrs. Ackland had been a belle and a beauty and an expectant heiress when she married the dashing young captain—it was the mother who bemoaned herself.

At last, tea being over, it was discovered that the storm had passed, and that moon and stars were shining, and Effie declared that she would run down to the little stationer’s and get some note paper of the proper sort on which to reply to the kind invitation and offer of the colonel and his lady.

It was a quiet neighborhood and very late, and Effie wrapped herself in a thick cloak and tied a little blue hood over her head and ran lightly down stairs and down the street toward the stationer’s shop. However, when she reached its door she found it closed. The old woman who kept it had expected no customers, and had retired early. Effie knew of another shop of the same sort a few blocks further on which was always open late, and turned her steps that way—at least she intended to do so. But there are still portions of New York city where it is very easy to lose one’s self, and besides Effie was not an old resident of that part of the town. Somehow she missed the right corner, crossed the street at the wrong angle, and shortly discovered that she was lost.

It was a gloomy and unpleasant street in which she found herself, and the girl was somewhat frightened. However, she decided that the best thing she could do was to keep on walking until she came to a decent shop or met a policeman of whom she could ask the way. She acted on this resolution with her usual promptitude, but for a long while she went on seeing nothing but liquor or cigar shops and meeting not a solitary guardian of the peace and came at last to an old building with a blank wall in the center of which an arched gate stood open.

Just as she stood opposite this gate two drunken men came howling down the street, and in terror of them she stepped beneath the arch. They passed without seeing her, but before she dared to venture out a light shone in her face, and turning she saw a figure in black, with red shoes, a red cap, horns, hoofs, a long tail, which he carried over his arm, and in his hand a great paper parcel—in fact, Satan as we see him portrayed in ancient pictures, acting for the nonce as messenger boy.

Startled beyond expression, Effie was about to fly, when the demon spoke.

“Well, mamselle, I’ve been waiting for you a long while,” was his characteristic remark. “I came so far to save time. Won’t you get a roasting!”

Then he tossed the parcel into her arms, turned and fled.

Effie fled also. What the demon had given her she did not know, but she quite mechanically clutched it as she flew along the lonely street, and by mere accident took the right direction and found herself at the corner of an avenue she knew. She arrived at her own door just in time—at least so her mother declared—to save that lady from going out of her mind with terror. She had no paper, but she had the parcel which the demonic personage had crammed into her hands to prove that she had not merely imagined the meeting with him, and now she unfastened the many pins that held it, unfolded the paper and sundry muslin wrappings within, and behold—a dress—the loveliest ball costume of golden satin and black lace that could be imagined.

The demon had presented her with a dress in which to attend the ball.

“What does it mean?” she ejaculated. “Really I feel as if I was out of my mind!”

“It must be providential,” said the mother. “Try it on, my dear.”

Effie obeyed. The costume fitted her perfectly.

“You look like an angel,” said the mother.

“But the demon said I should have a good roasting,” said Effie.

“It was only a man in some queer dress,” said the mother.

“Of course,” said Effie, “at least, I suppose so.”

“And now you can go to the ball,” said the mother.

“Shall I dare? Will I not find my costume vanishing, like poor Cinderella’s in the midst of my dance with whatever stands for the young prince at the officers’ ball of the regiment? I doubt if it will be here in the morning; besides I ought to advertise it, ‘If the fiend who presented a young lady with a black lace ball dress in a dark alley on the night of the __th will kindly call,’ or something of the sort.

“Oh, we will look into the papers, of course,” said the mother. “But I don’t believe we will find anything—fate intends you to go to the ball.”

So it seemed indeed.

Effie went to the ball and her dress was pronounced charming. In passing I will mention to the reader that it was there that she met the gentleman who afterward became her husband, and that much happened and all good fortune came to her through the demon’s gift of the ball dress.

No one ever advertised for the dress, and it hung in Effie’s wardrobe until her wedding day. She never wore it again, and never expected to solve the mystery that surrounded it.

Effie had married a rich man and lived in very elegant style, and a man servant was one of the necessaries of the household. Mrs. Ackland, who lived with her daughter, suggested a Frenchman, and having advertised for such a person a candidate presented himself. He had but one reference, but that was a good one.

“I will tell you the reason I have no more, madam,” said he. “I have had my ambitions—desired to go upon the state. I even obtained a position—I played a demon in the last act of a great spectacle at the __ theatre. There were seventy-five demons—it was glorious. But alas I got into difficulties there through my good nature. The renowned Senora V__ had been playing at the theatre, and left behind her a lace dress. She telegraphed that she would send her maid for it, as she was to wear it that night. Every moment was precious, and the old lady who had charge of me had sprained her ankle. ‘My friend,’ she said to me, ‘if you would but go down the long stairs and to the end of the passage and wait with the parcel until Mlle. Fanchon, the senora’s maid, comes for the dress, you will save us all much trouble—you will not be wanted for an hour.’

