Category Archives: Impostures and Swindles

Ladies Who Collect Diamonds: 1888

 

DIAMOND COLLECTIONS

A Fashionable Fad That Is Uniquely Profitable as Well.

Jewelers’ Weekly

A jeweller says: “I saw a very handsome collection of diamonds a few days ago; not that there’s anything particularly surprising in that statement, but it was where I saw them that surprised me. They lay in soft little nests of cotton wool in the depths of a pretty Indian box, and to me, used to seeing them upon the tables in my own and other dealers’ offices, they looked rather strange when displayed in a prettily furnished drawing room. The diamonds in question rested upon an antique, spider-legged table, covered with quaint and delicate carvings.

“My hostess showed me the stones in a way which let me see she fully appreciated their value, and I ventured to ask her what on earth she was doing with such a quantity of unset gems, and whether she had any intention of opening an office in opposition to myself.

“’Why,’ said she, ‘is it possible that you don’t know it’s fashionable to make a collection of diamonds or precious stones?”

“I blushingly confessed my ignorance of fashion’s decree, and handing me a cup of tea, she bade me sit down and proceeded to enlighten me.

“’Every woman who can afford the hobby,’ said she, ‘now has a collection of diamonds. They are often bought under a guarantee that the jeweller who sells them will take them back at a certain percentage of the cost, and in my estimation they are better than stocks and bonds anyway as an investment, because their value doesn’t fluctuate to any extent and—because they are. That’s why!’

“I ventured to suggest that the latter reason was rather a feminine one and asked for further particulars.

“’Well,’ she continued, ‘there isn’t much more. A great many ladies of my acquaintance have snug little sums laid away in gems, but you may be sure they don’t let everybody know it, and it’s only their most intimate friends who have seen them. We who haven’t quite so valuable a collection, however, frequently meet at friendly tea parties, where we show our treasures and sometimes do a little trading; just enough to make us feel like business women, you know.

“I mentally blessed these ‘friendly tea parties,’ and ever since my visit have indulged in the wish that the number of their fair participants may multiply and prosper.”

The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 26 February 1888: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is a pity that some enterprising lady did not start the “Gem of the Month Club” in support of the jewel collectors. Mrs Daffodil considers that those persons who host parties for their friends where they attempt to sell plastic storage pieces and cosmetics are missing a lucrative opportunity.

The narrator’s condescending attitude towards ladies and their jewels was, alas, universal. A lady was happy to accept gems and jewellery from her husband or any other interested gentleman party, but would trust him to secure them at the vault and provide adequate cover in case of loss or theft. She was expected to adorn herself in the fruits of her husband’s industry (or the forbidden fruits of her personal affairs) and was told not to worry her pretty little head over her jewels’ safety or value. This perceived ignorance came in useful when ladies needed to have paste replicas made so that the genuine necklace or tiara might be put into the hands of some discreet pawnbroker for a little ready cash.

A YEAR TOO LATE.

A nobleman went to a pawnbroker to borrow a thousand pounds upon his wife’s jewels, and said, “I want you to take the stones out of the settings and put false ones in their stead, as I do not wish her to know that I have pawned them.”

“You are too late,” said the pawnbroker,” “for I purchased the real stones of my lady last year.”

2,000 Jokes and Jests: Wit, Humor and Anecdote, Native and Foreign, Classic and Otherwise, 1893  P. 32

 

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 Deferred Appointment: 1911

The Deferred Appointment

Algernon Blackwood

The little “Photographic Studio” in the side-street beyond Shepherd’s Bush had done no business all day, for the light had been uninviting to even the vainest sitter, and the murky sky that foreboded snow had hung over London without a break since dawn. Pedestrians went hurrying and shivering along the pavements, disappearing into the gloom of countless ugly little houses the moment they passed beyond the glare of the big electric standards that lit the thundering motor-buses in the main street. The first flakes of snow, indeed, were already falling slowly, as though they shrank from settling in the grime. The wind moaned and sang dismally, catching the ears and lifting the shabby coat-tails of Mr. Mortimer Jenkyn, “Photographic Artist,” as he stood outside and put the shutters up with his own cold hands in despair of further trade.

It was five minutes to six. With a lingering glance at the enlarged portrait of a fat man in masonic regalia who was the pride and glory of his window-front, he fixed the last hook of the shutter, and turned to go indoors. There was developing and framing to be done upstairs, not very remunerative work, but better, at any rate, than waiting in an empty studio for customers who did not come—wasting the heat of two oil-stoves into the bargain. And it was then, in the act of closing the street-door behind him, that he saw a man standing in the shadows of the narrow passage, staring fixedly into his face.

Mr. Jenkyn admits that he jumped. The man was so very close, yet he had not seen him come in; and in the eyes was such a curiously sad and appealing expression. He had already sent his assistant home, and there was no other occupant of the little two-storey house. The man must have slipped past him from the dark street while his back was turned. Who in the world could he be, and what could he want? Was he beggar, customer, or rogue?

“Good evening,” Mr. Jenkyn said, washing his hands, but using only half the oily politeness of tone with which he favoured sitters. He was just going to add “sir,” feeling it wiser to be on the safe side, when the stranger shifted his position so that the light fell directly upon his face, and Mr. Jenkyn was aware that he—recognised him. Unless he was greatly mistaken, it was the second-hand bookseller in the main street.

“Ah, it’s you, Mr. Wilson!” he stammered, making half a question of it, as though not quite convinced. “Pardon me; I did not quite catch your face—er—I was just shutting up.” The other bowed his head in reply. “Won’t you come in? Do, please.” Mr. Jenkyn led the way. He wondered what was the matter. The visitor was not among his customers; indeed, he could hardly claim to know him, having only seen him occasionally when calling at the shop for slight purchases of paper and what not. The man, he now realised, looked fearfully ill and wasted, his face pale and haggard. It upset him rather, this sudden, abrupt call. He felt sorry, pained. He felt uneasy.

Into the studio they passed, the visitor going first as though he knew the way, Mr. Jenkyn noticing through his flurry that he was in his “Sunday best.” Evidently he had come with a definite purpose. It was odd. Still without speaking, he moved straight across the room and posed himself in front of the dingy background of painted trees, facing the camera. The studio was brightly lit. He seated himself in the faded arm-chair, crossed his legs, drew up the little round table with the artificial roses upon it in a tall, thin vase, and struck an attitude. He meant to be photographed.

