Category Archives: Irregular Lives

Hints for Earth Day Economies: 1859-1903

Although Monday was, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed,  “Earth Day,” a time to take stock of how we use the resources of the planet, there is never a bad day to reflect on consumption and its consequences. There has been a societal move against “fast fashion” and a resurgence of “Make Do and Mend.”  Mrs Daffodil will, therefore, “recycle” several posts on the subject of domestic economy in dress, on the clever makers-over of tired garments, and the second-hand clothing trade.

One would go far before one would discover a more ingenious clan than these Southern Ohio ladies and their cunning tricks of skillful fingers.

Although this lady, who traded in second-hand silks and this gentleman, who prospered in left-over laundry, are an inspiration to all of us.

Some clever gentlemen took a leaf from the ladies’ domestic economy books and learned to update and repair their wardrobes.

A fascinating tour of a 19th-century “recycling” firm and an examination of the “rag trade.”

The second-hand trade was a boon to actresses, and the buying, selling, and hiring of costly gowns worn by the Four Hundred, was a practice well-known to the upper echelons of Society.

The second-hand clothing trade extended even unto royalty, as we see in this peep at Queen Victoria’s stockings.

One of Mrs Daffodil’s heroines is this resourceful lady, who set herself up as a “Dress Doctor,” long before Hollywood costumer Edith Head co-opted that title.

Of course, selling one’s evening dresses involve some unwitting “recycling,” as this lady found to her dismay:

Not long ago (write “X and Z” in the Globe) a lady in dealing with the proprietress of a second-hand clothing business, sold to her several evening dresses, which were perfectly fresh and good, but which she could not wear again, as her friends knew them too well. They had probably been worn three times each. The second-hand wardrobe lady remarked, by the way, that all her purchases were for the colonies. Seems odd, does it not? But to return. A few days after the gowns were sold their original owner missed a very pretty old-fashioned diamond clasp, and, inquiring of her maid, discovered to her tribulation that it was in one of the evening dresses she had sold. “Sewn firm on the left shoulder, my lady,” quoth the maid. She proceeded diplomatically to work, sent the maid to the shop, and, in consequence of her operations there, became again the possessor of her discarded gown at exactly seven times the price she had sold it for. The diamond clasp was still in it, its safety being due to proximity to a mass of crystal trimming which formed an epaulette, the clasp having been added with a view to making the whole mass look “good.”

Otago Witness 9 February 1893: p. 42

 

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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When Jane Met Lucy: 1910

the shoppers, william james glackens 1907-1908

The Shoppers, William James Glackens, 1907-1908 https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-shoppers/hAG8x65bfr6-oA

At the hat counter in the oval of the same mirror they recognized each other.

“I thought you were dead,” said Lucy.

“I wish I were,” said Jane; “but aren’t you going to kiss me?” They kissed.

“How glad! What a time since we have seen one another. Not since we left college. Are you married?”

“Two months ago, and I’m madly happy. And you? Divorced?”

“How did you know it?”

“I said that haphazard. Let me look at you, Jane. You are just the same with your serious air, cynical smile and passionate eyes. Do you remember how jealous I used to be of your eyes? And how do you find me?”

“Not changed in your face; but your body has expanded and you have become beautiful.”

Lucy is a frivolous creature and likes to be in the midst of a crowd. Shopping is her delight. Jane hates a crowd; it makes her nervous and she often ends by buying something she doesn’t like, merely to get away. And now she has no one to care how she is dressed. They get into a corner to continue their chat. Lucy says: “And you can’t help loving your divorced husband still?”

‘I can’t help it and I don’t want to,” Jane replies.

“Have you done anything since your separation to see him again?”

“Nothing. I left town and lived among strangers; so I have never even heard what has become of him. Besides, I suffered too much in my pride through him to risk further humiliation. Once I wrote and asked him for an interview—but changed my mind and tore my letter up.”

“You were right, Jane, quite right,” and Lucy squeezes Jane’s hand affectionately. “You must promise me not to give way again. I am sure you suffered worse afterward.”

Let’s not talk about it any more. Tell me about yourself. Your husband—is he young?”

“Thirty-eight.”

“Just the age mine would be. Dark?”

“Fair, with a beard and moustache.”Mine was fair, too. I always wanted him to wear a beard, but he refused.”

“You didn’t know how to manage it. A man prefers obeying to commanding. Mine insists that I shall dress very well.”

“Mine always accused me of spending too much. God knows that I am not so fond of fine dress. Is yours authoritative?”

“Not the least in the world.”

“Mine tyrannized over me. Capricious?”

“The most even-tempered man I have ever met.”

“Can such different men exist?”

“They may be made so,” Lucy said with a triumphant smile. It’s like this. Alfred Lyons, my husband—What’s the matter Jane? Hold up, people are looking at us. Jane—”

But Jane hears nothing. She has become livid; her eyes close and her face contracts. She utters a cry and then, with a mechanical gesture—the gesture of a sleepwalker—attacks her friend’s face with her steel pins.

“The heart,” she says in a dull voice, “let me strike her heart.”

She is conquered, disarmed and carried away through the crowd in an unconscious state.

Clara Belle.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 20 March 1910: p. 56

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil may have too suspicious a mind, but she wonders precisely what part Lucy played in serious, cynical, passionate Jane’s divorce.

It is always a mistake to leave town in the wake of such an affair. One needs to be on hand to witness or scupper the important events of the day. Had Jane been in town, it would have been an easy matter to invite Lucy for a congratulatory cup of tea—poisoned, of course, with some unremarkable toxin such as  foxglove, so that the Coroner would bring in a verdict of previously undiagnosed heart-disease.  Mrs Daffodil is certain that, had the the news of Lucy’s marriage been broken through the medium of neighbourhood gossip and been wept over in private, instead of being so insouciantly announced at the hat counter, Jane would have escaped both public embarrassment and the private asylum.

 

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 Intruder: 1908

the intruder illustration

THE INTRUDER

Roland Ashford Phillips

Although I quietly, hopefully, tried the door, I found it, unfortunately, locked. Yet on second reflection I did not wonder at it, but tiptoed across the porch to where a window, half raised made me an excellent substitute for an entrance. I noiselessly stepped into the darkened interior and felt my way over the thick, sound-muffling rugs.

