Category Archives: etiquette

The Diabolical Teapot: 18th century

A story, so remarkable as to be scarcely worthy of credence had not the narrator been a lady of unimpeachable veracity, was related to your correspondent a few days ago. The lady, who is a member of an old, aristocratic family, told me the story in the following terms:

When the founder of the American branch of our family came over from England, he brought a large quantity of silverware, already very old. Among the various articles was a teapot of curious workmanship and shape. In fact, the old vessel may not have been a teapot, but it was called so. All of this silver was stolen during the Revolutionary War, the teapot included; but the morning after the theft, to the great surprise of the family, this particular piece was found in its accustomed place. No one could even surmise how it came there. Through all the changes of circumstances and residence that teapot has remained with us. I would only weary you were I to recite the numerous times it has been lost, stolen and even sold, and yet, through some mysterious intervention, it has always made its way back to the possession of the family. But the most wonderful thing in connection with this singular vessel is that never, since we possess any record of it, has it been put to its ostensible use. The first I knew of this was when I was a girl of 16. My mother was giving a large tea party and while she was arranging her table she placed upon it the teapot we ordinarily used.

“Mother,” I exclaimed, “why don’t you use that lovely old teapot which came from England?”

She answered, gravely: “Alice, you are old enough now to hear the story of that teapot and I will tell it to you, for the thing will eventually become yours. The history of the vessel no one knows, but it has been remarked by its possessors for generations that no one has ever been able to use it. Place it on the table and, watch it, as you will, it is invariably removed and returned to its case, by what or whom I cannot say.”

“Well, I’ll engage to find out,” I said, “if you’ll let me get it down.”
She gave her consent and I put the teapot on the table, taking my seat within reach of it. My mother went on with her work, passing in and out of the room, while I sat intently regarding the beautiful old piece of silver. About five minutes passed, when I received a violent blow on the cheek, which cause me to turn indignantly to see my assailant. There was no one in the room! Hurt and bewildered, I looked back at the table, but the teapot was gone. I ran to the closet, on the shelf on which the thing was kept, and there I saw it in its place. I called my mother and told her what had happened.

“You see,” she said. “It does not intend to be used.”

After some years the teapot became my property, but I had such a horror of the diabolical thing that I kept it under lock and key for some time. At last one of my neighbors sent to borrow a teapot of me on the occasion of a high tea. Thinking to find out whether it peculiarities were only exercised for the family’s benefit or not, I sent her my strange heirloom. In an hour or two my friend came running in.

“My dear friend,” she cried, “have you heard anything of your teapot? I fear it has been stolen. I had filled it and left it on the table, when I left the room for a moment. On my return I found the tea spilt and running from the cloth and the pot gone.”

We went to my closet together, and though the door had been locked and the key in my pocket, there sat the teapot in its place. There was nothing for it but to make a clean breast of it to her, but I could see that she was incredulous and very much offended. I resolved now to have the thing melted down, but the fact of its being an heirloom caused me to reconsider my resolution. My husband, too, persuaded me to try and solve the mystery before destroying so remarkable an object. Overcoming the horror, and even terror, with which I regarded the thing, I brought it out one evening and my husband and I saw down to watch it. As we fixed our eyes on it we saw distinctly a delicate feminine hand close its shadowy fingers bout the handle and carry the teapot through the air to the closet. Once at rest on the shelf the hand relinquished its hold and vanished, and we brought he teapot back to the table, resuming our watch. Again the phantom hand seized the handle, but Mr. ___ caught the spout and clung to it. Then ensued a struggled between my husband and the invisible power that sought to remove the teapot form the room. For several moments, during which, my husband says, he seemed turning slowly to ice, the struggle went on, when suddenly the uncanny thing was snatched from the living hand that held it, and, to our surprise, replaced on the table. We ran to it and saw a clear, colorless liquid gradually rise from some invisible spring and fill the teapot. We bent our heads over it and saw, instead of the bottom, a spacious room, that is, we seemed to be looking as through a window into such an apartment. There were three persons in the room, a man and two women.

My knowledge of bygone fashions was not sufficient for me to accurately determine the nationality and period of their dress, but from what I did know I judged it belonged to England, of perhaps the middle of the Eighteenth Century. Both women were beautiful, one in a dark, vivacious style, the other in a blonde English way. The man seemed to divide equally between the two his attentions, which were courtly and what would now seem exaggerated and affected. The fair woman went to a table and took up my teapot! She poured out a cup of some liquid (whether it was tea or not I can not tell), and handed it to the dark woman, who, in turn, presented it to the man. He appeared to protest, but finally drank it. The fair woman made a gesture as if to prevent it, but it was too late. She again filled the cup and gave it to the other woman, who drank it. As she did so, the man fell to the floor, evidently dying, the dark woman falling also on her knees beside him. Se arose soon and turning to the murderess cursed her (I judged so by her silent gesture and the teapot to which she pointed). This done she fell beside the man, and the next moment the liquid turned blood red, while a low, long drawn moan and a ringing, cruel laugh of triumphant scorn were heard in the room. The lights burned blue and flickered so low that we could scarcely see the face of the other. A chill wind swept over us, and after it everything resumed its usual aspect, but the teapot once more empty and quite dry, sat in its accustomed place on the closet shelf. We sent it next day to have it melted down, but it wasn’t forty-eight hours before my horror was back again. Yes, if you call, I’ll show it to you, for I have given up. I know I’m saddled with it for life. Houston (Tex.) Correspondence Globe-Democrat.

The Brooklyn [NY] Daily Eagle 21 April 1889: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is delightful to find a shiversome tale for Hallowe’en told by a lady both of unimpeachable veracity and an old, aristocratic family.  That person of peachable veracity over at Haunted Ohio, who reads altogether too much 19th-century ghost literature, tells us that if a story is introduced by a narrator Whose Veracity Cannot Be Questioned, it is axiomatic that we are about to be treated to a gripping, but suspect tale.

Be that as it may, it seems a trifle odd that an innocent teapot should bear the brunt of a long-standing curse, and that the curse should consist merely of always returning to a locked cupboard with the other silver. Mrs Daffodil does not think much of it. A proper curse would have wiped out the descendants of the murderess within a generation.

