Category Archives: Gentlemen

“To Let” – An April Fool’s Day Prank: 1873

TO LET.

I should like to describe my hero as a young and gallant cavalier of this nineteenth century, with the beauty of an Apollo and the wisdom of a sage, but truth compels me to that Rupert Smithson, in spite of his fine Christian appellation, was neither one or the other. His nephew and namesake, who was called by the bosom of his family Rupert the Second, said that his Uncle Rupert was a crusty old bachelor, and I hammer my brains in vain for a more fitting description.

A crusty old bachelor he undoubtedly was, more than fifty years of age, with grizzled hair, heavy gray beard, and a rough voice and manner. It is very true that he was always careful to keep the crustiest side of nature on the surface, and had been discovered in the act of committing several deeds of charity and kindness, that belied utterly his habitual surly tone and abrupt manner. Twenty years before, when the gray hair was nut-brown and clustered in rich curls over the broad white forehead, when the brown eye shown with the fire of ambition, the clear voice was true and tender, Rupert Smithson had given his whole loyal heart to Katie Carroll, neighbor and friend, little sweetheart from childhood.

Urged by love as well as by ambition, he had left his home, in a small Western town, and gone to New York to win a name and fortune to lay at Katie’s feet. The fortune and fame as a successful merchant came to him, but when he returned to Katie he found she had left her home also, to become the wife of a wealthy pork dealer in Cincinnati.

Nobody told Rupert of treachery to the pretty Katie, of letters suppressed, of slanders circulated, and parental authority stretched to the utmost in favor of the wealthy suitor. He had no record of the slow despair that crept over the loving heart, when the pleading letters were answered, of the dull apathy that yielded at last, and gave a way the hand of the young girl, when her heart seemed broken.

All that the young, ardent lover knew was the one bitter fact that the girl he loved faithfully and fondly was false to her promise, the wife of another. He spoke no word of bitterness, but returned to the home he hoped was his stepping-stone, and a life of loneliness.

Ten years later, when his sister, with her son and daughter, came to live in New York for educational advantages, Rupert the First was certainly what his saucy nephew called him, a crusty old bachelor. Yet into that sore, disappointed heart Katie’s desertion had so wounded, the bachelor uncle took with warm love and great indulgence his nephew and niece, bright, handsome children of ten and twelve, who, childlike, imposed upon his good nature, rioted over his quiet, orderly house, his staid housekeeper declared they were worse than a pair of monkeys, caressed him stormily moment, and pouted over some refusal for a monstrous indulgence the next, and treated as bachelor uncles must expect to be treated by their sister’s children.

“Rupert was so set in his fidgety old bachelor ways,” she said, “that it would be positive cruelty to disturb him.”

Probably young Rupert and Fannie did not consider their bright young faces disturbers of their uncle’s tranquility, but it is quite certain that out of school hours, No. 49, their uncle’s house, saw them as frequently as No. 43, where their mother resided.

With the intuitive perception of children they understood that the abrupt, often harsh voice, the surly words, and the demonstrative manner, covered a heart that would have made any sacrifice for their sakes, that loved them with as true a love as their own dead father could have given them.

As they outgrew childhood, evidences of affection ceased to take the form of dolls and drums, and cropped out in Christmas checks, in ball dresses and boquets, a saddle horse, and various other delightful shapes, till Rupert came of age, when he was taken from college into his uncle’s counting house and a closer intimacy than ever was cemented between the young life and the one treading the downward path to old age.

There had been a family gathering at Mrs. Kimberly’s one evening in the month of March, and a conversation had arisen upon the traditional customs and tricks of the 1st of April.

“Senseless, absurd tricks,” Rupert Smithson had called them in his abrupt, rough way, fit only to amuse children or idiots.

“O, pshaw, Uncle Rupert!” said Fannie, saucily, “you played April fool tricks too when you were young.”

“Never! Never could see any wit or sense in them. And what’s more, Miss Fannie, I was never once caught by any of the shallow deceits.”

“Never made an April fool?”

“Never, and never will be,” was the reply. “There child, go play me that last nocturn you learned. It suits me. I hate sky-rocket music, but that is the dreamy, lazy air, and I like it.”

“The idea of your liking anything dreamy and lazy,” said Mrs. Kimberly. “I thought you were all energy and activity.”

“When I work,” was the reply; “but when I rest, I want rest.”

“Uncle Rupert, broke in Rupert, suddenly, ” what will you bet I can’t fool you next week?”

“Bah! The idea of getting to my age to be fooled by a boy like you.”

“Then you defy me?”

“Of course I do.”

“I’ll do it.”

“Fore-warned is fore-armed. But come, stop chatting, I want my music.”

Pretty, saucy, mirth-loving Fannie. with her dancing black eyes and brilliant smile, did not look like a very promising interpreter of dreamy, lazy music, but once her hands touched the keys of the grand pianoforte, the whole nature seemed to merge into the sounds she created. Merry music made dancing elves of her fingers as they flew over the notes; dreamy music drew a mask of hushed beauty over her face. and her great black eyes would dilate and seem to see far away beauties as the room filled with the sweet, low cadences.

She would look like an inspired Joan of Arc when grand chords rolled out under her hands in majestic measures, and sacred music transformed her beauty into something saintly. When once the rosewood case closed, Saint Cecilia became pretty, winsome Fannie Kimberly again.

There were few influences that could soften the outer crust of manner in Rupert Smithson, but he would hide his face away when Fannie played, ashamed of the tears that started, or smiles that hovered on his lips as the music pierced down into that warm, loving heart he had tried to conceal with cynical words and looks.

So, when the first chords of the nocturn melted softly into silence, the old bachelor stole away and left the house, bidding no one farewell. They were accustomed to his singular ways, and no one followed him, but Mrs. Kimberly sighed as she said:

“Rupert gets more odd and crusty every year.”

“But he is so good,” Fannie said, leaving her piano stool with a twirl that kept it spinning around giddily.

“Why don’t he get married?” asked Rupert. “It is a downright shame to have that splendid house shut up year after year, excepting just the few rooms Uncle Rupert and Mrs. Jones occupy.”

“I mean to ask him,” said Fannie, impulsively.

“No, no!” said Mrs. Kimberly, hastily, ” never speak of that to your uncle, Fannie, Never!”

“But why not?”

“I never told you before, but your uncle was engaged years ago, and there was some trouble. I never understood about it exactly, for I was married and left Wilton the same year that Rupert came to New York. But this I do know; the lady after waiting three or four years, married, and Rupert has never been the same man since. I am quite sure he was very much attached to her, and that you would wound him, Fannie, if you jested about marriage.”

“But I don’t mean to jest at all. I think he would be ever so much happier if he had some one to love, and some one to love him in return. It must be dreadfully lonesome in that large house with no companion but Mrs. Jones, who is 100 years old, I am certain.”

“He ought to marry her,” said Rupert, “she always calls him ‘dearie.'”

“Don’t, children, jest about it any more,” said their mother, “and be sure you never mention the subject to your uncle.”

The first of April was a clear, rather cold day, the air bright and snapping, and the sky all treacherous smiles as became the coquettish month of sunshine and showers.

Uncle Rupert, finishing his lonely breakfast, thought to himself: “I must be on the lookout to-day for Rupert’s promised trick! He won’t find it so easy as he imagines to fool his old uncle. Who’s there?” The last two words in answer to a somewhat timid knock upon the door.

It was certainly not easy to astonish Rupert Smithson, but his eyes opened with an unmistakable expression of amazement as the door opened to admit a tall, slender figure in deep mourning, and a low, very sweet voice asked:

“Is this the landlord?

“The—the–what?”

“I called about the house, sir.”

“What house? Take a seat”–suddenly recalling his politeness.

“Is not this No. 49 W__ place?”

“Certainly it is.”

“I have been looking out for some time for a furnished house suitable for boarders, sir, and if I find this one suits me, and the rent is not too high ”

“But__,” interrupted the astonished bachelor.