I walked the length of the wide, silent hall, heading for the dining-room. I wanted a good stiff drink of brandy, and knew I should find some there. The gloom was oppressive and velvet-like, and I was compelled to seek my way slowly and carefully, hand to the wall. However, I reached the room in question, after groping blindly about, recognizing the broad, heavy-curtained doorway. It was strange that the curtains were drawn; generally they were fastened back with huge gilt cords, tied in awkward knots.

As I slipped between them and carefully drew them together behind me, the big clock on the staircase chimed rhythmically, and I marveled at the lateness of the hour. I really should have come earlier; but one soon forgets so many things when at the club.

The carpet in the dining-room was even softer, kinder than the others, and for this I was indeed grateful, for it is very annoying to disturb one’s friends in the wee hours; even the dearest of them.

I kept near to the wall and groped blindly along, for the light buttons were somewhere at hand — a complete row of them, controlling every room in the house. I suppose I must have completed a half-circuit of the room before something unreal and fear-compelling came upon me.

Even when I had reached the row of ebony buttons, and my forefinger was upon the third — the one that would light this room—I hesitated, fearful. I did not immediately understand it; I had never before had a similar feeling, and by no means am I a weak and sensitive man. Yet this moment my nerves failed me; the muscles in my finger refused to obey — refused to press the button and command the room to light.

For a long, pregnant interval I stood there motionless and undecided. Then the realization came abruptly; the sensation was identical with a light, harmless shock of an electric battery. I have often gripped the brass receivers of one and felt the sharp, not unpleasant waves twitch and creep the length of my arms and tingle in every nerve.

This, then, was the impression it gave me. But gradually, bit by bit, I felt these invisible waves swerve my eyes to one impressive spot. I might turn my head at will, but always, always magnetic-like, they swung back again in obedience to this sensitive, compelling power. Dimly at first, and then more definable, I began to understand. Mosaic-like, my brain pieced the many continuous thrills; pieced them until, abruptly, it flashed over me: Someone else beside myself was in this room.

I took a deep breath after that. How near this particular someone was and in what position, remained for me to find out. Almost mechanically my finger sought the third button again, and I ran my finger-tip thoughtfully over the smooth surface. The passing of a moment brought me to the realization that the better thing for me to do was to press the button and face whatever the light might disclose; be it man, thing or devil.

No sooner had I decided than my finger obeyed almost instinctively. A sharp, sudden click, and then a blinding flood of wondrous yellow light, dazzling and overpowering. A dozen wall-brackets leaped into life. At first I was unable to see, but waited, expectant; then slowly and definitely the objects took form, like a city through a rising mist.

The man was seated calmly in a huge, comfortable Morris chair, legs crossed and fingers lightly tapping upon the broad arm. Like myself, he was in full evening dress. His overcoat was flung carelessly across a chair; his silk hat, crushed flat, lay upon it; and at his feet, near the serving table stood a well-labeled kit-bag.

I do not know how long we watched each other. His wide, black eyes betrayed no surprise at what the light had so abruptly disclosed; and they were not of a bad sort — his eyes—rather large for a man, and well-lashed; only his mouth, thin-lipped and drooping, weakened his otherwise boldly molded features.

I instinctively waited for him to speak; and I did not have long to wait.

“Well,” he began, in a remarkably soft, well-mannered tone, “this is rather a sudden and unexpected visit.”

My finger slipped from the button where it had rested unconsciously.

“Very!” I admitted bluntly. The tapping of his fingers ceased — long, white, well-manicured they were.

“My guests generally ring before entering,” he continued. “What is it you wish?”

I could not immediately frame an answer. He must have noted my embarrassment for he continued:

“I think I have the prior right to that question.”

“And why the prior?” I queried.

His eyes narrowed; they were most unpleasant to look upon at such a time! It was plain he did not care to argue further.

“Because,” he answered cynically, “this is my house and you are an intruder.”

I tried hard, very hard, not to show my amazement; yet he must have noticed it with those piercing eyes of his, in spite of my attempted control, for he waved a hand toward a chair that stood near.

“Sit down!” he commanded, and I did not hesitate. After I had slipped into the chair and crossed my legs, we were scarcely six feet distant from each other.

“I repeat my question,” he went on coldly.

“You — you are Mr. Charles Fisher?” I asked, dry-lipped.

“Yes,” curtly, “I am the owner here.” I put my hands to the chair-arms, perhaps unconsciously following his position.

“I have heard of you — often; you are very well known — I did not expect — so sudden a meeting.” I was surprised at my own boldness.

“Evidently you had no idea of an immediate introduction, eh?” and he laughed dryly.

“To tell the truth,” I admitted undaunted, “I was unprepared.”

“I have seen you frequently at the clubs,” he went on, “yet I have never learned your name, nor the nature of your business.” This latter remark appeared to amuse him, and he chuckled to himself. After this outburst he studied my face narrowly.

“I suppose,” he began, and waved a hand vaguely about the room —“I suppose this glass and silverware interests you a great deal more than — than an introduction.”

“Possibly,” I admitted.

“But it is clumsy stuff to handle. Surely you could not have made away with much of it, eh?” He appeared interested.

“If a man knew his business,” I reflected, after a pause.

“Ah!” brightening, “then you admit that the object of your visit is robbery.”

“You are free to choose your own opinion,” I returned quickly. Again he narrowed his eyes upon me, admiring, so I imagined, my self-repose. He cleared his throat quietly.

“You seem to be very familiar with my house and its contents,” he ventured.

I smiled grimly. “And why should I not? I have been here a great, great many times. I have been to every reception save the one given to-night. Let’s see — there were house-warmings, suppers, club-breakfasts, bridge, and even, even if I remember correctly, a wedding.”

The other’s face remained perfectly immovable. I fancied he was mentally studying his lists, took the occasion to laugh outright.

“Why — why I know Mrs. Fisher well very well indeed. I have dined with her — gone to the opera and–”

“Sh-h-h-h!” he arrested, lifting a warning forefinger. “She is asleep upstairs.”

“I’ll wager she is in the blue room, eh?” I ventured boldly; yet the next moment I regretted that I had spoken so. The man’s hands tightened upon the chair-arms; his face hardened.

“See here,” he snapped, “you know too much about my family affairs. Altogether too much for — for —

“For an intruder, eh?” I finished.

“Yes, for an intruder, a thief, a common, contemptible sneak-thief. A man who will worm his way into the best society and then gloat, openly, sneeringly. Come, now, what is it you were after — cut glass, silver?”

