Category Archives: Domestic Arrangements

Flowers for Aristocratic Tables: 1889

The-End-Of-Dinner-by-Jules-Alexandre-Grun-770x506 Edwardian dinner party.jpg

FLOWERS FOR THE TABLE.

Costly Decorations Affected by the Aristocracy.

Nell Nelson’s Chat with the Lending Floral Firms.

“You newspaper women,” said the monarch of the Elliott Floral Company, “make us a lot of trouble with your extravagant pens and superlative adjectives. You write Mrs. A.’s $50 order away up, and when Mrs. B. comes in with the article and wants us to beat it for $500 we are nonplussed, for the description calls for $1,500 worth of flowers.

“Half the trouble in this world comes from distorted facts and the other half is the result of bad cooking. The dream of Bellamy will never be realized until truth becomes chronic and the product of the kitchen digestible.

“There is no leading style in flowers or floral decorations, and no standard but that of individual taste. People pick their plants and cut flowers as they do their clothes and furniture ”

“The moneyed people like roses and orchids; the artists love palms and ferns, and many women would rather have a bunch of mignonette than a basket of voluptuous Beauty roses–those crimson, living, almost human things that intoxicate the senses. “Just now we are in a blaze of beauty, a cloud of glory, a heaven of perfume, and you have only to choose and I’ll send you anything you want.

“Here is the ‘Magna Charta,’ the rival of the American Beauty; both the same price–$15 a dozen.

“Here’s white lilac–the poet’s own flower and smell–now close your eyes! Can’t you feel Spring in your heart? My aesthetic soul, but it’s good!

“How much? Six dollars a bunch and six sprays in a bunch. Rolled up in paraffine paper and boxed in cotton batting, 1 don’t know a nicer bit of fragrance for a New Year’s offering. Do you?”

I said I didn’t.

“You see, the man or the woman who sends a flower to a friend wraps himself eternally in its perfume and wherever the breath of that blossom is caught, up he comes in face and form and voice, or the woman has no soul—that’s all.

“I once had the measles when I was in aprons,” the horticulturalist confided to me; “and while I was sick a little girl sent me an apple to smell, but not to eat.

” I can smell that rosy piece of fruit now, and I never pass a greening or a russet or a pippin that I do not see the wee maiden in fancy and bless her dear little heart. That’s the sentiment of it, but here’s the business.

“Flowers are abundant, but the demand amounts to a real tax, and prices are high as ambition.

“We never mix flowers. We don’t believe in it. There is as much individuality about blossoms as there is about belles, and so we arrange them, not in tulle and pearls, but in the very severest of vases, so as not to let the holder detract from the bouquet.

“We are daring enough, too, to put pearl roses in pearl cups, golden tulips in primrose-yellow bowls, and crimson roses in ruby forms–a privilege we have been encouraged to take with chromatics, by the audacity of Alma Tadema, Whistler and Burne Jones.

“We never build a table piece as high as the line of vision, and not even a child’s view across a dinner-table is obstructed. Orchids, roses, tightly bound hyacinths, spicy carnations, sweet-scented tulips and the dainty ma capucine buds, which are salmon-like in color, are all in demand for table decoration, and an art committee would be puzzled to tell which is choicest.

“About the biggest order we have filled this year came from the Union League Club fellows the night they entertained the Pan-American Society.

“There were flowers everywhere but under foot and in the air. We hung the little theatre with foliage tapestry, banked the stage with the glossiest and greenest of palms, and fringed the footlights with asparagus and mosses, that caressed a ridge of growing orchids.

“In the library there are six large tables niched between bookcases, and we piled the files and folios under the boards and on zinc covers planted the choicest flowers that the state afforded.

“One table was a solid bed of cut orchids, fringed with ferns, that cost us $600 to spread; another oblong had nothing but American Beauties for a cushion, and each rose was worth $1.75 that night; another was upholstered with pink, white and damask cyclamen, and roses, violets and carnations embossed the remaining boards. “The bookcases in the room are all low, and we used them for a bank of encircling palms, at the feet of which we planted wired and fantastic orchids that seemed almost human in the pale candle-light. “The supper was served in a suit of three rooms, and each board had a different flower piece. One was a massive rose cluster, the second was a rose piece with a streak of white narcissus running through it, and I can’t remember the other.

“At the Delmonico banquet, prepared for the same tourists, we put Summer on the table and festooned the balconies with her garlands and hanging plants, and pendent from the celling we hung a great globe of laurel, orange, lemon verbena and sweet-brier, with Central America picked out in true geographic position with closely stemmed cluster flowers. At this point a Van Rensselaer came in, and in a low rich contralto voice, with a pronounced English accent, asked for white violets, and I fled.

Dunder, who grows the roses that belong in the bowers of the Four Hundred, sighed when asked to name the ideal table decorations. “The best way to answer that is to show you my book. Here’s an order for to-night. The lady gives a dinner party for which she will use a solid gold service.

