Category Archives: Lethal Clothing

Something Suitable:1889

SOMETHING SUITABLE.

By E.B.W.

“Here is your invitation at last, Margaret!” Mrs. Darton exclaimed, as she pushed open the door of the kitchen, where her youngest daughter sat by the table peeling and slicing the apples her sister Mary was converting, -with dough and paste-cutter, into substantial tarts for half-a-dozen hungry school-boys.

“Hurrah!” and Margaret joyfully waved above her head a long, ribbonlike strip of green and crimson peel. “This is good news, mamma! Blessings light on Aunt Bessie for remembering me, though she has been a long time about it.”

“Three weeks,” said Mrs. Darton, smiling at her daughter’s enthusiasm. “It is no more since she landed in England, and I met her at Gravesend. She accounts in this note for her silence. Business detained her in London for a week, since when she has been looking for a house. She has been advised to take one on the south coast till she and her daughters are hardened to our changeable climate; so many years in India makes them dread an English winter.”

Margaret’s face lengthened.

“Is Aunt Bessie going to bury herself in the country? I thought–that is I hoped–she would settle near town.”

“She has decided on a house at Torquay; but, as it will not be ready for her till the end of next month, she proposes spending the interval at Brighton, and you are to go to her there.”

“Brighton in the heart of the autumn season ! Delicious !” ejaculated Margaret, springing up to waltz her mother round the kitchen, attempting to repeat the dance with her laughing sister, who kept her at bay -with the rolling-pin. “What a lucky girl I am to have a rich aunt, good-natured enough to give me such a delightful change! There’s one drawback, and that is leaving home. Why doesn’t she invite you too, mother dear, and Mary?”

“As if I could leave papa and the boys!” cried Mrs. Darton.

“Or as if I could be spared,” added Mary. “At five-and-twenty one feels too sober for much holiday making. I shall have a day’s blackberry-picking with the youngsters, and go to the cathedral town for the choral festival, and to the park for the annual picnic of the townspeople; and that is all the dissipation I care for.”

“Query. Shall I be as content, at twenty-five, as my sister?” asked Margaret, demurely, “Perhaps I shall, if I have an amiable young curate to strengthen my resolves with his praises. Don’t blush, Mary, and don’t menace me with such a dangerous weapon. It might fly out of your hand, and I could not go to aunt Bessie’s with a bruised cheek or a black eye. By the way, what day am I to start?”

“Next Monday. Her maid will meet you at King’s Cross.”

“And I shall say adieu to the flats of Cambridgeshire for one short, sweet, too fleeting month! But oh, mother dear, the great question of all has yet to be discussed. What am I to wear? I should not like to go shabby; but I know you will not be justified in asking papa for money just as he has been at such heavy expense in articling Will to Messrs. Stapylton.”

“It’s all right,” replied Mrs. Darton, cheerfully. ” Your Aunt Bessie thought of this before I did, and promised to send you something suitable to wear.”

Margaret winced, for she was young and proud.

“It’s very kind of her, she murmured, slowly; “but it makes me feel like a pauper.”

“I don’t think you need say that, my dear,” her mother made answer. “Before my sister left England, to become the second wife of Judge Laurence, your father had given her the advantage of his time and talents, and enabled her to get possession of some property withheld by a very knavish attorney. Papa positively refused to be paid for his services, and she remembers this, and rejoices to requite him through his children. She is going to send Maurice to college as soon as he is old enough. I am so thankful; for a country doctor, with a large family like ours, cannot always give his sons as thorough an education as he wishes.”

“If Aunt Bessie is going to be a fairy godmother to the boys, I shall love her dearly. And now to commence preparations for my journey. Don’t laugh. Mistress Mary; there is a great deal to be done. When a lady’s wardrobe is a limited one, it is necessary to make the most of it; and as soon as the ‘something to wear’ arrives that is promised me, we shall have to set to work at dressmaking in right earnest.”

Mrs. Darton referred to the note she held in her hand.

“I forgot to look for a postscript. Oh, here it is! Listen to it. ‘I selected two or three things for your little girl when I was doing my own shopping, and ordered the parcel to be sent off to you directly.'”

“And here comes Carrier Cripps with it!” exclaimed Margaret, with a skip and a jump. “How can you go on, Mary, so placidly rolling out paste, whilst I am in a flutter of expectation?”

Away she ran to meet the little covered cart in which an apple-faced old man jogged to and fro the market-town and the station three times in the week; received from Master Cripps the important package that bore the stamp of a West-End linen-draper, and hurried with it to the dining-room, whither her mother and sister followed her.

Too impatient to untie knots, Margaret cut the string, tore open the brown paper, and then eyed the contents askance.

Were these the fairy gifts she had expected to receive?–the pretty, if not actually expensive, gowns that were to enable her to make a good appearance beside her more fortunate cousins?

What she really found was a roll of stout, serviceable calico for under-garments; a dress-length of coarse, strong navy serge, and another of a neat chocolate cambric, and these were all.

Margaret looked from these things to her silent, troubled mother, and back again, tossed them into a heap, and ran away to throw herself on her bed and weep bitter tears of disappointment.

“I don’t understand it at all,” sighed Mrs. Darton, in confidence to her sympathizing elder daughter. “Unless your aunt thought it would be wiser to make her present plain and useful, than to encourage in Margaret a love of dress, which, in our circumstances, it is more prudent to repress.”

“Perhaps Aunt Bessie dresses very simply herself,” Mary suggested.

“A rich widow, who had discarded her crape when she landed, and is evidently not in the habit of denying herself any luxury! No, no, Mary, my sister Bessie does not clothe herself in coarse serge and common print. But what is to be done? your father will be vexed if this invitation is declined; yet to bid Margaret go, arrayed in a garb that would mark her as the poor relation, I cannot.”

However, Mr. Darton, rendered irritable by overwork and the anxiety of making a small income meet the wants of a large family, angrily pooh-poohed the mothers objections.

“Decline so kind an offer simply because our sister’s good sense prompted her to send useful articles instead of finery! You shall do nothing so foolish. Margaret is to go to Brighton, I insist on it, and let her remember that by behaving rudely or ungratefully she may ruin the prospects of her brothers. If anything should happen to me, pray what friend have you in the world besides Mrs. Laurence?”

“If papa insists, of course I must obey,” said Margaret, gulping down a sob. “And for Maurice’s sake I will try to be civil and all that; but I shall take care not to stay longer than I can help. and wear those horrid things I will not. The serge can be cut into blouses for the boys.”

“But, my dear child, you are so poorly provided for such a visit,” sighed Mrs. Darton.

“Do not I know that, and writhe at the thought of displaying my poverty to my rich relatives! Yet if they were not ashamed to insult it, why should I care? Not even to please papa will I put on Aunt Bessie’s ‘something suitable.'”

And to this resolution Margaret adhered. Her loving mother would have sold a small quantity of lace she possessed, and made a few additions to her daughter’s wardrobe with the price obtained for it, but her purpose was discovered and forbidden. It was, therefore, with a very small amount of luggage–the gray cashmere, just made up for Sunday wear, the dark green worn all last winter, and an Indian muslin embroidered for her by Mary at the beginning of the summer that Margaret went away, to be convoyed to Brighton by the highly respectable, middle-aged woman in black silk and furred mantle, who introduced herself to the young lady as Mrs. Laurence’s personal attendant.

Some of Margaret’s resentment melted beneath the warmth of her reception, for Mrs. Laurence, a handsome, energetic, middle-aged woman, came into the hall to meet her niece, and tell her, with a hug and a kiss, that she was almost as pretty as her mother used to be at her age.

Then she was hurried upstairs, to be introduced to Emma and Marion, sallow, sickly looking girls of thirteen and fourteen, whose time seemed to be spent in ceaseless squabbling with the brisk little French governess, who was endeavoring to arouse them from their indolence.

There was not much companionship to be expected from them, and for the first three or four days after her arrival at Brighton, Margaret scarcely saw her aunt, except at lunch. Mrs. Laurence breakfasted in her own room, came to the luncheon-tray with her hands full of papers, over which she pored, or made notes while she ate a few biscuits. The carriage bore her off directly after, and she merely returned in time to dress for a dinner-party, being overwhelmed with invitations from friends and relatives of her late husband.

Perhaps Margaret preferred that it should be so. She felt no desire to improve her acquaintance with the lady who had made her feel so keenly that she was a poor relation; but, at the same time, she was in no hurry to return home. Gossiping neighbors might whisper that she had been sent back in disgrace; and her father, whom press of work often rendered unjust, would be sure to suspect her of having given way to temper, and forgetting that any act of rudeness on her part might mar the future of those she loved.

So Margaret resolved not to do anything hastily. Mademoiselle, when set free from her duties in the schoolroom, was a vivacious, intelligent companion; and the gaiety of Brighton was as delightful as it was new to the young girl, who had never before left the village in one of the midland counties where her parents resided.

