Category Archives: Short Stories

Mrs Daffodil on Flowers

A miniature flower painting by Jan Frans van Dael, mounted as a brooch. http://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?qu=jewellery&oid=156467

Since the Family is away on holiday over the week-end, Mrs Daffodil is taking this opportunity to take a brief holiday of her own, possibly paying a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show and returning, refreshed, Wednesday next.

She has posted on floral themes many times, so, to while away the hours for those of Mrs Daffodil’s readers who will be counting the moments until a new post appears, here are some posts pertinent to the topic of flowers.

Strange Flower Superstitions of Many Lands

Queen Adelaide’s Flower-Acrostic Dress

The Wild-Flower Wedding

A Miniature Matterhorn and Gnome Miners

Funeral Flowers for Young Helen

Napoleon and the Gardener

A very recent post: The Black Rose

And Mrs Daffodil’s favourite gardening story, “The Occasional Garden,” by Mr H. H. Munro [Saki]

Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers a delightful and restful week-end with well-filled picnic hampers and unclouded blue skies.

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 Model Millionaire

The Model Millionaire

Unless one is wealthy, there is no good in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic. It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating. These are the great truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine never realized. Poor Hughie! Intellectually, we must admit, he was not of much importance. He never said either a brilliant or an ill-natured thing in his life. But, then, he was wonderfully good-looking, with his crisp, brown hair, his clear-cut profile, and his gray eyes. He was as popular with men as he was with women, and he had every accomplishment except that of making money. His father had bequeathed him his cavalry sword, and a “History of the Peninsular War,” in fifteen volumes. Hughie hung the first over his looking-glass, put the second on a shelf between Ruff’s Guide [to the Turf] and Bailey‘s Magazine [of Sports and Pastimes], and lived on two hundred a year that an old aunt allowed him.

He had tried everything.  He had gone on the Stock Exchange for six months; but what was a butterfly to do among bulls and bears? He had been a tea merchant for a little longer, but had soon tired of pekoe and souchong. Then he had tried selling dry sherry. That did not answer. Ultimately he became nothing, a delightful, ineffectual young man with a perfect profile and no profession.

To make matters worse, he was in love. The girl he loved was Laura Merton, the daughter of a retired colonel, who had lost his temper and his digestion in India, and had never found either of them again. Laura adored him, and he was ready to kiss her shoestrings. They were the handsomest couple in London, and had not a pennypiece between them. The colonel was very fond of Hughie, but not hear of any engagement.

“Come to me, my boy, when you have got ten thousand pounds of your own, and we will see about it,” he used to say; and Hughie looked very glum on those days, and had to go to Laura for consolation.

One morning, as he was on his way to Holland Park, where the Mertons lived, he dropped in to see a great friend of his, Alan Trevor. Trevor was a painter. Indeed, few people escape that nowadays. But he was also an artist, and artists are rather rare. Personally, he was a strange, rough fellow, with a freckled face and red hair.

However, when he took up the brush he was a real master, and his pictures were eagerly sought after. He had been very much attracted by Hughie at first, it must be acknowledged, entirely on account of his good looks. “The only people a painter should know,” he used to say, “ are people who are bête and beautiful, people who are an artistic pleasure to look at and an intellectual repose to talk to. Dandies and darlings rule the world.” However, after he got to know Hughie better, he liked him quite as much for his bright, buoyant spirits and his generous, reckless nature, and had given him the permanent entrée to his studio.

When Hughie came in he found Trevor putting the finishing touches to a wonderful life-size picture of a beggar-man. The beggar himself was standing on a raised platform in a corner of the studio. He was a wizened old man, with a face like wrinkled parchment, and a most piteous expression. Over his shoulders was flung a coarse brown cloak, all tears and tatters; his thick boots were patched and cobbled, and with one hand he leant on a rough stick, while with the other he held out his battered hat for alms.

“ What an amazing model!” whispered Hughie, as he shook hands with his friend.

“An amazing model?” shouted Trevor, at the top of his voice ; “I should think so ! Such beggars as he are not to be met with every day. A trouvaille, mon cher; a living Velasquez! My stars! what an etching Rembrandt would have made of him !”

“ Poor old chap!” said Hughie; “how miserable he looks! But I suppose, to you painters, his face is his fortune.”

“Certainly,” replied Trevor; “you don’t want a beggar to look happy, do you?”

“How much does a model get for sitting?” asked Hughie, as he found himself a comfortable seat on the divan.

“A shilling an hour.”

“And how much do you get for your picture, Alan?”

“Oh, for this I get a thousand.”

“Pounds?”

“Guineas. Painters, poets and physicians always get guineas.”

“Well, I think the model should have a percentage,” said Hughie, laughing; “they work quite as hard as you do.”

“Nonsense, nonsense! Why, look at the trouble of laying on the paint alone, and standing all day long at one’s easel! It’s all very well, Hughie, for you to talk, but I assure you that there are moments when Art approaches the dignity of manual labor. But you mustn‘t chatter; I’m very busy. Smoke a cigarette and keep quiet.”

After some time the servant came in, and told Trevor that the framemaker wanted to speak to him.

“Don‘t run away, Hughie,” he said, as he went out, “I will be back in a moment.”

The old beggar-man took advantage of Trevor‘s absence to rest for a moment on a wooden bench that was behind him. He looked so forlorn and wretched that Hughie could not help pitying him, and he felt in his pockets to see what money he had. All he could find was a sovereign and some coppers.

“Poor old fellow,” he thought to’ himself, “he wants it more than I do, but it means no hansoms for a fortnight;” and he walked across the studio and slipped the sovereign into the beggar’s hand.

The old man started, and a faint smile flitted across his withered lips.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, in a foreign accent.

Then Trevor arrived, and Hughie took his leave, blushing a little at what he had done. He spent the day with Laura, got a charming scolding for his extravagance, and had to walk home.

That night he strolled into the Palette Club about eleven o’clock, and found Trevor sitting by himself in the smoking-room drinking hock and seltzer.

“Well, Alan, did you get the picture finished all right?’ he said, as he lit his cigarette.

“Finished and framed, my boy!” answered Trevor; “and, by-the-by, you have made a conquest. That old model you saw is quite devoted to you. I had to tell him all about you—who you are, where you live, what your income is, what prospects you have——”

“My dear Alan,” cried Hughie, “I shall probably find him waiting for me when I go home. But of course you are only joking. Poor old beggar! I wish I could do something for him. I think it is dreadful that any one should be so miserable. I have got heaps of old clothes at home-do you think he would care for any of them ? Why, his rags were falling to bits.”

“But he looks splendid in them,” said Trevor. “I wouldn’t paint him in a frock coat for anything. What you call rags I call romance. What seems poverty to you is picturesqueness to me. However, I’ll tell him of your offer.”

