Category Archives: Irregular Lives

“Educated Women of Gentle Birth, Destitute and Alone:” 1903

christmas dinner tableA

The Christmas Table

A Novel Christmas Banquet.

By Elizabeth L. Banks.

“Educated Women of Gentle Birth, Destitute and Alone”

So began the strange invitation to a strange Christmas banquet given a few years ago in New York by a well-known church and society woman.

I attended the banquet in my capacity as newspaper reporter, and I speak of it as “strange” because, indeed, it was the strangest as also the most touching banquet I ever attended.

For a certain part of that Christmas Day I was on duty for my newspaper, and it was my task to report the doings at various charity Christmas feasts which were that day given to the city’s poor.

Altogether merry and jolly I found the partakers of the newsboys’ dinner, when I peeped upon them at the beginning of my round. It fairly did my heart good to see them in their hundreds gathered about immense tables, whereon were turkey and cranberry sauce, and escalloped oysters, and plum puddings, and mince pies and celery, and everything else the Christmas appetite could fancy. I watched them scramble into their seats, grab the turkey-legs with their two hands, bite off the meat, use their knives instead of forks, and their fingers sometimes in place of either.

“Why, say,” said one of the grinning youngsters to me, “w’at ye doin’ at our dinner? You ain’t no newsboy!”

“No,” I answered; “but I’m what might be called a ‘newswoman,’ because I’m going to write all about your Christmas dinner for to-morrow’s paper.”

“Hurrah! Hurrah!” came the chorus from the boys. “Say, fellers, ain’t it fine? This yere lady’s goin’ to write about our dinner for her paper. Say, miss, just put my name in as one o’ the guests, will ye? I’m Billy Snyder. An’ there’s me brother, an’ Sam Jones, too—don’t forget ’em, will ye? Say, just take the names of all of us, an’ print ’em, and when I calls out to-morrer’s paper I’ll shout: ‘Yere’s yer mornin’ paper—all about the newsboys’ dinner—buy a paper, mister, and read all the names of us fellers what was there!'”

It was “merry Christmas” with those newsboys, sure enough. Some good people were giving them a free dinner, and they were enjoying it as only boys of their ilk could enjoy such a feast. There was but one cloud upon their happiness—the fact, which I tried to impart to them as gently as possible, that I could not put their names in the paper because of lack of space. But I got a good report of their merriment, and out again into the white Christmas weather I went, then on a cable car to the “up-town” or fashionable part of New York.

“To Educated Women Of Gentle Birth, Destitute And Alone.—You are invited

by Mrs. __ to a Christmas Dinner here in her house to-day at two o’clock.”

In the drawing-room window of one of the brown-stone houses was the sign, the magnet that had drawn me from the newsboys’ dinner on the east side to another Christmas dinner on the west side. A few days before Christmas the invitation had been published in the various New York newspapers: and then, on Christmas Day, lest any of the wished-for guests might not have read the papers, there shone from the window of the brown-stone mansion the light to guide them thither.

At the door of the drawing-room stood the hostess, receiving her guests.

“A merry Christmas! I am pleased to see you,” was her greeting to each one that passed her. She extended her hand, and several times, as guest after guest passed into the beautiful room beyond, I noticed a pained, half-bewildered look on the face of the hostess, and once or twice her eyes were bright with tears.

No servant stood near to announce the guests, since all were nameless for the day. Some, the hostess recognised as friends of former years; some, I, too, knew as grand dames of a time not long gone by; but to each and all only the cheery greeting, “Merry Christmas! I am pleased to see you,” was given, and, finally, when a hundred of New York’s gentlewomen — “destitute and alone”—had passed through the hospitable portal, the doors of the dining-room were thrown open, and the guests took their places at the tables.

The table linen was of the finest damask, the silver shone resplendent, the china was beautiful and costly, the glasses thin and dainty, and the table decorations were such as only taste and wealth could provide. In front of each cover was a tiny cut-glass vase of flowers.

Around the tables there were gathered sweet-faced women with white hair: women with tired, careworn faces and dark hair; and there were some young girls whose beauty shone out in spite of the melancholy of their eyes. All were well dressed—that is, there was nothing cheap or loud or gaudy about the apparel of the guests—but many of the hats and dresses were a bit old-fashioned, and none of the clothes were absolutely new.

A handsome woman of about forty was wearing a black satin dress: satin which, when purchased, must have cost five or six dollars a yard. Her hat, old and behind the times as it was, showed that it had originally been bought of a certain milliner who is known to supply only the richest of New York’s women with headgear. Her boots were of the finest kid, and had been mended in a neat, though amateurish, way by the wearer. One knew instinctively that her feet were encased in silk hose, doubtless much darned.

“I really could not eat any dinner today,” she said, as she tried to smile up at her hostess. “Just a cup of coffee— that is all. You see, my head…”

But it was not her head. It was her stomach! As I looked at her I knew the woman was starving; that she had got past the ravenously hungry stage. Two days before, perhaps, she might have felt hungry, but now she felt only faint and weak, and craved for her Christmas dinner nothing but a cup of coffee. Some years before, she had been giving charity dinners herself, and called in the children of the poor and fed them in her own palatial home. Her hats and dresses were then of the latest style and make, bought in London and Paris, where she had been accustomed to go every year.

At a table there sat society belles of a quarter of a century ago. There was one woman who had owned her hundreds of slaves before the war between North and South; there was the daughter of an honoured judge; the wife of an absconding defaulter; the widow of a clergyman who bad once preached to one of the wealthiest of eastern congregations; there were some women and girls who were trying hard to earn a living by office work, as dressmakers, as milliners, but who, because they were gentlewomen who had never been trained to pounce upon the “almighty dollar” and catch it as it came near, were failures, and must needs be pushed to the wall by the other working women of New York—the less refined and less dainty, but the stronger and better trained.

When the dinner was over and some of the guests were leaving, a woman I had known in another city a few years previously, and whose entertainments I had many times written up for the society columns of the paper on which I had then held a position, recognised me and turned aside to speak to me.

“You here! You here!” she whispered in an agitated voice. “Surely you cannot be going to write up this as a brilliant social function, with the names of the guests and the description of the gowns we are wearing! Promise me one thing for the sake of the days when I used to help you to fill your society page: you will not put my name in among the names of the guests at this dinner.”

“I am not putting any names in,” I answered. “Indeed, I am to write very little about it, except to say that a dinner to gentlewomen was given this year, and that I hope every Christmas to follow may see another such dinner.”

She pressed my hand, and went out silently. I left the house and continued my reportorial round. How happy were the faces at all the other “charity dinners “! How the idea of being “written up” appealed to the newsboys, and the bootblacks, and the cripples, and the inhabitants of the slums! Truly, it was “merry Christmas,” indeed, at all the other places. There were snipes and cheers, and a gulping down of good things. Only in the brown-stone mansion where a rich gentlewoman presided at a table where were gathered these other gentlewomen, “destitute and alone,” did I find sadness on every face. Yet, of all the Christmas charities, I doubt not that this was the one most needed and most deserved and appreciated by those to whom the invitations were sent out.

