Category Archives: Irregular Lives

Twelve Golden Rules for Women Cooks: 1838

the cook hints to servants 1843

The Cook, from Hints to Servants, 1843

TWELVE GOLDEN RULES FOR WOMEN COOKS.

[Extracted from that excellent work, “Essays on Good-Living.”]

Never get drunk—until the last dish be served up.

Never be saucy—unless you happen to be in your airs and can’t help it; but then, take care to have the last word.

Never be sulky—unless you have a great dinner to dress; your mistress will then be sure to coax you.

Never spoil a joint—unless you have been unjustly found fault with, (which must be the fact if you have been accused at all); in which case, if complaint be made of its having been under-done, you may, next time, roast it to a cinder; and, if that should not give satisfaction, you may, the following day, send it up raw.

Never get dinner ready at the time it is ordered—unless you know that the family are not ready for it; in which case, send it up to a moment; if it be cold and spoiled, that, you know, will not be your fault.

Never admit that you are in the wrong—unless the devil will have it so that you cannot help it. If you should transgress your orders, stand stoutly to it, that they were such as you have followed; and, if you have not brass enough for that, say, you thought they were.

Never take snuff –unless when you are mixing a stew, or stirring the soup. Nor never examine the latter without holding a lighted tallow candle obliquely over the pot; if it should not enable you to see quite to the bottom, what drops from it will at least enrich the contents; and when you taste it, be sure to throw back what remains in your spoon.

 Never wash your hands—until you have made the pies; you must do it then, and to do it sooner is only wasting time and soap.

Never give warning to quit your place—until you are quite sure that it will put the family to the greatest inconvenience, and then, be off at a moment; say, “your father’s dead, or your mother’s dying, and you cannot stay if it was ever so.” If warning be given to you, from that moment you may spoil every thing that comes under your hands.

Never tell tales of the family you are with—unless they should be to their disadvantage; nor never speak well of your last mistress, unless it be to contrast her with the present.

Never cheat—unless you can do it without being discovered; but, if you don’t yourself cheat, never prevent others—“Your master can afford it;”— “Service is no inheritance;”—and “poor servants and tradesfolk must live.”

Never tell a lie —when you can get as much by telling the truth; nor ever tell the truth, when you can get more by telling a lie.

Never support a sweetheart out of the house—unless you can’t get one in.

The London Jester; Or, Museum of Mirth, Wit, and Humour, 1838: pp. 100-101

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Of all the domestic plagues, the Cook was believed to be the worst. Complaints were heard on all sides about cooks who were ill-tempered, dishonest, dirty, and intemperate. A truly good cook knew that her value was above rubies and a potential employer would have a job to impress her. Cook’s whims and fancies were Law. And when a gem of a cook was found, other ladies conspired to lure her away.  This rarely ended well:

STOLE HER COOK.

Red Bank, N.J.  Because Mrs. C. B. West stole her “jewel of a cook,” Mrs. G.E. Poulson built a “spite fence” and threatened to horsewhip. West had her arrested. The Evening Sun [Baltimore MD] 9 May 1913: p. 1

 

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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Left-Over Laundry: 1889

 

laundry 1901

LEFT-OVER LAUNDRY

Novel Business of a Smart Young Boston Man

“Those bundles,” said he, “which that young man took off with him were what would be called left-over laundry. That is, they have lain upon our shelves for several months since they were washed and have never been called for.”

“Do you have many such bundles?” “Well, yes, we do. That young man who just went out calls here about once a month and he gets just about as many bundles every time. You see there are a great many forgetful people in this world, and many of them will take a bundle of clothes to some laundry office, and then, before it comes time to take them out, will have forgotten where they left them, and so the stuff is left on the agent’s hands. Then again many of the bundles are left by drummers and other travellers who are called away from town before their clothes are washed, and either do not come back at all or have forgotten the place when they do come.

“Then there is still another class: Young men who have money one day and are broke the next. These fellows will often leave large bundles and then will not have money enough to spare to get them out for some time and when they do get them the laundry has been in the office so long that they feel ashamed to call for it. From these and some other causes we have many bundles which would never be called for it they laid on our shelves for ten years. Until within a few months all of these bundles have been a dead loss to us, as we are obliged to pay the laundryman for washing the clothes and then get nothing for them.