“There is a towering epergne to go in the centre of the table, and in it I will put orchids of delicate lavender and pure white, with the queen of ferns for relief.

“Strings of asparagus will be trailed along the cloth and carried up to the arms of the candelabra.

“Mrs. W. D. Sloane’s dinner tables are always decorated with American Beauties. That’s her favorite flower. Saturday night I sent her a flat basket, six feet in diameter, planted with those roses. The cluster was as big as a rose bush.

“Over the white cloth we scattered sprays, three feet long, with blossoms as large as cauliflowers and turned them so that the gorgeous flower threw the splendor of their color and perfume in the very faces of the guest.

“The prettiest novelty for a table was, in my mind, an order we filled for one of the white dinners for which Mrs. William Baylis is famous. With her while porcelain and satin polished silver, we used Puritan roses, the finest white flower cultivated.

“In the corners of the mahogany were small English egg-baskets of split willow, filled with lilies of the valley, and about the cloth were mats of mistletoe, heavy with their opaque berries. Those egg baskets are very fetchy. They are rude, you see, and have the appearance, when filled, of being just sent in by some friend.  “Pertinent to the season are the scarlet baskets, which we have sold by the thousand. Some we fill with English holly, some with crimson tulips, others with point sette leaves and a few with carnations and mistletoe.”

A call came over the telephone from no less a personage than Mr. Ward McAllister, and I was alone.

From a good-natured belle who has been in social circulation for several decades I learned that each leader has a flower to which she is as devoted as she is to a special perfume or grade of linen.

Mrs. W. W. Astor uses American Beauties at all her dinners. So does Mrs. Frederick Vanderbilt. Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt prefers Gloria de Paris roses; Mrs. Elliott F. Shepard considers the La France the queen of roses; Mrs. Orme Wilson cheerfully pays $2 apiece for Magna Charta roses, and has from twenty to seventy on her table at a time.

Mrs. Ex-Secretary Whitney has a weakness for white and gold, and pearls. Puritans, Nun Hoste and Gabriel Luizet alternate in her dining parlor, while Mrs. Paran Stevens delights in Spring flowers and buys tulips, narcissi, daisies, May bells and hyacinths by the hamper.

The regulation flower for the bridal board is the Amazon lily, a peerless cup-shaped blossom that seems pouring its soul out in floods of perfume.

This lily is new, and like all rare things costly. For the price of a bowlful of Amazons you might have Dickens in calf, a Persian wool bath robe or roast young goose every day for a whole week, with a peck of apple sauce besides. Nell Nelson.

The Evening World [New York NY] 30 December 1889: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Fashions in flowers were followed as avidly as the latest modes from Paris. Mrs Daffodil has written about A Violet Luncheon, Flowers a Bride Should Carry, Modern Valentine Flowers, The Black Rose, and The Wild-Flower Wedding.

This Parisienne instructed her guests to arrange DIY centrepieces for a prize–a novelty both indolent and presumptuous, one feels. One can practically hear the waspish, postprandial comments from the departing guests.

Something new in table decoration is the creation of a Paris society woman. At a dinner given recently the guests were surprised to find the centre of the table piled high with a mass of cut flowers, including many varieties of roses, lilies of the valley, chrysanthemums, carnations, violets, ferns, smilax, etc. At each plate were placed three red, white and blue vases made of bohemian glass, each in a solid colour. Upon a raised tabourette in the centre of the table was a huge cut glass rose bowl which the hostess announced was to be given to the guest arranging the flowers in his or her three vases most artistically. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 10 November 1899: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil has made an annual ritual of sharing Saki’s “The Occasional Garden” in advance of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, opening this coming week.

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

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

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The Best-Natured Woman in the United States: 1882

sleeping it off drunkard British Library

Sleeping It Off. British Library

An Angel Unalloyed.

The best natured woman in the United States lives in Austin. She has been married a number of years to a man named Ferguson, but she and her husband have never had a quarrel yet, and lie has frequently boasted that it was utterly impossible to make her angry. Ferguson made several desperate attempts to see if he could not exasperate her to look cross or scowl at him, merely to gratify his curiosity, but the more outrageous he acted, the more affable and loving she behaved.

Last week he was talking with, a friend about what a hard time he had trying to find out if his wife had a temper. The friend offered to bet that if Ferguson were to go home drunk, raise a row and pull the tablecloth full of dishes off the table, she would show some signs of annoyance. Ferguson said he didn’t want to rob a friend of his money, for he knew he would win; but they at last made a bet of $50, the friend to hide in the front yard and watch the proceedings of the convention through the window.

Ferguson came home late, and, apparently, fighting drunk. She met him at the gate, kissed him, and assisted his tottering steps to the house. He sat down in the middle of the floor, and howled out: “Confound yer ugly picture, what did you mean by pulling that chair, from under me?”

