Category Archives: Husbands and Wives

The Magic Mirror of Lady Eleanor: c. 1704

stumpwork mirror frame

17th c. stumpwork mirror frame. https://collections.mfa.org/objects/72274

THE MAGIC MIRROR.

Lady Eleanor Campbell, widow of the great marshal and diplomatist, John, Earl of Stair, in her girlhood had the misfortune to be united to James, Viscount Primrose, of Chesterfield, who died in 1706, a man of dissipated habits and intolerable temper, who treated her so barbarously that there were times when she had every reason to feel that her life was in peril.

One morning she was dressing herself before her mirror, near an open window, when she saw the viscount suddenly appear in the room behind her with a drawn rapier in his hand. He had softly opened the door, and in the mirror she could see that his face, set white and savage, indicated that he had nothing less than murder in his mind. She threw herself out of the window into the street, and half-dressed as she was, fled to Lord Primrose’s mother, who had been Mary Scott, of Thirlstane, and received protection; but no attempt was made to bring about a reconciliation, and, though they had four children, she never lived with him again, and soon after he went abroad.

During his absence there came to Edinburgh a certain foreign conjuror, who, among other occult powers, professed to be able to inform those present of the movements of the absent, however far they might be apart; and the young viscountess was prompted by curiosity to go with a lady friend to the abode of the wise man, in the Canongate, wearing over their heads, by way of disguise, the tartan plaid then worn by women of the humbler classes.

After describing the individual in whose movements she was interested, and expressing a desire to know what he was then about, the conjuror led her before a large mirror, in which a number of colours and forms rapidly assumed the appearance of a church, with a marriage party before the altar, and in the shadowy bridegroom she instantly recognised her absent husband! She gazed upon the delineations as if turned to stone, while the ceremonial of the marriage seemed to proceed, and the clergyman to be on the point of bidding the bride and bridegroom join hands, when suddenly a gentleman, in whose face she recognized a brother of her own, came forward and paused. His face assumed an expression of wrath ; drawing his sword, he rushed upon the bridegroom, who also drew to defend himself; the whole phantasmagoria then became tumultuous and indistinct, and faded completely away.

When the viscountess reached home she wrote a minute narrative of the event, noting the day and hour. This narrative she sealed up in presence of several witnesses, and deposited it in a cabinet. Soon after this her brother, Colonel John Campbell, returned from his travels abroad. She asked him if he heard aught of the viscount in his wanderings.

He answered: “I wish I may never again hear the name of that detestable personage mentioned.” On being questioned, he confessed to having met his lordship under very strange circumstances.

While spending some time at Rotterdam he made the acquaintance of a wealthy merchant who had a very beautiful daughter, and only child, who, he informed him, was on the eve of her marriage with a Scottish gentleman, and he was invited to the wedding, as a countryman of the bridegroom. He went accordingly, and though a little too late for the commencement of the ceremony, was yet in time to save an innocent girl from becoming the victim of his own brother-in-law, Viscount Primrose.

Though the deserted wife had proved her willingness to believe in the magic mirror, by having committed to writing what she had seen, yet she was so astonished at her brother’s tidings that she nearly fainted. She asked her brother on what day the circumstance took place, and having been informed, she gave him her key, and desired him to bring to her the sealed paper. On its being opened, it was then found that at the very moment when she had seen the roughly interrupted nuptial ceremony it had actually been in progress.

The above story appeared in “Old and New Edinburgh,” and although it seems incredible enough, it is so well attested by many celebrated historical personages, that it would be difficult to discredit its accuracy.

The Two Worlds 13 January 1888: p. 135

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The mirror that saved Lady Eleanor from her murderous husband was a magic mirror, indeed!  Mrs Daffodil would not be surprised to learn that the vile Viscount was the inspiration for the expression “the primrose path,” although the phrase was said to be coined by Mr William Shakespeare.

Lady Eleanor was, as one might expect, somewhat soured on the state of matrimony, although she had many suitors after Viscount Primrose died–at the hands of an enraged husband, one imagines. While she felt sentiments warmer than those of ordinary friendship for John, Earl of Stair, she would not consent to their marriage. The Earl, displaying his diplomatic talents to their fullest, bribed one of Lady Eleanor’s servants to let him into her bed-chamber, where he stationed himself in “deshabille”–Mrs Daffodil hopes that the word implies an informal wrapping gown or banyan, rather than complete nudity–at the window overlooking the busy street.  To salvage her reputation, which shortly would have been in tatters, Lady Eleanor married the Earl and they lived reasonably happily (i.e. no drawn rapiers) until his death in 1747.

 

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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A Ghost With a Broomstick: 1901

beaded funeral wreath

Beaded French funeral wreath or immortelle.

A GHOST WITH A BROOMSTICK.

After Burying His Wife Schernel Went Home and Felt Her Wrath Physically.

Some days ago a joiner named Louis Schernel, living in the rue d’ Alsace in Levallois-Perret (Seine) took his wife to the Beaujon hospital for treatment. Then he went on a spree, which he kept up for two weeks.

At the end of that period he thought it was about time for him to visit his wife and find out how she was progressing. He went to the hospital and asked to see Mme. Schernel.

The clerk, not catching the name precisely, fancied that he asked for “Mme. Cermel,” a woman who had died just two days before and whose body was about to be taken to the cemetery.

