Category Archives: Jewels and Jewellery

Rings that are Fatal: Various Dates

RINGS THAT ARE FATAL.

Amazing Stories New and Old.

“A learned German physician,” says a well-known writer upon jewels, “has given an instance in which the devil of his own accord enclosed himself in a ring as a familiar, thereby proving how dangerous it is to trifle with him.”

The Germans are all learned, as we know, and I should not like to dispute a statement so admirable. Finger-rings henceforth should have a new interest for as. The idea that the devil is bottled up in one may not be pleasant to entertain but then we have the German’s word for it, and Germans know everything.

If I do not feel inclined, however, to enter upon such a controversy, as is here suggested, none the less do I, as a jeweller, realise the potency of the superstitions connected with precious stones. Until the last two years, the opal— most beautiful, most lustrous, most wonderful of gems was almost a drug in the popular market. As well might you have sent a woman a letter edged with black to congratulate her upon her marriage as an opal for her wedding present. The prejudice arose, of course, from the old superstition that the opal is fatal to love, and that it sows discord between the giver and the receiver unless the wearer, happily, was born in October. In the latter case the stone becomes an emblem of hope and will bring luck to the wearer.

But, I hear you ask, is all this serious? Are you not rather joking, or speaking of the few and not of the many? I answer that I am as serious as ever I was in my life. Not only did we find it almost an impossibility five years ago to sell an opal at all, but the few women courageous enough to wear them in society contributed in the end to their unpopularity. I remember well a leader of fashion who for 12 months was conspicuous everywhere for the magnificence of the opals she wore, both upon her arms and her fingers. One day she came into my shop and bought an opal ring of immense size and singular magnificence.

“I am determined to kill this superstition,” she said, “and I am buying this ring because I am sure it will bring me luck.”

“I hope it will,” said I, “and if it should do so I trust that you will speak of it. The opal is sadly in need of a good word. I feel sure that nobody can speak that word to greater advantage than yourself.”

She promised that she would; and during the next three months she was loud in her conviction that the opal had been the best friend she had ever bought. Her husband doubled his fortune in that time. Her son obtained conspicuous honours at Cambridge. She backed the favourite for the Derby and he won. It really looked, even to the man of no superstitions, as though a freshet of fortune had flowed for her since the day she bought the ring.

Alas! how soon her hopes were to be shattered. Two months after her horse won the Derby her husband was in the bankruptcy court, a victim in a high degree of the Liberator [a famous race horse.]

It would be absurd and ridiculous, of course, for any sane man to regard the case as a post hoc ergo propter hoc. The event was a pure coincidence; yet nothing in this world would induce the lady in question to regard that ring otherwise than as a fatal one. We may say what we like, but once a woman has dubbed this or that lucky or unlucky, the homilies of a thousand bishops would not change her opinion. Witness that remarkable story told in the “Lives of the Lindsays,” in which we are shown how the Earl of Balcarres, forgetting on the morning of his wedding his appointment to marry the grand daughter of the Prince of Oxaxute, went hurriedly to church at the last moment without the all-necessary ring. This, of course, was a sad position for anybody to be in, and the young man appealed pathetically to the company to know if the deficiency could not be made good. Happily, or rather most unhappily, the best man standing at his side suddenly remembered that he had a ring in his pocket, and he slipped it into the earl’s hand just as the service began. Was it not a strange thing that this should have been a mourning ring, and that, when the happy bride ventured to look down upon her finger, she saw a skull and crossbones grinning at her? So great was her distress that she fainted in the church and when she came to she declared that it was an omen of death, and that she would not live through the year. And did she? the matter-of-fact man asks expectantly. Alas! twelve months were not numbered before Lady Balcarres was in her grave!

byron's mother's wedding ring Newstead Abbey

Byron’s mother’s wedding ring, Newstead Abbey

It is necessary at this point to tell you a story with a happier ending, lest the superstitious man should have it all his own way. It is said of Lord Byron that he was about to sit down to dinner one day when a gardener presented him with his mother’s wedding ring, which the man had just dug up in the garden before a wing of the house. Byron was at that time expectantly awaiting a letter from Miss Millbanke a letter which was to contain an answer to his proposal of marriage. When he saw the ring which the gardener brought him, he fell into a fit of deep gloom, regarding it as a sign of woeful omen but scarce had this depression come upon him when a servant entered with a letter from the lady. She accepted the poet.

There is another story told by the late Professor de Morgan I think it appeared in “Notes and Queries” which relates an instance of a page who fled to America simply because he lost a ring which he was carrying to the jeweller. The stone was an opal, if I remember rightly. The lights of it had so impressed the lad when he saw it upon his mistress’s finger that he stopped upon the plank bridge crossing the stream in his town, and took the jewel out of the box to admire it. But his fingers were clumsy, and in his attempt to try the ring on he let it slip into the river. Two years after in America he told the story, and related how that the ring had driven him to the condition of a miserable serf in the plantations. He did not know then that his condition was soon to be changed, and that diligence and hard work were to carry him to such a position of affluence that at the end of 20 years he returned to this country and to his native town. On the night of his arrival be went with a friend. to the old bridge, and recalled his misfortune there.

“It was in that very spot,” said he, thrusting his stick into the soft mud of the river, “that I dropped the ring.”

“But look!” cried the friend, “you have a ring upon the end of your stick!”

Sure enough, incredible though it may sound, the very ring he had dropped into the river 20 years before was now upon the end of the muddy stick.

Some people may be inclined to take this story with a grain of salt. Personally I am willing to think that Professor de Morgan and “Notes and Queries” would not have fathered upon us a mere bundle of lies. For the matter of that, there are cases as marvellous of the recovery of rings in nearly every town in England. At Brechin they will tell you of a Mrs Mountjoy who, when feeding a calf, let it suck her fingers, and with them a ring she wore. When this animal was slaughtered three years after, the ring was found in its intestine.

In the year 1871 a German farmer, who had been making flour balls for his cattle, missed his dead wife’s ring which he had been wearing upon his little finger. He made a great search for the treasure, holding the ring in some way necessary to his prosperity; but although he turned the house upside down, he never found it.

Seven or eight months after, this farmer shipped a number of bullocks upon the Adler cattle ship. The Adler came to port all right, but one of the bullocks had died during the voyage and been thrown overboard. Strangely enough, the carcase floated upon the sea, and was picked up by an English smack— the Mary Ann, of Colchester— the crew of which cut open the body to obtain some grease for the rigging. Did we not know that every line of this story had been authenticated, we should laugh when it is added that the farmer’s ring was found in the stomach of the derelict bullock and duly restored to its owner through the German Consul.