 

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

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

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The Ball Dress: 1890

THE BALL DRESS

Mary Kyle Dallas

“You are invited to the regiment ball, my dear,” said Mrs. Ackland as her daughter entered the room, her dripping waterproof and umbrella giving evidence of a sturdy battle with the storm that could be plainly heard even through closed shutters and dropped curtains on that upper floor. “The most polite letter from Col. B__, and knowing that I forsook society long ago, Mrs. Col. B__ will take you with her own girls; it is really charming of her. Here is the ticket.”

The elderly lady’s frail fingers drew two elegant squares of pink and gold pasteboard from an envelope as she spoke. But the girl, having hung the waterproof in an adjacent kitchen and perched her umbrella where it could drip harmlessly into the stationary tubs of said kitchen, did not even pick them up.

“It would be better to publish the fact that I have retired from society also, mamma,” she said, a little sadly.

“You!” cried her mother. “At 20, Effie?”

“It comes to that when one has one black frock,” said Effie,” and that patched at both elbows.”

“You could go in white,” said her mother, “you look very girlish. Gentlemen admire white, or used to. White and a few flowers and no jewelry—no one could find fault with that style. The greatest heiress in Boston when I was a girl was known for her simplicity—always white.”

“I fancy I should be if I went in a sheet and pillow case costume,” said Effie. “Really, that would be the only white one I could manage. That poor old white dress that still exists in your memory is short in the waist, shorter in the skirt, won’t meet in the belt, and has a sleeve that would not go over my wrist. I’ve grown a great deal in five years, mamma.”

“Is it five years since you went to your cousin Jennie’s wedding in it?” cried Mrs. Ackland. “Dear, dear, how time flies. Couldn’t you make over one of my old silks?”

“I should be a laughing stock, mamma” said Effie. “Well, I can live without going to the ball, though I should enjoy it very much.”

“The daughter of Capt. Ackland ought to have opportunities,” said the widow. “How are you to marry if you never meet any one I cannot think. A pretty girl like you was never meant to be a spinster and work for her bread.”

“Things point in that direction now,” said the girl. “Typewriting is not a lively amusement, and I am as likely to marry as I am to go to China. Don’t sigh so bitterly, mamma. It would only make you lonelier if I went to the ball, and I should be up late and make mistakes next day—lose my place, perhaps. I’ll write a very polite regret when I get some fine note paper. Now, let us have tea.”

“The little brown teapot, the two blue cups and plates to match, were soon on the table. Effie Ackland had a way of making excellent little dishes out of next to nothing—it was very convenient under the circumstances—and though the girl pined for something besides the daily routine of typewriting and evenings spent in listening to her mother’s reminiscences of former grandeur—for Mrs. Ackland had been a belle and a beauty and an expectant heiress when she married the dashing young captain—it was the mother who bemoaned herself.

At last, tea being over, it was discovered that the storm had passed, and that moon and stars were shining, and Effie declared that she would run down to the little stationer’s and get some note paper of the proper sort on which to reply to the kind invitation and offer of the colonel and his lady.

It was a quiet neighborhood and very late, and Effie wrapped herself in a thick cloak and tied a little blue hood over her head and ran lightly down stairs and down the street toward the stationer’s shop. However, when she reached its door she found it closed. The old woman who kept it had expected no customers, and had retired early. Effie knew of another shop of the same sort a few blocks further on which was always open late, and turned her steps that way—at least she intended to do so. But there are still portions of New York city where it is very easy to lose one’s self, and besides Effie was not an old resident of that part of the town. Somehow she missed the right corner, crossed the street at the wrong angle, and shortly discovered that she was lost.

It was a gloomy and unpleasant street in which she found herself, and the girl was somewhat frightened. However, she decided that the best thing she could do was to keep on walking until she came to a decent shop or met a policeman of whom she could ask the way. She acted on this resolution with her usual promptitude, but for a long while she went on seeing nothing but liquor or cigar shops and meeting not a solitary guardian of the peace and came at last to an old building with a blank wall in the center of which an arched gate stood open.

Just as she stood opposite this gate two drunken men came howling down the street, and in terror of them she stepped beneath the arch. They passed without seeing her, but before she dared to venture out a light shone in her face, and turning she saw a figure in black, with red shoes, a red cap, horns, hoofs, a long tail, which he carried over his arm, and in his hand a great paper parcel—in fact, Satan as we see him portrayed in ancient pictures, acting for the nonce as messenger boy.

Startled beyond expression, Effie was about to fly, when the demon spoke.

“Well, mamselle, I’ve been waiting for you a long while,” was his characteristic remark. “I came so far to save time. Won’t you get a roasting!”

Then he tossed the parcel into her arms, turned and fled.

Effie fled also. What the demon had given her she did not know, but she quite mechanically clutched it as she flew along the lonely street, and by mere accident took the right direction and found herself at the corner of an avenue she knew. She arrived at her own door just in time—at least so her mother declared—to save that lady from going out of her mind with terror. She had no paper, but she had the parcel which the demonic personage had crammed into her hands to prove that she had not merely imagined the meeting with him, and now she unfastened the many pins that held it, unfolded the paper and sundry muslin wrappings within, and behold—a dress—the loveliest ball costume of golden satin and black lace that could be imagined.

The demon had presented her with a dress in which to attend the ball.

“What does it mean?” she ejaculated. “Really I feel as if I was out of my mind!”

“It must be providential,” said the mother. “Try it on, my dear.”

Effie obeyed. The costume fitted her perfectly.

“You look like an angel,” said the mother.

“But the demon said I should have a good roasting,” said Effie.

“It was only a man in some queer dress,” said the mother.

“Of course,” said Effie, “at least, I suppose so.”

“And now you can go to the ball,” said the mother.

“Shall I dare? Will I not find my costume vanishing, like poor Cinderella’s in the midst of my dance with whatever stands for the young prince at the officers’ ball of the regiment? I doubt if it will be here in the morning; besides I ought to advertise it, ‘If the fiend who presented a young lady with a black lace ball dress in a dark alley on the night of the __th will kindly call,’ or something of the sort.