“As they are all second-hand clothes we could not sell them until this young man came long and he takes all we have off our hands. What does he do with them? Why, he sells them, of course, he makes a business of it, and goes all over the city and suburbs, collecting this uncalled-for laundry. Of course he has to buy it blind, as he is not allowed to examine the bundles before purchasing them, and so he gets all sorts of things in all sorts of conditions, but as, for instance, he only has to pay ten cents for a shirt, and often gets one which is nearly new and costs perhaps $2, he can afford to get stuck on a few of the things.

“He has made it his business to get acquainted with poor young men and women, to whom he sells articles for about a quarter of what they would cost in the stores and still manages to clear from 300 to 500 per cent on his sales. Not a bad profit, if the sales are big enough, is it? And the business is an easy and a clean one to handle. Altogether it is one of the most novel methods of making a living that I have heard of for some time.”

Denver [CO] Rocky Mountain News 29 December 1889: p. 17

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is always interested to hear of ingenious entrepreneurs who find ways to re-use clothing—an idea which is attracting new interest these days. We have heard of the lady who renovated silks, and of the widow who cleverly restyled outworn fashions.  Second-hand clothing was a lucrative business, either as clothing or even as rags. Certainly it would have been a more cleanly trade than handling the clothes at slop– or pawn-shops. One wonders if the young man kept a store-front or if he went door-to-door to those poor young men and women, peddling the contents of the bundles.

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 Lady’s Coolness Upon a Trying Occasion: 1838

the robber and his child 1832

The Robber and His Child, Karl Friedrich Lessing, 1832 https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-robber-and-his-child/TQEZjvDA3qdUXw

THE DANGER OF GIVING WAY TO FEELING IN COMMITTING A HIGHWAY ROBBERY.

At Wandsworth Petty Sessions on Tuesday, John Wood, who described himself as a plumber, and who appeared in a very wretched state, was charged with a highway robbery upon the person of Mrs Chevalier, the wife of a respectable tradesman living in Yardley street, Wilmington square, Clerkenwell. lt appeared from the evidence of the prosecutrix, that on Monday last she left home by a stage-coach on a visit to a friend in the neighbourhood of Wimbledon. On her return, being too late for the coach, she was compelled to proceed on foot to Fulham, across the common: it was then about six o’clock. After she had proceeded a short distance the prisoner sprang upon her and demanded her money; at the same moment he presented a pistol at her head, and threatened that he would at once blow her brains out if she did not deliver up to him what money she had about her; adding, that he was reduced to the last extremity, that he had a wife and family at home in a starving state, and he did not care what became of him. She then, under the fear of his threat, gave him what money she had, which amounted to about £3, which consisted of nine half-crowns, a half-sovereign, and the remainder in silver and copper. After the prisoner had robbed her he put the pistol in his pocket. She then remarked to him that she had to go to London, and as he had taken from her all the money she had, perhaps he would let her have two shillings to pay for the omnibus to London, and a halfpenny to go over the bridge. He gave her what she required. She then remarked to him that she would be obliged to him if he would accompany her within a short distance of Fulham, to protect her, as, being alone, she might be again stopped, and if she were stopped, the person would not believe but that she had money about her. The prisoner agreed, and they walked together some distance. They passed two or three men who were walking singly. The prosecutrix, however, however, did not think it prudent to alarm them; but, on coming up to a policeman, she instantly acquainted him, and at the same time seized the prisoner, who, having used great exertions, extricated himself from her grasp and ran away. He was pursued by the police-officer, who speedily apprehended him. The prisoner did not deny the charge, but stated that he had a wife and five children at home, who were in a state of the most deplorable destitution. He was committed for trial. The bench highly praised the conduct of the prosecutrix, who had displayed such coolness and intrepidity upon the trying occasion in which she was placed.

The Examiner [London, England] 25 March 1838: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil confesses that, while she admires the impressive coolness the lady displayed on this trying occasion, she still feels a certain, possibly unwarranted, pity for the plumber with the large family in such a deplorable state of destitution. What he did was certainly wrong; yet instead of running away, he gave Mrs Chevalier omnibus fare and agreed to “protect her.” The Poor Laws were pitiless; tearing families apart to send them to the Workhouse with cold charity, indeed. One hopes that the Parish gave the starving family some relief and that the prosecutrix pleaded for mercy for the hapless man.