“But,” I remonstrated, “you admitted a moment ago they were too bulky; besides, I brought nothing to carry it in. . . . And don’t you know,” I added slowly, so that my words might sting, “that Mrs. Fisher’s jewels in the small bronze box on her dressing-table would prove the more valuable to me?”

The man’s face went colorless. He slipped a hand to his inner pocket and brought out a neat, shining revolver, which he calmly put upon the chair-arm. I watched him fascinated. There was something grim and ugly about that death-dealing thing between us; and more so now, for the muzzle pointed straight for my breast. The man very deliberately placed his hand over it.

“I have resolved to turn you over to the police,” he began sternly. “I have had enough of your remarks – quite enough. I might have been lenient with you heretofore, but you have grown insulting. Meanwhile I am going to ask that you refrain from any disturbances. This beneath my hand is a late model — an automatic; and it will shoot seven times in less than seven seconds. I hope you will not be venturesome.”

His words rang sharp and chilling to my ears. There was that indefinite something about them that lent me fear; a certain tone that bespoke an utter dependence. I was conscious that he meant exactly what he said.

I rapidly conjured my brain for a possible, plausible method of escape. Could I not somehow, someway, appeal to his weakness? If so, what was it? Here was a man who, by his own admission, was a club member— a man about town. A brilliant idea flashed to me. I had caught a glimpse of a backgammon board and a dice cup on a side table. Would he agree to the proposition ? Would it appeal to him? I lost no time in finding out.

“I believe,” I began, earnestly, hopefully, “that you are a square man; and that you are willing to give me a fair, square chance to help myself.”

“Go on,” he urged.

“We shall throw the dice between us — three times. If you win, I will calmly submit to arrest; I shall say nothing about this affair. But — if I win, you are to release me. You will allow me to leave the house as a guest, by the front door, under the lights. Is it a bargain?” Twice he wet his lips; and twice he started to speak.

“I agree,” he said at last.

Upon the broad arm of the chair I threw first. The rattle of the ivory dice was the only sound. The man opposite me underwent a complete change. Life came to his eyes and cheeks; his breath quickened. I realized that the love of chance was his weakness. The revolver lay neglected upon the chair-arm. As the dice fell clicking on the wood we both bent forward, expectant.

“Eight!” he broke out impetuously, and reached for the cubes. Calmly he shook the dice cup and toppled the squares to the chair-arm.”

“Twelve!” he laughed, and brushed the dice back with a tremulous hand. “I win.” Again I shook while he watched with flushed cheeks. “Ten!” I announced quietly. He nodded quickly and gathered up the dice.

“Not so hard to beat,” he returned, as the bits of ivory rattled to the wood. A pause.

“You win!” he faltered hoarsely, as eight spots alone showed. “Your last throw— careful.”

Once more and for the last time my hand flirted the dice to the polished chair-arm. A bit of silence followed the rattle.

“Twelve!” I broke out. “You still have a chance.”

He took the dice from my hand, shook them quickly and set them hard to the wood, yet kept the cup over the result, as if fearful of the disclosure.

“The hoodoo is still with me,” he announced graciously, after he had uncovered them. “I have but eleven.”

I swept the dice away and rose slowly from the chair. Now that the night was mine I intended to make good use of it. My brain raged with half-formed ideas. One of them alone seemed feasible.

“You may go!” the man spoke up abruptly from his chair.

“And —and the lights?” I reminded.

He looked at me in surprise.

“The hall and porch are rather dark,” I explained.

“I was of an opinion that men of your profession generally preferred the dark,” he offered coolly. I was minded as he sat there, sneeringly, his thin-lipped mouth drooping, to attempt to strike him to the floor before he could shoot, but happily my better judgment prevailed, and with an effort I controlled my temper.

“Suppose — Suppose someone should see me leaving — through the window?” I argued. “It wouldn’t look just right.”

He eyed me a moment in silence, evidently weighing my words, then shrugged his shoulders. “Well,” he deliberated, “now that you are so familiar with my house and the occupants and have bested me at dice, you may switch on your own lights.”

I swayed for a second, only half believing my ears; that he should so easily, readily play into my plan at the opportune moment seemed hardly possible.

“Thank you,” I said, with assumed calmness; and with this I strode over to the row of ebony buttons and without hesitation pressed the fourth and sixth ones. The former led to the upstairs chamber and the latter to the hall.

When I turned the man was laughing. “Not so very wise as you thought, eh? The lower hall isn’t lighted.”

Although aware of this I betrayed surprise. “You’re right,” I confessed, “I have pressed the wrong button. If you will allow me–”

“Never mind!” he snapped decisively. “You’ve tampered enough for one night. I should turn you over to the police; but I have given my word — I want you to go out ahead. I’m going to follow close behind — and no foolishness; remember, I’ve the revolver and I shall not hesitate to use it.”

Still I waited. I prayed for time as a dying man might for life. “Do you know,” I hedged, “that when I came into this room I had my mind made up for something to drink — some brandy. It’s damp outside; it was a rather tiresome journey here and will be a lengthy one back.”

“Well,” he wavered, nodding finally toward the sideboard, “help yourself, but be quick about it.” I took my time moving across the room; picked up and carefully examined a number of bottles, chose one and from it filled a thin glass half to the brim.

“To the intruder!” I exclaimed, and raised the glass to the level of my eyes.

As I was about to set back the glass, something so startling happened that the man whirled about toward the drawn curtains; and I, surprised likewise, stood mute and silent watching him,

“What was that?” he faltered.

“I could not say for certain,” I returned. “Though it sounded like a footfall on the stairs. Perhaps it is Mrs. Fisher.”

His eyes narrowed. “This will never do,” he burst out.

“Never mind,” I interrupted hastily; “just inform her that — that I am a friend of yours — a club-friend. She won’t suspect.”

The sound was repeated; there could be no mistaking; it was a footfall. The man acted like a lunatic.

“You fool!” he snarled, “turn out the lights — quick!” And then without further words he sprang across the room toward the row of buttons. It was a bold move and an abrupt one; but not altogether a thoughtful one, for within six feet of where I stood the revolver lay unguarded upon the chair-arm. Before he had reached the buttons I had possessed myself of the weapon.

He pressed the button, but not the right one. Not alone was the dining-room brilliantly lighted, but the lower hall suddenly shot into a glow.

Immediately the hall curtains parted and a woman, kimono-clad, stepped softly between them.