“O, I hope it is not taken. The advertisement said to call between 8 and 9, and it struck 8 as I stood on the door step.”

“O, the advertisement. Oh no. Master Rupert. This is your doings, is it? will you let me see the advertisement, madam?”

“You have the paper in your hand, sir,” she said, timidly. “I did not cut it out.”

“O, you saw it in the paper,” and he turned to the list of houses to let.

Sure enough there it was.

“To let, furnished–three story, brown-stone front, basement.” and rather a full description of the advantages of the premises, with the emphatic addition, “call only between 8 and 9 A. M.”

“So as to be sure I am at home, the rascal,” said Rupert Smithson, laying aside the paper.

“I am sorry, madam,” he said, ” that you have had the trouble of calling upon a useless errand.”

“Then it is taken?” said a very disappointed voice, and the heavy crape veil was lifted to show a sweet, matronly face, framed in that most saddest of all badges, a widow’s cap.

“Well, no,” said the perplexed bachelor, “it is not exactly taken.”

“Perhaps you object to boarders?”

“You want to take boarders?” he answered, thinking how ladylike and gentle she looked, and wondered if she had long been a widow.

“Yes, sir; but I would be very careful about the reference.”

“Have you ever kept boarders before?”

“No, sir. Since my husband died, six years ago–he failed in business, and brought on a severe illness by mental anxiety–my daughter and myself have been sewing, but we have both been in ill health all winter, and I want to try some way of getting a living that is less confining. I have kept house several years, but I have no capital to furnish, so we want to secure a house furnished like this one, if possible.”

Quite unconscious of the reason, Rupert Smithson was finding it very pleasant to talk to this gentle little widow about her plans, and as she spoke, was wondering if it would not make an agreeable variety in his lonely life to let her make her experiment of keeping a boarding house upon the premises Seeing his hesitation, she said, earnestly,

“I think you will be satisfied with my references, sir. I have lived in one house and have worked for one firm for six years, and if you require it, I can obtain letters from my husband’s friends in Cincinnati.”

“Cincinnati?”

“He was pretty well known there, Perhaps you have heard of him, John Murray, ___street?”

“John Murray!” Rupert Smithson looked searchingly into the pale face that was so pleadingly raised to his gaze. Where was the rosy cheeks, the dancing eyes, the laughing lips that he pictured as belonging to John Murray’s wife? Knowing now the truth, he recognized the face before him, the youth all gone, and the expression sanctified by sorrow and long suffering.

“You have children?” he said, after a long silence.

“Only one living, a daughter, seventeen years old. I have buried all the others.”

“I will let you have the house on one condition,” he said, his lip trembling a little as he spoke.

She did not answer. In the softened eyes looking into her own, in the voice suddenly modulated to a tender sweetness, some memory was awakened, and she only listened with bated breath and dilating eyes.

“On one condition, Katie,” he said, “that you come to it as my wife, and its mistress. I have waited for you over twenty years, Katie.”

It was hard to believe, even then, though the little widow let him caress her, and sobbed upon his breast.

This gray-haired, middle-aged man was so unlike the Rupert she had believed false. Even after the whole past was discussed, and Rupert knew how he had been wronged, but not by Katie, it was hard to believe there might be years of happiness still in store for them.

Rupert Smithson didn’t put in an appearance at his counting house that day, and Rupert the Second went home to his dinner in rather an uneasy state of mind regarding that April fool trick of his.

“I must run over and see if I have offended beyond all hope of pardon,” he said, as he rose from the table.

But a gruff voice behind him arrested his steps.

“So, so; you have advertised my house to let,” said his uncle, but spite of his efforts he failed to look very angry.

“How many old maids and widows applied for it?” inquired the daring young scapegrace.

“I don t know. After the first application my housekeeper told the others the house was taken.

“Taken!”

“Yes, I have let it upon a life lease. too.”

Here he opened the door.

“My wife!”

Very shy, blushing and timid “my wife” looked in her slate-colored dress and bonnet, as her three-hours’ husband led her in.

After a moment’s scrutiny Mrs. Kimberly cried: “It is Katie Carroll!”

“Katie Smithson!” said the bridegroom, with immense dignity, “and my daughter, Winifred.”

There was a new sensation, as a pretty blonde answered this call, but a warmer welcome was never given than was accorded to these by their new relatives, and to this day Uncle Rupert will not acknowledge that he got the worst of the joke when his nephew played him an April fool’s trick by advertising his house to let.

The Elk County [PA] Advocate 9 October 1873: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  April Fool’s Pranks followed well-worn paths: sending merchants with loads of goods to unsuspecting householders; insulting signs stuck to a stranger’s coat; coins glued to the side-walk; and, of course, advertising an occupied house to let.

The author used a full stock of Victorian popular literature cliches: the husband who failed in business, went into a Decline and died; the broken-hearted widow whose children are all in the grave, save one; the suppressed letters to separate devoted lovers; and the crusty old bachelor with a heart of gold. All that is missing is the villainous nobleman and the lisping child. Never mind–Rupert the Second and saucy, mirth-loving Fannie have been cast in the juvenile roles, sans lisp.  Mrs Daffodil assumes that the author was paid by the word; hence the lengthy and altogether unnecessary description of Fanny’s musical talents.

 

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

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

 

Playing Hostess for Her Husband: 1894

late night supper Alan Maley 1988

Late Night Supper, Alan Maley, 1988

A CLEVER LITTLE WOMAN SHOWS A WAY TO WIN A MAN’S HEART.

“I suppose,” said a clever little woman, “that I get to go to the theater more than any woman of my acquaintance, means being equal. You see, it’s this way: One night John wanted me to go to the play, and of course I accepted, for I dearly love the play. After the theater was over John was steering me straight for the restaurant. ‘No, John,’ said I firmly; ‘we can’t afford it. The play was treat enough. Let’s be sensible. We had a good dinner, and we are not starving.’

“‘Oh, hang the expense!’ said Mr. John. ‘We might as well round off with a bit of supper.’ But I wouldn’t. As John says, ‘I stood pat.’ We went on home, for when a man is hungry he doesn’t think much of the virtue of economy. In fact, he said by my pigheadedness I’d spoiled all the evening, and he’d ‘be ding squizzled’–whatever that may mean–if he’d take me out again in a hurry. I kept my temper, as I was grateful for having seen so beautiful a play, and said nothing.

“Well, when we got home, John threw the bedroom door open with a bang, and there in the middle of the floor was my sewing table with as dainty a lunch as one could wish. We had had a leg of mutton for dinner, and I had shredded some of it, chopped up a couple of shallots fine and added two cold potatoes cut into dice and covered the whole with mayonnaise made after ‘Catharine Cole’s prize’ recipe. Then there were a few olives and some dainty slices of bread and butter, all on a white cloth, with chairs drawn up, and as cozy as could be. John was simply delighted. Since then he often asks me to go to the theater, for he says he can stick me for a supper that tastes better than any hot bird and cold bottle that he could order down town.”

“What else do you have for those suppers?” inquired a curious wife, who had never had the happy thought of playing hostess for only her husband.

“Well, one night I made before starting–and I never let John know what we are going to have–a nice dish of oyster soup. I sent for 15 cents’ worth of oysters and 5 cents’ worth of milk. I took the juice of the oysters, scalded it, added the hot milk and finally plumped the oysters in. I had seasoned it with plenty of butter, pepper and sauce. Then I poured it all into a yellow bowl and set it away. That night when we got home I doused it all into a saucepan and heated it up over our grate fire, put some broken crackers in the bowl and poured it over them. It made a tip top supper for poor people, who, in going to the theater, want to eat their cake and have it too.”