“Oh, we will look into the papers, of course,” said the mother. “But I don’t believe we will find anything—fate intends you to go to the ball.”

So it seemed indeed.

Effie went to the ball and her dress was pronounced charming. In passing I will mention to the reader that it was there that she met the gentleman who afterward became her husband, and that much happened and all good fortune came to her through the demon’s gift of the ball dress.

No one ever advertised for the dress, and it hung in Effie’s wardrobe until her wedding day. She never wore it again, and never expected to solve the mystery that surrounded it.

Effie had married a rich man and lived in very elegant style, and a man servant was one of the necessaries of the household. Mrs. Ackland, who lived with her daughter, suggested a Frenchman, and having advertised for such a person a candidate presented himself. He had but one reference, but that was a good one.

“I will tell you the reason I have no more, madam,” said he. “I have had my ambitions—desired to go upon the state. I even obtained a position—I played a demon in the last act of a great spectacle at the __ theatre. There were seventy-five demons—it was glorious. But alas I got into difficulties there through my good nature. The renowned Senora V__ had been playing at the theatre, and left behind her a lace dress. She telegraphed that she would send her maid for it, as she was to wear it that night. Every moment was precious, and the old lady who had charge of me had sprained her ankle. ‘My friend,’ she said to me, ‘if you would but go down the long stairs and to the end of the passage and wait with the parcel until Mlle. Fanchon, the senora’s maid, comes for the dress, you will save us all much trouble—you will not be wanted for an hour.’

“I obliged her, of course. I even went into the damp alley of the back entrance and waited there. I was kept a tremendous time, and when at last a young woman rushed in I gave her the parcel like an idiot—without asking who she was. I gave it to the wrong woman. Fifteen minutes after the real maid arrived. Oh, there was a row! All I was worth would not have paid for the dress. But I was dismissed at once. I deserved it. It was the act of an idiot. How well do I remember what I said to her—“you’ll get a roasting, mamselle.’ Well, it was I who got the roasting. At first they accused me of stealing the dress, but–”

“I am sure you tell the truth,” said Effie, and engaged the man at once.

That day Senora V__ was astonished by receiving a box which contained the long-lost dress uninjured.

A letter which was enclosed told the story in full, but without giving any names, and Camille—the new waiter—never guessed that the liberal gift he received at Christmas time was offered, not to the accomplished waiter, but to the demon who had brought about so much happiness by his gift of a ball dress.

Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield, IL] 7 November 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although it was most thoughtful of Mrs. Col. B___ to offer to chaperone, it was, of course, highly improper for a young, unmarried lady to wear a ball gown of gold satin and black lace, rather than something pale and virginal. Perhaps we may excuse the contretemps with a ruling  that black lace might, construed under the most liberal interpretation and in emergency circumstances, be called “second mourning.”

 

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

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

The Grand Duchess’s Trousseau: 1874

 

silver Russian court dress

A silver-embroidered Russian court dress similar to that described below. Late 19th-early 20th century. http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/portal/hermitage/digital-collection/08.+applied+arts/1263439

A correspondent of the London Times thus describes the trousseau of the bride of the Duke of Edinburgh:— “Piloted through a succession of the never-ending saloons of the Winter Palace, we came at last to the antechamber to the Salle Blanche. In this very large room, broad, low tables were ranged, spread with the wonders of the wardrobe of the imperial bride. Who shall describe them, and where shall one begin? Here is a table spread with dozens and dozens of pairs of the most dainty shoes in the world— from long white satin boots, slashed up the front, to small slippers, smart with bows and buckles. A pair of these last was ornamented with a pretty sort of gold work on silk, the peculiar manufacture of one Russian town. Trays of pocket-handkerchiefs, edged inches deep with beautiful lace, and worked with the imperial monogram; piles of petticoats, awfully and wonderfully tucked, and plaited, and embroidered; exquisitely worked linen of marvellous woof, and cambric as fine as floating cobwebs, lay in orderly heaps on every side. Blankets were even there, and some embroidered furniture for bed and table looked rare enough to be put under a glass case, and far too fine and fragile to be ever ‘sent to the wash.’ If one could have brought away the patterns of a row of fascinating little caps hung on stands, how acceptable they would have been to ladies who love to perch these taking shreds of lace and ribbon on the tops of their heads! Gloves are gloves all the world over, at least to look at; but in hosiery there is some room for art and luxury. It seemed impious to look upon shining and delicately tinted silk stockings, marked with the initial letter of the most beautiful names in the world under an imperial crown, and one passed on to expend admiration and wonder on an endless array of lace at one thousand roubles an archine**, and ribbons, quilted white satin baskets, and other mysteries. But the next room, the great Salle Blanche, from the ceiling of which depend immense chandeliers of glittering glass, contained the real glories of the trousseau. Here were the dresses and the bonnets, and the cloaks and the furs. Fifty morning dresses of silk, and satin, and velvet, hung on stands, and their rich tints side by side were a rare study of color. Some of the dresses are rather heavy and old looking, with all their splendor, for a young girl. The gold and silver embroidered white and blue velvet, gowns, with long trains for court, are goodly to look upon, though they must be weighty to wear. The dress of blue velvet embroidered with gold braid is a sort of feminine uniform de rigueur in the Winter Palace for the imperial family on great occasions. The wedding dress was, of course, the centre of interest, and was of white satin, with pointed hanging sleeves, and covered with silver embroidery. It has a long train, and is a glorified specimen of the Russian national marriage costume. Dressing-gowns of every description, from the bona fide robe to be put on on getting out of bed, to that which is merely a costly gown in disguise, were there, and many more devices of feminine ornament than I can remember. For comfort out of doors there, and many more devices of feminine ornament than I can remember. For comfort out of doors there were tippets, and jackets, and cloaks of precious fur, and one sable cloak in particular worth its weight in gold, and perhaps much more. A cloak of white Astrakan, many Cashmere shawls, and dainty opera cloaks,

“’Worthy to be furl’d

About the loveliest shoulders in the world,’

littered the tables luxuriously.  As though the milliners had exerted their skill till ‘the force of fancy could not further go,’ there was not only a whole regiment of dresses in esse , but a large number in posse, in the shape of a row of rolls of silk and velvet. Even as it is, I have not mentioned then bonnets, a whole bevy of which were becomingly arranged on a table to themselves; nor must we tear ourselves away without glancing at the portentous row of great purple Russia leather travelling trunks, suggestive of immense payments for extra luggage.”

Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1874

**To be Relentlessly Informative, the lace was measured by “archines,” a unit of length formerly used in Russia, equal to about 71 centimeters.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: As this is the wedding day of Her Royal Highness Princess Eugenie of York, Mrs Daffodil thought a description of a royal bride’s trousseau would interest and intrigue. One doubts that Princess Eugenie’s wedding outfit is quite so extensive as the one displayed in the Salle Blanche— young people these days often espouse a misguided minimalism—although one is certain that she will receive some nice jewels. Mrs Daffodil joins with the entire Empire in wishing the young couple joy.

The bride with the sumptuous trousseau was Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, who, in 1874, wed Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s second son, in spite of opposition from the Queen, the Tsar and Tsarina. The Grand Duchess was Tsar Alexander II’s only surviving daughter and his cossetted, favourite child, which may have influenced the lavishness of her bridal outfit. He also gave her a dowry of £100,000 plus an annual allowance of £32,000 and a staggering selection of Romanov jewels. He fitted out a luxurious honeymoon suite at the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo for the couple, hoping they would decide to make Russia their home, since he was devastated to be parted from his daughter.

The opulence of her trousseau did not reconcile the Duchess to living in England; she disliked the climate and was outraged by having to yield precedence to the Princess of Wales. She was happier when her husband inherited the duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and they lived in Germany, away from Queen Victoria’s influence. However, despite its romantic beginnings, the marriage could not be said to have been a success: the Duke was overly fond of alcohol, tobacco, and mistresses—not necessarily in that order. He died in 1900 of throat cancer. The Dowager Duchess lived until 1920, losing her fortune and many family members in the Russian Revolution. One of her daughters remarked that she hoped that her mother would not be disappointed in God when she met the Deity in the Afterlife; so many people and things had disappointed her in life. One could not say that her trousseau was one of them.

 

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 Monkey at the Masquerade: 1908

Worked Out All Right.

One of the clerks of a well-known City merchant recently received an invitation to a masked ball at his employer’s, and was the envy of his comrades. Resolved to do all he could to make the occasion a success, he spent a good deal of time in devising and making his masquerade costume, which, after long deliberation, he resolved should be that of a monkey. Then he spent a week learning a number of tricks —grinning, clambering on the chimney-piece, springing on to the table, and balancing himself on the back of a chair.

The evening came. He rang the bell, gave his overcoat into the servant’s arms, and, with a grin and chatter, turned a somersault under the chandelier. The gentlemen stood stupefied, the ladies screamed. His mask prevented him from seeing much, but the noise encouraged him to bound over a sofa and throw down a cabinet of old china. At this moment a hand seized him, tore off his mask, and the voice of his employer asked him what he meant by his idiotic conduct. Before he could explain he was hustled out of the house, learning by one glimpse that the rest of the company were in evening dress.

The next day he was sent for, and entered the office with trembling knees.

“I had the pleasure of a visit from you last evening,” said the gentleman.

“Yes. sir; that is—I—”

“No excuses,” said the other; “no excuses. I have doubled your salary. I noticed that you were overlooked for promotion last year. Good morning. Shut the door after you.”

“Well, I’ll be blessed!” said the clerk, going out. His employer had made an early investigation into the matter, and found that the other clerks had “put up a job” on the young man by sending him a bogus invitation. The employer made things even by promoting him over their heads.

Otago Witness 7 October 1908: p. 88

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In the newspapers and women’s magazines, invitations to masked balls issued to young clerks by their employers almost always end happily, as we have seen previously in the story of The Four Red Devils.

Mrs Daffodil does not think that this is a common occurrence in Real Life. She is puzzled by the extraordinary forbearance of the employer in not summoning the police or a lunacy commission, but perhaps the gentleman knew that the cabinet of old china was insured for far more than he had paid for his aesthetic-minded wife’s tiresome collection.

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 Rival Undertakers: 1900

undertaker benjamin lopez and hearse key west 1900

Undertaker Benjamin Lopez and hearse, c. 1900 https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/36152

THE RIVAL UNDERTAKERS.

In the doorway of his office stood old Job Graves. A funeral procession passed. It was a funeral of Job’s; not “Job’s funeral,” mark you, but A funeral of Job’s;” one of many which had fallen to his charge; for Job was an undertaker. Over the doorway was his weather-beaten sign, in dingy white paint; on the large front window was inscribed “Coffin Warerooms;” and within the window lay a funeral wreath of wax flowers, a silver coffin-plate, and a little white coffin, — Hope and Despair in one pathetic group.

Job stood in the doorway, and his thin body scarcely filled his threadbare coat. He leaned against the door-post, absently took off his rusty silk hat, and slowly wiped, first, his thin white face, and then his bald shiny head, with his red handkerchief. The face was worn, bleak, with tufts of white beard scattered among the hollows and under the shrunken jaw, like patches of snow among the hollows of a wind-swept wintry hillside.

stereoview hearse

Job’s gaze rested upon the old hearse,— his hearse, and the black horses, — his horses, and the black-garbed driver, — his assistant; the whole equipment, so to speak, the work of his hands; it seemed good in his sight; and a feeble sense of joy in its ownership struggled faintly with the habitual melancholy of the undertaker’s heart.

A slight elevation of the hearse-driver’s eyebrows asked of Job,  “Is all as it should be?” And the master’s answering nod returned approval. Then Job’s thin frame straightened a little, his right hand paused with red handkerchief in air, and a slight frown gathered on his pale face; for he beheld, across the street, through the gaps in the passing carriages, two other men standing in a doorway. They also were viewing the procession, and critically; over that doorway was the sign, in bright gold letters, “Daver, Funeral Director;” on the half drawn olive shade of the broad window was the same legend, adorned with many scrolls and flutings. Within the window rested a large silver plate, reading, in delicate script, “C. A. Daver & Co., Funeral Directors.” Nothing more; no suggestive signs of the craft, no symbols of mortality. Rather a scrupulous simplicity; almost an admonitory simplicity; as one should say, “Look over there, at those barbaric emblems of woe, and then behold the refined taste, the chaste quality, of this ‘establishment.'”