His eyes, staring straight into the lens, draped as it was with the black velvet curtain, seemed, however, to take no account of the Photographic Artist. But Mr. Jenkyn, standing still beside the door, felt a cold air playing over his face that was not merely the winter cold from the street. He felt his hair rise. A slight shiver ran down his back. In that pale, drawn face, and in those staring eyes across the room that gazed so fixedly into the draped camera, he read the signature of illness that no longer knows hope. It was Death that he saw.

In a flash the impression came and went—less than a second. The whole business, indeed, had not occupied two minutes. Mr. Jenkyn pulled himself together with a strong effort, dismissed his foolish obsession, and came sharply to practical considerations. “Forgive me,” he said, a trifle thickly, confusedly, “but I—er—did not quite realise. You desire to sit for your portrait, of course. I’ve had such a busy day, and—’ardly looked for a customer so late.” The clock, as he spoke, struck six. But he did not notice the sound. Through his mind ran another reflection: “A man shouldn’t ‘ave his picture taken when he’s ill and next door to dying. Lord! He’ll want a lot of touching-up and finishin’, too!”

He began discussing the size, price, and length—the usual rigmarole of his “profession,” and the other, sitting there, still vouchsafed no comment or reply. He simply made the impression of a man in a great hurry, who wished to finish a disagreeable business without unnecessary talk. Many men, reflected the photographer, were the same; being photographed was worse to them than going to the dentist. Mr. Jenkyn filled the pauses with his professional running talk and patter, while the sitter, fixed and motionless, kept his first position and stared at the camera. The photographer rather prided himself upon his ability to make sitters look bright and pleasant; but this man was hopeless. It was only afterwards Mr. Jenkyn recalled the singular fact that he never once touched him—that, in fact, something connected possibly with his frail appearance of deadly illness had prevented his going close to arrange the details of the hastily assumed pose.

“It must be a flashlight, of course, Mr. Wilson,” he said, fidgeting at length with the camera-stand, shifting it slightly nearer; while the other moved his head gently yet impatiently in agreement. Mr. Jenkyn longed to suggest his coming another time when he looked better, to speak with sympathy of his illness; to say something, in fact, that might establish a personal relation. But his tongue in this respect seemed utterly tied. It was just this personal relation which seemed impossible of approach—absolutely and peremptorily impossible. There seemed a barrier between the two. He could only chatter the usual professional commonplaces. To tell the truth, Mr. Jenkyn thinks he felt a little dazed the whole time—not quite his usual self. And, meanwhile, his uneasiness oddly increased. He hurried. He, too, wanted the matter done with and his visitor gone.

At length everything was ready, only the flashlight waiting to be turned on, when, stooping, he covered his head with the velvet cloth and peered through the lens— at no one! When he says “at no one,” however, he qualifies it thus: “There was a quick flash of brilliant white light and a face in the middle of it—my gracious Heaven! But such a face—’im, yet not ’im—like a sudden rushing glory of a face! It shot off like lightning out of the camera’s field of vision. It left me blinded, I assure you, ’alf blinded, and that’s a fac’. It was sheer dazzling!”

It seems Mr. Jenkyn remained entangled a moment in the cloth, eyes closed, breath coming in gasps, for when he got clear and straightened up again, staring once more at his customer over the top of the camera, he stared for the second time at—no one. And the cap that he held in his left hand he clapped feverishly over the uncovered lens. Mr. Jenkyn staggered… looked hurriedly round the empty studio, then ran, knocking a chair over as he went, into the passage. The hall was deserted, the front door closed. His visitor had disappeared “almost as though he hadn’t never been there at all”—thus he described it to himself in a terrified whisper. And again he felt the hair rise on his scalp; his skin crawled a little, and something put back the ice against his spine.

After a moment he returned to the studio and somewhat feverishly examined it. There stood the chair against the dingy background of trees; and there, close beside it, was the round table with the flower vase. Less than a minute ago Mr. Thomas Wilson, looking like death, had been sitting in that very chair. “It wasn’t all a sort of dreamin’, then,” ran through his disordered and frightened mind. “I did see something…!” He remembered vaguely stories he had read in the newspapers, stories of queer warnings that saved people from disasters, apparitions, faces seen in dream, and so forth. “Maybe,” he thought with confusion, “something’s going to ’appen to me!” Further than that he could not get for some little time, as he stood there staring about him, almost expecting that Mr. Wilson might reappear as strangely as he had disappeared. He went over the whole scene again and again, reconstructing it in minutest detail. And only then, for the first time, did he plainly realise two things which somehow or other he had not thought strange before, but now thought very strange. For his visitor, he remembered, had not uttered a single word, nor had he, Mr. Jenkyn, once touched his person… And, thereupon, without more ado, he put on his hat and coat and went round to the little shop in the main street to buy some ink and stationery which he did not in the least require.

The shop seemed all as usual, though Mr. Wilson himself was not visible behind the littered desk. A tall gentleman was talking in low tones to the partner. Mr. Jenkyn bowed as he went in, then stood examining a case of cheap stylographic pens, waiting for the others to finish. It was impossible to avoid overhearing. Besides, the little shop had distinguished customers sometimes, he had heard, and this evidently was one of them. He only understood part of the conversation, but he remembers all of it. “Singular, yes, these last words of dying men,” the tall man was saying, “very singular. You remember Newman’s: ‘More light,’ wasn’t it?” The bookseller nodded.

