Category Archives: Domestic Arrangements

How to Decorate Your Piano: 1900

red flowered chinese export shawl c 1900

Applied Embroidery.

Ever since it has been wisely recognized that the right position for a cottage piano is not to be pushed back against the wall, but to stand well out into the room, the question of how to turn its somewhat uncompromising expanse of back to decorative account has been one for careful consideration. Sometimes the solution is productive of extremely pleasing results, sometimes very much the reverse. Flimsy “dust trap” draperies and unaccountable devices in Japanese fans are, happily, for the most part obsolete expedients nowadays, and it has come to be pretty generally acknowledged that the back of a piano is a feature in the decoration of a room to be treated seriously. When it serves the purpose of a screen, breaking up the formal arrangement of the chairs and sofas and creating a pleasant little alcove or fireside corner, no method is more satisfactory than to cover it, screenwise, with an effective panel of embroidery. The needlework should harmonize in character with the pretty, flowered and beribboned chintzes which now lend their charm to many a drawing room or boudoir.

When a piano is constantly left open, it is a capital plan to protect the keys by covering them with a narrow strip of silk. This gives an opportunity for charming needlework decoration after the manner indicated in the group of sketches. Suppose the keyboard cover to be of white or pale tinted satin, the branches of almond blossom should be in fine ribbon work and the scroll, with its motto, “Music, When Soft Voices Die, Vibrates In the Memory,” outlined in gold or silver thread. There should be a lining of thinly quilted silk, pink or green, which may be delicately perfumed with violets, lemon verbena or any other favorite sachet powder.

The Jersey City [NJ] News 8 September 1900: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One can perhaps justify the draping of the grand piano in an elaborately embroidered shawl, if only to prevent the inevitable sprawling chanteuses from scratching the varnish. However, Mrs Daffodil draws the line at the notion of upholstering the back of the piano, no matter how seriously one wishes to treat the instrument. Such embroideries are impossible to dust and even more impossible to wash, not to mention their muffling effect on the instrument itself. “Music, when soft voices die–full stop.” about sums it up. She also points out that the obvious: if the instrument is actually being used, there is no need to protect the keys with superfluous fancy-work.

Something new in needlework is a piano key covering, designed to lay over the keys when closed and on the rack when open. It is an excuse for embroidery, as it is made of light cloth, upon which is worked some pattern emblematic of music. It cannot be said to fill a long-felt want, but is as useful and as much needed as the embroidered bell pull or the decorated shirtbox which long suffering masculines are now asked to accept on gift days.

The Jersey City [NJ] News 3 February 1893: p. 3

 

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 anecdote

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.

Genevieve, Whose Husband was Domestic: 1909

evenings at home 1919

Genevieve Whose Husband Was Domestic.

“I have been home fully fifteen minutes, Genevieve,” growls James. “Fully fifteen minutes, and here it is after 5 o’clock and no sign of dinner. You just getting home, too! I should think the entire day to yourself, galivanting about  was enough without staying out to such an hour! Where have you been?”

“Why, James, after I got the work done, I had to go down town to get your shirts ordered and to see about the children’s underwear for winter. Then I got a pattern for Jimmy-boy’s little coat that I’m going to make out of your old one. I hurried all I could and there’s plenty of time to get dinner. I’m not—so—very–tired.”

Genevieve has been dragging about the shops all afternoon with two babies. She always does, because James is certain that a good mother and a truly domestic woman would prefer to take care of her own babies, so they never kept a maid. “Useless extravagance,” said James, and he was a well-paid man, too. So domestic was James, besides. Quite the beau ideal of all Genevieve’s friends whose husbands were so depraved as to belong to lodges and smoke cigars and commit such like atrocities.

“How on earth you women find amusement in that eternal shopping! There, there. Let it go, say no more about it! Just get dinner right away. I’m hungry.” Shopping! And she got the children’s winter flannels and ordered James’ shirts, and had to run in an itemized account of her wild expenditure! Um!

“No, no,” continued sweet James to Jimmy-boy, aged three years, “no, no. papa’s tired. Run on out into the kitchen to mamma!”

Well! Jimmy-boy had been toddling about after mamma all afternoon and he was tired, too! So was mamma.

“Wa-a-yah-ow!” remarks Jimmy-boy.

“Genevieve, take that child out into the kitchen and get his coat off. Can’t you see he’s tired to death? Some people have no consideration for children,” cooes James, the dear, domestic husband.

Genevieve was ever such a belle before her James came along and gurgled at her about the ideal married life. A happy little home and a dear little wife was his text. No scouting about town for him when he had such a sweet girl as Genevieve waiting at home for him. And Genevieve looked upon her friends’ husbands who stayed out to lodge meetings and asked her friends themselves how about it, and they all said with one voice, “Genevieve, there’s nothing so calculated to make a woman happy as a really, truly domestic husband.”

Mother said so, too. And father remarked that James was a man after his own heart. But father belonged to two lodges and the G. A. R., bless him, and Genevieve wondered a bit and sort of shied at acquiring a hubby so much superior to the beloved daddy of her childhood and the companionable, let’s-get-out-among-’em father of her later years who took her every single place she wanted to go when there was no one else interfering around.

But she thought it must be all right. And James adored her. She was not yet wise enough to see that James adoring her was not quite the same as James being adorable or their both adoring each other, and that those missing matters might become conspicuous by their absence in the strain and stress of wedded life.

