Category Archives: Frolics

Martha Washington’s Preserved Pears: 1912

What is perhaps the most valuable jar of preserved pears in the world is in the possession of J. W. Mossburg, and is on exhibition at his restaurant on Pennsylvania avenue.

It Is a bushel jar. and was preserved, it is said, in 1760 by Martha Washington. Mr. Mossburg purchased the pears five years ago for 50 cents, and was not aware at the time that they had such a famous history.

He has recently learned from several men who attended the Philadelphia exposition in 1873 that they were on exhibition there, and from that fact he has traced their history back to the days of Martha Washington. They were preserved, it is believed, in 1760 in an earthen jar, and were never unsealed until they were transferred from the earthen jar to the glass one which now holds them, for the purpose of showing them at the  Philadelphia exposition.

Tracing Pear’s History.

According to John M. Boulter, of Philadelphia, who remembers seeing the pears at the exposition, they were removed to Philadelphia by Ali Benson, an old slave of the Washington’s immediately after the burning of the White House. It is said that when the slave was driving his load, he was held up by some British soldiers and forced to give up several Jars of the pears and some rare old wine. It was several days before he got the rest of his load to Philadelphia, and gave them to John C. Mailer, a friend of the Washington family, who was to keep them until the war was over.

When, at the close of the war, most of the pears were brought back to Washington, several Jars were left as a present to Mr. Mailer. At the time of the Philadelphia Centennial they were brought to light by Mrs. Eilen C. Haller, a descendant of John Haller, who showed them at the exposition.

martha washington's pears

Sold to Woman.

After the exposition was over the pears were sold to Mrs. John J. Keenan, of Baltimore. The price is said to have been $2,000. After the death of Mrs. Keenan’s husband, the pears were sold by the executors of the estate to Charles Sensencsy, of Washington, and their value seems to have been forgotten.

Mr. Mossburg considers the pears almost invaluable, and says he has refused an offer of $300 for them, and several offers of less amounts. The pears are perfectly solid, and so carefully were they preserved that even those touching the sides of the jar do not appear to have been at all flattened.

Society Wants Them.

Judge Charles S. Bundy. a prominent member of the Oldest Inhabitants Association of the District of Columbia, will Introduce a resolution at the next meeting of that organization, requesting that it take some action toward securing the jar of pears. Judge Bundy believes that such a valuable relic should not be owned privately, but should either be brought back to Mt. Vernon or put into the hands of some patriotic organization.

“These pears, preserved by Martha Washington In 1760, are In my opinion, one of the most valuable relics in the country,” declared Judge Bundy yesterday, “imagine having in our possession, in these modern days, a sample of the cookery of Martha Washington nearly 152 years old! Every precaution should be taken to safeguard the relic, and I for one am strongly In favor of having the pears taken over by some patriotic organization or cared for by the Government.”

Mr. Mossberg recognizes the propriety of having the fruit in possession of some patriotic organization, but at the same time felt that it was not an impropriety for him to retain possession of them as long as he allowed the public to view It freely.

Mossburg’s Position.

“You can readily appreciate my position In this matter,” he said yesterday. “The pears are, so far as I know, the only surviving examples of the cookery of Mrs., Washington. For that reason I am not over willing for them to leave my possession. Of course, if some responsible public organization would take them over, and guarantee that they would not get Into private ownership again, it is possible that 1 would part with them, if they are to remain in private ownership, I, above all people am entitled to keep them.”

A letter has been received from the regents of Mt. Vernon, asking that they be allowed to Investigate the authenticity of the history of the pears. Mr. Mossburg answered the letter, stating that he was exerting every effort to procure all documents necessary to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt the verity of his relic. The pears are of the Bartlett variety, and were grown. it is believed, in the orchards of Mt. Vernon.

While the recipe used by Mrs. Washington for preserving this particular jar of pears is not positively known, there seems to be no reason for supposing it was not the same as that now In the possession of Mrs. Arvllla McDonough, of 1401 Massachusetts avenue. This recipe, in the language in which it was originally written. is as follows:

“Ye pears shoulde be very freshe. Washe and put yhem into bollng lye for on minute. Remove and put yhem Into cold water. Nexte put ye fruit into a prepared sirupe of sugar and water. Use an half pound of sugar for everie pound of ye fruit; water to dissolve. Now cook for on quarter of an hour. Remove and put on plates to cool. Boyle sirupe down to one-half  its original quantitie. Put sirupe and pears into jars and add brandy. Seal while hote.”

“If Martha Washington were alive today and attempted to use her recipe for preserving pears, she would get in trouble with the pure food experts,” said Dr. Harvey W. Wiley when discussing the recipe supposed to have belonged to Mrs. Washington, now in the possession of Mrs. Arvllla McDonough, of 1401 Massachusetts avenue northwest.

“The recipe would have been all right,” continued the expert. “It would have been excellent if she had left out the part about boiling them in lye. That is plainly in violation of the pure food laws and there was a possibility of the poison getting into the pears if the skins were not promptly removed after immersion.

“The pears now in the possession of Mr. Mossburg are, I should say, not dangerous, even if Mr. Mossburg cared to eat them, which I understand he does not. The immersion in brandy for so many years has probably purified them even if they did originally become poisoned.”

The Washington [DC] Times 11 September 1912: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Happily, in time for those of Mrs Daffodil’s readers in the States who celebrate Presidents Day, there has been quite a stir about the newly discovered Washington pears, said to have been “put up,” by Martha Washington herself.

From the time of the United States Centennial in 1876, the public was fascinated with the Revolutionary period and with relics of the early days of the United States. Martha Washington, in particular, was an object of reverence, as the Mother of Her Country. Exhibitions and reports on garments, weapons, locks of hair, and jewellery worn or owned by the Washington family filled the newspapers. There was also something of a “colonial revival” in dress, which had the disastrous result that many genuine 18th-century garments were altered for fancy dress, pageants, or “Lady Washington teas.”  (Mrs Daffodil has previously written of a disastrous attempt to organise such an entertainment, as well as a young lady who deceived the Concord Ball with a “genuine” 18th-century gown aged with the assistance of coffee and camphor.)