To stroll along the King’s Road, watching the ever-changing groups that came and went; to sit on the pier, listening to the choicest music; or to venture as close to the waves as could be done with safety, and thrill with mingled pleasure and awe as they rolled on; these were amusements enough for such a novice, and the first week of Margaret’s stay in Blank Crescent glided away with astonishing rapidity. But one morning Mrs. Laurence came to luncheon without the usual budget of papers. “At last I am free,” she said to Margaret, “and I shall have time to attend to you. Poor child, how I have had to neglect you! I have had a whole family on my hands,” she proceeded to explain; “a family in which my dear husband, the Judge, was very much interested. I found them out as soon as I got here; and, as two of the sons were going on in a very unsatisfactory way, I suggested their all emigrating; so they start to-morrow. It has been a tremendous undertaking to get them all off with a clergyman who has promised to look after them; but it is done, and I can repose on my laurels and transfer my attentions to you.

“Have you been dull, my love? No? You shall go with me to a conversazione this evening. To-morrow I have a reception here, and a couple of engagements for the following night, both of which include you. Remember, you must be dressed by seven. I have promised to look in at the theater on our way, and see the first act of the new opera. Jones shall get you some flowers and do your hair.”

But Margaret proudly declined the lady’s-maid’s assistance. She did not choose to be under the inquisitive eyes of that important personage while she shook out the skirts of her only evening-gown, and fastened at her throat her only ornament, a bunch of crimson rosebuds. Mademoiselle whispered in her ear that she was toute-a-faite charmante, and Mrs. Laurence, regal in black velvet and lace, and diamond stars, nodded approval of the simple girlish costume.

Nor did Margaret feel as much embarrassed by the inquisitive or admiring glances of a throng of strangers as she had feared she should, for the first face on which her eyes rested was a familiar one.

When Mr. Darton’s family was smaller and his children younger he had taken pupils and was wont to congratulate himself that the students who commenced their medical education under his tuition had invariably turned out well.

The cleverest of them all—Gordon Evrington—was now practicing at London-super-Mare, where he was steadily rising to the top of his profession. It was not often that he could spare an evening for amusement, but he felt himself repaid when he recognized in the graceful little creature, whose eyes sparkled with pleasure at sight of him, the pretty child whose willing slave he had been in the long ago.

Dr. Evrington soon found his way to the back of Margaret’s chair; and if she had some trouble in keeping back her tears when he talked affectionately of her mother, and recalled the scenes and spots so dear to the young girl now she was so far away from them, still she was sorry when a call upon his attention compelled him to leave her.

“But I shall see you again,” he said “I have the pleasure of knowing Mrs Laurence. You will make a long stay with her?”

“Oh! no; I hope not! That is, I think not. I came reluctantly; and though my aunt is kind, I—”

Here Margaret stopped, afraid of saying too much; and Gordon Evrington went away mystified; but determined to see more of one who came nearer to his fancy-portrait of what a maiden of seventeen should be, than the more fashionable young ladies angling so openly for the hand of the clever physician.

Mrs. Laurence, who saw them meet, asked a few questions in her brisk fashion; then, in the important business of going with her daughters to the dentist, appeared to forget Margaret till both were dressed for dinner on the following day, and met on the stairs just as the first guests arrived.

A swift scrutiny may have shown her that the embroidered muslin was not as fresh as it had been, but she made no remark; and by the aid of a good-natured housemaid, who ironed it out, it even passed muster once again; but this third time of wearing was at a juvenile party, and Margaret, whose gaiety and good-nature caused her to be much in request, came home with her once immaculate skirts so smudged and so soiled by the sticky caresses of some of her small admirers, that nothing but the labors of the laundress could renovate it.

And Mrs. Laurence had issued cards for a soiree; Dr. Evrington would be amongst the guests, and Margaret, alas! would have to stay up-stairs, to miss the pleasant chat he had warned her, during a chance rencontre in the street, that he was looking forward to.

If her lips were tremulous that day, and she found it difficult to appear in her usual spirits, no one appeared to notice it. Mademoiselle was suffering with tooth-ache, and, in the hurry and bustle of preparing for so large a party, no one appeared to see that Mrs. Laurence’s pretty niece shut herself in her room early in the afternoon, and had not emerged from it when the guests began to arrive.

It was verging on ten o’clock when Margaret’s door was thrown open and Mrs. Laurence came in. The room was dark, but crouching at the window she saw a little figure, and hurried toward it.

“Why, what does this mean, child? Are you ill? No, your skin is not feverish. Have you had bad news from home? But of course not! You would have told me directly. Then why are you sitting here in this melancholy fashion? I insist on knowing.”

“I should like to go home, aunt Bessie.”

“For what reason? Be frank, and tell me. What, silent? I did not know one of your dear mother’s children could be sullen. However, I can not–will not–leave you moping here.” And Mrs. Laurence rang imperatively for lights. “Now, dress yourself, Margaret, and come down with me.”

“It is impossible, madam, for”– the truth was told with proud reluctance “for I have nothing to wear.”

“Nothing! Did you not have the gowns made up that I sent you? Was there not time? You should have told me so as soon as you came. I am surprised that, your mother–”

“Do not blame her!” cried Margaret. “She would have sold her lace to fit me out respectably, but how could I let her?”

“How, indeed, poor soul! But surely with what I sent you, child, you ought to have done very well. Where are those dresses? Of course you brought them with you unmade? No! What is the meaning of this? Were you too proud to accept my gifts, or was your vanity wounded by their simplicity? You do not reply. You are beginning to make me feel ashamed of you! How can you display such temper such ingratitude? I bought for you, as I would for my own daughters, and–”

But now Margaret broke in impetuously:

“And would you have had me appear before your guests to-night in coarse serge, or a calico gown?”

“What are you saying?” exclaimed her aunt, looking positively startled. “I begin to think there has been some mistake. I purchased for you a cream surah and pale blue nun’s veiling to be made up for evening wear, a dinner-dress of biscuit cashmere, and a pretty stripe for walking. Did you not receive them?”

Then Margaret described the contents of the package she had received, and Mrs. Laurence threw herself into a chair, and laughed long and heartily.

“My dear, you must forgive me,” she said, when she could speak, “for it is not I who have been in fault, but the shopman, who has evidently put the wrong addresses on the parcels intrusted to him to dispatch. When I was shopping I bought that serge, etc., for a young girl for whom I had procured a situation. I knew she was flighty and had a bad mother, who would have spent the sum I promised for her outfit in useless finery; so I very prudently, as I thought, laid it out myself. And now I can account for the rapturous tone of the letter of thanks I have received, and the assurance that the lovely things that I have sent Sarah Dobbs will make quite a lady of her. What must her mistress have thought of me? And you too, poor child! Now I can understand why you have shrunk from me and not seemed happy here.”

Margaret spent the rest of that evening in her room, but it was in a very different state of mind. She had no more reservations from Aunt Bessie, and not only stayed willingly at Brighton till Mrs. Laurence moved to Torquay, but accompanied her thither.

Only for a brief term, however. Dr. Evrington has won from her a promise to be his, and ere long he will seek his bride at the house of her father, Aunt Bessie having promised, ‘midst laughter and tears, to give her “something suitable,” both for her dowry and her trousseau.

The Daily Republican [Monongahela PA] 19 June 1889: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One does so like a happy ending, especially when a young woman has not only been bitterly disappointed in the contents of a parcel, but finds the weight of her brothers’ fortunes resting squarely on her embroidered-muslin-clad shoulders.

The contrast of dress materials for “lady” and “servant” is a sobering one. Still, one fears for the flighty Sarah Dobbs in that pretty stripe for walking….

 

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.

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.

The Lost Garter: 1890

The ancient order of the garter was recalled to nineteenth century prominence here the other day by an incident that is being discussed very delightedly by the heavy social set. The actors in the drama are well known in Washington society. The lady is one of the prettiest girls in Washington and lives not a mile from the White House. Her father has drawn a great deal of money from the United States Treasury in his lifetime and is by no means unknown to fame.

It was at the Garfield Hospital ball. The gentleman was an army officer of more than ordinary rank. In appearance they are well matched. She is a dazzling blonde with a figure that can discount any one-armed Venus de Milo I ever saw. The names of the two have been coupled together not a little, but it is safe to predict that such remarks will cease from now on.

It happened this way They had just danced a quadrille and returned to their seats in a palm-decorated corner quite out of the way of the madding crowd. What he was saying when another man came to claim her for the next dance is immaterial, but when his following gaze lost the lovely form in the crowd, he glanced manlike at his boots and [in] a minute his eyes were riveted on a dainty light blue gold-clasped article that lay on the floor not a yard from where his fair partner of the  previous minute had been seated. As he recognized its character all the be-ruffled courtiers of the court of the English king seemed to troop before him and honi soit qui mal y pense trembled on his tongue as he thrust the pretty thing into an inner pocket.