As I have said, it all happened a few years ago in New York, and all my Christmases since then have been spent in London. Here also I have, Christmas after Christmas, gone about to report upon the feasts spread for the poor. I have heard the smacking of the newsboys’ lips over the huge bites of prime Christmas roast beef; I have heard the watercress and flower girls counting aloud the plums in the slices of plum-pudding which lay upon their plates; I have seen “the poor” of the East End heartily enjoying their Christmas goose with apple sauce, and I have seen the little children of the mission chapels laughing gleefully as they played with their Christmas toys—all these things have I seen provided by London’s rich and well-to-do for London’s poor.

But not yet have I known of a feast provided for London’s women of gentle birth, “destitute and alone,” of whom there are many hundreds more than there are in New York.

There are many of them who live in the topmost, backmost, cheapest little rooms of apartment houses in the most select of West End neighbourhoods, in order, as they will say with a mirthless smile, to “have a good address.” For they do not like anyone to know they are poor, these gentlewomen who are “destitute and alone.” They are supposed by their landladies to “go out for their meals.” Biscuits and watercress, with sometimes a bit of cold ham or beef, bought ready cooked, or an egg, surreptitiously boiled over a little spirit stove, form the bulk of their none too frequent meals. Their clothes look often out-of-date, but their skirts do not look drabbled or dirty, for when they are in their little rooms they mend and brush and patch and darn, re-trim their hats with the same old flowers and ostrich-tips, and the same old ribbons, turned and pressed.

In her room the poor lady has no Christmas fire—but who suspects that? She has neither roast goose nor roast beef of Old England for dinner. She will eat a biscuit and some cheese—that is, unless this year some London woman follows the example of the New York woman, and gives a novel Christmas dinner.

But would she go if she were invited? Would scores of others like her become guests at a party where the hostess took them by the hand and wished them “A merry Christmas.” inquiring not their names, stipulating only that they should be women of gentle birth, “destitute and alone “?

I am not sure: I cannot know; but I believe there would be many guests at such a Christmas feast in London. The hostess must be herself a woman of gentle birth and tact and diplomacy, She must not, on the day of the feast, call in her friends to help her receive her guests. It were better she should receive alone. She must not give over the entertainment of her guests to her servants. Though she should advertise her intention of receiving in the newspapers, she should see that no representatives of the press are there to report upon the identity of her guests. Indeed, if there were any possible way of keeping the address where the dinner is to be given out of the papers, it would be preferable.

The door of the hospitable house where the feast was to be given could not, of course, be left open during the two or three hours when the dinner was in progress. Both the wintry weather and the danger of the entrance of thieves would forbid that. The knocker would be used by the guests, the door opened by a servant, and the guests conducted to the drawing-room where the hostess awaited them. That is all. It requires a careful thinking out, management, and delicate handling.

The Quiver 1903

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While the thought was kindly meant, the luncheon for those of education and gentle birth (did the hostess require a certificate?) sounds infinitely depressing, not unlike those dreary economies practised by the destitute. One wonders if those in attendance felt worse afterwards, having been given a brief glimpse of their former lives, like the visions of the Little Match Girl as she lit matches in the snow.

Mrs Daffodil fears that, though laudable is the aim of giving impoverished gentlewomen a holiday treat, there is an unpleasant suggestion that the formerly rich cannot bear poverty as easily as can those born to it.  Mrs Daffodil finds offensive the notion that the daughters of the rich cannot compete with the “less refined and less dainty, but the stronger and better trained.”  If training to “pounce” is needed, then perhaps the kind hostesses would consider subscribing the money spent on an afternoon’s entertainment to fund instruction in useful and remunerative trades.

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

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

 

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The Lost Property Department: 1883

lost property office Waterlood Station 1936 lost umbrellas

Hundreds of umbrellas in the Lost Property Office of Waterloo Station, 1936

ABODE OF THE LOST

SOME OF THE ARTICLES THAT ARE FOUND ON THE TRAINS.

Several days ago the following advertisement appeared in one of the morning papers.

FOUND-TWENTY-THIRD STREET ELEVATED station, a roll of money. Owner can receive it by proving the number of bills, at No. 17 West 120th street.

“There is an immense number of miscellaneous articles of every description left or dropped in the cars of the company,” said General Manager Hain, of the “L” roads, when his attention was called to this advertisement. “When found by the conductor, or handed to them, the rules of the company direct that they shall be handed to the ‘Despatchers,’ as the men who send out the trains are called. If the loss occurs on an uptown train the despatcher at 155th street is given the article, and if it is on a downtown trip the dispatcher at the Battery receives it. They in turn deliver the article to the property clerk, who gives them a descriptive receipt for it, which ends the despatcher’s obligation in the matter. All persons are obliged to go there and give a full description of their lost property before the money, article, or whatever it is is returned to them.”

The room for lost property is located at No. 4 Front street. A dingy sign, on which is inscribed, “Lost property,” is tacked to the wall on the lower floor, and a hand points the way to a narrow staircase, which winds up to the third floor, where the property clerk holds high court. In a room adjoining his office the lost property is stored, and this apartment looks like a cross between a pawnbroker’s vault and a West street junk shop. In it every manner of article is heaped.

The property clerk was found at the desk, polite to the last degree. In answer to one of the first inquiries as to the amount of property lost, he said that since January 4, 1882, to January 9, 1883, 4,500 articles had been turned over to his care, a surprisingly small number considering that nearly ninety millions of people travel over the road during the same period of time, even after admitting that a large number of articles are picked up by dishonest persons in the cars and never turned over to the company.”

“Is there much money found on the road?” was asked.

“Yes,” considerable,” answered the P.DE., “but the amounts are usually small and seldom exceed $100. Once 200 silver dollars were found in a package, which were at once returned to the owner. The money is brought in sometimes in a loose roll of bills or in bags or pocketbooks. Then, besides, we find bankbooks, checks and drafts.”

“Are you troubled by many bogus claimants?”

“No; that class of persons seldom call, and if they do we can easily detect hem after a few minutes’ conversation.”

“What percentage of all the articles found are redeemed?” “I should say about 50 percent. All the valuable articles are generally reclaimed at once. We have now on hand over one thousand articles, but not one of them is worth over $5.”

“What disposition is made of the articles that are left unclaimed?” the reported then asked.

“After keeping them for about twelve months they are sold at private sale. Many articles are so worthless that even the owners do not care to call for them, and few persons care to buy them.”