Here are stories of luck if you like. I will give you one also of luck which has never been told except to me and to the members of the household in which the strange occurrence took place. A lady, whose husband was a bank manager, purchased at my house some six years ago a singularly fine turquoise ring. She came to me at the end of two years and declared that the jewel in question had completely lost its colour. I saw that this was so, and told her there was no secret about the matter, but that she had washed her hands with the ring upon her finger, The turquoise, as all the world knows, should never be dipped in water. Some of the finest stones will stand the treatment, but in the majority of cases it is fatal. You would think that this was not a case for any superstitious fears, but my client was sadly troubled from the start at the omen of the ring; nor could my assurances comfort her. And oddly enough, within three months of the date of her visit to me her husband was in difficulties and had fled to America.

But this is not the end of the story of the turquoise. I had, previous to this calamity, set a new stone in the place of the old, and this jewel, being properly treated, kept its colour very well. Yet, as though that ring must prove fatal to all who wore it, it was the instrument of the capture of the lady’s husband, and of the term of imprisonment which followed on his arrest. The thing worked out in this way. For two years the fugitive remained abroad, but with that love of country which sometimes will prevail above reason, the unfortunate man returned here at last, and lay in hiding at the house which his wife had taken near Reading.

This was a rambling old place, with a decaying wing, very convenient for hiding a man. One morning the servants, who were not in the secret, found a turquoise upon the floor of a bedroom in this side of the house. As they had reason to believe that no one except themselves had been in the place for some years, they carried the ring to their mistress as a wonderful and amazing discovery. She, in her feverish desire to protect her husband, made up some cock-and-bull story which did not satisfy them. Although they had promised absolute secrecy, they made haste to tell the story in the village, where by a colossal misfortune the detective who was watching the case was even then staying. Needless to say how he pricked up his ears at the information; arguing rightly that where a ring was there a man or woman must have been. Three days later he arrested the defaulter, who had been hidden in the house all the time and had dropped the ring upon the floor of the bedroom. He had worn it on his little finger as a memento of his wife when he fled from the country, but it proved a fatal ring to him and to her.

It is scarcely within the scope of this article to write upon that vast branch of this subject which would properly come under the heading of poisoned rings. There was a story told in the French newspapers at no distant date of a man who bought an old ring in a shop in the Rue St. Honore, He was much interested in this, and was examining it closely, when he chanced to give himself a slight scratch in the hand with the edge of the ring. So slight was it that he scarce noticed it, and continued in conversation with the dealer, until of a sudden he was taken with violent pains in his body and fell in a fit upon the floor of the shop. The doctor who was summoned discovered every trace of mineral poison, and administered an antidote–happily with success, though the man suffered severely for several hours, and was at one time upon the very point of death. There is no doubt whatever that he had purchased what is called a “death ring,” a common weapon of assassination in the sixteenth century, and still to be found in the byways of Italy. The ring in question was made in the shape of two tiny lions’ claws, the nails being minute tubes from which the poison was ejected into the body. A man bearing a grudge against another would contrive to send him such a ring as a present and he would so manage it that he would meet the unlucky wearer very shortly after the present was received. It was the easiest thing in the world to give the victim a hearty shake of the hand, so squeezing the sharp claws into the flesh and administering a dose of the poison. And so skilled were the men in the manufacture of these rings that the day was rare when the victim of one lived even 10 minutes after he had received this death grip.

Otago [NZ] Witness 15 October 1896: p. 50

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has written before on those useful poisoned diamond rings with little spikes and a cursed ring formerly the property of the Spanish royal family. Various royal personages have also possessed “lucky” and “unlucky” rings as magical talismans.

Mrs Daffodil cannot accede to the author’s suggestion that Byron’s proposal to Anne Isabella Milbanke was a story with a “happier ending.”  The ill-matched couple separated shortly after their one-year anniversary and may have never seen each other again before Byron’s death in Greece in 1824.

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 anecdote

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.

Fashion’s Goldsmith-A Visit to Lalique: 1900

FASHION’S GOLDSMITH.

He Creates Birds and Flowers of Precious Stones.

The most prized and splendid jewels that have found their way into the caskets of princesses and millionaires of late are from the studio of Rini [sic] Lalique, artist, inventor, and worker in gems, ivory, and the precious metals. Women of the “smart set” who had the good fortune to see the wonderful specimens of this man’s work given Miss Julia Grant by the Prince Cantaruzene at the time of their wedding enjoyed a new emotion as well as a revelation in the art of personal adornment. This Benvenuto Cellini of today is in no sense of the word a shopkeeper and the fashionable woman who takes her annual trip to Paris this year to find show cases filled with trinkets made to imitate his style, will at once observe what an immense influence his originality of method has had upon the trade. If she is determined to see the interior of Lalique’s studio and talk with a very interesting man, she must seek out someone who knows where he bides in the quiet side street, and go armed with an introduction to the grey house, which bears beside the entrance door a small brass plate inscribed Lalique-Joallier.

A French artisan in a long blouse seeks the master, while you look around the room. In the centre are two upright cases, like those seen in museums, and by the windows a few tables with glass tops, similar to those ladies affect for their drawing-room curios. There is no suspicion of the shopkeeper in anything here. This is an artist’s studio, and as Lalique’s work appeals only to the elect, his guests admire and choose their purchases after the manner of pictures. Here they can see his methods and understand why It Is that his work has been admitted to the Salon among the chef d’oeuvres of great painters and sculptors.

Soon a young man who looks very like Paul Bourget comes in with a pleasant greeting, and listens modestly to your enthusiastic admiration of the spray of fuchsias which nod like real flowers as your footsteps jar the floor and which look quite as fragile as the real flower.

Lalique began life as a painter, but his genius was for another branch of art, one much more rare than painting; therefore he soon deserted the brush for his present implements. He first did some designing for a great American firm but longing to execute his own bold and original ideas, and now with a host of followers (all Paris, in fact) crowding on his footsteps, he leads the goldsmiths of the world. Never before has a jeweler looked upon the metals and gems as nothing but colors for his palate, but to Lalique’s eyes gold, silver, precious stones, and enamels are but materials which bring to life the golden pictures of his fancy. He colors the metals, chips the stones, mixes the cheap gems with the expensive and makes therewith works of art. Enamels take on new hues under his skilled fingers, while ivory and bone lend their dull colors to heighten the effect of his creations.

horn and ivory orchid comb lalique 1903-4

He colors gold and carves the opal so marvelously, that a comb for a princess, made of dull grey horn, becomes a stunning frame for a graceful woman’s figure, which leans against the side holding a great bunch of drooping pampas In her hand. Woman, grass, and delicate foliage, in the background are all a miniature painting done in gold of many colors, opal, enamel, and ivory.