“I obliged her, of course. I even went into the damp alley of the back entrance and waited there. I was kept a tremendous time, and when at last a young woman rushed in I gave her the parcel like an idiot—without asking who she was. I gave it to the wrong woman. Fifteen minutes after the real maid arrived. Oh, there was a row! All I was worth would not have paid for the dress. But I was dismissed at once. I deserved it. It was the act of an idiot. How well do I remember what I said to her—“you’ll get a roasting, mamselle.’ Well, it was I who got the roasting. At first they accused me of stealing the dress, but–”

“I am sure you tell the truth,” said Effie, and engaged the man at once.

That day Senora V__ was astonished by receiving a box which contained the long-lost dress uninjured.

A letter which was enclosed told the story in full, but without giving any names, and Camille—the new waiter—never guessed that the liberal gift he received at Christmas time was offered, not to the accomplished waiter, but to the demon who had brought about so much happiness by his gift of a ball dress.

Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield, IL] 7 November 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although it was most thoughtful of Mrs. Col. B___ to offer to chaperone, it was, of course, highly improper for a young, unmarried lady to wear a ball gown of gold satin and black lace, rather than something pale and virginal. Perhaps we may excuse the contretemps with a ruling  that black lace might, construed under the most liberal interpretation and in emergency circumstances, be called “second mourning.”

 

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 Monkey at the Masquerade: 1908

Worked Out All Right.

One of the clerks of a well-known City merchant recently received an invitation to a masked ball at his employer’s, and was the envy of his comrades. Resolved to do all he could to make the occasion a success, he spent a good deal of time in devising and making his masquerade costume, which, after long deliberation, he resolved should be that of a monkey. Then he spent a week learning a number of tricks —grinning, clambering on the chimney-piece, springing on to the table, and balancing himself on the back of a chair.

The evening came. He rang the bell, gave his overcoat into the servant’s arms, and, with a grin and chatter, turned a somersault under the chandelier. The gentlemen stood stupefied, the ladies screamed. His mask prevented him from seeing much, but the noise encouraged him to bound over a sofa and throw down a cabinet of old china. At this moment a hand seized him, tore off his mask, and the voice of his employer asked him what he meant by his idiotic conduct. Before he could explain he was hustled out of the house, learning by one glimpse that the rest of the company were in evening dress.

The next day he was sent for, and entered the office with trembling knees.

“I had the pleasure of a visit from you last evening,” said the gentleman.

“Yes. sir; that is—I—”

“No excuses,” said the other; “no excuses. I have doubled your salary. I noticed that you were overlooked for promotion last year. Good morning. Shut the door after you.”

“Well, I’ll be blessed!” said the clerk, going out. His employer had made an early investigation into the matter, and found that the other clerks had “put up a job” on the young man by sending him a bogus invitation. The employer made things even by promoting him over their heads.

Otago Witness 7 October 1908: p. 88

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In the newspapers and women’s magazines, invitations to masked balls issued to young clerks by their employers almost always end happily, as we have seen previously in the story of The Four Red Devils.

Mrs Daffodil does not think that this is a common occurrence in Real Life. She is puzzled by the extraordinary forbearance of the employer in not summoning the police or a lunacy commission, but perhaps the gentleman knew that the cabinet of old china was insured for far more than he had paid for his aesthetic-minded wife’s tiresome collection.

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.

384,000 Squeezes: The Evidence in the Breach-of-Promise Case: 1901

 

They were in to see a divorce lawyer yesterday — Mary Ann and her mother. Mary Ann was a little embarrassed, but the old woman was calm. When they spoke about a breach-of-promise case the lawyer asked:

“What evidence have you got?”

“Mary Ann, produce the letters,” commanded the mother, and the girl took the cover off a willow basket and remarked that she thought 927 letters would do to begin on. The other 651 would be produced as soon as the case was fairly before the court

“And outside of these letters?” queried the lawyer.

“Mary Ann, produce your diary,” said the mother. “Now turn to the heading of ‘Promises,’ and tell how many times this marriage business was talked over.”

“The footing is 214 times,” answered the girl

“Now turn to the heading of ‘Darling,’ and give us the number of times he has applied the term to you.”

“If I have figured right, the total is 9,254 times.”

“I guess you counted pretty straight, for you are good in arithmetic. Now turn to the heading of ‘Woodbine Cottage,’ and tell as how many times he has talked of such a home for you after marriage.”

“The footing is 1,395 times.”

“Very well. This lawyer wants to be sure that we’ve got a case. How many times has Charles Henry said he would die for you?”

‘Three hundred and fifty,” answered the girl as she turned over a leaf.

“How many times has he called you an angel?”

“Over 11,000, mamma.”

“How about squeezing hands?”

“Over 384,000 squeezes.”

“And kisses?”

“Nearly 417,000.”

“There’s our case,” said the mother, as she deposited basket and diary on the lawyer’s table. “Look over the documents, and if you want anything further I can bring in a dozen neighbors to swear to facts. We sue for $10,000 damages, and we don’t settle for less than an eighty-acre farm, with buildings in good repair. We’ll call again next week. Good day, sir!”

Hot Stuff by Funny Men, 1901: p. 237

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: And to think that some persons believe that girls have no business studying mathematics!  A persuasive argument to the contrary…

 

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 Cast Iron Stove: 1890

“Nancy!” said Mr. Moppet.