Poor fellow he could not stand prosperity. During the rest of the  evening he was so idiotically happy that he failed to notice the disturbed and furtively searching glances that the pretty woman, cognizant of her loss, every now and then cast into odd corners where a loose article might have been brushed.

On the way home a confession of his newly-found treasure rose to his lips a dozen times, only to be postponed. When at last he stood in the hall of her house she looked so pretty that he could resist no longer. He held one of her gloves in his hand. It required no juggling skill to take his blue and gold treasure and slip it into the glove. It was better, he  thought, to give it to her than tell her. He didn’t know how much the  poor girl had gone through since he had picked up the dainty bauble. Just as he was beginning to tell her good-night he handed back her glove. In a moment the form that had been full of yielding grace grew rigid. One pretty hand clasped the glove so closely that it didn’t take all the keen intuition of the girl to understand that the long lost and much-needed article was within. No sooner had she realized that during all her suffering this man had possessed the article than her spirit rose in arms, sentiment vanished, and with the ejaculation, “Oh, you horrid brute,” she fled up the stairway, leaving him to his reflections and a large chunk of mortification.

The next time he called she sent word that she was “out,” and the young officer’s messmates don’t think it prudent to include garters in their conversations held before the hero of this tale.

The little married woman who told me of the incident explains the action of the young lady by saying that it was not mortification at the nature of the article that had been in the young a man’s possession that vexed the girl so much as it was fear lest she had lost one of the articles that had been especially purchased to match the dainty garments by which it was immediately surrounded, and that anyhow the heroine didn’t love the hero or she would have knighted him then and there with the precious article. But then women say odd things of one another and perhaps the poor girl was mortified after all.

Los Angeles [CA] Evening Express 15 March 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is pursing her lips dubiously over a story perhaps better suited to the pages of a French novel than a family newspaper.  With so little common sense, one has doubts about the fitness of the officer for that “more than ordinary rank.”  Surely the contretemps could have easily been avoided by posting the lost item back to its owner anonymously? We may also wonder how the young officer knew what the dainty article was, but then one knows what young officers are….

 

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.

An Undine with a Soul: 1892

green and pink gown

Green and pink gown by the House of Worth, 1897, Chertsey Museum

AN UNDINE WITH A SOUL.
How a Clever New York Maiden Saved Her Social Fortunes.

Special Correspondence Sunday Post-Dispatch.

New York. Gift making is over and all the world is duly thankful, a large part of it that the holiday pother is well ended, here and there an individual for what has not been received. This is notably the case with a young woman much addicted to artistic yearning and full of a fine feeling for color. Though the best circles here receive her with open arms, it is wholly because of her personal charm, backed with substantial expectations. Her family is good enough, not distinguished, and only comfortably endowed with this world’s goods. Her father claims a cross of Knickerbocker blood. Her mother comes of thrifty trader-folk, clean and honest, but wholly unaesthetic. There is a childless rich aunt, the mother’s sister, widow of a retired grocer, for whose garmenting gorgeous is a poor pale word. Fair, fat and fifty; she revels in big hats all over sky blue feathers, in velvet gowns of green and scarlet aflaunt with white lace; in brocades that would do admirably as wall tapestries; in tea-gowns calculated to make a self-respecting rainbow go out of business; in bracelets and lockets and chatelaines, distinctly audible as far as eye can reach. In fact the good lady lives to be clothed. Style is her fetish, and she offers to it a perpetual oblation of good, hard cash, expended for “all the latest things.”

Notwithstanding she shows the family thrift otherwise. The beauty, as her namesake and prospective heiress, has a reasonable claim upon her generosity. It is one, though, that the young woman most willingly waives. All her life particularly at Christmas times she has been endowed with things that her aunt bought, wore and laid aside the season before, and woe to the recipient if she dares to leave them unworn. Since she came out. two winters back, they have been the nightmare of her existence. Between tears and laughter she told me of her struggles with one particularly flamboyant gown, a grass-green silk all betagged and befrilled with vulgarly deep pink, and aglitter with crystal passementeries in the bargain. It was as rich and costly as it was ugly and to the donor’s mind exactly the thing the girl needed to wear at a swell dinner party with dancing after it, two weeks in prospect. The victim of it thought otherwise. The invitation was the first that had come to her from the really swagger set. If she did not do credit to it it would be also the last. To go in that impossible gown was to foredoom herself to social failure. What could she be but a dumb fright under the oppression of that rainbow horror? Yet not to wear it might cost her eventually a solid quarter million. It was a case of her face or her fortune, and she did not care to sacrifice either. There was nothing for it but diplomacy. Taking her courage in both hands, she stripped off every vestige of the pink, and with it ornamented a loose white cashmere house-robe, where the effect was not half so bad. This she sent to her aunt as a birthday gift, intimating that only the elder lady’s magnificent complexion could bear such rich color. Then the green remnant was veiled and swathed in clouds of pink and white tulle, layer upon layer, with crystal drops here and there and trails of water grass and lilies on the corsage and about the waist. Thus gowned, with an emerald pendant on her bare white throat, green slippers, green stockings, a white and green fan, the young woman was voted an Undine with a soul and her social success assured. But it was a narrow escape–a harrowing experience–one, too, that she feared was to be indefinitely repeated. There were three brocades in her aunt’s wardrobe that it seemed certain the Christmas just past would precipitate on her devoted head. A line in a fashion letter saved her. It read, ‘”Old brocades are more stylish than new, now that the texture is again in fashion.” By consequence, at the eleventh hour the aunt bought for her niece a bonbonniere as big as your two hands, all over gilt and flowers, and sent for her modiste to see what were the possibilities of the gowns she could not bring herself to part with.

blue and gold velvet dress 1895

1895 velvet and brocade gown. ttps://artsandculture.google.com/asset/dress/cQEsM1SnLWPe2g

So here is a new use for the fashion letter. Certainly womankind should be grateful to it for it brings much of sweetness and light into the chaos of feminine costume. The sentence quoted is frozen fact. The happiest, she is the one who had a grand aunt or mother considerate enough to leave her a chest full or even one gown of the rich old-fashioned taffeta brocade. One that I saw resurrected the other day was as freshly beautiful as though it had not come out of Paris 120 years ago. The ground was a rich chocolate brown satin brocaded with a cluster of cherries and their leaves in natural tints, alternating with poppy clusters in shaded red and yellow. It was made with a very long waist pointed and opening quite to the bottom over a stomacher of yellow lace. The same yellow lace made a tucker in the low square neck and triple ruffles for the elbow sleeves. The skirt opened in front and was looped away from a petticoat of plain brown satin short enough to show the high heeled red shoes with big bows and silver buckles and even a tiny bit of the red clocked stockings. Behind the brocade swept out into a train full three yards long, lined throughout with yellow brown paduasoy. Its first wearer was a colonial dame of renown—a vice regal lady whose stately beauty is the most cherished tradition of her descendants. This costume, which figured at more than one historic ball, has been kept intact even to fan and gloves, which by the way are as long as the longest of our period. It was brought to light with some faint idea of remodeling it into a ball-gown for a great-great granddaughter. In the end it was decided to leave it alone. There are hints, though, of a colonial costume ball for the benefit of the Mary Washington Monument association. If they take form and substance it is safe to say the brown brocade will appear and ruffle with the best.

 

 

Failing old brocade you may buy new ones twice as beautiful in all the delicate evening shades—blues like a dream of heaven or the shimmering summer sea, pale tea-rose pinks, shot stuff, opalescent as the tints of dawn or as full of changing hues as a pigeon’s purple neck; cream amber, Indian red, jonquil yellow, pearl, dead white, black, gray, crimson, all in the most lustrous weaves, with a pattern of lace festoons or true love knots, or stars or spots or crescents in self-tones running all over them. Other sorts have delicate flowers or bouquets colored to the life; still others sheaves of wheat in gold or silver, or suns or moons or intricate arabesque tracery in the same precious metals. In making up the brocade forms either a coat bodice in front with a velvet train, or else a trained skirt with bodice of fine cloth, or may be a court train and sleeves to a princess gown the color of its ground.

The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY] 27 December 1891: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We must applaud the very diplomatic young woman, even if she is much addicted to artistic yearning.  Few, if any of us, could so deftly steer between the Scylla of social ruin and the Charybdis of an aunt having a quarter million in her gift.  The Undine gown sounds enchanting. And the pink-trimmed cashmere house-robe and its attendant compliment to the aunt’s complexion was a sheer stroke of genius.

The House of Worth was noted for its exquisite brocades, often woven à la disposition or with metallic threads. The descriptions above could have come from a vendeuse tempting the Undine’s aunt at Maison Worth.

 

As a side-light, Mrs Daffodil was full of anxiety over the fate of the yellow-brown “paduasoy,” for fear that it had been remodeled, i.e. vandalised, into a ball gown for some heedless debutante. It was with a feeling of profound relief that she heard that it was left alone, although there was still the threat of the colonial costume ball. We have previously read of the historic costumes worn on such occasions in An Imposter at the Concord Ball. It is a dress-historian’s worst nightmare.