“Charlie,” she began, “did you just arrive home? Did you want me to come down? The lights were turned on, so I thought— ”

The man against the wall turned a blank, questioning face toward me; and, in spite of the intense situation, I smiled.

“This — this is a friend of mine, Milly,” I began abruptly. “A member of the club. By a strange coincidence his name is identical with ours. We have had a quiet chat— the two of us — and a little game; he was just leaving when you came in.”

I stepped over, gathered up his coat and hat and handed them to him. He smiled as he took them.

“Thanks!” he said; and I knew it had two meanings.

I snapped on the porch lights. “Mr. Fisher will leave his kit-bag,” I interrupted, as he moved toward it. “He has something in it that will interest us.”

Only a second did his brow cloud; then he was smiling and bowing pleasantly. I preceded him down the hall.

“Good night!” I said at the door.

“Good night!” he returned, and walked away into the gloom,

Metropolitan Magazine, Vol. 29, Issue 2 November 1908: pp. 206-210

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Despite the failure of  the faux-Mr Fisher’s scheme, one has to admire his ingenuity and his pluck.  But to be successful housebreaker one needs more than nerves of steel and bravura bravado; one needs a reasonable amount of good fortune. His unluckiness in encountering the genuine householder instead of a fellow sneak-thief must have dismayed and disheartened him.  Mrs Daffodil would not be surprised to learn that, after resigning his clubs, he either joined the Salvation Army or went to the devil in Monte Carlo.

One does wonder how the actual Mr Fisher explained the contents of the kit-bag to his wife.

 

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 Jewel Detective: 1910

 

THE JEWEL DETECTIVE.

Workings of a Secret System by Which American Importers of Precious Stones Keep Tab Upon Tourists Abroad and Hold Up the Hands of the Government in the Suppression of Smuggling.

She was a handsome, middle aged woman of evident taste and refinement and that decided something of air and manner which inevitably indicates the wealthy American to the calculating eye of the European shopkeeper, A glimpse of her as she moved slowly down the jewelry section of the Rue de la Paix, in company with her slender, fresh faced daughter, was enough to start a flutter behind each glittering store front.

Suave, frock coated proprietors, smiling, buxom proprietresses along that famous street beyond Cook’s watched her eagerly, sometimes even going so far as to murmur a respectful invitation from the doorway as she paused a moment before some wondrous display. To them she was the legitimate summer prey, one in the annual flight of the gold laden from the Golden Republic across the seas. For such they were accustomed to spread, their nets and prepare their lures.

“Will Madame be pleased to enter? Madame is not obliged to purchase.”

But Madame gave no answer, intent singly upon the windows and pursuing her way like one who knows her own mind, until she stopped before a certain shop near the end of the row”.

“This is the place,” she announced.

“Yes,” nodded her daughter. “We saw it here, and yon remember he asked a hundred francs less than the woman in the Plaza Spagna, in Rome, wanted for hers, which was ten stones shorter and awfully skimpy. Oh, mother, I do hope he hasn’t sold it!”

They entered, to the despair of neighboring rival dealers and the delight of the one. A question brought relief, for “it” had not been sold, and the proprietor, shrewd, named the former price to a centime.

“It” was revealed as a shimmery, resplendent necklace of pearls and diamonds, and the two women presently embarked upon the operation, dear to the feminine soul, of allowing a clever salesman to sell to them something they already had decided to buy.

While they were engaged in examining the gorgeous rope of jewels, comparing it with other inferior pieces laid out for background, listening to the soothing patter of the proprietor and prolonging the negotiation in divers pleasant ways, a man sauntered in from the street.

He was dressed in respectable but unobtrusive style. A casual observer would have set him down indiscriminately as a German, a Hungarian or a Continent travelled Englishman of moderate means and would have forgotten him the next moment. The one definite note in his appearance was the absence of any. He was eminently ordinary, retiring and colorless–except as to his eyes. A close observer might have dwelt upon those eyes, which were habitually lowered. They were small, clear and sharp as flashes from polished steel. The face in repose was commonplace behind its trim Van Dyke. With the eyes open and at work it was wonderfully alert, nervous and ferretlike.

jewel detective

Making the Bargain.

The assistant in the shop left the fascinating game in progress with a sigh of regret and came forward to attend the new customer. It appeared that he desired a watch charm, something novel and not too expensive. The assistant produced a tray of trinkets and the stranger took a seat at the further end of the counter, where he began a deliberate and silent selection. The assistant, scenting a long sale and a small one, gave to him only perfunctory attention, absorbed in the masterly tactics of the proprietor.

“No, Madame, I could not make it less than forty thousand francs. But remark the saving. I can give you a bill of sale for half the amount, which, at sixty per cent. will mean a payment of only twenty-four hundred dollars in duty. Thus the necklace will cost you a trifle more than ten thousand dollars, and you could not duplicate it in your country for fifteen–no, not for twenty. But Madame, attention! I have something else here. Observe this magnificent pendant. As an inducement I will add this for two thousand francs, which is absolutely worth ten.”

And so it went. The women compared, discussed, bargained in a well bred, distinguished manner; the proprietor plied his trade; the assistant watched breathlessly and the odd customer attended strictly his search for a three franc watch charm that suited him. None of the others considered him for a moment; a state of affairs with which he was quite content. He remained in the shop until the women had completed their purchases, when he finally chose a trifle and departed as inconspicuously as he had come.

The women had not recognized the stranger, and they would have been properly astonished had they known the amount of miscellaneous Information he possessed concerning them. It would have been a distinct shock to them had they learned that this same quiet person had been at their elbows, through half of Europe; that he had followed them into jewelry stores in Rome, Genoa, Interlaken, Vienna, Innsbruck and Berlin; that he was familiar with every chapter in their hunt for a stunning necklace at a bargain; that he was aware of the date on which they were booked to leave for home and the name of the steamship.

They would have been somewhat uneasy could they have guessed that after leaving the Rue de la Paix the mysterious nondescript hied himself to the private office of the special agent of the United States Treasury department resident in Paris, with whom he left a memorandum embodying all the essential facts concerning the transaction of the day.

Two weeks later the handsome, middle aged American woman and her daughter, after signing declarations for the revenue officers to the effect that they were bringing nothing dutiable, landed upon a Hoboken pier. A search of their baggage revealed nothing of special interest to the officers, but they were not permitted to leave with other fellow passengers in like case.  Inspectresses took charge of them, and in spite of protests they were subjected to a search. The result was humiliating and disastrous, for the necklace was discovered, together with lace and other valuables worth some $25,000. In addition to confiscation of the property they were compelled to pay a heavy fine, besides enduring arrest, unwelcome notoriety and court hearings.