Independent-Journal [Ottawa KS] 1 March 1894: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Previously we have read of the perils of the too-domestic husband in “Genevieve, Whose Husband was Domestic,” but one is sure that the theatre-loving narrator above was ensuring that her husband would not enjoy any hot birds and cold bottles outside of her society. Champagne-sodden “late suppers” were associated with dissipation, debauchery, and dyspepsia, usually in the company of actresses, members of the chorus, and ballet-girls.

Mrs Daffodil’s only question about the cosy little apres-theatre suppers is: does the narrator own an ice-box? Oysters and mayonnaise, even presented on the snowiest of white cloths, might prove deadly if not chilled during the theatrical interval.

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

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

The Haunted Hat-Box: 1900

1880s leather top hat boxTHE HAUNTED HAT-BOX.

By MAY CROMMELIN, Author of ” A Jewel of a Girl,” “Goblin Gold,” “Dead Men’s Dollars,” “Half Round the World For a Husband,” &c..

“I’ll not bear it any longer!”

Springing to my feet I went to look in a mirror. A tear-stained face, just out of its teens, a rumpled head of auburn hair met my gaze. So sorry a spectacle was it that no wonder the scornful words escaped my lips aloud.

“Humph, my dear! A pretty bride of two months standing you are! Well, sooner or later things have got to come to a climax, and for my part the sooner the better. I’ll sit down and write to Uncle Billy. There!”

With lips firm-set, but trembling fingers, I accordingly sat myself down and scribbled thus to my late guardian:

“Riverside, Henley, Thursday, August 22nd.

“Dearest Uncle Bill, Do come down and see us for the week’s end. I wish to consult you on a special private matter.

“The fact is I am very unhappy about something, and unless it can be cleared up–soon! shall have to ask for the shelter of your roof once more.–Ever your affectionate niece, Gertrude Isabel Cranstoun.”

“That looks strong and decided. It’ll bring him ‘jumping,’ as he always says,” was my satisfied murmur.

Just then the door opened to admit my lord and master, who came in from a solitary afternoon’s punting, looking darkly handsome, so I phrased it to myself.

“Ah, tea is in, I see,”‘ he stiffly remarked.

“It is. I have had mine. Will you have some?” Rising with the new, simple dignity of a wife strictly resolved to do her household tasks, however morally ill-treated, so long as the situation, strained to tension, could be endured.

“Yes, please. No, no sugar. Thanks.”

Alas! One month ago he would not have been late, for we could not have dreamt of being parted all a summer’s day by a lover’s quarrel. I must have waited for him. Then he would have said: “No sugar, sweetest.” and we should have laughed like happy fools. Even last week, even yesterday itself, he always said “dear” in a tone growing daily more deprecatingly entreating, as who should imply: Let us drop that subject. Let us love each other and all be the same as before you found out–? And then he would smile rather piteously.

And I would smile back piteously, too. Oh, my heart was aching for my poor boy–never think otherwise. But I had found out, you see; found out there was a secret close by us–a thing that woke sometimes and wailed in the dark, small hours, chilling my blood. And Cuthbert, when first I wonderingly questioned him, looked embarrassed, and tried to laugh the matter off. These later days he turned pale; said indistinctly once it was an old story that had nothing to do with me, nor ever could. Lastly, he begged me to inquire no more, like a good girl, but to come home to Woodleigh Hall. There, he promised me on his honour, that there would be no more trouble.

The proposal turned me aghast. What! When he knew boating was the one thing we both adored, and we had taken Riverside for another three weeks! When the Hall was not ready, the tenants’ dinners, speechifying, arches, the house-parties, partridges, etc., were all to come in September! When never, never again in our lives were we likely to have another second month of honeymooning! The hot blood leaped to my face, quick words to my tongue. What matter? He cared no longer for my company alone on the river that was clear, oh, quite clear.

All I said, I don’t well know. But I refused, cried, “No!” He ought to speak out. I insisted on knowing; had a right as his wife. Then he grew angry, said he would not be dictated to, had more right to keep certain affairs secret–even from me. Then, oh, it was all a turmoil of mutual entreaties, refusals to tell–to forbear asking. And now, never, never could we two be loving and trustful again. Not unless this horrid, brooding mystery was cleared up.

What was it, do you ask? Well, as few care to hear a tale twice, please wait until Uncle Bill comes, for he will want to know, too.

My husband stared out of the window. I furtively sent search-light glances in his direction. Handsome, dark, when in thought, his features always tinged with melancholy. This was the same Cuthbert who had wooed and won me. But surely, there was more nowadays revealed to my anxious, jealously-loving eyes. He had a poise of the head as if always on the alert, listening to catch some distant sound he dreaded. His eyes, too, looked often into space inquiringly, fearfully. In a miniature of his father, yonder on the table, there was the same strained, apprehensive look. And a cold fear crept into my heart lest there might be a strain of madness—

Yet, no, no! My own ears had heard, and I was sane and prosaic enough. Rousing from this profitless reverie I broke the silence in a small voice: “Have you any objection to my asking Uncle Bill down for the week’s end?”

Cuthbert started, winced I thought, then coolly answered:

“Oh no. Write if you wish it.”

“Thanks. I have written.”

“O–h, you have,” icily. “Then why stand on the ceremony of asking my leave?”

“Because you might have refused. In which case I should have gone to stay with him.”

Crash! That was my lovely teacup set down half-full on the table. Bang! That was Cuthbert’s chair, pushed back so violently it almost knocked over the standard lamp. Slam! The door was closed behind him emphatically.

For two more days we neither of us spoke to each other, except before the servants, to keep up appearances–. Then, oh, thank goodness! on the evening of the Saturday Uncle Bill arrived, calmer, more tactful, kindlier than ever in manner and look, being the most diplomatic of old club-men.

Cuthbert met my uncle civilly, and during tea both were on easy, but guarded terms. Then, with a muttered excuse, my husband left the room, saying he would not be back till dinner-time. No sooner were we two alone than Uncle Bill came and sat down in front of me, saying quietly:

“Now then, what is all this about, eh? I’m so sorry if there has been some trouble between you two.”

“Has been! There is! And as to ‘some,’” here I began to cry softly. “I’ve tried for a fortnight and more to believe it was all my own imagination—that it was wrong to be suspicious. But the other night I had to tell Cuthbert that once for all, he must choose whether he wished to live with me or with__”

“Who with? With whom?” burst from Uncle Bill, quick and clear. Being the softest-voiced, most sleepy-going of men, this showed deep excitement.

“It’s not with who or with whom,” I testily answered, careless of grammar. It’s with what. And to make my story short, it’s with his hat-box! Oh,–don’t!”

Uncle Bill had thrown himself back in his chair, and his portly person was heaving with hearty, subdued laughter. I could have beaten him with infinite pleasure. As it was I stamped my foot, crying out in a passion:

“Uncle Bill, do you think me a fool? Is Cuthbert one, too? Why do you imagine we should have got to such a pass as this when—when—I—I—think of leaving him, unless there was more behind. I mean something dreadful inside it?”

Uncle Bill’s roar of mirth broke off suddenly, as if a trumpeter had withdrawn his lips from his instrument. He looked searchingly at my face, raising his brows, and breathed, “Drink?”

“No, oh no. Cuthbert is most abstemious. He takes even less than you. This is something on his conscience, I fear; otherwise”—bending forward to whisper—“why should he mutter in his sleep? Three night ago he woke me by crying out—but it seems a shame to betray what he said when sleep, doesn’t it?”

“Humph! Yes. What did he say?”

“He groaned and called out: ‘I must hide it somewhere else. Gertie! Gertie knows!’ But you don’t understand. Shall I begin from the beginning?”

“Yes, do. Go on, I’m listening.”

This meant serious business, for Uncle Bill’s favourite invitation to speak was: Fire away!