As for the “verity” of the Washington pears, Mrs Daffodil cannot find any independent evidence that the famous pears were any more than a canny marketing device on the part of Mr. Mossburg, the owner of the Cafe Florentine.

Mrs Daffodil has just been quietly taken aside by a kindly friend who points out that the recent thrilling discovery was actually of General Washington’s hairsfound by Archivist John Meyers in an ancient book at Union College in Schenectady, New York. Mrs Daffodil, who, distinctly heard “pears,” regrets the error.

Here is Susan Holloway Scott, author of I, Eliza Hamilton, on the fascinating “back story” of the Washington hair.

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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Advice to Young Skaters: 1874

 

Advice to Young Skaters.

Never try to skate in two directions at once.

Eat a few apples for refreshment’s sake, while skating, and be sure to throw the cores on the ice for fast skaters to break their shins on.

There is no law to prevent a beginner from sitting down whenever he is so inclined.

Skate over all the small boys at once. Knock ‘em down. It makes great fun, and they like it.

If you skate into a hole in the ice take it coolly. Think how you would feel if the water were boiling hot.

If your skates are too slippery buy a new pair. Keep buying new pairs until you find a pair that is not slippery.

In sitting down do it gradually. Don’t be too sudden; you may break the ice.

When you fall headlong, examine the straps of your skates very carefully before you get up. That will make everybody think you fell because your skate was loose.

Wear a heavy overcoat or cloak until you get thoroughly warmed up, then throw it off, and let the wind cool you. This will insure you a fine cold!

After you get so you can skate tolerably well, skate three or four hours—skate frantically—skate till you can’t stand.

The Spirit of Democracy [Woodsfield OH] 10 February 1874: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Inexperienced skaters might also take advantage of the useful

SAFETY SKATING FRAME. FOR BEGINNERS.

Our readers can see the proportions in the cut. The bottom of the runners being slightly curved, the frame is easily turned in any direction. The ends of the runners being turned up, enables the frame to pass over any reasonable impediment, thus saving it from stopping, and being thrown over forwards; the long tails would not allow it to be pulled over backwards. The skater’s hands being placed on the hand rail, between its supports, prevents her from upsetting the frame sideways.

Godey’s Lady’s Book December 1863

skating frame

Advice on skating abounded, such as How to be Decorative While Ice-Skating and what NOT to do on the ice–A Swell Party on Ice.  Mrs Daffodil’s soundest advice is to stay indoors where you may spread oil-cloth on the parlour floor and slide about to your heart’s content, with no danger of frost-bite or pneumonia from an icy plunge. There a simple tug at the bell brings a convenient tray of tea, cocoa, and biscuits, something that cannot be said for frozen ponds, which are generally not equipped with servants’ bells.

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

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

“She looks most like Mother:” 1868

the feast of the bean king twelfth night

The Feast of the Bean King (Twelfth Night), Jacob Jordaens, 1640-45 https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/the-feast-of-the-bean-king/MwEBgGg74T1f2g

A Story from Paris

A Paris letter tells us the following story of a Twelfth Night fete in that city:

A wealthy family in the aristocratic Boulevard Malesherbes were amusing themselves in seeking the king’s portion, or the ring in the festal cake, when a lady of the company says to the hostess:

“I wish my portion to be given to the poorest little boy we can find in the street.”

The servant was dispatched on this cold night, and not far from the house he found a ragged urchin trembling with cold and hunger. He brought him up, was ordered into the saloon, where a thousand lights glittered and sparkling fire gladdened and surprised him. As he drew his portion which the benevolent lady had promised; and as luck would have it, the little fellow found the ring, and, of course, he was king. They all shouted out, that being king must choose a queen. He was asked so to do, and, looking around the company, he chose the very lady who had proposed to cede her portion of the cake. He was asked why he chose her. He said: “I don’t know; she looks most like mother!”

“Whose mother?”

“My mother! I never knew her, but was stolen away from her, and here is her portrait!”

With this he drew from out of his ragged coat a likeness proved to be that of the very lady herself, who, while in Italy, had her child stolen from her, and how he turns up a poor little ragged Savoyard, dragging along a miserable existence in Paris while his mother by an intuition, perhaps, felt that in the air near to where she was, was one so near to her.

The Hornellsville [NY] Tribune 20 August 1868: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Would a child stolen from his mother still retain her portrait? Surely those who took the child would have disposed of anything of value. Still, it is a pretty story, and we must not cavil too much at a holiday story with a happy ending. Twelfth Night Parties were the riotous end to the Christmas season. Here are some details of the feast:

Twelfth Night Parties

In England and on the Continent this used to be the time chosen for elaborate masked balls and parties. A ring was concealed in an immense cake, and the guest obtaining it was made . “king” or “queen.” It is a matter of history that Mary, Queen of Scots, honored her maid Mary Seaton, by robing her in her own royal apparel to be the ” Queen of Twelfth Night.”

Tradition says that on this day every vestige of Christmas green must be taken down and burned. This is a peace offering to evil spirits, and assures good luck to the household.

Invitations to a Twelfth Night party afford an opportunity for the pen-and-ink artist to show her skill. A bonfire piled high with holly wreaths, or a cake with a ring suspended over it, is a suitable decoration. If there is no open fireplace for the burning of the greens, there may be a back yard, where the decorations may be offered with due ceremony.

Twelfth Night Cakes

Cakes are to Twelfth Night what the tree is to Christmas. In London, on the night before this festival, there are always crowds before the bakery shop windows to see the wonderful examples of cakes both great and small; these are ornamented with mechanical toys, live birds, and all sorts of grotesque decorations.