“Articles of every imaginable kind are found, of course?” “Yes, I should say so. Ladies leave their furs, muff, circulars, dolmans, cloaks and shawls. Gentlemen, forget their coats. We find pantaloons now and then, but they are always the contents of bundles. Boys and girls leave their lunch boxes and school books. We found a statuette of Christopher Columbus the other day. Some time ago some one left a small sole leather trunk. Imagine a man forgetting his luggage. Bundles have been brought in as large as myself. (The property clerk stands about five feet nine inches and weighs over one hundred and forty pounds.). Clothing of every description is left in the cars. Umbrellas, however, have the call; there are more umbrellas picked up than any other one article. We have epidemics of certain things—umbrellas and overshoes in wet weather, vails and green spectacles in dry; fans and parasols in the summer season, skates and gloves in the winter; fruit and vegetables in the autumn, flower and garden seeds in the spring.”

“Yes, and—“

“Letters are found—many of them touchingly sweet. I never knew how much ‘taffy’ could be laid out in black and white until I occupied this position. We find poetry, too, from young ladies to their beaux, but as a general thing the spelling is fearfully wild,” said the P.C., “and the verses don’t go to any tune I ever heard.”

“Every class and trade, then, contributes its mite?”

“Certainly. A plumber left a cast ion sink frame; it was certainly too large to lose, but he forgot it. Sportsmen leave their guns, doctors their surgical instruments, invalids their bottles of medicine, and, would you believe it, one lame man skipped off without his crutch. Old gentlemen sometimes get off and leave their wives behind, but none are ever turned in.”

While this conversation was progressing, several persons called to inquire about their lost property. As a rule they were an anxious lot, and many seemed to have just awakened after a long nap. At last a very pretty young lady tripped into the office, with a face radiant with smiles and blushes. She said:

“I have lost a package.” “Indeed,” said the P.C. “Of what?”

“Must I tell?”

“We must get some idea of what is lost, you know.” “Well, it was underwear—ladies’ underwear,” said the pretty one, looking blushingly down.

“Describe, Miss, if you please,” said the P.C., beginning to look a little weary.

“There were six handkerchiefs and__”

“Yes.”

“And six pair—pair—of—stockings—new ones,” she added. “Ah@” said the P.C., with a start, as if he had never heard of such things before.

“And a—oh, dear, must I tell! Oh, a pair –a pair of—cor—cors-e-t-s,” breathed the fair one in a voice so low and sweet that even the reported began to feel as though he had better leave the office, while the P.C. wriggled in wretched silence and suddenly became interested in the mucilage bottle on the desk. At last he muttered, because it was his duty to:

“Was that all?”

“Oh!” was the reply, “oh, there was,” and she blushed the color of a Marshal Ney rose, but she did not bloom alone, for the P.C.’s face was a red as a boiled lobster, “there was—a—pa—oh! I think I’ll go—n-e-v-e-r mind the things—there was a pa—pa—ir—a pair of—“

“Oh, take the bundle,” exclaimed the P.C., as he handed out a neatly tied package.

There was a rustle of a silk dress and the door banged behind the beauty—she was gone.

“Oh, Lord! Wasn’t that dreadful?” said the P.C. N.Y. Herald

Jersey Journal [Jersey City, NJ] 17 January 1883: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The P.C. protested too much, in Mrs Daffodil’s severe opinion. The handkerchiefs and stockings alone should have been enough to identify the parcel, but this Fiend in Human Shape was obviously enjoying the spectacle of a modest young woman exposing her innermost wardrobe secrets. Mrs Daffodil, whose mind naturally runs to plots, suggests that the P.C. hoped to embarrass the young woman into abandoning the parcel, whereupon he could purchase it at the unclaimed property auction and take it home to his wife. If such an excrescence has a 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 Lawyer and the Ghost: 19th-century

secret drawer

A secret drawer in the desk. popularwoodworking.com

THE CASE OF MRS. ROGER BLACK.

A Mr. Roger Black, a plain man, living in Kentucky, had just paid for a small house, which he had hitherto rented, and, returning home, told his wife, showed her the receipt for the sum—two thousand dollars—though more regular papers were to be made out next day, and, as far as she knew, he then went at once to his stable, where, some hours later, he was found dead, having been kicked in the head by a horse.

When the first horror was over, and Mr. Black’s funeral had taken place, the widow naturally looked for the receipt, but could not find it. Having incautiously mentioned this fact, the person who had sold the property denied having received any money from Mr. Black, and insinuated that Mrs. Black uttered a falsehood when she declared that her husband had done more than talk about buying the place. In proof of this, he showed a document, only half completed, and declared that Black had said: “let it wait until I think it over “—and that, for his part, he had been very willing to wait.

The widow naturally fought for her rights, but had no case.

She had no witnesses, and the lawyer who had the interests of the other side in charge brought witnesses to prove that Mrs. Black was the victim of hallucinations—thought that her mother’s spirit sat at her bedside when she was ill, and had held spiritual circles at her house. Believing in an alleged medium, who was afterward exposed, and in warnings of Mr. Black’s death, in the shape of raps on her head-board.

People who could not believe Mrs. Black capable of trying to defraud anyone, readily leaned to the idea that she was the victim of delusion, and the poor woman, who could not prove the truth of her statement to anyone, was also aggrieved by being supposed insane.

The night before the decision took place, she gave up all hope and went early to bed, taking her two little ones with her.

She could not sleep, but lay there weeping, wondering how she could feed her children, from whom their hard-earned home was to be wrested. There was a public clock not far away, and she heard it strike, nine— ten—eleven—at last twelve—then, weary with her sorrowful vigil, her eyes closed.

She lay in a deep and heavy slumber, when she was aroused by heavy blows upon her outer door. As she was alone in the little house, she felt alarmed, and, pushing up the window, leaned out and asked who was there.

To her surprise, the voice of the lawyer who was working against her replied:

“It is I—come down, Mrs. Black; I must speak to you.”

Accordingly, she dressed and went to the door. In the cold, gray dawn, they stood there together, and she saw that something moved him strongly.

“Mrs. Black,” he said, at last, ” to-night, as I lay in bed, I thought that your late husband came into my room, and stood looking at me. I do not believe in such things as apparitions, you know; but I could not fancy it a delusion when he spoke—’you are helping that man to rob my wife,’ he said; ‘I did pay him the money. We were to have a lawyer make out papers next day. I showed wife the receipt and then put it in my mother’s old bureau, up garret, where I keep other papers, in the secret drawer—get it.’

“Then,” said the lawyer, “a light by which I saw him, faded—I got up and came to you.” The widow shook her head—” I am afraid you have been having hallucinations now,” she said; “poor Roger never would have put the receipt there. To be sure, there is a secret drawer—I will go and see—come up.”

She led the way up to the garret, in the corner of which stood a broken, old bureau. There was a so-called secret drawer between two manifest ones. She touched the spring—a number of yellow papers lay there and some Daguerreotypes. Amongst them was a large, white envelope.

“That is it!” Mrs. Black cried, drew it forth, opened it, and—behold! the receipt.

“Mrs. Black, you have but to bring that receipt to court to-morrow,” the lawyer said, slowly; “my client is a rascal.

“If I may ask you a favor—it is this—that you will keep the secret of my vision, it would greatly injure me to have it known. But I do not think that you are anxious for revenge?”

Mrs. Black held out her hand to him.

