When I first came to the city and went into Mr. Maltby’s law office as a clerk I had seen nothing and knew nothing but that which could be seen and heard in one of the very smallest of all country villages. I had read enormously, for my parents would rather have been without bread than without books and magazines, and were besides very comfortably well off, but of the festivities of great cities, the balls, operas, concerts and receptions, I knew nothing by experience, and of course I fancied them much more delightful than they really were. What was my joy, then, when Mr. Maltby, coming into the office one day, placed a handsome envelope before me!
“My girls and boys are going to give a masquerade party,” he said, “and they want me to ask you. They expect to have a jolly time. You’ll rig up in something you know—you can get it at a costumer’s—and wear a mask until supper time. You’ll come?”
“Thank you! I shall be delighted,” I said, and all day long visions of happiness danced through my head, and I could hardly wait for the closing of the office, so anxious was I to secure my costume. For I had had brief notice; the ball was to be that very night, and I fancy it was only a good natured afterthought of Mr. Maltby to ask “young Tom,” as he always called me, having known my father intimately as “Tom” at school.
The envelope was addressed to “Mr. Thomas Parsons,” in correct form of course, and rather proud I was of it. Later on I inclosed it in an envelope to my mother, that she might see into what elegant society her son had fallen, dropping it into a lamp post box on my way to the costumer’s.
I had seen one, I remembered—a room on the second floor over a hairdresser’s shop. The word “costumer” was painted on the long, narrow sign under the windows, and between them was a fanciful figure in ballet costume holding a little lace mask before her face—Columbine of the pantomimes perhaps.
I discovered the house again after some little losing of myself in cross streets, and, climbing the steps, entered a square room, where a man was stitching on a sewing machine and four girls were working away on masses of gauze and silk as though they had no intention of stopping that night.
A fat lady, who seemed to be the owner of the place, advanced to meet me, and listened to me with a solemn countenance. “A masquerade ball,” said she. “At an elegant house? Oh, to be sure. You must get yourself up well for that, a young gentleman like you. I wouldn’t advise you to hire a domino, I wouldn’t It’s wery common, is a domino. A King Charles would be elegant, but we haven’t one to-night. There is a Harry VIII, but, bless you, it’s too big—far too big.”
“There’s the red devil, ma’am,” said the man at the machine.
“There is, and a handsome devil, too, if I say it that designed it—a handsome devil. A club of four gents ordered them, but only three came for them. They said the other one was obliged to leave the city, and the fourth is on my hands. You can look at it. Looking costs nothing, and it’s a very handsome devil indeed. Get it out, Mat, get it out, and let the young gent look at it”
A red cloth costume, with a cloth tail, horns and mask was produced. On its bosom was embroidered an ace of spades. A black cloak belonged to it, and was fastened ever the breast with a cord. It struck me favorably. “Cost price you shall have it at, to get your custom,” said the lady, “and cheaper than hiring it, for you’ll be asked to a great many masquerades, no doubt, and what could be more elegant?”
She seemed to know all about it I knew nothing. I paid her what I presume was a fine price for the red devil and carried it away with me. Shortly I attired myself in the costume and sent for a cab. I was an object of interest in the small boarding house where I dwelt and was admired and wondered at in the front parlor to my heart’s content.
“You’ve got stylish friends!” said young Spruce, who was in a dry goods store, “if you know the Maltbys. I should go in for one of the girls if I were you. They’re pretty and will have lots of money. I wish I had the chance you have.”
All this was flattering but time was flying and the cab at the door. I entered it, and soon found myself in the Maltby parlors.
Mr. Maltby and wife were receiving everybody.
“How do you do, Mephistopheles?” Mr. Maltby said. “You’ll find some more of the family in there. Ha! ha! hat I’ll lay a wager you are Captain Jones.”
Evidently he did not know me for young Tom Parsons.
I strutted in in as military a fashion as possible, and made my way through the crowd, admiring the kings and queens, contadinas and court ladies, Martha Washingtons and Spanish senoras, until at last I espied a figure which I at first fancied must be my own reflection in a looking glass. It was another red devil, in no particular different from myself, except that an ace of clubs was embroidered upon his bosom where the spade appeared on mine. As he came near enough for me to notice this alight difference the demon paused.
“How did you get here?” he said, with an oath that I had always been taught to consider as vulgar as it was profane. “I thought it was all up with you.” He evidently took me for a friend. I knew enough of masquerade halls from a literary point of view to feel that it was my duty to carry on the mystification.
“Ask no questions,” I said, solemnly. He nodded and walked away. Shortly two other demons approached, exactly like myself again, and like the other friend also, save that one had a heart, the other a diamond embroidered on his bosom.
“It’s Dick, by heaven!” said he of the heart. “How did you do it?”
I laughed sardonically. This was going to a masquerade ball indeed.
“We’d better separate just now,” said the demon of the diamond, “and dance with some of the girls. There’s the music.”
I had taken lessons is dancing in my boyhood, and when the master of ceremonies, a tall gentleman, attired as Don Quixote, approached me and asked me with whom I would dance, I indicated a pretty peasant girl in white sleeves and a laced bodice, and being led up to her and introduced as a great unknown, asked for her hand in the next lancers, as I had been taught to do it at Miss Pirrot’s academy. I had no idea that the little peasant was one of the Misses Maltby but I certainly had chosen the nicest dancer and the liveliest talker possible. She put me down for three dances more, and promised to go to supper with me.
“But suppose another demon comes to me? How shall I know you from your brother?” she asked. “Behold the ace of spades!” said I. “The others are diamonds, clubs and hearts.”
“I’ll remember,” she answered.