Well! So Genevieve married James. And now there was a Jenny-girl, aged six, and a Jimmy-boy, aged three, and Genevieve did all the work, except the washing, and took care of the children evenings after James went to bed at 8 o’clock, and enjoyed a hilarious life in general.

“Where did you go this afternoon?” says James.

“To the l.adies’ Aid meeting, James,” murmurs Genevieve.

“Does that take all afternoon? Where else were you?”

“Why, I stopped at mother’s a few minutes on the way home,” murmurs Genevieve.

“John Handy said he saw you downtown without the children at about half-past 4?” And James gazed upon her with an inquiring frown.

“Yes, mother wanted me to do a little shopping for her and I left the children with her while I went.”

“What on earth did your mother want that she couldn’t get herself?” (Thoughtful husband!)

“Why, she could have got the things, but she thought I’d enjoy the walk by myself.”

“By yourself! Well, of all the unnatural ideas! A woman with her heart in the right place could not bear to be away from her babies like that!” sniffed James.

No, Genevieve does not throw the coffee pot at him. She has been trained by generations of domestic women and by a circle of domesticated friends to believe that a man who pays the bills and stays home nights is the ideal husband. It would be wrong to crack a perfectly good ideal with a coffee pot.

But some days when James inquires who it was bowed to her on the street at half past 3 o’clock that afternoon, and who she saw in the stores, and why she stopped to talk to that blessed preacher when she knew he was waiting for her to come and take care of the children so he could get his Sunday afternoon nap, and if she thinks anybody is going to look at her that she togs herself out in that silly style–some time, some time, something is going to happen to that dear, devoted husband, who never belonged to a naughty club in his life, never smoked, never drank, thinks games of chance are of the devil and stays at home every night of his life with his dear little wifie.

Because, dear little wifie is a natural born widow, anyway!

The Sunday Star [Washington DC] 21 November 1909, Part 4: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has observed that the men who are most vigilant and suspicious (has James hired one of the Pinkertons to discover who bowed to Genevieve on the street at half past 3 o’clock?) are those who themselves have something to hide. Mrs Daffodil would not be surprised to find that the domestic paragon James is a good deal naughtier than he pretends, and, in fact, has installed another family in a happy little home in a nearby neighbourhood, where he is known as a hardware drummer who spends much of his time on the road.  Some time, something is going to happen, indeed….

 

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 anecdote

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.

Violets the Fad This Winter: 1893

hand painted violet fan

VIOLETS THE FAD THIS WINTER.

They Will Appear in Every Sort of Shape That Fashion Can Suggest.

The violet is the flower of the coming winter.

All the new things of every sort are covered with violets. The new embroidery patterns are in violets. The new candleshades have paper violets stuck upon them. Even the candles are of a novel tint–purple.

The newest ribbons in the shops are violet, the color running through a surprising number of shades. The latest fancy soaps are wrapped in violet-colored paper. Note paper in pale violet is to be a fashionable fad, and my lady will scent her dainty mouchoir with violet perfume.

Some of the swellest Washington women are going to give violet teas during the coming season. On these occasions of modish festivity many gowns will be worn of white silk with violets brocaded upon them, the corsage bouquets being great bunches of the same flowers. One dress already designed will have a low cut bodice entirely surrounded by a deep wreath of violets. At tea tables violet ribbons will be stretched from the candles to the chandeliers above, forming a sort of May pole effect.

A Violet Room.

One Washington house already has a whole room done in pale violet–the wall paper, hangings, furniture coverings, everything. A pretty effect is produced by making violet the color-motive for a lady’s bedchamber. The counterpane and pillow shams may be of white muslin over violet, and the dressing table in the same materials, tied with great violet bows in several shades. If nothing else is done in recognition of this new fad, one should have at least one sofa pillow of violet.

Violet has even become the proper color for babies, replacing the old-fashioned blue and pink. The violet tea gown will be very much the thing. It Is noticed that all the newest and most dainty porcelains are ornamented with violets, either scattered about or in solid bunches. The latest designs in jewelry are in these flowers, and fancy pins and such trifles in violets will be popular as gifts for the approaching Christmas.

Of course, this rage for violets will add greatly to the price of those blossoms during the coming winter. Many women win mix imitation ones with the real for economy’s sake, and their bouquets will not be less beautiful for that reason. Violets are perhaps more successfully imitated than any other flowers.

A Clerk in the Business.

A young Washington lady employed in the Treasury Department is likely to find this a profitable season for a pleasant business which she devotes her leisure moments to conducting. She raises violets on a small farm of her own near Anacostia. The work is very easy. She has more than 30 glass sashes, under which the flowers bloom all winter long. In May each year she has some fresh ground plowed, and in it she plants all of her violets, taken from beneath the sashes for that purpose. Then she simply takes up the sashes, covers the newly planted violets with them, and the work Is done.

In October they begin to bloom, and continue all through the winter, so that the young lady can pick them every day and send them to market. All of her violet plants came from one little pot which she bought at the Center market five years ago. They are made to multiply by dividing the roots, so that a single plant taken up in the spring will supply a score or more. She sells her violets to florists in Washington or New York. Prices are higher in the metropolis, so that it pays to express them on. They never bring less than a cent apiece, and sometimes two cents.

