Category Archives: Irregular Lives

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.


The Mermaid Palace: 1912

mermaid palace

Mlle. Heloise Yane, the vivacious little French actress of the Capucines, is at last to have what she has long wanted—a submarine palace. There is nothing in existence like it. Neither the crowned heads of Europe nor the nabobs and potentates of Asia have anything to compare with the wonderful structure which Mlle. Yane contemplates. That is one of the principal reasons why she wants it.

“Villas and chateaux! I’m tired of them. Anyone with any money at all can buy them,” she declared, somewhat pettishly, some months ago, while discussing her Summer plans with Mons. Francois Le Duc, the French engineer,  “can’t you suggest something that will be different from everything else?”
“Well, how about a submarine palace—I don’t know of anything like that in existence,” replied the engineer facetiously.

“The very thing, Monsieur! You shall design one for me. You can begin”—

“But, Mademoiselle,” pleaded the engineer, “I was but joking. The thing is entirely impracticable.”
“It may be impracticable, but it isn’t impossible, is it? I’m sure you can do it, and its very impracticability will be its principal charm, for it will insure its individuality.”
Realizing that the young woman was entirely serious, the engineer at once turned his attention to the problem, and now, after three months’ hard work, his plans have all been completed, and he awaits only his fair client’s commands to commence actual work.

The site selected for this unique structure is in the Bay of Naples, midway between Sorrento and the Island of Capri, where there is a depth of one hundred feet.

The palace is to be built entirely of glass. There will be two stories. To obtain access to it, one will have to don a diving suit and be lowered from a boat. The entrance will be built upon the lock principle, that is to say, it will be open to the sea until the visitor steps into it. When the sea-doors will be closed and the water released. The visitor will then pass into the next chamber, where he or she will emerge from the diving suit and be ushered into the edifice.

This may seem a little cumbersome, but the engineer declares that it will be a comparatively simple matter, not more than five minutes elapsing from the time the arrival of a guest above the palace is announced until he is being welcomed below by the fair hostess.

Being entirely transparent, this structure enables its occupants to observe everything that is going on among the denizens of the deep, and, of course, they enjoy a reciprocal privilege. Through the glass walls Mlle. Yane will constantly gaze upon huge octopi and other sea monsters which infest these waters, and, though the horrible creatures may get on her nerves somewhat at first, she will soon realize that her marine neighbors can do her no harm and she will become accustomed to their presence.

In addition to this, the architect has provided for a periscope similar to those used in submarine vessels, so that everything that goes on above the surface of the water may be reproduced upon a screen in the observation chamber of the submarine palace.

Majestic Vesuvius in the distance, villa life on the Sorrento coast, the activities of the sponge fishers, and the constantly changing scenes in the beautiful Bay of Naples, will make a picture which those lucky enough to visit the submarine palace ought never to tire of nor forget. This observation chamber will be placed on the very top of the structure.

Opposite it will be situated one of the principal attractions of the submarine life which the French actress has mapped out for herself and her friends—the electric fishing chamber. Mlle. Yane is an enthusiastic fisherwoman, and when she first decided upon her submarine Summer home she did not look with favor upon the idea that she would have to forego her favorite pastime while enjoying the seclusion which her palace beneath the waves afforded.

It was then that M. Le Duc suggested the electric-fishing plant. Instead of hooks and lines the fish will be enticed to destruction by bait attached to electric wires, and as soon as they get within range, the fisherman, sitting a switchboard, will press a button and send a charge of electricity into the fish which will electrocute it instantly. Its body will then float up to the surface, where it will be taken in by boys in boats, rowing around for that purpose.

This electric fishing plan will likewise be used to rid the inmates of the glass palace of such unwelcome visitors as giant octopi if they become at all obstreperous and try to break through. Appetizing bait will be attached to the electric wires and put where the octopus can reach it, and when its huge tentacles close on the wire, it will receive its death charge.

At first blush it might seem that fishing thus conducted would lose much of its charm, and yet there is no important element of the sport as it is usually practiced, which the fisherman at the switchboard will necessarily miss. The fascination of waiting for the finny beauties to nibble at the bait, the joy of being able to press the button at just the right moment, either too soon nor too late, and the novel experience of seeing the captured fish float quietly to the surface ought to satisfy the most ardent angler, and Mlle. Yane, at any rate, feels quite sure that in this respect her submarine palace will be worthwhile.

On the ground floor, in addition to the specially constructed entrance chamber, will be the grand staircase and foyer hall, which will lead up to the grand salon and dining room on the second floor.

In its interior decorations and furnishings the submarine palace will be in every respect equal to the most luxurious edifices of royalty, but the lighting effects will be different and superior to anything ever before attempted. By an arrangement of prismatic and refracting lenses electric light will suffuse the whole palace with a soft, mellow, purplish blue atmosphere, in keeping with the purplish tint of the waters of the bay. The effect of this, taken in connection with the constant presence of the fish encircling the palace, will be to give one the impression of actually living in the water.

There will be an elevator from the ground floor to the fishing chamber, and a wireless telephone will communicate with the wireless apparatus at Sorrento.

In addition to the other attractions of the palace will be a well-fitted gymnasium, where the French actress sand her guests may indulge in fencing and other athletic pastimes.

Although the palace under the waves will always be cool, provision will be made for swimming, a special swimming tank in which the water will be constantly renewed having been devised by the architect. Entrance to it will be by means of a lock-device similar to that provided for the entrance to the palace.