“Fine,” he said, “fine, that!” There was a pause. Mr. Jenkyn stooped lower over the pens. “This, too, was fine in its way,” the gentleman added, straightening up to go; “the old promise, you see, unfulfilled but not forgotten. Cropped up suddenly out of the delirium. Curious, very curious! A good, conscientious man to the last. In all the twenty years I’ve known him he never broke his word…”

A motor-bus drowned a sentence, and then was heard in the bookseller’s voice, as he moved towards the door. “…You see, he was half-way down the stairs before they found him, always repeating the same thing, ‘I promised the wife, I promised the wife.’ And it was a job, I’m told, getting him back again… he struggled so. That’s what finished him so quick, I suppose. Fifteen minutes later he was gone, and his last words were always the same, ‘I promised the wife’…”

The tall man was gone, and Mr. Jenkyn forgot about his purchases. “When did it ’appen?” he heard himself asking in a voice he hardly recognised as his own. And the reply roared and thundered in his ears as he went down the street a minute later to his house: “Close on six o’clock—a few minutes before the hour. Been ill for weeks, yes. Caught him out of bed with high fever on his way to your place, Mr. Jenkyn, calling at the top of his voice that he’d forgotten to see you about his picture being taken. Yes, very sad, very sad indeed.”

But Mr. Jenkyn did not return to his studio. He left the light burning there all night. He went to the little room where he slept out, and next day gave the plate to be developed by his assistant. “Defective plate, sir,” was the report in due course; “shows nothing but a flash of light—uncommonly brilliant.” “Make a print of it all the same,” was the reply. Six months later, when he examined the plate and print, Mr. Jenkyn found that the singular streaks of light had disappeared from both. The uncommon brilliance had faded out completely as though it had never been there.

The Times-Democrat [New Orleans LA] 12 March 1911: p. 39

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Algernon Blackwood is perhaps best known for his “weird” supernatural and horror fiction. This is a workmanlike example of one of his ghost stories.

Mrs Daffodil regrets that the death-like countenance of Mr Wilson did not appear in the plate or the print so that the image could have been presented to his wife as a memento (mori) of the occasion. Normally a post-mortem photograph would be taken at the home of the deceased, with the decedent passively submitting to the professional ministrations of the photographic artist. The notion of a post-mortem photograph taken of a subject who not only walked into the photographic studio but posed himself at a table containing a vase of artificial roses is uncommonly chilling.

 

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.

Left-Over Laundry: 1889

 

laundry 1901

LEFT-OVER LAUNDRY

Novel Business of a Smart Young Boston Man

“Those bundles,” said he, “which that young man took off with him were what would be called left-over laundry. That is, they have lain upon our shelves for several months since they were washed and have never been called for.”

“Do you have many such bundles?” “Well, yes, we do. That young man who just went out calls here about once a month and he gets just about as many bundles every time. You see there are a great many forgetful people in this world, and many of them will take a bundle of clothes to some laundry office, and then, before it comes time to take them out, will have forgotten where they left them, and so the stuff is left on the agent’s hands. Then again many of the bundles are left by drummers and other travellers who are called away from town before their clothes are washed, and either do not come back at all or have forgotten the place when they do come.

“Then there is still another class: Young men who have money one day and are broke the next. These fellows will often leave large bundles and then will not have money enough to spare to get them out for some time and when they do get them the laundry has been in the office so long that they feel ashamed to call for it. From these and some other causes we have many bundles which would never be called for it they laid on our shelves for ten years. Until within a few months all of these bundles have been a dead loss to us, as we are obliged to pay the laundryman for washing the clothes and then get nothing for them.

“As they are all second-hand clothes we could not sell them until this young man came long and he takes all we have off our hands. What does he do with them? Why, he sells them, of course, he makes a business of it, and goes all over the city and suburbs, collecting this uncalled-for laundry. Of course he has to buy it blind, as he is not allowed to examine the bundles before purchasing them, and so he gets all sorts of things in all sorts of conditions, but as, for instance, he only has to pay ten cents for a shirt, and often gets one which is nearly new and costs perhaps $2, he can afford to get stuck on a few of the things.

“He has made it his business to get acquainted with poor young men and women, to whom he sells articles for about a quarter of what they would cost in the stores and still manages to clear from 300 to 500 per cent on his sales. Not a bad profit, if the sales are big enough, is it? And the business is an easy and a clean one to handle. Altogether it is one of the most novel methods of making a living that I have heard of for some time.”

Denver [CO] Rocky Mountain News 29 December 1889: p. 17

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is always interested to hear of ingenious entrepreneurs who find ways to re-use clothing—an idea which is attracting new interest these days. We have heard of the lady who renovated silks, and of the widow who cleverly restyled outworn fashions.  Second-hand clothing was a lucrative business, either as clothing or even as rags. Certainly it would have been a more cleanly trade than handling the clothes at slop– or pawn-shops. One wonders if the young man kept a store-front or if he went door-to-door to those poor young men and women, peddling the contents of the bundles.

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 Lost Columbine: 1922

the lost columbine illustration2

The Lost Columbine

By Julian Street

“About this fancy-dress ball at the country club tonight,” said Archibald Welkins, as his wife, looking very lovely in a French-blue housedress, poured the morning coffee, “I don’t quite like the idea, do you, Eleanor?”

Her large blue eyes turned up to him inquiringly.

“What don’t you like about it, dear?” she asked.

“Oh, this fool notion of husbands and wives dressing separately–not knowing about each other’s costumes.”

Often in the eight years of their married life he had been disturbed by her trait of remaining silent when she disagreed with him, and now, as she did not reply, he stated more explicitly what was in his mind, saying: “I think we’d better tell each other what we’re going to wear.”

“We’ll find out when we unmask,” she said.

“But I think the idea of secrecy is all nonsense,” he insisted with a little show of heat.

“Pass Mr. Welkins the marmalade,” his wife said to the maid.

He helped himself, then repeated: “I think it’s all nonsense!”

But she did not answer. He had never known a woman with Eleanor’s capacity for silence. It gave her a mysterious power.

“The steward at the club told me they’d had over five hundred acceptances,” he went on. “That means a mixed crowd, and I’d like to know what your costume is going to be so I can look after you.” “That’s sweet of you,” she answered, “but I’m sure I shan’t need looking after.”

“You might,” he declared.

“Oh, I don’t think so not at our own country club.”

“But I tell you it’s going to be a mixed crowd. You’re a darn pretty woman–and a blonde.” And as again she was silent, he added in a tone that held a hint of accusation: “Blondes always attract more attention.”

“Take some hot toast,” she said to him as the maid appeared. He took some, and waited till she left the room. Then he said:

“I wonder why men always think good looking blondes are–” But he did not finish the sentence.

“Are what?” she asked.