“Alan,” said Hughie, seriously, “you painters are a heartless lot.”

“An artist’s heart is his head,” replied Trevor ; “ and, besides, our business is to realize the world as we see it, I not to reform it as we know it. A chacun son metier. And now tell me how Laura is. The old model was quite interested in her.”

“You don’t mean to say you talked to him about her?” said Hughie.

“Certainly I did. He knows all about the relentless colonel, the lovely damsel and the ten thousand pounds.”

“You told that old beggar all my private affairs?” cried Hughie, looking very red and angry.

“My dear boy,” said Trevor, smiling, “that old beggar, as you call him, is one of the richest men in Europe. He could buy all London to-morrow without overdrawing his account. He has a house in every capital, dines off gold plate, and can prevent Russia going to war when he chooses.”

“What on earth do you mean?” exclaimed Hughie.

“What I say,” said Trevor. “The old man you saw to-day was Baron Hausberg. He is a great friend of mine, buys all my pictures and that sort of thing, and gave me a commission a month ago to paint him as a beggar. Que voulez-vous? La fantaisie d’un millionnaire.’ And I must say he made a magnificent figure in his rags, or, perhaps, I should say in my rags; they are an old suit I got in Spain.”

“Baron Hausberg!” cried Hughie. “Good heavens! I gave him a sovereign!” and he sank into an armchair the picture of dismay.

“Gave him a sovereign !” shouted Trevor, and he burst into a roar of laughter. “My dear boy, you’ll never see it again. Son affaire c’est l’argent des autress.

“I think you might have told me, Alan,” said Hughie, sulkily, “and not let me make such a fool of myself.”

“Well, to begin with, Hughie,” said Trevor, “it never entered my mind that you went about distributing alms in that reckless way. I can understand your kissing a pretty model, but your giving a sovereign to an ugly one —by Jove, no! Besides, the fact is that I really was not at home to-day to any one and when you came in I did not know whether Hausberg would like his name mentioned. You know he wasn’t in full dress.”

“What a duffer he must think me!” said Hughie.

“Not at all. He was in the highest spirits after you left; kept chuckling to himself and rubbing his old wrinkled hands together. I couldn’t make out why he was so interested to know all about you; but I see it all now. He’ll invest your sovereign for you, Hughie, pay you the interest every six months, and have a capital story to tell after dinner.”

“I am an unlucky devil,” growled Hughie. “The best thing I can do is to go to bed; and, my dear Alan, you mustn’t tell any one. I shouldn’t dare show my face in the row.”

“Nonsense! It reflects the highest credit on your philanthropic spirit, Hughie and—don’t run away. Have another cigarette, and you can talk about Laura as much as you like.”

However, Hughie wouldn’t stop, but walked home, feeling very unhappy, and leaving Alan Trevor in fits of laughter.

The next morning, as he was at breakfast, the servant brought him up a card, on which was written, “Monsieur Gustave Naudin, de la part de M. le Baron Hausberg.” “I suppose he has come for an apology,” said Hughie to himself; and he told the servant to show the visitor up.

An old gentleman with gold spectacles and gray hair came into the room, and said, in a slight French accent, “Have I the honor of addressing Monsieur Hugh Erskine?”

Hughie bowed.

“I have come from Baron Hausberg,” he continued. “The Baron-——”

“I beg, sir, that you will offer him my sincere apologies,” said Hughie.

“The Baron,” said the old gentleman, with a smile, “has commissioned me to bring you this letter;” and he handed Hughie a sealed envelope.

On the outside was written, “A wedding-present to Hugh Erskine and Laura Merton, from an old beggar,” and inside was a check for ten thousand pounds.

When they were married Alan Trevor was the best man, and the Baron made a speech at the wedding breakfast.

“Millionaire models,” said Alan, “are rare enough; but, by Jove, model millionaires are rarer still!”

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories, Oscar Wilde, 1891

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Ah, we all love a happy ending, particularly when it involves immense cheques bestowed upon the Deserving, who find themselves not only the Handsomest, but the Luckiest Couple in London. The Baron was perceptive enough not to offer young Hughie a job, recognising in him the spirit of Bertie Wooster and the Drones Club.

Mrs Daffodil first read this slight fiction in Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly for 1887, where it was >ahem< published anonymously, not credited to Mr Wilde. Such “borrowings” seem to have been a fact of life in the management of a nineteenth-century newspaper or journal.

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.

 

“It was the season of sales:” 1914

Blanche, Jacques-Emile; Knightsbridge from Sloane Street, London (Fine December Morning); York Museums Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/knightsbridge-from-sloane-street-london-fine-december-morning-8057

Blanche, Jacques-Emile; Knightsbridge from Sloane Street, London (Fine December Morning); York Museums Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/knightsbridge-from-sloane-street-london-fine-december-morning-8057

The Dreamer

by Saki (H. H. Munro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is your hat?” she asked.

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

Adela Chemping was slightly scandalised.

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

Cyprian looked at her with his wondering, dreamy eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several kind strangers helped Adela into the open air.

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

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

From Beasts and Super-Beasts

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What a consolation it must have been to Aunt Adela to find that Cyprian was not a Nut.  Or “Knut,” if you prefer the orthodox spelling from “Gilbert the Filbert,” for the idle, if decorative young Man About Town.

Mrs Daffodil trusts that all of her readers who had the strength to venture out on the so-called “Black Friday” found bargains enough to please and that no one got injured.  Mrs Daffodil counts herself fortunate that she has Staff to do most of the Hall shopping; she spent a pleasant afternoon with a cup of cocoa and an improving book.

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.

 

Miss Georgine’s Husband: A Gothic Tale, Part Two

Hand and rose coffin furniture.

Hand and rose coffin furniture.

Part one is here.

In a minute all the consequences rushed on my mind, but I couldn’t help that. We took him and put him to bed in our best room, and as soon as the light fell on his face, I saw it was marked for death. I sat up with him all night. He didn’t sleep much, and seemed to want to talk, and I knew it could not make much difference, so I let him have his way. He told me he had written home by every mail for more than a year after he stopped getting any letters in return. From all I could make out he had gone on just in his old way, trying first one thing and then another, always thinking he was just going to make a great fortune.

“But I never was unfaithful to Georgine, not for one moment,” said he. “I always loved her and I never distrusted her. When my health failed, and I knew I must die, I felt I must see Georgine once more. I landed in New York, and there I heard she was married, and saw her walking with her husband.”

And then he begged me to ask Miss Georgine to come and see him if only for a moment, before he died.

“I will never betray her!” said he. “No one will think it strange that she should come to see me. But oh, mammy,”—he used to call me mammy,— “I can’t leave the world till I see her once more.”