Decorations for a Twelfth Night Table

This decorative scheme was carried out in England, and is easily adaptable by any hostess who can imagine how things will look and then carry out the idea. The centrepiece was a court jester’s cap made in sections of different colors, with bells on the points. A circle of snapping-cracker paper caps surrounded it. At either end of the table there was a crimson, cushion, on which rested gorgeous gilt crowns for the King and Queen. When the cake was passed, the guest who received the bean hidden in the cake, was the King; the pea designated the Queen, and the clove the Court Jester. The other guests appropriated the snapping caps, crowns were donned, and a merry time ensued.

“Dame Curtsey’s” book of novel entertainments for every day in the year, Ellye Howell Glover,1907: pp 5-7

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 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.

 

Mrs Daffodil’s New Year’s Greetings

Mrs Daffodil thanks her readers for visiting

and wishes them all a “fan”-tastic New Year.

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 Simply Splendid Christmas Treat: 1897

dancing round the christmas tree

Making It Easy.

“Dear me, I don’t see how you can do it!”

“Do what? Just let the young people have an out and out merry time of it on Christmas night?” “You say your sister’s family are coming to dinner, your girl of course goes out in the evening, and yet half a dozen or more young folks are coming to visit in the evening. Of course you’ll have to get up the treat.”

“Oh, the treat won’t trouble anybody. I’m going to do exactly as we did last year.”

“Yes, but those stylish Merlin girls on the hill told our Ida—she was away last Christmas, you remember—that they spent last Christmas evening at your house, and never had a pleasanter time in their lives. They mentioned particularly that the refreshments were splendid! Ida wondered what you had.”

“Well, it’s easily told. When Tom and the girls said they wished six or eight of their friends, the Merlins among the rest, could come to the house Christmas night, I said they could and welcome if they were willing to do as we used to in our New England home.”

“‘Pray how was that?’ asked Tom, bridling a little.

“I reminded him that Norah expected to go on her little Christmasing as soon as dinner was over, and that I always helped her clear away so lengthy a feast. The table I told him should be neatly spread with nothing on it but the cloth, cups and saucers, plates and paper napkins. On the sideboard should be a platter of cold turkey which I would slice after dinner, chips, fancy crackers, salteens, a pie or two, cake, nuts and raisins, figs and grapes, all ready prepared for serving. A pot of coffee, also one of chocolate, should be on the range. Whenever he or any of the other ladies chose to invite a young lady to the dining room they could treat her to whatever the sideboard afforded, or make merry by running to the kitchen for a cup of hot drink.

“I certainly think those young people were going and coming from the dining room the whole evening through. Tom had sniffed a little and observed something about ‘a regular counter lunch’ when the proposal was made, but this year he proposed carrying out the same program, or I might perhaps more properly say menu.

“I remember Tom called out, ‘The pie’s given out, mammy.’ ‘All right,’ I said, ‘go to the pantry and get another.’ And pretty soon Lizzie wailed, ‘The coffee’s all gone, mammy.’ ‘All right,’ said I placidly, ‘go to work and make some more.’ Then a prolonged cry, ‘O mammy, the turkey has all disappeared.’ ‘Never mind, go to the cellar-way and get the bones.’ There were some pickings left, and I did set up a chicken ‘gainst a special call.

“They picked both turkey frame and chicken bare; Susie’s children were here, you know, so there were fourteen young people in all, and now I have described what the Merlin girls styled ‘splendid refreshments.’ Tom last year ventured something about ice cream, but I told him no, there could be no fussing about anything extra, the general provision of the season would be enough. And we found it a very simple matter to clear away the sideboard treat the next morning, while it gave me scarcely anything extra to do on Christmas afternoon.”

This is a very true showing of what has been done time and time again in a large family, when the young people wanted a little company on Christmas night, and after the long, abundant dinner it was too much for the tired housewife to think of getting up a regularly laid “treat.” It has been proven often that an entirely informal company is the merriest one imaginable, and it is a great mistake to crowd so much into a joyous holiday that all pleasure is lost in a sense of cruel fatigue…

There is quite an art in making things easy, and on holidays the most scrupulous housewife is fully justified in refusing to undertake anything like an extra spread. Just set young people to helping themselves, and my! how the good things will disappear. It is doubly jolly to see Tom or Will pouring chocolate into a tiny cup which he must fill and refill until he must needs search about for more of the raw material. There is always a kind of good comradeship in sharing these merry feasts, especially when it becomes the part of prudence for some matronly girl to advise as to how much coffee or chocolate goes into making another potful. Do not refuse the merry-making because of the work involved. Make things easy, and they will be all the merrier, and young people are much the same all the world around.

Christian Work 16 December 1897: p 1020

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This will be Mrs Daffodil’s last post for 2017. Should readers wish for more tips on making the holidays merry and bright, she can recommend the “Christmas” tab for stories on Christmas tree dances , New Year’s Eve “wish” trees and other entertainments.

Mrs Daffodil wishes her readers the best of everything for the holidays and peace, health, and prosperity in the New Year.

And cake.

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.

 

Corn Balls for Christmas: A Thrilling Tale: 1870s

harriet ann corn balls

HARRIET ANN’S CHRISTMAS

by Mary E. Wilkins

I was 12 years old three weeks before that Christmas , but I was small for my age and looked no more than 10. There were four of us. I was the eldest. Then there were a girl of 10, one of 8 1/2 and a boy of 7. In October we had moved to the house on the shore of Lonesome lake, which was very lonesome indeed. It was a solitary little sheet of water on the top of a hill, almost a mountain. There were no neighbors nearer than a mile. Father had moved to this farm on Lonesome lake because his father had died that fall, and the property had to be divided between him and his brother, Uncle William. Uncle William was not married, though he was older than father, and he and father and grandfather had always lived together and work the home farm, sharing the profits.