That is what Daver & Co. maintained, an “Establishment;” old Job Graves was only a plain “Undertaker,” and had “Coffin Warerooms;” Daver and Co. were “Funeral Directors,” and maintained an “Establishment for Funeral Furnishings.”

There stood Daver, himself, in the doorway, with his assistant beside him. A short stout man he was, with round ruddy face, thin grayish hair and beard, his red good-natured face beaming through the hairy haze like the sun’s disk through a dissolving fog.

Daver’s glance always rested lightly, soothingly on all objects; yet few interesting things escaped his notice; his critical eye now passed over the procession, and over Job Graves; and he said, in a low tone, with a skillful suppression of facial muscles acquired by long experience, and amounting almost to ventriloquism, “That hearse, Jim! What an ark!”

Then the assistant, sharply, “It ought to be burned. I wouldn’t be seen in it for all I’m worth.” As he spoke thus enigmatically, he winked in a facetious way at the driver of the hearse, and the greeting was reciprocated; evidently there were underground sympathies existent, between the two, while outer rivalries were maintained.

“Strange,” continued Daver, reflectively, “how little self-respect and pride people have about such things. It’s hard to elevate the popular taste. Ten years we’ve tried it, here; not much improvement.” Then he yawned, and returned a politic salute to the one timidly offered by a driver on the third carriage. The man had driven for him scores of times, and often for Job Graves, his rival. Daver’s disapproval was limited to the hearse; not an intense antagonism, but a pained disapproval. Daver never antagonized anybody, took the world’s blows on a slanting buckler; but he was very clear as to which prizes he sought.

funeral procession with hearse 1870

His answering salute to the driver could hardly have been sworn to, as such, in a court of law; a slight corrugation of the forehead, passing down into a brief closing of the eyes, and ending in an almost imperceptible sinking of the chin, and it was done, and no outsider the wiser. Then Daver yawned again, and retired, with his assistant, into the office; and Job Graves, with the slightest possible sigh of relief, put on his rusty hat, adjusted the striped cotton neckerchief around his old-fashioned high stock, climbed stiffly into his old chaise at the curbstone, and took up his position at the rear of the procession.

That was Job’s custom, to ride alone, at the end of the line. He had maintained this custom through the funerals of forty years; having inherited it with other customs from his father, undertaker before him. Whereas Daver, with his other “progressive” ideas, had introduced the custom of leading the line; which he did, very grandly, in a luxurious coupe, with gold lettering. This innovation was accomplished gradually, discreetly. The first year the new “Funeral Director” moved up behind the clergyman’s carriage; the next year he pushed up past the clergyman, and followed the hearse; the third year he pushed past the hearse, and led the line, in a very impressive way. This position he had ever since maintained, despite the concerted attempt, in the fourth year, of seven clergymen — one a Doctor of Divinity — to retire him.

It was the ages-long struggle between the New and the Old, this rivalry across the street. Elsewhere it is “hand-work versus steam,” or “Puritan against Cavalier,” or “stratified rock at war with the leaf of a book;” here it was caskets against coffins,” with all that these implied. Always, however, the iron rule is — with occasional exceptions — New conquers, modified by Old. So it was here; and Job saw the evil day afar off — as many a conservative sees it — but held, with might, and largely with conscience, to the old methods, to the accustomed ways.

Job knew nothing of “caskets;” he made “coffins;” made them in that back-shop; his father had made them there, and was buried in one of his own fashioning. So would Job be buried. “Am I better than my fathers?” Many a time, as a child, Job had taken his afternoon nap in a coffin in the back-shop, and nobody harmed, no human life the shorter for it. Years afterward, when his wife died, Job knew that life’s noon had passed. After that day the cemetery seemed different to him; seemed more personally related to him; even attractive. He understood now why people lingered there, after a burial, and resorted there at other times. He bought an iron settee and placed it on his lot, close by his wife’s grave; he might feel like using it.

Then the two boys went; one to lie beside his mother; a boy of ten; diphtheria; Job had a “case” of it, and might have slighted his dread duties; but Job never shirked his “work;” and the boy at home died. The other, a wild lad of eighteen, wandered into the “far country,” to be swallowed up in distance and degradation, and perhaps despair. Then Job selected cedar, and made his own coffin; twilight was about him; darkness would follow; then the coffin would be needed; coffins and darkness come together; best to have all things ready; Job was a “fore-handed” man, the people said.

The two undertakers differed widely, in many ways. They met death weekly, daily; but they met it differently. In Daver’s bluff abounding presence, death seemed minimized–he reduced it to an incident; but mourners found it loom crushingly, after his departure. Whereas Job knew it as a visitation, and his presence counselled patience, submission.

Therefore people who desired “cheerful funerals” — those chimeras — sought Daver’s tactful offices; but sensitive people and those whose fathers and mothers had been buried by Job’s father, turned to Job’s father’s son, in their hour of need, and their hearts’ wounds were touched most gently.

As Job and Daver differed in their attitudes toward the dead, so also they differed in their relations with the living. When coarse careless people made stupid jests about death and the duties of his vocation, Job listened in silence and passed on in pity. Stupidity is piteous. But Daver always laughed louder than the jester, — and hated him in his heart, and grimly wondered when he might be privileged to look at him through a casket-lid.

fancy coffin 1893

Elaborately-trimmed casket, 1893

Daver & Co., Funeral Directors, knew nothing of coffins. They had, however, “A choice line of caskets.” “This way, please,” with bows and smiles, and eager hands rubbed over each other; and you followed master or assistant into the mysterious rear-room, and you chose from “A fine stock, sir! A high grade, madame!” Occasionally, after careful scrutiny of the buyer, and skillful measuring of the degree of his grief, it was — “Extra quality, sir! Anybody using one of these never will use any other as long as he lives.” But that facetious sentence was venturesome; it was forbidden to the assistant, and was rarely indulged in by Daver himself. The main object was that some selection should be made, from the “caskets in plain black, brown, magenta or white;” or from “caskets in plush, black, brown, magenta or white.”