The next morning at breakfast-time I went up to the house, and told the Judge and Miss Georgine that Mr. Bogardus was at my house; that he hadn’t many hours to live, and would take it kind if they would come and see him.

“Poor young man, is he so low?” says the Judge. “He should have come to us; but he was always fond of you, Dolly. I will certainly come over, and you must take anything he needs from the house.” And then he turns to his daughter and says, “You will go to see your poor cousin, Georgine?”

“Why no, I think not!” says she, pouring out her coffee as unconcerned as could be. “I never took any special interest in your clerk, papa, and I am not fond of doleful scenes. I don’t think I could endure to be in the house with a dying person.”

I saw Mr. Livingstone look at her as she said these last words, and he answered her very gravely: —“Sometime, Georgine, you will have to be in the room with a dying person.”

“Time enough when it comes!” said she lightly. “Of course I am sorry for the poor man, but it is quite out of the question that I should go to see him. He is nothing to me! ”

I wasn’t going to be put off like that. I followed her to her room and says I to her, “Mrs. Livingstone, what answer am I to carry to that dying man?”

“Tell him I will not see him!” said she, speaking hard and slow. “He is nothing to me, nor I to him.”

“Won’t you send him your forgiveness?” I asked her.

“No!” she cried passionately. “I will never forgive him—never. Tell him that, if you like.”

“Mrs. Livingstone,” said I, “you will bring down the judgment of Heaven on your head!” And with that I left her. I wasn’t afraid of her, whoever else was.

It was hard to go back to Mr. Bogardus with such a message, but he would have me tell him her very words. He groaned, and was silent for a few minutes, and then says he, “Dolly, tell her she shall see me, alive or dead!” And then he fainted, and I had hard work to bring him to. Later in the day Judge Cleaveland and Mr. Livingstone came down. Mr. Bogardus didn’t say much to them, only thanked the Judge for his goodness to him, and begged forgiveness if he had ever injured him. The Judge said everything that was kind—he was a good deal softened in those days. Then Mr. Livingstone asked Mr. Bogardus if he should read and pray with him, and Mr. Bogardus said yes. So Mr. Livingstone read a chapter, and made a beautiful prayer. He was a very religious man in his quiet way, which made it the more strange that he should be taken with Miss Georgine. When he got up from his knees, Mr. Bogardus stretched out his hand to him.

“Thank you, Livingstone; you have done me good!” said he, squeezing his hand hard. “I want to tell you that there is no bitterness in my heart toward any human being. It is all washed away. God bless you! ”

Honey, it did me good to hear him speak in that way to the man who was, as you might say, standing in his shoes. The minute they were gone Mr. Bogardus fainted once more. I thought he would never breathe again, but he did, and seemed to brighten up a good deal. Zack thought he was better, but I didn’t. I had seen too many people die, not to know the lighting up for death. About midnight, when we were both sitting by him, he asked to be raised up and have his head laid on my breast, and then he asked Zack to get him some fresh water from the spring. When we were alone together, he looked up in my face and says he, —“Mammy, tell Georgine that I have never been unfaithful to her, and I shall be faithful still. She must see me, alive or dead.”

Says I, “Oh, Mr. Bogardus, my dear boy, you mustn’t bear malice now.”

“I don’t!” said he. “I told Livingstone true when I said that all bitterness was washed away. But it is borne in on my mind, that for her own sake, alive or dead, Georgina must see me, and you must tell her so. Will you? ”

“I will!” says I. I never mistrusted that he meant anything but that she should come and look at him after he was dead.

“That ’s all! ” said he. “Kiss me, mammy. You ’ve been more like a mother to me than any woman was before, and you won’t lose by it, I know.”

Then I kissed him, and he just laid his head on my breast and with one sigh he was gone.

Never mind me, Miss Bessy, honey! You see I loved him dearly, with all his faults, and dying on my breast and all . . .

We laid him out, Zack and I, and though I’ve done the same for many a one, I never saw a sweeter smile on the face of man, woman, or child, than rested on his. As soon as it was time in the morning, I went up to the house and told them as they sat at breakfast.

“So he is gone, poor soul!” says the Judge, wiping his eyes. “Take no trouble about the funeral, Dolly; I will arrange it all. Georgine, can you find some mourning for Dolly? I dare say she will like to wear it.”

“I should be much obliged if you would, Mrs. Livingstone,” says I.

She told me to come to her room and she would see. So I went up after breakfast, and she pulled out a couple of nice black dresses and a black bonnet and crape veil which she had worn a year before in mourning for her grandma.

“There, you may have those!” said she, in a careless, contemptuous way, “though I don’t see why you should wear mourning. But I suppose you think it’s genteel.”

She always riled me when she spoke in that way, but I kept myself down, and after I had thanked her for the things, I told her Mr. Bogardus’ message. She winced a little in spite of herself, and the scared look came into her eyes again, but it was gone in a minute, and she said coldly, —“Dolly, there has been enough of this! If you mention that person’s name to me again we shall quarrel! ”

I had no call to mention it again, for I had cleaned my conscience, and that was enough. Mr. Bogardus was buried next day from the church, the weather being warm and our house small. Mr. Livingstone sent the carriage for Zack and me, and Zack and Mr. Livingstone, and some gentlemen from the village, were the bearers. It was quite a large funeral, and the coffin and everything was as nice as one could wish to see.

The next morning Judge Cleaveland and Mr. Livingstone went down to the city to some convention, expecting to be gone a week. That very day the cook they had brought from New York took offense at something, and she and the other woman packed up and went over to the village, leaving Miss Georgine alone. So she sent down to ask if Zack and I would come up and stay, because she was expecting company; so we went, of course. I found everything at sixes and sevens—no cake in the house fit to look at, all the summer fruit spoiling to be done up, and so on. I sent for my niece Car’line to come and help, and we soon got things in order.

The second night, I sent Zack and Car’line off to bed, and sat up till late, attending to some plum cake I had in the great oven. It was a fancy of mine when I had any special baking, to do it late in the evening, when I had the kitchen to myself. Well, I got my cake done to my liking — I little knew what kind of party I was baking for— and then I thought I would take a look through the house and see that all was right, as I used to do when I lived there before.

The house was an odd one in its shape. A long, wide hall ran through the front part. When it got to the back it turned in an L, as they say now, and went on to a side door, and in this side hall were the stairs. At the top of them was Miss Georgine’s own room, and at the foot a door leading by a passage to the kitchen. Half-way from this door to the front was the library door, with a narrow glass window over it.