lalique opal ring2

The imagination of the poet shows In every piece of this man’s work, drawing the line thus between the genius and the many talented designers who can imitate and follow him successfully. Rough opal is the material greatly used by Lalique. The golden sunset, the soft shine of the moonlight, the fleecy clouds beside innumerable flowers and living objects are wonderfully pictured by the way in which this artist uses this material. Diamonds, pearls, emeralds, rubies, and turquoises are but parts of his design, and the way in which he employs amethyst as other jewelers use enamel is productive of amazing results.

lalique dragon brooch 1905

One sort of ornament which Lalique particularly likes, because its shape and position on the dress allows his fancy great play, is intended for the front of a belt, a low corsage, or a neckband. A wonderful dragon shining with color and belching forth clouds of opal, is a design for one of these. A second is a landscape showing through the tree trunks of many colored gold the opal of the sunset shining in a pool of diamonds, and still another is a spray of beautifully colored roses with their leaves growing inside a thread-like frame of gold as though they were growing outside the window. A few rings, queer brooches, a rope of seed pearls finished by a tassel of rubies, a pendant or two, all fanciful, poetic, unique, and enchanting, are all Lalique has to show his visitor. The court of Russia is constantly snatching up his finest pieces as they come from his hands, and in England the great families who are so proud of their jewels are constant visitors to his quiet apartments. He works very slowly, and except for his yearly exhibit at the Salon, can make no display, his works are nearly always sold before they are finished.

Washington [DC] Times 8 April 1900: p. 19

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While to-day the work of M. Lalique is highly prized and sells for fabulous sums whenever it comes to auction, the critics of the past were not so kind. For example, this author finds Lalique cloyingly pretty:

We confess to some hesitation in expressing frankly the impression produced on us by M. Lalique’s work, because in looking back on the history of modern art we find that whenever work has been condemned for its tendencies with the admission of its technical excellence, the verdict of a succeeding generation has always been in favour of the artist. It is, in short, dangerous to condemn on some high moral or abstract aesthetic grounds work of which the technical excellence is indisputable. And yet, if we are to be sincere, that is what we are inclined to do to M. Lalique’s jewellery. To us its prettiness is exasperating—its extraordinary effectiveness, its too obvious and assertive charm, cloying….Nor is his rendering of natural forms really impressive ; it lacks intimacy and intensity of feeling…And if the line is nowhere arrested, nowhere determined by architectural necessity, the colour schemes are equally vague and indeterminate…Where therefore, as here, a discord is out of the question, no very intense or moving harmony can occur, the colour never rises to beauty, it remains obdurately and annoyingly pretty.

The Athenaeum 27 May 1905: p. 664

Another found him lacking in style:

The chief thing lacking in M. Lalique’s’ jewellery, as in that of his imitators, is style. And it is for this reason that so many people, even those most devoted to that which is novel, refuse to regard his productions as other than vain and transitory things. Certain it is that the composition of some of M. Lalique’s work suggests haste—facile haste; this or that detail deserved closer study, demanded firmer drawing, stronger characterisation. Thus, while acknowledging fully our indebtedness to M. Lalique for having renovated and revived the art of jewel-working, one cannot but regret that he should too often have been content to make a direct copy of floral forms when a careful stylisation would have been far more effective. A natural flower is decorative of itself, and no jewel however precious can compare with it on a woman’s breast or in her hair.

The Studio, Vol. 23: p. 1901: pp. 27-30

Finally, this critic has a rather amusing, yet valid, reason for disliking Lalique:

At times even—most unjustly, I admit—one almost comes to hate the art of M. Lalique himself, so persistently is it badly imitated.

Modern Design in Jewellery and Fans, Charles Holme, 1902: p. 2

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 anecdote

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.

Three Gold Balls: A Visit to the Pawnbrokers’ Shops: 1872

Die Gartenlaube 1861 pawnbroker.jpg

THREE GOLD BALLS
A Visit to the Pawnbrokers’ Shops

To the Editors of the Evening Post:

A week or two since I had occasion to visit several pawnbrokers’ establishments in this city, to redeem some articles pawned by a friend who had once seen better days.

A brief mention of my experience may be instructive as well as entertaining. The redemption of my friend’s tools (he was a mechanic) as accomplished after no little trouble in visiting the principal establishments doing business under the sign of the “Three Golden Balls,” in a certain street, and redeeming one or two articles here, another there and a third or fourth somewhere else.

I had been told of the system of universal cheating which the proprietors of these places practice, and the enormous exactions made in grinding the faces of the poor. I had heard described their dexterity in the substitution of colored glass and crystals for gems, while pretending to examine articles brought for pledges, and was prepared to encounter all that was sinister and heartless. But the half had not been told me, and I soon found that my previous conceptions fell far short of the reality. I was detained at each place which I had occasion to visit by the delays in finding the article I was in search of, and for which the holders had doubtless flattered themselves no inquiries would be made. The press of business at all of the shops was another cause of delay. As I recovered my friend’s articles, one by one, it appeared at once that the most outrageous system of extortion had been practiced in every instance. The sums advanced had been pitiful in amount, and the rates of interest charged exorbitant beyond belief. At every one of these dens a crowd of victims was collected—a motley company indeed: blacklegs and would-be gentlemen—the cheater and the cheated; the widow parting with her disposable article of dress, to procure one more meal for her famishing children; a consumptive girl, with the hectic flush upon her check. The grasping misers—sometimes a woman—read the condition of the sufferers from their countenances with cool calculation. The pick-pocket, the thief, and the purloining servant were received with equal readiness, and the spoils were divided with the fullest understanding that no questions were to be asked.

AT MY UNCLE’S

I had scarcely made my business known at the first of “my uncle’s” establishments, No. ___ street, to which I had been directed, when a middle-aged man entered with a bundle on which he asked a small advance, and which, on being opened, was found to contain a shawl and two or three other articles of female apparel. The man was stout and sturdy, and, as I judged from his appearance, a mechanic, but the mark of the destroyer was on his bloated countenance. The pawnbroker was examining the offered pledge when a woman with pale face and attenuated form came hastily into the shop and with the single exclamation, “O, Robert!” darted, rather than ran to that part of the counter where the man was standing. Her miserable husband, not satisfied with wasting his own earnings, and leaving her to starve with her children, had plundered even her scanty wardrobe, and the pittance received was to be squandered at the rum-shop. A blush of shame arose even upon his degraded face, but it quickly passed away; the brutal appetite prevailed.

“Go home,” was his harsh exclamation; “what brings you here, running after me with your everlasting scolding? Go home and mind your own business.”

“Oh, Robert, dear Robert,” answered the unhappy wife, “don’t pawn my shawl. Our children are crying for bread, and I have none to give them; or let me have the money. Give me the money, Robert, and don’t leave us to perish!”