“Well, anyway,” he declared, “fancy dress makes people reckless. They feel that the lid’s off. There’ll be a lot of flasks, too. There’s so much more drinking since prohibition. That’s another reason why I want to know.

“Know what?”

“What?” he repeated irritably. “Just what I’ve been asking you what you’re going to wear.”

“I don’t think it would be playing the game to tell,” she said. “How do you like this bacon? It’s a new brand.”

“Look here,” he said sharply, “you can’t put me off that way! You say you don’t need looking after, but your memory doesn’t seem to be so good as mine! Before your flirtation with that dolled-up French officer you fell for, I used to think you didn’t need looking after, too! But I guess I–” He stopped.

Having thrown in her face the one indiscretion of her married life, he instantly regretted it. He always did. He always told himself that to keep referring to it was to take a mean advantage of her, and that he would never speak of it again. Strange that he could not overcome the jealousy left with him by that episode of several years ago, when, ever since, she had been so circumspect. After all it had been only a mild flirtation, and the Frenchman wasn’t very young. He was a fool to keep thinking of it, and a greater fool to harp upon it.

He said no more, but left the table, angry with her and angry with himself.

II

In the interest of secrecy it had been arranged that the wives should dine and dress together in certain houses in the neighborhood, while the husbands dined and dressed in others, and that all should arrive at the club masked. Archibald Welkins consequently left the limousine to be used by his wife and her friends, and taking the bag containing his costume, which was supposed to resemble King Charles II, drove in his roadster to Tom Bayne’s house, where he found a group of men, some of them already in their finery, some dressing, all with cocktail glasses in their hands.

By the time he had donned the regal wig and knee breeches, and drank three cocktails, he began to change his mind about the fancy dress ball. It was an amusing idea, this secrecy. He was going to have a good time. Nevertheless, when he asked Eleanor what she was going to wear she should have told him. He still felt some resentment about that.

Tom Bayne had an excellent cellar. With dinner he served large highballs, and his Scotch was exceptionally good. As Archibald Welkins was leaving with the others, he caught his reflection in a mirror and approved thereof. The jewelled star shone brilliantly upon his breast; the black silk stockings admirably set off his leg, which was a good leg, and the long, dark, curly wig gave him, he thought, a mysterious appearance. What did he care, after all, about Eleanor’s refusal to tell him what her costume was to be? He wasn’t going to worry about Eleanor tonight. Not he! He had offered to–that was enough. She didn’t know what he was wearing, either. Yes, he was going to have a good time!

With an Arab sheik, a Chinaman, and a soldier in the buff and blue of the Continental army as his passengers, he drove to the club, handling his roadster dashingly, and to avoid being recognized by his car, parked beside the drive at some distance from the door, and walked with his companions to the clubhouse.

The doors and the French windows were open; dancing had already started; they could hear the music as they walked across the grass. Inside the ballroom Welkins paused to review the animated spectacle. Masked soldiers, clowns, coolies, court beauties, bullfighters, odalisques, woman jockies, geisha, harlequins, cowboys, Spanish senoritas, mandarins, pirates, nymphs, Turks, vaqueros, peasants, whirled to the music of the jazz band.

Looking them over as they circled past, he presently thought he recognized his wife. She was dressed–if indeed it was Eleanor–as a French court lady, with patches, a high, powdered wig and a panniered gown of flowered silk, and was dancing with a Roman gladiator. He watched her around the room. Her height, her figure, her carriage were Eleanor’s, and the costume had a dignity characteristic of his wife’s taste. When she had passed several times he was quite certain of her.

Presently he became interested in Cleopatra, who fox-trotted into view with Napoleon. Eleanor would have made a handsome Cleopatra, too, but he felt sure she would never appear in public in such scant attire. That Cleopatra woman was certainly attractive, though! He cut in on her and, as they danced, talked in a false voice, endeavoring to guess at her identity. But the fair Egyptian was popular. An Indian Rajah soon snatched her away, leaving King Charles II free to seek out a fascinating Columbine who, several times, had passed near him in a dance, and seemed responsive to his glances. Presently, with a beau of the Colonial period, she came down the floor, a sprightly figure in a short black satin dress with a waist cut to a deep V In back, springy little skirts, thin openwork stockings and ballet slippers. With her huge white ruff and her black cocked hat pulled down at a saucy angle over bobbed red hair, she looked the incarnation of irresponsible gaiety.

He cut in and found that her dancing confirmed his impression. How light, how responsive she was!

“I’ve been aiming to catch you!” he told her, disguising his voice by pitching it low.

‘”Ave you, monsieur?” she chirped. “Well, zen, we are sympathique, for I too ‘ave look at you, you beeg, ‘andsome man!” The minx. She gave his hand a squeeze which he promptly returned.

“Are you French?” he asked in his assumed voice, “or are you putting on that accent?”

“What you sink, monsieur?”

“I think,” he said, “that if you’re putting it on you do it very well.” “An’ you, you bad, weeked king! ‘Ow is your Nell Gwyn?” she asked.

“Never mind Nell Gwyn,” he said. “It’s you I’m interested in. Don’t tell me you’re just a nice little married woman in disguise wife of some man who commutes to business in New York and drives a ball around these links on Sundays.”

“You ‘ope I’m real naughty French girl?” she asked, archly.

“Indeed I do!”

“Well. Zen, follow me! And with that she disengaged herself and flitted swiftly through a French window leading to the terrace.

Pursuing, he lost her momentarily, for in the darkness her black dress gave her an advantage, but as she scampered down the steps toward the lawn and the links, he caught sight of her white ruff, and sped after her. As she disappeared behind a large syringa bush he heard a rippling laugh, and running to the other side, caught her in his arms. Then, as she was panting and laughing, and as it was dark, and they were masked, and the syringas smelled so sweet, he placed his hand beneath her chin, tilted it up, bent over, and was about to seize the fruits of victory, when she eluded him and ran off laughing, in the direction of the drive.

A prisoner who escapes and is recaptured pays an added penalty, and when after another chase over the silver-green of moonlit grass, Charles II grasped the elusive Columbine, and exacted what he deemed just tribute from her lips, he was surprised and flattered by the apparent willingness with which she paid.