“O, I hope you did not hurt yourself. It is my awkwardness, but I’ll try and not do it again,” and helped him to his feet, although she had nothing in the world to do with his falling.

He then sat down on the sofa, and, sliding off on the floor, abused her like a pickpocket for lifting up the other end of the sofa, all of which she took good naturedly, and finally she led him to the supper table. He threw a plate at her, but she acted as if she had not noticed it, and asked him if he would take tea or coffee.

Then the brute seized the table cloth and sat down on the floor, pulling the dishes and everything else over with him, in one grand crash.

What did this noble woman do? Do you suppose she grumbled and talked about going home to her ma, or that she sat down and cried like a fool, or that she sulked and pouted? Not a bit of it. With a pleasant smile she said:

“Why, George, that’s a new idea, isn’t it? We have been married ten years and have never yet ate our supper on the floor. Won’t it be fun—just like those picnics we used to go to before we got married?” and then this angelic woman deliberately sat down on the floor along side of the wretch, arranged the dishes and fixed him a nice supper.

This broke George all up. He owned up he was only fooling her, and offered to give her the $50 to get herself a new hat, but she took the money and bought him a new suit of clothes and a box of cigars. Heaven will have to be repaired and whitewashed before it is fit for that kind of a woman.—Galveston News.

Bennington [VT] Banner 7 September 1882: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is filled with admiration for the patience and forbearance of the sorely-tried Mrs Ferguson. It is always prudent for a wife to be meek and smiling and endlessly agreeable to her Lord and Master, as it will eliminate her as a suspect when the drunken brute is poisoned by a particularly nice pie.

 

 

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.

Hints for Earth Day Economies: 1859-1903

Although Monday was, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed,  “Earth Day,” a time to take stock of how we use the resources of the planet, there is never a bad day to reflect on consumption and its consequences. There has been a societal move against “fast fashion” and a resurgence of “Make Do and Mend.”  Mrs Daffodil will, therefore, “recycle” several posts on the subject of domestic economy in dress, on the clever makers-over of tired garments, and the second-hand clothing trade.

One would go far before one would discover a more ingenious clan than these Southern Ohio ladies and their cunning tricks of skillful fingers.

Although this lady, who traded in second-hand silks and this gentleman, who prospered in left-over laundry, are an inspiration to all of us.

Some clever gentlemen took a leaf from the ladies’ domestic economy books and learned to update and repair their wardrobes.

A fascinating tour of a 19th-century “recycling” firm and an examination of the “rag trade.”

The second-hand trade was a boon to actresses, and the buying, selling, and hiring of costly gowns worn by the Four Hundred, was a practice well-known to the upper echelons of Society.

The second-hand clothing trade extended even unto royalty, as we see in this peep at Queen Victoria’s stockings.

One of Mrs Daffodil’s heroines is this resourceful lady, who set herself up as a “Dress Doctor,” long before Hollywood costumer Edith Head co-opted that title.

Of course, selling one’s evening dresses involve some unwitting “recycling,” as this lady found to her dismay:

Not long ago (write “X and Z” in the Globe) a lady in dealing with the proprietress of a second-hand clothing business, sold to her several evening dresses, which were perfectly fresh and good, but which she could not wear again, as her friends knew them too well. They had probably been worn three times each. The second-hand wardrobe lady remarked, by the way, that all her purchases were for the colonies. Seems odd, does it not? But to return. A few days after the gowns were sold their original owner missed a very pretty old-fashioned diamond clasp, and, inquiring of her maid, discovered to her tribulation that it was in one of the evening dresses she had sold. “Sewn firm on the left shoulder, my lady,” quoth the maid. She proceeded diplomatically to work, sent the maid to the shop, and, in consequence of her operations there, became again the possessor of her discarded gown at exactly seven times the price she had sold it for. The diamond clasp was still in it, its safety being due to proximity to a mass of crystal trimming which formed an epaulette, the clasp having been added with a view to making the whole mass look “good.”

Otago Witness 9 February 1893: p. 42

 

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.

An Eggshell Party: 1915

kelchchicken

The “surprise” in the Kelch Hen egg, by Faberge, 1898 https://faberge-eggs.info/en/kelch_hen_egg_1898.html

FOR A PARTY FULL OF FANCY GIVE A “SPRING OPENING”

The fun of this pretty, fanciful entertainment begins with the opening of the invitations. These are written on yellow tissue-paper and are enclosed in eggshells which have been carefully broken and then glued into place again. Those who wish to do so could send them via Uncle Sam’s mail, packed carefully in the tiny hatboxes which come for place cards at ten cents each. On the other hand, ordinary jewelers’ boxes will serve the purpose just as well. On the box write “Spring Opening. Please open at once,” and on the egg-shell “Important Despatch to Be Opened Immediately” or anything of the kind which conveys the same idea. A simpler method which some hostess may prefer is to write the message about the party on egg-shells which have simply been blown, as this saves preparing the notes, etc., but it is very cunning, if you have time for it, to make the opening as complicated as possible to emphasize the idea. Jewelers’ yellow cotton is pretty for packing egg-shells in the boxes.