I watched the face of the pawnbroker.

“Twelve shillings on these things,” he said, tossing them back to the drunkard, with a look of perfect indifference. “Only twelve shillings,” murmured the heart-broken wife, in a tone of despair; “O, Robert, don’t let them go for twelve shillings. Let me try somewhere else.” “Nonsense!” answered the brute. “It’s as much as they are worth, I suppose. Here, Mr. ___ give us the change.” The money was placed before him, and the bundle consigned to a drawer. The poor creature reached forth her hand towards the money, but the movement was anticipated by her husband. “There, Mary,” he said, giving her half a dollar. “there, go home now, and don’t make a fuss. I’m going a little way up the street, and perhaps I’ll bring you something from market when I come home.”

The hopeless look of the poor woman as she meekly turned to the door told plainly enough how little she trusted the promise. They went on their way—she to her children and he to the next “corner grocery.”

A BENEVOLENT CUSTOMER

While this scene was in progress another had been added to the number of spectators. This was a young man, dressed in the height of the fashion. He had a reckless, good-humored look and very much the air of what is called “a young man about town,” that is, one who rides out to the Central Park in the afternoon, eats game suppers at Delmonico’s in the evening after the play, spends the rest of the night and his money at billiards. The moment the poor woman was gone, he twitched from his neck a gold chain, with a gold watch, and placing it in the hands of the pawnbroker, with whom he seemed to be on terms of acquaintance, he exclaimed, “Quick now, Mr. ___; thirty dollars on that? You’ve had it before, and needn’t stop to examine it.” The money was instantly paid; and the young man of fashion, crumpling the bills up in his hand, hurried off at full speed, first looking up and then down the street. I followed him to the door and saw him accost the poor woman who had just left the shop, thrust into her hand either the whole or part of the sum he had just received, and then turning away to the other side of the street without stopping either for thanks or for explanation.

The reverie of mingled surprise and admiration into which I was thrown by this unexpected manifestation of benevolence was interrupted by a loud outcry from Mr. ___, the pawnbroker, and by seeing him, with a look of wrath and horror, hurry round his counter and out through the door, upon the sidewalk, where he stood for a moment, straining his eyes down the street, as if in search of the kind-hearted youth, who had by this time disappeared up one of the cross-streets. “The villain,” he exclaimed, “the swindling scoundrel! Which way did he go? The ungrateful thief! Tell me,” he continued, turning to me, “tell me which way he went.” I point out to Mr. ___ the course taken by his late customer, and mentioned also what I had seen take place between him and the poor woman. “Ah, it’s no use,” he then said; “he’s got off clear by this time, and my thirty dollars is a ‘gone case.’ But I’ll find him yet, someday.” And thus soliloquizing, Mr. ___ returned into his shop. Taking advantage of the familiarity that had grown up between the broker and his chain, the young man had substituted an oroide chain for the gold one which had been so often deposited with the watch, and the deception had passed unnoticed until it was too late. The watch itself was a cheap one, and probably worth about the sum advanced.

THE STORY OF A RING

A touching incident occurred at the place of my next visit. A woman about thirty-five years old, in the garb of mourning, entered, evidently with reluctance; she could hardly make the object of her visit known on account of her emotion. She was of a delicate frame, of easy and rather graceful manners, and but for the ravages of care upon her face might still have been beautiful. At length she took a ring from a pretty little morocco case, upon the pledge of which she wished to realize such an amount of money as would sustain herself and children through the winter. The extortioner took the ring in his fingers, and holding it up to the window pretended to examine it—assuming at the same time an air of affected disappointed; he began at once to depreciate the article, declaring that it was nothing but an Alaska crystal, and that he would hardly take it at any price. He was inexorable and peremptorily refused to advance more than four or five dollars. Tears glistened in the woman’s eye.

I had seen, as the man studied the ring with secret satisfaction by the window, that the gem was valuable. I was determined that the unfortunate owner should not be imposed upon. Just before a bargain was completed, however, as I was about to interpose myself, another gentleman, who had also been watching the proceeding, stepped forward and declared that the beautiful ring should not be sacrificed…in that way. The broker at once endeavored to hasten matters, and declaring the bargain to have been completed, would have succeeded in thrusting the jewel into the drawer, but for the resolution of the gentleman who seized and saved it. The wretch muttered something about people’s interfering in business that was exclusively his own concern, but to no purpose. The widow was rescued from his fangs, and received a fair amount for her ring.

This poor lady, whose history I afterward learned, was an orphan, a daughter of a Virginia planter, who had been reduced to poverty before our civil war, so that his children were left portionless, and had been married when quite young. The husband of this daughter was killed in the late war, and she had learned the miseries and uncertainties of life.

Doubtless these examples which came under my notice are but a few of many, the mere relation of which is sufficient to make one blush for his fellow men.

W.L. STONE

Evening Post [New York, NY] 13 January 1872: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Many ladies of this era were held hostage by drunken, improvident, and abusive spouses. Widows fared little better, if, as so often happened, the late husband lost the family fortune by imprudent speculation, went into a Decline, and died. The pawnshop, the sweatshop–or the street–were often the only recourse. Mrs Daffodil can only suggest to the attenuated spouse of the brute Robert, that she lay out part of the money thrust into her hands by the young man about town to secure an insurance policy on her husband. While the balance of the money should be well-hidden, enough should be retained to allow Robert to accidentally discover it and go on a spree so immoderate that it will inevitably bring a quick return on her investment.

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 Ghost of the Count: 1897

the ghost of the count illustration

THE GHOST OF THE COUNT.

Thrilling Story of an Experience of a Woman in a Mexican Banking House with a Phantom.

Not far from the Alameda, in the City of Mexico, there is a great old stone building, in which once lived a very wealthy and wicked Spanish count. The house has about four floors, and ninety rooms, more or less. The entire fourth floor is rented and occupied by a big American firm, and their bookkeeper, an American girl, has given us the following true account of the ghost that for years haunted the building. The second floor is unoccupied, as no one cares to live there for obvious reasons. And the bottom floor is also unoccupied, save for lumber rooms, empty boxes and crates and barrels. And last of all is the great patio with its tiled floor, where secretly in the night a duel was fought to the death by the wicked count and a famous Austrian prince, who was one of Maximilian’s men. The count was killed.

No one knows why the duel was fought; some say it was because of a beautiful Spanish woman: some say that it was because of treasure that the two jointly “conveyed,” and which the count refused to divide with his princely “socio,” and more people—Mexicans—shrug their shoulders if you ask about it, and say, “Quien sabe?”

“I saw a ghost here last night, Miss James,” announces our cashier with much éclat and evident pride.