“You have done me a good turn by coming here,” she said, “and I promise.”

“I wonder my poor husband went to you—I should have thought he’d come to me instead—but you acted right, and I’ll never tell.”

She never did, while the lawyer lived. After he died, she no longer felt bound by the promise she had made him.

I do not vouch for this story. It was told me as a true one; but it resembles very closely a tale in an English periodical many years old. However, it is an illustration of my idea that lawyers are employed by spirits who have legal affairs to settle before they can forget the troubles of this world. 

The Freed Spirit, Mary Kyle Dallas, 1894: pp 183-186

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There is a popular idea that the legal profession is composed exclusively of vultures, sharks, and other unpleasant creatures, preying on the unfortunate. It is refreshing to find a lawyer happy to do a good turn, even if it is at the urging of a spectre. One does wonder why the ghost came to the lawyer, but perhaps he thought the lawyer’s disinterested position would offset the unpleasantness over Mrs Black’s unorthodox supernatural views.

We have previously read of a similar case where a lawyer witnesses a ghost’s return in the story of The Will and the Ghost. But if, as Miss Dallas suggests, spirits employ lawyers, where are the bills sent? Are said bills for “chill-able” hours? Or do such lawyers work “pro-boo-no”? [Mrs Daffodil must apologise. That person over at Haunted Ohio, so reprehensively fond of puns, must have crept into Mrs Daffodil’s rooms in a shocking invasion of privacy and added those last two sentences, as the manuscript sat in the type-writer.]

 

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 Dreamer, by Saki: 1914

saki as young man

The Author, H.H. Munro as a supercilious young (k)nut. https://americanliterature.com/author/hh-munro-saki/

The Dreamer

It was the season of sales. The august establishment of Walpurgis and Nettlepink had lowered its prices for an entire week as a concession to trade observances, much as an Arch-duchess might protestingly contract an attack of influenza for the unsatisfactory reason that influenza was locally prevalent. Adela Chemping, who considered herself in some measure superior to the allurements of an ordinary bargain sale, made a point of attending the reduction week at Walpurgis and Nettlepink’s.

“I’m not a bargain hunter,” she said, “but I like to go where bargains are.”

Which showed that beneath her surface strength of character there flowed a gracious undercurrent of human weakness.

With a view to providing herself with a male escort Mrs. Chemping had invited her youngest nephew to accompany her on the first day of the shopping expedition, throwing in the additional allurement of a cinematograph theatre and the prospect of light refreshment. As Cyprian was not yet eighteen she hoped he might not have reached that stage in masculine development when parcel-carrying is looked on as a thing abhorrent.

“Meet me just outside the floral department,” she wrote to him, “and don’t be a moment later than eleven.”

Cyprian was a boy who carried with him through early life the wondering look of a dreamer, the eyes of one who sees things that are not visible to ordinary mortals, and invests the commonplace things of this world with qualities unsuspected by plainer folk – the eyes of a poet or a house agent. He was quietly dressed – that sartorial quietude which frequently accompanies early adolescence, and is usually attributed by novel-writers to the influence of a widowed mother. His hair was brushed back in a smoothness as of ribbon seaweed and seamed with a narrow furrow that scarcely aimed at being a parting. His aunt particularly noted this item of his toilet when they met at the appointed rendezvous, because he was standing waiting for her bare-headed.

“Where is your hat?” she asked.

“I didn’t bring one with me,” he replied.

Adela Chemping was slightly scandalised.

“You are not going to be what they call a Nut, are you?” she inquired with some anxiety, partly with the idea that a Nut would be an extravagance which her sister’s small household would scarcely be justified in incurring, partly, perhaps, with the instinctive apprehension that a Nut, even in its embryo stage, would refuse to carry parcels.

Cyprian looked at her with his wondering, dreamy eyes.

“I didn’t bring a hat,” he said, “because it is such a nuisance when one is shopping; I mean it is so awkward if one meets anyone one knows and has to take one’s hat off when one’s hands are full of parcels. If one hasn’t got a hat on one can’t take it off.”

Mrs. Chemping sighed with great relief; her worst fear had been laid at rest.

“It is more orthodox to wear a hat,” she observed, and then turned her attention briskly to the business in hand.

“We will go first to the table-linen counter,” she said, leading the way in that direction; “I should like to look at some napkins.”

The wondering look deepened in Cyprian’s eyes as he followed his aunt; he belonged to a generation that is supposed to be over-fond of the role of mere spectator, but looking at napkins that one did not mean to buy was a pleasure beyond his comprehension. Mrs. Chemping held one or two napkins up to the light and stared fixedly at them, as though she half expected to find some revolutionary cypher written on them in scarcely visible ink; then she suddenly broke away in the direction of the glassware department.

“Millicent asked me to get her a couple of decanters if there were any going really cheap,” she explained on the way, “and I really do want a salad bowl. I can come back to the napkins later on.”

She handled and scrutinised a large number of decanters and a long series of salad bowls, and finally bought seven chrysanthemum vases.

“No one uses that kind of vase nowadays,” she informed Cyprian, “but they will do for presents next Christmas.”

Two sunshades that were marked down to a price that Mrs. Chemping considered absurdly cheap were added to her purchases.

“One of them will do for Ruth Colson; she is going out to the Malay States, and a sunshade will always be useful there. And I must get her some thin writing paper. It takes up no room in one’s baggage.”

Mrs. Chemping bought stacks of writing paper; it was so cheap, and it went so flat in a trunk or portmanteau. She also bought a few envelopes – envelopes somehow seemed rather an extravagance compared with notepaper.

“Do you think Ruth will like blue or grey paper?” she asked Cyprian.

“Grey,” said Cyprian, who had never met the lady in question.

“Have you any mauve notepaper of this quality?” Adela asked the assistant.

“We haven’t any mauve,” said the assistant, “but we’ve two shades of green and a darker shade of grey.”

Mrs. Chemping inspected the greens and the darker grey, and chose the blue.

“Now we can have some lunch,” she said.

Cyprian behaved in an exemplary fashion in the refreshment department, and cheerfully accepted a fish cake and a mince pie and a small cup of coffee as adequate restoratives after two hours of concentrated shopping. He was adamant, however, in resisting his aunt’s suggestion that a hat should be bought for him at the counter where men’s headwear was being disposed of at temptingly reduced prices.

“I’ve got as many hats as I want at home,” he said, “and besides, it rumples one’s hair so, trying them on.”

Perhaps he was going to develop into a Nut after all. It was a disquieting symptom that he left all the parcels in charge of the cloak-room attendant.

“We shall be getting more parcels presently,” he said, “so we need not collect these till we have finished our shopping.”

His aunt was doubtfully appeased; some of the pleasure and excitement of a shopping expedition seemed to evaporate when one was deprived of immediate personal contact with one’s purchases.

“I’m going to look at those napkins again,” she said, as they descended the stairs to the ground floor. “You need not come,” she added, as the dreaming look in the boy’s eyes changed for a moment into one of mute protest, “you can meet me afterwards in the cutlery department; I’ve just remembered that I haven’t a corkscrew in the house that can be depended on.”