Donning her bathing costume, Mlle. Yane will enter a small chamber on the ground floor of the palace. She will then close the door leading to the palace and open the door leading to the swimming tank, which will be entirely enclosed by glass to keep out the cuttle-fish and other monsters of the deep. This swimming tank is one hundred by fifty feet and is supplied with oxygen generated by a plant in the palace proper, the inflow of the water being controlled so that it cannot rise beyond a certain height. After the swimmer has disported herself in this chamber to her heart’s content she returns to the lock-chamber, closes the door leading to the tank, presses a button and releases the water which followed her into the chamber and then opens the door leading to the palace.

Ventilation and air for the palace proper are provided by means of a powerful plant located on the ground floor.

Although the plans for this home beneath the waves seem to be complete as one could desire, all that remains to put them into execution is the necessary funds, and the engineer has figured that at least half a million will be required to complete the palace in the manner above outlines.

“Of course, it will cost a lot of money,” concedes Mlle. Yane, “more than I can afford, but I would not care to inhabit even this sumptuous palace alone, you know.”

Mlle. Yane is very popular. It is said that she might have the choice of half a dozen men eager to supply both the funds and the companionship necessary to make the submarine palace a thing of reality.

Anyway the plans are now all ready, and any day Mlle. Yane may decide who is to be the happy man to dwell among the fishes with her.

Fort Worth [TX] Star-Telegram 14 July 1912: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The illustration is captioned “The Hostess and Her Guests Will Wear Mermaid Costumes in Keeping with the Environment.” Mrs Daffodil has previously described some ways to dress (or undress) like a mermaid.

One would have given much to see this charming fantasy brought to fruition with the assistance of some besotted millionaire, although it seems unsporting to slaughter the finny beauties with electricity.  Mrs Daffodil has found no trace of Engineer Le Duc outside of this article, but Heloise Yane was again in the news in 1913 when it was reported that she had been jilted by Prince Michel Murat in favour of Miss Helen Stallo, a Standard Oil heiress from Cincinnati.


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 Telephone Tapper: 1903

candlestick telephone 1902


“Of all the strange occupations the strangest is that of telephone tapper,” said an old employe of the telephone company the other day. “There aren’t ten men in Chicago who know what a telephone tapper is, but there are hundreds of persons who have come to grief through his work.

“The tapper is a man who is hired by the telephone company. His business is to tap the wires on party lines, at hotels, and such places, to see if the telephone is being used by persons who are not careful of what they say. Often the company receives complaints that telephone users say unprintable things that are unavoidably overheard. The company tries to do away with this sort of patronage. Hence the tapper.

“The tapper must be a man of infinite patience. I have known them to sit for 20 hours at a stretch waiting for a signal. When a complaint is made that the wrong kind of talk is circulating on a party line the tapper goes to one of the houses, generally the home of the complainant, and taps the wire. This is done with a specially constructed instrument, just as does any telephone. It is fastened to the regular phone and then the tapper sits back with the receiver clamped to his ear to await a call.

Takes Notes on What He Hears.

“He takes notes on every conversation he hears, and sometimes he must repeat his vigil day after day. As a rule he does not have to wait many hours, because the persons who use the telephones recklessly are at the instrument about as often as they can find time. “Not long ago a complaint was made by a man on a party line. He said that a very disgusting courtship was being carried on over the wire, and that his wife and daughter could not take down the receiver without hearing something they should not hear.

“The tapper was sent out to investigate. He rigged up his instrument and sat down to wait. All the afternoon he stuck to his post, hearing only the orders given to the butcher, the grocer, or the cola man. Finally in the evening shortly before dinner, the bell rang three times. The tapper looked at his notebook and learned the call was for the home of a well-known family. Soon the click was heard as a receiver came from the hook, and a young woman’s voice called out ‘Hello!’

“’Is this Miss___?’ asked a masculine voice.

“’Yes,’ went to the answer over the party line; ‘is this you?’ asked the young woman, calling the man by name. You see, the tapper had learned there in a minute who were the guilty parties. He remained at the receiver and heard a conversation that I would not repeat. He let the couple finish their conversation and then returned to the complaint office. Next day notice was served on the people who live in the house on the party line that the telephone must not be used as it had been in the past. The young woman protested that she had not talked over the telephone in a week, but when notes on the conversation were shown to her, she arose and indignantly swept from the room.

Some Laughable Experiences.

“The tapper often meets with laughable experiences. One of them was sent out to investigate the case where a man was in the habit of swearing a great deal when using the telephone. After a long wait without hearing him one day he left. Going back the next day he was more successful. He had hardly taken up his watch when the bell rang. The man he was after was calling another person.

“The men were at outs, it seemed, and began quarreling and swearing at each other. The talk soon became furious.

“’I’ll not stand for your way of doing, and I’ll take a punch at you the first time I see you,’ said one of the men, with a liberal supply of oaths.

“’If you do, your wife won’t know you when you go home,’ the other retorted, sandwiching a few smoking epithets between the other words.

“The verbal duel grew hotter. The tapper had the name of one of the men, but the other he did not know. But he finally got it. The conversation kept on until one called the other some kind of a liar.

“’I’ll whip you for that, or my name isn’t ___’ yelled the unknown, and the tapper had completed his chain. No complaints have since been made by persons on that line. The tapper’s work put an end to the disagreeable conversations.