How To Decorate

For the decorations, convert the parlor into a picnic scene with features suggesting early Spring. Get real blossoming boughs if possible, with buds just opened or about to open, and bank the walls and fireplaces, etc., with these. Make tissue-paper substitutes if the real blooms are not out in time, or secure them from the favor shops or the Japanese store. In the forks of the boughs tie wee ducklings and Easter chicks made of raw cotton or of plaster or wax, and under the thickets thus formed have nests containing Easter eggs.

In baskets trimmed to represent Easter nests pass around egg-shells that have been broken and refilled with tiny favors. Afterward the shells are either gilded and silvered or they are closed again with strips of gilt or silver paper. The gilt ones are placed in one basket, the silver ones in another, and after the girls have drawn the gilt and the men the silver, there is a general “opening.” The pair whose emblems or tiny favors match are partners. Among the many things which can be selected of a size to pack into egg-shells are wee flags, tiny whistles, paper flowers, raw cotton chicks or birdies, peanut owls, and candy eggs.

The crepe paper headwear which form the favors in one dance could be brought upon the scene in a huge hatbox elaborately sealed and decorated with Spring blossoms, chicks, etc.

Another Opening

Where it is not desired to arrange the affair as a dance, another plan equally appropriate can be found. First of all, have an egg search for egg-shells which have been hidden all around the room. These eggs can be gilded and silvered as described for the dance and can be used as a plan to find partners by matching the contents; or each can contain a question about eggs, which questions go to make up a series forming an interesting contest. Whatever the contents of the eggs to be opened, it is pretty to have them arranged in nests made of baskets filled with straw.

In the case of the contest each on opening his egg-shell might find not only a question about eggs written on a numbered slip of tissue-paper, but also a funny emblem which will give him, when matched up around the room, a partner to assist in working out the egg puzzle. Give all cards and pencils decorated with designs of chicks issuing from egg-shells (that is, give each couple such a card with pencil attached between them) and pass the question slips from hand to hand. The pair who work out most answers correctly could win as prizes cardboard eggs filled with candy.

Another prize suggestion is a potted tulip plant with buds ready to open, or a large (exaggerated size) crepe paper lily or tulip bud might be presented, which, when opened, is found to contain a stickpin or a little bottle of perfume.

The Mary Dawson Game Book: A Manual of Original Games and Guessing Contests, Mary Dawson, 1916

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  All this talk of egg-shells and tiny favours and matching up with partners is very dainty and, no doubt, decorous. Mrs Daffodil would suggest another egg-themed entertainment to generate a wholesome and hearty spirit of camaraderie between the sexes.

HOUSE FOOTBALL

This is a novelty in amusements, and does not possess the element of danger of the real article. All of the furniture must be moved against the wall or out of the room. An egg with its contents emptied is set upon the floor. Two gilded posts at each end of the room mark the goals. The ladies and gentlemen are divided into equal sides; they go down on their knees, each trying to blow the egg shell past the goal of their antagonists. The game is new, but the position somewhat fatiguing.

Godey’s Lady’s Book June 1897

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 Intruder: 1908

the intruder illustration

THE INTRUDER

Roland Ashford Phillips

Although I quietly, hopefully, tried the door, I found it, unfortunately, locked. Yet on second reflection I did not wonder at it, but tiptoed across the porch to where a window, half raised made me an excellent substitute for an entrance. I noiselessly stepped into the darkened interior and felt my way over the thick, sound-muffling rugs.

I walked the length of the wide, silent hall, heading for the dining-room. I wanted a good stiff drink of brandy, and knew I should find some there. The gloom was oppressive and velvet-like, and I was compelled to seek my way slowly and carefully, hand to the wall. However, I reached the room in question, after groping blindly about, recognizing the broad, heavy-curtained doorway. It was strange that the curtains were drawn; generally they were fastened back with huge gilt cords, tied in awkward knots.

As I slipped between them and carefully drew them together behind me, the big clock on the staircase chimed rhythmically, and I marveled at the lateness of the hour. I really should have come earlier; but one soon forgets so many things when at the club.

The carpet in the dining-room was even softer, kinder than the others, and for this I was indeed grateful, for it is very annoying to disturb one’s friends in the wee hours; even the dearest of them.

I kept near to the wall and groped blindly along, for the light buttons were somewhere at hand — a complete row of them, controlling every room in the house. I suppose I must have completed a half-circuit of the room before something unreal and fear-compelling came upon me.

Even when I had reached the row of ebony buttons, and my forefinger was upon the third — the one that would light this room—I hesitated, fearful. I did not immediately understand it; I had never before had a similar feeling, and by no means am I a weak and sensitive man. Yet this moment my nerves failed me; the muscles in my finger refused to obey — refused to press the button and command the room to light.