Daver & Co. sold many, of both kinds. Job likewise sold many, of the one simple unvarying pattern which he had learned to make, taught by his father. Before Daver & Co. appeared, Job, by working hard, met the entire demand; after the “Funeral Director’s” coming, trade fell off. Then Job Graves waited patiently; “This is not a business that you can push,” he said. But in a year or two custom increased, up to the old amount, and Job was fairly busy; his products were soon taken; “Supply creates demand;” (an economic law, we are told; — of almost suicidal application, here).

The two undertakers differed widely, in their conduct of funeral services. Job did as his father had done; not because that way was best, but because it was his father’s way. This rule of conduct became more absolute with him each year. Now that wife and sons were gone, he had no future; he had “the imagination of regret, having lost the imagination of hope.” The star of success, before him beckoned no longer; the star of experience, from behind, illumined his sad path. Job had given up the idealism of purpose for his sons; he lived by the idealism of example, from his father. Often he brooded anxiously about that absent lad, but his anxiety was not suspected by others; an undertaker is not supposed to have griefs of his own.

mr sowerberry undertaker

Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker in Oliver Twist J. Clayton Clarke (“Kyd”) c. 1900 Original watercolour Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/kyd/83.html

In the house of mourning Job came and went silently, unnoticed. At the funeral service he effaced himself, coming forward, at the close, with resolute step and squeaky boots, from some retreat, to state, in a plain sturdy sentence, “There will now be a chance for every one to look at the body.” After this old-fashioned invitation had been accepted, and the general farewell had been taken, the company separated, like a chemical solution, into liquids and solids; liquids, — casual friends, — flowing off homeward; solids, — mourning friends, — remaining. Then Job, reading laboriously through heavy gold-bowed spectacles, like a clerk casting up accounts, called, in a firm tone, the mourners, in fours, from the residuary group, in the order of their grief.

Here there were nice shades of distinction, as in arranging guests at a court-dinner; but Job was not only an undertaker of experience, he was an old resident; he knew all the circles within circles; knew not only how deep each person’s sorrow should be, but about how deep it really was. And he always spoke with such quiet confidence, that even if he sometimes gave a “second cousin on the maternal side” precedence over a “nephew on the paternal side,” he was so convincing, that a listener might sometimes forget his own identity, or even become a trifle confused regarding his own sex.

Daver & Co. discarded many of these “old-fashioned ideas.” They did away with the sombre bunch of crape on the door-bell; and placed there, instead, “floral emblems.” By these, skilfully graduated, were expressed more distinctions than the “seven ages” of Shakespeare. A cluster of white buds, or one of full-blown flowers, — white or yellow, or white and red mixed, — these, tied with ribbons, — white, violet or black, — could become a language of flowers so plain that he who ran might read; (though, of course, he would not run, in passing a house adorned with such a symbol). In addition to the flowers, a few brown autumn leaves were considered significant; or a wisp of brown grass was added; this last symbolized the “bearded grain” of the poet.

During the funeral service itself Daver & Co. were very much in evidence, either master or assistant; on important occasions, — great crises of the profession, so to speak, — both were present; very much so; active, cheerful, inspiring all with confidence. And whereas Job Graves humbly wore around his stock a kerchief with a little “color,” in deference to the “parson,” Daver & Co. boldly wore immaculate white ties; and, with their faultless black clothes, might be easily mistaken for clergymen; thus the service often took on the high quality of a solemn festival.

But Daver and his assistant were not clergymen; Daver had no foolish deference for “the cloth.” During a funeral service he tried, visibly, even conspicuously, to be patient with the readings and prayers; it was customary to have these; therefore he must acquiesce; and, always smiling, he utilized the time in scanning the faces of the people present, to detect signs of physical weakening, and, possibly, of mortal disease. Such people, — or, better, their near relatives, — he afterward spoke to with especial consideration.

After “the church” had been tolerated for a half-hour, the great moment arrived; the moment which — Daver knew — alone justified this coming together; and the skilful man’s heart beat high with pride as he stood by the casket and offered for inspection the unequalled quality of his “work,” a triumph of funereal art.

Sometimes a family was strangely unappreciative; gave orders to keep the casket closed. Then you should have seen the “Funeral Director.” Then, only, did his unvarying “immortelle” smile vanish. “Do I understand, my dear sir,” (in a measured, circumflex tone), “that the casket is to remain closed?”

“Yes.”

“Very good, sir! It shall so be, sir.” And no human ear, however keen, could detect that pity and scorn in his voice, which the Omniscient One knew was in his heart.

Thus Daver & Co., zealous, in season and out of season, grew and prospered. They had now become the “City Undertakers;” and their doings were often chronicled in the papers. “How did they become the City Undertakers?” Who knows? This is an age of wires; both “overhead” and “underground.” However, everybody now knew of their existence, — half the problem of financial success solved — and, in the haste of sudden affliction, recalled the name.

Then, too, there were the little gifts — bookmarks, paper-cutters, paper-weights — which many of the physicians found on their desks; Christmas presents, New Year’s Greetings, with “compliments of Daver & Co.”

“Capital fellow, Daver!” And the doctor “remembered” Daver — “the next time.” “People do lean so on the family doctor.”

So Daver & Co. increased in favor and prospered; and still sturdy old Job Graves said, again and again, as he drove his plane, or plied his sandpaper, or wielded his shears, “A business that you can’t push! You can’t push it, as you can other kinds of business.”

Everybody knows that undertakers are hard-hearted, soulless. Just how everybody knows this is another question. It is a portion of that general fund of knowledge which is born with many people. Therefore Job was rarely asked for charity; beggars paused not at his office; tramps glanced at his sign and passed on. Even the children looked askance at him, when they learned his occupation.