There is always a market for violets, and there is never any difficulty in disposing of them. Any florist is glad to buy them, if they are good ones and in prime condition. They must be picked always in the afternoon, because otherwise they lose their perfume. To ship them, they must be placed in bunches in pasteboard boxes, with waxed paper folded loosely around them. They must not be touched with water, because to do so will take away their sweetness.

Evening Star [Washington DC] 11 November 1893: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has previously written about how to give a “violet luncheon.” Should her readers require the details of a “violet tea,” albeit of a more lavish variety than usually seen in suburban households, this article gives some helpful suggestions.

Extravagant Hospitality

The afternoon teas of the coming season will be more elaborate than ever before. One leader in society will give one in a few weeks which will eclipse anything of the kind ever seen. It is to be a violet tea. The table will be laid for twelve. The cloth used upon this occasion will be one of six which the hostess had made abroad by special order. They all are of a heavy white satin, each embroidered in different designs. The one to be used upon this occasion is embroidered in violets. They lie in clusters, all over the shining white surface and the work is so admirably done that one would think they had been plucked and dropped there. The tea service is of Royal Worcester, also made by special order, with a design of violets upon a rich cream ground. There are 188 pieces in this tea service, and the average cost is $30 for each, piece. The napkins are of satin, with a design of violets embroidered in one corner. The favors will be painted upon porcelain, and although all different each will be a design of violets.

Under the table will be a large Wilton rug of cream with violets scattered over it The valance dependent from the mantel will be of creamy plush, with a border of embroidered violets and a lining of violet satin. The portieres will be of heavy white felt with a border of violets. The lamps will all have violet shades, so that the light will be like an Indian summer haze.

Arkansas City [KS] Daily Traveler 9 January 1890: p. 2

 

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 Lady’s Social Diplomacy: 1895

Romney, George, 1734-1802; A Hand Holding a Letter

Social Diplomacy.

New York Tribune.

Diplomacy ranks next to tact in social ethics, and to be a successful hostess with limited means nowadays In New York requires almost the brains of a Machiavelli. How little Mrs. Z.–who lives in a bandbox of a house, with only a parlor maid to serve at her dainty table–manages to get the smartest people to dine with her en petit comité, whenever she will, apparently is a constant source of amusement and irritation to her rich neighbor, Mrs. Midas. The latter, despite her chef and her millions, sometimes finds it hard work to collect enough guests for her heavy entertainments twice or thrice during the season, and her own invitations are few and far between, whereas Mrs. Z. drives out whenever she is not entertaining at home.

“What do you suppose is the secret of her success?” exclaimed one of her friends. “Certainly she seems to have very few substantial advantages. She is comparatively poor, she is hardly even pretty, though It must be admitted she is very chic, but no more so than many others, She is certainly ‘sympatica,’ but so are a score of people I could name. Her house is a dear, but as a man said the other day, there is ‘hardly room in it to swing a cat,’ while her dinners, which are, of course, perfect in their way, are simplicity itself. What is her especial attraction is absolutely inexplicable, and yet it is there. or she could not pick and choose among the most exclusive people as she undoubtedly does.”

“My dear,” answered her companion, “it is tact combined with diplomacy and I will give you an instance of the latter quality, which is, of course, only one out of many. She told me this herself, so I need not hesitate to repeat it. Wishing to secure, for a special occasion, Mr.—, the celebrated author, who is a somewhat surly lion, and seldom condescends to roar at any one’s table except at that of Mrs. B., the pretty widow he wants to marry, Mrs. Z. cast about in her mind how she could engage him, by letting him know, before he had time to write a refusal, that Mrs. B. was invited, without directly saying so, which would, of course, be impossible. Suddenly an inspiration seized her: she wrote an invitation to Mrs. B. and put it into the wrong envelope, which, by an odd coincidence, happened to be addressed to Mr.—. Of course, as soon as the letters had gone to the post, she discovered her mistake, and wrote another note of explanation. Needless to say that both guests came and her dinner went off as her dinners always are sure to do, with the most perfect success.”

The Indianapolis [IN] Journal 6 December 1895: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Tact and diplomacy, indeed!  Mrs Daffodil must make a note of the hostess’s mixed-envelope scheme; she can think of several occasions on which it might be useful. Indeed, it has often been used as a plot device for stage, screen, and fiction. Comic valentines are particularly susceptible to being placed in the wrong envelopes, often with disastrous consequences.

The situation gave rise to much mirth in the joke columns of newspapers.

REMEDY FOR MEASLES.

A lady who had two children sick with the measles wrote to a friend for the best remedy. The friend had just received a note from another lady, inquiring her method of making pickles. In reply the lady unfortunately placed the notes in the wrong envelopes, so that the person who inquired about the pickles received the remedy for the measles, and the anxious mother of the sick children read with horror the following: “Scald them three or four times in hot vinegar, and sprinkle them with salt, and in a few days they will be cured.”

The Osage City [KS] Free Press 3 May 1878: p. 3

AMUSING MISTAKE—A MINISTER ASKED TO LOAN A HOOP SKIRT.

A well-known minister in Chelsea, Mass., was greatly surprised, some time since at receiving an epistle from a lady friend at Cape Ann, containing sundry and divers female confidences relative to her approaching marriage, and an urgent request to send immediately a “hoop skirt.”

