Category Archives: Domestic Arrangements

Portieres Try the Patience: 1901

 

TRIES THE PATIENCE OF MEN.

Feminine Fad That Causes the Masculine Gender Misery and Annoyance.

Men have many traits that the better half of humanity wot not of. One of the greatest of these in the estimation of a majority of the sex is the reed portiere that is found in so many private houses and public places in summer. Beside it melted collars and crumpled shirts and all the other aggravations incidental to the heat fade into insignificance. One man actually forgets them while he is trying to master the intricacies of those long beaded strings which swirl so maddeningly around his head, says the Chicago Chronicle.

In one of the hotels a wide door way is hung with such a portiere, and the methods pursued by the lords of creation greatly amused one woman spectator the other evening. Most of them came through shoulder first, only to be caught halfway by a sinuous length that wound itself around their necks and refused to be dislodged without coaxing. Others came head first and escaped with minor buffetings. One ingenious youth placed his hands wedge fashion and dove into the room with quite inelegant haste.

The men who were accompanied by women were in great stress of mind as to how to proceed, but they usually succeeded in corralling a sufficient number of the strands to allow the companions to pass and then they slipped through themselves, shaking off the ends that smote them as a water dog shakes off the liquid drops.

In private houses where the master is of an impatient temperament these portieres will be found parted m the middle and tied firmly back with ribbons, for, in the language of one such masculine, “life’s too short and the weather’s too hot to be eternally combating with a lot of elusive sticks that are always where you don t expect them to be.”

As a test of character the reed portiere is valuable, and a young woman might obtain some significant side lights on the disposition of her masculine callers by intrenching herself behind such a barrier and watching the emotions writ on their mobile faces as they endeavored to reach her side.

Emporia [KS] Daily Republican 13 August 1901: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The disconcerting summer portieres that so rattled the gentlemen were to be found in reeds, bamboo, rolled bark, papier-mache, glass beads, and shells. They seem to have been a “happy hands at home” craft for ladies who found time hanging heavily on their hands.

Sea shell portiere summer spoils

If women staying at seashore resorts will spend part of their idle time in collecting a variety of shells, they may utilize them in the fall for a unique door drapery. Fasten the shells thickly on fish netting, then drape of the netting over a door casing and let it hang down at the sides. The shell trimmed netting also makes an attractive portiere by lining it with a light shade of sea green silk finished material. The Ypsilanti [MI] Commercial 12 August 1897: p. 5

Do you remember the thin, yellow, almost flat shells which are so abundant on all beaches? Of course you do, but when you saw them by hundreds in the white sand I am sure you never imagined what a beautiful portiere could be made from them. Yet to this use have they been put by my young friend. She pierced each shell with a hot wire, and then with a delicate wire fastened the narrow end of one to the wide end of the next until a string sufficiently long to reach form the curtain pole to the floor was made. Enough of these were fashioned for the entire portiere. At the top they are held in place by a narrow strip of cloth of the same color as the shells. The effect is something like the Japanese portieres, but the coloring being Nature’s own is prettier, and then the cost—twenty cents, the price of the wire, and twelve cents for the strip of cloth.

New York [NY] Herald 18 May 1890: p. 14

Home-Made Bead Portieres.

A very pretty work a great many energetic women are trying now is that of making their own bead portieres. The Japanese shops sell bamboo and strings of beads, so that one can make curtains to harmonize perfectly with each room. For instance, I saw a charming effect produced by a portiere of green beads used between a dining room and a small conservatory adjoining. You have no idea how exquisite the plants and flowers looked through this transparent screen of green. Gold beads give a sunshiny effect, and portieres of solid pink or blue beads are dainty in the extreme. A friend who has recently returned from Japan tells me that the curtains strung in patterns are made by having the designs drawn on large pieces of paper and laid on the floor, and then the beads are strung on just as we would trace out the lines in making lace.

The Times [Philadelphia PA] 22 October 1894: p. 7

 

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.

The Lantern Party: 1902

A Unique Affair.

“It would seem now and then as if society devices in delightful entertainment were about exhausted.” remarked a little lady just home from a summer up north, “but we were invited to a rarely charming garden party while away. It was called ‘a lantern party.’ and was given by a lady who owns a summer cottage set far back from a country road almost In the deep woods. The cards of Invitation were decorated with her own delicate drawings and water color sketches of Chinese lanterns and antique lanterns, and the guests were expected to carry lanterns with them; it was quietly noised around that a prize would be given to the bearer of the most unique or artistic lantern.

“As you can imagine, there was much energetic scurrying about in the small town to find something pretty in lanterns. Richard drove several miles out into the country to borrow a quaint old tin lantern he had seen at a farmhouse; but Louise and I contented ourselves with some pretty Japanese lanterns we had in the house. Little Richard was invited, too. and he got together quite a surprising and dazzling achievement in the way of a lantern out of an old cigar box and some red and yellow tissue paper.

“It was a great lot of fun, going after dark down the village street carrying our lighted lanterns. The sidewalks here and there were dotted with other guests, also carrying bright lanterns. People on the sidewalks and on the summer piazzas exclaimed at this unusual sight. When we reached the country road leading to the cottage of our hostess the spectacle was even more beautiful. Such a number of bright, yet subdued, lights flitting noiselessly along in the dark. As we neared the cottage we were all spellbound; a beautiful picture was presented house, porches and the long lane to the great gate hung with colored lanterns of all kinds and sizes. After we arrived in the garden and were seated, it was charming to watch all the new arrivals coming up the lane bearing lanterns a long vista of gigantic fireflies done in bright color. Those who wearied of carrying their lanterns could hang them, ticketed, on one of the verandas; and, before the evening was over, three judges quietly inspected them and made the awards. The chief prize was a lovely little Moorish lantern, and was won by a gentleman who carried a curious little Venetian lantern, which was said to have belonged to Robert Browning. He sent to his Chicago home for it. I learned, and as he was a much-traveled man, no doubt the little literary lantern was authentic.

“To our great surprise, little Richard’s cigar-box lantern won the consolation prize–a pretty copy of Stevenson’s beautiful essay, ‘The Lantern Bearers.’ “Music, conversation and the usual summer refreshments were other features of the evening, but the charm of the lanterns really made all else seem superfluous. Our lantern hostess told me she had once given such a party at her city home, where she knew many artists and curio lovers; and the rallying of beautiful, rare old foreign lanterns on that occasion, she said, really made her heart ache with the envious greed of nonpossesslon.”

The Indianapolis [IN] Journal 14 September 1902: p.13

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Parties and cosy-corners were not the only venues for these pretty lanterns:

Some riders, in view of the fact that lamps are easily extinguished, have adopted the gaudy Chinese lantern, which, if it goes out, is readily noticed. In the evening these gay lanterns are very attractive.

Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] October 1896

Mrs Daffodil is sorry to dash her readers’ cherished beliefs, but Chinese lanterns were rarely made in that country:

The Chinese Lantern Trade.

During the last two or three years a large and regular demand for Chinese-lanterns has been created in this country, and the sale of these articles now constitutes one of the most important, if not the most important branch of the business of dealer in pyrotechnics. This has been especially true this season, when the demand for ordinary “fireworks” has been insignificant, but for Chinese-lanterns it has been larger than ever before. Garden parties, which are becoming very popular, are a profitable source of income to the manufacturers of Chinese-lanterns, as is also the custom now in vogue at some of the watering places of having a grand illumination once or twice each season. On two different occasions this summer Martha’s Vineyard has called upon Boston dealers for 15,000 lanterns for a single evening’s illumination.

The greater part of the “Chinese-lanterns” are made in this country, in the vicinity of New York, or in Germany, and as they have been in such active request of late years much ingenuity has been expended in producing them in the most attractive and convenient, and at the same time the cheapest, forms. The result of these ingenious efforts has been the manufacture of paper lanterns, some of which are surprisingly well adapted to the purposes for which they are designed, others being marvelously cheap, and many combining both of these desirable qualities to some extent. Pretty Chinese-lanterns of a cylindrical shape, and perhaps twelve inches long and four or five inches in diameter when in use, but capable of being compressed into about one-twelfth of their ordinary length for transportation, are sold as low as $6 per hundred; and large, gorgeously decorated globes, selling at $20 to $30 per hundred, are constructed with wire frames so as to be capable of being folded into the merest fraction of their usual space.

The Pittsfield [MA] Sun 7 November 1877: p. 7

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.

My Lady’s Hammock: 1895

The Hammock Tissot

MY LADY’S HAMMOCK

It Is a Gorgeous Affair This Season And There are Fetching Gowns Which Go With It and Hosiery Like a Beautiful Italian Sunset

The girl who is spending the season at a fashionable hotel is forced to miss one of the most fascinating pleasures of summertime, namely, the hammock. At the really swell hotels now-a-days one rarely sees a hammock, for the reason, perhaps, that the hammock is a sure destroyer of lace, chiffon or the fashionable costumes that custom demands must be worn all day at the popular watering places.

It is only that fortunate young woman who is summering at some country farm house or big, roomy mountain hotel where there are plenty of trees about the shady piazza nooks that can enjoy the true comfort of the hammock. The watering place girl can only dream of the luxury and the piazza rocking chair is the nearest approach to the graceful swinging couch, canopied by green waving branches which her sister in the mountains spends the long morning hours in.

The tactful maiden studies her “type” before she makes up her mind to adopt the hammock as a permanent summer back ground. There are certain styles of girl that look as though made for a hammock. In it they are marvels of grace and prettiness, but the stout, comfortable, well fed young woman who may make a fetching picture on a bicycle is as much out of place in a hammock as it is possible to imagine. The slim waisted, “fluffy” girl is the kind that looks well in a hammock. She becomes a soft, limp mass of lace and ribbon, the moment she adjusts herself to its meshes, and if an inch or two of her stocking shows beneath the white lace of her skirt it doesn’t look at all shocking, but on the contrary, chic and appropriate. The Burne-Jones type of girl is therefore the special kind who makes her hammock the piece de resistance in the artillery with which she will wage successful warfare on the heart of the  Summer Man.

First, she selects her hammock. If she is a blond she gets one of cool looking white cording, or in blue and white stripes, with bamboo rods stretched across the head and foot. Then she selects the place where it is to hang, always a corner somewhere out of the general.

If she is of a romantic disposition she finds out some rippling resting place, where the tree branches bend across, and she will have her pretty resting place suspended right across the water, climbing into it each time at the risk of a wetting. Here she makes a veritable illustration of the verse: “Summer day; babbling brook/Girl in hammock reading book!”

The girl with dark eyes and brown hair selects a hammock of brilliant red Mexican grass, or some other Oriental looking weave. She piles it with silken cushions of the same rich hues; deep crimson and olive greens and here and there a Persian covering that stands out among the others, making an effect that delights the soul of any artist which may be in the vicinity until he begs for the privilege of sketching the hammock’s occupant.

The fair haired blue eyed girl has blue and white cushions and little pillows for her ears, covered with white dotted Swiss and trimmed with Val. Lace. I picked up one of these ridiculous little things the other day and learned for the first time that they existed. Just imagine a cushion about five inches square stuffed with cotton and a suspicion of violet sachet, made specially for to tuck under your ear among the larger pillows.

The heart shaped cushion is one of the novelties for my lady’s hammock this year. It is shaped exactly like the real article which is supposed to exist even in the bosom of summer’s merriest maiden and it is embroidered over with its owner’s favorite flower, and sometimes a motto or sentiment.

One of the prettiest that I have seen is covered with marguerites embroidered in their natural colors and through the blossoms runs the line in gold thread: “He loves me; he loves me not?”

Another with a border of the ox-eyed daisies says:

“I don’t care what the daisies say;

I know I’ll be married some fine day!”

This summer girl not only has the regulation tag upon her hammock with her name thereon, but she attaches it with a huge bow of ribbon matching her cushions in color. The ends of this hang so low that they sweep the grass beneath the float in every passing breeze.

Of course there are frocks specially for hammock wear, and stockings and shoes of attractive design to be worn when reposing in this luxurious swing.

At no time in the career of a summer girl are her feet more in evidence than when she is poised in her hammock or getting in or out of it.

This last operation is one which it takes considerable dexterity and grace to accomplish successfully, but after a while most of these clever young women manage to do it without turning an eyelash and with a not-too-reckless display of ankle. It looks wonderfully difficult to a mere man, but it all depends on a little quickness and a certain curves of the limbs in getting out, which keeps the skirts in place.