Yes, it is a part of the Public’s innate axiomatic knowledge, that undertakers have no feelings; machines merely; necessary evils. Job felt his alienation deeply; felt it the more, since wife and children had gone away. The old-fashioned, sad-faced, silent man, in his rusty coat and high stock, went in and out among the homes of sorrow; he heard sighs and moans, saw bitter tears trickling, dropping; but always for others, never a breath of sympathy for him. He moved, a white shadow, in darkened rooms, yet a shadow with a heart. Oh, his heart was hungry, often, for pity, for affection. He even envied, sometimes, the silent form in the coffin; it at least had love rained upon it. Voices, which spoke to him in stern command, sobbed there; faces, which turned to him in critical inquiry, grew distorted with anguish as they bent over that other face, scarcely whiter than his own.

Thus Job lived, and hungered, and was “in the world but not of the world.” His impassive worn old face told little of the need of his desolate heart. He accepted his destiny, which was, — “not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”

One early morning a drunken, dishevelled tramp found rear entrance to the “Coffin Warerooms,” and lay, in a stupor, under a bench. Job’s assistant discovered him there. Perhaps this degraded human remnant, seeking such hospitality, lacked the knowledge regarding undertakers so fully bestowed on men and women in general. The assistant pushed a bag of plush trimmings under his head. Job entered hastily, preparing to journey to a distant city, to bring back a body” for burial. He glanced at the heavy besotted face, partly hidden by an unkempt beard, and said, “Let him sleep it off, here! Afterward give him food, and my old coat on that nail, there!” Then he hurried stiffly down the street, to his train.

The tramp did not “sleep it off.” He had “slept off” too many such states before. He was a shattered wreck. There are two exits from stupor. One is back into this visible world, the other is forward into the Unseen. The latter was the shorter exit for the stertorous tramp, and tramps prefer short routes. So he took it.

“Poor devil!” said Job’s assistant, and summoned the doctor and coroner; they tried pulse, opened eyelid, felt heart, voted the beast dead. Chuckled over his wisdom in selecting his lodging-house. Affirmed that he had chosen his own undertaker; “the wishes of the dead should be respected;” then a loud laugh, and they departed. So “Daver, City Undertaker,” lost this case.

Here was the ambitious assistant’s opportunity. An assistant, may not be trusted by a careful master to prepare “regular cases,” but a tramp — It was a rare opportunity; the assistant washed, shaved, clothed, — in short, “laid out” the body.

dead coffin shaving mug

Undertaker’s occupational shaving mug http://www.oldshavingmugs.com/coffin-shaving-mug-2/

When Job returned, that evening, the assistant met him at the door, told him the unexpected, and with pride led the way into the back-shop, to a painted pine coffin beside the bench. And Job Graves, undertaker, looked, then stared, then gasped, and then recognized — the dead face of his wayward son. Death had done its purifying work, as assistant or even master could never have done it; the coarse tramp-face had dissolved, vanished; the fine features of innocent, hopeful, eager youth lay there revealed. And as patient, wounded old Job felt this awful blow upon his tired heart, he looked about him appealingly; looked for some one to lean upon. There was nobody but the assistant and his hastily-offered arm. Not what the anguished man sought, but he accepted it; then sank, drooping, upon a box; and cold drops beaded his brow.

There he sat in silence, and the tall old-fashioned clock in the corner counted out the seconds, as a physician counts out the drops from a vial, at a bedside. Job heard them, and they seemed like years; — his own weary years coming back to him out of the past. He realized now that he had been desperately holding a hope and a purpose in his heart; realized now, by its absence, that it had been there, unnamed, unrecognized. He put his hand unconsciously to his side; something seemed to be going; the assistant saw that his lips were parted wide, and that he breathed in gasps; but Job uttered no word, told nothing of the desolation that had come to him. Who was there to tell? Who cared about an undertaker’s grief? That face! O, that poor white face of his boy!

angel of grief

The Angel of Grief, William Wetmore Story, 1894 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_of_Grief

There was a sermon, to which the old undertaker had listened, years before, which had many a time recurred to his thought; it was a sermon on the prodigal son’s return; and in whatever way he had looked at the hard facts and faced the dark probabilities, that picture of a home-coming and forgiveness had pushed its way to the front. Often he had read the beautiful parable, going away alone and unperceived to do it; and at those words “fell on his neck and kissed him,” he always stopped, and repeated them slowly and softly, and a look of hungry longing came over his face, and the good book was slowly closed and laid away. There would be no more reading of that old story. Yesterday it held a gleam of light in its depths; to-day the words were like loose formless ashes; gray like his own face; and he seemed to shrink and wither, as he sat tottering, one hand pressing his side, the other weakly supporting himself.

The next day Job did not appear at the office; he was ill, in bed…

A week later a physician stood by Job’s bedside and told him that he had no ailment, and would be “out” in a few days. For answer Job looked calmly at him and said, “On your way to your office, call at my attorney’s! Send him here! I wish to make my will!”

“But, my good man, there is really not the slightest —”

Job raised his white thin hand deprecatingly, closed his eyes, hesitated, then said, with an effort, “Please also send Daver to me! You know Daver? Does good work; has some new-fangled notions, but does good work.”

Then Job turned his face to the wall. He knew his own condition. He was dying. We all begin to die at our birth; that is normal dying. Nature does it skillfully, inexorably, gently. Job Graves had been dying with abnormal rapidity for twenty years; dying of hunger, and solitary imprisonment for life; hunger for affection; solitary imprisonment within the gloomy walls of his strange vocation. Was this also Nature’s doing? If not, whose?

Daver, mystified but smiling, prompt but constrained, came the next day. Job’s lips moved a salutation, but no sound came. Daver waited. He was ill at ease. He was in an unaccustomed position. He often was called to dark rooms and sheeted beds, but with the conditions different. This summons was premature; Daver was restless; cleared his throat loudly, fingered his hat. “To be called here! To this house, of all houses! To this man, of all men!” Daver’s ruling principle was to please; always to gloss the painful stubborn fact; but ruling principles may be suspended; hearts, like states, may experience rebellion; souls, like nations, may suffer revolution; the governing power may be unseated.

So it was with Daver. In his accustomed groove, a “Funeral Director;” outside that groove, a man; and strange rills opened in his heart, unwonted vibrations tingled along his nerves. His round red face grew anxious, sad. A man’s pity, tenderness, looked out through a “Funeral Director’s ” eyes, as they rested on that sick wan face.

