Category Archives: Professions

Coquettes Command a Premium: 1890

two's company three's a crowd, charles dana gibson suito 1906

Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd, Charles Dana Gibson, 1906

COQUETRY VERSUS BEAUTY.

The Susceptibility of Mankind to Simplicity and Frivolity.

 Coquettes Seem to Command a Premiums While Brainy Women Are at a Discount—The Masculine Mind Tired of Pedantic Lectures.

A born coquette is more dangerous than a beauty, asserts a writer in the New York World. She inherits a better legacy than wealth, for while money gives life its cushion beauty gives it color and coquetry makes it sparkle. The coquette will go on with her conquests while there is a man left in the world with a heart in his bosom. There is a woman in New York who keeps a big boarding-school for the education of coquettes, and instead of walking on rose leaves she treads on golden eagles. Seats at her performances are secured two years in advance, and to make the application you pay a handsome deposit. There are no graded courses of study, no exhaustive examinations, no tedious memory lessons and no incessant, eternal and intolerable smashing of piano-keys. Aspirants for degrees can go to the Harvard annex. Would-be grenadiers are directed to Holyoke and Columbia, and blue stockings are advised to enter local high schools and universities for intellectual force. Here coquetry is fostered and no secret made about it, either. Square shoulders are rounded into De Milo grace: flat soles are raised by judicious foot coverings; high foreheads sheltered by kiss curls; harsh voices lowered a whole tone; angular elbows turned in; stiff joints loosened and every symptom of a strong mind rigidly suppressed. The pupil is sweetened, softened and curved. She is carefully instructed to know nothing and to do nothing that will rob a grace or mar a smile.

And does she pay?

Doesn’t she.

Drop her in the village lane or quiet promenade of her native city and see if she is not gobbled up by the most promising young lawyer or most prominent bachelor in the town.

This is a serious, angular old world. Men are sick and tired of shrewdness, logic, argument and brains. They want to be amused, distracted, diverted. Good sense is tedious after the market closes, and the woman who talks profit and loss, supply and demand, premium and discount in evening dress, in the moonlight or at a dinner party, is a nightmare in petticoats, to be eluded at the first turn in the lane. Change is rest, and, while we hate giggling, we love gabble. There is where the coquetry of woman wins.

I remember riding in an elevated train beside a grizzly man of fifty and a breezy, chatty girl enveloped in fluttering ribbons, dreamy lace and the scent of wild olives, who was pouring society chat into her companion’s ear. When a lull came in her recital do you think he sighed restfully? Not a bit of it.” His only remark was: “Tell me some more.”

Coquetry is to the wine of life what the sparkle is to champagne, and there are women who can no more help being coquettish than that delicious draught can help bubbling.

A pretty lot of nonsense, too, brothers preach against rice powder, curl papers, lip rouge and sweet scent. It is a matter of comment that these dear protected sisters receive more than a liberal allowance of home, while the veriest Dolly Varden in the set has her fill of the play, the dance and the tennis court.

The coquette is helped over dangerous crossings, her packages are picked up and brushed when she drops them. The first place at a bank window and the first consideration in the shops are hers. The coquette gets the loveliest flowers, the most delicious candies, the newest books and the latest prints in the market. The coquettes receive the idolatry of men. Their hearts, their hands, their names, and finally their worldly goods.

She need not make a show-case of herself nor play the flower garden to the captivating. A girl can be absolutely irresistible in a fifteen-cent cambric. Innocence, youth, beauty, sentiment are associated with a girl in a white dress. Plenty of men shrink from brocade and passementerie as fabrics beyond their income, but the white cambric, the white mull, the white anything is a raiment that blots out arithmetical calculation.

The coquette may be as wise as Maria Mitchell, Susan B. Anthony or Abigail Dodge, but she will never let a man find it out. She knows too well how they hate things didactic. And so she smiles sweetly, talks gayly and lives to please. Here’s luck to the little coquette. Long may she wave and never waver.

Kansas City [MO] Times 29 June 1890: p. 16

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Men are sick and tired of shrewdness, logic, argument and brains.”

>ahem<

Might Mrs Daffodil venture to suggest that the gentlemen are simply jealous?

Especially since they are the logical, shrewd sex who can be taken in by what appears to be a fifteen-cent cambric, but is, in reality, a costly garment from some couturière specialising in the coquette trade. Those cambric-besotted gentlemen will face some hard arithmetical calculations once the trap is sprung and they have bestowed their hearts, hands, names, and worldly goods on the Girl who Lives to Please.

 

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

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

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Mr Greenleaf’s New Cook: 1859

cook.JPG

The Betty

Pattie Parsley

Allow me to introduce to you Mr. John Greenleaf, “a man, sir,” he will tell you, “who has made his own money, and doesn’t care who knows it—none of your heirs to property; no, sir! A self-made man.” There he stands by the fireplace, looking as pompous as if all mankind were his glares, and he was monarch of the universe. He is very rich, worth, they will tell you on ‘Change, any amount of money. He has a fine house, as the peep we are taking into the parlor will convince you. You can see that all the furniture is rich, tho paintings rare, the carpets velvet, and the lights brilliant. He has three children. The little, pale-looking girl at the piano is his daughter. He has determined to give her a splendid education, “the best, sir, that money can buy.” Never mind if they are cramming her young brain beyond its capabilities, making her pale, puny, and old, she must study, practise, and be worthy to take her place in society as the daughter of John Greenleaf. The two little boys crouched down by the window, playing chess, though older than their sister, are as pale, weak, and overtasked. Who is the lady by the piano, guiding the little girl’s fingers? Bless your innocence! that’s nobody! That is only Mr. Greenleaf’s wife, “a person,” he will tell you, with a shrug, “of amiable disposition, but no strength of character.”

“My dear,” said Mr. Greenleaf, in a voice as if he were calling his wife from the garret, although she really stands within arm’s length.

“Yes, John.”

“My dear, I have given the cook warning. Last week, the beef was twice overdone.”

“Well, John,” said Mrs. Greenleaf, with a sigh, “this is the sixth cook we have had within a month.”

“If she did not suit me, she should go, even if she were the sixtieth. She goes to-night; and the new one comes to-morrow.”

Now let me introduce you to Mr. Greenleaf’s kitchen. All is in order; every new invention for facilitating the servant’s work stands on the shelves; but did you ever see such discontented faces? Miss Fannie’s nurse stands by the table, looking at the new cook with a cross expression; while the waiter scours the knives in a spiteful, vigorous manner; and the chambermaid sets down her bucket with a bang, and looks too at the cook.

“You won’t stay here long,” says Maria, the nurse.