For a long, pregnant interval I stood there motionless and undecided. Then the realization came abruptly; the sensation was identical with a light, harmless shock of an electric battery. I have often gripped the brass receivers of one and felt the sharp, not unpleasant waves twitch and creep the length of my arms and tingle in every nerve.

This, then, was the impression it gave me. But gradually, bit by bit, I felt these invisible waves swerve my eyes to one impressive spot. I might turn my head at will, but always, always magnetic-like, they swung back again in obedience to this sensitive, compelling power. Dimly at first, and then more definable, I began to understand. Mosaic-like, my brain pieced the many continuous thrills; pieced them until, abruptly, it flashed over me: Someone else beside myself was in this room.

I took a deep breath after that. How near this particular someone was and in what position, remained for me to find out. Almost mechanically my finger sought the third button again, and I ran my finger-tip thoughtfully over the smooth surface. The passing of a moment brought me to the realization that the better thing for me to do was to press the button and face whatever the light might disclose; be it man, thing or devil.

No sooner had I decided than my finger obeyed almost instinctively. A sharp, sudden click, and then a blinding flood of wondrous yellow light, dazzling and overpowering. A dozen wall-brackets leaped into life. At first I was unable to see, but waited, expectant; then slowly and definitely the objects took form, like a city through a rising mist.

The man was seated calmly in a huge, comfortable Morris chair, legs crossed and fingers lightly tapping upon the broad arm. Like myself, he was in full evening dress. His overcoat was flung carelessly across a chair; his silk hat, crushed flat, lay upon it; and at his feet, near the serving table stood a well-labeled kit-bag.

I do not know how long we watched each other. His wide, black eyes betrayed no surprise at what the light had so abruptly disclosed; and they were not of a bad sort — his eyes—rather large for a man, and well-lashed; only his mouth, thin-lipped and drooping, weakened his otherwise boldly molded features.

I instinctively waited for him to speak; and I did not have long to wait.

“Well,” he began, in a remarkably soft, well-mannered tone, “this is rather a sudden and unexpected visit.”

My finger slipped from the button where it had rested unconsciously.

“Very!” I admitted bluntly. The tapping of his fingers ceased — long, white, well-manicured they were.

“My guests generally ring before entering,” he continued. “What is it you wish?”

I could not immediately frame an answer. He must have noted my embarrassment for he continued:

“I think I have the prior right to that question.”

“And why the prior?” I queried.

His eyes narrowed; they were most unpleasant to look upon at such a time! It was plain he did not care to argue further.

“Because,” he answered cynically, “this is my house and you are an intruder.”

I tried hard, very hard, not to show my amazement; yet he must have noticed it with those piercing eyes of his, in spite of my attempted control, for he waved a hand toward a chair that stood near.

“Sit down!” he commanded, and I did not hesitate. After I had slipped into the chair and crossed my legs, we were scarcely six feet distant from each other.

“I repeat my question,” he went on coldly.

“You — you are Mr. Charles Fisher?” I asked, dry-lipped.

“Yes,” curtly, “I am the owner here.” I put my hands to the chair-arms, perhaps unconsciously following his position.

“I have heard of you — often; you are very well known — I did not expect — so sudden a meeting.” I was surprised at my own boldness.

“Evidently you had no idea of an immediate introduction, eh?” and he laughed dryly.

“To tell the truth,” I admitted undaunted, “I was unprepared.”

“I have seen you frequently at the clubs,” he went on, “yet I have never learned your name, nor the nature of your business.” This latter remark appeared to amuse him, and he chuckled to himself. After this outburst he studied my face narrowly.

“I suppose,” he began, and waved a hand vaguely about the room —“I suppose this glass and silverware interests you a great deal more than — than an introduction.”

“Possibly,” I admitted.

“But it is clumsy stuff to handle. Surely you could not have made away with much of it, eh?” He appeared interested.

“If a man knew his business,” I reflected, after a pause.

“Ah!” brightening, “then you admit that the object of your visit is robbery.”

“You are free to choose your own opinion,” I returned quickly. Again he narrowed his eyes upon me, admiring, so I imagined, my self-repose. He cleared his throat quietly.

“You seem to be very familiar with my house and its contents,” he ventured.

I smiled grimly. “And why should I not? I have been here a great, great many times. I have been to every reception save the one given to-night. Let’s see — there were house-warmings, suppers, club-breakfasts, bridge, and even, even if I remember correctly, a wedding.”

The other’s face remained perfectly immovable. I fancied he was mentally studying his lists, took the occasion to laugh outright.

“Why — why I know Mrs. Fisher well very well indeed. I have dined with her — gone to the opera and–”

“Sh-h-h-h!” he arrested, lifting a warning forefinger. “She is asleep upstairs.”