 

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

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

The Lost Columbine: 1922

the lost columbine illustration2

The Lost Columbine

By Julian Street

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

Her large blue eyes turned up to him inquiringly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You might,” he declared.

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

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

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

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

“Are what?” she asked.

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

“Know what?”

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

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

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

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

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

II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What you sink, monsieur?”

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

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

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

“Indeed I do!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, we came togezzer.”

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

“Zat is a question !” she said.

“Let’s dance and talk it over.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, I got enough of it.”

“Didn’t you have a good time?”

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

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

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

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

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

Ill

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

“Yes, very amusing,” she said.

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

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

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

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

“That wasn’t you— honestly?”

“No. Honestly.”

“What was your costume, then.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Wigs.” she returned succinctly.

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

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

“Why, yes.”

“Well, he wore a toupee.”

“He did? How do you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

But she failed to reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Diabolical Teapot: 18th century

A story, so remarkable as to be scarcely worthy of credence had not the narrator been a lady of unimpeachable veracity, was related to your correspondent a few days ago. The lady, who is a member of an old, aristocratic family, told me the story in the following terms:

When the founder of the American branch of our family came over from England, he brought a large quantity of silverware, already very old. Among the various articles was a teapot of curious workmanship and shape. In fact, the old vessel may not have been a teapot, but it was called so. All of this silver was stolen during the Revolutionary War, the teapot included; but the morning after the theft, to the great surprise of the family, this particular piece was found in its accustomed place. No one could even surmise how it came there. Through all the changes of circumstances and residence that teapot has remained with us. I would only weary you were I to recite the numerous times it has been lost, stolen and even sold, and yet, through some mysterious intervention, it has always made its way back to the possession of the family. But the most wonderful thing in connection with this singular vessel is that never, since we possess any record of it, has it been put to its ostensible use. The first I knew of this was when I was a girl of 16. My mother was giving a large tea party and while she was arranging her table she placed upon it the teapot we ordinarily used.

“Mother,” I exclaimed, “why don’t you use that lovely old teapot which came from England?”

She answered, gravely: “Alice, you are old enough now to hear the story of that teapot and I will tell it to you, for the thing will eventually become yours. The history of the vessel no one knows, but it has been remarked by its possessors for generations that no one has ever been able to use it. Place it on the table and, watch it, as you will, it is invariably removed and returned to its case, by what or whom I cannot say.”

“Well, I’ll engage to find out,” I said, “if you’ll let me get it down.”
She gave her consent and I put the teapot on the table, taking my seat within reach of it. My mother went on with her work, passing in and out of the room, while I sat intently regarding the beautiful old piece of silver. About five minutes passed, when I received a violent blow on the cheek, which cause me to turn indignantly to see my assailant. There was no one in the room! Hurt and bewildered, I looked back at the table, but the teapot was gone. I ran to the closet, on the shelf on which the thing was kept, and there I saw it in its place. I called my mother and told her what had happened.

“You see,” she said. “It does not intend to be used.”

After some years the teapot became my property, but I had such a horror of the diabolical thing that I kept it under lock and key for some time. At last one of my neighbors sent to borrow a teapot of me on the occasion of a high tea. Thinking to find out whether it peculiarities were only exercised for the family’s benefit or not, I sent her my strange heirloom. In an hour or two my friend came running in.

“My dear friend,” she cried, “have you heard anything of your teapot? I fear it has been stolen. I had filled it and left it on the table, when I left the room for a moment. On my return I found the tea spilt and running from the cloth and the pot gone.”

We went to my closet together, and though the door had been locked and the key in my pocket, there sat the teapot in its place. There was nothing for it but to make a clean breast of it to her, but I could see that she was incredulous and very much offended. I resolved now to have the thing melted down, but the fact of its being an heirloom caused me to reconsider my resolution. My husband, too, persuaded me to try and solve the mystery before destroying so remarkable an object. Overcoming the horror, and even terror, with which I regarded the thing, I brought it out one evening and my husband and I saw down to watch it. As we fixed our eyes on it we saw distinctly a delicate feminine hand close its shadowy fingers bout the handle and carry the teapot through the air to the closet. Once at rest on the shelf the hand relinquished its hold and vanished, and we brought he teapot back to the table, resuming our watch. Again the phantom hand seized the handle, but Mr. ___ caught the spout and clung to it. Then ensued a struggled between my husband and the invisible power that sought to remove the teapot form the room. For several moments, during which, my husband says, he seemed turning slowly to ice, the struggle went on, when suddenly the uncanny thing was snatched from the living hand that held it, and, to our surprise, replaced on the table. We ran to it and saw a clear, colorless liquid gradually rise from some invisible spring and fill the teapot. We bent our heads over it and saw, instead of the bottom, a spacious room, that is, we seemed to be looking as through a window into such an apartment. There were three persons in the room, a man and two women.

