Category Archives: Husbands and Wives

The Deferred Appointment: 1911

The Deferred Appointment

Algernon Blackwood

The little “Photographic Studio” in the side-street beyond Shepherd’s Bush had done no business all day, for the light had been uninviting to even the vainest sitter, and the murky sky that foreboded snow had hung over London without a break since dawn. Pedestrians went hurrying and shivering along the pavements, disappearing into the gloom of countless ugly little houses the moment they passed beyond the glare of the big electric standards that lit the thundering motor-buses in the main street. The first flakes of snow, indeed, were already falling slowly, as though they shrank from settling in the grime. The wind moaned and sang dismally, catching the ears and lifting the shabby coat-tails of Mr. Mortimer Jenkyn, “Photographic Artist,” as he stood outside and put the shutters up with his own cold hands in despair of further trade.

It was five minutes to six. With a lingering glance at the enlarged portrait of a fat man in masonic regalia who was the pride and glory of his window-front, he fixed the last hook of the shutter, and turned to go indoors. There was developing and framing to be done upstairs, not very remunerative work, but better, at any rate, than waiting in an empty studio for customers who did not come—wasting the heat of two oil-stoves into the bargain. And it was then, in the act of closing the street-door behind him, that he saw a man standing in the shadows of the narrow passage, staring fixedly into his face.

Mr. Jenkyn admits that he jumped. The man was so very close, yet he had not seen him come in; and in the eyes was such a curiously sad and appealing expression. He had already sent his assistant home, and there was no other occupant of the little two-storey house. The man must have slipped past him from the dark street while his back was turned. Who in the world could he be, and what could he want? Was he beggar, customer, or rogue?

“Good evening,” Mr. Jenkyn said, washing his hands, but using only half the oily politeness of tone with which he favoured sitters. He was just going to add “sir,” feeling it wiser to be on the safe side, when the stranger shifted his position so that the light fell directly upon his face, and Mr. Jenkyn was aware that he—recognised him. Unless he was greatly mistaken, it was the second-hand bookseller in the main street.

“Ah, it’s you, Mr. Wilson!” he stammered, making half a question of it, as though not quite convinced. “Pardon me; I did not quite catch your face—er—I was just shutting up.” The other bowed his head in reply. “Won’t you come in? Do, please.” Mr. Jenkyn led the way. He wondered what was the matter. The visitor was not among his customers; indeed, he could hardly claim to know him, having only seen him occasionally when calling at the shop for slight purchases of paper and what not. The man, he now realised, looked fearfully ill and wasted, his face pale and haggard. It upset him rather, this sudden, abrupt call. He felt sorry, pained. He felt uneasy.

Into the studio they passed, the visitor going first as though he knew the way, Mr. Jenkyn noticing through his flurry that he was in his “Sunday best.” Evidently he had come with a definite purpose. It was odd. Still without speaking, he moved straight across the room and posed himself in front of the dingy background of painted trees, facing the camera. The studio was brightly lit. He seated himself in the faded arm-chair, crossed his legs, drew up the little round table with the artificial roses upon it in a tall, thin vase, and struck an attitude. He meant to be photographed.

His eyes, staring straight into the lens, draped as it was with the black velvet curtain, seemed, however, to take no account of the Photographic Artist. But Mr. Jenkyn, standing still beside the door, felt a cold air playing over his face that was not merely the winter cold from the street. He felt his hair rise. A slight shiver ran down his back. In that pale, drawn face, and in those staring eyes across the room that gazed so fixedly into the draped camera, he read the signature of illness that no longer knows hope. It was Death that he saw.

In a flash the impression came and went—less than a second. The whole business, indeed, had not occupied two minutes. Mr. Jenkyn pulled himself together with a strong effort, dismissed his foolish obsession, and came sharply to practical considerations. “Forgive me,” he said, a trifle thickly, confusedly, “but I—er—did not quite realise. You desire to sit for your portrait, of course. I’ve had such a busy day, and—’ardly looked for a customer so late.” The clock, as he spoke, struck six. But he did not notice the sound. Through his mind ran another reflection: “A man shouldn’t ‘ave his picture taken when he’s ill and next door to dying. Lord! He’ll want a lot of touching-up and finishin’, too!”

He began discussing the size, price, and length—the usual rigmarole of his “profession,” and the other, sitting there, still vouchsafed no comment or reply. He simply made the impression of a man in a great hurry, who wished to finish a disagreeable business without unnecessary talk. Many men, reflected the photographer, were the same; being photographed was worse to them than going to the dentist. Mr. Jenkyn filled the pauses with his professional running talk and patter, while the sitter, fixed and motionless, kept his first position and stared at the camera. The photographer rather prided himself upon his ability to make sitters look bright and pleasant; but this man was hopeless. It was only afterwards Mr. Jenkyn recalled the singular fact that he never once touched him—that, in fact, something connected possibly with his frail appearance of deadly illness had prevented his going close to arrange the details of the hastily assumed pose.

“It must be a flashlight, of course, Mr. Wilson,” he said, fidgeting at length with the camera-stand, shifting it slightly nearer; while the other moved his head gently yet impatiently in agreement. Mr. Jenkyn longed to suggest his coming another time when he looked better, to speak with sympathy of his illness; to say something, in fact, that might establish a personal relation. But his tongue in this respect seemed utterly tied. It was just this personal relation which seemed impossible of approach—absolutely and peremptorily impossible. There seemed a barrier between the two. He could only chatter the usual professional commonplaces. To tell the truth, Mr. Jenkyn thinks he felt a little dazed the whole time—not quite his usual self. And, meanwhile, his uneasiness oddly increased. He hurried. He, too, wanted the matter done with and his visitor gone.

At length everything was ready, only the flashlight waiting to be turned on, when, stooping, he covered his head with the velvet cloth and peered through the lens— at no one! When he says “at no one,” however, he qualifies it thus: “There was a quick flash of brilliant white light and a face in the middle of it—my gracious Heaven! But such a face—’im, yet not ’im—like a sudden rushing glory of a face! It shot off like lightning out of the camera’s field of vision. It left me blinded, I assure you, ’alf blinded, and that’s a fac’. It was sheer dazzling!”

It seems Mr. Jenkyn remained entangled a moment in the cloth, eyes closed, breath coming in gasps, for when he got clear and straightened up again, staring once more at his customer over the top of the camera, he stared for the second time at—no one. And the cap that he held in his left hand he clapped feverishly over the uncovered lens. Mr. Jenkyn staggered… looked hurriedly round the empty studio, then ran, knocking a chair over as he went, into the passage. The hall was deserted, the front door closed. His visitor had disappeared “almost as though he hadn’t never been there at all”—thus he described it to himself in a terrified whisper. And again he felt the hair rise on his scalp; his skin crawled a little, and something put back the ice against his spine.