“No, that you won’t !” echoes Lizzie, the waiter.

“You’ll be a simpleton if you do,” chimes in Sallie, the chambermaid.

“Why, what’s the matter? Mrs. Greenleaf cross?”

“No, indeed,” cries Maria, screwing up her lips. “Mrs. Greenleaf’s a martyred angel; that’s what she is. It’s Mr. Greenleaf. Oh! Won’t you have to dance to the music? He’s hard on us all; but he’s hardest of all on the cooks.”

“Mr. Greenleaf ! what! what’s he got to do with me? I won’t have no men fooling round in my kitchen.”

“Oh! won’t you?”

“Well,” cried a loud, harsh voice at the door, “is there no work to do? What are you all idling here in the kitchen for at this time in the morning?”

Before he had finished speaking, cook stood alone in the kitchen.

“Humph !” said Mr. Greenleaf, setting down his basket; “so you’ve come. What’s your name?”

“Jane.”

“Well, Jane, here’s the dinner. Now, I want you to listen particularly to my directions. I want that piece of beef roasted. Don’t let it stay in the fire more than half an hour. I hate meat overdone”

“It won’t be fit to eat in half an hour.”

“Obey my directions, if you please. The chickens I want boiled; and there will be some oysters here soon for sauce. Don’t put any butter or salt in the oyster-sauce.” And so he went on until each article had been condemned to utter ruin, and then left the kitchen.

“I’ll serve him up a dinner,” muttered the cook.

“Jane,” said a sweet, low voice.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Jane, what has come for dinner?” Jane named the articles.

“Mr. Greenleaf has given you his directions, I presume?”

“Yes, ma’am. Everything in that ‘ere basket will be sp’iled complete.”

“Well, Jane, you must make everything as nice as you can; but don’t contradict Mr. Greenleaf, if he thinks you followed his directions.”

“Well, ma’am,” said the cook, rather discontentedly.

Dinner-time came, and with it Mr. Greenleaf. “Ah!” said he, throwing himself back in his chair, after finishing a hearty meal, “now, this is a dinner! everything cooked precisely after my directions. The new cook is a jewel. All the others have contradicted me; and the consequence was we have not had a dinner fit to eat for months. This beef is done to a charm; and that oyster-sauce is magnificent. I hate butter in oysters, spoiling the children’s complexions.”

Mrs. Greenleaf said nothing, though inwardly smiling at the success of her new stratagem.

Washing-day came. There, beside the tubs, stood Mr. Greenleaf, criticizing the proceedings. Jane had a large basket of clothes ready to put on the line; but, as she was leaving the kitchen, Mr. Greenleaf stood before her. “Do you call this white?”  he asked, fishing up a towel with the end of his cane, “or this, or this? Faugh! they are as dirty as when they came down stairs ! Here!” And, taking the basket from Jane, he launched the contents into Maria’s tub.

“Oh, Mr. Greenleaf ! these are colored clothes!” cried Maria.

“Well, they want washing, don’t they?”

“Yes, sir; but you’ve pitched all them white ones a top o’ them! Oh, he! he!  he!” And Maria fled into the yard, and burst out a laughing.

Mr. Greenleaf looked at her with magnificent astonishment. Jane had contrived to pin a half-dried towel to his coat; and her sudden view of it had caused Maria’s laughter.

“Giddy-headed goose!” cried Mr. Greenleaf. “I declare I believe I could wash myself better than the whole of you put together!”

“Suppose you try,” suggested Jane, accidentally flirting a quantity of soapsuds upon his black clothes. “Oh, sir, I beg your pardon; I did not see you.”

“Um! Um! these clothes in the boiler are only half washed. ‘Pon my word, servants, now-a-days, are enough to wear one’s life out. Here! take these things out and give them another rub.”

“Certainly, sir,” cried the obliging Jane; and before Mr. Greenleaf knew what was coming, a long stick was thrust into the boiler and a pile of clothes fished out. The hot steam rushed into his face, and the boiling water spattered over his hands, and, as he was springing aside to avoid them, down went the stick, full of hot clothes, upon his foot. “Oh, my gracious!” cried Jane. “Oh, sir, I did not mean to! Oh, you did give me sich a turn, sir, jumping round so, that the stick fell! Oh, I hope it don’t burn, sir.”

Mr. Greenleaf was obliged to make a very undignified exit, hopping on one foot, with the white towel dangling from his coat, and his vest and pants covered with soapsuds.

“I’ll teach him to come into my kitchen, washing-days,” cried Jane, as soon as he was out of hearing. “Now, I’ll go and see what his lordship wants for dinner.”

Jane found the unfortunate victim of her spite sitting in his wife’s room, holding the scalded foot in his hand, and the wet slipper and stocking lying beside him. Her face assumed an expression of profound sympathy, as she suggested a remedy for the burn. Then the subject of dinner was discussed. Among the marketing articles was a steak, and Jane, in her innocence, suggested onions.

“Onions!” cried Mr. Greenleaf. “Onions! I’d as leave eat arsenic. Onions! I detest onions! the flavor is the most horrible in the world. Remember, Jane, I will never have an onion on my table, or its flavor in anything I eat.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jane, mentally adding, “won’t you, though?”

The next morning, Jane left the house early and secretly, and returned with a number of large onions, which she carefully concealed. She and the waiter had a long private conversation soon after.

“Jane!” cried Mr. Greenleaf, at dinner-time, in a voice of thunder.

“Yes, sir,” said Jane, coming up hastily from the kitchen.

“Jane, did I not tell you never to put onion on the table?”

“There ain’t none, sir.”

“There is; the whole dinner tastes of onion. There is that detestable flavor in every dish on the table. You taste it, my dear.”

“I can’t taste it,” said Mrs. Greenleaf.

“Nor I, nor I,” cried the children.

The governess could not taste it, nor the friend who was dining with them. Mr. Greenleaf, in a towering passion, limped into the kitchen, and put his nose into every pot on the range. Everything was free from the fearful smell, yet his whole dinner tasted of it. Day after day, it was the same thing; breakfast, dinner, and supper tasted of onions. Even his tea and coffee had the flavor: and Mrs. Greenleaf began to think her husband was insane on the subject of onions. Jane and the waiter alone could have explained the mystery. Every day, before each meal, Jane took Mr. Greenleafs cup, saucer, and plate, and rubbed them with raw onion, then, standing them on the stove until the moisture dried on the china, she sent them up-stairs thoroughly impregnated with onion.