 

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 Romance of Certain Old Clothes: 1868

blue ivory robe a la francaise5

THE ROMANCE OF CERTAIN OLD CLOTHES.

I.

Towards the middle of the eighteenth century there lived in the Province of Massachusetts a widowed gentlewoman, the mother of three children, by name Mrs. Veronica Wingrave. She had lost her husband early in life, and had devoted herself to the care of her progeny. These young persons grew up in a manner to reward her tenderness and to gratify her highest hopes. The first-born was a son, whom she had called Bernard, in remembrance of his father. The others were daughters—born at an interval of three years apart. Good looks were traditional in the family, and this youthful trio were not likely to allow the tradition to perish. The boy was of that fair and ruddy complexion and that athletic structure which in those days (as in these) were the sign of good English descent—a frank, affectionate young fellow, a deferential son, a patronising brother, a steadfast friend. Clever, however, he was not; the wit of the family had been apportioned chiefly to his sisters. The late Mr. William Wingrave had been a great reader of Shakespeare, at a time when this pursuit implied more freedom of thought than at the present day, and in a community where it required much courage to patronise the drama even in the closet; and he had wished to call attention to his admiration of the great poet by calling his daughters out of his favourite plays. Upon the elder he had bestowed the romantic name of Rosalind, and the younger he had called Perdita, in memory of a little girl born between them, who had lived but a few weeks.

When Bernard Wingrave came to his sixteenth year his mother put a brave face upon it and prepared to execute her husband’s last injunction. This had been a formal command that, at the proper age, his son should be sent out to England, to complete his education at the university of Oxford, where he himself had acquired his taste for elegant literature. It was Mrs. Wingrave’s belief that the lad’s equal was not to be found in the two hemispheres, but she had the old traditions of literal obedience. She swallowed her sobs, and made up her boy’s trunk and his simple provincial outfit, and sent him on his way across the seas. Bernard presented himself at his father’s college, and spent five years in England, without great honour, indeed, but with a vast deal of pleasure and no discredit. On leaving the university he made the journey to France. In his twenty-fourth year he took ship for home, prepared to find poor little New England (New England was very small in those days) a very dull, unfashionable residence. But there had been changes at home, as well as in Mr. Bernard’s opinions. He found his mother’s house quite habitable, and his sisters grown into two very charming young ladies, with all the accomplishments and graces of the young women of Britain, and a certain native-grown originality and wildness, which, if it was not an accomplishment, was certainly a grace the more. Bernard privately assured his mother that his sisters were fully a match for the most genteel young women in the old country; whereupon poor Mrs. Wingrave, you may be sure, bade them hold up their heads. Such was Bernard’s opinion, and such, in a tenfold higher degree, was the opinion of Mr. Arthur Lloyd. This gentleman was a collegemate of Mr. Bernard, a young man of reputable family, of a good person and a handsome inheritance ; which latter appurtenance he proposed to invest in trade in the flourishing colony. He and Bernard were sworn friends ; they had crossed the ocean together, and the young American had lost no time in presenting him at his mother’s house, where he had made quite as good an impression as that which he had received and of which I have just given a hint.

The two sisters were at this time in all the freshness of their youthful bloom; each wearing, of course, this natural brilliancy in the manner that became her best. They were equally dissimilar in appearance and character. Rosalind, the elder—now in her twenty-second year—was tall and white, with calm gray eyes and auburn tresses; a very faint likeness to the Rosalind of Shakespeare’s comedy, whom I imagine a brunette (if you will), but a slender, airy creature, full of the softest, quickest impulses. Miss Wingrave, with her slightly lymphatic fairness, her fine arms, her majestic height, her slow utterance, was not cut out for adventures. She would never have put on a man’s jacket and hose; and, indeed, being a very plump beauty, she may have had reasons apart from her natural dignity. Perdita, too, might very well have exchanged the sweet melancholy of her name against something more in consonance with her aspect and disposition. She had the cheek of a gipsy and the eye of an eager child, as well as the smallest waist and lightest foot in all the country of the Puritans. When you spoke to her she never made you wait, as her handsome sister was wont to do (while she looked at you with a cold fine eye), but gave you your choice of a dozen answers before you had uttered half your thought.

The young girls were very glad to see their brother once more; but they found themselves quite able to spare part of their attention for their brother’s friend. Among the young men their friends and neighbours, the belle jeunesse of the Colony, there were many excellent fellows, several devoted swains, and some two or three who enjoyed the reputation of universal charmers and conquerors. But the homebred arts and somewhat boisterous gallantry of these honest colonists were completely eclipsed by the good looks, the fine clothes, the punctilious courtesy, the perfect elegance, the immense information, of Mr. Arthur Lloyd. He was in reality no paragon ; he was a capable, honourable, civil youth, rich in pounds sterling, in his health and complacency and his little capital of uninvested affections. But he was a gentleman ; he had a handsome person ; he had studied and travelled ; he spoke French, he played the flute, and he read verses aloud with very great taste. There were a dozen reasons why Miss Wingrave and her sister should have thought their other male acquaintance made but a poor figure before such a perfect man of the world. Mr. Lloyd’s anecdotes told our little New England maidens a great deal more of the ways and means of people of fashion in European capitals than he had any idea of doing. It was delightful to sit by and hear him and Bernard talk about the fine people and fine things they had seen. They would all gather round the fire after tea, in the little wainscoted parlour, and the two young men would remind each other, across the rug, of this, that and the other adventure. Rosalind and Perdita would often have given their ears to know exactly what adventure it was, and where it happened, and who was there, and what the ladies had on; but in those days a well-bred young woman was not expected to break into the conversation of her elders, or to ask too many questions ; and the poor girls used therefore to sit fluttering behind the more languid—or more discreet—curiosity of their mother.

II.

That they were both very fine girls Arthur Lloyd was not slow to discover; but it took him some time to make up his mind whether he liked the big sister or the little sister best. He had a strong presentiment—an emotion of a nature entirely too cheerful to be called a foreboding—that he was destined to stand up before the parson with one of them; yet he was unable to arrive at a preference, and for such a consummation a preference was certainly necessary, for Lloyd had too much young blood in his veins to make a choice by lot and be cheated of the satisfaction of falling in love. He resolved to take things as they came —to let his heart speak. Meanwhile he was on a very pleasant footing. Mrs. Wingrave showed a dignified indifference to his “intentions,” equally remote from a carelessness of her daughter’s honour and from that sharp alacrity to make him come to the point, which, in his quality of young man of property, he had too often encountered in the worldly matrons of his native islands. As for Bernard, all that he asked was that his friend should treat his sisters as his own; and as for the poor girls themselves, however each may have secretly longed that their visitor should do or say something “marked,” they kept a very modest and contented demeanour.

Towards each other, however, they were somewhat more on the offensive. They were good friends enough, and accommodating bedfellows (they shared the same four-poster), betwixt whom it would take more than a day for the seeds of jealousy to sprout and bear fruit; but they felt that the seeds had been sown on the day that Mr. Lloyd came into the house. Each made up her mind that, if she should be slighted, she would bear her grief in silence, and that no one should be any the wiser; for if they had a great deal of ambition, they had also a large share of pride. But each prayed in secret, nevertheless, that upon her the selection, the distinction, might fall. They had need of a vast deal of patience, of self-control, of dissimulation. In those days a young girl of decent breeding could make no advances whatever, and barely respond, indeed, to those that were made. She was expected to sit still in her chair, with her eyes on the carpet, watching the spot where the mystic handkerchief should fall. Poor Arthur Lloyd was obliged to carry on his wooing in the little wainscoted parlour, before the eyes of Mrs. Wingrave, her son, and his prospective sister-in-law. But youth and love are so cunning that a hundred signs and tokens might travel to and fro, and not one of these three pairs of eyes detect them in their passage. The two maidens were almost always together, and had plenty of chances to betray themselves. That each knew she was being watched, however, made not a grain of difference in the little offices they mutually rendered, or in the various household tasks they performed in common. Neither flinched nor fluttered beneath the silent battery of her sister’s eyes. The only apparent change in their habits was that they had less to say to each other. It was impossible to talk about Mr. Lloyd, and it was ridiculous to talk about anything else. By tacit agreement they began to wear all their choice finery, and to devise such little implements of conquest, in the way of ribbons and top-knots and kerchiefs, as were sanctioned by indubitable modesty. They executed in the same inarticulate fashion a contract of fair play in this exciting game. “Is it better so?” Rosalind would ask, tying a bunch of ribbons on her bosom, and turning about from her glass to her sister. Perdita would look up gravely from her work and examine the decoration. “I think you had better give it another loop,” she would say, with great solemnity, looking hard at her sister with eyes that added, “upon my honour!” So they were for ever stitching and trimming their petticoats, and pressing out their muslins, and contriving washes and ointments and cosmetics, like the ladies in the household of the vicar of Wakefield. Some three or four months went by; it grew to be midwinter, and as yet Rosalind knew that if Perdita had nothing more to boast of than she, there was not much to be feared from her rivalry. But Perdita by this time—the charming Perdita—felt that her secret had grown to be tenfold more precious than her sister’s.