So great is the shock that I gasp, and my pen drops, spattering red ink on my nice fresh cuffs, and (worse luck!) on the ledger page that I had just totted up. It is ruined, and I will have to erase it, or—something! Wretched man!

“I wish to goodness it had taken you off,” I cry, wrathfully, as I look at the bespattered work. “Now will you just look here and see what you have done? I wish you and your ghosts were in…”

“Gehenna?” he inquires, sweetly; “I’ll fix that—it won’t take half a minute. And don’t look so stern, else I won’t tell you about the ‘espanto.’ And you will be sorry if you don’t hear about it-—it would make such a good story.” (Insinuatingly. )

“Then go ahead with it.” (Ungraciously.)

“Well, last night I was waiting for West. He was to meet me here, after which it was our intention to hit the—that is, I mean we were going out together. (I nod scornfully.) And it seems that while I was patiently waiting here, in my usual sweet-tempered way, the blank idiot had his supper and then lay down to rest himself for a while. You know how delicate he is? (Another contemptuous nod.) Unfortunately he forgot the engagement, and slept on. He says he never awoke until three o’clock, and so didn’t come, thinking I wouldn’t be there. Meantime I also went to sleep, and might have snoozed on until three, likewise, but for the fact that the ghost woke me——”

“Well? Do go on,” I urge.

“The ghost woke me, as I said,” proceeds the simpleton, slowly. “It was passing its cold fingers over my face and groaning. Really, it was most extraordinary. At first I didn’t know what it was; then, as I felt the icy fingers stroking my face and heard blood-curdling groans issuing from the darkness, I knew what it was. And I remembered the story of the prince and his little duel down in the patio, and knew it was the ghost of the prince’s victim. By the way, you don’t know what a funny sensation it is to have a ghost pat your face, Miss James.”

“Pat nothing,” I retort, indignantly. “I wonder you are not ashamed to tell me such fibs. Such a ta-ra-diddle! And as for the man that the prince killed downstairs, you know as well as I do that he was taken home to Spain and buried, there. Why, then, should he come back here, into our offices, and pat your face?”

“Ah, that I can’t say,” with a supercilious drawl. “I can only account for it by thinking that the ghost has good taste—better than that of some people I know,” meaningly. “But honestly, I swear that I am telling you the truth—cross my heart and hope to die if I am not! And you don’t know how brave I was—I never screamed; in fact, I never made a sound; oh, I was brave!”

“Then what did you do?” sternly.

“I ran. Por Dios, how I ran! You remember with what alacrity we got down the stairs during the November earthquake? (I remember only too distinctly.) Well, last night’s run wasn’t a run, in comparison—it was a disappearance, a flight, a sprint! I went down the four flights of stairs like a streak of blue lightning, and the ghost flew with me. I heard the pattering of its steps and its groans clean down to the patio door, and I assure you I quite thought I had made such an impression that it was actually going on home with me. And the thought made me feel so weak that I felt perforce obliged to take a—have a— that is, strengthen myself with a cocktail. After which I felt stronger and went home quite peacefully. But it was an uncanny experience, wasn’t it?”

“Was it before or after taking that cocktail,” I ask, incredulously. “And did you take one only or eleven?”

I am hard on the man, but he really deserves it. Ghosts! Spirits, perhaps, but not ghosts. Whereat his feelings are quite “hurted”—so much so that he vows he will never tell me anything again; I had better read about Doubting Thomas; he never has seen such an unbelieving woman in all his life, and if I were only a man he would be tempted to pray that I might see the ghost; it would serve me right. Then, wrathfully departs, to notice me no more that day.

Not believing the least bit in ghosts I gave the matter no more thought. In fact, when you fall heir to a set of books that haven’t been posted for nineteen days, and you have to do it all, and get up your trial balance, too, or else give up your Christmas holidays, you haven’t much time to think about ghosts, or anything else, except entries. And though I had been working fourteen hours per day, the 24th of December, noon hour, found me with a difference of $13.89. The which I, of course, must locate and straighten out before departing next morning on my week’s holiday. Por supuesto, it meant night work. Nothing else would do; and besides, our plans had all been made to leave on the eight o’clock train next morning. So I would just sit up all night, if need be, and find the wretched balance and be done with it.

Behold me settled for work that night at seven o’clock in my own office, with three lamps burning to keep it from looking dismal and lonely, and books and ledgers and journals piled up two feet high around me. If hard work would locate that nasty, hateful $13.89 it would surely be found. I had told the portero downstairs on the ground floor to try and keep awake for a time, but if I didn’t soon finish the work I would come down and call him when I was ready to go home.

He lived in a little room, all shut off from the rest of the building, so that it was rather difficult to get at him. Besides, he was the very laziest and sleepiest fellow possible, and though he was supposed to take care of the big building at night, patrolling it so as to keep off ladrones, he in reality slept so soundly that the last trumpet, much less Mexican robbers, would not have roused him.

And for this very reason, before settling to my work I was careful to go around and look to locks and bolts myself; everything was secure, and the doors safely fastened. So that if ladrones did break through they would have to be in shape to pass through keyholes or possess false keys.

With never a thought of spirits or porteros, or anything else, beyond the thirteen dollars and eighty-nine cents, I worked and added and readded and footed up. And at eleven o’clock, grazia a Dios, I had the thirteen dollars all safe, and would have whooped for joy, had I the time. However, I wasn’t out of the woods yet, the sum of eighty-nine dollars being often more easy of location than eighty-nine cents. The latter must be found, also, before I could have the pleasure of shouting in celebration thereof.

At it I went again. After brain cudgeling and more adding and prayerful thought I at last had under my thumb that abominable eighty cents. Eureka! Only nine cents out. I could get it all straight and have some sleep, after all! Inspired by which thought I smothered my yawns and again began to add. I looked at my watch— ten minutes to twelve. Perhaps I could get it fixed before one.

I suppose I had worked at the nine cents for about twenty minutes. One of the cash entries looked to me to be in error. I compared it with the voucher—yes, that was just where the trouble lay! Eleven cents—ten—nine—

S-t-t!  Out went the lights in the twinkling of an eye—as I sat, gaping in my astonishment, from out of the pitchy darkness of the room came the most dreary, horrible, blood-curdling groan imaginable. As I sat paralyzed, not daring to breathe, doubting my senses for a moment, and then thinking indignantly that it was some trick of that wretched cashier, I felt long, thin, icy fingers passing gently over my face. Malgame Dios! what a sensation! At first I was afraid to move. Then I nervously tried to brush the icy, bony things away. As fast as I brushed, with my heart beating like a steam-hammer, and gasping with deadly fear, the fingers would come back again; a cold wind was blowing over me. Again came that dreadful groan, and too frightened to move or scream, I tumbled in a heap on the floor, among the books and ledgers. Then I suppose I fainted.