After a moment he returned to the studio and somewhat feverishly examined it. There stood the chair against the dingy background of trees; and there, close beside it, was the round table with the flower vase. Less than a minute ago Mr. Thomas Wilson, looking like death, had been sitting in that very chair. “It wasn’t all a sort of dreamin’, then,” ran through his disordered and frightened mind. “I did see something…!” He remembered vaguely stories he had read in the newspapers, stories of queer warnings that saved people from disasters, apparitions, faces seen in dream, and so forth. “Maybe,” he thought with confusion, “something’s going to ’appen to me!” Further than that he could not get for some little time, as he stood there staring about him, almost expecting that Mr. Wilson might reappear as strangely as he had disappeared. He went over the whole scene again and again, reconstructing it in minutest detail. And only then, for the first time, did he plainly realise two things which somehow or other he had not thought strange before, but now thought very strange. For his visitor, he remembered, had not uttered a single word, nor had he, Mr. Jenkyn, once touched his person… And, thereupon, without more ado, he put on his hat and coat and went round to the little shop in the main street to buy some ink and stationery which he did not in the least require.

The shop seemed all as usual, though Mr. Wilson himself was not visible behind the littered desk. A tall gentleman was talking in low tones to the partner. Mr. Jenkyn bowed as he went in, then stood examining a case of cheap stylographic pens, waiting for the others to finish. It was impossible to avoid overhearing. Besides, the little shop had distinguished customers sometimes, he had heard, and this evidently was one of them. He only understood part of the conversation, but he remembers all of it. “Singular, yes, these last words of dying men,” the tall man was saying, “very singular. You remember Newman’s: ‘More light,’ wasn’t it?” The bookseller nodded.

“Fine,” he said, “fine, that!” There was a pause. Mr. Jenkyn stooped lower over the pens. “This, too, was fine in its way,” the gentleman added, straightening up to go; “the old promise, you see, unfulfilled but not forgotten. Cropped up suddenly out of the delirium. Curious, very curious! A good, conscientious man to the last. In all the twenty years I’ve known him he never broke his word…”

A motor-bus drowned a sentence, and then was heard in the bookseller’s voice, as he moved towards the door. “…You see, he was half-way down the stairs before they found him, always repeating the same thing, ‘I promised the wife, I promised the wife.’ And it was a job, I’m told, getting him back again… he struggled so. That’s what finished him so quick, I suppose. Fifteen minutes later he was gone, and his last words were always the same, ‘I promised the wife’…”

The tall man was gone, and Mr. Jenkyn forgot about his purchases. “When did it ’appen?” he heard himself asking in a voice he hardly recognised as his own. And the reply roared and thundered in his ears as he went down the street a minute later to his house: “Close on six o’clock—a few minutes before the hour. Been ill for weeks, yes. Caught him out of bed with high fever on his way to your place, Mr. Jenkyn, calling at the top of his voice that he’d forgotten to see you about his picture being taken. Yes, very sad, very sad indeed.”

But Mr. Jenkyn did not return to his studio. He left the light burning there all night. He went to the little room where he slept out, and next day gave the plate to be developed by his assistant. “Defective plate, sir,” was the report in due course; “shows nothing but a flash of light—uncommonly brilliant.” “Make a print of it all the same,” was the reply. Six months later, when he examined the plate and print, Mr. Jenkyn found that the singular streaks of light had disappeared from both. The uncommon brilliance had faded out completely as though it had never been there.

The Times-Democrat [New Orleans LA] 12 March 1911: p. 39

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Algernon Blackwood is perhaps best known for his “weird” supernatural and horror fiction. This is a workmanlike example of one of his ghost stories.

Mrs Daffodil regrets that the death-like countenance of Mr Wilson did not appear in the plate or the print so that the image could have been presented to his wife as a memento (mori) of the occasion. Normally a post-mortem photograph would be taken at the home of the deceased, with the decedent passively submitting to the professional ministrations of the photographic artist. The notion of a post-mortem photograph taken of a subject who not only walked into the photographic studio but posed himself at a table containing a vase of artificial roses is uncommonly chilling.

 

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

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

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The Lost Columbine: 1922

the lost columbine illustration2

The Lost Columbine

By Julian Street

“About this fancy-dress ball at the country club tonight,” said Archibald Welkins, as his wife, looking very lovely in a French-blue housedress, poured the morning coffee, “I don’t quite like the idea, do you, Eleanor?”

Her large blue eyes turned up to him inquiringly.

“What don’t you like about it, dear?” she asked.

“Oh, this fool notion of husbands and wives dressing separately–not knowing about each other’s costumes.”

Often in the eight years of their married life he had been disturbed by her trait of remaining silent when she disagreed with him, and now, as she did not reply, he stated more explicitly what was in his mind, saying: “I think we’d better tell each other what we’re going to wear.”

“We’ll find out when we unmask,” she said.

“But I think the idea of secrecy is all nonsense,” he insisted with a little show of heat.

“Pass Mr. Welkins the marmalade,” his wife said to the maid.

He helped himself, then repeated: “I think it’s all nonsense!”

But she did not answer. He had never known a woman with Eleanor’s capacity for silence. It gave her a mysterious power.

“The steward at the club told me they’d had over five hundred acceptances,” he went on. “That means a mixed crowd, and I’d like to know what your costume is going to be so I can look after you.” “That’s sweet of you,” she answered, “but I’m sure I shan’t need looking after.”

“You might,” he declared.

“Oh, I don’t think so not at our own country club.”

“But I tell you it’s going to be a mixed crowd. You’re a darn pretty woman–and a blonde.” And as again she was silent, he added in a tone that held a hint of accusation: “Blondes always attract more attention.”

“Take some hot toast,” she said to him as the maid appeared. He took some, and waited till she left the room. Then he said:

“I wonder why men always think good looking blondes are–” But he did not finish the sentence.

“Are what?” she asked.

“Well, anyway,” he declared, “fancy dress makes people reckless. They feel that the lid’s off. There’ll be a lot of flasks, too. There’s so much more drinking since prohibition. That’s another reason why I want to know.

“Know what?”

“What?” he repeated irritably. “Just what I’ve been asking you what you’re going to wear.”

“I don’t think it would be playing the game to tell,” she said. “How do you like this bacon? It’s a new brand.”

“Look here,” he said sharply, “you can’t put me off that way! You say you don’t need looking after, but your memory doesn’t seem to be so good as mine! Before your flirtation with that dolled-up French officer you fell for, I used to think you didn’t need looking after, too! But I guess I–” He stopped.

Having thrown in her face the one indiscretion of her married life, he instantly regretted it. He always did. He always told himself that to keep referring to it was to take a mean advantage of her, and that he would never speak of it again. Strange that he could not overcome the jealousy left with him by that episode of several years ago, when, ever since, she had been so circumspect. After all it had been only a mild flirtation, and the Frenchman wasn’t very young. He was a fool to keep thinking of it, and a greater fool to harp upon it.