After grandfather’s death father and Uncle William had some difference. I never knew what it was about. One night after I had gone to bed I heard them talking loud, and the next morning father and Uncle William looked very sober at breakfast and mother had been crying. That afternoon she told us that we were going to move because the property was to be divided, and were to have the farm on Lonesome lake, near Lebanon. Lebanon is a little village about ten miles from Wareville, where we were living then. Mother said she was sorry to go away because she had lived there so long, and she was afraid she would be pretty lonesome in the new home, but she said we must make the best of it. Uncle William was the eldest son and had a right to the first choice of the property, and of course since he was a bachelor, it would be very hard for him to go to live at Lonesome lake.

We children rather liked the idea of moving and began packing at once. Flory and Janey had their dolls and their wardrobes all packed within an hour. Flory was the sister next to me, and I thought her rather old to play with dolls. I had given up dolls long before I was as old as she.

Two weeks after grandfather died we were all moved and nearly settled in our new home. There had been no one living in the house for several years, except when father and Uncle William, went up there every year in haying time to cut and make hay. Everything seemed pretty damp and dismal at first, but when we got our furniture set up and the fires started it looked more cheerful. The house was large, with two front rooms looking on the lake, which was only about 20 feet distant. One of these rooms was our sitting room; the other was our parlor. Back of these rooms was a very large one, which was our kitchen and dining room. There were a dark bedroom in the middle of the house, a bedroom out of the kitchen, one where father and mother slept, out of the sitting room, and four chambers.

Thanksgiving came about a week after we had moved, and we had a rather forlorn day. We all missed grandfather and Uncle William. I am sure mother cried a little before we sat down to the table, and father looked sober.

When Thanksgiving was over, we began to think about Christmas . Mother had promised us a Christmas tree. The year before we had all the measles and been disappointed about going to the tree at the Sunday school, and mother had said, “Next year you shall have a tree of your own if nothing happens.” Of course, something had happened. Poor grandfather had died, and we had moved, and we wonder if that would put a stop to the tree. Mother looked a little troubled at first when we spoke of it. Then she said if we should not be disappointed if we did not have many presents and the tree did not have much on it except popcorn and apples she would see what she could do.

Then we children began to be full of little secrecies. Mysterious bits of wool and silk and colored paper and cardboard were scattered about the house, and we were always shutting doors and jumping and hiding things when a door was opened. Each of us was making something for father and mother, even Charles Henry. He was working a worsted motto, “God Bless Our Home.” Then, of course, we were all making presents for one another.

It was a week and one day before Christmas . We had our presents at most done, and mother had promised to take two of us the very next day and go down to the village to do some shopping-we had been saving money all the year to come boughten presents -when the news about Uncle William came. A man rode over from Wareville quite late at night and brought word that Uncle William was dangerously sick and father and mother must come at once if they wanted to see him alive. Mother said there was nothing for it but they must go. She said if they had not come away just as they had, with hard words between father and Uncle William, she would have let father go alone and staid with us children; but, as it was, she felt that she must go too. She and father, though I can understand now that they felt anxious while trying to conceal it from us, did not think there was any real danger in our staying alone. They reasoned that nobody except the people in the village would know we were alone, and there was not probably one ill disposed person there, certainly not one who would do us harm. Then, too, it was winter and we were off the main traveled road, and tramps seemed very improbable. We had enough provisions in the house to last us for weeks, and there was a great stock of firewood in the shed. Luckily the barn was connected with the house, so I did not have to go out of doors to milk–it was fortunate that I knew how–and we had only one cow.

Mother staid up all that night and baked, and father split up kindling wood and got everything ready to leave. They started early next morning, repeating all their instructions over and over. We felt pretty lonesome when they had gone, I especially, not only because I was the eldest and felt a responsibility for the rest, but because father had given me a particular charge. I was the only one who knew that there was $583, some money which father had from the sale of a wood lot in Wareville a month after we had moved and had kept in the house ever since, locked up in the secret drawer in the chest in the dark bedroom.

Father had been intending to drive over to Wilton, where there was a bank, and deposit the money, but had put it off from one week to another, and now Wilton was too far out of his way for him to go there before going to see poor Uncle William.

Father called me into the parlor the morning they started, told me about the money and charged me to say nothing concerning it to the others. “It is always best when there is money to be taken care of to keep your own counsel,” said father. He showed me the secret drawer in the chest in the dark bedroom, the existence of which I had never suspected before, thought I was 12 years old, and he taught me how to open it and shut it. If the house caught fire, I was to get the children out first, then go straight to the secret drawer and save the money. If there had been no possibility of fire, I doubt if father would have told me about the money at all, and I would have been saved a great deal of worry.

The money was on my mind constantly after father and mother were gone. I kept thinking, “Suppose anything should happen to that money while I have the charge of it.” I knew what a serious matter it would be, because father had not much money and was saving this to buy cows in the spring, when he expected to open a milk route. I was all the time planning what I should do in case the house caught fire and in case the robbers came. The first night after father and mother went I did not sleep much, though the others did. We three girls slept in one room, with Charley in a little one out of it, and we were all locked in.

The next night I slept a little better and did not feel so much afraid, and the next day Samuel J. Wetherhed came, and we all felt perfectly safe after that. He came about 10 o’clock in the morning and knocked on the south door, and we all jumped. I don’t suppose anybody had knock on that door three times since we had lived there, it was such a lonesome place. We were scared and did not dare to go to the door, but when he knocked the second time I blustered up enough courage. I told Flory, who was as large as I and stronger, to take the carving knife, hide it under her apron and stand behind me. Of course I thought at once of the money and that this might be a robber. Then I opened the door a crack and peeped out. The minute I saw the man who stood there I did not feel afraid at all, and Flory said afterward that she felt awful ashamed of the carving knife and afraid that he might see it and be hurt in his feelings.