Accordingly, I began by telling how, when we first started abroad on our honeymoon trip to Switzerland, my maid offered to carry a hat-box amongst my husband’s luggage. He thanked her, but said so distinctly he always wished it to be left to himself that she and I joked about it. What could he want with a “topper” in the mountains? Ah! He replied as gaily, he never liked to go without it. Somewhat to my surprise Cuthbert next asked leave to bring this hat-box into my room at nights, alleging that his own was crowded with luggage. Now, it was as large a room as mine; but I made no observation, thinking it was my first experience of my husband’s peculiar fad, and that, when living in Uncle Bill’s home, I noticed how the best of men had fads that might just as well be humoured.

“Humph! Ha! Quite so. Not a bit of it. Well, go on,” ejaculated Uncle Bill.

The same thing happened in Switzerland every night. By day the hat-box was carefully locked inside a wardrobe, of which Cuthbert carried the key. One day, therefore, I suddenly said I knew what was inside it. To my surprise, my husband turned quite pale, and demanded in evident perturbation:

“What? How? You could not have opened that lock!”

“It must be money or valuables,” was my piqued response. “Why not leave it in my care instead of hiding it like a wild cat used to do with her last kitten?’

Cuthbert laughed at that, but changed the subject; when once I reverted to it, he showed annoyance.

We went with a party up the mountain to sleep in a hut and see the sunrise, only taking small handbags each. But Cuthbert brought the hat-box too! We were both of us chaffed by the others unmercifully. Well, a second expedition of a similar kind took place; and this time Cuthbert left the tiresome thing behind, at my entreaty. He seemed ill at ease, and hurried back early to our hotel, where we were met by the servants with outcries.

Eh! What a night! From midnight till cockcrow nobody near our room had closed an eye. Why? Because something inside the dress-closet in monsieur’s room made an awful, indescribable noise! Something between a wild animal and a spirit in pain: it so wailed and moaned, explained the night porter. They did open our rooms, but the closet was locked. Well, Cuthbert ran upstairs and into his room, which opened only out of mine. I followed him closely when out he came, saying:

“It was a cat–a wild cat, plainly. Tell the servant so. I must have shut the poor beast in.”

Well. I asked Simpson to tell the household what he said. But my senses told me it was untrue; for no cat passed out by my room–I was there. Simpson looked queerly, pursed her lips, then said:

“Well, miss, I mean, ma’am, I’ll do as you wish, because I was your mother’s maid twenty years before ever I became yours.”

And then she went out of the room as stiff as a grenadier. I felt too ashamed of the fib, and too nervous and puzzled to know what she meant.

In Paris on our return things grew worse. It was hot weather, and our room was very small, with a dressing-closet for Cuthbert inside. Feeling feverish about three in the morning, I got up softly, meaning to lean out of the window when in the dark I stumbled over the hat-box, and hurt my toes. This vexed me, so I thought to thrust the tiresome object into the closet. But it was too heavy to lift; if it had been made of iron, and the floor a magnet, that might give some idea of the weight which amazed me. Furious at what seemed a delusion of my senses for I recalled seeing Cuthbert bring it in one hand easily I set my muscles, and with a great effort literally staggered into the closet. I was stronger than any other girl at school. Hardly was the thing set down than something inside began to roll round, swaying and knocking against the furniture, at which I gave a shriek, and rushing back, shut the door. There came a moan I could swear to that! Next moment, Cuthbert bounded up, switched on the electric light, and looking white as ashes, asked what was wrong. Had I seen anything?

“The hat-box–” was all I could gasp, pointing. He burst into the closet, and the noise stopped like magic. His bride being so upset, crying and trembling, one might think Cuthbert would have come to me. But no; he only implored me to be calm, and stood in the doorway as if mounting guard. Then assuring me it, was all my fancy, he seized the hat-box with two fingers and was bringing it back when I screamed, declaring unless he left it there and shut the door, I would rush into the corridor. Well, he reasoned; I protested. The end of it was, he shut himself into the dressing-closet in a temper, apparently, while I lay awake crying. We left early for England in the morning, and between our first quarrel and a rough crossing, on arriving in London I was suffering too much to go- on to this house straight as we had intended. Cuthbert said hastily I must stay with Simpson at the Grosvenor Hotel, white he ran down to Riverside to “arrange things.” We could follow next morning. And off he rushed to Paddington, before I could utter a word the hat-box with him though he forgot his dressing-bag. Knowing the house and servants were ready, I own to feeling huffed when I came down. But Cuthbert was full of lame excuses for having left me. He added, significantly that he had put all his traps out of the way. No hat-box was to be seen; and I began to breathe freely, when Simpson roused my fears by observing, that a cupboard in the wall of my room was locked and sealed. It was just what she wished to put my hats in.”

“The owners have done so,” I suggested.

Simpson looked nearer, and said:

“Why, the seal is Mr Cranstoun’s crest. See, ma’m!”

She and I gazed at each other, but said nothing. Simpson is a reserved woman, but I know we were both thinking: “it is in there!”

“Well, but my dear Gertrude, if you are not worried any more with sight of it, surely–” began Uncle Bill.

“Listen, please. This past week there have been two dances in the neighbourhood to which we went. But, to my surprise, before the first ended, I missed my husband, he had left about half-past eleven, pleading a headache to the hostess, and saying it would be a pity to spoil my enjoyment, so he would send our fly back later for me. Everyone, myself foremost, praised Cuthbert’s kindness. Unhappily, three evenings ago, we were at the second dance, when, just as I was in the highest spirits, my card crowded with the names of the best men in the room, up came Cuthbert, and whispered, would I mind leaving; he felt out of sorts, Now. as a rule, he has splendid health; what was more, he looked quite well, and a suspicion struck me–in fact, my mind jumped to the true meaning, that the hat-box was connected with this sudden pretence. Well, the hosts pressed him to stay; another dance began, and my partner whirled me off, for just a turn, and would not stop. The end of it was we did not leave for twenty minutes. On the way home, Cuthbert seemed so vexed and silent that my conscience smote me, fearing he was really unwell.

On reaching home, to my surprise, all our maids, the gardener and butler, were huddled in a half-dressed group outside the porch, looking up at my room, where the gas had been left lit. When we called out inquiries, Simpson alone answered, saying sternly to Cuthbert:

“If you please, sir, there is something hoccultly spirituous in the cupboard.”

Without waiting for another word, Cuthbert rushed upstairs, when at the same time we all heard a horrid cry, as one of someone being murdered. There followed a long-drawn moan, coming plainly from my room. The maids screeched; and in terror lest Cuthbert should be in danger. I flew after him. As he flung the door open, I distinctly heard him call out, low, but passionately: “Here I am! Peace! peace! Can I not be late just once, a few minutes? Will this torment never end?”

The wailing sound that still shivered on the air suddenly ceased. There was utter silence in the room, and it was perfectly empty. Cuthbert turned, and seeing me, looked strangely. Then, leaning out of the window, he called to the servants:

“There is nothing here. Did you hear cats on the roof? Come up and see, you men?”

The men came slowly, nodded sheepishly, and went away. I told the maids severely to go to bed, even Simpson. Then, coming back to my husband, I said:

“Look here, Cuthbert, your cousin, Mary Sharky, told me something of this. I love you dearer than all else on earth; but you do not love me truly, or you would put this—thing–away.

“I asked Mary to tell you; it was a thing you ought to know before marrying me,” said Cuthbert, in a hollow voice. “But if she told you all, you ought to know it is impossible for me to—to–separate from this. Other women have borne it before you–and more.”

Now it happened that Mary Sharky did not tell me all. For she began a story full of innuendos against Cuthbert about some woman whom he had ill-treated and ought to have married, she said. It was told as if she were anxious to warn me, fearful my marriage would be a frightful failure. So, thinking her a spiteful cat, I haughtily refused to pry into Cuthbert’s affairs, and begged her to say no more.

“Do you wish me to take that to the spare room. There will be a horrible noise if I leave it alone there,” added Cuthbert.