He said no more, but left the table, angry with her and angry with himself.

II

In the interest of secrecy it had been arranged that the wives should dine and dress together in certain houses in the neighborhood, while the husbands dined and dressed in others, and that all should arrive at the club masked. Archibald Welkins consequently left the limousine to be used by his wife and her friends, and taking the bag containing his costume, which was supposed to resemble King Charles II, drove in his roadster to Tom Bayne’s house, where he found a group of men, some of them already in their finery, some dressing, all with cocktail glasses in their hands.

By the time he had donned the regal wig and knee breeches, and drank three cocktails, he began to change his mind about the fancy dress ball. It was an amusing idea, this secrecy. He was going to have a good time. Nevertheless, when he asked Eleanor what she was going to wear she should have told him. He still felt some resentment about that.

Tom Bayne had an excellent cellar. With dinner he served large highballs, and his Scotch was exceptionally good. As Archibald Welkins was leaving with the others, he caught his reflection in a mirror and approved thereof. The jewelled star shone brilliantly upon his breast; the black silk stockings admirably set off his leg, which was a good leg, and the long, dark, curly wig gave him, he thought, a mysterious appearance. What did he care, after all, about Eleanor’s refusal to tell him what her costume was to be? He wasn’t going to worry about Eleanor tonight. Not he! He had offered to–that was enough. She didn’t know what he was wearing, either. Yes, he was going to have a good time!

With an Arab sheik, a Chinaman, and a soldier in the buff and blue of the Continental army as his passengers, he drove to the club, handling his roadster dashingly, and to avoid being recognized by his car, parked beside the drive at some distance from the door, and walked with his companions to the clubhouse.

The doors and the French windows were open; dancing had already started; they could hear the music as they walked across the grass. Inside the ballroom Welkins paused to review the animated spectacle. Masked soldiers, clowns, coolies, court beauties, bullfighters, odalisques, woman jockies, geisha, harlequins, cowboys, Spanish senoritas, mandarins, pirates, nymphs, Turks, vaqueros, peasants, whirled to the music of the jazz band.

Looking them over as they circled past, he presently thought he recognized his wife. She was dressed–if indeed it was Eleanor–as a French court lady, with patches, a high, powdered wig and a panniered gown of flowered silk, and was dancing with a Roman gladiator. He watched her around the room. Her height, her figure, her carriage were Eleanor’s, and the costume had a dignity characteristic of his wife’s taste. When she had passed several times he was quite certain of her.

Presently he became interested in Cleopatra, who fox-trotted into view with Napoleon. Eleanor would have made a handsome Cleopatra, too, but he felt sure she would never appear in public in such scant attire. That Cleopatra woman was certainly attractive, though! He cut in on her and, as they danced, talked in a false voice, endeavoring to guess at her identity. But the fair Egyptian was popular. An Indian Rajah soon snatched her away, leaving King Charles II free to seek out a fascinating Columbine who, several times, had passed near him in a dance, and seemed responsive to his glances. Presently, with a beau of the Colonial period, she came down the floor, a sprightly figure in a short black satin dress with a waist cut to a deep V In back, springy little skirts, thin openwork stockings and ballet slippers. With her huge white ruff and her black cocked hat pulled down at a saucy angle over bobbed red hair, she looked the incarnation of irresponsible gaiety.

He cut in and found that her dancing confirmed his impression. How light, how responsive she was!

“I’ve been aiming to catch you!” he told her, disguising his voice by pitching it low.

‘”Ave you, monsieur?” she chirped. “Well, zen, we are sympathique, for I too ‘ave look at you, you beeg, ‘andsome man!” The minx. She gave his hand a squeeze which he promptly returned.

“Are you French?” he asked in his assumed voice, “or are you putting on that accent?”

“What you sink, monsieur?”

“I think,” he said, “that if you’re putting it on you do it very well.” “An’ you, you bad, weeked king! ‘Ow is your Nell Gwyn?” she asked.

“Never mind Nell Gwyn,” he said. “It’s you I’m interested in. Don’t tell me you’re just a nice little married woman in disguise wife of some man who commutes to business in New York and drives a ball around these links on Sundays.”

“You ‘ope I’m real naughty French girl?” she asked, archly.

“Indeed I do!”

“Well. Zen, follow me! And with that she disengaged herself and flitted swiftly through a French window leading to the terrace.

Pursuing, he lost her momentarily, for in the darkness her black dress gave her an advantage, but as she scampered down the steps toward the lawn and the links, he caught sight of her white ruff, and sped after her. As she disappeared behind a large syringa bush he heard a rippling laugh, and running to the other side, caught her in his arms. Then, as she was panting and laughing, and as it was dark, and they were masked, and the syringas smelled so sweet, he placed his hand beneath her chin, tilted it up, bent over, and was about to seize the fruits of victory, when she eluded him and ran off laughing, in the direction of the drive.

A prisoner who escapes and is recaptured pays an added penalty, and when after another chase over the silver-green of moonlit grass, Charles II grasped the elusive Columbine, and exacted what he deemed just tribute from her lips, he was surprised and flattered by the apparent willingness with which she paid.

Indeed it was that willingness which made him confident that she would not again become a fugitive, and he was holding her lightly when, in a flash, she was off once more, this time running toward the clubhouse.

Just at the doorway he caught up; but his appeal to her to stay outside was unavailing. “No,” she said, firmly, “you are a naughty boy, an’ I ‘ave foun’ you out. My ‘usban’ would not like.”

“Your husband does not need to know,” he urged, “nor my wife, either. That’s what makes a party of this kind such fun–husbands and wives not knowing each other’s costumes.”

“Yes,” said she, “but I ‘ave already ‘ad fun enough, my king.” And with that she moved into the ballroom.

By the door they stood for a moment watching the dancers.

“Look!” he exclaimed suddenly. “There’s another Columbine. She’s like you exactly like you, even to her red hair!”

“Yes, we came togezzer.”

“But suppose I were to lose you,” said he, “how could I find you again? How could I tell the two of you apart?”

“Zat is a question !” she said.

“Let’s dance and talk it over.”

“No, monsieur.” replied the Columbine, “now I mus’ dance wiz some wan else.” As she spoke a cowled monk came up, and in a moment she was dancing off with him.

“Meet me here afterwards,” urged King Charles as she moved away. But she shook her head.

“How shall I find you, then?” he demanded, following.

“I don’t sink you can!” said she, and again he heard her tantalizing laugh.

He retired to the doorway and watched for her, but by the time she came around again she was with a Sicilian brigand. He cut in. But apparently this was the other Columbine, for she did not seem to know him. Her step was not so light as that of the one he sought, nor did she speak with a French accent.