“Of course, it very often happens that the tapper waits vainly for his parties, but he hears enough of the private affairs of people to fill a dozen such notebooks as he carries. One of the men was on a line not long ago when the bell rang and a young woman answered the ‘phone.

Talked of Champagne.

“’How’s your head today, dearie?’ asked a young man who had the other end of the line.

“‘Big as a balloon. I could hear champagne corks popping all night long. No more of the bubbles for me,’ came the answer.

“’I’ve been feeling badly all day, too. I can taste that chop suey yet. What did your mother say?’

“‘Oh, not much of anything. I kept out of sight. I’ve got to go to an old club meeting tonight and I’d rather take a whipping.’

“At this point in the conversation the click of a receiver was heard on the line.

“‘Watch out,’ said the young man, warningly; ‘somebody is cutting in. Good-bye.’

“A tapper was sent down to one of the big hotels on Michigan avenue not long ago. The hotel management said that guests had complained of overhearing distasteful talk over the wires. The tapper rigged up his instrument at the switchboard and waited. I don’t know that he got the right parties, but he heard one very lively little conversation.

“A drop at the switchboard fell, indicating that a guest in a certain room was calling. In a refined voice an elderly man asked for a number which I have since learned is that of a ‘phone in a Drexel boulevard home.

“‘Is this Mrs. So-and-so?’ asked the man.

“‘Yes,’ came the answer.

“‘How about a nice little dinner tonight down town?’ was the next question.

“‘All right,’ answered the woman; ‘but, say, this is the last one. My son is coming home from Yale for his vacation in a few days, and my husband is coming on from New York with him. You must not call me up under any circumstances after this. I’ll be down at 5:30 this evening, but we’ll have to abandon our little dinners. It’s too bad, but you know when the cat comes home the mouse must keep hidden.’

“The tapper knows pretty well what is going on about town and could tell many stories. He is a close-mouthed fellow, however, and knows it is best to keep still. If the people who use telephones knew that they are telling their stories to a tapper as well as to the person at the other end of the line, they would be more careful.

“Tappers themselves say that dead men and telephone tappers tell no stories, but the latter keeps a record of what he learns, and in the record are the names of some people who are supposed by their friends to be of the goody-goody sort.

“It’s a peculiar kind of work at any rate, and one of which the public knows nothing.”

Tacoma [WA] Evening News 21 March 1903: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To judge from remarks in the early-twentieth-century press, the work of the tapper was considered rather sordid and unethical.  All the peeping and prying was entirely too suggestive of the unpleasantries of what lawyers called “divorce work.” One is reminded of the statement of U.S. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson who closed the intelligence-gathering Cipher Bureau with the remark, “Gentlemen do not read each others’ mail.”

Of course, the profession still exists on to-day with, of course, rather different machinery and objectives. One doubts that any of to-day’s  tappers are interested in improper language or courtships, unless they have been specially hired by a suspicious spouse.

Mrs Daffodils wonders that there was ever a necessity to enlist trained operatives to “listen in” on illicit telephone communications. There were many talented amateurs who routinely and “inadvertently” overheard party-line conversations and who would happily report their findings to a rapt audience.

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 Sea Dog: 1850s

collie dog

Shakins and the Tough Four.

Perhaps there are persons who have read some of my previous stories of sea dogs who may think that I never bought a dog but was always picking up homeless ones, but they wrong me, for I have bought several in my life; but after varied experiences with both boughten ones and pick-ups, the latter classes have almost invariably proven to have been the most precious ones, and then again I rather think my fad was for canine waifs and strays.

It was in Liverpool that I picked up Shakins. He looked friendless and as if searching for some one to be good to him, and I called him to me, and patting his head and talking to him, said, “Come along, old fellow,” and he was nothing loth to accept my invitation. When we arrived at the dock gate, the policeman on duty said to me, “Are you going to take that dog aboard your ship, Captain? I hope you are, for he deserves a good home. His former master was the mate of a ship that left here a few days ago. The poor mate died and his dog has been watching for his return ever since. He is half starved, but we feed him at times.”

That settled it with me, and again patting the poor fellow on the head, I determined that he should have as good a home as he had lost. The dog evidently knew that I was to be his new master, and having been indorsed by the policeman, a future home was as good as assured. He was a collie, and a bright, clean one at that; with a clear, loving eye, and as gentle as a little girl. As soon as we got on deck, the dog was wild with joy. He frisked about the decks and barked and frolicked around as if to say, “Home at last!” When we entered the cabin, he went around peering into every stateroom, perhaps in quest of some trace of his late master, but quite as likely to familiarize himself with his new surroundings; at any rate, he soon made himself quite at home. I told the story of the dog to the two mates, and they at once took kindly to the fellow, and before the day was over he was on excellent terms with all hands fore and aft. The second mate christened him “Shakins,” why that name I do not now remember, but it suited me and the dog, and hence that was his name, and one never to be forgotten by anyone who sailed in that ship on that memorable voyage.

Some of my crew that came from New York in the ship got the gold fever and ran away, and I was obliged to ship some new men. Several of these were not to my liking, but they were the best to be had under the circumstances. Four of them the mate christened the “Tough Four,” before they had been on board as many days. However, the marked quartette obeyed all orders promptly and gave us no trouble; but they were a forbidding looking lot of chaps, to say the least. Shakins did not like them at all, and while he was fairly familiar with the rest of the crew, he would have nothing to do with these fellows. Several times I was on the point of telling them to come aft and get their wages and go on shore, but I was confronted with the great difficulty of getting men to fill their places, and finally dismissed the matter from my mind.