A man is apt to get all tangled up in a hammock, and he emerges from one as a rule looking as though he had been in a collision. But the hammock maiden has it all down to a science.

She fixes up her last summer’s dresses to wear in the hammock. Of course there must not be too many buttons upon any frock for this purpose, as they catch in the meshes and come off, as a usual thing. But plenty of lace and soft ribbons can be worn and a gown which could never be worn anywhere else, owing to its last season’s cut, makes a most effective costume for hammock wear.

A pretty little girl who affects the hammock pose to a considerable extent, confided to me the other day that she discarded stays in her hours of open air repose. She wore some mysterious sort of waist made with whale bone, but without steels.

“When I’ve been out tramping, or fishing, or driving, and get home tired out,” she told me, “I just run up to my room and have a sponge bath. Then I slip into one of these waists, which is ever so much cooler you know, put on my loosest and fluffiest hammock frock and get down here under the trees, and in a minute I’m enjoying as pleasant a nap as it is possible to imagine.”

This girl has a collection of pretty hosiery and shoes for her afternoon siesta. She has one pair of the daintiest French morocco “mules” or slippers without any upper part in the back, which she wears with red silk stockings. Then she has Japanese slippers in all colors and hose to match, some of them quite vivid in design. One of the oddest conceits are her “rainbow” stockings.

Her pleasure in wearing them must be that of the small boy with his first cigar; “purely intellectual,” for they are strictly invisible, but I suppose there must be sort of conscious delight in the possession of such frivols as these. They are worn with a small, innocent-looking brown suede slipper which buttons over the instep with three large brown buttons. The stocking which shows over the ankle is brown, the same as the shoe, but as it reaches the calf of the leg it lightens by degrees to a golden yellow, turning with a sort of beautiful Italian sunset effect into palest violet, and then deepening into purple at the top. The garters worn with this are of black elastic, through which runs a violet ribbon. The side knot is of the same ribbon and the buckles are of engraved and oxidized silver, an owl on one symbolizing night, and a lark on the other for morning. These are the most fetching of all her hammock properties, and it seems a pity that they are so unobtrusively worn undiscovered, unless a hammock costume of bloomers be adopted.

The Herald [Los Angeles CA] 25 August 1895: p. 16

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Pleasant as are the solitary delights of the hammock, dual occupancy is where the sparks really fly:

THE FATEFUL HAMMOCK

A Potent Factor in Midsummer Joys and Midwinter Repentance.

The hammock has much to answer for.

It has developed from nothing into a potent factor in midsummer social joys and sorrows.

A decade ago the hammock was sporadic. It is now universal. Certain tourists from this heretofore unhammocked land of the free, journeying into Mexico and in Cuba noted the meshed crescent with interest first and with admiration afterwards, insomuch that they brought one of the swaying couches with them.

The result has been remarkable. Americans have taken the hammock to their very hearts, and American ingenuity has devised machinery capable of turning out hammocks almost as fast as the finished article will turn out its occupant. A summer bereft of a hammock would be to the American lad and lass a dreary and unromantic period.

Given a good article of moonlight and a hammock big enough for two, and there is no combination which will more rapidly and thoroughly advance the cause of Cupid and bring about the lighting of Hymen’s torch.

Between the moon and the hammock there is a certain analogy. A young moon is very like a hammock, and when Luna appears in the west, her crescent apparently swung between two invisible trees and fastened with a pair of bright stars, the analogy is complete. One can readily fancy an angel swaying in the celestial hammock, which is said also to contain a man. And the idea is so apt to fix itself in the mind of the ardent mortal who gazes westward that his first impulse is to get a hammock, and an earthly angel of his own, and then to sway joyously to the rhythm of two hearts that beat as one.

As an aid to flirtation it is twin sister to a fan.

If a young couple ever trust themselves to the support of the same hammock at the same time, Cupid has his own way thereafter. The pair must of necessity be brought into such sweet proximity that every particle of formality and reserve is melted away. One may withdraw from his fair one on a bench, may hold aloof while seated on the same grassy bank, and may hitch his chair away, or closer, as his feelings dictate. But in the same hammock one can do none of these things. He can only submit to fate and propinquity and  be led delightfully to the momentous question.

The hammock…is fashioned much like a spider’s web. But who would not willingly be a fly when the web holds a charming maiden? And what man is there with soul so dead who is not glad that the hammock has come to stay.

The Macon [MS] Beacon 16 August 1890: p. 4

[This post originally appeared in August of 2017]

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 Brute Asked Her to Black His Boots: 1890

MAIDPORTRAIT

A Case of Mistaken Identity.

A young lady of this city who is engaged to a well-known young society gentleman recently made an experiment to try the temper and habits of her fiancé which nearly resulted in disastrous consequences. Reading her morning paper she saw an advertisement for a domestic. The number of the house was that of her lover’s, where he kept a sort of bachelor’s hall with his father, who was a widower. It occurred then and there to Miss H– to supply the demand. Not in person, but by proxy. She knew of a tidy little German who was bright and engaging, and who wanted a place. She sent for her and gave instructions as to what she was to see and hear, and particularly charged her to observe how Mr. F– conducted himself, what he ate, and if he was good-tempered and easy to please. Christine promised to watch everything and report at the end of the week.

But before the week was up the girl reported with all her belongings and her eyes overflowing with tears. She had been asked to black Mr. F’s. boots, he had ordered her about as if she were a dog, and he wouldn’t eat anything but gruel, and toast, and he swore at her because she forgot to wash off the front steps. Then Miss H. sat down and wrote to her lover:

“You are a brute. No man who was not a brute would ask a woman to black his boots and swear at her for a moment’s forgetfulness. I consider that I have had a narrow escape.”

There was a frantic man went tearing up the avenue that evening and rushed into the presence of Miss H.—but it was some time before he could make her understand the truth of the matter or that he was not that manner of man. The girl had not seen him at all, but had been employed by his dyspeptic old father–whom she knew solely as Mr. F. It was simply a case of mistaken identity.

Daily Independent [Elko NV] 21 February 1890: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is pursing her lips dubiously. It is axiomatic that the apple does not fall far from the tree. It is entirely possible that the young society gentleman will become just like his father as he ages. Should Miss H. risk marrying him, it might be well to insist on competent medical advice and to pour out gold without stinting to keep any cook who understands his digestive system. Personally Mrs Daffodil would not risk linking her lot in life with one brought up by a brute, but she can recommend a daily splash of cider vinegar in water for his collywobbles.

 

 

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.

A Tired Housewife’s Plea to the Summer Visitors: 1886

lake view at Chautauqua 1891

THE SUMMER VISITORS.

AN IMPOSITION TO WHICH COUNTRY FOLKS ARE LIABLE FROM “FRIENDS.”

A TIRED HOUSEWIFE’S PLEA

A Moving Tale, Commended to the Attention of Thoughtless People.

Special Correspondence of The Times.

Chautauqua, N. Y., July 28.

“I tell you,” said a resident in the vicinity of Chautauqua Lake, “if you want to make study of human nature you should come to our house and spend the summer. You see, since this lake has come to be such a popular resort everybody is crazy to get here. If they have any relations or acquaintances living within a radius of ten miles from the lake they are pretty sure to pay them a visit. One young lady I know of makes it a point every year to visit her second cousins. By going from place to place she managed to spend the whole season in this way.

“Last summer, wishing to locate herself on the Chautauqua grounds, that she might better enjoy the advantages there offered, she borrowed the tent of one relative, beds and bedding of another and by boarding herself, with the help of frequent baskets of provisions gleaned from outside friends, managed to live very economically. One woman living in a Western city found by chance that she had some cousins–removed to the third and fourth degree–living in this locality. Securing the address of one of them, she wrote as follows:
“’I have just learned that I have relatives residing in the vicinity of the lake. I would like to visit them, in company with my two daughters, who have always had a great desire to see Chautauqua. Be kind enough to send me a list of their names by return mail.’

CROWDS OF THEM.

“Why, actually,” he continued, “we entertained people in our house last summer whom we had never seen or heard of before. One lady from Now York came here in company with an aunt of mine and tarried with us three weeks, during the Chautauqua season–that is, she took her meals and lodging here; the rest of the time she was on the lake or at Chautauqua. Well, they kept coming from July to September–my relatives, near and distant, and my wife’s acquaintances and old school friends, most of whom she had not met in years, till at length she gave up sick, literally worn out waiting upon her throng of guests. We thought perhaps they would leave then; but no, they hung on till the season closed. Of course we had no opportunity of attending the services ourselves, as our company takes our time and strength to our utmost limit. I do not know how many guests we shall have to entertain this season,” concluded the victim, with a deep-drawn, long-suffering sigh; “they have not sent in the annual list of names yet.”

“Do not your friends leave some pleasant reminder of their visit, with you?” inquired his sympathetic listener. “Well, yes,” he replied, with a bitter laugh; “one lady on her departure presented my wife with an old linen duster and another gave my daughter a pair of half-worn gloves, too shabby for her own use, with the remark that they would do for school gloves.”

“Don’t think we are inhospitable,” he added, with a dismal attempt at a smile. “We enjoy entertaining our friends when they come to see us, but we do not like to have our home turned into a boarding house every summer.”

ENJOYING THE COUNTRY.

Another resident of Chautauqua county, who lives near the lake shore, said the other day: “There seems to be a feeling prevalent among some of our city people that we who reside in the country are a very fortunate class of individuals, having nothing to do but enjoy the ‘odors of clover and new-mown hay,’ and swing in hammocks from dawn till dark. Presuming upon this idea they take it upon themselves to favor their country relatives with lengthy visits. and manage by going from place to place to pass the entire summer in this manner and thus save board bills at expensive watering places.

“If you are fortunate to live near a summer resort like Chautauqua Lake, for instance, your pleasant country home is flooded every season by uncles, aunts, cousins and chance acquaintances by the score, many of whom you have not met in years, and most of whom you never think of visiting, who come from their city homes on cheap excursion rates to live on your hospitality, without money and without price, during the hot months of July and August.

“These self-invited guests care little for your society. The main object of their visit is to enjoy the interesting services held on the Chautauqua grounds; and these, together with boating, driving and excursions on the lake, occupy their whole attention, while you are sweltering in the little kitchen, bending over the hot stove, preparing meals for their healthy appetites, thus forfeiting your whole summer’s recreation and pleasure.

PRIVILEGES OF THE HOSTESS.

“They seem to forget that you, too, would enjoy the morning ride or the jubilee concert. A lady visitor once said to us, as she swept into our kitchen one August morning, arrayed in the most, elegant of traveling costumes, all ready for a trip on the lake:

“‘What a fine view of the water you have from your kitchen window. I should think you would enjoy washing your dishes and watching the steamers pass and repass.’

Yes, we did enjoy it, with the temperature at ninety degrees in the shade, the natural heat of the little kitchen increased by the hot fire we were obliged to keep to provide for the hungry visitors who would flock around our dinner tables with appetites sharpened by a “lovely ride ” they had enjoyed on the lake. Truly, it is delightful to look on and listen to the praises of the excellent lecture, reading or concert they had listened to at Chautauqua that morning (probably the very entertainment you had selected from the programme as the one you wished most to attend), to feel that you have no part or lot in all these good things, save to provide for the inner man, to remain at home day after day and bake and brew tor the hungry multitude of friends (?) who will surely appear at meal time, unless, indeed, you have been “kind enough to put up a little lunch.”

If you live some distance from the boat-landing it is no small task to see that your guests are conveyed there dally, as they seem to expect. We have no street cars or such city conveniences to depend on, and if you chance to own one good old family horse, the light single carriage can carry but two or three at a time, thus necessitating several trips, which occupies considerable time.

We have no bakers to rely upon in case of unexpected company and we recollect one occasion when, instead of the family of four, we were surprised by a company, numbering eleven to spend the day with us. Had it not been for the kindness of a neighbor the poor housewife would have been compelled to bake on no small scale.

A poor, hard-working woman said to us not long ago:

“I had bought a season ticket on the boats this summer and intended to enjoy it, but I have just got word that my cousin, his wife and two children, including a peevish teething baby, are coming to spend the summer with me. They want to get away from the city, it is so sickly there.”

IN SELF-DEFENSE.

One family we know of, people In good circumstances, have, in sheer self-defense, taken to keeping boarders (although they would much prefer the privacy of their own family), as they were so overrun with summer visitors as to be obliged to deny themselves all privileges. One of their many guests was a woman, who half a century before had been for a brief time a playmate of the host’s, and therefore came uninvited and unexpected to demand hospitality on the score of old acquaintanceship.