My knowledge of bygone fashions was not sufficient for me to accurately determine the nationality and period of their dress, but from what I did know I judged it belonged to England, of perhaps the middle of the Eighteenth Century. Both women were beautiful, one in a dark, vivacious style, the other in a blonde English way. The man seemed to divide equally between the two his attentions, which were courtly and what would now seem exaggerated and affected. The fair woman went to a table and took up my teapot! She poured out a cup of some liquid (whether it was tea or not I can not tell), and handed it to the dark woman, who, in turn, presented it to the man. He appeared to protest, but finally drank it. The fair woman made a gesture as if to prevent it, but it was too late. She again filled the cup and gave it to the other woman, who drank it. As she did so, the man fell to the floor, evidently dying, the dark woman falling also on her knees beside him. Se arose soon and turning to the murderess cursed her (I judged so by her silent gesture and the teapot to which she pointed). This done she fell beside the man, and the next moment the liquid turned blood red, while a low, long drawn moan and a ringing, cruel laugh of triumphant scorn were heard in the room. The lights burned blue and flickered so low that we could scarcely see the face of the other. A chill wind swept over us, and after it everything resumed its usual aspect, but the teapot once more empty and quite dry, sat in its accustomed place on the closet shelf. We sent it next day to have it melted down, but it wasn’t forty-eight hours before my horror was back again. Yes, if you call, I’ll show it to you, for I have given up. I know I’m saddled with it for life. Houston (Tex.) Correspondence Globe-Democrat.

The Brooklyn [NY] Daily Eagle 21 April 1889: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is delightful to find a shiversome tale for Hallowe’en told by a lady both of unimpeachable veracity and an old, aristocratic family.  That person of peachable veracity over at Haunted Ohio, who reads altogether too much 19th-century ghost literature, tells us that if a story is introduced by a narrator Whose Veracity Cannot Be Questioned, it is axiomatic that we are about to be treated to a gripping, but suspect tale.

Be that as it may, it seems a trifle odd that an innocent teapot should bear the brunt of a long-standing curse, and that the curse should consist merely of always returning to a locked cupboard with the other silver. Mrs Daffodil does not think much of it. A proper curse would have wiped out the descendants of the murderess within a generation.

 

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 Professional Ghost:1904

the ghost of greystone grange 1878

The Ghost of Greystone Grange, a shilling-shocker from 1878. British Library

In this season of Hallowe’en and its attendant Horrors, Mrs Daffodil is practically compelled to invite that shuddersome person from Haunted Ohio to share one of her posts. Mrs Daffodil is sure that her readers will find this piece to be less fraught than some of the ghastly stories which that weird writer normally shares about mourning practices.

***

Let us lighten the mood with an amusing little tale about a man with an unusual job–told in the vernacular–by Robert Ernest Vernede, author and poet, who died in the Great War.

TALE OF A GHOST

By R.E. Vernede

He was a thin, weak-legged old man, with a chronic cold and a grievance. I had met him in a country lane, shuffling along with a piece of rope in one hand and a stable lantern and some bits of old iron in the other. He told me his profession with a child-like vanity that was not without its charm, and, warmed by a pint of bitter I stood him at a wayside inn, he enlarged upon his grievance.

“It ain’t wurf it,” he said, “not by a long chalk it ain’t. I’ll give it up, that’s what I’ll do. It’s them blue lights and signtific contrapshions as does me. Nobody never asked for blue lights when I fust started. They ‘and’t thought of ‘em neither.”

“How long ago was that?” I asked.