The afternoon before we sailed several boxes of specie were delivered alongside the ship, to be put on board. In those days there were no steam lines to Brazil—we were bound to Rio Janeiro—so that specie shipments were of common occurrence on sailing vessels. It so happened that the four toughs had a hand in putting the boxes on board and, of course, knew from their weight and markings that they contained money. They were put in my state room temporarily. Nothing unusual transpired on our outward passage, until we had been out from Liverpool about three weeks, when one night as I was looking into the binnacle to see if the man at the wheel was keeping on his course, he said to me, “Say, Captain, you’ll have to excuse me, but most of us fellows forward don’t like the four fellows we shipped in Liverpool. They’s bad ones, they is. I think they are hatching up some plot to make mischief on board this ship.”

I questioned him closely; but he could not make himself quite clear as to what kind of a plot the fellows were hatching, and after cautioning him to be careful, I asked him to ingratiate himself with the suspects, and gather all he could about the supposed plot and let me know.

All the while Shakins was my constant companion; and his marked intelligence bordered on the miraculous at times. Some of the superstitious old sailors said he was possessed of an evil spirit, and was an uncanny dog that was to be respected if not feared. He knew several colors by name, that is so far as the ship’s flags were concerned, and if told to bring the ensign, the jack, or the house flag, he would do it every tine without making a single mistake. Tell him to bring the quarantine flag—“Q” of the International Code of Signals—and he would pick it out of the nineteen flags of the code. If sent for a ball of cotton sewing twine, he would not bring the hemp twine, although they were in the same locker; in fact, he knew the names of the common things of everyday use on board the ship. He could scent land when we could not see it, and his varying bark—his language—soon became to be as well understood as if he had spoken, as we did, a common language. To the men he was a canine wonder.

We were out just thirty-one days from Liverpool, when Shakins demonstrated his prowess as a life-saver and made himself the hero of the ship. After dinner the passengers, of whom we had several on board, including a family with two little girls, went to their rooms for the customary afternoon nap. I had also lain down for the same bit of comfort, when I was awakened by the cry of “Man overboard!”

Rushing on deck I ordered the main topsail laid to the mast, and a boat lowered, sending a man aloft to keep the man in sight that was overboard. Judge of our surprise when the man aloft sung out: “It’s Shakins that is overboard, sir, and he has got something in his mouth, but I can’t just make out what it is yet.”

Just at this time little Minnie Foster’s mother was hunting for the child, a beautiful flaxen-haired girl of about seven years of age. Several joined in the hunt for Minnie, but she was nowhere to be found. Poor Mrs. Foster was running about crying, “Oh, my poor Minnie, it is she that has fallen overboard! She will be drowned!” And then falling into her husband’s arms, went into a faint.

It was not long before the boat was up to where Shakins was calmly holding Minnie by the back of her dress, waiting for the boat’s crew to receive them into their keeping. It seemed to me that the men pulled back to the ship even faster than they pulled away from her, for it was but a very short time from the announcement that Shakins had something in his mouth until Minnie and her rescuer were again in safety on our decks. Minnie told her story before her mother recovered from her swoon. She was playing on the transom locker aft and crawled up to one of the stern ports, lost her balance and fell through into the sea. Shakins saw her go and leaped in after her. I have told the rest. When Minnie’s mother came to, there was a rejoicing, and Shakins came in for a goodly share of that mother’s blessings. The dog was the hero of that ship from that hour until the voyage ended some months later. But before we shall have ended this story, it will be seen he was capable of still greater achievements.

The man at the wheel confessed that the tough four were too deep for him. He was unable to worm himself into their confidence, and must give up the task I had assigned him, and trust to luck to find out what they were up to; for he felt certain that mischief was brewing. I resolved to confide in no one but the mate, whom I could rely upon implicitly, and to him told what the man at the wheel had told me; but we could not between ourselves conjure up just what these four fellows were planning. We watched them closely, but they did their duty well and gave us aft no cause for complaint.

One night the thought came to me that they might be in a conspiracy to seize the ship and attempt to get away with the specie. I acted upon this stray thought, and each hour it weighed heavier on my mind. I loaded the firearms, placed them in a secure place, gave the mate a brace of pistols—there were no revolvers in those days—and began a most careful vigil, especially at night. Shakins now, as I remember, never permitted me to be out of his sight, and he became more adverse to the now to me suspicious four. Most of my sleep I took in the daytime, so that I might be better able to watch by night. I would go to my room as if to take my regular rest, and then when unobserved, come out and sit on the transom, behind the cabin staircase, which led from the quarter deck to the main cabin. After 10 o’clock at night the light was put out in the saloon. Shakins used to lie on the locker by my side or on the floor at my feet.

I had been on deck one night, when the port watch was relieved at 8-bells, midnight, and after passing the time of day with the officers, and cautioning the helmsman to steer a straight course, went below, and, going to my room, struck a match as if going to turn in as usual in my own berth; then silently taking my place on the transom, began my lonely watch. Shakins was by my side. I must have dozed off and been oblivious for some time, when suddenly Shakins rubbed his paw two or three times quickly over my face. I was up in an instant. There in his bare feet, with a big oaken heaver behind his back, one of the tough four was softly coming down the cabin stairs. Shakins was sitting on his haunches, but never a growl came from him. The fellow made for the door of my room. I permitted him to enter, then before he could do a thing, I whispered to him, “Move, speak, and you die, you villain,” at the same time wiping a brass pistol barrel across his face. “Drop that stick, put out your hands.” And quick as a flash I had the fellow handcuffed. “Now if you stir or make the least noise so as to alarm your confederates, I will blow your brains out certain. I know your whole plot.”