“Sir?” responded Nancy.

Mr. Moppet was coming in from the garden path. Nancy, with plump white arms bared to the elbow, was washing the breakfast dishes in a deep pan of hot soapsuds.

Mr. Moppet was a hard featured elderly man, with whitish blue eyes, a straggly fringe of white beard beneath his square chin, and a bald cranium. Nancy was fresh colored and bright eyed, with silky tendrils of auburn hair drooping over her freckled forehead, and a certain dimple perpetually playing at hide-and-seek on her left cheek. The two completely realized Shakespeare’s ideal of “Crabbed Age and Youth.”

“I’m a-goin’ to town,” said Mr Moppet. “You won’t need to bile no pot victuals for dinner. Waste makes want. A cup o’ tea and a biled egg and what’s left o’ yesterday’s pork and greens — that’ll be all you need.”

“Yes, father,” acquiesced Nancy. She was thinking of something else all the while.

“And, talkin’ ’bout eggs,” added Mr. Moppet, “you may take four dozen up to Peach Farm. Mrs. Wixon wants plenty on ’em to make cake for her niece’s party. Better go early this morning’.”

Nancy colored scarlet under the auburn rings of hair “Can’t I send ’em up by little Bill Becker, father?” said she “Webster Wixon will be there, and — and I don t like Webster Wixon, with his red nose and his compliments.” Mr. Moppet frowned.

“Nancy,” said he, “don’t be a fool. I can see through ye, like ye was a pane o’ glass. Webster Wixon’s a well-to-do man, with money out at interest, and you’d oughter be tickled to death that he’s took a notion to you.”

“But, father—”

“Not another word,” grumbled Mr Moppet. “I know jest exactly what’s comin’. It’s that foolish nonsense about Absalom Parker, that I hoped you’d got over long ago. Absalom hain’t no properly, and ain’t like to have none, and no daughter o’ mine ain’t goin’ to marry your Grandfather Atkins’s hired man, not if I know it.”

He paused with this multiplicity of double negatives. Nancy set her small, pearl-white teeth together, her eyes flashed with hazel fire. It was a clear ease of true love versus money.

“Take them eggs straight up to Peach Farm, ” reiterated Mr. Moppet, shaking his forefinger at Nancy, “an’ don’t argufy the p’nt no further. I’m your father, and I know what’s best for you!”

“But you’re going right past the Wixons’ door.”

“No, I ain’t, neither I’m goin’ the Horn Hill Road. I’ve been app’inted by the Supply Committee to buy an air-tight wood stove for the church,” he added with some complacency. “The old one’s rusted clear out, so there’s danger o’ fire every time its used, and the brethren have subscribed twenty dollars for a new one—leastways, a second-hand one, if its jest as good.”

* * *

Webster Wixon, a fat, middle-aged bachelor, was out helping to gather the October apples on the north side of the house when Nancy came up. He made haste to welcome her.

“Good mornin’, Miss Nancy,” said he. “As bloomin’ as ever, I see.”

“Here’s your eggs,” spoke Nancy, curtly.

“Set down a spell, won’t ye?” simpered Mr. Wixon.

“I’m in a hurry,” said Nancy.

“But, Nancy—”

“My name’s Miss Moppet, sir!”

“I’ve got something very particular to say to you, Nancy,” urged the middle aged suitor.

“It’ll have to keep,” said Nancy. “I’ve got to get right home.”

“Can’t I walk with you a piece?”

“I’d rather go alone,” she persisted.

“Nancy—Miss Moppet—I must speak!” blurted out the old bachelor. “I love you better’n all the world! I want to make you Mrs. Webster Wixon! There that s what I had on my mind! And your good father, he says it would suit him exactly, and__”

Nancy wheleed around and faced her eager swain.

“Is it me or father, you’re a-courting?” said she.

“Why you, of course!”

“Then take my answer—No!”

And without waiting for the return of her basket, she hurried away, her cheeks blazing, her breath coming quick and fast.

“Father’ll be awful mad,” she thought, “but I’d sooner die than marry that man!”

Webster Wixon stood a minute gazing after her in crestfallen silence; then he went back to apple harvesting with an ominous compression of his lips.

“The madder she gets the prettier she looks,” thought he. “Well, well, time will show. Brother Moppet says she shall be my wife, and that ought to count for consid’able.

***

Mr. Moppet drove leisurely on to Horn Hill, drove an excellent bargain for a highly ornamental wood-stove, after having successively interviewed every hardware dealer in town, and set forth to return with it in his wagon just at dusk.

“It’s a warm day for the time o’ year,” said he, “and it’s easier traveling for the horse arter dark. It ain’t a bad day’s work, come to think on’t. I beat Brother Piper down pretty well on the price, and it’s worth a dollar’n half to cart the thing home over these bumpy roads. They ‘lowed twenty dollars for it, and I got it for fifteen. Takin’ my time and wheel wear and horseflesh into consideration, I guess I won’t say nothin’ about the odd five dollars. Business is business. It’s a proper pretty pattern too — thistle leaves and acorns. I’d like one the same fashion in my best room, and” — with a long whistle — “why shouldn’t I have it? There’s that second handed stove Gran’ther Atkins took for a debt from Solon Grubb. It’s jest standin’ rustin’ away in his back wood shed.  I’ll fetch it home to morrow and black it up, and let Elder Meachan suppose I got a bargain from somebody, and I’ll have the nice new stove for myself, and nobody’ll be none the wiser, now that Gran’ther Atkins is confined to his bed with creepin’ paralysis and Absalom Parker’s up in the wood lots, choppin’ down trees for winter firewood. It’s a good idee. I’m glad I happened to think of it!”