Cyprian was not to be found in the cutlery department when his aunt in due course arrived there, but in the crush and bustle of anxious shoppers and busy attendants it was an easy matter to miss anyone. It was in the leather goods department some quarter of an hour later that Adela Chemping caught sight of her nephew, separated from her by a rampart of suit-cases and portmanteaux and hemmed in by the jostling crush of human beings that now invaded every corner of the great shopping emporium. She was just in time to witness a pardonable but rather embarrassing mistake on the part of a lady who had wriggled her way with unstayable determination towards the bareheaded Cyprian, and was now breathlessly demanding the sale price of a handbag which had taken her fancy.

“There now,” exclaimed Adela to herself, “she takes him for one of the shop assistants because he hasn’t got a hat on. I wonder it hasn’t happened before.”

Perhaps it had. Cyprian, at any rate, seemed neither startled nor embarrassed by the error into which the good lady had fallen. Examining the ticket on the bag, he announced in a clear, dispassionate voice:

“Black seal, thirty-four shillings, marked down to twenty-eight. As a matter of fact, we are clearing them out at a special reduction price of twenty-six shillings. They are going off rather fast.”

“I’ll take it,” said the lady, eagerly digging some coins out of her purse.

“Will you take it as it is?” asked Cyprian; “it will be a matter of a few minutes to get it wrapped up, there is such a crush.”

“Never mind, I’ll take it as it is,” said the purchaser, clutching her treasure and counting the money into Cyprian’s palm.

Several kind strangers helped Adela into the open air.

“It’s the crush and the heat,” said one sympathiser to another; “it’s enough to turn anyone giddy.”

When she next came across Cyprian he was standing in the crowd that pushed and jostled around the counters of the book department. The dream look was deeper than ever in his eyes. He had just sold two books of devotion to an elderly Canon.

http://haytom.us/the-dreamer/

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil hopes that her readers were not unduly burdened with dreamy nephews or parcels during their week-end holiday shopping.

Adela Chemping’s fear that Cyprian was going to be “what they call a Nut” refers to a slang term for an idle chap-about-town, also spelt “knut,” as in this 1914 comic song.

GILBERT THE FILBERT

(Arthur Wimperis / Herman Finck 1914)

I am known round town as a fearful blood,

For I come straight down from the dear old flood,

And I know who’s who and I know what’s what,

And between the two I’m a trifle hot.

For I set the tone as you may suppose,

For I stand alone when it comes to clo’es,

And as for gals,

Just ask my pals,

Why everybody knows

I’m Gilbert, the Filbert, the knut with a “K”,

The pride of Piccadilly, the blase roue.

Oh, Hades! The ladies who leave their wooden huts

For Gilbert, the Filbert, the Colonel of the Knuts.

 

You may look on me as a waster, what?

But you ought to see how I fag and swot,

For I’m called by two, and by five I’m out,

Which I couldn’t do if I slacked about.

Then I count my ties and I change my kit,

And the exercise keeps me awf’ly fit,

Once I begin,

I work like sin,

I’m full of go and grit.

I’m Gilbert, the Filbert, the knut with a “K”,

The pride of Picadilly, the blase roue.

Oh, Hades! The ladies who leave their wooden huts

For Gilbert, the Filbert, the Colonel of the Knuts.

Mrs Daffodil knows that all of her readers will wish to hear this music-hall persiflage; here is a gramophone recording from 1915.

 

 

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.

 

An Unpleasant Meeting over Shawls: 1877

An Unpleasant Meeting.

Not long ago two ladies stood at the shawl counter of one of the two leading dry goods stores in St. Louis. They were unknown to each other, but were each intent in the examination of shawls. One of the ladies was finally handed something that struck her fancy. She turned the article over and over, with admiring eye upon it, and asked its price. She was told what is was, and with a sigh laid it down again. ‘I like it,” said she; ‘it suits me perfectly, but I can’t afford it. My husband tells me that we must retrench as much as possible.’

The sympathetic saleswoman was about replacing the shawl upon its shelf when the other lady spoke: ‘You do not intend to take the shawl, then, Madame?’

‘No,” was the response.

‘Then I think I’ll take it. It suits me, too, and I was only waiting for your determination.’ Then, turning to the saleswoman, the last speaker told her to do up the purchase, adding, ‘Charge it to Mr. ___.’

The effect the name had upon the lady who was unable to buy the shawl was electric. ‘That’s my husband!’ she shrieked, and there was a scene upon which the curtain did not fall at once by any means.”

Kentucky Advocate [Danville KY] 16 February 1877: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil had thought to commend the two ladies for not falling into a petty squabble or even fisticuffs over the shawl, as some women do at the bargain counter and that curious ritual known as the Running of the Brides, but when a husband is at the centre of the squabble, one really can do nothing more than retire to a safe corner to watch the altercation and possibly lay a wager on the outcome.

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 Chat with a Wig-Maker: 1893

A WIG-MAKER AT HOME

I am assured that to the well-regulated mind Bluebeard’s chamber could never have presented half the horrors suspended, like Damocles’ sword, above my devoted head as I passed through the room sacred to “commerce” in the establishment of Mr. Clarkson, the wig-maker, at 45. Wellington Street.

In the aforesaid receptacle of Lord Bluebeard. only the capital portions of exceedingly charming young ladies seem to have been on view, while in Wellington Street all the visages of all the terrible beasts which have ever disported themselves in Dreamland. after overindulgence in Christmas pudding, confront the beholder.

They leered, they glowered, they smiled, suggesting pantomimes and Covent Garden balls, as I hastened beyond their realm into the sanctum sanctorum of Mr. Clarkson.

A cosy, oddly shaped little room is this sanctum, with all its walls which are not hidden by mirrors covered with rare old prints and photographs of celebrities. Here the stage beauties of past and present are to be seen in a collection begun by Mr. Clarkson’s father, full forty years ago. Most of the portraits are signed, and among the signature are those for which many a member of the jeunesse doree would gladly pour forth a golden shower.

This little boudoir of mirrors is the magic mill into which totters old age, to emerge later blooming with beaute du diable (in all outward appearance. at least), and Mr. Clarkson is the miller.

He is a small, fair-haired young man, of pleasant manner, looking even less than his twenty-eight years, despite the beard, which is evidently intended to confer a semblance of maturity, and he assured me that, including his studies in Paris, he had been in his present business since the early age of twelve.

On a pleasing and expansive background of necktie played a diamond surrounded with pearls, presented, together with a large frame of photographs to Mr. Clarkson by the Queen, in token of her appreciation of his various services. As Mr. Clarkson, “Perruquier and Costumier to her Majesty,” informed me of these honours his eyes travelled to the photographs of royalty in question, and mine followed his, not ceasing their peregrinations until they rested in amazement upon a large glass case, filled. apparently, with numerous gentlemen’s very prettily curled scalps. I threw a glance of horrified inquiry at my host.