Shutting the door. I turned the key and was just going to call the mate, who was asleep in his room on the opposite side of the cabin, when I saw a shadow in the companion way, gliding along the side of the cabin, was hailed from the deck in a whisper, “Is it all right, shall I come down?” I whispered back, “Yes, come gently.” Down he came. As he passed me—for it was so dark that he could not see me—I grabbed him by the arm, and sticking the cold, brass muzzle of the pistol in his face—I should say on his face—said, “Open your mouth, and you are a dead man, or stir, except as I order, and I will kill you.” Leading him to the door of my room, I pushed him in, saying to the pair, “If you fellows stir, I will send you to hell in a second, and don’t you dare give any alarm.”

Then shutting the door, I ran to the mate’s room and, routing him out, sent him with his pistol to my room door to keep guard over my two captives, and to look out for any more of the gang that might come down into the cabin by the companionway. I then went out the forward cabin door, which was always kept locked after 10 o’clock at night; and to my surprise found the second mate bound and gagged at the main fife-rail. It took but an instant to cut his bonds, and telling him to go aft with the capstan bar—he going to the lee side of the house on deck, while I went up on the weather side—I met the third man of the quartette crouched down near the end of the house waiting for the signal to assist his shipmates. I kicked him and ordered him to go aft, and by the time the second mate had reached the wheel, where the fourth man of the gang was, the tough four were all prisoners. The fellow I had secured I marched down the cabin stairs, leaving the second mate to look out for the man at the wheel. All this time Shakins was a silent but much interested spectator, but never opened his mouth. He seemed to know that this was the time for whispering, and he had not learned how to do that as yet.

After sending the second mate down to my room to change places with the chief mate, I told the mate to go forward and summon all hands aft. Not getting any response to his repeated calls, he went forward cautiously and found the watch on deck stupid, and very difficult to awaken; but the watch below were speedily aroused and came aft. My story was quickly told, and in a few minutes the wheel had been relieved and the four mutineers, or rather pirates, were in double irons and securely stowed away in the carpenter’s shop. The scoundrels had drugged their watch mates and the four thought it was going to be an easy matter to kill the mate and me; and it would have been, but for Shakins waking me up at the right moment.

After breakfast I sent for the prisoners one by one and questioned them. Two refused to talk, but one confessed the whole plot, and the other confirmed what the confessing man had told me. They had planned to murder us all, save the second mate, whom they were to compel to navigate the ship near to the land; then put the specie in the boat, kill him, set fire to the ship and make their escape inland and divide the money. It was Shakins that brought their plans to grief. We carried the tough four into Rio, and delivered them to the American Consul. He jailed them until an opportunity presented itself and then shipped them in double irons for trial before a United States Commissioner at New York. Off Hatteras a vessel collided with the ship in a fog, sinking her. The crew were all saved, but the four that were not to be saved from death by law perished as they deserved to perish.

We finished our loading at Rio and went to Cronstadt, thence to London, and back home to New York. Shakins was made an idol of. In every port his deeds were told, both by the men forward and by us in the after part of the ship. Men petted him and women kissed the dear old fellow; but they never took away one whit of his love for me. He made several more voyages with me, but at last his strength began to fail, his eyesight dimmed, and I did not want to see him suffer on shipboard, so I left him on shore with a friend who I knew would care for him tenderly. When I returned some months afterward poor Shakins had gone to the Heaven prepared for dogs. He sleeps now on the banks of the Hudson in a quiet spot where I know he will not be disturbed. I would dearly love to mark his last resting place with a stone on which would be engraved a fitting tribute to his memory, a token of my love and affection for a friend whose equal I have never met. But, alas! I dare not do this, lest some dog-hater would disturb even the dust of dear old Shakins. Can you wonder I love dogs, and that tears will come when I tell of their goodness to me. B. S. OSBON.

Forest and Stream, Volume 65, 18 November 1905: pp. 406-7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is, Mrs Daffodil is given to understand, “National Dog Day,” so Mrs Daffodil thought it would be appropriate to share a thrilling story of a loyal sea-dog and his master. Captain B.S. Osbon led a life packed with incident, including standing trial for treason during the American Civil War and establishing the Mexican navy. (See his biography in The Nautical Gazette.)  He was also a journalist and his memoir, A Sailor of Fortune, is equally thrilling, Boys-Own-Paper stuff.  Shakins was fortunate to have found such a kind friend and companion.

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 Nail in the Skull: c. 1600, 1840s

celtic knot with skull 1900.JPG


There is a story told in English green-rooms, for the truth of which, writes Celia Logan, in the N.Y. Dispatch, I cannot vouch. It is to the effect that a certain carpenter, a long, long time ago, murdered his wife by driving a nail into her skull. He fled, and the better to conceal his identity, became an actor. He rose to eminence, and the whirligig of time and the wheel of chance brought him to the very village in which years before he had killed his wife, whose murder, however,–so the story runs—had not been suspected, her long, thick black hair concealing the cruel wound from which no blood had flowed.