Mr. Greenleaf would have parted with Jane after his foot was scalded, but, acting on Mrs. Greenleaf’s hints, she served up the most splendidly-cooked meals, persuading him, by her submissive air and attention to his directions, that she was following all his absurd whims.

“Jane,” said Mr. Greenleaf, coming into the kitchen, one morning, “I have had a present of a pair of prairie hens, and I want them fricasseed. Now, I am not going out to-day, and I will show you exactly how to do them.”

“Yea, sir,” said Jane.

“Well, we will begin now.”

“Why, lors, sir, they will be all cold, if you cook them now.”

“Not at all; they need a good deal of cooking. First, cut them up.”

“Hadn’t I better clean them, sir?”

“Yes, of course; I meant clean them. Now, cut them up.”

“But they ought to be parboiled whole.”

“No, they are not to be parboiled; it makes them tough. They will cook enough in the gravy.”

Determined to let him see what a fine mess he was making, Jane followed his directions implicitly. The result was, a mess that would have disgusted a starving savage. Dinner-time came, and Mr. Greenleaf stood rubbing his hands, over his dish; it remained on every plate untouched. He put one mouthful into his own mouth, and then called Jane, in a tone that threatened to take the roof off the house. “What is that?” he asked, pointing to the dish before him.

“Them’s the prairie hens, sir.”

“What have you been putting in them?”

“Nothing but what you seed yourself, sir.”

Mr. Greenleaf looked at the dish, then at the cook; there was no appearance of deceit in her face. “Here!” he cried, “bring me a clean plate, and take this down stairs; throw it into the swill-pail, or give it to any beggar that will eat it.”

“I guess he won’t come down to get dinner himself again, in my kitchen,” muttered the triumphant cook, as she threw away the offending dish.

Godey’s Lady’s Book March 1859:  : pp.   249-251

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has been fortunate that she has never had a master so overweening as Mr Greenleaf, but she will mentally file away that masterful trick with the onions.

See also, “Twelve Golden Rules for Women Cooks.

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 Inspector Smelled a Rat: 1902

rat trap 1915.JPG

The Inspector Smelled a Rat.

The sight of vast quantities of coin has a stimulating influence on human wits, to such an extent that Uncle Sam is kept busy “coppering” efforts of geniuses to “do” the various mints. Some of the schemes devised are so smooth that the government officials are unwilling for their nature to be divulged at least until the law has been twisted into shape to fit the new form of theft. Time and again methods have been evolved for which no legal antidote is discoverable and which can only be punished by dismissal, not by criminal prosecution. One of the latter types was recently worked on a western mint, according to the report of a late arrival via the Southern Pacific. It was this way. The gold is rolled into strips from ingots in the rolling room and carefully weighed out again. The “in” and “out” figures should tally so they did until recently when a suddenly daily deficit appeared. Each evening there was a loss of $10 or $20 and the director of the mint grew hot in the collar. A personal search was made of every one leaving the room, but the shortage continued.

Finally, one day the inspector in the coinage department smelled, a rat, a real rat, which had fallen a victim to the jaws of a deadfall during the night. Although it was still early in the day, the rat asserted itself until it dawned upon the inspector that decomposition had progressed with remarkable rapidity for a one-day corpse. The trap, he knew had been emptied of another rodent the evening before, for he remembered seeing an employee pick up the thing by the tail and toss it through the small slot above the window.

A flash of intelligence came to the official, and he waited. Later a “stamper” approached the trap, remarking jocularly ‘’Nother rat,’ bent over, fooled with the trap and then tossed the creature out of the window. The inspector was out in a flash and reached the ground just in time to see a gent pick up a defunct rodent, slip it into a leather grip and decamp.

The commotion made by the inspector put the employee on his guard, and he threw no more rats.

He was soon dismissed for cause and went away damning his own laziness, for instead of getting busy and keeping a supply of fresh rats on ice, he used and reused the same fellow until he became faisandé [overripe] and put the authorities next to his game. However, he justified himself by saying that was the only rat he had found with a mouth large enough to hold $35 worth of gold. Exchange.

The Leavenworth [KS] Times 2 September 1902: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil will note that, even to-day, those persons in charge of securing clients’ intimate financial details have the same difficulty in apprehending and convicting miscreants who would steal those golden “user-names” and “pass-words.”  The only thing that can be said in the favour of these criminals is that they have moved beyond rats, into “phish.”

 

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.

Nurse Sees a Ghost: c. 1910s

nurse and baby

The Old Nurse’s Story

By Gerda Calmady-Hamlyn.

The following story was related to me by a respectable elderly woman—a children’s nurse—who said she had held “no belief in ghosts or any of that there sort of nonsense” till the curious experience which I am about to relate fell to her lot.

Nurse Mitchell had undertaken a temporary but extremely well-paid post at W——, a town in the Midlands famous alike for its beautiful Cathedral and the fact that the bones of a world-renowned novelist lie buried therein. She was to be nurse to a young married-lady with one very delicate and fretful baby requiring the greatest care. The lady was not the actual owner of No. 21, Stevenstone Street; she merely rented what appeared a most picturesque old place, with low casement windows, carved and panelled walls, and a corkscrewy sort of staircase—”just the sort to break your neck over—going downstairs on a darkish night.” Originally the quaint abode may have been built as two separate smaller houses, joined together now by the staircase alluded to. There was a wide hall in the centre from which opened doors into passages leading away to the kitchen-regions; while upstairs were bedrooms round a gallery, and the nursery at the back part of the house.

Nurse had been in residence for over a week, and her infant charge had proved so unusually fretful that she found herself tied almost entirely to the nursery. One morning, after a particularly restless night, she was carrying baby from his own apartments to those of his mother in the front part of the house, and had to pass down the winding staircase, across the hall, and up on the farther side, holding the child on one arm and a bundle of shawls upon the other. Both burdens proved somewhat cumbrous, and just as Nurse reached the most difficult portion of the stairway the bundle of woolly shawls began to slip. She must either drop them altogether, or lessen her hold on the sleeping infant. That would be pretty sure to wake him—a thing to be avoided at all costs. At that crucial moment. Nurse Mitchell caught sight of a plump little dark-haired girl, in a pink-cotton dress and neatly-starched cap and apron, very similar to the little between-maid, Polly Awcott, who usually brought up her breakfast and supper trays.

“Polly, my girl,” cried she, “just come and give me a hand with these shawls or I’ll drop them and the blessed baby too in another minute!”

To her amazement, the girl paid not the faintest attention to her request, but slipped through a red baize door leading to the pantries and disappeared from view.