“Hundreds of men in society wear things like these.” said Mr. Clarkson. “I could mention some names which might surprise you. Women have by no means a monopoly of the false-hair market. although they are so fond of pinning on artistic little fringes, and making their back hair look as though it must rival Godiva’s if it were let down. See,” he continued, indicating a radiant golden object which made me feel dazedly that Mr. Clarkson had been guilty of scooping some lovely female’s face out of the back of her head and throwing the former detail away.

“See, that is intended for a rather well-known woman of society, who has ruined her hair by constantly bleaching it. Natural, isn’t it?”

Half-tearfully, I admitted that it was, and changed the tenor of my thoughts by asking Mr. Clarkson if he had as many interesting anecdotes to relate as he had hirsute adornments to display.

“Come upstairs, where we will not be interrupted,” he returned mysteriously. “B__, the detective, will be wanting this room to get up a disguise in presently.”

Feeling that I was walking straight into the pages of a “shilling shocker,” I followed my host to an apartment above the precincts devoted to business, and which was, he informed me, the scene of his nativity. “I‘ve plenty of anecdotes,” he announced. “but first I’ll show you a few things which may interest you.”

The room was filled with Covent Garden ball prizes and souvenirs of regard from various celebrities, from which I found it hard to distract my attention, until Mr. Clarkson placed in my hand a large silver-clasped volume presented by Wilson Barrett. “This is my autograph album,” said he. “Unluckily. it never occurred to me to start one until a couple of years ago.”

I opened the book at random upon a delightful sketch by Bernard Partridge. representing, under the heading “Before and After Going to Clarkson,” a hideous skeleton and a dapper individual on the right side of middle age.

Mr. [W.S.] Penley had written “I don’t like London,” and Mrs. Langtry addressed her “Willie” Clarkson as “the only comfort of her declining years.”

“I am forty-seven to-day, but, thanks to your Lillie powder, my complexion is equal to a youth of seventeen,” wrote Arthur Williams; while sprinkled about over the classic pages I saw the chirography of the Kendals [William and Madge], the two De Reszkes, the Countess of Ailesbury [Louisa Elizabeth Horsley-Beresford], Ally Sloper [probably W. Fletcher Thomas, who drew the eponymous comics], Professor Pepper [of Pepper’s Ghost fame], and hundreds of brightly shining luminaries from Sarah Bernhardt to Lottie Collins, who, by-the-bye, send all the way from Paris and America to Clarkson for their wigs.

“Now you shall see some of my dearest possessions,” said Mr. Clarkson. Thereupon he summoned a “myrmidon” in the shape of a boy, who obeyed his behest, returning bearing several large objects, among which was visible a huge and wonderfully curled black wig. “That was worn by Louis XIV. at his coronation, and was secured by my father,” he explained. “Here is the original wig worn by Fred Leslie as Rip Van Winkle; here is a wax model of Mr. [Joseph] Jefferson in the same part, given me by himself, and the wig is made of his wife’s hair.”

Again the youth appeared, this time staggering under the weight of a figure clad in an extremely curious costume, mostly composed of feathers.

“This dress was given to Edmund Kean when he was created a chief of the Huron Indians,” Mr. Clarkson observed with pride. “He presented it to Miss Foote, the mother of the celebrity who became the late Countess of Harrington. She in turn gave it to Leigh Murray, the comedian, whose wife preserved it for upwards of forty years, before passing it on to Mr. [A.A.] Gilmer, of the Alhambra, who finally gave it to me.”

Having gazed at these most interesting relics, and also seen all that was mortal of Mrs. Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt’s “Cleopatra” back hair, as well as a trailing mass of golden locks used by Miss [Violet] Van Brugh, Miss [Ellen] Terry’s understudy, in the part of Fair Rosamund, I reminded Mr. Clarkson of the “anecdotes.”

“Well, I could tell you many, which would make you believe truth stranger than fiction,” said he. “Scarcely a day passes which doesn’t bring some queer experience or acquaint me with a secret, for you know, not only is my work among stage people and professional detectives, but with those who wish to see a bit of life, or amuse themselves in an eccentric way, or discover a mystery, or satisfy jealous suspicions, without being recognised. I ’m often asked, also, to conceal disfigurements, from black eyes to tattooing. Speaking of the latter, when the King of the Maoris was in England he used to frequent the Alhambra, and the difference in the actors‘ appearance on and off the stage puzzled him tremendously, until the mystery of ‘make-up’ was explained, and my name was incidentally mentioned to him.

The very next day he came here with his interpreter, saying he desired to be made up. It then transpired that his Majesty was fond of walking in Piccadilly, but that his pleasure was marred by the attention his dark face and plentiful tattooing excited. Could I hide both? Of course, I could, and did, much to the satisfaction of the king, who could hardly tear himself away from the mirror. The following day he returned, radiant with delight over the success of his experiment, purchasing enough grease paint and powder to last the remainder of his life. Just as he was departing, he rushed back to say very sternly that if his chiefs should come inquiring for articles of make-up I was on no account to let them have any.”

“Do women of society ever come to you for other purposes than to be made beautiful?” I inquired.

“Sometimes with precisely the opposite desire. For instance, only a few days ago a coroneted carriage drove to my door, and a woman over whose beauty London has raved for several seasons entered with a request to see Mr. Clarkson alone. I’d often made her up for private theatricals, so we were not strangers. She had a wager, she informed me, that she would be able to sell flowers for two hours in Piccadilly during the most crowded time of day without being recognised, and she expected me to help her win the bet. It looked a shame to hide that lovely face under a rough, dark make-up, change the shape of the straightest nose in England, and put stones in the pretty mouth to alter the contour of the cheeks. But I did it, added a frowsy wig, a common frock, a torn straw hat, and sent for a basket of violets. Instead of the stately beauty who had swept into my shop in her Parisian gown, away went a Cinderella without Cinderella’s fairness. But the experiment was successful, I learned next day, and the wager fairly won.”

“And now, won’t you give me something with a spice of mystery?”

“As much as you like. Well, then, one morning a closed brougham drove to my shop, and the footman handed in a letter which contained a request that one of my people should be sent out for the purpose of disguising a lady. That was all. We were given no means of knowing whether she was young or old, or what sort of disguise was wanted, however, one of my best men was packed off, with a variety of materials in his disguise box, and was driven rapidly all the way to Richmond, or, at least, within half a mile of the town. There he was asked to alight, and provided with a cigar, which he was ordered to continue smoking until he should see a gentleman, wearing a red carnation in his buttonhole, advancing along the left-hand side of the road. Then he was to throw his cigar away, as a species of signal. He obeyed his instructions, met a gentleman, well dressed and of fine appearance, who explained the programme which was to be carried out by my man at the hotel, with extreme precaution in keeping his purpose secret. Unfortunately, however, the proprietor of the hotel, who was a great frequenter of the Alhambra and other theatres where my people are employed, recognised the man and called out ‘Hullo, Clarkson!‘ The poor fellow was quite frightened, lest in some way his object should thus have been defeated, but, luckily, the office was nearly empty. and he was allowed to proceed towards the room mentioned in his directions without being molested. The door was opened by a pretty young girl, who seemed agitated and hysterical, and who nervously entreated to be disguised as an old woman with as little delay as possible. After that day, the same man was sent for once or twice a week, during a period of three or four months, ordered to proceed to different hotels in different places, and usually to have a new disguise ready. At last we learned that the young lady was an important ward in Chancery, who had been secretly married.