The minister was completely dumbfounded. It was a strange epistle for him to receive, but there was the superscription, Rev. ___, as plain as could be. In the course of the day, however, the mystery was cleared up, and it appeared that the fair correspondent had indicted two letters, one to the reverend gent requesting his presence to tie the marriage knot, and the other to a female friend, enlarging on the anticipated occasion, and requesting her services in procuring that highly useful article a hoop skirt. By some hocus-pocus the letters were placed in the wrong envelopes, but luckily the rightful owners exchanged letters, and the minister and hoop skirt were both there! Bangor (Me.) Times.

The States and Union [ Ashland OH] 16 May 1860: p. 4

The lady of rank in this last anecdote was singularly lacking in tact and diplomacy. She was also fortunate that she did not live in the days when Royalty could say “Off with her head,” with impunity:

A NOTE IN THE WRONG ENVELOPE.

A lady of rank had received the honor of an invitation to dinner from the Princess Mary of Teck, [Mother of Queen Mary, the present Queen’s grandmother.] for a day when she was engaged to dine with an old friend. She wrote two letters—one to the Princess in her sweetest manner, acknowledging the honor, &c.; another to her friend, beginning: “Such a bore, dear! Fat Mary has invited me to dinner on our day ,and of course I must go.” To her horror, she learned by the next post that her friend had got the letter for the Princess in her friend’s envelope. The mischief was done, and she went prepared to throw herself at the feet of her royal hostess, when the Princess met her with open hands and smiling face as she said: “Fat Mary is very much pleased to see you, and hopes you won’t find her a bore.”

London Truth.

The Press Herald [Pine Grove PA] 22 October 1880: p. 1

 

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.

 

 

“I have never known a Red Room yet that was not haunted.”: 1903

a visit to the haunted chamber William Frederick Yeames 1869

A Visit to the Haunted Chamber, William Frederick Yeames, 1869

Mr. Punch’s Spectral Analyses.

AN OFFICIAL MUDDLE.

It is always my custom when I go to stop at a country house to ask my host to put me in the haunted room. I like ghosts. In my earlier literary days I was often a ghost myself, and even now I occasionally do “Cheery Chatter for the Chicks” in Baby’s Own lckle Magazine for my friend Bamstead Barker when he wants a holiday. I use a spirit lamp, too, and in a great many other ways exhibit a marked partiality for the spectre world.

When, therefore, I went to stay at Strathpuffer Castle last autumn, I put my usual request, and my host sent for the butler.

“Keggs,” he said, “Mr. Wuddus wishes to sleep in a haunted room. What ghosts have we?”

“Well, your lordship,” said Keggs thoughtfully, “there’s Bad Lord ‘erbert and Dark Lord Despard and the man in armour wot moans and ‘er late ladyship as ain’t got no ‘ead and exhibits of warious gaping wounds, but all the bedrooms wot they ‘aunts is took at present. They do say, though, your lordship, as ‘ow remarkable sounds ‘ave bin ‘eard recent from the Red Room.”

“Then let the Red Room be my bedroom,” I said, dropping into poetry with all the aplomb of a Silas Wegg” I have never known a Red Room yet that was not haunted.” And to the Red Room accordingly I went.

It was past twelve when I went to bed. Scarcely had I got inside the room when a sepulchral voice on my right said “Boo!” and almost at the same instant a chain rattled on my left. I sat down on the bed, and spoke with firmness and decision.

“This won’t do at all,” I said. “No haunted room is ever allowed two ghosts. One of you must go, or I lodge a formal complaint. Which is it to be?”

“I got here first,” said a sulky voice.

“Well, you’d no business here,” said the second ghost snappishly. “I was definitely and officially appointed, and I give up my rights to no one.”

“I’ve told you a thousand times that I was appointed.”

“Nonsense. I was.”

“Meaning that I lie, Sir?”

“Come, come, come,” I interrupted impatiently. “I won’t have this unseemly wrangling. Settle it peaceably, my friends, peaceably.”

“Tell you what,” said the ghost with the chain, eagerly; “we’ll have a haunting competition, if this gentleman will be good enough to act as referee; and the loser quits.”

“But, my good Sir,” I said, “you forget that I want to go to sleep some time to-night. And besides, if you’ll forgive the criticism, a haunting competition between you two would be poor sport. You are neither of you what I should describe as fliers at the game. You lack finesse. You, Sir, remarked ‘Boo!” when I came in, and your colleague rattled a chain. Now, I ask you, what is the good of that kind of thing?”

“Ah,” said the groaning ghost, “but I can do a deal more than that. I can imitate all sorts of things. Thunderstorms and bagpipes, for instance. And I can turn myself into a hearse-and-four and drive up to the front door. And I can–”

“Well,” broke in the other, “and can’t I turn myself into a luminous boy and a hideous old woman, and a variety of jumpy and ingenious shapes? And can’t I produce raps from the furniture and fill a room with a weird, unearthly glow? And can’t I–”

“Stop,” I said, “stop. I see it all. A bright idea has struck me. You are respectively outdoor and indoor ghosts. What has happened, I take it, is this. Your muddling officials down below have made out your papers for Strathpuffer Castle and forgotten to give details. I have no doubt that, if you make enquiries, you will find that one of you has been appointed to haunt this room, the other the Castle grounds. You follow me?”