“Thirty-seven years come Michelmas,” said the old man, proudly. “I was the fust profeshnal ghost, as you might say, in the country, and there ain’t many now as ha’ done what I done. How I know it was 37 years come Michelmas, I was a-working on the pump at Buntford, an’ they putt the figgers on it. I ain’t a scholar mesalf, but I’ve heard me niece read ‘em—“

“What used you to be, then?”
“Bricklayer. That’s how I come to be a ghost—along of Mr. Frank Burrers, which I dessay you’ve known the name of. “’E come up to me one night—we was repairin’ an old ‘ouse, ‘Grimbles’ they call it, which Mr. Richard Price, as owned the ‘ouse, and ‘is father before ‘im was wishin’ to sell. Seems Mr. Frank Burrers liked the ‘ouse, an’ they do say as he’d bid for it; but Mr. Price, he wanted more money than what ‘ad been bid. That was how it was when Mr. Frank Burrers he comes up to me, and sez he, ‘John,’ he sez, ‘that’s a old ‘ouse you’re workin’ on.’ ‘That’s what it looks to be,’ sez I. ‘They do tell me,’ sez he, ‘as it’s ‘aunted. Did ever you ‘ear any queer noises while you was about—clankin’ o’ chains at night an’ strange footsteps?’ I never hadn’t, an’ I told Mr. Burrers so, saying that what was more, I didn’t believe there was such things as ghosts. ‘Well, well,’ sez he, soothing like, ‘some folks do and some folks don’t. As it ‘appens, it ‘ud pay me if that there Grimbles was ‘aunted.’ ‘You don’t say it?’ sez I. ‘Yes, I do,’ sez he. ‘It ‘ud pay me and it ‘ud pay you.’ ‘What do you mean?’ sez I, wiv me ears up. For we just finishing wiv the ‘ouse, an’ I ‘and’t no job fixed arter that, and the winter comin’. ‘I mean that if you was to ‘aunt that ‘ouse it ‘ud be money in your pocket, John,’ sez he. ‘I dessay it’ ud come nigh to 16 shillin’s a week. You’d have to ‘aunt it fair an’ square, mind—no shirkin’—hours 9-7 reg’lar; and if there was anyone comin’ to look over the house wiv a view to purchase, you’d have to put in a bit of extra ‘auntin’. It wouldn’t be wot you’d call ‘ard work, but it ‘ud have to be steady, so that folks get to know there’s a shoes up to Grimbles as walks reg’lar.’

“Well, the end of it was that I took the job. I didn’t like it at fust, thin’ as how it was a come down from being a bricklayer to be a ghost. Once or twiced I felt lonely-like an’ thought o’ giving it up, but arter a while it began to grown on me, an’ in four weeks Mr. Frank Burrers he bought the ‘ouse for £200 less than what he’d offered for it fust. He giv’ me my 16 shillin’s a week an’ two pound extry, an’ sez he, ‘I’m goin’ in for a bit o’ properthy-buyin’ in different parts o’ the country, an’ if you like to sign on wiv me reg’lar, why, you can come down wiv’ me an’ ‘aunt such ‘ouses, as they’ve got too big a price up on. ‘Auntin’ seems to suit you,’ sez he, lookin’ at me. ‘You won’t never be stout; but you ain’t so thin as I’ve seen you.’”

“An’ did you sign on with Mr. Burrers?” I asked.

“I did,” said the old man. “Seven year I worked for him—Essex—Yorkshire—Souf Wales—Worrickshire—I bin in all them places durin’ that time ‘auntin.’ Sometimes I was a lame ghost; sometimes I ‘ad one arm, or I jingled me spurs or me chains. Once I kerried me head under me arm, an’ Mr. Burrers he paid me 18 shillin’s that week. I used to be able to groan nine different ways an’ all of ‘em ‘orrible. Sometimes it was the gall’ry I ‘aunted, and then again it was a garret or a shrubbery. It all depended on the fambly history. Mr. Burrers used to read it up an’ tell me what to do.”
“Did you ever frighten anyone?” I asked.

The old man looked at me with ineffable scorn.

“’Underds,” he said. “Care-takers, pleecmen, poachers, intendin’ tenants, girls wot had arranged to meet their young men thereabouts, curits, ‘ouse agents’ clerks—I’ve frightened ‘em all, an’ not bin nabbed once. I eud frighten ‘em still, if times was wot they used to be.”