We call to mind one minister’s wife, a frail little woman, whom we “ran in” to see one hot July morning and found her just tired out and sick. She told us she had been entertaining for the past two days a woman, a perfect stranger to her, who had come to visit her on the strength of having heard her husband preach once, some years ago. Instead of going to one of the many boarding houses which are plentifully scattered along the shores of our beautiful lake, our city friends, many of them, who chance in any way to have acquaintances living near the lake, inflict themselves upon them during the very season when leisure is most desirable to enjoy the rare privileges which come but once a year. The farmer’s wife, unlike her city sister, is deprived of the many concerts, lectures and other pleasant literary entertainments which form so pleasant a feature of a winter in the city.

We speak plainly, for we feel deeply on this subject. The above is not a fancy sketch, but is drawn from actual experience and is the voice of score of tired, overworked housewives on the shores of our lake. Do not think us inhospitable; we enjoy entertaining company who come to see us, not those who come merely as a matter of convenience and stop at our house as they would at any ordinary hotel (minus board bills). We all have friends, those near and dear to us, bound by the ties of long association and whom it is a pleasure and a delight to entertain; but we often find it impossible to do this on account of our self-invited guests, who occupy our time, tax our strength and try our patience, and when at length the season is over and the last carriage load of summer visitors disappears around the corner and we see a kindly wave of the hand or hear a cool “Come and see us when you can,” the overtaxed strength and strained nerves give way and a long sickness and a correspondingly heavy doctor’s bill winds up the season, then we are forced to believe that “Charity begins at home.”

We would simply ask that justice be done to farmers and their families, including country people generally.

L. M. C.

The Times [Philadelphia PA] 25 July 1886: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wonders why, if previous summer visits have rendered his wife sick from over-work, that resident in the vicinity of Chautauqua Lake does not locate his spine and tell those thoughtless visitors that the familial boarding house is no longer open for business. She understands that one does not wish to alienate near relations, but surely a tactful plea to be excused on the grounds of an unsafe well or a typhoid outbreak would have some effect, even on the most insensitive. One might need to resort to actually poisoning the breakfasts of the more obtuse guests to drive home the point, but doing so, as long as no actual fatalities occur, will guarantee the unhappy householder visitor-free summers for many years to come.

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.

Mending a Misunderstanding: 1860

early 18th c hussif

Early-18th century house-wife or hussif. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22689/lot/623/

A BACHELOR’S LOVE-MAKING.

By HELEN FROST GRAVES.

You would have known it for a bachelor’s den the moment you put your head in the door! Blue, spicy wreaths of cigar-smoke circling up to the ceiling–newspapers under the table–Castile soap in the tiny bronze card-receiver–slippers on the mantle-piece, and general confusion everywhere. And yet Mr. Thornbrooke–poor deluded mortal–solemnly believed that his room was in the most perfect order! For hadn’t he poked the empty champagne bottles under the bed, and sent the wood-box to bear them company, and hung up his morning gown over the damp towels, and dusted the ash-besprinkled hearth with his best silk handkerchief? He’d to see a room in better trim than that–guessed he would! And now he was mending himself up, preparatory to going to call on the very prettiest girl in New York. Not that he was particularly fond of the needle, but when a fellow’s whole foot goes through a hole in the northeast toe of his stocking, and there isn’t a button on his shirts, it’s time to repair damages.

Now, as Mr. Thornbrooke’s whole stock of industrial implements consisted of a lump ot wax, an enormous pair of scissors, and one needle, the mending didn’t progress rapidly. His way of managing the button question, too, necessarily involved some delay; he had to cut all these useful little appendages from another shirt and sew them on and next week when the second shirt was wanted, why it was easy enough to make a transfer again! See what it is to be a bachelor of genius! it never once occurred to him to buy a few buttons extra!

“Buttons are not much trouble,” said Mr. Thornbrooke to himself, as he wiped the perspiration from his brow, “but when it comes to coat-sleeves, what the mischief is a fellow to do? I haven’t any black thread either; and he looked dolorously at a small tear just in his elbow, where some vicious nail had caught in the broadcloth. “A black pin may do for to-night, and to-morrow I’ll send it to the tailor. The fact is, I ought to be married; and so I would, if I only dared to ask Lilian. O, dear! I know she wouldn’t have me–and yet I’m not so certain either–if only could muster the courage boldly to put the question! But just as sure as I approach the dangerous ground my heart fails me. And then that puppy, Jones, with his curled mustache, and hair parted in the middle–always hanging round Lilian, and quoting poetry to her—if I could have the privilege of kicking him across the street, I’d die happy! He isn’t bashful, not he ! If somebody would only invent a new way of popping the question–something that wasn’t quite so embarrassing!” Our hero gave a his black, glossy curls an extra brush, surveyed himself critically in the glass, and then, with a deep sigh, set forth to call on the identical Lilian Raymond, resolving as he has done a thousand times before, that if—perhaps—maybe—

Oh, the bashfulness of bachelors!

When Mark Thornbrooke arrived within the charmed precincts of old Mr. Raymond’s handsome parlors, velvet carpeted, chandeliered with gold and ormolu, and crowded to the very doors with those charming knickknacks that only a woman’s taste provides, Miss Lily was “at home” in a bewildering pink merino dress, edged with white lace around the pearly shoulders, and a crimson moss-rose twisted in among the rippling waves of her soft brown hair. She never looked half so pretty; and thank Providence, Jones wasn’t on hand, for once in his life. But what was almost as bad, Lilly’s cousin was there–a tall, slender, black eyed girl, with arch lips and cheeks as red as a Spitzenberg apple. O, how Thornbrooke wished that Miss Esther Allen was at the bottom of the Red Sea, or anywhere else except in that particular parlor. And then her eyes were so sharp—he hadn’t been “doing the agreeable” more than four minutes and a half, before she exclaimed:

“Dear me, Mr. Thornbrooke–pray excuse me–but what on earth is the matter with your elbow?”

Mark turned scarlet–the traitorous black pin has deserted its post. “Only a compound fracture in my coat, Miss Allen,” said he, feeling as though his face might do the duty of all old Mr. Raymond ‘s chandeliers put together, “you know we bachelors are not expected to be exempt from such things.”

“Hold up your arm, sir, and I’ll set it all right in one moment,” said Esther, instantaneously producing from some secret recess in the folds of of her dress, a thimble and needle, threaded with black silk, and setting expertly to work.

“There, now consider yourself whole.”

“How skillful you are,” said Mark, admiringly, after he had thanked her most sincerely. “But then you have so many nice little concerns to work with. I have only a needle and some wax, besides my scissors!”

“You ought to have a house-wife, Mr. Thornbrooke,” said Miss Lily, timidly lifting up her long lashes in his direction. Lily never could speak to Thornbrooke without a soft, little, rosy shadow on her cheek.

“A what?” demanded Mark, turning very red.

“A house-wife.”

“Yes,” said Mark, after a moment’s awkward hesitation, “my friends have told me so very often—and–and I really think so myself, you know. But what sort of a one would you recommend, Miss Raymond?”

“Oh, any pretty little concern. I’ll send you one to-morrow morning, if you’ll accept of it,” she added, with the rosy light in her cheeks again.

“If–I’ll—accept–of it!” gasped Mark, feeling as if he were up in an atmosphere of pearl and gold, with two wings sprouting out of his broadcloth, on either side. And just as he was opening his lips to assure Miss Lily that he was ready to take the precious gift to his arms then and there without any unnecessary delay, the door opened, and in walked Jones.

Mark was not at all cannibalistic in his propensities, but just then he could have eaten Jones up with most uncommon pleasure. And there the fellow sat, pulling his long mustaches and talking the most insipid twaddle–sat and sat until Mark rose in despair to go. Even then he had no opportunity to exchange a private word with Lily. “You–you’ll not forget–”

“Oh, I’ll be sure to remember, said she, smilingly, and half wondering at the unusual pressure he gave her hand. “Ladies often do provide their bachelor friends so!”

Mark went home, the happiest individual that ever trod a New York pavement. Indeed, so great was his felicity that he indulged in various gymnastic capers indicative of bliss, and only paused in them at the gruff caution of a policeman, who probably had forgotten his own courting days–“Come, young man, what are you about?”

“Was there ever a more delicate way of assuring me of her favorable consideration? was there ever a more feminine admission of her sentiment? Of course she will come herself—an angel, breathing airs from Paradise–and I shall tell her of my love! A housewife–oh! the delicious words! Wonder what neighborhood she would like me to engage a residence in–how soon it would be best to name the day? Oh! if I should awake, and find it all a blissful dream!

Early the next morning Mr. Thornbrooke set briskly to work, “righting up things.” How he swept and dusted and scoured—how the dust flew from pillar to post–how the room was aired to get rid of the tobacco-smoke, and sprinkled with Cologne, and beautified generally. And at length, when the dust was all swept into one corner, and covered by a carelessly (!) disposed newspaper, he found the window-glass murky, and polished it with such vengeance that his fist, handkerchief and all, went through, sorely damaging the hand, and necessitating the ungraceful accessory of an old hat to keep out the wintry blast for the time-being. However, even this mishap didn’t long damp his spirits—for was not Lily coming?

Long and wearily he waited, yet no twinkle at the bell gave warning of her approach.

“It’s all her sweet feminine modesty,” thought he, and was content.

At length there was a peal below, and Mark’s heart jumped up into his mouth, beating like a reveille drum. He rushed to the door, but—there was no one but a little grinning boy, with a box.

“Miss Raymond’s compliments, and here’s de housewife, sir!”

“The housewife, you little imp of Erebus!”

“Yes, sir, in de box, all right!”

Mark slunk back into his room and opened the box, half expecting to see a full dressed young lady issue from it, a la  Arabian Nights; but no–it was only a little blue velvet book all tied up with gold cord, and full of odd compartments in azure silk, containing tape, needles, scissors, silk, thimble, and all the nice little work-table accessories!

“And she calls this a housewife!” groaned Mark, in ineffable bitterness of spirit at the downfall of his bright visions. “But I won’t be put off so.”

Desperation gave him courage, and off he hied to the Raymond mansion, determined to settle the matter if there were forty Joneses and Esthers there.

But Lilian was all alone, singing at her embroidery in the sunshiny window casement.

“Dear me, Mr. Thornbrooke! is anything the matter?”

Perhaps it was the shadow from the splendid crimson cactus plumes in the window that gave her cheek such a delicate glow—perhaps–but we have no right to speculate.

“Yes.” And ‘Mark sat down by her side, and took the little trembling, fluttering hand. “You sent me a housewife this morning?”

“Wasn’t it right?” faltered Lilian.

“It wasn’t the kind I wanted at all.”

“Not the kind you wanted?”

“No; I prefer a live one, and I came to see if I couldn’t change it. I want one with brown hair and eyes–something, in short, Miss Lillian, just your pattern. Can’t I have it?”

Lily turned white, and then red—smiled, and then burst into tears–and tried to draw away her hand, but Mark held it fast.

“No, no, dear Lily; first tell me if I can have the treasure I ask for?” “Yes,” she said, with the prettiest confusion in the world; and then, instead of releasing the captive hand, the unreasonable fellow took possession of the other one, too. But as Lily did not object, we suppose it was all right.

And that was the odd path by which Mark Thornbrooke diverged from the walk of old bachelorhood, and stepped into the respectable ranks of matrimony.

The Berkshire County Eagle [Pittsfield MA] 26 July 1860: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A laughable, yet natural mistake. The 19th-century gentleman led a life sheltered from domestic realities, first by his mother, then by his wife, so it is quite possible that he had never seen such a useful article. The “house-wife,” also known as a “hussif,” is, obviously, a little sewing kit in a fold- or roll-up case. It is a more economical version of the necessaire or etui.  Mrs Daffodil suggests that Mr Thornbrooke would be a bachelor still if Miss Lily had recommended an etui. 

One could find similar misapprehensions at the newsagent’s:

He looked over all the papers on the newsstand, and not finding what he wanted, said to the plump, pretty girl clerk: “I want a Fireside Companion.”

“What, sir?” she blushed.

“I want a Fireside Companion,” he repeated.

“O, yes, sir, I hear you now,” and she chewed the corner of her apron; “well-well—do you think I would do?”

It turned out happily.

The Pantagraph [Bloomington IL] 7 January 1880: 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 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.