I had opened the passage door, and had just turned down the lamp that always burned at the foot of the stairs, when I saw that there was a light in the library. Thinks I, “What in the world is Miss Georgine doing in the library at this time of night?” Before I could move I heard some one’s hand on the lock, and stood still to see who it should be. Miss Bessy, as sure as you sit there, I saw the appearance of Mr. Bogardus, just as he used to look when he was a young man and worked in that library for Judge Cleaveland. I wasn’t scared, that I know of, but I couldn’t move. He came straight toward me, but didn’t look at me, and passing as close to me as I am to you he walked rather slowly up the stairs to Miss Georgine’s room. When he reached it, he turned and looked at me, holding up his hand in a warning kind of way, and then he opened the door and went in.

I couldn’t go up-stairs — something held me back. I sat down on the bottom stair and listened a long time, but I didn’t hear a sound, and by and by I crept away to bed, my teeth chattering as if I had an ague fit.

The next morning I was in the dining room when Miss Georgine came down. Child, I shouldn’t have known her! She was gray as ashes, only with a purple spot in each cheek, and her face was all drawn and sunken. She looked thirty years older than when she went to bed.

Says I, “Mrs. Livingstone, are you sick?”

“I have a headache, but the air will drive it off,” says she, proud to the last. “I think, Dolly, that as our friends have written to put off their visit, I will go down to the city to Mr. Livingstone. I need a little change, and I suppose you won’t mind staying here a few days with Car’line for company,” says she. “You won’t be afraid without your husband, will you?”

Well, I was,—a little, —after what I had seen, there is no denying it; but I felt that somehow she ought to be with her husband; so I said, “Oh no, I wasn’t afraid, I had Carline for company, and the gardener could sleep in the house.” I helped Miss Georgine put up her things, and dressed her. She was quiet and gentle-like for her, but when I said, “Mrs. Livingstone, I ’m afraid you ain’t well enough for such a long ride all by yourself,” she just laughed that hard laugh I hated so to hear.

“You’re nervous yourself, Dolly!” says she. “I have only a headache, but you know that always makes me look ghastly. It will all be gone in an hour.”

I didn’t say any more, but I knew better. On the steps she turned to me and held out her hand.

“Good-by, Dolly,” said she. “You’ve always been good to me, and I’m afraid I have sometimes been cross to you, but don’t remember it against me.”

Child, I was always glad she said that. I watched the carriage away, and then I went back to her room and put it all in nice order with my own hands. I felt full of anxiety, and I kept myself as busy as I could. Zack didn’t come back the next day, nor the next; but the morning of the fourth day, Car’line looked out of the window when she got up, and says she, “Aunt Dolly, Uncle Zack’s coming on horseback as hard as he can drive. Something must have happened! ”

Something had happened, sure enough. Zack had been riding ever since midnight, and he could hardly speak, he was so tired; but at last he got it out. Miss Georgine had died in a fit the night before, and the body was to be brought home that day.

“What time did she die?” I asked presently.

“It was just half-past eleven when she took the first fit,” said he; “and she died at the same hour last night.” Then I knew.

Well, they brought her home in her coffin and laid her in the front parlor, and when all was done, I went to the Judge and told him I was going to watch myself, and nobody else would be needed. You see, I didn’t know what might happen, and I didn’t want stories going all over the country. I told Zack he might take a blanket and lie down on the sofa in the back parlor, and I would sit up.

About half-past eleven, I went into the room where the corpse lay. I had half a mind to call Zack to go with me, but I knew how tired he was, and I let him sleep. There was a shaded lamp in the room, and I had a candle in my hand that I set down on a table nearby, and stood a few minutes looking at her. She wasn’t a pleasant corpse to look at. Those same purple spots were on her cheeks, and a dark frown on her forehead; but the worst was that her eyes wouldn’t stay shut. I had tried every way to close them, and the doctor had tried, but they wouldn’t stay shut!

I turned away and went to the window, when something, I don’t know what, made me look round. Then I saw him for the second time — saw Mr. Bogardus looking into his wife’s coffin, with just the same sad, sweet smile that was on his face when he bade me goodbye. As I stood looking—for I had no power to move –the appearance stooped down, and seemed to kiss the corpse, and then it vanished away, and I saw it no more.

I was like one turned to stone for a few minutes. When I came to myself, Miss Bessy, there was a change! Her eyes were shut, closed as naturally as a sleeping babe’s, with the long curled lashes resting on her cheeks. The ugly purple spots had faded away; the face was like fine marble, and the pale lips had a meek, peaceful look, such as I had never seen them wear since the days that she and Mr. Bogardus were lovers.

That’s all the story. Poor Miss Georgine was buried next day, alongside the only man she ever really loved. I can’t but hope it was well with both of them, poor unlucky children. The doctor, he talked learnedly about contraction of muscles and what not, but doctors don’t know everything, and he hadn’t seen what I had. My own opinion is that she wasn’t free to go till it was made up, and that they made it up then.

Lucy Ellen Guernsey.

The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 34, 1874

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Lucy Ellen Guernsey was a writer of moral fiction, with titles such as Rhoda’s Education; or, Too Much of a Good Thing and Myra Sherwood’s Cross, and How She Bore It. This tale seems rather an anomaly in her oeuvre, much of which was published by the American Sunday-School Union. Miss Guernsey never married.

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.

 

Miss Georgine’s Husband: A Gothic Tale, Part One

MISS GEORGINE’S HUSBAND.

—Did I ever see a ghost? I don’t know just what you mean by a ghost, Miss Bessy, but if you mean the appearance of a person after I had seen him die with my own eyes, and laid him out with my own hands .’

I don’t exactly know about telling you the story. You see, it’s a true story, and a very solemn one, and I shouldn’t like to have it laughed at, or to have any one tell me I didn’t see what I did see. But you was always a pretty-behaved young lady, and you know I can’t refuse you anything, so if you will sit down quiet and take your work, I’ll tell you all about it, my dear.

You know, honey, I’m a very old woman, and when I was young I was a slave to old Judge Cleaveland, over on the Flats. There were slaves in York State then. I was born down in Maryland, but the Judge moved up to these parts when I was very small, and brought his servants with him. We were well enough treated. Judge Cleaveland was a hard, high-tempered man, and used to have awful ugly fits sometimes, but, like most folks of that kind, he could keep his temper well enough when it suited him, and he knew it was easy enough for his servants to run away if they didn’t like their treatment. When I was eighteen I married Zack Davis, the coachman, and after that we lived mostly in a house of our own. We were free by that time, and we bought a nice little log-house and some land for a garden, but we worked up at the house all the same.