“There is her funeral starting now,” said the official, pointing to a hearse.

There were no mourners to follow the hearse. The dead woman was poor and friendless. Schernel, convinced that his wife’s body was in the hearse, followed It to Saint-Ouen. The last prayers were recited, and while the gravedigger was filling up the grave Schernel knelt and prayed, after which he left the cemetery and purchased a wooden cross and a wreath in a store adjoining the place. He placed them carefully on the grave, knelt again in prayer, and then proceeded to the nearest saloon to mend his broken heart. He continued his spree for five days more. Meanwhile his wife returned from the hospital sound in body and mind. She heard of her husband’s prolonged spree, but knew nothing of her supposed funeral.

While she was shopping he returned in a glorious condition, and, without undressing, threw himself on the bed. She returned to find him snoring like a foghorn. She allowed him to sleep for some hours, and at last proceeded to wake him up with a broomstick. She succeeded marvellously.

With a yell Schernel jumped up and ran out of the house. At full speed he fled through the streets until he came to the police station. There he told the officer in charge that the ghost of his wife was in his house raising Cain.

The officer thought he was crazy. But to investigate the affair he went to the Schernel home, and sure enough, there he found Mme. Schernel putting the place in order and very much astonished at the precipitate flight of her husband.

A little inquiry developed the truth in the case, but Schernel insists that he is a widower and that the ghost of his wife haunts his house. Now nothing can induce him to go home. But later on the ghost will have something to say in the matter. Paris correspondence of the New York Courrier des Etats Unis.

The Clayton [AL] Record 7 March 1901: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  M. Schernel seems to be in denial, while Mme. Schernel, a lady of considerable sang froid, in Mrs Daffodil’s opinion, seems to have taken her husband’s sprees in stride. One shudders to think how vigorously that broomstick would have been deployed if Mme. Schernel had returned to find that her “widower” had decided during one of those sprees that it was not good for man to be alone and had brought home a new bride.

Some gentlemen were remarkably premature in making such arrangements:

A dying woman in Leavenworth overheard her husband make proposals of marriage to a servant girl. She didn’t die.

The Daily Phoenix [Columbia SC] 10 November 1870: p. 3

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 Bower-Bird Husband: 1897

artistic parlor 1905.jpg

BOWER-BIRD HUSBANDS

‘Is your husband a bower-bird?’ That was a question addressed to a young wife by a social statist anxious to get his friends well classified under their proper generic appellations. As a matter of fact all husbands, if they only knew it, are either bower-birds or not bower-birds; but we admit that the phrase is at first sight a little startling, and requires elucidation. It will be remembered that the male bower-bird is endowed by nature with the desire to decorate its home with every conceivable form of ornament. It is a natural aesthete, and strives to do for its nest what Messrs. Maple or Shoolbred do for the villa residence in Wimbledon or Hampstead. Nothing comes amiss to it. With a few feathers, a shell or two, and some fragments of broken looking-glass or sparkling mica it will rig up a highly ornate bower for the alleged delight of its mate. It is as if the birds were possessed by the genius of those good women who write in the ladies’ papers under the heading of ‘The Home Beautiful’ or ‘ Fair Settings for Fair Faces,’ and give ‘tips’ to correspondents on the art of turning a seaside lodging into ‘a dream of loveliness’ by the proper disposition of  ‘a dozen Liberty handkerchiefs, some Japanese paper fans, and a few photographs of your lady friends in evening or Court dress; if the gentlemen are in uniform the effect will be very much improved.’

We cannot discuss here why it is that the bowerbird takes so much trouble to produce what at the best is only a sort of arbour in a tea-garden in miniature— the kind of thing which makes one hot with shame and misery, incoherent in language, and sick at heart for the falsehoods which the tongue must utter, when it is exhibited for our admiration by some amiable rural labourer or retired market gardener. The fact remains that he does so, and that a certain number of men—not the majority, but still a respectable minority—take after him, and display a feverish desire to ornament their homes. Such men when at home hardly ever have a hammer out of their hands, and are usually inarticulate because their mouths are filled with the tin-tacks which they are determined to get in somewhere on the drawing-room wall. In the abstract, women like the notion of the bower-bird man, and they may be heard to declare that ‘it is so convenient to have a man in the house who will drive a nail in exactly where and when you want it.’ Alas! this is only another instance of woman’s pathetic habit of concealing her troubles under a brave exterior. She hides the horrors of her home under a smile—nay, is even known to make domestic capital out of her woes, and to turn them so artistically that they can be used to keep her maiden sisters in their proper place. Of course, it would be immensely convenient to have a man always ready to drive in a nail exactly when and where you wanted it. Unfortunately, however, this is precisely what you do not get in the bower-bird man. He does not want to put in nails on such prosaic principles. He is bent, as all true housewives know in their hearts, though wild horses will not drag it from them, upon what can only be described as a crusade of destructive ornamentation.