He stood there, smiling with such a pleasant smile. He did not look very old, not near as old as father, and he was quite well dressed. He was very good looking, and that, with his pleasant smile, won our hearts at once. He more than smiled-be fairly laughed in such a good natured way when he saw how we were all peeking, for the younger children was behind Flory, and I found afterward that Charley, who had great notions of being smart and brave, though he was so little, because he was a boy, had the poker, shaking it at the stranger. The man laughed and said in such a pleasant voice, pleasanter this his smile even: “Now, don’t you be scared, children. I am Samuel J. Wetherhed.”

The man said that as if it settled everything, and we all felt that it did, though we had never heard of Samuel J. Wetherhed in our lives. We felt that we ought to know all about him, and Janey said that night that she was sure she had seen his name in The Missionary Herald, and he must be a deacon who gave a great deal to missions.

Samuel J. Wetherhed went on to tell us more about himself, though I am sure we should have been satisfied with the name. “I have married sister who lives in Wareville. She married a man of the name of Stackpole.” said he, and we all nodded wisely at that and felt that it was an introduction. We knew Mr. Stackpole. He was the man to whom father had sold his woodland. “I went to visit my sister last week,” said the man. “I haven’t got any settled work. Yesterday my sister’s husband saw your father, and he told me how he had left you all alone up here and felt sort of worried, and I thought as long as I was just loafing around and no use to anybody I might just as well come up here and look after you a little and stay till your folks got back and look out there didn’t say wolves or robbers or anything get you.” The man laughed again in such a pleasant, merry way when he said that, and then he went on to tell us that his sister’s husband said Uncle William was better and the doctor thought he would get well, but he guessed father and mother would have to stay there for awhile. We asked the man in, and he made himself at home at once.

It seemed to me I had never seen a man so very kind as he was, and he was so quick to see things that needed to be done. He went out of his own accord and drew a pail of water, and he brought in wood for the sitting room fire. We children all agreed when we went up stairs to bed that night that there never was a man so good, except father. We had told him our plans for Christmas , and he was so much interested. He said of course we could have a tree. He would cut a fine tree, and if Uncle William was not well enough for father and mother to leave him on Christmas day he would go to Wareville himself and stay with Uncle William, so they could come home. He said, too, that he could go down to the village on foot, and if we would make out a list of the things we wanted he would go down and buy them for us. He went the very next day. We gave him all our money, and be brought back everything we wanted. We decided to make him some presents , too and I began a little wash leather money bag, like the one I had made for father. Flory made a penwiper and Janey a worsted bookmark.

Samuel J. Wetherhed cut a beautiful tree for us, taking us all into the woods to pick it out. Then he set it up in the parlor so firmed that it did not shake. He rigged some sockets for candles and help us string popcorn for decorations and make candy bags. He could sew as well as mother. Samuel J. Wetherhed was the most industrious man I ever saw. He was not idle a minute. He milked and did all the barn chores, he made the fires and drew water and swept the floors and washed the milk pails for me, and all his spare time he was at work upon our Christmas preparations as busily as we were. He found some boards and tools of father’s and made some wonderful things with them. There was a nice box, which he showed us how to line with flannel, for mother to keep knives and forks in, a little boat for Charley and a number of other things.

I felt much easier in my mind about the money after Samuel J. Wetherhed came.

We have given Samuel the bedroom out of the kitchen to sleep in. He said he would rather have that, because it was so handy for him to build the fire in the morning, and I did not have the first suspicion that anything was wrong until the night of the day but one before Christmas . I had been sleeping well since Samuel came through feeling so safe, though I had as I afterward remembered, often started awake, because I thought I heard a noise, but that night I did not go to sleep as soon as usual. I was very much excited thinking about Christmas and father and mother coming home. Samuel had gone down to the village that morning and got a letter for me from mother in which she said that they were coming home Christmas morning, since Uncle William was well enough to be left. We were all delighted the more so because we thought now that Samuel could stay and have our Christmas tree with us. He laughed and thanked us when we said so, but in a moment afterward I notice that he looked very sober, even sad. Well, thinking over everything made me very wide awake, and I guess it must have been as late as 11 o’clock when I was sure I heard somebody down stairs in the sitting room, which was directly under our room. I thought at once that it might be a robber and perhaps I ought to speak to Samuel in case he should not hear the noise. I waited till I heard the noise again very plain and was sure that I knew where it was-some one was trying to open the door of the dark bedroom, which stuck and had to be forced down before pulling. The children did not awake, and I made up my mind that I would not speak to them and get them scared to death. I thought that I would go down stairs very softly, steal past the sitting room door and go through the other day to the kitchen and wake up Samuel.

I got up and put on my dress. Then I went down stairs, and I don’t believe I made any more noise than a cat. I saw a faint light shining from the dark bedroom, and I knew I had not been mistaken. Then all of a sudden I thought that father and mother might have come home and father be looking to see if the money was safe. I thought I would make sure before I called Samuel.

I went into the sitting room and crept across to the dark bedroom, keeping close to the wall. I peeked in, and there was Samuel rummaging in the chest where the money was. Then I knew that, however good Samuel might be in other ways, he could take things. It was an awful shock. I wonder why I did not scream and run, but I kept still. I went back up stairs and locked myself into the chamber and sat down on the edge of the bed to think. It did not seem to me that it was of any use for me to stay down stairs and watch Samuel. I did not think he could find the secret drawer without any help. I could not stop his taking the money if he was determined. Then, too, I reasoned that if he did not find it that night there would be time enough for me to hide it tomorrow, and father and mother were coming home next day.