Never mind! He would find his lost Columbine. He was determined to find her. And when they unmasked he would learn who she was. Time and again, when he saw a Columbine wearing a black cocked hat over bobbed hair, he cut in and danced with her, but only to be disappointed. Always it was the wrong one. He questioned her about the other, but could get no satisfaction.

When, at midnight, the dancers unmasked, he hastened about the ballroom and the adjacent apartments looking for the Columbines, but now he could find neither of them. Nor could he find his wife, nor yet the white-wigged lady of the French court whom he had identified with her.

Where could Eleanor be? She ought to be in the ballroom. That was where a well-behaved woman belonged at a party such as this. It wasn’t wise for a pretty woman to go wandering about outside, in the moonlight, with a strange man, masked. Since prohibition there had been a lot of drinking, and fancy dress made people reckless, anyway. Temporarily he forgot the Columbine in his concern about his wife’s behavior, as he looked for her upon the terrace and the lawn.

Failing to find her he returned to the club and telephoned home. “Hello?” He was surprised to hear Eleanor’s voice upon the wire. “I’ve been hunting for you all over the place.” he said. “What took you home so early?”

“Oh, I got enough of it.”

“Didn’t you have a good time?”

“I had an exceptionally good time,” she assured him.

“But I don’t understand why you went home, then.”

“Fancy dress makes people do all sorts of things.” she said, and before he could comment upon the cryptical character of the remark, she asked: “Have you been enjoying yourself?”

“Oh, I’ve had worse times,” said he. And thinking to have one final look for his lost Columbine, he added: “I guess I’ll hang around for a while if you don’t mind.”

“No, I don’t mind at all. Good night, dear,” and she hung up the receiver.

Ill

“Well, dear,” said Archibald Welkins next morning as his wife, locking very lovely in a shell-pink house gown, poured the coffee, “it was a pretty good party, wasn’t it?” And as she nodded, he went on in an expansive tone: “Made it rather amusing, after all— husbands and wives not knowing each other’s costumes don’t you think so?”

“Yes, very amusing,” she said.

“I was quite sure I recognized you,” he told her.

“Oh, were you?”‘ She looked up quickly.

“Yes. In a French court costume with a black-powdered wig.”

When she smiled and shook her head, he was surprised.

“That wasn’t you— honestly?”

“No. Honestly.”

“What was your costume, then.”

“I went as a Columbine.” she said and addressing the maid: “Pass Mr Welkins the strawberry Jam.”

In silence he helped himself, spread jam upon a piece of toast, ate it. And drank his coffee. Then:

“There were two Columbines dressed exactly alike.” he ventured

“Yes.” Said Eleanor “This is the last of that new bacon. Have you made up your mind yet how you like It?”

“Oh, it’s very good.” he answered abstractedly. “But the Columbines I saw had red hair”

“Wigs.” she returned succinctly.

“Wigs?” he repeated, surprised .’They didn’t look like wigs.”

“Men aren’t very quick at detecting such things.” said’ she. Then, to his infinite surprise, she added: “Do you remember that nice French officer I liked so much three years ago?”

“Why, yes.”

“Well, he wore a toupee.”

“He did? How do you know?”

“I noticed it the first time I saw him.”

“Um.” he said, and sat reflective for a time. Then: “Look here, dear,” he went on “Let’s never speak of that French officer again. It was long ago, and anyway It really didn’t amount to anything.”

If he expected recognition of his magnanimity he was disappointed, for she did not speak.

“Who was the other Columbine?” he asked in a casual tone as he was about to rise from table.

“Evidently someone who went to the same costumer I did,” his wife replied.

“But–.” He checked himself, then with some feeling, added:  “I don’t think they ought to send out duplicate costumes for the same party, do you?”

But she failed to reply.

Often in the eight years of their married life he had been disturbed by her trait of remaining silent when she disagreed with him. He had never known a woman with Eleanor’s capacity for silence. It gave her a mysterious power.

The Hartford [CT] Courant 9 July 1922: p. 47

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What’s good for the goose….  Still, unless Mr Welkins wishes to find himself in divorce court, he would do better to try to check his jealous impulses. His pretty blonde wife, who looks equally fetching at the breakfast table in French blue or shell-pink, is, Mrs Daffodil suggests, the enigmatic sort whose blameless character might equally plausibly conceal an adventuress or a dutiful wife who felt her husband needed a moonlit flirtation of his own that she might throw in his face as needed.

One may be certain that if the charming Mrs Welkins put her mind to be cheerfully and silently indiscreet with anyone besides her husband, she would be clever enough to make sure that that gentleman would never know of it.

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

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

The Grand Duchess’s Trousseau: 1874

 

silver Russian court dress

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

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

“’Worthy to be furl’d

About the loveliest shoulders in the world,’

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

Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1874

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

384,000 Squeezes: The Evidence in the Breach-of-Promise Case: 1901

 

They were in to see a divorce lawyer yesterday — Mary Ann and her mother. Mary Ann was a little embarrassed, but the old woman was calm. When they spoke about a breach-of-promise case the lawyer asked:

“What evidence have you got?”

“Mary Ann, produce the letters,” commanded the mother, and the girl took the cover off a willow basket and remarked that she thought 927 letters would do to begin on. The other 651 would be produced as soon as the case was fairly before the court

“And outside of these letters?” queried the lawyer.

“Mary Ann, produce your diary,” said the mother. “Now turn to the heading of ‘Promises,’ and tell how many times this marriage business was talked over.”

“The footing is 214 times,” answered the girl

“Now turn to the heading of ‘Darling,’ and give us the number of times he has applied the term to you.”

“If I have figured right, the total is 9,254 times.”

“I guess you counted pretty straight, for you are good in arithmetic. Now turn to the heading of ‘Woodbine Cottage,’ and tell as how many times he has talked of such a home for you after marriage.”

“The footing is 1,395 times.”

“Very well. This lawyer wants to be sure that we’ve got a case. How many times has Charles Henry said he would die for you?”

‘Three hundred and fifty,” answered the girl as she turned over a leaf.

“How many times has he called you an angel?”

“Over 11,000, mamma.”

“How about squeezing hands?”

“Over 384,000 squeezes.”

“And kisses?”

“Nearly 417,000.”

“There’s our case,” said the mother, as she deposited basket and diary on the lawyer’s table. “Look over the documents, and if you want anything further I can bring in a dozen neighbors to swear to facts. We sue for $10,000 damages, and we don’t settle for less than an eighty-acre farm, with buildings in good repair. We’ll call again next week. Good day, sir!”

Hot Stuff by Funny Men, 1901: p. 237

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: And to think that some persons believe that girls have no business studying mathematics!  A persuasive argument to the contrary…

 

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

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

The Miserly Couple’s Ghosts: 1889

death steals buried treasure 1873

In Bullock county, Ga., not long since, a man and family by the name of Brannen moved onto a farm formerly occupied by a very old and miserly couple. These old people (man and wife) had no children or relatives, and, both dying within a few weeks of each other, were kindly buried by friends in the neighborhood.