Indeed it was that willingness which made him confident that she would not again become a fugitive, and he was holding her lightly when, in a flash, she was off once more, this time running toward the clubhouse.

Just at the doorway he caught up; but his appeal to her to stay outside was unavailing. “No,” she said, firmly, “you are a naughty boy, an’ I ‘ave foun’ you out. My ‘usban’ would not like.”

“Your husband does not need to know,” he urged, “nor my wife, either. That’s what makes a party of this kind such fun–husbands and wives not knowing each other’s costumes.”

“Yes,” said she, “but I ‘ave already ‘ad fun enough, my king.” And with that she moved into the ballroom.

By the door they stood for a moment watching the dancers.

“Look!” he exclaimed suddenly. “There’s another Columbine. She’s like you exactly like you, even to her red hair!”

“Yes, we came togezzer.”

“But suppose I were to lose you,” said he, “how could I find you again? How could I tell the two of you apart?”

“Zat is a question !” she said.

“Let’s dance and talk it over.”

“No, monsieur.” replied the Columbine, “now I mus’ dance wiz some wan else.” As she spoke a cowled monk came up, and in a moment she was dancing off with him.

“Meet me here afterwards,” urged King Charles as she moved away. But she shook her head.

“How shall I find you, then?” he demanded, following.

“I don’t sink you can!” said she, and again he heard her tantalizing laugh.

He retired to the doorway and watched for her, but by the time she came around again she was with a Sicilian brigand. He cut in. But apparently this was the other Columbine, for she did not seem to know him. Her step was not so light as that of the one he sought, nor did she speak with a French accent.

Never mind! He would find his lost Columbine. He was determined to find her. And when they unmasked he would learn who she was. Time and again, when he saw a Columbine wearing a black cocked hat over bobbed hair, he cut in and danced with her, but only to be disappointed. Always it was the wrong one. He questioned her about the other, but could get no satisfaction.

When, at midnight, the dancers unmasked, he hastened about the ballroom and the adjacent apartments looking for the Columbines, but now he could find neither of them. Nor could he find his wife, nor yet the white-wigged lady of the French court whom he had identified with her.

Where could Eleanor be? She ought to be in the ballroom. That was where a well-behaved woman belonged at a party such as this. It wasn’t wise for a pretty woman to go wandering about outside, in the moonlight, with a strange man, masked. Since prohibition there had been a lot of drinking, and fancy dress made people reckless, anyway. Temporarily he forgot the Columbine in his concern about his wife’s behavior, as he looked for her upon the terrace and the lawn.

Failing to find her he returned to the club and telephoned home. “Hello?” He was surprised to hear Eleanor’s voice upon the wire. “I’ve been hunting for you all over the place.” he said. “What took you home so early?”

“Oh, I got enough of it.”

“Didn’t you have a good time?”

“I had an exceptionally good time,” she assured him.

“But I don’t understand why you went home, then.”

“Fancy dress makes people do all sorts of things.” she said, and before he could comment upon the cryptical character of the remark, she asked: “Have you been enjoying yourself?”

“Oh, I’ve had worse times,” said he. And thinking to have one final look for his lost Columbine, he added: “I guess I’ll hang around for a while if you don’t mind.”

“No, I don’t mind at all. Good night, dear,” and she hung up the receiver.

Ill

“Well, dear,” said Archibald Welkins next morning as his wife, locking very lovely in a shell-pink house gown, poured the coffee, “it was a pretty good party, wasn’t it?” And as she nodded, he went on in an expansive tone: “Made it rather amusing, after all— husbands and wives not knowing each other’s costumes don’t you think so?”

“Yes, very amusing,” she said.

“I was quite sure I recognized you,” he told her.

“Oh, were you?”‘ She looked up quickly.

“Yes. In a French court costume with a black-powdered wig.”

When she smiled and shook her head, he was surprised.

“That wasn’t you— honestly?”

“No. Honestly.”

“What was your costume, then.”

“I went as a Columbine.” she said and addressing the maid: “Pass Mr Welkins the strawberry Jam.”

In silence he helped himself, spread jam upon a piece of toast, ate it. And drank his coffee. Then:

“There were two Columbines dressed exactly alike.” he ventured

“Yes.” Said Eleanor “This is the last of that new bacon. Have you made up your mind yet how you like It?”

“Oh, it’s very good.” he answered abstractedly. “But the Columbines I saw had red hair”

“Wigs.” she returned succinctly.

“Wigs?” he repeated, surprised .’They didn’t look like wigs.”

“Men aren’t very quick at detecting such things.” said’ she. Then, to his infinite surprise, she added: “Do you remember that nice French officer I liked so much three years ago?”

“Why, yes.”

“Well, he wore a toupee.”

“He did? How do you know?”

“I noticed it the first time I saw him.”

“Um.” he said, and sat reflective for a time. Then: “Look here, dear,” he went on “Let’s never speak of that French officer again. It was long ago, and anyway It really didn’t amount to anything.”

If he expected recognition of his magnanimity he was disappointed, for she did not speak.

“Who was the other Columbine?” he asked in a casual tone as he was about to rise from table.

“Evidently someone who went to the same costumer I did,” his wife replied.

“But–.” He checked himself, then with some feeling, added:  “I don’t think they ought to send out duplicate costumes for the same party, do you?”

But she failed to reply.

Often in the eight years of their married life he had been disturbed by her trait of remaining silent when she disagreed with him. He had never known a woman with Eleanor’s capacity for silence. It gave her a mysterious power.

The Hartford [CT] Courant 9 July 1922: p. 47

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What’s good for the goose….  Still, unless Mr Welkins wishes to find himself in divorce court, he would do better to try to check his jealous impulses. His pretty blonde wife, who looks equally fetching at the breakfast table in French blue or shell-pink, is, Mrs Daffodil suggests, the enigmatic sort whose blameless character might equally plausibly conceal an adventuress or a dutiful wife who felt her husband needed a moonlit flirtation of his own that she might throw in his face as needed.

One may be certain that if the charming Mrs Welkins put her mind to be cheerfully and silently indiscreet with anyone besides her husband, she would be clever enough to make sure that that gentleman would never know of it.