One afternoon Miss Wingrave sat alone—that was a rare accident—before her toilet-glass, combing out her long hair. It was getting too dark to see; she lit the two candles in their sockets, on the frame of her mirror, and then went to the window to draw her curtains. It was a gray December evening; the landscape was bare and bleak, and the sky heavy with snow-clouds. At the end of the large garden into which her window looked was a wall with a little postern door, opening into a lane. The door stood ajar, as she could vaguely see in the gathering darkness, and moved slowly to and fro, as if some one were swaying it from the lane without. It was doubtless a servantmaid who had been having a tryst with her sweetheart. But as she was about to drop her curtain Rosalind saw her sister step into the garden and hurry along the path which led to the house. She dropped the curtain, all save a little crevice for her eyes. As Perdita came up the path she seemed to be examining something in her hand, holding it close to her eyes. When she reached the house she stopped a moment, looked intently at the object, and pressed it to her lips.

Poor Rosalind slowly came back to her chair and sat down before her glass, where, if she had looked at it less abstractedly, she would have seen her handsome features sadly disfigured by jealousy. A moment afterwards the door opened behind her and her sister came into the room, out of breath, her cheeks aglow with the chilly air.

Perdita started. “Ah,” said she, “I thought you were with our mother.” The ladies were to go to a tea-party, and on such occasions it was the habit of one of the girls to help their mother to dress. Instead of coming in, Perdita lingered at the door.

“Come in, come in,” said Rosalind. “ We have more than an hour yet. I should like you very much to give a few strokes to my hair.” She knew that her sister wished to retreat, and that she could see in the glass all her movements in the room. “Nay, just help me with my hair,” she said, “and I will go to mamma.”

Perdita came reluctantly, and took the brush. She saw her sister’s eyes, in the glass, fastened hard upon her hands. She had not made three passes when Rosalind clapped her own right hand upon her sister’s left, and started out of her chair. “Whose ring is that?” she cried, passionately, drawing her towards the light.

On the young girl’s third finger glistened a little gold ring, adorned with a very small sapphire. Perdita felt that she need no longer keep her secret, yet that she must put a bold face on her avowal. “It’s mine,” she said proudly.

“Who gave it to you?” cried the other.

Perdita hesitated a moment. “Mr. Lloyd.”

“Mr. Lloyd is generous, all of a sudden.”

“Ah no,” cried Perdita, with spirit, “not all of a sudden! He offered it to me a month ago.”

“And you needed a month’s begging to take it?” said Rosalind, looking at the little trinket, which indeed was not especially elegant, although it was the best that the jeweller of the Province could furnish. “I wouldn’t have taken it in less than two.”

“It isn’t the ring,” Perdita answered, “it’s what it means!”

“It means that you are not a modest girl!” cried Rosalind. “Pray, does your mother know of your intrigue? does Bernard?”

“My mother has approved my ‘intrigue,’ as you call it. Mr. Lloyd has asked for my hand, and mamma has given it. Would you have had him apply to you, dearest sister?”

Rosalind gave her companion a long look, full of passionate envy and sorrow. Then she dropped her lashes on her pale cheeks and turned away. Perdita felt that it had not been a pretty scene; but it was her sister’s fault. However, the elder girl rapidly called back her pride, and turned herself about again. “You have my very best wishes,” she said, with a low curtsey. “I wish you every happiness, and a very long life.”

Perdita gave a bitter laugh. “Don’t speak in that tone!” she cried. “I would rather you should curse me outright. Come, Rosy,” she added, “he couldn’t marry both of us.”

“I wish you very great joy,” Rosalind repeated, mechanically, sitting down to her glass again, “and a very long life, and plenty of children.”

There was something in the sound of these words not at all to Perdita’s taste. “Will you give me a year to live at least?” she said. “In a year I can have one little boy—or one little girl at least. If you will give me your brush again I will do your hair.”

“Thank you,” said Rosalind. “ You had better go to mamma. It isn’t becoming that a young lady with a promised husband should wait on a girl with none.”

“Nay,” said Perdita, good-humouredly, “I have Arthur to wait upon me. You need my service more than I need yours.”

But her sister motioned her away, and she left the room. When she had gone poor Rosalind fell on her knees before her dressing-table, buried her head in her arms, and poured out a flood of tears and sobs. She felt very much the better for this effusion of sorrow. When her sister came back she insisted on helping her to dress—on her wearing her prettiest things. She forced upon her acceptance a bit of lace of her own, and declared that now that she was to be married she should do her best to appear worthy of her lover’s choice. She discharged these offices in stem silence; but, such as they were, they had to do duty as an apology and an atonement; she never made any other.

Now that Lloyd was received by the family as an accepted suitor nothing remained but to fix the wedding-day. It was appointed for the following April, and in the interval preparations were diligently made for the marriage. Lloyd, on his side, was busy with his commercial arrangements, and with establishing a correspondence with the great mercantile house to which he had attached himself in England. He was therefore not so frequent a visitor at Mrs. Wingrave’s as during the months of his diffidence and irresolution, and poor Rosalind had less to suffer than she had feared from the sight of the mutual endearments of the young lovers. Touching his future sister-in-law Lloyd had a perfectly clear conscience. There had not been a particle of love-making between them, and he had not the slightest suspicion that he had dealt her a terrible blow. He was quite at his ease; life promised so well, both domestically and financially. The great revolt of the Colonies was not yet in the air, and that his connubial felicity should take a tragic turn it was absurd, it was blasphemous, to apprehend. Meanwhile, at Mrs. Wingrave’s, there was a greater rustling of silks, a more rapid clicking of scissors and flying of needles, than ever. The good lady had determined that her daughter should carry from home the genteelest outfit that her money could buy or that the country could furnish. All the sage women in the Province were convened, and their united taste was brought to bear on Perdita’s wardrobe. Rosalind’s situation, at this moment, was assuredly not to be envied. The poor girl had an inordinate love of dress, and the very best taste in the world, as her sister perfectly well knew. Rosalind was tall, she was stately and sweeping, she was made to carry stiff brocade and masses of heavy lace, such as belong to the toilet of a rich man’s wife. But Rosalind sat aloof, with her beautiful arms folded and her head averted, while her mother and sister and the venerable women aforesaid worried and wondered over their materials, oppressed by the multitude of their resources. One day there came in a beautiful piece of white silk, brocaded with heavenly blue and silver, sent by the bridegroom himself—it not being thought amiss in those days that the husband-elect should contribute to the bride’s trousseau. Perdita could think of no form or fashion which would do sufficient honour to the splendour of the material.

“Blue’s your colour, sister, more than mine,” she said, with appealing eyes. “It’s a pity it’s not for you. You would know what to do with it.”

Rosalind got up from her place and looked at the great shining fabric, as it lay spread over the back of a chair. Then she took it up in her hands and felt it—lovingly, as Perdita could see—and turned about toward the mirror with it. She let it roll down to her feet, and flung the other end over her shoulder, gathering it in about her waist with her white arm, which was bare to the elbow. She threw back her head, and looked at her image, and a hanging tress of her auburn hair fell upon the gorgeous surface of the silk. It made a dazzling picture. The women standing about uttered a little “Look, look!” of admiration. “Yes, indeed,” said Rosalind, quietly, “blue is my colour.” But Perdita could see that her fancy had been stirred, and that she would now fall to work and solve all their silken riddles. And indeed she behaved very well, as Perdita, knowing her insatiable love of millinery, was quite ready to declare. Innumerable yards of lustrous silk and satin, of muslin, velvet and lace, passed through her cunning hands, without a jealous word coming from her lips. Thanks to her industry, when the wedding-day came Perdita was prepared to espouse more of the vanities of life than any fluttering young bride who had yet received the sacramental blessing of a New England divine.

It had been arranged that the young couple should go out and spend the first days of their wedded life at the country-house of an English gentleman—a man of rank and a very kind friend to Arthur Lloyd. He was a bachelor; he declared he should be delighted to give up the place to the influence of Hymen. After the ceremony at church—it had been performed by an English

clergyman—young Mrs. Lloyd hastened back to her mother’s house to change her nuptial robes for a riding-dress. Rosalind helped her to effect the change, in the little homely room in which they had spent their undivided younger years. Perdita then hurried off to bid farewell to her mother, leaving Rosalind to follow. The parting was short ; the horses were at the door, and Arthur was impatient to start. But Rosalind had not followed, and Perdita hastened back to her room, opening the door abruptly. Rosalind, as usual, was before the glass, but in a position which caused the other to stand still, amazed. She had dressed herself in Perdita’s cast-off wedding veil and wreath, and on her neck she had hung the full string of pearls which the young girl had received from her husband as a wedding-gift. These things had been hastily laid aside, to await their possessor’s disposal on her return from the country. Bedizened in this unnatural garb Rosalind stood before the mirror, plunging a long look into its depths and reading heaven knows what audacious visions. Perdita was horrified. It was a hideous image of their old rivalry come to life again. She made a step toward her sister, as if to pull off the veil and the flowers. But catching her eyes in the glass, she stopped.