I did not sleep any that night. I took off my dress and lay down. Before daybreak I had my plans all made. I tried to treat Samuel just as usual when I saw him in the morning, and I guess I did. After breakfast I carried a pitcher of water into the parlor as if I were going to water the plants. Then I lighted a match and touched it to one of the candles on the Christmas tree to make it appear as if I had only wanted to see how it would look, and then I touched it to the tree, and it blazed up. I waited until I dared wait no longer, and then I dashed on the water and screamed fire at the top of my lungs. They all came running in Samuel first. He rushed for more water and the fire was out in a minute, but the tree was badly singed, and the children began to cry.

“Now, don’t you cry,” said Samuel “I’ll go this minute and cut another tree.”

So Samuel started off and Charley with him, and then I made Flory and Janey go upstairs. “You two have just got to go up stairs and stay there while I fix a surprise,” said I. Surprises were a favorite amusement with us children. Flory and Janey laughed and ran off up stairs for a minute.

I set some molasses on to boil. Then I got the money out of the secret drawer and made six little parcels of it, rolled as tightly as I could and wrapped in letter paper. Then as soon as the molasses was boiled I made popcorn balls. Luckily I had enough corn popped. When I called the girls down stairs, I had two plates of corn balls. The bills in one were of extra size with strings attached all ready to hang on the tree, and in six of them were hidden the little rolls of money. The balls in the other plate were smaller, and those were to be eaten at once.

When Samuel and Charley came home, I gave them some of the little corn balls, and when Samuel had set up the tree I hung on the others. Then I thought the money was safe, but I wondered all the time what I should do if Samuel should come to me and ask me right out where the money was for I did not want to tell a lie.

That night we all went up stairs as usual, but I did not go to sleep. It was not very late when I heard Samuel moving about below, and presently he came to the foot of the stairs and called me.

I went to my door. My heart was beating so hard it seemed to choke me. “What do you want,” I made out say as softly as I could, so as not to wake the children.

“Come down here a minute,” said Samuel, and I went down to the sitting room. I want to ask you a question,” said Samuel. He tried to smile, but he was very pale and looked as if he was as frightened as I was. I was so afraid he would asked me right out, “Where is the money?” but he did not.

“I only want to ask if your father left some money in the house when he went away,” said he, looking away from me as if he were ashamed.

“Yes he did,” said I. I had to or tell a lie.

“Well,” said Samuel in a queer , shaking voice, “I would like to borrow that money for a little while. I need some money right away, and as long as your father ain’t using it”-

“I would rather you waited and ask father,” I said. “I don’t think father would like it if I lent you money.”

“I will make it right with your father,” said Samuel. “Did your father tell you where the money was?”

“Yes he did,” I answered. I had to or tell a lie. I trembled for the next question.

“Where did he tell you it was?” asked Samuel.

“In the chest in the dark bedroom,” said I. That was the truth, and it did no harm.

“Whereabouts in the chest?”

“In the secret drawer.”

“Oh! So there’s a secret drawer. Did you father tell you how to open it?”

I said he did.

“Well, you just come in here and show me how to open it,” said Samuel.

I went with Samuel into the dark bedroom and showed him how to open the drawer. I could see nothing else to do. I stood back while he opened it. I wonder if it would be wrong for me to cry out as if I were astonished when he discovered that the money was gone. Then all of a sudden I heard a sound that made my heart jump with joy. I heard sleighbells and then father’s voice shouting to the horse. “Father has come,” said I.

Samuel made one leap and was gone, rushing through the kitchen and out the back door.

I ran and unbolted the south door, and there was father and mother come home sooner than I expected. When I saw their faces, I just broke down and sobbed and sobbed and told them all about it in such queer snatches that they thought it first I was out of my mind. Father said afterward that he never heard such a jumble of popcorn balls and secret drawers and Samuel. When father fairly understood what had happened, he lighted the lantern and searched out in the barn and the sheds to be sure that Samuel was not lurking about the premises, but he did not find him. Father said he knew the man; that he belonged to a good family, but had been sort of shiftless and unlucky.

When we were all settled down again for the night and I felt so safe and happy with father and mother at home, I could not help feeling troubled about poor Samuel out in the storm. I hope he would not die of cold and be found dead when the snow melted in the spring. There was quite a severe snowstorm. That was the reason why father and mother had reached home so late. They had been obliged to drive slowly on account of the gathering snow.

We were just sitting down to our Christmas dinner next day when we all stopped and listened. Then the sound came again, and we were sure that somebody was out in the storm calling faintly for help.

“It is the man!” said mother. “Do go quick as you can.” Mother has been worrying about Samuel all day. She said she did not want him to perish if he had tried to wrong us, and father had been all around the farm looking for him. He thought, however, that he had gone down to the village the night before.

We opened the door, and we could hear the calls for help quite plainly. Father pulled on his big boots and started out. The storm was very thick. Soon we could not see father, but we could hear his shouts and the faint cries in response, and then we saw father coming back half carrying Samuel J. Wetherhed.

Samuel was pretty well exhausted, beside being frightened and ashamed when he saw where he was, back in the house of the man he had tried to rob. He tried to stop on the threshold of the outer door, spent as he was. “I guess you-don’t-know,” he began, but father interrupted him. “Come along in!” cried father in a hearty way that he has. “You have been good to my children and as long as you didn’t do what you set out to there’s no use talking about it.”

Samuel was pretty well exhausted. He had spent the night in an old barn on the other side of the mountain and had been floundering about in circles all day, trying to find the road. However, he was able to eat some Christmas dinner with us, though he hesitated about that, as he had done about entering the door, and all of a sudden his knife and fork, bent his head down over his plate, and we saw that he was crying, though we tried to take no notice.

Samuel stayed with us that night and was present at the Christmas tree, though he seemed very sober and dashed his hand across his eyes a good many times when his name was called and he got his little presents .

The next day the storm had stopped, and father put the horse in the sleigh and took Samuel down to Lebanon to take the train. We never saw him again after he had shaken hands with us all and thanked mother in a voice that trembled so that he could scarcely speak and father had driven him off in the sleigh.