Late that evening. Nurse went down to the kitchen to fetch hot water, and seeing that same girl (as she believed) who had played her such a shabby trick, said, “Hullo, Polly, is that you, I see? Why didn’t you come this morning when I called to you, may I ask? You might have stretched out a friendly hand.”

Polly, who was a wholesome sensible-looking girl with a smiling face, stared at Nurse with a puzzled expression, then burst into a laugh, in which several of the other domestics joined.

Nurse Mitchell began to feel angry. “What’s the wonderful joke all about?” she exclaimed.

Cook, a fat good-natured woman, explained, “It’s nothing, Nurse; nothing against you anyway; this house is supposed to be haunted, by a maidservant. We’ve most of us seen her, and one or two of us have spoken to her, but she never answers back. Neither does she do any harm to us or anyone else that I know of— just flits about the house, an inoffensive little thing, sometimes in a pink-cotton dress such as Polly wears of a morning, sometimes in a neat black afternoon get-up, as if she were going to the front door to let in callers. Whose ghost she is, or what she’s supposed to be doing here none of us know.”

“Fancy that now,” exclaimed Nurse in astonishment; “I wouldn’t have believed what you say for one single minute if I hadn’t seen the little maid with my own eyes!”

“I’ve always heard that this old house was haunted, and it has been my wish ever since I grew up to try and get a place here and see what I could for myself,” put in Peggy the kitchen-maid, a striking-looking damsel with luminous psychic black eyes.

After which, Mary the head housemaid, said, “That ghost you saw, Nurse, ain’t by any manner o’ means the only one in this house; there’s far worse than that. One parlour-maid here got the fright of her life one evening, and left before she’d been in the place six days. Two visitors were expected the day after she came, a young married couple; and Annie K—–had orders to prepare the big blue spare-room for them to sleep in. That’s just over the drawing-room suite, and is the best bedchamber in the house. About six o’clock in the evening, —the visitors weren’t due to arrive till nearly eight—Annie ran upstairs to the blue room with clean towels and to see that all was straight. She opened the door to walk in, and saw a beautiful young lady, standing in front of the glass, wearing a pink silk dressing-jacket and lace petticoat, who had masses of lovely golden hair flowing down over her shoulders! For a moment Annie fancied that the lady guest must-have arrived by an earlier train, unbeknown to her. ‘If you please, Ma’am,’ she began, but all of a sudden, the young lady swung round from the glass with a face of the most awful fury, rushed across the room as swift as a sheet o’ greased lightning. Annie hurried out and the lady slammed the door behind her. In the passage Annie fainted and it was an hour and more before anybody found her. Her people came and took her away, and the doctor said she was on the verge of brain fever.”

As much of the history of the old house as Nurse Mitchell could discover ran something like this—it belonged to a wealthy family of bankers. Some sixty years before Julia, the only daughter of the house—a beautiful young girl of nineteen—became engaged to a young man whom her people highly disapproved of. Parents were strict in those days, and the father was so enraged at his daughters engaging herself without his knowledge that he forbade his would-be son-in-law the house and kept the unhappy damsel virtually a prisoner, permitting her to hold communication with no one, not even to see a friend. Somehow or other she escaped by the help of a maidservant, and her lover having sailed for India, mistress and maid agreed to follow him. The ship on which they sailed foundered, and all on board were drowned. It was after that the hauntings at 21, Stevenstone Street began. Months went by without tidings of the fate of the two fugitives; but long before news of their death reached England, Julia had appeared in spirit form, first to a favourite brother, and then to other members of the family. The maid also was frequently seen, both then and afterwards—a little quiet flitting figure, who molested no one and disappeared at once if you spoke to her.

Nurse Mitchell concluded—“I don’t like them kind o’ things, do you ma’am? and I hope I’ll never take situation in another haunted house. I don’t wonder that wretched parlour-maid gave notice!”

The International Psychic Gazette August 1919: p. 167

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is quite a roster of staff: delicate servants who fall into brain fever at the sight of a ghost in an attractive combing jacket, kitchen-maids with luminous psychic black eyes, and a ghostly maidservant who, even though correctly garbed for her duties, won’t lend a helping hand.  Mr Elliott O’Donnell has written censoriously about the slatternly appearance of a ghost-maid with red hair. And who could forget the ghost of that previous paragon of a maid, Ann Frost, who gave such trouble when she was murdered?

It is no wonder that ladies despair over the “servant question.”

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.

Lady Embalmers: 1892-1921

 

EMBALMING BODIES.

STRANGE OCCUPATION FOLLOWED BY MANY AMERICAN WOMEN.

They Are Adepts at Ministering In the House of Mourning—Modern Developments of the Ancient Egyptian Art of Embalming the Dead.

Very few Americans know that the ancient art of embalming has been completely restored and improved, though not in the ancient way. Not only are bodies now preserved far more perfectly than at any time by the Egyptians, but all the unpleasant, not to say revolting, incidents of their practice are avoided.

At the outbreak of our civil war it was taken for granted that speedy decay was the fate of all the dead, and it was only by such rude appliances as ice and salt or the most pungent drugs that any of the bodies of those slain in battle could be taken home for burial. The demand suddenly created set hundreds of physicians and undertakers to investigating, but such is the natural reverence for all that is old that people generally spoke of embalming as a lost art, and even the scientific declared that in this climate it would be impossible to preserve a corpse as in ancient Egypt.

At the very beginning of the war one Confederate and several Federal surgeons began to study methods of corpse preservation, and the net result of all their labors and those of many other gentlemen may be summed up in one sentence; All the old, barbarous methods are discarded, and in their stead arterial injection and other processes which do not mutilate the corpse in the slightest degree are employed.

The business of embalming seems like a queer occupation for the gentler sex, but it is an interesting fact that there are now nearly 300 ladies in the United States engaged in undertaking, and several of these are very skillful embalmers. Mrs. J. L. Young of Vinton, Ia., began as her husband’s assistant, but soon developed such a mastery of it that he gave her entire control. She is a native of New York, born Miss Fellows.

Mrs. James T. Brett of Milwaukee, a native of Boston, developed early in life a peculiar aptitude for ministering in the house of mourning and is now truly scientific ladies’ embalmer. She is also a writer of ability, a lady of refinement and high social position. Mrs. Fred H. Russ of Chicago, of the firm of “Mr. & Mrs.. Fred H. Russ,” as it is now established, is also a skillful embalmer and very graceful writer. Mrs. John Greenslade of Bellevue, O., studied embalming under the instruction of Professor Renouard and has been in the practice two years. Mrs. Heaton Dart was the first lady embalmer in New York city and state, took a thorough course of study and has been in the business over 10 years.