“No. I’m not afraid! And we need not make more gossip for the servants to-night,” was my reply, for my spirit was roused. “You see now, Uncle Bill, that either I am Cuthbert’s wife, and have a right to live in peace with him, or else he had better keep to his–his midnight ghostly companion and let me go, go back to my dear old uncle.” The burst of sobbing which ended this sentence did not premise much for my own or Uncle Bill’s happiness, if this should come to pass.

“Poor little girl! Cheer up! cheer up!” cried Uncle Bill. “But what the dickens is it?” in blank wonder.

“I can’t guess!” A wail was in my voice, tears in my eyes. My ears were strained to hear my good guardian say that I was a foolish, big baby. My heart ached with the fear lest he might—must–think ill of Cuthbert. Slowly the verdict came from those bearded lips.

“Humph! Ha! It looks uncommonly queer. Perhaps Cranstoun will let me speak to him to-night. Come, Gertie, dry up! Your face looks as if it had run in the washing.”

Thanks to Uncle Bill’s strenuous resolve to make us all three keep up appearances, dinner went off fairly well. Then I left early, and creeping out into the darkness of the summer night, leant with aching brow and worse aching heart against the old cedar in deep shadow. Presently men’s voices sounded close by. Two burning spots betrayed cigars in the dark, where a couple of forms were strolling noiselessly on the turf. And his, I mean Cuthbert’s, voice said, emphatically, in sadness:

“I would give ten of the remaining years of my life to be free from this haunting horror. But Gertie knows–my cousin told her of the family curse. My mother, my grandmother, both endured it, so I hoped she loved me as they did their husb–”

“Cuthbert! I’m here, not listening, but I couldn’t help overhearing. What curse? What family?” was my wildly eager interruption, as breaking through the low branches I came out from my retreat, stammering almost incoherently: “Mary never told. She slandered you, made believe you ought to have married somebody else–herself I thought, and so refused to hear. Then afterwards–you see–I supposed it was worse– something dead–Oh, dear, there must have been some dreadful mistake.”

“Never mind, it’s all right.” (I was in Cuthbert’s arms). “There, there, my dear little wife. Mary is a–a snake! Believe me, I never thought of marrying her, though she did try at one time. Why, Uncle Bill, it seems neither of you do know. Where are you?”

“Humph! Ha! I just strolled on here,” came from a discreet distance. A portly form loomed, returning; then in mellow tones came the meaning reminder: “No, my dear Cranstoun, we don’t know–yet! Being in the dark in both senses, how would it be to return to the house and get some light?”

“You mean–?  Yes; you should both know. Certainly my wife has a right,” answered Cuthbert, in uncertain accents. “Well, come in.” Without mutual explanations we closed the windows, drew the blinds, lit all the lights. Then Cuthbert began; and from his tone it seemed a real relief to speak freely to me at last.

“The story begins seventy-five years ago,” said Cuthbert, “when my grandfather was an orphan between fourteen and fifteen years old, living at Woodleigh Hall with his three step-brothers. These were grown men, ho oldest over thirty years of age; a jolly, hard-swearing, fox-hunting trio of bachelors on more or less friendly terms. Their father had married twice, however, and the only child of the second marriage was my grandfather. Besides being so much younger than the others, he was, by all accounts, very different; a gentle, studious lad, timid and delicate, perhaps because his brothers looked upon him as an intruder and made him the butt for their taunts or ill-humour.

“Woodleigh Hall was a hell-fire club in a small way, while these three roysterers kept open house for all their dare-devil acquaintances. They passed the day in the most barbarous sports of the time–cock-fighting, or bull-baiting, and drank their six bottles of port a-piece at night till they rolled under the table.

“One summer evening, about seven o’clock, when they were sitting over their wine, and as it happened with no other company but my grandfather, one of my grand-uncles spied a pedlar passing through the park for there was a right of way there which was a standing grievance to the three brothers. They were so feared by the villagers that few or none came that way unless greatly pressed. But this pedlar, being a wayfarer, possibly did not know.

“‘Hullo!’ cried one of the party, ‘here’s some sport! Let’s go and turn that fellow back for his impudence and we will empty his pack.’

“Out the three staggered, full of wine and quarrelment, followed by my grandfather, who said to the hour of his death that he was quite sober–for he used to spill his wine on his clothes when bullied by his brothers to take more wine than his head could carry. Fearing mischief, he went reluctantly, keeping behind though they called to him to come on- and he saw them enter a wood with a whoo-whoop! Tallyho! as if they viewed their man. Next came the noise of a loud wrangle—blows, a shout of ‘Murder!’ and dying groans.

My grandfather was not very brave, perhaps, for he turned and fled home. When he saw his brothers next, they looked so darkly at him, that he durst not ask questions. But he feared the worst; and, indeed, he was packed off to college the day after—a boon he had vainly asked for months. So they feared him it would seem; and on the very day he left a hue and cry for the missing man was already begun.

“The pedlar’s body was found after some weeks by a gamekeeper’s dog that scratched up freshly-turned earth in the wood. At the time there were angry rumours among the peasantry, for the squire and his brothers were suspected of having a hand in the foul play. But as the poor fellow was a stranger, it was nobody’s business. My grand-uncles, however, declared they would give the pedlar a Christian burial; and his remains were accordingly placed in the churchyard, with an inscription stating he was killed by persons unknown.

“But here comes the queerest part of the story. A week later the sexton was horrified to find the grave disturbed, the coffin split open, and the pedlar’s skull on the top. The strange news was taken to Woodleigh, when my grand-uncles were very angry, blamed the sexton, and themselves saw the skull reinterred. The next night the same thing happened, and once more. The country people also believed that groans came from the murdered man’s grave. So, declaring they would pretty soon show there was nothing to fear, the Cranstoun brothers took the skull to the Hall, where the eldest kept it in his own bedroom. We do not know what they saw or heard, but all three seemed under a curse from the day the pedlar was killed. The oldest died of drink within the year; the second went raving mad and was shut up; and the youngest broke his neck in three months, riding his hunter at a quarry-hole which he knew well. My grandfather inherited Woodleigh and the estates, but he was never a happy man. He tried to bury the skull again, but it reappeared above ground, and to his despair he was forced to keep it at Woodleigh. By experience he discovered that by day he was at peace from ghostly manifestations. But from midnight till dawn or so, there was no quiet unless he slept with the skull near him.

“My father found the same thing. So have I! And that is the history of the Cranstoun family curse. If anyone can suggest how to free myself and those belonging to me from it, no words could express my gratitude.”

“As Cuthbert ended, he glanced at the clock, out of nervous habit, being so used to watch for the hour of trouble. I glanced, too; but then looked at Uncle Bill. After deep musing the latter roused, bent forward to us and spoke:

“There is a plan which might, be tried, but it involves a possible nine days’ scandal at Woodleigh. Therefore you would both have to weigh that against the mere chance, mind you, of freedom, Now, Gertie, declare nothing till you hear. It is like this, Cuthbert! and you will decide between family pride and honesty. You say, on the grave-stone over the pedlar’s grave the words still stand: ‘Killed by persons unknown!’ Have you moral courage to put instead the names of your grand-uncles?” Cuthbert was silent awhile. Then he said: “It is just. I will do it!”

***

On the following Monday we three were at Woodleigh, to the surprise of the household and tenantry. Only very few, and those tried servants, knew of a short service that week one early morning, when a skull was buried in an old grave: and upon the headstone stood in fresh letters, after the pedlar’s name. “John Luckpenny, died 1798,” these words: “Killed without just cause, by Simon. Wilfrid, and Thomas Cranstoun.” But soon the matter became whispered abroad, as also truly, that the Cranstoun family curse was lifted.

The Newcastle [Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England] Weekly Courant, 13 January 1900: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Oh, the endless misunderstandings of newlyweds who do not communicate  and foolishly keep vital secrets from one another! One is reminded of Du Maurier’s Rebecca.  What sort of a man asks his cousin to break the news of a murderous family’s curse to his fiancée? One can almost hear the skull screaming in impotent rage at such idiocy.