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 Professional Ghost:1904

the ghost of greystone grange 1878

The Ghost of Greystone Grange, a shilling-shocker from 1878. British Library

In this season of Hallowe’en and its attendant Horrors, Mrs Daffodil is practically compelled to invite that shuddersome person from Haunted Ohio to share one of her posts. Mrs Daffodil is sure that her readers will find this piece to be less fraught than some of the ghastly stories which that weird writer normally shares about mourning practices.

***

Let us lighten the mood with an amusing little tale about a man with an unusual job–told in the vernacular–by Robert Ernest Vernede, author and poet, who died in the Great War.

TALE OF A GHOST

By R.E. Vernede

He was a thin, weak-legged old man, with a chronic cold and a grievance. I had met him in a country lane, shuffling along with a piece of rope in one hand and a stable lantern and some bits of old iron in the other. He told me his profession with a child-like vanity that was not without its charm, and, warmed by a pint of bitter I stood him at a wayside inn, he enlarged upon his grievance.

“It ain’t wurf it,” he said, “not by a long chalk it ain’t. I’ll give it up, that’s what I’ll do. It’s them blue lights and signtific contrapshions as does me. Nobody never asked for blue lights when I fust started. They ‘and’t thought of ‘em neither.”

“How long ago was that?” I asked.

“Thirty-seven years come Michelmas,” said the old man, proudly. “I was the fust profeshnal ghost, as you might say, in the country, and there ain’t many now as ha’ done what I done. How I know it was 37 years come Michelmas, I was a-working on the pump at Buntford, an’ they putt the figgers on it. I ain’t a scholar mesalf, but I’ve heard me niece read ‘em—“

“What used you to be, then?”
“Bricklayer. That’s how I come to be a ghost—along of Mr. Frank Burrers, which I dessay you’ve known the name of. “’E come up to me one night—we was repairin’ an old ‘ouse, ‘Grimbles’ they call it, which Mr. Richard Price, as owned the ‘ouse, and ‘is father before ‘im was wishin’ to sell. Seems Mr. Frank Burrers liked the ‘ouse, an’ they do say as he’d bid for it; but Mr. Price, he wanted more money than what ‘ad been bid. That was how it was when Mr. Frank Burrers he comes up to me, and sez he, ‘John,’ he sez, ‘that’s a old ‘ouse you’re workin’ on.’ ‘That’s what it looks to be,’ sez I. ‘They do tell me,’ sez he, ‘as it’s ‘aunted. Did ever you ‘ear any queer noises while you was about—clankin’ o’ chains at night an’ strange footsteps?’ I never hadn’t, an’ I told Mr. Burrers so, saying that what was more, I didn’t believe there was such things as ghosts. ‘Well, well,’ sez he, soothing like, ‘some folks do and some folks don’t. As it ‘appens, it ‘ud pay me if that there Grimbles was ‘aunted.’ ‘You don’t say it?’ sez I. ‘Yes, I do,’ sez he. ‘It ‘ud pay me and it ‘ud pay you.’ ‘What do you mean?’ sez I, wiv me ears up. For we just finishing wiv the ‘ouse, an’ I ‘and’t no job fixed arter that, and the winter comin’. ‘I mean that if you was to ‘aunt that ‘ouse it ‘ud be money in your pocket, John,’ sez he. ‘I dessay it’ ud come nigh to 16 shillin’s a week. You’d have to ‘aunt it fair an’ square, mind—no shirkin’—hours 9-7 reg’lar; and if there was anyone comin’ to look over the house wiv a view to purchase, you’d have to put in a bit of extra ‘auntin’. It wouldn’t be wot you’d call ‘ard work, but it ‘ud have to be steady, so that folks get to know there’s a shoes up to Grimbles as walks reg’lar.’

“Well, the end of it was that I took the job. I didn’t like it at fust, thin’ as how it was a come down from being a bricklayer to be a ghost. Once or twiced I felt lonely-like an’ thought o’ giving it up, but arter a while it began to grown on me, an’ in four weeks Mr. Frank Burrers he bought the ‘ouse for £200 less than what he’d offered for it fust. He giv’ me my 16 shillin’s a week an’ two pound extry, an’ sez he, ‘I’m goin’ in for a bit o’ properthy-buyin’ in different parts o’ the country, an’ if you like to sign on wiv me reg’lar, why, you can come down wiv’ me an’ ‘aunt such ‘ouses, as they’ve got too big a price up on. ‘Auntin’ seems to suit you,’ sez he, lookin’ at me. ‘You won’t never be stout; but you ain’t so thin as I’ve seen you.’”

“An’ did you sign on with Mr. Burrers?” I asked.

“I did,” said the old man. “Seven year I worked for him—Essex—Yorkshire—Souf Wales—Worrickshire—I bin in all them places durin’ that time ‘auntin.’ Sometimes I was a lame ghost; sometimes I ‘ad one arm, or I jingled me spurs or me chains. Once I kerried me head under me arm, an’ Mr. Burrers he paid me 18 shillin’s that week. I used to be able to groan nine different ways an’ all of ‘em ‘orrible. Sometimes it was the gall’ry I ‘aunted, and then again it was a garret or a shrubbery. It all depended on the fambly history. Mr. Burrers used to read it up an’ tell me what to do.”
“Did you ever frighten anyone?” I asked.

The old man looked at me with ineffable scorn.

“’Underds,” he said. “Care-takers, pleecmen, poachers, intendin’ tenants, girls wot had arranged to meet their young men thereabouts, curits, ‘ouse agents’ clerks—I’ve frightened ‘em all, an’ not bin nabbed once. I eud frighten ‘em still, if times was wot they used to be.”

“They’ve changed, have they?”
“Mr. Burrers died, an’ arter that I never had the same prospects. There aren’t any re’glar employers o’ ghosts. Gen’ally it’s bin a company as has giv’ me a job—wantin’ either to redooce the price of a ‘ouse, same as Mr. Burrers; or to advytize a seaside place. There’s a good deal o’ advytizing done that way o’ late. Them trippers get tired o’ the pier an’ the [minstrel shows] an’ drivin’ to see a monument. Then we starts a ‘aunted ‘ouse a few miles. P’r’aps it’s by arrangements wiv a job-master an’ he drives folks out to see; p’r’aps it’s a hotel proprietor that takes up the notion.”