We know of no more touching scene than that which may be observed almost any summer evening in the house of a human bower-bird. The man has his coat off—it is, of course, not necessary to take off your coat to drive in a tin-tack, but shirt sleeves is a kind of uniform universally adopted by the villa bower-bird — and he has a hammer in his right hand. In his left, pressed between the index finger and thumb, is a small carved bracket. He stands with his weight poised on the left leg, and with the other leg dropping loose. In his mouth is a reserve of nails. His head is a little on one side, and he is looking with a half-anxious, half-determined air at the wall. He is saying, in a voice horribly deliberate in sound, for fear of swallowing the nails, ‘I think, Gladys, there is just room for this bracket between the photo of the Imperial Institute and the lithograph of your uncle as Mayor of Danesbury.’ At his side, but a little behind, stands his wife. Her chin is slightly raised, one hand lightly touches—but here, with apologies to those bold and bad young men, the new English realists, we must drop a style into which we had unintentionally deviated. The bow has got ‘Ulysses and Co.’ marked in clear letters on the stock, and we would not presume to bend it, even if we could. Suffice it to say that the wife is in an agony of indecision. She would cut off her right hand rather than have her nice drawing-room spoilt by that hideous little common bracket for which a more hideous and even more common little vase will have to be found.

And, even if she did not mind the bracket, she would not want it where it is on the point of going. Her husband says there is just room, and so there is just room; but brackets which fit in between pictures like a puzzle, and leave not an eighth of an inch of space on either side, cannot be said to improve the look of the drawing-room wall. Still, what is she to do? If she forbids the tacks her husband is as likely as not to turn nasty, to throw down his hammer, to extract the nails from his mouth as if they were cherry-stones, and, remarking with icy politeness that of course he doesn’t the least want to put the thing up, that he was merely doing it to please her, and that if she prefers a carpenter he will be only too glad to send for one, to go off to his dressing-room, there to fix a solitary bracket over his shaving-stand. The wife of the bower-bird is thus doomed to go through a series of doubts and struggles. Which shall she sacrifice—her walls and her drawing-room paper or her husband’s temper?

Many are the expedients employed by desperate wives to save their walls. One of the best and most successful is to turn the energies of the bower-bird from works of ornament to works of utility—to convert the instinct towards decoration into the instinct of mending. Fortunately, the transition is not difficult, and by a little management the bower-bird husband may be changed into that most destructive of God’s creatures— the amateur carpenter. It is true that the wife who contrives this transformation jumps out of the frying pan into the fire; but what true woman would not readily sacrifice the rest of the house to keep the drawing-room neat and pretty. The best process of conversion is to persuade the bower-bird husband that his real vocation in life is carpentering, and that he is saving pounds and pounds by mending chairs and tables, by rehanging doors, by taking windows out of their frames and by cutting away portions of the fabric of the house so essential that, as the builder subsequently remarks,’ it was fair a miracle that you didn’t have the whole place about your ears with that there stay weakened as it was. Why, it looks as if some wild beast had been a-tearing at it; that it do.’

When once the devil of amateur carpentry has been awakened in a man there is nothing that he will not do in the way of making himself really useful. He ranges through the house with a saw, carried under his arm after the manner in which conscientious Nonconformists are believed to carry their umbrellas, and with a chisel in one hand and a light tool-chest in the other. No place is sacred from his ravages. Even the kitchen gives him prey. As the cook will confess with tears, ‘Master’s been mending the stove again till he’s broke it; and, please, shall we send for Lion and Higgler or Randsome and Pilledge?’ The parlour-maid dreads the question, ‘Is there any little job that I can do for you, Mary?’ If she says ‘No’ there will be trouble later because she had a man in to see to the taps in the pantry. If she says ‘Yes’ the master will spend the half-hour just before dinner, on a night when company is expected, in operations which will flood the basement ankle deep in water and necessitate the stoppage of a purely voluntary leakage caused by the incautious use of a chilled steel centre-bit by means more usually adopted by surgeons than plumbers. But though Mary may know that half a champagne cork, two handkerchiefs, and a strip of an old flannel petticoat are not the orthodox material for stopping the water at the main, they are far better than an inundation.

Happy the woman whose husband tires of plain carpentry, and takes instead to doctoring the clocks. That is a safe employment, or at any rate one in which the liability of misery is limited. It is no doubt a bore to have the dining-room clock dissolved into its elements —to open the door and see the disjecta membra of wheels, levers, balances, screws and springs and rods lying on the floor, in the advertisement sheet of the ‘Times’ —but that is better than having the banisters of the back stairs reduced to what the Americans succinctly describe as ‘kindling wood.’ Amateur clock-mending is a slow process, and the man who tampers with even the comparatively simple grandfather’s clock on the stairs does not arrive at the stage when it is necessary to call in a trained mechanic for three or four days. Your Dent’s best pendulum timepiece will last him a week, and a travelling clock even longer. Take it all round, the clocks are the best things to devote to the energies of the bower-bird. He is safest with them. Unfortunately, however, only a limited number of men with the bower-bird instinct will take to clock-wrecking as an amusement. Those who will not must be staved off, as best may be, on broken chairs and tables. The great thing is to protect the fabric of the house. It were better to break a table on purpose to have it mended than to turn the amateur carpenter loose in the space under the roof.

From Grave to Gay, J. St Loe Strachey, 1897: pp. 308-313

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have seen the perils of “the master’s” interference in Mr Greenleaf’s New Cook.  Yet even the officious Mr Greenleaf did not threaten the very fabric of the home. We must be thankful that, at this date, there were no reciprocating saws or pneumatic nail-guns; otherwise the death-toll would have been much higher.