When the affair with its attendant lessons for such an attempt to defraud the government of its legal dues had passed, the two women, mortified and shamed, remained in ignorance of the method by which customs officials had so unerringly detected them for smugglers among the hundreds of first class passengers. In New York there were, and are, four men who could have told them that method in all its details Those men are the employers of the keen eyed watcher, and no one of them had, or has, the slightest official connection with the government.

 The End of the Trail.

A luxurious, mahogany furnished office, at No. 182 Broadway, forms the rendezvous once or twice a week, for the group. They are all serious minded business men and they meet behind the sober sign board of a dignified business concern. While there they transact certain affairs with all the secrecy and precaution of Nihilist plotters. By training and profession they are importers of jewels; by necessity and enterprise they are directors of one of the most remarkable detective systems in the world. They come together to confer in their capacity as officers of the Precious Stone Importers’ Protective Association.

From this quiet office, apparently given over solely to the common concerns of commerce, is controlled a band of secret agents which covers the highways and byways of Europe, and in which the man with the ferret eyes is a trusted member. From here issue orders which place every wealthy American tourist in Berlin, Madrid, St. Petersburg, Naples and similar accustomed haunts under an espionage of which he is blissfully unaware. Here are read and discussed reports on the doings of hundreds of men and women who are wont to believe that for three months of the year at least their comings and goings are unnoted.

The “jewel junta” and its employe, the jewel detective, represent a most remarkable private attempt to hold up the hands of the United States government. Smuggling has cost American dealers millions of dollars, but no others have suffered so heavily and so consistently as the dealers in precious stones. Now the importers have entered the game in person and are actively engaged in running down the perpetrators of a species of crime which was threatening their very existence.

Their aim is not to interfere with or to supplant the regular official machinery already in operation for the detection of smugglers. But for years they have seen the government fight a losing fight against disregard for certain laws among a large and growing class of prosperous Americans. The government was pretty well able to take care of the professional smuggler–the man or woman who took up the hazardous occupation of a goods runner and braved the gauntlet of the customs habitually. With the vast increase in foreign, travel during recent years, however, a new and very much more complex element was introduced. What of the well-to-do citizen, or, more especially, the wife and daughters of the well-to-do citizen who could see no wrong in swearing falsely and would adopt any expedient to evade the payments upon articles purchased abroad which the laws of the land declare must be met?

It was through the unprofessional and pre-eminently respectable smuggler that the importers of precious stones began to feel the heaviest losses. They were confronted by promise of a time when every prospective purchaser of gems would save the money against the summer trip abroad, spend it there and bring back the property in defiance of all safeguards. The government, in response to repeated complaints, added to its secret service force abroad and attempted to watch the jewelry firms and other sources of smuggled valuables. But the result was far from satisfactory and the importers themselves finally conceived the idea of lending a hand in aid.

Then was formed the Precious Stone Importers’ Protective Association, which undertook to furnish the government with additional information concerning foreign purchases of jewels. The association discovered that there was ample opportunity for its activities, and slowly it built up its present competent system. It now has feelers all over the ground where American tourists annually expend vast sums far from home. It is responsible, though its “junta” and its agents, for scores of arrests each year, and it is making smuggling a much less attractive and profitable occupation for the homecomer who considers himself or herself exempt from the law.

The Eye Always Open.

When you walk down the Rue de Rivoli or Rue de la Paix next time in search of that diamond tiara for your wife, remember that you are being watched as closely, if with less deadly purpose, as you would be should the Parisian police trail you for a desperate criminal. As long as you are in the jewelry district and you bear the outward marks of prosperity, you are an object of intense interest to some lynx-eyed individual who sees in you a possible smuggler.

And you may be sure that if you make a considerable purchase you will be no stranger to the customs men when you land in New York. They will know all about that tiara, and so probably will the members of the “jewel junta” at No. 182 Broadway. If you declare the purchase and pay the legal duty, well and good. Otherwise—look out.

Should you decide to procure your valuable gift in some other of the centres of the jewelry trade, at the marvellous shops of Venice or Florence or Lucerne, you will run an equal chance of surveillance. In the Parisian shopping districts agents are particularly numerous, for here the wandering American is most likely to be tempted by the gorgeous window displays. But the jewel detective is omnipresent.

The detective may be either a man or a woman. In either case you seldom will be made aware that you are being watched. The agents employed are persons whom the “junta” can trust implicitly and who understand their business. Many of them are engaged exclusively in the work of detection. Others work on cases that fall directly under their notice. All, or nearly all, mingle unsuspected with the tourist horde. They may be themselves in the guise of wealthy Americans or they may be natives and residents of Europe. The “junta” needs many sharp eyes and is quite indifferent to the personal tactics of its agents so long as results are produced. Sometimes an agent bungles, but not often.

An excited gentleman rushed into the office of the American Consul General in a European capital one day this summer and demanded explanations, protection, trouble and battle ships all in a breath.

“I’m being followed, I tell you,” he shouted. “I want to know what it all means. Things have come to a pretty pass when a citizen of the United States is dogged all around Europe by a scamp who watches him wherever he goes.”

The Consul calmed him and heard his story. It seemed that the citizen’s wife and daughters had noticed a red-faced man who seemed much interested in their shopping expeditions during their stay in Paris. His interest had not ceased there, for he had turned up again when they made the tour of the stores in Brussels, and again in Budapest he was still at their heels, appearing mysteriously whenever they approached a jewelry shop.

When the Consul understood the situation he smiled. “There is a very simple process by which you can rid yourself of this particular follower,” he said.

“How? What?”

“When you catch sight of him next time just shake your finger at him. I’ll go bail he never bothers you again.”

“I can’t expect that to frighten him,” protested the citizen.

“Yes, you can,” returned the consul. “When he seems that he’s been noticed, that you are aware of his espionage, he’ll leave you quick enough.”

“You do you make out he is?”

“You’d have to ask that question of a few estimable gentlemen in New York,” returned the Consul. “Unless I’m much mistaken he is one of the agents of the precious stone importers, and it is very rarely that they pick one so stupid as to allow himself to be discovered. He’s been watching you in expectation of witnessing a purchase of jewels. Let him know that you have noticed him and he will disappear, for his usefulness has ceased so far as you are concerned.”