“But it’s not as good a profession as it was.”

“Not by a long way. They wants it signtific—blue lights and such contrapshions. ‘ad to spend two shillin’s on blue lights on’y yesterday out o’ 14 shillin’s a week. I’ll ‘ave to give it up; that’s what I’ll ‘ave to do.”

I paid the price of another half-pint, and left this interesting old man still lamenting the downfall of his profession. It really seems that even ghosts should have to move with the times. Black and White.

The Evening Star [Independence, KS] 9 November 1904: p. 6

Ghost-‘unters still wants it signtific…. to judge by all the electronic gadgetry that pervades paranormal TV. It was ever thus. See this post on “The Psychic Howler” and other early ghost-hunting equipment. Any non-fictional tales of genuine “professional ghosts?” ‘aunt me at chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 

A Night at La Scala: 1836

night at la scala illustration

A NIGHT AT THE “SCALA.”

By Oscar Zurich.

It was the third day of the carnival at Milan, 1836. Donizetti’s immortal masterpiece, “Lucia di Lammermoor,” had been performed for the first time at the San Carlo in Naples, a few months previous, and was then making its triumphal tour throughout Italy.The genius of Bergamo’s sweet bard had attained its culminating point. “Fra poco,” its great aria and the stupendous magnificence of the septette had electrified the entire musical world; even the star of Rossini had been eclipsed by the incredible success of the younger composer.

Milan was in an uproar; the streets, squares, and arcades were illuminated a giorno; the cathedral in marble majesty glittered beneath the glare of innumerable lanterns, while the joyous quip and laughter of sixty thousand pleasure-seekers made the old, narrow streets ring and echo again, and the “Scala,” Italy’s greatest opera house, ablaze with glory, had placed before the entrance, in letters of flame, the magic word “Lucia.”

No wonder the crowd hastened thither; for eighty lire you could not have obtained a seat. It was the third representation—the third only–and fame, beauty, or gold could not have forced an entrance. It was now six o’clock; the pit and gallery boxes and stalls of the immense theater were crowded to suffocation. Four thousand eager people–four thousand anxious, soulful Italians–were waiting with subdued frenzy for the curtain to rise.

The nobility of Lombardy graced the boxes, the political celebrities of the city crowded the passages, all the elite of the art-loving town had flocked thither.

The heat was stifling; at half-past six the overture began. The immense throng was silenced at the first wave of the conductor’s baton. Was it not to hear the last and the most admirable of Donizetti’s operas? Had not the Neapolitan papers been devoured with avid eyes? Was It not to hear the songs over which Italy was raving? And last, but not least, was it not to applaud the beauteous prima donna, Alfieri, who had achieved such a colossal success the two previous nights?–their favorite–their idol–the divine Alfieri! who had sung for seven consecutive seasons in Milan, alike renowned for her consummate art, her beauty, and her unrivaled voice! Ah! how the audience was moved!–how it trembled with expectant ecstasy! the curtain rose.

The hunters’ chorus was listened to with religious attention; the baritone’s song and cabaletta which follow caused but a slight impression in spite of their veritable excellence, and the shifting of the scene to the park where Lucia makes her first appearance was welcomed with a hushed murmur of delight.

A frail, white-robed female form advanced toward the footlights, her eyes were cast down, and she moved slowly near the prompter’s box. There she stood still, raised her eyes and gazed full upon the audience.

A howl of anger and disappointment arose from the crowded house:

Non è Alfieri!” (She is not Alfieri!) was echoed on all sides; groans, hissing, and stamping of feet drowned the orchestra. Some vociferously cried out, “Basta! basta! We want Alfieri!”

The frail woman confronting the enraged audience appeared not in the  least disconcerted, and walked leisurely around the stage during the uproar. A man peeped out from the side-scenes. It was the director.

“Who is that woman?” he asked. “It is not Alfieri!”

“No one saw her enter,” was the reply.

Again the conductor raised his baton; the unknown prima donna seemed to rouse herself from her pensiveness and lethargy, and moved solemnly toward the centre of the stage.

The clamor had ceased. She raised her eyes to the level of the first tier, and stood in the full force of the light. She was wondrously beautiful, but white–white as a shroud of snow; deathly, spectrally white!–not a tinge of rose enhanced the marble graces of her face, which was purely, faultlessly Greek.

Her eyes, black and radiant, flashed luridly. When she dropped them their tint became sad, gray, and crepuscular. Her lips shone red as vermilion, and seemed like a gash—like a hideous gash–when contrasted with the whiteness and rigidity of her face.

Her hair, long and purplish, in undulate tresses rioted over her shoulders, pure and colorless as marble.

She had no ornaments. A tuberose thrust in a rebellious curl adorned her brow; around her throat was a piece of broad, black velvet Her dress was white–all white.

She gazed weirdly upon the audience and began, in a strange, vague, unearthly tone of voice, the ravishing aria of “Lucia” upon hear entrance.

I was present, and I can recall perfectly the cold sensation and chilliness I felt at the first few notes.

It seemed to me as if some humid cavern had been suddenly opened, and that I had breathed the first icy wafts of air emanating therefrom.

Not a sound save her voice was heard. Her hands hung listlessly by her side. I do not remember how she finished. I heard her first strange tones change to a soft, sweet voice of fascinating, bell-like brilliancy, and I awoke from a trance by hearing the audience shriek and stamp with delight.

The applause was feverish and frantic, then suddenly ceased as if by enchantment; the strange woman had turned aside and began the ordinary stage business and duet with Edgardo, as Alfieri would have done. The act ended in indescribable amazement.

“Who is she? Who is she? What a voice!” and such exclamations were heard on all sides.

The director appeared at this moment, evidently anxious to find out for himself who the beautiful pale songstress was, but could answer no inquiries.

In the meantime I hurried behind the scenes to Alfieri’s dressing-room, where I had often gone to chat with her, expecting to see that marvelous creature.

The apartment was illuminated; Lucia’s bridal costume for the second act was ready on the sofa; a bottle of Asti wine, which Alfieri always partook of between the acts, stood on the table; but naught proved that the room had been occupied previously by another–nothing showed the presence of the new-comer.