Miss Fannie Gardner of Vincennes has the honor of being the first lady undertaker in Indiana. She has also taken a course in the study of embalming and is entering on the work. Mrs. Ellen Moore of Reading, Pa., began to serve as an undertaker in 1831, and at date of her last report had laid out 5,438 bodies. Another very old practitioner is Mrs. George F. Wildman of Bridgeport, Conn., who began in 1845 at the age of 16.

It goes without saying that every city and considerable town should have at least one lady well informed on the subject, for so long as present ideas prevail the corpses of both sexes will be embalmed.

The Owensboro [KY] Messenger 23 July 1893: p. 7

NO LITTLE UNDERTAKING

Is Implied in Mrs. Heaton Dart’s Strange Choice of Occupation.

Mrs. Heaton Dart enjoy the distinction–and a rare one it is nowadays–of being almost the only woman in her particular field of labor. And yet, withal, Mrs. Dart is an unassuming person. She gives herself no airs. She does not act the Pharisee toward the women who do not possess her knowledge. No, she doesn’t look down on them at all.

It may be that one reason for this modest attitude is that not one of the millions of women who don’t know how to do what Mrs. Heaton Dart does envies her her knowledge. For the fact is Mrs. Dart is an embalmer. She and her niece are the only women in New York State who are professional embalmers, and there seems to be no disposition to rob them of their laurels.

Mrs. Dart lives in a pretty flat near Central Park. She has an attractive face distinguished by a peculiarly strong mouth. An observer would at once put her down as a woman of intelligence and refinement, a womanly woman, and a plucky woman, but without the almost brutal indifference which often asserts itself in men who become familiar with trying experiences. Mrs. Dart looks as If she could make a success of almost anything. That does not lessen one’s curiosity as to why she chose to make a success of embalming. But she is quite ready to give the reason.

“Seven years ago,” says this woman of the gruesome profession, “1 was living in Scranton. Pa., when a sister-in-law of mine died. I needn’t tell you the whole story, but will say that the experience we then had with an embalmer, so called, was so terrible that my brother asked me to learn the business myself, simply to be able to take care of our own family. I was a widow and needed some occupation, so I took a course at the College of Embalming, and became so enthusiastic over the work that I came to New York, and have practised the profession for five years.

“I met with the most violent opposition from the undertakers. There were ten thousand of them in their association, and they put every possible obstruction in my way. Why? Oh, they said that they had men whom they paid regularly, and that if I came in to attend to special cases these men had to sit around idle. You see, anyone would rather have a woman or child embalmed by a woman than by a man. I have often been asked by families for whom I have worked to embalm the body or a man. I always refused, because if I say that only women embalmers should care for the bodies of women I must be consistent, and see that the rule works both ways.

“The undertakers make it hard for me in another way, too. They give me the very worst cases: suicides and people who have been burned to death or have died of contagious diseases. I have had many a strange experience, but for all that, I love my work.”

Mrs. Dart got out her instruments, which she carries in a harmless-looking music roll, and gave details of her professional work. She talks of the forty funerals a month, following the forty embalmings, of which she has charge. There, again, her feminine tact and taste are highly appreciated. There are fashions even in funeral robes, and it takes a woman properly to adjust a big sleeve or to loop the draperies with violets, this latter being quite a fashionable funeral fad. The demands for Mrs. Dart’s services have become so numerous that she has trained her niece to be her assistant and the two women are very proud of the profession they have so strangely chosen.

The Sun [New York NY] 10 September 1893: p. 17

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil applauds these pioneers of the mortuary profession, particularly Mrs Dart with her “harmless-looking music roll.” There was, indeed, quite a bit of resistance from the gentlemen embalmers, but as embalming became an essential part of funeral service, some took the view that the delicacy brought to the (embalming) table by a lady practitioner, was a selling-point.

VIRGINIA UP WITH THE TIMES

We notice by one of the Twin City papers a boast of having lady embalmers, which is a modern idea, for the care of ladies and children. Virginia is up with the time on this point, as we have a lady embalmer in our city who is a graduate of the Barnes School of Anatomy, Sanitary Science and Embalming of Chicago, the largest and most advanced educational institution of its kind in the world. After graduating this lady has successfully passed both Wisconsin and Minnesota Board of Health examinations and been granted a license to practice. The lady of whom we speak is Mrs. Selma Ala, of the firm of Edward Ala & Co. of this city. She is a lady of rare ability in the profession, a kind and pleasant disposition with whom we can all leave the care of our beloved dead ones and know that honor, respect and tenderness will ever be shown. We can appreciate the privilege of having such a lady to perform these necessary duties that it is not right and proper for a man to do. The secrecy maintained by mother, sister, wife or daughter should be kept sacred to their memory, and how can we better regard their feelings than by employing a lady embalmer. The Virginia [MN] Enterprise 1 March 1912: p. 7

Mrs Harry Mason White directly addressed the question of

Women as Embalmers

  1. Should lady embalmers and lady assistants be encouraged by the profession?
  2. Having been asked to answer the above question, I herewith reply, speaking from my seven years’ experience as a lady embalmer.

When death enters the home, and robs it of mother, daughter or prattling babe, the bereaved family naturally turn to a sympathetic friend for advice and assistance.

At that time a lady embalmer may not only perform her necessary duties for the departed one, but by her tender and solicitous care for the comfort and assistance of those who mourn, she will prove a blessing and surely a friend never to be forgotten.

Are our loved ones not as sacred in death as in life, and should we allow the opposite sex to perform work at that time, which we would not allow in life?

The question, “If a nurse washes and prepares a body for the undertaker, why is a lady embalmer required?” is often asked. Every member of the profession certainly knows, or should know, that a gentleman called upon to do the embalming may just as well do all the work as part of it; there is no dividing line; a lady embalmer should perform the entire work from the time she is called in until the body is placed in the casket.

When an experienced woman is in charge, the family, having full confidence in her ability, give the care of their dear ones to her, knowing she will arrange the clothes, dress the hair and attend to the minor details as she would for her own.

Should the lady embalmer be encouraged by the profession? Yes, a lady who not only understands the art and science of embalming, but who is expert in all the other details of the work, by her kind and sympathetic manner to the bereaved can comfort them in their sorrow and is by all means a necessity and a growing need.

Has the business reached the high goal entitling it to be called a profession? At the present day, decidedly no; had it attained that elevated standard, lady embalmers would be constantly sought for, but at the present time, the undertakers are jealously guarding every entrance by which a woman may enter this path of duty.