“My preserver!” gasped both spectres simultaneously, and vanished together to make enquiries at headquarters.

That my surmise proved correct was shown on the occasion of my next visit to the Castle. As the carriage passed through the grounds I heard the sound of bagpipes mingled with thunderclaps from behind an adjacent tree, and the first sight that met my eyes as I entered the Red Room was a hideous old woman who, even as I gazed, changed into a luminous boy.

Punch 2 September 1903: p. 153

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Once again, Punch unerringly hits the satirical mark in listing some of the most popular spectres of Britain:

  • The Luminous (or Radiant) Boy, found at Corby Castle and other stately homes
  • The hideous old woman, practically de rigueur in any ghost story written by Mr Elliott O’Donnell. An example not by that lurid gentleman is this chilling anecdote, either from Streatlam Castle or Glamis Castle:

My daughter-in-law has a ghost story of an old woman who appears in a haunted room at Lord Strathmore’s. His lordship’s house was so full of visitors on one occasion that the only spare bedroom was the haunted chamber, into which two of his lordship’s guests, the Misses Davidson, were ushered without being told of its ghostly reputation. After midnight one of the young ladies was wakened by some noise, and shrieked at seeing a hideous old woman in an antiquated dress leaning over her, grinning fiendishly, and bringing her loathly visage into close conformity to that of Miss D. Recovering her courage, and suspecting that the ghost was flesh and blood, the girl sprang out of bed to repulse the intruder. The phantom retreated and disappeared at a door, to the astonishment of both ladies, who still thought it might be a living human being. Next morning they related their nocturnal adventure to the company at breakfast, on which the Earl’s family exchanged significant glances, but gave no explanation.

  • The hearse-and-four, often lit by skull-lamps with flaming eyes and pulled by headless horses, is a favourite omen of death among noble families. That  peripatetic person over at Haunted Ohio has written several times about phantom coaches and hearses.
  • The phantom piper, who was sent to explore a tunnel (for example, at Keilor at Edinburgh Castle) and who never emerged, leaving behind only the sound of his pipes beneath the ground.

Hideous old women are all very well, but Mrs Daffodil wonders that the Punch satirist neglected to include those pillars of the British paranormal scene, The Grey Lady, The White Lady, The Green Lady, The Woman in Black, and The Pink Lady  It is a curious and perhaps telling omission. Mrs Daffodil would advise the legal representatives of those colourful entities to file grievances with the proper office. There is no excuse for not remembering the lady ghosts who must haunt twice as hard as the gentlemen, backwards, and in high heels.

 

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 Society Reporter’s Christmas: 1893

society 1920

LITTLE EVA SWALLOWTAIL,

Or, The Society Reporter’s Christmas.

Early morn in the little parlor of a humble white cottage, where Susan Swallowtail sat waiting for her husband to return from the ball. It lacked but a few days of Christmas, and she had arisen with her little ones at five o’clock in order that William, her husband, might have a warm breakfast and a loving greeting on his return after his long night’s work.

Seated before the fire, with her sewing on her lap, Susan Swallowtail’s thoughts went back to the days when William, then on the threshold of his career as a society reporter, had first won her young heart by his description of her costume at the ball of the “Ladies’ Daughters’ Association of the Ninth Ward.” She remembered how gallantly and tenderly he had wooed her through the columns of the four weekly and Sunday papers in which he conducted the “Fashion Chit-Chat” columns, and then the tears filled her eyes as memory brought once more before her the terrible night when William came to the house and asked her father, the stern old house and sign-painter, for his daughter’s hand.

“And yet,” said Susan to herself, “my life has not been altogether an unhappy one in spite of our poverty. William has a kind heart, and I am sure that if he had anything to wear besides his dress-suit and flannel dressing-gown he would often brighten my lot by taking me out somewhere in the daytime. Ah, if papa would only relent! But I fear he will never forgive me for my marriage.”

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of familiar footsteps in the hall, and the next moment her husband had clasped her in his arms, while the children clung to his ulster, and clamored for their early morning kiss.

But there was a cloud on the young husband’s brow and a tremor on his lips as he said: “Run away now, little ones; papa and mamma have something to say to one another that little ears must not hear.”

“My darling,” he said, as soon as they were alone, ” I fear that our Christmas will not be a very merry one. You know how we always depend on the ball of the Gilt-Edged Coterie for our Christmas dinner?”

“Indeed, I do,” replied the young wife, with a bright smile; “what beautiful slices of roast beef and magnificent mince-pies you always bring home from that ball! Surely, they will give their entertainment on Christmas-eve this year as they always have?”

“Yes, but — can you bear to hear it, my own love?”

“Let me know the worst,” said the young wife, bravely.

“Then,” said William, hoarsely, ” I will tell you. I am not going to that ball. The city editor is going to take the assignment himself, and I must go to a literary and artistic gathering, where there will be nothing but tea and recitations.”

” Yes.” said Susan, bitterly ; “and sandwiches so thin that they can be used to watch the eclipse of the sun. But what have you brought back with you now ? I hope it is something nourishing.”

“My darling.” replied William Swallowtail, in faltering tones, ” I fear you are doomed to another disappointment. I have done my best to-night, but this is all I could get my hands on;” and with these words he drew from the pockets of his heavy woolen ulster a paper-bag filled with wine jelly, a box of matrons glacis, and two pint bottles of champagne.