The Bigamist Writes His Memoirs: 1870

my first and worst wife, Seven Wives and Seven Prisons Abott 1870

“Seven Wives and Seven Prisons”

A young woman had continued to linger in the parental household until she had considerably passed the average age of marriage. Somehow the young men of her acquaintance had failed to appreciate her. Therefore it was all the more gratifying when a recent arrival in the community, a man of ingratiating appearance, began to pay her marked attentions. Her romantic impulses which had been subdued by untoward circumstances, could now be given full sway. Her admirer was impetuous and would hear of no delays, and they were soon married.

The historian does not furnish any details of the honeymoon nor how long it lasted, but it would appear that the bride, although of a clinging nature, was very curious as to her husband’s antecedents, and this, unfortunately, was the weak spot in his armour. The more the aforesaid antecedents were investigated, the more unattractive they proved to be and within a very short time the bride indignantly refused to have any further dealings with her husband, incidentally starting a line of inquiry with startling results; the man was apparently a bigamist.

With indefatigable zeal, the bride and her disgusted parents continued their investigations which soon resulted in the bridegroom being snugly established in the local jail.

Then followed a remarkable series of revelations. A wife was discovered at about every turn in the crooked path of the prisoner, who engaged a lawyer and resigned himself to the inevitable.

Some months were to elapse before a regular session of court and in the meantime the bridegroom found time hanging heavily on his hands. Apparently the game was up and, with the inordinate vanity of certain criminal minds, he decided to write an autobiography. In due course of time there appeared a remarkable book, entitled, “Seven Wives and Seven Prisons,” which created a sensation. It also aroused much local feminine indignation, because, in his desire to “get even” with his last wife, whom he regarded’ as responsible for his present misfortunes, the bigamist declared in his book that of all the wives he had ever had, she was not only the most disagreeable, but also the homeliest and the most generally unattractive.

Apparently masculine depravity could go no further.

New England Joke Lore: The Tonic of Yankee Humor, Arthur George Crandall, 1922: p. 49-51

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While this sounds simply like an amusing anecdote, there truly was a book called Seven Wives and Seven Prisons or Experiences in the Life of a Matrimonial Monomaniac. A True Story, by L.A. Abbott, 1870. The book, the story of a man who just couldn’t say no, complete with “spoiler-alert” chapter headings, has been classified as both a novel and as a memoir. Perhaps the most charitable thing Mrs Daffodil could say about it, is that it makes for compulsive reading.

There was no shortage of such matrimonial monomaniacs:

One James Flatherty was brought up before a magistrate for marrying six wives. the magistrate asked him “how he could be such a hardened villain?” please your worship,” says James, “I was trying to get a good one.” Vincennes [IN] Gazette 20 February 1868

A man in Zanesville, Ohio, who has buried three wives, has their photographs in a group, within which his own picture is the center figure, and underneath is this touching inscription: “The Lord will provide.” San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 12 November 1871: p. 2

A Marrying Man. —The Utica Gazette cautions ladies against one Hiram N. Barnes, a hatter. He has already had five wives. The Liberator [Boston, MA] 26 June 1846

One Robert Cleneay was recently arrested near Atlantic City, New Jersey on charge of having married a widow while he had five other wives living. He confessed he had had the wives, but said he thought they had all died of broken hearts when he ran away from them. Savannah [GA] Daily Advertiser 12 April 1871: 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.

A Miserable Wife: 1886

A MISERABLE WIFE.

‘Yes, professor, I am afraid I shall have to rent or sell the farm. My wife is so miserable. I cannot carry it on without hiring, and hiring eats up all the profits.’

I looked at the speaker admiringly He was about fifty, and as robust as a man of thirty. His whiskers were neatly trimmed, showing a full red cheek. He wore a jaunty hat and natty cutaway coat, and below his vest hung a silk fob and heavy gold seal, I was proud of him. He was such a perfect picture of the New York gentleman from the rural districts that I wanted to imprint his picture on my memory.

‘So your wife is miserable?’

‘Yes, kinder droopin’, with a dry cough and no ambition. She jest kinder drags around the house and looks so peaked and scrawny it gives me the blues. It does, I swan if it don’t.’

‘Naturally weakly, wasn’t she?’

‘She! Oh, no. When I married her she was the smartest girl on the creek. She used to work for father, and the way she made the work stand round took my eye, She was a poor gal, and her industry got her a rich husband.’

Here he carelessly took out a gold watch, looked at the time, put it back and adjusted the silk fob on the front of his nicely fitting trousers.

‘So she did well getting married on account of her industry?’

‘Why, of course; she was getting only $2.50 a week, and she became mistress of a farm.’

‘Excuse me; but how much are you worth now, confidentially you know; I am a scientific man, and will never use such facts to your injury with the assessor. ‘

‘Well, Professor, I could crowd $50, 000 pretty hard.’

‘That is good. How long have you been married?’

‘Thirty years next fourth of July. We went down to Albany on a little teeter and I proposed the match and Jane was willin.’

‘How much do you suppose you have made in these thirty years?’

‘Hum—um–lemme see. I got the Davis farm the first ten years, then I run in debt for the Simmons place, got war prices for my cheese, and squared up both places. Well, I think I have cleared up $30,000 since we spliced.

‘Very good indeed. And your wife has been a great help to you all this time.’

‘Oh, you bet. She was a rattler. She took care of her baby and the milk from twenty cows, I tell you she made the tinware flop, Why, we have had four children, and she never had a hired girl over six months in that in that time.’

‘Splendid! And you have cleared $30, 000 in that time?’

‘Yes, easy.’

‘Now how much has your wife made?’

‘She, why, durn it, professor, she is my wife.’

‘I know it. But what has she made? You say she was poor when you married her. Now, what has she made?’

‘Why by gum, you beat all. Why she is my wife and we own it all together.’

‘Do you? Then she can draw on your bank account? Then she has a horse and carriage when she wants them? Then she has a servant maid when she wants one? Then she rides out for her health, and has a watch and chain of gold as you do. Is that so?’

‘Professor, you must be crazy. Nobody’s wife is boss in that shape. Who ever heard of such a thing?’

‘Now look here. You said she did well in marrying rich, and I cannot see it. If she was getting $2.50 per week when you married her, and had saved her wages, she would have had now $3,600. If she had invested it she would have had $5,000. Now you tell me she is broken down, used up and miserable, and looks so bad she makes you sick and she has no money, no help, and will get probably nothing but a Scotch granite tombstone when she dies?’

‘Professor, if you were a younger man I would lick you quicker’n a spring lamb can jump a thistle.’

‘What for? I am stating this case fairly, am I not? Your wife is no longer young. She is no longer handsome. Her hands are as hard as a local editor’s cheek, and she has stooped over a milk can until she has a hump on her back like a peddler.’

‘Shut up, will you?’

‘She has raised four children. One of them is at college. One is taking music lessons at Boston. The other two are teaching school. She is at home alone, going around in a treadmill life which will end in a rose-wood coffin and a first-class country funeral.’

‘Stop that, professor, will you?’

‘While you are still a handsome man, with just enough gray in your whiskers to make you look interesting. No doubt you have been thinking of some nice young girl of eighteen who would jump at the chance to marry your thirty cows and twenty acres of hops.’

‘Professor, I won’t stay here if you don’t let up on that.’

‘And your wife does not look well in that new Watertown wagon, so you take your hired man and neighbor’s girls to meeting. Your wife never goes anywhere, so you do not get her a watch like your own, nor a silk dress, nor a pony that she could drive, nor a basket phaeton that she could climb into without a ladder. She never says anything, so you have not got her a set of teeth like your own gold and rubber, but she has to gum it until her nose is pushed up into her forehead, and her fees wrinkles like a burned boot. She never goes out, so she does not dye her hair as you do yours, but it looks like a milkweed pod gone to seed. She has to work in the kitchen, so she gets no nice toothpick shoes like yours, but goes thumping around like a sheep in a dry goods box.’

‘Darn my skin if I don’t– ‘

‘No you won’t; you will just let her work right along, and then you will marry some high flyer who will pull every hair out of your head, and serve you right, too.’

‘Professor, for mercy’s sake do stop.’

‘When you know, and I know, that if your wife had a chance to rest, and had nice clothes like other women, she would be one of the handsomest women in town.’

‘I swan I believe it.’

‘And, old as she is, if you were to get out the carriage next Sunday, and drive around with the colts, and tell her you wanted her to go to meeting with you. she would actually blush with pleasure.’

‘Darned if I don’t do it. ‘

‘Then Monday, if you were to tell her that you were going to hire a girl, and that she must sit in the sitting-room by that new nickel-plated coal stove, and work on that new silk you are going to buy her–‘

‘Professor, that’s me.’

‘And then hand her a nickel wallet with steel clasps, and with five nice new twenty-dollar notes in it, and tell her to do her own trading after this, because you have got tired looking after so much money.’

‘l will, as sure as I live.’

‘And then when the tears start in her eyes, and the same old blush comes out that you thought was so nice when you went on that teeter to Albany, if you would just kiss her—’

‘It’s all right, professor.’

‘Then, my friend, I would begin to think she had made something by marrying a rich man.’

‘You’re right, old man.’

‘Then I think you would no longer have a miserable wife. Then you would no longer want to rent or sell the farm, but would be showing the mother of your children how much you respected her for her life of devotion. Then she would know that she was a partner in that $30,000. Then, if you make your will all right, and she had a good rest, I think she would sometime be an eligible widow.’

‘Think so, professor?’

“I know it. Woman is a plant that wants sunshine. You having been leaving your wife in the shade too much. She has lost her color. She has given up all hope of admiration and love, and is only waiting to die and get out of the way. Suppose you were treated so?’

‘What me? I am all right.’

‘Yes I know. Women pity you because you are tied to such a sorry-looking wife. Foolish old maids and silly girls whisper behind your back what a nice looking man you are, and what a stick of a wife you have: and you are just soft enough to wear tight boots, and oil what little hair you have left on the top of your head, and go around figuring up how long before your wife would die.’

‘Say now, see here, Professor, there is a limit to endurance. I am going.’

‘I am coming down to see you next week; will it be all right?’

‘Yes, if you drop this kind of talk and won’t tell of my complaints about my wife, I will try your medicine. Would you stick for that part of your proposition about the pocketbook and twenty-dollar notes?’

‘How much did you say you had made together?’

‘I cave. The dress will be all right and the pony and phaeton will be handy for the girls. Come down and see us, old man. but not a word about this talk.  If you wasn’t an old man I’d– ‘

and tipping his derby back on his head and shaking the wrinkles out of his tight trousers, he put his hands into his pockets and sauntered away.

‘There,’ said I, ‘is one man who has taken the only legal and God-given way of getting rid of a miserable wife.’

Bennington [VT] Banner 17 June 1886: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wonders if one of those nice new twenty-dollar notes could more prudently be invested in an appointment with an attorney to find out what her rights would be if her husband suddenly dropped dead. A portion of the change might be profitably spent on a tin of Rough on Rats. Farms are always so troubled with vermin.

 

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.

Good Lady Ducayne: 1896

good lady ducayne 1896 vampire story

Bella Rolleston had made up her mind that her only chance of earning her bread and helping her mother to an occasional crust was by going out into the great unknown world as companion to a lady. She was willing to go to any lady rich enough to pay her a salary and so eccentric as to wish for a hired companion. Five shillings told off reluctantly from one of those sovereigns which were so rare with the mother and daughter, and which melted away so quickly, five solid shillings, had been handed to a smartly-dressed lady in an office in Harbeck Street, W., in the hope that this very Superior Person would find a situation and a salary for Miss Rolleston.

The Superior Person glanced at the two half-crowns as they lay on the table where Bella’s hand had placed them, to make sure they were neither of them florins, before she wrote a description of Bella’s qualifications and requirements in a formidable-looking ledger.

“Age?” she asked, curtly.

“Eighteen, last July.”

“Any accomplishments?”

“No; I am not at all accomplished. If I were I should want to be a governess—a companion seems the lowest stage.”

“We have some highly accomplished ladies on our books as companions, or chaperon companions.”

“Oh, I know!” babbled Bella, loquacious in her youthful candour. “But that is quite a different thing. Mother hasn’t been able to afford a piano since I was twelve years old, so I’m afraid I’ve forgotten how to play. And I have had to help mother with her needlework, so there hasn’t been much time to study.”

“Please don’t waste time upon explaining what you can’t do, but kindly tell me anything you can do,” said the Superior Person, crushingly, with her pen poised between delicate fingers waiting to write. “Can you read aloud for two or three hours at a stretch? Are you active and handy, an early riser, a good walker, sweet tempered, and obliging?”