He drew rein opposite the Atkins house. All was dark and quiet there save the one red light that burned in old Mr Atkins’s bed room.

At that identical moment, had he but known it, Absalom Parker — the old man’s general factotum— was hanging over the garden gate of his own place, talking to pretty Nancy among the purple dahlias and quilled asters.

And it was no difficult task for a man of John Moppet’s physical strength skillfully to lift the old stove out of its place in the outer shed into his wagon.

“Git up, Prince,” he muttered to his horse, shaking the reins, and away they went.

Elder Meachan was not quite satisfied with the bargain. The chruch brethren, too, would have preferred a new stove, considering the money they had spent; but Brother Moppet was a man in authority, and they were compelled to acquiesce in his choice.

Nancy was delighted with the new acquisition for the best room.

“Oh, isn’t it pretty!” said she.

“Yes,” nodded Mr. Moppet, rubbing his hands, “It’ll sort o’ dress up the room for your weddin’.”

“My wedding!”

“Jest so. I’ve arranged matters with Webster Wixon, and__”

Nancy burst into tears, and ran out of the room.

Mr. Moppet glared balefully after her.

“She shall marry him,” muttered he, “or she shall be no darter o’ mine! I won’t be set at defiance by__ Why, hello, Absalom Parker, what brings you here?”

“Mr. Atkins is took wuss this afternoon,” said Absalom, standing at the doorway, like a rustic Apollo. “Wants to see ye—right off!”

It was a Saturday afternoon. As Mr. Moppet drove by the church door, he saw the load of wood being delivered for the first fire of the season.

“Jest in time!” said he to himself. “There’s a frosty feel in the air.”

Grandfather Atkin lay among his pillows, like a wrinkled ghost.

“John,” said he, “all I’ve got in the world is yours; but I think I’d ought to tell you where I’ve hid it, sence the bank robbery give me such a scare.”

“Certainly, certainly!” said his son-in-law, with eager eyes, like those of a bird of prey.

“I’ve hid it away—“

John Moppet placed his ear close to the pallid lips.

“Six five-hundred-dollars bills—“

“Yes, yes—go on!”

“Folded up in an old number of the Horn Hill Gazette—”

“An old number of the Horn Hill Gazette—I understand!” repeated Moppet.

“In the old stove out in the shed!” gasped the old man. “I knowed nobody wouldn’t be likely to look there! It’s your’s John Moppet—every cent of it. And mind you, don’t spend it in no extravagance!”

So speaking the old miser closed his dim eyes and went where there is neither money nor counting of money.

John Moppet uttered an exceeding bitter cry as he remembered the lighted match he had put to the crumpled papers in the stove, to make sure of a draught when it was put up in the northwest corner of the church — the roar of the blaze through the lengths of Russian pipe. In his excellent management he had contrived to overreach himself.

He went home and sat all the evening in a sort of stupor, with his head in his hands.

Nancy, busied about her household tasks, watched him with hazel eyes of surprise.

“I didn’t know he thought so much of Gran’ther Atkins,” pondered she.

“Six times five is thirty—six time five is thirty,” mused Mr. Moppet, rocking to and fro. “Six five-hundred-dollar bills!  Three—thousand—dollars—and all gone up chimbly in one breath o’ wind, and me as done it! I shall go crazy. I shall lose my mind. Three—thou—sand—dollars!  It’s a judgment on me. I’ve been a mis’able sinner, and cheated the church. I’ve tampered with my own conscience. Six times five is thirty! Six five-hundred-dollar bills! Oh, Lord, there ain’t no calculatin’ what a mis’able sinner I’ve been!”

As the old kitchen clock struck nine, Absalom Parker came in, bringing with him a gust of fresh, frosty air.

“Evenin’, Squire,” said he. “I’m sort o’ looking up the watchers. ‘Spose you’d like to be one of ‘em? But I’d like to speak a word to you first.”

“If it’s about Nancy, it ain’t no use,” said Mr. Moppet, rousing himself to the affairs of the world with some petulance.

“It ain’t about Nancy,” Absalom answered, with a smile. “It’s about Mr. Atkins’s money.”

Mr. Moppet gave a start.

“Oh, you needn’t jump so,” reassured Absalom. “It’s all safe.”

He took a flat parcel out of his pocket.

“Count ‘em,” said he. “Six, ain’t there?”

Mr. Moppet started at Absalom Parker as Aladdin might have started at the Genii.

“How –where —“ he stammered.

Absalom gave a low chuckle.