That day we girls pulled the corn balls to pieces and found the bills inside, not sticky at all. The next day father took the money to the bank, though he said he didn’t know corn balls were safer, since robbers knew that money was in banks, but he didn’t think they had any suspicion of its being in corn balls.

We spent the next Christmas in our old home in Wareville, for father and Uncle William had made up and we had gone back there to live. We had a tree, and the day before Christmas a great box came by express with a handsome present for each of us. There was no name sent with them, but we always knew as well as we wanted to, and father and mother thought so, too, that they had come from Samuel J. Wetherhed, who, we had heard, had settled out west and was doing very well.

The Christian Recorder [Philadelphia PA] 21 December 1899

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well-done, Harriet Ann!  Mrs Daffodil considers that she was being over-scrupulous in not at least slightly paltering with the truth, but a happy ending and a happy Christmas all round.

 

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.

 

 

“Educated Women of Gentle Birth, Destitute and Alone:” 1903

christmas dinner tableA

The Christmas Table

A Novel Christmas Banquet.

By Elizabeth L. Banks.

“Educated Women of Gentle Birth, Destitute and Alone”

So began the strange invitation to a strange Christmas banquet given a few years ago in New York by a well-known church and society woman.

I attended the banquet in my capacity as newspaper reporter, and I speak of it as “strange” because, indeed, it was the strangest as also the most touching banquet I ever attended.

For a certain part of that Christmas Day I was on duty for my newspaper, and it was my task to report the doings at various charity Christmas feasts which were that day given to the city’s poor.

Altogether merry and jolly I found the partakers of the newsboys’ dinner, when I peeped upon them at the beginning of my round. It fairly did my heart good to see them in their hundreds gathered about immense tables, whereon were turkey and cranberry sauce, and escalloped oysters, and plum puddings, and mince pies and celery, and everything else the Christmas appetite could fancy. I watched them scramble into their seats, grab the turkey-legs with their two hands, bite off the meat, use their knives instead of forks, and their fingers sometimes in place of either.

“Why, say,” said one of the grinning youngsters to me, “w’at ye doin’ at our dinner? You ain’t no newsboy!”

“No,” I answered; “but I’m what might be called a ‘newswoman,’ because I’m going to write all about your Christmas dinner for to-morrow’s paper.”

“Hurrah! Hurrah!” came the chorus from the boys. “Say, fellers, ain’t it fine? This yere lady’s goin’ to write about our dinner for her paper. Say, miss, just put my name in as one o’ the guests, will ye? I’m Billy Snyder. An’ there’s me brother, an’ Sam Jones, too—don’t forget ’em, will ye? Say, just take the names of all of us, an’ print ’em, and when I calls out to-morrer’s paper I’ll shout: ‘Yere’s yer mornin’ paper—all about the newsboys’ dinner—buy a paper, mister, and read all the names of us fellers what was there!'”

It was “merry Christmas” with those newsboys, sure enough. Some good people were giving them a free dinner, and they were enjoying it as only boys of their ilk could enjoy such a feast. There was but one cloud upon their happiness—the fact, which I tried to impart to them as gently as possible, that I could not put their names in the paper because of lack of space. But I got a good report of their merriment, and out again into the white Christmas weather I went, then on a cable car to the “up-town” or fashionable part of New York.

“To Educated Women Of Gentle Birth, Destitute And Alone.—You are invited

by Mrs. __ to a Christmas Dinner here in her house to-day at two o’clock.”

In the drawing-room window of one of the brown-stone houses was the sign, the magnet that had drawn me from the newsboys’ dinner on the east side to another Christmas dinner on the west side. A few days before Christmas the invitation had been published in the various New York newspapers: and then, on Christmas Day, lest any of the wished-for guests might not have read the papers, there shone from the window of the brown-stone mansion the light to guide them thither.

At the door of the drawing-room stood the hostess, receiving her guests.

“A merry Christmas! I am pleased to see you,” was her greeting to each one that passed her. She extended her hand, and several times, as guest after guest passed into the beautiful room beyond, I noticed a pained, half-bewildered look on the face of the hostess, and once or twice her eyes were bright with tears.

No servant stood near to announce the guests, since all were nameless for the day. Some, the hostess recognised as friends of former years; some, I, too, knew as grand dames of a time not long gone by; but to each and all only the cheery greeting, “Merry Christmas! I am pleased to see you,” was given, and, finally, when a hundred of New York’s gentlewomen — “destitute and alone”—had passed through the hospitable portal, the doors of the dining-room were thrown open, and the guests took their places at the tables.

The table linen was of the finest damask, the silver shone resplendent, the china was beautiful and costly, the glasses thin and dainty, and the table decorations were such as only taste and wealth could provide. In front of each cover was a tiny cut-glass vase of flowers.

Around the tables there were gathered sweet-faced women with white hair: women with tired, careworn faces and dark hair; and there were some young girls whose beauty shone out in spite of the melancholy of their eyes. All were well dressed—that is, there was nothing cheap or loud or gaudy about the apparel of the guests—but many of the hats and dresses were a bit old-fashioned, and none of the clothes were absolutely new.

A handsome woman of about forty was wearing a black satin dress: satin which, when purchased, must have cost five or six dollars a yard. Her hat, old and behind the times as it was, showed that it had originally been bought of a certain milliner who is known to supply only the richest of New York’s women with headgear. Her boots were of the finest kid, and had been mended in a neat, though amateurish, way by the wearer. One knew instinctively that her feet were encased in silk hose, doubtless much darned.