“I can say yes to all those questions except about the sweetness. I think I have a pretty good temper, and I should be anxious to oblige anybody who paid for my services. I should want them to feel that I was really earning my salary.”

“The kind of ladies who come to me would not care for a talkative companion,” said the Person, severely, having finished writing in her book. “My connection lies chiefly among the aristocracy, and in that class considerable deference is expected.”

“Oh, of course,” said Bella; “but it’s quite different when I’m talking to you. I want to tell you all about myself once and for ever.”

“I am glad it is to be only once!” said the Person, with the edges of her lips.

The Person was of uncertain age, tightly laced in a black silk gown. She had a powdery complexion and a handsome clump of somebody else’s hair on the top of her head. It may be that Bella’s girlish freshness and vivacity had an irritating effect upon nerves weakened by an eight hours day in that over-heated second floor in Harbeck Street. To Bella the official apartment, with its Brussels carpet, velvet curtains and velvet chairs, and French clock, ticking loud on the marble chimney-piece, suggested the luxury of a palace, as compared with another second floor in Walworth where Mrs. Rolleston and her daughter had managed to exist for the last six years.

“Do you think you have anything on your books that would suit me?” faltered Bella, after a pause.

“Oh, dear, no; I have nothing in view at present,” answered the Person, who had swept Bella’s half-crowns into a drawer, absent-mindedly, with the tips of her fingers. “You see, you are so very unformed—so much too young to be companion to a lady of position. It is a pity you have not enough education for a nursery governess; that would be more in your line.”

“And do you think it will be very long before you can get me a situation?” asked Bella, doubtfully.

“I really cannot say. Have you any particular reason for being so impatient—not a love affair, I hope?”

“A love affair!” cried Bella, with flaming cheeks. “What utter nonsense. I want a situation because mother is poor, and I hate being a burden to her. I want a salary that I can share with her.”

“There won’t be much margin for sharing in the salary you are likely to get at your age—and with your—very—unformed manners,” said the Person, who found Bella’s peony cheeks, bright eyes, and unbridled vivacity more and more oppressive.

“Perhaps if you’d be kind enough to give me back the fee I could take it to an agency where the connection isn’t quite so aristocratic,” said Bella, who—as she told her mother in her recital of the interview—was determined not to be sat upon.

“You will find no agency that can do more for you than mine,” replied the Person, whose harpy fingers never relinquished coin. “You will have to wait for your opportunity. Yours is an exceptional case: but I will bear you in mind, and if anything suitable offers I will write to you. I cannot say more than that.”

The half-contemptuous bend of the stately head, weighted with borrowed hair, indicated the end of the interview. Bella went back to Walworth—tramped sturdily every inch of the way in the September afternoon—and “took off” the Superior Person for the amusement of her mother and the landlady, who lingered in the shabby little sitting-room after bringing in the tea-tray, to applaud Miss Rolleston’s “taking off.”

“Dear, dear, what a mimic she is!” said the landlady. “You ought to have let her go on the stage, mum. She might have made her fortune as a hactress.”

II.

Bella waited and hoped, and listened for the postman’s knocks which brought such store of letters for the parlours and the first floor, and so few for that humble second floor, where mother and daughter sat sewing with hand and with wheel and treadle, for the greater part of the day. Mrs. Rolleston was a lady by birth and education; but it had been her bad fortune to marry a scoundrel; for the last half-dozen years she had been that worst of widows, a wife whose husband had deserted her. Happily, she was courageous, industrious, and a clever needlewoman; and she had been able just to earn a living for herself and her only child, by making mantles and cloaks for a West-end house. It was not a luxurious living. Cheap lodgings in a shabby street off the Walworth Road, scanty dinners, homely food, well-worn raiment, had been the portion of mother and daughter; but they loved each other so dearly, and Nature had made them both so light-hearted, that they had contrived somehow to be happy.

But now this idea of going out into the world as companion to some fine lady had rooted itself into Bella’s mind, and although she idolized her mother, and although the parting of mother and daughter must needs tear two loving hearts into shreds, the girl longed for enterprise and change and excitement, as the pages of old longed to be knights, and to start for the Holy Land to break a lance with the infidel.

She grew tired of racing downstairs every time the postman knocked, only to be told “nothing for you, miss,” by the smudgy-faced drudge who picked up the letters from the passage floor. “Nothing for you, miss,” grinned the lodging-house drudge, till at last Bella took heart of grace and walked up to Harbeck Street, and asked the Superior Person how it was that no situation had been found for her.

“You are too young,” said the Person, “and you want a salary.”

“Of course I do,” answered Bella ; “don’t other people want salaries?”

“Young ladies of your age generally want a comfortable home.”

“I don’t,” snapped Bella: “I want to help mother.”

“You can call again this day week,” said the Person; “or, if I hear of anything in the meantime, I will write to you.”

No letter came from the Person, and in exactly a week Bella put on her neatest hat, the one that had been seldomest caught in the rain, and trudged off to Harbeck Street.

It was a dull October afternoon, and there was a greyness in the air which might turn to fog before night. The Walworth Road shops gleamed brightly through that grey atmosphere, and though to a young lady reared in Mayfair or Belgravia such shop – windows would have been unworthy of a glance, they were a snare and temptation for Bella. There were so many things that she longed for, and would never be able to buy.

Harbeck Street is apt to be empty at this dead season of the year, a long, long street, an endless perspective of eminently respectable houses. The Person’s office was at the further end, and Bella looked down that long, grey vista almost despairingly, more tired than usual with the trudge from Walworth. As she looked, a carriage passed her, an old-fashioned, yellow chariot, on cee springs, drawn by a pair of high grey horses, with the stateliest of coachmen driving them, and a tall footman sitting by his side.

“It looks like the fairy god-mother’s coach,” thought Bella. “I shouldn’t wonder if it began by being a pumpkin.”

It was a surprise when she reached the Person’s door to find the yellow chariot standing before it, and the tall footman waiting near the doorstep. She was almost afraid to go in and meet the owner of that splendid carriage. She had caught only a glimpse of its occupant as the chariot rolled by, a plumed bonnet, a patch of ermine.

The Person’s smart page ushered her upstairs and knocked at the official door. “Miss Rolleston,” he announced, apologetically, while Bella waited outside.

“Show her in,” said the Person, quickly; and then Bella heard her murmuring something in a low voice to her client.

Bella went in fresh, blooming, a living image of youth and hope, and before she looked at the Person her gaze was riveted by the owner of the chariot.

Never had she seen anyone as old as the old lady sitting by the Person’s fire: a little old figure, wrapped from chin to feet in an ermine mantle; a withered, old face under a plumed bonnet—a face so wasted by age that it seemed only a pair of eyes and a peaked chin. The nose was peaked, too, but between the sharply pointed chin and the great, shining eyes, the small, aquiline nose was hardly visible.

“This is Miss Rolleston, Lady Ducayne.”

Claw-like fingers, flashing with jewels, lifted a double eyeglass to Lady Ducayne’s shining black eyes, and through the glasses Bella saw those unnaturally bright eyes magnified to a gigantic size, and glaring at her awfully.

“Miss Torpinter has told me all about you,” said the old voice that belonged to the eyes. “Have you good health? Are you strong and active, able to eat well, sleep well, walk well, able to enjoy all that there is good in life?”

“I have never known what it is to be ill, or idle,” answered Bella.

“Then I think you will do for me.”

“Of course, in the event of references being perfectly satisfactory,” put in the Person.

“I don’t want references. The young woman looks frank and innocent. I’ll take her on trust.”

“So like you, dear Lady Ducayne,” murmured Miss Torpinter.

“I want a strong young woman whose health will give me no trouble.”

“You have been so unfortunate in that respect,” cooed the Person, whose voice and manner were subdued to a melting sweetness by the old woman’s presence.

“Yes, I’ve been rather unlucky,” grunted Lady Ducayne.

“But I am sure Miss Rolleston will not disappoint you, though certainly after your unpleasant experience with Miss Tomson, who looked the picture of health—and Miss Blandy, who said she had never seen a doctor since she was vaccinated”

“Lies, no doubt,” muttered Lady Ducayne, and then turning to Bella, she asked, curtly, “You don’t mind spending the winter in Italy, I suppose?”

In Italy! The very word was magical. Bella’s fair young face flushed crimson.

“It has been the dream of my life to see Italy,” she gasped.

From Walworth to Italy! How far, how impossible such a journey had seemed to that romantic dreamer.

“Well, your dream will be realized. Get yourself ready to leave Charing Cross by the train de luxe this day week at eleven. Be sure you are at the station a quarter before the hour. My people will look after you and your luggage.”

Lady Ducayne rose from her chair, assisted by her crutch-stick, and Miss Torpinter escorted her to the door.

“And with regard to salary?” questioned the Person on the way.

“Salary, oh, the same as usual—and if the young woman wants a quarter’s pay in advance you can write to me for a cheque,” Lady Ducayne answered, carelessly.

Miss Torpinter went all the way downstairs with her client, and waited to see her seated in the yellow chariot. When she came upstairs again she was slightly out of breath, and she had resumed that superior manner which Bella had found so crushing.

“You may think yourself uncommonly lucky, Miss Rolleston,” she said. “I have dozens of young ladies on my books whom I might have recommended for this situation —but I remembered having told you to call this afternoon—and I thought I would give you a chance. Old Lady Ducayne is one of the best people on my books. She gives her companion a hundred a year, and pays all travelling expenses. You will live in the lap of luxury.”

“A hundred a year! How too lovely! Shall I have to dress very grandly? Does Lady Ducayne keep much company?”

“At her age! No, she lives in seclusion—in her own apartments — her French maid, her footman, her medical attendant, her courier.”

“Why did those other companions leave her?” asked Bella.

“Their health broke down!”

“Poor things, and so they had to leave?”

“Yes, they had to leave. I suppose you would like a quarter’s salary in advance?”

“Oh, yes, please. I shall have things to buy.”

“Very well, I will write for Lady Ducayne’s cheque, and I will send you the balance— after deducting my commission for the year.”

“To be sure, I had forgotten the commission.”

“You don’t suppose I keep this office for pleasure.”

“Of course not,” murmured Bella, remembering the five shillings entrance fee; but nobody could expect a hundred a year and a winter in Italy for five shillings.

III.

“From Miss Rolleston, at Cap Ferrino, to Mrs. Rolleston, in Beresford Street, Walworth.

“How I wish you could see this place, dearest; the blue sky, the olive woods, the orange and lemon orchards between the cliffs and the sea—sheltering in the hollow of the great hills—and with summer waves dancing up to the narrow ridge of pebbles and weeds which is the Italian idea of a beach! Oh, how I wish you could see it all, mother dear, and bask in this sunshine, that makes it so difficult to believe the date at the head of this paper. November! The air is like an English June—the sun is so hot that I can’t walk a few yards without an umbrella. And to think of you at Walworth while I am here! I could cry at the thought that perhaps you will never see this lovely coast, this wonderful sea, these summer flowers that bloom in winter. There is a hedge of pink geraniums under my window, mother—a thick, rank hedge, as if the flowers grew wild —and there are Dijon roses climbing over arches and palisades all along the terrace— a rose garden full of bloom in November! Just picture it all! You could never imagine the luxury of this hotel. It is nearly new, and has been built and decorated regardless of expense. Our rooms are upholstered in pale blue satin, which shows up Lady Ducayne’s parchment complexion; but as she sits all day in a corner of the balcony basking in the sun, except when she is in her carriage, and all the evening in her armchair close to the fire, and never sees anyone but her own people, her complexion matters very little.

“She has the handsomest suite of rooms in the hotel. My bedroom is inside hers, the sweetest room—all blue satin and white lace—white enamelled furniture, looking glasses on every wall, till I know my pert little profile as I never knew it before. The room was really meant for Lady Ducayne’s dressing-room, but she ordered one of the blue satin couches to be arranged as a bed for me—the prettiest little bed, which I can wheel near the window on sunny mornings, as it is on castors and easily moved about. I feel as if Lady Ducayne were a funny old grandmother, who had suddenly appeared in my life, very, very rich, and very, very kind.