“They’ve changed, have they?”
“Mr. Burrers died, an’ arter that I never had the same prospects. There aren’t any re’glar employers o’ ghosts. Gen’ally it’s bin a company as has giv’ me a job—wantin’ either to redooce the price of a ‘ouse, same as Mr. Burrers; or to advytize a seaside place. There’s a good deal o’ advytizing done that way o’ late. Them trippers get tired o’ the pier an’ the [minstrel shows] an’ drivin’ to see a monument. Then we starts a ‘aunted ‘ouse a few miles. P’r’aps it’s by arrangements wiv a job-master an’ he drives folks out to see; p’r’aps it’s a hotel proprietor that takes up the notion.”

“But it’s not as good a profession as it was.”

“Not by a long way. They wants it signtific—blue lights and such contrapshions. ‘ad to spend two shillin’s on blue lights on’y yesterday out o’ 14 shillin’s a week. I’ll ‘ave to give it up; that’s what I’ll ‘ave to do.”

I paid the price of another half-pint, and left this interesting old man still lamenting the downfall of his profession. It really seems that even ghosts should have to move with the times. Black and White.

The Evening Star [Independence, KS] 9 November 1904: p. 6

Ghost-‘unters still wants it signtific…. to judge by all the electronic gadgetry that pervades paranormal TV. It was ever thus. See this post on “The Psychic Howler” and other early ghost-hunting equipment. Any non-fictional tales of genuine “professional ghosts?” ‘aunt me at chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 

A Night at La Scala: 1836

night at la scala illustration

A NIGHT AT THE “SCALA.”

By Oscar Zurich.

It was the third day of the carnival at Milan, 1836. Donizetti’s immortal masterpiece, “Lucia di Lammermoor,” had been performed for the first time at the San Carlo in Naples, a few months previous, and was then making its triumphal tour throughout Italy.The genius of Bergamo’s sweet bard had attained its culminating point. “Fra poco,” its great aria and the stupendous magnificence of the septette had electrified the entire musical world; even the star of Rossini had been eclipsed by the incredible success of the younger composer.

Milan was in an uproar; the streets, squares, and arcades were illuminated a giorno; the cathedral in marble majesty glittered beneath the glare of innumerable lanterns, while the joyous quip and laughter of sixty thousand pleasure-seekers made the old, narrow streets ring and echo again, and the “Scala,” Italy’s greatest opera house, ablaze with glory, had placed before the entrance, in letters of flame, the magic word “Lucia.”

No wonder the crowd hastened thither; for eighty lire you could not have obtained a seat. It was the third representation—the third only–and fame, beauty, or gold could not have forced an entrance. It was now six o’clock; the pit and gallery boxes and stalls of the immense theater were crowded to suffocation. Four thousand eager people–four thousand anxious, soulful Italians–were waiting with subdued frenzy for the curtain to rise.

The nobility of Lombardy graced the boxes, the political celebrities of the city crowded the passages, all the elite of the art-loving town had flocked thither.

The heat was stifling; at half-past six the overture began. The immense throng was silenced at the first wave of the conductor’s baton. Was it not to hear the last and the most admirable of Donizetti’s operas? Had not the Neapolitan papers been devoured with avid eyes? Was It not to hear the songs over which Italy was raving? And last, but not least, was it not to applaud the beauteous prima donna, Alfieri, who had achieved such a colossal success the two previous nights?–their favorite–their idol–the divine Alfieri! who had sung for seven consecutive seasons in Milan, alike renowned for her consummate art, her beauty, and her unrivaled voice! Ah! how the audience was moved!–how it trembled with expectant ecstasy! the curtain rose.

The hunters’ chorus was listened to with religious attention; the baritone’s song and cabaletta which follow caused but a slight impression in spite of their veritable excellence, and the shifting of the scene to the park where Lucia makes her first appearance was welcomed with a hushed murmur of delight.

A frail, white-robed female form advanced toward the footlights, her eyes were cast down, and she moved slowly near the prompter’s box. There she stood still, raised her eyes and gazed full upon the audience.

A howl of anger and disappointment arose from the crowded house:

Non è Alfieri!” (She is not Alfieri!) was echoed on all sides; groans, hissing, and stamping of feet drowned the orchestra. Some vociferously cried out, “Basta! basta! We want Alfieri!”

The frail woman confronting the enraged audience appeared not in the  least disconcerted, and walked leisurely around the stage during the uproar. A man peeped out from the side-scenes. It was the director.