It was found that they had been living in the most abject poverty. The place presented a miserable appearance, there being very little furniture or cooking utensils, with scarcely any provisions, and several emaciated cats and half-starved fowls completed the poverty stricken aspect. Mr. Brannen bought the place at auction shortly after the two old people died and immediately moved there with his family. But they were there only a short time before they wished they had never seen the place. Strange beings were to be seen flitting about after nightfall, and dismal, unearthly sounds were to be heard during the day. Mr. Brannen, his wife and sons, being honest, hard working people and non-believers in “ghosts,” they paid little attention at first, thinking it some practical jokes of the neighbors But as the weeks sped by things grew worse instead of better. Cold, clammy hands were laid on different members of the family at all hours of the night, sending them into nervous chills.

The bedsteads were jerked about the room, occupants and all, by some unseen power. Everything was turned topsy-turvy and it was impossible to keep anything like order on the premises. Pandemonium reigned. It seemed as though the very air was filled with uneasy spirits. The Brannens grew desperate, and were thinking seriously of hunting “pastures new,” when one morning Mr. Brannen and one of his sons, being in the yard, were startled by a strange, roaring noise, which seemed to proceed from the ground at their feet. As he described it, it appeared to be a small “whirlwind of noise,” and something seemed to impel them to follow it. It gradually drifted over into a corn field, and at the farther corner seemed to sink into the ground at the roots of an old dead peach tree. They went to the house, procured implements, returned, dug, and found, no one knows just how much, but that it was a great deal of money, and the hoarded wealth of a lifetime of the old couple that died, is well known. The Brannens have decided to still remain on the old farm, and it is quiet and serene there now, where all was chaos a short time ago. The uneasy spirits have accomplished their mission and are at rest.

The Kansas City [MO] Gazette 21 March 1889: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A cautionary tale about the prudence of using established financial institutions. Had the miserly couple invested their wealth, or even placed it in the bank, rather than under a dead peach tree, they might have not only increased their assets, but been able to enjoy holidays abroad or, at the very least, to properly feed their cats. The emaciated cats are a telling detail:  even rats and mice had deserted the misers’ impoverished larder. 

The Brannens were right to consider the possibility of a practical joke by the neighbours. Mrs Daffodil knows of a case where the neighbours, knowing exactly where the miserly farmer had concealed his money, scared away the new tenant by terrifying his young bride with various tricks. After the tenants had left, the money was dug up and the neighbours boasted of their ghostly impostures.

The guiding “whirlwind of noise” is unusual in the literature of treasure-hunting. A more usual trick is a ball of light drifting to the “X marks the spot” locale. 

 

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

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

 

 

The Cunning Tricks of Skillful Fingers: 1874

white rabbit egg dye The Pharmaceutical Era 1887

WHAT A WOMAN SAW.

I thought I should die a-laughing, and yet I | didn’t dare let the pucker out of my lips. There were four of them, Mary, Martha, Maria and Margaret, all at home with their mother, and she a widow. Mehitable, the youngest girl, was married, and lived just “’cross lots.” Her two little boys nicknamed Mink and Monkey, were at grandma’s every day. They were so happy—that family away in Southern Ohio, where I was visiting. My cousins said I must visit there before I went home, because none of those girls had ever seen a live authoress, and they didn’t know but people who “writ for the papers” went on all fours, like quadrupeds.

These girls’ ages were all the way between thirty-five and forty-five. They were not handsome; they were dark, and stout, and had strongly-marked features, and bold, bright, courageous eyes, and their dear old hands were hard, and stained, and horny, and very, very handy at all kinds of work, from plowing down to all the pretty devices which make a woman’s nature so sweet, and tender, and womanly. Ah! how this pretty work, the cunning tricks of skillful fingers, so fascinating to the mind of woman, does stamp her as lovable and sensitive, and sweet souled. It is like the delicate vine of embroidery about a dainty garment.

This was three years ago. As soon as I sat down in the great rocking-chair, which gave me such a soft and gracious welcome, my eyes fell upon the carpet, which was of home manufacture. The colors were red, brown, green and purple, graduated shades, with a singular, little ribbony stripe of black, orange and pink, twisted together in a way that made the colors intermingle beautifully.

Practical working woman as I am, I did not long stand on ceremony, I can assure you. I was so taken with the carpet that I began asking questions right away, for in the two hundred and fifty yards which I had made, not one yard of it could compare with that rare and pretty piece.

The dear old girls! they all talked at once; they fired up with an enthusiasm, that really made them handsome. They told me it was all made at home, the warp spun and dyed, and the rags cut, sewed, colored and woven by themselves. Such colors! I took out my note-book to jot down the different names of the dyes, which I had never yet heard of; all bought in one package, and called Leamon’s Aniline Dyes, twelve kinds in one box, to be bought of any whole. sale druggist in the United States. The directions go with the dyes in full, so that any child can use them successfully.

Nature lets nothing in the world remain useless; she makes everything serve a purpose, live again, and do good in some form or other. Just so with these managing, planning, contriving girls, they let nothing go to loss, they turned everything to good account.

My note-book has a page well packed with items, picked up that day, which I am glad to give to the sisterhood. One of the prettiest things I saw, was a what-not made of wood, covered with a thin layer of putty, into which had been worked some of Leamon’s | Brown Aniline Dye until it was the shade of black walnut; this was permitted to dry well, then putties of different colors, dyed with red, green, purple, gray, and any shade required for vines, leaves, berries, grapes, etc., were made, and put on as nature and fancy dictated; this was likewise set aside to dry, and then varnished. It was marvelously beautiful, and these what-nots had sold readily for twenty and twenty-five dollars.

A cornucopia made after this style was elegant. They can be varied by coloring the groundwork putty different shades, and any girl, at all ingenious and tasteful, can make them. They were filled with grasses and mosses, dyed green, oats and nodding swamp-grasses were dyed red, and blue, and purple, and yellow; while flowers of the amaranth were intermingled. All kinds of parlor ornaments and winter bouquets were made this way.

I think handsome rugs adorn and make cozy one’s sitting-rooms, but these girls had made them too pretty to step on. I felt afraid of crushing some of the half-opened buds, and the fresh, crisp-looking, leaves. They had spun yarn out of lamb’s wool, dyed it with the Aniline Dyes, and worked them over a pattern taken out of a magazine. The chair and sofa-tidies wrought on black canvas, were perfect. The second-best rugs were made out of old white woolen stocking: legs, dyed bright colors, the strip, cut narrow, round and round, thus turning to a good and life-long account what some women would use for moth-feed.