Mrs Daffodil finds it absurd that those hammer-wielding husbands cannot be reasoned with. She would know how to take a firm line or arrange some helpful accident to discourage future household devastation, but it is, of course, different when one is married to the brute.  And it is an ingenious, yet appalling suggestion that a wife should deliberately break furniture solely to contain her husband’s “crusade of destructive ornamentation.”  Still, if one has a husband bent on the ruin of the home, it might be well to lay in a stock of cheap travelling clocks and to partially saw through the frame of his favourite arm-chair, so that it must constantly be under repair.

 

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.

Garters of Funereal Black: 1909

1910 french mourning catalog merry widow

A very merry widow from a 1910 catalogue of mourning goods.

A wife, pretty enough to warrant her desire for decorative garments, wasn’t appreciated by her grouchy husband. He was kicking hard at a batch of lingerie which she was trying to make him pay attention to. She appeared before him in a film of lace.

“What do you call that?” he growled; “it looks to me like a fishnet that has caught a mermaid.”

“I’ll swear solemnly that only one idea was in my mind when I had this sent home on approval,” she sobbed. “I said to myself, how proud it’ll make my husband to see me in it—in case of a fire.”

That plea won. The man bade her keep the garment. A pair of jeweled black garters were next to be offered for his scrutiny. Their price was $10.

‘I can see why those Rhinestone diamonds catch your eye,” he grunted, “But why, oh, tell me why, have jet-black garters on flesh-tint silk stockings?”

She took to weeping to get an idea. Her gasps and moans broke him all up, and he asked what she was crying about.

“If I must tell,” she slowly said, ‘twixt sobs, “I will, though I meant to keep the secret locked within my own breast. My dear brother, who died only a few weeks ago, was a stickler for all the conventional usages of mourning, while you disapprove strongly of wearing black in token of grief. Well, there I was in a dilemma. My dear brother would want me to put on black for him, but my dear alive husband would be offended by it. I hit on a way to honor bruddy’s memory without disregarding hubby’s desire. I wouldn’t change any of my garments to the hue of mourning, but, quite unknown to all save you, me and the spirit of my departed brother, I would wear these garters of funereal black. I was caught and rended between love and duty, and I fondly hoped I had solved a complex problem sentimentally. However, if you object, then—“

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 April 1909: p. 40

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One can only admire the lady’s talent for improvisation and her patience with that growling husband….

Calls for mourning reform from those who believed it to be unwholesome and over-costly echo down the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Mrs Daffodil suspects that the husband above objected principally to the cost, although his ghost would have been greatly offended if his wife did not put on full mourning after his passing. Here is an eloquent plea for the mourning band:

How long are we all to slavishly bow to this unwritten law of mourning, which forces us to adopt a custom inartistic and unsanitary, a blot upon the beauty of the world. a depression upon the nerves and spirits of the entire family, and very often a cruel tax upon the purse, for “mourning” and debt are only too often interchangeable terms. Why can we not break away from this tyrannical old law? There are women who, being widowed, abandon colors utterly and absolutely, just as some mourning mothers find a sorry comfort in wearing densest black as an outward expression of “that within which passeth show,” and their sincerity lends dignity and pathos to the mourning garb. But only think of the thousands who, for aunt or uncle, cousin (distant or near) or for relatives by marriage, resentfully don the purely conventional mourning, that they hate as a restraint and loathe as unbecoming;

Why may we not adopt in such cases the mourning band about the arm, securely stitched to the left sleeve of coat or jacket? It is too modest to mar either costume or suit, while it quietly and effectively announces our loss and expresses our respect.

The etiquette of mourning, like the man who drinks, or is addicted to drugs, demands a steady “tapering off”.” You should pass from crape to plain black–thence to black and white–thence to lavender and gray, and thus gently glide into blues, pinks, etc. But sometimes the deepest mourning is the briefest.

The Pittsburg [PA] Press 3 June 1906: p. 41

 

For more on the nuances and curiosities of Victorian mourning, Mrs Daffodil recommends The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available for Kindle.

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 Banshee of Hillstock Road: 1914

THE BANSHEE OF HILLSTOCK ROAD.

Hillstock-road was about the last place in the world that a self-respecting banshee or other supernatural visitant might be expected to patronise. It was not even in Ireland, but in the North district of busy, smoky, up-to-date unromantic London.

Grendoran Villa, Hillstock-road, was rented by Mrs. O’Shea, an Irish lady of good means, and immense antiquity —as regarded family. Mrs. O’Shea was the widow of a general officer, as she took good care to inform her neighbours, upon whom she looked down with justifiable contempt as being principally composed of business people. None of the O’Sheas had soiled their hands with trade; but in Mrs. O’Shea’s native country there were those so ill-natured as to whisper that the late General O’Shea had found means to escape from his creditors by marrying the heiress of a wealthy Hibernian bacon merchant.