“The ‘black eye’ episodes are sometimes very funny to us, though usually annoying enough for those most nearly concerned. Not long ago, for example, a young lady went out for a quiet walk the day before that set for her marriage, and was struck between the eyes with a stone thrown by a small boy. She was to have a large church wedding, and was horrified to find both her orbs assuming a deeply mourning tint. At last some sagacious and sympathetic friend suggested me, and I had the honour of making up her eyes an hour before the marriage. The work was triumphantly accomplished, and the bride went to the altar a ‘thing of beauty and a joy for ever’ to her bridegroom and her relatives.”

“Haven’t I heard your name in connection with the discovery of some famous criminal or other?”

“Perhaps you are thinking of the Strand abduction case. Yes, it was through our disguises that Newton was arrested. I am rather proud of that affair,” Mr. Clarkson smiled intelligently, and I was waiting in breathless expectation for a thrilling reminiscence, when the door opened to admit the head of the previously-mentioned “myrmidon.”

Mr. Beerbohm Tree has sent down about that wig of his for ‘A Woman of No Importance,’” was the announcement.

And Mr. Clarkson was obliged to make his adieu more abruptly than I could have wished, leaving me in a condition of some bewilderment as to whether it was the wig. or the woman, or matters in general which were of “no importance,” or whether in reality they were all very important indeed. A. L.

The Sketch 16 August 1893: p. 129-130

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We have met the illustrious Mr Clarkson previously, in a recent story of a fancy dress ball, where he drew his costume inspiration from a whiskey bottle. It is said that he was an accomplished black-mailer and insurance arsonist: eleven out of the twelve premises he occupied burnt down. It was also rumoured that he had made disguises for Jack the Ripper. He certainly was an inveterate name-dropper, but with such an illustrious clientele, who could blame him?

The Strand Abduction case was a sordid affair: Edward Arthur Callender Newton abducted Lucy Edith Pearman, the 15-year-old daughter of a Strand tobacconist, passing her off as his daughter Rose.

One wonders if the society beauty who won her wager impersonating a violet seller, inspired Mr George Bernard Shaw to write about the opposite transformation in Pygmalion.

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 Four Red Devils: 1890

When I first came to the city and went into Mr. Maltby’s law office as a clerk I had seen nothing and knew nothing but that which could be seen and heard in one of the very smallest of all country villages. I had read enormously, for my parents would rather have been without bread than without books and magazines, and were besides very comfortably well off, but of the festivities of great cities, the balls, operas, concerts and receptions, I knew nothing by experience, and of course I fancied them much more delightful than they really were. What was my joy, then, when Mr. Maltby, coming into the office one day, placed a handsome envelope before me!

“My girls and boys are going to give a masquerade party,” he said, “and they want me to ask you. They expect to have a jolly time. You’ll rig up in something you know—you can get it at a costumer’s—and wear a mask until supper time. You’ll come?”

“Thank you! I shall be delighted,” I said, and all day long visions of happiness danced through my head, and I could hardly wait for the closing of the office, so anxious was I to secure my costume. For I had had brief notice; the ball was to be that very night, and I fancy it was only a good natured afterthought of Mr. Maltby to ask “young Tom,” as he always called me, having known my father intimately as “Tom” at school.

The envelope was addressed to “Mr. Thomas Parsons,” in correct form of course, and rather proud I was of it. Later on I inclosed it in an envelope to my mother, that she might see into what elegant society her son had fallen, dropping it into a lamp post box on my way to the costumer’s.

I had seen one, I remembered—a room on the second floor over a hairdresser’s shop. The word “costumer” was painted on the long, narrow sign under the windows, and between them was a fanciful figure in ballet costume holding a little lace mask before her face—Columbine of the pantomimes perhaps.

I discovered the house again after some little losing of myself in cross streets, and, climbing the steps, entered a square room, where a man was stitching on a sewing machine and four girls were working away on masses of gauze and silk as though they had no intention of stopping that night.

A fat lady, who seemed to be the owner of the place, advanced to meet me, and listened to me with a solemn countenance. “A masquerade ball,” said she. “At an elegant house? Oh, to be sure. You must get yourself up well for that, a young gentleman like you. I wouldn’t advise you to hire a domino, I wouldn’t It’s wery common, is a domino. A King Charles would be elegant, but we haven’t one to-night. There is a Harry VIII, but, bless you, it’s too big—far too big.”

“There’s the red devil, ma’am,” said the man at the machine.

“There is, and a handsome devil, too, if I say it that designed it—a handsome devil. A club of four gents ordered them, but only three came for them. They said the other one was obliged to leave the city, and the fourth is on my hands. You can look at it. Looking costs nothing, and it’s a very handsome devil indeed. Get it out, Mat, get it out, and let the young gent look at it”

A red cloth costume, with a cloth tail, horns and mask was produced. On its bosom was embroidered an ace of spades. A black cloak belonged to it, and was fastened ever the breast with a cord. It struck me favorably. “Cost price you shall have it at, to get your custom,” said the lady, “and cheaper than hiring it, for you’ll be asked to a great many masquerades, no doubt, and what could be more elegant?”

She seemed to know all about it I knew nothing. I paid her what I presume was a fine price for the red devil and carried it away with me. Shortly I attired myself in the costume and sent for a cab. I was an object of interest in the small boarding house where I dwelt and was admired and wondered at in the front parlor to my heart’s content.

“You’ve got stylish friends!” said young Spruce, who was in a dry goods store, “if you know the Maltbys. I should go in for one of the girls if I were you. They’re pretty and will have lots of money. I wish I had the chance you have.”

All this was flattering but time was flying and the cab at the door. I entered it, and soon found myself in the Maltby parlors.

Mr. Maltby and wife were receiving everybody.

“How do you do, Mephistopheles?” Mr. Maltby said. “You’ll find some more of the family in there. Ha! ha! hat I’ll lay a wager you are Captain Jones.”

Evidently he did not know me for young Tom Parsons.

I strutted in in as military a fashion as possible, and made my way through the crowd, admiring the kings and queens, contadinas and court ladies, Martha Washingtons and Spanish senoras, until at last I espied a figure which I at first fancied must be my own reflection in a looking glass. It was another red devil, in no particular different from myself, except that an ace of clubs was embroidered upon his bosom where the spade appeared on mine. As he came near enough for me to notice this alight difference the demon paused.