That said, pedlars, who had no fixed abode and carried goods and cash, were easy targets for thieves and malefactors.  Mrs Daffodil has written before about an apple tree haunted by the spirit of a murdered pedlar. This story also echoes the tales of “Screaming Skulls,” an exceptionally noisy type of ghostly manifestation in British lore, wherein a skull accustomed to sitting at or being walled up in one location, screams and raises a great row when moved. They are the supernatural equivalent of a toddler throwing a temper tantrum.

 

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

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

Lure of the Silk Stocking: 1903

pink stockings with butterfly lace

Pink silk stockings with butterfly lace inserts, Paris, c. 1875-1910 http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/pair-of-womens-stockings-121138

Lure of the Silk Stocking,

Filled and Unfilled, It Has Manifold Attractions for Mankind

Beautiful Specimens Seen in the Stores

So sheer a thing is a silken stocking that when empty it may be passed through a finger ring, and yet when it is filled it takes a goodly circlet–sign of a king’s gallantry and a knightly order–to encompass it.

In itself, a silk stocking is something to admire merely for the delicacy of its fabric. A Frenchman once wrote a musical comedy based on the misadventure of a girl who fell out of a tree and displayed a dainty stocking, but nobody has ever written yet the tragedies–some greater, some less–of the lure of the silk stocking. For of all things that attract rather by what they reveal than what they conceal, the silk stocking takes the palm.

Much as women like them, men like them the more. A man’s first cigar, his first love, his first sunrise at sea–these are timeworn themes. But of a man’s experience when buying his first pair of silk stockings! His first experience in pawning his watch is mild excitement compared to it.

A girl at one of the counters where these things are sold can tell at glance whether a man has ever committed this crime before. After the first plunge it is never quite so difficult again, and the habit grows on a man like any other. The average man who has the silk stocking habit acquires it long before he marries, so that when he takes a wife to himself that only means more silk stockings to be bought.

A man went into hosiery shop here the other day and picked out a dozen pairs of costly and varied patterns and then ordered a dozen pairs of perfectly plain ones that were not so costly. “For heaven’s sake!” he implored the shopkeeper, “don’t mix them up. One dozen is for my wife.”

The shopkeeper, with a philosophical eye, had no difficulty in determining which dozen was for his wife.

Of course there is a type of youth who cannot at first face the ordeal; and so, when it becomes absolutely necessary for him to buy a pair of silk stockings he takes refuge behind a letter to the girl he knows best in his own set and gets her to do it for him. She should not execute this commission, but, sad to state, she always does, and usually buys much prettier ones than he would have done. And then she will take the trouble to do them up in tissue paper and colored ribbons–just like a man would! Yet it is a fair bet that if the silk stocking habit gets a grip on that same youth within a year he will examine “opera-length stockings at the most crowded counter and will indulge in pleasantries with the young woman attendant about the possibilities of her showing him how they looked by trying them on.

A boy of this type came into the dining room of a Broadway hotel one day last week while the silk stocking reporter was trying to find the cheapest thing on the bill of fare. He was accompanied by a young man and a young woman, and the trio sat down at the next table to that at which the reporter was trying to figure out how a sixty-cent dish could go into a fifty-cent piece and leave anything for a tip and carfare to the office. It was clear that the youth and the young man had been engaged in an alcoholic contest at catch weights, and that the young woman was cross. The first thing she said to the young man was: “Did you get those silk stockings?” and her voice and her question attracted the attention of every one at that end of the room. The young man declared he hadn’t, and that he had no money, at which she began to upbraid him for his neglect to obey her commands. After this had been going on for ten or fifteen minutes the youth leaned across the table, and, putting his hand on the young woman’s arm, said with drunken solemnity: “Don’t you mind him, Minnie. I bought a pair for you.”‘ And then he pulled a package out of his pocket, opened it carefully and held up to the gaze of all the persons in the room a pair of stockings that probably cost nineteen cents and were fearfully and wonderfully ringed with stripes of black and red and yellow.

The silk stocking habit is rather an expensive one, as minor habits go, for they cost anywhere from $5 to $50 pair. For $3 one may buy a pair that will easily slip through a man’s finger ring. And for $50 anyone who has the price and cares for Her that much may send Her a creation of silk and lace that no mere man can appreciate unless it, is in active use.

Of course these fine ones have the disadvantage of being rather plain compared to the cheaper grades at $7 or $8 a pair. No loud designs in. blue or red or yellow appear on the fronts of the costliest ones nor climb up the clocks. Long snakes with forked prongs, all a-glitter of green and white cut glass beads, do not twine themselves over the instep and up the leg. The highest priced ones are beautiful in a quiet way, while the cheaper ones are produced in bizarre designs, often made to order, as in the case of one dozen turned out by a local dealer, which showed a design of red flames, leaping upward, on a black ground. A dozen pairs of silk stockings at $50 is not an unusual sale in one of the department stores, while the highwater mark of a sale of this kind in one shop was $100.

The Narka [KS] News 16 January 1903: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The author is right to reference “the tragedies–some greater, some less–of the lure of the silk stocking.” The dainty accessory is fraught with peril. Mrs Daffodil has written before about the domestic trouble that ensued when a shop-keeper inquired of the wrong lady about silk stockings in “His Little Valentine,” while a telegram about a pair of stockings to be sent to a “blonde darling” nearly caused a divorce in a Minnesota household.

And one shudders to think what mischief could be gotten up to with “Cross-Word stockings.”

cross word stockings

Cross-Word Stockings American Fad in Paris

Paris, Jan. 2. The “cross-word puzzle” stocking is the latest novelty among Paris hosiery makers.

When the first really cold days of Winter came, silk stockings of gossamer texture were gradually discarded and many women adopted fine hand-made Angora wool stockings.

This is the material of which the “cross-word puzzle” stockings are made. A shopkeeper got the idea from a puzzle design which he saw two American women working over while waiting to be served. A few days later he displayed in his windows a stocking of checker-board design with the squares in black and white, about the same size and distributed haphazard in the manner which has become familiar to lovers of cross-word puzzles.

The novelty has found good customers among American women, but French women call it hideous. The cross-word fad itself has not reached France as yet.

Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 2 January 1925: p. 2

 

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

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

The Baron and the Devil: 1838

the devil

A QUEER CASE FOR THE LAW.

In 1838, M. le Baron de Cormann, an opulent German noble, inhabited the chateau of his ancestors, situated in the environs of Weima. An excellent sportsman, and a redoubted smoker, the baron was at the same time one of the ugliest mortals Germany ever produced. Notwithstanding this circumstance, he was an admirer of beauty in others, and conceived a lively passion for Mademoiselle de Reischberg, daughter of a neighbouring castellane, whose antique domicile constituted nearly his whole property. A formal demand of the lady’s hand was made by the baron, and the father, delighted with the prospect of such a match, hastened to give the suitor an assurance of his assent and best wishes. It was not so, however, with the young lady, who, herself endowed with extraordinary charms, could not endure the looks of the baron, and had, besides, long ago given away her heart to one of her cousins, a handsome cavalier, in contrast with whom the baron made a very sorry figure. On this account the assiduities of the latter, and the commands of the father, produced no effect. Mademoiselle de Reischberg conclusively declared that she would never give her hand to any man so thoroughly ugly as the Baron de Cormann.