“Hush!” said he. “Don’t speak loud. I seen the old man hide ‘em there, like a human magpie as he was. I knowed it wasn’t safe, so I quietly took ‘em out, arter he’d had that last stroke, and locked ‘em in his black leather trunk up in the garret. And you may thank me that they wasn’t all burned up in the first fire you lighted in that identical stove!”

Mr. Moppet turned a purplish red.

“You know about that stove?” said he, with a gasp.

“It wasn’t likely no such conjuring could go on about Mr. Atkins’s place, and me not know it,” said Parker, drily. “The stove wasn’t of no great consequence, though, except for old iron. I guess the church folks’ll get sick of it before a great while.”

Mr. Moppet drew a long breath.

“When they do,” said he, “I’ll make ‘em a present of a brand new one. And, Absalom–”

“Yes, Mr Moppet?”

“You won’t say nothin’ to nobody'”

“No,” said Absalom, “I ain’t one o’ the talkin’ sort.”

“And, Absalom — ”

“Yes, Mr Moppet?”

“Since you and Nancy really are attached to each other–”

“We are just that, Mr Moppet.”

“I don’t see no objection to your gettin’ married this fall,” said Moppet, with an effort. “You may tell Nancy that she has my consent!”

Nancy cried a shower of happy tears when Absalom told her the good news.

But he never imparted to her the story of the stove. As he himself had remarked, “he was not one of the talkin’ sort.”

The Newton [AL] Messenger 10 May 1890: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil does so like a happy ending. This is a much nicer outcome than the all-too-common stories of forgetful gentlemen who stored their dynamite in the stove with depressingly predictable results.

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 Telephone Tapper: 1903

candlestick telephone 1902

A TELEPHONE EAVESDROPPER

“Of all the strange occupations the strangest is that of telephone tapper,” said an old employe of the telephone company the other day. “There aren’t ten men in Chicago who know what a telephone tapper is, but there are hundreds of persons who have come to grief through his work.

“The tapper is a man who is hired by the telephone company. His business is to tap the wires on party lines, at hotels, and such places, to see if the telephone is being used by persons who are not careful of what they say. Often the company receives complaints that telephone users say unprintable things that are unavoidably overheard. The company tries to do away with this sort of patronage. Hence the tapper.

“The tapper must be a man of infinite patience. I have known them to sit for 20 hours at a stretch waiting for a signal. When a complaint is made that the wrong kind of talk is circulating on a party line the tapper goes to one of the houses, generally the home of the complainant, and taps the wire. This is done with a specially constructed instrument, just as does any telephone. It is fastened to the regular phone and then the tapper sits back with the receiver clamped to his ear to await a call.

Takes Notes on What He Hears.

“He takes notes on every conversation he hears, and sometimes he must repeat his vigil day after day. As a rule he does not have to wait many hours, because the persons who use the telephones recklessly are at the instrument about as often as they can find time. “Not long ago a complaint was made by a man on a party line. He said that a very disgusting courtship was being carried on over the wire, and that his wife and daughter could not take down the receiver without hearing something they should not hear.

“The tapper was sent out to investigate. He rigged up his instrument and sat down to wait. All the afternoon he stuck to his post, hearing only the orders given to the butcher, the grocer, or the cola man. Finally in the evening shortly before dinner, the bell rang three times. The tapper looked at his notebook and learned the call was for the home of a well-known family. Soon the click was heard as a receiver came from the hook, and a young woman’s voice called out ‘Hello!’

“’Is this Miss___?’ asked a masculine voice.

“’Yes,’ went to the answer over the party line; ‘is this you?’ asked the young woman, calling the man by name. You see, the tapper had learned there in a minute who were the guilty parties. He remained at the receiver and heard a conversation that I would not repeat. He let the couple finish their conversation and then returned to the complaint office. Next day notice was served on the people who live in the house on the party line that the telephone must not be used as it had been in the past. The young woman protested that she had not talked over the telephone in a week, but when notes on the conversation were shown to her, she arose and indignantly swept from the room.

Some Laughable Experiences.

“The tapper often meets with laughable experiences. One of them was sent out to investigate the case where a man was in the habit of swearing a great deal when using the telephone. After a long wait without hearing him one day he left. Going back the next day he was more successful. He had hardly taken up his watch when the bell rang. The man he was after was calling another person.

“The men were at outs, it seemed, and began quarreling and swearing at each other. The talk soon became furious.

“’I’ll not stand for your way of doing, and I’ll take a punch at you the first time I see you,’ said one of the men, with a liberal supply of oaths.

“’If you do, your wife won’t know you when you go home,’ the other retorted, sandwiching a few smoking epithets between the other words.

“The verbal duel grew hotter. The tapper had the name of one of the men, but the other he did not know. But he finally got it. The conversation kept on until one called the other some kind of a liar.

“’I’ll whip you for that, or my name isn’t ___’ yelled the unknown, and the tapper had completed his chain. No complaints have since been made by persons on that line. The tapper’s work put an end to the disagreeable conversations.

“Of course, it very often happens that the tapper waits vainly for his parties, but he hears enough of the private affairs of people to fill a dozen such notebooks as he carries. One of the men was on a line not long ago when the bell rang and a young woman answered the ‘phone.

Talked of Champagne.