“I’ll wager she is in the blue room, eh?” I ventured boldly; yet the next moment I regretted that I had spoken so. The man’s hands tightened upon the chair-arms; his face hardened.

“See here,” he snapped, “you know too much about my family affairs. Altogether too much for — for —

“For an intruder, eh?” I finished.

“Yes, for an intruder, a thief, a common, contemptible sneak-thief. A man who will worm his way into the best society and then gloat, openly, sneeringly. Come, now, what is it you were after — cut glass, silver?”

“But,” I remonstrated, “you admitted a moment ago they were too bulky; besides, I brought nothing to carry it in. . . . And don’t you know,” I added slowly, so that my words might sting, “that Mrs. Fisher’s jewels in the small bronze box on her dressing-table would prove the more valuable to me?”

The man’s face went colorless. He slipped a hand to his inner pocket and brought out a neat, shining revolver, which he calmly put upon the chair-arm. I watched him fascinated. There was something grim and ugly about that death-dealing thing between us; and more so now, for the muzzle pointed straight for my breast. The man very deliberately placed his hand over it.

“I have resolved to turn you over to the police,” he began sternly. “I have had enough of your remarks – quite enough. I might have been lenient with you heretofore, but you have grown insulting. Meanwhile I am going to ask that you refrain from any disturbances. This beneath my hand is a late model — an automatic; and it will shoot seven times in less than seven seconds. I hope you will not be venturesome.”

His words rang sharp and chilling to my ears. There was that indefinite something about them that lent me fear; a certain tone that bespoke an utter dependence. I was conscious that he meant exactly what he said.

I rapidly conjured my brain for a possible, plausible method of escape. Could I not somehow, someway, appeal to his weakness? If so, what was it? Here was a man who, by his own admission, was a club member— a man about town. A brilliant idea flashed to me. I had caught a glimpse of a backgammon board and a dice cup on a side table. Would he agree to the proposition ? Would it appeal to him? I lost no time in finding out.

“I believe,” I began, earnestly, hopefully, “that you are a square man; and that you are willing to give me a fair, square chance to help myself.”

“Go on,” he urged.

“We shall throw the dice between us — three times. If you win, I will calmly submit to arrest; I shall say nothing about this affair. But — if I win, you are to release me. You will allow me to leave the house as a guest, by the front door, under the lights. Is it a bargain?” Twice he wet his lips; and twice he started to speak.

“I agree,” he said at last.

Upon the broad arm of the chair I threw first. The rattle of the ivory dice was the only sound. The man opposite me underwent a complete change. Life came to his eyes and cheeks; his breath quickened. I realized that the love of chance was his weakness. The revolver lay neglected upon the chair-arm. As the dice fell clicking on the wood we both bent forward, expectant.

“Eight!” he broke out impetuously, and reached for the cubes. Calmly he shook the dice cup and toppled the squares to the chair-arm.”

“Twelve!” he laughed, and brushed the dice back with a tremulous hand. “I win.” Again I shook while he watched with flushed cheeks. “Ten!” I announced quietly. He nodded quickly and gathered up the dice.

“Not so hard to beat,” he returned, as the bits of ivory rattled to the wood. A pause.

“You win!” he faltered hoarsely, as eight spots alone showed. “Your last throw— careful.”

Once more and for the last time my hand flirted the dice to the polished chair-arm. A bit of silence followed the rattle.

“Twelve!” I broke out. “You still have a chance.”

He took the dice from my hand, shook them quickly and set them hard to the wood, yet kept the cup over the result, as if fearful of the disclosure.

“The hoodoo is still with me,” he announced graciously, after he had uncovered them. “I have but eleven.”

I swept the dice away and rose slowly from the chair. Now that the night was mine I intended to make good use of it. My brain raged with half-formed ideas. One of them alone seemed feasible.

“You may go!” the man spoke up abruptly from his chair.

“And —and the lights?” I reminded.

He looked at me in surprise.

“The hall and porch are rather dark,” I explained.

“I was of an opinion that men of your profession generally preferred the dark,” he offered coolly. I was minded as he sat there, sneeringly, his thin-lipped mouth drooping, to attempt to strike him to the floor before he could shoot, but happily my better judgment prevailed, and with an effort I controlled my temper.

“Suppose — Suppose someone should see me leaving — through the window?” I argued. “It wouldn’t look just right.”

He eyed me a moment in silence, evidently weighing my words, then shrugged his shoulders. “Well,” he deliberated, “now that you are so familiar with my house and the occupants and have bested me at dice, you may switch on your own lights.”

I swayed for a second, only half believing my ears; that he should so easily, readily play into my plan at the opportune moment seemed hardly possible.

“Thank you,” I said, with assumed calmness; and with this I strode over to the row of ebony buttons and without hesitation pressed the fourth and sixth ones. The former led to the upstairs chamber and the latter to the hall.