“Do you think that will end the matter?”

“No,” said the Consul. “Frankly, I don’t. It will end it for him, but some other agent, more circumspect and skilful, is quite likely to be on your case to-morrow.”

“It’s an outrage,” exclaimed the citizen.

“Very likely, from your point of view,” said the Consul, with a shrug. “But you certainly can’t blame the agents and I don’t see how you can blame the importers. The enforcement of the revenue regulations means life or death to them. They are simply rendering efficient aid to Uncle Sam, in their own interest, of course, but incidentally in the interest of law and order.”

Usually the jewel detective works on a roving commission. It is his custom, on reaching a large city, to obtain lists of those who are stopping at the leading hotels. The detective, being versed in his craft, soon winnows out the useless names and finds the available material among the Americans who are likeliest to make considerable purchases. These he watches, and if any are wont to linger in the vicinity of the jewelry stores he is keen on the scent immediately. Probably some one party or individual will attract his particular attention. Observing that Mrs. Blank is intensely interested in the subject of diamond stomachers, and is in the habit of pricing them wherever she goes, he comes naturally to the conclusion that Mrs. Blank is very apt to buy a stomacher before she leaves Europe.

He accordingly attaches himself, unobtrusively, to the company of Mrs. Blank. He may follow her for a month or two months, even longer. Whenever she has any negotiations with a jeweller the detective makes it his business to find out what that negotiation was. When he finds a sale he promptly notifies the Treasury agents, who are hunting for just such information themselves, and the news is transmitted to the port at which Mrs. Blank will land in this country. In New York it is Collector Loeb who ultimately receives all such reports. Then the detective transmits a full account of his efforts to the “jewel junta” and casts about him for fresh opportunities.

The Precious Stone Importers’ Protective Association is a country-wide body and seeks to strengthen the barriers against jewel smugglers on all the borders of the United States. Most of its members have their businesses in New York, where ninety percent of the precious stones imported into the country pass in. But the discoveries made by its secret agents have frequently found full fruition far from the metropolis.

A woman jewel detective employed by the “junta” once stumbled upon a large transaction involving a sapphire and diamond necklace. The sale took place in Paris and, as usual, she attempted to discover the steamship by which the wealthy Chicagoan who made the purchase would return to the United States. She watched him during his stay in the French capital, but without learning anything of his plans. He did not visit Cook’s or any of the steamship offices and he was upon the eve of departure by train for the South when she was forced to present her incomplete case to the Treasury agent. A government revenue man was put upon the Chicagoan’s track and followed him to Marseilles, thence by P. and O. steamship to Bombay, then to Colombo, Singapore and Yokohama, where he lost him.

He picked up the trail again where it led aboard a chance tramp to South America, followed, found the scent at Valparaiso, hurried on to Panama, Vera Cruz and Mexico City, and was in time to notify the proper officials on the Mexican frontier when his man started by train for Chicago. The necklace was found neatly sewed inside the Chicagoan’s straw hat and was promptly confiscated.

Their Own Police Bureau.

Thus a case started by a jewel detective is likely to be finished far from the beaten path of travel. Numerous instances of attempted smuggling from Canada have been prevented. The smuggler is traveling chiefly for pleasure, of course, but having heard direful tales of the strict custom supervision in New York he bethinks him that he might just as well return by a roundabout route where the officials are less curious. He does not know, poor man, that the detective “spotted him at the time he made his purchases and that a warm and intimate reception awaits him.

The “junta,” as members of the trade have come to call—or miscall—the executives of the Precious Stone Importers’ Protective Association, is composed of Mr. Ludwig Nissen, president; Mr. Alfred Krower, vice president; Mr. Arthur Henius, treasurer, and Mr. George Whitehead, secretary. These four constitute the association’s directing bureau in its real work, the maintenance of the foreign detective force. They have acquired the subtlety and shrewdness of so many successful police chiefs in the course of their effective co-operation with the government.

Mr. Nissen, the president, has been the formulative force in the association. It is he who keeps the books wherein the names and reports of the various agents are recorded. Those books would make interesting reading if they should ever be opened to inspection. Mr. Nissen has but recently returned from Europe, where he was occupied with the reorganization of the staff.

“We have been subjected to some criticism in certain quarters for our participation in the enforcement of the revenue laws,” said Mr. Nissen a few days ago, “but the fact remains that our efforts cannot possibly annoy any one except actual violators of those laws. The smuggler, private or professional, is a criminal, and we are bound to do all we can to suppress him.

“The spread of smuggling as a general practice among American tourists has reached an alarming extent. It is due, I think, to the American tendency toward lawlessness and has found its readiest growth in the very class where it should have found the least. The prosperous man looks to the laws of his country to protect his property. When such a man takes to breaking laws himself he is undermining the efficiency of the very thing he demands and leans upon. It was to check private smuggling that we entered the field to lend what assistance we could to the government.

“In this I think I can say we are serving not only our own interests and those of the government but those of American merchants at large. If we are able to deter a traveller from spending abroad it means so much more money in this country, not necessarily for the jeweller but for all tradesmen, and hence for artisans and workingmen.”

Smuggling Poor Business.

In regard to smuggled jewels Mr. Nissen made a remarkable point, which was emphatically concurred in by the two other association officers who were with him in his office. He stated flatly that jewel smuggling, even if successful, did not pay in actual dollars and cents.

“I have never seen an article of jewelry purchased abroad and smuggled into this country which could not have been duplicated right here in New York for less than the purchase paid,” he declared. “The foreign dealer invariably charges an American a higher price than the American dealer would, and the article, moreover, is usually inferior. He plies his trade by representing to the tourist that American dealers have to pay sixty per cent duty on all goods and hence have to add that sixty per cent to their sale price.

“That is not so. Unset jewels are imported at but ten per cent duty and rough jewels come in duty free. These are the only kinds that we importers handle. The American dealer consequently fixes his price at the wholesale cost of the stone, plus ten percent duty, plus workmanship and a reasonable profit. The European dealer has the same wholesale and practically the same workmanship items to start with, but he expects a hundred per cent profit from the free handed, credulous tourist.”
Mr. Nissen and his associates were one in declaring that whatever improvement has been brought about recently in the matter of the prevention of jewel smuggling has been due to Collector Loeb, without whom, they said, most of the work of their detective force would be unavailing.