But the table-mats! I tee-hee’d right out! I promised the dear old gals that I would not let it get into the papers ‘long-side of the felicitous names of Mary, Martha, “Marier and Marg’et;” nor will I. No one knows whether the last name is Smith or Jones. Those delectable mats were made out of old worn-out felt hats, such as the neighbor boys used to fight bumble-bees with! The girls washed them clean in hot soap-suds, dyed them dark slate, and peachy drab, and rich wine color, stretched them well, tacked them on a board to dry, out in the sunshine, and when ready, cut them in circular shape and bound with crimson braid, or maroon, or any color that contrasted pleasantly. Then in the centre of each they stitched with bright yarn the words “meat,” “coffee,” “potatoes”

Now many a woman situate like these were, would have mourned because she could not find her “sphere,” she would have sighed for a “mission” in this world. These four sisters had missions. They filled positions that women, gifted with wealth, and beauty, and intellect, never could have filled so gracefully, and so excellently and well. Opportunity was theirs for a wide usefulness, they could bless, and help, and teach, and cheer their unskillful sisters, and could develop the latent resources of theirs most admirably.

I was amused and delighted at one of them telling about selecting her sister’s wedding-dress.

“I got dark gray cashmere,” she said; “for I told Hitty it could be dyed into half a dozen new dresses before it was wore out. When she was tired of gray, she could take some of the Aniline Dye and make it slate color, then afterwhile a light brown, then dark brown, then plum, then navy blue, and finally she could turn it the third time and end with Leamon’s immaculate black.”

Now there is more sound truth in this than fun, and if a dress is honest goods, and all wool, Mary was correct; the wedding-dress would do to wear to all the births, and baptisms, and weddings, and funerals, and finally make a very respectable and no doubt comfortable burial robe. I respect the woman who is rich in resources, who can see her way out of a dungeon or over a wall, or through a hole.

They dyed a pink wool delaine dress a dark crimson for one of the neighbor’s girls—never a spot in it. They wet it thoroughly in warm soap-suds first, and then for a mordant used alum-water. For another they dyed a white zephyr shawl a deep scarlet to match the fringe; while ties, ribbons, sashes and all such things just bloomed out into new beauty, and usefulness, and renewed freshness.

Plumes of exceeding loveliness were made of white chicken-feathers, dyed all shades of pink, from deep rose down to pale blush and all colors of blue from graduated shades, fading away to the palest, daintiest int of a hue. In making the plumes, the under side of the feather was scraped away with a knife, and it was left pliant and flexible. Another way they made beautiful, long, waving plumes, was by dyeing the tips of feathers brown, or black, and sewing them on fine cap-wire, overlapping so that only the fine tips showed. These sold for four and five dollars. Any girl can make her own. Bird-wings they colored, and the girls said they could not be told from “boughten wings.”

They made old veils into new ones, stiffened by a weak solution of gum-arabic. With these magic dyes they colored blue ones green by dipping into yellow dye, drab and gray they dyed brown, and brown black, and dingy black ones culminated into jetty black.

Old dresses were made into any color desirable, care being taken to wet the goods well first; steep slowly, and set the color with a mordant of alumwater; dilute sugar of lead and water, or saleratus-water. Then drain instead of wring, and press under a paper while damp, until dry.

In the hands of these wonderful girls dyed turkey feathers made nice fans.

An old knit sacque, faded and dingy, they raveled out, dyed brown and crocheted into a new and modern one by following a paper pattern laid in the lap; for an edge or border some fine, soft yarn of an old nubia, [a knitted head-scarf] raveled and dyed maroon and royal purple, and the sacque was a marvel and a beauty, and will last a lifetime. The old sacque was sleeveless; the new one has sleeves knit seamless, and is so warm, and snug, and pretty. I tried it on, and it fit like the truth.

Something pretty, I don’t know what it was called, made out of snail-shells dyed different colors, stood on a wide window-shelf—looked like a mound somewhat, only it was irregular in form. Then I saw something else rare and new out on the cool, breezy porch. They had taken some large clam-shells, boiled them in lye, and all the rough, gray exterior had come off and left them white and fine; these had been boiled in dyes of three or four different colors, and they were beautiful. I never knew this kind of shells could be cleaned and made good for anything, and I asked how they learned it. Mary looked over at her sister affectionately, and said: “Oh, Marg’et thought of it herself!”

They had likewise taken a couple of old nubias— one they left white and the other they dyed a delicate salmon—ripped them apart, and they were left nearly square. Now you wouldn’t guess what they made of ’em. Nobody would. I told you they made everything live anew, and I should have said that often the second life was the better and more useful one. Why, they spread them over soft, white batting, with a white lining, and made wee baby cradle-spreads of them. The white one they knotted with blue, and the blue one with white, and bound the edges with ribbon to match. You can guess how sweet a baby would look with such a fleecy covering.

They said the Aniline blue made nice bluing for washing-day; and the black, with the directions given with the package of dyes, makes the best black ink they ever saw.

Coral baskets and pretty nicknacks were made out of raisin-stems by adding some of the red dye, while melting, to the white wax and bees wax. These girls made brackets of them, too, bright and glistening, and even prettier than the real coral or those of sealing-wax.

Burlap rugs, made with a rug-hook out of soft old coats, and trousers, and ladies’ cloth, they finished with a bright edge of fine old flannel or opera-cloth, dyed those shades that would harmonize or work in unison. Sometimes, you know, colors don’t agree, and will mutually swear at each other.

An old, dingy, merino shawl they colored a deep black with Leamon’s black dye for their pastor’s wife, then cut it over into a dolman, trimmed it with fringe that had been on their mother’s parasol, and finished with bias bands of black silk which had once been their grandmother’s “quarterly meetin’ apron.” Truly, I never saw such generalship since the days of the man who was willing to “fight it out on that line,” etc. I wish I could tell you all I learned that day, but space will not permit.

Last October I was visiting in that neighborhood again. The week before I went there, Marg’et was married to a widower, a merchant who lived in the village. Of course she sent for me to come and see her, and—who ever heard of the like!-Leamon’s Aniline Dyes had gotten that old gal a husband

He told her, and she told me, how it came about. He said she sat in range of his roving, searching eye one Sabbath, at church, and that she did look so sweet, and peaceful, and modest in her quiet brown dress, and little brown hat with its tossy, tilting feathers, and the rose-pink bow in her hair and on her bosom, that before he knew it he had elected her the queen of his heart, the gem he would wear henceforth–if he could get her. And he vowed he’d get her if he could. He watched her all the time, and bowed and smiled at the door, and walked down the lane as far as the big white hawthorn, and in the evening he called awhile, and kept on calling and calling, until he called her his wife, and bore her away to his own dear little home-nest among the cedars and the climbing-roses. She further told me that the dress he admired was a soft, drab-y cashmere, sun-faded, and she had dyed it a dark, rich, nutty brown, taking special pains with it. The hat she had worn for years, an old white one; but she colored, stiffened, pressed and trimmed it with a bit of seal-brown and a nodding bunch of the ends of bronze cock-feathers, pink face-trimming, never thinking her close economy was weaving a snare to catch the heart and hand of a lone, lorn “widdy man.”