“She is not at all exacting. I read aloud to her a good deal, and she dozes and nods while I read. Sometimes I hear her moaning in her sleep—as if she had troublesome dreams. When she is tired of my reading she orders Francine, her maid, to read a French novel to her, and I hear her chuckle and groan now and then, as if she were more interested in those books than in Dickens or Scott. My French is not good enough to follow Francine, who reads very quickly. I have a great deal of liberty, for Lady Ducayne often tells me to run away and amuse myself; I roam about the hills for hours. Everything is so lovely. I lose myself in olive woods, always climbing up and up towards the pine woods above—and above the pines there are the snow mountains that just show their white peaks above the dark hills. Oh, you poor dear, how can I ever make you understand what this place is like—you, whose poor, tired eyes have only the opposite side of Beresford Street? Sometimes I go no farther than the terrace in front of the hotel, which is a favourite lounging-place with everybody. The gardens lie below, and the tennis courts where I sometimes play with a very nice girl, the only person in the hotel with whom I have made friends. She is a year older than I, and has come to Cap Ferrino with her brother, a doctor—or a medical student, who is going to be a doctor. He passed his M.B. exam. at Edinburgh just before they left home, Lotta told me. He came to Italy entirely on his sister’s account. She had a troublesome chest attack last summer and was ordered to winter abroad. They are orphans, quite alone in the world, and so fond of each other. It is very nice for me to have such a friend as Lotta. She is so thoroughly respectable. I can’t help using that word, for some of the girls in this hotel go on in a way that I know you would shudder at. Lotta was brought up by an aunt, deep down in the country, and knows hardly anything about life. Her brother won’t allow her to read a novel, French or English, that he has not read and approved.

“‘He treats me like a child,’ she told me, ‘but I don’t mind, for it’s nice to know somebody loves me, and cares about what I do, and even about my thoughts.’

“Perhaps this is what makes some girls so eager to marry — the want of someone strong and brave and honest and true to care for them and order them about. I want no one, mother darling, for I have you, and you are all the world to me. No husband could ever come between us two. If I ever were to marry he would have only the second place in my heart. But I don’t suppose I ever shall marry, or even know what it is like to have an offer of marriage. No young man can afford to marry a penniless girl nowadays. Life is too expensive.

“Mr. Stafford, Lotta’s brother, is very clever, and very kind. He thinks it is rather hard for me to have to live with such an old woman as Lady Ducayne, but then he does not know how poor we are—you and I—and what a wonderful life this seems to me in this lovely place. I feel a selfish wretch for enjoying all my luxuries, while you, who want them so much more than I, have none of them—hardly know what they are like—do you, dearest?—for my scamp of a father began to go to the dogs soon after you were married, and since then life has been all trouble and care and struggle for you.”

This letter was written when Bella had been less than a month at Cap Ferrino, before the novelty had worn off the landscape, and before the pleasure of luxurious surroundings had begun to cloy. She wrote to her mother every week, such long letters as girls who have lived in closest companionship with a mother alone can write; letters that are like a diary of heart and mind. She wrote gaily always; but when the new year began Mrs. Rolleston thought she detected a note of melancholy under all those lively details about the place and the people.

“My poor girl is getting home-sick,” she thought. “Her heart is in Beresford Street.”

It might be that she missed her new friend and companion, Lotta Stafford, who had gone with her brother for a little tour to Genoa and Spezzia, and as far as Pisa. They were to return before February; but in the meantime Bella might naturally feel very solitary among all those strangers, whose manners and doings she described so well.

The mother’s instinct had been true. Bella was not so happy as she had been in that first flush of wonder and delight which followed the change from Walworth to the Riviera. Somehow, she knew not how, lassitude had crept upon her. She no longer loved to climb the hills, no longer flourished her orange stick in sheer gladness of heart as her light feet skipped over the rough ground and the coarse grass on the mountain side. The odour of rosemary and thyme, the fresh breath of the sea, no longer filled her with rapture. She thought of Beresford Street and her mother’s face with a sick longing. They were so far—so far away! And then she thought of Lady Ducayne, sitting by the heaped-up olive logs in the over-heated salon —thought of that wizened-nut-cracker profile, and those gleaming eyes, with an invincible horror.

Visitors at the hotel had told her that the air of Cap Ferrino was relaxing — better suited to age than to youth, to sickness than to health. No doubt it was so. She was not so well as she had been at Walworth; but she told herself that she was suffering only from the pain of separation from the dear companion of her girlhood, the mother who had been nurse, sister, friend, flatterer, all things in this world to her. She had shed many tears over that parting, had spent many a melancholy hour on the marble terrace with yearning eyes looking westward, and with her heart’s desire a thousand miles away.

She was sitting in her favourite spot, an angle at the eastern end of the terrace, a quiet little nook sheltered by orange trees, when she heard a couple of Riviera habitues talking in the garden below. They were sitting on a bench against the terrace wall.

She had no idea of listening to their talk, till the sound of Lady Ducayne’s name attracted her, and then she listened without any thought of wrong-doing. They were talking no secrets—just casually discussing an hotel acquaintance.

They were two elderly people whom Bella only knew by sight. An English clergyman who had wintered abroad for half his lifetime ; a stout, comfortable, well-to-do spinster, whose chronic bronchitis obliged her to migrate annually.

“I have met her about Italy for the last ten years,” said the lady; “but have never found out her real age.”

“I put her down at a hundred—not a year less,” replied the parson. “Her reminiscences all go back to the Regency. She was evidently then in her zenith; and I have heard her say things that showed she was in Parisian society when the First Empire was at its best—before Josephine was divorced.”

“She doesn’t talk much now.”

“No; there’s not much life left in her. She is wise in keeping herself secluded. I only wonder that wicked old quack, her Italian doctor, didn’t finish her off years ago.”

“I should think it must be the other way, and that he keeps her alive.”

“My dear Miss Manders, do you think foreign quackery ever kept anybody alive?”

“Well, there she is—and she never goes anywhere without him. He certainly has an unpleasant countenance.”

“Unpleasant,” echoed the parson, “I don’t believe the foul fiend himself can beat him in ugliness. I pity that poor young woman who has to live between old Lady Ducayne and Dr. Parravicini.”

“But the old lady is very good to her companions.”

“No doubt. She is very free with her cash; the servants call her good Lady Ducayne. She is a withered old female Croesus, and knows she’ll never be able to get through her money, and doesn’t relish the idea of other people enjoying it when she’s in her coffin. People who live to be as old as she is become slavishly attached to life. I daresay she’s generous to those poor girls—but she can’t make them happy. They die in her service.”

“Don’t say they, Mr. Carton; I know that one poor girl died at Mentone last spring.”

“Yes, and another poor girl died in Rome three years ago. I was there at the time. Good Lady Ducayne left her there in an English family. The girl had every comfort. The old woman was very liberal to her–but she died. I tell you, Miss Manders, it is not good for any young woman to live with two such horrors as Lady Ducayne and Parravicini.”

They talked of other things—but Bella hardly heard them. She sat motionless, and a cold wind seemed to come down upon her from the mountains and to creep up to her from the sea, till she shivered as she sat there in the sunshine, in the shelter of the orange trees in the midst of all that beauty and brightness.

Yes, they were uncanny, certainly, the pair of them—she so like an aristocratic witch in her withered old age; he of no particular age, with a face that was more like a waxen mask than any human countenance Bella had ever seen. What did it matter? Old age is venerable, and worthy of all reverence; and Lady Ducayne had been very kind to her. Dr. Parravicini was a harmless, inoffensive student, who seldom looked up from the book he was reading. He had his private sitting-room, where he made experiments in chemistry and natural science— perhaps in alchemy. What could it matter to Bella? He had always been polite to her, in his far-off way. She could not be more happily placed than she was—in this palatial hotel, with this rich old lady.

No doubt she missed the young English girl who had been so friendly, and it might be that she missed the girl’s brother, for Mr. Stafford had talked to her a good deal—had interested himself in the books she was reading, and her manner of amusing herself when she was not on duty.

“You must come to our little salon when you are ‘off,’ as the hospital nurses call it, and we can have some music. No doubt you play and sing?” upon which Bella had to own with a blush of shame that she had forgotten how to play the piano ages ago.

“Mother and I used to sing duets sometimes between the lights, without accompaniment,” she said, and the tears came into her eyes as she thought of the humble room, the half-hour’s respite from work, the sewing-machine standing where a piano ought to have been, and her mother’s plaintive voice, so sweet, so true, so dear.

Sometimes she found herself wondering whether she would ever see that beloved mother again. Strange forebodings came into her mind. She was angry with herself for giving way to melancholy thoughts.

One day she questioned Lady Ducayne’s French maid about those two companions who had died within three years.

“They were poor, feeble creatures,” Francine told her. “They looked fresh and bright enough when they came to Miladi; but they ate too much, and they were lazy. They died of luxury and idleness. Miladi was too kind to them. They had nothing to do; and so they took to fancying things; fancying the air didn’t suit them, that they couldn’t sleep.”

“I sleep well enough, but I have had a strange dream several times since I have been in Italy.”

“Ah, you had better not begin to think about dreams, or you will be like those other girls. They were dreamers —and they dreamt themselves into the cemetery.”

The dream troubled her a little, not because it was a ghastly or frightening dream, but on account of sensations which she had never felt before in sleep—a whirring of wheels that went round in her brain, a great noise like a whirlwind, but rhythmical like the ticking of a gigantic clock: and then in the midst of this uproar as of winds and waves she seemed to sink into a gulf of unconsciousness, out of sleep into far deeper sleep— total extinction. And then, after that blank interval, there had come the sound of voices, and then again the whirr of wheels, louder and louder—and again the blank —and then she knew no more till morning, when she awoke, feeling languid and oppressed.

She told Dr. Parravicini of her dream one day, on the only occasion when she wanted his professional advice. She had suffered rather severely from the mosquitoes before Christmas—and had been almost frightened at finding a wound upon her arm which she could only attribute to the venomous sting of one of these torturers. Parravicini put on his glasses, and scrutinized the angry mark on the round, white arm, as Bella stood before him and Lady Ducayne with her sleeve rolled up above her elbow.

“Yes, that’s rather more than a joke,” he said; “he has caught you on the top of a vein. What a vampire! But there’s no harm done, signorina, nothing that a little dressing of mine won’t heal. You must always show me any bite of this nature. It might be dangerous if neglected. These creatures feed on poison and disseminate it.”

“And to think that such tiny creatures can bite like this,” said Bella; “my arm looks as if it had been cut by a knife.”

“If I were to show you a mosquito’s sting under my microscope you wouldn’t be surprised at that,” replied Parravicini.

Bella had to put up with the mosquito bites, even when they came on the top of a vein, and produced that ugly wound. The wound recurred now and then at longish intervals, and Bella found Dr. Parravicini’s dressing a speedy cure. If he were the quack his enemies called him, he had at least a light hand and a delicate touch in performing this small operation.

“Bella Rolleston to Mrs. Rolleston.— April 14th.

“Ever Dearest,—Behold the cheque for my second quarter’s salary— five and twenty pounds. There is no one to pinch off a whole tenner for a year’s commission as there was last time, so it is all for you, mother, dear. I have plenty of pocket-money in hand from the cash I brought away with me, when you insisted on my keeping more than I wanted. It isn’t possible to spend money here—except on occasional tips to servants, or sous to beggars and children—unless one had lots to spend, for everything one would like to buy—tortoise-shell, coral, lace—is so ridiculously dear that only a millionaire ought to look at it. Italy is a dream of beauty: but for shopping, give me Newington Causeway.

“You ask me so earnestly if I am quite well that I fear my letters must have been, very dull lately. Yes, dear, I am well- but I am not quite so strong as I was when I used to trudge to the West-end to buy half a pound of tea—just for a constitutional walk —or to Dulwich to look at the pictures. Italy is relaxing ; and I feel what the people here call ‘slack.’ But I fancy I can see your dear face looking worried as you read this. Indeed, and indeed, I am not ill. I am only a little tired of this lovely scene—as I suppose one might get tired of looking at one of Turner’s pictures if it hung on a wall that was always opposite one. I think of you every hour in every day—think of you and our homely little room—our dear little shabby parlour, with the arm-chairs from the wreck of your old home, and Dick singing in his cage over the sewing-machine. Dear, shrill, maddening Dick, who, we flattered ourselves, was so passionately fond of us. Do tell me in your next that he is well.

“My friend Lotta and her brother never came back after all. They went from Pisa to Rome. Happy mortals! And they are to be on the Italian lakes in May; which lake was not decided when Lotta last wrote to me. She has been a charming correspondent, and has confided all her little flirtations to me. We are all to go to Bellaggio next week—by Genoa and Milan. Isn’t that lovely? Lady Ducayne travels by the easiest stages — except when she is bottled up in the train de luxe. We shall stop two days at Genoa and one at Milan. What a bore I shall be to you with my talk about Italy when I come home.

