Category Archives: Dolls and Toys

The Death of the Doll: 1890

jumeau bebe bride doll 1890

THE DEATH OF THE DOLL.

Twenty-three years ago I was at the village of Bocage, in central France.

In one of the little cottages of that village, into which hunger had accidentally driven me—this story is not an invention, it actually occurred as I relate it—a little girl of perhaps 7 years of age was dying. She was it seems the child of a Parisian, but a Parisian who was born and grew to young womanhood at Bocage.

One morning in May a carriage stopped before the door of Mother Gerard, who now took care of a vineyard, but in her younger days had been a nurse for little children.

A young woman alighted from the carriage, followed by a maid and a little girl, delicate and feeble, but very pretty, nevertheless.

“Mother Gerard,” said the young woman to the peasant, “I have brought my little girl to you; she needs the country air and goat’s milk. Will you keep her for a few months?”

The husband of Mother Gerard made an impatient movement, but before he could speak the young woman said “I will pay you a thousand francs.”

“A thousand francs,” said the man; “she is very sick, and the doctor will have to be paid.”

“Doctor or no doctor,” said Mother Gerard brusquely, “I will take care of your child, Nini; I will care for her as tenderly as I did for you, my nurseling.”

“I am sure of it.”

“Kiss me, little one,” continued the good woman, taking the child in her arms.

The little girl did not wait to be urged, but kissed her affectionately. “You will pay in advance?” said the man.

“Here are the thousand francs; give me a receipt.”

The young mother then brought from the carriage the child’s clothing daintily arranged in a small trunk.

The maid brought a large paper box in which lay a beautiful doll that could say “Mammal” when ono pressed a spring.

The little girl had been perfectly silent during this time, but the great tears were rolling down her thin, white cheeks.

When her mother noticed that the child was crying she made an impatient gesture, which she quickly suppressed, but not before Mother Gerard saw it. The little girl also saw her mother’s displeasure, and stretched toward her the little, emaciated hands.

It was a touching appeal, a mute caress, a silent prayer, but irresistible in its eloquence. The maid turned, away her head to conceal her tears. The mother was greatly moved, and taking the child in her arms kissed her again and again.

“My dear Nini, do not cry, do not cry any more. I shall come back for you very soon.”

“Will you surely come?” said the child between her sobs, and covering her mother’s face with kisses; “surely, surely,” she added, clasping her little hands as she did when she said her prayers.

Mother Gerard looked sharply at her former foster child, who turned away her head with a flushed face.

“Will you really come back for her, Nini?” she said in a low tone. “Certainly.”

“Do not be too long about it,” Mother Gerard said significantly.

“Truly, mamma, you will return.”

“Surely, yes, but do not be impatient. Good-by; take good care of dolly. Listen how beautifully she says ‘mamma!’ ” and the mother made the doll repeat many times its ono word, mamma! The child was silent.

“She will be your little girl, and you will love her very much!”

“Oh! yes,” said the child with a deep sigh, almost a sob, and she pressed the doll to her heart. The doll murmured “mamma.”

She really loved the little inanimate thing that called her “mamma!” She spent hours in looking at it, in rocking it, and in talking to it in n low tone, at the same time crying for her own mamma.

“Do not fear, Nini”–she had named it for herself. I will never leave you, never! I am your very own mamma, do you hear? Your real mamma! And she pressed the spring and the doll repeated “mamma!”

Then Nini took it in her arras and hugged it tightly, as if she feared that some one would take it from her.

The consumption was slowly but surely accomplishing its deadly work. Her eyes became more and more brilliant, the bones of her checks more and more prominent. A little dry cough constantly shook the narrow, hollow chest, and her voice became feebler day by day. They wrote to her mother, but received no response.

There is nothing, I think, more pitiful than to witness the slow fading out of a little life, which nothing can arrest, neither science, nor love, nor prayers. This martyrdom of infancy inflicts upon those who must witness it the keenest torture.