When I turned the man was laughing. “Not so very wise as you thought, eh? The lower hall isn’t lighted.”

Although aware of this I betrayed surprise. “You’re right,” I confessed, “I have pressed the wrong button. If you will allow me–”

“Never mind!” he snapped decisively. “You’ve tampered enough for one night. I should turn you over to the police; but I have given my word — I want you to go out ahead. I’m going to follow close behind — and no foolishness; remember, I’ve the revolver and I shall not hesitate to use it.”

Still I waited. I prayed for time as a dying man might for life. “Do you know,” I hedged, “that when I came into this room I had my mind made up for something to drink — some brandy. It’s damp outside; it was a rather tiresome journey here and will be a lengthy one back.”

“Well,” he wavered, nodding finally toward the sideboard, “help yourself, but be quick about it.” I took my time moving across the room; picked up and carefully examined a number of bottles, chose one and from it filled a thin glass half to the brim.

“To the intruder!” I exclaimed, and raised the glass to the level of my eyes.

As I was about to set back the glass, something so startling happened that the man whirled about toward the drawn curtains; and I, surprised likewise, stood mute and silent watching him,

“What was that?” he faltered.

“I could not say for certain,” I returned. “Though it sounded like a footfall on the stairs. Perhaps it is Mrs. Fisher.”

His eyes narrowed. “This will never do,” he burst out.

“Never mind,” I interrupted hastily; “just inform her that — that I am a friend of yours — a club-friend. She won’t suspect.”

The sound was repeated; there could be no mistaking; it was a footfall. The man acted like a lunatic.

“You fool!” he snarled, “turn out the lights — quick!” And then without further words he sprang across the room toward the row of buttons. It was a bold move and an abrupt one; but not altogether a thoughtful one, for within six feet of where I stood the revolver lay unguarded upon the chair-arm. Before he had reached the buttons I had possessed myself of the weapon.

He pressed the button, but not the right one. Not alone was the dining-room brilliantly lighted, but the lower hall suddenly shot into a glow.

Immediately the hall curtains parted and a woman, kimono-clad, stepped softly between them.

“Charlie,” she began, “did you just arrive home? Did you want me to come down? The lights were turned on, so I thought— ”

The man against the wall turned a blank, questioning face toward me; and, in spite of the intense situation, I smiled.

“This — this is a friend of mine, Milly,” I began abruptly. “A member of the club. By a strange coincidence his name is identical with ours. We have had a quiet chat— the two of us — and a little game; he was just leaving when you came in.”

I stepped over, gathered up his coat and hat and handed them to him. He smiled as he took them.

“Thanks!” he said; and I knew it had two meanings.

I snapped on the porch lights. “Mr. Fisher will leave his kit-bag,” I interrupted, as he moved toward it. “He has something in it that will interest us.”

Only a second did his brow cloud; then he was smiling and bowing pleasantly. I preceded him down the hall.

“Good night!” I said at the door.

“Good night!” he returned, and walked away into the gloom,

Metropolitan Magazine, Vol. 29, Issue 2 November 1908: pp. 206-210

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Despite the failure of  the faux-Mr Fisher’s scheme, one has to admire his ingenuity and his pluck.  But to be successful housebreaker one needs more than nerves of steel and bravura bravado; one needs a reasonable amount of good fortune. His unluckiness in encountering the genuine householder instead of a fellow sneak-thief must have dismayed and disheartened him.  Mrs Daffodil would not be surprised to learn that, after resigning his clubs, he either joined the Salvation Army or went to the devil in Monte Carlo.

One does wonder how the actual Mr Fisher explained the contents of the kit-bag to his wife.

 

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.

She Asked for His Photograph: 1897

WHY SHE WAS GRACIOUS.

A Lover Who Easily Fell Into an Ingenious Trap.

She was particularly gracious that night, and he was correspondingly happy.  He felt that he had made an impression at last.

She let him hold her hand a minute when she welcomed him, and he thought–in fact, he was quite sure–that she responded to the gentle squeeze he gave it, and heretofore she had been so distant, so cold, although always courteous. Surely it was enough to make him feel happy. Then she laughed at his witticisms, and there was something in her manner that invited him to draw his chair closer to hers. Of course he accepted the invitation, and almost before he knew it he found himself whispering all sorts of silly things to her, while she listened with downcast eyes.

It was blissful, and yet there was a greater pleasure in store for him. She blushed and hesitated a little as she asked if he had a photograph of himself.

Of course he had, and she should have one that very night. He would go for one at once. She protested that that was not necessary, but he insisted. She should have anything that she wanted and have it at once.

She thanked him so coyly and sweetly when he brought it that the boy was nearly insane with joy, and when he left she let him hold her hand again for a minute.

Then, as he walked away with a light step and a light heart, she handed the photograph to her maid and said with decision:

“Mary, hang that in the servants’ hall, where every one can see it, and remember that I am never home when he calls. I must stop this thing somehow, and mamma changes servants so often he gets in every week or two now.”