The part was Hamlet. Whatever memories the place evoked, he had sufficient mastery over his feelings to keep them hidden. The first scene of the fifth act came on. The theatre stood on what had formerly been a burial ground, and the property man had not far to go for skulls, but just dug a little and brought up a dozen or more, and at night tossed them into the trap for the gravedigger to shovel on the stage. He handed a skull to the Hamlet, saying:
“Here’s a skull now hath lain you in the earth for three-and-twenty years.”

Hamlet—“Whose was it?”
Gravedigger “This same skull, sir, was Yorick’s skull, the king’s jester.”

Hamlet took the skull saying: “This—“

He turned pale and staggered, for the skull had left on it one long lock of black hair. Handed to him upside down, the lock fell back, revealing a nail in the skull! The actor recognized it as that of the woman whom he had murdered twenty-three years before. At this mute evidence of his guilt coming from the grave to confront him the actor lost his presence of mind and his senses.

In his insane utterances he revealed his terrible secret, and was only saved from punishment by his fellow actors hushing him up and hurrying him away. He never recovered his reason, and died in a madhouse, raving of the nail in the skull.

About thirty years ago a story was written by a Frenchman on this same ghastly subject, laying the scene in private life in France, and making the perpetrator of the deed a woman. It had a great success, and to this day is occasionally revived, and goes the rounds of the newspapers, but old English actors insist that it was founded on the incident in theatrical life which I have just related, and which did transpire on the British stage.

Rhode Island Press [Providence RI] 21 July 1877: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A nice story to give one the grues!  This was a popular version of what those more learned than Mrs Daffodil might term an “urban legend,” and came in various flavours. Dr John Donne was said to have been the discoverer of a nail-murderess.

The Murderer discovered.

When Dr. Donne, afterwards Dean of St. Paul’s, took possession of the first living he ever had, he walked into the church-yard, where the sexton was digging a grave, and throwing up a skull, the doctor took it up to contemplate thereon, and found a small sprig or headless nail sticking in the temple, which he drew out secretly, and wrapt it up in the corner of his handkerchief. He then demanded of the grave digger, whether he knew whose skull that was: he said he did very well, declaring it was a man’s who kept a brandy shop; an honest drunken fellow, who, one night having taken two quarts of that comfortable creature, was found dead in his bed next morning,  –Had he a wife?—Yes.—What character does she bear? —A very good one: only the neighbours reflect on her because she married the day after her husband was buried. This was enough for the doctor, who, under the pretence of visiting his parishioners, called on her. He asked her several questions, and, among others, what sickness her husband died of. She giving him the same account, he suddenly opened the handkerchief, and cried in an authoritative voice, Woman, do you know this nail? She was struck with horror at the unexpected demand, and instantly owned the fact.

A Thousand Notable Things, Edward Somerset, 2nd Marquise of Worcester, 1822

Mrs Daffodil always likes to give credit where credit is due; she found the John Donne anecdote along with an exceedingly nasty ghost story in a post by that pointed person over at Haunted Ohio—The Old Lady with the Nails.


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 Unblushing Peek-a-Boo Waist: 1906

peekaboo waist

Midsummer Follies in Dress

How the Unblushing Peek-a-Boo Shirt Waist Has Grown Worse and Worse Until It Has Gotten Into the Courts.

From the New York American.

The well-recognized innate tendency of woman to carry fashions to outrageous extremes receives a startling illustration this year in the garment popularly known as “the peek-a-boo waist.” It has now reached a phase of disclosure entirely beyond anything dreamed of in civilized countries; since the pagan fashions of drapery yielded to the advance of modesty.

The peek-a-boo waist heads the list of all the follies which woman is committing this summer in the name of fashion. Philosophers, be it noted, have observed that woman is especially prone to commit follies in summer. Associated with the peek-a-boo waist in prevalence and in provocative character is the open-work or peek-a-boo stocking.

The question of the peek-a-boo waist is a serious one for the American people. Leading clergymen have thundered denunciations of it from the pulpit. It has given rise to cases in police courts. In the opinion of clergymen, magistrates and other high authorities, it is the cause of wickedness, strife and widespread demoralization in social and business life.

The New York Telephone company has been forced to issue orders that its women employees shall not wear peek-a-boo waists.

It was found that the men employees were so distracted by the new developments and vagaries of the peek-a-boo, as exhibited by their near neighbors in the Office, that they were practically unable to attend to business, thereby causing great annoyance to the public. A leading bank president called to have his house telephone disconnected for the summer, and addressed his instructions in vain to an assistant manager, whose eyes were busy exploring the mysteries of a peek-a-boo waist.

Even a Parisian leader of fashion has declared that the peek-a-boo waist is immodest. The Countess de Noailles has declared that any woman who wears a shirt waist exposing her bare shoulders is deficient in good breeding. The decollete gown may be excused on the ground that it is worn in the company of friends and intimates, but the peek-a-boo unveils the wearer to the populace. The denunciation from a Parisienne is as significant in its way as that of religious leaders.

In one case the waist led to a violent altercation between persons of good social position and a subsequent appearance in the police court. Upon a recent evening Mrs. Mary Linck and her husband, of No. 835 Cherry street, Philadelphia, were returning home from the theater. They were in a crowded street car and were both standing up. Behind them stood Mr. Joseph Bruce, of No. 4541 North Twentieth street. Mrs. Linck was wearing a peek-a-boo waist of unusually provocative design. The demon of perversity was aroused in Mr. Bruce by the sight of this garment just under his nose. He happened to have an instrument of mischief at hand in the shape of a straw. This he passed through the interstices of Mrs. Linck’s waist and proceeded to tickle her. Thinking it was a mosquito Mrs. Linck slapped at the place on her back, and Mr. Bruce quickly withdrew the straw. He chuckled deeply at the joke, and began it again as soon as she took away her hand. There were actually a great many mosquitos in the air. She slapped and slapped and told her husband how maddening the mosquitos were. Suddenly she turned round and caught Mr. Bruce in the act of tickling. She angrily denounced the offender and grappled with him. Mr. Linck then had the car stopped and gave Mr. Bruce into the custody of a policeman.