When I regained my senses I was still in a heap with the ledgers; still it was dark and still I felt the cold fingers caressing my face. At which I became thoroughly desperate. No ghost should own me! I had laughed at the poor cashier and hinted darkly at cocktails. Pray, what better was I?

I scrambled to my feet, the fingers still stroking my face. I must address them—what language—did they understand English or Spanish, I wondered? Spanish would doubtless be most suitable, if indeed, it was the ghost of the murdered count.

“Will you do me the favor, Senor Ghost,” I started out bravely, in my best Spanish, but with a very trembling voice, “to inform me what it is that you desire? Is there anything I can do for you? Because, if not, I would like very much to be allowed to finish my work, which I cannot do (if you will pardon my abruptness) if I am not alone.”

(Being the ghost of a gentleman and a diplomat, surely he would take the hint and vanish. Ojala!)

Perhaps the ghost did not understand my Spanish; at any rate there was no articulate reply; there was another groan—again the fingers touched me, and then there was such a mournful sigh that I felt sorry for the poor thing—what could be the matter with it? With my pity, all fear was lost for a moment, and I said to the darkness all about me:

“What is it that you wish, pobre senor? Can I not aid you? I am not afraid—let me help you!”

The fingers moved uncertainly for a moment; then the ledgers all fell down, with a loud bang; a cold hand caught mine, very gently—I tried not to feel frightened, but it was difficult—and I was led off blindly, through the offices. I could not see a thing—not a glimmer of light showed; not a sound was heard except my own footsteps, and the faint sound of the invisible something that was leading me along—there were no more groans, thank goodness, else I should have shrieked and fainted, without a doubt. Only the pattering footsteps and the cold hand that led me on and on.

We—the fingers and I—were somehow in the great hall, then on the second floor, and at last on the stairs, going on down, flight after flight. Then I knew that I was being led about by the fingers on the tiled floor of the patio, and close to the portero’s lodge. Simpleton that he was! Sleeping like a log, no doubt, while I was being led about in the black darkness by an invisible hand, and no one to save me! I would have yelled, of course, but for one fact—I found it utterly impossible to speak or move my tongue, being a rare and uncomfortable sensation.

But where were we going? Back into the unused lumber rooms, joining onto the patio? Nothing there, except barrels and slabs and empty boxes. What could the ghost mean? He must be utterly demented, surely.

In the middle of the first room we paused. I had an idea of rushing out and screaming for the portero, but abandoned it when I found that my feet wouldn’t go. I heard steps passing to and fro about the floor, and waited, cold and trembling. They approached me; again my hand was taken, and I was led over near the corner of the room. Obedient to the unseen will, I bent down and groped about the floor, guided by the cold fingers holding mine, until I felt something like a tiny ring, set firmly in the floor. I pulled at it faintly, but it did not move, at which the ghost gave a faint sigh. For a second the cold fingers pressed mine, quite affectionately, then released me, and I heard steps passing slowly into the patio, then dying away. Where was it going, and what on earth did it all mean?

But I was so tired and wrought up I tried to find the door, but couldn’t (the cashier would have been revenged could he have seen me stupidly fumbling at a barrel, thinking it was the door), and at last, too fatigued and sleepy to stand, I dropped down on the cold stone floor and went to sleep.

I must have slept for some hours, for when I awoke the light of dawn was coming in at the window, and I sat up and wondered if I had taken leave of my senses during the night. What on earth could I be doing here in the lumber-room? Then, like a flash, I remembered, and, half unconsciously, crept about on the floor seeking the small ring. There it was! I caught it and jerked at it hard. Hey, presto, change! For it seemed to me that the entire floor was giving way. There was a sliding, crashing sound, and I found myself hanging on for dear life to a barrel that, fortunately, retained its equilibrium, and with my feet dangling into space. Down below me was a small, stone-floored room, with big boxes and small ones ranged about the walls.

Treasure! Like a flash the thought struck me, and with one leap I was down in the secret room gazing about at the boxes.

But, alas! upon investigation, the biggest chests proved empty. The bad, wicked count!

No wonder he couldn’t rest in his Spanish grave, but must come back to the scene of his wickedness and deceit to make reparation! But the smaller chests were literally crammed with all sorts of things—big heavy Spanish coins, in gold and silver—gold and silver dinner services, with the crest of the unfortunate emperor; magnificent pieces of jeweled armor and weapons, beautiful jewelry and loose precious stones. I deliberately selected handfuls of the latter, giving my preference to the diamonds and pearls—I had always had a taste for them, which I had never before been able to gratify!—and packed them in a wooden box that I found in the lumber-room. The gold and dinner services and armor, etc., I left as they were, being rather cumbersome, and carried off, rejoicing, my big box of diamonds and pearls and other jewelry.

Needless to say we didn’t go away for the holidays on the eight o’clock train. But I did come down to the office and proceeded to locate my missing nine cents. After which I unfolded the tale of the ghost and the treasure—only keeping quiet the matter of my private loot. Of which I was heartily glad afterwards. For when the government learned of the find what do you suppose they offered me for going about with the ghost and discovering the secret room and treasure? Ten thousand dollars! When I refused, stating that I would take merely, as my reward, one of the gold dinner services, the greedy things objected at first, but I finally had my way. And to this very day they have no idea that I—even I—have all the beautiful jewels. Wouldn’t they be furious if they knew it? But they aren’t apt to, unless they learn English and read this story. Which isn’t likely.

The Times [Philadelphia PA] 26 December 1897: p. 27

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Miss James certainly had her own éclat, although a young lady working in the male-dominated field of book-keeping, must have had to find ways to hold her own against supercilious clerks and government officials. She seems to have done so. One wonders how much more than ten thousand dollars she received when she sold the gold dinner service, as she most certainly would have done. Someone so self-possessed and canny would surely have known how gold quickly cools anything placed upon it and that a gold dinner service will invariably create additional expense for extra dishwashing staff.  Sensible girl, although she was perhaps indiscreet in selling her story to the newspapers where anyone in search of a reward–a spiteful cashier, for instance– could have informed the government of her “private loot.”

 

 

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 Tell-Tale Sealing Wax: 1908

SEALING-WAX CLUE.

FOOTMAN-THIEF TRACKED.

A remarkable story of tell-tale sealing wax was told at Leeds Assizes in the case of George Percy Finn, aged eighteen, footman, indicted for the theft of a diamond tiara, value £1300, the property of Louisa Montagu, at High Melton, Yorkshire, between January 1 and 4. The prisoner pleaded guilty.