The kind, mellow, married woman! she had saved me a generous slice of the wedding-cake. It was that delicious kind called watermelon-cake. I ate it that evening as we sat at tea, the willow trailing its lithe branches to and fro across the dining-room windows that opened out upon the prettiest, shadiest lawn and orchard I ever looked upon. Such cake! It really did resemble a cool, crisp slice of melon with the seeds in it. I will give you the recipe in its proper place sometime; will only say now that the red core of the melon-cake is made by adding a grain or two of red aniline to a few drops of cinnamon essence.

Among the wedding gifts that delighted me most was a pompous white rooster and a hen to match, the gifts of the little nephews, Mink and Monkey. Their tails had been dyed dark red with Aniline Dyes, and they did look too cute!. It was such a roguish present.

We went into the parlor to see some of the bridal gifts: they were nearly all the handiwork of the beloved sisters, Mary, Martha and Maria. One, I remember was a lovely picture-frame; and another was a beautiful lamb-skin mat, dyed light brown, very fine, and velvety, and exquisitely finished with a cardinal border. A flossy little Maltese kitten slipped into the parlor behind us, and nestled itself in the dazzling centre of the pretty rug. Before Marg’et closed the door, she called it out into the sitting-room, with a gentle “Come, Leamon ‘”

PIPSEY POTTS.

Arthur’s Illustrated Home Magazine, Volume 46, 1878: pp. 394-

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:   It sounds a perfect hell of fancy-work!  And incidentally a puff-piece for Leamon Aniline Dyes…

We have met with the art of economy in dress–a dreary and thankless task–but these ladies seem to have been truly inspired to create articles they found beautiful and useful, and–happy accident!—a snare to catch the heart and hand of a lone, lorn “widdy man.”

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

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

The Cast Iron Stove: 1890

“Nancy!” said Mr. Moppet.

“Sir?” responded Nancy.

Mr. Moppet was coming in from the garden path. Nancy, with plump white arms bared to the elbow, was washing the breakfast dishes in a deep pan of hot soapsuds.

Mr. Moppet was a hard featured elderly man, with whitish blue eyes, a straggly fringe of white beard beneath his square chin, and a bald cranium. Nancy was fresh colored and bright eyed, with silky tendrils of auburn hair drooping over her freckled forehead, and a certain dimple perpetually playing at hide-and-seek on her left cheek. The two completely realized Shakespeare’s ideal of “Crabbed Age and Youth.”

“I’m a-goin’ to town,” said Mr Moppet. “You won’t need to bile no pot victuals for dinner. Waste makes want. A cup o’ tea and a biled egg and what’s left o’ yesterday’s pork and greens — that’ll be all you need.”

“Yes, father,” acquiesced Nancy. She was thinking of something else all the while.

“And, talkin’ ’bout eggs,” added Mr. Moppet, “you may take four dozen up to Peach Farm. Mrs. Wixon wants plenty on ’em to make cake for her niece’s party. Better go early this morning’.”

Nancy colored scarlet under the auburn rings of hair “Can’t I send ’em up by little Bill Becker, father?” said she “Webster Wixon will be there, and — and I don t like Webster Wixon, with his red nose and his compliments.” Mr. Moppet frowned.

“Nancy,” said he, “don’t be a fool. I can see through ye, like ye was a pane o’ glass. Webster Wixon’s a well-to-do man, with money out at interest, and you’d oughter be tickled to death that he’s took a notion to you.”

“But, father—”

“Not another word,” grumbled Mr Moppet. “I know jest exactly what’s comin’. It’s that foolish nonsense about Absalom Parker, that I hoped you’d got over long ago. Absalom hain’t no properly, and ain’t like to have none, and no daughter o’ mine ain’t goin’ to marry your Grandfather Atkins’s hired man, not if I know it.”

He paused with this multiplicity of double negatives. Nancy set her small, pearl-white teeth together, her eyes flashed with hazel fire. It was a clear ease of true love versus money.

“Take them eggs straight up to Peach Farm, ” reiterated Mr. Moppet, shaking his forefinger at Nancy, “an’ don’t argufy the p’nt no further. I’m your father, and I know what’s best for you!”

“But you’re going right past the Wixons’ door.”

“No, I ain’t, neither I’m goin’ the Horn Hill Road. I’ve been app’inted by the Supply Committee to buy an air-tight wood stove for the church,” he added with some complacency. “The old one’s rusted clear out, so there’s danger o’ fire every time its used, and the brethren have subscribed twenty dollars for a new one—leastways, a second-hand one, if its jest as good.”

* * *

Webster Wixon, a fat, middle-aged bachelor, was out helping to gather the October apples on the north side of the house when Nancy came up. He made haste to welcome her.

“Good mornin’, Miss Nancy,” said he. “As bloomin’ as ever, I see.”

“Here’s your eggs,” spoke Nancy, curtly.

“Set down a spell, won’t ye?” simpered Mr. Wixon.

“I’m in a hurry,” said Nancy.

“But, Nancy—”

“My name’s Miss Moppet, sir!”

“I’ve got something very particular to say to you, Nancy,” urged the middle aged suitor.

“It’ll have to keep,” said Nancy. “I’ve got to get right home.”

“Can’t I walk with you a piece?”

“I’d rather go alone,” she persisted.

“Nancy—Miss Moppet—I must speak!” blurted out the old bachelor. “I love you better’n all the world! I want to make you Mrs. Webster Wixon! There that s what I had on my mind! And your good father, he says it would suit him exactly, and__”

Nancy wheleed around and faced her eager swain.

“Is it me or father, you’re a-courting?” said she.

“Why you, of course!”

“Then take my answer—No!”

And without waiting for the return of her basket, she hurried away, her cheeks blazing, her breath coming quick and fast.

“Father’ll be awful mad,” she thought, “but I’d sooner die than marry that man!”

Webster Wixon stood a minute gazing after her in crestfallen silence; then he went back to apple harvesting with an ominous compression of his lips.

“The madder she gets the prettier she looks,” thought he. “Well, well, time will show. Brother Moppet says she shall be my wife, and that ought to count for consid’able.

***

Mr. Moppet drove leisurely on to Horn Hill, drove an excellent bargain for a highly ornamental wood-stove, after having successively interviewed every hardware dealer in town, and set forth to return with it in his wagon just at dusk.