“Is that all?” said Susan, reproachfully. “The children have had nothing to eat since yesterday morning except patis de foie gras, macaroons, and hot-house grapes. All day long they have been crying for corned-beef sandwiches, and I have had none to give them. You told me, William, when we parted in the early evening, that you were going to a house where there would be at least ham, and perhaps bottled beer, and now you return to me with this paltry package of jelly and that very sweet wine. I hope, William ” — and a cold, hard look of suspicion crept into her face — “that you have not forgotten your vows, and given to another…”

“Susan!” cried William Swallowtail, “how can you speak or even think of such a thing, when you know full well that…”

But Susan withdrew from his embrace, and asked, in bitter, cold accents: “Was there ham at that reception or was there not?”

“There was ham, and corned-beef, too. I will not deny it; but…”

“Then, William, with what woman have you shared it?” demanded the young wife, drawing herself up lo her full height, and fixing her dark, flashing eyes full upon him.

“Susan, I implore you, listen to me, and do not judge me too harshly. There was ham, but there were several German noblemen there, too — Baron Sneeze, of the Austrian legation. Count Pretzel, and a dozen more. The smell of meat inflamed them, and 1 fought my way through them in time to save only this from the wreck.”

He drew from his ulster-pocket something done up in a piece of paper, and handed it to his wife. She opened the package, and saw that it contained what looked like a long piece of very highly polished ivory. Then her face softened, her lips trembled, and her eyes brimmed over with tears. “Forgive my unjust suspicions,” she exclaimed, as she threw herself once more into his arms. “The mute ham-bone tells me, far more strongly than any words of yours could, the story of the society reporter’s awful struggle for life.”

William kissed his young wife affectionately, and then sat down to the breakfast which she had prepared for him.

“I hope,” she said, cheerfully, as she took a dish of lobster-salad from the oven, where it had been warmed over, “that you will keep a sharp lookout for quail this week. It would be nice to have one or two for our Christmas dinner. Of course we can not afford corned-beef and cabbage like those rich people, whom you call by their first names, when you write about them in the Sunday papers; but I do hope we will not be obliged to put up with cakes and pastry and such wretched stuff.”

“Quail!” exclaimed her husband. “They are so scarce and shy this winter that we are obliged to take setter-dogs with us to the entertainments at which they are served. But I will do my best, darling.”

As soon as William had gone to bed, Susan took from its hiding place the present which she had prepared for her husband, and proceeded to sew it to the inside of his ulster as a Christmas surprise for him. She sighed to think that it was the best she could afford this year. It was a useful rather than an ornamental gift — a simple rubber pocket, made from a piece of an old mackintosh, and intended for William to carry soup in.

But Susan had a bright, hopeful spirit, and a smile soon smoothed the furrows from her face, as she murmured: “How nice it will be when William comes home with his new pocket filled with nice, warm, nourishing bouillon!” and then she glanced up from her work and saw that her daughter, little golden-haired Eva, had entered the room, and was looking at her out of her great truthful deep-blue eyes.

It was Christmas-eve, and, as Jacob Scaffold trudged through the frosty streets, the keen air brought a ruddy glow to his cheeks and tipped his nose with a brighter carmine than any that he used in the practice of his art. Entering the hall in which the ball of the Gilt-Edged Coterie was taking place, the proud old house and sign-painter quickly divested himself of his outer wraps and made his way to the committee-room.

Then, adorned with a huge badge and streamer, he strolled out to greet his friends, who were making merry on the polished floor of the ball-room. But, although the band played its most stirring measures and the lights gleamed on arms and necks of dazzling whiteness, old Jacob Scaffold sighed deeply as he seated himself in a rather obscure corner and allowed his eyes to roam about the room as if in search of some familiar face.

The fact was that the haughty, purse-proud old man was thinking of another Christmas-eve ten years before when his daughter Susan had danced at this same ball, the brightest, the prettiest, and the most sought-after girl on the floor.

“And to think,” said the old man to himself, “that with all the opportunities she had to make a good match, she should have taken up with that reporter in the shiny dress-suit! It’s five years since I’ve heard anything of her, but of late I’ve been thinking that maybe I was too harsh with her, and, perhaps…”

His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a servant who told him that some one desired to see him in the committee-room. On reaching that apartment he found a little girl of, perhaps, eight years of age, plainly clad and carrying a basket in her hand.

Fixing her eyes on Jacob Scaffold, she said:

“Please, sir, are you the chairman of the press committee?”

“I am,” replied the puzzled artist; “but who are you?”

“I am the reporter of the Sunday Guff. My papa has charge of the ‘What the Four Hundred are Doing’ column, but to-night he is obliged to attend a chromo-literary reception, where there will be nothing to eat but tea and cake. Papa has reported your balls and chowder excursions for the past five years, and we have always had ham for dessert for a week afterward. We had all been looking forward to your Christmas-eve ball, and when papa told us that he would have to go to the tea and cake place to-night, mamma felt so badly that I took papa’s ticket out of his pocket when he was asleep and came here myself. Papa has a thick ulster, full of nice big pockets, that he puts on when he goes out to report, but I have brought a basket.”

The child finished her simple and affecting narrative, and the members of the press committee looked at one another dumbfounded. Jacob Scaffold was the first to break the silence.

“And what is your name, little child?” he inquired.