Mother Gerard bad learned to love this poor victim of filial affection, for Nini was dying of grief–because she was separated from her mother– much more than of disease, and Mother Gerard knowing this nursed her with the utmost tenderness. Nini came to her in May, and it was now October.

The poor child, feeling that she was no longer a daughter, tried to console herself by imagining that she was the mother of her doll. She lavished upon it all the love that she formerly had for her mother. She was unwilling to be separated from it even at night, and the poor little brain had conceived a singular idea–it was that she was not sick, but that it was the doll, her “dear Nini.”

“She has coughed all night,” she would say to Mother Gerard when she had passed a restless night herself. “You suffer, my dear Nini, but I will cure you. We will cure her, nurse, will we not? How feeble her voice is!” she would add, in listening to the weak sound which the doll made, because the pressure upon the spring grow weaker as the little hands grow thinner.

Hour by hour she would tell her own sufferings, but always attributing them to the doll. At times she would yield to an indefinite despair. She did not know what death meant, but she would cry out with indescribable anguish: “No, I do not want you to die, even to go to heaven.”

She never spoke of her mother to the nurse; but sometimes, when she thought herself alone, they would hear her murmur to her doll: “If mamma would come back Nini would be well.”

In the village the arrival of the talking doll had produced a great sensation. All the children wished to see it, and Sunday most of the little girls came to admire the marvelous toy.

To go to see the little girl from Paris and hear her doll talk had become a sort of fete, and then, Nini was so sweet, so caressing to all who showed friendship for her, or who loved her doll, that she had become the idol of the whole village. The vicar came to relate to her beautiful stories of heaven, where there lived a mamma marvelously beautiful and adorably good.

The good sister who had charge of the village school brought her little images of saints and angels.

One of Nini’s greatest pleasures was to see all little friends come with their doll–dolls of wood, of cardboard, of rags; but she thought them all charming, and talked to them in the most delightful manner and as if they could understand her, and replied to her,

The 15th of August was the doll’s birthday, and all the little girls came with their dolls and brought the doll Nini a bouquet, and one for the real Nini. What a merry day it was for them all!

The bed was covered with flowers, and the doll was so happy that she said again and again, “Mamma!”

Alas! the care of Mother Gerard, the love and caresses of all, the healthful air of the country had been able only to prolong the days of the little sufferer, but altogether were not able to cure her.

They began to count the weeks, then the days that she could be with them.

“She is very ill, mamma’s Nini,” she said, caressing the doll. “She suffers greatly there,” she said, touching the doll’s chest.

One evening she sat up suddenly, seized her doll in both arms, looked at it with yearning, shining eyes, and tried to press the spring. The sound came feebly and weakly articulated, “Mamma!”

The child repeated “Mamma” with a voice still more feeble, and fell back on her pillow, but still clasping her doll.

She was dead.

And singular as it may seem, the spring in the doll was broken; the doll, too, was dead!

During all the next day the two Ninis, the two little dead bodies, were left with uncovered faces, surrounded with the last flowers of autumn, white and yellow, mingled with branches of red leaves.

When they dressed little Nini for the last time they found that they would have to use much force to take the doll from her grasp. Mother Gerard would not permit it. She kissed the child once more, and, without trying to account for the strange impulse, she kissed the doll also. Both were put into the coffin, with all that belonged to them dresses and bonnets, little shoes and stockings, and playthings of all sorts.

Then upon the bier, carried by the strongest little girls of the village– alas! it was not very heavy–they put all the flowers they could find; and it was the strangest funeral that one could imagine. All the little girls of the school marched behind, two by two, holding their dolls; and on the way they were joined by others, and each new arrival had her doll. Those who had two dolls gave one to those who had none. All the dolls were dressed in their finest clothes.

When they arrived at the cemetery the children formed a circle around the grave, with their dolls in their arms, and listened to the last prayer for poor Nini. Among the children who had come to bid a last farewell to their little friend and the talking doll–for they regretted the wonderful doll quite as much as they did Nini–there was one who had been a particular favorite of the little invalid.