When the lady embalmer is recognized by the undertaker it will be an evidence that it is worthy to be called a profession; for the gentle and refining influence of successful ladies in the business, will raise the public estimate and tend to elevate the business to a profession in its true sense, and make it an art which any true participant should be proud to practice, and a profession in which any lady would certainly not be ashamed to be engaged.

MRS. HARRY MASON WHITE.

The Essentials of Anatomy, Sanitary Science and Embalming, Asa Johnson Dodge, 1906:  pp. 227-228

Despite the inroads made by these early lady embalmers, the profession was still, alas, subject to foolish jokes:

Why Wait?

As a special inducement to kick the bucket we find Yonkers undertakers advertising “Lady Embalmer.”

Baxter Daily Citizen [Baxter Springs KS] 10 October 1921: p. 4

 

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.

If you have an interest in Victorian mourning customs and curiosities, you will want to visit The Victorian Book of the Dead Facebook page and the blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

An Uncommon Fine Christmas Morning: 1850s

christmas plum pudding card

A Musing of Christmas

Inhale as large a stock of charity as man ever possessed—be as forgiving as a due remembrance of the season should make us—have everything to receive and nothing to pay away: and yet Christmas on this side of the Equator cannot resemble a Christmas on the other. How can you relish a hot plum pudding, with the thermometer at 110°. Can snap-dragon be enjoyed, when there ‘a no place to put your fingers to cool? and, as for hanging up a mistletoe—although the colony holds plenty of pretty girls—there’s no fun in chasing a lass in broad day, nor having to pause in the chase to divest of coat and neckcloth. As for ghosts, or ghost stories, who can believe in a Christmas ghost story in Victoria? Not all the fascination of the Countess D’Anois would make her goblin elves and demons palatable here. A ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ might, perhaps, become an object of the imagination, but Oberon and his fairy crew are not Christmas fairies; and, somehow, Christmas and the winter are so mixed up together that—that—it ought to be cold and snowy on that day. And, really, as this is the age of wonders, it is a pity some enterprising firm cannot import an artificial atmosphere, to be used for that day only, at the public expense. What is the use of a pantomime in our holidays? The gas lamps, saw dust, and blue fire, lose their charm when it is recollected that broad day reigns without, and there is no dark fog, for which a link boy’s services is required to await one. The only time the colony is thoroughly disagreeable is a few days before Christmas and a few days after. No—I ‘ll contradict myself, the colony is not disagreeable, even then. But I like a cold Christmas. Forty years of cold Christmases force one to like them. But, I cannot say I find Victoria disagreeable : for, just as I make up my mind it is, and I ‘ll visit Europe at Christmas, something turns up, rendering the place dearer and dearer ; and twelve years have thus glided on, like a dream of enchantment. But, then, there are no ghost stories; and, old as I am, I like a ghost story. I do not care if I get it after the form of the Arabian Nights. That Fisherman and the Genie is a fine tale. It used to make one frightened; and, told in bed, after the light was blown out on a cold night, what can equal it %—Or Grimm’s Tales ?—The Dwarf Hand !—Or Fortunio!—Or Monk Lewis’ mystic productions! all of which require a cold night, a wassail bowl, and a few auxiliary noises, to render them perfectly pleasant, and horrid enough to make you fearful of being left in the dark one single minute. Alas!—Christmas must be got cold somehow.

I don ‘t know whether Old John Delver thought all this, as he gathered a pretty bunch of bright flowers early last Christmas morning, but there was something on his mind, that was quite clear, and when he cast his eyes as usual round his little garden, and took a sweeping glance at Mount Macedon, where it reared its gigantic head in the background, it was easy to see that his thoughts were not on the flowers, nor on the garden, nor on Mount Macedon either, but farther, much farther, away.

Perhaps John was thinking of his son, who was fighting in the Crimea, or who had been; perhaps he was thinking of his wife, whose remains lay in the pretty parish churchyard of Thorncliffe; perhaps he was thinking of the pretty blue-eyed grand-daughter, that now came bounding from the little cottage to call him in to breakfast; or, it may be he was meditating on the quiet form that was then engaged in pouring out the tea her father-in-law was called to partake of. If he was musing on the last, he might have found a worse subject for his thoughts than Martha Delver: although she would not be called good-looking, and, so far as book learning went, might be termed ignorant.

John was a hale old man, although long past three-score. His cheek was ruddy, and his eyes clear. A day’s work could still be had from him when needed, and, as he sat in the outer room of the little wooden cottage wherein he dwelt, he might, in truth, have passed for the husband of the woman who sat opposite him, and the father of the blue maiden that seated herself on his knee.

“I always took a bunch of flowers to the clergyman every Christmas morning at home,” said John, “and, please God, I will here.”

“The flowers are brighter here than at home at this time?”

“Well—yes: Kent showed nothing like this at Christmas,” replied John; “and yet, to my mind, the winter berry is the prettiest sight one can see.”

“He thought so, too,” replied Martha.

“I wonder if he’ll make us out,” said John, after a pause.

“Wonder! gracious! yes,” screamed his daughter. “Oh! father, how you frighten me by wondering that.”

“Soldiers may never get the letters sent them, and, somehow, Richard was a careless fellow about his home.”

“Not he,” hastily answered Martha; “besides, did I not tell him of little Martha here; and what father could keep away from his child, and such a child?”

The little girl looked first in her mother’s face, now suffused with tears, and then into her grandfather’s, whose eyes were also moist, and inquired what they were crying for?

“His will be done!” reverently observed the old man, and made an end of his meal. “Can I do anything before I go?” he asked.

“No: all is clear—the cows are milked. You may take little Patty, if you will. Will you go to church with grandpapa to-day, love?” And, the little girl answering in the affirmative, she was got ready, and grand-father and grand-daughter started for a two-miles walk, and a visit to the building which served as a church for the denizens of that district. While John Delver is at church, let us take a retrospective glance at himself and family.

John Delver was a native of Kent—that garden of England, a market gardener by trade, and well to do, according to the Kentish notions of wealth. His wife and himself loved on and worked on, and, perhaps, their only care, apart from a night or two’s anxiety about a bed of strawberries or a gathering of cherries, was the doings of their only child—a fine specimen of an English rustic—Richard Delver. This son was a good sample of the open-hearted Englishman: his provincialisms sat upon him not unpleasantly, and the exuberance of spirits, into which youth will often be betrayed, and which Richard often displayed, was but a wild outpouring of an innocent mind. With other parents Richard Delver would soon have sobered into a staid gardener, but John and his wife were of the respectable elect class: so pure, so grim, and so exacting, that their very virtues forced their son into trifling excuses: the stiff rigidity of the parents appearing so repulsive to the child’s openness and candour. To add to other crimes, Richard fell in love with a servant girl—a poor parish child—sent out to a harsh mistress, hardly worked, hardly fed, and hardly clothed.