The old Judge was a widower when he moved up here, but very soon he married a pretty young lady from the Mohawk Valley. She was only eighteen, and a sweet child as ever I saw. The Judge meant to be good to her, I guess, but she never seemed very happy. When the second little girl was born the Judge was dreadfully disappointed. I suppose he wanted a son, to inherit his great estate and keep up the family name. He never was the same to his wife after that. He was polite to her, especially before company, but he had a kind of cold, sneering way with her that I could see cut her to the heart. Her health failed, and she went home to her father’s house for a change, and there she died. The Judge seemed a good deal cast down by her death — more than I should have expected. I dare say some things came back to him when it was too late. After the funeral he shut up the house and went abroad. He was in foreign parts or down in New York for ten years and more. The young ladies, Miss Anna and Miss Georgine, stayed with their grandma some years, and then they were put to school in New York. All that time Zack and I lived in the old house, to take care of it. It was lonesome enough sometimes, especially in winter, but though I used to go all over the great rooms alone by day and by night, I never saw anything then — not a thing.

Well, when the young ladies were sixteen and seventeen, the Judge wrote and told me to clean up the rooms, and have everything ready, for he was coming home. His wild land was growing very valuable, and there was no one to see to it properly, and for that and other reasons he had decided to come home to the Flats to live. So at the time set they came, with loads of new furniture and carpets and what not, and a very nice widow lady for housekeeper. She had a son, an officer in the army and a very fine man, who would willingly have supported her, but she preferred to do for herself.

I expected to see Miss Anna the favorite, as she was the elder, and Miss Georgine had so disappointed her pa by not being a boy; but I soon found out it was the other way. Miss Anna was not pretty. She looked like her ma, and had just such a quiet, gentle way with her. She was afraid of her father, too, as her mother had been, and with some reason — and she was afraid of her sister. She didn’t care much for company, but liked best to sit down and sew or read. Miss Georgine was like her father, and had just his free, bold way. She wasn’t afraid of anything at all except that she should not be first in everything. She was very handsome, with regular features, and beautiful wavy black hair, and long curled eyelashes. I don’t know that I ever saw a handsomer girl, but for real goodness and truth she was no more to be compared to Miss Anna than a great red woodpecker is to a little sweet bluebird. She always contrived to get the best of everything, and if she got into any trouble or mischief, she generally made her father believe it was Miss Anna’s fault. She made a great show of openness and saying what she thought, but she didn’t think all she said, by a great deal.

When Miss Anna was about eighteen, Mrs. Gracie’s son came to visit his mother, and a very fine, sober, nice young man he was. Everyone liked him, especially the Judge, who could not make enough of him till he found that the captain and Miss Anna were taking to each other; then he began to cool off. Captain Gracie stayed at the tavern in the village, and called most every day to see his mother, and before he left he asked the Judge for Miss Anna. Then there was a time. The Judge went into one of his furious rages, ordered both mother and son out of the house, and shut Miss Anna up in her room. Miss Georgine was as bad as her father, and the way they treated that poor girl was shameful. But Miss Anna had got her spunk up, and she contrived — I never knew how —to send word to Captain Gracie. A few days after, when the Judge was out about his land, Captain Gracie drove up to the door, and asked for Miss Anna. She must have expected him, for she came down in her traveling-dress, and with her bag in her hand. Miss Georgine stormed and scolded and sent all ways for her father, but nobody could find him, and in fact I don’t think anybody tried. Miss Anna bade her sister a kind farewell and got into the carriage, and that was the last we saw of her for many a year. They were married that same day in the city, and went away wherever his regiment was. Captain Gracie sent her father his address and a copy of his marriage lines, but the Judge never took any notice; only he handed me the paper and told me to pack up her clothes and things and send them to her. I don’t approve of runaway matches as a general thing, but I can’t say I blamed Miss Anna one bit.

About this time Judge Cleaveland found out that he needed a clerk. or secretary as he called it; so he sent for Mr. Bogardus, a cousin of his wife’s, to come and live in his house and attend to his business. Mr. Bogardus was a fine, handsome man, about thirty, very grave and sober; but with beautiful manners—a real fine gentleman. The Judge made much of him in his pompous, condescending way. Miss Georgina began by being very cold and scornful, but she soon changed her tone when she found her cousin did not take any particular notice of it or of her, and began to be very polite to him. He had a fine voice, and played beautifully on the violin, and she used to ask him to sing and play with her, especially when they had company; but he almost always excused himself and would often stay in the library till midnight, writing or reading. He seemed like a smart man, and yet he never accomplished anything for himself. He was one of the unlucky ones, poor fellow.

But the more Mr. Bogardus kept out of Miss Georgine’s way, the more she courted him. That was her fashion. If there were ten men in the room and she had nine of them around her, she didn’t care anything about it till she got the tenth. She always had plenty of sweethearts, being such a beauty and a great heiress besides. Mr. Bogardus resisted a good while, but by and by l saw a change. He began to be more attentive to his cousin — to sing with her evenings, and sometimes to go out riding and walking with her. Miss Georgina was altered too. I never saw her so gentle and so — “lovable?” yes, that’s just the word, my dear! as she was that summer; and I thinks to myself, “My beauty, you ’re caught at last, but I wonder what your father will say.” For you see he looked on Mr. Bogardus only as a kind of upper servant, for all he was Mrs. Cleaveland’s own cousin.

The Judge didn’t seem to notice for a while, but by and by I think he got his eyes open. He went down to New York for a week or two, and when he came back, he called Mr. Bogardus and told him he had found him a fine position with a gentleman who was going out to Brazil to set up some kind of manufactures, — a place of great trust, and where he would make a fortune in no time. Mr. Bogardus was much pleased. He was always ready to take up any new notion, and he thought he should make himself rich directly. But Miss Georgine had a bad headache that day, and she wasn’t well for a week afterward.

The very day Mr. Bogardus left, I was sitting in my own door, and as I looked up I saw Miss Georgine walking across the field toward my house. I was rather surprised, for she wasn’t fond of walking, and almost always rode her pony wherever she wanted to go. She walked in a weary kind of way too, and when she came near, I saw she looked very pale. I got out the rocking-chair for her, and made much of her, but she sat down on a little stool and put her beautiful head in my lap, as her poor mother had done many a time, and says she, bursting out crying, .

“Oh, Aunt Dolly! My husband’s gone!”

Honey, you might have knocked me down with a feather. I couldn’t think what she meant at first, and thought she had got light-headed from being out in the sun.

“Child!” says I, “you don’t know what you are saying!”

“Yes I do—too well!” says she; and then she told me between her sobs that she and Mr. Bogardus had been privately married while her father was away, the day that they went down to the city together, and that they meant to keep it quiet till Mr. Bogardus made his fortune.

“I never meant to tell anybody,” says she, “but, Aunt Dolly, I couldn’t bear it all alone, and I knew I could trust you!”

Well, I could have wished she had chosen someone else, but I tried to comfort her as well as I could. Presently I said, “Ah, child, you can feel for your poor sister now!”

“That was very different!” says she, lifting up her head as proud as could be; “I haven’t disgraced myself as Anna did. My husband is a gentleman — not a servant’s son! ”

When she said that, Miss Bessy, I knew she had more yet to suffer.