It was a sickly little cripple, nearly her own age, with a sorrowful, pale face. She almost adored the doll, and when Nini permitted her to rock it she was perfectly happy. She, like the others, had a doll which she loved devotedly.

No one can know what thought passed through that little brain, but at the moment that the sexton threw the first spadeful of earth upon the coffin she kissed her doll convulsively and threw it into the grave, saving, “Go with Nini!”

This impulsive act so impressed the other children that one after another followed her example.

It was a touching spectacle.

“Go with Nini!” each little one repeated in letting her doll fall into the grave.

One only drew back unable to make the sacrifice. She was 5 years old, perhaps, the child of a poor woman. Her doll was of cardboard, old, dirty and worn, and had lost one arm. She clasped it in her arms and sobbingly said: “No! not in the hole! not in the hole, my Nini! She would be cold!”

The return to the village was, perhaps, sadder than the walk to the grave. The next day the vicar went to Neville and brought back with him fifteen new dolls and gave them to the children in the name of the two Ninis.

In this village for many years after a doll was called a Nini in remembrance of the one which was buried.

Translated from the French for Chicago Inter-Ocean.

Harrisburg [PA] Telegraph 21 January 1890: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil’s readers will excuse her. She has something in her eye….

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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Our Dear Little Ghost: 1898

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

The Christmas Tree, Harry Bush, Grundy Art Gallery

Our Dear Little Ghost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“See what?” whispered one tiny boy.

“The fairies.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, very pointed!”

“And their garments are green?”

“As green as grass.”

“And they blow little horns?”

“The sweetest little horns!”

“I think I see them,” I cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so my feet found the lost path to Arcady.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alack!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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

18ct gold dressing table set Tiffany 1930s

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

WHAT SHALL I GIVE?

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

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

“What would you like for a Christmas Present?

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

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

“Oh Is that all!”

A pause.

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

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

The paper read as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

rabbit rattle

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

For the Baby Boy.

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

For Little and Big Boys.

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

 

The Young Man, Father, and Grandfather.

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

travelling rug hermes 1930s

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

If He Travels.

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

 

If He Motors.

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

cartier chinoiserie letter opener watch

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

For His Desk and Den.

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

gentleman's gold pocket watch chain and seal 1929

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

In Gold and Silver.

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

1920s shetland golf jumper

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

For Outdoor Life.

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

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

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

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

A Christmas Letter.

From the Christmas Peck.

Dearest Phyllis:

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

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

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

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Festive Christmas Tree: 1906

the festive christmas tree illustration 1906.JPG

The Festive Christmas Tree

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

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

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

FAD FOR DIMINUTIVE TREES.

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

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

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

ORNAMENTS IN BLOWN GLASS.

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

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

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

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

FANS AND FAIRIES.

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

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

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

NOVELTIES IN PAPER AND BEADS.

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

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

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

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

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

MARJORIE.

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

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

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

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Suffering from Bazaars: 1867

Collinson, James, 1825-1881; At the Bazaar

CONCERNING BAZAARS.

I wonder who “got up” the first bazaar? “The world knows nothing of its greatest men” we are told, but if the inventor of bazaars can lay claim to greatness on account of having invented bazaars, I think it is just as well for him, or her, that the world knows nothing of them. The temptation of those who have suffered either as buyers or as sellers to curse their memories would be terrible in the extreme; in fact, awful as might be the consequences of indulging in a fierce string of invective, I do not think that the temptation so to indulge could be resisted; and then consider, not only the quality, but the quantity of vituperation, for who has not at least once during their life-time suffered from bazaars?

There is a society [in aid of the deserving poor] and all the ways of collecting money from said society have been “played out” as the Yankees say, and if something is not done the society will be “played out” too…

The “Meetings in Aid” talk to empty benches, and the plates at the door have only a few coppers upon them, the collecting cards show a nil return, the clergymen will not lend their pulpits, and at last some one as desperately energetic upon the subject of the [charity]… proposes the getting up of a bazaar!