Bruce was arraigned at the Central police court before Magistrate Kochersperger, who decided that the act of tickling constituted a technical assault and battery, and held Bruce in $600 bail for trial. It is considered by many that the peek-a-boo waist should be regarded as a justification of this offense, or at least, a greatly extenuating circumstance.

Dr. Jacques Schnier, a dentist, of No. 604 Lexington avenue, New York, appeared before Magistrate Whitman in the Yorkville police court and made a complaint against Miss Adelina Weissman, who lives in the same house. Miss Weissman is pretty and plump, with flashing black eyes and abundant hair. The doctor complained that she wore “an awfully tantalizing peek-a-boo waist,” and that wearing this she came and looked at him while he was engaged in the delicate art of filling teeth and distracted his attention. The magistrate did not find a cause for criminal proceedings, but warned Miss Weissman not to disturb Dr. Schnier unnecessarily.

By the church the peek-a-boo waist is generally condemned. Mgr. McNamee, of St. Theresa’s church, Brooklyn, looked over his congregation and was shocked that most of the young and attractive women in it were wearing peek-a-boo waists, and in many cases very short sleeves.

“It is disgraceful the way some of the women come to the altar to receive communion,” said Mgr. McNamee. “I have been pained to see them coming to the sacrament with these transparent waists, and, worse yet, with sleeveless waists, with hideous looking gloves as substitutes for sleeves. I hope I will not be obliged to say any more on this question.”

The Rev. Dr. MacFarland, on behalf of the Ministerial association, of Iowa, denounced the peek-a-boo. “Our mothers would have thrown up their hands in holy horror if they had been asked to wear the kind of waists the girls now wear,” he said….

A few Sundays ago the pastor of St. Cecelia’s church, in Rochester, Pa., Rev. Father Schoerner, on rising to preach saw before him in the congregation two young women wearing especially flagrant examples of the up-to-date, open-work, sleeveless shirtwaist.

“Go home!” he thundered at them. “Take off those bathing suits; this is a church of God, not a bathing resort.”

Father Schoener’s only mistake was the injustice he did to the bathing suit. At no known resort would bathing suits modeled on such a design be permitted…

Women are showing a fondness this summer for several garments which seem fitting accompaniments of the peek-a-boo waist. One of these is the thin white bathing suit. At Lake Hopatcong. N. J., a young woman gave a fine imitation of Venus rising from the sea. She wore a costume that seemed too beautiful to wet. It was of white brilliantine, trimmed with blue polka dot silk. The blouse was sleeveless, the neck was low, the skirt was short. A white silk cap was perched on Venus’s head. Long, very long, extremely long pink silk stockings encased her limbs.

When this bather emerged from the water and took a sun bath on the pavilion 600 persons surrounded her, but their stares did not disconcert her. When finally she went to the bathhouse a crowd followed her. The manager of the bathhouse ordered her to leave by the rear door and warned her to wear a different bathing suit the next time she bathes there.

The Rev. Mr. Johnson has been preaching against young women, and young men, too, “who go about the bathing grounds with their chests bared and their arms exposed.”

It is interesting to recall briefly the evolution of the peek-a-boo waist. Like other outrageous fashions, such as the crinoline and the eel-tight skirt, it had a comparatively innocent beginning. That was in the year 1900. It was at first confined to a simple little yoke, outlining a pretty girl’s neck and giving fleeting glimpses of the interior decorations. It was graceful, coquettish, piquant. It was a tantalizing hint, not a bare-faced revelation.

By 1902 the peek-a-boo shirt waist had reached another stage in its evolution. The open-work yoke had extended its limits and began to frankly disclose features which garments were supposed to veil.

In 1904 the extent of open-work territory claimed by the shirt waist was increased by spacious Vs descending in front and in the rear to points beyond the limits that mere men had expected fair woman to fix.

In 1905 “panels” of various shapes came to the aid of the V’s in adding space, variety, interest and intricacy to the area of exposure. In the present season the shirt waist, it is believed, has got as near to the Trilbyan “altogether” as it may dare to go.

And fitting companions in disclosure and exposure of the peek-a-boo, apt aiders and abettors in allurement of the casual eye are the open-work stockings. Like the peek-a-boo, they, too, began their career in most modest guise.

Mere pinpricks traced in varied designs that flashed faint, fleeting visions of pink-white points of flesh. But today they also have advanced to a point where the word “open-work” possesses hardly strength sufficient to be adequately descriptive.

The Topeka [KS] Daily Capital 19 August 1906: p. 20

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil, who is always annoyed by the gentlemen who have so much to say about the modesty of women’s dress, wonders if these depraved peek-a-boo wearers were also sans corsets, chemises, or corset-covers? Even in summer underthings, the amount of flesh exposed in the sheerest tulle or lawn waist would be negligible, stimulating only to those of powerful imaginations who focused their attentions (or a straw) on fleeting visions of pink-white points of flesh. In short, Peeping Toms.