Says I, “Miss Georgine, I shall never betray you, you may be sure, but you ought to tell your pa. Suppose he finds it out: what will he say, and what will you do? ”

“He won’t find it out!” says she, “and if he does, I shall know what to do.” But then she put her head down in my lap again, and oh, how she did cry! I couldn’t but pity her, though she showed such a wrong spirit; and I tried to tell her of a better comfort than mine, but she wouldn’t hear a word of that. She didn’t want any cant, she said. By and by I made her some tea and coaxed her to drink it and to eat a little, and when the sun got low, I walked home with her. She was always gentler with me after that, and whenever she got a letter from Mr. Bogardus she would come and tell me about it. I was on thorns for a while, and watched her as a cat watches a mouse; but everything went on as usual, and nobody but our two selves knew or mistrusted anything about the matter.

Miss Georgine got her letters pretty regular for about six months, and then they stopped, and she never had another. At first she pined a good deal, and l was afraid she was going into a decline; but presently I saw a change. Her old proud self came back, only harder and colder than before. She was handsomer than ever, and more fond of company and admiration. One day I ventured to ask her if she had heard any more of Mr. Bogardus.

Oh, how her eyes flashed as she said, “Never mention that man’s name to me again! He has shamed and deserted me!” says she.

“You don’t know that,” says I; “he may be dead.”

“He isn’t dead!” she answered. “My father heard he was married to a rich Spanish widow up at the mines.”

“I don’t believe it!” says I boldly. “It isn’t a bit like him.” For you see I had come to know him pretty well. I had nursed him in his sick turns, of which he had a good many, and though I didn’t approve of the secret marriage, I liked him and felt like standing up for him.

“Never mention his name to me again, Dolly!” says she, and I didn’t for a long time, till the day came that I had to do it.

Well, the time went on, year after year in much the same way. Our folks spent the summers on their own estate, and the winters in New York or at the South with the Judge’s family, spending a deal of money and seeing a deal of fine company. It was nine years that very spring since Mr. Bogardus went away, when, after they had been home a couple of days, Miss Georgine rode over to see me. She brought me a fine gown and some other things from New York, and after she had showed them to me, says she, speaking proud and careless like, —

“Aunt Dolly, I want you to come up to the house next week, to make my wedding cake and keep house a while, because I am going to be married.”

Miss Bessy, I couldn’t believe my ears; and says I, “Miss Georgina, I don’t know as I quite understand you.”

“You are growing stupid, Dolly!” says she pettishly. “I’m going to be married to Mr. Philip Livingstone, and I want you to make the cake.”

I don’t know what made me, but I spoke right out. “Mrs. Bogardus,” says I, “have you told your pa and Mr. Livingstone about your first marriage?”

“How dare you call me by that name?” says she, and her eyes fairly blazed. “No, I have not told them and I shall not. You can, if you choose!” says she. “How much do you mean to ask me as the price of keeping the secret I was fool enough to tell you?”

Then I flared up. “Mrs. Bogardus,” says I, “there’s the door. Please walk out of it, and don’t come insulting a woman in her own house that thinks as much of herself as you do, if she is black! If that’s what you think of me, you may get someone else to make your cake! ” says I.

Well, she saw she had gone too far. Like her father, she could command her temper well enough when she chose, and she knew she couldn’t get any one to make such cake as mine, if she went down on her knees to them. Besides, I knew all the ways of the house, and they couldn’t do without me. So she came down and said she was sorry, and she did not mean anything, and so on, till she coaxed me round, and I promised to do all she wanted.

“But if it was the last word I ever spoke, I do say you ought to tell Mr. Livingstone,” says I. “What if Mr. Bogardus should come back some day?”

I knew I was doing right, but I felt sorry for her when I saw how pale she turned. long ago,” says she, “ and if he were not, it is nearly nine years since I heard from him, and that is enough to release me. But you’ll be glad to hear,” says she, “that I have coaxed my father to write to sister Anna, and ask her and her son to the wedding. You know she is a widow now, and there is no use in keeping up the quarrel any longer.”

So then I agreed to make the cake, and keep house for her father while she was away. They were coming back to spend the summer at home. But I didn’t feel happy. I knew she was doing wrong, and that harm would come of it.

The wedding went off nicely. Mr. Livingstone was a fine, handsome man, a good deal older than Miss Georgine. He looked good and sensible, and it was easy to see that he fairly worshiped his wife. My heart ached for both of them, because I knew as things were they never could be happy. You see I felt sure Mr. Bogardus wasn’t dead.

How did I feel sure? Well, it was just like this. Whenever any of my folks had died away from me, I had always seen them in my dreams that same night. I saw my own brother, who was drowned in the lake, and my aunt with her baby, and Miss Georgine’s mother. Now Mr. Bogardus was fond of me. He said once that l was more like a mother than any one had ever been to him, and I knew he wouldn’t die without coming to let me know.

Miss Anna, that was, and her boy were at the wedding and stayed a fortnight after. She wore her deep widow’s weeds, and looked thin and worn, but she had a sweet, placid, happy look, worth more than all her sister’s beauty. She told me that through all her trials, in sickness and loneliness, and losing her husband and her children, she had never regretted her marriage, not one minute.

The boy was a fine, manly fellow, the image of his father. The Judge took to him greatly, and wanted Mrs. Gracie to come home to live; but she excused herself and said she must take care of her husband’s mother, who was feeble and needed her. She told me privately that she didn’t think such a life would be good for her boy, and I dare say she was right.

The bride and bridegroom came home after a month and settled down with us for the summer, and the day she came home, I noticed a scared look in Miss Georgine’s face that I never saw there before.

That night I was sitting in my own house (and glad enough I was to get back to it), when someone knocked softly at the door. Zack opened it, and the minute he did so, he cried out, “Lord ’a’ mercy!” I jumped up, and then I thought surely I saw a ghost, but I didn’t. It was Mr. Bogardus himself, but oh how thin and pale, and with his beautiful hair white as snow!

“Will you take me in, Dolly?” says he. “I am sick to death, old friend, and I have come to die with you.”

[To be continued tomorrow at this link. Mrs Daffodil, who understands the impatience of some modern readers with the leisurely progress of nineteenth century fiction, assures those readers that there will be a ghost.]

Lucy Ellen Guernsey.

The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 34, 1874

 

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 Widow’s Baby: 1888

the widow's baby

THE WIDOW’S BABY.

Any unfortunate being who ever attempted to smuggle anything from the Continent, and fell into the hands of Captain Peter Muggins, of her British Majesty’s Customs, on landing at Dover, never forgot the circumstance.