“Farewell, sweetheart,” she said. “You might at least have waited till I had got out of the house!” And she hurried away from the room.

Mr. Lloyd had purchased in Boston a house which to the taste of those days appeared as elegant as it was commodious; and here he very soon established himself with his young wife. He was thus separated by a distance of twenty miles from the residence of his mother-in-law. Twenty miles, in that primitive era of roads and conveyances, were as serious a matter as a hundred at the present day, and Mrs. Wingrave saw but little of her daughter during the first twelvemonth of her marriage. She suffered in no small degree from Perdita’s absence; and her affliction was not diminished by the fact that Rosalind had fallen into terribly low spirits and was not to be roused or cheered but by change of air and company. The real cause of the young lady’s dejection the reader will not be slow to suspect. Mrs. Wingrave and her gossips, however, deemed her complaint a mere bodily ill, and doubted not that she would obtain relief from the remedy just mentioned. Her mother accordingly proposed, on her behalf, a visit to certain relatives on the paternal side, established in New York, who had long complained that they were able to see so little of their New England cousins. Rosalind was despatched to these good people, under a suitable escort, and remained with them for several months. In the interval her brother Bernard, who had begun the practice of the law, made up his mind to take a wife. Rosalind came home to the wedding, apparently cured of her heartache, with bright roses and lilies in her face and a proud smile on her lips. Arthur Lloyd came over from Boston to see his brother-in-law married, but without his wife, who was expecting very soon to present him with an heir. It was nearly a year since Rosalind had seen him. She was glad—she hardly knew why—that Perdita had stayed at home. Arthur looked happy, but he was more grave and important than before his marriage. She thought he looked “interesting,”—for although the word, in its modern sense, was not then invented, we may be sure that the idea was. The truth is, he was simply anxious about his wife and her coming ordeal. Nevertheless, he by no means failed to observe Rosalind’s beauty and splendour, and to note how she effaced the poor little bride. The allowance that Perdita had enjoyed for her dress had now been transferred to her sister, who turned it to wonderful account. On the morning after the wedding he had a lady’s saddle put on the horse of the servant who had come with him from town, and went out with the young girl for a ride. It was a keen, clear morning in January; the ground was bare and hard, and the horses in good condition—to say nothing of Rosalind, who was charming in her hat and plume, and her dark blue riding coat, trimmed with fur. They rode all the morning, they lost their way, and were obliged to stop for dinner at a farm-house. The early winter dusk had fallen when they got home. Mrs. Wingrave met them with a long face. A messenger had arrived at noon from Mrs. Lloyd; she was beginning to be ill, she desired her husband’s immediate return. The young man, at the thought that he had lost several hours, and that by hard riding he might already have been with his wife, uttered a passionate oath. He barely consented to stop for a mouthful of supper, but mounted the messenger’s horse and started off at a gallop.

He reached home at midnight. His wife had been delivered of a little girl. “Ah, why weren’t you with me?” she said, as he came to her bedside.

“I was out of the house when the man came. I was with Rosalind,” said Lloyd, innocently.

Mrs. Lloyd made a little moan, and turned away. But she continued to do very well, and for a week her improvement was uninterrupted. Finally, however, through some indiscretion in the way of diet or exposure, it was checked, and the poor lady grew rapidly worse. Lloyd was in despair. It very soon became evident that she was breathing her last. Mrs. Lloyd came to a sense of her approaching end, and declared that she was reconciled with death. On the third evening after the change took place she told her husband that she felt she should not get through the night. She dismissed her servants, and also requested her mother to withdraw—Mrs. Wingrave having arrived on the preceding day. She had had her infant placed on the bed beside her, and she lay on her side, with the child against her breast, holding her husband’s hands. The nightlamp was hidden behind the heavy curtains of the bed, but the room was illumined with a red glow from the immense fire of logs on the hearth.

“It seems strange not to be warmed into life by such a fire as that,” the young woman said, feebly trying to smile. “If I had but a little of it in my veins! But I have given all my fire to this little spark of mortality.” And she dropped her eyes on her child. Then raising them she looked at her husband with a long, penetrating gaze. The last feeling which lingered in her heart was one of suspicion. She had not recovered from the shock which Arthur had given her by telling her that in the hour of her agony he had been with Rosalind. She trusted her husband very nearly as well as she loved him; but now that she was called away for ever she felt a cold horror of her sister. She felt in her soul that Rosalind had never ceased to be jealous of her good fortune; and a year of happy security had not effaced the young girl’s image, dressed in her wedding-garments, and smiling with simulated triumph. Now that Arthur was to be alone, what might not Rosalind attempt? She was beautiful, she was engaging; what arts might she not use, what impression might she not make upon the young man’s saddened heart? Mrs. Lloyd looked at her husband in silence. It seemed hard, after all, to doubt of his constancy. His fine eyes were filled with tears; his face was convulsed with weeping; the clasp of his hands was warm and passionate. How noble he looked, how tender, how faithful and. devoted! “Nay,” thought Perdita, “he’s not for such a one as Rosalind. He’ll never forget me. Nor does Rosalind truly care for him; she cares only for vanities and finery and jewels.” And she lowered her eyes on her white hands, which her husband’s liberality had covered with rings, and on the lace ruffles which trimmed the edge of her night-dress. “She covets my rings and my laces more than she covets my husband.”

At this moment the thought of her sister’s rapacity seemed to cast a dark shadow between her and the helpless figure of her little girl. “Arthur,” she said, “you must take off my rings. I shall not be buried in them. One of these days my daughter shall wear them—my rings and my laces and silks. I had them all brought out and shown me to-day. It’s a great wardrobe—there’s not such another in the Province; I can say it without vanity, now that I have done with it. It will be a great inheritance for my daughter when she grows into a young woman. There are things there that a man never buys twice, and if they are lost you will never again see the like. So you will watch them well. Some dozen things I have left to Rosalind; I have named them to my mother. I have given her that blue and silver; it was meant for her; I wore it only once, I looked ill in it. But the rest are to be sacredly kept for this little innocent. It’s such a providence that she should be my colour; she can wear my gowns; she has her mother’s eyes. You know the same fashions come back every twenty years. She can wear my gowns as they are. They will lie there quietly waiting till she grows into them— wrapped in camphor and rose-leaves, and keeping their colours in the sweet-scented darkness. She shall have black hair, she shall wear my carnation satin. Do you promise me, Arthur?”

“Promise you what, dearest?”

“Promise me to keep your poor little wife’s old gowns.”

“Are you afraid I shall sell them?”

“No, but that they may get scattered. My mother will have them properly wrapped up, and you shall lay them away under a double-lock. Do you know the great chest in the attic, with the iron bands? There is no end to what it will hold. You can put them all there. My mother and the housekeeper will do it, and give you the key. And you will keep the key in your secretary, and never give it to any one but your child. Do you promise me?”

“Ah, yes, I promise you,” said Lloyd, puzzled at the intensity with which his wife appeared to cling to this idea.

“Will you swear ?” repeated Perdita.

“Yes, I swear.”

“Well—I trust you—I trust you,” said the poor lady, looking into his eyes with eyes in which, if he had suspected her vague apprehensions, he might have read an appeal quite as much as an assurance.

Lloyd bore his bereavement rationally and manfully. A month after his wife’s death, in the course of business, circumstances arose which offered him an opportunity of going to England. He took advantage of it, to change the current of his thoughts. He was absent nearly a year, during which his little girl was tenderly nursed and guarded by her grandmother. On his return he had his house again thrown open, and announced his intention of keeping the same state as during his wife’s lifetime. It very soon came to be predicted that he would marry again, and there were at least a dozen young women of whom one may say that it was by no fault of theirs that, for six months after his return, the prediction did not come true. During this interval he still left his little daughter in Mrs. Wingrave’s hands, the latter assuring him that a change of residence at so tender an age would be full of danger for her health. Finally, however, he declared that his heart longed for his daughter’s presence and that she must be brought up to town. He sent his coach and his housekeeper to fetch her home. Mrs. Wingrave was in terror lest something should befall her on the road; and, in accordance with this feeling, Rosalind offered to accompany her. She could return the next day. So she went up to town with her little niece, and Mr. Lloyd met her on the threshold of his house, overcome with her kindness and with paternal joy. Instead of returning the next day Rosalind stayed out the week; and when at last she reappeared, she had only come for her clothes. Arthur would not hear of her coming home, nor would the baby. That little person cried and choked if Rosalind left her; and at the sight of her grief Arthur lost his wits, and swore that she was going to die. In fine, nothing would suit them but that the aunt should remain until the little niece had grown used to strange faces.