“Love and love—and ever more love from your adoring, Bella.”

IV.

Herbert Stafford and his sister had often talked of the pretty English girl with her fresh complexion, which made such a pleasant touch of rosy colour among all those sallow faces at the Grand Hotel. The young doctor thought of her with a compassionate tenderness—her utter loneliness in that great hotel where there were so many people, her bondage to that old, old woman, where everybody else was free to think of nothing but enjoying life. It was a hard fate; and the poor child was evidently devoted to her mother, and felt the pain of separation— “only two of them, and very poor, and all the world to each other,” he thought.

Lotta told him one morning that they were to meet again at Bellaggio. “The old thing and her court are to be there before we are,” she said. “I shall be charmed to have Bella again. She is so bright and gay—in spite of an occasional touch of home-sickness. I never took to a girl on a short acquaintance as I did to her.”

“I like her best when she is home-sick,” said Herbert; ” for then I am sure she has a heart.”

“What have you to do with hearts, except for dissection? Don’t forget that Bella is an absolute pauper. She told me in confidence that her mother makes mantles for a Westend shop. You can hardly have a lower depth than that.”

“I shouldn’t think any less of her if her mother made match-boxes.”

“Not in the abstract — of course not. Match-boxes are honest labour. But you couldn’t marry a girl whose mother makes mantles.”

“We haven’t come to the consideration of that question yet,” answered Herbert, who liked to provoke his sister.

In two years’ hospital practice he had seen too much of the grim realities of life to retain any prejudices about rank. Cancer, phthisis, gangrene, leave a man with little respect for the outward differences which vary the husk of humanity. The kernel is always the same—fearfully and wonderfully made—a subject for pity and terror.

Mr. Stafford and his sister arrived at Bellaggio in a fair May evening. The sun was going down as the steamer approached the pier; and all that glory of purple bloom which curtains every wall at this season of the year flushed and deepened in the glowing light. A group of ladies were standing on the pier watching the arrivals, and among them Herbert saw a pale face that startled him out of his wonted composure.

“There she is,” murmured Lotta, at his elbow, “but how dreadfully changed. She looks a wreck.”

They were shaking hands with her a few minutes later, and a flush had lighted up her poor pinched face in the pleasure of meeting.

“I thought you might come this evening,” she said. “We have been here a week.”

She did not add that she had been there every evening to watch the boat in, and a good many times during the day. The Grand Bretagne was close by, and it had been easy for her to creep to the pier when the boat bell rang. She felt a joy in meeting these people again: a sense of being with friends: a confidence which Lady Ducayne’s goodness had never inspired in her.

“Oh, you poor darling, how awfully ill you must have been,” exclaimed Lotta, as the two girls embraced.

Bella tried to answer, but her voice was choked with tears.

“What has been the matter, dear? That horrid influenza, I suppose?”

“No. no, I have not been ill—I have only felt a little weaker than I used to be. I don’t think the air of Cap Ferrino quite agreed with me.”

“It must have disagreed with you abominably. I never saw such a change in anyone. Do let Herbert doctor you. He is fully qualified, you know. He prescribed for ever so many influenza patients at the Londres. They were glad to get advice from an English doctor in a friendly way.”

“I am sure he must be very clever!” faltered Bella, “but there is really nothing the matter. I am not ill, and if I were ill, Lady Ducayne’s physician–”

“That dreadful man with the yellow face? I would as soon one of the Borgias prescribed for me. I hope you haven’t been taking any of his medicines.”

“No, dear, I have taken nothing. I have never complained of being ill.”

This was said while they were all three walking to the hotel. The Staffords’ rooms had been secured in advance, pretty ground-floor rooms, opening into the garden. Lady Ducayne’s statelier apartments were on the floor above.

“I believe these rooms are just under ours,” said Bella.

“Then it will be all the easier for you to run down to us,” replied Lotta, which was not really the case, as the grand staircase was in the centre of the hotel.

“Oh, I shall find it easy enough,” said Bella. “I’m afraid you’ll have too much of my societv. Lady Ducayne sleeps away half the day in this warm weather, so I have a good deal of idle time; and I get awfully moped thinking of mother and home.”

Her voice broke upon the last word. She could not have thought of that poor lodging which went by the name of home more tenderly had it been the most beautiful that art and wealth ever created. She moped and pined in this lovely garden, with the sunlit lake and the romantic hills spreading out their beauty before her. She was home-sick and she had dreams : or, rather, an occasional recurrence of that one bad dream with all its strange sensations — it was more like a hallucination than dreaming—the whirring of wheels; the sinking into an abyss; the struggling back to consciousness. She had the dream shortly before she left Cap Ferrino, but not since she had come to Bellaggio, and she began to hope the air in this lake district suited her better, and that those strange sensations would never return.

Mr. Stafford wrote a prescription and had it made up at the chemist’s near the hotel. It was a powerful tonic, and after two bottles, and a row or two on the lake, and some rambling over the hills and in the meadows where the spring flowers made earth seem paradise, Bella’s spirits and looks improved as if by magic.

“It is a wonderful tonic,” she said, but perhaps in her heart of hearts she knew that the doctor’s kind voice, and the friendly hand that helped her in and out of the boat, and the watchful care that went with her by land and lake, had something to do with her cure.

“I hope you don’t forget that her mother makes mantles,” Lotta said, warningly.

“Or match-boxes: it is just the same thing, so far as I am concerned.”

“You mean that in no circumstances could you think of marrying her?”

“I mean that if ever I love a woman well enough to think of marrying her, riches or rank will count for nothing with me. But I fear—I fear your poor friend may not live to be any man’s wife.”

“Do you think her so very ill?”

He sighed, and left the question unanswered.

One day, while they were gathering wild hyacinths in an upland meadow, Bella told Mr. Stafford about her bad dream.

“It is curious only because it is hardly like a dream,” she said. “I daresay you could find some common-sense reason for it. The position of my head on my pillow, or the atmosphere, or something.”

And then she described her sensations; how in the midst of sleep there came a sudden sense of suffocation; and then those whirring wheels, so loud, so terrible; and then a blank, and then a coming back to waking consciousness.

“Have you ever had chloroform given you —by a dentist, for instance?”

“Never—Dr. Parravicini asked me that question one day.”

“Lately?”

“No, long ago, when we were in the train de luxe.”

“Has Dr. Parravicini prescribed for you since you began to feel weak and ill?”

“Oh, he has given me a tonic from time to time, but I hate medicine, and took very little of the stuff. And then I am not ill, only weaker than I used to be. I was ridiculously strong and well when I lived at Walworth, and used to take long walks every day. Mother made me take those tramps to Dulwich or Norwood, for fear I should suffer from too much sewing-machine; sometimes—but very seldom—she went with me. She was generally toiling at home while I was enjoying fresh air and exercise. And she was very careful about our food—that, however plain it was, it should be always nourishing and ample. I owe it to her care that I grew up such a great, strong creature.”

“You don’t look great or strong now, you poor dear,” said Lotta.

“I’m afraid Italy doesn’t agree with me.”

“Perhaps it is not Italy, but being cooped up with Lady Ducayne that has made you ill.”

“But I am never cooped up. Lady Ducayne is absurdly kind, and lets me roam about or sit in the balcony all day if I like. I have read more novels since I have been with her than in all the rest of my life.”

“Then she is very different from the average old lady, who is usually a slavedriver,” said Stafford. “I wonder why she carries a companion about with her if she has so little need of society.”

“Oh, I am only part of her state. She is inordinately rich—and the salary she gives me doesn’t count. Apropos of Dr. Parravicini, I know he is a clever doctor, for he cures my horrid mosquito bites.”

“A little ammonia would do that, in the early stage of the mischief. But there are no mosquitoes to trouble you now.”

“Oh, yes, there are; I had a bite just before we left Cap Ferrino.”

She pushed up her loose lawn sleeve, and exhibited a scar, which he scrutinized intently, with a surprised and puzzled look.

“This is no mosquito bite,” he said.

“Oh, yes it is — unless there are snakes or adders at Cap Ferrino.”

“It is not a bite at all. You are trifling with me. Miss Rolleston—you have allowed that wretched Italian quack to bleed you. They killed the greatest man in modern Europe that way, remember. How very foolish of you.”

“I was never bled in my life, Mr. Stafford.”

“Nonsense! Let me look at your other arm. Are there any more mosquito bites?”

“Yes; Dr. Parravicini says I have a bad skin for healing, and that the poison acts more virulently with me than with most people.”

Stafford examined both her arms in the broad sunlight, scars new and old.

“You have been very badly bitten, Miss Rolleston,” he said, “and if ever I find the mosquito I shall make him smart. But, now tell me, my dear girl, on your word of honour, tell me as you would tell a friend who is sincerely anxious for your health and happiness—as you would tell your mother if she were here to question you—have you no knowledge of any cause for these scars except mosquito bites—no suspicion even?”

“No, indeed! No, upon my honour! I have never seen a mosquito biting my arm. One never does see the horrid little fiends. But I have heard them trumpeting under the curtains, and I know that I have often had one of the pestilent wretches buzzing about me.”

Later in the day Bella and her friends were sitting at tea in the garden, while Lady Ducayne took her afternoon drive with her doctor.

“How long do you mean to stop with Lady Ducayne, Miss Rolleston?” Herbert Stafford asked, after a thoughtful silence, breaking suddenly upon the trivial talk of the two girls.

“As long as she will go on paying me twenty-five pounds a quarter.”

“Even if you feel your health breaking down in her service?”

“It is not the service that has injured my health. You can see that I have really nothing to do—to read aloud for an hour or so once or twice a week: to write a letter once in a way to a London tradesman. I shall never have such an easy time with anybody else. And nobody else would give me a hundred a year.”

“Then you mean to go on till you break down; to die at your post?”

“Like the other two companions? No! If ever I feel seriously ill—really ill—I shall put myself in a train and go back to Walworth without stopping.”

“What about the other two companions?”

“They both died. It was very unlucky for Lady Ducayne. That’s why she engaged me; she chose me because I was ruddy and robust. She must feel rather disgusted at my having grown white and weak. By-the-bye, when I told her about the good your tonic had done me, she said she would like to see you and have a little talk with you about her own case.”

“And I should like to see Lady Ducayne. When did she say this?”

“The day before yesterday.”

“Will you ask her if she will see me this evening?”

“With pleasure! I wonder what you will think of her? She looks rather terrible to a stranger; but Dr. Parravicini says she was once a famous beauty.”

It was nearly ten o’clock when Mr. Stafford was summoned by message from Lady Ducayne, whose courier came to conduct him to her ladyship’s salon. Bella was reading aloud when the visitor was admitted ; and he noticed the languor in the low, sweet tones, the evident effort.

“Shut up the book,” said the querulous old voice. “You are beginning to drawl like Miss Blandy.”

Stafford saw a small, bent figure crouching over the piled-up olive logs: a shrunken old figure in a gorgeous garment of black and crimson brocade, a skinny throat emerging from a mass of old Venetian lace, clasped with diamonds that flashed like fire-flies as the trembling old head turned towards him.

The eyes that looked at him out of the face were almost as bright as the diamonds —the only living feature in that narrow parchment mask. He had seen terrible faces in the hospital—faces on which disease had set dreadful marks—but he had never seen a face that impressed him so painfully as this withered countenance, with its indescribable horror of death outlived, a face that should have been hidden under a coffin-lid years and years ago.

The Italian physician was standing on the other side of the fireplace, smoking a cigarette, and looking down at the little old woman brooding over the hearth as if he were proud of her.

“Good evening, Mr. Stafford: you can go to your room, Bella, and write your everlasting letter to your mother at Walworth,” said Lady Ducayne. “I believe she writes a page about every wild flower she discovers in the woods and meadows. I don’t know what else she can find to write about,” she added, as Bella quietly withdrew to the pretty little bedroom opening out of Lady Ducayne’s spacious apartment. Here, as at Cap Ferrino, she slept in a room adjoining the old lady’s.

“You are a medical man, I understand, Mr. Stafford.”

“I am a qualified practitioner, but I have not begun to practise.”

“You have begun upon my companion, she tells me.”

“I have prescribed for her, certainly, and I am happy to find my prescription has done her good; but I look upon that improvement as temporary. Her case will require more drastic treatment.”

“Never mind her case. There is nothing the matter with the girl—absolutely nothing— except girlish nonsense; too much liberty and not enough work.”