The captain was the one to vindicate the honour of the said British Majesty. He was a short, stout, red-faced, well-fed, and exceedingly ill-tempered son of Mars. His martial tread and loud-voiced oaths did not convey the idea of a carpet-knight, yet he had never faced the foe, nor “sought the bubble reputation at the cannon’s mouth.” No, he had contented himself with filling the “Queen’s Tobacco pipe,” as the kiln where contraband goods were formerly burned was somewhat profanely styled.

The captain was prepared to “fix” anyone who carried ashore one cigar, one inch of lace, a pair of gloves, or any other item.

As he stood thus, watching the coming ashore of the passengers with a “stony British stare,” he espied a lady who walked with the gentle, appealing, uncertain step of a young widow.

She was followed by a nurse, wearing the cap and apron of a French bonne and in the arms of this nurse was a baby, in long and flowing white robes.

The captain was on the alert.

The lady came up to him, and, throwing back her long crape veil, addressed him in deep, musical accents:

“You are the custom officer, sir?”

“I am,” responded the captain, rather gruffly.

Now, the widow was sufficiently beautiful to disarm even the ill-nature of Captain Muggins, and just the style of beauty he would be sure to admire.

The widow was beautiful, with a clear, brown eye—or, rather, two of them velvet-lidded, heavy fringed, full and languid, prone to be cast down modestly and upraised suddenly, to the no small confusion of the luckless male bystander.

She wore the full attire of woe. A small crape bonnet, with a slight frost-work of white under its brim, rested on her glossy black hair. Such hair waving, and shining, and blue-black.

Her brow, so smooth and broad, was undisfigured by lunatic fringe or bang. Her eyebrows were black and delicate, but straight, not arched. Her nose might be a trifle large, but it was beautifully formed and clearly chiselled and her mouth was beautiful, the lips so full, so heartlike, in their proud arch, their colouring so fresh and rich.

Then her complexion was of a soft, ruddy, indescribable brunette tint, impossible to picture in words, but wholly charming; her chin was so finely moulded, and her throat full and round.

Altogether, the irascible captain thought “The finest woman I’ve seen for years!” For the widow’s form fully equalled her face, and she was handsomely dressed.

“I am, madam,” he repeated. Where is your luggage?”

“Here it is. I am alone—that is with the exception of my nurse and baby. I have to travel so much now and always alone.”

Tears seemed very close to the widow’s lovely eyes, and a mournfully appealing tone touched even the ironclad heart of Captain Muggins.

“All right, ma’am. Have nothing to declare, I suppose?”

“Nothing. Please examine my trunks, for I long to rest, and my baby has been quite seasick, poor darling.”

The trunks were examined carefully for, however fine a woman the widow might be, “duty before sentiment” was the captain’s motto.

Nothing was found, and the trunks were passed.

The widow took her baby from the nurse’s arms, and hushed it to sleep as it had evinced signs of disquietude by beginning to whimper.

“A fine child, ma’am,” said the captain, who hated babies like poison.

“Is he not beautiful, my Henry?—the image of his dear—oh!” a sob completed the sentence.

He was beautiful at least as much as could be seen of him, for he was one mass of lace and embroidery, his rosy face half concealed by a filmy veil.

“He is a fine fellow; how old might he be?” The captain’s parboiled eyes shone with interest, he admired the widow more every moment.

“Seven months to-morrow—poor little darling! To think how much he has travelled!”

“He has, ma’am?”

“Yes by his dear father’s strange will I live six weeks in Paris and six in England alternately.”

“Rather troublesome for you, ma’am.”

“Oh, I don’t mind for myself,” said the bewitching widow, with a swift upward flash of her adorable eyes, “but my poor little boy—fancy, I might risk his health, might even lose him.” Here she seemed about to give way to her feelings, but just then the captain murmured “Oh, I hope not,” sympathetically, the bonne came up to say that the carriage waited, and with a hurried, “Thank you so much—good-by,” the beautiful widow disappeared.

“Ah! that’s something like a woman!” ejaculated the captain, as he resumed his official duties. He felt that Providence had been guilty of gross injustice in not providing him with just such a wife, instead of poor, faded, weak-eyed, heart-broken Mrs Muggins. In three weeks the beautiful widow returned to France, and in six weeks she again had her luggage examined by the Captain, who became more deeply interested than before. This sort of thing continued for nearly a year. Captain Muggins was now violently enamoured of the lovely widow, who long ago had informed him that her name was Mrs Cecil, and that her husband’s death had left her very wealthy, though sadly inconvenienced by the terms of his strange will.

Master Henry throve apace he grew wonderfully large and heavy, and was a remarkably good boy—so quiet.

“He is quite a sailor,” said the captain, as he stood examining the trunks after rather a stormy voyage.

“Yes; and, poor darling, he cried so very dreadfully during the passage, he is quite worn out.”

When the widow and the captain had been acquainted a year or so the head officer of the department sent for Captain Muggins one day.

He received him in his private office, and remarked as soon as he saw him: “I sent for you, Muggins, for I know you’re very sharp.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied the captain, pleased by the compliment.

“Well, Muggins, I have something rather unpleasant to say.”

“Yes, sir.” The captain felt rather alarmed.

“I’ve received information that a noted smuggler has been getting ahead of us for a year, bringing over diamonds, laces, &c— thousands of pounds worth of valuables. I have known it for some time but though I’ve tried every way, I’m blowed if I can spot him.”

The captain’s red face grew redder.

“I hope, sir, you don’t imagine that I neglect my duty,” he said humbly.

Like all other bullies, he was a great coward.

“No, I don’t. But it is quite possible that some one has been a little too smart for you.”

“I scarcely think that possible,” said the captain indignantly.

“Well, well, the thing is that the game is going on, and I want to tell you what I am going to do. I’ve sent to Scotland Yard for one of their sharpest men, and he’ll be on the wharf the next trip.”

No crimson dye of Eastern fame could equal the tint of Captain Muggin’s face. A detective put on his wharf—to overlook him!

He dared not offer a remonstrance but anyone who knew him could judge for themselves what a nice time his wife and daughter would enjoy when he returned to his home, as they were always the helpless victims of his fury when any indignity was put upon him by outsiders.

He left the office and returned to his duties. His blood boiled with indignation, and he scarcely replied to the many questions asked him during the day by those with whom he came in contact through his official position.

When the steamer arrived and her passengers flowed ashore in a stream, the captain espied the widow advancing with her usual smile, her nurse and her baby. “Ah! how are you my friend?” said the charmer, in her usual soft, melodious accents.

“Well, thank you. How is Master Henry?”

“Oh, so well, so beautiful!”

The trunks were passed, and after a few pleasant words the widow prepared to depart, but just as Julia, the bonne had announced the carriage, a quiet-looking man, in a salt-and-pepper suit, stepped up and laid a profane hand on the beautiful shoulder of the charming widow.