“’How’s your head today, dearie?’ asked a young man who had the other end of the line.

“‘Big as a balloon. I could hear champagne corks popping all night long. No more of the bubbles for me,’ came the answer.

“’I’ve been feeling badly all day, too. I can taste that chop suey yet. What did your mother say?’

“‘Oh, not much of anything. I kept out of sight. I’ve got to go to an old club meeting tonight and I’d rather take a whipping.’

“At this point in the conversation the click of a receiver was heard on the line.

“‘Watch out,’ said the young man, warningly; ‘somebody is cutting in. Good-bye.’

“A tapper was sent down to one of the big hotels on Michigan avenue not long ago. The hotel management said that guests had complained of overhearing distasteful talk over the wires. The tapper rigged up his instrument at the switchboard and waited. I don’t know that he got the right parties, but he heard one very lively little conversation.

“A drop at the switchboard fell, indicating that a guest in a certain room was calling. In a refined voice an elderly man asked for a number which I have since learned is that of a ‘phone in a Drexel boulevard home.

“‘Is this Mrs. So-and-so?’ asked the man.

“‘Yes,’ came the answer.

“‘How about a nice little dinner tonight down town?’ was the next question.

“‘All right,’ answered the woman; ‘but, say, this is the last one. My son is coming home from Yale for his vacation in a few days, and my husband is coming on from New York with him. You must not call me up under any circumstances after this. I’ll be down at 5:30 this evening, but we’ll have to abandon our little dinners. It’s too bad, but you know when the cat comes home the mouse must keep hidden.’

“The tapper knows pretty well what is going on about town and could tell many stories. He is a close-mouthed fellow, however, and knows it is best to keep still. If the people who use telephones knew that they are telling their stories to a tapper as well as to the person at the other end of the line, they would be more careful.

“Tappers themselves say that dead men and telephone tappers tell no stories, but the latter keeps a record of what he learns, and in the record are the names of some people who are supposed by their friends to be of the goody-goody sort.

“It’s a peculiar kind of work at any rate, and one of which the public knows nothing.”

Tacoma [WA] Evening News 21 March 1903: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To judge from remarks in the early-twentieth-century press, the work of the tapper was considered rather sordid and unethical.  All the peeping and prying was entirely too suggestive of the unpleasantries of what lawyers called “divorce work.” One is reminded of the statement of U.S. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson who closed the intelligence-gathering Cipher Bureau with the remark, “Gentlemen do not read each others’ mail.”

Of course, the profession still exists on to-day with, of course, rather different machinery and objectives. One doubts that any of to-day’s  tappers are interested in improper language or courtships, unless they have been specially hired by a suspicious spouse.

Mrs Daffodils wonders that there was ever a necessity to enlist trained operatives to “listen in” on illicit telephone communications. There were many talented amateurs who routinely and “inadvertently” overheard party-line conversations and who would happily report their findings to a rapt audience.

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 Sea Dog: 1850s

collie dog

Shakins and the Tough Four.

Perhaps there are persons who have read some of my previous stories of sea dogs who may think that I never bought a dog but was always picking up homeless ones, but they wrong me, for I have bought several in my life; but after varied experiences with both boughten ones and pick-ups, the latter classes have almost invariably proven to have been the most precious ones, and then again I rather think my fad was for canine waifs and strays.

It was in Liverpool that I picked up Shakins. He looked friendless and as if searching for some one to be good to him, and I called him to me, and patting his head and talking to him, said, “Come along, old fellow,” and he was nothing loth to accept my invitation. When we arrived at the dock gate, the policeman on duty said to me, “Are you going to take that dog aboard your ship, Captain? I hope you are, for he deserves a good home. His former master was the mate of a ship that left here a few days ago. The poor mate died and his dog has been watching for his return ever since. He is half starved, but we feed him at times.”

That settled it with me, and again patting the poor fellow on the head, I determined that he should have as good a home as he had lost. The dog evidently knew that I was to be his new master, and having been indorsed by the policeman, a future home was as good as assured. He was a collie, and a bright, clean one at that; with a clear, loving eye, and as gentle as a little girl. As soon as we got on deck, the dog was wild with joy. He frisked about the decks and barked and frolicked around as if to say, “Home at last!” When we entered the cabin, he went around peering into every stateroom, perhaps in quest of some trace of his late master, but quite as likely to familiarize himself with his new surroundings; at any rate, he soon made himself quite at home. I told the story of the dog to the two mates, and they at once took kindly to the fellow, and before the day was over he was on excellent terms with all hands fore and aft. The second mate christened him “Shakins,” why that name I do not now remember, but it suited me and the dog, and hence that was his name, and one never to be forgotten by anyone who sailed in that ship on that memorable voyage.

Some of my crew that came from New York in the ship got the gold fever and ran away, and I was obliged to ship some new men. Several of these were not to my liking, but they were the best to be had under the circumstances. Four of them the mate christened the “Tough Four,” before they had been on board as many days. However, the marked quartette obeyed all orders promptly and gave us no trouble; but they were a forbidding looking lot of chaps, to say the least. Shakins did not like them at all, and while he was fairly familiar with the rest of the crew, he would have nothing to do with these fellows. Several times I was on the point of telling them to come aft and get their wages and go on shore, but I was confronted with the great difficulty of getting men to fill their places, and finally dismissed the matter from my mind.