“I cannot emphasize too strongly,” said Mr. Nissen, “that we are under the greatest obligation to the man who is now Collector of the Port of New York. Before he entered the office the association was of slight value in the warfare against smuggling. Frequently in the past we have presented perfectly reliable information concerning private smugglers only to have it set aside or to stand helplessly by while a settlement was effected and the criminal went his way rejoicing.

“Mr. Loeb, on the other hand, has welcomed our co-operation and has acted vigorously and honestly with every case we have called to his attention. As long as he is in office we have a fair chance of putting an end to the pernicious and dangerous practice of smuggling.”

The Fort Wayne [IN] Sentinel 24 September 1910: p. 27

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: When one thinks of the enormous expense involved in hiring a vast network of invisible jewel detectives—their commissions as well as travelling and lodging expenses—one wonders if those millions of dollars of trade and duties lost to smugglers were ever actually recouped. Mrs Daffodil does not like to spoil a thrilling story, but she has a nasty, suspicious mind and suspected that stories like these were designed as more of a deterrent than an actual account of gemological espionage. If ladies thought that every nondescript stranger was surreptitiously noting their purchases, they might be less likely to sew diamond necklaces into their underthings. Mrs Daffodil, who likes to be thorough, has found some evidence, in the form of sworn testimony in hearings on gem tariffs in 1922, that there was, in fact, no such network of lynx-like eyes. At that hearing, Mr Roland G. Monroe, representing the Precious Stones Importers Protective Association, complained of a lack of smuggling convictions, and asked for an appropriation of money so that the Customs department could  hire “a special squad of at least six men” to assist with enforcement. While there really was a Precious Stones Importers Protective Association lobbying for lower duties on gemstones, one suspects that any “special squad” of the U.S. Customs Department was not given an unlimited expense account to dog the steps of rich Americans from Paris to Vienna.

Mrs Daffodil has written about smuggling before in “I’m a Smuggler,” and The Widow’s Baby.

 

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 Rat in the Muff: 1891

How a Shrewd Though Youthful Shoplifter Utilized a Tame Rat.

“There have been many extraordinary stories told of the ingenuity of thieves in the pursuit of their nefarious calling, but a case which occurred while I was at Chatham recently beats anything I ever heard,” remarked a newly arrived Englishman to a Philadelphia Inquirer man.

“A girl was brought before the police court on the charge of robbing milliners’ shops. She was only fourteen years of age and of very innocent appearance. What puzzled the magistrate was that none of the witnesses ever saw her take anything, or at least they would not swear to it, although after she had left a shop where she had been making a purchase articles of value were missed.”

When arrested nothing was found upon her. The magistrate said he could not convict the girl on mere suspicion, and then began to cross-examine her himself in a kind, fatherly way which touched her heart, and she broke down and confessed that she was guilty, and explained her methods to the astonishment and amusement of the Court and spectators.

“It seems that she had a tame white rat which she carried about with her in a muff. She would enter a shop full of girls and women and ask the price of some article. and while looking at it contrive to drop the rodent on the floor.

“Any one can imagine the result. Those near the door dashed into the street, while the employees jumped on the counters and chairs, wrapping their petticoats tight round their ankles and ‘screamed like mad.’ as the prisoner expressed it, amid the laughter of the court, in spite of the assurances that the rat was quite tame.

“In the scrimmage she would quietly help herself to what she wanted, catch the rat, put it in her muff, apologize and walk off. The magistrate said that on account of her youth, and as she had voluntarily confessed to the thefts, he would give her one more chance and bound her over In the sum of  £50—$250 of your money—to come up for judgment when called upon.

“Of course her friends soon entered the required bonds and Mary Barton will have to find some other place to practise on the weakness of her sex. The tame rat dodge won’t work in Chatham any more.”

The Evening World [New York NY] 27 June 1891: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One hopes that the ingenious Mary fashioned a handsome collar from some of her spoils for her amiable pet. The poor creature is lucky there was not a mouser on the premises of the millinery and that Mary did not try loosing her pet in a bakery full of rodent-hardened men with peels.

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.

Parson Patten and the Ghost: 1750s

LAYING A GHOST.

The following story of Parson Patten laying a ghost was told to Captain Grose, by the reverend gentleman himself.

A substantial farmer, married to a second wife, and who had a son grown up to man’s estate, frequently promised to take him as a partner in his farm, or, at least, to leave it to him at his decease; but having neglected to do either, on his death, his widow took possession of the lease and carried on the business, the son in vain urging the father’s promise, and requesting she should at least take him as a partner. In order to terrify his step-mother into compliance, he used to rise at midnight, and, with hideous groans, to drag the waggon chain about the yard and outhouses, circulating a report that this noise was occasioned by his father’s ghost, and that the dead man would not rest quietly in his grave till his promise to his son was fulfilled.

This was carried on for some time, till at length the widow, who had no relish for giving up any part of the farm, applied to Mr Patten (in whose parish the farm lay) for his advice, saying she would have the ghost laid in the Red Sea, if he could do it. Patten, though no believer in ghosts, resolved to turn this matter to his own advantage, and putting on a grave countenance, told her, that what she required was no small matter; that besides a good stock of courage, much learning was required to lay a ghost, as the whole form must necessarily be pronounced in Latin; wherefore he could not afford to do it under a guinea. The widow hereupon demurred for some time, but at length tired out with the freaks of the supposed ghost, who every night became more and more outrageous, agreed to pay the money. Patten, moreover, required a fire in the best parlour, two candles, and a large bowl of punch. These being all prepared, he took his post, expecting the nocturnal visitor.

The farmer’s son, who did not know the sort of man he had to deal with, thought he could frighten the parson, and accordingly at twelve began his perambulation. No sooner did Patten hear the chain and the groans, than he sallied forth, and, without any further ceremony, seized the supposed ghost by the collar, and commenced belabouring him heartily with a good oak sapling. Finding himself by no means a match for his opponent, the young farmer fell down on his knees, and confessed the contrivance; beseeching the parson, at the same time, not to expose him, nor to reveal it to his step-mother, who would have been glad of the pretence to turn him out of the house. The parson, on the young man’s promise never to disturb the house again, let him go, and undertook to settle matters with his step-mother.