“Caught again, Iky!” he said, in a pleasant manner.

The widow started. She glanced around in terror, alarm.

“No use, Iky!” said the salt-and-pepper man. “I’ve been wondering why you kept so quiet. Game up, old boy.”

The captain stood by in speechless amazement while the detective arrested the beautiful widow.

And the baby, Master Henry, what of him?

He was disrobed of his lace and his embroidery, and he proved to be one mass of smuggled goods adroitly built together on the foundation of a bottle of the best French brandy, and furnished with a waxen face and an apparatus to make a noise resembling the cry of an infant.

The captain is still employed as an officer of Her Majesty’s Customs, but he is more humble, for his beautiful widow was a smart young smuggler from Paris. He was singularly handsome and made up well as a woman, and he had brought thousands of pounds’ worth of valuables through right before the redoubtable captain’s nose and as long as the captain lives he will never hear the last of the widow’s baby.— Prize Tit Bit.

The American Magazine 1888

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil really has nothing else to add except her admiration for the ingenious young smuggler and his cunning crying-baby scheme, which reminds her of this apparatus:

A mechanical genius has hit upon the most effectual means of securing ladies travelling by railway from male intruders. This is his advertisement, which needs no comment “Artificial Babies for Travellers.— Common travelling infants, yielding intermittent cries of fear, and capable of being put into the pocket, 10s. Second class, crying not too loudly, but lamentably and insupportably, 20s. Third class, full squallers, with a very piercing and aggravating voice of five octaves, £2. The same, arranged as a prompt repeater, £2 6s Fifth class, first quality, capable of continued squalling, £3.”

Otago Witness, 8 January 1876: p. 5

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.

 

Christmas Bells and Prussic Acid: The Christmas Number: 1837, 1897

Mr Fezziwig's Christmas Ball, John Leech, 1853

Mr Fezziwig’s Christmas Ball, John Leech, 1843, The British Library

SEASONABLE LITERATURE

The Last Chapter Of A Christmas Number. (1837 )

“Harry,” said Sir Jasper, with a sob strangely foreign to his wonted lack of feeling, “you must forgive me. I don’t deserve it, I know. Through forty-seven pages my ingenious schemes have kept you and your Mary apart, and if that missing will hadn’t turned up, I should have won the game. But you won’t be hard on a poor old villain, Harry, my boy? There’s only a page or two more, so you can afford to be generous. And, if my words are weak, that sound will reach your heart— the sound of Christmas bells!”

He flung open the window as he spoke, and the chimes from the sweet old village church sounded merrily across the snow-covered fields.

“jasper,” answered Harry, in impressive tones, “I forgive you. If, indeed, I followed my natural inclination, I should throw you out of window. But no true hero in a Christmas number was ever yet unmoved by the sound of church bells in the last chapter. I forgive you, and Mary forgives me, and we forgive everybody else, and it’s away with melancholy, and up with the holly, and let’s be jolly. There’s only a page more to fill, and we’ll end the story in the proper way. To-night will the dear old Hall re-echo with mirth and happiness, and the elders will unbend and become young again. Excuse me now. We dine at six, and I must drink a gallon of milk-punch before then.”

“I thank you!” cried Sir Jasper. “Now that you’ve foiled all my schemes, I was sure you ‘d forgive me. My regards to Miss Mary, and after a few glasses of hot brandy-and-water, I’ll step round to the Hall.”

And that night they revelled in the most thorough-going style. All of them were there, the hero Harry, and the heroine Mary, and the villain Jasper, together with the old-fashioned uncle, the humorous mother-in-law, and lots of other characters who have been mentioned incidentally in the story, and lone since forgotten. Every one of them turned up for the old-fashioned Christmas revel. And there was roast beef, and mistletoe, and Sir Roger de Coverley, and snapdragon, and blind-man’s buff, and ghost stories, and love-making, and, above all, gallons and gallons of punch. Not till every drop of the latter was finished did the company disperse. Finally they left in pairs, to be married next morning, and to live happily ever after, which is the only proper way of finishing up an old-fashioned Christmas number.

Too much Christmas cheer, 1856

Too much Christmas cheer, 1856

The Same Chapter. (1897.)

At the window of the foulest garret in the slums of London (for full description, vide previous pages), Harry the hero stood and twiddled his thumbs. With a languid interest he watched a cat in the yard lick its paw, and miaow twice. Then he turned to his companion and regarded him curiously.

“Jasper,” he said, with a yawn, “don’t you think we might as well end somewhere here?”

“Just as you like,” answered Jasper, who was sitting on a dust-heap in the far corner. “It really doesn’t matter where we stop in a story of this kind, one place does as well as another.”

“There isn’t much to go on with,” replied Harry, thoughtfully chewing a piece of string. “Now that you’ve murdered Mary, and all the others are disposed of, it’s about time to finish. I can’t go on talking to you for many more pages.”

“Why not?” Jasper replied. “We can always fill up the gaps with ‘dreary silences.’ Surely you don’t hate me?”

Harry sighed. “Nobody hates in modern stories—that is far too strong an emotion. But, as you’ve killed my fiancee, besides murdering three other characters, and driving five more to suicide, I do slightly dislike you. Here’s the poison bottle, and there ‘s just enough left, for us both. You’re sure none of the others are left out by mistake? How about that costermonger mentioned on the second page?”

“Sent to penal servitude,” responded Jasper. “And his wife has gone mad in Consequence, and killed off three minor characters who weren’t accounted for. As you say, we may as well stop; we’ve provided a splendid story for a modern Christmas number. Pass the poison bottle when you’ve taken your share. And don’t forget to make a vague remark just before you die—readers expect it.”

Harry nodded, and having consumed a pint of pure prussic acid, handed the remainder to Jasper, who quickly swallowed the rest.

For a few moments there was silence. Then Harry sat up.

“Why didn’t he boil the butter?” he murmured.

Then there was a dreary silence.

Punch 18 December 1897

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is undecided as to which era of Christmas Number fiction is more odious: the Dickensian or the Decadent.  One surfeits on the aggressive heartiness of Mr Dickens, while the Decadents make Mrs Daffodil want to spray the pages with carbolic acid.

Sir Roger de Coverley was the quintessential Christmas dance, or made so by being immortalised thus by Dickens. Snapdragon was a game requiring participants to snatch raisins or other preserved fruit from a shallow bowl of flaming brandy. Mrs Daffodil has looked on indulgently as footmen and parlour-maids scorched their fingers and their tongues and has laid in a discreet supply of dampened blankets under the sideboard when tipsy young officers visiting the Hall for Christmas demanded a blazing bowl of spirits. Mrs Daffodil is pleased to say that she has never lost a visitor to a flaming raisin.

 

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.