“I really could not eat any dinner today,” she said, as she tried to smile up at her hostess. “Just a cup of coffee— that is all. You see, my head…”

But it was not her head. It was her stomach! As I looked at her I knew the woman was starving; that she had got past the ravenously hungry stage. Two days before, perhaps, she might have felt hungry, but now she felt only faint and weak, and craved for her Christmas dinner nothing but a cup of coffee. Some years before, she had been giving charity dinners herself, and called in the children of the poor and fed them in her own palatial home. Her hats and dresses were then of the latest style and make, bought in London and Paris, where she had been accustomed to go every year.

At a table there sat society belles of a quarter of a century ago. There was one woman who had owned her hundreds of slaves before the war between North and South; there was the daughter of an honoured judge; the wife of an absconding defaulter; the widow of a clergyman who bad once preached to one of the wealthiest of eastern congregations; there were some women and girls who were trying hard to earn a living by office work, as dressmakers, as milliners, but who, because they were gentlewomen who had never been trained to pounce upon the “almighty dollar” and catch it as it came near, were failures, and must needs be pushed to the wall by the other working women of New York—the less refined and less dainty, but the stronger and better trained.

When the dinner was over and some of the guests were leaving, a woman I had known in another city a few years previously, and whose entertainments I had many times written up for the society columns of the paper on which I had then held a position, recognised me and turned aside to speak to me.

“You here! You here!” she whispered in an agitated voice. “Surely you cannot be going to write up this as a brilliant social function, with the names of the guests and the description of the gowns we are wearing! Promise me one thing for the sake of the days when I used to help you to fill your society page: you will not put my name in among the names of the guests at this dinner.”

“I am not putting any names in,” I answered. “Indeed, I am to write very little about it, except to say that a dinner to gentlewomen was given this year, and that I hope every Christmas to follow may see another such dinner.”

She pressed my hand, and went out silently. I left the house and continued my reportorial round. How happy were the faces at all the other “charity dinners “! How the idea of being “written up” appealed to the newsboys, and the bootblacks, and the cripples, and the inhabitants of the slums! Truly, it was “merry Christmas,” indeed, at all the other places. There were snipes and cheers, and a gulping down of good things. Only in the brown-stone mansion where a rich gentlewoman presided at a table where were gathered these other gentlewomen, “destitute and alone,” did I find sadness on every face. Yet, of all the Christmas charities, I doubt not that this was the one most needed and most deserved and appreciated by those to whom the invitations were sent out.

As I have said, it all happened a few years ago in New York, and all my Christmases since then have been spent in London. Here also I have, Christmas after Christmas, gone about to report upon the feasts spread for the poor. I have heard the smacking of the newsboys’ lips over the huge bites of prime Christmas roast beef; I have heard the watercress and flower girls counting aloud the plums in the slices of plum-pudding which lay upon their plates; I have seen “the poor” of the East End heartily enjoying their Christmas goose with apple sauce, and I have seen the little children of the mission chapels laughing gleefully as they played with their Christmas toys—all these things have I seen provided by London’s rich and well-to-do for London’s poor.

But not yet have I known of a feast provided for London’s women of gentle birth, “destitute and alone,” of whom there are many hundreds more than there are in New York.

There are many of them who live in the topmost, backmost, cheapest little rooms of apartment houses in the most select of West End neighbourhoods, in order, as they will say with a mirthless smile, to “have a good address.” For they do not like anyone to know they are poor, these gentlewomen who are “destitute and alone.” They are supposed by their landladies to “go out for their meals.” Biscuits and watercress, with sometimes a bit of cold ham or beef, bought ready cooked, or an egg, surreptitiously boiled over a little spirit stove, form the bulk of their none too frequent meals. Their clothes look often out-of-date, but their skirts do not look drabbled or dirty, for when they are in their little rooms they mend and brush and patch and darn, re-trim their hats with the same old flowers and ostrich-tips, and the same old ribbons, turned and pressed.

In her room the poor lady has no Christmas fire—but who suspects that? She has neither roast goose nor roast beef of Old England for dinner. She will eat a biscuit and some cheese—that is, unless this year some London woman follows the example of the New York woman, and gives a novel Christmas dinner.

But would she go if she were invited? Would scores of others like her become guests at a party where the hostess took them by the hand and wished them “A merry Christmas.” inquiring not their names, stipulating only that they should be women of gentle birth, “destitute and alone “?

I am not sure: I cannot know; but I believe there would be many guests at such a Christmas feast in London. The hostess must be herself a woman of gentle birth and tact and diplomacy, She must not, on the day of the feast, call in her friends to help her receive her guests. It were better she should receive alone. She must not give over the entertainment of her guests to her servants. Though she should advertise her intention of receiving in the newspapers, she should see that no representatives of the press are there to report upon the identity of her guests. Indeed, if there were any possible way of keeping the address where the dinner is to be given out of the papers, it would be preferable.

The door of the hospitable house where the feast was to be given could not, of course, be left open during the two or three hours when the dinner was in progress. Both the wintry weather and the danger of the entrance of thieves would forbid that. The knocker would be used by the guests, the door opened by a servant, and the guests conducted to the drawing-room where the hostess awaited them. That is all. It requires a careful thinking out, management, and delicate handling.

The Quiver 1903

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While the thought was kindly meant, the luncheon for those of education and gentle birth (did the hostess require a certificate?) sounds infinitely depressing, not unlike those dreary economies practised by the destitute. One wonders if those in attendance felt worse afterwards, having been given a brief glimpse of their former lives, like the visions of the Little Match Girl as she lit matches in the snow.

Mrs Daffodil fears that, though laudable is the aim of giving impoverished gentlewomen a holiday treat, there is an unpleasant suggestion that the formerly rich cannot bear poverty as easily as can those born to it.  Mrs Daffodil finds offensive the notion that the daughters of the rich cannot compete with the “less refined and less dainty, but the stronger and better trained.”  If training to “pounce” is needed, then perhaps the kind hostesses would consider subscribing the money spent on an afternoon’s entertainment to fund instruction in useful and remunerative trades.

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.