It is a curious thing (but, nevertheless, a true one) that people who take servants from parish walls consider them much as the Southern American is said to consider his Negro. Instead of bestowing on them much kindness, to make amends for former hardships, it has been the fashion in England to treat the unhappy children with great severity—perhaps not so as to render the act illegal—nothing more than unchristian. And even if the law has been broken, vestry meetings have a horror of lawyer’s bills: and any charge, for prosecuting an inhuman master or mistress, would scarcely pass the audit of enlightened rate-payers in the nineteenth century.

Martha Thorne was the orphan daughter of a gardener, who, with his wife, had died of a fever. The poor-house was the only refuge of his child, to be left for a harder home, where, for the slightest fault, corporeal punishment was unsparingly administered. From such chastisement young Delver one day saved her, and, although Martha was too plain to inspire him with love, her situation was so hard that it inspired him with interest. Beyond this all familiarity would have ceased, but the knowledge of his son’s actions coming to the ears of John Delver, he so worried the young man with homilies, and so disgusted him with close, harsh, worldly maxims, that Richard’s obstinacy joined issue with his father’s, and, in the end, the banns were put up at a neighbouring church, and Richard Delver and Martha Thorne were man and wife, while the unconscious parents were congratulating themselves that the last homily had effectually turned the rebellious character of their son.

Had the Delvers been of the blood royal, and Martha Thorne of the Delvers, a greater outcry could not have been made than was made at the misalliance of the young gardener; harsh words arose on both sides. Family disunions are always bad things to contemplate. Richard was driven from his father’s roof, and sent forth to starve. He tried to get any work he could, but the respectability of his parents swayed the feelings of the neighbours, and nobody would employ him. Rustics are not a moving people: where they are born, there would they die. While Richard was musing upon his future, he took to drinking. There are always men to be found who, while unwilling to lend a shilling to purchase a loaf, or to bestow a slice of meat, will ‘stand’ drink to any one that will partake of it. Richard took to drinking: began to neglect his wife, and, in one of these drinking bouts, was inveigled with a shilling of Her Majesty’s, and ordered off, ere quite sober, to the depot of his regiment at Chatham, under sailing orders to Gibraltar.

All the regret imaginable, when reason had assumed its sway, was of no avail; and, to add to to the misery of the wedded pair, the complement of women allowed had already been made up: so that Martha was not permitted to leave the place where she had lived so long, but was, a second time, left penniless in a hard country, and without a friend. But marriage had effected this good in the poor young woman: it had given her firmness, and she sought employment at hop pulling, or among the fruit trees, with a courage she never before possessed. She longed to hear from her husband, who, at parting, had promised to write to her soon. Write to him she could not: parochial schools, especially in country places, seldom teaching more than the mode of ‘capping ‘ to the great people of the district. And time wore away—old Delver regarding her as the author of what he now called ‘his trials’; and his wife preaching at her, whenever she had an opportunity, and people were present to be edified thereby. The year succeeding this a fever broke out in the district; John and his wife were stricken with it, and a sore wrestle with death Delver had. He recovered, it is true, to find the partner of his toils dead by his side; to hear of a blight, that had destroyed his finest trees; and to behold, in the nurse who had so faithfully succoured him and his deceased spouse, the ‘good for nothing hussey’ who ‘had the audacity to marry his son.’ Yes. If there was little learning in Martha’s breast, God had implanted there the two great principles of religion; and, when others kept aloof from the tainted house, and all the neighbours declared the fever to be infectious, she had boldly crossed the threshold, and, day by day, and night by night, attended upon the suffering pair. John rose from his bed a poorer but a wiser man. None of his neighbours had done one thing for him during all his sickness; not a helping hand had been given to his garden. That was spoiled: and he was ruined. Once, and once only, did he utter an expression of surprise and regret at the neglect shewn him. It was to his clergyman; but the rebuke he met with for ever silenced him—” Pray, John, who have you befriended in your long life?—’As you sow, so surely will you reap.'”

A ruined man, Delver gave up the orchards he so long had rented, and was content to lean on his daughter’s arm—a staff he had long rejected. It happened that, at this time, there came on a visit in the neighbourhood an old resident of Australia. The little episode of John’s misfortunes had become a topic of conversation, and it occurred to the Australian settler, while hearing it, that men of Delver’s practical experience as a gardener would be a great adjunct to Port Phillip. To act upon this thought was not a work of time: and old John found himself, before long, upon a vessel bound to Melbourne; his accompaniments, his daughter-in-law and an infant grandchild, now verging on sixteen months old.

The old man was glad to quit Kent when he found the real estimation in which his neighbours held him. His respectability had vanished, not only in a monetary point of view, but in the importance which, he imagined, attended all his actions. Perhaps he regretted leaving the remains of his wife behind him; and, yet, sometimes a thought—it was a consoling one to him, though, perhaps, an unjust one to the dead—a thought flashed across his mind that, without his wife’s admonitions, he might have acted differently to his son, and so have escaped much sorrow. On the whole, he was, therefore, glad to quit England; and, having written to his son of his destination, and got his new master to make certain applications at the War Office, Delver quitted his home for a new world, looking forward with hope to the future.

***********

Planted near Gisborne, on the homestead of an excellent master, Delver partially forgot his sorrows. Everything was new around him. The manners and customs of all that crossed him, excepting, indeed, the richness of the soil, which rivalled his own Kentish ground, against which (he talked and boasted) no other soil could compare. But here, sixteen thousand miles from his own land, there flourished around him flowers of as brilliant a hue, and fruit as rich in taste, as even he himself had reared at home. To the soil the Delvers took kindly, and the digging rush, which unsettled so many, scarcely affected him, unless it was by adding to his already good wages what his master felt he could afford him from the increased profit of his station, and the value of his garden produce.

But John’s master died, and John Delver, not caring for other service; having, too, ‘a few pounds’ from his own and daughter’s industry (for right well had Martha Delver taken to the Australian colony, and few around shewed better butter and eggs than she); got, at a moderate rent, land sufficient for a garden, and pasturage for the cows they now owned, and so we find them, on the morning of Christmas day, cheerful, well to do, and contented, their only regret being Richard’s absence: for the war with Russia had broken out. His regiment was sent from Gibraltar to the Crimea before his release had been obtained; and the sanguinary conflicts that had taken place in that fertile part of Europe had often blanched the cheek of both father and daughter with doubt and apprehension.