How easy it is to write those words, with what volubility they slide from our tongues; but oh the difficulty, practically and actually, to “get up” a bazaar! Have any of you experienced it? Have you been surfeited with dolls, smothered with mats, plagued with pen-wipers, hung over with anti-macassars, and found your life a burden to you with pincushions? Have you ever known the torment of not only having to collect these things among your friends, but of having to make them up yourself? Every table in your drawing-room is strewn over with bits of cloth, shreds of silk, ends of ribbon, strings of beads, pieces of braid, and squares of cardboard! These are a small portion of the raw material waiting to be made use of; but besides these there are on other tables, and on chairs, on the top of the piano, on the chimney piece, everywhere and anywhere, undressed dolls of all sizes and shapes—from the large wax with the flaxen curls and the terribly vacant blue eyes, to the doll of wood with the stiff joints, and the hair and-the boots put on with a paint-brush!

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Then in the drawers, or upon the shelves of your wardrobe, there will surely be stored articles contributed by friends, and of course ready for the bazaar. A twin-sister of the blue-eyed flaxen-haired doll, which you have to dress, is here, brilliant in white muslin over pink calico, with a gipsy hat and a scarlet opera cloak—congruity is seldom remembered in doll’s attire. Then there is the nun-doll, and the Normandy peasant doll, and the Newhaven fishwife, and the buy-a-broom girl, and Red riding-hood, and a bride and a bridesmaid, and an old grand-dame. The gentlemen dolls are comparatively scarce, but we have the negro minstrel…and we have a sailor, a collegian, a soldier and a policeman, and that is, I think, the sum-total of our “Mr. Dolls,” to quote Eugene Wrayburn, in “Our Mutual Friend.”

puppies pen wiper.JPG

And then the pen-wipers! There is the cocked-hat shape and the flat-bottom boat, and the set of melon-shaped leaves worked with beads, and the other set of leaves, with a thing stretched upon them intended to represent a dog—it is like no dog that I ever saw—and dozens of others all equally ingenious and useless.

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The pincushion family is even more numerous: they begin with the ambitious “Box”—that which once held fragrant ” Havannahs” is now trimmed with lace and ribbon—and the round affair, with the little glass in the centre for flowers, and go down to the smallest thing which can be made and stuffed. We have the Wellington boot and the Blucher boot, and the high-heeled slipper! we have the church-steeple, the belfry bell, and the kitchen-bellows! we have balls, hoops, and croquet mallets—these last are quite a new invention; we have pincushions for the workbox, for the pocket, and the belt; we have pincushions into which it is impossible to put pins, and pincushions from which it is impossible to take pins out! We have hard pincushions and soft pincushions, and pincushions which are neither hard nor soft—in short, pincushions enough to set you mad, and to make you wish that there were no such things as pins in the world!

And then the mats. Of all the rubbish which a bazaar collects together defend me from the mats! Mats of worsted-work and mats of beads, mats of crochet and of knitting, mats of shaded wool crimped to represent moss, and mats of shaded paper crimped to represent leaves! Mats of every size, shape, and colour; mats for the tea-kettle and the tea-urn, the lamps, and the jugs! Mats made of steel rings and—yes I have seen them—mats made of shirt buttons!

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When I add to these the handsome pieces of worsted and patchwork (which rarely sell), cushions, slippers, tea-pot “cosys,” fender-stools, foot-stools, chairs, borders for table-covers, borders for chimney pieces, banner screens and hand-screens, sachets, what-nots, carriage-bags, travelling-bags, bags for nothing at all—when I enumerate the “anti-macassars” —why not call them “anti-trotter-oil pomades?” —in knitting, netting, tatting, and crochet, in braiding and applique, in everything that is possible and impossible—when I try to give even a faint idea of the assortment of children’s clothes, and of the hundred and one knickknacks for which I could not find either a name or a use, you will have some idea, if you have no personal experience, of the “matter” which accumulates when a “bazaar” is about to be got up!