” Eva Swallowtail,” she answered, as she turned a pair of trusting innocent blue eyes full upon him.

The old man grew pale and his lips trembled as he gathered his grandchild in his arms. The other members of the committee softly left the room, for they all knew the story of Susan Scaffold’s misalliance and her father’s bitter feelings toward her and her husband.

“What!” cried Jacob Scaffold, “my grandchild wanting bread! Come to me, little one, and we’ll see what can be done for you.”

And, putting on his heavy ulster, he took little Eva by the hand and led the way to the great thoroughfare, on which the stores were still open.

*******

It was a happy family party that sat down to dinner in William Swallowtail’s humble home that bright Christmas day, and well did the little ones enjoy the treat which their generous new-found grandparent provided for them. They began with a soup made of wine jelly, and ended with a delicious dessert of corned-beef sandwiches and large German pickles; and then, when they could eat no more, and not even a pork pie could tempt their appetites, Grandpa Scaffold told his daughter that he was willing to lift his son-in-law from the hard and degrading labor of writing society chronicles, and give him a chance to better himself with a whitewash brush. “And,” continued the old man, “if I see that he possesses true artistic talent, I will some day give him a chance at the side of a house.” — James L. Ford in Truth.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 2 January  1893

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil does so like a happy ending. Society reportage, with its emphasis on “Upper Ten-dom” tittle-tattle, bore an ambiguous reputation. On one hand, etiquette proclaimed that a lady’s name should never be mentioned in the press except at her birth, marriage, and death. On the other, social columns were highly popular, both with the participants in cotillions, balls, kettledrums, and receptions, and with the “little people,” who thrilled vicariously to descriptions of fancy-dress costumes, champagne suppers, and cotillion figures and favours.

At the time of the writing of this piece, society journalism was becoming the purview of female journalists. Mr William Swallowtail, was fortunate to be rescued by his father-in-law from the hard and degrading labour of writing society chronicles before he was rendered redundant by a lady reporter who would be paid half his wages.

Still, it is a bit disappointing not to have seen the rubber pocket deployed.

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.

Three Gold Balls: A Visit to the Pawnbrokers’ Shops: 1872

Die Gartenlaube 1861 pawnbroker.jpg

THREE GOLD BALLS
A Visit to the Pawnbrokers’ Shops

To the Editors of the Evening Post:

A week or two since I had occasion to visit several pawnbrokers’ establishments in this city, to redeem some articles pawned by a friend who had once seen better days.

A brief mention of my experience may be instructive as well as entertaining. The redemption of my friend’s tools (he was a mechanic) as accomplished after no little trouble in visiting the principal establishments doing business under the sign of the “Three Golden Balls,” in a certain street, and redeeming one or two articles here, another there and a third or fourth somewhere else.

I had been told of the system of universal cheating which the proprietors of these places practice, and the enormous exactions made in grinding the faces of the poor. I had heard described their dexterity in the substitution of colored glass and crystals for gems, while pretending to examine articles brought for pledges, and was prepared to encounter all that was sinister and heartless. But the half had not been told me, and I soon found that my previous conceptions fell far short of the reality. I was detained at each place which I had occasion to visit by the delays in finding the article I was in search of, and for which the holders had doubtless flattered themselves no inquiries would be made. The press of business at all of the shops was another cause of delay. As I recovered my friend’s articles, one by one, it appeared at once that the most outrageous system of extortion had been practiced in every instance. The sums advanced had been pitiful in amount, and the rates of interest charged exorbitant beyond belief. At every one of these dens a crowd of victims was collected—a motley company indeed: blacklegs and would-be gentlemen—the cheater and the cheated; the widow parting with her disposable article of dress, to procure one more meal for her famishing children; a consumptive girl, with the hectic flush upon her check. The grasping misers—sometimes a woman—read the condition of the sufferers from their countenances with cool calculation. The pick-pocket, the thief, and the purloining servant were received with equal readiness, and the spoils were divided with the fullest understanding that no questions were to be asked.

AT MY UNCLE’S

I had scarcely made my business known at the first of “my uncle’s” establishments, No. ___ street, to which I had been directed, when a middle-aged man entered with a bundle on which he asked a small advance, and which, on being opened, was found to contain a shawl and two or three other articles of female apparel. The man was stout and sturdy, and, as I judged from his appearance, a mechanic, but the mark of the destroyer was on his bloated countenance. The pawnbroker was examining the offered pledge when a woman with pale face and attenuated form came hastily into the shop and with the single exclamation, “O, Robert!” darted, rather than ran to that part of the counter where the man was standing. Her miserable husband, not satisfied with wasting his own earnings, and leaving her to starve with her children, had plundered even her scanty wardrobe, and the pittance received was to be squandered at the rum-shop. A blush of shame arose even upon his degraded face, but it quickly passed away; the brutal appetite prevailed.

“Go home,” was his harsh exclamation; “what brings you here, running after me with your everlasting scolding? Go home and mind your own business.”

“Oh, Robert, dear Robert,” answered the unhappy wife, “don’t pawn my shawl. Our children are crying for bread, and I have none to give them; or let me have the money. Give me the money, Robert, and don’t leave us to perish!”

I watched the face of the pawnbroker.