One evening she was tempted, by new intreaties on the part of the suitor, to repeat the preceding declaration even more energetically than before. The downcast baron afterwards wended his way home. He sat down by his blazing fire, called for a pipe and ale; and, betwixt the curling whiffs from his only source of consolation, he exclaimed passionately–“I would give myself to the Old One himself to be as good-looking as that confounded cousin!” In his energy the baron—who, it will soon be pretty evident, was something of a simpleton—spoke aloud; indeed, he almost roared out the words. After the ejaculation, he smoked on vigorously, every blast-like puff giving indication of the storm within. How long he sat absorbed in this occupation, it is impossible for us to say; but certain it is, that when he laid down the pipe, and the fumes around slowly floated away, he saw before him, to his great surprise, an odd-looking personage, but black all over, in countenance and clothes. “You have been heard,” said this personage; “sign this paper, and by to-morrow morning you shall be beautiful in the eyes of all the world, though unchanged in your own.” Stupified—almost out of his senses—M. de Cormann sat staring without motion. “Sign “repeated the figure; “I am never invoked in vain, and you shall find my words to hold good ” The thought of Mademoiselle de Reischberg crossed the baron’s brain. Great was the temptation. He took the pen, and again hesitated, being in a state of unspeakable confusion of mind. Then, as if determined not to trust himself with reflection, he hurriedly signed the paper. The stranger lifted it, bowed, and disappeared.

After this proceeding, which had taken place so rapidly that the baron had had scarcely time for connected thought, he sat in silent dreamy stupor through several long hours. With strange feelings he retired to bed, half afraid of the past, and half eager for the dawn, that he might prove the reality of the promised metamorphosis. Morning broke, and the baron arose. He dressed himself, and perceived no change in his appearance; but he had no sooner descended the staircase than the reality of a change was made manifest. Two servants stood in waiting, and the instant that they cast eyes on their master, they started back in great surprise. “Gracious powers! how much my lord is improved in looks! what a noble figure! how beautiful a countenance!” The baron’s heart beat thick with exultation. He went out for further proof, bending his course to the mansion of M. de Reischberg, which was close to his own. Two men met him, and they, also, started to behold him. “How noble is my lord’s figure!” cried one. “What a charming countenance!” cried the other; “surely he is much altered!”

These and such like ejaculations confirmed the baron in his impression of the reality of the metamorphosis; and he proceeded, without delay, to the house of M. de Reischberg. Here the crowning stroke was given to his triumph. Mademoiselle de Reischberg appeared equally surprised and enchanted with his form and looks. She seemingly could not conceal or restrain her admiration, and the handsome cousin appeared to be driven out of her thoughts at once by the new and irresistible charms of his rival. Striking while the iron was hot, the baron intreated her to reward his long devotion by consenting to be his. The lady hesitated—the cousin seemed to pass, for a last time, across her thoughts; but the baron pressed his request, and the lady gave her consent.

In passing homewards on that happy day, the baron received additional though superfluous proofs of the change in his looks, from the remarks of various persons who came in his way. When before his own fire, a pipe and ale were again called for to heighten the delightful cast of the baron’s ruminations. Long he smoked, gazing on the blaze; but at length he laid down the pipe. Then did he first become sensible of a startling fact. His sable visitor of the preceding evening was again before him. “If you fulfil the intention you now entertain of leading Mademoiselle de Reischberg to the altar,” said the stranger solemnly, “you will die on its steps.” As he spoke he disappeared.

The Baron de Cormann lay for a long time in a swoon after this fearful announcement. When he regained his senses, and could reflect on what had passed, great was his vexation, and greater his terrors. He could not conceal from himself the fact, that, since his visitor had been able to fulfil one promise so effectually, the same being could not fail to fulfil with equal certainty the menace just made, or at least to foresee the future. He saw that the fiend, if fiend it were, had “paltered with him in a double sense,” but the evil was irremediable. Preferring life to every other consideration, the baron, ere long, took a decisive resolution. He wrote to the Reischbergs, announcing his altered resolutions respecting marriage, and, in short, declining the honour of the young lady’s hand. On the following morning he jumped into his carriage, and drove off for Paris, after leaving precise orders with an agent to sell his chateau and property at Weima without delay.

It was in the end of 1838 that the Baron de Cormann reached Paris, where he took a handsome hotel in the Rue Dominique. A month or two after his settlement there, he was presented with an acceptance of his own for 120,000 francs, purporting to have been granted by him while in Germany, and a demand was made upon him for payment of the same. The holder of the acceptance, and the requester of payment, was the already-mentioned handsome cousin of Mademoiselle de Reischberg, now become her husband.

The baron was struck dumb by this demand. Never, in the course of his life, was he aware of having signed any such obligation either to the nominal holder of the one before him, or to any person else. Yet he could not deny that the handwriting of the presented bill was his own; it was certainly his signature. Nevertheless, in the consciousness that he really owed no such debt, he refused payment. Immediately afterwards, he went to consult an acute legal friend. After relating the circumstance to that gentleman, and repeating his confident assurance that he never signed, to his knowledge. the obligation in question, though unquestionably his signature was there, the lawyer asked if he never, while in Germany, signed any paper without knowing its contents? The baron thought for an instant, and blushed for his folly. The remembrance of his strange visitant came across his mind with all the attendant circumstances. He compelled himself to tell his legal friend the whole affair.

The acute lawyer saw through the mystery at once. The baron had been ugly at Weima, he was ugly at Paris, and he had never been aught but ugly anywhere. The handsome cousin had so suborned his domestics as to acquire a knowledge of every movement, even of every word of the baron, in his own establishment; and being near the spot, perhaps in the house, on the evening of the baron’s rash ejaculation respecting a change of personal appearance, he had taken advantage of the circumstance, when it was reported to him, to victimise de Cormann in a double and truly diabolical way. By the connivance of the treacherous servants, and one or two other persons, Mademoiselle de Reischberg included, the poor baron had been thoroughly imposed upon, and, in some respects, he was not undeserving of it, seeing that he credulously consented to attempt success in his suit by such means as those described. The conspirator of a cousin, it is probable, imagined that the baron would pay the sum rather than incur the ridicule of a full disclosure.

The affair, says our French authority, came to a trial, and a celebrated Parisian advocate was engaged for the baron, the note for 120,000 francs being lodged, in the interval, in the safe hands of Messrs Rothschild. We regret that we have heard nothing of the issue of the case, and can only hope that the law prevented the poor credulous baron from being ultimately tricked out of his money by the unscrupulous young lady and her cousin. The moral seems to be—never sign any document of whose purport you are not fully acquainted.

Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, 20 August 1842 Number 551: p. 247

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is pursing her lips dubiously over the notion that the “poor credulous Baron” should be pitied. Instead of improving his character and perhaps going in for a wardrobe make-over or spot of cosmetic surgery, the man signed a pact with the Devil. Not, one fears, a gentleman with whom one would wish to link one’s lot in life. In addition, when he declined “the honour of the young lady’s hand,” the Baron opened himself to a breach-of-promise suit. Mrs Daffodil considers that he got off cheaply at 120,000 francs.

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

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

The Memory Hoop Fad: 1890

memory hoop fad tarnished penny discovered

SOLONS’ DAUGHTERS.

How the Young Ladies of Washington Amuse Themselves.

The Craze for Fads—How “Memory Hoops” Are Made and Manipulated

Special Correspondence of the Evening Express.

Washington, March 8, 1890.

Every girl in Washington is hunting for a fad. She has no particular idea as to what sort of a fad she wants so long as it is a fad and its possession enables her to say to her three or four dozen intimate friends: “Oh I’ve just got the loveliest fad you ever heard of.” And then she goes on to tell how she got the idea “from something Jack said.” Now there are a lot of pretty girls in Washington and as they all want fads the demand greatly exceeds the supply and as a consequence the girl without any ingenuity of her own soon finds herself where the little boat was—a long way behind—in the fashionable stream.