The household of Grendoran Villa consisted of the stately widow, an orphan niece, and two servants—one a confidential maid, who had lived with Miss Molly Dowd before her marriage to the aristocratic and impecunious Major O’Shea. Honor Carroll was a character in her way, but under a sharp manner and tongue hid a warm heart and much fidelity. She had served the Dowds from her youth, and was as careful to preserve her mistress’s status as was that lady herself. Until very recently, Honor had never disputed Mrs. O’Shea’s will, except by the grumbling which had become habitual with her; but now there was a difference of opinion between mistress and maid, and Honor held her own obstinately, for the happiness of Katherine O’Shea, whom the old woman idolised, was at stake. Katherine was not an O’Shea at all, but merely a Dowd, being the only child of Mrs. O’Shea’s brother; but on the death of her parents, her aunt had adopted her and given her the grander name. She was a typical Irish girl, sad and merry by turns, with a wholesome horror of restraint, and but little reverence for authority. She was pretty, with dark eyes and hair, small features, and a remarkably bright and clear complexion. The girl had no nonsense about her, and cordially detested her aunt’s snobbishness. She had a special reason for rebelling against the enforced gentility of her position, as it had led Mrs. O’Shea to refuse her consent to the proposal of Katherine’s lover—a young man in every way a suitable match for her, but to whom the General’s widow objected on the score that he and his people were “mere tradesfolk.”

Honor Carroll had taken the side of the young people, and uttered her protests with no uncertain voice, and her remarks were as thorns in Mrs. O’Shea’s side, for the home truths she advanced were incontrovertible.

It was a dull November afternoon, not by any means the sort of day one would select for an al fresco conversation; yet Katherine O’Shea and Henry Plavell were standing under the leafless elm trees at the end of the garden, and apparently perfectly unconscious of either cold or damp. Very frequently the young man paid these visits, safe from the observation of the mistress of the house. Honor, while scolding Katherine briskly for meeting her fiancé, secretly kept watch that Mrs. O’Shea did not come upon the scene unawares, and at the time of which we are speaking she was on duty.

The sound of the drawing-room bell warned her that Katherine would probably be asked for by her aunt; and the old servant trotted down to the lovers’ meeting-spot, and, without any preliminaries, began:

“Shure, an’ Miss Katherine, isn’t it a shame fur ye to be meandering down there wid Master Flavell, an’ ye know that the mistress is dead agin him comin’ at all?”

“Don’t be cross, Honor,” replied Katherine, with an unconcerned laugh. “If I am not to receive my visitors properly inside, I’ll take good care to enjoy myself out here.”

“It’s cowld enjoyment, I’m thinkin’,” muttered the old woman; “but in wid ye now, fur the drawin’-room bell’s rung, and the mistress is shure to be wantin’ ye.”

“I expect it’s you she is wanting, Honor,” remarked Henry Flavell. “Don’t you think Miss Katherine might stay out a little longer?”

“Bedad! I do not, Master Flavell,” answered Honor, sharply, “an’ it’s yerself ought to be above matin’ her on the sly.”

“Did you never meet anyone on the sly yourself, Honor?” laughed the young man.

“Ach! Go along wid ye,” grinned Honor, her eyes brightening up with some merry thought of her girlhood. “Better fur ye to persuade the mistress to let ye court Miss Katherine straight out. Och! Murder! Ay she isn’t at the winder! I towld ye how it would be.”

Henry Flavell dodged behind the tree in very undignified style, while Katherine and Honor walked towards the house.

Mrs. O’Shea never for a moment dreamt that Henry Flavell would dare enter her grounds after she had forbidden him the house; therefore, her suspicions were not roused, and she only scolded Honor for not having more sense than to be out that cold day without something over her head.

It was the evening of the same day, while Honor was helping her to get ready for bed, that Mrs. O’Shea began to hold forth upon the presumption of a person in “young Flavell’s position” attempting to pay his addresses to her niece.

“An’ a fine young man he is, whin all’s sed an’ done,” put in Honor, sturdily. “Faith! I see no great harm ay Miss Katherine an’ he made a match ay it.”

“How dare you, Honor!” exclaimed Mrs. O’Shea, with a withering look at her maid. “My niece shall marry as well as I did, or remain an O’Shea all her life.”

“An” herself no O’Shea at all, but Dennis Dowd’s daughter,” muttered Honor. “Arrah! marm, shure, why do ye be brakin’ Miss Katharine’s heart fur sich nonsense? Isn’t Mr. Flavell’s big warehouse twinty times grander nor the shop Miss Katherine’s father- God rest his sowl!—had?”

“Honor!” screamed Mrs. O’Shea. “If you ever dare to mention that shop, or let Miss Katherine know of it, I’ll send you back to Ballymorty. Have you no respect for me at all?”

“I’m not likin’ to see the young people crossed,” maintained Honor.

“They shall never marry while I draw breath.”

“The blessed virgin grant ye may repint,” was Honor’s pious reply.

Before her mistress could retort, a weird, wailing sound came borne on the still night, and died away like a plaintive cry. There was not a breath of wind, and Mrs. O’Shea turned pale and grasped the back of the chair, while Honor devoutly crossed herself and whispered:

“The holy saints be betune us an’ harm this night!”

“It’s like a banshee,” stammered Mrs. O’Shea, when she had recovered her voice. “There’s one in our family. It’s a warning.”

“I was afeered something id cum when ye was so hard on Miss Katherine,” said Honor, improving the occasion. “Ay yer tuk, marm; shure, nothing can kape the two from marrying.”

“I am only doing my duty,” remonstrated Mrs. O’Shea, faintly.

“We’ll see what comes ay sich duty,” sneered Honor.

“It must come three times,” remarked Mrs. O’Shea, referring to the banshee.

“Oh, divil doubt it! It’ll come,” was the servant’s comforting reply.