I waited a few minutes, took a few whiffs from my cigarette, and was about to return, when I spied upon the door an earring of such uncommon size that I stooped to pick it up, and gazed upon it in wonder, held spellbound by its beauty.

It was a solitaire diamond, richly set, of a slightly greenish tint. I knew the value of green diamonds, and estimated this one to be worth at least seven or eight thousand dollars, being really finer than any I had seen in the famous vaults of Dresden.

I hastened down to the director’s office to remit it, thinking it belonged to the new-comer or to Alfieri. The director was absent; soon I heard the bell ring. The diamond in my hand, I hastened to my seat.

The unknown woman again entered; she was, if possible, a tinge paler than before. She wore gloves this time, and her lips were not so cruelly red. She sang, and, ye gods, what song! Her voice soared, spread, fused with other invisible voices; It rang sonorously, and murmured divinely in magnificent power and harmony—a voice all fire, a voice all soul.

I trembled–the audience quivered.

Still that strange being stood in the same position, still did her great luminous black eyes gaze continually upward; she seemed not to heed her fellow-artists; the bewilderment of Edgardo, the anxious, inquiring glance of Ashton did not move her; she would glide by them like a sylph, a vision–light, ethereal, graceful. No one heard her walk–she sang!

Again the curtain fell, again the house cried out with delirium. “Brava! brava!” yelled the rabble.

But no one appeared.

Again I went to Alfieri’s box while the ballet (which in those days was performed between the acts) was going on, but it was empty; so I returned to listen to the animated discussions and conversations in the lobby.

“Alfieri is eclipsed; she is Pasta and Persiani combined! she is not human, she is an angel from Heaven’s gates!”

“’Tis the Beatrice of Dante descended from Heaven!”

A friend came from behind the scenes.

“Well, what news, Ricciardo? Have you seen her?”

“No, but Grazzini has” (Grazzini was the tenor, a handsome fellow), “and he tells me he spoke to her–forced to do so by some subtle, magnetic attraction. He told her of his wonder, his admiration, his love, I believe, and she answered him, in Milanese dialect, ‘We shall meet again.'”

The bell rang, and the curtain went up slowly. The lights seemed to burn badly, and the heat was stifling, but upon the entrance of the mysterious stranger a sudden chill pervaded every one.

We did not breathe to listen, and as I gazed upon her, charmed by her supernatural beauty, I noticed that from one of her ears hung a bright, large stone, similar to the one I held in my hand. Scarcely had I seen it when she caught my eye. She smiled–the only time. I averted my glance. The music went on.

The scene where the unhappy Lucia, after having been dragged to the altar by her heartless brother, realizes the full atrocity of his conduct, seemed to influence the sombre sprite-like prima donna, for she roused herself at last and acted–acted with the frenzy of passion, acted with the sublimity of pathos and despair. She was intense, superb in the mad scene. Her voice had sobs of anguish.

Up swelled the vertiginous staccato high above the moans of the orchestra. She raved, she wept, and the large tears rolled down her white cheek; her hair floated wildly over her quivering shoulders, and still rang forth her magical, heartrending notes.

I trembled; the house groaned.

The mad scene neared its end, and the musicians, as if ordered, ceased to play. They looked at her, she sang unaccompanied. It was terrible, unique, sublime.

The culminating point arrived, and the pains and pangs of Donizetti’s masterpiece vibrated on her lips as they had never done on lips before. She gazed wildly, stupidly about, when she stopped, and I saw drops of blood ooze from her mouth; she fell heavily upon the stage, and the curtain went down. The house was in tears.

Half an hour later all Milan knew of the miraculous performance at the Scala. The last act of the opera was listened to without curiosity, Lucia not appearing in it. Nothing occurred except the indisposition of the tenor, Grazzini, who was taken suddenly ill, and I afterward learned, died that night.

Milan, outdoors, all fun and animation, could not comprehend the story told in the cafes and on the squares. The reports were called exaggerated, and the singer’s phenomenal voice a myth. No one could find her, and it was in vain that I waited for more than an hour in Alfieri’s box.

The director told me confidentially that he was as nonplussed as the audience, and had never beheld the marvelous singer before. Then, as he left me, he superstitiously added: “She was a spirit, I believe.”

Full of conflicting thoughts, I walked sadly homeward, and heard again through the quiet streets, far away from the riot and revel of the carnival, the heavenly echo of that unutterably divine voice.

I walked on, and passed across the Saint Italda Cemetery to near my home. It was late. The noise of Milan’s festivities reached my ear from time to time faintly, but I heeded it not, wrapped as I was in my reverie and musing.

Within a few steps of my house, separated by a high wall from the end of the graveyard, there, beneath a few cypress trees, in the full glare of the moon, 1 beheld a rather unusual sight.

The cemetery, through which I passed regularly every night, and which I knew in every nook and corner, seemed in that particular spot to present  a different aspect than it ordinarily did.

I advanced, and remarked with astonishment that a tomb had been desecrated, and that a coffin had been exhumed!

Sure enough, the sod on either side was all strewn and scattered here and there, footprints were plainly visible, and to my horror I saw that the coffin was open. In it, wrapped in a faded yellow shroud, was a human form.

I was about to call for the guard, when my eye was suddenly attracted by a faint greenish light twinkling near the top of the coffin.

I stooped over, and to my amazement saw a diamond earring in the lobe of the corpse’s ear–the mate of the one I had found.

The moonlight, checkered by the tree-boughs, did not allow me to view the face, and trembling I drew aside and lit a match. Approaching, I gazed on the body. It was the spectral songstress!

Utterly bewildered, with haggard eyes and quivering knees, I grasped the coffin lid and replaced it over the livid face. On it was written in large letters:

Virginia Cosseli,

Queen of Soprani,

Died September, 1781,

Requiescat in pace.

I remember a wild thrill of horror came over me and I fell senseless.

For weeks I raved in delirium. When I had sufficiently recovered I left Milan. People were still talking of the mysterious prima dona and the famous representation of Lucia. They have not understood, but I believe in spirits.

Frank Leslie’s Pleasant Hours, Vol. 30

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has nothing to add, except to note that it was perhaps a good thing that the lady was not recalled for an encore.

 

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 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.