“Who is that woman?” he asked. “It is not Alfieri!”

“No one saw her enter,” was the reply.

Again the conductor raised his baton; the unknown prima donna seemed to rouse herself from her pensiveness and lethargy, and moved solemnly toward the centre of the stage.

The clamor had ceased. She raised her eyes to the level of the first tier, and stood in the full force of the light. She was wondrously beautiful, but white–white as a shroud of snow; deathly, spectrally white!–not a tinge of rose enhanced the marble graces of her face, which was purely, faultlessly Greek.

Her eyes, black and radiant, flashed luridly. When she dropped them their tint became sad, gray, and crepuscular. Her lips shone red as vermilion, and seemed like a gash—like a hideous gash–when contrasted with the whiteness and rigidity of her face.

Her hair, long and purplish, in undulate tresses rioted over her shoulders, pure and colorless as marble.

She had no ornaments. A tuberose thrust in a rebellious curl adorned her brow; around her throat was a piece of broad, black velvet Her dress was white–all white.

She gazed weirdly upon the audience and began, in a strange, vague, unearthly tone of voice, the ravishing aria of “Lucia” upon hear entrance.

I was present, and I can recall perfectly the cold sensation and chilliness I felt at the first few notes.

It seemed to me as if some humid cavern had been suddenly opened, and that I had breathed the first icy wafts of air emanating therefrom.

Not a sound save her voice was heard. Her hands hung listlessly by her side. I do not remember how she finished. I heard her first strange tones change to a soft, sweet voice of fascinating, bell-like brilliancy, and I awoke from a trance by hearing the audience shriek and stamp with delight.

The applause was feverish and frantic, then suddenly ceased as if by enchantment; the strange woman had turned aside and began the ordinary stage business and duet with Edgardo, as Alfieri would have done. The act ended in indescribable amazement.

“Who is she? Who is she? What a voice!” and such exclamations were heard on all sides.

The director appeared at this moment, evidently anxious to find out for himself who the beautiful pale songstress was, but could answer no inquiries.

In the meantime I hurried behind the scenes to Alfieri’s dressing-room, where I had often gone to chat with her, expecting to see that marvelous creature.

The apartment was illuminated; Lucia’s bridal costume for the second act was ready on the sofa; a bottle of Asti wine, which Alfieri always partook of between the acts, stood on the table; but naught proved that the room had been occupied previously by another–nothing showed the presence of the new-comer.

I waited a few minutes, took a few whiffs from my cigarette, and was about to return, when I spied upon the door an earring of such uncommon size that I stooped to pick it up, and gazed upon it in wonder, held spellbound by its beauty.

It was a solitaire diamond, richly set, of a slightly greenish tint. I knew the value of green diamonds, and estimated this one to be worth at least seven or eight thousand dollars, being really finer than any I had seen in the famous vaults of Dresden.

I hastened down to the director’s office to remit it, thinking it belonged to the new-comer or to Alfieri. The director was absent; soon I heard the bell ring. The diamond in my hand, I hastened to my seat.

The unknown woman again entered; she was, if possible, a tinge paler than before. She wore gloves this time, and her lips were not so cruelly red. She sang, and, ye gods, what song! Her voice soared, spread, fused with other invisible voices; It rang sonorously, and murmured divinely in magnificent power and harmony—a voice all fire, a voice all soul.

I trembled–the audience quivered.

Still that strange being stood in the same position, still did her great luminous black eyes gaze continually upward; she seemed not to heed her fellow-artists; the bewilderment of Edgardo, the anxious, inquiring glance of Ashton did not move her; she would glide by them like a sylph, a vision–light, ethereal, graceful. No one heard her walk–she sang!

Again the curtain fell, again the house cried out with delirium. “Brava! brava!” yelled the rabble.

But no one appeared.

Again I went to Alfieri’s box while the ballet (which in those days was performed between the acts) was going on, but it was empty; so I returned to listen to the animated discussions and conversations in the lobby.

“Alfieri is eclipsed; she is Pasta and Persiani combined! she is not human, she is an angel from Heaven’s gates!”

“’Tis the Beatrice of Dante descended from Heaven!”

A friend came from behind the scenes.

“Well, what news, Ricciardo? Have you seen her?”