Early next morning she came down, anxious to know what had passed the preceding night, when the parson, with a well-counterfeited terror in his countenance, told her he had been engaged in a terrible conflict, the deceased being one of the most obstinate and fierce spirits he had ever met with ; but that he had at length, with great difficulty and expense of Latin, laid him. “Poor wicked soul,” says he, “I forgive him; though great part of his disquiet is owing to thirty shillings of tithes of which he defrauded me, but which he desired, nay, commanded, you should pay; and on that condition only he has agreed to trouble the house no more. He does not insist on your completing his promise to his son, but wishes you would, at least, let him have a share in the farm.” To all this the woman assented, and Patten received the thirty shillings over and above the stipulated guinea.

The book of clerical anecdotes, Jacob Larwood, 1881: p. 146-7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The Rev. Mr Thomas Patten, as another portion of the book above informs us, had been “chaplain to a man-of-war, and had contracted a kind of marine roughness from his voyages. He was of an athletic make, and had a considerable share of wit and humour, not restrained by any strict ideas of professional propriety…He had such an esteem for punch, that when his sermons were too long, someone showing him a lemon, could at any time cause him to bring his discourse to an abrupt conclusion, that he might be at liberty to adjourn to the public-house.”

The book of clerical anecdotes, Jacob Larwood, 1881: p. 61

This ingenious ornament to the C of E also lived openly with his mistress and was a terror to smugglers, especially if they did not pay tithes on their profits. He died in 1764, aged 80, to the relief of Church authorities.  He was obviously well-suited for his role as “ghost-layer.” Parsons were frequently called upon to “lay” (“exorcism” smacked too much of Papist rituals) troublesome spirits. A popular tactic was to coax, command, or conjure the spirit into a bottle, seal it, and throw it into a local pond, although it was claimed that some spirits were banished to the Red Sea. Another way to deal with a restless spirit was to put the ghost to making ropes of sand because, after all, idle hands are the Devil’s playground.

 

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.

Nero’s Ghost: 1885-1905

tomb of nero Piranesi c 1745

The Tomb of Nero, Giovanni Battista Piranesi c. 1745 https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-tomb-of-nero/GAE_RpRhWJ-twQ

For the Ides of March, a Roman ghost story about the notorious Emperor Nero.

The early history of [Santa Maria del Popolo] is a strange one. After the suicide of Nero in A.D. 68, the Senate expressed its loathing of his character by a decree of Memoriae damnatio, and by prohibiting his interment in the Mausoleum of Augustus, the burial-place of the Caesars. His body was therefore interred by his mistress Acte and two faithful servants in the Tomb of the Domitii on the Collis Hortulorum, or Pincian Hill. But even here the unquiet spirit of Nero found no rest. Many centuries after, the people of Rome were affrighted by shrieks as of tortured souls and ghostly apparitions, which were seen at nightfall in the woods and thickets of the Pincian slopes, so that, as the Monkish chronicler says, “No man dared pass that way for fear of what he might hap to see and hear.” In their trouble the people appealed at last to the Pope Paschal II., who was Pontiff at the time when these ghostly visitations reached their climax ; and he, advised in a dream by the Virgin herself, went in procession with all the Cardinals and Arch-priests of Rome to the haunted spot, and there, with his own hands, sawed down a certain walnut-tree, which had been the centre of the ghostly sights and sounds; this he did regardless of the demons, who with roarings like that of lions strove to terrify the holy Father. Under this tree the body of Nero was found– cause of all the hellish riot—and on this very spot Paschal II. laid the foundation of the high altar of a church dedicated to the Virgin, under the name of Santa Maria ad Portam Flaminiam.

This happened in the year 1099….

The name S. Maria del Popolo, by which this church is usually known, was given to it from the fact that it was founded to relieve the terrors of the people, and built, partly at least, by a public subscription. That the story about its origin is not a mere popular legend, but a solemnly accredited tradition of the church, is borne witness to by a large inscribed slab in the pavement of the retrochoir.

The Portfolio: An Artistic Periodical, Vol. 16, Philip Gilbert Hamerton, editor, 1885: pp. 118.

Those roaring “demons,” seem to have been an infestation of crows roosting in the walnut tree.

There, at the northern gate of the city, where the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo now stands, was once the tomb of Nero. Over it grew a great walnut-tree, and in its branches multitudes of crows were wont to caw and chatter, unmindful of the travellers who passed in and out through the gate below. In the closing days of the eleventh century, Pope Paschal the Second had a dream, which told him that these evil-omened birds were demons, waiting upon the detested spirit of the Roman emperor, who came out at night and wandered on the Pincian, attended by the unclean brood. To lay Nero’s uneasy ghost, the Pope tore down the remnants of the tomb, scattered his ashes, and built upon the spot a church to the Blessed Virgin, with money collected from the common people, hence ” del Popolo,” — of the people, — a name which has since been given to the piazza and the gate as well. But the demon crows, driven from Nero’s walnut-tree, moved higher up the Pincian, and it is supposed that Nero’s ghost still wanders here, for the crows are yet in evidence, and why should they remain if their master spirit has departed?

Rome, Vol. 1, Walter Taylor Field, 1905 : p. 27

Ms Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is, of course, the Ides of March, a day of several religious rituals for the ancient Romans and best-known for being the fateful day of Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC. There is no record of Caesar haunting the site of his death or appearing to his assassins, but somehow the phrase “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” entered the lexicon as an expression of frustration.

“Great Nero’s Ghost!” might have been a more accurate catch-phrase.  The wicked Emperor Nero, whose name is a byword for the decadence and excess of the Roman Emperors, did not rest easily in his tomb. There were legends persisting for centuries that he did not, in fact commit suicide, but had fled to a far country and (like our King Arthur) return in the Empire’s time of need. He also seems to have been—and rightly so—concerned about his post-mortem reputation:

The spirits of the worst of the Roman Emperors were, as we should expect, especially restless. Pliny tells us how Fannius, who was engaged upon a Life of Nero, was warned by him of his approaching death. He was lying on his couch at dead of night with a writing-desk in front of him, when Nero came and sat down by his side, took up the first book he had written on his evil deeds, and read it through to the end; and so on with the second and the third. Then he vanished. Fannius was terrified, for he thought the vision implied that he would never get beyond the third book of his work, and this actually proved to be the case.

Greek and Roman Ghost Stories, Lacy Collison-Morley, 1912

Nero was known for his sensitivity to criticism. He had an army commander executed for imprudent remarks about the Emperor at a private party and exiled a politician who wrote a book critical of the government. And he thought highly of his own talents to the bitter end. It is said that Nero’s last words were “What an artist dies in me!”

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.