And sure enough, the following evening, about the same hour, the uncanny, unaccountable, prolonged wail came again; and Mrs. O’Shea, trembling and unnerved, accepted it as her summons. Honor Carroll, while admitting that it was the banshee, hazarded the remark that if approaching death were sent as a punishment for crossing the young people, speedy repentance on the part of Mrs. O’Shea might turn back the judgment.

Mrs. O’Shea was too fond of her present existence to care to change it, unless that was absolutely necessary; and she there and then made a solemn vow that if she were spared until the morrow, she would give her consent to the mesalliance in the hope of propitiating the banshee.

She did not sleep that night, but she lived through it; and to the great surprise and joy of Katherine and Henry Flavell, the old lady wrote a formal acceptance of the young man’s proposal,

It need not be explained that the supposed banshee was nothing more supernatural that the sound emitted by the new motor cab invested in by Mr. Flavell, senior.

Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, 19 August 1914: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Although she is not fond of dialect stories, Mrs Daffodil is pursing her lips dubiously at that extraordinarily abrupt and unsatisfactory denouement in the worst tradition of the “and then I woke up” ghost story ending.  Mrs Daffodil, and, doubtless, the redoubtable Honor Carroll, would have been much happier if there had been a banshee. Mrs O’Shea would have been found dead in her bed and young Katherine would not only have been free to marry the man of her heart, but would have inherited the O’Shea fortune.  Even after years of respectable widowhood at Grendoran Villa, there should have been a substantial sum left from the labour of that wealthy Hibernian bacon merchant. Honor Carroll, after a period of luxuriant mourning, might have stayed on to help with the children or retired to Ireland with a generous legacy. As a bonus Henry Flavell would have been free from the plague of a snobbish mother-in-law.

That is what Mrs Daffodil calls a happy ending.

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

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

A Story Successfully Told: 1875

A STORY SUCCESSFULLY TOLD

Pretty, plump Mrs. Archibald Steele wrote the following paragraph in one of her letters to her husband the other day:

“John must come down here at once, whether you can spare him or not. Our dear little Laura is greatly taken with a tall, thin young man, with a hooked nose and thin lips, called Stuyvesant.  It is whispered about the hotel that he is a very good match, and has the veritable blue blood of the old Dutch governor in his reins. I must say it has a queer way of showing itself, for the young man is as pale as a specter; and dressed in that white duck, with his sunken eyes and bilious skin, is enough to frighten one. I have grown to hate him, while Laura is growing to be quite the contrary, I am afraid. All the evening he leans up against the wall, never dancing or opening his mouth, save to give vent to some hateful, sarcastic criticism upon the scenes around him, and yet dear little Laura’s eyes–as, indeed, all the other pretty eyes about–are perpetually beseeching him for attention. In the daytime he is always with a long black horse, that covers more ground with its legs while it is going than any other animal that I ever saw. When Laura goes out to drive behind it, and vanishes out of sight with the bony creature, I tremble to think how dreadful it would be if our dear little girl would ever be part and parcel of this wretched man and his beast. So I think John had better come down at once. I quite long to see his handsome face and hear his honest voice, and I think it is about time that John should tell his little story to Laura and have thing settled comfortably.

Mr. Archibald Steele smiled when he put the letter of his wife in his waistcoat pocket, and, picking up the morning paper, scanned through his gold-rimmed spectacles the news of the day. Finding nothing therein to refine the exceedingly satisfactory condition of his affairs, he put it down, smiling as only a prosperous, contented down-town merchant can smile. He was one of those happy exceptions to the ordinary rule of mortals, with whom everything went well. His whole experience was an exclamation point to that effect. If he ventured a little hazardously in trade, fortune trimmed her sails to favor him. If he set his heart upon anything relating to domestic felicity, all the elements of art and nature conspired to bring it about. So when he stepped to the door of his office and beckoned to a young man with a strip of commercial paper in his hand and a pencil behind his ear, with the general air of briskness and shrewdness about him that betokened a successful down-town merchant embryo, Mr. Steele smiled the third time, with the air of one who was not at all afraid of any bilious, blue-blooded obstacle that might be thrown in the path of  domestic happiness which he firmly agreed had been arranged by an Omnipotent hand.

“John,” said Mr. Steele, closing the door of his private office, and looking upon his young clerk benevolently, “I’ve got an order from Mrs. Steele which I wish you would attend to.”

“Certainly, sir,” said John; “shall I go out and get the articles myself?”

“Why, the fact is, John,” said the merchant, enjoying his joke more and more, “it’s only one article–a rather bulky one. It was bargained for a long time ago. I think you will have to go down with it, John.”

“Down to the seashore!” said John, getting a little hot and flustered; “is it a very valuable parcel, sir?”

“Well, perhaps your natural modesty may depreciate its worth, John. Mrs. Steele and I think a good deal of it, and Laura, too, I am sure does. The commodity is yourself, John. Mrs. Steele wants you to go down and take a little holiday there.”

When the name of Laura was mentioned the young man’s face grew more flustered and hot than before.

“You are very kind, sir,” he said, “and Mrs. Steele is more like an angel than a woman.”

“Rather solid and plump for that,” interposed Mr. Steele, but liking the phrase nevertheless.

“But it is a simple madness,” pursued John, “to dream of further happiness than I enjoy now–your affection and that of your wife–my position here; I don’t dare, I can’t hope for anything more. Oh, Mr. Steele, I can’t tell her my story. She would turn from me with horror and aversion. She is so young, so beautiful. Let me at least enjoy the present.”