“No, but Grazzini has” (Grazzini was the tenor, a handsome fellow), “and he tells me he spoke to her–forced to do so by some subtle, magnetic attraction. He told her of his wonder, his admiration, his love, I believe, and she answered him, in Milanese dialect, ‘We shall meet again.'”

The bell rang, and the curtain went up slowly. The lights seemed to burn badly, and the heat was stifling, but upon the entrance of the mysterious stranger a sudden chill pervaded every one.

We did not breathe to listen, and as I gazed upon her, charmed by her supernatural beauty, I noticed that from one of her ears hung a bright, large stone, similar to the one I held in my hand. Scarcely had I seen it when she caught my eye. She smiled–the only time. I averted my glance. The music went on.

The scene where the unhappy Lucia, after having been dragged to the altar by her heartless brother, realizes the full atrocity of his conduct, seemed to influence the sombre sprite-like prima donna, for she roused herself at last and acted–acted with the frenzy of passion, acted with the sublimity of pathos and despair. She was intense, superb in the mad scene. Her voice had sobs of anguish.

Up swelled the vertiginous staccato high above the moans of the orchestra. She raved, she wept, and the large tears rolled down her white cheek; her hair floated wildly over her quivering shoulders, and still rang forth her magical, heartrending notes.

I trembled; the house groaned.

The mad scene neared its end, and the musicians, as if ordered, ceased to play. They looked at her, she sang unaccompanied. It was terrible, unique, sublime.

The culminating point arrived, and the pains and pangs of Donizetti’s masterpiece vibrated on her lips as they had never done on lips before. She gazed wildly, stupidly about, when she stopped, and I saw drops of blood ooze from her mouth; she fell heavily upon the stage, and the curtain went down. The house was in tears.

Half an hour later all Milan knew of the miraculous performance at the Scala. The last act of the opera was listened to without curiosity, Lucia not appearing in it. Nothing occurred except the indisposition of the tenor, Grazzini, who was taken suddenly ill, and I afterward learned, died that night.

Milan, outdoors, all fun and animation, could not comprehend the story told in the cafes and on the squares. The reports were called exaggerated, and the singer’s phenomenal voice a myth. No one could find her, and it was in vain that I waited for more than an hour in Alfieri’s box.

The director told me confidentially that he was as nonplussed as the audience, and had never beheld the marvelous singer before. Then, as he left me, he superstitiously added: “She was a spirit, I believe.”

Full of conflicting thoughts, I walked sadly homeward, and heard again through the quiet streets, far away from the riot and revel of the carnival, the heavenly echo of that unutterably divine voice.

I walked on, and passed across the Saint Italda Cemetery to near my home. It was late. The noise of Milan’s festivities reached my ear from time to time faintly, but I heeded it not, wrapped as I was in my reverie and musing.

Within a few steps of my house, separated by a high wall from the end of the graveyard, there, beneath a few cypress trees, in the full glare of the moon, 1 beheld a rather unusual sight.

The cemetery, through which I passed regularly every night, and which I knew in every nook and corner, seemed in that particular spot to present  a different aspect than it ordinarily did.

I advanced, and remarked with astonishment that a tomb had been desecrated, and that a coffin had been exhumed!

Sure enough, the sod on either side was all strewn and scattered here and there, footprints were plainly visible, and to my horror I saw that the coffin was open. In it, wrapped in a faded yellow shroud, was a human form.

I was about to call for the guard, when my eye was suddenly attracted by a faint greenish light twinkling near the top of the coffin.

I stooped over, and to my amazement saw a diamond earring in the lobe of the corpse’s ear–the mate of the one I had found.

The moonlight, checkered by the tree-boughs, did not allow me to view the face, and trembling I drew aside and lit a match. Approaching, I gazed on the body. It was the spectral songstress!

Utterly bewildered, with haggard eyes and quivering knees, I grasped the coffin lid and replaced it over the livid face. On it was written in large letters:

Virginia Cosseli,

Queen of Soprani,

Died September, 1781,

Requiescat in pace.

I remember a wild thrill of horror came over me and I fell senseless.

For weeks I raved in delirium. When I had sufficiently recovered I left Milan. People were still talking of the mysterious prima dona and the famous representation of Lucia. They have not understood, but I believe in spirits.

Frank Leslie’s Pleasant Hours, Vol. 30

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has nothing to add, except to note that it was perhaps a good thing that the lady was not recalled for an encore.

 

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.