“Twelve shillings on these things,” he said, tossing them back to the drunkard, with a look of perfect indifference. “Only twelve shillings,” murmured the heart-broken wife, in a tone of despair; “O, Robert, don’t let them go for twelve shillings. Let me try somewhere else.” “Nonsense!” answered the brute. “It’s as much as they are worth, I suppose. Here, Mr. ___ give us the change.” The money was placed before him, and the bundle consigned to a drawer. The poor creature reached forth her hand towards the money, but the movement was anticipated by her husband. “There, Mary,” he said, giving her half a dollar. “there, go home now, and don’t make a fuss. I’m going a little way up the street, and perhaps I’ll bring you something from market when I come home.”

The hopeless look of the poor woman as she meekly turned to the door told plainly enough how little she trusted the promise. They went on their way—she to her children and he to the next “corner grocery.”

A BENEVOLENT CUSTOMER

While this scene was in progress another had been added to the number of spectators. This was a young man, dressed in the height of the fashion. He had a reckless, good-humored look and very much the air of what is called “a young man about town,” that is, one who rides out to the Central Park in the afternoon, eats game suppers at Delmonico’s in the evening after the play, spends the rest of the night and his money at billiards. The moment the poor woman was gone, he twitched from his neck a gold chain, with a gold watch, and placing it in the hands of the pawnbroker, with whom he seemed to be on terms of acquaintance, he exclaimed, “Quick now, Mr. ___; thirty dollars on that? You’ve had it before, and needn’t stop to examine it.” The money was instantly paid; and the young man of fashion, crumpling the bills up in his hand, hurried off at full speed, first looking up and then down the street. I followed him to the door and saw him accost the poor woman who had just left the shop, thrust into her hand either the whole or part of the sum he had just received, and then turning away to the other side of the street without stopping either for thanks or for explanation.

The reverie of mingled surprise and admiration into which I was thrown by this unexpected manifestation of benevolence was interrupted by a loud outcry from Mr. ___, the pawnbroker, and by seeing him, with a look of wrath and horror, hurry round his counter and out through the door, upon the sidewalk, where he stood for a moment, straining his eyes down the street, as if in search of the kind-hearted youth, who had by this time disappeared up one of the cross-streets. “The villain,” he exclaimed, “the swindling scoundrel! Which way did he go? The ungrateful thief! Tell me,” he continued, turning to me, “tell me which way he went.” I point out to Mr. ___ the course taken by his late customer, and mentioned also what I had seen take place between him and the poor woman. “Ah, it’s no use,” he then said; “he’s got off clear by this time, and my thirty dollars is a ‘gone case.’ But I’ll find him yet, someday.” And thus soliloquizing, Mr. ___ returned into his shop. Taking advantage of the familiarity that had grown up between the broker and his chain, the young man had substituted an oroide chain for the gold one which had been so often deposited with the watch, and the deception had passed unnoticed until it was too late. The watch itself was a cheap one, and probably worth about the sum advanced.

THE STORY OF A RING

A touching incident occurred at the place of my next visit. A woman about thirty-five years old, in the garb of mourning, entered, evidently with reluctance; she could hardly make the object of her visit known on account of her emotion. She was of a delicate frame, of easy and rather graceful manners, and but for the ravages of care upon her face might still have been beautiful. At length she took a ring from a pretty little morocco case, upon the pledge of which she wished to realize such an amount of money as would sustain herself and children through the winter. The extortioner took the ring in his fingers, and holding it up to the window pretended to examine it—assuming at the same time an air of affected disappointed; he began at once to depreciate the article, declaring that it was nothing but an Alaska crystal, and that he would hardly take it at any price. He was inexorable and peremptorily refused to advance more than four or five dollars. Tears glistened in the woman’s eye.

I had seen, as the man studied the ring with secret satisfaction by the window, that the gem was valuable. I was determined that the unfortunate owner should not be imposed upon. Just before a bargain was completed, however, as I was about to interpose myself, another gentleman, who had also been watching the proceeding, stepped forward and declared that the beautiful ring should not be sacrificed…in that way. The broker at once endeavored to hasten matters, and declaring the bargain to have been completed, would have succeeded in thrusting the jewel into the drawer, but for the resolution of the gentleman who seized and saved it. The wretch muttered something about people’s interfering in business that was exclusively his own concern, but to no purpose. The widow was rescued from his fangs, and received a fair amount for her ring.

This poor lady, whose history I afterward learned, was an orphan, a daughter of a Virginia planter, who had been reduced to poverty before our civil war, so that his children were left portionless, and had been married when quite young. The husband of this daughter was killed in the late war, and she had learned the miseries and uncertainties of life.

Doubtless these examples which came under my notice are but a few of many, the mere relation of which is sufficient to make one blush for his fellow men.

W.L. STONE

Evening Post [New York, NY] 13 January 1872: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Many ladies of this era were held hostage by drunken, improvident, and abusive spouses. Widows fared little better, if, as so often happened, the late husband lost the family fortune by imprudent speculation, went into a Decline, and died. The pawnshop, the sweatshop–or the street–were often the only recourse. Mrs Daffodil can only suggest to the attenuated spouse of the brute Robert, that she lay out part of the money thrust into her hands by the young man about town to secure an insurance policy on her husband. While the balance of the money should be well-hidden, enough should be retained to allow Robert to accidentally discover it and go on a spree so immoderate that it will inevitably bring a quick return on her investment.

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.