But far be it for me to say that a bazaar is all work and no play; on the contrary, it is generally considered “delightful” and “great fun,” except perhaps by “papa,” who never can find a chair to sit upon while the bazaar mania lasts; and also by “mamma,” who, after the first few days, begins to think that the “girls” are wasting their time, and that the bazaar gives Mr. Verdant Green, the curate, too many opportunities for “dropping in.”

bazaar apron with leaves

But “girls,” as a rule, like fancy work, they have a positive genius for slippers, and are in their element among mats; besides, won’t it be nice to appear in pretty new muslins and becoming hats on the day of the bazaar; and “won’t it be fun to act shop-maids!” Such a good excuse for a little “innocent flirtation.” Oh, yes; the young ladies are all sympathy for the [deserving poor]!

But the really hard work begins when it is announced that enough of dolls have been dressed, pincushions stuffed, and rubbish generally collected; then the day for the sale has to be fixed, placards have to be drawn out, printed, pasted, and posted! the room has to be swept and garnished, the tables have to be set and ornamented, and the wares have to be spread out! How joyfully the young ladies assemble the day before the bazaar to do the work of decoration, and how fagged they are before evening, how weary of the sight of pink and blue glazed calico of laurel branches and paper flowers, of hammers and of nails! But there are not—more is the pity—any fairy wands now-a-days, and if we don’t like looking at bare walls while we are dining or dancing in public, or while we are selling dolls for charity, we must just buy the hammers and the nails, the glazed calico and the paper flowers, and set to work to make the bare walls look smart. Indeed, a great deal of what I may collectively call “hammering and nailing” goes on in the world before we can dine or dance, or get married, or even see our friends in a quiet way: yes, and even when the child is born, and the man dies, we have the frosted christening cake, and the plumes upon the hearse.

But the decorations are finished at last, and the tables are arranged, and how difficult it was to arrange them in the most effective manner, and so to dispose the dolls, the pincushions, the pen-wipers, and all kinds of rubbish so as to prevent Mrs. Smith from fancying that her contribution was not thought so much of as the contribution of Mrs. James. The sale begins at one o’clock, and by half-past twelve the fair shopwomen, in the new muslins and the becoming hats, are in their places, with little cash boxes beside them, and little piles of small silver for change, and a little pencil to jot down accounts.

female members of charity bazaar 1885

Lady workers at a charity bazaar, including a fortune teller in the front row, 1885

There is a great deal of variety about these amateur shopwomen: there is the timid seller, who either sits down behind her counter, or else shields herself behind a screen of antimacassars, or pinafores, which she has ingeniously suspended for the purposes of fence; she is always changing the position of her wares, and hoping that they look well from the outside; after everything she sells she counts her money, and she is the only one from whom, on the first day of the sale, any article can be got a bargain. She never asks any one to buy anything, but when people come up to her stall she gently puts some little thing that she fancies they may be looking for, more prominently in view. It is to her that children who have small sums, varying from one penny to six, to invest in behalf of the [charity], invariably resort; she is almost certain to cheat herself rather than disappoint the eager little buyers, and to give a shilling doll for sixpence; indeed I think it may be said that the timid seller does not make much.