“How did you get here?” he said, with an oath that I had always been taught to consider as vulgar as it was profane. “I thought it was all up with you.” He evidently took me for a friend. I knew enough of masquerade halls from a literary point of view to feel that it was my duty to carry on the mystification.

“Ask no questions,” I said, solemnly. He nodded and walked away. Shortly two other demons approached, exactly like myself again, and like the other friend also, save that one had a heart, the other a diamond embroidered on his bosom.

“It’s Dick, by heaven!” said he of the heart. “How did you do it?”

I laughed sardonically. This was going to a masquerade ball indeed.

“We’d better separate just now,” said the demon of the diamond, “and dance with some of the girls. There’s the music.”

I had taken lessons is dancing in my boyhood, and when the master of ceremonies, a tall gentleman, attired as Don Quixote, approached me and asked me with whom I would dance, I indicated a pretty peasant girl in white sleeves and a laced bodice, and being led up to her and introduced as a great unknown, asked for her hand in the next lancers, as I had been taught to do it at Miss Pirrot’s academy. I had no idea that the little peasant was one of the Misses Maltby but I certainly had chosen the nicest dancer and the liveliest talker possible. She put me down for three dances more, and promised to go to supper with me.

“But suppose another demon comes to me? How shall I know you from your brother?” she asked. “Behold the ace of spades!” said I. “The others are diamonds, clubs and hearts.”

“I’ll remember,” she answered.

Then I resigned her to a grand Turk, who walked away with her, and I danced with a stately person, all black lace and gold stars, with a little golden crescent on her head, who told me she was Night.

So the evening wore away until it was nearly 11 o’clock, and a smell of coffee began to fill the house.

I was about to cross the room to speak to my peasant girl, when a hand touched my arm.

“Don’t engage yourself to take any girl down to supper,” said a voice in my ear. I turned: it was the devil with the heart on his bosom who had addressed me.

“You want her yourself, do you?” I asked.

A little further on the demon with a club touched me.

“This way,” he said. ‘I’ve got a word for you. The trick must be done at supper time. If a girl gets her hooks on you it’s all up. Keep out of the way.”

“The tricks of a masquerade,” I thought. I turned away to face the demon with the diamond.

“There is no one in the library,” he said. “Get there somehow without being noticed we must have a talk. Don’t be seen following me.”

No doubt some joke was afoot. I bowed to my peasant girl and went to the library, after a pause or two on the way in order to distract attention. The other three demons were already there. One of them—the one with the diamond on his bosom—produced several keys.

“Mag is a jewel,” he said. “They’ve all been tried; everything is worth scooping. Gas turned off in the side street opposite the church. The bath room window opens on it, Bill and Dick down there to catch the sealskins, shawls and such. When they begin to march in to supper, pitch in.” He gave us each a key, and in order to examine the numbers on them, removed his mask for a moment, revealing a villainous countenance—the face one would expect of a professional thief, and this I knew he must be.

The four demons had bought their costumes for the purpose of entering the house at a time when it would be easy to rob it. The servant, “Mag,” was a confederate, and had provided them with cards of admission, and had tried the keys at odd times.

“How the devil you got here, I can’t think,” the leader of the band said to me as he replaced the-mask. “I saw you nabbed with my own eyes. ‘Good for six months,’ says I. Counted you out of this game.”

I gave a queer laugh under my mask. “I say,” I whispered, gruffly. “I’ve got to get rid of that girl or she’ll be hunting me up to go to supper.”

It was the most unlikely thing for a young lady to do but these men did not know that. They only bade me “make haste about it.”

“You’re the third floor,’ said the ace of clubs.

“Ay, ay,” said I.

Away I went, but not to the side of my peasant girl. It was Mr. Maltby whom I sought. In his ear I whispered.

“I am Tom Parsons. Don’t think I’m joking. Thieves are in the house. Send for the police. The girl Maggie is a confederate.”

Mr. Maltby stepped into the hall and touched a call that was placed there. I was still at his elbow. “The signal for the operations is to be the march to supper,” I said.

Mr. Maltby turned to the musicians. “Another set of lancers,” he said. “The cook is behindhand.”

The lancers were played. Meanwhile I caught the faithless Maggie on the kitchen stairs and flirted with her, showing her my keys by stealth.

“There’s a watch of cook’s in the mansard room,” the girl whispered. “A good gold one, and a ring or two on the cushion, if they are worth looking after.”

“You are worth looking after, anyhow,” I said, taking off my mask, for I saw the officers of justice enter the door “and I’ll try to do it” The girl smothered a shriek. There was a sound of scuffling in the library, and three red devils walked out of the house, each attended by a member of the police. A little later another called for Maggie. It was all very quietly done; only the servants guessed what was going on.

I went down to supper with my little peasant girl, who unmasked the loveliest face possible, and who was no other than the youngest Miss Maltby, whose name was Theresa, and after the other guests were gone the family made me a hero.

My story was pronounced a wonderful one, and assuredly I had been the means of saving Mr. Maltby from great loss and mortification. From that day I was an intimate friend of the family, and Theresa is now my wife. The red devil costume still hangs in a wardrobe of my room, and I occasionally put it on to amuse the children, though I have, it so happens, never attended another masquerade ball —Mary Kyle Dallas in Fireside Companion.

Aberdeen [SD] Daily News 25 February 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Clothes do make the man, as young Tom found to his profit. Mephistopheles was considered a dashing choice of costume. In Right Ho, Jeeves! Mr P.G. Wodehouse wrote amusingly about Jeeves recommending that devilish character to the shrinking newt-fancier Gussie Fink-Nottle, who wishes to attend a fancy-dress ball in order to impress Madeline Bassett.

Bertie Wooster narrates:

The spectacle before me was enough to nonplus anyone. I mean to say, this Fink-Nottle, as I remembered him, was the sort of shy, shrinking goop who might have been expected to shake like an aspen if invited to so much as a social Saturday afternoon at the vicarage. And yet here he was, if one could credit one’s senses, about to take part in a fancy-dress ball, a form of entertainment notoriously testing experience for the toughest.

And he was attending that fancy-dress ball, mark you–not, like every other well-bred Englishman, as a Pierrot, but as Mephistopheles–this involving, as I need scarcely stress, not only scarlet tights but a pretty frightful false beard…

Bertie asks what Jeeves has against Pierrots:

“I don’t think he objects to Pierrots as Pierrots. But in my case he thought a Pierrot wouldn’t be adequate.”

“I don’t follow that.”

“He said that the costume of Pierrot, while pleasing to the eye, lacked the authority of the Mephistopheles costume.”

“I still don’t get it.”

“Well, it’s a matter of psychology, he said…. Yes. Jeeves  is a great believer in the moral effect of clothes. He thinks I might be emboldened in a striking costume like this. He said a Pirate Chief would be just as good. In fact, a Pirate Chief was his first suggestion, but I objected to the boots.”

Sadly, far from emboldening him, Gussie’s Mephistopheles costume proves an unmitigated disaster. But one is pleased to find that the demon suit allowed young Tom to press his suit with Theresa.

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.