Then I resigned her to a grand Turk, who walked away with her, and I danced with a stately person, all black lace and gold stars, with a little golden crescent on her head, who told me she was Night.
So the evening wore away until it was nearly 11 o’clock, and a smell of coffee began to fill the house.
I was about to cross the room to speak to my peasant girl, when a hand touched my arm.
“Don’t engage yourself to take any girl down to supper,” said a voice in my ear. I turned: it was the devil with the heart on his bosom who had addressed me.
“You want her yourself, do you?” I asked.
A little further on the demon with a club touched me.
“This way,” he said. ‘I’ve got a word for you. The trick must be done at supper time. If a girl gets her hooks on you it’s all up. Keep out of the way.”
“The tricks of a masquerade,” I thought. I turned away to face the demon with the diamond.
“There is no one in the library,” he said. “Get there somehow without being noticed we must have a talk. Don’t be seen following me.”
No doubt some joke was afoot. I bowed to my peasant girl and went to the library, after a pause or two on the way in order to distract attention. The other three demons were already there. One of them—the one with the diamond on his bosom—produced several keys.
“Mag is a jewel,” he said. “They’ve all been tried; everything is worth scooping. Gas turned off in the side street opposite the church. The bath room window opens on it, Bill and Dick down there to catch the sealskins, shawls and such. When they begin to march in to supper, pitch in.” He gave us each a key, and in order to examine the numbers on them, removed his mask for a moment, revealing a villainous countenance—the face one would expect of a professional thief, and this I knew he must be.
The four demons had bought their costumes for the purpose of entering the house at a time when it would be easy to rob it. The servant, “Mag,” was a confederate, and had provided them with cards of admission, and had tried the keys at odd times.
“How the devil you got here, I can’t think,” the leader of the band said to me as he replaced the-mask. “I saw you nabbed with my own eyes. ‘Good for six months,’ says I. Counted you out of this game.”
I gave a queer laugh under my mask. “I say,” I whispered, gruffly. “I’ve got to get rid of that girl or she’ll be hunting me up to go to supper.”
It was the most unlikely thing for a young lady to do but these men did not know that. They only bade me “make haste about it.”
“You’re the third floor,’ said the ace of clubs.
“Ay, ay,” said I.
Away I went, but not to the side of my peasant girl. It was Mr. Maltby whom I sought. In his ear I whispered.
“I am Tom Parsons. Don’t think I’m joking. Thieves are in the house. Send for the police. The girl Maggie is a confederate.”
Mr. Maltby stepped into the hall and touched a call that was placed there. I was still at his elbow. “The signal for the operations is to be the march to supper,” I said.
Mr. Maltby turned to the musicians. “Another set of lancers,” he said. “The cook is behindhand.”
The lancers were played. Meanwhile I caught the faithless Maggie on the kitchen stairs and flirted with her, showing her my keys by stealth.
“There’s a watch of cook’s in the mansard room,” the girl whispered. “A good gold one, and a ring or two on the cushion, if they are worth looking after.”
“You are worth looking after, anyhow,” I said, taking off my mask, for I saw the officers of justice enter the door “and I’ll try to do it” The girl smothered a shriek. There was a sound of scuffling in the library, and three red devils walked out of the house, each attended by a member of the police. A little later another called for Maggie. It was all very quietly done; only the servants guessed what was going on.
I went down to supper with my little peasant girl, who unmasked the loveliest face possible, and who was no other than the youngest Miss Maltby, whose name was Theresa, and after the other guests were gone the family made me a hero.
My story was pronounced a wonderful one, and assuredly I had been the means of saving Mr. Maltby from great loss and mortification. From that day I was an intimate friend of the family, and Theresa is now my wife. The red devil costume still hangs in a wardrobe of my room, and I occasionally put it on to amuse the children, though I have, it so happens, never attended another masquerade ball —Mary Kyle Dallas in Fireside Companion.
Aberdeen [SD] Daily News 25 February 1890: p. 3
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Clothes do make the man, as young Tom found to his profit. Mephistopheles was considered a dashing choice of costume. In Right Ho, Jeeves! Mr P.G. Wodehouse wrote amusingly about Jeeves recommending that devilish character to the shrinking newt-fancier Gussie Fink-Nottle, who wishes to attend a fancy-dress ball in order to impress Madeline Bassett.
Bertie Wooster narrates:
The spectacle before me was enough to nonplus anyone. I mean to say, this Fink-Nottle, as I remembered him, was the sort of shy, shrinking goop who might have been expected to shake like an aspen if invited to so much as a social Saturday afternoon at the vicarage. And yet here he was, if one could credit one’s senses, about to take part in a fancy-dress ball, a form of entertainment notoriously testing experience for the toughest.
And he was attending that fancy-dress ball, mark you–not, like every other well-bred Englishman, as a Pierrot, but as Mephistopheles–this involving, as I need scarcely stress, not only scarlet tights but a pretty frightful false beard…
Bertie asks what Jeeves has against Pierrots:
“I don’t think he objects to Pierrots as Pierrots. But in my case he thought a Pierrot wouldn’t be adequate.”
“I don’t follow that.”
“He said that the costume of Pierrot, while pleasing to the eye, lacked the authority of the Mephistopheles costume.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Well, it’s a matter of psychology, he said…. Yes. Jeeves is a great believer in the moral effect of clothes. He thinks I might be emboldened in a striking costume like this. He said a Pirate Chief would be just as good. In fact, a Pirate Chief was his first suggestion, but I objected to the boots.”
Sadly, far from emboldening him, Gussie’s Mephistopheles costume proves an unmitigated disaster. But one is pleased to find that the demon suit allowed young Tom to press his suit with Theresa.
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.