Then there is the worrying seller: she is generally a “fast” young lady, and she keeps shop as though she had served her time to a “fancy business.” Her wares are arranged to the best advantage, she knows where everything is, and if she have not exactly what you ask for, she will give you something far nicer and prettier, she says, in every way; she is never at a loss for anything, from a sharp answer to a penny top; it is very hard to escape from her without buying: you feel that you are being taken in, but you have no power to resist; she tells you that the article you are looking at is really “ridiculously, shamefully cheap! that you never saw so pretty a “cosy,” so “lovely a fender-stool,” or such a “love” of a smoking cap; and then, if you are a gentleman, you probably buy the three articles, although perhaps, strictly speaking, you have no tea-pot for the “cosy,” no fender for the stool, and no head for the cap, for you don’t smoke! and having paid for them you are about to “move on,” trying to feel that you have not thrown away your money, when the worrying seller again attacks you to take a ticket for a raffle— “A splendid cushion, worked in beads, for sixpence! fancy that cushion for sixpence!”

lily cushion

Well, you think it would be cheap at the money, and although you never won anything at a raffle in your life, you give your sixpence, and you are allowed to escape for the present.

Then there is the quiet, lady-like seller, about whose table I think the steadiest trade is carried on; she does not force you to buy whether you like it or not, neither will she allow people who really want to buy to pass on to other tables, as the timid seller would do. She is generally a pretty girl too, and of course the gentlemen crowd about her, and the gentlemen attract the ladies, and so the world goes round!

Then there, is the seller great at expedients by which to get off the large unsaleable articles, and the small rubbishy articles, and from whom, especially on the second day, you can get the most wonderful and unexpected bargains. For the large articles, such as worked chair-covers, cushions, banner-screens, &c, &c, she gets up raffles, she charters unwary young gentlemen, and giving them the articles to be raffled for, and a piece of paper and a pencil, she sends them about through the room to collect names and shillings. Then, with the smaller things, actual rubbish, which no one in their senses would buy, she makes up a raffle in which there are no blanks! The name of the particular chiffon is written on a slip of paper, the slips are put into a “wheel of fortune,” you give your sixpence and draw your slip, and get your doll, your pincushion, your pen-wiper, or your mat!

There is always a great deal of excitement round this seller’s table; she is so full of fun, and tells you so pleasantly, if you lose in one of the large raffles, “to try again, and you will have better luck!” that you do try again, and if, as is very probable, you have not better luck, she will perhaps console you by telling you that “everyone can’t win.”

charity bazaar peddler doll.JPG

And among the buyers there is quite as much variety as among the sellers. I have often thought that if, of the people who go to an exhibition—say of pictures—those who go to see and to be seen, those who go to meet their friends, those who go because everyone goes, those who go because they may as well kill time by staring at pictures as kill it by not staring at them, were all turned out, the people who go to see the pictures from the pure and simple love of art, would be few indeed. And so with bazaars—of those who go for amusement, from curiosity, and from idleness were all turned out; those who go to buy, and especially those who buy for the sake of charity, would be a decided minority.

But among the actual buyers at a bazaar there is, as I have said, a great variety. There is the gentleman who declares that he intends to lay out exactly half-a-crown, and who lays out five pounds before an hour; there is the hard-to-be-pleased buyer, who is also determined to lay out a certain sum, who is equally determined not to be imposed upon, and not to be inveigled into putting in for a raffle, this buyer (generally a rich old maid) turns a deaf ear to the worrying seller, while she coolly examines almost every article upon the table, and probably ends by walking off to another stall without having opened her purse; she finally expends her money upon useful frocks and pinafores for her little nephews and nieces at home.

Then there is the reckless buyer—by far the more numerous class—who buys the most absurd and utterly useless things, and who, moreover, carries them about for the rest of the day, and finds them dreadfully in the way. And there is the buyer who is watching and waiting for bargains, and always asking “What is the lowest you will take for this?These buyers disarrange the table sadly and take up the different articles and pinch them and pull them and squeeze them in a most tormenting way; they open everything in the shape of a box, and generally smell them too; they examine into the mysteries of the doll’s attire in a very impertinent, I might almost say indelicate, manner; they turn the “cosies” inside out, and count the needles in the needle-books; but the way in which they maltreat the mats is really shocking. Indeed mats generally at a bazaar have a bad time of it, there is no respect for them, dolls sit upon them, and they are flattened out of all shape by cushions.