“And in the meantime some cadaverous, bilious, blue-blooded scoundrel will carry her off from us all.”

Then John’s face grew pale and stern. “If there is the slightest feeling upon her part for–for any one else, then, indeed, Mr. Steele, my case is hopeless.”‘

The commercial paper fluttered from his hand, the pencil fell from his ear, and he leaned his head against the desk and trembled.

“Why, who would suppose you could be such a coward?” said Mr. Steele, impetuously. “You shall go down with me this very day.”

All the way to the seashore John’s face wore the look of one who had resolved to storm a deadly breach, but who did not hope to survive the attempt.

Even the ocean, when it confronted them, wore a threatening look. Upon the horizon a pile of clouds formed a background, wan and gloomy, a great black mist lay in the zenith, and a dense, red vapor almost touched the water.

“A very nasty sea,” said Mr. Steele.

John snuffed it in, his eyes dilating and his head high in the sea-scented air. A tramp on the hard, wet sand, and, like a meteor, a long black horse swept by, disappearing in the mist, leaving for John the memory of a charming head, crowned with blonde curling hair, two kind eyes bent upon his own, and a white waving hand extended in salutation.

“John,” said Mr. Steele,” did you see the face of that man? I count upon your saving Laura. Did you see his thin, cruel lips and treacherous eyes?”

“I only saw Laura, sir,” said John, simply.

Later on Mr. Archibald Steele and his plump, pretty wife were alone together in their private parlor. Her dimpled hand lay lovingly in his, and her shapely head, fresh from the hands of the coiffeur, rested recklessly on his shoulder.

Suddenly the door opened, and there was heard the rustle of silken drapery.  A still shapelier little head, and fresher from the hands of the coiffeur, all unrumpled by the audacious hands of mortal, peeped in at the door. Laura was pale: her little white hands were clasped together and her musical voice trembled.

“Oh, papa, mamma, come directly! Mr. Stuyvesant ventured too far, and—and–”

“Was drowned?” said Mr. Steele, with a queer combination in his voice of pity and relief.

“No, no; how can you suppose so dreadful a thing? He was rescued, but is very weak and ill. He has asked for me, and may I go? Will you not come with me, mamma? Oh, do, I beg of you. Can’t she, papa?”

Her blue eyes filled with tears: her little feet seemed wanting to fly through the corridors.

“Certainly not,” said Mr. Steele. “Let him wait till he is able to come to you or me. Either the man was drowned or he isn’t. Because he was imbecile enough to risk his life, that is no reason for your being the talk of the hotel.”

Laura raised her eyes proudly.

“No danger of that, papa; and besides, every one is occupied now with the one that rescued him.”

“And what madman was that?” said poor Mr. Steele, who could not reconcile himself to the present condition of affairs.

“I don’t know–a stranger, I believe. I was so interested in Mr. Stuyvesant I forgot to ask.”

“Bah!” said Mr. Steele, getting upon his feet and walking to the door. “I’ll go and find out all about it. Do you stay here till I return.”

Before he had gone far, Mr. Steele heard from the excited guests several different versions of the affair; but one and all agreed that the rescuer could be nothing less than a champion swimmer.

“A regular water-dog!” said one to Mr. Steele; and as the merchant had heard this epithet but once before in his life, and that on an occasion of vital interest to himself, he sought out the hero of the hour, and found, to his unbounded astonishment, it was John Waters himself! He was quite enveloped in the flounces and furbelows of pretty and sympathetic women, who insisted upon knowing every half second if he was sure he felt strong and well, and how in the world could he buffet those dreadful waves in that grand, heroic way, and how I he manage to drag poor Mr. Stuyvesant to the shore?

John, like any other hero of the hour, enjoyed this adulation, but looked anxiously at Mr. Steele when he approached.

“Hum,” growled that worthy merchant; “a pretty fellow, you, to interfere with other people’s plans! How do you know he wanted to be rescued?”

“He appeared anxious that way, sir,” said John. “He wrapped himself about me like a devil-fish. I thought at one time we’d both go down together. There ought to be a school for teaching people how to be saved. It’s the easiest thing in the world; the water itself is an accessory if you manage it right.”

“Oh, do tell us how, Mr. Waters, please,” chorused the pretty and women; and as John began his lesson Mr. Steele slipped away.

“Oh, papa,” began Laura, “how is Mr. Stuyvesant?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask,” he replied “I was interested in the fellow that dragged him ashore. He’s an old friend of ours. The way we made his acquaintance was on. such an occasion; he saved a lady from drowning.”

“Why, papa, “said Laura, “he must be a splendid fellow.”

“Magnificent!” said Mr. Steele. “You see, we had traveled over considerable of the world together, your mother and I, while you were yet a baby; and we found it rather odd one morning to discover that having crossed the ocean and the Alps, loitered in the Highlands, traveled thence down the Mississippi valley, across the American desert to California, and back again by another route, your mother had never been up the East river as far as Morrisania. It seemed so absurd to have neglected this home excursion, that we determined upon it at once. The morning was wet, but we didn’t mind it. Your mother looked prettier in a water-proof and with a shovel hat tied down under her chin, than most women would in a ball gown. She wasn’t a bit afraid of rain or mud. She was a little too reckless; for, getting ashore to see the institution for vagabond boys, her foot slipped off the plank, and she disappeared.”