The old undertaker’s eyes opened slowly; his gaze wandered restlessly about the bare room, then paused upon a crude crayon portrait of an old man, near the foot of the bed. The face resembled his own. Job’s gaze clung to it tenderly, trustfully. Then his gaze wandered, rested on the man beside his bed; he started as if with surprise, but recollected. “Daver, I have sent for you, — you know why.” He spoke feebly; the other nodded, looking constrainedly into his filmy eyes.

“I wish I could take — this — old body— with me, or see to its burying, myself; but I can’t. We all have to ask help at last, Daver.”

The plain direct appeal of the old man moved Daver strangely. He wondered at himself, as he sat there.

“We must depend on — on somebody else, Daver, when — when we are finally the ‘case,’ ourselves; and assistants are not to be trusted,— not to be trusted.” He raised his eyes, with inquiry, toward the crayon portrait; then added, “Father never slighted his work.” And a faint smile of content flickered over the dying man’s face, saying what the humble man’s lips would not utter, that he too had never slighted his work.

“Daver, neighbor,” he murmured, putting out his thin hand, seeking, in his last hours, after what he had vainly sought, for many lonely years, — a grasp of understanding and sympathy — “Daver, you — do — good— work; but you — know — what — I would wish done. My way, this time, Daver? That —is —all.”

And the “Funeral Director’s” strong red hand closed over the “Undertaker’s” wasted white one, and the grasp was a pledge. A long silence. Then Daver departed, and Job rested peacefully.

Exactly when his last breath came, nobody in the house could say; but it was about dawn, the next morning; the weary spirit slipped away. Job Graves left earth, — an undertaker; he entered heaven, — a man.

funeral procession Highgate Cemetery 1902

A few days later, a funeral procession passed along the street, between the two offices. It was “A funeral of Daver’s,” but it was “Job Graves’s funeral.” Throughout all the arrangements, the Old and the New in funereal art were strangely blended; and a discerning Public felt injured, as it felt baffled in its attempt at explanation. The door-knob of the “Coffin Warerooms” was hung with a knot of black crape, yet the hearse was from the establishment of Daver & Co., City Undertakers,” whose assistant acted as driver; the assistant from the “Coffin Warerooms” rode in the mourners’ carriage; and, — strange to tell, — inexplicable to the wise, all-knowing Public, quite contrary to his custom, Daver, in his luxurious coupe, followed the few carriages, came last in the line.

The Parsonage Porch: Seven Stories from a Clergyman’s Note-book, Bradley Gilman, 1900: pp. 221-248

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A fine epitaph for all who serve: “He Never Slighted His Work.”

Mrs Daffodil would like to take this opportunity (as she has been prodded with a hearse plume by that subfusc person over at Haunted Ohio) to announce that a new Victorian Book of the Dead blog has made its debut. The blog will provide unique, primary source material on Victorian death and mourning as well as collecting all posts on mourning, which have  previously appeared on this blog and on the Haunted Ohio site blog.

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 Song of the Hammer: 1903

gossips patchwork picture

“Gossips” Patchwork picture redrawn by Carmel Wilson c. 1938 https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/patchwork-picture-gossips/8QFUFJIsR64J3Q

The Song of the Hammer.

At the home of a dame devout,

Who in mission work always led,

The sewing society sat about,

Plying their needles and thread;

And in a melodious key,

Without hesitation or stammer,

Incessantly and relentlessly,

They sang the “Song of the Hammer “:

Knock, knock, knock,

With never a halt or pause;

Knock, knock, knock,

Without provocation or cause.

Characters white as snow

Are daubed with spots of black,

While these righteous, merciful sisters sew

To cover the heathen’s back.

 

Knock, knock, knock,

None whom they know is spared;

Knock, knock, knock,

How their neighbor’s faults are aired!

The absent members, too,

Come in for their share of abuse,

While these worthy dames, with much ado,

Sew shirts for the heathen’s use.

 

“Now, there’s that girl of Clark’s,

Her conduct is really a shame,

With her tomboy capers and larks,

I just know her mother’s to blame!

And, although her mother’s my friend,

I’m sure that the giddy young flirt

Is bound to come to some bad end

As sure as I’m hemming this shirt!

 

“And that giddy young Mrs. Wright,

I’m sure you’ll all agree

That her conduct was simply a fright

At Mrs. DeLong’s last tea;

I’d not be a bit surprised,

But would think it a matter of course

If some day I should be advised

That her husband had sued for divorce.”

 

Knock, knock, knock,

While the hours are dragging slow:

Knock, knock, knock,

Till they all get up to go.

Their work for the day is o’er,

Their duty done with zest,

And when each is at home alone once more,

She’ll trim up all the rest!

 

Oh men with sisters dear,

With wives and sweethearts glad!

Did you ever happen to hear

Them giving their friends the gad?

If not, sneak home some day

And list to the sewing club’s clamor,

As they sing that old, familiar lay

Entitled “The Song of the Hammer.”

The Cleveland [OH] Leader 21 December 1903: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To be Relentlessly Informative, this is, of course, a parody of Thomas Hood’s poem “The Song of the Shirt.”

Indiscreet gossip might have embarrassing consequences, as one finds in these two little anecdotes:

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. Clothes line.” “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

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 bad 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 moan 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 monthpiece 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.

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

To be fair, not removing the rubber tube was not quite playing the game, although Mrs Daffodil admits that she would not hesitate to deploy such a device to her advantage.

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

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

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

 

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

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

gold sequins sun king fan

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

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

How to Make Stage Lightning and Thunder: 1829-1900

Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

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

Posts about the contemporary costs of fashion were quite popular.

The Cost of a Curtsey: Court Presentation Expenses: 1907

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

What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe: 1907

The Cost of a Fine Lady: 1857

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

Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898

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

spring green Callot orientalist

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

Some of Mrs Daffodil’s personal favourites include

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

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

How to Entertain with Impromptu Fruit Sculpture: 1906

A Bashful Bridegroom: 1831

 

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

A Ghost Orders a Hat: 1900

The Angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn: 1863

A Shakespearean Contretemps: 1830s 

stumpwork casket with garden

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

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

 

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

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