“It’s a warm day for the time o’ year,” said he, “and it’s easier traveling for the horse arter dark. It ain’t a bad day’s work, come to think on’t. I beat Brother Piper down pretty well on the price, and it’s worth a dollar’n half to cart the thing home over these bumpy roads. They ‘lowed twenty dollars for it, and I got it for fifteen. Takin’ my time and wheel wear and horseflesh into consideration, I guess I won’t say nothin’ about the odd five dollars. Business is business. It’s a proper pretty pattern too — thistle leaves and acorns. I’d like one the same fashion in my best room, and” — with a long whistle — “why shouldn’t I have it? There’s that second handed stove Gran’ther Atkins took for a debt from Solon Grubb. It’s jest standin’ rustin’ away in his back wood shed.  I’ll fetch it home to morrow and black it up, and let Elder Meachan suppose I got a bargain from somebody, and I’ll have the nice new stove for myself, and nobody’ll be none the wiser, now that Gran’ther Atkins is confined to his bed with creepin’ paralysis and Absalom Parker’s up in the wood lots, choppin’ down trees for winter firewood. It’s a good idee. I’m glad I happened to think of it!”

He drew rein opposite the Atkins house. All was dark and quiet there save the one red light that burned in old Mr Atkins’s bed room.

At that identical moment, had he but known it, Absalom Parker — the old man’s general factotum— was hanging over the garden gate of his own place, talking to pretty Nancy among the purple dahlias and quilled asters.

And it was no difficult task for a man of John Moppet’s physical strength skillfully to lift the old stove out of its place in the outer shed into his wagon.

“Git up, Prince,” he muttered to his horse, shaking the reins, and away they went.

Elder Meachan was not quite satisfied with the bargain. The chruch brethren, too, would have preferred a new stove, considering the money they had spent; but Brother Moppet was a man in authority, and they were compelled to acquiesce in his choice.

Nancy was delighted with the new acquisition for the best room.

“Oh, isn’t it pretty!” said she.

“Yes,” nodded Mr. Moppet, rubbing his hands, “It’ll sort o’ dress up the room for your weddin’.”

“My wedding!”

“Jest so. I’ve arranged matters with Webster Wixon, and__”

Nancy burst into tears, and ran out of the room.

Mr. Moppet glared balefully after her.

“She shall marry him,” muttered he, “or she shall be no darter o’ mine! I won’t be set at defiance by__ Why, hello, Absalom Parker, what brings you here?”

“Mr. Atkins is took wuss this afternoon,” said Absalom, standing at the doorway, like a rustic Apollo. “Wants to see ye—right off!”

It was a Saturday afternoon. As Mr. Moppet drove by the church door, he saw the load of wood being delivered for the first fire of the season.

“Jest in time!” said he to himself. “There’s a frosty feel in the air.”

Grandfather Atkin lay among his pillows, like a wrinkled ghost.

“John,” said he, “all I’ve got in the world is yours; but I think I’d ought to tell you where I’ve hid it, sence the bank robbery give me such a scare.”

“Certainly, certainly!” said his son-in-law, with eager eyes, like those of a bird of prey.

“I’ve hid it away—“

John Moppet placed his ear close to the pallid lips.

“Six five-hundred-dollars bills—“

“Yes, yes—go on!”

“Folded up in an old number of the Horn Hill Gazette—”

“An old number of the Horn Hill Gazette—I understand!” repeated Moppet.

“In the old stove out in the shed!” gasped the old man. “I knowed nobody wouldn’t be likely to look there! It’s your’s John Moppet—every cent of it. And mind you, don’t spend it in no extravagance!”

So speaking the old miser closed his dim eyes and went where there is neither money nor counting of money.

John Moppet uttered an exceeding bitter cry as he remembered the lighted match he had put to the crumpled papers in the stove, to make sure of a draught when it was put up in the northwest corner of the church — the roar of the blaze through the lengths of Russian pipe. In his excellent management he had contrived to overreach himself.

He went home and sat all the evening in a sort of stupor, with his head in his hands.

Nancy, busied about her household tasks, watched him with hazel eyes of surprise.

“I didn’t know he thought so much of Gran’ther Atkins,” pondered she.

“Six times five is thirty—six time five is thirty,” mused Mr. Moppet, rocking to and fro. “Six five-hundred-dollar bills!  Three—thousand—dollars—and all gone up chimbly in one breath o’ wind, and me as done it! I shall go crazy. I shall lose my mind. Three—thou—sand—dollars!  It’s a judgment on me. I’ve been a mis’able sinner, and cheated the church. I’ve tampered with my own conscience. Six times five is thirty! Six five-hundred-dollar bills! Oh, Lord, there ain’t no calculatin’ what a mis’able sinner I’ve been!”

As the old kitchen clock struck nine, Absalom Parker came in, bringing with him a gust of fresh, frosty air.

“Evenin’, Squire,” said he. “I’m sort o’ looking up the watchers. ‘Spose you’d like to be one of ‘em? But I’d like to speak a word to you first.”

“If it’s about Nancy, it ain’t no use,” said Mr. Moppet, rousing himself to the affairs of the world with some petulance.

“It ain’t about Nancy,” Absalom answered, with a smile. “It’s about Mr. Atkins’s money.”

Mr. Moppet gave a start.

“Oh, you needn’t jump so,” reassured Absalom. “It’s all safe.”

He took a flat parcel out of his pocket.

“Count ‘em,” said he. “Six, ain’t there?”

Mr. Moppet started at Absalom Parker as Aladdin might have started at the Genii.

“How –where —“ he stammered.

Absalom gave a low chuckle.

“Hush!” said he. “Don’t speak loud. I seen the old man hide ‘em there, like a human magpie as he was. I knowed it wasn’t safe, so I quietly took ‘em out, arter he’d had that last stroke, and locked ‘em in his black leather trunk up in the garret. And you may thank me that they wasn’t all burned up in the first fire you lighted in that identical stove!”

Mr. Moppet turned a purplish red.

“You know about that stove?” said he, with a gasp.

“It wasn’t likely no such conjuring could go on about Mr. Atkins’s place, and me not know it,” said Parker, drily. “The stove wasn’t of no great consequence, though, except for old iron. I guess the church folks’ll get sick of it before a great while.”

Mr. Moppet drew a long breath.

“When they do,” said he, “I’ll make ‘em a present of a brand new one. And, Absalom–”

“Yes, Mr Moppet?”

“You won’t say nothin’ to nobody'”

“No,” said Absalom, “I ain’t one o’ the talkin’ sort.”

“And, Absalom — ”

“Yes, Mr Moppet?”

“Since you and Nancy really are attached to each other–”

“We are just that, Mr Moppet.”

“I don’t see no objection to your gettin’ married this fall,” said Moppet, with an effort. “You may tell Nancy that she has my consent!”

Nancy cried a shower of happy tears when Absalom told her the good news.

But he never imparted to her the story of the stove. As he himself had remarked, “he was not one of the talkin’ sort.”

The Newton [AL] Messenger 10 May 1890: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil does so like a happy ending. This is a much nicer outcome than the all-too-common stories of forgetful gentlemen who stored their dynamite in the stove with depressingly predictable results.

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.