Counsel stated that the tiara was a wedding present to Mrs. Montagu. The prisoner had been in the service of Mr. and Mrs. Montagu for about three months, and was third footman. The tiara was kept in a safe in the pantry, and was in charge of the first footman, in whose custody was the key of the safe. At twelve o’clock on January 2 the tiara was in the safe, and was there seen, by the first footman, who, however, missed it at two o’clock the following day. He at once informed Mr. Montagu. Superintendent Hicks, of Doncaster, went to Melton Park, and interviewed the servants, including the prisoner. They all denied knowledge of the tiara.

On January 8 Mr. Montagu received an anonymous letter to the effect that a tiara had been taken from his house, but was quite safe and would be returned whole for £500. If the jewellery were wanted, Mr. Montagu was to put a “personal” advertisement in a paper. The postmark on the envelope was London.

The letter was sealed with magenta-coloured sealing wax, similar to a stick in Mrs. Montagu’s boudoir. Suspicion fell upon the prisoner, who had access to the boudoir. On January 11 a red stick of sealing wax was substituted for the magenta one, and on the 18th Superintendent Hicks wrote in answer to the advertisement, and sent it to the agony column of the paper specified. In the meantime, a detective had taken up his abode in Melton Park, and by him the prisoner was seen to pick up the newspaper in question and begin to read the agony column.

On January 15 a second anonymous letter came to Mr. Montagu to the same effect, only in stronger terms. This was sealed with vermilion sealing wax, and bore the postmark of Kentish Town. Superintendent Hicks went to the prisoner’s home in London. The prisoner’s mother handed him a letter from her son requesting her to post the letter sent to Melton Park. The superintendent immediately left again for Melton Park, and arrested the prisoner.

The stolen property was afterwards found hidden in a field.

Mr. Justice Sutton sentenced the prisoner to twelve months’ imprisonment with hard labour on the Borstal system, when he would have the opportunity of learning some trade and earning an honest livelihood.

Auckland [NZ] Star 2 May 1908: p. 15

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The agony columns of the newspapers were full of cryptic advertisements, like this one–obviously written in cypher.

NY Herald 22 August 1879 agony column in cypher

And this one, which suggests that a deceived husband is no longer in the dark.

owl agony column NY Herald 4 October 1879

[Many thanks to Undine of Strange Company for these choice specimens.]

The agony columns of the Times were particularly renowned for their blend of comedy, heart-break, and mystery.

It is a matter of considerable surprise that the “intelligent foreigner ” has made so little, in his criticisms on English eccentricities, of that astonishing product of the present generation, the second column of the Times. To the thorough Englishman it is difficult to understand how other European nations contrive to get on without the help of that daily outlet for the anxieties of the bewildered and the bereaved. Here, taking up the Times of a day or two ago, are nearly a score of these petitions for information on all sorts of subjects. Some half-dozen invocations begin the list in which “Toots,” “Sea,” ” Claudine,” “Duffer,” and “K–ff” are piteously implored to communicate with the heart-broken advertisers, either directly, or through the medium of one of those strange secret agencies, whose existence and doings are so bewildering to steady-going families. Next comes an appeal to a lady, mentioned by name, to apply at an hotel in the classic district of the Minories on urgent private affairs. Then follows a list of all sorts of possessions, lost by their careless owners, from certificates of a great Indian railway down to bracelets, dogs, and bunches of keys, for which rewards varying in amount are specially promised, but most surprising in the way of promised reward is the price set upon “a young married lady” by her disconsolate husband or friends. For the lady herself, including her apparel, besides earrings and brooch, only the sum of  £2 is offered. The Pall Mall Gazette [London England] 5 December 1868: p. 5

It is a pity that young George got ideas above his station. Sealing wax, indeed!  Ideally, he would have enclosed the anonymous letter–written with his non-dominant hand–on the cheapest possible stationary, enclosed in an envelope filched from a hotel lounge, sealed with mucilage from the common glue pot, and smudged with his grubby fingermarks, although the latter might have proved his undoing. The Fingerprint Branch at New Scotland Yard was created in July 1901.  The Devil is in the details….

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.

Finery for the Forehead: 1920

forehead jewel coiffure 1920

The Solitary Jewel Once More Reigns in the Realms of Finery for the Forehead

Finery for the Forehead

The Picturesque Modern Revival of a Charming Style of Headdress Introduced by the Beauties of Ancient Rome and Greece.

By Jean Seivwright

“Beauty unadorned is adorned the most” is all wrong, according to today’s leaders of fashion. And, without more ado, they prove their contention by demonstrating the utter folly of this old-time saying.

With jingling bracelets they embellish their ankles. Gorgeous rings set their fingers a-sparkle; jeweled girdles scintillate about their waistlines, and most striking of all—enters the jeweled head-dress.

Now as Miss America has a variety of ancestors, she chooses her forehead finery with a nice discrimination. Her particular type of beauty must be enhanced. With wealth and art at her command she can have what she wants.

MOP coiffure 1920

The Encircling Coronet Is of Hammered Silver, While Over the Forehead Hang Mother-o’-Pearl Drops.

Is she a Viking’s daughter with golden tresses and wistful blue eyes? Then the soft lustre of mother of pearl will appeal to her. But if the fire of some Eastern Potentate still slumbers in her heavily-lidded eyes the ornate and barbaric will be her choice. Other beauties find inspiration for their adorning in the quaint head-dress of the peasant or the jeweled cap of a court favorite.

peasant headdress coiffure 1920

The Peasant Head-dress of Sheerest Cambric Takes on a New Guise When Interpreted in Silks and Jewels for the Beauty of Today

But all are agreed that the forehead must be ornamented. Many of these jeweled head-bands are of fabulous price. But the golden eagle is no longer a rare coin that languishes in solitude in the old stocking we have all heard about. Golden eagles fly in coveys these days and big dividends keep up the supply.

“Ha, ha!” laugh the lords of the twentieth century, and just as merrily their ladies echo their mirth, “What’s money for but to spend.” So they chase from one end of the country to the other seeking new ways of spending their money. Sumptuously caparisoned it’s many a day since they bid farewell to the “kirtle brown.” Shimmering satins, priceless laces and jewels from crown to toe add to the glitter of their passing.

Of course, like every other innovation, the adorning of the forehead is really a resurrected fashion. In the days of the law-giving Romans and the beauty-loving Greeks most wonderful finery was designed for fair women. Doubtless if we could trace the origin of this mode still further back we might discover that our delightful ancestress in the Garden of Eden originated this style. Who knows whether she favored a gay array of glistening apple seeds, or found delight in the sparkling pebbles that vied with the weeds in her garden?

pearl coiffure 1920

Pearls with All Their Lore of Tragedy and Romance Gleam in the Golden Coiffure and on the Snowy Forehead of a Famous New York Beauty.