There is an antiquated argument that goes like this: ladies who leave their homes in a state of immodest dress somehow deserve to be tickled by straws or worse. To which Mrs Daffodil crisply replies, Rubbish. A gentleman may enjoy the view, if he is able to do so discreetly and without giving offence,  but he is not then allowed to denounce it from the pulpit.


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 Song of the Hammer: 1903

gossips patchwork picture

“Gossips” Patchwork picture redrawn by Carmel Wilson c. 1938

The Song of the Hammer.

At the home of a dame devout,

Who in mission work always led,

The sewing society sat about,

Plying their needles and thread;

And in a melodious key,

Without hesitation or stammer,

Incessantly and relentlessly,

They sang the “Song of the Hammer “:

Knock, knock, knock,

With never a halt or pause;

Knock, knock, knock,

Without provocation or cause.

Characters white as snow

Are daubed with spots of black,

While these righteous, merciful sisters sew

To cover the heathen’s back.


Knock, knock, knock,

None whom they know is spared;

Knock, knock, knock,

How their neighbor’s faults are aired!

The absent members, too,

Come in for their share of abuse,

While these worthy dames, with much ado,

Sew shirts for the heathen’s use.


“Now, there’s that girl of Clark’s,

Her conduct is really a shame,

With her tomboy capers and larks,

I just know her mother’s to blame!

And, although her mother’s my friend,

I’m sure that the giddy young flirt

Is bound to come to some bad end

As sure as I’m hemming this shirt!


“And that giddy young Mrs. Wright,

I’m sure you’ll all agree

That her conduct was simply a fright

At Mrs. DeLong’s last tea;

I’d not be a bit surprised,

But would think it a matter of course

If some day I should be advised

That her husband had sued for divorce.”


Knock, knock, knock,

While the hours are dragging slow:

Knock, knock, knock,

Till they all get up to go.

Their work for the day is o’er,

Their duty done with zest,

And when each is at home alone once more,

She’ll trim up all the rest!


Oh men with sisters dear,

With wives and sweethearts glad!

Did you ever happen to hear

Them giving their friends the gad?

If not, sneak home some day

And list to the sewing club’s clamor,

As they sing that old, familiar lay

Entitled “The Song of the Hammer.”

The Cleveland [OH] Leader 21 December 1903: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To be Relentlessly Informative, this is, of course, a parody of Thomas Hood’s poem “The Song of the Shirt.”

Indiscreet gossip might have embarrassing consequences, as one finds in these two little anecdotes:

Over the Fence.

Mrs. Slingonin put her head over the fence and thus addressed her neighbor, who was hanging out her week’s washing; “A family has moved in the empty house across the way,

Mrs. Clothes line.” “Yes, I know.”

“Did you notice their furniture?”

“Not particularly.”

“Two loads, and I wouldn’t give a dollar a load for it. Carpets! I wouldn’t put them down in my kitchen, And the children! I won’t allow mine to associate with them. And the mother! She looks as though she had never known a day’s happiness. The father drinks, I expect, Too bad that such people should come into this neighborhood. I wonder who they are.”

“I know them.”

“Do you? Well, l declare. Who are they?”

“The mother is my sister, and the father is superintendent of the Methodist Sunday school.”

A painful pause ensues.

The St Johnsbury [VT[ Index 29 May 1884: p. 3


Two Ladles Discover How They Had Made Themselves Disagreeable.

Two ladies were standing on the doorstep of a house in Georgetown, where but a moment before they had rung the bell and were waiting to be admitted. One was talking along very intently, when the taller woman interrupted her. “Be careful,” she said, “somebody may hear you.”

“I’m very particular,” responded the other. “I looked all around before I said anything and there was nobody in sight.”

“That’s what I thought once, too, and I made a serious mistake. I was calling once, just as we now are, and was with a woman who could and did say the meanest things about people I ever heard talk. I’m not given to that kind of thing usually, but I do love a bit of gossip, and sometimes I am led into saying things I shouldn’t. On this occasion the lady we were to call on was not a favorite of mine, and when the other woman said something sarcastic I chimed right in and said I thought she was the silliest and most extravagant and homeliest and dowdiest and stupidest woman of my entire acquaintance, and that I only called from a sense of duty anyhow. And a few other things, like that, I said.

“Well, we were let in after a long wait and the reception we got was the chilliest I ever met with. I couldn’t understand it, for we were really on very good terms, as those things go, and we got out as soon as we could. That night I told my husband about it when he came home, and he wondered at it too. Next evening he came in smiling, and told me that the next time I had anything to say about my neighbors on their own doorsteps I bad better first see if there were any speaking tubes to tell on me. That explained it all in a second. A doctor used to live in that same house and he had a speaking tube at the door, as physicians do. The lady we were calling on had never changed it, and as I found out afterward, the moan thing, she used to sit close to the other end of that tube and listen to what people might be saying at the door.

“She didn’t make much by listening to me, and she didn’t dare to tell me that she knew what I thought of her, and I didn’t care if she did know, only since that time I have been more careful. There’s a tube up there, see?” and the tall lady pointed to an innocent looking monthpiece pouting out of the door frame. However, there was no response to their ring, and as they met the lady coming in just as they started away they felt perfectly safe and had a nice call.

The Scranton [PA] Republican 16 October 1897: p. 4

To be fair, not removing the rubber tube was not quite playing the game, although Mrs Daffodil admits that she would not hesitate to deploy such a device to her advantage.

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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