Mr. Steele stopped a minute; his voice faltered; the plump little hand of his wife slipped into his own; he clutched it, and went on again.

“One minute I saw her as neat and trim a little figure as ever graced a waterproof and shovel hat, and the next she was gone.”

“Gone!” cried Laura. “Gone where?”

“Into the water, child: into the hungry green waves that surged up to take her away from the fondest heart in the universe; and if it had not been for one of those very vagabond boys, who had been lurking there for a chance to escape from the island, you would have lost us both, my dear; for I made an agonized plunge after her, though I am ashamed to say I cannot swim a stroke, and should only have gone to the bottom like a plummet of lead: but an official standing by caught and held me, and cried out that Johnny Waters had her safe; and presently that vagabond boy came up with your sweet mother on the other side of the boat, and the officer cried out: ‘He’s a regular water dog, that Johnny Waters!’ and these were the very words a guest here used in relation to John a minute or so ago.”

“John!” cried poor bewildered Laura, “our John? Mamma? My mamma? Was mamma the lady? Was John the boy? And is it John, our John, that saved poor Mr. Stuyvesant?”

“The very same John, our John; he’s always on hand when there is any trouble or danger.”

“Oh, mamma! mamma!” cried Laura, forgetting all the years that had passed since the accident, and crumpling both the coiffeured heads in the most reckless manner.

“Papa,” she then said, “we must go and find John; I want to tell him how much—I–”

“Yes, dear;” said Mr. Archibald Steele, and all the way through the corridor and into the parlors of the hotel with his plump and pretty wife on one arm and his beautiful daughter on the other, he sailed.

But John was still surrounded by the pretty and sympathetic women, who had cruelly deserted the blue-blooded descendant of the old Dutch governor, lying in his most graceful and languid of attitudes on a neighboring lounge–the descendant, not the governor—and had flocked, one and all, to the handsome and heroic founder of the school for teaching people the way to be rescued from drowning…

John was almost hidden in flounces and laces; but when his eyes met Laura’s he plunged out of those costly billows with his usual ease and trepidity. There was something in Laura’s eyes that he had never seen there before–a tempting languor, a bewitching shyness, a bewildering splendor that steeped his soul in a mad, sweet hope.

Laura stopped one moment to whisper to her mamma, and John gasped out to Mr. Steele:

“If I dared–if I only dared to tell her–”

“I have told her myself!” said the merchant.

“That I was a pauper, without home or friends?”

“I told the story in my own way, John,” continued Mr. Steele, “and I flatter myself I told it successfully; do not spoil it, if you please. I have managed the past and the present; do you look out for the future, John.”

And John did. Laura walked through the parlor that night the envied of all the pretty and sympathetic women and brave and appreciative men that congregated there.

The Head-light [Thayer KS] 8 October 1875: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is rather extraordinary to find a successful down-town merchant so eager to marry his only ewe-lamb to a confidential clerk in his establishment. And a confidential clerk, mind you, with no visible antecedents. The sack for the clerk and the convent or remote boarding school for the daughter are the more usual outcome.  But this is, after all, sea-side fiction, when anything can happen and swift endings must be contrived to fit the penny-a-word limit set by the fiction editor.

 

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.

Only Three Months: 1877

 

courting couple 1896 British Library

Courting Couple, 1896, British Library

Only Three Months.

[Danbury News.]

They had been married about three months. The boy from the store appeared with a note from her husband. She clutched the precious missive with an eager hand, tremblingly opened it and read:

“Dear Wife: Send me a pocket handkerchief. John.”

She went slowly to the drawer to get the desired article, and while looking for it she came across the following note, dated two weeks after their wedding:

“SUNLIGHT OF MY SOUL: You will have to send me a handkerchief. Your bewitching eyes so turned my head this morning that I forgot to take one with me, for which I shall kiss the sweet face of my own a thousand times when I come home. In two hours and twenty minutes it will be twelve o’clock, and then I can come to my beautiful rose. I long to fly to you. A thousand kisses I send thee, my fairy wife.

“Yours tenderly, John.”

She sighed, gave the boy the handkerchief, and sighed again

The Highland Weekly News [Hillsboro OH] 2 August 1877: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The sad change from lover to carping husband was frequently remarked upon in the press, usually in the “Wit and Humour” section:

We heard a man complain about the weight of his baby the other day, and to our certain knowledge that same man used to hold the mother of that baby in his arms hour after hour after the fond parents of said girl had gone to their virtuous couch.

Elevator [San Francisco, CA] 12 September 1874: p. 4

“How lovely the period of engagement.”

“Yet how paradoxical; after marriage it comes to a full stop.”

Blue Pencil Magazine, 1900

Before Marriage: “Excuse me, George. Did my parasol hurt you?”

“Oh, no! my dear. It would be a pleasure if it did.”

After Marriage: “Great Heavens! There was never a woman under the sun that knew how to carry a parasol without scratching a fellow’s eyes out. And there never was a man that knew enough to walk on the right side of a woman with a parasol. There isn’t any right side to a woman with a parasol!”

The Winston Leader [Winston-Salem NC] 4 December 1883: p. 4

He calls her darling before they are married, but after he has been paying her bills for a while he calls her dear.

News-Journal [Mansfield OH] 22 September 1921: p. 4

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.