The afternoon before we sailed several boxes of specie were delivered alongside the ship, to be put on board. In those days there were no steam lines to Brazil—we were bound to Rio Janeiro—so that specie shipments were of common occurrence on sailing vessels. It so happened that the four toughs had a hand in putting the boxes on board and, of course, knew from their weight and markings that they contained money. They were put in my state room temporarily. Nothing unusual transpired on our outward passage, until we had been out from Liverpool about three weeks, when one night as I was looking into the binnacle to see if the man at the wheel was keeping on his course, he said to me, “Say, Captain, you’ll have to excuse me, but most of us fellows forward don’t like the four fellows we shipped in Liverpool. They’s bad ones, they is. I think they are hatching up some plot to make mischief on board this ship.”

I questioned him closely; but he could not make himself quite clear as to what kind of a plot the fellows were hatching, and after cautioning him to be careful, I asked him to ingratiate himself with the suspects, and gather all he could about the supposed plot and let me know.

All the while Shakins was my constant companion; and his marked intelligence bordered on the miraculous at times. Some of the superstitious old sailors said he was possessed of an evil spirit, and was an uncanny dog that was to be respected if not feared. He knew several colors by name, that is so far as the ship’s flags were concerned, and if told to bring the ensign, the jack, or the house flag, he would do it every tine without making a single mistake. Tell him to bring the quarantine flag—“Q” of the International Code of Signals—and he would pick it out of the nineteen flags of the code. If sent for a ball of cotton sewing twine, he would not bring the hemp twine, although they were in the same locker; in fact, he knew the names of the common things of everyday use on board the ship. He could scent land when we could not see it, and his varying bark—his language—soon became to be as well understood as if he had spoken, as we did, a common language. To the men he was a canine wonder.

We were out just thirty-one days from Liverpool, when Shakins demonstrated his prowess as a life-saver and made himself the hero of the ship. After dinner the passengers, of whom we had several on board, including a family with two little girls, went to their rooms for the customary afternoon nap. I had also lain down for the same bit of comfort, when I was awakened by the cry of “Man overboard!”

Rushing on deck I ordered the main topsail laid to the mast, and a boat lowered, sending a man aloft to keep the man in sight that was overboard. Judge of our surprise when the man aloft sung out: “It’s Shakins that is overboard, sir, and he has got something in his mouth, but I can’t just make out what it is yet.”

Just at this time little Minnie Foster’s mother was hunting for the child, a beautiful flaxen-haired girl of about seven years of age. Several joined in the hunt for Minnie, but she was nowhere to be found. Poor Mrs. Foster was running about crying, “Oh, my poor Minnie, it is she that has fallen overboard! She will be drowned!” And then falling into her husband’s arms, went into a faint.

It was not long before the boat was up to where Shakins was calmly holding Minnie by the back of her dress, waiting for the boat’s crew to receive them into their keeping. It seemed to me that the men pulled back to the ship even faster than they pulled away from her, for it was but a very short time from the announcement that Shakins had something in his mouth until Minnie and her rescuer were again in safety on our decks. Minnie told her story before her mother recovered from her swoon. She was playing on the transom locker aft and crawled up to one of the stern ports, lost her balance and fell through into the sea. Shakins saw her go and leaped in after her. I have told the rest. When Minnie’s mother came to, there was a rejoicing, and Shakins came in for a goodly share of that mother’s blessings. The dog was the hero of that ship from that hour until the voyage ended some months later. But before we shall have ended this story, it will be seen he was capable of still greater achievements.

The man at the wheel confessed that the tough four were too deep for him. He was unable to worm himself into their confidence, and must give up the task I had assigned him, and trust to luck to find out what they were up to; for he felt certain that mischief was brewing. I resolved to confide in no one but the mate, whom I could rely upon implicitly, and to him told what the man at the wheel had told me; but we could not between ourselves conjure up just what these four fellows were planning. We watched them closely, but they did their duty well and gave us aft no cause for complaint.

One night the thought came to me that they might be in a conspiracy to seize the ship and attempt to get away with the specie. I acted upon this stray thought, and each hour it weighed heavier on my mind. I loaded the firearms, placed them in a secure place, gave the mate a brace of pistols—there were no revolvers in those days—and began a most careful vigil, especially at night. Shakins now, as I remember, never permitted me to be out of his sight, and he became more adverse to the now to me suspicious four. Most of my sleep I took in the daytime, so that I might be better able to watch by night. I would go to my room as if to take my regular rest, and then when unobserved, come out and sit on the transom, behind the cabin staircase, which led from the quarter deck to the main cabin. After 10 o’clock at night the light was put out in the saloon. Shakins used to lie on the locker by my side or on the floor at my feet.