It took two months to bring this consummation about; for it was not until this period had elapsed that Rosalind took leave of her brother-in-law. Mrs. Wingrave had shaken her head over her daughter’s absence; she had declared that it was not becoming, that it was the talk of the whole country. She had reconciled herself to it only because, during the girl’s visit, the household enjoyed an unwonted term of peace. Bernard Wingrave had brought his wife home to live, between whom and her sister-in-law there was as little love as you please. Rosalind was perhaps no angel; but in the daily practice of life she was a sufficiently good-natured girl, and if she quarrelled with Mrs. Bernard, it was not without provocation. Quarrel, however, she did, to the great annoyance not only of her antagonist, but of the two spectators of these constant altercations. Her stay in the household of her brother-in-law, therefore, would have been delightful, if only because it removed her from contact with the object of her antipathy at home. It was doubly —it was ten times—delightful, in that it kept her near the object of her early passion. Mrs. Lloyd’s sharp suspicions had fallen very far short of the truth. Rosalind’s sentiment had been a passion at first, and a passion it remained—a passion of whose radiant heat, tempered to the delicate state of his feelings, Mr. Lloyd very soon felt the influence. Lloyd, as I have hinted, was not a modern Petrarch; it was not in his nature to practise an ideal constancy. He had not been many days in the house with his sister-in-law before he began to assure himself that she was, in the language of that day, a devilish fine woman. Whether Rosalind really practised those insidious arts that her sister had been tempted to impute to her it is needless to inquire. It is enough to say that she found means to appear to the very best advantage. She used to seat herself every morning before the big fireplace in the dining room, at work upon a piece of tapestry, with her little niece disporting herself on the carpet at her feet, or on the train of her dress, and playing with her woollen balls. Lloyd would have been a very stupid fellow if he had remained insensible to the rich suggestions of this charming picture. He was exceedingly fond of his little girl, and was never weary of taking her in his arms and tossing her up and down, and making her crow with delight. Very often, however, he would venture upon greater liberties than the young lady was yet prepared to allow, and then she would suddenly vociferate her displeasure. Rosalind, at this, would drop her tapestry, and put out her handsome hands with the serious smile of the young girl whose virgin fancy has revealed to her all a mother’s healing arts. Lloyd would give up the child, their eyes would meet, their hands would touch, and Rosalind would extinguish the little girl’s sobs upon the snowy folds of the kerchief that crossed her bosom. Her dignity was perfect, and nothing could be more discreet than the manner in which she accepted her brother-in-law’s hospitality. It may almost be said, perhaps, that there was something harsh in her reserve. Lloyd had a provoking feeling that she was in the house and yet was unapproachable. Half-an-hour after supper, at the very outset of the long winter evenings, she would light her candle, make the young man a most respectful curtsey, and march off to bed. If these were arts, Rosalind was a great artist. But their effect was so gentle, so gradual, they were calculated to work upon the young widower’s fancy with a crescendo so finely shaded, that, as the reader has seen, several weeks elapsed before Rosalind began to feel sure that her returns would cover her outlay. When this became morally certain she packed up her trunk and returned to her mother’s house. For three days she waited ; on the fourth Mr. Lloyd made his appearance—a respectful but pressing suitor. Rosalind heard him to the end, with great humility, and accepted him with infinite modesty. It is hard to imagine that Mrs. Lloyd would have forgiven her husband; but if anything might have disarmed her resentment it would have been the ceremonious continence of this interview. Rosalind imposed upon her lover but a short probation. They were married, as was becoming, with great privacy—almost with secrecy—in the hope perhaps, as was waggishly remarked at the time, that the late Mrs. Lloyd wouldn’t hear of it.

The marriage was to all appearance a happy one, and each party obtained what each had desired—Lloyd “a devilish fine woman,” and Rosalind—but Rosalind’s desires, as the reader will have observed, had remained a good deal of a mystery. There were, indeed, two blots upon their felicity, but time would perhaps efface them. During the first three years of her marriage Mrs. Lloyd failed to become a mother, and her husband on his side suffered heavy losses of money. This latter circumstance compelled a material retrenchment in his expenditure, and Rosalind was perforce less of a fine lady than her sister had been. She contrived, however, to carry it like a woman of considerable fashion. She had long since ascertained that her sister’s copious wardrobe had been sequestrated for the benefit of her daughter, and that it lay languishing in thankless gloom in the dusty attic. It was a revolting thought that these exquisite fabrics should await the good pleasure of a little girl who sat in a high chair and ate bread-and-milk with a wooden spoon. Rosalind had the good taste, however, to say nothing about the matter until several months had expired. Then, at last, she timidly broached it to her husband. Was it not a pity that so much finery should be lost?—for lost it would be, what with colours fading, and moths eating it up, and the change of fashions. But Lloyd gave her so abrupt and peremptory a refusal, that she saw, for the present, her attempt was vain. Six months went by, however, and brought with them new needs and new visions. Rosalind’s thoughts hovered lovingly about her sister’s relics. She went up and looked at the chest in which they lay imprisoned. There was a sullen defiance in its three great padlocks and its iron bands which only quickened her cupidity. There was something exasperating in its incorruptible immobility. It was like a grim and grizzled old household servant, who locks his jaws over a family secret. And then there was a look of capacity in its vast extent, and a sound as of dense fulness, when Rosalind knocked its side with the toe of her little shoe, which caused her to flush with baffled longing. “It’s absurd,” she cried; “it’s improper, it’s wicked”; and she forthwith resolved upon another attack upon her husband. On the following day, after dinner, when he had had his wine, she boldly began it. But he cut her short with great sternness.

“Once for all, Rosalind,” said he, “it’s out of the question. I shall be gravely displeased if you return to the matter.”

“Very good,” said Rosalind. “I am glad to learn the esteem in which I am held. Gracious heaven,” she cried, “I am a very happy woman! It’s an agreeable thing to feel one’s self sacrificed to a caprice!” And her eyes filled with tears of anger and disappointment.

Lloyd had ‘a good-natured man’s horror of a woman’s sobs, and he attempted—I may say he condescended—to explain. “It’s not a caprice, dear, it’s a promise,” he said—-“an oath.”

“An oath? It’s a pretty matter for oaths! and to whom, pray?”

“To Perdita,” said the young man, raising his eyes for an instant, but immediately dropping them.

“Perdita—ah, Perdita!” and Rosalind’s tears broke forth. Her bosom heaved with stormy sobs —sobs which were the long-deferred sequel of the violent fit of weeping in which she had indulged herself on the night when she discovered her sister’s betrothal. She had hoped, in her better moments, that she had done with her jealousy; but her temper, on that occasion, had taken an ineffaceable fold. “And pray, what right had Perdita to dispose of my future?” she cried. “What right had she to bind you to meanness and cruelty? Ah, I occupy a dignified place, and I make a very fine figure! I am welcome to what Perdita has left! And what has she left? I never knew till now how little! Nothing, nothing, nothing.”

This was very poor logic, but it was very good as a “scene.” Lloyd put his arm around his wife’s waist and tried to kiss her, but she shook him off with magnificent scorn. Poor fellow! he had coveted a “devilish fine woman,” and he had got one. Her scorn was intolerable. He walked away with his ears tingling—irresolute, distracted. Before him was his secretary, and in it the sacred key which with his own hand he had turned in the triple lock. He marched up and opened it, and took the key from a secret drawer, wrapped in a little packet which he had sealed with his own honest bit of blazonry. Je garde, said the motto—“I keep.” But he was ashamed to put it back. He flung it upon the table beside his wife.

“Put it back!” she cried. “I want it not. I hate it!”

“I wash my hands of it,” cried her husband. “God forgive me!”

Mrs. Lloyd gave an indignant shrug of her shoulders, and swept out of the room, while the young man retreated by another door. Ten minutes later Mrs. Lloyd returned, and found the room occupied by her little step-daughter and the nursery-maid. The key was not on the table. She glanced at the child. Her little niece was perched on a chair, with the packet in her hands. She had broken the seal with her own small fingers. Mrs. Lloyd hastily took possession of the key.