Well the Washington girl with not much to do has invented and taken up with the vigor of idle enthusiasm a substitute for the old fashioned “memory buttons” and calls the new departure “memory hoops.” I do not wish to be understood as casting any unkind reflection upon the disposed bustle, for the new fad is not that kind of a hoop. The following description was given me by an enthusiastic votary of the “memory hoops:”

“You see you take a hoop. Any kind of a hoop. Some of the girls have old barrel hoops and some of them have the hoops made out of the loveliest kinds of wood. Why, I know one girl who has a hoop made of gentlemen’s walking sticks which she first begged from the possessors and then had steamed and bent into circular form, connecting them with silver bands. Oh yes; you asked where the memory parts comes in. Well it’s just this way: You take the hoop and hang it up anywhere in the parlor or in your own room. Some of the girls hang them so that when standing before their dressing tables the hoops are just over their heads. Well, of course there is nothing in just the hoops about memory. You see, after you get a hoop you ask all your girl friends for a piece of ribbon. Mind, it must be a piece that has been worn, else the charm will not work. Well, of course the girls will exchange ribbons with you and this is supposed to give you enough to start on by winding them around the hoop so as to cover it, each piece being worked with the name and date of the giver. Now, when you have your hoop covered, your work is just begun. The ribbons the girls give you of course don’t count for much, but they start the thing. Then you are to get from all the men you know one of the old-fashioned copper 2-cent pieces, polished on each side so that it just looks like a piece of plain copper and on one side must be engraved the initials of the giver with the date, and on the other side a line of poetry. These must all be paid for by the young lady receiving them at the rate of 10 cents each to defray their cost, but so that you may have given silver for copper and you know you couldn’t well give less than ten cents in silver. Then these copper pieces are to be tied all around the hoop with ribbon matching the dress worn by the young lady when receiving the piece of copper. I think this is where the best part of the memory comes in, for a girl never forgets her dresses. Now, when you have filled your hoop, you hang it up and whenever any one of the copper pieces grows black it means that the giver is in trouble or sickness and the girl must write to him at once. See the idea now? Oh, it’s just splendid, even if it doesn’t always work about the sickness and all that. When the hoops are filled with the little copper pieces dangling from different colored ribbon, it makes a very pretty ornament, indeed, for either the parlor or your own room.”

Then the memory hoop girl went off to get some coppers.

One can imagine the extent to which this fad is going by the fact that I was told at Brentano’s place here that all the men who came in there with girls asked for two cent copper pieces in their change, and at one of the swell candy stores change proprietor actually took the trouble to send to New York for the coppers, and having obtained a lot of them let the fact become known and materially increased his trade thereby.

Los Angeles [CA] Evening Express 15 March 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Young ladies seem to be forever badgering their beaux—if not for ice-cream or visits to the soda-parlour—then for their walking sticks, their hats, those hats’ ribbon bands, or their ties to cut up for crazy-quilts. This is merely one more instance of this magpie behaviour.  The “memory button” fad was an ambitious scheme to collect buttons, preferably all unique in style, from the greatest number of friends. As a novel from 1918, remembering the 1860s, relates:

[J]ust as your scholarly attainments were gauged by the size of your geography and slate, so was your social prestige measured by the length and beauty of your “string.”

The Loyalty of Elizabeth Bess, E.C. Scott, 1918: p. 143

This solicitation of coppers and their associated ribbons suggests those trees found in the British Isles, tied with rags or with coins hammered into them for luck. It is a curiously superstitious artifact to find in hard-headed Washington D.C.

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

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

Women in 1900: A letter from the future: 1853

The New Woman

Letter Written in 1900.

Mr. Editor: How the following letter came into my possession, I leave you and your readers to conjecture. It may have come through a “medium” from the Spirit of Prophecy, but this I only throw out as a suggestion. Meanwhile, rest assured, Mr. Editor, that should I be favored with any more communications from the same source, they shall be transmitted to you without fail.

Your friend and correspondent,

Annie Elton.

Washington City, Jan. 1, 1900.

My Dear Friend: Writing to you, as I now do at the commencement of the twentieth century I am naturally led to speak of the wonderful changes which have taken place within the last half of the century just past. I remember very well when men were considered the lords of creation, when all the offices of honor and profit were in their hands. Women were at that time held in subjection by their haughty oppressors, and women’s rights were almost unknown. Now, thank Heaven! All this is reversed. Instead of lords we have ladies of creation.

Our navies do not now consist of men of war—they are all women of war. Now, happily, a woman occupies our presidential chair, while our halls of Congress are filled with a body of intelligent females, from all parts of the country. Formerly we had professional men—now we have professional women.

But, without further preface, let me give you a little sketch of Washington, which I am at present visiting. Everybody is praising the administration of Hon. Mrs. Betsey Jones, who has just assumed the reins of government. She has filled her Cabinet with some of the most distinguished stateswomen in the country. Where, for instance, could she have found a better Secretary of War than Gen. Abigail Chase, of Massachusetts, who covered herself with glory in our late war with the Sandwich Islands?

I went to the President’s levee, a few evenings since. Among the crowd who were present, I noticed Hon. Mrs. Jenkins, the distinguished Senator from the new State of Patagonia. The Russian Minister, Mrs. Orloff, had on a splendid fur cape, which attracted the attention of all the ladies present. I was sorry not to have seen the Secretary of State—but she sent word that her baby was sick, and she couldn’t come.

I called to see the Attorney General the other day, and found her husband setting the table for tea, and taking care of the children. He said his wife was so much occupied with the cares of office, that she had but little leisure for her family.

This morning arrived the steamer America, Capt. Betty Martin, commander—bringing the latest news from Europe. It seems that the Queen of Austria has just issued a womandate, ordering all the men in her dominions to have off their whiskers. In consequence of this very reasonable edict, an insurrection took place among the men, which, however, was soon quelled by the efforts of Gen. Polly Kosciusko.

I heard last Sunday an eloquent sermon, from the Rev. Sally Sprague, minister of the first Church in this city. I understand that it is to be published.

I see by the papers, that a man out west attempted to lecture on men’s rights recently, in which he foolishly insisted that men had a right to vote. I was glad to hear that he was pelted from the stage by a volley of stones from the females (dear creatures) whose rights he had assailed. Poor man! He quite forgot that, in the words of the poetess—

“Times aint now as they used to was been,

Things aint now as they used to was then.

Paulina Pry.

The Fremont [OH] Weekly Journal 5 February 1853: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is, Mrs Daffodil is given to understand, International Women’s Day. The article above is what passed for wit about women’s rights in the newspapers of 1853. It took 67 years after this article for women to receive the right to vote in the United States. In Switzerland, it took until 1971. There was one ingenious critic who said that the right to vote was unnecessary; that women around the world already wielded unlimited political power and that American women ought to seize that power:

Much as we may admire the conservatism that governs, or that should govern, the influence of women in the White House, we may wonder if the higher politics of America, what may be called the diplomatic politics, is not neglecting a potent weapon. It is not a little strange that women should be least powerful in republics and democracies and most powerful in monarchies. When one of the great Indian princesses was recently in America some of our prominent society women sought to interest her in the feminist movement and to stimulate the ambition of Indian women to a share in the government of the Indian provinces. The Maharanee was much amused. She said that the women of India might live in seclusion, but it was actually they who governed the country. Their husbands sat upon the thrones and filled the offices, but only to carry out the advice that came from behind the purdah curtains. The women of India, said the princess, were much more influential in politics than their sisters in America, no matter how many votes they might have.

Much the same is true in England, where women have no votes, but where they have a political power that our women have hardly dreamed of. It does not matter very much who is the wife of an American President or cabinet officer, provided always that she is a lady and is willing to be inconspicuous. But the English statesman is well-nigh a lost soul without his wife. She is expected to be minutely familiar with domestic, imperial, and international politics and to take a practical view of advancing the various causes with which her husband is identified. A ball by the wife of the prime minister may easily have wider reaching results than a meeting of the cabinet. Here it is that the most delicate webs of diplomacy are spun, and spun very largely by women, who have unsurpassed opportunities for exercising the clairvoyance of their sex. Some of the most remarkable political revelations that have ever been made are to be found in the published diaries of women….

The fault, if fault there be. is not with the American government, but with the American woman. If the American woman were capable of exercising a political influence she would exercise it, and nothing could prevent her.

Vanity Fair 1 July 1916

This post was originally published in 2017.

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

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