1871 charity bazaar for consumption hospital

Charity Bazaar in Aid of the National Hospital for Consumptives, 1871

I think the grand mistake of all in connexion with bazaars is in making them to last two days; when the second day comes the sellers are tired, the wares are tossed, and the whole affair is as flat as stale champagne. Of course there are exceptions, and I have myself been at bazaars which were better the second day than the first.

Finally, it has always been a perplexing question to me to know what becomes of the things which are not sold at bazaars! Do the dolls emigrate? do the pincushions and the pen-wipers and the mats melt? or is there a “Hades” for fancy work—a “Happy hunting ground” for Chiffons, into which they vanish and are heard of no more? Or are they returned to their original owners, or makers rather, to be pulled out of workboxes, or writing-desks after many years, and contemptuously thrown aside with the remark—”Look at that dreadful old thing which I made for the [Charity] Bazaar!” S. G.

The Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, Music & Romance, 1867

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has been reluctantly involved with several charitable jumble sales. Not only was it painful to see the waste of time and materials expended in inadequate fancy-work, one had existential questions about why someone would have deliberately dressed a pair of taxidermied rooks in 18th century costumes and posed them under a glass bell as if dancing a minuet. The misguided horrors that had once been the ornament of  some suburban villa were truly shocking to contemplate. It is often said that one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Mrs Daffodil fears that a great many people required a stomach-pump.

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.

 

In Lieu of Champagne: Mrs Daffodil’s One-Thousandth Post

 

Mrs Daffodil is pleased to report that to-day marks an anniversary of sorts: the one-thousandth post on this site. Mrs Daffodil should enjoy breaking out the champagne for a toast, or at the very least, passing around a box of chocolate cremes, but, alas, this is impracticable, since her readers are scattered all around the globe.

In lieu of champagne, Mrs Daffodil will share her reader’s best-loved posts and some of her own favourites, interspersed with some cuttings from her fashion scrap-books.

gold sequins sun king fan

“Sun King” fan with tinted mother-of-pearl sticks and guards and shaded copper and gold spangles, c. 1880-1910 https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/fan/xAG2xDgj6hb8LA

Although it is difficult to choose from posts so numerous and wide-ranging, three of the most popular posts shared by Mrs Daffodil were

How to Make Stage Lightning and Thunder: 1829-1900

Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

A guest post by the subfusc author of The Victorian Book of the Dead on Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914, also made the top of the charts.

Posts about the contemporary costs of fashion were quite popular.

The Cost of a Curtsey: Court Presentation Expenses: 1907

Where That $10,000-a-year Dress Allowance Goes: 1903

What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe: 1907

The Cost of a Fine Lady: 1857

As were stories of how to dress nicely on a budget:

Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898

How To Be a Well-dressed Young Man on a Budget: 1890

spring green Callot orientalist

1923 Callot Soeurs orientalist dress http://kerrytaylorauctions.com

Some of Mrs Daffodil’s personal favourites include

How to Dress (or Undress) Like a Mermaid: 1868 to 1921

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

How to Entertain with Impromptu Fruit Sculpture: 1906

A Bashful Bridegroom: 1831

 

The Dress Doctor: An Ingenious Lady’s Profession: 1894

A Ghost Orders a Hat: 1900

The Angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn: 1863

A Shakespearean Contretemps: 1830s 

stumpwork casket with garden

Stumpwork casket with a garden on the lid, c. 1660-1690 http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/39240/stumpwork-casket

Mrs Daffodil thanks all of her readers for their kind attention and she would very much enjoy hearing about their favourite posts on this site in the comments.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

A Bride by Telegram: 1899

1875 Gaultier bride doll

A BRIDE BY TELEGRAM

By Mrs.Whitney.

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

H. Smith, Walkley Station.”

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

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

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

“Goodness me!” said Arethusa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They cannot deceive us!”

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

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

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

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

“All about what?” said Mrs. Smith.

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

“Whose wedding?” demanded Mrs. Smith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.