At the habitual supper-hour Arthur Lloyd came back from his counting-room. It was the month of June, and supper was served by daylight. The meal was placed on the table, but Mrs. Lloyd failed to make her appearance. The servant whom his master sent to call her came back with the assurance that her room was empty, and that the women informed him that she had not been seen since dinner. They had, in truth, observed her to have been in tears, and, supposing her to be shut up in her chamber, had not disturbed her. Her husband called her name in various parts of the house, but without response. At last it occurred to him that he might find her by taking the way to the attic. The thought gave him a strange feeling of discomfort, and he bade his servants remain behind, wishing no witness in his quest. He reached the foot of the staircase leading to the topmost flat, and stood with his hand on the banisters, pronouncing his wife’s name. His voice trembled. He called again louder and more firmly. The only sound which disturbed the absolute silence was a faint echo of his own tones, repeating his question under the great eaves. He nevertheless felt irresistibly moved to ascend the staircase. It opened upon a wide hall, lined with wooden closets, and terminating in a window which looked westward, and admitted the last rays of the sun. Before the window stood the great chest. Before the chest, on her knees, the young man saw with amazement and horror the figure of his wife. In an instant he crossed the interval between them, bereft of utterance. The lid of the chest stood open, exposing, amid their perfumed napkins, its treasure of stuffs and jewels. Rosalind had fallen backward from a kneeling posture, with one hand supporting her on the floor and the other pressed to her heart. On her limbs was the stiffness of death, and on her face, in the fading light of the sun, the terror of something more than death. Her lips were parted in entreaty, in dismay, in agony; and on her blanched brow and cheeks there glowed the marks of ten hideous wounds from two vengeful ghostly hands

1868.

Stories Revived, Henry James, 1885: pp. 311-340

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A long ghost story, but a memorable one, and with the always agreeable additional frisson of fashion.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about a ghost who ordered a hat, a haunted coat, the ghost with one shoe, and the haunted garden party dress.

You will also find fashionable horrors in the short story “Crape,” found in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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.

Gowns and Omens–Dressmakers’ Superstitions: 1911

hemming a skirt 1895 seamstress

GOWNS AND OMENS.

Odd Superstitions That Darken Dressmaker’s Shop.

“Women who wear fine dresses are as superstitious as the girls who make them,” said a dressmaker. “If the little accidents that happen in the workroom were not mercifully concealed from the owners of rich gowns they would be sick with apprehension half the time. I had one customer who refused to accept a very expensive dress because a girl who assisted with the fitting dropped a pair of scissors, which fell point down and stuck in the floor. That meant an order for mourning within six months. [It might also mean dismissal or death for the person who dropped the scissors.] The customer hoped that by refusing the hoodoo dress she could avert the calamity, but the precaution was useless. In less than three months her father was dead.

“Girls are especially particular in their work on wedding dresses, for if a tiny drop of blood from a pricked finger should fall on the gown the bride would surely die before the end of the year. Then there is green thread. Whether the customer is there to see it or not, no dressmaker will keep green thread near spools of another color. Green thread used for basting means the return of a dress for alterations, and there is enough trouble of that kind in a dressmaking establishment without deliberately bidding for it.

“Women who are themselves superstitious are never surprised or offended at a sewing girl’s untidy coiffure. The girls tumble their hair about on purpose when working on a large order, for it is a sacred belief among dressmakers that a hair inadvertently worked into the garment shows that more work is coming soon from the same customer.”

Stafford [KS] County Republican 10 August 1911: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has written before about the idea that sewing a hair into a wedding gown will bring the seamstress a husband.

Green was widely thought to be an unlucky colour.  Today one would think that was because the dye was often the deadly Scheele’s Green. The superstition might more plausibly be blamed on the fairies:

Green an Unlucky Color.

The Scotch Highlanders considered it unfortunate to wear the fairies’ fatal green in a fight, especially on a Friday, and in many places in rural England, this same belief that the fairies looked upon green as their peculiar hue and resented the wearing of this color by mortals was generally held. Wisconsin State Journal [Madison WI] 23 October 1899: p. 3

Seamstresses had a whole wardrobe of superstitions regarding the dressmaking business as well as matters of life and death.

Dressmakers’ Superstitions.

Theatrical folk are generally supposed to take the palm for superstition, but dressmakers are not far behind. No matter how gilt edged and “madamed” and given to big bills and scornful of anybody who comes to heir afoot she may be, and especially of the somebody who can’t afford silk lining, she wouldn’t dream of sewing the gown while upon you. “Take a stitch while you’re trying the dress on!” she cries. “Mercy, no! I wouldn’t dream of such a dreadful thing. Don’t you know what it means? Every one of those stitches would stand for a lie that somebody was telling about you, and the longer the stitch the bigger the lie.” That is what she will tell you if you ask her or any of her aides to take the least little “tack” in the garment. “Well, I will if you’re willing to run the risk,” said one of the profession resignedly. “Yes, I know I can’t do it so well off you, but it’ll take at least six stitches, and that means just six lies—big lies, too, for the stitches are awful long.” She regarded the customer who was willing to fly thus in the face of fate as nothing short of a marvel.

Mower County Transcript [Lansing MI] 5 January 1898: p. 2

Black Pins and Dressmaking.—A dressmaker, about 30 years old, born and resident at Torquay, when “trying on” or fitting on a new dress to a customer, declined to use a black pin, remarking that were she to use it the dress would certainly not fit.  Report and Transactions: The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, Vol. 12, Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, 1880: p. 112

**

If a garment is cut out on Friday, the person for whom it is made will not live unless it is finished on the same day. Southern Indiana.

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Beginning on Saturday a garment that cannot be finished means death. Ohio.

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Whoever works on a sick person’s dress, he or she will die within the year. Massachusetts.

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When a woman who has been sewing puts her thimble on the table as she sits down to eat, it is a sign that she will be left a widow, if she marries. Central Maine.

This latter superstition provides an admirable excuse to procure a pretty thimble case and consistently place the article within.

 

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.

Snake Skin Neckties: 1894

snakeskin tie

SNAKE SKINS AS NECKTIES.

The Cuticle of a Thirty-Year-Old Now a Part of Correct Neckwear.

Just several shades removed from the chameleon fad is the idea of wearing snake skins for neckties, but the fashion is growing in Baltimore. It promises to become quite the proper caper to be seen in immaculate morning suit of the latest London cut, with the tanned cuticle of a three-foot reptile neatly tied around the snowy “choker” collar, whatever other style of linen neckwear happens to be the rage. The fad will never become generally violent, says the New York Recorder, for fine snake skins come high, and the crop may thin out so as to let the West Virginians, who make a business of catching the possessors of variegated outer coverings, create a corner in the market and coin a fortune. To be in the swim nowadays, and have the swagger thing in neckties, a Baltimore man must not only wear a snakeskin, but the cuticle of a “rattler” of about thirty years of age. The peculiar color of the rattler, when he has passed in his checks and gone to snake celestial spheres, is what makes the skin more valuable than when his fangs are still doing the poison business at the old stand.

The necktie must be that of a snake of age, standing and family, for a young scion of the house of rattler doesn’t seem to possess all the qualifications as to color and durability of hide the head of the house can lay claim to. Presumably it’s because a snake of three decades or so has been through about all the different kinds of dissipation known to the reptile world, and his physical hide is cognizant of no more compunction than his moral nature. Then an old rattler is generally larger than a young chap, and a tie about a yard in length is bound to bring more in the market than a whipper-snapper snake could show before he reaches his majority. No other kind of a snake indigenous to this section of the country would answer the purpose half as well as a rattler, because but few varieties attain his length and Falstaffian girth, except the copperhead and black snake, and their colors, while brilliant enough during life, are not of the right shade after the tanner has had his innings. A copperhead skin assumes too much of a dull brown to harmonize with odd ideas in neckwear, and the black fellow–well, his hide might answer for a seedy individual’s mourning tie, but nothing else. The rattler’s color, when all the fight has been taken out of him and his remains have been subjected to the process that prepares them for men’s furnishing use, is something on the very dull gold or ecru order. The black rings show distinctly and they lend the odd effects that have so captivated the swells. Then when a back and lining have been put on the skin the tie is ready for use, but they are worth an even three dollars any day, counting two dollars and a half for the skin, which is the average price of a rattler of thirty years’ standing, including all the trouble the catcher and tanner combined have had to take.

The Times and Democrat [Orangeburg SC] 19 September 1894: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  While rattlesnakes were a staple villain of  Western moving pictures and newspaper articles about seething nests of the poisonous creatures, their menace only added a certain cachet for those devil-may-care Swells who ordered up the Crotalinae cravats. There were also well-known urban legends about persons poisoned by a rattlesnake’s fang embedded in a boot.  Mrs Daffodil imagines an underpaid snakeskin tanner leaving a fang or two in the lining…

The fashionable world never seems to tire of finding ways to torment living creatures. The chameleon fad mentioned at the beginning of the article had a brief vogue in the 1890s, and was sister to the fad for wearing live beetles.

The fad of wearing chameleons, which came from Florida, upon collar or scarf, has assumed quite large proportions among the set that is always seeking something new. It is not only confined to the male sex, for many ladies have adopted the fad and several of the fair sex have been seen wearing these little reptiles.

The Jewellers’ Circular and Horological Review, Vol. 27, 1898

The genuine snake-skin necktie seen at the head of this post dates from the 1970s. If one judges by the listings on auction sites, it appears that the fashionable snake-skin cravat is now an Italian silk print.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about Snake-skins in Fashion and The Lizard: Fashion’s Favorite Pet.

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.