History of course does not make any record of this. However, we do know that the Romans delighted in handsome head-dress. They kept hosts of slaves to arrange their hair. And that was no mean task. It was a regular function. There were puffs to be attached, unruly tresses to be smoothed and various artificial appendages to be arranged. Oh, yes, the office of chief lady’s maid was no sinecure in those days, for her lady’s hair must be so disposed that her jewels would show to the best advantage. And whisper it not, but even in those days the blonde was a power in the land. To have golden hair was an ambition for which one was even willing to dye!

ear-ring coiffure 1920

Today’s Mode of Coiffing May Give No Opportunity to Display Ear-rings, but Their Place Is Gladly Taken by Jeweled Chains Elaborated with Many a Novel Pendant to Simulate the Ear-ring.

Another delightful whim of fashion in the Roman Empire was to have three or four earrings dangling from each ear. However, when puffs became the vogue in Rome feminine ingenuity had to find another way to display her jewels, so the forehead was bejewelled. And wonderful results were achieved, one of the most picturesque being an embroidered net. But mark, the embroidery was not of silken threads but of jewels–glittering rubies and emeralds with clusters of pearls.

crespine coiffure 1920

The Crispine Whose Threads of Gold Are Enlivened with Sparkling Jewels

Along about the time that Philip the Bold was creating many a flutter in feminine hearts, the fair enchantresses forsook the modest net, albeit they sparkled with many a gem and adorned their heads with gorgeous creations of peacock feathers. This was an opportunity not to be overlooked, so the forehead came in for its share of attention.

As centuries rolled on women still believed that the decoration of the forehead was essential. The notorious horned head-dress brought down the denunciations of the Church on its wearers. But they went merrily on making them more grotesque and formidable looking. In those days, gentle reader, you will remember that there were no subway crushes. Also the everlasting rush was unknown. Women had time to think how to beautify themselves…

But in this land of the free you may choose your forehead finery irrespective of any restrictions, for the quest of beauty is the only motif that inspires the wearing of these gorgeously jewelled ornaments.

The Washington [DC] Times 16 May 1920: p. 32

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The illustrations suggest a veritable treasure-trove of costuming inspiration for the passionate heroines of authoresses such as Marie Corelli, Ouida, and Elinor Glyn. Despite their glamour, we cannot call these adornments completely frivolous:  forehead jewels are, of course, the perfect camouflage for the worry lines that inevitably accompany the tangled love-lives of Egyptian princesses and Balkan queens as plotted by lady novelists.

However, Mrs Daffodil cannot condone the pendants worn just above the nose, no matter how elegant or exotic. One fears an epidemic of crossed eyes.

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.

She Wore the Key: 1902

wardrobe lock keySHE WORE THE KEY.

Sad Eyes, Pathetic Droop Made It a Mystery Until Explained.

It was the usual crowd of well-gowned femininity that filled the car, wending its way matineeward. Every woman at all young or at all aiming to be fashionable, wore a chain of some sort from which dangled charms of every kind and descriptions, lockets, heart-shaped and round, small gold or silver purses, lorgnettes and watches.

The girl in the smart black costume, with exquisite sables, appeared to be exempt from the prevailing mania, and therefore became the mark for the attention of the observer of details. As the atmosphere of the car grew warmer she slipped the long fur scarf from her neck, revealing the fact that so far from being immune she had eclipsed all the others in the originality of her “dangle.”

A small gold chain was worn around her neck and fell half way to the waist. On it was a key set with diamonds. It was no caprice of the jeweler, but the real article, an ordinary every-day affair such as one wrestles with at the front door.

Now, what was the romance connected with that very prosaic key making it worthy to be set with diamonds and displayed so prominently as a treasured possession? The sad eyes of the owner had that misty, faraway look of unshed tears. The Parisian hat failed to hide the pathetic droop of the graceful head.

Here was a story, surely. Imagination conjured up a picture of a betrothal rudely broken by the death of the fiancé, the key treasured as a memento of the many happy evenings they had spent together, and the stolen kisses in the vestibule as he hesitated before opening the door for her. The somber gown hinted at a loss. The wistful eyes and sweet lips accentuated the idea.

Or could the key be that of the vault the young man had been entombed? Could it be? Fancy waxed more and more grewsome with each new contemplation of the unusual charm worn by this fair heroine of modern romance.

At Sixty-fourth street another very smart young woman boarded the car, and with a friendly greeting to the girl with the key at once opened up a conversion.

“I see you are wearing your key,” she began.

“How shockingly unfeeling,” thought the observer.

“Yes,” replied she of the pathetic eyes. “I can go out now with a peaceful mind, knowing that Marie will not be wearing my frocks. I never could hide it where she couldn’t find it”

Somehow the unshed tears and the droop weren’t so noticeable now. — New York Herald.

Delphos [OH] Daily Herald 16 August 1902: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The sharp-eyed denizens of the car would have noted that “smart black costume,” also that sables were the only appropriate mourning fur and made their calculations accordingly.

The theme of the maid wearing the mistress’s clothing was a pervasive and long-standing one, as we see by these jokes:

Employment Agent: “Those are fine recommendations that gurl has, mum. Shall I send for her to come and talk with you?”

Mrs. Bronston. “Is she tall or short?’

“Rather tall, mum; but—”

“Is she fat or thin?”

“Rather stout, mum, a good strong—”

“Is she stouter than I am?”

“Oh, yes, mum, a good deal.”

“She won’t do. She’d split the seams of every dress I have.

The Times [Philadelphia PA] 9 August 1891: p. 9

And

“Going to leave, Mary?”

“Yes, mum; I find I am very discontented.”

“If there is anything I can do to make you comfortable, let me know.”

“No, mum, it’s impossible. You can’t alter your figger to my figger, no mor’n I can. Your dresses won’t fit me, and I can’t appear on Sundays as I used at my last place where missus’s clothes fitted ‘xactly.”

Juniata [PA] Sentinel and Republican 3 March 1880: p. 4

And this, on the cost of keeping servants:

There might have been a time when servant girls had a penchant for wearing their mistresses’ clothes, but that was in the days of low wages. Nowadays the average girl would not be seen in such shabby dresses as the mistress is obliged to appear in.

Chicago [IL ] Daily Tribune 18 February 1882: p. 11

 

Mrs Daffodil will note that she never, ever pilfered any of her mistress’s wardrobes, even when she served as lady’s maid to Duchesses. Their tastes were far too impractical for Mrs Daffodil’s line of work. One cannot tip-toe after malefactors in high heeled shoes with eye-catching paste buckles, weapons cannot easily be concealed in Rococo-revival lace engageantes, and chiffon demi-trains, no matter how well dust-ruffled, will pick up incriminating bits of dirt and debris.

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.