I had been on deck one night, when the port watch was relieved at 8-bells, midnight, and after passing the time of day with the officers, and cautioning the helmsman to steer a straight course, went below, and, going to my room, struck a match as if going to turn in as usual in my own berth; then silently taking my place on the transom, began my lonely watch. Shakins was by my side. I must have dozed off and been oblivious for some time, when suddenly Shakins rubbed his paw two or three times quickly over my face. I was up in an instant. There in his bare feet, with a big oaken heaver behind his back, one of the tough four was softly coming down the cabin stairs. Shakins was sitting on his haunches, but never a growl came from him. The fellow made for the door of my room. I permitted him to enter, then before he could do a thing, I whispered to him, “Move, speak, and you die, you villain,” at the same time wiping a brass pistol barrel across his face. “Drop that stick, put out your hands.” And quick as a flash I had the fellow handcuffed. “Now if you stir or make the least noise so as to alarm your confederates, I will blow your brains out certain. I know your whole plot.”

Shutting the door. I turned the key and was just going to call the mate, who was asleep in his room on the opposite side of the cabin, when I saw a shadow in the companion way, gliding along the side of the cabin, was hailed from the deck in a whisper, “Is it all right, shall I come down?” I whispered back, “Yes, come gently.” Down he came. As he passed me—for it was so dark that he could not see me—I grabbed him by the arm, and sticking the cold, brass muzzle of the pistol in his face—I should say on his face—said, “Open your mouth, and you are a dead man, or stir, except as I order, and I will kill you.” Leading him to the door of my room, I pushed him in, saying to the pair, “If you fellows stir, I will send you to hell in a second, and don’t you dare give any alarm.”

Then shutting the door, I ran to the mate’s room and, routing him out, sent him with his pistol to my room door to keep guard over my two captives, and to look out for any more of the gang that might come down into the cabin by the companionway. I then went out the forward cabin door, which was always kept locked after 10 o’clock at night; and to my surprise found the second mate bound and gagged at the main fife-rail. It took but an instant to cut his bonds, and telling him to go aft with the capstan bar—he going to the lee side of the house on deck, while I went up on the weather side—I met the third man of the quartette crouched down near the end of the house waiting for the signal to assist his shipmates. I kicked him and ordered him to go aft, and by the time the second mate had reached the wheel, where the fourth man of the gang was, the tough four were all prisoners. The fellow I had secured I marched down the cabin stairs, leaving the second mate to look out for the man at the wheel. All this time Shakins was a silent but much interested spectator, but never opened his mouth. He seemed to know that this was the time for whispering, and he had not learned how to do that as yet.

After sending the second mate down to my room to change places with the chief mate, I told the mate to go forward and summon all hands aft. Not getting any response to his repeated calls, he went forward cautiously and found the watch on deck stupid, and very difficult to awaken; but the watch below were speedily aroused and came aft. My story was quickly told, and in a few minutes the wheel had been relieved and the four mutineers, or rather pirates, were in double irons and securely stowed away in the carpenter’s shop. The scoundrels had drugged their watch mates and the four thought it was going to be an easy matter to kill the mate and me; and it would have been, but for Shakins waking me up at the right moment.

After breakfast I sent for the prisoners one by one and questioned them. Two refused to talk, but one confessed the whole plot, and the other confirmed what the confessing man had told me. They had planned to murder us all, save the second mate, whom they were to compel to navigate the ship near to the land; then put the specie in the boat, kill him, set fire to the ship and make their escape inland and divide the money. It was Shakins that brought their plans to grief. We carried the tough four into Rio, and delivered them to the American Consul. He jailed them until an opportunity presented itself and then shipped them in double irons for trial before a United States Commissioner at New York. Off Hatteras a vessel collided with the ship in a fog, sinking her. The crew were all saved, but the four that were not to be saved from death by law perished as they deserved to perish.

We finished our loading at Rio and went to Cronstadt, thence to London, and back home to New York. Shakins was made an idol of. In every port his deeds were told, both by the men forward and by us in the after part of the ship. Men petted him and women kissed the dear old fellow; but they never took away one whit of his love for me. He made several more voyages with me, but at last his strength began to fail, his eyesight dimmed, and I did not want to see him suffer on shipboard, so I left him on shore with a friend who I knew would care for him tenderly. When I returned some months afterward poor Shakins had gone to the Heaven prepared for dogs. He sleeps now on the banks of the Hudson in a quiet spot where I know he will not be disturbed. I would dearly love to mark his last resting place with a stone on which would be engraved a fitting tribute to his memory, a token of my love and affection for a friend whose equal I have never met. But, alas! I dare not do this, lest some dog-hater would disturb even the dust of dear old Shakins. Can you wonder I love dogs, and that tears will come when I tell of their goodness to me. B. S. OSBON.

Forest and Stream, Volume 65, 18 November 1905: pp. 406-7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is, Mrs Daffodil is given to understand, “National Dog Day,” so Mrs Daffodil thought it would be appropriate to share a thrilling story of a loyal sea-dog and his master. Captain B.S. Osbon led a life packed with incident, including standing trial for treason during the American Civil War and establishing the Mexican navy. (See his biography in The Nautical Gazette.)  He was also a journalist and his memoir, A Sailor of Fortune, is equally thrilling, Boys-Own-Paper stuff.  Shakins was fortunate to have found such a kind friend and companion.

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.