“I understand that two of your ladyship’s previous companions died of the same disease,” said Stafford, looking first at Lady Ducayne, who gave her tremulous old head an impatient jerk, and then at Parravicini, whose yellow complexion had paled a little under Stafford’s scrutiny.

“Don’t bother me about my companions, sir,” said Lady Ducayne. “I sent for you to consult you about myself—not about a parcel of anaemic girls. You are young, and medicine is a progressive science, the newspapers tell me. Where have you studied?”

“In Edinburgh—and in Paris.”

“Two good schools. And you know all the new-fangled theories, the modern discoveries—that remind one of the mediaeval witchcraft, of Albertus Magnus, and George Ripley; you have studied hypnotism — electricity?”

“And the transfusion of blood,” said Stafford, very slowly, looking at Parravicini.

“Have you made any discovery that teaches you to prolong human life—any elixir—any mode of treatment? I want my life prolonged, young man. That man there has been my physician for thirty years. He does all he can to keep me alive—after his lights. He studies all the new theories of all the scientists—but he is old; he gets older every day—his brain-power is going—he is bigoted—prejudiced—can’t receive new ideas—can’t grapple with new systems. He will let me die if I am not on my guard against him.”

You are of an unbelievable ingratitude, Ecclenza,” said Parravicini.

“Oh, you needn’t complain. I have paid you thousands to keep me alive. Every year of my life has swollen your hoards; you know there is nothing to come to you when I am gone. My whole fortune is left to endow a home for indigent women of quality who have reached their ninetieth year. Come, Mr. Stafford, I am a rich woman. Give me a few years more in the sunshine, a few years more above ground, and I will give you the price of a fashionable London practice—I will set you up at the West-end.”

“How old are you, Lady Ducayne?”

“I was born the day Louis XVI. was guillotined.”

“Then I think you have had your share of the sunshine and the pleasures of the earth, and that you should spend your few remaining days in repenting your sins and trying to make atonement for the young lives that have been sacrificed to your love of life.”

“What do you mean by that, sir?”

“Oh, Lady Ducayne, need I put your wickedness and your physician’s still greater wickedness in plain words? The poor girl who is now in your employment has been reduced from robust health to a condition of absolute danger by Dr. Parravicini’s experimental surgery; and I have no doubt those other two young women who broke down in your service were treated by him in the same manner. I could take upon myself to demonstrate—by most convincing evidence, to a jury of medical men—that Dr. Parravicini has been bleeding Miss Rolleston, after putting her under chloroform, at intervals, ever since she has been in your service The deterioration in the girl’s health speaks for itself; the lancet marks upon the girl’s arms are unmistakable ; and her description of a series of sensations, which she calls a dream, points unmistakably to the administration of chloroform while she was sleeping. A practice so nefarious, so murderous, must, if exposed, result in a sentence only less severe than the punishment of murder.”

“I laugh,” said Parravicini, with an airy motion of his skinny fingers; “I laugh at once at your theories and at your threats. I, Parravicini Leopold, have no fear that the law can question anything I have done.”

“Take the girl away, and let me hear no more of her,” cried Lady Ducayne, in the thin, old voice, which so poorly matched the energy and fire of the wicked old brain that guided its utterances. “Let her go back to her mother—I want no more girls to die in my service. There are girls enough and to spare in the world, God knows.”

“If you ever engage another companion —or take another English girl into your service, Lady Ducayne, I will make all England ring with the story of your wickedness.”

“I want no more girls. I don’t believe in his experiments. They have been full of danger for me as well as for the girl–an air bubble, and I should be gone. I’ll have no more of his dangerous quackery. I’ll find some new man —a better man than you, sir, a discoverer like Pasteur, or Virchow, a genius—to keep me alive. Take your girl away, young man. Marry her if you like. I’ll write her a cheque for a thousand pounds, and let her go and live on beef and beer, and get strong and plump again. I’ll have no more such experiments. Do you hear, Parravicini?” she screamed, vindictively, the yellow, wrinkled face distorted with fury, the eyes glaring at him.

The Staffords carried Bella Rolleston off to Varese next day, she very loth to leave Lady Ducayne, whose liberal salary afforded such help for the dear mother. Herbert Stafford insisted, however, treating Bella as coolly as if he had been the family physician, and she had been given over wholly to his care.

“Do you suppose your mother would let you stop here to die ?” he asked. “If Mrs. Rolleston knew how ill you are, she would come post haste to fetch you.”

“I shall never be well again till I get back to Walworth,” answered Bella, who was low-spirited and inclined to tears this morning, a reaction after her good spirits of yesterday.

“We’ll try a week or two at Varese first,” said Stafford. “When you can walk half-way up Monte Generoso without palpitation of the heart, you shall go back to Walworth.”

“Poor mother, how glad she will be to see me, and how sorry that I’ve lost such a good place.”

This conversation took place on the boat when they were leaving Bellaggio. Lotta had gone to her friend’s room at seven o’clock that morning, long before Lady Ducayne’s withered eyelids had opened to the daylight, before even Francine, the French maid, was astir, and had helped to pack a Gladstone bag with essentials, and hustled Bella downstairs and out of doors before she could make any strenuous resistance.

“It’s all right,” Lotta assured her. “Herbert had a good talk with Lady Ducayne last night, and it was settled for you to leave this morning. She doesn’t like invalids, you see.”

“No,” sighed Bella, “she doesn’t like invalids. It was very unlucky that I should break down, just like Miss Tomson and Miss Blandy.”

“At any rate, you are not dead, like them,” answered Lotta, “and my brother says you are not going to die.”

It seemed rather a dreadful thing to be dismissed in that off-hand way, without a word of farewell from her employer.

“I wonder what Miss Torpinter will say when I go to her for another situation,” Bella speculated, ruefully, while she and her friends were breakfasting on board the steamer.

“Perhaps you may never want another situation,” said Stafford.

“You mean that I may never be well enough to be useful to anybody?”

“No, I don’t mean anything of the kind.”

It was after dinner at Varese, when Bella had been induced to take a whole glass of Chianti,and quite sparkled after that unaccustomed stimulant, that Mr. Stafford produced a letter from his pocket.

“I forgot to give you Lady Ducayne’s letter of adieu!” he said.

“What, did she write to me? I am so glad—I hated to leave her in such a cool way; for after all she was very kind to me, and if I didn’t like her it was only because she was too dreadfully old.”

She tore open the envelope. The letter was short and to the point:—

“Good-bye, child. Go and marry your doctor. I inclose a farewell gift for your trousseau.—Adeline Ducayne.”

“A hundred pounds, a whole year’s salary — no — why, it’s for a — ‘A cheque for a thousand!'” cried Bella. “What a generous old soul! She really is the dearest old thing.”

“She just missed being very dear to you, Bella,” said Stafford.

He had dropped into the use of her Christian name while they were on board the boat. It seemed natural now that she was to be in his charge till they all three went back to England.

“I shall take upon myself the privileges of an elder brother till we land at Dover,” he said; “after that —well, it must be as you please.”

The question of their future relations must have been satisfactorily settled before they crossed the Channel, for Bella’s next letter to her mother communicated three startling facts.

First, that the inclosed cheque for £1,000 was to be invested in debenture stock in Mrs. Rolleston’s name, and was to be her very own, income and principal, for the rest of her life.

Next, that Bella was going home to Walworth immediately.

And last, that she was going to be married to Mr. Herbert Stafford in the following autumn.

“And I am sure you will adore him, mother, as much as I do,” wrote Bella. “It is all good Lady Ducayne’s doing. I never could have married if I had not secured that little nest-egg for you. Herbert says we shall be able to add to it as the years go by, and that wherever we live there shall be always a room in our house for you. The word ‘mother-in-law ‘ has no terrors for him.”

“Good Lady Ducayne,” Miss Braddon, The Strand, 1896.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  What an eminently suitable vampiric tale for “World Goth Day.”  And a most satisfactory conclusion, particularly for the lady so heartlessly described as “that worst of widows, a wife whose husband had deserted her,” as if she were somehow responsible for the scoundrel-hood of her vanished spouse. We might also note the usefulness of those often-despised fancy-work skills, which meant that clever needlewoman Mrs Rolleston managed to eke out a crust for her little family, until the third-reel happy ending.

One wonders just how happy that ending will be with a heroine so vastly loquacious and oblivious as Bella. Let us hope that the soon-to-be Doctor Stafford proves himself a clever physician, saves the life of some wealthy old gentleman, who places him on a retainer and then leaves him a fortune in his will, rendering him independently wealthy.

As for “good” Lady Ducayne, perhaps she found a Swiss clinic providing plastic-surgeries and life-extending treatments or even cryonics. It is more likely she hired another companion under a false name and at premium rates from the odious Superior Person.

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.

The Indiscreet: 1884, 1897

CAUGHT IN THE ACT.

Two Ladles Discover How They Had Made Themselves Disagreeable.

Two ladies were standing on the doorstep of a house in Georgetown, where but a moment before they had rung the bell and were waiting to be admitted. One was talking along very intently, when the taller woman interrupted her. “Be careful,” she said, “somebody may hear you.”

“I’m very particular,” responded the other. “I looked all around before I said anything and there was nobody in sight.”

“That’s what I thought once, too, and I made a serious mistake. I was calling once, just as we now are, and was with a woman who could and did say the meanest things about people I ever heard talk. I’m not given to that kind of thing usually, but I do love a bit of gossip, and sometimes I am led into saying things I shouldn’t. On this occasion the lady we were to call on was not a favorite of mine, and when the other woman said something sarcastic I chimed right in and said I thought she was the silliest and most extravagant and homeliest and dowdiest and stupidest woman of my entire acquaintance, and that I only called from a sense of duty anyhow. And a few other things, like that, I said.

“Well, we were let in after a long wait and the reception we got was the chilliest I ever met with. I couldn’t understand it, for we were really on very good terms, as those things go, and we got out as soon as we could. That night I told my husband about it when he came home, and he wondered at it too. Next evening he came in smiling, and told me that the next time I had anything to say about my neighbors on their own doorsteps I had better first see if there were any speaking tubes to tell on me. That explained it all in a second. A doctor used to live in that same house and he had a speaking tube at the door, as physicians do. The lady we were calling on had never changed it, and as I found out afterward, the main thing, she used to sit close to the other end of that tube and listen to what people might be saying at the door.

“She didn’t make much by listening to me, and she didn’t dare to tell me that she knew what I thought of her, and I didn’t care if she did know, only since that time I have been more careful. There’s a tube up there, see?” and the tall lady pointed to an innocent looking mouthpiece pouting out of the door frame. However, there was no response to their ring, and as they met the lady coming in just as they started away they felt perfectly safe and had a nice call. Washington Star.

The Scranton [PA] Republican 16 October 1897: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The conversational contretemps was a perpetually popular theme for the humourist. Indiscretion is always good for a laugh, particularly when it comes at someone else’s expense.

Two young ladies were once singing a duet in a concert-room. A stranger, who had heard better performances, turned to his neighbor, saying, “Does not that lady in white sing wretchedly?”

“Excuse me, sir. I scarcely feel myself at liberty to express my sentiments; she is my sister.”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” answered he, in much confusion, “I mean the lady in blue.”

“You are perfectly right there,” replied the neighbor; “I have often told her so myself. She is my wife.”

The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser [Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England] 14 July 1855: p. 3

A young man on a train was making fun of a young lady’s hat to an elderly gentleman in the seat with him. “Yes,” said the seatmate, “that’s my wife, and I told her if she wore that bonnet some fool would make fun of it.”

Pittsburg [TX] Gazette 7 October 1892: p. 1

It was also axiomatic that much malicious gossip went on between neighbours over the fence.

Over the Fence.

Mrs. Slingonin put her head over the fence and thus addressed her neighbor, who was hanging out her week’s washing;

“A family has moved in the empty house across the way, Mrs. Clothesline.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Did you notice their furniture?”

“Not particularly.”

“Two loads, and I wouldn’t give a dollar a load for it. Carpets! I wouldn’t put them down in my kitchen, And the children! I won’t allow mine to associate with them. And the mother! She looks as though she had never known a day’s happiness. The father drinks, I expect, Too bad that such people should come into this neighborhood. I wonder who they are.”

“I know them.”

“Do you? Well, l declare. Who are they?”

“The mother is my sister, and the father is superintendent of the Methodist Sunday school.”

A painful pause ensues.

The St Johnsbury [VT[ Index 29 May 1884: 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.