Martha had that to do which kept her from church on that morning: a pair of chickens and some peas, a strawberry tart, with just the smallest of plum puddings, to remind John of the Kentish Christmases, was the dinner she designed for her father. A few grapes were to serve as his dessert; and, as the preparations for the meal had been kept a secret from him, she took more than peculiar care with it. The dinner was in a fair state of preparation when he returned, and, waiting its readiness, he sat himself in his garden, musing and dozing alternately. The child, who ever played about his knee, in a short time directed his attention to a cart, coming along at a smart pace; and, presently, the two horses that drew it were jerked up at the entrance leading into Delver’s garden, and a voice inquired if one ‘Delver lived there.’

“Ah! surely,” said old John.

“I’ve a little news for him,” said a burly-looking carter, blue-shirted and cabbage-treed, according to custom, entering the garden.

“From my husband!”—” From my son!”—cried father and daughter simultaneously.

“From one Richard Delver,” said the carter, “and I don’t know a better day than this to bring news, ‘specially if they are good ones; for, on such a day as this, good tidings were brought to all around; at least, they used to sing so in our village; so, I suppose, it’s all right.”

“Are the news good?—Is my son alive—well?” inquired the old man.

“That’s where it is, you see,” answered the carter, who seemed in no hurry to tell his tale—if he had any to tell. “Well, it’s a fine morning, an uncommon fine morning.—And the Mount, too, I’ve seen it a power o’ times, and never thought it looked so grand afore—and, thankye marm, a little milk, if you please!”

Martha and John looked at the man, and the man looked at them. He was evidently in a difficulty. The milk was got, and drank. The carter whistled.

“And my son,” said John.

“Ah!” replied the carter, wiping his face and taking a long breath, “that’s where it is. I was jogging along, thinking this warn’t exactly the Christmas I liked to pass, when who should I see on the road but a man—

“A man?”

“A man, marm.—’ Wantin’ a lift, mate?’ said I. Said he, ‘Which way?’ ‘’Through,’ says I. ‘And take it kindly, too,’ says he. ‘Not at all,’ says I.” Here the carter whistled. “I hadn’t got a Christmas dinner at home to hurry me, so I didn’t mind jogging on a little slower, to ease his wounds.”

“Wounds!” cried both the Delvers, “has he seen Richard? Is it Richard?—Where is he?”

“That’s where it is,” said the carter, “I can’t tell a tale properly. There’s—there’s a man in the cart, who can “—

In an instant John and Martha were at the cart. In two minutes more they had a man suffering from wounds and still weak, but yet a fine-made fellow, on their arms; and, in five minutes more, Richard Delver had embraced his patient wife and was at peace with his now fond old father; had hugged the little maid that called him parent; and looked around the pretty cottage already with an owner’s eye.

It is of no use to detail what Richard told his wife. He had been severely wounded, but the kind Sisters of Mercy had brought him through, as they had brought thousands of others, although their services, now passed away, are being ignored by those who gladly accepted their aid. He had been in the first draft from the Crimea home; had got his discharge; had taken a passage in one of the fastest of the White Ball Line, and landed in Melbourne. Here he was at fault two days, but, hearing where his father lived at last, he had started off that he might join them on merry Christmas, trusting to that which he had got, a lift on the road for speed.

Nor is it of any use for me to say that there sat down to that Christmas dinner as happy a party as any in the colony. The soldier fought his battles o’er again, while the father, in his turn, detailed the changes that he had witnessed. As for the friendly carrier, he was made to stop to dinner, and did; and turned out, long before the grapes had been all eaten, a most astonishing character. He made little wooden dolls for little Martha with his clasp knife and a piece of old stick before one could whistle Jack Robinson; put a new lid on the water butt; and mended a milk pan that had been, like its new owner, in the wars. In short, I question if Christmas Day in the old country ever shone upon more contented or happy faces than last Christmas did on the happy party in the little cottage in the Australian bush: for, what can people require more than this little party had?—a sufficiency for their outward enjoyment, and stronger and holier principles within them: the principles of Faith, Hope, and Charity.

******

Now, draw up the curtain, Mr. Manager: I think I can look upon a pantomime, although it is warm. 

The Journal of Australasia, Volume 2, 1857

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: And with that happy ending, Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers, whether in the Antipodes or the Arctic, the happiest of holiday seasons. She will return in the New Year with more stories to educate, elevate, and amuse.

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 Book-Keeper’s Christmas: 1903

A Real Christmas Story

In a large New York business institution says the December World’s Work, there was an employee whose Christmas gift had the saving grace of individual consideration. He was a book-keeper, nearly 40 years in harness, and he had been overlooked in former years of fatness in Wall street, except for a customary and unvarying $10 gold piece. Several days before Christmas last year, the office became agitated with rumors of an unprecedented flood of good fortune. The old book-keeper tried to keep calm, but his hopes ran riot, and the day before Christmas found him in a nervous flurry. He saw his fellow employees called into the cashier’s office one by one, each returning with a sealed envelope. The bookkeeper waited for his summons, but it came not. Even the office-boys emerged, biting new gold pieces to test them, and the roll was complete an hour before the book-keeper summoned courage to send in an inquiry whether a mistake had been made in the case of Mr. Blank, and whether an envelope had been overlooked. The answer was:

“There is no envelope for Mr. Blank, but the president wishes to see him for a moment.”

The book-keeper saw only one interpretation. This meant his discharge for failing efficiency. He fairly tottered into the sanctum, a pitiful figure of panic and fear.

“Sit down, Mr. Blank,” said the president. “I have omitted your name in the list of Christmas rewards for faithful service, and I regret that the bank will have to find another man to fill your position after tomorrow. Compose yourself, sir, tears are undignified in this office. You should know better after being here for so long a term of service. Don’t go—I have a few words more to say before you leave. The directors have decided to retire you on full pay for the rest of your life, and the year’s salary will be paid to you in advance. This does not establish a ruinous precedent, for employees with 38 years of faithful service to their credit are not sprinkled very plentifully through Wall street.”

Our Paper, Volume 19, Massachusetts Reformatory (Concord, Mass.), 1902

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: If employees with 38 years of faithful service are not very plentiful, neither are employers who retire said employees on full pay ad infinitum.  Still, Mrs Daffodil suspects that the callous way in which the good news was communicated to Mr Blank was calculated to bring on shock and, with a bit of luck, heart-failure. Then the bank would have had a clear conscience at its charitable effort without having to pay out much more, perhaps, than funeral expenses.  The office boys were right to bite their gold-pieces. A firm who would spring such a surprise on an honoured employee is not to  be trusted.

 

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.