The Copper County Evening News [Calumet MI] 19 August 1897: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A little-known consequence of the Servant Problem…

 

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 Crazy Quilt Tragedy: 1911

Domestic Tragedy.

“Lobelia!” The voice of Mr. M’Swat was high-pitched and imperative, yet had a note of vague alarm in it.

“What is it, Billiger?”

“I can’t find my neckties.”

“Your neckties? They’re scattered all over the bureau.”

“I don’t mean the ties I wear every day. I mean the others.”

“What others?”

“The—the ones I’ve worn from time to time, you know, and put away, as good as new.”

“How should I know anything about them?”

“Do you mean to tell me, Lobelia, you don’t know anything about a a—box of neckties I have kept for years in this second drawer?”

“What a fuss you are making over a box of old rags! What do you want of it, anyway?”

“I want to put a few of these in it. You don’t know what you’re talking about, madam, when you call them a lot of old rags, either. I want to know where they are.”

“Well, you needn’t go to rummaging through any more of those drawers. You won’t find them there. I can tell you that.”

The wrath of Mr. M’Swat assumed a lurid, ghastly character.

“I think I have certain inalienable rights in this house, Lobelia Grubb M’Swat,” he said. “And among these is the right to keep my neckties in my own drawer, in my own dressing case, in my own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States and the statutes in such case made and”—

“You needn’t tell the neighbours about it. Before I’d make all that racket about a lot of old, worn-out neckties–”

“Who told you they were old and worn out? Didn’t you hear me say distinctly they were”—

“Now, you know, Billiger M’Swat, you haven’t worn one of those old ties for years and years. What’s the use”—

‘Then you do know something about them! I thought sol Why did you try to deceive me? Why did you tell me”—

“That’s right! Accuse your wife of lying!”

“Didn’t you tell me you knew nothing about them?”

“No, sir! I said nothing of the kind!”

“Lobelia! Wife of my bosom! Look me in the eye. Where are those neckties?”

“Wh-what do you want of them?” asked Mrs., M’Swat, rather feebly.

“I simply want to know what has become of them.”

She put her handkerchief to her eye. ”

“I–I th-think it’s just mean”—

“What’s mean?”

“Here I’ve slaved away day after day, making something nice”—

“Lobelia, where are those neckties?”

“Billiger, I have made them up into the loveliest crazy quilt”—

“A crazy quilt!” he yelled. “Thunder and Ben Franklin! Woman do you know what you have done!”

“lt was nothing but a lot of old”–

Mr. M’Swat became tragic.

“Mrs. M’Swat,” he exclaimed, in a deep bass voice. “I have been making a collection of artistic neckties for ten years. Some of them cost me over a dollar. None of them less than 50 cents. You have ruined a unique, unequalled, original 75dol. collection of ties”—

“Oh, Billiger, why didn’t you tell me?”

“To make a 4dol. crazy quilt! Why didn’t you tell me?”

Husbands and wives, why will ye hide things from each other?— Chicago Tribune.

North Otago [NZ] Times 8 April 1911: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The craze for “crazy patchwork” was a long-standing one and one perhaps responsible for more marital unhappiness than any number of Vamps. Mrs Daffodil has written of the patch-work “mania” and the terrible lengths ladies would go to for “samples” to make their quilts and of their depredations on the households’ wardrobe. It was a dark time…

Truth in Jest

The girl with soft grey eyes and rippling brown hair that walked all over your poor fluttering heart at the charity ball, has just finished a crazy quilt containing 1,064 piece sof neckties and hat linings, put together with 21,390 stitches. And her poor old father fastens on his suspenders with a long nail, a piece of twine, a sharp stick, and one regularly ordained button.

Southland Times 26 January 1886: p. 4

This squib suggests that the craze even changed fashions in men’s neckties:

The crazy quilt rage goes on in as intense a fashion as that of roller skating, and Lent has not subdued but rather emphasized the rush for “pieces” of the most gaudy hues. Men growl that their neckties are not safe, the dry goods houses are getting niggardly about samples, and gradually masculinity is arraying itself against another woman’s right. Have you noticed the tendency toward sobriety in color in men’s neckties? It is a growing one and only the result of a plot between men and brothers against women and sisters. And I don’t wonder at it. Neither will you, when you lose a brilliant-hued scarf for days and have almost forgotten it, when it suddenly appears to you in the form of a center piece in a crazy quilt. I have gone necktieless, suffered and cursed, and am therefore a rabid adherent of the new movement in neckties, even if it, in the end, leads us to black and sober solid colors. There are more ways of crossing a river beside jumping it. Therefore a change of style in mankind’s wear that will cripple the crazy quilt mania will be in the nature of an elevation of the dynamiter with his own mechanical can.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland OH] 25 March 1885: p. 4

 

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.